The first time Keith sees the stars, for real, the ones he’ll briefly come to think of as his stars, is on his seventh birthday.
It’s not as if he remembers much of the previous others; and this one, it’s no better either. Not until a certain point, anyway, but it hasn’t come yet.
What he knows is that he has maybe some very faint memories of one before his father died, but he couldn’t put it into focus. He knows there was a cake, but he can’t remember the taste or whether someone else was in the house except for the two of them, nor much else at all.
He knows when his birthday is, because it’s stamped on the first page of his file.
(Keith can barely stand the sight of that brown folder, which as far as he has memory, only grows taller and thicker with each passing adoption refusal. It’s been – two years? Two and a half? He can’t remember. He doesn’t even know if he wants to. He’s heard enough conversation behind closed doors to know why it grows thicker and taller. The case workers use always the same words for him. Problematic, withdrawn, antisocial – he doesn’t exactly know what they mean but he can guess well enough. He can guess from the way they always tell him to smile and be on his best behavior when potential parents visit but – the two times he tried he probably did that wrong, because it didn’t work, and why should he smile if he’s just, sad?
Fact is, no one seems to want the problematic, withdrawn and antisocial kid coming with nothing but a strange knife he keeps care to hide from everyone else because he doesn’t remember his father giving it to him but he knows he must have – he remembers having had it since forever, after all.
The faint hope he’s had for a while that someone will want him is almost completely gone, today’s appointment having about killed it. The next one will, but he doesn’t know that yet.)
What he knows is that he hates his birthday.
August 10th is just the worst. Everyone else in the group home he was in before being moved over to this one (the first one was in the city, this one is out in the desert and doesn’t he hate it) had their birthdays during the school year and even if their caseworkers forgot or no one else cared in between them, they’d come with cards from their classmates and a smile on their face. The nicest ones (meaning: the ones who had friends and weren’t labeled problematic or withdrawn) even got a small cake if they had the nice caseworkers.
He’s never had nice caseworkers and August 10th is smack in the middle of summer holidays. No one remembers, or almost no one has until now, no one has written him cards or bought him small cakes, and the one time his caseworker realized because she was checking his file and noticed the date at five PM, she told the group home director to find him some extra clothes for next time they were given new ones.
It’s not as if changing homes hasn’t helped any. At least in the city there were things to do – sometimes they’d all go to the cinema or something, and it wasn’t often, but it happened. And they could walk to school. Here they have to take a bus and it takes half an hour to reach the town their school is at, and guess what, he always sits at the back because no one wants to sit next to him and the places in the back are always empty.
The desert is hot and empty and the only upside of living in a large farm is that he has a small room for himself – for now, but he doesn’t know how long it’ll last.
And it’s just been another August 10th that passed without anyone acknowledging what day it was. His caseworker didn’t even tell the couple that came today to take a look at all of them – Keith had tried to be on his best behavior and smile when he thought he should have, but they barely even glanced at him and eventually he heard them asking for another appointment to see the four-year old girl who sleeps in the room next to his two days from now.
Of course. He’s heard caseworkers whispering and saying that he’s aging up and the older they are the harder is to find them a home.
It’s past curfew, but he doesn’t care as he puts on the only jacket he has (it’s red, it’s one of the leftovers from his previous home and it’s… well, part of the extra clothing he got that day the caseworker noticed it was his birthday some eight hours too late, but he hasn’t grown out of it yet) and gets out of the window to breathe some fresh air. He hates the desert and how it’s scorching hot in the day and chilly at night, and he honestly doesn’t know why he’s even gone outside rather than trying to sleep, but he just couldn’t.
He’s dropped on the ground – thankfully his room is on the ground floor – and brushed dust off his jeans when he raises his eyes upwards –
And he sees a shower of lights crossing across the sky.
For the first time in years he completely forgets about how much he loathes his life and the situation he’s in and how much he loathes his birthday as he stares up at those tiny, silver dots making their way across the skyline. He hasn’t seen anything so beautiful in his entire life and he knows that for a fact, and a small part of him he hasn’t quite learned to silence yet says, maybe they’re my present?, and he just wants to cry at the sight. Maybe a few tears fall off his eyes, he doesn’t know.
But that is the moment when he thinks, I want to be up there.
After all, why shouldn’t he want to? Those stars look so pretty and shiny from here, and his life certainly isn’t either of those things. He’s – stuck here with people he hates and who don’t care for him either way while they’re up there in space brightening up the sky and probably headed for better worlds. And they just brightened up his otherwise horrible day.
What could be so wrong about wanting to be up there instead of down here?
In the city, he would have gone to the public library near the group home.
Here he can’t, and so he gets over his dislike of the couple hosting all of them and at breakfast asks what it is that he saw yesterday from his window. (He takes care to not mention he had sneaked outside.)
They tell him it’s something that happens every year and that you can’t see it in the city because of pollution and electrical lights, but the moment you’re out in the country you can.
On one side, it’s disappointing because it means it wasn’t something just for him (that small part of him which wished for it won’t resurface until a long, long time later). On the other –
On the other it means they’ll come back.
And by the time they do, he will learn everything he can about them.
By the time vacations are over and he can go back to school and therefore use the library, he learns that those falling stars are called meteors, that you can see so many on that particular day because Earth moves around the sun and comes close to some comet that sheds those pieces of shining rock behind itself and that some people call them tears of Saint Lawrence for some ridiculous story that he can see has no basis in reality. He also learns that people think making a wish when seeing one fall will make it come true, and that sounds like bigger bullshit.
(Nonetheless, the next year, he will still be at the foster home out in the country, and when he sees the first of those stars fall, he will wish please let me find someone else who understands me – wishing for someone to adopt him for good will be out of the question, he’ll have lost all hope at that point. It never happens. He will know for sure that the wishes bit is absolute trash.)
He wants to learn more, though.
When he checks out astronomy books that according to the librarian are way above his age bracket, he spends all of his free time trying to figure the language out and taking notes in one of his notebooks, and after the fourth one he checks out, the librarian starts giving Keith reading advice rather than looking at him wrong.
Months later, they do some dumb activity in school which requires writing down on a piece of paper what do you want to be when you grow up and why, then mixing the pieces of paper and handing them to different classmates and trying to guess who said what. For socialization.
(Keith is starting to hate that word.)
He writes, I want to be an astronaut because I want to live in the stars.
No one guesses it at the first round and when they realize it was him out of exclusion, a few people say it’s cute and everyone else laughs – the kid sitting in the next desk over tells him that you can’t live in the stars, you can only live on planets, and Keith suppresses the instinct to punch him in the face and thinks, just watch me.
In high school, no one assumes that he’s going to amount to anything. Kids in the system don’t usually have high enough GPAs to get into fancy schools and the likes. He knows his teacher only expect the average from him.
Then, when he’s fourteen, he’s using the school computer in order to type up an assignment and notices that the browser history is full of links to college websites. Someone in the last year must have used this before him.
Keith doesn’t know why he clicks on one sponsoring some Galaxy Garrison facility in Arizona, but he checks it out of sheer curiosity.
He reads what is this school about, and –
It’s military, but – space-based military. They train astronauts and physicians, too, in order to go on expeditions in space. He looks at their projects and so on – they have ample funding, and they’ve sponsored missions on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and they have great researchers working for them. Keith’s heart is beating fast as he clicks over the requirements to get in. There are some physical ones which are doable – he’s taller than required and he might gain a few more inches in the future, and okay, he should put on some muscle, but that’s also doable, if he exercises.
He’s not too hopeful as he looks at the other requirements. Places like this do not offer free rides, and he doubts he could get a loan, but –
Oh, he thinks as he reads that if you have a GPA higher than 4.5 you can attend for free one month of training in the summer before the term begins. And if you look promising in any of the fields they offer a specialization in (piloting, engineering, computer science and biology), then there are – various scolarships offered, along with ten free rides.
Ten people get in there for free.
He’s in his first year of high school.
He has four to meet the physical requirements and keep his GPA high and apply to the damned Garrison.
He goes to his school counselor and informs him of his plans.
“Are you sure?” The man asks, not sounding too convinced. “I mean, someone in your situation –”
“Just watch me,” Keith replies, and comes back at the end of the semester with the highest marks in his entire class in every damned subject.
