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Beneath Glow-Star Constellations

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August

His fiance is hardly paying attention to anything beyond the food on his plate and the tablet next to it. Shiro taps his fingers nervously, the still foreign sensation of a hollow thud in his prosthesis making the synthetic nerves sing. If it weren’t for the quiet din of the fancy restaurant, men and women wearing suits and dresses in the middle of the day chatting away, he’s sure he would be able to hear the clock clock hanging above the big picture windows tick, tick, ticking.

He takes a deep breath, listening to the ringing of his pulse growing faster in his ears as he prepares to share the good news.

Adam makes a face and it stops him in his tracks.

He withdraws his hand to pull at a string on the white tablecloth, “What’s wrong?”

“One of my audits is being passed along to another partner in the firm.”

Shiro slumps in his seat, “Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry.”

Adam sighs, poking at his food with a certain intensity that is as close to angry as Shiro would ever see him.

“It happens. It’s not like they’ll find anything that I didn’t, especially if they’re putting Curtis in charge of the project,” he scoffs, “There’s a reason Curtis only holds half the shares that I do.”

“I’m sure they didn’t mean it to be an insult,” Shiro starts, but Adam is already back to scrolling and poking at the salad that’s more garnish than actual food. Adam doesn’t even like half of the stuff they put in the salad, yet he still orders the same thing every single time, still picks out the majority of the toppings until all that’s left is ill seasoned chicken, raw radishes, and limp lettuce.

Shiro fills his lungs and blurts, “I’m on the short-list for the Kerberos mission.”

“That’s nice, honey.”

Oh. That wasn’t the response he had expected. “Did you even hear what I said?”

“Mhm.”

“So you want me to go to Kerberos?”

Adam looks over his glasses, between Shiro and his phone, “Yeah of- wait what?”

Shiro huffs and picks his napkin off of his lap, tossing it onto the table in front of him. The food here isn’t half as good as what the obnoxious pricing would suggest, “I knew you weren’t listening.”

“We talked about this Takashi,” Adam states, monotonous and cool. “You aren’t going on any deep space missions anymore.”

“That was before.”

“Excuse me?”

Shiro pinches the bridge of his nose, wincing when he puts just enough pressure on the scar tissue there to aggravate the frayed nerves, “Adam, you heard what the doctor said. I have a perfect bill of health-”

“Oh, so one hack of a doctor says your terminal illness is gone and you’re just going to go to deep space? Great, Takashi, thank you so much for letting me know,” his voice drips with sarcasm as he flags down the waiter, pointing to the table in a clear sign that he’s ready for the check.

Shiro rolls his eyes, “Dr. Yu is the best, you made damn sure of that. And his entire team of residents said the same thing. Even Dr. Holt signed off! And,” he leans forward, titanium finger pressing into the thick tablecloth, “Every physician at the Garrison-”

Adam’s gaze narrows on Shiro and he realizes his mistake.

“The Garrison has already signed off on this?”

He winces, “I-”

“How long have you been working on this little scheme of yours, Takashi?” Each word drips with venom while his fiance closes off, his gilded cage sealing right in front of his eyes.

“Scheme- Christ, Adam, you make it out like I went-”

“How. Long?”

Shiro has had enough, “Listen, you’re my partner. My fiance. Not my boss, not my parent, I am still a fucking adult-”

“With a chronic illness!” Adam shouts, the restaurant goes silent. The waiter that was making his way to their table, check in hand, diverts to a safer route in avoidance of Adam’s path. Even with all his fervor and intensity, Shiro is taken aback by his fiance raising his voice. Nothing ever breaks Adam’s composure.

He feels ice set into his bones, “A chronic illness in a full remission, Adam.”

Adam looks away, as if he can’t bear the sight of his own partner. It makes Shiro laugh.

“What, Takashi? What about this is funny to you?”

Shiro only laughs harder, not caring about the stares and sideways glances directed at their table. It was always Adam who worried about things like appearances.

“Do you even love me? Or do you just love having someone to take care of?”

That pulls Adam’s gaze back to him.

“I mean, really, Adam, when was the last time you looked at me like you wanted to fuck me?”

A scandalized gasp comes from the table beside them, Adam stumbles over his words, “Takashi, don’t be like that-”

“No, Adam, answer the fucking question.”

The man across from him leans over the table, “Of course I want to have sex with you, you’re going to be my husband-”

Shiro picks up Adam’s glass of wine and drinks it down in one go, ignoring the sputtering response he gets. Adam limits his alcohol intake to one drink per week.

“Then why,” Shiro sets the glass down with a dull thud, “Do you act like it’s such a chore when I ask to suck your dick?”

Adam suddenly remembers his composure and hisses, “Enough of this, we are in public!”

“You know what, you’re right. I have had enough of this.”

The silence rings out from the entire room. Shiro finally hears that clock ticking away.

“What are you saying?”

Shiro extracts his wallet from his pocket and throws a couple of bills on the table to cover Adam’s ridiculous salad, “It’s over. Get your shit out of my house by the end of the week.”

Adam stands to follow, calling after Shiro, “What are you going to tell your grandparents, Takashi? How are you going to tell them that you ended a perfect engagement five months before the wedding?”

“Nothing about this engagement was perfect. I’m done being your patient,” Shiro takes his coat from the clerk and pulls the thick wool over his shoulders, “And I’m going to Kerberos.”

September

Keith stares down at the unopened letter addressed to himself, Altea University’s ivy covered crest emblazoned across the envelope. He sighs, opening the banking app on his phone before slipping his knife underneath the paper, opening the letter in one smooth motion.

Attached you will find a summary of the translation between yourself, Keith Kogane, and Altea University for the Fall Semester-

He sighs, knowing all too well that the payment for his sister’s semester is going to deplete the summer’s earnings from his account even with all the scholarships that she earned.

The door to their apartment opens and she comes rushing through the door, making a beeline for the couch and shedding her backpack, her shoes, her coat carelessly along the way.

Romelle runs directly into the couch, careening over the armrest until her face is buried in the threadbare cushions, and she screams.

Keith opens his mouth to speak but the pause was only for her to catch her breath, yet another muffled scream echoing through their apartment. He nods and turns his attention back to the payment, registering for a plan and grimacing when the first payment of six brings his balance under 100$.

Romelle screams once more as he shoots a text to Kolivan, asking for an extension to his shift tomorrow.

Once a moment of silence has passed without a bracing inhale in preparation for another bellow, Keith walks over and braces his arms against the back of the couch, “You wanna talk about it?”

His sister turns over, her eyes full of unshed tears, “No.”

He nods and waits for a moment more.

“Yes.”

“Ice cream or chips ahoy?”

She thinks about it for a moment, “Both?”

Keith nods, and walks off to the kitchenette to retrieve the cookies and the quart of ice cream he keeps stocked for this exact reason. Two spoons are shoved in his pocket before he crosses the apartment with his bounty, unloading it onto the couch. He knows he shouldn’t jump over the couch, lest he risk breaking it, but it's the closest thing to fun he’s going to have any time soon. Romelle squeals as he sticks his feet in her lap and sets about making ice cream sandwiches out of the cookies.

He waits, silent, as she sullenly eats the offered delicacy. After she has the second one in her hands, the floodgates open.

“I hate my stupid partner for the stupid semester, he’s so- he’s so-”

Keith nods, knowing better than to offer an adjective.

“Ugh! He just- he thinks he knows everything! And I can tell he’s some daddy’s boy just by his stupid, ugly, gross Louis Vouitonn backpack,” she turns, shoving the cookie in her mouth, “Who neebs amf Lou Voitonf bag?!”

Keith finally gets a bite of his own ice cream sandwich, still waiting for the full extent of Romelle’s dislike for her apparent partner. She rambles on about how he wouldn’t listen to a thing she said, how he was on his phone for the whole lecture, how he was so insistent that they would pass just because his parents were some benefactors to the university.

Her shoulders sink, “I know I shouldn’t complain, I’m lucky to be there,” she turns to lean against the armrest, facing Keith on the couch.

“Hey,” Keith nudges her with his foot, “None of that, you earned your place there.”

She smiles, rubbing her nose on her sleeve as she finishes off the fourth ice cream sandwich handed to her.

“What was your day like?”

Keith rolls his eyes, “Nothing special, Antok didn’t catch anything on fire.”

She laughs, “See? He can grow!”

“Mm,” Keith takes the ice cream and eats it without the cookies, “I’m going to be picking up more, okay?”

His sister slumps, “But you’re already working overtime every week.”

“Not much, just a few extra hours here and there.”

“What if I got a job? That way I could help with some of the rent and stuff,” her voice is so hopeful, but Keith doesn’t want to run the risk of her grades dropping.

“Nah, it’s all good Romi, we’re doing just fine.”

“But you’re-”

“Romi.”

Keith doesn’t use that tone of voice often, but when he does it’s enough to inform his baby sister that the conversation is over. She nods, taking the cookies to her side of the couch.

“Want me to make dinner?” she offers.

He laughs, “Just because Antok didn’t set anything on fire doesn’t mean you should.”

-

October

The air has the first chill of winter when Shiro has his meeting with Dr. Holt outsider of the Garrison Hangar.

The man arrives bearing coffee, his face locked in a grimace as he hands over the sugary menace that Shiro loves so much. It’s the least he can do, given the news that comes with him.

“So,” he starts, rubbing the scruff that he’s allowed to grow on his chin.

The gesture makes Shiro suspicious immediately, especially with the combination of his coffee being handed over without any complaint or taunting about the amount of syrup Shiro likes.

“Out with it.”

Sam takes a long swig of his own coffee, “Kerberos is postponed.”

Shiro blanches, his gut flipping, “What the hell do you mean it’s postponed?”

 

The older man smirks, “Well when something is postponed, that means it’s going to be pushed back-”

“Samuel.”

“Tone.”

Shiro sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. He stares at the coffee, the cynical part of his mind thinking how lame a consolation prize it is for not being able to go to the farthest moon of the solar system, “Do you know when it’s been postponed to?”

“Nope,” Sam rests a fatherly hand on Shiro’s shoulder, “But it comes from on high.”

“Of course it does,” Shiro drinks his coffee, allowing his perfect posture to crumble beneath the weight of the news. The cadets that he has been training for the better part of a year are running laps on the grounds. He doesn’t miss it at all, but he longs for the days when his only responsibility was being up with the morning dew to attend training.

“Look at the bright side,” Sam turns to watch the cadets with him, “You’ll be home for the holidays. Maybe you can visit that family of yours.”

He laughs, “Oh yeah, they’re going to be thrilled to learn I left my fiance over a mission that isn’t happening until well after we were supposed to be married.”

Sam snorts, “Maybe you could spend the holidays with us? Colleen always has an extra setting ready for you, you know.”

“No,” Shiro shakes his head, “The only thing worse than ending things with Adam would be avoiding the Christmas party,” he drinks his coffee, relishing in the sweetness of the vanilla and cinnamon. “But thanks for the offer.”

Sam hums, checking his watch as a notification rolls across the face, “I have to go get ready for a meeting with the Admiral, are you going to be okay, son?”

He nods, “Yeah. I’ll be fine.”

“If you go for a drive I don’t want to be picking your sorry ass up from the police station for speeding, you hear me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I mean it, Shirogane.”

Shiro waves him off with his free hand, finishing off the rest of the coffee as the caffeine starts to kick in. A drive does sound like a great idea right now.

-

Keith is elbow deep in the old yellow truck belonging to his friend Hunk when the warped piece of metal that used to be some fancy sports car comes into the garage. He and Kolivan are the only ones in, given that it’s before the sun has fully come over the horizon, but he certainly doesn’t mind. It gives him first dibs on all the extra hours that it’s going to take to try and salvage this thing.

The driver of the tow truck, a gruff old man that only speaks in gestures to anyone other than Kolivan, hands Keith the report of the accident.

“How is this thing not totaled?”

The man shrugs, making his way into the back office to give the information on the driver to his uncle. Keith steps up to the car and starts accounting for all the damage. He can pull most of the body out and re-paint, but there’s going to be a sizable number of parts that will need replaced out right. He pulls the driver’s side door open, grimacing when the shattered window breaks, glass falling across the floor, “Christ.”

There’s no blood in the compartment and the interior is completely intact. It’s not surprising, these cars are built to survive much worse, but Keith still wonders just how many broken bones the poor idiot driving sustained.

