Adam let out a tiny sigh. He probably should have expected this, really; why he hadn't thought to check the workout rooms first in his quest to check on Takashi’s project cadet completely eluded him. He got the impression that Takashi and Cadet Kogane were quite a lot alike, and if Takashi wasn’t venting his feelings in the sims, he’d be here. Maybe not venting the same way as Kogane—Takashi tended to prefer the machines, and Kogane was absorbed in beating the absolute shit out of a punching bag—but the principle was pretty similar.
The rest of the room was empty, and it wasn’t exactly hard to guess why. Kogane was radiating the kind of homicidal energy that made it pretty difficult to just get comfortable and work out; he was glaring at the bag like it had murdered his puppy, or something, and even though Kogane was still skinny and short for his age, growth spurt since coming to the Garrison (and, Adam suspected, getting proper nutrition and care for the first time in a very long time) aside, he managed to look utterly terrifying. Adam almost hesitated walking forward, because Keith definitely did not look like he wanted to be interrupted. On the other hand, Adam was pretty sure that meant that no one had interrupted him for what was very possibly hours, and that meant someone probably should.
“Kogane,” he said, and Keith didn’t even turn.
“I don’t need a spotter, I’m fine,” he said, in a sharp tone that told Adam he’d probably said the same thing to more than one other concerned person.
“Maybe not, but you probably do need a break. How long have you been going at that thing?” Adam asked, and Keith shrugged, still not breaking the rhythm of his punches.
“A while,” he replied, which was both frustratingly vague and probably accurate by Kogane’s timekeeping.
“When did you start?” Adam tried.
“About 1400 hours, when I got back to the Garrison,” Keith replied flatly.
“Okay, well, it’s closing in on 1600, and you don’t look like you’ve taken a break, and you need to before you pass out.” Adam hoped his tone was firm enough for Kogane to get the message.
“Is that an order, Lieutenant?” Kogane shot back, and Adam sighed.
“No, it’s a request,” he said, “because I’m worried about you. You’ve had a hard day and now you’re pushing hard enough to hurt yourself, which isn’t going to do you any good.”
“All due respect, Lieutenant,” Keith said, in a tone that very much indicated that what was coming was going to be the opposite of respectful, “I’m your boyfriend’s charity case, not yours, so if you’re checking on me out of obligation to him because he’s on that supply run to Luna Base, tell him I’m fine. I’m not your problem.”
“I’m not doing this out of obligation, and you’re not a problem, Cadet Kogane,” Adam said. “I’ve lost people too—”
“Yeah, kinda hard to miss when there’s a fucking building named after your dead parents,” Keith said, sharply, and Adam winced. “I get it, you think you know what I’m going through, because they died when you weren’t too much younger than I am now, but you don’t. You can’t.”
“I know a thing or two about grief,” Adam said, and he had to very carefully rein himself in. Keith was clearly in a lot of pain, and snapping out at whoever happened to be nearby, and were Adam being totally honest, he was pretty familiar with that. He’d looked like that, around Keith’s age, and for similar reasons. “Especially complicated grief.”
“My grief isn’t fucking complicated, ” Keith said sharply. “Or it shouldn’t be. Everyone’s got some speech prepared about how much fucking better it gets, and how my foster mom loved me, and whatever. I’ve heard it all, she’s a fucking saint, nominate her for canonization already.”
“I wouldn’t suggest that,” Adam said dryly, “since I don’t know the woman, and I’m Jewish. The Catholic Church doesn’t tend to ask us about our opinions on that sort of thing.” He exhaled. “And I actually don’t have any kind of speech prepared. I just wanted to ask how you’re doing, but I can pretty much see the answer in front of me.” Keith slammed his fist particularly hard into the bag, and then reached out and caught it, stopping its swing in its tracks, before whirling to face Adam.
“I’m doing great, Lieutenant. Just fucking fine. I think it’s perfectly wonderful that I’ve gotta stand around and listen to how amazing Miss Jackie was, and how much she loved all her kids, and how every single one was special to her, and we made her life complete.” The bitterness in Keith’s tone was thick and heavy, and Adam knew his sadness had to show on his face. “But I’m not allowed to acknowledge that she locked me in a fucking closet for two days because I was too loud, and in the grand scheme of things, that was a pretty minor punishment. How’s that for complicated fucking grief, Lieutenant West? Still think you can relate to what I’m feeling?”
Adam took a deep breath, and fixed Keith with a very serious look. Half-thoughtlessly, he reached under his jacket and pulled out his magen David necklace, so he could turn the pendant between his index finger and thumb as a grounding gesture.
He understood, now, why Takashi wanted to put out so much effort to help Keith. Why this hothead genius cadet mattered so much to him. Because Keith had clearly never had anyone in his corner in his life—or if he had, it was so long ago, he’d forgotten what it was like.