At that point the counselor does help him out, some, even if it’s obvious he doesn’t think he can hold this up.
Well, he’s going to be proved fucking wrong.
He graduates high school with a 4.8 GPA just in time – he’s turning eighteen in the summer and at that point he’d be out of the system. He applies to the Galaxy Garrison’s summer month of training.
He gets in.
He takes some sort of maybe perverse satisfaction showing the acceptance letter to both his caseworker and current group home director, who have spent years trying to convince him to enroll in some professional course instead so he could find a job easily when he finished high school. He thinks they both look embarrassed and a tad ashamed.
He can only think to himself, good. Hopefully they won’t make that mistake with the next poor bastard who comes by.
On August 10th, it’s his turn to test his piloting skills. Everyone aiming to get in has to take tests in all of the main fields unless they already have credentials for a specific one. Until now, he’s scored average when it comes to tech, still needs to try out engineering and he hasn’t even tried biology, but researching isn’t what he wanted to do.
He wanted to go to space, and so he’s spent years training for that. He’s put on muscle attending every free martial arts class he could find in town, he’s taken every damned auto shop course his school threw his way and he’s studied all the advised material he could find in order to pilot ships, not to be stuck in a lab. Hell, the summer he turned sixteen he spent all of his time doing menial jobs at a small hangar outside of town in exchange for flying lessons so that he’d know where to put his hands. It wasn’t exactly legal, maybe, but they were happy to and the agreement suited him fine.
(That summer, he spent his birthday working, but then he got to fly for five minutes in the evening and it was maybe the nicest birthday he could remember having up until that point.)
So, when he walks into the sim, he does it with his heart pounding so fast he thinks it will leap out of his chest. The instructor tells him to just do what feels natural, that sim is programmed to test a lot of things and so he can fail the program no problem, but Keith has no intention of failing the fucking program.
Then he breathes in and wills himself to calm the fuck down. He can’t botch this. He needs to be focused, damn it. He feels his heart rate speed down as he sits, and his hands are miraculously not sweating as he says he’s ready to go.
In the end, he crash-lands, but when he’s done, the instructor is looking at him in awe.
“What’s – what’s the problem?” Keith asks him.
“No problem,” the instructor replies. “It’s just – this is the highest preliminary sim score anyone pulled off in the last ten years or so.”
Keith feels like fainting.
“It’s – just, I think you can go to your room. Someone will call you in the next few days.”
“Shouldn’t I take the engineering test tomorrow?”
“I don’t think it’ll be necessary,” comes as an answer.
Keith leaves and watches the stars fall that evening from his small cot, thinking, soon I will be up there with you.
Three days later, they do call him.
He’s offered a free ride.
The evening of August 13th is the first in years when he cries out of pure joy into his pillow, thinking I made it and in a few years, I’ll be up there for real and he thinks that maybe, maybe one day he’ll be in the sky on the 10th for real, and it will be worth all the misery he went through to get there.
He doesn’t think he will ever tell anyone why he wants to go up in the sky so much.
But then, turns out that he’s wrong.
“Aren’t you going home for the holidays?”
Keith, who had been dozing on his physics textbook, jerks awake and turns to his side, where Shiro’s typing something on his laptop, and he feels a pang of – he doesn’t know how to call it. Sadness? Inadequacy?
After all, Shiro’s not going home either, but because he has to work on some extra important secret project with the Garrison higher-ups, not because he has no home to go back to.
(Sometimes, Keith can’t believe they’re even friends. Hell, most of the Garrison can’t figure out why they actually are, and the only reason they talked to each other in the first place was that his flight instructor had thought it would be smart to pair him with the other guy who had the highest preliminary sim score of the last ten years before Keith came along.
When Keith had been told he would be having private lessons off the clock with Takashi Shirogane, otherwise known as local legend around the Garrison, he had almost fainted, and then he hadn’t even assumed they would have anything more than a – professional relationship, or something like that. It had happened two months into the semester and Keith already is famous between the other cadets for being some kind of smartass who never gives anyone the time of the day and is some kind of fucking antisocial hermit. He admittedly hasn’t put any effort into getting to know anyone, but what’s the point? The few times he’s tried, they all ended badly and, apparently, he comes off as somehow aggressive even if he’s just trying to fucking talk to people, or so his school counselor in junior high used to say, before they cut the counseling funding at his foster home and the guy disappeared. Anyway, he just gave up trying. After all, he had a target in life and he didn’t need people to get there.
And then he was introduced to Senior Cadet Takashi Shirogane, aka the actual best pilot in this entire institution, who would have had all reasons to stay professional or to look down at him, or who could have been some kind of overhyped jerk, for all Keith knew –
And who instead had smiled a lovely, friendly, open grin and held out a hand and introduced himself – you can call me Shiro, everyone does – just before congratulating him on his excellent test results, and Keith had just muttered his own name in return while looking up at those warm grey eyes and that lovely smile pointed down at him and he had thought, where has someone like you been all my life?)
“No,” he sighs, shutting down the textbook. He’s not getting anything else done for the day, he suspects. Might as well give it up. “I enrolled for the summer courses.”
“On top of the rest?” Shiro asks, whistling. “If I didn’t know better, I’d assume you’re the greatest overachiever in this place.”
“What do you know better?”
“You’re no overachiever, you just want to finish faster. Don’t you?”
“Can’t deny it,” Keith replies, trying to hide how pleased he is to hear that.
(Sometimes he thinks, there is someone in the world who knows me well enough to guess that instead of assuming, and it’s a thought that makes him feel light-headed.)
“Thing is –” He starts, and then stops for a moment, because –
Fact is: Keith hasn’t really ever told Shiro where he comes from. Whenever Shiro has shared information about his family in the time they’ve known each other, he never asked for any similar information in return when Keith didn’t offer, and the more he talked about his parents, his two sisters, their family cat and various other amenities Keith never experienced, Keith felt – well, not envious, but… for some reason, he had thought that if he told the truth about where he came from Shiro would have thought less of him, and the prospect of the one person he’s actually someone friends with thinking less of him had been bad enough that he had kept his mouth shut. This, even knowing rationally that Shiro wouldn’t have cared, most probably, but –
Somehow he can’t seem to be very rational when he’s around Shiro, and he’s come to accept it.
But right now he thinks he wants to tell. Shiro sounds interested, and every time he’s sounded interested about whatever’s going on with him, he actually was, and Keith’s never really told anyone in his entire life. Maybe it’s true that when you get something you never had very late in life then you feel a much sharper difference in between how things were before and after.
“Thing is,” he says, not quite looking at Shiro, “that there’s nowhere to go. I mean. I – my father died when I was three. My mother – I’ve never known her. I’ve aged in the system and I turned eighteen the month they accepted me here. So – yeah, I want to graduate faster, but I also wouldn’t have anywhere else to go back to.” He says it – he doesn’t know how he says it. He thinks it sounded very matter-of-fact – he’s really not in the mood to make a sob story out of his life and for the love of everything, he doesn’t want Shiro to assume that he wants pity or anything of the fucking kind.
“Shit,” Shiro blurts a moment later, “uh, sorry for bringing it up.”
“I mean,” Shiro says, and Keith turns to look at him and he’s sending him a fairly sheepish look, but he’s not looking at him with pity, thank fuck, “I just went and assumed. And you never said before, so I guess maybe you didn’t want to talk about it.”
“It’s okay,” Keith says, sounding relieved that that is the only problem. “If I hadn’t wanted to talk about it, I wouldn’t have. Anyway, it’s still going to be better here than – back where I come from.”
“Taking summer classes?”
“Hey, I do enjoy what I’m doing. Back home I’d just – read books, do nothing and – never mind.”
“Never mind what? If I can ask.” Shiro has closed his laptop and Keith has his full attention now. Damn it. Or is it a good thing? Shit, why does Shiro always have this effect on him?
Keith thinks about the last time he told someone why he wanted to be up in the sky. He remembers people laughing about it.
But Shiro’s here for the exact same reasons as he is… right?