His uncle comes from the office and the three men set about loading the car onto a lift. Until Keith can straighten the wheel well, it has to be rigged with straps, but it’ll do for now. It takes until the rest of the team comes into the shop for them to secure the vehicle, and Keith hasn’t even finished the list of damages to be sent to the insurance company.

This car alone is going to pay for the rest of Romi’s semester.

It takes until the sun has trailed all the way across the sky and found a home on the western horizon for him to remove all of the dented parts from the vehicle, leaving only the frame and the remaining parts on the lift. He’s pulling at the axle to replace it when his little sister comes waltzing into the garage.

She leans down, watching Keith where he lays on a bench. He’s too focused on the warped bolt he’s trying to remove to notice her. She smirks, “Keith!”

“Fuck,” he flinches and smacks his head on the underside of the car, cursing the metal enough to make a sailor blush.

Romelle grins, pleased with herself until her brother turns to face her and she catches sight of the blood coming from the place where his head hit the undercarriage, “Damn it Keith, you had to ruin my prank by getting hurt.”

“Oh excuse me,” he deadpans, “I’m so sorry that your prank sliced my face open, I’ll try and think of that next time.”

“Good,” she quips, turning to find a somewhat-clean towel in the garage. By the time she does, the blood has fallen to Keith’s chin. “You look gross.”

“Who’s fault is that, huh?”

“The idiot that wrecked this car, probably.”

Keith purses his lips in order to hide the grin, “Get your ass out of the garage, you know you’re not allowed to be in here.”

“But I brought you dinner,” she pouts, pulling out a tupperware container.

Keith takes it with caution, knowing all too well the horrors of his sister’s cooking, “Uh, thanks.”

“Oh don’t be a dick,” she hits him gently, “Hunk made it. He brought it to campus and asked me to pass it along as thanks.”

“Shit,” Keith hisses, remembering Hunk’s truck in the back of the shop. He throws the bloodied towel onto his bench, “I totally forgot to finish working on lil yellow, did he have a ride home or is he still sitting at the library?”

“Don’t worry, I drove him home.”

The older of the siblings narrows his eyes, remembering that he took their car to work today, “On what.”

Romelle pauses, toeing the ground, “I um. Borrowed your motorcycle.”

“Romi, come on-”

“It was only a few miles!”

Keith groans and walks over to his bench to set the food down for later, “You know how I feel about you driving passengers on the bike, Romi. Come on.”

She stares at the ground, knowing exactly the amount of shit that she’s caught herself in.

It makes Keith cave in, “Go help Uncle Antok clean up, okay? I’ll be done in a few minutes.”

She nods, leaning into him when he wraps an arm around her and messes up her hair.

He rolls his eyes and walks back to the tool bench, pulling a fork from his lunch bag and digging into the simple delicacy of Hunk’s cooking. It almost makes up for him not finishing the truck in time for Hunk to drive himself home instead of Romelle having him as a passenger on the bike.

The axle comes off after a bit more tugging and Keith wipes the grime off his face, wincing at the accidental pressure placed on his injury. The clock hanging from the loft of the garage reminds him how late it’s getting and he decides to call it a night and clean up his tools.

Antok steps into the garage to wish him goodnight, mussing up his hair with a giant hand before stalking off to the house he and Kolivan share next to the shop. Keith finishes picking up the tools in his space and pulls his coveralls down to wrap around his waist, relishing in the feeling of cold October air against his skin.

When he steps into the office, he finds that Romelle isn’t alone. In fact, she’s practically holding a very large man in the slightly blood-stained uniform of a high ranking military officer as he blubbers into her shoulder.

-

Shiro sits in the back of the ambulance, arms crossed over his chest as he watches his car, his mess of a beautiful car, being hooked onto a tow truck. The paramedic and EMT are still looking him over, but they don’t seem especially panicked over anything. Shiro hadn’t lost consciousness, but there was a nasty laceration on his forehead that had them insisting he go to the hospital to be checked out. He had groaned at that, having no desire to go to Garrison General considering the amount of time he already has to spend there.

He only agrees to go because they threaten to call medical command and have him sign a refusal form. With his luck, he’d end up talking to Colleen and he has no desire to have his ass handed to him today.

The driver from the towing company hands him a clipboard to sign off on the accident report and Shiro all but pouts. His insurance rates are going to sky-rocket after this. Three signatures later, he hands it back and accepts his fate. He climbs into the back of the ambulance and sulks at them not even bothering to turn on the siren.

Once at the hospital, he finds himself in a bed right away. A nurse does his intake, her face kind and slightly exhausted as she explains that the change of shift is coming up, so it might be a few moments before someone comes in to see him. Shiro nods, knowing the ins and outs of being in the hospital far too well for his own liking.

An hour passes.

Then two.

Shiro gets up and paces around the room, pleased to find that his bed doesn’t have a patient alarm attached. The bells had always bothered him when he was admitted for a procedure.

At the third hour, his stomach rumbles. He peeks his head out of the curtains that consist of his room, checking to see if the coast is clear. A young woman in light blue scrubs is sitting at a computer, but he knows that the nurses wear navy blue. Shiro smirks, slipping past the curtains and walking through the doors that separate the Emergency Department from the rest of the hospital. He walks until he finds a sign pointing towards the cafeteria and wanders in. The food here is shit, but he’s almost grown fond of it over the years. He has even grown to appreciate the man n cheese in all it’s soggy glory, but he’s disappointed to find that they do not, in fact, serve it for breakfast. He takes a muffin from the basket next to the coffee and fills a cup with half coffee and half milk, pouring an ungodly amount of sugar into the cup with the hope of masking the awful taste of the hospital’s signature brew.

When he steps into line, his life flashes before his eyes.

“Takashi Shirogane, why on God’s green Earth are you here.”

Shiro turns, trying to remember if his affairs are in order, “Hi Dr. Holt, how are you?”

“Answer the question, Shirogane, why are you in the hospital,” Colleen Holt crosses her arms, her cup of oatmeal looking like a weapon in her capable hands.

“I uh,” he tries to think of a reason, “Just a check up. Forgot breakfast so,” he waves the muffin at her.

She narrows her eyes and he remembers the blood on his shirt, cursing his own stupidity for not thinking to change into his spare uniform before the tow truck had taken his car.

“I got into a bit of a car accident, I’m just waiting to get checked out. I did forget breakfast, though.”

The cashier is staring at them, clearly bored out of his mind. Colleen sighs and gestures for Shiro to put his muffin and coffee down, stepping in to pay for their food with her hospital ID badge, “Get your ass back to the ER, I’ll be there in an hour to throttle you.”

“Yes ma’am,” Shiro sulks, taking a bite of his muffin. He did not wake up this morning with the hopes of being chewed out by both of the doctors Holt, but apparently that’s what the universe had in store for him.

He walks back to the ER and slips into his room without complication, laying in bed. He didn’t stop by his office to get his data pad, so he fills the time with responding to emails on his phone, taking notes on what classes he wants to teach until the Kerberos launch date is rescheduled, and waiting for the executioner's axe that Colleen is going to bring with her when she comes to check on him.

He gets a text from Adam and shuts his phone off, turning on the television to partake in the shitty daytime tv shows that play on loop.

Hour six comes and goes and Shiro is no longer enthralled by the Judge Judy episode. He gets out of bed and starts to pace the small space as the department beyond his curtain erupts into noise. All of the sudden, paramedics are rolling a young woman on a stretcher into his space, doctors and nurses shouting orders for medications and equipment to stabilize the unconscious woman. Shiro watches in shock, sticking to the corner of his curtain as they transfer her from the stretcher to his bed, placing IVs and electrodes on her body, calling out rhythms.

A nurse steps in and looks at him, “Uh, who are you?”

“Takashi Shirogane,” he states, though it sounds like a question even to him.

“Are you family?” she asks, pulling out a notebook and a pen.

“Uh no,” he crosses his arms, “I’m a patient, I’ve been sitting here since change of shift.”

All the color drains from her face, “Oh. Oh no, uh,” she looks around. “Go um. Sit behind that desk, okay? I’ll be right with you.”

Shiro stares incredulously, the feeling of his eye developing a twitch becoming known to him.

Another doctor steps into the space and he’s nearly run over, so he steps out and does as the nurse asks. It’s another hour before she steps out of the room, a dark stain on her top but a relieved look on her face.

Shiro perks up, peering around the curtain, “Is the girl okay?”

The nurse startles, a hand coming over her chest, “Huh? Oh! Yeah, yeah she’s good for now.”

She steps around the desk and pulls a chair next to him, collapsing onto the seat, “So, what was your name again?”

“Takashi Shirogane.”

The woman sits up, ramrod straight, “Wait, like, the Takashi Shirogane?”

“That’s me, yep.”

She tugs at her hair, “Oh lord, I had the most famous astronaut on Earth as my patient and I forgot about him.”

Shiro laughs at that, the entire morning suddenly making sense to him. She groans, hurriedly logging into her computer, “It looks like you just have to get a CT and you’re good to go, I can bring you over right now and I’ll send you on your way, okay?”

“Sounds good to me,” he rubs his eyes, ready to get the hell out of this place. She stands and walks off, gesturing for Shiro to follow. The room is empty when they arrive and Shiro walks over to the scan, knowing the process well. By the time she comes out of the viewing room, he’s already settled in.

“Oh, you-”

“I know the drill, don’t worry.”

She purses her lips into a frown, nodding once before stepping back into the viewing room. He’s moved into the scanner and a few clicks later, he’s moved out. He sits up once his head is clear of the machine, swinging his legs over the edge.

“Good to go?” he calls, peering through the tinted glass.

The nurse comes out of the room, a smile on her face, “You will be in just another minute, the scan looks good but I just need a doc to sign off, okay?”

Shiro grins, taking the first victory of the day.

Another twenty minutes later and he’s given the go ahead to sign discharge papers, gleefully filling out the forms and stepping out into the sunlight.

It’s then that he realizes he doesn’t have a car to drive himself home in. But, before he can even begin to worry about it, the force of nature that is Colleen Holt steps out of the hospital with enough rage in her eyes to make him fear for his life.

“So! You think you can get into a car accident and leave before I have the chance to take a look at you, huh? Is that it?”

He stares at the ground, “In my defense, you did say you’d be an hour.”

It wasn’t the right defense to make, not if the downright terrifying look that comes over her face is anything to go by, “You’re goddamned lucky that Samuel told me about the Kerberos mission or you’d be right back in that ER, Shirogane.”

Shiro looks up, watching her features soften ever so slightly, “Let’s go get some lunch. I have an hour.”

-

Lunch takes more than an hour due to Colleen slowly extracting everything that’s been on Shiro’s mind from him. By the end of the ordeal, he feels raw and about an inch from crying, but thankfully he only has to go to the autobody shop taking care of his car and he can finally be done for the day. One more human interaction, then he can go home to the massive cat that he adopted and he can tuck into the ungodly amount of ice cream that has replaced all of the frozen vegetables that Adam used to stock the freezer with.

It takes even longer to get to the autobody shop, what with Shiro severely underestimating the amount of time it would take to cross town after denying Colleen’s offer to drive him.

He walks into the office adjoining the mechanic shop, the bells attached to the door frame tinkling as it shuts softly behind him. He takes in the old futon beneath the window with the glowing “Open” sign hanging in it. There’s a lamp in the corner of the room, filling it with soft yellow light as the sun finally sinks beneath the horizon.

A young woman sits on the futon, her legs tucked beneath her as she types away at her small laptop.

“Just… one… second,” she draws out each word, her brows twisted in concentration as her fingers fly over the keys. “Okay!”

Shiro steps back in surprise at her sudden exuberance, “Uh, hi.”

“Hi there! How are you doing today?”

He laughs, rubbing the back of his neck, “I’m doing okay, thanks, how are you?”

The woman frowns, tapping the cushion beside her, “Just okay?”

Shiro sits down, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He only just remembers that he had turned it off and avoided looking at it all day. As the screen comes to life, he looks at the woman, “It’s been a hell of a day.”

She nods with sagely wisdom despite being no older than 20, “I know the feeling.”

His phone buzzes with a series of texts that he missed, the earliest of which being Adam’s, the one that made him turn his phone off in the first place. He slides his finger over the lock screen, allowing the phone to recognize his face and open to his home screen. All of the messages are in his shortcut, the preview from Adam saying, “I’ll be at the Christmas…”

Shiro opens it in a hurry, not even caring that the young woman is peering over his shoulder. The rest of the message comes up and he finds himself murmuring, “...party, see you there, since Kerberos is cancelled.”

