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never gonna run around and desert you

Chapter Text

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Sometimes, when the afternoon is sunny and bright, the Math Club members troop out of the school building and do their work on the schoolyard benches. Shiro likes these sessions. It’s always a nice change of pace, not being cooped up in their windowless artificially-lit club room.

Today, he is only accompanied by a couple of underclassmen, most of them doing exercises. Shiro, like his fellow senior members, had kindly offered to mentor some of them, and he’s in the middle of reviewing a junior’s work when his phone chimes.

It’s a text from Keith, that alone enough to make him smile. Keith is, supposedly, with Drama Club in the auditorium. With their show coming in less than a month, the whole troupe is currently one of the busiest groups in the school.

Keith’s text only asks if Shiro is with the Math Club. Shiro replies yes, adding that they’re working outside today, and waits several seconds for a reply. When it doesn’t come, he shrugs and simply resumes his work.

The only warning he gets is some muffled sniggering from the student sitting across him, before slim arms wrap loosely around his shoulders and a familiar weight settles against his back. Shiro tilts his head to see Keith looking down at him. His expression may look blank to others, but Shiro can see the fond twinkle in his eyes.

“Hi.” Keith greets.

“Hello, Keith.” Shiro greets back, sitting up straighter to lean against his boyfriend. He glances at his club members first. All of them are busy pretending to be busy, which is good enough, Shiro decides. He catches Keith’s hands in his and twines their fingers together. “Wanna sit with us?”

“Nope, I’m just dropping by.” Keith replies, and before Shiro could ask, he goes straight to business - “Romelle said that you have a pickup truck.”

Shiro blinks, he did not expect that, but okay. “Uh… Yes, I do have a pickup truck. Well, it’s jii-ji’s, but it’s been years since he last drove it, and I’m the only one who takes it out these days.”

Keith hums, then grins. “That’s cool. Wanna go on a day trip this weekend?”

Interesting , Shiro thinks. Keith usually preferred to stay in during weekends. Sometimes they go out to walk or play with Kosmo, but other than that, Keith is always perfectly happy cuddling with Shiro at home.

“Day trip? To where?” he asks.

Keith answers with, “You know Red died on me last week.”

Shiro nods. He does know, it’s the reason Sven has been driving both Kogane siblings to school the past few days.

“I tried to fix her, then mom tried to fix her, then Romelle… cried over her, and now we’re stuck. I need to bring her to an actual mechanic.”

“The auto repair shop downtown?”

Keith shakes his head. “Next town over. Friends of mom’s. Practically family. I already called and they said to bring Red over and they’ll take a look at her.”

“And you need a pickup truck for that.” Shiro nods again, considering. Then he sighs tiredly, frowning. “Keith, is that all I am to you? A free pickup truck?”

Keith snorts, recognizing the joke that Shiro has grown fond of re-using since they first started dating. “Not at all. You’re more than that, Shiro. You’re also a free pickup truck driver.”

Shiro fakes a gasp. “First my goods, now also my services?” That earns him a laugh. He finally smiles and drops a kiss to the back of Keith’s hand. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”

“Yeah?” Keith chuckles, ducking his head to nuzzle Shiro’s cheek. “Have I successfully scammed you, then?”

“I never stood a chance.” Shiro says, and he knows that it’s incredibly cheesy because Keith rolls his eyes, someone on the table squeaks , and another one chokes.

That last person recovers quickly, and then says, “Gross.”

And because Keith is always faster than Shiro, Keith is the one who says, “Fuck off, Griffin.”

Shiro sighs and turns to stop James from standing up and possibly stabbing Keith with his pen, but someone beats him to it.

“Ignore him.” Rizavi says. “He’s just jealous he doesn’t have anyone to be cute with.”

“Shut up, Nadia.” James snaps at her this time, then glares at Keith. “You’re disturbing an official Math Club activity.”

“You’re not even in Math Club.” Keith points out.

His gaze wanders towards the rest of the occupants of the table - Leifsdottir has not looked up from her exercises once, Rizavi has her feet propped up on the table and looks like she snuck out from track practice, and Kinkade is watching a video on his phone.

Keith blinks.

“Only Shiro and Leifsdottir are Math Club here?”

“I joined yesterday.” says James.

Keith’s eyes narrow. “No you didn’t.”

“Actually, he did.” Shiro corrects gently, thumbs rubbing gently on the back of Keith’s hands. “James is working on extra credit for his math class, and I’m reviewing his work.”

“Huh.” Keith says, and only uses the fact to cling closer as he peers at the aforementioned work in the paper in front of Shiro. “Okay.” Then he looks up questioningly at Rizavi. “You too?”

She laughs. “Nah, I’m just here because James is doing my homework.”

“Your what-” James looks at the paper he was currently working on. “No, I’m doing exercise problems-”

“Oops~” Rizavi sings, not even sounding remotely guilty. “I might have mixed in my homework questions when Captain asked me to hand you the exercise ones…”

“You little- I’m almost done with all of these!” James cries, staring at her in disbelief.

Rizavi beams, reaching out to pat her friend’s back. “Great job, James! Imma get you a gold star!”

“Nadia...” Shiro sighs in resignation. His tone indicated that he’s not angry, just very disappointed.

“I should’ve known it wasn’t supposed to be three pages.” James groans, looking in horror at all the math he had done for the past hour.

Shiro raises an eyebrow. “It’s supposed to be just one page, actually.”

“What? So what’s this other one?”

Kinkade snorts.

James turns to his best friend, gaping, looking very much betrayed. “Ryan. Are you kidding me right now.”

“I didn’t think it would work.” Kinkade says, and well, at least he looks a bit guilty. Just a bit, though.

Shiro tilts his head up to look at Keith with an expression that says, ‘Do you see what I have to deal with?’ and Keith only shrugs.

Then they hear a distant screech of “ KEITH! Lance tripped and broke the tower! Again!”

Keith closes his eyes and buries his nose in Shiro’s hair for a moment before he sighs and composes himself. “Alright. I’m gonna go. I have my own set of children to babysit.”

“Okay. Good luck with that tower.” Shiro says, giving Keith’s hands a squeeze.

“Thanks. Have fun with your math stuff, Captain.” He drops a kiss to Shiro’s cheek and finally untangles himself from his boyfriend, stepping back.

Shiro watches him go. “See you later?”

“Later. And on Saturday.” Keith promises. “Can’t wait for you to meet my four dads!” he adds over his shoulder, then starts jogging towards the school building.

“Me too!” Shiro automatically smiles, and then it hits him- “Wait, what?”

But Keith, who would really do wonders if he joined the track team, is already gone.

He turns to the others. “Did he say- He said ‘dads’. He said ‘dads’, right?”

But Rizavi and Kinkade were busy trying to wrestle their respective homework answers from James, who had gone as far as stuffing the papers under his shirt.

It’s Leifsdottir who says, “Yes. He said ‘dads’.”

“Plural?”

“Plural.”

“Did I hear him say four? Dads? Four dads?”

“Affirmative. Four of the dads.”

Shiro pales, and doesn’t move even when Rizavi pounces on James, and James falls off the bench, and Kinkade follows them down.

Leifsdottir spares him a short glance, and then resumes her work. “Best of luck, Captain.”

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Chapter Text

Early Saturday morning, Shiro helps Keith load Red on the back of his jii-ji’s old black convertible pickup truck. Then he helps Romelle climb up on it as well.

“Are you sure you want to stay there? We can all fit on the front, you know.” Shiro asks, watching the girl drop her backpack beside Red before leaning across the bar to peer at the dashboard.

“Nah, I’m good here. I have the best view.” Romelle answers. They had detached the truck’s roof because it’s a sunny day, and because Romelle had insisted that it’s more fun that way. She turns to Shiro. “How old is this truck? It’s got a cassette player!”

Shiro laughs. “Well, it was my grandpa’s so… it’s pretty old, yeah. But I have a wireless speaker if you want-”

“No, no way- Do we have tapes?”

“Uh… yeah, I think there are some on the compartment.”

She lets out a delighted squeal and he lets her clamber across the seats to rummage through old cassette tapes in the glove compartment. Shiro is sure that if Sven had been present, his cousin would be doting over her by now, eagerly asking her about which old songs she liked. Alas, Sven and the rest of the football team are gone for the weekend, and now Shiro is going on a day trip with his boyfriend and said boyfriend’s sister, without said sister’s boyfriend.

To get the family motorbike fixed and also, to meet the extended family.

The extended family who just so happens to be Krolia’s ex-army buddies, who now run their own auto repair shop, and who Keith fondly calls his four dads.

Shiro honest-to-God had thought that he was done with the ever terrifying meet-the-parents experience when he was re-introduced to Krolia as Keith’s boyfriend. Krolia first met him as Sven’s unassuming cousin-slash-designated-driver. When he met her again after he and Keith started dating, she had taken it easier on him than she did on Sven.

Krolia is a mother with the skill sets to back her protectiveness. Shiro is lucky to have a good track record on her books so far.

But of course, it turns out it isn’t over yet because Keith had four other parents stashed in the next town over.

Shiro tries to find his chill and fails.

By the time Keith and Krolia emerge from the house, Romelle has successfully found a tape to load into the player. She clambers back into the back of the truck with the rest of the tapes as Keith settles into the passenger seat.

Krolia walks up beside the driver’s seat and grins at Shiro. “Looking smart today, Shiro. I didn’t know you wore glasses.”