“When I was eleven, I was so terrified to bring home a D on a midquarter report—not even a real grade, just a progress report, and the only reason the grade was so low was that I hadn’t turned in a couple of small assignments that would more than balance out by the end of the grading period—and show it to my parents that I forged my mother’s signature on it and lied to them and claimed I lost it. I was in trouble for losing it, obviously, but not nearly as much as I would have been for the grade.
“When my teacher called me on it—because I was twelve, and it wasn’t exactly a brilliantly accurate forgery—and suggested she might call them, I started crying. Because I was absolutely certain that the consequences would be awful. Because my parents made sure I knew that failure would not be tolerated. That I had to be the best. I’ve been in therapy for years, since not too long after they died, and I still haven’t really undone a lot of what they did to me.” Adam exhaled, and tugged at his necklace, briefly. “But my parents are heroes. They died performing an incredibly risky EVA to repair a damaged component on their shuttle. If they hadn’t fixed it, their entire crew would be dead too. They saved four other lives, and they were such great people, so well loved—so no one wants to hear that they turned their oldest son into a neurotic, anxious, perfectionist mess, and did a number on the rest of their kids too.” He took a short breath. “So...yeah, I do kinda know what you’re talking about.
Keith stared at him, in long, stunned silence, and then swallowed, and looked down at the floor.
“Sorry,” he said quietly. “I didn’t know.”
“Almost no one does,” Adam said, and then he stepped over and offered Keith the water bottle he’d brought with him. “Come on. Take a break. Come and sit, and we can keep talking.” Keith noded mutely and took the bottle, and followed Adam to one of the benches set around the room. “So. Tell me how you’re feeling. Really feeling. Don’t censor, don’t bullshit. I promise, I won’t judge you.” Keith nodded, and took a long sip of water, and then stared down at the bottle for a long minute. Adam waited—it was pretty obvious Keith needed to get his thoughts together, and Adam was happy to give him the space to do that.
“It’s just,” he started, finally, “it’s...so fucking hard, y’know? If she loved us so much, why didn’t she act like it.” Keith screwed the cap back on the water bottle and set it down next to him. “The things she did to us, the way she treated us? That’s not love. No matter what face she put on to convince the social workers that she was a good, perfect angel. I think she knew somebody at the office, because she always seemed to know when the home visits were happening, to make sure everything was cleaned up and we looked good.” Keith laughed, bitterly. “One time, she’d smacked me the day before, and I still had the bruise, so she sat me down and did concealer over my whole face to cover it up. And, y’know, she’d always apologize, any time she hurt us, but we made her do it and it was all our fault. ”
“Standard abuser garbage,” Adam said, and Keith nodded.
“Pretty much, yeah.” He sighed. “And everyone wants to tell me that she was so great, but like— I know she wasn’t. But she’s their sister, their daughter, their friend, and I can’t—it’d be wrong of me to ruin their memory of her. And you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, and whatever.”
“But it still sucks, because you’ve still got all this anger, and hurt, and pain inside you, and no one wants to hear about it, and in fact they’re all pretty much implicitly telling you to shut up and shove it. Because the pain her death is causing them is more important than the pain she caused in life, right?” Adam asked. Keith nodded.
“Pretty much.” He huffed. “It’s just—it’s not fair. And I had...a lot of feelings. To vent.” His shoulders dropped. “So the bag felt like a good idea, because I couldn’t punch any of the people saying those things, because they don’t know.”
“It’s not a bad idea?” Adam said, “but it was maybe a bad idea to go at it for two hours straight. Are you okay? Your hands must hurt like crazy.” Keith flexed his fingers, and winced.
“Yeah, kinda,” he admitted guiltily.
“We can run you by the first aid station, get that checked out,” Adam said. Keith nodded, and then he picked the water bottle back up and took another long drink. When he was done, he gave Adam an incredibly plaintive look—and Adam was struck, seeing Keith Kogane look open and vulnerable for the first time.
“How do you deal with it?” He asked. “I mean, there’s a whole memorial building for your parents, and that giant bronze bas-relief on the wall when you walk in, how do you cope? ”
“Uh,” Adam said, “poorly, if we’re being honest. I’ve done a lot of work to never have to take or teach a class in the Jacob and Hannah West Building, because I absolutely cannot go in there. Most people think it’s grief, but...it’s like being stabbed, being reminded of how everyone else remembers them. How I’m supposed to remember them.” He sighed. “It gets easier, once you have less people in your face, telling you all about how wonderful they were. And once you can open up to people about how you really feel.”
“Does Shiro know? About your parents,” Keith asked, bluntly.
“Yeah, he does,” Adam replied. “I kind of...dumped the whole story on him, when we were still just roommates and flight partners and kind-of-rivals, because I was still in my own head about how I had to be the best to make them proud, and if I wasn’t perfect I was failing and letting them down and ruining everything, which, I mean.” Adam snorted. “Takashi was the actual best, so imagine how that went. But—one of my professors had to move a class into the West Building because of some issue in the regular classroom, and I had what can charitably be described as ‘a massive freakout.’
