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“Did you see that invite from Allura for the barbeque tonight?” Shiro asks, just as he and Keith are finishing up their early morning run.

It’s been their tradition since the war’s end, the two of them finding a rhythm together as they run through desert streets, exercising before the heat can build in the air. They like the company, as it turns out, even if they both know how to build habits individually, too. Keith wipes his brow with his shirt sleeve, watching Shiro take a sip of water. His gaze on Keith is politely interested, awaiting his response.

“Yeah, this morning,” Keith says, scrubbing his sweat-damp bangs out of his face.

The invitation is relatively last minute. Billed as another event in a long series of Allura’s Introduction to All Things Terran! activities, usually the Paladins aim for these little outings and parties about once a phoeb. But they only just did mini-golfing about three quintants ago. Allura sent the message to the group chat last night, emphasizing how important it is for her Terran education.

“Maybe Allura read something about charcoal,” Keith says, more to himself than anything else. “Or she’s super craving meat.”

Shiro hums, wrinkling his nose. “Are you going?” he asks. “I know it’s tonight and that’s so last minute, but…”

“Yeah,” Keith says. “I love kebabs.”

That, and Hunk basically volunteered-told Keith he was helping. Your dad had that great BBQ recipe, right? Help me with my marinade!

Keith does indeed have his dad’s recipe for damn good barbeque, but he’s not sure how it’ll stand up to Hunk’s scrutiny.

Keith’s response makes Shiro laugh. “I have no doubt Hunk will make you a mean kebab. It should be fun, right?”

Mini-golf had been fun and strangely invigorating. Lance ended up getting the wind knocked out of him because of a windmill’s turning arm, so Keith has a hard time envisioning what would top that at a barbeque. Maybe he’ll catch himself on fire thanks to the grill.

“Should be,” Keith agrees and thinks, embarrassingly: It’ll be fun if I’m with you.

The thought makes him blush. He really needs to get better about reining in his sappy thoughts about Shiro. Maybe.

Wordlessly, Shiro and Keith start their cool-down walk back towards Shiro’s apartment. They pause occasionally to sip water or to work out a stretch, but otherwise it’s a clear path back. Keith fiddles with his hair, slicking it back away from his face, undoing the tie only to redo it again. It’s at an awkward length right now because he’s still torn on growing it out more or cutting it entirely.

Keith likes the outings with the group, truthfully. In the wake of the war, it’s nice to just do mundane things and enjoy life with his friends. He doesn’t have to worry about fighting a war, losing loved ones, hurting himself. He doesn’t have to sink into a life of diplomacy and military— all of them officially resigned from the Garrison— and instead, he and his friends get to just do dumb outings. Mini-golf, backpacking, knitting circles, surfing, and now barbeques. So far, their choices in activities revolve around Allura’s introduction to many Terran cultures, but just last week Pidge was talking about wanting to visit Olkarion again. Keith suspects that their horizons are about to broaden once again— not that Keith minds that at all.

In the meantime, Keith enjoys his morning runs with Shiro. It’s nice like this, just having the rhythm of their feet on the pavement to guide them, the panting of their breaths, the two of them jogging side-by-side, pushing each other to keep going.

Keith likes the aftermath, too, of returning to Shiro’s apartment. It’s a modest little building, a just for now sort of residence while the Paladins all get settled back into peacetime. Shiro’s apartment reflects that waywardness they’re all feeling— no Garrison, no Lions, no endless war— modest in its decorations and looking generally lived-in. Not a home, but a place to stay.

It’d be a depressing sight if Keith didn’t know how happy Shiro is to be out in the world again, exploring new places and trying new things and spending time with all his friends, Keith included. Keith can hardly judge the apartment; he’s currently living in the shack, after all, and it’s certainly seen better days. Taking one look at Keith’s place of residence, it’d be easy to assume he’s just depressed and disorganized.

Keith has big plans to refurbish the shack, but he’s taking his time with it. There’s no need to rush now, and more nights than most, he finds himself sleeping in Shiro’s guest room after they’ve spent the day together. Keith loves that, knowing that he can spend so much time with Shiro and it’s fine. They’re friends. It’s expected.

Keith watches Shiro shoulder open the door to the apartment, not even bothering to invite Keith in as he steps through. Keith’s welcome is inherent; they don’t even bother inviting each other over anymore, the two of them knowing they can show up at any time without issue.

Once inside, Keith makes himself at home— he kicks his shoes off at the door and sets down his things on the table. They bicker for a few minutes on who can use the shower first, but Shiro is insistent. Keith takes a brisk shower, scrubbing the sweat from his body, using Shiro’s soap. He towels himself dry and slips into the change of clothes he’s brought, although he knows he has plenty of extra clothes tucked away in the guest bedroom.

“You look comfy,” Shiro says when Keith emerges with fluffed-up, damp hair and his outfit for the day. He’ll need to head to Hunk’s soon to help with the BBQ-prep. Shiro is apparently helping Lance and Allura with set-up at the park. Pidge submitted an itinerary to the group chat about an hour ago.

