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I want to be able to love you

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When Keith hears it first, he thinks he must have misheard. 

“Excuse me?” 

Lance’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline, backing up a step from Keith’s glare. Then he didn’t mishear, but it must be a bad joke from Lance’s part.  

“Woah, I’m just saying, man,” he says with his hands up in a placating matter, as if Keith was a wild creature about to attack. With what he just said, Keith just might.  

It could be just a bit of an exaggeration, but Keith has had a long week. First coming back from a long mission with the Blades on Monday just to be dragged all around base in meetings and such through the week and being Friday evening running inventory with Lance of all people has ruined his mood a lot by now. 

Don’t get him wrong, Keith doesn’t hate Lance as he used to. He can even say he never really hated the guy despite how much their bickering went when they were forced to work together to save the universe. Out of that, Keith is sure he had never made friends with him. But they’re friends, and Keith is fond of their relationship, despite how strained it goes when Lance insists

“But, dude, it’s not like it’s not obvious at this point,” Lance continues, still standing where he stepped back, from a safe distance —meaning, out-of-reach from Keith’s hands, “I mean, didn’t you see that?” 

Keith frowns, looking to where Lance gestures to the door of the storage, where Shiro and Hunk just disappeared after checking on them. 

Keith doesn’t understand. 

“What?” Keith asked, arching an eyebrow, and Lance deflates visibly. 

“Oh, gods, Keith,” Lance says, almost pitiful, and Keith rolls his eyes. 

“We don’t have time for this, Lance.” Keith turns his back at him, looking down to his pad to check the boxes of Olkari fruit they have in stock, “Could we finish running inventory so at least I could have my Friday evening free?” 

Lance shuts his mouth promptly, and Keith enjoys the next 20 minutes in complete silence, just the quiet, ‘here,’ from Lance every time Keith asks for an object in stock. 

It’s too much to be truth, though, because the moment the list of products, food and relevant stuff in the storage is counted and checked in twice, Lance clears his throat and Keith rolls his eyes, knowing what’s about to come. 

“I was being serious, you know,” Lance comments, as if it’s just an occurrence and not something he has been pestering him with for days now, “About Shiro.” 

Keith’s grip in his PADD tightens, the orange screen bending a bit under his fingers, and Keith feels as hotheaded as he has felt in years. 

“No, you’re not,” Keith counters, double-checking the list in his hand before signing at the bottom and hitting sent. 

“I was,” Lance insists, and Keith lets out a long breath, “Shiro is-” 

Keith swivels on his feet, taking a threatening step to Lance and making him stumble with a crate behind him. 

“Don’t,” he warns under his breath, and Lance, covering his face with his own pad, nods, eyes wide and skin pale in fear. 

It pains him that Lance thinks he’s actually going to hurt him about all of this, but it doesn’t stop him from turning to the door and walking away, determined to go to his room and try to cool off. Keith has had enough and if he hears it one more time, he feels he’s going to explode. 

‘Wow, Shiro’s head over heels for you, huh? ’ 

He shakes his head, the echo of it tumbling through his head too harshly. It really surprises him how stupid Lance can be. 

“You know...” Hunk says suddenly, the amicable silence they had kept for better than half an hour while he cooks and Keith reads some documents in his PADD going to the trash, “You and Shiro are, like... uh...” 

Keith glares at him from over his PADD, and Hunk stutters, looking away to the cookies that are suddenly more interesting than the conversation he started himself.

“What?” Keith prompts, his voice strained, and Hunk swallows visibly. Keith actually thinks he might need to ease his tone of voice, but he’s angry and tired. 

“Together?” Hunk says as a question, but at the same time as if it's an affirmation. 

Keith fumes. 

“What?” he asks again, a little harsher and making Hunk step a little away despite the kitchen counter being between them, “Together?” 

Hunk starts to sweat. 

“Yeah?” he answers, but Keith can see how he’s doubting himself. 

Keith lets the silence linger for a bit, Hunk growing even more nervous —and sweaty— as seconds go by. 

“Together as in...?” Keith prompts, and Hunk closes his eyes, bracing himself. 

“A couple?” 

Keith feels his patience snap. 