The woman looks at him, her eyes going wide, “Oh my- you’re Takashi Shirogane- he just-”

“He’s probably,” Shiro takes a deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut. “He’s probably enjoying this so much.”

She puts a hand on his shoulder, her thumb moving in soothing circles. The simple act of kindness from a stranger after the shittiest day of his life is the final straw. Shiro leans against her shoulder, feeling every bit like a small child, and cries.

“Fuck,” he whines, not even caring that he, a decorated veteran and accomplished astronaut, is crying his eyes out in the presence of a stranger. Today was fucking hard. He earned this.

“O-oh, it’s okay,” she whispers, her hand coming to rub circles on his back.

“No it’s not,” he huffs, tears falling into his lap as well as hers, “My stupid ex fiance is celebrating my stupid mission to Pluto’s moon being postponed, and he’s coming to my stupid grandparent’s stupid Christmas party.”

The woman sighs, “Yeah, that’s pretty awful,” her hold extends to his opposite shoulder and she wraps him in an awkward side hug. “You’re gonna be okay though, he’s got nothing on you.”

“How do you know?” he sniffs, eyes fixed on the jar of chocolates that he wants to inhale.

“Because,” she says incredulously, “You’re an actual astronaut. And he’s not. I think. So you win, okay?”

Before Shiro has the chance to let her words sink in, the door leading into the garage swings open and someone walks through. He lifts his eyes to find himself staring down some gorgeous, dark haired grease monkey Adonis, his coveralls wrapped around his waist like some delicious 1950’s fantasy dream boy, and Shiro thinks he’s finally met his end on this god awful day.

“Uh-” Adonis starts, taking in the situation before him.

Shiro bolts upright, realizing that he could very well be lying all over his girlfriend, partner, whatever. He takes in those perfectly toned biceps and realizes that no amount of military training from the Garrison would make him willing to piss this guy off.

“I’m uh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t,” Shiro stammers.

The woman stands up, extending a hand to him as she does, “Keith, I think this is the owner of that skeleton you have in the garage.”

Adonis, no, Keith, nods his head and steps behind the counter. He wipes his brow with a towel and Shiro notices the gash on his forehead, in nearly the exact spot that he has his own.

“Romi, will you go grab my clipboard for me,” Keith asks, his voice low and soft and gentle with her.

She nods, gives Shiro one last soothing pat on the shoulder, and steps into the garage.

“I’m so sorry,” he spills the moment she’s gone, “I didn’t mean to make your girlfriend uncomfortable-”

Keith blanches, “Nope, she’s my sister, don’t be gross,” he shakes his head and types on the computer behind the desk, the mouse clicking rapidly under his fingertips. “And don’t worry about it, Romelle has that,” he waves his fingers at Shiro’s tear stained face, “effect on people.”

Shiro sniffles, barking a laugh, “Your sister makes total strangers break down after a shitty day.”

“Yep,” the man is solemn and dead serious, “It happens to the best of us.”

“Noted,” he wipes his nose on his sleeve in the absence of a tissue. Keith glances at him from the corner of his eye and lifts a box of tissues onto the customer countertop. “Thank you,” he sniffs.

“Don’t mention it,” he mutters, clicking the mouse a few more times before the printer starts making noise in the background.

Romelle steps back into the office and hands Keith a clipboard before coming back to Shiro, “Need another hug?”

Shiro looks at Keith, who is watching him with a small smile on his face. He takes the lack of a threat as an O-K and nods, allowing himself to be wrapped in the arms of the shorter woman.

“It’s going to be okay, Adam ain’t shit.”

He laughs at the slang, knowing that Adam would be physically pained by it, “Thank you, I appreciate that.”

“Anytime buddy, you’ve got me in your corner, now.”

Shiro squeezes her back and she pulls away, patting him on the shoulder before guiding him back to the futon to sit down for a moment.

Keith comes around with a small stack of papers and crouches in front of the coffee table, flipping them so they face Shiro, “Okay, so I need you to sign next to all the X’s, initial next to all the arrows. Assuming,” he looks at Shiro from beneath thick lashes, “That you do want me to fix the car, rather than junking it?”

Shiro blanches at the thought of his car sitting in a junkyard, “Please, fix it if you can,” he accepts the pen from Keith and follows his instructions.

“So Mr. Shirogane,” Romelle starts, leaning against him when his breath hiccups from his sudden outburst of crying, “What are you going to do about this Adam situation?”

“Shiro,” he says, hating the sound of Mr. Shirogane with every bit of his being, “And I don’t know? Nothing?”

“Romelle,” Keith warns, “Don’t be getting involved in other people’s lives.”

“I’m not,” she exclaims, throwing a chocolate from the jar at her brother. “I was just going to ask if Shiro needed help planning his revenge!”

“Revenge?”

“Romelle.”

They speak at the same time, the two men glancing at each other before turning to the blonde.

“Yeah, you just gotta make him jealous, show him what he’s missing!”

Shiro’s cynical nature slides into view as he laughs, “Well, I’m not sure how well that’ll work, considering I was the one who left him.”

“Oh shit-” Keith says, suddenly intrigued.

Romelle’s grin turns devious, “Even better! Show up with some smokin’ guy on your arm and make him go crazy with jealousy! That’ll show him you don’t need him,” she gestures at Shiro’s phone, “Texting you all high and mighty like that!”

Something about her brings Shiro’s walls tumbling down, “How am I supposed to find a guy in time for Christmas?”

“Hm,” she twirls her hair on her finger, “You could bring Keith?”

“Romelle!”

Shiro’s ears turn red, embarrassed to no end, “I couldn’t ask that-”

She rolls her eyes, something Shiro guesses she does often, “Come on Keith, look at him, he’s hot and an astronaut.”

“Romelle, that’s enough,” Keith’s voice starts dangerous, but the crack at the end and the flush in his ears that matches Shiro’s makes it much less menacing.

As crazy as the idea is, Shiro certainly wouldn’t mind the chance to spend more time with Adonis Keith. Not to mention the added bonus of seeing how pissed off Adam would be. He looks at the mechanic, his eyes pleading. Romelle catches on and sticks her lower lip out.

“I could absolutely pay you for your time,” he offers, watching Keith’s gaze flit between the two of them.

“I-” he hesitates, staring Romelle down.

“Keith,” she starts, eyes impossibly wide and pleading. Shiro doesn’t know if he’d ever be able to say no to her and they only just met.

“No, Romi! Mr. Shirogane, I’m sorry, but I can’t just-”

The realization of what Shiro just asked of him sinks in and his entire face flushes, “Oh God, I am so so sorry, just uh,” he places the pen on the stack of papers and slides them across the table, “Forget I ever said anything. Feel free to call me whenever I can come get the car.”

Romelle mutters something under her breath but Shiro doesn’t catch it, standing to rush out of the office. The bells jingle as the door shuts softly behind him.

For the second time that day, as he stares at the road in front of him, he realizes he doesn’t have a car to drive home.

“You are a literal rocket scientist, Shirogane,” he grumbles, “Get it together.”

The walk home is not going to be enjoyable in the slightest.

-

“You are so boring,” Romelle states the moment Shiro is out the door.

“Romelle Kogane, I am not going to be paid to be someone’s fake boyfriend!”

“Well why not?!”

Keith stalks off behind the counter lifting the keys to their car off the hook, “We are not having this conversation, Romelle. Sweep up the garage, please. I’ll see you at home.”

He knows that she’s mimicking him while his back is turned, but sweeping up is the least she can do after that.

And besides that, he really doesn’t want to.

He climbs into the car, throwing his bag in the backseat and pressing the back of his skull against the headrest. For a moment, he just sits and breathes. Everything hurts, but that isn’t new. He smells like motor oil, but that isn’t new either.

The shower he’s going to take the moment he gets home will be blissful and freeing. The key slides into the ignition and he waits for the old engine to turn over, relishing in the feeling of the old car coming to life beneath him. He pulls out of the gravel lot behind the garage quietly, the car humming as he turns onto the main road and drives down the empty streets. If the absence of other drivers on the road is another perk of working so late, he’ll gladly tack on the extra hours.

He’s about to slide a cassette into the old radio when he notices a broad figure in military dress walking down the side of the road. The light turns red in front of him and he groans.

His father’s voice echoes in the back of his head, reminding Keith that he was raised to be a gentleman.

“Oh for fuck’s sake.”

Keith rolls down the passenger window and leans across the center console, “Mr. Shirogane!”

The man startles and peers at Keith, “Oh! Uh, hi again.”

“Do you need a ride home?”

Keith watches as he considers the walk, the events that led to him crying on his baby sister’s shoulder, whatever else comes to mind.

“Would you mind?”

He rolls his eyes, “Wouldn’t have offered if I did, Mr. Shirogane. Hop in.”

The man jogs over, opening the door and sliding into the passenger seat. He buckles in as the light turns green and rests his arm on the center console. For the first time that night, Keith notices that his fingers are made of metal.

Once again, he hears his father’s voice when he thinks about asking. A man’s business is his, don’t go poking where you aren’t welcome, son.

He sighs, “So where are we headed?”

“If you go towards the Garrison, that’ll get you pretty close,” Shiro says, his voice soft with sudden shyness.

The ride is filled with an uncomfortable silence as Keith takes the car onto the highway. He opens his mouth to speak, to ask some stupid question in the hopes of small talk, but Mr. Shirogane beats him to the punch.

“Are you from the area?”

Keith shakes his head, “No, sir, but my father is.”

They both pause.

“Are you?”

“Nope, Northern California, actually. I moved for uh,” he trails off, his hands waving at his uniform.

“Astronaut things,” Keith can’t help the small smile on his face. Earlier blubbering aside, he gets the feeling that he’s a good man.

He laughs, “Yeah, astronaut things.”

Keith can’t help but glance over, taking in the sharp features that he knows he has seen on the television, if only in passing. Despite the stuffy uniform, it’s clear that he’s got a simple confidence about him. Keith never had a particular liking for the people of the Garrison, he was never a fan of their strict rules, but if his uncle’s taught him anything, it was to respect their commitment.

They pass the sprawling campus of Altea University and Keith speaks, “That’s the real reason we came back.”

His passenger turns to face him, “Does your sister go there?”

“She does,” he can’t help the proud smile on his face. “For Aeronautical Engineering, but we came back because I was going.”

“Was?”

He hums, “Yeah, I had to stop when Romi got accepted. Couldn’t afford to send both of us.” In this moment, Keith is eternally grateful that driving requires eyes remaining on the road. He has no desire to see the crestfallen look that would come across Mr. Shirogane’s face.

“Aeronautical Engineering,” the man offers, “She probably knows my friend Allura.”

“Professor Alforsson?”

“Yeah, we were cadets together.”

“Professor Alforsson was the reason I stayed in for my last semester,” Keith laughs, “She refused to let me leave the school until I had taken her Stellar Physics course.”

Mr. Shirogane sucks a breath through his teeth, “Oh, man, I feel bad that your last class was that behemoth. I remember when Allura was writing the curriculum for it, I took all of her practice tests and never scored above a 70.”

Keith’s eyebrows furrow, “What do you mean? I finished the class with an A.”

The man balks, “What?”

“Yeah,” he laughs, feeling more relaxed now that they at least have some common ground, “It wasn’t easy, but I did really well. Maybe she changed her tests?”
He can see his company shaking his head, “No, she wouldn’t, but she did mention a student getting an A for the first time a few years back.”

Keith changes lanes, exiting from the highway to take the state route that leads to the city within the city, “Who knows, maybe it was me.”

“I asked her if I could try and recruit them for the Aeronautics program at the Garrison and she laughed in my face.”

“Heh,” he flips the turn signal on, “Sounds like me. My uncles were in the Garrison, but I never took well to authority.”

“Ah,” Shirogane laughs, “Makes sense, then.”

Keith slows to a stop at a red light just beyond the limits of the base, “So where am I headed from here?”

“Do you know where the officer apartments are?”

“Which building?”

“10.”

“Christ, how high ranking are you?”

Shirogane laughs, “High enough.”

Keith swallows, following the signage that leads to private apartment buildings. He feels like a disturbance in the old car despite how much effort he put into restoring it. It’s far too loud for the quiet that pervades the base in the evening hours, knowing well that it has entirely to do with the awful early mornings everyone within complies to.