Fuck that. It’s probably sad that it’s taken him eighteen years to find someone to talk about this with, but better late than never. He has a feeling that if this also turns out like the other times it’s going to be what puts a nail in the coffin on his scarce social interaction skills, but Shiro’s pretty much defeated all expectations in the six months they’ve seen each other regularly, and –
“I’d spend my birthday doing something I actually like.”
“Really? When is that?”
“August 10th,” Keith sighs. “Shitty day for it. I mean. It’s hot, no one’s around, school’s out and if you’re – well, in group homes or the likes, no one really cares. Until now I’ve never spent it doing anything I liked, not really, but – you know, if you go out in the country, you can see the meteors, right?”
“Sure,” Shiro says. “You mean the Perseids?”
“Yeah,” Keith confirms. “I – once, I was in this place. It was out in the country. So, no city lights and so on. I – I looked up and saw a bunch of them and I thought – that it would be nice, to be up there instead of – where I was. That’s why I’m here actually. God, it sounds so fucking stupid, but –”
“It’s not stupid,” Shiro interrupts him, thankfully, and Keith almost jumps out of his skin when Shiro puts a hand on his shoulder, moving from the dorm bed. “Hey, it’s almost poetic. Better than how I got interested, anyway.”
“It’s embarrassing,” Shiro says, shrugging. “And it’s also because – let’s say you’re not the only person with a bad day to be born in.”
“Really? When’s yours?” Keith doesn’t know why he’s never asked – it seems like something you should know, if it’s about your only friend. Then again, there’s a reason why he’s shit at interacting with people. “Christmas Day?”
“I wish,” Shiro replies, snorting. “Let’s just say at least your day exists every year.”
“What? You mean –”
“February 29th, yes,” Shiro says. “And it always felt like some kind of cheat to have a party before or after, so – I only ever threw one every four years. And everyone else always forgot it or never knew when to call me, so – yeah. Anyway, I was kind of angry and wanted to know why I only got to have a birthday every four years and got interested in Earth rotation and the likes and – well. That’s it. Your story is a lot less dumb.”
“Come on, it’s – legitimate?” Keith says. “I mean, it has to suck. I totally get it.”
“Well, I also get why you’d be fine with summer school,” Shiro says. “So, want me to quiz you on physics?”
“Why not?” Keith replies, sort of glad that he has an out of this.
He hands Shiro his textbook and – well, doesn’t promptly forget about their conversation, because he couldn’t forget about actually telling someone about one of the things he’s always kept for himself, but doesn’t overthink it or anything. Maybe he’s getting the handle of this whole friendship thing, after all.
And then, on August 10th, when he comes back from his last simulation of the day, he finds Shiro in front of his room.
“Hi,” Keith tells him. “Weren’t you supposed to do something with Dr. Holt until tomorrow?”
“I might have asked for an evening off,” Shiro replies, and is he smiling? What – “Do you have any plans for the day?”
“Not – not really?” Keith had thought he’d just watch the stars after grabbing dinner from the cafeteria, and given that today he’s had fairly great sim results he’d have chalked it as an excellent way to spend his birthday.
“Good. Then take a shower and get changed, I’ll wait here.”
“Sorry? Is there something going on?”
“You’ll see. What, you don’t trust me?”
You’re about the one person I trust in this entire planet, Keith doesn’t tell him. He shrugs and takes a quick shower, changing into clean jeans and a plan t-shirt. Then he remembers that it might get colder outside if they’re out after dark and grabs his favorite red jacket (he bought it in town with the first money he received from his scholarship and he thinks it was the first non-used piece of clothing he ever owned), then joins Shiro outside. Shiro gives him a nod and motions for Keith to follow him outside. He does, and –
“Since when do you own a car?” Keith asks when Shiro stops in front of a medium-sized jeep placed in the small parking area for the staff they reached.
“How do you think I go back home for Thanksgiving, flying one of the ships? I don’t use it often, but it’s useful to have it. Come on, get in.”
Shiro’s still grinning slightly and Keith would like to know what the hell is going on here – nonetheless, he gets into the passenger seat and says nothing as Shiro drives forward. He doesn’t tell him to change music when some jazz record Shiro had put on before starts, it’s nice enough and he likes it fine even if it’s not his usual thing, and doesn’t ask where they’re going.
He doesn’t even need to – he thinks he gets what’s going on the moment Shiro stops the car. They’ve driven for some half hour, farther into the desert, and at some point Shiro had turned left and taken some smaller path that headed towards a bunch of rocks stashed next to each other and parked it nearby, and –
And right in the shade provided by the rocks there’s a telescope?
“Shiro, what –”
“Can you close your eyes and stay here for five minutes?”
Keith would like to ask for clarifications, but Shiro sounds eager and – it’s not that he’s serious most of the time, he might look like it but he really is not when you get to know him, but right now he sounds excited for some reason and Keith doesn’t want to spoil it, and so he huffs and closes his eyes. “Fine, make it worth it, though.”
Keith keeps his eyes closed even if he’s really tempted to open them, but – obviously Shiro’s going through some kind of trouble here and he figures he’ll let him amuse himself. It’s not a hardship. Then he hears the door open and Shiro puts a hand on his arm.
“Don’t open them and get down. Don’t worry, I’m not going to let you put your feet wrong.”
“Why, thank you,” Keith says, but he gets out of the car without needing extra help. Shiro closes the car’s door and pushes him gently a few meters ahead and then left, and –
“You can open your eyes,” Shiro says, and Keith does, and –
And he doesn’t burst out crying just out of pure self-control, maybe. They’re in the shaded part of the area, and in front of him there’s a tablecloth draped neatly on the ground. Over it, there’s a covered basket obviously full of food and then another box with the logo of one of the bakeries in the next town over on the top, which means there has to be a cake in there, fuck’s sake, and the telescope isn’t far, and this is smack in the middle of the desert and it can be here for just one reason now, can it?
To watch the Perseids.
“Shiro –” He starts, and he’s surprised at how chocked his voice sounds.
“Happy birthday,” Shiro replies, still giving him the grin that just someone who’s proud of their work can muster up. “I imagined you’d like it better than doing stargazing from your room.”
“But – shouldn’t we – I mean, we shouldn’t be out past –”
“Hey, I do have some leeway with the higher ups. We’re cleared for today. And it seemed to me like you deserved a nice party for once,” Shiro replies, and now there’s something soft in his tone and in the way he’s looking at Keith, and he looks so pleased that his plan worked and that Keith obviously appreciates, and Keith doesn’t tell him once I made a wish when I saw the stars fall and I thought it was just confirming that it was a completely stupid notion but maybe it came true years later, but –
He doesn’t even remember the last time he voluntarily touched someone in ways that were not perfunctory and he doesn’t even know how he goes from standing there staring at the scene in front of him to tentatively putting his arms around Shiro’s shoulders out of pure instinct, but before he can panic and think back on it Shiro’s hugged him back, so very gently –
“Thank you,” Keith blurts, feeling like it’s completely inadequate wording for what Shiro’s just given him, but –
“You’re welcome,” Shiro says back, and Keith can feel him smiling, and he’s acutely aware of how, if he positions himself just right, his head fits perfectly in the hollow of Shiro’s neck, Shiro’s chin brushing over his hair, and for a moment Keith thinks if only I had an excuse to do this more often, and then he forces himself to move back. He’s not crying yet. He swears to himself he won’t.
“No, really,” Keith says, “no one’s ever – shit, how much food did you even bring?”
“It’s supposed to be a party.” Keith thinks it’s a shitty explanation but he doesn’t remark on that and they end up sitting against the cool rocks, sharing the food, and by the time they’ve polished it off and only the cake’s left, the sky has gotten dark and a few meteors have appeared up in the sky already. Keith glances at the telescope, then at the cake.
“You know what?” He says. “Maybe for now it’s better – to not look any further.”
“Hm, they look more mysterious like this?”
“Come on, we both know how they really look. But –”
“Hey, it’s your birthday. And you should eat the cake before midnight.”
