“Shiro, are you sure this is a good idea?”
Shiro looked down at the teenager standing beside him, a soft smile curving at his lips. This wasn’t the first time Keith had questioned their trip, but now was the last time to do so; they were standing on the front step of Shiro’s family home, Keith shifting anxiously from foot to foot as he shrunk into the red and white hoodie he always wore, white-knuckling the handle of his duffle bag.
“Keith,” He said, reaching out to ruffle his hair, “Don’t worry. They’re going to love you.”
Keith winced a bit, though he didn’t pull away from Shiro’s touch, already an improvement from when they’d met several months before.
“But you said they’re traditional Japanese, right? And I don’t… I don’t know how to…”
“Hey, neither did I at first. They don’t expect you to know everything right away.” When Keith kept staring down at his shoes, still uncertain, Shiro set his bag down and knelt to his level.
“You trust me, right?”
Keith chanced a look at Shiro’s face, blinking in surprise. “Yeah? ‘Course I do.”
“And do you think I would ever put you in a situation where you might feel unsafe or uncomfortable?”
Keith scuffed his boot against the concrete. “Not… not on purpose.”
“Exactly. These are the people that adopted me, and I trust them.” Keith snuck another glance at him, and Shiro smiled as gently as he could manage. “I promise you’ll be safe here.”
Keith narrows his eyes, considering. After a long moment he straightened up, squared his shoulders and set his jaw, and Shiro’s smile morphed into a grin. This was Keith’s Determined Face.
“Alright, let’s do this.”
Shiro straightened back to his full height. “Ok. Shoes off before we go in.”
With only a hint of trepidation, Keith toed off his boots and Shiro followed suit, both of them leaving their shoes next to the several other pairs on the porch. The moment Shiro opened the door the smell of spices and cooking meat wafted out, making him inhale eagerly as they stepped inside. He hadn’t been home since the previous summer, nearly five months before, and he hadn’t realized until that moment how much he’d missed his mother's cooking.
The interior of the Shirogane house was fully clad in warm pine and was warm from the heat coming from the kitchen, accompanied by his mother's voice as she sang quietly to herself the way she always did when she cooked. Keith paused, and Shiro shot him another supportive smile before closing the door behind them.
“ Haha, I’m home!”
There was a gasp and a clatter from the kitchen, making Keith flinch, before a short Japanese woman came bustling around the corner. Her face lit up the moment she saw them, the crows feet around her eyes crinkling, and she rushed forward to slam Shiro with a hug.
“Takashi!” She cried happily, giving him a hard squeeze. “We weren’t expecting you for another hour!”
“The train got in early.” He explained, hugging back as well as he could with one arm while the other still held his bag. “How have you been, haha ?”
She gave him one last squeeze and stepped back, running her hands over her long hair to smooth it. She was going on sixty now, but her hair was still just as dark and sleek as ever. His adoptive mother was as neat and put together as he remembered, wearing a white blouse and blue jeans, casual but nice.
“Good, good. Things have been quiet since you went back to school.” Her eyes sparked, and she turned to yell down the hallway over her shoulder. “Daichi! Takashi’s home!”
Warmth grew in Shiro’s chest. Normally she would have called for his father in Japanese, but he had called ahead to tell them about Keith, and they were trying to make him feel welcome, just like they’d done for him.
Speaking of which, she had now turned her attention to the boy, who so far had been hanging back and half hiding behind Shiro.
“You must be Keith.” She said in a soft, musical voice, dipping into a polite half bow before holding out a hand for him to shake. “Takashi has told us so much about you.”
Keith flushed shyly as he shook her hand in return. “Nice to meet you, um…”
“You can call me Aki.”
Keith glanced up at Shiro for confirmation, receiving a nod. At that moment there was the sound of a door closing and Shiro’s father shuffled down the hallway. Keith tensed beside him, and didn’t relax even when the smile on the man’s face became visible.
Truly, his father wasn’t all that intimidating. Daichi was a full head shorter than Shiro, black hair streaked with gray, weathered face lined with wrinkles. But he knew why Keith would be wary, he understood, and put a hand on his shoulder to give a reassuring squeeze.
“Takashi.” When he got close enough Shiro bent to put his bag on the floor, letting go of Keith’s shoulder to wrap his father in a hug.
“It’s great to see you, chichi. ”
Daichi clasped his shoulder with a grin, then turned to Keith. The boy shrank slightly, but Daichi didn’t so much as blink, merely copied the same half bow as his wife and held out his hand.
“Keith, welcome. You may call me Daichi.”
Keith shook his hand faster than he had Aki’s and quickly ducked his head. The husband and wife exchanged a knowing look, probably recalling what Shiro had told them about Keith over the phone, but they said nothing about it.