“Left up here.”

Keith flips the turn signal and takes the road, marvelling at the buildings that are inhabited by the highest ranking officials on the base, “The job comes with perks, huh?”

“Well, going to space is definitely a perk.”

He barks a laugh, “Not to mention that bit.”

A glance at the rearview mirror confirms that the feeling of heat on his cheeks is caused by Mr. Shirogane looking at him, his eyes filled with gentle focus. The flush extends down his neck and he’s grateful for the darkness of the interior as he slows to a stop in front of the beautiful building at the end of the road.

“I think we’re here,” Keith murmurs.

It snaps the officers attention to the world beyond the car, “Oh, yes. Uh,” he pauses. “Thank you again, for the ride.”

“Don’t mention it,” the younger man works up the courage to look him in the eye, offering a warm smile that is saved for very few. He’s met with the officer’s kind face and he only just now notices the start of a wrinkle at the corner of his eyes, the stretch of scar tissue across his nose, the perfect cut of his jaw.

The man smiles and it’s fucking devastating, “I’ll see you around?”

“Yeah, have a good night Mr. Shirogane.”

The formality seems to catch him off guard and he turns as he steps out of the car, “Shiro, please.”

Keith swallows at the lump growing in his throat.

Shiro closes the door, gentle even in this, and walks into the building with one last glance tossed over his shoulder. He waves and Keith flinches to wave back, stunned.

As soon as he’s within the building, Keith presses his forehead into the steering wheel and sucks in a breath.

It leaves him as a frustrated, “Fuck!”

-

Keith slams the door to his apartment shut behind him, vaulting himself over the armrest to scream into the cushions as his sister so often does.

Romelle pokes her head out of her bedroom, creeping across the room until she’s leaning over the back of the couch, “Guess someone took the scenic route,” she teases.

Keith flips her off, face still buried in the cushion, “Shuddup.”

“Was the view of Mr. Shirogane worth the extra mileage?”

His other hand joins in giving her the finger.

She snorts, “You have some mail on the table.”

The older of the siblings groans, “If it’s a bill, just burn it.”

“That seems like a bad idea.”

“Bills are a bad idea,” he shoots back.

She pokes him on the shoulder and celebrates the flinch it earns her, “Your logic checks out.”

Keith glares at her, face red from where he slammed it into the cushions, “But here we are.”

He rolls off the couch, dramatic till the very moment he hits the old hardwood with a resounding thud. Romelle takes his spot on the couch, dropping a foot over the edge to kick him into motion.

“I’m going, I’m going,” he gripes. There’s no chance that he’d be getting something in the mail that isn’t a bill, so excuse the hell out of him if he doesn’t take any particular pleasure in opening letters. He flips through the stack, his shoulders crumpling when he spots the ivy covered logo of the university.

“Fucking hell,” he looks at the date on his phone, realizing that the payment is going to be due before his paycheck hits his bank account. It hurts to open the banking app, knowing that the month’s rent and grocery bill have just exited his account without flourish or fancy.

The balance confirms his fears. He’s going to be 300$ short on the payment.

Even with all the extra hours he has been putting in at Kolivan’s, he just doesn’t have the money to fulfill the tuition costs. Romelle sits up, resting her chin on the back of the couch, “Everything okay?”

Keith flinches, “Yeah, yeah we’re good. Just a reminder that your tuition payment is coming up.”

His sister slumps, “I- I’m sorry, Keith. Is there anything I can do to help with it?”

“Nah,” he shudders, “We’re all good, just focus on passing Professor Alforsson’s class, okay?” He wills the emotion off of his face and turns to her, smiling, “You better get an A.”

She perks up, “Shit, I should go study for that, our midterm exam is on Monday.”

 

“Get to it!” He gestures towards her room, “But don’t stay up too late!”

Romelle gives a thumbs up as she kicks the door shut behind her. A moment later, music pours from the crack beneath her door.

Keith looks at the bill in front of him once more, folds it, and tucks it into his back pocket. He can deal with it in the morning.

-

He wakes to the blaring siren of his alarm, hair in his mouth, and a text from Uncle Kolivan.

Going to be late this morning, can you open the shop for me?

Keith looks at the time and swears, jumping out of bed. It’s late, well past when his first alarm goes off for an opening shift. He throws his hair into a haphazard ponytail, swaps his boxers for a new pair that he isn’t even sure are clean, yanks his coveralls up around his waist, and sprints out the door. By the time he’s in the parking lot, he realizes he grabbed the keys for his bike and the only helmet on it is Romelle’s sparkly pink one.

“Bloody hell,” he grumbles, tugging it over his hair and swinging his leg over the seat. As the engine warms beneath him, he can’t help but think that, at the very least, he won’t have to worry about any early morning traffic on the drive over.

The scenery flies past him, barely recognizable as the bike pushes 90 on the short stretch of highway leading to the shop. He makes it with two minutes to spare, but there’s still an easily recognizable figure waiting outside the office when he slows the bike to a stop.

“Mr. Shiroga- Shiro? What uh, what can I do for you?”

The officer is too busy looking at the sparkly pink helmet under Keith’s arm to realize that he has been addressed. “Uh, I realized I forgot to organize a rental. Took the first bus over.”

Keith nods, trying to remember the number for the nearest rental place, “Sure, I can help with that.”

He steps up to the door and Shiro’s shoulder brushes against his in his attempt to move out of the way.

“Sorry,” he whispers, but the younger man just shakes his head.

As they step into the building, Keith’s phone starts ringing in his pocket. He pulls it open, pressing the green button on the screen to Romelle’s panicked voice.

“Hey uh, Keith? Is there something wrong with the payment on my student account?”

He points to the phone, mouthing an apology to Shiro as he steps behind the counter and pulls the binder for car rentals out, “Not that I can think of, why?”

With the phone pulled from his mouth, he whispers to Shiro, “There’s some options here, just let me know which one and I can call to organize a ride over, ok?”

Shiro nods and he turns his attention back to the phone.

“Oh,” his sister’s voice trembles, “It’s just that uhm. I’m locked out of my account, it says that the payment was missed. But I thought it wasn’t coming up yet?”

The color drains from Keith’s cheeks and he steps off to the corner of the room, “Shit, Romi, I guess the payment came out of my account and it bounced.”

“Oh.” Keith can practically see the crestfallen look on her face over the phone.

“Just uh. Give me a few minutes, okay? I’ll get this all sorted out, don’t worry about it, Romi. It’s going to be fine.”

“Ok, thanks, Keith.”

He hangs up the phone and tugs at his hair, a ragged breath falling from his lips.

Shiro looks up from the futon, “Everything okay?”

Keith nods, his lips pulled into a tight line.

“Are you sure,” the older man gestures to the couch and Ketih remembers their first meeting, just the night before. It feels like a millennia has passed, but it’s been less than 12 hours.

Keith comes over and the moment his back hits the back of the cushion, the complete lack of caffeine in his system hits him with the full force of a truck, “Altea U is expensive as hell.”

Shiro snorts, “No kidding.”

It makes him laugh, even as he pulls a hand over his face, “I’m a bit short on Romi’s payment, my paycheck hasn’t gone into my account yet and I didn’t work enough last pay.”

The man nods, “How much?”

Keith closes his eyes and feels how dry his mouth is, “300.”

“I’ll cover it.”

It makes him sit up as fast as if the words were a bucket of ice water poured over him, “N-no, Shiro, I can’t ask you to do that.”

He shrugs, “Gas money.”

“Three hundred dollars is not gas money!” Keith shouts.

“Okay, fine, then emotional labor, Romelle’s shirt may be irreparably stained from me snotting all over it.”

His nonchalance drives Keith insane, but he’s thinking of the ways that he could repay Shiro. It would take forever and Keith would hate being in someone’s debt but maybe if he did some overnights at the shop, or maybe he could sign up to be a driver for that food delivery service on campus, or…

“Wait, the Christmas party.”

“What?”

Keith smiles but Shiro’s fearful expression tells him that it might be a little unnerving, “You need a date for the Christmas party, I can be your date!”

Sure, he’s a little rough around the edges, but he has a big enough family. How bad could it be?

 

“I-uh, Keith, you really don’t have to-”

“No, it works perfectly. You need to make your,” he stands, his hands waving around frantically, “Douchebag ex jealous, I can do that!”

“Or I could just pay off the account, I really don’t want to make you uncomfortable by putting you in that situation,” Shiro’s hands are in front of him, as if Keith is a wild animal.

“The only thing that makes me uncomfortable is owing someone something, seriously, Shiro, let me do this.”

The older man sighs, looking Keith over, “I-”

His eyes are pleading and Shiro wonders how anyone says no to either of the siblings.

“Okay. I can uh,” he pauses, rubbing the nape of his neck nervously, “We can get a coffee and go over everything you need to know.”

“Great,” Keith grins, pulling the binder from in front of Shiro, “I’ll take care of this right now!”

Despite his hesitation the night before, Keith welcomes the chance to settle the matter with the university with open arms. He shoots a text to Romelle, telling her he’ll have it sorted within the hour and that she should call the school for access to her account.

As he’s on the phone with the rental company, he smiles at Shiro from behind the monitor, hoping that he’s able to convey his thanks in the expression. It doesn’t take long to organize the designated rental. It takes even less time for the company to confirm a car is being sent over to pick Shiro up. Regrettably, Keith isn’t able to say goodbye and give him a proper thanks as a car is towed into the garage shortly before the rental arrives, but at least he had managed to give Shiro his contact information.

He receives a notification that money has entered his account and Keith nearly screams, the amount far higher than the 300$ he and Shiro had agreed upon.

A text from an unknown number comes in, It’ll make sense when you meet the family.

What the fuck did Keith get himself into.

-

The rest of the month passes by easily. Shiro and Keith meet for coffee, discussing the terms of their agreement.

Shiro needs a fake partner to bring home to his family’s annual Christmas party, Keith will be that partner.

“You’ll need an outfit.”

“What, like a suit? I have a suit.”

“Is it a tux?” Shiro drank his coffee, which Keith could smell in all its sickly sweetness from across the table.

Keith had stared, his expression blank, “How formal is this party?” Shiro’s lack of response is unsettling.

“We’re going to fly in, too, but I can take care of the plane ticket.”

“Are you sure we can’t just drive? I should have your car done by then, it would be cheaper.”

Shiro had shaken his head, “No, don’t worry about that. My grandparents think that people who drive places have too much time.”

Keith was getting used to being confused by the family dynamic of the Shirogane household at an alarming rate.

There would be no sex.

“Se- No! Of course not! I just... need to prove that I’m not lonely.”

Keith had laughed at that. There would be an additional payment at the end, which he and Keith would talk about then, depending on the amount of emotional trauma the younger man endured.

It was a good arrangement. Weird, sure, but good. At the end of the day, Keith was just relieved that he wouldn’t have to worry about Romelle’s payment plan.

His younger sister had been confused at first, unsure of what crime Keith had to commit in order to come up with an entire payment on such short notice, but when he offered to bring her home a chocolate muffin from his favorite coffee shop, it made sense.

“Are you meeting a certain astronaut to discuss an agreement? Or is it a pleasure trip?”

Keith hated how good she was at picking up on silent signals, “Can it, twerp.”

He finishes the car by mid-November and is almost sad when he realizes it’ll be another month before he sees Shiro.

The older man comes into the shop and for the first time, Keith sees him out of uniform. He’s in a relaxed pair of jeans, a warm sweater stretching over his chest.

“Hey, Keith!”

Kolivan raises an eyebrow at the complete lack of greeting extended to him, then rolls his eyes when Keith shoos him out of the office, “Shiro! Your car is all ready to go, just one sec.”

He logs into the computer, Shiro rocking back and forth on his feet as Keith types away. The warm sunlight doesn’t do much to help the chill outside, if the redness in his nose is anything to go by.

“So, uh,” Shiro starts, digging his fists into the pockets of his jeans, “Your clothes should be coming to your apartment soon.”

Keith grins, “What, you don’t think I should be your boyfriend in my greasy coveralls?”

Shiro laughs, “I’m sure my grandparents would love that.”

The mechanic prints the receipts for the services, trying not to openly gawk at the price of the repairs not covered by insurance. When Shiro hands him his credit card, he doesn’t even flinch.

Keith swipes it, types the confirmation on the screen, and hands the sleek black card back to him, “You’re all set, then.”

“I’ll see you in a month?”

“See you in a month,” Keith smiles.