“What did Lance tell you?” he questions, standing up from his lounging on the couch and walking around the kitchen counter. 

Hunk decides that’s the perfect moment to turn with the unbaked, half-shaped cookies in hand to the oven, profusely sweating. 

“I-I- Lance? Why Lance? He hasn’t told me anything about you and Shiro,” he rushes out, starting to push random buttons in the oven and clattering the tray of cookies inside, “Why would he tell me something? Like how Shiro looks at you and he’s obviously in love with you?” 

Keith snaps, bringing down his hand so hard over the counter next to the oven that Hunk startles and the tray turns in his hands, the cookie dough half-shaped in it falling to the floor of the oven. He doesn’t even apologize when he storms out of the kitchen, the sight of Hunk looking pitifully at the ruined cookies being painfully heart-wrenching to him, but not enough to cool down his ire. 

The third time it happens, Keith does almost commit murder. 

“So,” James had said, taking seat beside him in the cafeteria despite his MFE friends waiting for him in another table, “Could I talk to you?” 

Keith doesn’t even spare him a glance, munching in his food. 

“Aren’t you already?” he asks after swallowing, and James shifts nervously in his seat. 

Keith rolls his eyes at that. Their relationship is supposed to be better after so many jabs in the past, definitely in a very different way than with Lance, but Keith figured James wouldn’t be so winded up to talk to him, seeing that they have worked together just fine. 

“What do you want to talk about, James?” he asks as level-toned as possible, which helps if the way James lets out a breath and his shoulders relax is any hint. 

“Well, I was wondering,” he starts, leaning over the table and seemingly determined to look into Keith’s eyes, which is very disconcerting, “Are you and Captain Shirogane a thing?” 

Keith frowns, not understanding why their relationship suddenly is ‘a thing’. 

“What?” he asks, genuinely confused, and James looks briefly away, “What are you asking me?” 

James hesitates for a bit before letting out a long breath, as if he’s abandoned all chances of surviving this and playing it cool. 

“Is your thing any serious?” he asks, and Keith actually asks himself if going after Shiro to bring him back from the death is serious , “I mean, if you’re not, could I invite you a drink later? Maybe?” 

That makes Keith’s mind freeze completely, and then he notices how red James’ face is. 

“Are you coming onto me?” he asks quietly, too stunned to understand exactly what’s happening, and James trips over his words. 

“I-I- well, kind of? I mean, if you’re not with the Captain, I was just wondering if-” 

“Griffin,” Keith pronounces, the lack of use of his first name making James’ face deflate, “Walk away. Right now.” 

Thankfully James does just that, apologizing under his breath and shamefully walking all the way to his friends table, who receive him with mutters and laughs about his obviously terrible attempt of asking Keith out. 

But Keith doesn’t hear them, nor keeps eating, instead staring at his plate while other people’s words start bouncing annoyingly behind his eyelids. 

‘Are you and Captain Shirogane a thing?’ 

Keith wishes he could answer yes. 

He doesn’t expect Pidge and Allura to be next, but he certainly should have, looking how the pattern of intervention of seemingly important issues in their little team go. 

“When’s the wedding?” Pidge asks unironically one day after Shiro parts from them, Allura clapping effusively with bright eyes. 

“Oh, Keith! You’d look beautiful crowned in Purtries the same shade of your eyes!” She exclaims, “And Shiro using red in his robes?! Gods! You’d complement each other so gorgeously!” 

Keith didn’t have the heart in that moment to correct the now-Queen of New Altea, but he did throw a stink eye to Pidge over her shoulder. 

“You haven’t proposed, have you?!” Allura keeps going, rambling about traditional altean ceremonies that are too complicated to understand without knowing half of the meaning of the words that come out of her mouth. 

“I-” he tries, not even knowing how to refute, but the way Pidge arches an eyebrow at him when he blushes at Allura’s very explicit way of explaining the ceremonial mating course, Keith knows he’s had enough, “I’m not marrying Shiro.” 

Allura stops walking entirely in the hallway, and Pidge looks like she’s about to question all his life choices. 

“Oh,” Allura lets out after exactly 20 seconds of utter silence, her shock still brightening her blue eyes, “But you love each other, why aren’t you going to propose?” 

