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The room buzzed with the chatter of give or take fifty people, some already friendly with each other, others stretching on the floor in solitude and concentration. The walls were painted a friendly bright yellow, one of them consisting of a giant mirror. He looked himself up and down.

His build wasn’t the stereotypical ‘dancer type’, he was too muscular and broad in the wrong places, too tall, too heavy. However, it had never bothered him or held him back. It had only caused him to work harder out of pure spite.

He had chosen contemporary because it was the closest he could get to ballet without the strict rules and regulations that the classical art form brought with it. Looking around the room now, the other contestants seemed to be coming from disciplines all over the spectrum. A group of young people in baggy clothes and snapbacks, others had leggings and flowy tops just like him, and a few figures wore obscure neon colours and crop tops.

Focus , he told himself.

He was here to win. The casting call for contestants had been sent out to dance schools all over the country, and as his studio’s most promising candidate he had been able to claim this opportunity for himself. It should be easy enough.

Get in. Wow everyone. Get the contract and the prize money. It seemed doable enough, unless he took into account that he was prone to overestimating his skill sometimes. He had learnt not to judge books by their covers, especially since it had been done to him all his life.

Among the people in the room he must have been among the older half, most of them looked twenty at best. One figure in the back was kept drawing his attention, and even though he tried to ignore the other dancers, his gaze kept returning unconsciously to the guy with the ripped skinny jeans, leaning casually on the wall, not paying the other people in the room any mind.

He was probably a break dancer or street styler, judging from the black leather boots and jacket, the beanie he was wearing, let alone the round, black Lennon-style sunglasses he wore, despite being inside a building . He was a poser, but a good looking one, Shiro had to give him that much, but the way he was ignoring the fuss around him made him seem awfully arrogant. No premature judgment he reminded himself, underestimating his rivals could cost him in the end.

The door on the wall next to him opened and his heart skipped a beat in excitement. A tall man with an eccentric orange moustache was raking the people in the room up and down, tapping on the clipboard in his hands.

‘Alright, all you beautiful people! In the name of Althea-Entertainment I welcome you to the first round of ‘Strut Your Stuff’. You know what’s at stake here, and you know your number I hope.’

The crowd hummed in confirmation.

‘When I call your name please step through the door and stand on the cross on the floor. State your name, age and why you want to win this challenge. Ignore the cameras please and concentrate on your routine. Good luck and godspeed.’

 

............................................................

His heart leapt up. Waiting for the results after casting calls had always left him with sweaty hands and shaking legs. The list of the contestants that had made it through the first round had been hung up on a corkboard next to the room they had done the auditions in earlier. He had chosen a safe routine that he felt comfortable performing, one that he knew he’d ace, but after he had pirouetted over the floor ta classical cover of Centuries, the judges had looked right through him. They had praised him for his accuracy, but had simultaneously implied they weren’t looking for strictly classical dancers.

‘There are enough trained professionals out there. If you should make it to the next round, we expect to see something unexpected from you.’ The judge with long and flowy white hair had said to him with a genuinely sweet smile. He had thanked them and left, cursing himself for staying on the safe side.

He scanned the list for his last name, and finally found himself on the bottom.

Shirogane, Takashi.

 

 

He grinned, longing to tell his friends back home. They should be asleep by now, but maybe he’d shoot them a text for them to find when they’d wake up. He’d made it through the first round. It was a start. Already scanning his brain for songs and styles that would make his next routine stand out. He absentmindedly took a step back to make room for the people trying to peek over his broad frame when he bumped into someone.

‘Sorry!’ he said, turning around. Bright lilac eyes were staring at him under hostile eyebrows. He recognized the crimson beanie, the poorly cut bangs and studded leather jacket.

The other man, who he had dubbed leather-jacket guy, shamelessly stared at Shiro’s face, more precisely at the giant scar that ran over it and then up into his eyes again with something resembling curiosity. A childish stubbornness tried to fight its way up Shiro’s mind, a relic from his younger days when the mark had been all everyone had seen on him. He willed it down, forcing his shoulders and neck to relax and unclenching his fists.

People stared. He had learned to ignore it, and in this competition anything that made him stand out he’d use to his advantage. Leather-jacket guy didn’t show any intention of averting his eyes or moving out of the way, so he squeezed past him with maybe a little too much force. He didn’t really care.

Dancers were usually perceived as arrogant by the common folk, and while most of that came from the natural confidence body control gave you, he had to admit that some of his colleagues had a serious problem with their attitude. Shiro sneered. Leather-jacket guy seemed a lot younger than him and had the face of a person who thought themselves a bit above everyone else in the room. It was probably just a facade to mask insecurities, Shiro had gone through that phase himself, but it was still no excuse for being an ass.

Looking at his phone he decided to get a last Matcha Latte from the little coffee shop next to the studio, before returning to his hotel room, anxious for what the next day of the challenge would bring.

......................................................................

‘McClain, Lance.’

‘Yessir!’

‘Holt, Katherine.’

‘Could you call me Pidge?’

‘Noted. Go sit together and talk about your ideas for the remainder of the session.’

.......................................................................................

Shiro was sitting on the floor, wide legged, towel slung around the back of his neck. They had come in for a training session after lunch, and the judges introduced themselves first before showcasing a sample of their skill.

The white haired woman from the day before called herself Allura. Watching her dance was refreshing and exciting, the combination of the different dance styles contradicting the rather inflexible rules of his own discipline. Hers was Korean Pop and covered pieces and bits from contemporary over hip hop and jazz to shuffling.

The tall man with platinum blonde, long hair was named Lotor. He was a teacher for partnering dances and specialised in Latin. The moves he had performed around Allura had made the blood rise into ShiroShiro’s cheeks, and he had made a mental note to incorporate some of those into his next routine.

The last judge was called Iverson. He was a tall, broad man with a square chin and an eyepatch. He had refused to demonstrate any choreography, reciting his years of experience in Charleston and Rock’n’Roll dancing with an angry rumble, and none of the people in the room had dared to object.

Next, the contestants were called upon to introduce themselves to the group. They were then invited to show their skills in pairs, doing some improvised moves to a surprise song. Shiro was paired with a big guy in a mustard yellow hoodie who looked a little lost when Chopin’s Claire de Lune started playing. Shiro immediately assumed a graceful pose, thanking whoever chose the music. While the other tried to make breakdance moves fit to the soft piano sounds he threw himself into a somersault followed by a split, which earned him a surprised gasp from the other dancers.

Good he thought pirouetting over the floor, lifting his right foot in the unusual and captivating way he had trained so long to be able to do. He knew his flexibility was what surprised people most, since he looked more like a bodybuilder than a dancer, and he played that card shamelessly. He was sliding over the floor on his knees, raking his hands upwards over his torso, taking his shirt up with them just enough to let a bit of his abs peek through under it.

Shiro knew he looked good. He had worked hard for it, spending every free minute between school and college at the studio, building muscle and stretching his body into positions that would make others snap in half. He had spent hours perfecting the fluid movements ballet had taught him, practicing how to tell a story with his body. He was damn good, and he’d prove it.

But apparently his dancing was too boring he thought, as the words of the judge ran through his head once again. He was incredibly grateful to have made it into the second round, but the criticism from the previous day was still clawing at the back of his brain and had left him tossing and turning in his bed at night. Shiro knew he did things the traditional way, but he had at least thought himself a tiny bit more extraordinary. It was a crude reminder him of all the things he still had to work on.

Yet, in the end that was what he was here for, to get better, to learn, to collect new experiences. And to win the $100,000 prize money, alongside a contract with Altea Entertainment. They were the rising new Dance Company, and their trainees were getting gigs and being booked left and right. It was his chance to change his future, and he wasn’t about to let it slip away. He’d find a way to stand out even more. Find a new way to dance.

The music slowed down with the last few sounds of the piano keys, and he stopped in a dramatic contemporary stance, legs crossed, one pointed forwards and torso bent over it with stretched out hands and lowered head.

He hadn’t even given the other guy so much as a second look, but judging from the baby freeze he was doing he had been successful as well. The other contestants were clapping as Shiro went back to his previous spot on the floor with a smile, reaching for his water bottle and towel.

Even though he liked watching people dance, he was mainly there to check out the competition for now. He zoned out after a few seconds of the girl called Pidge and her partner showing off their moves to Alexandra Stan’s Mr. Saxobeat , her doing some shuffling moves while the tall and tan guy was performing a jazz routine he could remember seeing somewhere on Youtube.

They were good.

They were no match for him though.

Clapping his hands together weakly when they finished he started staring out of the window. It was dark again. Winter was coming closer, and the days were getting shorter. He sighed. Sunlight was his saviour after long hours in the studio, and his favourite place to dance was outside. The cold made that painfully hard.

The violent sound of a Skrillex song suddenly punched his attention back towards the room. Leather-jacket guy was in the front, alone. Apparently he was the last one left, seemingly bothered by the whole display. He had pushed his sunglasses down over his eyes from where it had been on his head, giving him a mysterious aura as he started doing some jerky movements that Shiro wasn’t sure how to reproduce. Usually watching people dance was something aesthetic for him, something to lose himself in awe and the urge to reproduce it. Watching this guy sparked something else in him.

There hadn’t been many occasions where Shiro encountered movements or routines he wasn’t able to learn or a new skill he couldn’t teach himself. The way the black haired guy moved left him in an anxious state of envy. He had no idea what that style of dancing was called, how he could reproduce it, or even how he could find it on the web. He was sliding around the floor as if he had wheels, all along twisting his torso and limbs in matching pulses to the heavy bass.

His movements were raw and unpolished, and clearly he hadn’t had any professional training. Still, he was captivating. He was new. He had what Shiro lacked. When the music faded into a slow rhythm and the dancing had stopped Shiro found himself having a hard time to get himself back into the room completely.

He joined the clapping of the other spectators too late, but no one noticed. Leather-jacket-guy didn’t acknowledge the applause and walked back to his spot on the wall. Shiro cursed himself a little. If he hadn’t spaced out earlier he would have gotten the guy’s name. He elbowed the big guy that had danced with him earlier softly.

‘Hey. Do you know who that is?’ he asked.

‘Him? No idea, man. Don’t get too close though, or he’ll bite your head off.’ he chuckled. ‘I’m Hunk! Nice to meet you.’

‘Shiro.’ He answered, returning the smile.

The judges were preparing a stack of papers in the corner, and the dancers had started chatting around excitedly to the people they had performed with. There were about twenty contestants left.

‘You got some sick moves, Shiro. You a ballet dancer?’ Hunk asked him. Shiro’s thoughts were still circling over a head of ruffled black hair in the corner. He willed them back.

‘Contemporary actually. Ballet wouldn’t take me. Too much… well everything.’ He laughed, gesturing over his body. He knew he sounded like a show-off, but in the end it was the truth. He had been rejected by more than one dance studio after finishing his education as a dance instructor, leaving him a little bitter. Hunk didn’t seem appalled though.

‘Yeah, I can see that!’ he laughed appreciatively. ‘Wish I had those… well, all of those.’

Shiro chimed in with a sheepish chuckle, rubbing the back of his undercut with a bit of faked humility.

A voice from the front of the room demanded their attention.

 

……………………………………………

 

Shiro was excited.

Their first challenge had been revealed only a moment before. It consisted of a partnered performance to a song of their choosing. They were to draw a name from a pile of papers, and he noticed that all the classically oriented dancers were the ones to pick names. Probably to avoid too similar dance styles being paired up.

He was called to the front to pick a slip of paper from Allura’s stack and read out the name Keith Kogane. Shiro turned his head. Looking through the room it seemed like no one was going to step forward when he saw a tiny motion from the back.

He had drawn Leather-jacket guy.

Keith.

Shiro looked over at him to give him a friendly smile, to seem welcoming. The truth was that he wasn’t sure what to feel. He might be able to learn an extraordinary style from this rookie, but Keith might also drag him down with his lack of skill or foul attitude. As if he had read Shiro’s thoughts, Keith’s eyes raked him up and down. He cocked his head to the side and just left. Left Shiro dumbstruck with nothing but sympathetic looks from Hunk and the judges.

All of a sudden Shiro felt less excited.

 

 

……………………………….

 

Shiro walked out of the building with a disgruntled groan. Although he had initially been excited to draw Keith and had wanted to learn his style of dancing and the different movements, he felt frustrated by the lack of cooperation. What came with the other’s amazing skill was apparently either an antisocial or egocentric personality. Shiro had a feeling that their choreography would cost him a lot of nerves and sleep.

 

As he stepped through the glass doors at the back exit, slinging his sports bag over his shoulder, he almost missed the figure standing in the shadowed corner.

 

‘Hey, old-timer…’

 

The voice was a little raspy and made the man instantly seem older. Keith was casually blowing out smoke into his direction, standing far enough it didn’t quite reach Shiro but close enough to wrinkle his nose in disgust of the smell. He could hear the bass seeping through Keith’s headphones, but couldn’t recognize the beat. Shiro’s brow wanted to start twitching in annoyance, but he willed it down with a huff. Keith took a drag from his cigarette and turned towards him, head still tilted sideways.

 

‘Forget about that classical shit. Not gonna happen.’ he said, provocation radiating from his eyes. Shiro turned towards him completely, looking for a way to resolve their conversation in the most fruitful manner. He wanted to get into the next round. He wanted to learn Keith’s moves. He needed Keith, if he wanted to or not. Taking in a breath, an appeasing word already on his tongue, wheny Keith interrupted him again.

 

‘I also don’t do that ballet shit.’

 

That little punk.

 

His eyebrow was at peak twitch. Keith either believed his infantile intimidation tactics would work or he was trying to provoke a reaction out of Shiro. He had had too many schoolyard brawls and counselling sessions to let himself be reeled in that easily, and this was a game he knew how to play.

 

It only took Shiro a step to breach the distance between them, forcing Keith into a startled retreat against the concrete wall behind him. He smacked his hand next to the other’s head with a little more force than necessary, pushing into his personal space with the sweetest smile.

 

‘You mean you can’t dance ballet?’, he asked, watching the open defiance in Keith’s eyes fade into unsettled uncertainty.

 

‘That’s not what I said…’ he replied with failed rebellion in his voice. Shiro’s smile grew wicked. Not distancing himself from Keith he picked the cigarette from his hands, eliciting a outraged HEY with the calculated movement, lips still intimidatingly close to the other’s ear.

 

‘Good.’ Shiro said, ‘I don’t need a rookie as a partner.’

 

He pushed off the wall, not sparing Keith another look, and flicked the cigarette away as he started walking towards the subway station. He raised his voice slightly, not because he thought Keith wouldn’t be able to hear him, but to make a statement out of it instead.

 

‘I intend on winning this thing. Drag me down and I’ll leave you behind.’

 

He heard a snort behind him, but didn’t give into the temptation of turning around to look at Keith’s face.

 

‘Also, it’s called Contemporary, not Ballet. See you at training tomorrow.’

 

With that he crossed the street before him, making his way into Café Garrisón, which was probably about to become his new favourite coffee shop.


 

 

 

…………………………………………..

 

Shiro had slept poorly again. His dreams were haunted by visions of a black, leathery imp jumping around and tearing apart important papers, then his furniture, and then Shiro himself. He woke up drenched in sweat. The room he was staying in was quiet and cool, and the rising sun peeking through the curtains. Dragging himself out of bed he couldn’t shake the feeling of dread clawing at the back of his neck, so he took a jog around the block to cool down.

 

The contestants were provided accommodations in a hotel close to the revenue where their training sessions and the first few challenges would be filmed. He hadn’t spent a lot of time socializing with other people during the first two days, but had gotten to know Hunk, the romantic breakdancer and his friends Lance and Pidge. He had spent a some time chatting around with them and they were nice enough. Maybe he should try to find out their room number.

 

After a cold shower and letting his heart rate return to base line, and he sat on his bed with a cup of self made matcha, scrolling through his Twitter feed when a message suddenly popped up.

 

Hey. It’s Keith.

 

Huh. How had he gotten his number Shiro wondered. He decided to stay casual.

 

What’s up?

 

The reply came immediately.

 

Meet me at Café Garrisón ASAP.

 

That little son of a… No. He was past the swear words.

 

What do you want?

 

Keith took a while to reply this time. Shiro hadn’t intended to think too much about the other guy, but even if he had been an arrogant prick towards him he found him endearing. There was something about him he couldn’t quite grasp.

 

His phone buzzed again.

 

Bring your playlist.

 

 

…………………………………………….

 

They were sitting in a tucked away corner of the cafe, Shiro with his usual Matcha Latte and Keith with an extra large Americano. He was brooding over the screen of his laptop, headphones over his ears and brows furrowed.