“Thanks, Mrs. K.” Shiro smiles sheepishly. “I lost one of my contacts this morning.”

“Thanks for helping us out with Red. I hope we didn’t ruin any weekend plans?”

“Oh no, not at all.” Shiro shakes his head. “I’m glad to help, really.”

“He thinks he looks like a grandpa with the glasses on.” Keith chimes in. “Mom, can you tell him he doesn’t look like a grandpa? Do your motivation thing?”

Krolia raises one eyebrow and considers Shiro’s self-deprecating smile. Shiro wants to ask what Krolia's 'motivation thing' is, but then without warning, she takes his face in her hands and pulls him down so they’re eye to eye. “None of that now. You don’t look like a grandpa.”

Shiro nods, terrified. “Y-Yes, ma’am.”

“You’re not a grandpa. You’re a handsome silver-haired young man.”

“I’m- I’m a what-?” he squeaks.

She clicks her tongue. “Did I stutter? What are you?”

Shiro swallows. “Uhhhh… a handsome silver-haired young man?”

“Very good.” she says, then furrows her brows. “Again.”

“I’m a handsome silver-haired young man.” Shiro recites.

Krolia squints. “You still look spooked. Are you nervous?”

“Y-Yes…?”

“Don’t be. You are smart and capable.”

“I am smart and capable.” he repeats.

“Kolivan will try to kill you, possibly. Don’t let him.”

Shiro blinks. “...Um, he will what?”

Krolia sighs, and just pats his cheek in dismissal before releasing him. She shrugs. “Just don’t think too much about it.”

Idly, Shiro thinks that Krolia would make an effective life coach.

He jumps when she lays a firm hand on his shoulder. “I wish I could come, but I’m needed at the school today.” She turns to at Keith. “Kit. Protect him from your uncles. Well. Uncle. I'm pretty sure three out of four of them will be chill.”

Keith salutes. “Yes, ma’am.”

Shiro blinks, again. “Shouldn’t I be the one-?”

“Nope.” the Koganes say at the same time, and Shiro shuts up and just mouths ‘okay’.

Because. Okay. Yeah. He fears for his life now. Maybe he should have made a will before he left the house earlier?

The motivation thing was kinda validating, though.

“Romelle.” Krolia then looks at her daughter, and after a moment she smiles. “Nothing, sweetie. You’re perfect.”

Romelle gasps, hands flying to her chest. “I know, right?”

Shiro resists the urge to laugh when Keith just rolls his eyes and moves to buckle his seatbelt.

Krolia gives the truck and the teens a last once over, then ruffles Shiro’s hair before stepping back. “Right then. Drive safe. Have fun.” She pats the side of the vehicle twice, and they were off.

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As soon as they get into emptier roads, Romelle peers forward and says, “Keith. Hey, Keith, press play.”

Keith and Shiro exchange a short look before Keith reaches forward and presses the vintage player’s play button.

Old-school synth-pop beats fills the vehicle, and Romelle lets out a whoop from the back.

“Oh, God.” Keith groans. “Who picked this?”

“Romelle.” says Shiro.

“Shiro.” says Romelle.

Keith rolls his eyes, but doesn’t hide his amused grin when the singing starts.

Clock strikes upon the hour, and the sun begins to fade...

“It’s early morning.” Keith groans. “I’m not awake enough for this.”

Romelle starts singing along, dancing at the back. Meanwhile, Shiro taps his fingers to the beat, now and then mouthing some lyrics. They might as well have picked the song together. Keith resigns to his fate and nods along to the music.

But the song is catchy - very catchy - and there’s no other car on the long road.

By the chorus, both Romelle and Shiro have abandoned subtlety. Keith flinches as they practically shout-

OHHHH I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY!”

Romelle is probably in an imaginary concert, with the way she was holding her phone like it was a mic.

“I WANNA FEEL THE HEAT WITH SOMEBODY-”

Shiro is driving one-handed so he can raise his other hand in the air and flail dramatically.

Romelle stops to poke at Keith’s cheek. “Keith! Come on!

Beside him, Shiro reaches out too. He misses the face, but Keith yelps when Shiro’s finger finds his side.

Keith swats at the offending hands, but doesn’t give much of a fight besides that.

He closes his eyes, throws his head back and sings.

Loudly and with feeling.

“-with SOMEBODY WHO LOVES ME!”

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“Ooooh, I found Toto!”

“Africa?”

“Yep.”

“Give.”

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They eventually run out of embarrassing jukebox hits to play and Romelle decides she’s had enough of rewinding cassette tapes by hand. Keith takes it upon himself to hook up his phone to Shiro’s wireless speaker, playing soft acoustic songs and setting the volume to low.

“I can’t believe I heard you sing ‘Holding Out for a Hero’.” Shiro says. “And that you know the lyrics to the whole song.”

Keith shrugs. “I watched Shrek.”

Shiro considers this. “Huh.”

“And you were singing louder than I was, so you don't get to judge.”

“Ah.”

“Shiro, d’you know that Keith’s a good singer?” Romelle chimes in from the back, sugary sweet.

Shiro looks at her through the rear view mirror. It seems like she’s spent her energy singing and dancing for the meantime. She is sitting cross-legged beside Red again, taking selfies.

“Yes, I think I just saw that in action.” Shiro says.

Romelle laughs. “No, not like that! I mean, like, he’s really really good? Like, ‘he-can-steal-my-auditions-if-he-just-tried’ good?”

“Hey.” Keith frowns at her, then shakes his head at Shiro. “Don’t believe her.”

Shiro always loved when the two shared bits and pieces about themselves and their lives before the move. He simply grins and directs his question to Romelle. “He draws, paints, plays, and he sings?

“He does!” Romelle says. “He was in a band. He sang there.”

“He did?” Shiro asks some more, smiling teasingly at Keith. “Really?”

“I didn’t.” Keith insists. “Well, a bit. I just sang backup. Doesn’t take much to do that, you just have to be able to sing in tune. It’s nothing special. I mostly played guitar. I'm no frontman. That was Regris.”

“Should’ve been you~” Romelle sings. “I mean, he was cool and handsome and he sang well, but you’re better!”

“Shut up. I’m not. Ilun and Vrek know I’m not. We all thought Reg should do the singing, he’s the people person anyway.” Keith says. When he catches Shiro’s look, he blushes, trying to wave him off with a nervous laugh. “What? I’m really not! Shut up!”

“I’m not saying anything.” Shiro defends, but he finds himself enjoying this side of Keith. For once, it’s not Shiro who is blushing and stuttering from smooth compliments. “But I did just hear you nail Whitney Houston’s high note back there, so...”

Keith tries for a pout, and fails because he couldn’t wipe his smile away. “That’s it. You’re teasing me. I’m never singing again.”

“Booooo!” says Romelle from the back. Somehow they both know she’s making a thumbs down sign behind them. “Just admit you’re a diva!”

Shiro leans over and solemnly repeats the sentiment. “Boo. Just admit you’re a diva.”

Keith snorts and shoves him, forcing his eyes back to the road.

After several minutes of peace and just listening to Keith’s acoustic playlist, Shiro speaks up again.

“So, about these… family friends we’re visiting?” he starts, glancing at Keith, whose gaze is now fixed on the passing roadside scenery. “You said they’re like your dads?”

“Yep.” Keith says distractedly. “Mom didn’t really have other close relatives, so she says they’re her family. They’ve been around as long as I can remember. Always came over the house. Not just for short visits, too. When we were kids, they’ll stay for weeks or months at a time. They hardly missed holidays and important stuff. So… yeah. It’s like having additional parents.”

“That sounds nice.” Shiro says, smiling.

“Yeah. They were a big help when dad-...” Keith falters, then stops. He glances at Shiro, and then at Romelle through the rearview, then looks away. “They just… They helped us a lot. After.”

Shiro reaches out to hold Keith’s hand. He knows that Keith’s dad is still a sensitive topic, even now, but he’s grateful that at least Keith had been comfortable enough with him to share about his father, who died in the line of duty.

Shiro understood, sort of. His own parents had passed away a few years back in an accident too. Ever since then, it has only been him and his jii-ji. His grandfather had tried his best, and Shiro loved the old man dearly but nothing ever really filled the hole that his parents left in his life. Shiro had felt lost then, until they left Japan to come live with the Holgerssons. It helped a lot, having more family again.

Shiro rubs his thumb against the back of Keith’s hand, until Keith finally shakes his head as if to banish the intrusive thoughts. “Anyways. Ever since we moved, they’ve been bugging us to come over, but mom’s been busy. So this visit should make them happy, I guess.”

That’s when Romelle smiles and chimes in again. “You’ll love them, Shiro. They’re really really , super cool!”

Shiro spares an amused grin. It’s clear to him that this is a tight-knit family despite the distance. “Cooler than your mom?”

He receives two matching glares, and both siblings say, “No one’s cooler than mom.”

“Of course.” he agrees easily. “Do you think they’ll like me, though?”

The pause lasts several seconds.

Keith chuckles. “Of course they would.”

Shiro’s brows furrow. “You hesitated.”

Romelle grins, leaning forward in between them, chin in her hands, elbows digging on the two front seats. “Are you ready for four shovel talks, Shiro?”