Keith takes a stuttering breath, and Pidge looks like she’s sorry for him, which, okay, he deserves it. 

“He doesn’t love me,” he says with a frown, Allura’s eyes going impossibly wider, “I don’t know why you all have been mentioning this these last days.” 

Weeks, if Keith’s being honest, because now that he thinks about it thoroughly, Matt, Acxa and even Coran have made comments about his relationship with Shiro and just now he understands what they have tried to say. 

‘He’s been talking about you so much it makes me sugar-sick,’ Matt said, which Keith interpreted as Shiro pestering him about Keith. 

‘You both hold a devotion I wish to have in the near future,’ Acxa have shyly murmured when Keith asked her about Veronica and her. 

‘When Queen Melenor and King Alphor met-’ Really, Coran couldn’t have been more obvious about the reference, and Keith feels stupid as fuck. 

“But he loves you,” Allura says softly, making Keith sputter out from his thoughts. 

“Not the same way I do,” Keith mutters without thinking, the dark thoughts he keeps back in his mind slithering maliciously to the front. 

He focuses his gaze on them instead, finding them staring at them with different levels of shock and pity, and Keith bolts. 

“I gotta go,” he rushes out, walking the opposite side to where the three of them were headed, Keith seriously thinking he’s not going to make it to the meeting. 

“Keith!” Pidge calls him when he’s already a few feet away, and he just starts running. 

“Does something trouble you, Kit?” 

He peeks up from the box his arms do around his face, shielding him from the harsh light in the office and the mutters from the people coming and going in front of the desk he decided to hermit at. His mom is standing beside it, hand on her hip, and Keith groans his answer. The sound makes the cadets in the room bristle and hurriedly get out of the office, promptly dodging Kolivan’s large figure by the door. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Krolia insists, pulling a chair from the adjacent desk and seating down beside him, hand falling on Keith’s hair and petting it, “You’ve been groaning and growling more than a galra kit would in their first deca-phoeb.” 

Keith glares at her, and she smiles. 

“Maybe I am in my first galra deca-phoeb,” he counteracts half-heartedly, leaning to his mother’s touch in his nape, “Maybe I’m about to have my galra puberty or something.” 

Kolivan snorts at that, making Keith shoot a glance at him and finding him looking away, a telling curve in his lip making the growl start in the middle of his chest. 

“If you were in galra puberty, you’d have known,” Kolivan points out, “Believe me.” 

“Is it that rough?” Keith asks, now genuinely curious, but before Kolivan has the opportunity to answer, Krolia holds a hand up. 

“You’re evading the topic,” she says sternly, and Keith rolls his eyes, thumping his forehead down to the perfect shield his arms do, “Kit, what’s wrong?” 

He doesn’t know if he should. It’s too stupid for him to even consider to discuss it. Hell, he even should be able to sleep properly because it’s something that shouldn’t concern him as much. But then, why has he been shifting and turning every night ever since Lance’s first accusation?

“I-” he pauses and clears his throat, “It’s stupid.” 

“Nothing it’s stupid if it troubles you like this,” Krolia soothes, and Keith sighs. 

“I...” he starts again and has to take a breath, “Everyone has been so annoying about me and Shiro.” 

Krolia hums, hand on his hair caressing softly. 

“Why is that?” she asks, curious, “I thought they’d be accustomed to it already.” 

“I know-” Keith stops completely, snapping his head up to look at her, “Wait, what are you talking about?” 

Krolia tilts her head, confusion on her expression. 

“Well, about the nature of your partnership, isn’t it?” She says, blinking and Keith opens his mouth, taken aback. 

“Partnership,” he repeats like a parrot and she shrugs. 

“You’ve been partners for years now, Keith. You’re closer than I’ve ever seen in a partnership before and I’m sure that’s why other people have complained about you both,” Krolia explains and Kolivan nods and Keith thinks they might have a very different meaning to what partnership is. 

“What does ‘partners’ mean for the Galra?” he asks quietly, fearing the worst when Kolivan’s ears twitch and his stoic face goes slightly furrowed. Krolia looks a lot more concerned, maybe because of her finer features. 

