Monday arrived before Keith even realized the weekend was over. He was trudging out to the barn to do morning feeding, freshly brewed cup of coffee in hand and Kosmo trotting along beside him when he saw the old black truck in the driveway.
Oh right, Shiro is starting today. Keith’s brain hadn’t quite reached the point of functioning yet as he was barely three sips into his coffee, but he tried to focus for Shiro’s sake as he needed to train him. But of course, all Keith had were some rusty gears attempting to churn away under his dark mullet, making some horrible noise while they struggled to get started.
He heard Kosmo bark then, and Keith looked up to find the large dog running excitedly towards Shiro. Part of Keith’s sleep-deprived brain was bitter because he felt like his dog already loved Shiro more than he loved him, but it was so rare to see Kosmo so excited about someone other than Keith or Krolia that he couldn’t help the small smile threatening to upturn the corners of his mouth.
“Morning, Keith!” Shiro beamed at him as he stood from making a huge fuss over Kosmo. The dog whined at the loss of attention and physical contact with the new human.
Keith bit back the groan he wanted to let out on instinct. He finally found a negative quality of Shiro’s. He was a morning person.
“Morning,” Keith grunted in response, wincing at the tone of his own voice. Okay, he may not be a morning person, but it wouldn’t kill him to be polite to his newest employee.
Shiro either didn’t notice or chose to ignore it, wordlessly following Keith down the barn aisle and into the office.
After a quick rundown of what he needed Shiro to do and an assurance to not be afraid to ask questions, Shiro gave him a mock salute and trotted off in the direction of the workshop.
Keith tried to ignore the sudden thump in his chest as he watched Shiro’s retreating back. He heard Kosmo let out a huge sigh, and when he looked over at his dog grumbled, “Stop judging me.”
It shouldn’t have surprised him when Kosmo gave a huge huff before turning tail and trotting into Keith’s office where he could nap in the air conditioning, undisturbed for the day while Keith did his thing.
A sleek white Mercedes pulled into the driveway as Keith was finishing some paperwork a couple of hours into his workday. Allura emerged from the driver’s side, already wearing breeches and tall boots. She offered Keith a wave as she walked out towards the paddock Juniberry was turned out in. It was about a half-hour before their weekly riding lesson together, so Keith continued to focus on some office duties until five minutes before their designated start time.
Allura and Juniberry were already warming up when Keith walked into the ring, although he tried not to cringe at the endless amount of neon pink Allura had decked her horse out in.
“You know that if you ever want to be taken seriously as a rider, you’ll have to lose the pink.” The words were out of Keith’s mouth before he’d even bothered to observe where horse and rider were at in their exercises. Not a shining moment for him as a trainer and professional.
Allura waved him off with the hand carrying her sparkly whip because of course, she would have one of those too. “Oh, lighten up. We’re just schooling. I wouldn’t wear this at a show.”
Keith grunted but dropped the subject. He was used to being surrounded by teenage girls who wanted their horses adorned in every sparkly and pink object they could find. But Allura was twenty-eight years old and should have known better. Or at least pretended to.
However, this was one of those ‘choose your battles’ moment and Keith knew the only way it would end would be with a rhinestone-encrusted dressage whip shoved so far up his ass that he’d be coughing up the plastic gems for days.
Shaking that image from his head, Keith put Allura to work and had her start warming up. He was talking her through how to get Juniberry to relax more and bend through her entire body when he heard a loud clatter coming from the far side of the ring. Juniberry flicked an ear in mild interest but otherwise remained focused on her job. Allura praised her with a pat on the neck and Keith decided it was time to move on to the next exercise.
By the time Allura had Juniberry cantering over a small jump on a circle, he heard another loud crash, followed by some cursing. He looked up just in time to see Shiro shaking his hand and biting back an obvious snarl of pain. But that wasn’t the part that Keith noticed.
What he noticed was that Shiro was very much shirtless. Logically, Keith knew it was because it was ninety-something degrees and the man was doing a lot of manual labor in the heat. But the logical part of Keith’s brain wasn’t the part that was thinking. It was, in fact, the lizard part of his brain that was focusing on the sight of a very attractive man without a shirt working in the hot summer sun.
And if Keith happened to see every drop of sweat as it rolled down that broad, muscled back, well, he was only human. And Shiro was, admittedly, one of the most attractive people he had ever laid eyes on.
“Shiro! Are you okay?” Allura called out, accepting the hand wave Shiro gave her with his uninjured hand while he glared at the pile of fencing materials as an affirmative answer.