“Thanks?” Keith laughs, scrubbing his fingers through his hair and shrugging. He tries not to read into the way Shiro’s eyes follow the movement, how he lingers on Keith. That’s just how Shiro is.

Shiro’s the one who looks comfortable and cozy. He’s still in his running-gear, waiting for the now vacated shower, but his hair looks soft in the morning sunlight streaming in through the window, catching on the steam rising from a cup of tea he’s brewed for Keith, just the way he likes it.

“You’ll still be here when I get out, right?” Shiro asks as he heads towards the bathroom.

Keith nods, plucking up the tea and retreating to his favorite spot in Shiro’s apartment, a loveseat tucked up near the window. He often lounges there and watches birds— or Shiro.

“Yeah, but I’m heading over to Hunk’s in a bit. So no long shower.”

“Short, brisk shower— got it,” Shiro says and flashes him a thumbs up before he disappears. It’s all horribly domestic, Keith thinks as he sips his tea.

And that’s the thing. More times than not, Keith feels like he lives here with Shiro.

The guest room is basically Keith’s room at this point. The bedsheets smell like him, still lightly mussed from the last time Keith slept over. He has his clothes folded in one of the drawers. The wolf sleeps on the couch even when Keith isn’t here, leaving her fur everywhere. Keith definitely caught Shiro wearing a pair of Keith’s (freshly laundered) socks last week.

They spend a lot of time here together, often lounging in this very loveseat— reading together, watching a movie, or just hanging out and talking. Shiro knows how to make tea the way Keith likes. Keith cooks for Shiro sometimes, just simple meals they can enjoy together.

From an outsider’s perspective, they’d look like they were actually living together. Like they were together. Keith knows what it looks like.

Keith doesn’t mind. Far from it. But he also tells himself not to read into it too much. He and Shiro have always spent a lot of time together, more than they do the others. Of course Keith would be welcome in Shiro’s home— and vice versa. It doesn’t have to mean anything beyond their deep, encompassing friendship. That’s how it’s always been for them.

They’re friends. Good friends, but friends.

Keith tells this all to Hunk and Pidge when he arrives at Hunk’s house to help with the barbeque and Pidge immediately recognizes that Keith is wearing one of Shiro’s hoodies. Shiro had insisted. Keith’s hardly going to say no to him.

He sees the way Hunk’s eyebrows spike up and Pidge hums with that sort of smug understanding that used to raise Keith’s hackles. Now, it’s just easy enough to sigh and explain that, no, it’s not actually like that. They’re just good friends.

“… Uh-huh,” Hunk says, with all the infinite good humor and judgement Hunk can somehow manage to saturate into one single word.

“So basically what you’re saying,” Pidge says, translating for Hunk, “is that you and Shiro are married.”

This is what Keith gets for showing up to Hunk’s apartment dressed in Shiro’s hoodie— his needed to be washed, okay, it was practical— and smelling like Shiro’s soap. He can’t hide anything from Hunk or Pidge, but he also lacks the vocabulary to explain that it really isn’t like that.

“No,” Keith says. “I just crash at his place sometimes.”

Hunk and Pidge exchange a look. They’ve been doing that more and more lately whenever Keith mentions or talks about Shiro when Shiro isn’t in the room. They were absolutely insufferable last week during mini-golfing when Keith had spent at least five minutes helping Shiro with his putting. He hadn’t actually spooned up against Shiro like some romance cliché, but there had been some excessive hand touching. They’ve been fucking impossible ever since. Keith feels himself blush, unsure why he feels the need to be defensive. His shoulders hitch up towards his ears.

“What?” Keith asks. “Just say it.”

Pidge looks down at her computer, clicking away at the kitchen table and not making eye contact. Keith has to wonder why she’s even here if she isn’t going to help with the food-prep. Clearly, just to torture him. Regardless, the message is clear: this is Hunk’s job.

Hunk sighs, setting down his kitchen knife on the cutting board and turning towards Keith. “Hey, man,” he says like he’s talking to a spooked animal. “You know we support you no matter what, right?”

“Right,” Keith says, wary.

“So…” Hunk waves his hand. “You know.”

“Know what?”

Pidge sighs loudly. “Ever thought about just telling Shiro how you feel?”

Keith startles. He’s glad that he’s not holding anything, otherwise it’d all go crashing to the floor. He feels his shoulders tighten further, hunching in on himself. He swims in Shiro’s hoodie and it at once offers him some protection while also feeling too damning. He’s wearing Shiro’s hoodie but, like, as a friend. He shoves his hands into the front pocket, wishing the hood would just rise to swallow him whole.

“Shiro doesn’t feel that way about me.”

He doesn’t bother denying his feelings. They’re pretty obvious to all, Shiro likely included. Keith feels a prickle of annoyance when Hunk and Pidge exchange another look.

“Would you stop doing that?” Keith barks.

“Doing what?” Pidge asks, all innocence.

“Having that weird… silent conversation,” Keith says, grumbling. “Like I’m some— some project you need to figure out or something.”