Shiro steps out of the office, keys in hand, and throws a wave over his shoulder.

Kolivan sticks his head into the office, “Are you sleeping with customers?”

“Uncle Kolivan!”

The gruff old man shrugs, “Guess that answers my question.”

“I’m not sleeping with him, he’s just-”

His uncle almost smiles, “I don’t need the details, son.”

“There are no details,” he grits out, teeth grinding with the effort it takes not to send his uncle into a tackle. He may be old, but he can handle it.

“Okay, just don’t make me lose any business.”

Keith shouts, frustrated, “I don’t have to deal with this!”

The door shuts as Kolivan walks back into the garage and Keith wonders when his entire family started scheming against him.

 

December

There’s a light dusting of snow on the ground when Shiro texts him. By the time the sun comes up, it’ll be gone, but Keith takes the moment to appreciate it as he drags his suitcase, courtesy of Shiro, out of his apartment building.

Shiro steps out of the car, looking like a vision in a perfectly fitted button down and even more perfect jeans as he takes Keith’s bag and places it in the trunk.

“Thanks,” Keith says, rubbing his hands together and warming them with his breath before climbing into the car that’s more spaceship than automobile. Even though he had spent hours pouring over the intimate details of this car, he is still taken aback by just how sleek and beautiful it is.

The driver’s side door opens and Shiro slides in with a huff, “You sure about this?”

Keith smiles, though it’s just as nervous as Shiro seems to be, “Yeah,” he gives Shiro a light punch to the shoulder. “We’ve got this, boyfriend.”

Shiro doesn’t react.

“Oh-kay, so. Airport.”

“Right,” the older man says, shifting the car into drive. It peels out of the parking lot silently, hitting the roads that are empty in the wee hours of the morning.

“So,” Keith starts, “What time is our flight?”

“0900.”

Keith gawks, “Wait, what? Why are we leaving so early?”

Shiro waves his fingers at him, the prosthetic reflecting the dim lights from the screen in the center of his car, “This thing is a pain to get through airport security.”

“Oh,” Keith says, ever so eloquent, “Uh. Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Shiro is easily accommodating to his oversight, “You didn’t know. And you can always go ahead of me and catch some sleep in the waiting area.”

“No, no. I’ll stay with you. It’ll give us time to practice being boyfriends,” Keith jokes, though he is a bit affronted that Shiro would think he’d be willing to leave him behind like that.

Shiro hums and takes to the highway, not attempting to fill the quiet space between them with conversation. Keith passes it off as being too early for small talk, but he knows it has to do with the same ball of nerves gathering in his stomach.

He ventures into the unknown, asking softly, “What’s your family like?”

Shiro smiles, “They’re a handful, but you said you have a big family, right?”

“Yeah,” Keith grins back, biting down a yawn. He only just now realizes he forgot to pick up his coffee from the countertop. He makes a note to get something in the airport, lest he find himself with a caffeine headache.

“My family isn’t exactly big,” the older man starts, “They’re just very nosy.”

“I know the feeling,” he leans into the corner of the seat, tucking his foot under his knee as he watches Shiro drive. It’s a lot different, being able to see him like this instead of being the one under observation.

“My grandparents and I are really close, they raised my brother and I after our parents passed,” Shiro launches into it, telling Keith of the aunts he should watch out for, the uncles who are going to drink a bit too much, and that each of his cousins are far too entitled for their own good.

“Honestly, Ryou and I hardly know how we’re related to any of them,” Shiro laughs after a particularly harrowing tale of a cousin arriving at the Christmas party too stoned to speak.

“I guess every family has a few black sheep,” Keith offers, knowing well that his own family is far too close-knit to ever call anyone a black sheep.

“Yeah,” Shiro agrees, his voice softening. His eyebrows furrow a bit as he drives.

“What’s wrong?”

“I just,” he trails off, checking the mirrors as he switches lanes, “I don’t understand why my grandfather would have invited Adam. He knows that I ended things between us.”

Keith sits up, placing a hand on Shiro’s shoulder, “Well, I’m a pretty great buffer, if I do say so myself. Just point out the douchebag when we get there and I’ll make sure he doesn’t bother you.”

It earns him a smile, “Thanks, Keith. I appreciate that.”

“All part of the once in a lifetime Kogane Escort Services,” he doesn’t know where the joking is coming from, nor the sudden confidence in his severely lacking people skills, but Shiro’s smile finally reaches his eyes and they wrinkle beautifully with the change. He’ll take the win where he can find it.

Shiro glances at him as he pulls his hand back into his lap, “New side hustle, huh?”

“Hey, if it pays the bills.” Keith rests his head against the window and marvels at the absence of bumps from the wheel suspension system that he became especially familiar with.

“Have you had any other problems with the university?”

Keith shakes his head, “No, we’re good. The extra labor from this,” he gestures toward the car, “Has us doing pretty okay.”

“You know, there’s a lot of scholarships available for working students,” Shiro’s voice drops, gentle and kind.

“Romelle already has all the scholarships you could possibly imagine.”

“No,” the man says, head turning as he looks at Keith with a certain intensity that warms his gut, “For you. You should apply for them.”

Keith has no desire to argue the point, knowing well that he applied for every scholarship there was and it still ran them in the red during that last semester.

“And I could help,” Shiro goes on, “As long as you keep your grades up, I could-”

“No.”

“Keith-”

“Mr. Shirogane, I said no.”

It does what Keith intended for it to do. Shiro is taken aback by the chill in his words, swallowing whatever he was going to say.

“I’m sorry.”

Keith doesn’t reply. The heat in the car becomes stifling and he cracks the window, cold December air rushing over his face. It’s an odd kind of comfort, but he revels in it. Shiro doesn’t try to start a conversation the rest of the way there.

-

Upon entry to the airport, Keith catches the smell of coffee and wanders blindly to the source. He comes to the chain, nearly begging for a large redeye and a latte with extra vanilla for Shiro. The price is, well, obnoxious, but he doesn’t mind. The barista takes his card and directs him to the other counter where he realizes that at some point, he lost Shiro.

“Shit,” he pulls his phone out of his pocket, scrolling through the list of contacts until he finds the man’s name.

Just before he can press the call button, Shiro arrives at his side, “How the hell did you manage to disappear so fast?!”

He feels his cheeks flush, “Sorry, I just really needed coffee.”

Shiro gapes, squeezes his eyes shut, and speaks, “You know what, I can’t blame you.”

The older man walks to step in line and Keith reaches a hand out to stop him, willing his flushed cheeks into submission when his fingers twist with Shiro’s, “I got you one.”

“You- oh,” the barista calls Keith’s name, sliding two large coffees across the counter.

He takes them, grateful and relieved by the sweet smell of the dark liquid. He slides the sleeve down, reading the sticker that designates which coffee is normal and which is enough to send someone’s blood sugar to the moon and back. Once identified, Keith hands over the sugary concoction Shiro swears by.

“Thank you, Keith,” Shiro takes the coffee like it’s a precious treasure, marvelling at the sticker that details his exact order. Keith has a good memory for this kind of thing, but apparently his travelling companion isn’t used to that.

“It’s just a coffee, Shiro,” he says, unable to keep the mild concern from his voice.

“No,” Shiro laughs, “It’s just that- Adam and I were engaged for three years and he didn’t get the order right once, you got it right from overhearing it once.”

Keith stares at him, “You know, I joke that your ex is a douchebag, but I didn’t think he was actually that much of a douchebag.”

Shiro takes a long drink of the coffee, smiling even wider once he pulls the cup from his lips, “You don’t know the half of it. Now come on, we gotta start making our way through the check in.”

From there, the older man handles everything. He gets them checked in faster than Keith would be able to dream of, his credentials from the Garrison pulling them through every security checkpoint before the metal detectors within five minutes.

Once at the metal detectors, Shiro frowns, “Here’s where the fun begins.”

Keith grimaces, glancing at his hand, noticing that his fingers twitch at his thigh.

They take off their shoes, their belts, Keith removes the watch that he inherited from his father, pulls the necklace holding his tags from his neck. Shiro removes his own tags, as well as his wallet and keys from his pockets, placing all of their bags onto the belt.

Keith steps through the metal detector first and the light over his head flashes green as he’s ushered through the other side of the checkpoint.

Shiro steps up and it seems like every alarm in the airport goes off the moment his arm encounters the scanner. He looks at Keith, his smile bashfully apologetic as he’s pulled to the side by three security guards.

Watching Shiro go through the process of scans, pat downs, and interrogation about his reason for travelling is painful, but what really sets Keith off is when the guard asks, “What is the purpose of this device?”

Shiro goes to speak, calm and collected, but Keith interrupts with all the bite he can manage, “It’s because he lost his fucking arm, you ignorant twat.”

“Sir, calm down-” the security guard starts, lifting his hands to placate him.

“No, don’t tell me to calm down, it’s so fucking obvious that it’s a prosthetic. You don’t need to fucking strip search him,” Keith’s voice climbs a few decibels as he speaks, clearly getting pissed off.

“Keith, it’s fine,” Shiro starts, resting a hand on his shoulder, “I’m used to it, really.”

That’s what really sets the younger man off, “You shouldn’t have to be!”

It seems that whoever is in charge of the checkpoint has caught wind of their situation, walking over to address them. When she sets eyes on Shiro, her face becomes pallid, “Commander Shirogane, Sir.”

“Hello,” Shiro greets her, perfectly polite as he does it despite having two sets of stranger’s hands still searching his body.

“Smith, Jackson, hands off the Commander,” the woman speaks, her voice curt and crystal clear. All three of the guards step back, eyes wide in fear of their superior, “My deepest apologies for this, Commander, they know that they should ask for credentials.”

His smile is kind and Keith stares between the two of them in shock, not understanding what the hell is going on, “It’s okay, really, but are my partner and I clear to go?”

“Of course sir, I’ll escort you through the checkpoint myself.”

“We’d appreciate that, thank you.”

Keith gawks, watching as the woman doles out a thorough tongue-lashing to the guards as he and Shiro collect their things and put their shoes back on.

The woman finishes, leaving each guard looking like they’ve witnessed death, and turns to them, “Alright, if you both will follow me, please.”

Keith leans up to Shiro, whispering, “What the hell just happened?”

“Perks of the job,” Shiro whispers back, calm as they skip through all the lines until the only thing they have to do is find their gate.

“Thank you both for being so understanding of the personnel,” the woman states, hands folded in front of her.

Keith scoffs, but he’s drowned out by Shiro jumping to accept her apology graciously, “Of course, it was really no problem at all.”

She drops her chin, excuses herself from them, and Shiro turns to face Keith, “Well, guess we didn’t need to leave that early after all!”

He rolls his eyes, “So what are we supposed to do now?”

At that exact moment, they catch the smell of cinnamon rolls. Shiro waggles his brows at him, “Breakfast?”

Keith’s mouth is already watering, “Oh hell yes.”

-

If the intimidation tactics that Keith employed at the checkpoint weren’t enough to make Shiro want to remain firmly on his good side, the way he mercilessly devours the gigantic cinnamon roll certainly is.

It’s mildly terrifying and extremely impressive, how someone as lean as Keith can down a sugary confection that contains more than half of the average person’s normal caloric intake and ask for another.

Shiro hands over the icing bites without hesitation, wary of what might happen if he doesn’t comply with his request.

Keith is more delicate with these, feasting happily on the bite sized chunks of sugar and dough, “I’ve never had these before.”

“Really?” Shiro asks, even though he’s not surprised in the slightest.

“Nope,” Keith grins around a bite, washing it down with a swig of coffee. “Too expensive.”

Shiro nods at that, knowing that the 9$ he spent on each of their cinnamon rolls is a bit steeper than most people are willing to go. He still has more than half of his own left, wanting to savor each bite of the sugary treat that he doesn’t often allow himself to indulge in. He drinks his fair share of sugar in the coffee he gets, but his physical therapy routine is enough to justify it. Even still, he can feel the sugar rotting his teeth as he takes another bite.

“You should try the pizza place in the SoCal airport,” Shiro offers, covering his mouth as he speaks around the food, “Best airport food there is.”

Keith snorts, “Guess we’ll have to take a detour on the flight back.”

