Work Header

Like Cherry Gum

Work Text:

If this was a high school movie, Shiro thinks, their roles would be all switched up.

As it is, Shiro is still the one doing track and swimming for the Garrison varsity teams, the odd basketball match against the younger recruits on weekends, when they can sneak one in; and Keith is still the quiet loner, keeping to himself most of the time, sitting by himself on the bleachers and watching him practice, sometimes leaving without a word before Shiro has a chance to say hi. But if there’s anyone pining in this scenario, Shiro knows to himself, even as he winces around that word -it’s him. He, the big jock with his big cool bike, and his big clumsy hands, and his big nerdy crush on the cutest guy on campus.

“Nice work today,” a voice calls from his right, and Shiro blinks awake from his daydream to find Keith gone from the bleachers, but standing right beside him, offering Shiro a towel and a water bottle in his hands.

Shiro frowns for a second at the scoreboard showing his time on the last lap -it wasn’t that nice of a work, no- but he takes the towel, and the bottle, and the compliment with a smile. Keith doesn’t smile back, but he stares at Shiro, distracted, and when Shiro catches Keith watching him drink his water with a distant look in his eyes, he can feel his entire face heating up, from his neck to the tip of his ears. He wants to do something cool, put on a sexy pose, but knowing himself he’d probably just spill water all over his shirt and make a fool of himself in front of not only Keith, but his team and his coach too.

Coach Santos already lets Shiro get away with far too much by even letting a first-year cadet into practice like this, knowing he’s probably ditching some other class to be here. Shiro doesn’t want to sour either his favor with her or his friendship with Keith by making things awkward like that, so he finishes his drink quietly and cuts it out with the funny ideas -but when he gives Keith the bottle back, he could swear, he could swear Keith is smirking a little bit, and Shiro almost wants everyone else to see it too so he knows he’s not imagining things.

“Thanks for coming again,” he tells Keith with a grin. “It’s nice having a cheerleader of my own to come root for me.”

He has to give it Keith, then: the restraint he shows in not punching Shiro right then and there for that, in front of half a dozen officers just out of earshot enough to miss his teasing, is out of this world. But Keith’s eyes narrow at him, and Shiro has to give him back the towel too and excuse himself back to the coach before Keith can see him flushing again, because, really, this is ridiculous -even the way Keith glares at him makes Shiro’s heart race. It’s not fair.

When someone in the team teases him about the two of them looking like a Disney movie, Shiro doesn’t even have the heart to argue about it. He just glances around to make sure no officer heard that either, and sighs heavily, hands going into his pockets to stop fiddling with his hair. This halfway point of the movie, when they’re not together yet, but not not together either, was never his favorite part.


“You’re hopeless,” Matt says, and Shiro lets his head drop face-first into his physics textbook, sighing for almost an entire minute on end.

He knows it. He knows he’s hopeless, and ridiculous, and that he sounds like a schoolboy with his first puppy crush, but he can’t help it -every time his phones buzzes with a new message, Shiro practically falls out of his chair rushing to check it, and every time the message happens to be from Keith, his can feel himself beaming like an idiot, as much as he can feel Matt rolling his eyes at him from the bunk behind their shared desk.

“Ask him out,” Matt says, matter-of-factly, and Shiro groans from his new painful position, face buried between the pages of the homework he’s definitely not finishing tonight.

“I can’t,” he answers, and he’s not even sure why. There are rules against fraternization, sure, but they’re certainly not stopping anyone else around the place. Other than that people at least keep their business quiet here, the Garrison doesn’t seem that different from high school as Shiro remembers it on this front: everyone seems to be hooking up with everyone else, and Shiro is left standing awkwardly in the middle, trying to focus on his grades.

Except his grades, his career are the last thing on Shiro’s mind now, it seems -when his phone buzzes again, Shiro almost drops his books to the floor rushing to take it from the night stand. He feels his own shoulders dropping when the message turns to not be what -from whom- he was expecting, and behind him, Matt groans in annoyance.

“This is ridiculous, Shiro. Just ask him out.”