Pidge frowns and Hunk looks guilty. He wrings his hands together and then turns those puppy eyes on Keith. “I’m just saying,” Hunk says, placating. It’s hard to stay mad at him, especially when he gives Keith the big doe eyes, like he’s trying to silently persuade Keith into not being angry. It always works. “Maybe you’ll get the opportunity, right? No sense in wasting it… if a good confession opportunity comes up. Right?”

Keith doesn’t have the heart to tell Hunk that he’s already had a confession opportunity with Shiro. Not that shouting your love for your best friend in a life-or-death situation is an ideally romantic moment, or maybe it is (Keith hardly knows), but maybe shouting it while said best friend is battling some mind control isn’t the best choice. But still.

Instead of saying any of that, Keith just shrugs. “Whatever.”

Pidge rolls her eyes. “Told you the subtle approach wouldn’t work, Hunk.”

Keith stares down at the floor, brow crinkled. “This is the subtle approach?”

Hunk hums, exchanging yet another look with Pidge. It’s getting incredibly annoying. “Well. You never know.”

Keith isn’t sure if he should feel wary over such a response. He also doesn’t know what to make of Hunk and Pidge’s apparent unsolicited love advice. Considering they’re both single currently, Keith’s not sure if he wants to listen to their romance suggestions.

“Do you want me to help you with this damn marinade or not?”

 

-

 

“Here,” Lance says later, shoving a bag into Keith’s hands.

Keith’s doing his best. He’s following the itinerary Pidge sent to the group chat, finishing prepping the food and heading to Lance and Allura’s to help with nebulous event prep. As is typical any time he has to hang out with Lance on a one-on-one (or one-on-two basis, in the case of Allura), Keith feels immediately frazzled. He walked in the door and Lance shoved a bag at him. Keith is already so tired.

“What is this?” Keith asks as he pops the bag open— clothes. So many clothes. Keith stares for a moment, uncomprehending why Lance would have so many clothes and how this could possibly count as event prep.

“It’s for Allura,” Lance says as Allura beams behind him. “She wants a fancy barbeque.”

“Wh…” Keith stops, looking up from the bag to give the two of them an incredulous look. “… Why, though?”

“Why not?” Lance says. Sometimes his airy acceptance of all of Allura’s whims is just too much. Keith wants to wither on the spot.

“I’m fascinated by business casual style,” Allura says. Only she could manage to say something so absurd with a straight face and be perfectly earnest. She smiles at Keith. “Lance has quite the collection of clothes and—”

“And we knew you don’t have anything remotely nice looking in your wardrobe,” Lance continues. He glances at the bunched up sleeves of Shiro’s hoodie. “At least not something that’s yours.”

“… I don’t think I want to wear your clothes, Lance,” Keith says.

“We purchased these for you!” Allura says cheerfully.

When Keith makes no move to pull the clothes from the bag, Lance sighs and snatches it from him. He pulls out clothes that are decidedly not Lance’s style, nor what Keith would consider business casual.

“Those jeans have holes in the knees,” Keith says even as Lance shoves the pair back into his hands.

“Would you just put them on already?” Lance sniffs. “You are impossible today.” And then he looks Keith dead in the eye and says, “Don’t you want to look cute for Shiro?”

Keith can barely handle Hunk and Pidge knowing about his feelings. He knows he’s obvious to everyone. Somehow, even Lance being aware of his love for Shiro is the most mortifying thing of all. He can’t even say anything scathing back. He just stares stupidly, mouth open, waiting for the earth beneath his feet to open up and drop him into a dark abyss.

“I think you’ll look quite nice, Keith,” Allura says gently. She elbows Lance to get him to back off, which Keith appreciates, but her bright eyes are almost as damning. She knows. “Very handsome.”

“I don’t—” Keith fumbles, blushing. “That doesn’t— um.”

“You’re right,” Allura says. “Such things might not matter to Shiro, but it’d be nice to try something a little different, wouldn’t it?”

Keith sputters again, blushing all the way up to his ears. He doesn’t protest when Lance and Allura crowd him into Lance’s bathroom, leaving him a pile of clothes to try on.

“This isn’t event prep,” Keith grumbles.

Allura, of course, has damn good hearing and replies simply, “Oh, I think it is.”

Lance’s bathroom is overwhelming with too many scents of hand creams, lotions, face masks, and perfumes. Keith takes a moment to center himself, his mind swimming with stimulation overload. He glances at himself in the mirror and frowns at his massive blush.

He stands there foolishly for a moment, studying himself in Shiro’s hoodie. Allura is right— Shiro wouldn’t care about this sort of stuff, even if he did somehow return Keith’s feelings. The very concept of looking cute for Shiro is mortifying, and yet—

Keith plucks up the pair of jeans. They’re dark-washed and do, indeed, have holes in the knees. When Keith slips them on, they hug tight over his thighs. He pulls on a loose-fitting shirt next, simple but probably outlandishly expensive.

