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Like Moths To A Flame (or some other pun)

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Contrary to later renditions of this story… they were snickerdoodles.

Shiro would say some dumb shit like “He knew I was coming, so he started making a gourmet meal in preparation.” And then Keith would smack him upside the head for being dumb, because that was very much not how the story went.

Well. All good stories need an introduction, Keith thought, so…

You know all about soulmates, of course you do. It’d be terribly, terribly odd of you to not know the deal with soulmates. You know, of course, that all throughout your life, you’ve got a certain smell in your nose. Not quite there, but always in the back of your nostril. Like… a distant memory, your olfactory sense kicked in and it was giving you hints as to your soulmate.

It was a weird, weird, system, but whatever. Keith didn’t have the time to delve into his personal opinions about the whole thing, so he’ll digress.

Back to the point; you know the exact smell that you take in in the moment that you meet your soulmate.

It’s weird to say - it just sounds kind of weird, just said like that. But whatever. More to the point.

Keith’s scent was this weird smokey-pepperminty number with odd undertones that he could never really put his finger on. He always figured his soulmate would be some delivery boy coming into his bakery, where the peppermint treats were a winter staple, and smoke was an occasional trial. His soulmate would sweep in, a package in-hand as he came to steal Keith’s heart away - as it turned out, it was something completely different and totally embarrassing and awful, but goddammit , he had his dreams, didn’t he?

It was a night in late December. They were just coming up on Christmas, and Keith was home for the holidays. The bakery was closed up tight for the week (a fact that had most people up in arms, trying to tell him how to run his business, saying that he was losing profit, closing up on one of the busiest weeks of the year, blah, blah, blah. Cue the eyeroll. Buy your cannolis and cream puffs and leave already.), and Keith made his way southwestward.

Keith loved staying with his parents. They’d lived in the same little apartment for the last twenty-five-odd years, shopped at the same grocery stores and attended the same festivals. They were still undoubtedly in love and content with their lives, after years upon years with each other. It warmed Keith’s heart to be near them.

So it was December 23rd. His dads had already scooted off to bed, somewhere around ten o’clock, saying things about how they weren’t as young as Keith, and that they needed proper sleep. Keith had sent them off with a laugh, and settled into the sofa.

And now, Keith was happily sprawled out on the couch with a glass of eggnog (store-bought. He’d finagle Dad into properly making eggnog later. He’d probably hold out until Christmas Eve. Ugh. What a Scrooge.) in his hand, watching Santa Clause 3 (Terrible movie. They should have stopped after the first one), when his sweet tooth kicked in.

Snickerdoodles. That sounded grand.

And Keith didn’t really have any excuse not to make them.

So he dragged himself up from the couch and made his way into the kitchen. He flicked on the lights and gathered up all of his ingredients and spread them all out on the counter.

It was a well known recipe, and soon the cookie sheets were filled with little cinnamon and sugar-sprinkled dough balls. Nice.

He slid the pan into the oven and congratulated himself on a job well done. He poured himself another glass of eggnog and splashed a little peppermint schnapps in. Migrating back into the living room, he settled in and waiting for the timer to ring.

Santa Clause 3 was still an awful movie, but it caught his attention. And, since he didn’t really want to go looking for an entire different movie, when he was only watching it while he waited, he tucked in, sipped his eggnog and waited.

When retelling this story, he would say that he had absolutely no idea what came over him, that bout of drowsiness. Maybe it had been the eggnog. He was giggling at some sort of on-screen joke, tucking his chin into the crook of his arm as he blinked sleepily, slowly relaxing into the arm of the couch and letting his breathing slow. The sweet smell of cookies hung in the air and it was all great.

Until the smoke alarms went off.

He was jolting up, eyes wide and alert as if he had never closed them.

He murmured a curse, scrubbing his eyes as he tried to figure out what in the world was happening. The air seemed thick. The sweet smell gone, there was only the thick, dark odor of smoke .

Shit. What could…?

The cookies!

He shouted a curse and leapt up from the couch, booking it to the kitchen in record time.

Smoke billowed from the oven, the alarms were screeching at him, and his fathers appeared mere seconds later, their voices taking on much the same tone as the alarm.

The next few minutes were a bit of a blur; but of a few things, Keith was well aware.

Number one: the fire department was called.

Number two: their building was evacuated, landing all the residents out on the street, all in their pajamas or similar states of dress.

Number three: he had just burned cookies - when the fuck does that happen?