Which is a very good point. Keith expects some generic one, honestly – it’s enough Shiro got him a cake at all – but then he opens the box and sees that it’s dark chocolate, and –
Shiro must have noticed that whenever he gets out of hand-to-hand combat classes he always munches on some dark chocolate bar he buys at the vending machine – it’s about the only sweet stuff Keith always liked and the only one he allows himself to have, but then again he needs some sugar after all of that workout, and he’s always liked his chocolate bitter. He –
He fucking remembered and bought an entire cake and Keith thinks of how much he envied those other kids who might not find parents but at least were remembered and would be given those small cakes on their birthdays, and thinks, I could kiss him for this, and –
(A short time from now, he’ll realize that it’s not a solitary thought – he’ll know that he wants to kiss Shiro always, and it wasn’t just a spur of the moment instinct)
“Please tell me you don’t have the candles,” Keith blurts, figuring that anything else would be too mushy.
“I have them, actually,” Shiro replies, taking a small box out of his pocket. “All nineteen of them.”
“But,” Shiro says, already opening it and placing them delicately on the cake, “I’ll be nice and I won’t sing you Happy Birthday, I draw the line there.”
“Thank fuck,” Keith sighs in relief, but he feels so giddy he can’t even help himself. He hadn’t thought he ever could or would, but now he is and waits for Shiro to lighten the candles – he does it with a small lighter he had brought with, and then they’re burning brightly in the cold night while those falling stars fly over their head.
“I think you’re supposed to make a wish,” Shiro says sheepishly.
“Hey, I haven’t had a party in two years and I won’t have one until I’m freaking twenty-four, and I don’t even bother with cakes because everyone makes jokes on how many candles I should use.”
Keith won’t ever be caught dead admitting that just before blowing those candles, he thinks then I wish to have you in my life always.
(The cake is, on top of everything else, delicious.)
They spend the rest of the night looking at those same starts flying across the sky and Keith sighs in contentment when his head falls down on Shiro’s shoulder and he isn’t told to move or get away. Shiro wraps an arm around him and Keith thinks that he’s warm and his side is warmer and he fits just right against it –
And that this is, honestly, the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
It doesn’t take him long to figure out why he had thought, I want to kiss him.
For a month or so, he tries to ignore it, and then he decides that maybe he shouldn’t tell Shiro at all and not risk their friendship, but –
But the more he thinks about it, the more it sounds like taking the coward’s way out. Never mind that while Keith can’t conceive that Shiro might want to kiss him in return, maybe he should know. And maybe – no one goes that far just for friends, do they? At least, in one of those romantic movies the other girls at the orphanages loved so much, something like what they just done wouldn’t have looked out of place.
Keith thinks of Shiro’s resigned tone when he said that everyone forgets about his birthday, more or less.
It’s late September now. Keith can put something together for Shiro by the time February 28th rolls by, and even if it’s the wrong day – Shiro deserves a nice celebration, and maybe Keith could catch the occasion to come clean about his feelings, because even if it’s all just friendship he still deserves to know and Keith didn’t arrive at the point he’s at while being some kind of chicken about his fucking feelings, if he’s bothered to discuss them.
That night, he goes to bed smiling, thinking that it’s a good idea and by then he surely will have come up with something nice and appropriate to the occasion, and then he thinks of how they spent the night of the 10th, and his grin goes slightly wider.
(He still doesn’t know that next year, Shiro won’t be on Earth but on the Kerberos mission, nor that he will recoil the moment he hears they died thanks to a pilot error in the morning of March 1st. But that comes later.)
Yes, he thinks, his fingers brushing lightly against the handle of the knife he keeps stashed under his pillow, just watch me not forgetting it. He deserves at least that.
“This is a travesty!”
“Lance, come on, it’s really no big deal –”
“No big deal? We missed it by not even a month! And now you have to wait another year? Come on!”
“Well, for that matter we also missed yours, I mean –”
“That doesn’t matter, I mean, it was already a month gone, but this is just ridiculous – shit, we could’ve had a joint party or something –”
“The fuck’s going on here?” Keith’s not surprised at all that neither Lance nor Hunk actually notice the question – given that he sauntered into the kitchen just because he could hear shouting from two hallways over and they’re so caught up in it they wouldn’t notice anything short of an emergency call to form Voltron, he just hopes Pidge takes pity on him and explains what’s the problem already. Never mind that he’d rather hear it from Pidge than Lance, given how much drama there is around already.
“I was fiddling with that console Lance and I bought at the market,” Pidge replies, “and I managed to get it started. Anyway, before loading up the game it would ask for day and time and so on and at that point we realized that we have no idea of what day it even is. Here or back on Earth. So – I fiddled with it some and long story short, it’s February 10th on Earth as we speak. Which means –”
“Hunk’s birthday was on January 14th and we missed it!” Lance cries, entirely too dramatically for Keith’s tastes.
“Man, chill,” Hunk keeps on, “we’ll just have a larger party next year. Or I mean, we can just have a joint one, double the presents and so on.”
“Oh, sweet,” Lance agrees, brightening up instantly and high-fiving Hunk. “You’re so right. We’ll have the best joint party ever.”
“… And when is his birthday?” Keith asks, making sure his voice is low enough Lance doesn’t hear him. He hardly needs for Lance to know he inquired.
“December 14th,” Pidge replies, thankfully keeping her voice low. “At least it’s months before mine. Whatever, guys, come on, it went like this, next year we’ll hopefully have birthdays on Earth.”
She goes on some more but Keith tunes her out, and the others as well – because he has more important things to think about.
Like how –
Like how he never got to do anything for Shiro’s birthday last year because he was chosen for the Kerberos mission and went missing just the day after, and how the plans Keith had painfully and cautiously and meticulously put together for that day weren’t just put on hold but utterly discarded, because –
Well, he knew it wasn’t a pilot error, because Shiro would have never made such a mistake, but who knew if Shiro was dead or alive regardless of the official Garrison excuse being fishy as hell?
(That was when he realized that the place he had thought would make his dreams come true wasn’t such a promised land anymore. Not if he couldn’t make them come true along with the only person he ever found the guts to share them with.)
He had planned it, damn it. He’d have waited for classes to be over, and then – he’d invite Shiro over for dinner. His plan had been to go in the common kitchen where you can cook for yourself if you don’t want cafeteria food – he’s not a fraction as good as Hunk is but he had to learn at some point and he’s more than passable – and make Shiro a few things Keith knew he’d like. Fine, he’d have bought the cake because he can’t bake, but he’d have gotten Shiro’s favorite, which he meant to pry out of him before Shiro was picked for the Kerberos mission. Then he’d have given him a nice, serious present – he was thinking of buying him a couple of jazz records because he knows Shiro likes that and one of his group home roomates was a Miles Davis nerd and left Keith with a fairly decent knowledge of the genre if anything. Then – then he’d have told him – he had actually made plans to make Shiro a freaking mixtape to add to the records in case it didn’t work out because the dork actually still owned a Walkman and liked cassette tapes, and he had gone as far as making it maybe the week after his own birthday because he’s pathetic like that. Admittedly, he had nursed some fantasies in which Shiro said it back, or at least somewhat reciprocated, though not too much and not for too long. Optimism never was his strong suit. It wasn’t anything special, but it would have been his and –
Yeah, as if the universe ever let anything go right for him or for them.
And now – now it’s nineteen days until Shiro’s actual birthday, because he was going to turn twenty-three in the year he was missing, and so if this is the twenty-fourth then it’s actually a leap year –
“Earth to Keith! Are you with us?”
He’s going to murder Lance one of these days.
“Shut up,” he groans. “I am, I just – I was thinking.”
“Yeah, we did get as far, and about what? Is your birthday also coming up? Strange, I didn’t peg you for a Pisces, unless you’re Aries – which could totally be a thing, I mean, insensitive, stubborn and confrontational sounds exactly like you –”
“Oh, for – I don’t even know how you know all of this crap but it’s not my birthday for fucking months, it’s –”
Oh, fuck, he’s just – he stops himself from going on any further, but as much as he likes to assume the contrary at times, Lance isn’t a complete idiot and neither are the others. And they’re going to put two and two together soon, if –
“Wait,” Hunk says, “if it’s not yours –”
“It can’t be Pidge’s because why would you even know, and she’s right here,” Lance goes on, “so it has to be Shiro’s?”
Busted, damn it.
He sighs and figures he should come clean about it. “Yeah, fine, it is.”
“And you weren’t gonna say?”