 

They had been going through the artists and playlists they usually listened and danced to on their own, but had found nothing they liked about each other’s music.

 

Shiro was willing to make compromises, but Keith’s foul attitude towards his favourite soundtrack had triggered stubborn and provocative responses, had left Keith smoking a cigarette outside and Shiro fuming in their little booth until they both calmed down.

 

‘Look,’ Shiro said, nudging the over-ears away off one ear. ‘I know we come from completely opposite disciplines, and our tastes don’t match. But we need to find a way to make it work. Sorry if I snapped at you earlier.’

 

He looked at Keith, waiting for a response. Instead the other just kept typing and clicking away, seemingly ignoring Shiro. His eyebrow twitch threatened to return as he tried again.

 

‘We’re not gonna get anything out of ignoring each other, either. This competition could bring a huge opportunity for me and I’m not planning on letting it slip away just because…’

 

The pair of headphones being shoved over his ears made him stop with a stutter. Keith clicked one last time and he heard the sounds of Piazzola chime a desperate violin into his ears.

 

So Keith had listened. The version was a bit different than the original, but he could live with it, Keith had remixed a base line into it that made the whole song a bit more intense. When the beat dropped into an aggressive dubstep he wasn’t even surprised. It was not his favourite style of music, but it was indeed a compromise.

 

‘You’re actually good at this.’ Shiro said, taking the headphones off.

 

‘I know.’ Keith said with a sneer, taking a sip of his coffee. ‘Good enough for you?’

 

Shiro smirked. Little piece of shit.

 

‘I don’t know. Can you live with the classical shit?’ Shiro asked in return, pushing the headphones back onto Keith’s head, ruffling through his carefully sculpted ponytail in the process. Keith’s hair was rough and stubborn, fitting his personality. He pushed Shiro’s hand away with an annoyed snort.

 

‘It fits together. And if the songs do, I think we have a chance as well.’ He had said it casually, taking a sip from his coffee and checking something on the screen.

 

Shiro felt a snap against his chest, as if his heart had been hit with a little rubber band.

 

Cool.

 

Cool, cool, cool.

 

Keith was shutting down his laptop, eyeing Shiro. He didn’t say anything else, just cocked his head towards the front door.

 

‘It’s time. Your treat today, I heard?’ he said completely serious, walking backwards through the coffee shop.

 

‘In your dreams, Punk.’ Shiro called after him.

 

They paid in amused silence at the counter. Suddenly, the upcoming training session was infinitely more appealing. As they were almost out the door Keith stopped again without warning, causing Shiro to run into him. He turned his head to the side, his hair tickling Shiro’s chin.

 

‘And it’s called Electronicore, not Punk.’ He whispered with that little rasp in his voice, before turning around and stalking away. He left Shiro behind with a racing pulse and heated cheeks.

 

 

…………………...

 

Shiro and Keith had been chosen by Allura, and she was relentless. Their practise slot came directly after Team Plance, how Lance and Pidge lovingly called themselves. They looked dead as they stumbled out of the room and into the hall where Shiro and Keith were waiting. Both dancers were drenched in sweat and their heads were bright red.

 

‘She’s a demon…’ Lance stammered, trying to lean on the tiny girl beside him, who shoved his arm away with the pitiful amount of strength she had left in herself.

 

‘A beautiful, relentless demon…’

 

Shiro, who thought his own stamina way above others, felt cocky as he stepped into the room. Keith following with his usual unimpressed attitude and beanie. The white haired woman was taking a sip from her bottle as they entered. She looked a bit out of breath but that was about it.

 

Finally , Shiro thought, someone who would challenge him properly.

 

Two hours later he regretted every decision he had made in his life, including his pretentious attitude from earlier. Both Shiro and Keith were sprawled out on the floor, heaving. Shiro was sure he wouldn’t be able to raise his arms above his head the next day. Allura had prepared a routine full of lifts, floorwork and the excessive bending of body parts that didn’t want to be bent that particular way. He looked over at Keith, whose black fringe was plastered onto his forehead. His eyes were closed in exhaustion, and the thin fabric of his shirt was stuck to his torso.

 

Shiro watched it rise and fall before realizing how shamelessly he was checking his partner out. Keith was more builtr than Shiro had anticipated, his loose shirts hiding a taut stomach and lean muscle. If put eloquently, Keith was drop dead gorgeous, even lying on the floor with flushed cheeks and wet hair. Keith groaned and the sound made the hairs on Shiro’s arms stand up.

 

‘The human body wasn’t made for this!’ Keith complained next to him, scrunching his face in pain as he sat up slowly.

 

‘You’re just too weak.’ Shiro’s laugh immediately turned into a suffering grunt as his abdominal muscles protested against the strain.

 

‘You deserved that.’ Keith shot him an amused look, downing the water that was provided for them in one go. Shiro decided to stare at the ceiling as he tried to ignore the gulping sounds coming from his left. Allura had left them to teach her third and last group, giving them time to cool down and rest up before leaving. Leather-jacket-guy Keith flopped back onto the floor with another groan that caused Shiro’s pelvic muscles to twitch with something similar to anticipation.

 

Shiro cursed his runaway mind. It had been a while since he had left his boyfriend, and even if he didn’t regret their break up, he missed the intimacy, the cuddling. He missed the sex. And now there was this lean, black haired, cocky guy that made his head spin and blood boil the longer Shiro looked at him. Keith’s provocative attitude that had initially annoyed him, but now it spurred Shiro on to taunt him in return, resulting in playful banter that often came close to flirting. Maybe it was. Shiro had been out of the dating scene way too long to tell for sure.

 

Back at school he had always savored the opportunities to dance contemporary routines with a partner. Being close to another person, being in sync and passionate in a way other people weren’t able to be, was incredible. After his last break up and moving away, he had taught solo classes for the most part, and even if he did a partnering choreography every now and then, he had been the teacher and not a participant. He had missed touching another person, and being touched in return. Allura had given them a balanced routine, their steps including lifts, and Keith’s body had been hard and smooth under his hands. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed that feeling.

 

Still on the floor, Shiro tried to distract himself from the slight sheen of his partner’s skin, the drops of salt running down his temples. Keith was his rival. Even if he reciprocated his advances, they would only get to dance together as partners for at most one more competition, and might end up attempting to beat each other in the final round. He needed to focus. He could try to hook up with a random guy at a bar if he really got too desperate to think straight.

 

A splash of water onto his face pulled him out of his thoughts. Keith was standing over him, legs on either of his sides and a water bottle threatening to empty the rest of its contents onto him. The loose shorts threatened to reveal a peek into regions Shiro wouldn’t survive without a nosebleed. The water was actually helping to calm his treacherous body.

 

‘If you think you’re annoying me I gotta disappoint you, this is nice and refreshing,’ Shiro said with the cockiest smile he could manage. His racing pulse, evident through the pulsing vein faintly visible on his neck could very well be blamed on the exertion from before.

 

‘Yeah?’ Keith asked, tilting his head to the side again. He did that whenever he was trying to goad Shiro into a certain reaction he had realized, and he was not going to give him the satisfaction. Gripping Keith’s ankle and squeezing in silent threat he mirrored the movement.

 

‘Yeah.’

 

Keith seemed to weigh his possibilities, deciding against provoking a wrestling match and screwed the lid back on.

 

‘Yawannadinner?’

 

Shiro’s stupid brain had sputtered it out before he had the opportunity to actually think about what he was going to say.

 

‘What?’

 

‘I… Do you want to have dinner?’ He sat up, making Keith step off him, draping his arms over his knees and looked at him sideways. ‘I’m starving. There’s a pizza place around the block.’

 

Sound casual, he thought. It’s just food.

 

‘Are you seriously asking me out right now? That’s low, Shirogane, are you already feeling that threatened by me you have to pull that card?’ Keith sneered, head still tilted sideways.

 

‘As if. We’re both hungry. It’s convenient.’ he tried to answer an unfazed tone, forcing down the pulse drumming in his ears. Heaving himself up with a painful moan he glanced over at Keith again to find him staring. His eyes looked almost predatory, the wicked expression not leaving his face even if he wasn’t smiling. He looked captivating.

 

‘I’m taking a shower.’ Keith said, slinging his towel over his shoulders and disappearing behind the bathroom door. Shiro’s heart sank against his will. It was better that way. Guys like Keith usually got him on the hook easily if Shiro had the opportunity to pine for long enough, and a one night stand wasn’t going to help. Shiro didn’t want to risk getting attached just because he couldn’t keep it in his pants. His shoulders fell in relieved defeat, until Keith stuck his head through the shower door unexpectedly. The upper half of his bare torso caught Shiro’s eye way quicker than he was comfortable with.

 

Shiro only caught a glimpse of his partner’s tattoos when Keith shot him a quick ‘Gimme five minutes,’ and disappeared again.

 

Huh

 

 

……………………………..

 

It became their thing: getting breakfast and their early morning caffeine intake at Café Garrisón , training together with Allura, then dinner at either the pizza place or a nearby vegan Delhi.

 

Shiro caught himself checking Keith out more often than he’d like to admit, but there was no way to avoid him while they were partnered up. Besides, he enjoyed their time together too much to just walk out of practice and eat alone in misery. Keith kept him alert. Their interactions still largely consisted of playful teasing and flirtatious provocation, and Shiro took it as a personal challenge to make Keith lose his calm as often as possible.

 

In the meantime, Keith had made a sport out of invading Shiro’s personal space, which left usually left Shiro faking ignorance while his heart threw itself against his ribs. However, when Keith wasn’t trying to reduce Shiro to a stuttering mess, Shiro discovered that he was an excellent conversationalist. He had a witty and intelligent sense of humor that left Shiro without words more often than not. Who would have thought.

 

‘How did you end up in this competition anyway?’ Shiro asked him over a prawn salad one day which had caused Keith to scoot further away from him, nose wrinkled up and lips curles up in disgust. They were sitting next to each other at the bar stools in their pizza place after a rather relaxed session with Allura. She had taken a more theoretical approach for the techniques behind their latest lifts, and it left them more unwound and chatty than usual.

 

‘Didn’t know what to do after school. I worked a few temp jobs but yeah… guess I saw the chance of having a future and took it.’ He gnawed on his garlic bread while eyeing Shiro’s salad with suspicion.

 

‘What about Performing Arts school? College?’

 

‘Got no money for that fancy stuff.’

 

‘Sorry. I didn’t know your family was…’

 

‘...poor?’ Keith finished, obviously forcing his voice to sound casual. ‘No biggie, I always got by.’

 

‘Your parents?’ Shiro asked, pushing on an invisible barrier he felt Keith building up, but he only needed to know that one last thing. Keith looked at him as if to assess something behind Shiro’s intentions, then began to shovel his pasta into his mouth without saying anything more. It was answer enough. It didn't matter where Keith's parents were -- whether they were in another country, or dead, the end result was the same. They weren't in the picture.

 

‘I was raised by my grandfather.’ Shiro said into the silence. ‘He loved cheesy Japanese evergreens, and Enka, and we would make up silly dances together in the garden. I was eight when he died and my mom had to take me to America with her. I never really saw her because all she ever did was work, but I was free to do what I wanted as long as my grades were good enough. I started dancing because it reminded me of him.’

 

He could feel Keith watching him from the side as Shiro popped a prawn into his mouth, waiting for a reaction.

 

‘Is your mom ok with you being gay?’

 

He choked on his food.

 

‘What? How do you..? I never said that..?’ Shiro huffed in between trying to cough up the food up that had gone down the wrong pipe.

 

‘You just did.’ Keith replied with raised eyebrows, clearly amused as he watched Shiro struggle. Shiro swiped the tears out of his watering eyes, finally managing to breathe again properly.

 

‘Cheap…’ he huffed with a last cough. ‘But if you have to know, she died before I was able to tell her.’

 

‘Your dad?’

 

Shiro shrugged. ‘Never knew him.’

 

Silence fell between them as they continued eating. His salad was delicious, but Shiro couldn’t really concentrate on the taste. He was pretty sure that Keith was an orphan as well, and that he was bitter about his past. He was also fairly certain that Keith wasn’t straight. That was what Shiro hoped for at least after all the teasing.

 

They finished up their dinners and started walking back to the hotel. Keith appeared to be lost in thought. Shiro didn’t want to pry too much, so he took out his earbuds and started the playlist he liked to listen to when he needed to calm down. After a moment of hesitation he held up the other one towards Keith’s face in a silent offer. His heart drummed against his ribcage while he waited for Keith to notice, and threatened to jump up to his throat when it was plucked from his fingers.

 

Keith hooked his hand through Shiro’s arm to stay close enough to keep the cord from tugging, and Shiro’s chest imploded. The day had been chilly, but he didn’t feel anything other than the warmth radiating from the body at his side as the La La Land soundtrack accompanied them on their evening walk. It was almost too cliché. Almost.

 

Keith didn’t let go when they passed through the hotel lobby. Nor did he detach when they entered the elevator. Or when it stopped at Shiro’s floor.

 

‘Hey…’ Shiro tried when he wasn’t released. ‘Are you okay?’ Keith didn’t give any indication that he had heard him, just stayed where he was, clutching Shiro’s right arm. The headphones still playing music into their ears. The elevator doors closed once again.

 

Before Shiro could stop himself, his hand had found its way to his partner’s cheek. At the sudden skin-to-skin contact, Keith seemed to snap out of his trance and looked up into Shiro’s eyes. It was like staring into a deep lake. Shiro wasn’t able to see the ground, the indigo of Keith’s eyes was mysterious and intimidating, and breathtakingly beautiful, and Shiro wasn’t able to look away. Keith was enchanting, and right there, hanging onto his arm and leaning his face into his palm. He whispered something Shiro couldn’t make out.

 

‘Hm?’ He said, turning his body towards Keith, lowering his head closer towards the other’s face. He couldn’t help it, he was drawn helplessly towards Keith like a moth to the flame. He was going to get burned, and he couldn’t care less.

 

They both flinched as the lights suddenly went out. The emergency light painted the inside of the elevator in an eerie green as it went into standby mode. Keith’s eyes had turned grey in the darkness, not losing any of their depth. They threatened to pull Shiro in and not let him escape again. He didn’t avert his eyes, and neither did Shiro. As if on its own accord, Shiro’s thumb started lightly stroking over Keith’s cheekbone, the skin was soft and warm under his hand.

 

Every fiber of Shiro’s body urged him to move closer. He wanted to reach around Keith’s waist to pull him in, to inch his face closer, to nudge Keith’s nose with his own. How he restrained himself, Shiro didn’t know, but he managed to stay motionless when Keith took a step further into his comfort zone and laid his forehead in the crook of his neck. He could feel Keith’s breath ghosting, hot and damp, against the slip of skin above his collar. It sent chills all the way down Shiro’s back. City of Stars played in their ears.

 

‘I’m sorry.’ Keith whispered again.

 

‘Don’t be.’ Shiro replied, resting his chin on the crown of Keith’s head. His resolve melted as Keith leaned into the touch. Shiro wrapped his arms around Keith’s back and finally pressed him to his chest without the mechanical movements of a choreography behind it. Keith didn’t hug him back, just stayed there, tucked under Shiro’s chin, resting against him.

 

‘You okay?’ Shiro said into the head of hair that tickled his nose. Instead of annoying, he found it endearing.

 

A muffled mmh came from his chest. Shiro contemplated what to do next, pulse quickening. With all the self-control he could muster, he took a step back and pushed Keith an arm’s length away from him. When he kept his head hung low, Shiro slipped a finger under his chin and tilted it upwards. A small part of him had been ready to see watery eyes, but Keith’s were dry and hazy. And locked onto Shiro’s lips.

 

The realization made him swallow.

 

‘Keith’ he said again, not noticing how he was instinctively inching closer towards his partner’s face. He could see a trace of freckles in the faint neon light on the bridge of Keith’s nose, and the hint of a dimple on his cheek. A lonely birthmark, barely hidden in his hairline, sat above Keith’s left eyebrow.

 

‘Hm?’ he hummed, low and raspy, and Shiro’s heart stopped.

 

In that moment, he realized he had fallen for Keith.He realized he was ready to throw all his principles out of the window, along with his pride.

 

It was also the moment the elevator jumped into action with a jerk, and the lights flickered back to life.

 

The atmosphere changed into something awkward as the dim neon faded and the bright light turned back on, Keith staring at him with a mix of uncertainty, as though he had had sudden realization. Keith took a step back, and the absence of his body was almost painful after the revelation Shiro had just had.

 

The next words out of Keith’s mouth felt like a cold hand clutching at Shiro’s stomach without a warning.

 

‘See you tomorrow, Shirogane.’