It doesn’t look too different from Keith’s usual style, aside from it looking perhaps a bit more tailored. That isn’t too bad.

Lance whistles when Keith emerges. “Yeah, perfect.”

“This is stupid,” Keith says and then feels bad when Allura looks wounded. He clears his throat. “I mean— you didn’t have to, uh, get me clothes.”

“Yes, we did,” Lance says. “You wear the same shirt every day. Or Shiro’s clothes.”

Keith blushes. “Shiro’s clothes are comfortable.”

“Hm,” Lance says, and Keith hates the level of judgement in that grunt. Lance has been spending too much time with Hunk if he can saturate a single syllable with such passion.

“If it’s alright,” Allura says. “Could I do something with your hair, as well?”

“My hair?” Keith asks.

“I’ve noticed you’ve been fiddling with it so much lately… Perhaps it’d be nice to try a new style?”

Keith flounders, uncertain what to do— he blushes and nods before he even knows he’s doing it, unable to refuse in the face of Allura’s delight. Her eyes light up and she claps her hands together, reaching for Keith and maneuvering him into a chair.

“Why are you guys really doing this?” Keith asks when, twenty minutes later, Allura has woven Keith’s hair into one of the fanciest braids he’s ever seen, with so many hair pins that Keith thinks he’d set off a metal detector. He looks nice when he looks in the mirror, though, the braid tight and delicate, his face framed with wisps of his bangs, looking artfully disheveled.

“Everyone likes to look nice every once in a while,” Allura says with a smile. She looks far too excited about this.

“It’s a fancy barbeque,” Lance says, as if that entire concept isn’t still completely absurd. Who wears fancy clothes when they’re eating barbeque?

Keith thinks of Hunk and Pidge earlier, the way they’d exchanged looks. Allura and Lance aren’t quite as in-sync, but it’s clear there are ulterior motives.

“You’re not… going to tell me to look for a perfect confession opportunity or something, are you?” he asks.

He looks at his reflection. He does look handsome, he thinks— Allura’s done a good job of weaving and twisting his hair into something beautiful but masculine, elegant and, yes, perhaps even cute. It somehow looks really nice with the loose tee.

Keith bites on the inside of his cheek when Allura and Lance don’t immediately answer. At least they don’t exchange a knowing look. Small mercies.

“… It wouldn’t be so bad, would it?” Allura says quietly. Keith slumps, ducking his head with a deep sigh. Her hands are gentle when she pats Keith on the back. “Only if you wish, of course.”

“Allura,” Keith sighs. He can feel himself start to blush.

“Come on, man,” Lance says behind Allura. “We’ve all got eyes.”

Keith blushes brighter, shaking his head so quickly he nearly destroys all the work Allura’s just put into his hairstyle. “I didn’t realize you all had so little going on that you’d get invested in this.”

It’s perhaps uncharitable, but Keith isn’t feeling very charitable. Allura pats him on the back again and then withdraws her hands, her smile sympathetic when Keith glances back at her.

“We just want you both to be happy,” Allura says. “You deserve so much after all we’ve been through.”

“I’m not unhappy,” Keith says, brow furrowing. “If you’re worried about that…”

Allura smiles at him. “I wasn’t worried about that, but I’m of course relieved to hear it, Keith.”

“Okay! Enough sappy talk!” Lance makes a shooing gesture with his hands towards them. “We have to get going or else we’ll be late. Let’s grab the food and go!”

So the event prep really was just dressing him up, Keith thinks morosely. He sighs, resigning himself to be herded for the rest of the day.

He gathers up the food in the fridge, packing them into bags at Lance’s direction. It isn’t until Lance has herded him out the door that Keith realizes that, while he might be dressed up in what Allura has determined is fancy, the two of them are wearing the same type of clothes they tend to. Allura, of course, always has casual elegance, but Lance is straight-up wearing sweatpants.

Keith frowns, unsure if he should point that out or not— it’ll likely just leave him feeling even more flustered. The three of them walk together towards the park. Keith listens absently as Lance chatters about the set-up they made Shiro do earlier while Keith and Hunk were cooking.

“Ah,” Allura says serenely once they’re a few blocks away from the park’s entrance. She and Lance stop walking.

It takes Keith a few steps to notice. He turns his attention away from watching some birds darting through the air to turn back towards them, perplexed.

“What’s wrong?”

Allura nudges Lance as they set down the bags of food they’ve been carrying.

“Uh,” says Lance. “So. We gotta go.”

Keith’s eyebrows lift up towards his perfectly braided hairline. “Huh?”

Allura grabs Lance by his wrist and adds, “Apologies, Keith. We simply must depart now.”

What?” Keith asks as Allura and Lance straight up start running away. He could chase them down easily— he can run faster than them— but he’s too shocked to really process his two friends booking it so abruptly. He shouts after them: “Guys! What the fuck?”

“Tell Shiro we say hello!” Allura calls back just as they turn the corner and disappear.

“Hope it’s nice and romantic for you!” Lance adds, his voice a fading sound that still manages to sound smug somehow.