“Takashi found me huddled in a ball in our dorm room, sobbing, when he knew I was definitely supposed to be in class, and he asked me what was up, and I just kinda…opened the floodgates, babbled on about how I knew I was screwing up and failing them and disappointing them, but I couldn’t face my parents, couldn’t go there, couldn’t be reminded that they were heroes when they’d made me so scared of failure it had made me into an asshole—and he just. Hugged me. And let me cry it out on his shoulder.” Adam shrugged, and gave Keith a half-fond smile. “I think that was the moment I fell in love with him, actually? Because it was one of the first times I really got to see the real, genuine Takashi Shirogane, and not just the Golden Boy. Which isn’t what you asked, but anyway—the point is, yeah, he knows, and if you wanted to talk to him about your foster mom? He’ll do his best to, y’know, be Takashi Shirogane about it. Kind, caring, compassionate.”
“I believe that,” Keith said, and he gave adam an almost-smile, and that kinda felt like enough, right then. “Shiro’s…the first person who’s ever really believed in me. Since my dad died, at least. And it takes somebody pretty unique to look at the dumb kid that stole his car and want to help him get into one of the most prestigious schools in the world, no matter what that kid;s sim scores look like. Especially since all I did was act like a jackass to him, even after that.” Keith reached up to muss his hair, and Adam hummed agreement.
“He’s special, that way,” he said fondly, and he stood up. “Come on, let’s get your hands taken care of, and then get something to eat. After that, I’ll let you go.” Keith nodded, and stood.
“...Thanks, Adam,” he said, after a long moment of silence. “For. All of that.”
“You’re welcome,” Adam said. “And I’m here for you, whatever you need. You don’t have to do this alone.”
Keith nodded one last time, and then Adam guided them to the door.
When Adam pushed open the door to the small suite he and Takashi shared, he was still expecting it to be empty. Supply runs to Luna Base weren’t usually long, but generally still took close to a day, unless they were extremely light, so Takashi shouldn't have been back until late that night.
It was, therefore, something of a surprise to see him standing in the sitting area, grinning broadly, and Adam was still blinking in confusion when Takashi pulled him into a kiss.
“Hey, Sunshine,” he said, and Adam softened immediately. “Where’ve you been?”
“Checking in on Keith,” Adam replied, and then he leaned in to steal a kiss of his own, winding his arms around Takashi’s shoulders. “Welcome home, Starlight. That was fast,” he said lightly.
“It was a really short supply run, just some stuff they were running out of to tide them over until the next real one,” Takashi said, and he nudged their foreheads together. “What were you doing with Keith?”
“His foster mother’s funeral was today,” Adam replied, “and I thought he might need someone to talk to. Turns out I was right,” he said, and he sighed.
“...Oh, that was today,” Takashi said, and he frowned. “I meant to be here for him, afterwards, but…” he huffed. “Thanks for looking out for him, Sunshine. He needs more people on his side.”
“Yeah, I got that impression,” Adam said, and he sighed. “Poor kid. I get why you want him to succeed so bad, now.”
“He deserves a shot, Adam,” Takashi said, a little plaintively. “But because he’s not a legacy, and not a perfect student, discipline-wise, he almost didn’t get one, and that’s bullshit.”
“Yeah, well, instead of a legacy, he’s got you,” Adam said, “which is kinda like having a whole army in his corner, considering how stubborn you are, and how hard you fight for what—and who—you believe in.” He leaned in to steal another kiss, and Takashi hummed happily against Adam’s lips.
“And now he’s got you, and you’re kind of a force of nature,” Takashi teased, and Adam rolled his eyes with a laugh.
“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” he said, and then he lightly pinched Takashi’s hip. “Hey, have you eaten yet? There are some leftovers in the fridge, if not.”
“I have, yeah. Uncle Mitch caught me on the way in and we had dinner in his office, before I came back here looking for you,” Takashi said.
“Good to hear,” Andam said, and then he huffed. “I’m never going to be over Commander Iverson being Uncle Mitch, to you, you know that, yes,” he said, and Takashi full-on laughed.
“Yeah, I know. He’d let you get away with it too, though. Dating-his-godson privileges,” he said.
“I could never,” Adam did a full-body fake shudder, and then gently tugged on Takashi, back towards the bedroom. “Come on, you must be exhausted. You did a whole Luna hop, and you can’t have had much of a break during the supply unload if you’re back so early, and I’d like to cuddle.”
“Sir yes sir,” Takashi teased, and Adam rolled his eyes and hauled him off. They had plenty to talk about—he suspected Takashi would want to know more about what happened with Keith, in particular, and in all honesty, Adam wanted to talk it out with him—but all of that could be accomplished while snuggling, and that was how Adam wanted to accomplish it.