And number four: before he left the apartment, he had accidentally tipped the schnapps bottle over in his rush to get to the stove. He mopped up with he could, but the rag that he made do with was, in fact, his hoodie. So now he reeked of peppermint and 90 proof alcohol. Wonderful.

It was turning out to be a weird night.

Thace and Ulaz, Keith’s parents, stood nearby, wrapped in their pin-striped robes. Thace grumbled over the cold and the fact that he hadn’t thought to grab any sort of shoes before he was pried out of bed and shooed out the door.

“It’s cold,” he snapped out, mouth curled downward in a grumpy-grandfather sort of way. Keith would have laughed , if he wasn’t shrinking in on himself in shame, trying to remain invisible for as long as he could before enduring the inevitable lecture he would be subjected to.

“What did you expect?” Ulaz asked, his face screwed up incredulously. “It’s the middle of December; we’re literally standing in snow.”

Thace scoffed, batting a hand in the air. He shuffled on the salted sidewalk. Keith winced. He almost offered to attempt to run in and grab him some shoes. Throwing himself into the flames seemed like a really good idea, if you asked him.

The next few minutes were spent shivering on the sidewalk and he pulled his hoodie closer around himself, trying to summon warmth from anywhere he could.

Soon enough - it really wasn’t that long, Shiro would say. It felt like forever to Keith, who had to sit and stew in what he had done - the firemen came traipsing back out of the apartment building.

One of them called out, over the crowd of grumbling tenants, asking for the family who lived in  apartment number 249.

That was, of course, Keith’s family.

Ulaz called the affirmative, and the fireman made his way over, and Keith felt pretty small. He rubbed a hand over his forehead. His nose wrinkled as the wet material dragged over his skin, peppermint flooding his nose, with the sting of alcohol underneath.

Bleh. He had to put it through the washer as soon as possible.

He shrugged the offending clothing off and hooked it over his arm. The resulting shiver that prodded down his spine, and the goosebumps were something he could deal with for the moment.

The fireman was the very definition of tall dark and handsome. Granted, the “dark” part was literally just because of the fact that it was two o’clock in the morning, but that’s beside the point. Keith was sure that his yellow coat was once much brighter than the dull yellow that it was now. All covered in smudges and the very tracings of wear, just like it’s owner. Keith didn’t miss the little smudge on his sharp cheekbone, or the way the smell of smoke was practically billowing off of him.

He spoke generally, addressing the trio. “There isn’t any lasting damage,” he said, “just a lot of smoke.” And Keith tried to pay attention, he really did. He followed the basic cues and shrunk in on himself when one, or both of his fathers tossed him a glare. He murmured his apologies, but he was really too caught up in other things to properly react as he was supposed to.

He smelled something fishy. Not literally. It was just very… odd . And familiar.

Seriously, why did it seem so familiar?

And then it clicked, and the realization dawned.

He thought that he must have said something, or cursed aloud, because the fireman was looking directly at him. Thace put a hand on his shoulder, asking if he was alright.

Keith shook his head, trying to put the discovery into words. He wasn’t even really sure that he was sure. Did that make sense? He didn’t make sense, did he?

“You look ill.” Ulaz looked him up and down. “Do you need to sit down?”

“No, I’m fine,” he insisted. “I just. Did - Do you?” He frowned and looked to the fireman, eyes wide. “Do you smell that?”

“Smoke?” Thace butted in, incredulous.

Keith waved his hand in the air at him, frustrated that he didn’t get what he meant. “It’s like. You know. The smell.” He felt like he was floundering. Hell, he knew he was floundering. He tapped his fingers along his thigh. “I can’t explain it,” he said helplessly.

“No, I get it,” the fireman said slowly. Keith looked back to him. His brow was furrowed in concentration. “I, uh.” He swallowed thickly before he tugged off one of his gloves and offered out his hand to Keith. “Shiro.”

Keith took the hand in his, blinking owlishly. “Keith,” he replied, shaking the hand firmly.

Shiro smiled brilliantly at him. And it lasted for a good few seconds before it dulled and he lifted an eyebrow. “Is that alcohol?”

That was the terrible, awful, really bad story about how Keith met his soulmate. Through sheepish embarrassment and a thick layer of smoke.

And the reason Keith always groans as he unwraps a bottle of peppermint schnapps, every year, for Christmas. Shiro's traditional gift. Always gifted with a smirk, and a kiss.