 

With that, Keith turned and rushed out of the elevator as the doors wooshed open. Shiro wasn’t sure if it even was the right floor, but the rush he was in to squeeze past the people trying to enter stung.

 

Shirogane.

 

Keith refused to call him Shiro, even though all the judges had taken to the nickname, and Shiro himself had asked him a few times to use it. It kept their relationship conveniently but painstakingly distant, despite all the teasing and flirting. Right now all he wanted was for Keith to say his nickname; to give any indication that he was as head over heels for Shiro as Shiro was for him.

 

He definitely liked Shiro, but it seemed something was holding him back. Either way, it didn’t matter in the end. As two other residents stepped into the elevator, Shiro pushed the button for his floor once again.

 

He cursed himself for his weakness. It was true, he felt lonely. Still, he thought he could have avoided falling so deep, if he had actually tried. Problem was, he hadn’t, not really. He had enjoyed the rush everytime he had felt Keith’s body dance against his, had enjoyed the flutter of his heart at every tease and the reaction Keith had had in response to his own provoking comments.

 

It was a dangerous game, and in the end he had played himself.

 

…………………………………….

 

The next morning was painfully casual. Keith had met him at the usual time at their usual booth in the coffee shop and had acted as if the elevator incident had never happened.

 

Fine Shiro thought. At least this made it clear to Shiro where they stood. He would have to push his feelings as far down as he could until he forgot about them. In a few days they would have their partnering challenge, and after that, they would stop spending the majority of the day together. When the contest was over, no matter who won it, they would walk their separate paths again. All he had to endure was the last days of training together.

 

It was a challenge, indeed. At first, the most difficult part had been connecting their different styles of music and dancing. Now that they had finally found a way to work and move together to music they both enjoyed, the greater challenge was concentrating on his expression and moves while being both way too close and too far away from the lithe body swaying around him while the bass rumbled in his bones.

 

Allura noticed, of course.

 

‘What happened?’ she asked him after a training session, while Keith was taking a shower in the adjacent room.

 

‘Nothing…’ Shiro tried, earning him a punch to the shoulder. He had never been a good liar.

 

‘Don’t give me that. I am your instructor, not your mum. It is my team you’re dancing for, and I want to win this. Your performance has suddenly dropped significantly, and even if you do the routine flawlessly your steps are flat and without any passion. Did you two hook up?’

 

Excuse me ?’ Shiro replied, almost dropping his water bottle. If only. Not that he hadn’t wanted to. Or imagined it.

 

‘Look, I’m sorry to get so personal all of a sudden, but that’s often an issue between dancers when they’re not professional enough. You can’t let your personal problems influence your performance if you ever want to do this for a living. Either you learn how to do that, or you’ll lose this challenge.’

 

Her words were a blow he hadn’t expected. He knew that his performance had suffered under his repressed crush, but he hadn’t thought that it was that bad.

 

‘I understand.’ he said. ‘I’ll take care of it.’

 

Allura nodded.

 

‘I really hope so. Both of you have a lot of potential, and you can learn so much from each other. It would be a real waste to let this get between you.’ With that she turned and stalked out of the room, her high ponytail swaying behind her. Shiro frowned.

 

Shiro had danced well as long as he had let Keith in, as long as he had given in to his drive to be close to him. That was basically all he had to do, but his brain was shouting at him to keep his distance in order not to get hurt again. As much as Keith reciprocated his attention, he obviously didn’t want to get involved. Keith clearly wanted nothing further than casual flirting and occasionally lingering a fraction of a second too long on the other’s body while doing their routine.

 

He could bear it. All Shiro needed to do was draw a line. If he didn’t cross it, he could pretend nothing had happened. Where exactly he would draw that line he wasn’t sure yet, but he knew that another intimate situation like the one in the elevator would cross it. His mind set in determination. With quick steps, he walked over to the shower, and yanked the door open without knocking. The showers inside were separated with screens, and a head of black hair was moving behind the one in the back of the row.

 

‘KEITH!’ he called out.

 

‘WHAT?’ Keith called back, turning off the water.

 

‘Let’s do the routine one more time. I sucked today and I need this day to end well.’

 

Shiro added a please when he didn’t get an answer immediately. He heard the rattle of the shower curtain and felt the blush creep into his cheeks as Keith stepped out of the stall. A towel slung around his hips the only thing covering him up. His hair was dripping wet and he leaned casually against the wall tiles on the wall.

 

‘Dinner is on you then?’ he asked, cocking his head to the side, arching his hip out farther than necessary. Shiro caught himself checking up the tattoos on his hip bone that disappeared into the towel, wondering where and how they might end. He sighed, so easily caught by this feeble attempt to tease him.

 

‘Only tonight.’ he answered with a smirk.

 

‘Now get out of here. And put on your goddamn pants if you don’t want to give me a heart attack.’

 

Keith’s stifled cough followed him as he walked back into the practice room with a grin. He had won that one.

 

 

…………………………………..

 

It was the day of the challenge. Matching their personal preferences they had chosen outfits in a deep purple for Shiro and a crimson for Keith. They both wore knee length leggings with flowy tanks, dancing barefoot. The other contestants looked as nervous Shiro he felt, so he tried to sit down and do some of his breathing exercises when Keith interrupted him.

 

‘What the hell are you doing, Shirogane?’

 

He looked up from his position on the floor and all his good intentions to draw a line went flying out of the window. Those leggings had been a bad decision for his resolve, and the long and flowy top let a glimpse of an outline appear through the fabric on eye level. Keith had put his hair up in a messy bun, loose strands framing his face. He had gotten rid of his fingerless gloves for a change, and Shiro almost missed them. Keith looked like someone had beamed a wet dream right out of Shiro’s brain.

 

‘Calming down.’ he said almost proud of the indifference he was able to fake. Keith flopped down opposite him and folded his legs under his body, mirroring Shiro’s position.

 

‘Show me.’ he said, his foot twitching nervously.

 

Get in sync Shiroheard Allura’s voice whisper in his head, and he took Keith’s hands into his, threading their fingers together. There was no objection or flinch, so he rested them in the space between them, shuffling a bit closer until their crossed feet were joined at the knees. He guided them through a few exercises and watched as Keith followed his lead with closed eyes. Shiro felt the tension seep out of him at the sight.

 

It was easy. It was Keith. All he had to do was focus on the fondness he had developed towards his partner, and the rest would work out on its own. The heat between their hands pulled him in and he felt the tension seep into and get swallowed by the gap between their conjoined palms. Keith opened his eyes when the last exercise was over, looking to Shiro’s in amazement before the wicked expression returned to his face.

 

‘We’re gonna destroy them.’ he whispered, voice pitched low. One corner of his mouth raised in resolve.

 

‘Hell yeah.’ Shiro said, not able to do anything but grin back. He felt Keith squeeze his hands as they stood up again to wait for their turn.

 

………………………………………..

 

‘In fifth place, and part of the next challenge….. Sendak and Ladnok!

 

The audience cheered along the other contestants waiting desperately backstage for their names to be called upon. Keith and Shiro were standing next to each other, hands linked since they had finished their routine as the eighth couple that evening. Shiro couldn’t bring himself to let go, and seemed Keith couldn’t either.

 

‘In fourth place, and on to the next round… Veronica and Acxa! ’ the moustached man called Coran cheered, and the audience chimed in. Both girls ran out on stage happily, taking their place next to the first two dancers.

 

Shiro felt a head drop onto his collarbone. Keith was slumping there in a tangle of nervous desperation.

 

‘What if we don’t make it…’ he mumbled, fingers twitching between Shiro’s.

 

‘The big three! Place number three… HUNK AND SHAE!

 

Shiro urged Keith back against the wall as the two breakdancers squeezed past them to run out onto stage with a gleeful shout. He squeezed Keith’s hand.

 

‘If we don’t make it, then so be it. It’s gonna suck, but no matter what happens we did our best. I don’t regret a second of these past days.’ Shiro said, willing his nervous voice into a reassuring tone. He meant what he was saying. Keith looked up at him, his lips pressed together.

 

‘In second place, after an amazing routine that no one expected…. Team Plance!

 

Keith’s mouth tightened as the two dancers jumped past them with pure delight.

 

‘Fuck.’ he said.

 

It hurt Shiro more than the prospect of not making it to the next round. Taking Keith’s face into his hands, Shiro pressed their foreheads together. Screw holding back, screw not falling too deep. Keith sucked in air between his teeth as their breath mingled in the close space between them.

 

‘You’re brilliant, Keith. No matter what happens, no one can take that away. I haven’t been able to take my eyes off you from the moment I first saw you dancing, and no one else could either. Worst case scenario, we’ll end up making desperate dance practice Youtube videos.’

 

Keith snorted at that, looking up into his eyes.

 

‘You’re so fucking cheesy, Shirogane.’

 

‘Yeah? It’s my superpower.’ Shiro grinned, letting go of his partner’s face. HIs heart beat an agonizing rhythm against his chest, when suddenly, someone hit him on the shoulder with force, making his forehead bump painfully against Keith’s. He turned around in annoyance, rubbing the spot.

 

‘What the hell?’ he called out, turning around to face a girl with bright red ponytail and freckles.

 

‘If you’re done making out, THEY CALLED YOUR FUCKING NAMES! GET YOUR ASSES OUT THERE!!!’ the girl shouted over the roar of the audience outside.

 

Before Shiro could register anything else, he was pulled out onto the stage by the hand, Keith taking the lead and sprinting towards Moustache Man Coran. They were being pulled into a tight hug by Allura before Shiro could properly take in what had happened.

 

They’d made it.

 

………………………………………….

 

That evening, they neither went to the pizza restaurant nor the vegan place. All of the participants, regardless of whether they had gotten into the next round or not, were going out to a club to dance, drink and let loose.

 

Shiro looked himself up and down in the mirror. He had put on a casual but fashionable suit with ankle length pants and folded up sleeves with a white V-neck and dress shoes. When he was content with the floof of the tuft of hair above his forehead, he stepped out of his hotel room, just in time to run into Keith.

 

‘Hey.’ he said a bit breathless. ‘You look fancy.’

 

‘You don’t.’ Shiro replied with a smirk. Keith was wearing his usual black, ripped skinny jeans, a grey semi-loose shirt and his leather jacket. He had put on his fingerless gloves.

 

‘It’s a club, not a ball, Shirogane. You look like a peacock.’ Keith huffed, boxing him in the shoulder playfully.

 

‘And you like it.’ Shiro replied playfully as he pulled his door closed and pocketed his card. Keith looked him up and down with a raised brow, and Shiro suddenly felt naked. Reminding himself that he didn’t need Keith’s approval, he straightened his back and returned the expression, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Keith still made him lose his cool with his next words.

 

‘I might,’ was all Keith said and stalked towards the elevator. He left Shiro behind with his cheeks pink and his pulse elevated. He had to up his game.

 

…………………………………………………….

 

The club was fairly regular in appearance; doused in dark blue light, interrupted by spotlights of white and magenta. It was already pretty packed by the time Shiro and Keith arrived, but Altea Entertainment had rented a VIP lounge for the contestants, and they spent the first part of the evening drinking and chatting, or occasionally standing up  to dance. The DJ seemed to play mostly house remixes, and the atmosphere was relaxed, but also excited.

 

Before he knew it, Shiro had spent four hours just talking to Keith about god and the world, never growing tired of what the other man had to say. With every passing minute they were inching closer together, until what had been almost two feet of distance at the beginning of the evening had shrunken down to nothing. Shiro had his left arm up on the backrest of the comfortable leather couch that formed a U shape around a small table. The tabletop was filled with half empty glasses, gin bottles, and Red Bull cans. Keith’s thigh pressed against Shiro’s as he leaned against his side, legs crossed and eyes bright. Shiro knew it was only the spotlights reflecting in them, but he felt like he was looking into the night sky. It made his heart ache.

 

Keith made some snarky pun about another dancer’s fashion style, and Shiro burst into laughter.

 

‘Shut up, you’re terrible!’ he huffed. ‘Plus, you’re still wearing that obnoxious beanie even though we’ve been inside a club for hours.’ he added, reaching for Keith’s hat. Keith caught Shiro’s hand and twisted his fingers so far he thought his wrist might break.

 

‘Ouch, ouch, ouch, I yield! Boy, you’re such a pest.’ Shiro said still grinning and shaking his manhandled wrist.

 

‘Oh shut up, you love me.’ Keith replied with a snort while pouring some of the gin into his glass. Upon realising what he had said, Keith froze, eyes wide and unsure of what to do next. Shiro stilled as well, contemplating the possible outcomes of the evening if he simply agreed. He could say it and play it down as a joke, or he could confess and hope for the best. In the end, the awkward teenager inside of him won, and he pretended he hadn’t understood.

 

‘Nevermind.’ Keith said when Shiro faked a confused look at him, and it made his heart crack a bit. Pining was fine — Shiro could handle that. Tomorrow they’d be assigned a different partner and their schedules wouldn’t match anymore. Shiro could start getting used to the fact that after the competition, he would probably never see Keith again. It was like a summer romance, quick and passionate and painful, except for the fact that nothing had actually happened between them.

 

‘I’m gonna go dance.’ Keith said, standing up. A slow remix of Wicked Game had just started to play, and Shiro didn’t think twice before taking the outstretched hand Keith was holding up. Upon making their way through the already swaying crowd, the sight of Keith’s bared neck made his throat dry and pulse quicken. The places their fingers were interwoven seemed to burn into him and he pulled back.

 

Drinks he mouthed as Keith turned around with a cocked eyebrow. Shiro turned towards the bar while his partner continued to weave his way to the center of the dancefloor.

 

When the Tequila came Keith was already winding his body to a slow beat. Shiro was listening to the song lyrics, and almost had to snort. In a cruel mockery of his situation a women’s voice was singing This love is only gonna break my heart.

 

You and me both , Shiro thought as he observed Keith dance, the drinks temporarily forgotten. He was fascinating to watch. Every movement conveyed something that fit perfectly to the mood and message of the music —  Keith was telling a story with his body and Shiro wasn’t ready. For any of it. How could a single person be that enticing.

 

What a wicked thing to do, to make me dream of you.

 

It was wicked, indeed. Shiro took both shots and downed them, his initial intentions forgotten. Making his way out onto the crowded dance floor, he approached Keith who had his head hung back, eyes closed as he swayed his hips, hands raised up in the air casually. It made him feel almost predatory as he approached, every inch of Keith’s exposed skin drawing him in. The bass whispered filthy promises into his ear, and he let himself be taken. Keith’s bared neck glistened with a slight sheen of sweat, and Shiro’s mind urged him to taste the pale skin, to feel the pulse underneath and see if it matched his own. Instead, he settled for resting his hands on Keith’s hips, the burn in the back of his throat still making him bolder than usual.

 

Keith’s lips parted at the contact. He opened his eyes lazily without tilting his head back up or lowering his hands, only continuing the lazy circles his lower body was drawing into the air. Shiro savoured the movement against his hands and let himself be guided to Keith’s rhythm, swaying along and pulling their bodies closer together steadily. He could see Keith mouth along to the lyrics, and it almost undid him right there on the dance floor.

 

World was on fire, no one could save me but you.

Strange what desire could make foolish people do.

 

He knew how cheesy it was to project song lyrics onto himself, but at that moment, no logic or reason was able to seep through his hazy mind. The club turned darker for him with every passing moment, Keith being the only thing anchoring him to the ground.

 

A taunting hand slid around Keith’s neck, following the low hum of the synthesized melody. Shiro was past dry mouths and shaky fingers. He breached the last few inches between them and pulled Keith close until their hips crashed together, making Keith gasp. Shiro wanted to stifle it with his lips.

 

Not yet.

 

‘Eager, are we?’ Keith purred into his ear as he looped his hands around Shiro’s neck, pressing their cheeks together. Goosebumps were running up and down Shiro’s arms and he slid his fingers an inch or two higher, under the hem of the Keith’s shirt, feeling the smooth skin and hard muscle of his waist. It was tiny under his giant palms and something primal roared in the back of his mind, surging forward to insist he just take what he wanted. He willed it down. Keith deserved better.

 

A calloused thumb caressed Keith’s hip bones and the dip right on the inside of them. Shiro had meant it as a sweet gesture, but Keith shuddered under him, pressing his forehead into the crook of Shiro’s neck, hot breath ghosting over his exposed collar bone. Shiro felt short nails scratch over the skin at the base of his skull, and it made him dizzy. He wanted more; more skin, more gasps, more fingers raking through his hair and teeth at his neck.

 

‘Keith.’ he said lowering his head to where the other’s face was still pressed against  him. A loose thread from Keith’s beanie tickled his nose, making him sneeze. Keith leaned back in amusement.