“Well, I need to get back to the kitchen before dinner burns.” Aki said brightly. “Takashi, why don’t you show Keith to the guest room? Food should be ready by six.”
“Sure.” Shiro stooped to pick up his bag. “This way, Keith.”
Keith stuck close to his back as he lead them down the same hallway his father had emerged from, leaving his parents to finish dinner. He didn’t say a word until they had entered the guest room, the one that had once been Shiro’s, his old furniture long since moved out and replaced with a dark oak bed and dresser set. Against the far wall a cot had been made up in preparation for Keith’s visit, but Shiro made his way over and set his bag on it so that Keith would be forced to take the bed.
“It’s weird, hearing people call you Takashi.” Keith murmured. Something in Shiro’s chest settled. Sure his volume was still a little low, but he was more than aware of Keith’s habit of clamming up when he was unsure. The fact he was talking at all was a weight off of his shoulders.
“Everyone at the Garrison calls you Shiro.”
Shiro chuckled a bit and unzipped his bag. He was trying his best to show Keith he was comfortable here, knowing the younger boy was looking to him to know how to act.
“Yeah well, first names are pretty special in our culture.”
“Didn’t they say for me to call them by their first names?”
Shiro glanced over his shoulder. Keith had followed his example and unzipped his bag, but now he stared into it with a confused frown, not touching anything within.
“It’s their way of helping you feel comfortable.” He explained, carefully watching Keith’s expression. “I called them by their names for the first few years.”
“Oh.” His shoulders lost their tension, and Shiro held back a sigh of relief. All he wanted from this trip was for Keith to get a little bit of what he had when Aki and Daichi adopted him-- a chance to connect with his heritage which would have otherwise been denied him. Shiro had been trying his best to do that at the Garrison with his little tidbit lessons in Japanese, but there were a lot of things he didn’t know how to pass on.
With some effort he manages to shake himself from his reverie and resume unpacking. He and Keith would only be here a few days, through the end of the weekend, but he wanted to make the most of it.
“I hope you’re hungry. My mom probably made five different dishes for you to try.”
Before Keith can answer, there’s a creak as something bats the door open from the hallway.
“Mew?” Says a high pitched voice, and when Shiro turns his face splits into a grin of delight. With two large strides he crossed the room to scoop up the little bundle of white fur. The cat meowed again and batted at Shiro’s nose, looking up at him with big blue eyes and leaning forward to sniff him.
“Is that… a cat?”
“Yeah.” Shiro’s voice is muffled in the fluffy white fur of the cat, which is now reaching it’s paws around his neck to nuzzle his cheek. “His name’s Maru.”
“Can I pet him?”
“Sure.” He pivots to face Keith, who is once again looking shy when faced with the animal. He gingerly raises the back of one pale hand towards Shiro’s shoulder. Maru sniffs delicately at the offered hand before squirming a bit in Shiro’s arms. The next thing he knows Keith’s got an armful of fluffy white cat that’s busily purring and licking at the hair that falls around the back of his neck.
Keith giggles, and the next time Shiro gets a glance at his face he’s beaming, and Shiro forgets why he was ever nervous about this trip in the first place.
As expected, Aki had prepared several traditional dishes for them to have for dinner that night, sitting on the floor clustered around the low table. At first his parents keep the conversation between them and Shiro, giving Keith time to stuff his face with as much of the food as he wanted and to get comfortable with the new people. It was deja vu, a perfect replication of Shiro’s first night with them.
Once he’s begun to slow down, and his spine isn’t so tight, Aki finally directs a sentence to him.
“So, Keith, Takashi tells us you want to be a pilot as well.”
Keith nods and smiles a bit shyly. Daichi takes that as his cue to jump into the conversation.
“He also tells us you’re on track to beat all of his records.” For a moment Keith freezes, eyes blown wide with panic, but Daichi continues without missing a beat. “It’s good. He needs something to keep him humble.”
Shiro can’t help but laugh and shake his head. It’s just so in character for his father, but he keeps an eye on Keith’s expression out of his periphery, and is relieved to see the fear melt away in favor of amusement.
“He’s very proud of you.” Aki mentions nonchalantly, as though it’s an offhand comment and not one that makes Keith’s head snap around in surprise. “You should hear him every time he calls home. It’s always Keith this, and Keith that, and ‘Haha, you won’t believe what Keith did in the simulator today ’.” She turns an indulgent smile on Shiro, who is blushing an embarrassing shade of red. “It’s adorable.”
But when he looks back at Keith, his eyes are shining, and that makes it all worth it.
The next day is quiet and calm, the sleepy Sunday afternoon feeling persisting throughout the day. Keith spends the morning with Aki, learning origami while Shiro talks with his father on the other side of the living room. He’s surprisingly careful with the paper, paying rapt attention to Aki’s instructions and folding with nimble fingers. Within a few hours he has a growing army of paper frogs, cranes, butterflies, and even a messy dragon or two.