“God, no.” Shiro breathes out. “Never in my life will I be ready for any shovel talk. The ideal number of shovel talks, for me, is always zero. People think I’m tough because I’m tall, but no, I am very very terrified, all of the time.”

“Aw, and you’re wearing your nerd glasses too.” Romelle laughs, poking the side of the aforementioned nerd glasses. “Of all the days?”

“He looks smart, and he is smart.” Keith says. “Ulaz will like him.”

Romelle nods. “Thace, too.”

“Well, Thace likes everyone.” Keith points out.

Romelle snorts. “Right. Not a bad thing, though. That still makes two!”

Shiro sends the siblings a wary glance. “And the other 50%?”

“Let’s see…” Romelle hums, and even Keith looks thoughtful. “I don’t know? Maybe just talk about football. Antok and Kolivan like football, right? Or sports. Whatever.”

“I think so.” Keith says with a shrug. He realizes that Shiro is still holding his hand, so he squeezes it. “Don’t worry too much about it. They’re good people.”

Shiro squeezes back and sighs. “Baby, your mom is good people, and she threatened us with her knives on Romelle’s first date. Not to mention when she gave me the talk...”

Keith tries to think of an effective reply to that, and ends up with a shrug and “Meh.”

“It’s so cute that you call him baby.” Romelle giggles. “Mom doesn’t even call him baby.”

“I told him I don’t wanna be called ‘light of my life, princess of my stars’ like someone we know.” Keith deadpans.

“Hey!” Romelle pouts. “That was in one of those absolutely beautiful poems Sven wrote for me…”

“Melle. He says it out loud . In public .”

“Well, he’s a romantic!” she insists, and Shiro thinks, well, she's not wrong...

“He’s corny.” Keith shrugs. “And super embarrassing.” Shiro agrees with that, too.

“Mom says he’s brave.” and-... Shiro blinks at that. Really?

“Mom also drove him off with the garden hose when he wouldn’t stop singing terribly to your window at like 2 AM.” Well. That, Shiro remembers.

Romelle is scowling now. “Well, I bet our four dads will like my big, strong, gentlemanly, romantic football quarterback boyfriend better than your mathlete, Keith.”

Shiro makes a wounded sound. “Ouch. I’m right here. I can hear you.”

Romelle pats his shoulder dismissively. “No offense, Shiro.”

“How is that not offensive?” Shiro whines.

“I’m trying to fight Keith, not you.”

“Still!”

Keith rolls his eyes. “Actually? I bet our four dads will like my tall, handsome, super smart and responsible valedictorian boyfriend better than your jock, Romelle.”

“Oh, God .” Shiro groans. “Guys, I can still hear you.”

“Be quiet, Shiro. I’m defending your honor here.”

Still!

They don’t listen.

Shiro resigns himself for the remaining drive, listening to Keith and Romelle have an intense My-Boyfriend-Is-Better-Than-Yours debate.

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Chapter Text

They’re still about three houses away, but Romelle is already back on her feet and shouting.

“ROMELLE IS HERE!!!”

Shiro doesn’t know where she got the mini megaphone, but he knows better than to question it. He simply turns to Keith and asks, “Is that normal?”

Keith shrugs. “I mean… yeah, for her.”

Shiro parks in the driveway of a two-story house connected to a wide garage with a sign that says ‘Marmora Auto Repair and Services’ in simple, big bold letters. The garage looks like a typical family-run business, the kind that built its local reputation through word-of-mouth from neighbors, family and friends.

Someone in coveralls comes out of the garage, and Romelle bounces in excitement. “Antok!!!”

Shiro just stares as the very big, very burly man grins very very widely, tosses away his dirty gloves, and runs towards them, arms spread out before him. “Princess!”

Romelle literally dives in the man’s arms and gets thrown up in the air twice before being twirled around like she weighs nothing. From the man’s laughter and Romelle’s carefree and delighted squeals, Shiro assumes that this is, again, normal.

Also it might explain Romelle’s strange love of rollercoasters. Shiro files the information away to tell Sven later.

“Come on.” Keith nudges Shiro, then opens the passenger side door and hops off the truck. Shiro follows, carefully watching the others’ interactions.

The man called Antok sets Romelle down and then opens his arms to Keith, who only chuckles once before going in for what looked to Shiro like a bone-crushing hug. Keith is twirled too, and then his cheeks are pinched, his hair thoroughly ruffled and his head repeatedly pat.

“Grew taller, Kit.” Antok says, his voice a deep rumble.

“Thanks, Antok.” Keith smiles. “You can stop patting now.”

Antok nods, and gets distracted when Romelle tucks herself under his arm and squeezes him into another hug.

All the while, Shiro just stares, because he feels so small in the presence of the man. Shiro had always been told that he’s very tall - Sven might still be half a head taller and a bit broader, but Shiro still usually felt like he was towering over his peers. But Antok is, effectively, a small tank. Big, broad and bulky, Shiro barely reached Antok’s shoulders and the man might actually be twice broader. In turn, Keith and Romelle both looked even smaller next to the man.

But then, they had told him that Antok was ‘The Big One’ so maybe the others were more… average-sized.

Another man comes out from the garage and two emerge from the house.

And. Okay. They’re not as big as Antok, but they’re still pretty big and tall, and Shiro doesn’t know how Keith and Romelle don’t feel smothered as all four men take turns poking, prodding, hugging, and lifting them off the ground.

Shiro is vaguely reminded of that time he watched a documentary that included grizzly bears grooming their cubs.

Romelle looks thoroughly rumpled, only her hair intact because she snapped the first time someone tried to touch her intricate braids. (“Not the hair, it took an hour to do that!”) Keith, on the other hand, looks like what one would look like if they wrestled with a horde of enthusiastic puppies, his hair looking more a lost cause than usual.

Finally, the one called Kolivan - only slightly smaller than Antok, scar prominent on one side of his face, long white hair in a braid - clears his throat and asks, “Keith, Romelle, you brought a friend?”

Shiro tenses as all four men turn to him - most of them seeming like they were only noticing him for the first time.

“Oh. Yeah.” Keith says, stepping backwards and reaching towards Shiro.

Shiro braces himself against four curious stares on him as he takes Keith’s outstretched hand and lets the other pull him closer.

“This is Shiro.” Keith introduces, and Shiro is hyper-aware of the eyes on them when Keith casually tucks himself to his side, a hand resting on his back. Subconsciously, Shiro drapes an arm around the younger’s shoulders and tries to smile when four pairs of eyes narrow at him.

It’s a struggle not to step backward. Shiro swallows, and tries to stay calm. ‘It’s fine. It’s okay it’s good we’re good, everything is goo- Oh boy, they don’t look happy.’

Meanwhile, Keith simply carries on - “We go to school together. He drove us here and he owns the truck.” he continues, jabbing a thumb towards the aforementioned truck.

Shiro doesn’t miss Antok looking questioningly at Romelle, who had monopolized his arm. Romelle just grins innocently.

Kolivan steps forward first, eyes lingering on Shiro’s hand on Keith’s shoulder before assessing Shiro from head to toe.

‘It’s gonna be fine.’ Shiro tries to reassure himself. What did Krolia say again? Ah- ‘I am a handsome silver-haired young man.’ he recites in his head, because that’s probably what Krolia would want him to do, and he knows that she knows best. ‘I am smart and capable.’ he adds, for good measure.

Krolia really should start giving TED talks.

Shiro prepares to face Kolivan man-to-man, but it’s Thace - goatee, spiky black hair with gray streaks, no coveralls but wearing an apron -  who smiles a friendly smile and asks in an equally friendly voice, “Is this young man your boyfriend, Kit?”

“Yeah. I thought that part was obvious.” Keith says, then finally notices Kolivan’s squinting. “Shiro, this is Kolivan. He owns the garage.”

Shiro moves on autopilot, standing straight and mustering up his winning smile, the ones he usually used when trying to ask favors or special consideration from professors or the principal. He doesn’t let go of Keith yet, but he extends his free hand. “It’s an honor to meet you, sir. Keith and Romelle have told me much about you.”

He chooses to think that it’s a good impression, because Kolivan’s stare loses some of its scrutiny as he shakes Shiro’s hand.

Then, he squeezes.

Firmly.

Very firmly.

Okay, too firm. Shiro thinks he breaks some fingers - maybe he should have offered the prosthetic? That one can be replaced.

He chokes a bit, but carries on and keeps smiling. “Sir.”

Kolivan nods and just says, “Young man.”

He doesn’t let go.

Romelle giggles behind one of Antok’s arms, while Keith looks at Thace and Ulaz, raising both eyebrows, imploring them to do something . But Thace just chuckles into his hand and Ulaz shrugs and-

Did he just take a picture?

God, his parents are so weird.

Keith groans and raises a hand to pat Kolivan’s arm. “Okay, okay. Stop. You’re being terrible. Mom’s already had the talk with him, while polishing her favorite scimitar.”

Shiro loves Keith dearly, but bringing that memory back does not help.

He didn’t even know what a scimitar was before that encounter, but now he knew, because Krolia had opened her speech with a brief history of said weapon and just how easy it was to murder someone with it.

Thace laughs, though, and Kolivan falters a bit.

“Let go of the hand.” Keith says, like he’s trying to calm a wild animal intent on tearing its prey into tiny pieces. “You don’t have to scare him so much.”

Kolivan frowns. “I have to.”

Keith shakes his head, unimpressed. “No. You really don’t have to.”