 

‘Bless you?’ he smirked.

 

‘Would you do me a favor and take off that hat?’ Shiro teased in a low voice. His tongue felt heavy and lazy, something tingling at its top. ‘It looks ridiculous and assaults my nose.’

 

Keith leaned in at that, tilting his face upwards until their noses were almost touching, their hips still conjoined. Shiro’s hands had half disappeared under Keith’s shirt who kept caressing the back of Shiro’s neck with his fingers. Every touch burnt his skin in the most tantalizing way.

 

‘Make me…’ Keith said.

 

 

A wave of vertigo overcame Shiro, and he grabbed the other’s hips harder to find anything to anchor himself. Keith gasped audibly at that and fisted the cropped hair at the crown of Shiro’s head.

 

Shiro almost didn’t notice. His brain was trying desperately to keep control over his body, but it was fighting a lost battle. His vision blurred more with every beat of the bass laden new song, and he leaned into Keith a bit more, whose half lidded eyes suddenly didn’t look as seductive as they had a second before.

 

Swaying heavily he took a last desperate step to the side, trying to catch his balance without any success.  

 

‘Shiro?’ was all he heard as he was tipping sidewards, and the whole world turned black and upside down.

 

………………………………..

 

The next thing he remembered was light stinging his eyes. His whole body felt like he had been run over by a truck, and he felt too weak to raise his head. Trying to focus through squinting eyes, Shiro made out a shadow beside him. As he opened his lids a bit more, the sting returned and he groaned. His voice felt hoarse, as if it didn’t belong to him, and his tongue was stale and dry and swollen.

 

‘Shiro! Hey, it’s me!’ He felt a hand warm on his arm. The voice made him feel fuzzy and happy inside, easing some of the allover strain on his body.

 

The next time he tried opening his eyes, they managed to focus on the person before him. Black hair in a messy ponytail, bright indigo eyes, and a puffy white thing on the left side of his face. Absentmindedly, he raised a hand to touch it, before he realized that there was something on the back of his hand. Slowly his brain cells woke up more and more, piecing together his scattered memories, alongside the information why Keith’s cheek was patched up and he had an IV stuck in his skin.

 

‘Keith.’ he croaked.

 

 

His partner looked almost as bad as Shiro felt, big dark circles under his eyes, a few scratches, and bruises on the skin visible over his loose shirt. He was leaning on Shiro’s bed, eyes wide with worry and relief. Were they watery? He couldn’t tell with the light still blinding him. Another person hurried into the room, asking Keith a few quick questions that he couldn’t quite make out. He felt exhausted. A black warmth crept in from the corners of his consciousness to lull him back to sleep. He managed to reach for Keith’s fingers on the edge of the mattress, and felt them link with his own, before he sank back into a deep, dreamless slumber.

 

……………………………………..

 

The next time he woke up, his head felt a lot lighter, even if the rest of his body still seemed to weigh a ton. The light seemed dimmed, and when he looked to the side he found Keith sleeping on the edge of the bed. One of Keith’s hands was still linked with Shiro’s, twisted a bit awkwardly as his head rested on the other. Keith was open-mouthed and drooling on the sheets. If only Shiro could take a picture of him now.

 

They were definitely in a hospital room. The end of the previous evening was a blur, and he assumed that his drink had been spiked. He had never been roofied before, but he could imagine that was how it felt. Carefully, he pulled his hand out from under Keith’s. The white gauze stood out against his black hair, and Shiro wondered what the hell had happened to them. Absentmindedly, he pushed a strand out of his face, and Keith’s eyes snapped open. Head stilly lying on the bed, he laid his own hand over Shiro’s, cupping his neck with it.

 

‘Hey.’ Shiro said, voice still raspy and raw.

 

‘Hey.’ Keith answered, swiping a bit of drool from his mouth. ‘You never saw that…’

 

Shiro smiled weakly. He squeezed Keith’s neck gently and ran a thumb along his hairline. It felt right.

 

‘What happened to us?’

 

He hadn’t expected Keith’s face to turn sour that quickly. He pressed his lips together, avoiding eye contact.

 

‘That bad, huh?’ Shiro half-joked, releasing his neck as Keith sat back up and stretched, making his bones pop. Keith took a deep breath, apparently looking for the right words. Shiro held out his hand again, the warmth and fuzziness returning when Keith hesitantly weaved his fingers through his.

 

‘You were drugged. The doctors said you were given what should have been a lethal dose. You died, Shiro.’

 

Keith was looking into his eyes, and Shiro thought that he had never seen a face more grave. His brain took a moment to process the information he had been given.

 

‘Wh...what?’

 

‘You… you were losing consciousness and everything was chaos in that fucking club when the ambulance arrived, and I didn’t know what to do… Your heart stopped, Shiro. You were dead for about a minute. They brought you back, but barely. I… I think that was the most scared I’ve been in my life.’ He let his head hang and Shiro noticed a few wet spots appearing on his bed sheets. Keith breaking in front of him was nothing he’d ever wanted to see. He squeezed his hand.

 

‘I’m still here.’ he said. Keith snorted.

 

‘Could you stop focusing on me, Zombieman?’ he said bitterly, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve. He pushed at the gauze over his cheek accidentally and hissed in pain.

 

‘How did that happen?’ Shiro asked, causing Keith to look down at his hands again, shoulders slumping. He was biting at his lower lip.

 

‘Keith…please. I don’t remember anything.’ Shiro pleaded softly, rubbing soothing circles onto the back of the other’s hand. Keith sighed.

 

‘At one point you started losing balance. You fell down to the floor, taking one of those standing tables with you. I tried to catch you, but you took me right with you. I landed face down on the floor… so… yeah…’ He didn’t look at him while going through the further events of the night, the ambulance coming in, taking him to the hospital and initially refusing Keith access since they weren’t related. Only after Shiro’s condition was stable did the hospital staff let him wait in Shiro’s room, sleeping on the chair next to the bed.

 

‘How long was I out?’ he asked, dreading the answer.

 

‘About a day.’ Phew. Could have been worse.

 

‘The competition?’

 

‘It’s… it’s difficult. They said we had to wait for you to wake up and see how you’d do after. Allura wants us to continue, but Iverson is against it. The police will probably come in again later to question you, see if you know anything more than me. I told them you won’t but well… What are you doing?’

 

Shiro was trying to sit up slowly, groaning in the process as his tortured muscles protested against the strain. Keith was at his side in a second, supporting his back. Shiro tried crossing his feet and found his balance in the familiar position. His head was spinning with everything he had just been told. The confusion over who would want to harm him, the guilt over injuring Keith in the process. He felt his eyes sting with tears from the pain behind his temples, but also the overwhelming amount of emotions that was flooding him.

 

The bed dipped down next to him.

 

Keith watched him through sad, tired eyes. Shiro didn’t want to imagine what the wound under his gauze looked like. He raised a shaky hand to touch Keith’s cheek carefully at the edge of the bandage.

 

‘I did this to you.’ he said. The realization crashed into him with an intensity he couldn’t handle. He doubled over, feeling arms catch him and cradle him against a solid chest. He fisted his hands in Keith’s shirt, desperately clinging onto him. His body shook with sobs and Keith gripped him tighter, pushing his face into his hair. Shiro could feel a foreign wetness on his neck, and they sat like that for a while, holding each other close, crying for the other’s sake as much as their own.

 

 

They parted when a nurse walked into the room with a tray of instruments, shooing a reluctant Keith with puffy eyes out of the room.

 

………………………………..

 

He was released after the police had questioned him, as Keith had predicted. Since he couldn’t remember anything, the officers had left without any new leads. They had promised to keep him updated if any new information surfaced. Keith was waiting for him with a jacket and a Matcha Latte, but as happy as Shiro felt to see him, he wasn’t able to meet Keith’s eyes.

 

The gauze was a constant reminder of what he had done to him, and he hated himself for having been so careless. It was what everyone always warned you about, to not leave your drinks unattended, but he had never thought it’d happen to him.

 

He knew he was the one to blame; if he hadn't ignored the drinks before downing them both, Keith would never had had to watch him die. He never would have been hurt, or upset. Shiro never would have dragged him down onto the broken table and left his face disfigured. Now, Keith was suffering consequences far more severe than Shiro. Additionally he wasn’t even sure they’d be able to rejoin the competition.

 

Allura met up with them at the training room, hugging both of them tight.

 

‘You boys gave me a scare… I’m so glad that you’re still in one piece.’ she said as she released Shiro from her passionate death grip.

 

‘The situation is a bit more difficult now. The other contestants have been paired up and are training already for the next challenge, which leaves you two at both an advantage and a disadvantage. You’re three days behind concerning training, plus you’ll have to take it slow for now. On the other hand you’ll be working together again, which is good since you’re already accustomed to each other’s style. Have you gotten any information about this challenge yet?’

 

Both shook their heads. Shiro felt Keith’s eyes on him, and the dire need to look back arose. He couldn’t. Being paired together again should have made him incredibly happy, given the affection he held for Keith, but considering everything that happened he would have preferred another partner.

 

‘You’ll have to think of a choreography yourself this time. I am only allowed to support you with critique or improvements on already existing steps. The other teams had to draw pieces of paper with songs on them in front of the camera, but since you have a grave disadvantage you‘re allowed to pick one yourself. By the way, the camera team is going to come in tomorrow when we will reveal the song, and also film you a bit while we start working on your routine. Do you have any questions so far?’

 

They shook their heads in unison again. Shiro extended an arm to Allura and squeezed her shoulder.

 

‘Thank you. I… ‘ He closed his mouth again, not sure what to say. Her eyes were sympathetic.

 

‘Go back to the hotel, Shiro. Get some rest, get some food into your system, distract yourself. It’s going to be fine.’ she said, before she looked at Keith and softly continued, ‘Same goes for you. You both get the rest of the day off. Be back tomorrow at eight, and then we’ll talk about your performance.’

 

Keith pressed his lips together, but managed a silent thanks before he shuffled out of the room with Shiro at his heels. They walked back to their hotel without speaking, and even if Shiro longed to break the awkward silence, he wasn’t able to grasp at any remotely positive topic. His brain was full of why s, of unspoken incomprehension, of lingering guilt over something he didn’t remember. He felt like a dark energy surrounded and drained him. The bittersweet thought that Shiro would probably find comfort in the person walking next to him circled his mind tauntingly, ignoring the irony of it.

 

Keith deserved better.

 

He had already done so much, and nothing of it had been required of him. He had saved Shiro. He had stayed with him, slept at his bedside, held his hand.

 

All Shiro had done was take things away from him, and still he was there.

 

He had never had a person support him with that intensity before. It scared him in too many ways to count, for Keith’s sake and his own. So when Keith called after him softly as he left the elevator on his floor he didn’t turn around.

 

He didn’t go to meet him at the coffee shop the next morning.

 

He didn’t wait up for him to finish his shower after the training.

 

He ignored the single text message blinking up on his phone.

 

Rationally it would be best to act like nothing had happened, but he couldn’t turn off the lingering guilt. It whispered into his ear every time he saw the healing skin under Keith’s bandage, the paling bruises on his torso when he changed into his training shirt, or everytime Keith searched his eyes with confusion and hurt.

 

 

Shiro knew very well that his actions  made the situation between them worse, but he couldn’t stop himself from flinching back from unexpected touches. Allura noticed of course, it was hard not to.

 

‘You need to speak to him.’ she said to him two days later after training, as Keith was taking his shower. Shiro only looked at the hand that was hooked around his arm, preventing him from leaving.

 

‘Allura, please…’ he sighed. He didn’t have the energy for that kind of conversation right now. Maybe ever. However, she wasn’t letting it go.

 

‘Shiro. All of us know that you’ve been going through this, and that it’s taking a toll on you. We understand. He understands.’

 

He didn’t move, clenching his teeth. There were so many things holding him back that he couldn’t name. It felt like a huge, cold hand had his body in its grip, preventing him from doing the right thing. He looked at her with what must have seemed like defiance, and she let go of his arm.

 

‘I can’t make you reconcile.’ she said with a sad look on her face. ‘Neither can I force you to talk. Just know that you’re not only dragging down yourself, and you won’t stand a chance against the other— ’

 

‘He deserves someone better.’

 

Silence. Unimpressed eyes. He was breathing heavily, surprised by his own confession.

 

‘I know you’re blaming yourself. I also know that you’re aware none of it was your fault, Shiro.’ Allura tried to appease him.

 

‘Then why does it feel like it?’ he snapped at her, whipping around to face her.

 

‘Because you are looking for someone to blame.’

 

She looked older than she was in that moment, and Shiro wanted to shout at her for seeing through him so easily.

 

‘You’re right.’ he said a little louder than necessary. ‘The problem is, I did do this to him. No matter the circumstances, in the end it was me. You have no idea how that feels!’

 

‘I don’t.’ she said, and the calmness of her voice agitated him even more.

 

‘Then stay out of my personal stuff, it’s none of your damn business!’ he snapped, jaw clenched tightly.

 

‘It is my damn business since you’re not able to seperate it from your professional career, Shiro. Get rid of your anger somewhere, but not here. Keith doesn’t deserve this treatment, and neither do I!’

 

‘I CAN’T!’ he shouted out, making her flinch back. The moment the words left his lips he felt the shame wash over him and all he could manage was biting his lower lip and looking at the bare wall next to him as if it would swallow him down into a dark pit and never let him go again. Allura sighed.

 

‘Tomorrow is another day. Collect yourself, and if you want advice, words of encouragement, or a glass of wine you know where to find me.’ With that she was out the door, leaving him alone and cold, feeling as if something repulsive was crawling under his skin. He could not escape himself, but he couldn’t remain still either. Clenching and unclenching his fist he sunk down to his knees and hugged himself, digging his short nails into the skin of his palms. Nausea rose up as bile at the back of his mouth.

 

Before it could overwhelm him, Shiro smashed his fists onto the floor in one violent swing, feeling the sting in his bones rooting him back in the room. Too late, he saw a pair of naked feet walking up to him. He wasn’t able to look up to the person he had forgotten was still there. Shiro had no energy left in him for fake excuses or weak explanations. This was him in his bare essence, aggressive self loathing and the feeling of never being good enough despite having nothing more left to give.

 

It was take it or leave it, cut open and without any defenses, left for Keith to watch and judge. He was past running and hiding, past feeling anxious, and past waiting to be devoured by the wolves.

 

Keith didn’t touch him. All he did was lay his bluetooth headphones down beside Shiro and then walk out of the room. He closed the door behind him. Shiro could hear a faint sound coming from the earbuds, and felt another wave of emotions.

 

His fingers dug into his palms again, leaving small crescent shaped indents. His nails were not long enough to break the skin, but they were long enough to hurt. Pressing his lids together didn’t stop the liquid frustration spilling out of them and on the floor. He wanted to leave. All of it, wanted to go back home, to the other end of the country.

 

A noise caught his attention and he weakly looked over at the headphones still waiting for him to react to them. How often had he seen them cover Keith’s ears? How often had he watched Keith hum to some inaudible tune with his closed eyes, looking as if he was in another place? With mechanical movements Shiro reached for the device and slid it over his ears.

 

It wasn’t dubstep or drum’n’bass. The voice was singing a story of desire and failure, the melody not quite sad, but at the same time, miles from uplifting. Drums and cello lured him into the song’s depths, and before he noticed it he had curled up, hugging his knees and pressing his face into them, the room around him forgotten.

 

Icarus is flying too close to the sun

 

His defeat slowly turned into something resembling stubbornness and spite as the song went on. As if his foot was acting on its own accord, he caught himself tapping his toes along the distinct drumline, subtly winding his spine alongside the cello bridge and letting his head roll in a slow circle. He  savoured the stretch that edged on painful. He laid down, arching his back as he drew a large circle with his hands around his body until they met above his head, and pushed himself up by his heels to half-somersault into a kneeling position, drawing swirling patterns into the air with his hands. The flex and bend of every muscle strained his weakened body to the core, and he was already breathing heavily after half a minute, but he felt alive.

 

He imagined himself turn into the boy from the Greek tale as he lifted and spun his limbs. For a short period of time, Shiro channeled all the resentment and frustrated desire into expressing the heart wrenching story of Icarus through his movements. His face was streaked with wet trails of tears and sweat as he turned into spins and jumps as the song reached its peak. His steps got quicker and a little erratic, almost knocking off the headphones a few times as he became more careless with his precision. Lost in the music, Shiro’s only strife was to let loose the pressure that had built up within him for far too long.