When she trotted Juniberry back over to where Keith was standing, she gave him a painfully smug look. “You’re drooling, Keith.”
Keith snapped his jaw shut with a clack of his teeth, not even realizing it was open. He rolled his eyes and told Allura to get back to work.
Even after Allura’s lesson had ended, Shiro was still working on the fence Keith had asked him to repair. He could tell Shiro was struggling a bit, so he walked over to ask if he needed any help.
Shiro startled at Keith’s voice, letting out a surprised yelp. On instinct, Keith reached out to try and steady Shiro with a hand on his shoulder. But he felt all of the muscles corded up, ready to spring into defense mode at any second, so Keith immediately dropped his hand and backed up to give Shiro some space.
“I’m so sorry!” Keith blurted out. “I didn’t mean to scare you!”
Something seemed to click in Shiro’s mind and he visibly relaxed once he realized it was just Keith, shoulders slumping in what could have been embarrassment or even just defeat. “No, it’s okay. I just don’t do well on people sneaking up on me. Memories from being in the army and all that.”
Keith leveled Shiro with a look. He knew there was much more to the story than that, but it wasn’t his place to pry so he let it drop, filing the information away for later.
“Well, I was coming over to see if you need any help with the fence…” Keith admittedly didn’t know where to go from there.
Shiro shook his head. “Nah, I can fix a fence. Grandpa taught me how to fix a house, a fence isn’t that complicated. I’m just clumsy and dropped a board on my hand earlier.”
Keith waited another second before nodding. He didn’t quite believe Shiro but decided to let it be for the moment. He could always revisit it at a later time. “Alright, well, just shout if you need anything.”
The rest of the day was spent doing odd chores Keith had put off over the weekend, but he kept an eye on Shiro the entire time. He seemed to be handling the tasks Keith assigned him just fine, but something about his behavior earlier left Keith wondering if he’d done something wrong. But the horses kept him busy and soon enough Keith forgot why he was ever worried in the first place.
Around three in the afternoon, Lance’s small blue sedan pulled into the driveway. Immediately, Keith felt the energy drain from his very essence. Lance showing up unannounced almost always led to a long night that Keith wasn’t sure he had the energy for at the moment.
“Keith!” Lance called out the second he stood from his car. “You home?”
Kosmo lifted his head and whined. Keith sighed and gave the dog a pat on the head before accepting his fate. He had barely opened the door to the office when Lance stormed in, mumbling in rapid Spanish of what Keith could only assume was a string of profanities.
“Uh, hi?” Keith offered.
Lance threw his hands in the air and collapsed on the plaid sofa Keith had taken from his grandparents’ house after they passed. It was threadbare and hideous with more than a few loose springs sticking out and waiting to stab someone in the ass at any given second, but it did its job. Especially when one of the aforementioned loose springs stuck Lance when he sat down.
After a few minutes, Lance finally calmed down enough that when he spoke, Keith actually understood him. “She ditched me.”
“Who did?” Keith already knew the answer, but if he didn’t ask Lance would only drag it out.
The effort that it took for Keith not to roll his eyes almost cost him a few precious moments of sanity. But he had to keep pushing forward with the conversation or Lance would never drop it.
“Did she say why?” He knew he was going to regret asking.
“Of course. She made plans with Lotor instead. What else?” Lance didn’t even try to hide the bitter jealousy in his voice.
Keith shrugged while he tried to go back to finishing the paperwork he’d been working on when Lance so rudely interrupted. “They’re dating, what do you expect?”
“ But why ?” Lance was practically crying.
Keith paused at the tone of his friend’s voice. While he admitted that most days he wanted to throttle Lance, he really felt for him on the situation. Nobody knew what Allura saw in Lotor; she was the only person in their friend group who felt anything other than seething rage or overwhelming disgust whenever he came into the room.
But for whatever reason, she was with him. It was an unchangeable fact. And that meant more of Lance’s self-pity parties until something changed.
“Nobody knows,” Keith sighed and pushed back from his desk, knowing any attempt to get work done at that point was futile. “I love Allura but she’s an idiot for dating that asshole.”
Lance looked like he wanted to say something else, but a knock on the door interrupted them. Keith held up a hand, indicating they would return to the conversation in a minute, and opened the door to find Shiro standing awkwardly on the other side.
“Uh, hey, just wanted to let you know that I finished the list.”
Keith blinked. Right. The list. Shiro working for him.
Damn it, why did he have to put his shirt back on?
“Oh! Great. Uh, I don’t really have anything else for you today so if you want to head out a little early that’s fine.” Keith finally remembered how to talk and form words.