In the wake of their abrupt departure, Keith stands there, his mouth hanging open in a stunned silence, surrounded by bags of food.

He’s not sure how long he stands there. Possibly only for a few moments, blinking stupidly, feeling overdressed and ridiculous, his hair braided so tight it threatens to give him a tension headache.

Once it’s clear that Allura and Lance really did just ditch him with an almost insulting lack of subtlety, Keith sighs, picks up the bags of food, and heads towards the park. He’s going to have to pull Lance aside later and tell him off for teaching Allura such shitty habits, such as ditching friends.

Keith walks the remaining blocks towards the park. When he turns the corner, he spots Shiro instantly, waiting by the entrance.

Seeing him makes Keith nearly trip over his feet. Shiro’s dressed up, too. The jeans hug him tight, his boots scuffing on the ground, and the henley he wears looking unbearably soft, stretched taut over his chest beneath his familiar leather jacket. His hair looks like it’s been styled, too, swept back from his forehead and yet still knocked loose by the late afternoon breeze.

He looks like he just walked out of a professional photo in a magazine, casually devastating and achingly handsome. Then again, Keith thinks that no matter what Shiro looks like.

Keith feels the blush climb on his cheeks again, his mouth breaking into a helpless smile as he takes a cautious step towards him.

Shiro either must feel Keith’s eyes on him or otherwise hear him because he turns his head towards him and nearly drops the bowl of food he’s holding, his eyes widening.

“Keith!”

Keith smiles wider as he approaches, unable to tear his eyes from Shiro. It seems the feeling is mutual, since Shiro doesn’t stop staring even as he stumbles over to meet Keith halfway.

Shiro shifts the bowl in his hand and reaches out with his free hand, snagging two of the bags of food from Keith without a word. The entire time, he doesn’t tear his eyes away from Shiro. He couldn’t, even if he wanted to. He’s sure his smile must look dopey.

“Hi,” Keith says weakly once he remembers to do so.

He has the sinking realization that he’s absolutely been set up— but he also can’t care when Shiro looks so nice. It’s always a joy to spend time with Shiro, after all, even if Keith’s embarrassed by how he must look.

He looks down, picking at the loose tee while he clears his throat. “Um,” Keith manages after a moment. “Allura and Lance said they aren’t coming. Something came up, I guess?”

Shiro frowns, his brow furrowing. “Hunk and Pidge said the same thing to me while we were walking over.”

They stand there, looking at one another. A quiet moment passes between them, comfortable if not for Keith’s own nerves starting to rattle to life inside him. A familiar anxiety twists and coils. They’ve been set up, that much is obvious, but he’s not sure if Shiro realizes it.

“You look nice,” Shiro says softly.

Keith blushes. “It— it was Allura’s idea. Um. She and Lance got the clothes, I guess.”

“Mine too,” Shiro says with a laugh. “They dressed me up this morning before shoving me off onto Hunk and Pidge.” He lifts his hand holding the bowl, gesturing with it. “I, uh… I made my mom’s couscous salad. I know how much you like it.”

Keith laughs, wriggling the last bag of food he’s holding. “There’s some barbeque jackfruit in here for you somewhere. Hunk insisted I make it.” He clears his throat. “I mean— I’d have done it anyway, since I know how much you like it and—”

“Thanks, Keith,” Shiro says. He’s doing that smile that Keith loves best, the one that seems to start in his eyes and permeate through all else. He looks bright, like all the stars in the universe. Keith wants to get lost in the galaxy of him.

He’s so stupidly in love. He can’t even be embarrassed by it.

“I like your hair, too,” Shiro says quietly. He needs to stop saying everything quite so gently, so sweetly— it does things to Keith’s heart.

“Yeah. Um… You too,” Keith mumbles.

Shiro shakes his head. “Lance said that I was mostly a hopeless case but that it wouldn’t matter since you…” He trails off, seeming to remember himself. A blush rises on his cheeks and he clears his throat. “Anyway. I… I, um. I guess we’ve been abandoned by our friends.”

“Maybe we should just…” Keith isn’t sure what he’s about to say. Go home? Go back to Shiro’s apartment, where they basically live together? Keith can’t blame their friends for assuming they’re together, considering how stupid Keith’s being.

“It’d be a shame to waste all this food, right?” Shiro says with a smile. “Maybe they’ll be able to join us later?”

Keith sincerely doubts it. It’s clear their friends are eager to play matchmaker— and to embarrass Keith further. Setting this all up is hardly going to make him spontaneously confess.

“If you’d rather go home, though,” Shiro says when Keith’s quiet for too long. “I get it. I mean, this was all last minute and—”

“I got dressed up and helped make this food,” Keith says with a shrug. “Might as well enjoy it, right?”

Shiro’s smile looks relieved.

That settled, they walk through the park towards the meeting spot. It’s a pleasant walk, as all walks with Shiro always are. Keith tries to focus on that— how it’s easy to spend time with Shiro, how he loves being near Shiro— rather than the fact that their friends have so obviously set them up on a horribly planned-out date.