 

With a final jump he turned into a few slow pirouettes as the song died down and ended the show as he had started it in a crouch on the floor, hugging his knees. The motionless silence that followed gave him the chance to catch his breath and calm his thoughts while coming down from the emotional high he had danced himself through. His pulse beat heavy in his temples, his ears, fingers and neck. Letting his body fall back to the floor a single, simple thought crossed his mind and he called out.

 

‘Keith.’

 

He had to wait a few seconds, but the door slowly opened. Shiro didn’t look over when he extended an arm towards his partner, draped on the floor in sweaty, pathetic glory and nothing to lose but himself. Keith dropped down on the floor beside him, and his cool fingers carefully drew along the lines of Shiro’s palm. He caught Keith’s fingers between his own, threading them together while still staring at the ceiling and taking deep breaths. His heart fluttered against his ribs.

 

‘Thank you.’ he said into the silence. The two words carried a deeper meaning than any he had ever said before.

 

Clothing rustled as Keith shifted. Black strands of hair feathered over Shiro’s nose as a warmth covered his cheek and the ceiling light was blocked out by a body moving above him. Keith weight landed heavily on top of Shiro. He welcomed the pressure with open arms, wrapping them around Keith’s narrow waist, pulling Keith firmly against his chest.

 

He couldn’t ignore the intense pulse beating against the sensitive skin of his neck, and his own was determined to match its pace. Keith’s warmth was everywhere around him and he soaked it up like it could heal him. He felt the tip of a nose nuzzle his ear, and couldn’t help his wistful smile.

 

‘How are you like this?’ he whispered against Keith’s cheek. Shiro hugged him more tightly or a moment before releasing him back into a more or less upwards position, hands palming Shiro’s shoulders.

 

Audacious fingers found to Keith’s patched up face where the white gauze had come undone at an edge, and gently pressed it back down. Shiro searched Keith’s face for any reaction or emotion, but all he was met with was a subtle smile and a fond gaze.

 

The thought of touching his thumb to the curve of Keith’s lips wouldn’t leave his mind.

 

Would he let me Shiro asked himself, hand lingering on Keith’s cheek. Exhaled breath ghosted over Shiro’s wrist and made goosebumps run along his arm and down his spine.

 

‘I have a song I’d like to show you.’ Keith said. He sat back and reached into the pocket of his crimson hoodie, taking out his phone. The headphones were still over Shiro’s ears, so he relaxed back once again and closed his eyes. A cello started playing as Keith laid down next to him waiting for his reaction. Shiro felt himself smile through pressed lips.

 

It was perfect.

 

 

…………………………………………..

 

The final partnered challenge took place on a rainy sunday afternoon outside of the Althea Entertainment building. The company had rented a big hall with a humongous stage, hydraulic platforms, glitter cannons and a huge LED wall for the final show. Rehearsal had gone smoothly and the were in the final preparations before the show started.

 

A small man was fussing around Shiro with various makeup brushes and tins, finalizing his masterpiece as Shiro himself grew more and more restless. He and Keith had agreed to tell a story with their last choreography, a story of opposites and prejudices between two creatures that found towards each other despite all their differences. It was cliche as hell, but both of them had loved it, and so had Allura.

 

‘You look great,’ Shiro heard a familiar voice say. He turned his head to look at the man beside him, despite his makeup artist’s complaints.

 

Keith looked breathtaking. They had decided to dance in black and white, semi-loose pants, barefoot and bare chested. Their torsos were adorned with gemstones and smooth, reflective scales to make them seem less human. Keith’s were ink black, arranged around his tattoos and up his neck and face. He had black eyeliner smudged on his lids and his ponytail was even messier than before, with hidden sequins and something like feathers sticking out of it. His hands had been painted black, fading into skin color on his forearms. It made him look enticingly feral.

 

Shiro swallowed, urging himself back into the situation. He looked at himself in the mirror again. His change wasn’t as drastic as Keith’s: the white stones and scales across his body were barely visible against his already pale skin. His eyes were surrounded by red eyeshadow and small pearlescent gems that looked a little bit like inverted freckles. His hair was interwoven with holographic foil strips. The only thing not matching their outfits were their eye colors, he thought, as he looked back at Keith. Against the black, Keith’s blue ones stood out even more and drew him in.

 

‘So do you,’ he replied, barely remembering that he had been complimented. Thanking the makeup artist, Shiro got up from the make up table and pulled Keith into a dimly lit corner by his elbow, careful not to prematurely pop off any of the gems or to smear the paint.

 

The other four pairs of dancers were scattered nearby. Throughout the backstage area, they each prepared themselves for their performances in one way or another. Lance and Hunk looked like they were going into a post-apocalyptic war, revisiting their routine. Shae was lifting Pidge in a weirdly impressive pose, their clothes as different as could be with Shae in a flowy, long dress and Pidge wearing standard Hip Hop gear.

 

Shiro turned towards Keith to find him taking a drag out of a small silvery flask. Scrunching his face, Keith held it out towards Shiro. He didn’t ask what it was before he accepted the flask and did the same, including the face scrunch. Vodka.

 

‘How are you holding up?’ Keith asked him after emptying the rest of the alcohol and kicking the flask behind a box of assorted speakers and cables.

 

Shiro honestly wasn’t sure. They had worked their butts off trying to make as much of the little time they had had, and it had turned into a breathtakingly dramatic choreography. Allura had praised them both, and had given them her precious input, before she hugged them for good luck and sent them into hair and makeup. Shiro had tried to distract himself from the severity of the situation, going through the steps in his mind and trying to get into his character.

 

Instead of just good and evil, black and white, they had designed their different steps in a way that fit into their current state of mind, Shiro’s expressing lament and frustration, while Keith embodied solace and patience. The first time watching a recording of their routine had left Shiro breathless, and he was determined to blow the audience away.

 

Two eyes searching for his pulled him back into reality. The worried furrow of Keith’s eyebrows was weirdly comforting, and gave Shiro a strong sense of security. He stepped closer, placing his hands on Keith’s hips to avoid touching the scales on his waist.

 

‘I feel like one of us is going to get cut open by these things.’ Keith scoffed, purposefully looking at the holographic patch of little plates on Shiro’s shoulder. They glinted back at them in rainbow colors.

 

‘But they fit me I think.’ Shiro said, smile turning a bit rueful. Keith ran his fingers over the scales on Shiro’s biceps in silent wonder, careful not to smear black onto them.

 

‘They do.’ he replied, looking up into Shiro’s eyes again, softness turning into resolve. ‘Ready to kick some ass?’

 

Keith’s words made him snort. Bold and unapologetic, as always.

 

‘Punk…’ He pulled on one of the strands of hair that were sticking up stubbornly on the side of Keith’s head. It earned Shiro a half hearted shove to the shoulder. He smiled.

 

‘Let’s kick some ass.’ he said, despite his aversion to swearing.  He was rewarded with with the way Keith’s eyes went wide, followed by a wicked grin. The urge to hug him was almost unbearable, but for the sake of both their makeup and state of mind, Shiro willed it down and settled for a squeezing the other’s shoulder.

 

This was the round before the final challenge. Five people would make it out of there, and Shiro was determined to be one of them. As was Keith. Shiro’s hand came to rest on the back of Keith’s neck when they walked over to the TV screen showing the broadcast while waited for their turn.

 

Moustache Man Coran was on stage announcing the judges, who had prepared their own choreography as a special introduction. Shiro wished he was able to focus on Alluras graceful movements, or Lotors borderline appropriate contortions, but all he could feel was Keith’s pulse against his fingers, as his own blood rushing in his ears.

 

A movement out of the corner of his eye made him look over. Keith was watching Shiro intently, pressing his lips together in an imitation of a smile. Eyes falling closed, Keith let his head hang and started to breath slowly and deeply, just like Shiro had shown him before their first performance. It made his heart ache with fondness, and he mirrored Keith’s pose to do the same.

 

One pair after the other were called out on stage to do their performance, get critiqued by the judges, and wait for the rest to finish in a little area next to the stage. Shiro and Keith were up last, due to their accident, and were on standby as the pair before them finished their choreography. Sound people and assistants were scurrying around them, shouting instructions and inquiries. Shiro focused on the warmth of Keith’s skin against his palm and the feeling he needed to express.

 

Dying, though therapy-worthy, had not been a bad experience per se. The aftermath was what followed Shiro around. It lingered like a dark energy, dragging him down into a spiral of self loathing and guilt. He tried to grab the feeling, allowed it to stir his insides and make his stomach tighten.

 

In training, Allura had showed both Shiro and Keith how to channel emotions into movement, layering them over a routine like bitter sweet embellishment, giving their story a believable foundation. Because underneath all the fancy lifts and carefully choreographed steps, what was left was essentially their story.

 

The walk out onto the stage was dark and cold. Keith stayed behind as they had stepped out, and it added to the desperation he was conjuring up. The standby lights doused everything in a barely visible blue, and Shiro took his spot at the front of the stage, curled up on his side down on the floor, waiting for the musical cue. He didn’t hear the voice announcing them or the applause from the audience, only the chime of the bells announcing the start of their song.

 

It started as his narrative; a single spot of white light illuminated him and he felt blinded. He used it to deepen the credibility of his performance, as he stood up slowly and held up a hand to block the light from his eyes. Looking up and down at his arms and body he took a few pronounced steps forward. He flexed his arms in different directions savouring every glint of the gems on his body. He lifted his leg and spun it almost lazily around his body while turning his hands and arms to the melody of the violin. As the pace quickened, so did his movements. He concentrated on putting the feeling of loneliness and longing into every reaching gesture towards the audience, into the furrow of his brows.

 

It was his childhood, his teenage years: the hours of training and aiming for something he didn’t know how to reach. With every spin, he got closer to the edge of the stage, the last beat before the drop into the chorus drawing near. With a final desperate gesture, he raked his hands through the carefully crafted hair, stretched them out to his sides and let his body fall forward down the edge. A gasp from the audience rewarded their boldness, as Shiro felt his body being hauled up by a firm grip on his left hand, using the momentum of his fall to swing him back up.

 

There he was in all his dark glory, eyes flashing with determination and something resembling hunger as their hands wrapped around each other’s wrists. Shiro tried to pull back, fear contorting his features, only to get reeled in again. He threw himself into a jump roll to escape from the black limbs grabbing after him. Shiro landed in a defensive crouch. He paused, staring at the color around his wrist, and then up at Keith in disbelief and horror. Black paint was smeared on Shiro’s underarm, a violent contrast to his pale skin. He recoiled even more. Keith stretched out his hand invitingly in return, but fell into a series of abrupt moves when Shiro retreated further with a low pirouette.

 

 

They continued their back and forth, rolling and jumping over and around each other. Shiro avoided Keith’s arms and hands carefully, as they added more steps to their choreography. Every wave and slide was fitted to the flow of the violin, the chime of the sticcado, and the beat of the drums. As the chorus approached, so did Keith. Shiro tipped backwards, rolling as he faked a fall, and found himself straddled by cotton clad thighs.

 

Keith knelt above him, back bent and arms raised high, his head hanging backwards. As the music stopped for a dramatic pause, he swung them down onto Shiro’s chest with incredible speed, making Shiro spasm up as if hit by a lightning bolt. Dragging his fingertips over Shiro’s pecs Keith staggered back, eyes blown wide and mouth parted. Shiro scrambled up into a standing position, every sway and step calculated.

 

The chorus started and so did one of the more impressive points of their routine: a series of 20 pirouettes, one after another. Even for a trained dancer like Shiro, it was something that required many sessions of spinning and spotting, and he as he moved, he felt a sense of accomplishment run through his body. The impact of his success was boosted by Keith, who dropped into a series of breakdance floorwork behind Shiro, spinning while throwing his limbs into various positions that made him look like a figure skater on land.

 

The bridge started the collaborative part of their choreography. Shiro’s chest was adorned with a smudged handprint now, and he clutched his hands tight over it before he did an unexpected backflip, allowing Keith to slide to the front on his knees underneath Shiro’s body.

 

The audience was probably applauding, but Shiro had blocked out everything except his connection to the melody, to the beat. To Keith. He was standing in front of Shiro, raised onto his toes and let himself drop back into a trust fall. Shiro slid his arms under Keith’s at the last second, and spun him around. They used the momentum to swing Keith up in the air where he twisted around, only to get caught once again. One of Shiro’s arms hooked under Keith’s torso while the other supported his knees. He was rocking back and forth as Keith writhed in his hands, elbows and legs waved into each other, making it look like he was winding around in Shiro’s arms like a snake.

 

Keith pushed himself off his shoulders. He landed in a crouch on the floor and fell into a series of street style moves, never breaking eye contact with Shiro. By then, he had left multiple streaks of black and grey all over Shiro’s torso and arms. Black paint was likely smeared over Shiro’s face too, however that was what they had intended. Shiro started to mirror Keith’s steps, copying the choreography in his own way, making it look fluid and smooth where Keith was abrupt and rough. Closing in on each other, walking a slow spiral, they moved until there was only a feet between them.

 

As the slow bridge started, Shiro raised a hand, and as if he was looking into a mirror, Keith did the same; their palms pressed against each other. They repeated the action with the other hand, raising them in a circle above their heads and before they each pulled their own hands towards their chest. Shiro walked backwards hesitantly, embellishing his steps with the lift of a leg or tilted spins of his body. Keith beat his fists against an invisible barrier between them with his fists, mimicking screams and throwing hands into the air in desperation.

 

Shiro turned his head away with tightly drawn brows and downturned lips, performing a few contemporary moves while preparing himself for the next pause before the drop of the chorus. It was nothing extremely new for him not to see his partner before having to catch them, but for Keith, it had initially been difficult to leap at someones back, trusting them to turn around at the last second and catch him.

 

Shiro had never let him fall. He spun around at the dramatic pause, and found Keith mid jump about six feet up in the air. He looked like a feral animal leaping at its prey, body almost horizontal with arms and fingers stretched out. His eyes though were focused and full of trust, so much so that it hit him with a wave of tenderness and guilt. It lingered in the back of his mind as Shiro caught him around his chest, redirecting the speed of the jump into spinning Keith around three times as he curled himself tightly around Shiro’s upper body, hands around his shoulders and legs around his waist.

 

Using the momentum of the spins, Keith let go and started his own series of pirouettes. Their deal had been that he’d do as many as he could manage, and then improvise until the next cue. They weren’t perfect, and he only managed about ten, but considering the lack of training Keith had, it was extraordinary.

 

Shiro turned his back to the audience and concentrated on his contortions and floorwork until he felt arms reach around his chest, pulling him up. The following part of their routine was partnered with heavy waltz influences, both alternating the lead. They took turns dipping each other low or lifting themselves up into the air, focussing on alternating between extremely fast moves and slow, drawn out ones.

 

Sweat ran down Shiro’s back, his breath already ragged. He still hadn’t recovered completely, and both of them had gone into the challenge knowing as much. He would use it along everything else that had happened to him to sell the performance.

 

Supporting Keith only by the back of his neck, Shiro lowered Keith’s body until it almost touched the ground before doing an aerial over him without letting him drop to the floor. Keith’s gaze was intense, and went right into his heart which skipped a beat. He had no opportunity to think about it as the slow part of the bridge came closer.

 

Pulling Keith back up to his feet,  they separated for a few more solo acrobatic moves. Shiro lost his view on Keith, spinning and contorting himself. Savoring the oncoming weakness of his muscles, he consciously increased the tremble of his arms. Shiro’s skin was stained a beautiful pattern of grey by then, almost like marble. A few gems were glinting on the floor and he was sure he had a scratch from one of Keith’s scales somewhere on his back, but it didn’t matter. His steps grew faster and faster, moving fluidly along the groove of the violin, and short and jerky with the staccato of the drums.

 

Riding the build up towards the last part he ended the part of his solo with three more pirouettes, stooping right at the final break to face Keith. Their bodies stood tall and heaving, their speeding hands stopping abruptly above each other’s cheeks as if they had intended to slap one another, but changed their minds at the last second.

 

Or rather —  that’s how it should have been, according to their choreography. They had planned about two seconds of heavy laden silence, both standing still and staring at each other before the last drop. But when Keith touched his palm to Shiro’s cheek, hot and rough, Shiro leaned into it without a second thought.

 

They had talked about doing that during the training, but it had seemed to forced so they had initially decided to leave it at hovering their hands dramatically over each other’s cheeks. It didn’t feel forced now. Keith was leaning into him as well, their heads turned into different directions, each cradled by warmth. As Shiro put his free hand over the one cupping his cheek, so did Keith. Shiro’s pulse beat against his chest and threatened to make him dizzy. Their time was almost over.

 

In a final desperate attempt to let Keith go he jerked his head out of Keith’s hand and pushed him away. As the chorus dropped, they both fall into the series of pirouettes. It was more difficult for Shiro to tell as he spun, but Keith again managed ten spins before he dropped limply to the ground.