He takes a final sip of his coffee, the bottom of the cup tilting towards the ceiling before he tosses it into the nearby trash bin. He stretches his arms over his head, back cracking with the extension and his sweater, one of the purchases Shiro made on his behalf (and a damn good one, at that) rides up ever so slightly. It exposes a dark patch of hair and the sharp lines of a lean Adonis belt and Shiro is catapulted back in time to when the only word he could think of to describe Keith was rooted in the Greek myth.

Keith yawns as his arms come back down, and his eyes open only to be locked with Shiro’s.

“You okay?”

“Huh?”

He narrows his eyes, “Come back down to Earth, space cadet.”

Shiro shakes his head, “I haven’t been a space cadet for well over a decade, thank you.”

“Alright,” Keith smirks, “Come out of your senile haze, old timer.”

The older man glares, “I am not that old.”

Keith nods, “Uh huh, how old are you, then?”

It makes him pout, “How old are you?”

“I asked you first.”

“I’ve been to the moon.”

Keith sputters, “Okay, so you’re twelve, got it.”

“I’m 34.”

Keith nods, “Old.”

“Hey!”

Shiro’s exclamation earns them a few glares from other’s, especially those boarding the early morning flights.

“34 is not old,” Shiro asserts.

Keith tries to keep a straight face, but he cracks, “I know, I’m just being a dick.”

Sarcasm drips into his voice, “No, really?” He takes a long drink of his coffee, trying not to be sad when the sweet, sweet nectar runs out. “So you still didn’t answer the question.”

“22.”

Shiro chokes.

“Christ,” Keith rises, crossing the aisle between the chairs to pat his back awkwardly.

It takes a few moments of coughing, but Shiro regains his composure, “I knew you were young, but I didn’t think you should still be in college,” he wheezes.

“Look at it this way,” Keith offers, his hand warm on Shiro’s back, “Imagine how pissed douchebag is going to be when you bring some hot, younger guy home to the family.”

Shiro glares at him from the corner of his eye, “You’re evil.”

“It’s great, isn’t?”

The simple comfort between the two of them is unfamiliar to Shiro, but he convinces himself that it must be because of Keith. Sure, Shiro can put on the charm and win anyone over, but the level of trust that Keith, hell even Romelle, can manage to imbue is something else entirely.

He leans into the touch at his back and takes a deep breath, holds it, and releases it with all the tension that he’s been holding. It’s going to be fine.

-

The plane ride is uneventful, save for Shiro discovering that Keith snores like a trucker the moment he finds a comfortable place to curl up. They take off and land without Keith stirring for anything, not even the in-flight refreshments offered to them both.

The first contact of the wheels on the tarmac has Keith lazily opening his eyes, stretching his arms over his head, and Shiro is going to lose all of his composure if he doesn’t figure out a way to avoid looking at that downright mouthwatering stretch of skin above his jeans.

“Fuck,” he whispers, drinking the coffee from the flight attendant in a rush.

“Huh?” Keith asks, rubbing his eyes.

“Nothing,” Shiro assures him, “We just landed.”

“Oh,” the younger man lifts the shade, squinting at the bright sunlight coming through the window, “Shit. Guess we did.”

The pilot comes over the speaker, “Good morning passengers, this is your captain speaking-” she rambles on about the local time, temperature forecast, and thanks everyone for flying with her as the plane slides into it’s spot at the airport.

Keith is sheepish when he turns to him, “Sorry I didn’t make better use of the fancy seats.”

“I think you made the best use out of them,” Shiro teases, leaning into him. He pulls their carry-ons down from the overhead and tugs his leather shoulder bag over his shoulder. Keith slings his own backpack into place as they exit the plane.

Keith follows as Shiro leads the way to the baggage claim, running as he spots their luggage already making its way around the conveyor belt.

“Shit shit shit,” he mutters, watching as they make the turn at the halfway point and picking up the pace.

Just before they can slide up the incline, Shiro grabs Keith’s and his own bag and lifts them triumphantly, “I got them!”

Keith takes his sweet time walking over, clapping his hands, “My hero. Now what?”

Shiro pouts at the lack of equal celebration, “You’re no fun, you know that? We have to go pick up the rental.”

“Lead the way, King of the Baggage Claim.”

“Your jokes are lame, Kogane.”

“If you say so, old timer.”

“Brat,” Shiro shoots back, reveling in the ease of their back and forth. It feels good.

He doesn’t have any problems getting their rental from the little kiosk, guiding Keith to the sleek sports car that he selected for the duration of their stay.

“Holy shit, Shirogane,” he mutters, tapping his fingers along the hood, “This looks like it was disgustingly expensive.”

Shiro shrugs and tries to play it off, “Military discount.”

“That’s one hell of a discount,” Keith whispers, placing his baggage in the car like he’s afraid of damaging it just by touching the interior. Shiro watches how carefully he shuts the back door and rolls his eyes, walking around the car to open his door for him.

Keith startles at his sudden closeness, “Oh, hi.”

“Hi,” Shiro opens the door, gesturing for him to get in.

He stares for a second, “T-thank you.”

Even the way that he sits in the passenger seat is fearful. Shiro tries to avoid laughing, knowing that it wouldn’t meet a receptive audience, “Relax, Keith, it’s just a car.”

“Just a car,” Keith mutters, “A car that costs more than all of my belongings combined, but sure.”

Shiro shuts the door with a shake of his head, walking back around to load his own belongings into the back seat and climb into the driver’s side. Keith watches with wide eyes as the Shiro turns the car on, the engine turning over silently, “Do you want to drive?”

Keith gawks, “Absolutely not.”

He holds his hands up in surrender, “Okay, just thought I would offer.”

With that, Shiro directs the car out of the parking garage, listening as the GPS takes him onto the highway that leads to the mountains. Even with the airport in the way, the scenery is beautiful. Each mountain is topped with snow and the trees that line their surface are a sight to behold.

“Have you ever been up this way?” Shiro asks, trying not to interrupt Keith’s gazing at the landscape.

“No, first time,” he whispers, reverent, “But my father was stationed outside of San Francisco for awhile.”

“Oh, I didn’t know he was in the military.”

“Born and raised in the Garrison, actually,” Keith smiles, touching the tags hanging beneath his shirt.

“Huh,” Shiro muses, “Wonder if our paths ever crossed.”

The younger of the pair hums, “Probably not, his duties were mostly with Fire Rescue, not the aeronautics division.”

“Makes sense that he lived up here, then, the wildfires can get awful.”

Keith grows quiet, a sullen, “Yeah,” slipping past his lips.

Shiro makes a note to avoid the subject, lest Keith himself bring it up.

“If you need any more sleep, you have some time,” he offers, pointing at the screen between them, “It’s another hour ‘til my grandparent’s place and we won’t have the chance for a good while after we get there.”

Keith nods and rests his head against the door, eyes still lifted to take in the scenery as they settle into a comfortable silence.

Shiro is nervous to say the least, still not sure what the hell he’s thinking by paying someone to piss off his ex, but at least it’s Keith. The thought comes and goes like it’s simple, not about someone who he’s only met on a handful of occasions, but Shiro tries not to overthink it for the first time in his life.

The mountains seem to grow taller as the car streaks through the winding road, low in the valley and beneath the seemingly permanent fog. It’s relaxing even as Shiro pushes the speed ever so slightly. He glances at Keith, just barely dozing off next to him, and is overcome by the urge to move his hand from the shift to twist his fingers through the younger man’s.

He shoves it down, blaming it on the excess of sugar and caffeine still dwelling in his system. Keith stirs, shifting his weight in the seat so that his body faces the front corner of the car. If he leaned back another two inches, his head would rest on Shiro’s shoulder. Even with the center console between them, Keith’s arm slides and brushes against his with the first snore that croaks from deep within his chest.

“Heaven help me,” Shiro whispers, praying to no one in particular.

-

Keith wakes up to Shiro’s hand on his shoulder and his voice low, “Hey, we’re here.”

“Shit,” he mutters, rubbing his eyes as he stretches the best he can within the front seat. After a moment of embarrassing sounds, he settles into the seat and smacks his lips, sleep still a heavy fog over his mind.

He looks at Shiro and is taken aback by the softness of his expression, “What?”

“Nothing,” he says, though his tone tells an entirely different story.

Keith narrows his eyes for a moment, but doesn’t press further. He turns to see what exactly he’s gotten himself into and his jaw drops to the floor of the car, “Holy fuck.”

Shiro laughs, a pained, nervous sound, “Yeah, forgot to mention uh, the family home is kind of intense.”

“The family ho- this is a fucking castle, Shiro,” he looks down, tugging at his shirt. “Are you sure this is okay? I could, uh, I could probably get a dress shirt on in the backseat,” he peers over his seat as if calculating the exact amount of space he would need to swap the shirts out.

“No, Keith, it’s fine,” Shiro’s hand is still firm on his arm, thumb squeezing gently, “Just be yourself. Politely. We’ll be fine.”

He doesn’t know if the last part is for him or Shiro. Still, he takes a deep breath and tries to collect himself, echoing his words, “We’ll be fine.”

“That’s the spirit,” Shiro offers, opening his door. He grabs both suitcases and his carry on from the backseat before rushing to open Keith’s door for him.

“I can open the door, Shiro,” he says, rolling his eyes as he steps out of the car.

“Don’t let my grandmother hear you say that.”

He tries not to think too heavily on that particular statement, as he tosses his own bag over his shoulder, “I can carry my suitcase-”

“Nope,” Shiro’s tone is firm and Keith swears he catches a glimpse of the officer that he really is.

“Well alright, then.”

The front door to the gigantic home swings open, an older woman stepping through with a towel thrown over her shoulder and a shout on her lips, “Takashi!”

“Bāchan,” Shiro smiles, allowing himself to be wrapped in her arms when they make it to the veranda, “I’ve missed you.”

“We spoke last week,” she admonishes, swatting his shoulder, “You couldn’t have missed me that much.”

Keith’s heart doesn’t melt when he realizes that Shiro talks to his grandmother on a weekly basis. It doesn’t.

“Baba, I’d like to introduce you to my-” Shiro trails off and they both realize they hadn’t discussed what he would call Keith.

He steps forward, extending a hand to the smaller woman, “Boyfriend. Hi, I’m Keith, I’ve heard so much about yo-oh!”

The sentence is interrupted by Bāchan grabbing Keith’s chin and tilting his head, “A strong jaw,” she pulls his face down. “Pretty eyes, warm,” her hands come to rest on his cheeks and her silver gaze is intimidating to say the least.

Keith tries to smile against her chilled palms, “Th-thank you.”

She turns her face to Shiro, eyes lingering on Keith’s face for an extra moment, “I like him. Do you treat him well,” before the older man can think to answer, she turns to Keith once more, “Does he? I raised him better than to be a selfish-”

“Okay, Baba!” Shiro’s ears are bright red, “That’s enough of that, thank you.”

“What,” she drags out the word, hooking her arm through Keith’s elbow, “Am I not allowed to ensure that my grandson is a good partner? Especially to such a handsome young man,” she reaches up to pinch Keith’s cheek, pulling him into the still open door. She steps out of her slippers and Keith kicks his boots off, barely pulling his foot out in time to be dragged along.

He’s trying to keep up, the whirlwind that is Shiro’s grandmother catching his still half-asleep mind entirely off guard. Shiro runs after them, suitcases in tow, “Baba, please, give Keith a second to breathe.”

“Nope, he has to meet Oji and your aunties.”

He turns his head to Shiro, a pleading look on his face as he’s dragged through the foyer and into the kitchen, where women are gathered around the counter with glassware in their hands. The room is silenced as Keith, the interloper, is brought in. Shiro rushes in, his hair disheveled, and steps forward to wrap an arm around Keith and remove him from Baba’s death grip.

“Everyone,” Baba calls their attention, not that she really needs to, “This is Keith. Shiro’s boyfriend.”

“Baba, please,” Shiro hisses, “I can introduce my own partner.”

“Well you weren’t moving fast enough,” the woman scolds.

Shiro rolls his eyes and squeezes Keith into his side. It gives the younger man enough courage to speak up, “Hello, so good to meet y’all.”

He curses the slang internally, but quickly realizes there’s no need. A woman whose hair has yet to show a streak of grey gasps, “A southern gentleman? Takashi, you’ve outdone yourself.”

Keith smiles, “Ah, yes ma’am.” If he lets his accent slip into his voice a little thicker than usual, Shiro doesn’t comment on it.

“Where are you from, Keith,” another one of the aunties steps into the fold, leaning against the island with her champagne glass filled with what he assumes is mimosa poised at her lips.