“Lance, maybe he should –”
“Right, because our fearless leader would inform us on his own, because he would absolutely waste time for celebrating birthdays when we have to train, and train, and bond, and train instead –”
Which is a damned fair point, but still, it’s not his business to –
“Keith, seriously,” Hunk says, interrupting Lance mid-rant, “if it’s soon maybe it really wouldn’t hurt to throw a small party? It’s always nice for the morale and – well, I don’t want to impose or anything but the fearless leader could use a break.”
Fine. Makes fucking sense, as well. And maybe – maybe Keith had thought for a second that he could unbury his small, private party plan, especially because he had been thinking of giving Shiro the damned tape at some point and so he had stashed it in his jacket pocket before leaving the shack in the middle of the desert he’d called home for that blasted year.
(There’s a reason why before going to the knife shop at that mall, when he had found that shop where Lance and Pidge had gotten the damned cow from, he stopped in front of it when he saw a Walkman in the window. There’s a reason why he used the money he has asked Coran for – he doesn’t know why no one else did, but not his business – to buy it. It’s not that he held any hopes of giving it to Shiro soon, but – maybe one day.)
But it’d be kind of selfish to not share it, he figures. Or at least, he has this clue it would be, but it’s not as if his experience with social interactions with more than one person is that great.
“… February 29th,” he says, “and Lance, don’t you dare say what you were about to say, all right?”
Lance shuts his mouth, small favors, but then his eyes take a glint Keith isn’t sure he likes. “Guys,” he starts, and Keith isn’t sure that tone doesn’t scare him on some level. “Guys, we need to throw the best party in existence.”
“Lance –” Pidge starts, bless her for trying to be reasonable, but Keith has a clue it’s not gonna work.
“We need to plan. So, someone’s going to have to tell the Princess and Coran or they’ll never agree to give us all a free day and it’s going to have to be someone with extremely convincing skills, so it’s going to be me.”
Obviously. Then again, Keith wasn’t gonna volunteer for that role, so if Lance wants it he can have it for all he cares.
“I’m worrying about the food,” Hunk says before anyone else can volunteer.
“Please,” Pidge agrees, “if anyone can make proper birthday food out of that goo it’s you.”
“Lance, just convince Coran to let us go to that market again so I can buy some real food, how about that?”
“On it, bro.” They close their fists together and bump them – shit, Keith’s been seeing them do it for ages and he still has no idea of where that even comes from. It’s probably sad, on a not so deep level. He doesn’t think about it out of sheer self-preservation.
“Pidge, you look at the specifics.”
“Where it happens, how it happens, when it happens, I’m sure you can work on making robot decorations if we don’t find any better. And you –”
“You’re the one who knows him best, find him a present.”
“Sorry? Find him your own!”
“Nope. Has to be collective or no one will ever have time, since I doubt we won’t find any planet to save between now and the 29th. What, you think you can’t do it?”
“Are you insane? Of course I can find him a fucking present!”
“Good, then you’re on it. And I’m going to find Coran now.”
Lance walks out of the room with a fairly determined air to him – Christ, is this even happening? –, Hunk follows him and Keith’s left there with Pidge wondering if he’s just committed the hugest mistake of his life.
“They mean well,” Pidge tells him after a fairly awkward silence.
“I… don’t doubt it,” Keith says. “Listen, if I come up with an idea that requires… pulling tech together, maybe you could –”
“Of course I could. Who do you take me for?”
Well, at least he’s got that covered, doesn’t he?
He goes back to his room, drops on the bed, feels the knife under his pillow and starts thinking about what the hell they could even come up with as a collective present. Who has even made a collective present at any point in their lives? Sure as fuck not him. He’s never even given anyone a single present never mind a collective one and he had kind of relished the prospect of Shiro being the first person he’d give a present to, but –
Shit, why is he moping about this? He doesn’t mope, goddamn it. He hasn’t gotten that full ride into an exclusive military academia
(that he threw out of the window when he realized they wouldn’t lift a finger to find the one person who had treated him like he was worth knowing)
by fucking moping around. So, he thinks about it. The only thing he’s sure of in this mess is that if it’s collective it should be… huge? Or at least, on Earth, if four people pitch money for a gift you don’t end up buying the person a new razor or something equally cheap. Then again, on here you can’t buy anything unless they go back to that infamous market and anyway it wouldn’t be their money to spend.
And thing is – damn it all to Hell and back, before Kerberos he’d have found something without too much of a hassle. Shiro was fairly easygoing when it came to sharing information about himself and he never went lengths to hid his preferences, or Keith wouldn’t have known what music he liked and what kind of books he enjoyed or that his guilty pleasure is the fucking Spice Girls movie.
(That is not something he can find in space, for sure.)
Now, though –
Keith doesn’t know how much does Shiro really remember from his captivity – he’s halfway sure he remembers more than he lets on but doesn’t let it show so they don’t worry – and it’s not like Keith can get him something he knows he’d have enjoyed on Earth, since they’re not on Earth.
Fuck this noise. He’s going to figure it out tomorrow and now he’s going to head back to the simulator for some more training, he’s got level nine to beat. Maybe he’ll get an idea while he’s not actively thinking about it.
He doesn’t have the idea while training, nor in the next two missions.
However, he does get it on freaking February 26th, and good thing he does because if he had to reply to Lance’s how hard can it be to just come up with something if you know him one more time he wouldn’t have answered for his actions. Still, one moment he’s watching Shiro shake hands with the leader of the aliens they just saved, again – it’s been six planets in the last week, can they get a break already? – and the next Shiro’s going back towards Black and Keith’s noticed that his shoulders are slightly slumping downwards and that he stumbles once, a bit, before straightening up and heading for the Lion with his back standing straight.
Which is when he realizes that the four of them are tired, but Shiro is probably way more. Of course, Allura did most of the diplomatic work, but who is in charge of making things work, of planning, of looking at their training schedules, of discussing strategies with the princess, and who, out of them, hasn’t had one single moment of rest outside sleeping for a fucking long while?
Never mind that in the last week or so, they all barely slept since, as stated, they had to save six fucking planets. If they’re sleep-deprived, just imagine how Shiro is feeling about that subject.
Maybe – maybe there is something they can do for him and it doesn’t even require putting a present together.
Also because Shiro is never going to admit he needs a break – fucking hell, he didn’t even back in school, not until you nagged him, and back then, back then he didn’t have those bags under his eyes or the shock of white in his hair or the Galran arm which Keith can see bothers him still.
Fuck this noise, indeed. Maybe it’s time they give him a damned day off.
“Can you tell Pidge and Lance to meet us in the kitchens… later?” Keith asks Hunk as they head back to their lions. “I need to talk to you. About – the collective thing.”
“Oh, that thing. Good, Lance was going insane wondering if you had forgotten.”
Keith snorts. “Believe me, I really didn’t.”
“Sorry, we should do what?”
That went over well, Keith resolutely does not sigh out loud. “I’m saying that if we all want to give the man a gift other than the party, we should just make sure he takes a damned break for the day.”
“But that’s not a gift,” Lance presses. “I mean, we could do that any other day!”
“He has a point,” Pidge chimes in, good thing that. “We could, but have you seen us actually ever doing it?”
Lance looks about to say something and then doesn’t, because – well. They don’t.
“Really,” Keith says, “he never – I mean, he wasn’t – he always overworked himself in school, too, but this is a whole new level of it. At least when he was at the Garrison he had regular sleep.”
No one questions that Shiro isn’t having regular sleep now. They all noticed it, didn’t they?
“So, what were you thinking exactly?” Hunk at least is asking the smart questions here.
“Well, we tell Allura and Coran that he should be excused for the day. From everything, first of all training or bonding exercises or whatever the fucking hell it is that he has to do extra. I’m worrying about the training sequence, since I doubt they’ll let us off the hook.”
“Good idea,” Pidge interrupts before anyone else can question it, “you’re about the only one in here who actually likes training except for him. What about us?”
“I guess the party’s happening in, like, the evening?”
“Obviously, no one has parties in the morning,” Lance says. And how would I know when I’ve had just one in my entire life?, Keith doesn’t ask.
“Good. Then – he needs to relax. Lance, uh, you should just – after we make sure the pool actually works this time, just bring him there and make sure he spends a few hours relaxing or something. We can train in pairs, I guess. I mean, I work with Pidge and Hunk while you two are in the pool and then you can switch with them while they finish with getting the party going.”