“I want to.” the man says instead.

Keith rolls his eyes and tries another tactic. “Okay, but don’t you think you have to save some of that for Romelle’s boyfriend ?”

Kolivan finally lets go as he and the rest now turn to Romelle.

With a barely concealed gasp, Antok asks, “You too, princess?”

Romelle glares sharply at Keith and mouths, ‘Traitor.’

Keith just sticks his tongue out, but quickly sticks it back in when Kolivan turns to him and Shiro again. Shiro, who had been staring mournfully at his hand, straightens up and quickly hides said hand behind his back before Kolivan decides to finish his previous attempt to crush it.

Kolivan shrugs, but it looks forced. “It’s good to meet our Keith’s...”

“Boyfriend.” Keith provides, no room for argument.

“...boyfriend.” Kolivan finishes, with notable resignation. “You have a good grip.”

“T-Thank-... Thank you, sir.” Shiro nods fervently. He forgets that he’s wearing glasses and shakes them loose in the process. He quickly pushes them back up and smiles again.

He doesn’t say that he thinks he’ll never be able to grip anything again in his life, after that handshake.

“You don’t have to be so formal.” Keith says, looking up at Shiro. “You can just call him Kolivan.”

Kolivan huffs, walking away. “No. He can call me ‘sir’.”

Shiro doesn’t argue. “Yes, sir.”

“Good.”

Keith rolls his eyes, but Kolivan motions for him to follow as he peers over at the cargo in the back of the truck.

Right. They came here for Red.

“Kit. Tell me what happened here.” Kolivan says. It sounds like an order, but maybe that’s simply how Kolivan talked.

Keith untangles himself from Shiro and gives him a reassuring smile. "Go meet the others." he says, giving Shiro a little push. "Don't worry, Thace won't crush your hand."

Shiro turns to the others and notices Thace waving him over eagerly. The man looks like the friendliest of the bunch, so Shiro meekly obliges.

“Don’t mind Kolivan. He just can’t believe his kid’s all grown up.” Thace says as soon as Shiro reaches him. He holds out a hand. “I’m Thace, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, sir.” Shiro says, raising his own hand. He forgets himself and stops when he realizes that he had offered his prosthetic, but Thace just looks at it for a second before taking it anyway and shaking the hand. “I-... Uh. Takashi Shirogane. But please call me Shiro.”

“So we’ve heard.” Ulaz interjects. He is leaner than the others but still built, with a mohawk and tattoos on the shaved part of his head. Shiro shakes his hand next. “Ulaz. And there’s no need to call us ‘sir’. That’s just Kolivan trying his usual intimidation tactics.”

Shiro glances towards the others and sees that Antok has joined Keith and Kolivan, all three now absorbed in a discussion, no doubt about how to fix whatever was wrong with Red. Romelle is in the back again, stuffing her things in her backpack, which she had abandoned earlier when she made her grand entrance.

Shiro hears a shrill alarm going off, and he turns in time to see Ulaz press a button on a handheld kitchen timer. Thace pats Shiro’s back. “While they’re busy, how would you like to help us get ready for lunch, Shiro?”

Ulaz grins, already turning back to the house. “I’d go with us if I were you, before Kolivan decides to make you chop firewood or challenge you to a duel, to prove you’re worthy of our Kit’s hand.”

“O-Oh. Of course.” Shiro agrees quickly, holding on to the promise of safety.

He looks at Keith before he goes, and Keith only smiles and gives him a thumbs up before turning back to listen to Kolivan.

.

.

.

“You wouldn’t happen to be lactose intolerant, right, Shiro?” Ulaz says, getting back to work as soon as soon as they get to the kitchen.

“No, sir.” Shiro replies dutifully, hovering by the kitchen doorway. “I, uh, I’m not a picky eater, either.”

“Good, because we’re having pasta with lots of cheese for lunch.” the man continues, peeking at the oven before moving seamlessly around the kitchen. "When I say lots, I mean there are lots."

“Romelle’s favorite.” Thace explains, heading to the cupboard and taking out some dishes. “For dinner, we’ll do Keith’s. Ulaz makes amazing baked dishes, the kids always love them.”

Shiro is glad to be put to work as Thace passes him some plates and utensils, then directs him to the dining table. He sets the table while Thace disappears back to the kitchen.

When Thace returns, he is stirring a pitcher of juice. “So you go to school with Kit? Are you in the same year?”

Shiro shakes his head. “No, sir. I’m a senior.”

“Graduating this year, eh? Good for you.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Just Thace will do, Shiro." the man says with an amused grin. "You and Kit have been dating for how long now? He and Romelle just transferred this year, right?”

“Ah, it’s only been a couple of months, sir.” Shiro clears his throat. “I mean. Thace.”

Thace nods approvingly.

“We were friends, first. Well. Romelle’s boyfriend - Sven - he’s my cousin, so Keith and I knew each other because of those two, and… I guess we just... went from there.”

Thace hums. “Well. Our Kit looks very happy, so I think you’re good for him."

Shiro ducks his head, letting out a shy smile. “Thank you, it’s nice of you to say that. Keith says you’re his family, so it means a lot.”

"I'm just telling it like it is." The man shrugs. "Don’t worry about Antok, I'm sure he's fine with you, he's just distracted because of Romelle. They're very close and he missed her. As for Kolivan, well... you’ll win him over in time."

"You really think so?" the teen asks, hopeful.

Ulaz emerges from the kitchen, carrying a big pan of pasta. “Ah, kid.” he starts, placing the dish at the center of the table. “Krolia’s the toughest of us, and Kit’s hers. If you got past her, that’s enough of a glowing recommendation in my book. Kolivan will get over it.”

Shiro lets out a bashful laugh. “That’s… a relief to hear.”

“Also,” Thace chuckles. “I texted her, and she said, I quote, ‘Don’t bully Shiro. We like Shiro.’ So… there you go.”

Shiro’s jaw drops.

‘We like Shiro.’

He tries not to cry, and just settles on making a mental note to send Krolia a bouquet on Mother’s Day, and maybe he could ask Keith when his mother’s birthday is too, for reference.

Ulaz pats him on the back and returns to the kitchen. “I’m gonna get the other pan.”

Of course there’s another pan.

“So, um, I have a question?” Shiro starts, unsure, but Thace and Ulaz have been very accommodating so far, so when Thace looks at him expectantly, he goes ahead and asks, “Why ‘Kit’? Just curious. I thought it was just his mom, but it turns out it’s a family nickname?”

“Ah.” Thace laughs, wistful. Shiro thinks he hears Ulaz chuckle, too. “It’s actually- Well. It was actually started by his father.”

Shiro pauses. “Oh…” He’s not sure if he had overstepped, so he starts to apologize, but Thace smiles and continues.

“Oh, don’t look so glum. It's fine." Thace waves dismissively. "Anyways, Kit was around... what, four? Five? There was one time, when his mom was bathing him, that little Kit got shampoo in his eyes. He cried and cried, and after that he never wanted to take a bath again, ever. That kid had a temper, and threw the worst tantrums. He was like an angry kitten whenever we put him in the tub.”

Shiro couldn’t help but grin, imagining grumpy little Keith, scowling as he sat in the tub.

“Then, one day, his father tried to bathe him, and he started crying again when he saw the shampoo, but Tex distracted him by making these… little cat ears? With the kid’s hair. Tex told him that if he makes his hair stand up like that, the shampoo won’t get into his eyes. And... well, you know kids. After that, Keith didn't hate baths anymore, but he will throw a fit if you didn’t make his hair into cat ears.”

“That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard.” Shiro confesses, and doesn’t try to hide his smitten smile.

Thace nods. “So, Tex started calling him ‘Kitten’, and it stuck. When Keith got older, he told us not to call him that anymore, said it was embarrassing. Kolivan mourned .”

Ulaz’s laugh echoes from the kitchen.

“But, he still lets us get away with ‘Kit’, so at least we have that.”

Shiro thanks the man for sharing that with him, and- Great. Now he’s distracted by the image of Keith with cat ears.

Romelle comes in a few minutes later and rejoices when she sees her favorite dish, then joins in the effort to prepare the table.

And it turns out there’s actually three pans in total. Shiro should have known that he's around big eaters. Ulaz lays the last one in the table and proceeds to call the others inside for lunch.

.

.

.

While they wait for Keith, Kolivan and Antok, Shiro listens to stories of his boyfriend's cute and embarrassing childhood mishaps, courtesy of Thace and Romelle. It's all good, comfortable, even. Thace treats him like he's known Shiro for years.

Romelle hands him a glass of orange juice just as they hear footsteps and Keith's voice says, "What're you guys talking about? I heard my name."

Shiro makes the mistake of drinking just as he turns to look at Keith and- What. WHAT. What-?

He doesn’t know how this happened because he swears it’s hardly been an hour since they arrived, but there it is.

Shiro.exe stops working, and the orange juice goes down the wrong pipe.

He chokes.

It’s Keith, of course it is, standing in the doorway, hair in a tiny ponytail, a smear of grease on his cheek. He's wiping the sweat on his neck with the loose tank top he had been wearing under his button up earlier. He had slipped into coveralls, probably when he went into the garage to help examine Red, but instead of wearing the thing neck to toe, he just tied the sleeves around his waist.

It's... a look. A look that has probably always been destined to murder Shiro.