“I can’t,” Shiro repeats, annoyed more with himself than Matter, really. He starts to type a reply on his phone, and waves a hand in the air dismissively, as he still struggles to come up with a real excuse for why is it that he can’t, exactly. “I don’t know even know if he… you know.”

Matt actually looks up from his book at that, and Shiro knows from the look on Matt’s face that he’s this close to taking a hardcover copy of Fisher’s Astrophysics Volume 7 to the head.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Matt deadpans, and Shiro isn’t exactly kidding him, no, but.

Shiro does have his reasons to think that Keith is into guys, into him in particular -no one else’s ever watched him drink water with that much intensity in their eyes, for starters, not even anyone Shiro’s actually dated before- but still, it’s a risk. Keith is naturally such an intense person, and it could be possible that Shiro is just misreading everything. It could be that he’s seeing too much in the way Keith looks at him, in the way Keith seeks him out in the mess hall, in the library, in the way Keith watches him practice in the morning and meets him after dinner to sneak with Shiro into the flight simulator, where he won’t be allowed for at least six months yet. He doesn’t think he is, but there, exactly there lies the risk -what if?

His phone buzzes again, and Shiro glances down expecting to see another message from his brother, but this time it actually is Keith, and though he has the presence of mind to not drop his phone when he sees it, Shiro can’t help the smile that spreads through his face when he sees Keith’s reply to the paragraph of text Shiro sent him earlier: a single emoji of a cat making a frowny face.

“I swear to god if you don’t ask him out I’m gonna take that phone from you and do it myself,” Matt calls out from his bunk.

Shiro quickly types and sends a reply - dinner? -, then shoves the phone into his pocket, away from Matt’s reach before he really does something crazy and unthinkable like telling the guy Shiro likes that he likes him, and oh, Shiro could almost groan at himself and the fool he sounds like.

“There, done,” he says, closing and putting away his books, knowing he’s not getting any more work done tonight anyway. “Happy now?”

His phone buzzes in his pocket, and it takes every ounce of self-control in him for Shiro to stand still and not pounce on it. He holds his eyes on Matt as Matt turns back to his book, trying with very little effort to not laugh at Shiro’s entire self, standing like that in the middle of their room with his fingers digging into his palms, trying to look cool and calm even as his heart is racing a thousand miles per hour until he can get his hands on his phone again and see what Keith said.

“Go, go see what your boyfriend said,” Matt dismisses him with a handwave, and Shiro doesn’t even have it in himself to say he’s not my boyfriend before he jumps up on his bunk and fishes the phone out of his pocket.


Shiro takes Keith on a date, but he’s not sure it counts as a date if they don’t call it one, and, technically, he doesn’t. Technically, he said dinner, not date.

Technically, they’re just hanging out. Hanging out at the movies, even if Shiro is more concerned with watching Keith and the way the light from the screen plays on his face in the dark than with watching the movie itself. Even when their hands brush together over the popcorn bag and neither of them pulls back right away. Hanging out at the burger joint and arguing about each other’s superior taste in greasy fast food, even if Shiro is quickly more interested in watching Keith eat his burger, his fries, and then Shiro’s fries too, than he is in his own order. Technically, it’s even still just hanging out when Keith shoves a straw into Shiro’s three layer smoothie and they sip from it together across their diner booth, like the cover art to some 60’s waffle house vinyl.

“Matt thinks we’re on a date,” Shiro blurts out for absolutely no reason at all, and immediately regrets his entire life and wants to jump in front of a bus.

“Hn,” is all Keith answers, still sipping from Shiro’s drink, and Shiro can’t tell if that's better or worse than anything he was expecting.

Keith fishes his phone from a pocket of his jacket and starts texting someone, and Shiro can’t even guess at who -Keith doesn’t have any family, never mentioned any friends outside the Garrison, and Shiro knows for a fact he doesn’t have any other friends than himself in the Garrison either. But it’s a way to dodge this conversation, and Shiro wishes he’d thought of it first, because all he can do now is sit there twiddling his thumbs and staring out the window.