Shiro nodded, his eyes flicking between Keith and Lance. He looked like he wanted to say something, but must have decided against it since he ended up giving Keith an awkward wave goodbye before returning to his truck and driving away.
He hadn’t even pulled out of the driveway before Lance elbowed Keith in the ribs and said, “Man, you’ve got it bad .”
“Fuck off,” Keith shot back, although it lacked any real venom. He shoved Lance hard and left the office, waving for Lance and Kosmo to follow.
They went to the garage where Keith opened the fridge and offered Lance a beer.
Lance accepted the bottle without a word, twisting the top off while Keith emerged from the fridge with an identical bottle for himself. Properly equipped with alcohol, the two went outside and took a seat next to the small pond behind the house. It was covered in green scum from the summer heat and a few small fish would pop up to nab a bug from time to time, but Keith had always found the spot soothing.
Lance sat beside him but seemed enthralled in picking the label of his beer off the bottle.
“You should come back to riding sometime,” Keith broke the silence as he watched one of their barn cats stalk a frog in the slanting light of the late afternoon. “Medianoche misses you.”
Lance shrugged at that. “I don’t know. Riding just reminds me too much of Allura.”
Keith sighed, counting backward from ten. “Lance, lots of people ride. You were riding before you loved Allura. Giving up on it because of one person doesn’t seem logical.”
“Lots of things are illogical.” Lance glared at him as he took a swig of his rapidly warming beer.
“Okay, let me put it this way—quitting something you love because of one person not returning your feelings isn’t right . You can come ride when Allura isn’t here. But Medianoche has been sitting in a field for months and I don’t have time to ride her and I really think it would make you happy to try riding again.”
Lance said nothing, his lips pressed together in a thin line. He turned his attention to the cat Keith had spotted a minute ago as it finally pounced and caught the frog.
Keith was beginning to worry Lance was just ignoring him when he finally said, “I’ll think about it.”
“Okay.” It was a start, at least.
By the time Lance left, the sun had set and the moon was slowly creeping its way into the ink-black sky. Keith took a moment to look up at it before going inside the house, admiring the twinkle of the bright stars alongside the moon. The beer was buzzing pleasantly in his veins and couldn’t help but feel a bit sad when he remembered how much his dad had loved the stars.
Once upon a time, Keith had loved the night; he had loved looking up at the sky and pointing out the constellations with his dad.
But now, the night only brought loneliness and the ghosts of memories he wasn’t ready to face just yet.
He decided to check on the horses one more time before going inside. After throwing them all some extra hay, he found Red and gave her a scratch on the neck. She pinned her ears in irritation at him and Keith just chuckled before giving her a final pat and walking back into the house.
Krolia was awake but working on something at her computer, so Keith told her he was going to bed. She wished him goodnight without even looking up from the screen.
Kosmo was already asleep in Keith’s bed and waiting for him. So after stripping down to just his boxers, Keith collapsed and fell into a deep sleep, his dog curled up beside him.
The rest of the week was a giant blur to Keith. He took care of the horses, he taught lessons, he showed Romelle how to lunge a horse properly and what the different pieces of equipment were for.
For his part, Shiro learned quickly and by the end of his first week, more or less had a strong handle on his day to day responsibilities on the farm. He always showed up to work with a smile (despite Keith’s grumpiness in the mornings before he’d had his coffee), and somehow Keith found talking to him to be the easiest thing he had ever done. And Keith was horrible with people to a point where Pidge had told everybody in their elementary school class that he was born without a soul.
Keith was excited in the mornings, knowing he would get to see Shiro. It was weird because the only person he ever got that excited to see had been his dad. But whenever he saw Shiro smile, Keith’s heart faltered in the best way possible.
Shiro was sitting outside eating his lunch when Keith found him that Friday. He was watching Romelle show her brother Bandor how to bathe the pony they shared, chuckling every time the pony would swish her tail and get the siblings covered in a new layer of soap and tepid water.
Shiro must have felt Keith’s stare because he didn’t have to say anything to get Shiro to look over his way.
“Hey, Keith!” that damn grin was more contagious than a measles outbreak in an anti-vaxx community.
“Hey,” Keith replied before taking a seat next to Shiro in the grass. Neither of them spoke and instead let the silence be filled by the sounds of Romelle giggling and the occasional whine from Bandor.
It wasn’t until the Romelle and Bandor got into a screaming match while trying to wrestle the hose out of the other’s hands that Keith finally sighed and stepped in, telling the two of them to go do things on opposite ends of the farm. After some initial whining, Romelle stomped off to clean some stalls while he brother took the fat pony to graze on the sparse grass behind the barn.