So, yeah, Shiro is dying now, thank you very much.

As he coughs, violently, he thinks that it's good, this is a good death.

He'll die like he lived.

Admiring Keith.

Keith, who steps forward in concern. "Whoa- Hey, are you okay?"

Shiro considers giving him a thumbs up, but maybe that won't be very convincing if he does it while he's still coughing.

But Ulaz proves himself to be a saint, because he reaches over to slap Shiro’s back and tells him to hang on, he can do it, he just has to get himself together-

Thace has his head on the table, mouth covered to muffle his laughter. Romelle is holding on to the kitchen counter for support.

Keith looks at them, confused, then looks at Shiro, still concerned.

Behind him, Kolivan stands with narrowed eyes.

“I’m… I-I’m fine, Keith.” Shiro finally manages to croak out. Ulaz rubs his back like the absolute blessing that he is, and Shiro decides he will send the man a gift basket.

“Are you sure?” Keith crosses his arms across his chest and- okay okay okay, this is just unfair, because his arms look more toned when they’re sweaty.

Goddammit, now Shiro has no right to judge Sven for wanting to go to the hospital because of love.

"He's f-fine- He's fine, Keith." Romelle says in between snorts and giggles. "H-He's.. He's just really thirsty."

It's a betrayal, Shiro decides. Romelle has betrayed him, which, he should have seen it coming, really. But he doesn't trust his voice right now, and it's not like it's a good idea to disagree, so he just nods.

"Ngh? Mm-hm. Thirsty." he eloquently chokes out.

He reaches for the glass to try and drink again, because... well, that's what a person should do when they're thirsty, but Ulaz gets to it first and gently pulls it away, whispering, "No. Bad. Trust me. I'm a doctor."

And. Yeah, okay, fine, this is not Shiro's proudest moment. At all.

"Okay..." Keith starts, looking suspiciously between the four in the kitchen, from Thace and Romelle both sniggering soundlessly and then to the glass of orange juice that Ulaz is holding away from Shiro's grasp.

Unable to come up with anything sensible to say, Shiro just sends his boyfriend his fondest smile-

Then he goes cold when he realizes that Kolivan is still looking right at him.

And then Antok walks up behind Keith and Kolivan with a bright purple towel, about to wipe his face-

Kolivan snatches it and wraps it around Keith instead, all while looking right into Shiro’s wide, terrified eyes.

Keith blinks, surprised.

“Wash up before eating.” is all Kolivan says before walking off.

Keith must have missed Kolivan's and Shiro's little staring contest because he just shrugs, and takes the towel with him to wash up. "Be back in a sec." he tells Shiro with a smile and a wink, and- Yep. Shiro is thankful that Ulaz took that drink away.

Antok grumbles in annoyance as he goes to find another towel.

As soon as the three were out of earshot, Thace and Romelle break down laughing.

Ulaz shakes his head as he looks pityingly at Shiro. “Kro’s right. You, my boy, are a disaster.”

Shiro buries his face in his hands. “I know...”

The man finally pushes the half-full glass of orange juice back in front of Shiro. "Here. I think you're safe to drink again."

"Thank you." Shiro says, taking it. "I do need a drink."

Before he could, Romelle giggles, low and evil. "Thirsty, much?"

This time, Ulaz breaks as well.

.

.

.

Keith comes back with a clean face, in a clean shirt and without the coveralls. Shiro quietly mourns. At least he still has the really cute ponytail.

They all sit down to eat lunch. Romelle gushes over the food. Shiro compliments Ulaz’s cooking. Kolivan still glares at Shiro. Antok openly hands Ulaz a five dollar bill. Keith glares at them, but doesn't ask.

“By the way, Kit.” Thace starts, catching Keith’s attention easily. “We’ve been telling Shiro here about all the trouble you got yourself into when you were little.”

Shiro looks at Keith beside him guiltily, but Keith just rolls his eyes and grins. “At least they haven’t shown you my baby pictures.”

That turns out to be a mistake, because all four of his extra dads simultaneously reach for their pockets.

Keith looks at them disbelievingly.

“Why the hell would you have those on your phones?!”

.

.

.

Chapter Text

After lunch, Keith disappears with Kolivan and Antok again to continue working on Red. Without anything else to do, Shiro and Romelle volunteer to help clean up.

They’re in the middle of washing the dishes when Romelle pauses, leaning forward and looking through the glass of the window in front of them.

“Shiro?”

“Hm?”

“Did we check the weather forecast today?”

Shiro stops too, and looks up to see the darkening sky. “No.” he answers slowly. “I don’t think we did.”

That’s when Keith appears on the doorway. He looks like he had run from the garage. “Shiro, the truck’s still on the driveway. You better move it inside. Quickly. Before it rains.”

Shiro nods, quickly washing and drying his hands. A low rumble of thunder is heard, and Shiro rushes outside as fast as he can. He had barely managed to get on the truck when the rain starts - no,  pours .

It’s a sudden downpour, and Shiro is lucky that it’s a quick straight drive to the safety of the garage. Antok and Kolivan had cleared a space for the vehicle, so Shiro parks easily.

Even though he was only out in the rain for a short time, Shiro still finds himself soaked by the time he climbs off the truck. He glances at the other stuff in the seats and at the back. Luckily, the only belongings they had left in the open were the single pillow in the passenger seat and the faded alien bobblehead on the dashboard. The other stuff should be safe inside the glove compartment.

He looks up and sees both Antok and Kolivan staring at him, and Shiro knows he must look like a big wet puppy, huddled on himself. It’s hard to see, too, what with his glasses wet and fogging up from his breaths.

“S-Sorry for dripping on your floor, sir.”

Antok says nothing and rushes out, through the door that Shiro knew was connected to the house.

Shiro looks after him worriedly, but Kolivan says, “It’s fine.”

Shiro nods weakly. “I… err… I can put the roof back up. On the truck, I mean. Later, for when we go back-”

Kolivan clicks his tongue and frowns. “You should have checked the weather before you got rid of that roof in the first place.”

“I-... I know, sir.” Shiro looks down, rubbing his arms for warmth. “That’s my mistake. But I can- I can put it back. Romelle can fit with us inside on the way back, there’s still space. Then, uh, for Red, I have a tarp we can cover her with-”

“You think you’re going back home in this weather?”

It’s hard to sound firm, but Shiro tried his best despite his shivering. “I- I promised Mrs. K-... uh, Krolia, that I’d bring Keith and Romelle back home. Tonight.”

Kolivan lets out what sounds like a growl, not far the rolling rumble of thunder from outside. Shiro flinches, and braces himself for a round of scolding, but what he hears instead is a sigh.

He looks up to see Kolivan crossing his arms across his chest. “I already talked to Keith. He told me it wouldn’t be good for you to drive under heavy rain. This storm’s a short one, it’ll pass overnight. You should leave in the morning.”

Shiro looks down, knowing the man is right. He’s not afraid of storms, but he never really did well during one. The accident that took his parents and his arm happened in a stormy night, on the road. Ever since then, he had always avoided being on a vehicle when there’s heavy rain and thunder. Keith knows this, and Shiro appreciates his boyfriend looking out for him.

Still. This isn't just about him. 

“I'm sorry, sir, it's just that their mom knows we’re going back tonight. I think they have plans for tomorrow, and I don’t want them to cancel that just because I-”

“I’ll talk to Krolia.” Kolivan says, tone final. "You won't do good, with this rain and the thunder.”

Shiro takes a deep breath, but jolts when they hear another thunderclap. He ducks his head, ashamed at his reaction. He hates that there’s too many memories he associates with it, hates that he can't control some of his reactions. He hates that he always finds himself zoning out, that he has trouble focusing or paying attention to things.

He hates that he just couldn’t be okay, specially when people were counting on him to be, that sometimes he just finds himself struggling to catch his breath, or to know where he was, because everything is blurry and dark and too much-

Like now. Blurry, dark, too much, and it's an effort to breathe...

He’s pulled back by a firm hand on his shoulder, squeezing firmly. It moves to his back, rubbing in steady circles.

“Come back, kid.” Kolivan’s voice is a low rumble like the thunder, but it’s calm and steady, and it helps Shiro breathe easy again. “You’re fine.”

Shiro nods, slow, shaky. He hadn’t even realized- Dammit, he had been trying not to look weak too, and now Kolivan has seen him almost breaking down just because of a little rain and some thunder?

“S-Sorry-”

The pat on his back is gentle, but firm. “It's fine." Kolivan maintains a distance, just enough to touch and ground him, but not too close to smother.

Shiro nods again, this time managing a shuddery exhale. The cold is grounding, somehow. It’s fine. He’s fine, now, he tries to tell himself as he rubs his arms.

He still hates that he's being seen like this. "I-... I'm really sorry, I swear, this isn't- I'm not usually like this."

"I know. Nothing to be sorry for. And I shouldn't have said it like that." Kolivan continues. This time, his voice is less gruff, almost soft. "It happens to all of us. Don't push yourself. Won't do anyone any good.”

Shiro manages another nod.

"Now, come back."

He does. He knows he needs to. He comes back, slowly-

-and then all at once, as something soft but heavy falls over his head, and then he’s blinking because someone has wrapped him up in a big, fluffy towel.

It’s Antok, he recognizes, along with the fact that it wasn’t just one, or two, but  three  big fluffy towels.

