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Shiro has self-control in spades.

It’s no secret that his steady bearing is an integral part of what has allowed him to climb the ranks. Trust Shiro to get a job done, to keep a level head. His superiors call it command presence. High praise, and not something he takes lightly.

And so Morning Inspection, as part of his duties, is not something he takes lightly, either.

The four cadets stand at attention beside their beds, the early morning sunlight filtering in through the window shades, which have been drawn up. Shiro’s boots echo heavily in the room as he walks clockwise, checking to see if all the wastebaskets are empty. By the sink, he pauses. There’s one stray hair in the drain, but not enough to warrant deducting a full five points; one of the boys—Max, Shiro recalls—deflates a bit in relief when Shiro doesn’t mark anything down on his clipboard.

Wardrobe doors: open, in order.

Next order of business: inspection of personal appearance.

Shiro swallows. Starts with the tawny-haired one, Clay, and works his way down the line. Calm, methodical.

“Rank and name,” he reads from the top of the sheet in his hand.

“Cadet second class, Keith Kogane,” says Keith, stepping forward. He holds himself rigidly as Shiro’s gaze sweeps over him, assessing. Boots: shined. Belt buckle is firmly in place. The orange and white uniform is clean, well-ironed, and zipped up properly; Shiro’s eyes flick upwards from the black trim at Keith’s neck to catch Keith watching him, dark eyes glimmering.

And then the look is gone; Keith focuses on a spot over Shiro’s shoulder, expression settling into something polite and distant.

Best for the both of them, Shiro thinks.

“Good work, cadets,” he says, nodding. “At ease.” And then he turns on his heel, pretending he doesn’t notice a certain pair of eyes boring into his back as he leaves.

 

o.O.o

 

The thing is, Shiro has read the Standard Operating Procedure more times than he can count.

He knows that the line he’s walking is a thin one. A stronger person would have stepped away from it a long time ago. But while the Garrison has taught him about honor and respect, it hadn’t prepared him for Keith.

Keith, who so often acts without thinking but still manages to have some of the best instincts Shiro has seen in his time at the Garrison.

Keith, who, for all his guardedness, lets his soft edges show when he makes sure the younger trainees stay hydrated during their preparation for the physical exam.

Keith, whose smile is a ledge Shiro fell off before he even knew what he was walking into.

So, if a traitorous warmth spreads in his chest when he hears that telltale knock on his door—if his mouth forms the words, “Come in,” instead of “I’m busy”—maybe it’s a vice that Shiro wants to forgive himself for.

“How was class?” he asks as Keith drops into the chair beside his bed.

“The usual,” shrugs Keith, reaching for the Lego airplane on the bedside table. Already, his fingers are pulling it apart, reconfiguring the model into whatever new design is on his mind today. Shiro has grown used to the sound of plastic pieces snapping into place, which only shows that he has grown far too used to Keith’s presence in his room in general.

“Sopwith Camel?” he guesses, watching as Keith lays a thin rectangular piece over the top of the already formed body in his left hand.

A spark of appreciation enters Keith’s eyes as he leans back in the chair, keeping his balance with one foot as he holds his completed creation up to the light. “You’re getting faster at guessing correctly.”

“There are only so many different types of planes, Keith,” Shiro counters.

“And there are only so many leadership manuals someone can read before throwing up,” Keith returns, tilting his head toward the paperback in Shiro’s lap. “Seriously, Shiro, another one?”

“It was assigned,” Shiro explains. “Haven’t you guys had the responsible leadership lecture yet? I’m pretty sure I remember one with—”

“Sergeant Nichols,” supplies Keith. “Yeah, we’ve had that one all right.”

The corner of Shiro’s mouth twitches in amusement. “You shouldn’t brush him off completely, Keith. Some of the stuff he says is actually useful.”

“If I ever get out into the field, maybe,” says Keith, spinning the propeller of his model airplane with his index finger. “But the exercises we do here—everything’s so…controlled. There’s not a lot of room to improvise, to just take matters into your own hands.”

Shiro’s chest tightens. “There are rules for a reason, Keith.”