 

Shiro stumbled a few steps back, face twisted into a shocked expression before he somersaulted toward Keith, grabbed him under his arms, and hoisted him up into the air. Keith landed in Shiro’s arms, and his body went limp again as soon as he felt Shiro’s secure hold. He was thrown up once more, performing a full turn only to be caught mid air by Shiro, who held him up above his head at his lower back. Keith let his arms hang down at his sides, head drooping to look into the audience, back bent at an almost 90 degree angle. His feet flexed in a graceful position to balance out his weight. Shiro felt his arms tremble as he held Keith up above his head and was forced to take an involuntary step backwards in order to prevent himself from dropping his partner.

 

Keith’s back in his hands was glistening with sweat, and Shiro squeezed Keith’s ribs as an indicator for the last lift. Shiro bent his knees a bit to gather momentum. All he had to do was push Keith up a foot to enable him to spin around once more, and then they’d have their final stance. As if in slow motion he saw Keith initiate the rotation with his shoulders and upper body, tightening his arms and legs together to increase speed. His form was immaculate.

 

Shiro’s wasn’t.

 

He couldn’t tell afterwards if it had been the strain on his muscles or the mixture of paint and sweat making their skin slippery, but his hands slid straight past Keith’s ribs, not only failing to catch him, but also preventing him from stopping the momentum of Keith’s spin.

 

Panic and adrenaline immediately flooded Shiro’s system. He did the only thing he could think of; he clutched Keith’s body with both of his arms to prevent him from falling. Tightly wrapped around the other’s waist he looked up into Keith’s face to find him startled, chest to chest, hand dug into Shiro’s shoulders to steady himself.

 

Shiro didn’t feel the crash of Keith’s shin against his knee or the scratch of another scale on his clavicle. All he could feel was Keith’s chest heaving against his own, and the frantic beat of both of their hearts. The last beat of a chime marked the end of their song, and Shiro felt a sudden softness against his lips.

 

Warm tingling flooded his body. It tightened his abdominal muscles and made him chase Keith’s kiss like he was starving. Two hands had wandered from Shiro’s shoulders to his neck, framing his jaw to pull their mouths against another. His heart was hammering as if to pound through his ribcage and closer to Keith’s as he grabbed him even tighter.

 

It didn’t last for more than a few seconds. When Keith pulled back as if in shock, Shiro was confronted with a kind of vulnerability he had never seen in his partner before. There were a hundred question in his eyes, and Shiro knew he couldn’t answer them.

 

At least not at that moment.

 

………………………………………………….

 

‘All of you deserve to stand here. You have worked hard and managed things that many other people can only dream of. I am proud to have you here with me.’ Allura chimed, a glass of red wine in hand. The people in the room raised their own glasses and clinked them together before they took sips of the crimson bitterness.

 

The same bar had been chosen for their last celebration, though extra precautions had been taken to avoid a repetition of unfortunate events. However, it still left Shiro anxious. His leg twitched nervously as he put his wine away untouched, trying to ignore the sympathetic glances from his peers.

 

Even though the last time he had been there had ended in the worst way imaginable, the building held mostly fond memories due to the fact he couldn’t remember much. Watching the bodies on the dancefloor below them, Shiro recalled ripped jeans and leather, fingerless gloves over slender hands, fingers grazing the back of his neck. He remembered talking for hours. He remembered ruining everything when he couldn’t get past his demons after the assault.

 

Shiro didn’t feel like celebrating. Pidge and Lance sat beside him and were teaching each other variations of brofists and high-fives while Hunk chatted excitedly with Allura. Even some of the contestants that hadn’t made it to the final rounds had come to the gathering: Veronica and Acxa tucked their heads together in a corner, Sendak sat with Lotor and Iverson over a bottle of whiskey.

 

The empty seat beside Shiro made him feel cold and lonely.

 

………………………………………….


The moments after their performance all blurred together for Shiro. Roaring applause rushed over both of them as he released Keith onto the ground. They kept their hands on each others waist, never breaking eye contact. The judges had praised them for being so in sync with each other and some other things Shiro hadn’t been able to grasp with his mind running a million miles an hour while his body felt like he had done just that.

 

Keith had taken his hand after Iverson had made his comment, pulling Shiro from his hazy state.

 

‘What?’ he asked Keith with confusion, overexertion written all over his face. Keith nudged his head towards Iverson, who had just finished dabbing at the corner of his eye with the end of his sleeve. They had made this badass bear of a man teary eyed. In any other circumstance Shiro would have been extremely touched and proud, but he couldn’t get over everything that had just happened.

 

Another wave of clapping indicated the end of their critique and also the challenge itself. They retreated into their own little booth to wait for the judge’s final decision. Shiro’s hand was getting sweaty in Keith’s, but when he tried to pull back, Keith held on harder. Stubborn eyes met his, the gaze firm even though Keith’s voice was laced with insecurity.

 

‘Don’t you dare, Shiro.’ he said, hurt and resolve written on his face. ‘I don’t care if you win, or me, or both of us, or neither. But this…’ he held up their conjoined hands. ‘...stays like it is. Understood?’

 

Shiro didn’t understand. Nothing made sense at that moment, and Coran announcing the first contestant of the final round didn’t make his situation any easier.

 

‘The top three Jury choices are final! Let’s see who danced their way to the final round. In third place… HUNK !!!’

 

The audience roared, and Shiro’s face went blank. Three. He had thought five people would advance, or at least, that was what he remembered Allura telling them. Keith didn’t react to the news, indicating that Shiro had missed that piece of information.

 

‘Keith… we need to…’

 

‘Shut up. If you’re gonna say talk , I don’t wanna hear it. I need this one moment with you, Shiro. Let me have it. That’s all I ask.’

 

Their surroundings were too loud to speak normally, so Keith had gotten closer. They were basically shouting at each other over the roar of the crowd. Hunk, on stage, was performing his signature move and getting congratulated by Coran. Shiro looked back at Keith, who was still staring at him intently, clutching Shiro’s hand like a lifeline. Suddenly, Shiro felt like the biggest idiot in the world.

 

Keith had been holding them together. While Shiro had withered in self loathing, he had stood tall and patient. And alone.

 

Shiro pressed his lips together, pulled his hand out of Keiths with more force. The disappointment in the other’s eyes turned into surprise when Shiro wrapped his arm around him, pulling Keith  close to his side. Shiro rested his head against Keith’s.

 

‘In second place, after a breathtaking performance….’

 

‘Keith. I…. ‘

 

‘I said shut it. Just…’ he grabbed at Shiro’s other hand and clutched it tight. Shiro squeezed him against himself.

 

‘Keith, no matter what happens…’

 

‘THE PIDGEON! CONGRATULATIONS!’

 

He felt Keith tense against him, then go completely lax. Shiro bit his lip. Both of them making it to the final round would have been too good to be true. He wrapped his other arm around Keith, pressing him against his chest. Keith buried his head in the crook of Shiro’s neck. A tremble made him lean back, and he was surprised to find Keith chuckling.

 

‘And the prestigious first place for his challenge…’

 

‘I’m so proud of you, Shiro.’ Keith said with a smile that broke his heart.

 

‘You don’t…’

 

‘IF it even is one of us, it is going to be you. My only chance now …’

 

‘Keith.’ Shiro cupped his jaw. This one moment. ‘You deserve the world. You deserve this win.’ Keith looked up at him ruefully, brows scrunched and smile heartbreaking .

 

‘I deserve you.’ Keith said. Shiro’s eyes widened. Before he could react in any way Coran’s voice croaked through the speakers.

 

‘SHIROOOOOOOOO!!!!’


…………………………………………


Shiro didn’t feel like dancing. Nor did he feel like drinking. After getting pulled on stage for interviews and photographs, Shiro looked for Keith only to find that he had disappeared. Rejecting anyone trying to talk to him with anxious waves of his hands and turning away from microphones shoved into his face Allura had excused him with the sweetest smile while grabbing his wrist harder than necessary and had sent him off to the hotel to calm down.

 

He had taken a shower, intending to bring himself back to his senses, but it had failed miserably. Shiro’s only prospect for the evening was the hope that Keith would possibly join the celebrations in the evening. When he hadn’t seen him among the people waiting for the limousine that was supposed to drive them to the club, he had contemplated turning around. Allura wouldn’t let him.

 

In the end, people had given up on involving Shiro into their conversations. The other dancers were having their superficial fun, screaming at the screens of their phones and gesturing wildly towards each other. A mane of white, wavy hair slumped down beside him, the owner obviously tipsy at that point.

 

‘You are a bloody moron.’ Allura said, a glass of clear liquid dangerously swaying in her hand. Shiro didn’t even feel offended or affirmed. He was just empty.

 

‘You don’t wanna talk? That’s fine. Fine… BUT!!!’ A manicured finger stabbed his chest. She was definitely past tipsy.

 

‘You don’t listen either. That is your problem, Takashi Shirogane. You. Don’t. Listen.’

 

He sighed. ‘I cannot do this right now, Allura. Just say I told you so and let me be, please.’

 

She rolled her eyes at him with an unladylike groan. He still didn’t feel anything.

 

‘That’s exactly what I mean. You brood here in your self pity, and you enjoy it. You want to be miserable. That’s…’ she paused as she searched for a word.

 

‘...sad?’ Shiro prompted.

 

‘Pathetically so.’ she agreed. He should walk home. The screams of the people next to him grew louder and louder, the music was mediocre, and he wasn’t about to drink anything. He might as well leave. Allura’s phone pinged, and she glanced at it briefly before slipping it between her breasts. He was almost impressed.

 

‘I could really help you, Shiro.’ she took a swing at her drink. ‘I mean it. You have no idea. But you don’t listen, do you?’

 

The lecture was growing old. He was about to get up and leave when a figure stumbled onto him. The person was slender and tall, and Shiro dared raise his hopes for a second, only for them to be crushed the next second.

 

‘I MADE IT!!!’ a dark figure cried out, sprawling over Shiro’s thighs, teary eyed and with an incredulous expression.

 

‘ALLURA, I MADE IT!!!’ Lance scrambled back up on his own legs, only to lean back over Shiro as if he wasn’t even there. Lance grabbed Allura’s hand.

 

‘Dance with me, Allura! You are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen and I would steal the moon for you! Please!’ Allura’s face went from amused over embarrassed to flattered in a second. In the end she started to giggle and let herself be drawn to her feet.

 

‘Listen, Shiro.’ she said as a blissful Lance guided her past him.

 

He watched them leave, and considered Allura’s words. He probably did want to feel miserable. It only felt right to be miserable after all he probably had destroyed. Only after he watched them disappear down the stairs toward the dance floor Lance’s words seeped through Shiro’s brain. How had he made what? Looking around, he noticed that people were looking at him expectantly, until Hunk walked over and grabbed his shoulders.

 

‘You have no idea, do you?’ he half shouted over the music. Shiro only furrowed his brows.

 

Hope tried to thread its way into his conscious mind, but he didn’t dare let it break through. Still, it was the only one logical explanation—

 

A phone screen shoved in his face blinded Shiro momentarily before he was able to read the letters AUDIENCE PICKS over a picture of the stage. He hadn’t finished reading when the phone was lowered. He looked up into Hunk’s face in confusion he saw him stare over Shiro’s shoulder with a big grin. Following the direction of Hunk’s stare, a figure at the top of the stairs caught his eye.

 

Ripped jeans. Studded belt. Fingerless gloves and an obnoxious beanie.

 

Before Hunk could react, Shiro was already standing, bridging the distance between them in a few swift steps. Keith was coming towards him, the brightest grin on his face, running the last few steps, leaping into Shiro’s arms. Shiro swung him around, not a care in the world for the glasses and bottles around them. He buried his face into Keith’s neck.

 

‘We made it, Shiro!’ Keith said into his ear, voice trembling as badly as Shiro’s fingers in Keith’s hair.

 

Too many questions ran through his head again, but as Shiro drew back, he didn’t care about any of them. He had spent too much time waiting for answers he didn’t want to hear. He bent his head down, not caring if he deserved it.

 

Keith’s lips under his were soft and warm, and they made Shiro involuntarily gasp on contact. The tender pressure sent goosebumps down his spine and made his skin burn in the most exciting way. Keith returned the kiss after the initial surprise with fervor, slinging his hands around Shiro’s neck and pulling him closer. Around them, Shiro heard some people whistling, and it made him grin into the kiss. He felt more than heard Keith snort and nibble at his bottom lip playfully.

 

Keith may have been meant the action to be light and harmless, but the sensation immediately travelled down to Shiro’s lower stomach. A small moan escaped his mouth. Trying to avoid indecent exposure, Shiro pushed Keith a few inches away from his hips, only for Keith chase after his mouth.

 

‘Dancefloor?’ Shiro suggested, laying a finger gently on Keith’s chin to stop him. Keith looked up at him with something wicked in his eyes, and he turned his head to lay a few kisses on Shiro’s fingertips before biting one and tonguing at it mischievously. Shiro was grateful for the tight jeans and long suit jacket. So much for avoiding indecency.

 

Ignoring the other people shouting encouragements at them, he took Keith by the hand and led him down the stairs and onto the dancefloor. A remix of Hope There’s Someone had just started and he saw Allura and Lance in passing, looking young and careless. Taking both of Keith’s hands, he walked backwards further into the room, passing dancing groups of strangers and drawing Keith close as they reached the far corner.

 

The bass dropped from a speaker close to them and Shiro could feel the beat vibrate against his heart, increasing the adrenaline in his body. Keith lifted their conjoined hands up in the air and started swaying his hips, letting his head hang back to the melody. He was a sight to behold, and Shiro didn’t want to look away anymore.

 

Running the tips of his fingers down Keith’s outstretched arms, Shiro could see goosebumps form on his skin. He savored the display, drawing his hands down over Keith’s shoulders, chest and stomach before finally landing on his hip bones. The top of Keith’s briefs peeked out over the waistband of his jeans, and thumbing under the rubber band made Keith’s stomach tighten. The ripple of abs under Shiro’s fingers caused him to forget all good intentions, and he chased the taste of Keith’s mouth like a thirsting soul in the desert.

 

They clashed together, impatient and demanding. Shiro willingly let Keith in when he felt a tongue probing against the seam of his lips, meeting him halfway. He let himself be pushed back into the wall, one hand still on Keith’s hip, the other around the back of his neck. Keith was clutching at his shoulders like he needed something to steady himself.

 

Slender fingers found their way up Shiro’s back, over his neck and into his hair. They grabbed a fistful of strands and pulled his head back for Keith to suck a kiss onto the skin over his pulse. As on their own accord, Shiro’s hips jerked forward, pulling Keith’s against him in a desperate attempt to find some kind of friction. When he felt Keith’s arousal against his own, an alarm in the back of his mind started ringing, and he drew back with the last bit of self restraint he could muster.

 

Keith’s confusion was painful to see, but for his own sake he needed to leave nothing left unsaid between them. Taking Keith’s hands and placing them on his chest, Shiro leaned in and placed a fleeting kiss onto his lips. He leaned their foreheads together, his heart hammering against his ribs while his raging boner was screaming at him to just take Keith right there on the floor. He swallowed heavily and leaned closer.

 

‘Keith. I’m in love with you.’

 

He almost had to yell to breach the bass laden melody. The words fell from his lips like a sinner’s confession in church. Keith stilled opposite him, only to lean back and take Shiro’s face into his hands. Indigo eyes reflected the spotlights in pink and cyan. He could see himself in them, wanting and desperate.

 

Inching himself closer Keith ghosoft kisses onto Shiro’s nose, his chin and cheeks, the corner of his mouth. It was painfully sweet, a band aid trying to fix a broken heart. Splaying his feelings out in front of Keith like an offering to an unknown deity, Shiro felt bare against the the wall with the bass vibrating softly through him. The whole situation seemed surreal, with the colorful spotlights cutting through darkness and bodies swaying along to the loud melody. Warmth against his front flooded Shiro with a kind of sensory overload that promised absolution.

 

With rational thought pushed to the borders of his consciousness, Shiro found it easy to ignore the fact that he hadn’t gotten an answer when Keith took his mouth again slower, sweeter. He dragged their lips together almost lazily while hands slid around Shiro’s neck to gently pull them closer. Shiro willingly followed. Keith’s hair in his hands was coarse and thick, and Shiro scraped his short nails against Keith’s scalp in a gentle fashion, causing Keith to sigh against his mouth.

 

Shiro hadn’t noticed when they had started to rock back and forth to the music, but he didn’t care. All that mattered in that moment was Keith; Keith in front of him, Keith in his arms and against his mouth. The song was slow and sweet, making his chest ache and skin burn from the proximity of the person he had wanted with an intensity he couldn’t explain —  to himself at least.