“Shouldn’t get cold.” Antok says. Shiro has learned that Antok is a man of as few words as possible, but he made up for it in his actions.

"U-Uh? Wha-?"

Antok huffs. “Kit will be sad.”

Shiro chuckles awkwardly as the man wraps one of the towels around his shoulders, puts another over that, and then proceeds to smush Shiro’s face with the last one. Shiro understands that it’s an attempt to dry his face and his hair.

There are footsteps, and a door swings open. “Antok, don’t do that to him while he has glasses on.” Shiro recognizes Keith’s voice, and maybe he sees a blurred Keith-shaped figure nearby through the towel and his smudged glasses.

“He’ll get sick if we don’t dry him.” is Antok’s defense, but he stops the smushing and settles on draping the towel on Shiro’s head instead.

“Thank you, Antok. I think I’ll be fine now.” Shiro manages, smiling up at the man, who nods but doesn’t let go of Shiro without one last head pat.

Keith snorts, and Shiro is sure that it’s because he must look ridiculous, wrapped up and drowning in fluffy towels, glasses askew.

“C’mon.” Keith says, tilting his head towards house. “Ulaz is getting you some clothes.”

For some reason, Shiro finds himself looking to Kolivan. For permission, approval or dismissal, Shiro’s not sure, but Kolivan meets his eyes for a second and nods.

“Go.” the man says, tone still carefully neutral.

Shiro chooses to think it's some sort of blessing.

.

.

.

Shiro finishes changing into the spare clothes he was given just in time to hear Romelle’s announcement from the living room.

“Mom’s okay with it! We’re having a sleepover!” she says, and gets a hearty laugh from Antok in response.

Shiro smiles as he pats down the borrowed clothes. He expected to be swimming in them, but strangely enough, the button up fit him just fine, as did the torn faded jeans. They’re only a bit long, but it was easy enough to fold up the hems.

“I told you they’ll fit him nicely.” Ulaz tells Thace. “It’s the closest size we have.”

Thace tilts his head to the side, but nods. “I was just worried it might smell too much like mothballs.”

Shiro quickly shakes his head. “No, not all! They smell fine.”

He means it. Wherever they got the clothes from, they were comfortable, a good fit, and didn’t smell like mothballs.

“Shiro, you ready yet? I need-” Shiro turns to look at Keith, who had stopped by the doorway, eyes wide.

Shiro blinks, self-conscious. Did he look weird? “Uh… Yes?”

“Those are dad’s clothes.”

Shiro exchanges a look with Thace and Ulaz, then turns back to Keith. “They are? I didn’t-... Do you want me to change-”

“What? No.” Keith says quickly.

Shiro stops. “...No?”

“No. It’s fine.” Keith shakes his head, smiling. He looks wistful, but quickly shrugs it off. “Uh... Kolivan kicked me out of the garage, said he and Antok can take care of Red, so... Romelle’s breaking out the board games." He reaches out, expectant. "I need your nerd brain for Scrabble.”

Shiro smiles back and takes his hand. “Okay.” he says, and he waves at Thace and Ulaz as he lets Keith pull him away.

.

.

.

"That's... that's not a word." Romelle grumbles.

Keith huffs. "It is. Tell her, Shiro."

Shiro shrugs. "It's a valid word."

"How do you even pronounce that?!"

"Uhhh..." Keith frowns at the tiles. "Sigh-zee-jai...?"

Shiro shakes his head, smiling fondly. "No, baby, it's 'see-zee-jee'. It's when three celestial bodies align."

Romelle pouts. "Ugh. Nerd."

"My nerd." Keith says, smirking.

"Your nerd." Shiro nods. They fist bump.

.

.

.

"Um... Ulaz? What does that word mean?"

Ulaz looks to his partner. "It's your word."

Thace smiles. "It means drunk."

Romelle squints. "Really?"

"...in the 60's."

Keith blinks. "Wow, you're old."

A gasp.

"You wound me, Kit!"

.

.

.

"Melle. What is a gherkin." Keith deadpans. "That's not a word you know."

Romelle shrugs. "Antok just said to play it!"

"Wait, you kids have never heard of a gherkin?" Ulaz asks.

"Is it... a kind of shoe?" Keith asks.

Romelle claps her hands once. "A hat!"

Shiro decides he might as well try guessing too. "Is it uh... a mythological creature, or...?"

"A bird." Thace chimes in. "From... Australia?"

Ulaz fixes Thace with a disappointed look, then he sighs. "No, children, it's pickled cucumber."

"Oh..." comes the general reaction.

Keith rubs his temples. "Okay, Kolivan and Antok are coaching Romelle all the way from the garage, Ulaz and Thace only play ancient words, and Shiro only knows nerd words. We've been playing for an hour and the only word on this board that I recognize is 'pilot'." He sighs. "Let's just play Uno."

.

.

.

The storm continues into the late afternoon.

Thace and Ulaz had joined the teens for board games until it’s time to start making dinner. Romelle had volunteered to help and disappeared with the two.

Shiro finds himself alone, sitting sideways on a plush window seat with his feet propped up, staring out at the gray sky and the empty roads. He’s waiting for Keith, who left shortly to drop by the garage and check up on the progress on Red. As always, with the weather as it is, he zones out a bit, and doesn't notice how much time passes until he's pulled back by a familiar voice.

“That’s mom’s favorite spot.” Keith says, his way of making his presence known. “Mine too. When I’m down, I’ll just sit there and curl up with Kosmo, and afterwards, I feel a lot better.”

Shiro looks at him and smiles softly. “It’s too bad I don’t have a Kosmo, then.”

Keith huffs, and wordlessly joins him in the seat, crawling between Shiro’s legs and settling comfortably on the older’s chest. Shiro wraps his arms snug around him, dropping a kiss on Keith’s forehead before leaning back comfortably on the sill. It’s a tight fit, but comfortable, and Keith lets himself be held and cradled by a quiet Shiro as they watch the rainfall outside.

Shiro is grateful that Keith lets him be quiet, that Keith just settles himself as a grounding weight on top of him without asking anything. He traces lazy circles down Keith’s side, and when Keith shifts to snuggle closer, his shirt rides up slightly. Shiro’s hand finds his waist, and traces the skin there.

Keith lets out a shiver and Shiro realizes that he’d used his cold prosthetic. He lifts his hand away. “Oh. Sorry, baby.”

“S’okay.” Keith says, voice muffled against his shirt. “It’s nice, was just surprised. Keep doin’ it.”

Shiro chuckles, but nods and obliges. “So… you spent a lot of time in this house, then?”

“Mm-hm.” Keith’s voice is soft, sleepy. Shiro peers at his face and notices a smudge of grease on the tip of his nose. He wants to wipe it off, but Keith looks so peaceful, eyes half-lidded, so Shiro decides that it can wait. “When dad- When dad was still with us, Kolivan and the others always went to our old house for holidays and birthdays and stuff. Well. Sometimes they’re there just because. After dad, it’s the opposite. Mom drives us here to celebrate special occasions, or sometimes just to spend the weekend, take a break, like that. I didn’t-... I didn’t know.”

Shiro looks down when he feels Keith smoothing a hand down his chest. “Didn’t know what?”

He watches, quiet, as Keith picks on a stray thread on his borrowed shirt. “I didn’t know mom made them keep dad’s old stuff. I never wondered where they went, after. So this… this makes sense. Also explains how Kolivan had Red.”

“Kolivan had Red?”

“Red was my dad’s.” Keith explains. “I didn’t see her for years, until my sixteenth birthday, when Kolivan brought her to the house, said he’d been maintaining her and keeping her safe for me all these years. I think that’s why I love Red so much.”

“That’s very sweet.” Shiro says, squeezing Keith closer somehow, just because it felt right. “Your family’s real special, Keith.”

“I know.” Keith replies, and Shiro doesn’t miss his grin. “And I’m really glad they like you.”

Shiro feels a surge of affection in his chest and doesn’t resist the urge to curl tighter around the boy in his arms. Keith lets out a surprised huff that turns into a small laugh, but doesn’t fight him, and instead just snuggles closer. Shiro drops a kiss to his forehead, then his cheek, and hums in satisfaction when Keith tilts his head to catch the next one with his lips. It’s chaste, short and sweet, and Keith returns to cuddling him after.

Shiro likes Keith like this. He likes Keith when he's all quiet fire and easy confidence with their friends. He likes Keith when he's being silly wrestling with Kosmo and singing old pop songs with Romelle. He likes Keith when he's smiling a proud smile after Krolia praises him. But most of all, he likes Keith when he's open, unguarded and soft, just for Shiro.

No, Shiro thinks. That's not quite right. 'Like' doesn't even begin to cover how Shiro feels for Keith right now.

Keith, like this, quiet and gentle, a hand stroking Shiro's arm to comfort him from the intrusive memories this unexpected storm brought? Thinking about him brings a lump to Shiro's throat. Realizing that he's real and solid and this is happening, now, is almost too much, and Shiro doesn't feel the cold that rain and thunder usually filled him with. Instead he's warm and he's safe. Funny how it's him wrapped around Keith that makes him feel safe, but he's-... He's loved, and he's loving. And Shiro already knows that he loves Keith, but he feels like can fall in love with Keith all over again, when he's like this.

Finally, he sighs, content, pressing words against Keith's inky black hair. “I’m glad."

It takes several seconds for a sleepy Keith to fully process that. The hand stroking Shiro's arm stills for a second. "Hm?"