At one point Aki nudged him and murmured something into his ear. Keith shook his head, but Aki smiled encouragingly, and after another moment’s hesitation he got to his feet. Shyly, he made his way over to Shiro and with a ducked head offered him a crane folded out of thin purple paper.
By lunchtime Keith seems comfortable enough to be left alone, so Shiro runs out for a few hours to say hello to some old friends and give his boyfriend back at the Garrison a call. When he returned to the house he found Keith out in the yard, learning Japanese from his father, more than the few words Shiro had managed to teach him. He finally seemed to be relaxing around the man and Shiro didn’t want to interrupt, so he merely waved when Keith looked over and went to join his mother on the porch.
“So, how’s Adam?” She asked, not even looking up from the book she was reading.
“He’s good. Whiny that I left for the weekend, but what else is new?”
Aki smirked to herself. Shiro leaned back in the swing they both sat on, moving it slightly with the tips of his toes as he stared across the yard. For a moment he didn’t think, just let himself feel the warmth of the sunshine and the breeze on his face and notice the smell of the grass.
“You’re doing well with him, Takashi.” Shiro jumped and looked to his left to find his mother watching him with a soft expression. “He looks up to you.”
“We have a lot in common.” Shiro sighed and tilted his head back against the swing, closing his eyes. “It’s getting better, but he’s still pretty skittish, and he’s got a temper. He usually gets into at least one fight every other week. It’s usually not his fault, he’s provoked or has to defend himself, but…”
“You’re worried about him.” Aki says. It’s not a question, but Shiro nods in answer anyway. A thin hand lands on his shoulder.
“And I’m starting to realize…” He stopped and swallowed, throat suddenly tight. “If you and chichi hadn’t kept me, I could’ve easily been in his position.”
“Oh, ‘Kashi.” She slides a bit closer and Shiro leaned into her. Aki was barely taller than Keith, but right now Shiro still felt warm and protected by her.
“I just… I don’t think I ever said thank you.”
“You don’t need to thank us.” She murmured to him, running fingers through the short hair of his undercut. “We wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The next day, Keith was worryingly quiet. He still responds when spoken to and smiled when Shiro caught his eye, so Shiro decided to leave it be for awhile. But by dinner time he was still acting strange, so before they ate Shiro drew him into the guest room for a quick interrogation.
“Hey, Keith, are you doing ok? You’ve been pretty quiet today.”
Usually this type of question would be answered with a brisk, “I’m fine.” And an attempt to brush it off, but that isn’t what happens. Instead Keith just stares at him for a concerningly long moment.
Then bursts into tears.
Shiro immediately dropped to his knees, panic flooding his brain. “Keith? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you, Jesus, are you ok? What’s wrong?” He’d seen Keith cry only once before, and it wasn’t an experience he expected to repeat. Keith shook his head and drove his fists into his eyes, trying to stop the tears.
“Sorry.” He gasped between heaving breaths. “Sorry, I don’t-- I don’t know why I’m--” His voice breaks on another sob, and Shiro carefully reaches out for him. When he doesn’t recoil he draws him into a hug, letting the boy cry into his shoulder while he tries to calm his racing heartbeat. Seriously, what had he done?
“They’re just-- so-- nice .”
“They’re being so nice to me, and they don’t e-even know m-me, and--” He sucked in a deep, trembling breath, wiping harshly at his cheeks. “And no one has ever, not since my dad, and I-- I never thought I’d get to learn this stuff, about me or my dad, and it’s-- I just-- I’m sorry--”
Finally, Shiro seems to regain his ability to speak. “It’s ok, bud, it’s ok. I understand.”
Keith sniffled, visibly forcing the tears back, even as Shiro rubbed his back soothingly. His heart hurt.
“Sorry.” Keith mutters again and begins to pull away. Before he can retreat completely Shiro gently grasps his shoulders to hold him in place. He’s got his eyes fixed on the floor, swollen and red.
“ Otouto , look at me.” Keith obeyed, and Shiro smiled as softly as he could. “I get it. I only went through one foster home before coming here, but I thought it was too good to be true, too. It’s ok.”
Keith sniffled again and frowned. “What was that word that you called me?”
Shiro bit back a sigh. This was Keith saying ‘Moment over, no more vulnerability’, and over the last few months Shiro had learned not to try and push past that barrier.
“ Otouto . It means little brother.”
Keith’s eyes went wide, and Shiro almost expects him to start crying again. Instead he beams and springs forward to latch his arms around Shiro’s neck with so much force they both go crashing to the floor.
The sound of their laughter fills the room.