 

The trip back to the hotel was too short and too long all at once. They refused to let go of each other, not caring if it made getting in and out of the limousine awkwardly difficult. Keith leaned against Shiro in the backseat of the car, running his thumb against the back of Shiro’s hand in soothing circles. The feeling he was taking something he didn’t deserve was nagging at the back of Shiro’s mind, now more than ever without the ambience of a club as an excuse.

 

The kisses Keith pressed against Shiro’s knuckles lifted the pressure like a spell. The image of waking up in the morning with nothing but dread, regret and self loathing wouldn’t let itself be pushed down so easily though, despite hushed chuckling in hotel corridors and stolen kisses behind the corner of the elevator shaft.

 

Shiro’s fingers shook as he slid the card through the reader next to his door. Letting Keith inside he shut out all the warmth of the corridor’s ceiling lights when the door closed behind him, painting the room in black and blue. The city lights seeped through the thin curtains obscuring the skyscrapers and neon signs, framing Keith’s body in a bright halo while the rest of him was almost too dark to make out. Shiro wanted nothing more than to bridge the distance between them, to allow himself this chance at happiness, however uncertain it might be, but something held him back.

 

‘Keith’, he exhaled, feet still rooted firmly on the ground in front of the door. For some reason Shiro suddenly wasn’t able to look him in the eyes. He stared out of the window instead while searching for a way to convey his emotions into words Before he could form another coherent thought, Keith interrupted him.

 

‘Stop.’

 

The hand on Shiro’s chest was gentle but firm and caused him to drop his head in surrender. A soft chuckle escaped through his teeth. Fingers slid up to cup Shiro’ cheek, and he had no choice but to finally look up into Keith’s eyes. They were full of stubborn resolution, his furrowed brows furrowing. It still felt unreal to Shiro that those eyes were looking at him, wanted him. He leaned his head into the warm palm against his face, causing Keith’s tense expressio to turn soft. He seemed almost like a puppy, eyes wide an mouth slightly agape. Shiro brushed a stray strand of hair off cheek.

 

‘How do I deserve this?’ Shiro asked into the silence, simultaneously longing for and dreading the answer. Keith tilted his head to the side. His thumb ghosted over Shiro’s cheekbone, along the edge of his scar. Keith sighed.

 

‘This… this is not about deserving anything. That’s one fucked up concept. All I know is that I want you…wanted you for a while now.’ Keith stepped closer, the narrow space between their bodies reducing inch by inch. ‘If you would have me.’

 

The breath in Shiro’s throat hitched. There was no reality in which Shiro wouldn’t fall for Keith. Their foreheads bumped together softly, and Shiro looked down to where his hands had wandered back down to Keith’s waist.

 

‘Keith… there’s no possible scenario in which I wouldn’t want you.’ he said, heart hammering a violent rhythm against his ribcage.

 

He felt his ears turn hot with anticipation and adrenaline as Keith brushed his lips against Shiro’s when he replied.‘Then stop your goddamn self-sabotage and take what you want!’

 

It was just a whisper, but craving flooded Shiro like water breaking through a dam. He’d held back and suppressed his desire for far too long, and there was no more reason to continue. Gripping Keith’s hips hard, Shiro pulled him towards his body. They bridged the last gap between their lips, clashing teeth and chasing tongues like they were starved for each other.

 

Keith’s fingers found their way into Shiro’s hair, nails scraping the skin beneath Shiro’s neatly cropped undercut until they found leverage in the longer strands on top of his head. Shiro anticipated the pull, but it still elicited a gasp from him as Keith forced his head back to search for the sensitive skin over Shiro’s pulse. The bittersweet sting of a bite made Shiro’s breath come quicker, and he grasped at Keith’s hoodie for any kind of support as the teeth on his neck caused his head to spin and blood to boil.

 

As if on autopilot he followed Keith who pulled him towards the single bed against the wall, refusing to let their lips part, refusing to stop roaming their hands over each other’s bodies. Keith broke the kiss and shrugged out of his hoodie and shirt in one swift motion. Shiro surged forward to find his lips once more. He was done being patient.

 

Keith’s skin felt smooth and feverish under his hands. The lean muscles of his back flexed as Shiro dragged his hands up until they found rough wool fibers. He slowly pulled the obnoxious hipster hat back off of Keith’s head, freeing the stubborn mass of black hair that tumbled town to frame Keith’s face. It made him look enticingly feral.

 

‘Happy now?’ Keith teased, nipping at Shiro’s bottom lip while snapping the top button of his dress shirt with the flick of his fingers.

 

‘Very,’ Shiro smirked. Keith’s mouth against his had been chapped and rough initially. Now it felt soft and sweet and hungry, moving against Shiro’s with experienced nudges against lips, tongue and teeth. Before Shiro noticed, the rest of his shirt had been unbuttoned and pulled out of the suit pants. Keith pulled away and took a step back to rake his eyes up and down Shiro’s torso. Shiro would have felt exposed if not for the absolutely mesmerizing picture that Keith made in front of him, letting Shiro forget all the insecurities and doubts trying to nag at his mind.

 

Shiro ran a hand over the roses on Keith’s left bicep, the playful red ink disrupted by thick, geometric lines and dots.

 

‘Does this one mean anything?’, Shiro asked, taking a step closer into Keith’s space, his other hand finding a spot to rest on Keith’s waist. Small he thought, barely suppressing a sound at that.

 

‘It’s pretty and edgy. I liked the design.’, Keith said, looking down at where Shiro’s fingers were tracing the tattoo absentmindedly. He looked eerie against the mix of neon lights disrupting the darkness of the room from the window.

 

‘It fits you.’, Shiro said with a smile. ‘What about this one?’ His hand had moved to the one on Keith’s left chest resembling the heart lines from an ECG. Shiro ran his fingertips along the black ink and was rewarded with a slight tremble of hard muscle underneath him.

 

‘Being alive,’ Keith said after a few seconds, making Shiro’s eyes dart up. It was an almost cruel coincidence, considering what had happened to him. Shiro bent down to place a chaste kiss against the tattoo, Keith’s heart greeting him with an intense beat against his lips. It was almost painfully sweet. Shiro’s fingers slid lower slowly over a taut stomach and the dips on the inside of Keith’s hip bones, stopping at the last tattoo there. It was a mix of the symbols for Venus and Mars.

 

‘It means I don’t care what you look like.’ Keith said, without having to be asked. ‘I don’t give a shit what’s between your legs as long as you’re a good person.’ Shiro had to grin at that, prompting a suspicious what? out of Keith.

 

‘I was hoping that you’d care about that last part.’ Shiro replied, feeling teasy. Before he could react, he found himself on his back on the mattress, looking up into a cocky face. Keith climbed over him, straddling his hips and running a hand appreciatively down Shiro’s torso. He stopped at the waistband of Shiro’s suit pants, gliding his fingertips along the edge. Shiro’s abs tightened of their own accord and Keith’s eyes seemed to turn a shade darker.

 

Shiro couldn’t look away when Keith placed soft kisses against his stomach. Neither when he unbuttoned the pants, pulling down the zipper agonizingly slowly. Not when indigo eyes found his own, silently asking for permission to continue. He almost forgot to nod, entirely captured by the man above him.

 

Shiro finally had to close his eyes when he felt a palm against him through the fabric of his briefs, gentle strokes testing for a reaction. A quiet moan escaped his mouth. He had been painfully hard since he had kissed Keith on the dancefloor of the club, and finally being able to touch him and be touched in return, felt a thousand times better than what Shiro had dreamed up in his guilty fantasies.

 

Hot breath against the sensitive skin at the inside of his thighs elicited another gasp, arousal already pooling low in his stomach. He felt like a teenager about to have his first sexual experience, and he wasn’t going to last at this rate.

 

Before Keith was able to remove his underwear, Shiro sat up and pulled Keith into another searing kiss.

 

‘Excited, old-timer?’ Keith whispered tauntingly between nips against Shiro’s ear, pulling his head to the side for better access. Shiro slid one hand around to cup Keith’s ass and pushed him flush against his body. Hardness pressing at Shiro’s stomach caused him to smirk.

 

‘Punk.’ was all he said before he stood up and took Keith, who gave a surprised yelp, with him. In an instant, Shiro had him pushed against the wall of the hotel room, grabbing the underside of Keith’s thighs for support. Without wasting more time, they brought their hips together. The friction of fabric against skin made them both gasp before another quick witted answer could escape either of their mouths.

 

With slow thrusts, Shiro slid his pelvis against Keith’s, their foreheads touching as Keith clutched his shoulders to keep himself grounded. Their breaths came in shorter and shorter huffs, small moans falling from their mouths.

 

‘Shiro..’ Keith gasped. ‘...pants…’

 

Shiro reluctantly set him down, and immediately missed the warmth against his front. Eager hands pushed down his pants as Shiro slipped out of his shirt and tossed it somewhere into the hotel room. Before Shiro could ruin the mood by trying to compensate his insecurities with a funny comment Keith had already fallen to his knees in front of him. Hot breath ghosting in huffs over his underbelly made the hairs on his arms stand up and he let his head fall back against the wallpaper.

 

So Keith was excited as well. Enticing.

 

Every nerve in Shiro’s body snapped back to concentrate on the sudden wetness mouthing against him, sending shivers down his spine and blood rushing up into his face. He felt flustered, though not enough to try and stop Keith, who was inching the waistband of Shiro’s underwear down bit by bit. A tongue dragging against his slowly exposed head prompted Shiro to look down, and the sight made his breath hitch.

 

Keith wrapped a hand around Shiro’s cock when it twitched expectantly after being released from its constraints, eyes raking over it in hungry fascination. He looked up at Shiro and slowly let himself sink down without breaking eye contact. Wicked delight flashed over his face when Shiro sucked in a hissed breath.

 

‘Shit,’ he huffed. Keith’s content hum made the sensation of his mouth against Shiro even more tantalizing. Shiro almost missed the way Keith’s hand stroked up and down between his own thighs, still over the fabric of the far too tight jeans. The sole fact Keith was enjoying himself, enjoying giving pleasure as he gave it to himself, brought Shiro closer to the edge than any blowjob would.

 

Keith truly wanted him. The thought made his head spin and heart ache.

 

Shiro’s hands were searching for some kind of support, but the naked wall behind him supplied none. His brain had decided to send most of his body’s blood supply where it was needed more urgently, and his knees were about to give out.

 

‘Your...pants…’, Shiro huffed, his abs tightening every time Keith took him into his mouth. Keith let his tongue drag against the underside of his cock agonizingly slowly before he playfully slid off with a pop and grinned.

 

‘What about them?’ He asked, pretending to be guileless, and licked a flat stripe along Shiro’s length. What a tease. Shiro grabbed Keith’s shoulders, pulled him up for a quick kiss and then playfully shoved him back onto the mattress. He made a show out of unbuttoning Keith’s jeans without hurry. Keith propped himself up on his elbows and bit his lip as Shiro yanked Keith’s pants down along with his boxershorts, impatience making him put a little more force into it than necessary. It only caused a flustered grin to pass over Keith’s face.

 

There was definitely no need for Keith to feel nervous, at least not in Shiro’s opinion. Keith was handsome above average any day. Now, nude on his back in front of Shiro, he was simply beautiful, almost ethereal.

 

Shiro only realized he had been staring when Keith cocked his head to the side, furrowing his brows.

 

‘Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts.’, Keith said, only half joking. Shiro smiled ruefully.

 

‘This… it just seems too good to be true.’ he answered with a sigh as he bowed down and ran his hands over Keith’s thighs. When his thumbs grazed over the more sensitive skin of his inner thighs, Keith’s cock twitched expectantly. It made Shiro chuckle.

 

‘Excited, whelp?’ he said, repeating Keith’s earlier words back to him as Shiro crawled up the bed to hover over him and slowly lowered his body until they were only one or two inches apart. Their bodies radiated heat. Keith brought a hand up to Shiro’s cheek and brushed a strand of hair out of his eyes.

 

‘Yeah,’ he said, face open and vulnerable. The honesty caught Shiro off-guard, and he dropped down between Keith’s open arms and readily parted thighs. Their hips dragged against each other with sweet relief, and Shiro caught Keith’s mouth with his own as he descended, muffling their groans and sighs.

 

Shiro let his hands roam freely over the body below him, trying to find the spots that would make Keith sigh in relief or his breath hitch with arousal. They wouldn’t, couldn’t, stop kissing, moaning into each others mouths. Keith tasted like absolution while his slender fingers drew wicked lines over Shiro’s shoulders, back, and ass cheeks.

 

The hands on his ass squeezed, pulling Shiro’s cheeks apart, and Shiro pushed himself up with all the self restraint he could manage. He had wanted to say something, but Keith kept his hands on Shiro’s ass and kneaded it with relish, eliciting quiet moans out of both of them. Shiro couldn’t help but lean back in to nip and suck at the soft skin of Keith’s neck. He shouldn’t leave any marks, at least not on purpose. He wouldn’t fret though if Keith ended up with a bite mark or hickey the next morning. Another squeeze reminded him why he had stopped kissing Keith initially.

 

‘Keith… what...uhm...how...ah.’ A moan escaped him when Keith suddenly wrapped his hand around both their cocks, the lack of lubrication making it borderline painful, yet intoxicatingly arousing.

 

‘How do you want to do this?’ Shiro asked, before he forgot how to form coherent thoughts. Keith regarded him with an amused look.

 

‘How do you want to do it?’ he replied, without answering Shiro’s question. Shiro didn’t mind.

 

‘Honestly, at this point I don’t give a damn,’ he huffed while slowly grinding his hips down. Keith met him halfway, eagerly pushing himself from the mattress. He pulled Shiro down into another kiss, chasing tongues and teeth, and ended it with a sharp pull of Shiro’s hair that made him gasp. Keith’s eyes were hungry and calculating, and another chill ran down Shiro’s spine.

 

A dark blush spread across his cheeks and he pulled Shiro back down, lips close to his ear.

 

‘Fuck me.’ he whispered. The sound travelled over Shiro’s skin from his ears to his heels and made him tense in arousal. He felt strong, lean thighs wrap around his hips and pull him closer. Condom was all Shiro thought as he flung a hand towards the nightstand. A part of him that still had been optimistic had packed some, in case he’d end up with a hook-up or friends-with-benefits situation, and he thanked his past self for it.

 

While he was leaning over Keith, trying to sever a condom from the packet, Keith had used the opportunity to knead at Shiro’s chest while sucking a nipple into his mouth, flicking at it experimentally with the tip of his tongue. The lack of reaction on Shiro’s part seemed to have him a bit frustrated, judging by the irritated huff of breath cooling Shiro’s skin.

 

‘Nothing?’ Keith snorted at Shiro’s cocky grin as he sat up between Keith’s thighs. He popped the cap on his newfound bottle of lube, and dripped a bit out onto his fingers.

 

‘Slight tickle.’ Shiro retorted, warming the viscous liquid on his hand. Keith’s fingertips travelled downwards, dragging his nails over the dips and bumps of Shiro’s abs. He stopped at the base of Shiro’s cock and wrapped two fingers around it, squeezing lazily.

 

‘Slight tickle.’ Shiro grinned, suppressing the moan that threatened to escape his throat at the touch. Keith swiped his hand over Shiro’s, getting it slick with lube before wrapping it around Shiro’s cock again. Shiro felt his abdominal muscles tighten with every twisted pull, and Keith’s smirk somehow enhanced the effect the stimulation had on him. He could feel tension starting to concentrate lower and lower in his stomach and gripped at Keith’s wrist suddenly when he felt himself getting dangerously close.

 

‘A bit more than a tickle?’ Keith teased, letting out a surprised yelp when Shiro gathered both Keith’s wrists in one hand and pinned them above his head. Supporting half of his weight on the slender joints, he fumbled to find and open the lube. He coated his fingers with one hand, clumsier than he had wished, never breaking eye contact in case Keith showed any signs of disapproval. He was met with half lidded eyes and a lip sucked in between teeth in anticipation. He took it as the confirmation to go ahead, teasing around Keith’s rim with a slick finger, drawing in every gasp and huff.

 

Shiro felt intoxicated by the sounds Keith made, by the tightness of his entrance as he slowly dipped into him. He relished in the velvety feel against his fingers —  a promise for what was about to come. Keith had closed his eyes as Shiro breached the second ring of muscle, and Shiro could spend hours just watching the change in Keith’s facial expression as he fingered him slowly, rubbing over the sweet spot against his insides until he had the younger man writhing impatiently under him.