He laughs a bit, and picks up on their conversation. "I'm glad your four dads like me." he says, although it's only one of many things he's glad of at the moment.

“So you do believe that they like you?” Keith asks, sounding amused.

Shiro thinks about it. “Hm… Fine. Let’s just say that I believe they don’t dislike me.”

Keith scoffs. “So humble, Captain. They  do  like you. I know it.” Then he grins. “You have bragging rights for that, now.”

“Bragging rights?”

“Rub it on Sven’s face, would you? That you’ve got the Marmora Seal of Approval, but he’s still on the hit list.”

Shiro laughs. “That’s still going on?”

“We’re competitive.” Keith reasons.

“So I’ve seen.” Shiro readily agrees. He never knew Uno could get  that  intense until he played with Keith and Romelle. He finally raises a hand to wipe off the dirt smudge on Keith’s nose. Keith’s face scrunches up, but he doesn’t swat Shiro’s hand away. After that, Shiro leans down to press a short kiss to it.

“Wow, you really keep doing that.” Keith remarks, blinking.

“I can’t help it.” Shiro says, fingers brushing Keith's hair behind his ear. Keith makes a skeptic noise, and Shiro grins. “I mean it. Baby, I don’t think you realize how cute you are when you're sleepy.”

“Stop.” Keith groans in embarrassment, but he doesn’t resist when a finger tips his chin upwards. Shiro leans down and he kisses back sleepily. It's sweetly indulgent, and Shiro is selfish enough to steal a few shorter ones because he feels like he can never get enough, with Keith.

When they part, Keith says, “Uh. I just meant. You know. You’re very kissy today.”

Shiro blinks. “Am I? I like to think I’m always kissy when I’m with you.”

“Nope, actually. I’m usually the kissy one.”

“Hm.” Shiro hums, thinking. “Do you want me to be kissy more often?”

Keith smiles as shrugs. “Nah. I like you just fine.”

“It's nice to hear that.” Shiro says, and after a pause he adds, “But it doesn’t mean I won’t try.”

He props Keith up to sit on his lap instead. Keith yelps, caught off guard, but Shiro only secures his arms around the other’s waist and peppers playful kisses to the boy’s neck, up a delicate jawline, and then to flushed cheeks.

Keith laughs, it's carefree and unbridled, and breathlessly he tells Shiro that he’s a dork, and that he's cheesy, and ridiculous.

His voice is music, and Shiro barely hears the thunder.

.

.

.

They all sit down to eat dinner. Keith gushes over the food. Shiro compliments Ulaz's cooking again. Romelle talks about their upcoming school play, which they're all going to watch, of course, since Krolia had already bought the four extra tickets for her children's four extra parents.

Meanwhile, Kolivan explains to Keith the repairs and fine-tuning they've done for Red.

Keith listens attentively, nodding in understanding until - "Wait, so it's not done yet?"

Kolivan shakes his head. "We won't be able to get the part we need until Tuesday. But after that, she'll be good as new."

"We won't be coming back with Red, then?" Keith asks, catching Shiro's attention in the process.

Kolivan nods. "You can come pick her up next week." He returns to his meal. After a moment, he adds, "If Shiro is open to giving you a ride back here again."

Shiro sits up a bit straighter, and nods eagerly. "It would be my pleasure, sir."

Kolivan scoffs grumpily. "Drop the 'sir'. We're at home."

Keith nudges Shiro with his elbow and they exchange subtle smiles. Romelle giggles. Thace hums knowingly.

Ulaz hands Antok his five dollars back.

.

.

.

Krolia is curled up on the couch with Kosmo. This time, with no urgent responsibilities and no teenagers to hang out with, she’s contentedly munching on potato chips while half-watching the Marvel movie marathon she stumbled upon while surfing channels.

Her phone chimes and she blinks when she sees it’s a message from Thace. She already received several selfies and group photos earlier from Ulaz and Romelle, and while Krolia felt a bit sad that she couldn’t join them, she’s just happy that her family is happy, and she also appreciates the rare, quiet time alone.

When she opens it up, she finds that it’s another photo. The shot is dark and a bit grainy, but she can make out the two figures curled up in her favorite window seat. She stills for a second when she recognizes the familiar shirt and the torn jeans, then relaxes when she takes in Shiro’s white hair and glasses. He and Keith were both asleep, and someone had draped a blanket over them.

Another message pops up, and she reads:    

 

‘They remind me of this couple I knew.’

 

Krolia smiles and sends a short reply.

 

‘Yeah. I see it too.’

 

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.

.

Chapter Text

The auditorium stage is a mess. But it's a good mess, Keith thinks. He always liked the mess that came with a work in progress. The stage is littered with half-finished sets and props, and the people moving about and working on them. Keith is an organized person, his bedroom a paragon of order against Romelle's crowded and cluttered one, but with drama club, he found that he felt at ease surrounded by the busy, focused chaos of a bunch of teenagers with all their hands occupied and at work.

Keith is really really enjoying his work, save for a minor inconvenience.

“Okay… Okay. Run that by me again?” asks a weak, shaky voice, one that Keith has been suffering from for the past half hour.

Sven is dead serious though, and when Keith looks up, he finds that the guy is actually taking down notes. On paper. With a pen. While sitting on a- oh. Oh, no. Nope.

“Hey. Don’t sit on that, it’s not for sitting.” Keith orders sharply. "Up. Now."

“Ah! Sorry!.” Sven quickly stands up and leaves the paper mache rock alone. "I'm so sorry. I- Umm... it looked very... realistic."

"Oh, thank you!" someone says from somewhere behind fake foliage and bushes. Keith thinks it's probably Shay. "I put a lot of work on that rock!" 

Keith sighs from his perch on top of several empty but heavy-duty crates and picks up on his task of gluing fake gems and glass pieces to a fake shiny crown. Lance had demanded that his fake crown be the shiniest crown in the history of high school theatre, and Keith doesn’t back out from a challenge.

Sven, restless, goes back to being annoying as he starts pacing back and forth the messy stage. “Right, so. Uncle Antok is gonna make me arm wrestle with him?”

“Mm-hm.” Keith says, trying to keep himself from laughing. "And he's, like, three times your size, big guy, so better start lifting today, I guess."

“And then Uncle Thace, he’ll want to know which colleges I’m applying for?”

“Yep.” Shiro answers. He’s sitting by Keith’s feet, happily painting a styrofoam mushroom the size of his torso. "So much pressure, Sven. But I think he's a bit impressed that I'm going for aeronautics, right, Keith?"

"He really likes that Shiro is smart." Keith nods. "He's not, hm... a sports person?"

Sven stares at his cousin, then goes back to pacing as he wrote the details down. He looks terrified.

Keith and Shiro exchange sly grins, and Shiro opens his mouth to say something when he hears whining from another corner of the stage.

"Captaaaaaiiii~n, James is making fun of my mushrooooom!" Rizavi complains.

"She's not following instructions!" Griffin defends. "They said one color for the head, and one color for the spots."

Shiro looks to where his "nerdlings" (as Keith called them) were sitting, painting their own mushrooms. He had dragged Griffin and Leifsdottir to the auditorium when it was clear they were both going on a meltdown from a particularly tricky math exercise - scaring the poor freshmen in the process - and then Shiro told them to get something to do to clear their heads.

They bumped into Rizavi on their way, and Shiro didn't have the heart to turn her away when she volunteered because she thought it would be fun (and because the track coach probably wouldn't look for her with the Drama Club).

So there they were. Lending extra hands to the very busy Drama Club. It seems like it's working. James and Ina didn't look like they were going to stab each other with their pens anymore, focused on the tasks at hand.

So far, Leifsdottir has finished a grand total of three perfect mushrooms, earning praise from the actual stage crew.

Griffin hasn't finished one because he's painting very very slowly, trying to make the best mushroom possible.

And Rizavi, well-

"Look at that, it's an abomination." Griffin frowns at Rizavi's work: a bright yellow mushroom that already sported red, green and purple spots, and now she's adding a blue one.

Rizavi pouts at her friend, actually looking hurt.

Shiro sighs. "James, uh, that's a very harsh word." He turns to Rizavi and tries not to wince. He doesn't want to 'make fun', because creativity should always be encouraged, but... well... "Nadia, I think we shouldn't... try to use all available colors in one mushroom? There are more mushrooms to make, maybe you can save some colors for them?"

He feels like he's talking to a preschool child and telling them they can't color the giraffe blue.

"Nah. I think it's fine." Keith says then. "At least she used complimenting colors. It looks cute."

Rizavi's eyes sparkle. "Really?"

Keith shrugs. "It'll be like... a magic mushroom or something. Just don't make too much of them. Two or three of those should be fine. Not more. And use five colors max. Okay?"

"Okay!" Rizavi cheers, then grins smugly at Griffin. "See, James, my mushroom is cute."

James huffs. Leifsdottir announces that she has finished another mushroom and receives applause from the surrounding stage crew.

"I love your boyfriend, Captain!" Rizavi tells Shiro happily, before she goes back to painting.

Shiro just laughs. "Me too, Nadia."

"Dork." Keith says, nudging Shiro's side with his foot. Shiro just looks at him and grins innocently, butting his head against Keith's thigh. Keith snorts. "You have to wait for that head scratch. I'm holding a glue gun."