Keith stands up, then, hair falling across his eyes as he sets the plane back on the bed stand carefully. “Right.” There’s a studied calm to his voice, but Shiro knows Keith well enough to sense the tension beneath it.

Left with little room to maneuver—comforting Keith would require acknowledging things Shiro is still too wary to put into words—Shiro closes his eyes and rests his head against the wall behind him instead. He can hear Keith moving about the room and wonders, with a touch of sadness, if this is how it’s going to be. Forever in each other’s orbit, skirting the nebulous thing between them until it festers into something worse.

The sound of something unzipping stirs him from his thoughts. Frowning, Shiro’s eyes open.

It takes him a moment to process. Keith, standing in a black tank top, shoulders bare. He’s shrugged out of the top half of his suit, letting the Garrison uniform bunch at his waist.  -30 points for conduct is the first thing that pops into Shiro's head, the uniform inspection checklist is so ingrained.

“What are you doing?” he asks sharply.

“Your room is too hot,” mutters Keith, not looking at him. One arm across his chest, Keith reaches for the thermometer. “I’m changing the temperature.”

And it shouldn’t…rattle him, like this. Keith wears the same sort of attire when they’re working out in the gym; almost all the cadets do. But there’s a deliberateness to the shift of Keith’s muscles under the fluorescent lighting, an intimacy here that Shiro is suddenly terrified of.

Moving toward Keith is not a conscious effort; it just happens. One moment, Shiro is on his bed, and the next he is over by the wall, catching Keith’s wrist in one hand.

“This isn’t some kind of game, Keith,” he says, voice low in warning.

Nostrils flaring slightly, Keith jerks out of his grip. “I’m just lowering the temperature,” he snaps. The next syllable is snide: “Sir.

And Shiro bristles. Because Keith knows. Standard Operating Procedure, Chapter 1, Card 100, Article F: Cadets are prohibited from engaging in an overly familiar relationship with enlisted Soldiers and non-commissioned or commissioned officers. And isn’t it wonderful, doesn’t it have a ring to it—Takashi Shirogane, Pilot Officer. Keith Kogane, Cadet Second Class. It doesn’t matter that Keith’s one of their best and brightest. There are ranks. There are rules.

“This isn’t allowed,” Shiro states, voice heavy.

He realizes his mistake as soon as he’s said the words. Keith has that glitter in his eyes—the same one he gets in the cockpit when he’s about to bring the plane in for a landing, the mixture of triumph and adrenaline as he finishes a flight.

“So you admit that there’s something here.”

He wants to say no. He knows he should say no. But the Garrison taught him honor and respect and honesty and Shiro thinks that maybe instead of reading leadership manuals, he should have been learning how to lie to boys with switchblade smiles.

“Keith.” It’s both an admission and a surrender.

Before him, Keith softens. “I’m not asking for you to shout it from the rooftops, Shiro,” he says. “I just want you to stop pushing me away and acting like that’s doing us both a favor.”

A stronger person would step back, perhaps. But Shiro is tired of holding himself upright all the time. So he allows himself, finally, to relax, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Keith’s, closing his eyes and savoring the moment. Just this. I promise I’ll draw the line at this.

But then Keith’s hands are on either side of his waist, clutching the olive green fabric, and—

Shiro isn’t sure who initiates the kiss, or if they just subconsciously meet each other halfway. A small mercy, he thinks. It’ll help him sleep better at night, maybe, pretending that being around Keith doesn’t make his guard slip slightly, doesn’t make him want to test some limits. And then he loses that thought to the way Keith tilts his head back to accommodate their height difference, to the warmth of Keith’s mouth as it opens beneath his, to the sensation of being held in place.

“PDA in uniform can result in a demerit of fifty to a hundred points,” Shiro murmurs against Keith’s lips, mind a bit fogged.

“Good thing we’re not in public, then,” Keith mutters hoarsely, eyelashes inky black against his cheeks.

Shiro traces the sliver of collarbone peeking out from Keith’s tank, finds the pulse fluttering in Keith’s throat.  Considers whether there's a way back from all of this, or if the event horizon is something they crossed a long time ago.

“Good thing,” he agrees, and dips his head.