“Wait, have you just suggested that you and I should train alone in the afternoon?”
“I want him to have a nice day that much, yes,” Keith replies dryly, and the last thing he expects is Lance bursting out laughing and clapping him on the back, what the hell?
“Aw, so you do have some feelings underneath. Fine, I’ll bring the fearless leader to the pools, got that.”
“Good. Hunk, huh, I know you’re already working on the party stuff, but – I just noticed, he barely even eats in the morning these days. Can you put together some decent breakfast as well before they head for the pool?”
“On it, man. Totally doable. I’ve convinced Coran to let me buy some real food tomorrow, you can’t believe how close I was to crying in relief.”
“Great. Pidge, uh, I guess we’re gonna need to clear it with Allura but – whenever he’s not training or stopping us from doing something stupid or doing bonding exercises and so on, I’m sure that he spends at least a few hours making intergalactic calls with the leaders of… pretty much every other planet we saved from Zarkon. You think you can handle it in his place?”
“I imagine that requires pretending to actually care about politics?”
“Keith, I faked being someone else for a year at the Garrison, you think I can’t fake it with aliens? If Allura clears it, I’m game.”
“All right. While you’re doing that and I’m training with Lance – Hunk, can you come up with something for him to do before it’s time for the surprise party or whatever?”
“If everything else fails, there’s always the console.”
Right. Keith has no idea if Shiro ever was into videogames but it can’t be that much worse than actually tiring yourself out.
“Okay, you’re on it. Then I guess we just throw him the party and that’s it.”
He resolutely doesn’t say he has private plans for later but no one needs to know about that.
Anyway, everyone seems to agree about the plan – Lance says he’ll go talk to Allura to work things out and Keith leaves it to him happily enough before going back to his room. He has things to prepare himself, after all.
When he’s inside, he locks the door and lifts his pillow. His knife is always there (he should try to figure out why the man at the mall seemed to want it this much, but it’s going to happen some other time), but it’s not what he’s looking for. He moves away the mattress and takes out his only purchase from the mall from the hollow space in between mattress and wall. It’s an old Walkman, fairly nicely kept. The dark purple plastic is in relative good conditions and it came with black, small ear-buds. The guy even sold him a few stacks of batteries but Keith imagines they can ask Pidge to change something so the thing doesn’t have to run on them anymore –
After Keith gives it to Shiro.
He reaches down in the hollow again and takes out that dumb tape he had made Shiro at the end of August, when he still was fucking excited about his plan and when he thought that maybe the two of them might go together on a mission after Keith was done with his training –
Yeah, as if. He looks at the back of the tape. He wrote it all in caps because he couldn’t seem to keep his hand steady if he wrote in cursive, and it’s all a list of songs Shiro knew to hell and back except for maybe the last one which he picked because he likes it, and looking at it now it seems a bit meager, but –
Fuck this noise. If it blows in his face he’ll accept it gracefully, he knows that Shiro wouldn’t fucking cut ties over that, and he’s not going to procrastinate any further. That’s not how he got anywhere and he’s not going to start now.
On February 28th, Lance confirms them that Allura agreed to let Pidge handle the diplomacy stuff and that she can help out, and when Keith is informed that both Alteans are extremely interested in these human celebrations he figures it could have gone a lot worse. They agree over the final preparations and Keith goes to sleep that night with the knife under his pillow and the tape on the other side. He dares hope that tomorrow the other side of the bed might not be as empty as it’s now and as it’s always been since he can remember, and then lets himself sleep.
The next morning, he wakes up long before usual. He finalizes his plans for both training sessions he has to lead and drops by the kitchen to see how Hunk’s doing before heading for Shiro’s room – they agree that Pidge and Coran would disable his room’s alarm so he gets to sleep in. He eats something, same as everyone else – if they have to train later they can’t do it with food on their stomachs –, he compliments Hunk on it because even if the pancakes he managed to scrounge up with whatever ingredients he and Coran found are black with purple cream they definitely taste… well, like pancakes, and only goes to get Shiro when it’s been one hour past the time he usually shows up in the dining room. Not that he hadn’t been awake before, but maybe this time he won’t be.
Keith is, admittedly, very pleased to find out that Shiro did indeed sleep in, because the moment he knocks on his door Shiro opens it dressed half in uniform and looks as if he’s about to rush out of the room.
“Keith, what the hell? The alarm didn’t –”
“Wasn’t supposed to,” Keith replies. “And you should go take off that armor.”
“What? There’s training scheduled, it should start in –”
Keith shakes his head. “I see you missed what day it is, didn’t you?”
“We did some maths. It’s February 29th. Or at least, on Earth it would be.”
“Happy birthday,” Keith smirks, and if he’s inordinately happy that he’s the first who got to say it to him he doesn’t let that show too much. “And it’s even the right year.”
Shiro just stares at him for a moment and then lets out a long, long sigh. “Shit, can you believe I completely forgot?”
“We didn’t even know which day it was until last month, don’t swear it. Anyway, I’d go take off that armor. Today you don’t have training.”
“You don’t. I’m worrying about it.”
“I already planned the whole regime for today. Take off that armor and come with.”
“I don’t need –”
“I don’t doubt it, but we already decided everything. So?”
Shiro must have understood Keith’s not going to budge because he closes the door, goes back inside and comes out without the lower half of his armor, in his regular clothes. “This better?”
“Indeed. Come on,” he says, and Shiro follows him until the dining room.
Where he stops dead in his tracks when he sees the copious number of black pancakes that have been left at the only set place. The purple cream is in a bowl on the side and there’s another full of some berries that Hunk hadn’t offered them before. It’s not that many though, so probably he kept them for Shiro only.
“What –” Shiro starts.
“That,” Lance says, coming in from the side – right, he’s the only one who’d be here instead of waiting for Keith in the training room –, “is a moderately acceptable birthday breakfast which you are going to eat slowly and nicely instead of just gorging whatever goo you find on hand before heading to the training room. Don’t say we didn’t need to try and put it together because Hunk was very proud of how it came out and he didn’t even let us touch the berries. Happy birthday, by the way, you should have told us.”
“Now you’re going to enjoy the shit out of it and then you’re coming with me.”
“With you? But –”
“He’s training with me in the afternoon,” Keith says. “Don’t worry, I’m not letting him off the hook, but there’s a place in here he knows better than the rest of us and you could use a few hours there.”
Shiro looks at the both of them. “You’re saying that you’re volunteering to train with him only so that I can go relax wherever it is that he should bring me?”
“What can I say,” Keith smirks, “we’re both willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.”
“Why, because you know I’ll totally kick your ass in a one-on-one session?”
“You wish,” Keith sighs, but doesn’t rise up to the bait.
Shiro is looking at them as if they are two damned aliens, but then he – he snorts?
“I don’t know what the hell is going on but if it means you two are playing nice for the day I’m not going to say no.”
“Good. Then I’m leaving you in his capable hands,” Keith says, and runs out of the room before Lance can actually come up with a comeback and spoils the admittedly priceless shocked expression on his face at what Keith just said.
Hell, maybe sometimes it pays off to play nice. Before heading for the training room, he does linger a bit outside though, and only leaves when he sees Shiro digging into the third pancake after putting a few of those berries on it. He’s not chumming it down at least, and maybe they should make sure he eats with more calm from now on, shouldn’t they?
He heads for the training room. Lance can handle things until the afternoon, he hopes.
Training goes over fairly well and he lets both Hunk and Pidge go before planned – they’ve done fine and Pidge should go find Allura for the diplomacy sessions anyway, he might as well get some rest while he waits for Lance to join him. He’s sort of tempted to head to the pool to see how they’re doing but given how much Lance had looked excited about his role in the entire day he’s just – not going to. He knows Lance has some bad hero worship case when it comes to Shiro, he can understand it even too well and he’s just – going to take his chances when it’s time. He just hopes Shiro’s having a good time because he deserves it, and he’ll make damned sure to hold up his part of the deal.
Lance comes in after Keith’s done wrestling with a few level six bots and when Keith asks how it went, the guy – fucking lights up?