 

‘Stop teasing.’ Keith huffed, struggling weakly against Shiro’s hand that was still pinning his wrists above his head. Shiro raised his brows.

 

‘Yes, Sir,’, he smirked. Shiro released Keith’s hands and grabbed the condom and lube again. From the corner of his eye, he could see Keith watching him. He purposefully pumped his fist over his own cock a few times before moving his still slick fingers to stroke over Keith’s length. He didn’t stop running his hand up and down while he positioned himself at Keith’s ass, stimulating him from both ends as he pressed inside. Shiro was rewarded with a series of mumbled swear words — Keith had thrown an arm over his eyes as Shiro sunk in a few inches, the tight heat eliciting a groan from them both.

 

Shiro leaned forward, hooking his arms under Keith’s knees and bending his legs further towards his chest.

 

‘Let me see you,’ Shiro whispered, breath shaky as he suppressed the urge to bottom out immediately. He wanted to savor this, wanted to watch Keith come undone because of him. When Keith lifted his arm, Shiro pushed in another few inches, causing Keith to scrunch up his face.

 

‘You okay?’ he asked, placing open mouthed kisses down Keith’s neck and chest, waiting for him to adjust.

 

‘Yeah… you’re big…’ came the huffed response. Keith's hands lifted, finding Shiro’s biceps for support.

 

‘Sorry.’ Shiro murmured, not able to avoid grinning into the short stubble at Keith’s jawline.

 

‘Not a complaint.’ Keith said with a snort, grinding his hips against Shiro's to bring them closer together. Shiro took the hint and breached the remaining distance between them with a single thrust that took both their breaths away.

 

Keith felt like heaven under him, hot and tight and panting. Black lashes fluttered against flushed cheeks when he pulled back again. Shiro set a slow pace, trying to find an angle that would stimulate both of them. He released Keith’s legs to support himself on one elbow, pumping Keith’s cock with the other in the same rhythm of his thrusts.

 

Shiro was pulled down onto hungry lips, and he let Keith take over his mouth as he tried to focus on both his hand and hips simultaneously. Despite concentrating on Keith, his own pleasure was building up again dangerously fast.

 

A sudden clench around his cock told him he had found a good angle, and he repeated the motion, getting a little faster with every thrust. Shiro felt his stomach tighten, prickling impulses running through his body and making his vision blurry with lust.

 

He dropped down to both of his elbows and grabbed Keith’s shoulders to find leverage.

 

‘Touch yourself.’

 

Keith’s hand moved down immediately as Shiro set a merciless rhythm of fast and forceful thrusts. He could feel the point of no return approaching quickly, and a quick glance at Keith told him he wasn’t far behind.

 

‘Close…’ Shiro warned with a low growl, sweat forming on his temples and the small of his back where Keith's  hand was desperately clawing for anything to hold on to.

 

‘Yeah..’ came the muffled answer, more breath than sound. Keith’s eyes seemed feverish. Small huffs escaped  him whenever Shiro’s hips smacked against his ass and rocked his body against the large hands trying to hold him in place.

 

Shiro felt Keith getting tighter with every thrust, but what finally undid him was Keith’s face when he suddenly buckled under him, heels digging into the back of Shiro’s thighs, fingernails dragging over his shoulder blades. Bliss and exertion, pleasure bordering into overwhelming, and Shiro was the cause of it. The sound he made was lower than Shiro would have expected and it vibrated all through him, pushing him over the edge a second after Keith had started spilling into the space between their stomachs.

 

As much as he wanted to keep watching Keith come undone, his own pleasure overran him like a tidal wave and before Shiro knew it, there was an explosion of colors behind his screwed closed eyelids. His hips rolled forward as his body was forced as deep as possible inside Keith’s pulsing heat.

 

It felt like a torrent of all the pent-up desire, regret, self loathing was being released as Shiro pulled Keith even closer, gasping shamelessly into the crook of his neck. Boneless in catharsis, they laid together, arms intertwined, eyes closed and skin dewy with sweat.

 

In the moment, they didn’t notice the bite marks littering Keith’s neck; wouldn’t until they looked at each other, awkward and fond, in the morning while Shiro washed the dried blood from the scratches Keith had left on his back. Keith wasn’t sorry, and Shiro didn’t want him to be.

 

‘Out…’ Keith murmured the silent order after a few minutes. They both groaned as Shiro leaned back, sliding out and pulling the condom off his slowly softening cock. He tied it up and threw it in the general direction he presumed the trash can would be. Keith’s eyes were still closed. He flinched as Shiro started to clean his stomach with a tissue, that also didn’t quite find its way into the trash afterwards since Shiro felt too exhausted to aim properly. He let himself fall down onto the mattress, effectively bouncing Keith up with an undignified yelp. It made him snort, and Keith, after overcoming the fear of getting hoisted out the bed, chimed in with a chuckle, until both of them were laughing and weakly poking at each other’s ribs.

 

‘I like your laugh,’ Shiro said, gently pushing a strand of stray hair off Keith’s cheek as they calmed down.

 

‘Yeah?’ Keith hummed, pushing his arm under his head to use as a pillow.

 

‘Yeah.’ Shiro smiled. ‘And your pig-headedness —  Hey!’

 

Keith had stabbed a finger into his ribs, and it felt painfully ticklish. After a short skirmish Shiro caught Keith’s wrist and placed a kiss against the pads of his fingers.

 

‘I mean it. You wouldn’t give up on me.’ He looked up into two eyes far too alert for someone post orgasm. Shiro pressed another kiss against the palm of Keith’s hand. ‘I was willingly sliding down this spiral of self loathing and castigating and you just walked in and wouldn’t let me. Not matter how hard I tried to fight you.’

 

Keith was watching him wearily as Shiro spoke, letting him press soft kisses against his wrist like an offering. The pulse there fluttered against Shiro’s thumb like a butterfly. He only saw the motion out of the corner of his eyes.

 

‘Did you just roll your eyes while I pour out my heart?’ Shiro asked, half offended. Keith leaned in and kissed the expression right off his lips.

 

‘You’re cheesy as fuck. No one talks like that.’ He snorted when he pulled back a little and laced his fingers with Shiro’s. Keith’s cheeks were colored dark in the dim light of the room.

 

‘Get used to it.’ Shiro whispered with a smirk and bumped his forehead against Keith’s. He was met with soft lips, pressing lazily against his own, and he opened up. Whatever Keith was willing to give, he would gladly take. Not without a few teasing words, he thought, smiling to himself as he untangled their hands and cupped Keith’s jaw, angling his head to deepen the kiss.

 

Keith’s arm reached around Shiro and pulled them closer together. An unexpected hardness against his stomach made Shiro pull back with eyebrows drawn high. Keith only blushed deeper, glancing down between their chests.

 

‘Can’t really help it I guess.’ he shrugged innocently, groping at one of Shiro’s buttcheeks without any shame. Shiro grinned into Keith’s head of thick, black hair. There were certainly worse things than a beautiful young man getting aroused because of him. Especially after they had just finished round one. Keith looked at him amusedly when Shiro propped himself up on an elbow to suck at the smooth skin on his neck, wandering lower after every kiss.

 

‘Sure you can handle it, oldtimer?’ Keith teased. Shiro shot him a look, before sucking a rosy nipple into his mouth. It effectively shut Keith up, who let out a delicious gasp at the sensation.

 

‘Sure you can handle it, punk?’ he teased right back, nipping at the bud between his lips and pulling it experimentally.

 

‘Ah, you…. Shiro!’ Keith yelped as a raspberry was blown onto his chest. Shiro loomed over him in an instant, wicked grin on his face over his newly found knowledge.

 

‘Ready for round two?’ he asked, feeling his own cock stirring back to life at the sight of the disheveled man underneath him. Keith’s eyes seemed to turn dark again, and he bluntly reached up to grasp Shiro’s hair and pull his head down towards him until they were only an inch apart, and then none.

 

Keith’s tongue against his had Shiro’s breath coming quicker and of its own accord, his body started grinding down anew. They parted with a wet sound when Keith tugged his hair.

 

‘Bring it on, Big Guy.’ he said, his unexpectedly soft expression betraying the sweet emotion behind all the tough talk.


………………………………………….


In the end, it didn’t matter. Neither Shiro nor Keith made the final challenge, nor any of the other contestants. In a big mafia scandal, Altea Entertainment had lost not only its CEO, but also one of its best dancers.

 

Lotor’s involvement with the underground was an unfortunate discovery, especially when head chairman Alfor himself had tried to sweep the unpleasant affair under the carpet for years. After years of keeping his daughter in the dark, Alfor left her with the ruins of a crumbling enterprise, its reputation ruined and finances depleted.

 

The remaining contestants sat together wordlessly in a pub a few days after the scandal went public, drinking beer and whiskey in depressed silence by Allura’s side. She had not only lost father and fiancé to prison, but also the name of her family and all that came with it. Her composure was admirable, and all of them were tactful enough to ignore the single tear that would run down her cheek from time to time.

 

Their mood didn’t seem to lighten with the alcohol intake, not that anyone had expected as much. When Allura excused herself after barely drinking any of her cider, Shiro finally turned towards Keith, who had been as quiet as everyone else.

 

‘Come to California with me,’ he murmured, so that no one would overhear. It was hard not to notice how close the two of them had become since they had disappeared from the club mid-evening, but still this was a topic that was no one else’s business. Keith raised his brows, lips parted. It was a sudden and serious preposition, Shiro was aware, but he felt like he was about to lose Keith again.

 

‘You said, you had no serious job, no school, no family. Come with me. You could start at the dance studio where I teach. I…. I just found you. I…’

 

‘Shiro, Jesus. This is not… I don’t know… Let’s talk about this at the hotel. Please.’ Shiro took a deep breath. It was a mixture of desperation and frustration. Keith taking his hand under the table lifted some of the anxiety, but he wasn’t able to shake it off.

 

In the moment Shiro didn’t care how desperate he seemed. He wanted Keith in his life. Indefinitely.

 

The door swung open with a bang suddenly and snapped him out of his brooding. Allura stood in the doorframe, eyes wide open.

 

‘Training room. Now.’ With that she turned back around and hurried back outside, toward the Studio. Lance was the first to jump up and follow her, hitting Hunk in the shoulder to do the same. Pidge was the next to get up and lastly Keith stood, pulling Shiro after him.

 

……………………………..


‘It looks stupid.’ Keith complained. Of course he would, Shiro thought, silently grinning.

 

‘I think it fits us quite well.’ Lance hummed, twirling in front of the mirrors. Pidge cocked an eyebrow at Keith in agreement as she was stretching against one of the walls which had been painted a strong purple since the day Allura had guided them from the pub to the studio. It gave the room a more professional feeling Shiro smiled to himself as he leaned back against the cool concrete next to Hunk.

 

‘We look like a deranged rainbow!’ Keith complained, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his hoodie.

 

‘Now, now, young Paladin.’ a voice from the entrance chimed. Moustache Man Coran walked into the room with Allura and a gigantic stranger by his side.

 

‘Team, this is Mister Kolivan, the generous man who saved not only me, but also the future of this company. He is also the man who offered you and me this wonderful opportunity.’

 

The man called Kolivan gave a flustered hmpf and nodded in greeting.

 

‘All of us have gained a certain amount of fame throughout the country because of the TV show Altea Entertainment let you be part of, or the scandals during and after it. I believe we can get this company back on track with the help of Mister Kolivan here and our joined efforts.’ Allura continued, and her smile seemed genuine.

 

‘I expect a report at the end of every day. Godspeed, Paladins.’ Kolivan’s voice was deep and rough. He turned around and left the studio. Coran bowed his head as the enormous man passed him.

 

‘So we’re Team Voltron now?’, Hunk asked, pulling at the logo of his mustard yellow vest, and Allura smiled. ‘Sounds kinda badass. Like a rock band, huh?’

 

‘Like hell it does.’ Keith’s mood seemed sour. Shiro had heard about it all morning. The name, the outfits, the fact they had to act as a group, the bad coffee at the cafeteria, all of it apparently bothered him. The complaints couldn’t coat over the relieved sighs he shared with Shiro at night with the knowledge their shared time wasn’t over yet. Or with the fact he had taken almost thirty minutes to choose his outfit that morning.

 

‘How is this going to save Altea Entertainment!’ he complained further, and the corner of Shiro’s mouth quirked up.

 

‘Tsk, tsk, you mean Marmora Inc.?’ Lance was waving a finger in front of Keith’s face that was quickly swatted away, followed by a bite me from Keith.

 

‘Simple capitalism.’ Pidge provided, stretching her small body down to hug her calves.

 

‘Guys.’ Shiro stepped in, adjusting the sleeves of his dress shirt. ‘We are all here because we want to be. Dancing is my passion as much as yours, and even if we had a rough start I believe that with joined effort and all our individual skills we can be something bigger than ourselves. It might sound cheesy, but I believe in this project. I believe in us.’

 

He let his gaze sweep over the people in the room and was met with determination and happiness. Allura squeezed his arm and he didn’t have to look down to know she was smiling. Keith didn’t seem completely convinced yet, but Shiro knew by then that was part of the lone wolf image Keith tried to maintain with people he wasn’t completely comfortable with. Yet.

 

Keith was wearing a crimson hoodie, very much like the one he already owned, but still he was eyeing himself suspiciously in the mirror as Shiro observed him. All of them had been given an assortment of black clothes this morning to wear in combination with one colored item, the combination up to themselves. Shiro had chosen black, tight jeans with a good amount of stretch. On his torso there was an equally tight turtleneck in black, and a white shirt with rolled up sleeves. Maybe he’d lose the turtleneck for performances.

 

‘So the plan is to do a few videos and then travel the country to do shows, right? Why the colors though?’ Pidge asked, her olive skater pants riding low on her hips, exposing a strip of skin between the waistband and her black tank. She had a snapback on her head and looked like an Avril Lavigne video of the early 2000s had come to life. Coran, who seemed the most passionate about this project, gladly explained.

 

‘It’s just marketing. Every boy or girl group has different personalities, so the fans can identify themselves with them. Even Grumpycat over there.’ He pointed a thumb over his shoulder at Keith who rolled his eyes.

 

‘I wouldn’t have signed the contract if I had known all of this…’ Keith grumbled. Shiro’s smile was all over his face as he walked over and pulled Keith into a hug.

 

‘Don’t worry, guys, this morning he was fussing over what to wear, he’s actually happy to be here.’

 

Keith mumbled traitor as Shiro kissed the crown of his head and the others snorted knowingly. The sound of a bassline made them whip their heads to the speakers. Allura was smiling widely.

 

‘Enough complaining already. We have a choreography to learn, Paladins. Two, three, four…’

 

…………………………………………….


‘Why Voltron though. What does the name mean?’ Hunk asked, hours later, as they sat sweaty and exhausted on the ground in the training room after their choreography session with Allura. Keith was lying bareback on the floor, his hoodie and shirt long discarded due to the heat, and Shiro was delighted. His own turtleneck had proven too hot as well and had joined the pile of sacrificed clothing items thrown in a corner, alongside Lance’s man-skirt, as he lovingly called it, Hunk’s vest and Pidge’s cap. Allura still wore her black, mid-thigh length dress with the pink, oversized sweater over it. She had barely broken a sweat, but at least seemed tired. Tired and flustered.

 

‘It’s…. don’t judge me too harsh, guys, but it was my father’s dream. To form a dance crew, call it Voltron, and do shows all over the country. He’s…. he’s not a bad man. He just protected someone he shouldn’t have...’ she explained calmly, looking over at the door as if there was something particularly interesting on it. She had her arms protectively wrapped around her body and Lance scooted over to lay his hand on her back.

 

‘No need to justify, princess. With the power of dancing, I think we can make this company great again!’ A round of groans and really s followed as Allura elbowed Lance into the side with a smile as she rolled her eyes. Shiro felt a finger wrap around his pinky, and looked over to find Keith look at the ceiling, the faintest tug at the corner of his mouth. The words were almost too silent to make out, but Shiro understood every word.

 

‘I was thinking, Shiro. When all of this is over… let’s go to California. I want to see it.’

 

A tingling sensation spread from Shiro’s stomach through his whole body, heart skipping a beat only to race the blood through his system in the next second.

 

He had been given so many second chances. At life, at love, at a future, and he wasn’t going to waste it this time. He didn’t care how awfully cliche it sounded, he’d tell Keith over and over again, and anyone else that wanted to listen. For the moment though, all he wanted was to dance until his feet wouldn’t hold him anymore, to dance with Keith, with Lance, Hunk, Pidge, with Allura. He got up and looked at each of his teammates with determination.

 

‘What are we sitting around for then? We have a dance to practice!’ he exclaimed. Allura beamed at him.

 

‘Form Voltron!’