“I was born in Texas, but raised all over.”

“Oh?” Another auntie, “Why’s that?”

“My father was in the Garrison.”

Yet another auntie comes around the island, but at least she brings two glasses with her and hands them over. One sip confirms Keith’s suspicion of mimosa, and he takes a note to pace himself, not wanting to fall victim to flowing champagne in the presence of strangers.

“What division did he serve with?”

“Fire Rescue,” Keith takes another sip, “But he was a paramedic, too, so he was on most of the searches wherever we were stationed.”

One of the aunties, the one with the most lines of grey coming from her temple, tsks, “Your mother mustn’t have liked that much, did she?”

The smile on his face is tight, “My mother wasn’t around as a kid.”

All of the women gasp and Baba slips her hand through Keith’s elbow once more, “Oh you poor dear,” they coo over him. Shiro is pushed away so that they can crowd him, all at once asking whether or not Shiro has fed him that day, not missing the chance to criticize Shiro’s eating habits.

“Not enough home cooking, that boy,” one of the aunties hisses, a pointed glare thrown his way.

“Well,” another auntie shoots back, “That’s not his fault, that Adam,” the name is whispered venomously and Keith’s curiosity is piqued, “Always wanted to eat out. He said he didn’t like cooking.” From the tone of her voice, he can tell that not cooking is an offense of the highest order in this family.

“Keith, do you cook?”

“Yes ma’am, my uncles taught me,” he assures them, preening under their affectionate affirmations.

From the corner of his eye, he sees a gruff older man step into the room to hug Shiro. He can’t hear their exchange over the din of the aunties, but he assumes that the man is his grandfather.

Shiro catches his gaze, mouthing an apology across the room. Keith brushes it off, shaking his head to confirm that he’s doing fine. The aunties pull him into making gyoza with him, teaching him exactly how to wrap the dough around the meat filling they’ve already prepared.

If this is the worst of it, Keith is going to be just fine.

-

Hours later, once the vast kitchen island has been completely covered in food to be cooked later in the day, Keith is excused from his culinary duties. Shiro had left the kitchen, a hand settling on Keith’s shoulder to silently ask if he’d be okay without him. Keith gave him a winning smile, shooing him away so that he could continue bonding with the aunties.

He wasn’t used to being so well loved so quickly, he would take the attention while he had it.

Keith steps into the hallway connecting the kitchen to a room filled with massive couches, but the only occupant is the gruff man from earlier in the afternoon.

“Keith,” he offers in lieu of a greeting, “My grandson has told me quite a bit about you.”

He feels his cheeks warm, “Did he? All good things, I hope.”

The man nods, a small smile crossing his lips, “Of course, you have a glowing reputation, as far as I know.”

Keith snorts, “I can’t help but wonder how long that will last for me, Mr. Shirogane.”

He takes a drink of the amber liquid in his glass, “You’ve earned the approval of my daughters in record time, you can call me Oji.”

“O-oh,” Keith speaks, his chin dropping in respect for the older man, “Thank you.”

“If you’re looking for Takashi, I believe he’s in the den with his brother,” Oji gestures towards the slightly ajar door leading to a staircase.

“Thank you, sir,” Keith nods once more, crossing the room to slip past the door.

The sight that awaits him at the bottom of the stairs makes him question if he had fallen down the flight and hit his head. Two versions of Shiro, one with hair all black and the other with the white hair he has found himself enamored with, are currently tangled on the floor in what appears to be an intense wrestling match for a bottle of beer.

“Shiro!”

Both men look up at him and he doesn’t know what to do with it.

He tries again, “Uh, Takashi?”

The white haired version of his fake boyfriend shoves his dark-haired mirror image, ripping the bottle of beer from his fingers, “Ha! It’s mine!”

Keith has seen enough to piece the situation together, “Takashi Shirogane, are you fucking kidding me? You, a grown ass man,” he crosses the room, plucking the bottle from his shocked fingertips, “Wrestling over a bottle of beer?”

He walks over to the bar in the den, hitting the cap off the counter top in the absence of a bottle opener. He takes a long drink from the bottle, surprised by just how good the beer is. Holding it away from his face, Keith nods, “Huh, maybe it is worth fighting over. Guess you’ll never know,” he takes another drink and smirks at the matching shocked faces in front of him.

“Well are you going to introduce me to your brother, or am I going to finish this beer without knowing who I took it from?”

Shiro remembers how to close his mouth and stammers, “K-keith, this is Ryou. My twin.”

Keith nods, “Ah, so that’s what he forgot to mention,” he crosses the room and extends a hand to Ryou, “You’re twins.”

Ryou’s shocked face turns into a wicked grin, “Damn Takashi, how do you go from the lord of having a stick up his ass to this?”

It earns him a laugh from Keith, who tilts his bottle to Ryou in agreement as they shake hands. Ryou catches him off guard when he pulls him into a hug, his hand coming to rest on the younger man’s shoulder, “Have you survived the aunties?”

“I have,” Keith affirms, “They taught me how to wrap gyoza.”

“Oh shit,” Ryou gasps, “They never let Adam come near the kitchen. Shunned him away with their glares alone.”

“Is that so?” The question is directed at Shiro, who just rubs his temples as he confirms Ryou’s allegations. “Does that mean I’m doing good?”

The dark haired twin shrugs, “It means the Christmas party might be a wedding after all.”

Keith blanches, wide eyes fixed on his partner in elaborate, family related crime, “You were getting married at the Christmas party?”

Shiro’s gaze is murderous, “Thanks Ryou, thank you for that.”

“You mean you didn’t tell him? The fuck, Takashi?”

The white haired twin throws his hands in the air, “Well it wouldn’t be a problem if Oji hadn’t invited the prick to the fucking Christmas party!”

“The prick that took up eight years of your life.”

Keith looks between the two of them, taking a long drag from the beer still firmly held in his hands. Shiro hadn’t mentioned that they were together for eight years, just the three year engagement that was going to be a marriage until he left to hire Keith and make him jealous. Huh. The beer is stronger than he expected, if the spinning of the thoughts is anything to go by.

The aunties are far, far away, though, so who cares? He finishes the bottle and ventures off to find the glass recycling as the brother’s voices grow in volume.

Keith pulls up a chair at the bar and marvels at how the Shirogane ass seems to be entirely genetic. Damn, those jeans suit him well. Shiro pushes his sleeves up and Keith is caught up in the motion, his mouth watering as his fake-boyfriend’s flesh and bone forearm flexes in the dying sunlight let in from the big picture window behind the bar.

Shiro groans, his voice low with anger and fuck, he has no right being that goddamned sexy when he’s angry. Keith finds his mind drifting to seeing Shiro angry in a much different situation.

Ryou catches the dreamy look on his face and snorts, “Look at what you did to your boyfriend. He’s drunk.”

“I’m not drunk!” Keith exclaims, “I am tipsy. But not drunk!”

“Fuck, I knew I shouldn’t have left him alone with the aunties.”

Keith laughs, “Your aunties love me, ask them.”

“Keith, did they pinch your cheeks.”

The question sobers him up ever so slightly, “Yes. Both sets.”

“Congratulations, Takashi, you’ll be married by the end of the week. And Keith,” he claps a hand over the younger man’s shoulder as his facial expression becomes serious, “Welcome to the family.”

Keith nods, serious, “Thank you, Ryou, that means a lot.”

They stare at each other for a moment and burst into a fit of giggles that Keith would expect to hear from Romelle and her friends, not himself.

“Dear God,” Shiro mutters, watching them, “Ryou, you have to help me sneak him past Oji.”

“Just go up the deck, Shiro, come on,” the dark haired twin rolls his eyes, “You act like we’ve never snuck out of this place.”

“It’s been almost twenty years, Ryou.”

The twin shrugs and ventures to the fridge, pulling a beer from the back that’s identical to the one Keith drank, “Guess you’ll have to figure it out.”

“You suck.”

Ryou lifts the beer in toast and takes a drink.

“Okay, Keith, come on.”

“Carry me,” the younger man flops against Shiro’s chest, “That’s what rich mountain people with lots of aunties do.”

“Alright,” Shiro scoops him up, “Here we go.”

Keith giggles again, wrapping his arms around the older man’s shoulders, “DILF Express, choochoo.”

“Did you just call me a DILF?”

“Sure did,” he grins.

Shiro shakes his head, but Keith catches the smile on his lips even with the alcohol clouding his mind.

“You are pretty hot,” Keith muses, “I wouldn’t mind.”

“Alright, Keith, that’s enough,” Shiro’s smile turns tight.

He’s deeply offended, pulling away from the plush cushion that is his fake-boyfriend’s chest, “What, you wouldn’t ILF me?”

“That doesn’t make sense. You’re drunk.”

“I’m hot,” Keith states, a finger pressing into Shiro’s chest.

They come to a sliding door and Shiro gently nudges it open as he nods his head, “See? I know you think I’m hot.”

“Shh, Keith, let’s just get you to bed,” Shiro peers around each corner before he steps between rooms.

They’re about to go up the stairs Keith had passed when Baba dragged him through the foyer when there’s a knock at the front door. Keith vaults out of Shiro’s arms, twisting free of the strong, warm hold.

He rushes forward and pulls the door open as Shiro wraps an arm around his waist and tugs him back in, cursing all the while. The door swings open nonetheless, a lanky main with dark skin and shaggy hair standing in the doorway.

Keith can feel Shiro suck in a breath, his chest expanding to press against his back, “Adam-”

His eyes go wide, looking from the man in the doorway to Shiro, “Uh oh, douchebag is here.”

-

Once Keith is safely tucked into the bed in Shiro’s childhood room with firm orders to go to sleep, Shiro returns downstairs to find Adam in a standoff with the aunties.

“I’m just getting a glass of water,” he says, voice tight.

“No, I’ll get it,” Auntie Jin holds a hand up, pulling a glass from the cabinet. No one offers him a glass of wine, despite each woman holding one and there being enough bottles open.

Even Baba is being especially cold towards him, barely offering her cheek for him to kiss. Adam takes his water and tries to move into the living room, likely to speak with Oji. As soon as he turns, he’s met with Shiro’s broad shoulders.

“Takashi.”

“Adam.”

“Oh, you aren’t going to call me douchebag?”

Shiro can’t help but smirk at that, repressing a laugh, “I didn’t come up with that.”

“Of course not, the child you’re dragging around like a partner did. But you allowed it.”

He rolls his eyes, not in the mood to deal with Adam’s passive aggressive shit, “Adam, I’m really not in the mood-”

“Nor am I, if you’ll excuse me,” he pushes past Shiro, stalking off down the hallway.

Auntie May purses her lips around a sizable drink of wine, “Guess someone is mad he isn’t able to catch a man like Keith.”

Baba swats her arm, “What?! It’s true, our baby Takashi has game.”

He finds himself blushing and pours a glass of wine for himself, “Instead of talking about my game, can I help with dinner?”

The aunties coo, grabbing fingerfuls of his cheeks as they praise him and hand him food to finish preparing for the dinner.

-

Keith wakes up in a space he doesn’t recognize. There are stars scattered across the ceiling, a perfect copy of the night sky, but the rest of the room is devoid of personality. The sheets are plain white, not what he would have expected from Shiro’s childhood bedroom at all. Aside from a few trophies along the dresser and the glow stars above him, there’s nothing to say that a child lived in this space at all.

He sighs and sits up, rubbing at the dull ache behind his eyes. A glance at his watch tells him that there’s only about five minutes until when the aunties said dinner would be ready that evening. He climbs out of bed, thankful that the thick sweater Shiro bought for him doesn’t wrinkle easily.

With one last glance behind him, Keith walks down the hall in search of the stairs that brought him here. He spots an old picture of Shiro, Ryou, and Adam. Both of the twins had dark hair and there was no scar across Shiro’s nose, but he was nearly unrecognizable for entirely different reasons. His cheekbones were gaunt and he leaned into Adam, his uniform hanging off his thin body. Keith finds himself lost in the photo, taking in the strained smile on Shiro’s face.

“Keith, I was just coming to- oh,” Shiro himself has made his way up the stairs, but he trails off when he sees what Keith is looking at.

“You look so different,” Keith murmurs. He’s overcome with the urge to lean into Shiro’s side, but he presses it down.

“I was sick,” the older man speaks, “That was actually right after the Garrison removed me from active duty.”

“I’m sorry,” he says. The words aren’t empty, from what little Shiro has spoken of the Garrison, Keith can tell he loves it. Having to leave must have been painful.