There is nothing romantic about barbeque.

“Oh,” Keith whispers when they crest a hill and Keith sees the set-up. It’s modest, just a couple picnic tables near some trees, a grill already smoldering with charcoal. There are string lights looped between the posts and a tablecloth covering one of the picnic tables, weighed down by rocks. It’s simple and sweet, but cute in that rustic way.

“You like it?” Shiro says. “I thought you’d like the lights…”

“Those were your idea?” Keith asks, smiling helplessly.

“I wanted to get ones that looked like stars, but they were too expensive,” Shiro says with a laugh as they reach the picnic table, setting the bags of food down. “And I figured, given the way the Paladins party, we’d be here long enough to see real stars, anyway.”

“And I like those better,” Keith agrees, beaming up at him. Shiro grins back.

They put down the food, getting everything set-up just in time for Keith’s stomach to rumble. The grill smokes away and it takes only one nudge from Shiro to remind Keith to set out his precious kebabs. Keith lines them up so they’ll get the best grill-lines, satisfied and feeling more at ease now that he’s settled into his groove.

It's easy like this. He and Shiro are friends. They’ve always been friends, always gotten along. The situation might be weird, but clearly Shiro hasn’t clued into it at all. Keith focuses on the grill, glancing over at Shiro occasionally to find him watching him, chin in his palm, his smile sweet and teasing.

“What?” Keith finally asks after the third time he catches him with such an expression.

“Nothing,” Shiro says. “I just… you look—” He bites his lip, quiet for a beat too long. “You look happy grilling.”

Keith snorts, blushing. He pokes at a kebab with his tongs.

They fall into that ease after that, just chatting about little things and laughing at their friends’ strangeness. Keith doesn’t bring up the fact that this is likely supposed to be a date, instigated by their friends, but Shiro doesn’t mention it, either. At one point, he scrubs a hand through his hair and freezes, looking shocked to have ruined his hairdo. It just makes Keith laugh, plucking out some of the bobby pins from his hair and letting it slowly loosen, little curls of his hair framing his face and falling into his eyes.

Once the kebabs are done, Keith pulls out some reusable plates and cutlery, and together they load up on the food— jackfruit sliders and onion-pepper-zucchini kebabs for Shiro, far too many bread rolls and meat for Keith.

Shiro offers Keith a bite of his kebab though. Keith bites the top onion off the stick like a barbarian, laughing as he chews. “I make a mean kebab, if I do say so myself.”

Shiro smiles, his eyes sparkling. “You sure do.”

They eat food and they watch other park-goers, offering food to those who stop to gape at the Paladins of Voltron. There’s far too much food just for the two of them, anyway, and it’s a pleasant afternoon that melts into evening.

Shiro sends a few messages in the group chat to the others, but they never respond. Shiro frowns.

“I hope they’re okay… I can’t believe they’re really not coming,” Shiro says as he closes his PADD and tucks it away again.

Keith shrugs, gnawing on a kebab with all the vigor he can manage. The satisfying crunch of a bell pepper is a nicer thing to focus on rather than telling Shiro the truth.

“Sorry you’re just stuck with me,” Keith says.

Shiro shakes his head. His expression is earnest when he reaches over, his hand touching Keith’s wrist. “You know I love spending time with you, Keith.”

Keith shivers. He’s never really been able to handle hearing Shiro say love in any context. He clears his throat, plucking a slice of grilled onion off his kebab and focusing on that rather than the endless stars of Shiro’s eyes. He could get lost just looking at him.

“Me too,” Keith murmurs quietly.

Shiro squeezes his wrist before he lets go. Keith doesn’t need to mourn the absence for long, since he nudges up against his shoulder next. He’s stripped down thanks to the heat of the grill and the warm evening, his henley sleeves rolled up, jacket discarded on the picnic bench.

His hair is knocked fully loose from the styling Allura attempted, but it somehow makes him look even more handsome— like it’s effortless. The evening is creeping in, nearly bleeding into night, the twinkling lights shining above them both. Shiro always did look like starlight with his silver hair.

Their PADDs chirp with an incoming message on the group chat. Keith sighs, setting down his food and wiping his fingers on his napkin before he pulls it out.

He feels the blood drain from his face: No, Pidge writes. We aren’t coming. This is a date for you both. You both want it to be a date so enjoy it and put us all out of our misery.

Before Keith can react to the message, a new one comes in from Lance: Put yourselves out of your misery. I want to go mini-golfing again without your weird sexual tension.

“What’s up?” Shiro asks, taking a sip of his can of cider, one from the sixpack Hunk put in one of the bags.

“I—”

Keith can’t finish the thought, his eyes widening as Shiro reaches absently into his pocket to pull out his own datapad and see for himself. Keith’s seized with the urge to slap it away from Shiro’s hand because the moment he reads those messages, their quiet peace will be shattered.

“J- just them being stupid,” Keith says. He grabs Shiro’s hand in an attempt to still him. “Shiro, wait—”

Shiro obeys, blinking as he looks at him. “Keith— is something the matter?”