“Well,” she says, exchanging a look with Kolivan across the room and then turning back at him, “The same way your father and I were partners. Or the way Matt and N7 are, or Lance and Allura are.” 

That’s what he feared. 

He stands up too fast, suddenly feeling dizzy, and he goes for the door immediately, despite the way Krolia tries to call for him. But his ears are buzzing with the memories of all the moments Krolia has thanked Shiro for being such a great partner for her kit and- 

“I need air,” he breathes out when Krolia tries to follow him, shoving past Kolivan although he doesn’t even move from where he’s standing, looking a bit shocked, if Keith read his expression correctly. 

“Kit...” he hears his mom sigh before the door closes behind him. 

Despite the need for fresh air is very big due to his hyperventilating state, his feet stumble their way to the only person he can talk to about this. The more rational part of his mind tells him is a bad idea, but before he can actually listen to it, he’s opening the door to Shiro’s office. 

“Shiro, sorry, I need to talk to you-” 

He freezes in the doorstep, Shiro’s face turning to him immediately and easing softly the same way it always does when he looks at Keith. But that’s not what has Keith gripping his fists so hard he feels his nails dig through his leather gloves and into the skin of his palms. It’s how he catches the way a man of the Atlas’ crew —Curtis, if Keith’s not mistaken— staring lovingly at Shiro’s profile while completely ignoring what Shiro is debriefing with him about some documents in his PADD. 

“Oh, Keith,” Shiro says, standing up immediately and making Curtis’ bubble burst, “What’s wrong?” 

There’s concern in his tone and Keith recognizes it, but he can’t pull his stare away from Curtis, who blushes under it because he knows Keith caught him crushing not-so-subtle-ly over his commanding officer. Gods, did Keith stare like that when he was a kid with a crush? Gross. 

“Keith?” 

“Can I talk to you?” Keith asks, eyes still on Curtis who is still seating there like he has nothing better to do than ogle Shiro's ass, which is totally fair, but, “In private.” 

His sharp tone makes Curtis spur into action, fumbling with his own PADD and tripping out of Shiro’s office with a quiet ‘excuse me.’ Keith wants to force it down his throat. 

The door closes and the silence stretches. Keith is supposed to be the one to talk, to keep freaking out about everything, but the knowledge that someone else is interested in Shiro has him flabbergasted. He shouldn’t of course, because Shiro is as wonderful as any living being has the right to, and of course he’s going to have people crushing on him. Keith knows this, he has known for a long time, but why is it that now of all moments does the idea terrifies him? 

“Keith? Are you okay?” 

Keith jumps a little when he notices Shiro has walked to him, placing his hand on his shoulder and automatically making Keith relax under its weight. 

“I,” he mutters, frowning at one of Shiro’s button instead of looking at him in the eye, and Shiro squeezes him reassuringly. 

“Hey, talk to me?” 

Keith looks up, finding Shiro’s impossibly soft grey eyes, and sighs out a breath he didn’t know was holding. He’s close, Keith thinks, he’s too close. 

‘Wow, Shiro’s head over heels for you, huh?

‘Like how Shiro looks at you and he’s obviously in love with you?’ 

‘He’s been talking about you so much it makes me sugar-sick.’ 

‘You both hold a devotion I wish to have in the near future.’  

‘Are you and Captain Shirogane a thing?’ 

‘But you love each other.’ 

‘You’re closer than I’ve ever seen in a partnership before.’  

Keith panics. 

“Do you know everyone thinks we’re dating?” he blurts out, and Shiro’s concern in his face goes carefully blank. 

“What?” he says, a hint of a frown starting in his brow. 

“I know,” Keith says, pulling away and starting to pace in the office, “At first I thought Lance was messing with me because apparently you look at me a certain way and it’s not like best friends do at all.” 

“Wait,” Shiro tries, but Keith keeps talking. 

“And then Hunk was talking about it again and I just can’t understand why he says we’re together.” 

“Keith." 

“And then James came onto me.” Keith frowns, “Which was confusing on its own, but he asked first if we were a thing and I just don’t know from where he gets that.” 

“Griffin came onto you?” Shiro’s voice is a little higher than usual, but Keith’s too deep in his rambling. 

“And then Pidge asked when the wedding is, and I- How do they keep coming up with this ridiculous stuff?! Allura even said you loved me!” 