“Oh, he loved it,” Lance preens – well, no other way to put it.
“Indeed. Took a lot of swims, even if he didn’t take off his shirt for it – weird, but if it makes him happy. At least he stopped asking if it really was the case to indulge after the first three laps.”
Good, Keith doesn’t say.
“Fine, he also ended up dishing some tips for better coordination between your limbs while fighting in the middle of it, but it was good advice.”
“Good, then I hope you’re going to put it into practice now.”
Fine, maybe it was kind of mean to pull a move on Lance then without warning, but the moment he gets a reply that’s pretty much along the lines of you cheating bastard I’m going to show you right the fuck now he decides it was mean but deserved.
It’s going to be three long hours, Keith figures.
It is three long hours. By the time they’re done pretend-beating each other up and they’ve also beaten a few level nine robots in between the two of them, and he calls it quits.
“Jesus,” Lance says as he wipes sweat off his brow, “you’re as bad as he is, did he teach you or is that all you?”
Keith smirks, heading for the showers. “He taught me to be less hard on myself,” he replies, and doesn’t really pay too much attention to the few curses Lance mutters before following him. Shit, maybe he should take tomorrow off.
Especially if it goes wrong when he –
No, he’s not going to assume it’ll go wrong regardless.
He showers, washes his hair and puts on clean clothes; Lance is gone long before he’s done, but then again he spent the morning swimming and Keith spent it fighting, he figures he’s allowed to linger a bit more. He checks the time as he leaves the training room – okay. Pidge should still be with Allura and the surprise party isn’t starting for another hour, but he should probably go and help Hunk out in case two people aren’t enough.
Turns out, two people actually were enough – maybe more than.
“Oh, there you are,” Lance tells him, fixing what looks like some food on the counter. “I was starting to wonder if you drowned in the shower. So, what do you think?”
“Er,” he says, taking in the state of the room, “this is… impressive?”
He hopes he was somehow convincing, but his first thought had been this entire room seems on acid.
“I should hope!”
What the – Coran needs to stop creeping up on them. “Why, did you have anything to do with it?”
“Well, they were extremely helpful when they explained what they needed. I imagine the decorations are to your Earth taste?”
Keith doesn’t know where they found the bright pink and green banners that are hanging all over the walls, but there’s so many of them he almost feels blinded for a moment. The large table that someone moved from the kitchen (Lance and Coran, he’s told a moment later) is covered in an equally bright yellow tablecloth and – shit, really, the entire room looks on drugs. Then again, he figures they have to make do.
“I – I guess so.”
“Keith, you might pretend to look a tad more excited here! You look like you’ve never seen a surprise party in your life, lighten up!”
Keith’s about to reply actually, that’s about fucking right since I never have, but he doesn’t want to spoil the mood. “Never was a fan of parties in the first place, but doesn’t look too bad. By the way, where’s Shiro?”
“He insisted to at least be there while the princess and Pidge were going about their duties, but he realized that they both had it under control and he said he would go get some more rest.”
Good, Keith thinks. “Right. How long before Pidge and Allura are done?”
“Not long,” Coran replies.
“Actually, whenever you want,” Hunk says, coming in and holding a cake very carefully. “I mean, the food is done, so when they’re done we can just get him. Someone help me bring this over?”
“Hunk, my man, I don’t know what the hell is in that cake or how you did it with alien ingredients,” Lance says, reaching the door and helping with it – well, it does look heavy –, “but this looks great.”
“Shit,” Keith says, “is that – black forest cake?” Or at least, it sort of looks like one even if the colors are sort of wrong.
“It sort of was the idea,” Hunk confirms, placing it carefully on the empty part of the table. The rest is covered in plates full of what looks like purple chips. Keith grabs one – well, they taste like potatoes, more or less. “I mean, we went to this smaller market on a nearby planet where as you can see everything is… purple. The taste is okay, but I stuck to ingredients I was more or less sure of.”
“Well, he did like the original version,” Keith confirms. The part of the cake that should have originally been dark chocolate is very dark purple, while the whipped cream is a soft lilac and instead of the cherries there are those berries from this morning. Those ones are… sort of bright purple, too, but once you get over how weird it looks by Earth standards, it’s an amazing cake. “I’m sure he’ll love this one.”
“Why, thanks. Let’s hope it actually tastes as nice as the batter did, but –”
“Paladins, we’re done!”
Why didn’t he hear either Pidge or Allura coming in?
“Good,” Lance says, “we’re ready here. Coran, go get him, if Keith goes again he’ll think we’re up to something.”
Coran disappears into the hallway while Allura goes to look over at the buffet with the face of someone who’s extremely interested. “So, this is an… Earth party?”
“The closest we could get to it,” Pidge shrugs.
“Guys, guys,” Lance says, “we need to turn off the lights.”
“Sorry?” Allura asks.
“It’s the basic rule of surprise parties! The person whose birthday is coming up needs to come into the room and it has to be dark, and then someone turns on the light and people shout surprise. We can’t have it with the lights on!”
“He’s right,” Pidge supplies.
Keith would like to know when he missed all these damned rituals – he’s sure someone in his foster homes must have had a surprise party but fuck him if he remembers – but then Hunk also agrees and obviously Allura has nothing to object, so they all turn off the lights and move behind the table. Keith feels honestly ridiculous, but as long as it works and Shiro’s happy, then who gives a fuck. He can live with it.
He also honestly hopes the universe gives them a break because it would just be the worst joke in existence if they needed to form Voltron today but it hasn’t happened for now and maybe he should just stopped worrying –
“Why is everything so dark?” Shiro says, coming into the room.
“What? Must be a malfunction,” Coran says, moving at his side.
“A malfunction? Given what happened the last time this castle malfunctioned –”
Pidge presses some kind of button on a small remote she had with her and the lights turn on at once.
Shiro sees them immediately and the expression on his face goes immediately from worried to well damn I wasn’t expecting it.
Keith doesn’t yell surprise because he has some kind of fucking dignity, but given how loud is everyone else as they do – Allura included, she entirely understood how this was supposed to go – he thinks he can be excused.
“Oh,” Shiro says, obviously at a loss for words. “I – wow, guys, this – I just, how sad it is that it’s the first time this actually happens to me?”
“What? It’s a travesty,” Lance proclaims, and Keith thinks he agrees with him for the first time since forever. “So what if it’s just on leap year?”
“Er, people tend to forget if you remind them once every four years?”
“… You know what,” Hunk says before anyone else can comment on… how sad is that or something equally sensed, “then you should enjoy it. Not everyone has their first surprise party in space, right? How cool is that?”
Bless him really, Keith decides.
“Okay, but then we should do this properly.”
“Is there more?” Allura asks.
“Obviously,” Lance confirms, and then –
“… You made candles?” Keith asks as he sees Lance take six of them out of his pocket.
“Er, I made them,” Pidge replies, “but it was their idea.”
“Hey, I said it should have been twenty-four, he insisted!”
“It’s fine,” Shiro says, moving closer. “I’ll deal with however many are there. Is that black forest?”
“More purple forest I think,” Hunk says, “but it should taste somewhat like it. I hope.”
Keith just stands on the side as Lance lights up the candles and reminds everyone that Shiro should not forget to make the obligatory wish before blowing them off.
Keith remembers what he wished when he blew his own candles out for the first and only time.
He doesn’t dare wonder what Shiro might have wished for. He does look at him, though. For a moment, he does look a bit embarrassed and he snorts when he sees the six candles lightened up, but then his expression turns very serious for a moment before he leans down and blows them off in one go. Keith isn’t sure but he thinks that maybe Shiro did glance his way after doing it.
But he’s probably imagining it.
He doesn’t glance back and tries to not stab at his cake when he’s given a slice instead.
It actually sort of tastes like chocolate and whipped cream, albeit a bit strange, but they could be doing a lot worse. Given that Shiro looks like he’s about to maybe shed a few tears out of how moved he seems to be, this party is an absolute success.
“Can – can you come over to my room for a moment?” Keith asks Shiro a while later, after they polished off pretty much all the food on the table and everyone is satisfied that the day has been a success.