Keith doesn’t dare hope. His friends are wrong. They’re misguided. You both want it to be a date. No, he doesn’t let himself believe that. He stares at Shiro, feeling frazzled. He must look a mess.

Everybody knows about Keith’s feelings. Likely, Shiro does, too. Impossible for him not to. Keith probably looks desperate like this, with his dolled up hair and his too-nice clothes, making food for Shiro and showing up at a park for a not-even-close-to-romantic date—

With rising horror, Keith wonders if Shiro thinks Keith fabricated this whole thing instead.

“They…” Keith says weakly, shaking.

Shiro lowers his hand, making no move to open the PADD. His eyes are on Keith, his focus centered solely on him. Keith feels like he might wither on the spot, embarrassment rising through him.

It’s too late. The messages have been sent. Whether Shiro sees them now or later won’t matter. There’s no hiding Keith’s mortification.

“Keith,” Shiro says softly. He turns, reaching for Keith properly, his big hands cupping Keith’s arms gently. Keith can’t help but shiver again and he knows Shiro notices. He watches Shiro’s eyes sweep over him, assessing.

He turns away briefly, long enough to pluck up his leather jacket and turn back to Keith, wrapping it around his shoulders so it drapes over him. Keith clears his throat, blushing deeper as he tugs at the lapels, closing the jacket around him like a protective cloak.

“This is a set-up, Shiro.”

Shiro’s eyebrows shoot up. “What?”

He looks so perplexed by the words that Keith can’t help but melt, just a little. Keith indulges him, just smiling at him. He can’t help it. He loves this man so much— too good, too kind, too sweet, despite it all.

“They all have it in their heads to… to, you know,” Keith says, his voice going quieter. “This is— like a date, isn’t it?”

Shiro sucks in a sharp breath. Keith has no idea how to interpret the sound, especially when no words follow. Shiro just stares at him, his eyes wide and his cheeks pink. Keith doesn’t wait for further reaction, swiping open his PADD and turning it so that Shiro can read the messages. The silence stretches between them far longer than it would take for Shiro to absorb the words.

Keith bites his lip. “They’ve set us up on a date.”

Shiro still says nothing and so Keith has to turn his head, clearing his throat. He clings tightly to Shiro’s jacket.

“Really?” Shiro finally asks.

“Yeah,” Keith says. “Leaving us alone. Dressing us up. Giving us food.” Keith pauses, frowning. “Although I don’t know why they thought barbeque would be good date food. Maybe, like, a lobster dinner or whatever and—”

“Keith,” Shiro says.

Keith pauses. “Maybe not lobster,” he says, unsure if he wants to hear what Shiro has to say. “I don’t know. But, having you set up the spot, having me make you some food— dressing us up. Um. Obviously they’re… Peacetime’s clearly messing with their heads. We have nothing to do, so why not meddle in whatever we’re up to, right?”

“Keith—”

Keith knows he’s rambling but he can’t help it. If he stops, Shiro will reject him. If he stops, Shiro might see just how desperately Keith wants it to be true.

“This entire thing feels really stupid, you know? Like, why bother? And anyway, I don’t know if they’ve even done a good job— I’ve never been on a date before and—”

“Would it be so bad?” Shiro asks, his voice quiet but still managing to interrupt Keith’s spiraling words.

“What?” Keith asks, his mouth feeling dry as cotton. He stares at Shiro, blinking.

Shiro looks at him calmly. “If it was a date? Would that be so bad?”

The question shocks Keith into silence. He isn’t sure what his face is doing. He can’t look away from Shiro, just staring at him— trying to make sense of the words.

“What?” Keith finally asks.

Shiro stares at him, his eyes bright in the dying light of the afternoon, his hands clenched tight in his lap. He looks at Keith, his cheeks flushed a bright red.

He looks— hopeful. Or, at least, Keith hopes that it’s hopeful. He hopes that it isn’t him projecting.

“No,” he manages after a stilted silence, the fear of Shiro misunderstanding him fueling him onward to finally speak. “It… it wouldn’t be so bad.”

“The— the message says it’s what we both want,” Shiro says, licking his lips. “I— do you want it to be a date, Keith?”

Keith feels suddenly so out of his depth. He waffles, uncertain for a moment. He could lie, he supposes, and preserve their friendship. But one look into Shiro’s eyes stills any such thoughts.

“Do you?”

Shiro’s mouth flickers with a smile. “I asked first.”

Keith takes a deep breath. “… Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

Shiro grins then, his expression transforming. It hits Keith right in the gut. He sounds hushed when he asks, “Yeah?”

“Y- yeah,” Keith whispers. He bites his lip to muffle his smile and fails miserably.

Shiro’s grin doesn’t waver. He reaches out, taking Keith’s hand. Keith nearly protests, his fingers still greasy from all the barbeque, but Shiro hardly seems to mind. And, truthfully, Keith loves the way his hand looks in Shiro’s, how easily their fingers thread together.

It looks nice.