This is the risk: Shiro and Keith are friends. They could be more than that if he’d just own up to his feelings and do something about it, Shiro knows this; but they could also be much less too if he’s wrong about this whole thing, if he comes on too strong and it turns out his schoolboy crush on the grumpiest guy to ever hold up a towel and tell him nice work today after practice is just some fantasy of his, some alternate universe where Shiro gets everything he wants from his career and education out of his choice to serve in the Garrison, and a cute boyfriend on top, and knowing that is what paralyzes him.

“The guys at the team think we look like a Disney movie,” he adds, and though this also comes out of him without thinking, this time Shiro doesn’t regret it.

Instead, he watches Keith. Watches as Keith takes his eyes off the screen to stare at the ceiling above them, his eyes following the path of a thought that Keith seems to consider for an uncomfortably long time before he shrugs, going back to his text and sipping the last sips from Shiro’s drink.

“We kind of do,” is all he says.

Well, this is the worst movie Shiro’s ever seen, then.

“Why do you,” Shiro starts, but he’s not sure he wants to go through with this train of thought until Keith looks up again, eyes fully focused on him now, like he’s seeing Shiro for the first time. Like he hasn’t been sitting here with Shiro for hours, eating his fries and sipping on his drink. Like he wasn’t with him at the movies two hours ago, hands resting against each other, so close they might as well have been holding them together.

Like he hasn’t been looking at Shiro like he wants to have him for dinner, for months now, each time they talk.

“Why do you keep coming around for track practice like that,” he continues, deflecting from what he really wants to ask, because, yeah, maybe this is something they’ve better leave alone after all. “Are you thinking of joining?”

“No,” Keith answers with a small shrug, tucking his phone away and putting one elbow on the table to rest his head on his hand. “I just like being your cheerleader, I guess.”

Shiro has the presence of mind to at least not choke out loud, but he knows his whole face is on fire when Keith says that, and then smirks at him. The heat spreads from his face through his whole body as Keith’s gaze travel down his neck, the length of his shoulders, down his chest and back up, resting for a moment on the line of Shiro’s collarbone, then another pause on his lips, until Keith’s eyes lock up with his. He pushes the empty cup back across the table and into Shiro’s hand, and when Shiro catches it Keith’s hand slides over his and holds him in place, staring him dead in the eye as small fingers run over his against the back of the paper cup. Shiro’s eyes dart quickly around, but there’re few people around at the diner at this hour, and none of them are paying their table any attention anyway.

Keith catches him glancing around, and his fingers still and retreat from Shiro’s hand, leaving only the ghost of his touch behind. “I can stop, if you want,” he offers, and it sounds so neutral, so emotionless that it seems almost rehearsed -or at least that’s what Shiro wants to believe. “I can stop coming around if that’s not what you want.”

The No that leaves him comes a little too fast, but at this point Shiro doesn’t even care, because the absence of Keith’s fingers on his is what finally tells him: this is not the kind of movie he thought they would be. This is different, and a little backwards if he thinks too much on it, but it’s much better than the same old love story the others have painted for them, because this one -this is theirs to build.

“No,” Shiro repeats, slower this time, pushing his hand back against Keith’s behind the empty cup to feel the touch of calloused fingers on his skin. “No, I don’t want you to stop at all.”

Oh, he thinks a second later, looking at the two of them pseudo-holding hands behind a styrofoam cup so no one will see, and smiling at each other like a pair of idiots trying to call dinner and a movie anything but what it is. Oh. So this is what being in a movie feels like.


Later, when  they get back to campus, making it just in the nick of time for the gates to close for the night, Keith's hands are on the pockets of Shiro’s jacket when they cross the gates on his bike, and Shiro throws a silent thanks to every god out there that it was Matt who drew the short end of the stick and got assigned guard duty for tonight, because anyone else would have marked him down immediately, for breach of safety protocol at least, if not for inappropriate PDA with a fellow cadet. But when Matt lets through with only mild eye-rolling, Shiro has to laugh at himself.

“Thanks for the date,” Keith whispers into his back before Shiro finds his regular parking spot,  and Shiro is back to flushing like he’s twelve years old again when Keith's arms tighten around his waist a little bit, almost a hug but not quite there.

“Any time,” he answers, and when Keith nudges his head against Shiro’s back, Shiro knows -this doesn’t look like any movie he’s ever seen, but together they can make this little scene of their own work out.