“Don’t be,” Shiro wraps an arm around Keith, shocking them both, “It’s all settled now.” He presses metal fingers into the younger man’s shoulder and squeezes, “Ready for dinner?”

Keith nods, walking down the steps with his head tucked against Shiro’s shoulder.

“You know, the aunties were disappointed that I shuttled you away before they could get all your drunken secrets.”

He blanches, “Oh god, thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Uh huh, take it off my tab,” Shiro teases.

The memory that this is all a business transaction comes crashing down over Keith, “Yeah, your tab.”

He pulls away, walking through the entryway of the kitchen.

-

Dinner is almost perfect. Shiro and Keith are the perfect couple, all of the aunties directing their husbands to take after the two of them as they pull out each others’ chairs to sit, offer to plate food, pour a glass of wine, and so on. When Keith leans up to kiss Shiro on the cheek in thanks for the bowl of soba, the entire table lets out a collective coo.

That is, the entire table, save for Oji and Adam. The two men are seated at the end of the table, Oji at the head opposite Baba and Adam seated in the corner next to him.

“So, Keith,” Adam starts, “What do you do?”

Keith swallows the mouthful of food before speaking, “I work for my uncles, they own an auto body shop outside of the Garrison.”

“So you’re a mechanic.”

Auntie May levels Adam with a glare, “That’s excellent Keith, I’m sure your uncles are grateful for such a wonderful nephew.”

“Oh,” he laughs, “I’d like to think so, they practically raised my sister and I after our father passed.”

Baba gasps, rising from her seat to pile more food onto Keith’s plate as she glares at Adam, “My darling, I am so sorry.” She pinches his cheeks, gesturing for him to keep eating.

“Don’t worry Baba,” Keith smiles, “I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.” He wraps his fingers through Shiro’s, smiling at his fake-boyfriend.

“Right, Adam?”

The man doesn’t speak, just slurps his noodles dejectedly.

Oji watches the interaction with a sour look on his face, but Keith tries not to dwell on it. Change is difficult, he understands. Especially with an apparent wedding being cancelled as a part of that change. He makes the decision to stop poking at Adam, for Oji’s sake as well as Shiro’s.

-

When the meal is over, Ryou is placed in charge of entertaining the, now drunk, aunties while Keith and Shiro help Oji and Baba bring out the dessert that they had prepared before their guests arrived.

Baba takes charge of Keith, having him carry all of the platters of delicate cookies and cakes into the dining room. Oji and Shiro hang behind, sorting through the dirty dishes in a mimicry of their old after-dinner routine from when Shiro was a child.

“Oji,” Shiro starts, “Can I ask you a question?”

The older man is quiet, “I feel like I already know what it is.”

“Then why?”

He takes a deep breath, “Takashi, you loved Adam for eight years of your life, through thick and thin, and ended it in a fight.”

Shiro sighs, “Oji-”

“No, Takashi. Listen,” his grandfather dries his hands on a towel and holds Shiro’s shoulders, pressing his palm to where metal meets flesh, “I know things have changed for you these past few years. But Adam was a loyal partner through it all, you shouldn’t throw that away for anything.”

“Adam didn’t love me, Oji, he stopped loving me when he had to take care of me and fell in love with that, instead.”

“Which makes him a good husband, my son.”

Shiro pinches the bridge of his nose, “No, Oji, it doesn’t-”

The Shirogane men don’t notice that Keith has joined them, “Mr. Shirogane,” his voice is firm, “I would never want to disrespect you, but Takashi is right.” He comes to stand next to Shiro, his steady gaze firm, but warm, “Shiro hasn’t told me much about Adam, and a man’s business is his own, so I didn’t ask. But the thing that Shiro loves most in the world is the stars, Adam would have kept him grounded on Earth.”

Shiro’s grandfather’s brows twist as he thinks Keith’s words over, “Maybe that’s what is best for my grandson. You never should have resumed active duty with the Garrison.”

“Oji!” Shiro shouts, catching Baba’s attention as she joins the three men.

“Takashi, lower your voice,” she hisses, “What is this about?”

He turns to his grandmother, hand resting on Keith’s shoulder to draw in his steady presence, “Oji and Adam seem to share the belief that I shouldn’t have returned to work and wallowed in the settlement money instead.”

“That’s not what I-”

“No, but that’s what you meant, Oji,” Shiro growls. He can’t stand it. When he got sick, he lost touch with all the things that gave him life in the world. But one freak accident later and he finally, finally got to feel like himself again. He lost an arm and got his life back, the chance to live the way that he wanted to, but Adam and Oji always seemed to stand in the way.

After the Kerberos mission was announced, everyone knew that Shiro would be on the shortlist for Commander, but Oji stood between him and the mission every step of the way.

“Takashi, my love,” Baba speaks, her cold hands cradling his cheeks, “Oji only ever wanted what was best for you.”

“What’s best for me is Kerberos, Baba, you know that,” he doesn’t turn to face his grandfather as he speaks, “I don’t need Oji trying to resurrect a love that died long, long before the mission was announced.”

Shiro pulls away and steps back into the dining room only to be confronted by all of the aunties standing at the doorway and Adam, shocked, behind them.

“I-I should go,” he whispers, eyes filling up with tears, “I’m going to go.”

“Adam-”

Shiro doesn’t want to take back the words, unwilling to turn back on the truth that he had become familiar with in his time alone, but he would have rather told Adam under better circumstances, if at all.

“Save it, Takashi.”

The man who had been the most important figure in his life for nearly a decade storms out of his family home, leaving a stunned silence in his wake.

-

Keith decides that Auntie May is his favorite, attaching himself to her side as she drunkenly regales him with all the dirt on her sister’s children. She had never had any of her own, not caring to remarry after her husband passed suddenly into their short marriage. Instead, she watched as her nieces and nephews, Ryou and Takashi excluded, found themselves in increasingly amusing predicaments.

She points to Auntie Kira, “Her son took the money she gave him for tuition and spent it on strippers.”

 

“No,” Keith whispers back, scandalized, “Really?”

Her nod is solemn, but Keith has to fight back a laugh as she takes an impressive drink from her glass, “There’s a reason Takashi and Ryou are everyone’s favorite instead of their own children.”

Keith nods, “I mean, astronaut and CEO of a- what does Ryou do again?”

They look at each other, breaking into fits of laughter after Auntie May deadpans, “I have no fucking clue.”

He catches the gaze of Oji from across the room and holds it, eyes narrowing in response to the silent challenge. The older man looks away first and Keith takes his win with pride.

-

Shiro would give anything to stop pretending like he isn’t pissed off, but the unspoken rules of the Shirogane family dictate that he has to remain in the parlor until 10pm before politely excusing himself and separating Keith from the auntie that could get him into the most trouble.

He looks at them over the rim of his wine glass, lamenting over how Keith would pair up with her and get all the dirtiest gossip possible. He isn’t upset by it, just wishes that Keith hadn’t stolen his preferred reprieve from his family right from under his nose. Drunken gossip is the best part of family gatherings.

The old clock chimes the tenth hour and Shiro just barely keeps himself from jumping to his feet, “Would you look at the time, Keith and I have to get to bed if we’re going to help with breakfast in the morning!”

“But honey,” Keith drawls, “I took a-”

“Honey,” he throws back, glaring as he tugs Keith from the grip of his favorite auntie, “We had a very long day and it is time. For. Bed.”

Auntie May gasps, “Go, Keith,” she drops her voice into a stage whisper, “Get some.”

The younger man taps his nose and points at Shiro’s ass, miming his appreciation at Auntie May.

“No, no no no, bed. We’re going to bed. Baba,” Shiro calls across to his grandmother, “What room is Keith staying in?”

Baba grins evilly over the edge of her own wine glass, “Oh, no need for separate beds my darling.”

“But-”

“Go,” she waves them off, “Get some sleep.”

When he meets Keith’s gaze, all he gets is a suggestive shoulder shimmy, and a sickly sweet drawl, “Wanna get some sleep?”

“You’re a menace to society,” Shiro mutters, though the alcohol clouding his judgement is certainly swaying his opinion to Keith’s favor.

Keith leans back to Auntie May, giving her a thumbs up as Shiro drags him off to the upper level of the sprawling home.

Shiro finishes off his drink as they walk, only now realizing that he has had more to drink in the last day than he’s had since college.

“Keith, how are we going to get up the stairs.”

“Only one way,” his fake-boyfriend is suddenly solemn, “Get on my back.”

He snorts a laugh, “I’d crush you.”

“Listen,” Keith drawls, his southern accent growing thicker by the second, “You may be a very large hunk of lovin’, but I’m tougher than I look.”

“What the fuck,” Shiro giggles, lifting his foot to start the ascent up the stairs, “did you just call me a hunk of lovin’?”

“Yes, because,” Keith pokes his butt, “You’re a hunk.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You should.”

The stairs are daunting, but by leaning against each other and hanging desperately onto the railing, they make it in once piece. Keith leans against the wall, taking a moment to collect himself as the room shifts.

Shiro leans against the wall opposite him, “You’re pretty hunk-y yourself.”

“Oh?” Keith laughs, shutting his eyes against the darkness of the hallway, the only light coming from the foyer downstairs.

“Yeah,” Shiro’s voice is closer and Keith’s eyes snap open, confronted with just how close the gorgeous, breathtaking man is to him.

“Shiro,” he says, voice no more than a whisper.

“Yeah?”

“I want you to kiss-”

It’s all the invitation that Shiro needs. He closes the space between them, warm hand stumbling to twist fingers through Keith’s hair as the metal palm slides over the small of his back. The tugging of his hair makes the smaller man groan, against the softness of Shiro’s lips.

“Fuck,” he whispers, arms coming to rest over Shiro’s shoulders and pull him closer. He experiences weightlessness as a large hand cups his ass and pulls him up to wrap his legs around Shiro’s waist.

They lose their balance and Keith is pushed up against the wall, pinned by Shiro’s broad chest and his hips flush against his own. It pulls expletives from both of them, eyes sliding open to search each other’s faces before diving back into the kiss.

It’s hot, the heat of exhales scorching over each other’s kiss-reddened skin, and it’s messy with the taste of alcohol and unfamiliarity. But, as Shiro pushes the door open to his bedroom and follows Keith down onto the bed, it’s fucking perfect.

-

The morning sun slips past the curtains, bathing the room in soft light as the stars on the ceiling stop glowing. Keith shifts and notices the absence of clothing on his skin has been replaced by a warm body wrapped around him.

“Shit,” he hisses, pushing himself up to peer at the man behind him. “Oh fucking shit.” He lifts the sheets and finds that he’s lacking pants, but his boxers are firmly in place. It offers him no relief until he sees that Shiro is still wearing jeans.

“Oh thank god,” Keith says, this time at a normal volume. Shiro stirs, wrapping his arms around Keith’s waist and pulling him close.

His nose is cold where he presses it against his spine, “Baby…”

Keith chokes, poking at Shiro’s shoulder, “Uh, Takashi? Shiro?”

“Shhhh, babymm,” the older man trails off. A moment later, his eyes snap open and he surges away from Keith so far that he tumbles off the bed, landing with a dull thud against the ground.

“Ouch.”

“Smooth move,” Keith grins, leaning over the edge of the bed.

“Dear god, what did the aunties do to us?”

“Uh, they got us drunk after your douchebag ex-fiance finally got the message and cut his losses?”

Shiro blanches, “Right, that.”

“So, how much do you remember?”

Shiro lays flat, palms pressing against his chest as he closes his eyes against the morning light that crosses his face from the window, “Uh, I think I told my Oji to fuck off.”

Keith snorts, “It was awesome.”

Shiro’s eyes snap open, “O-oh my god,” he tries to sit up, but the groan that comes from his lips tells Keith that his headache is just as bad as the one Keith is enduring, “I- we- uhm...”

“Yeah,” Keith winces, “Sorry about that.”

“Why?” The older man covers his eyes, but only to block the sunlight, “I’m not.”

Keith furrows his eyebrows, “You’re not?”

“I mean,” Shiro turns his face to him, smiling softly, “Should I be?”

“No.”

“Then I’m not.”

Keith climbs off of the bed and sits astride him, twisting the long hair that hangs in Shiro’s eyes around his finger, “Can I kiss you again?”

“Depends,” Shiro’s smile becomes something snarky, “Do I have to add it to my tab?”