“If this were a real date,” Shiro says, looking at their hands. “I’d have brought you flowers.”

Keith wants to sputter or to joke, but he can’t manage either. He doesn’t even bother to disguise the hope and delight in his voice when he asks, “Next time?”

Shiro squeezes his hand. “Next time. Yeah. I promise.”

They look at each other again, getting lost in one another’s eyes. Keith registers Shiro leaning in around the same moment he realizes he’s leaning in to meet him, too. Once Keith darts forward to kiss Shiro first, to press his smiling mouth against Shiro’s, Keith stops thinking of anything except for Shiro.

Shiro’s hand tangles in his hair, knocking his braid looser still. Keith hardly cares, taking a soft breath before he presses in closer, one hand resting against Shiro’s chest and the other squeezing his hand tight.

It feels good to kiss Shiro, to have him so close. He sinks into that feeling of it, smiling so much he can barely manage to kiss Shiro properly.

But— well. They’ll have a chance to practice. Keith feels like he’s glowing, especially when Shiro takes a breath, like he’s overwhelmed only with this, and pulls Keith in closer towards him, the picnic bench squeaking beneath them at the sudden movement against the boards.

“Keith,” Shiro whispers and the sound of his name alone sends shivers rippling down Keith’s spine.

“Yeah,” Keith murmurs in response, unsure what he’s responding to. It hardly matters. He melts into Shiro’s hold.

When they part again, pressing their foreheads together, Keith can’t wipe away his besotted smile. He doesn’t bother trying.

“This doesn’t count as a real first date,” Shiro says. “I’ll take you on a proper one later.”

“Maybe I’ll take you on a proper one, instead,” Keith insists.

Shiro laughs, his smile infectious, his nose brushing against Keith’s. He’s about to say more when there’s a chirp from his discarded datapad, a call coming in.

“Are you going to get that?” Keith asks when Shiro makes no move to reach for it, the shrill music of a ringtone punctuating the quiet moment.

“I have set ringtones for all the Paladins,” Shiro says. “That’s Lance’s.”

“Ugh, don’t answer it, then,” Keith says with a roll of his eyes that makes Shiro laugh again. Keith tightens his hand around the stretched fabric of Shiro’s henley, feeling his heartbeat beneath his fingertips. “They’re probably all waiting by their phones, just waiting for the chance to be smug.”

“We could ignore them.”

“We should ignore them,” Keith says. It’d serve their friends right if they went AWOL for a few days, ghosting their friends for their meddling. Leaving them to wonder if their stupid, ill-thought out plan actually worked.

Shiro grins at him. “… Do you want to head home and leave cleanup to them as punishment?”

Keith thinks of Shiro’s apartment— more their apartment than anything else— and can’t blame their friends for setting the two of them up. They are pretty ridiculous, in the end. Keith can admit as much in the context of Shiro’s smiles. Clearly, Keith’s love wasn’t quite so unrequited as he’d originally thought.

“… Were we really that bad during mini-golf?” Keith wonders aloud.

Shiro shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe? Pidge kept telling me while we were setting up that I should look at you tonight like I looked at you then and maybe you’d finally get a clue—”

Ugh,” Keith says.

“But I have no idea what that look could be,” Shiro finishes.

Keith thinks he has an idea. Now that he’s looking, it’s a wonder Shiro ever managed to be subtle. His expression is utterly besotted, too, likely matching Keith’s.

Keith touches his cheek just because he can. Shiro leans into his touch, his smile a soft curl.

“Were they really insistent about confession opportunities, too?” Keith asks.

Shiro laughs, blushing. “Yeah. Definitely. Pidge said I should let the couscous salad do the talking because I’m so useless at it, clearly.”

Keith huffs. “You aren’t useless.”

“I haven’t actually said it, though,” Shiro says. “A confession.”

“Oh,” Keith whispers, his smile growing. “No. Guess you haven’t.”

Shiro shifts closer, his hands sliding up Keith’s back. It’s a luxurious feeling and it leaves Keith shivering, melting in closer to him. He waits, smiling up at Shiro.

Shiro smiles back, his eyes gentle when he says, “I love you, Keith.”

“Can’t believe you just told me that at a fancy barbeque,” Keith says and they both laugh. He swipes his thumb across Shiro’s cheek, feeling overwhelmed for a moment. His voice is shaky when he whispers, “I love you, too.”

Shiro kisses him again. Keith’s more than happy to sink into that feeling, wrapping his arms around Shiro’s neck to hold him down close against him.

They lose time like that, lost in each other. They’re interrupted only by another call coming in on Shiro’s PADD: Hunk this time, according to Shiro’s ringtone.

Keith loves his friends. He’s very gracious with his friends. But still, he feels zero pity for them as he sends a quick message (you assholes can clean everything up) and then powers down both of their PADDs, intent on not answering any of their messages for at least two days.

He has better things to focus on, like mapping out all the sounds Shiro can make or understanding all the ways in which they can kiss while laughing.

He takes Shiro’s hand again and squeezes tight. “Let’s go home.”