Shiro pouts like a dejected puppy, and Keith just leans down to kiss his forehead before returning to his work.

Pidge walks by, carrying a laptop, trailed by Kinkade carrying a camera and several more equipment. "You two will make good parents someday, but no being gross in my stage." she says. Then her eyes narrow at Sven, who has not stopped pacing. "And Holgersson, if you don't sit your ass down, I am kicking you out of this auditorium."

Sven freezes, then immediately slumps by Keith's feet as well. He look at Shiro and sighs. "Takashi, maybe I shouldn't go with you guys on Saturday?"

"What? No. No way. You're meeting the dads, too." Shiro says.

"Romelle already told them you're coming." Keith adds. "She's real excited about it. It won't look good if you back out. Specially with Antok, he'll think you made his precious princess upset."

“Man, Keith, your dad-uncle-persons sound intense.” Hunk says from his spot a few feet away from them. He’s also sitting on the floor, surrounded by tools and repairing (read: dismantling) the school's old fog machine.

Shiro doesn't exactly know what the play is about, but then, Professor Smythe was known for his eccentric scripts. The previous year's 'Yalmor Chronicles' had been... surreal.

“They kinda are, yeah.” Keith tells Hunk. “They’re veterans, so they’re very strict and disciplined.”

He catches Shiro's eye, and Shiro grins as he turns to Sven again. “Seriously, man. Don’t touch anything in the house.”

“Or the garage.” Keith finishes. “Because they can all throw you.”

Sven gulps nervously, then nods and takes that down on his notepad, too.

“But they liked Shiro just fine, yeah?” Hunk asks, concerned.

“It took a lot of effort, though.” Shiro says. He remembers something Ulaz said. “Oh, all the wood I chopped... To prove my strength...”

Keith doesn't miss a beat. “All the grass you had to mow? They wanted you to prove that you know how to keep the house presentable.” 

“I had to help fix the garage door, and they fixed it by welding. Because real men know how to operate power tools.”

“Shiro, I’m so proud of you.”

Shiro smiles up at him. “I did it to prove that I’m serious about you, baby.”

Sven groans, clutching his face in his hands. “Oh, no… No no nooooo, what do I do? Maybe... maybe I can do the house chores... some of them... but I’m not as smart or charming as Takashi!” he despairs. “They’ll hate me!”

He earns several annoyed glares from the stage crew working around him.

Pidge walks by again. This time she's carrying a ton of rolled up wires and cables. "We get enough drama from our actors." she says. "Please don't add to that."

As if summoned, Lance bounds in from backstage. "Ohhhh, what's this?" he sings as he moves across the stage, brandishing a toy sword, his practice cape billowing behind him. "Sven, my buddy! What's up?"

Sven looks up and reaches out. "Lance. Lance, they'll hate me!"

"What?" Lance blinks, then plops beside Sven. "Who’ll hate you? You’re awesome!”

Sven groans again. “I will die on Saturday… No going to the hospital, I'll just... die.”

Lance looks at him, at a loss, but he’s a good friend, so he rubs the guy’s back for comfort."Aw, there there." he says, then he raises his eyebrows at the others, mouthing, ‘WHAT?’

Romelle arrives too, sporting glittery pink fairy wings, her script clutched in her hand. She stops when she takes in the scene before her. She crouches in front of her boyfriend. “Sweetcakes! What happened, why do you look so down?”

“They were talking about your dads.” says Matt, making Keith jump because since when was Matt here? Since when was Matt sitting beside him? Was the last Pidge-looking person who walked by actually Matt?

“Oh!” Romelle looks delighted. “Yes, yes! I’m so happy you can come with us when we pick up Red this weekend! I’m sure you’ll love my dads!”

“I’m sure I will, my darling princess.” Sven says, smiling weakly. “But I’m not so sure they’ll love me…”

Romelle frowns. “Nonsense. They’re cool! Just ask Shiro.”

“I did ask Shiro!”

Romelle finally looks at her boyfriend’s cousin, and narrows her eyes when Shiro suddenly focuses very very hard on mushroom painting.

“He and Keith told me about how Uncle Thace will interview me so I should know all your likes and dislikes and favorite things, and I should beat Uncle Antok in arm-wrestling, and that Uncle Ulaz only likes smart people, and Uncle Kolivan will make me chop wood, and mow the lawn-”

“What?” Romelle asks, then she eyes Keith, who looks very innocent, whistling as he glues another shiny blue gem to Lance’s crown.

“-and I don’t know how to use a welding machine! And I’m not smart like Shiro, so I won’t be able to impress them-”

“Oh, goodie.” Romelle takes a deep breath, and settles her hands on her boyfriend’s shoulder. “Sweetie- sweetcakes, deep breaths. That’s- That’s not- They were joking. They were joking!”

Sven stops, looking like an oversized puppy. “They-... What?”

Romelle glares at Keith, then at Shiro, then back at Keith and Shiro, and points her rolled-up script at them threateningly. “I hate you both.”

Shiro hides behind the mushroom, shoulders shaking. Keith coughs, grinning as he loads up another stick to the glue gun.

“C’mon, sweetcakes, let’s leave these bullies alone.” Romelle says, standing up, taking Sven’s arm and pulling him away. “None of what they said is true.”

“...Really? Not one?”

“Yep. Not one.” she says, glaring at her brother and his boyfriend over Sven's shoulder. "Shiro didn’t do any of those, he and Keith just cuddled on the window seat all day!"

Keith sticks his tongue out. Shiro just smiles innocently.

"What-... Really?" Sven asks, and Romelle nods fervently. He looks back at Keith and Shiro, confused. "When did you become so mean? Takashi, you're not my favorite cousin anymore."

Shiro raises an eyebrow. "I'm your only cousin."

Sven thinks about it, then, determined, he declares, "I'm adopting Matthew, he'll be my cousin."

Matt looks up and quickly says, "No, thank you. I don't want to be related to you walking disasters."

.

.

.

Krolia also tags along the following Saturday. When they arrive, it's almost a replay of the previous week. Romelle announces her presence via her mini megaphone, Antok welcomes her, she dives in his arms, and he tosses her like a ragdoll.

Shiro is taken off guard when Antok turns to him after hugging Keith and Krolia. He gets a hug, too, and actually gets lifted off a few centimeters from the ground. Shiro laughs, returns the hug as best as he can, and waves at Kolivan, Thace and Ulaz as they approach.

Then Antok sets him down, and the man turns to Sven. He doesn't say anything, but he cracks his knuckles.

Sven should be commended for keeping up his smile and not bolting away right then and there.

"Uh, h-hi, Sir- Uncle? Sir?" Sven starts.

Kolivan steps forward, always in charge of the pack, and assesses the new blood. He crosses his arms across his chest. "So, this one's yours, Romelle?"

Romelle stands beside him giddily. "Yep! This is Sven. Sven, this is Kolivan, Antok, Thace and Ulaz-"

To their surprise, Kolivan actually grins, and offers his hand first. "It's good to meet you, Sven."

Shiro notices Keith pressing up against his mother's side. Krolia slings an arm around her son's shoulder and pulls him close.

"Mom, what's happening?" Keith asks in a whisper, and... Is it Shiro or does Keith sound scared?

"Don't worry about it, Kit." Krolia smiles and rests her chin on Keith's head, stroking the teen's hair. She sees Shiro watching and winks.

Meanwhile, Sven shakes Kolivan’s hand, and is relieved when Kolivan nods approvingly. Romelle had told him about how Kolivan almost crushed Shiro's hand. "It's good to meet you too, sir-"

“Now, now, just call me Kolivan." he says, and he actually chuckles. "You look like a strong young man who values hard work, Sven.”

Sven smiles, humbled. “I... Uh. I do.”

Kolivan pats his back and smirks, “You wouldn’t mind chopping some wood for the fireplace, do you?”

Sven pales, but before he can do anything, Antok nudges him towards the backyard. He looks back helplessly at the others, but Kolivan follows behind the two so Sven just keeps walking.

Romelle lets out a scandalized gasp and jogs after them. “Hey! No fair! You didn’t make Shiro do that!”

“The trials vary from person to person, Romelle.” Kolivan says solemnly.

“Noooo...” Romelle whines, clinging to the man’s arm. “Trials? What trials?”

“One must pass the trials before courting our princess.” Kolivan explains.

“WHY???”

“He must prove himself worthy.”

"Worthy? Wha-? What am I, a magic hammer?"

"Maybe so. A very beautiful magic hammer, if that's the case."

Romelle falters. "Aw, thank y- Wait, no! No no no, we’ve been dating for six months! Mom-" she turns to Krolia. "Mom, tell Kolivan to stoppit-"

Krolia disentangles herself from Keith and steps forward.

"Oh, thanks, mom, you're the best-"

And then Krolia says, "I wanna watch this. Should be fun."

"Mom!" Romelle cries, betrayed. She goes back to Kolivan. "Hey, you don’t even have a fireplace!”

Kolivan huffs. "Maybe I do."

"That doesn't make sense!" Romelle complains, but she only ends up hanging off Kolivan's arm as they disappear behind the house.

Keith and Shiro look at each other, shaken.

"They'll be there a while." Ulaz sighs and laughs quietly to himself. 

“So.” Thace claps a hand on Keith’s and Shiro’s shoulders, then herds the boys towards the house. “Today we're baking cookies.”

.

.

.

fin.