“Of course,” Shiro says, and Keith can’t help noticing how rested he looks. And he just took a goddamned day off. What if he took a week off? Would he look somehow a bit more like he used to in the Garrison, when all of his hair was dark and he smiled openly and he wouldn’t be caught staring down at his right hand in disgust when he thought no one was paying attention?
Shit, he needs to stop this train of thought before he jinxes things.
He says nothing as Shiro follows him into his room, and then closes the door. His gift is under the pillow. He just has to man up and go for it.
“Is there a problem?” Shiro asks a moment later. Shit, he’s been silent for how long?
“No, not at all, it’s – okay, you don’t know about it, but let’s say I had plans before they sent you to Kerberos.”
“When you said no one would remember about your birthday I thought it was really damned unfair, and then you went through all that trouble to do something for mine and I just – I thought I’d come up with something for yours, too.” Shit, he can barely bear to look at Shiro in the eyes, so he heads for the bed and lifts the pillow, taking care to stand in front of it so that the knife is hidden. He takes his bundle of tape and Walkman and puts the pillow back down in its place, then presses it against his chest so that Shiro can’t notice what it is without prying down Keith’s hands.
Shiro looks about to say something, but Keith shakes his head and he stays silent.
“I had plans,” he says again, shrugging. “Then you left and I thought that I could just wait for next year. This year. And then you died – well, you didn’t die, but never mind, I didn’t know, and – I also wanted to tell you something. That I should’ve told you a long time ago. But I didn’t. And I’d like to do it now.”
“Okay,” Shiro says, encouragingly. “I hope it’s good news, though.”
“That – depends. Why?”
“You look like you’re about to swallow a lemon.”
Shit, he’s so not surprised. At least Shiro’s tone is gentle and he’s definitely not making fun of him, but still, he feels like he’s going to faint here.
“No, it’s – I – I really didn’t know how to say it, so… so I made you this,” he breathes out, putting the tape in Shiro’s right hand, bending the metal fingers around it. They’re warm to the touch and he wonders if Shiro has feeling in there or not, but it’s not time to think about it now. “It – it was in my jacket when we left the house I was living in. I didn’t even notice. And – when we went to that mall, while you were doing bonding exercises or whatever, there was this shop selling old Earth stuff and I found this.”
He places the Walkman into Shiro’s other hand, the headphones neatly curled around it.
“It’s probably – obvious,” Keith says. “And you don’t have to – to say anything, if it’s not to your taste. But – I didn’t even think I’d have the chance to even give it to you in the first place, so – happy birthday?”
Shit, it sounded so fucking lame, he wants to disappear into the ground.
Shiro, though, doesn’t notice. Shiro holds up the Walkman carefully as he looks at the tape’s tracklist and Keith can see his eyes going wider and wider all over again as he reads the tracklist through, but then again – the fucking second song was Chet Baker’s It’s Always You and he put it there because of how it fucking started –
(Whenever it's early twilight
I watch 'til a star breaks through
Funny, it's not a star I see
It's always you)
Which is embarrassing enough, but then he can pinpoint the moment Shiro reads the last one on the list.
“You – when did you say you made this?”
Keith grimaces. “Two weeks after my birthday. The one we spent in the desert.”
“And – you haven’t changed your mind?”
The fuck of a question is that, Keith thinks, and then he sees, and –
“No,” he says at once, sure, and his voice doesn’t falter even if he feels like he could faint. Mostly because it wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t an outright refusal either, was it? “No. I never could. I doubt anything could make me. If I had to re-do it, I’d choose the same songs.”
Which is probably a very shitty way of saying it’s going to take a lot more than a few evil aliens kidnapping you and forcing you to do something you loathed to make me change my mind about how fucking important you are to me, but never mind that.
“Oh,” Shiro says weakly, his eyes obviously pointed at the fucking last song. Which at this point in time is maybe a touch inappropriate, because it’d be ironic that he chose something that sounds so very horribly ironic –
(I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are)
– but now he sees that Shiro’s fingers are trembling ever so slightly.
Even the metal ones.
Keith decides to take a most probably dumb leap of faith and puts one both of his hands around Shiro’s right one, figuring that at least he got to do it once if this blows up in his face –
“If anything,” he goes on, hoping it comes out right for once, “spending one year without you just convinced me even further that I mean all of that.”
He’s fairly sure that the tiny noise that just left Shiro’s throat is not what he had expected, but then – then Shiro puts away the Walkman, placing it on the nearby chair, and then his flesh hand is in Keith’s hair and –
Keith’s barely got time to close his eyes before Shiro’s mouth touches his own, and thankfully he’s too old and has been through too much to freak out about how this is the first time he kisses someone, and kisses back at once because – he hadn’t even imagined he’d have this as a response and if it means that Shiro actually does reciprocate –
He lets Shiro’s hand go just so that he can throw his arms around Shiro’s shoulders and move closer and make the kiss deeper and when that happens he moans into Shiro’s mouth the moment their tongues touch and –
Shit, he has a feeling he’s going to faint, because it’s even better than he had even imagined. Shiro’s kissing him like someone who means it and like someone who knows what he’s doing (he has no idea, he’s going off fucking movies, but it seems like he’s doing decently so far) and he’s running a hand through his hair almost cradling the back of Keith’s head and he’s about to burst with happiness –
And then Shiro stops and moves back, his metal hand moving from the back of Keith’s head as if it burned, and he’s looking at him like he feels sorry about it, and Keith thinks with maybe too much clarity that if he ever feels like faltering in his mission it would just suffice to think about this to find resolve again.
“No,” he says, his own fingers clamping around Shiro’s, “no. Do you know how many people touched me like that in my life? Or the way you used to back at the Garrison?”
“Not – not many, I guess?” Shiro asks, his voice barely a whisper.
“Just you,” Keith almost spits back. “That arm could be fucking burning coal, if you want to touch me with it then do it. I can’t care less.”
“I feel like I should ask how, but – it would be a very stupid question, wouldn’t it?”
“I knew there was a reason why you are in charge out of all of us,” Keith says, feeling at once the tone of his voice mellowing, but he couldn’t even begin to feel angry right now. Not when he’s bursting with joy, not when his heart is beating so fast it feels like his ribcage will crack open all over again, not when he can’t believe it paid off for once –
“Well, there’s a reason why you should be if I’m not, but – never mind.” Shiro’s flesh hand goes to the side of Keith’s face and he can’t recall the last time anyone who wasn’t Shiro touched him like this, all over again, and somehow it doesn’t seem like a bad bargain if at the end he gets this. “There’s just one thing I have to say. I actually did wish for something. Before.”
“I might have. Didn’t you notice that I was looking at you the whole time?”
So… he hadn’t imagined it? “… Were you?”
“I’m afraid I was. Let’s say you might just have made me reconsider my stance on that kind of wishes being… mostly superstition.”
“And what if I told you that – I pretty much wished for the same back in the desert?”
He feels Shiro’s right arm gently circling his waist. “Then I’m definitely reconsidering that stance,” he says, and he’s smiling for real, and Keith doesn’t know if he’s ever seen Shiro look this genuinely happy since before fucking Kerberos, and he can’t believe that it was because of him but –
He’ll think about that later. Now he leans upwards and it’s fucking ridiculous that he has to stand on the tips of his feet to grasp at Shiro’s face properly and brush his lips against the scar on the bridge of Shiro’s nose, but he has a point to make, and maybe it’s a good thing no one’s there to see them because then Shiro’s arm grips him closer and his feet about lose contact with the ground, shit this is fucking ridiculous but it also looks like those dumb romantic movies he’d have never imagined himself starring in and –
“Damn,” Shiro says, and his voice sounds slightly off, but more as if he’s trying to keep some kind of decorum, “don’t tell me I get this just every four years.”
“I had plans for last year, Shiro,” Keith says, and doesn’t tell Shiro to put him down already. “And as far as I’m concerned, you can have it every other day.”
“Then it looks like I just got exactly what I asked for before.”
And I wanted to have the stars and you, Keith thinks and doesn’t say. Maybe it’s not entirely bullshit.
He smiles again, unable to stop, and leans down for another kiss, and another, and then another, and given that it looks like they’ve lost entirely too much time here, he’s all too intent on making up for lost time.
But maybe he’ll indulge in this just a little bit more. No one can blame them for it now, could they?