“Keith,” Shiro breathes, this time trying to follow Keith’s pacing in the office, but he’s too frantic. 

“And then my mom,” Keith says with gravity, turning to Shiro and making him freeze, “She thought we’ve been together for years, Shiro, literal years. Even Kolivan, Shiro. Kolivan. He looked so shocked when I-” 

“Keith!” Shiro calls for him, taking him by the shoulders and making him look at him in the eye, “Calm down, please.” 

And Keith tries. He really tries, but he feels on the edge of a panic attack and doesn’t know what to do. 

“Breathe,” Shiro requests softly, his hands smoothing up and down in Keith’s upper arms and shoulders, and Keith realizes he’s been hyperventilating, “Okay, slowly...” 

Keith takes a slow, long breath through his nose and holds it for a couple seconds, letting it go with a sigh. It doesn’t really disappear his panic, but it does recede it. 

“I don’t know what to do, Shiro,” he says, feeling at a loss, “I just-” 

“What do you want to do?” 

Keith looks up, finding Shiro watching him closely. 

“I,” Keith pauses, swallowing, “I don’t want to have to correct everybody.” 

Shiro nods, letting his shoulders go, and Keith feels suddenly cold. 

“Okay,” Shiro mutters, his gaze locked in something Keith can’t decipher, “Do you want me to announce it in the comms, then? Clarify we’re nothing other than friends?” 

Keith mouths, and promptly closes his lips, the heavy feeling in his chest starting to hurt. 

It would stop people from asking him stupid questions, for men to start flirting with him without having to ask if he’s with Shiro first. It would stop the pain in his heart to answer that Shiro doesn’t love him the way he does, because if he would, Keith would’ve known. Keith is the only person that knows Shiro so deeply, how would he be so blind to see it? 

Keith wouldn’t. 

‘But he loves you.’ 

Right? 

“No.” 

Shiro looks surprised by that, frown falling over his eyes in concern. 

“Then...” he says, tilting his head, “People will keep asking, Keith. Don't you want to stop correcting them?” 

“I-” 

I want to be able to love you.

“Shiro,” he starts, suddenly breathless, and Shiro’s eyes widen a bit, “What if- What if I don't correct them anymore?” 

Shiro blinks, a blush starting to creep up from his neck. 

“I-” He clears his throat, “Then people would think we’re together, isn’t it?” 

“Then, what if we are together?” 

Shiro lets out a breath and his face go prettily pink. 

“I-I- Keith-” 

“Do you love me?” Keith asks, boldly taking a step to him and taking his hands, “Do you, Shiro?”

Shiro stares into his eyes, a breathy laugh falling from his curving lips, and his hands squeezes Keith’s. 

“I love you, Keith,” he confesses, quietly and private, as if they aren’t alone in his office and someone else could hear him, “I’ve loved you for a long time.” 

Keith is the one who laughs this time, unbelieving. 

“I-” he tries, shaking his head, feeling like this is a dream, “Really?” 

Shiro smiles, as soft as he always does to Keith, and Keith really wonders how blind he’s been all this time. 

“Yes,” Shiro answers, thumb tracing over Keith’s knuckles, and then arching an eyebrow, “I thought I was being obvious. Specially if everybody else noticed except for you.” 

Keith lets out a bark of laugh, feeling his face go red. 

“I might’ve been a bit oblivious to it.” 

“A bit?” Shiro teases and Keith groans, reaching for his neck and pulling him down. 

He kisses him, like he had always wanted before. Or maybe a bit pulled back because they’re in his office and it’s broad day light and Keith might be in love but he’s not an idiot what bites more than he can chew.

“I love you,” Keith murmurs against Shiro’s lips, feeling him smile into the kiss, “I’ll always love you, Shiro.” 

It’s then that Shiro presses his hand on his lower back, closing the distance between them even more, and Keith might feel a little self-conscious about the excitement going through them. 

“Atlas,” he hears Shiro say at some point, mouth on Keith’s neck, “Reschedule all my meetings and override the locks of my office. I’ll be busy.” 

Keith grins. Okay, if Shiro isn't holding back, then Keith doesn't need to, either.