“You’re good with them,” Shiro stated as if it were common knowledge.
“What? Romelle and Bandor?”
“Well, yeah. But I meant kids in general.”
Keith shrugged, unsure of what to say other than, “It’s part of the job. If I can’t teach kids the basics of riding, I have no business being a trainer.”
“Maybe so, but that still doesn’t change that you’re good at it.” Shiro raised an eyebrow as he took an obscenely large bite out of the sandwich he was eating.
“Okay.” Keith looked away and let the conversation lapse again after that while Shiro finished off his sandwich.
“Are you doing anything tonight?” Shiro suddenly asked.
Keith’s head snapped around so he could meet Shiro’s gaze. Shiro looked shy and hopeful all at once, and Keith felt his heart melt a little at the sight.
“I was going to go to a show at Coran’s bar,” Keith replied without thinking. He didn’t know why he said that; he was just planning on drinking beer while watching Netflix until he passed out. But he wanted Shiro to think he was cool and not just some loser without a social life.
Shiro was silent for a beat, and Keith was worried that he’d somehow offended him. But before Keith could ruminate on it for too long, Shiro replied, “That’s too bad, I was going to ask you to hang out.”
He couldn’t help but notice the clear sting of disappointment in Shiro’s face, and Keith suddenly wanted nothing more than to make that feeling go away for him.
“You could come with me,” Keith was responding before he’d even had time to think about what he was saying.
Then again, the grin Shiro flashed at him was more than enough to make up for his moment of impulsiveness. And if he was being completely honest with himself, his traitorous heart even skipped a beat at the sight like the main character in a shojo manga.
“That would be awesome!”
Keith couldn’t help but wonder if he’d just gotten himself in trouble.
Shiro came back to the farm after they finished for the day, freshly showered and sporting a black leather jacket that showed off much more of his cut figure than was fair to the rest of the human race. Keith felt like a gremlin in comparison, wearing just a pair of black jeans and a ratty red t-shirt that had seen better days.
He gave Shiro an awkward wave in greeting, which Shiro returned enthusiastically.
God, he’s such a dork. Keith caught himself thinking.
“Keith!” Shiro was grinning one of his trademark cheesy grins.
Keith laughed in response. “You act like we didn’t see each other an hour ago.”
Shiro flushed at that and looked away sheepishly. “Yeah. Sorry. I told you I haven’t been good at socializing since getting home.”
“It’s fine. It’s honestly cute.” The words were out of Keith’s mouth before he realized what he said.
Shiro either didn’t notice or was good at pretending he didn’t hear what Keith said, so Keith tried to act as if it had never happened. After some negotiations, they agreed Shiro would drive them out since Keith’s motorcycle wasn’t very comfortable for two people.
The bar was already packed by the time they pulled into the parking lot, a handful of people lingering outside and the music loud enough that they could feel the bass pumping from outside.
Above the front entrance was a neon sign that simply said “Wimbletons”. The bouncer, a woman taller than even Shiro, with a shock of short purple hair and muscles that made it clear not to fuck with her, nodded at Keith as he walked in. He’d been a regular at the bar since before he was even legal to drink, so she never bothered to check his ID anymore. In fact, she barely gave a cursory glance at the card Shiro presented her and just waved them in.
The inside was every bit the dive that the exterior presumed it to be. Dark, grungy bar and tables, a beaten to hell pool table in one corner, and floors covered in a mystery sticky substance. It was disgusting, but it was home, so Keith did not even think about it until Shiro squawked indignantly when he realized his boot was very much stuck to the hardwood floor.
“Sorry. This place is gross but it’s become a popular music venue.” Keith couldn’t help but laugh at Shiro’s look of pure disgust.
“I trust you,” came Shiro’s response, but Keith didn’t miss the note of uncertainty in those words.
Keith nodded towards the bar and Shiro followed, carefully dodging a few stray elbows and spilled drinks along the way.
“Keith!” A middle-aged man with a comically large mustache crowed from behind the bar. “Long time no see, old friend!”
“Hey, Coran!” Keith returned the smile as he sat down at an open stool.
Shiro took a seat next to Keith, silent and observing while Keith and Coran volleyed stories and friendly jabs at each other. After a few minutes of conversation, Coran plopped a couple of drinks down in front of them before rambling about needing to get back to work but that they were on the house.
“Friend of yours?” Shiro finally asked after Coran set back to helping other customers.
“Yeah, Coran. He’s Allura’s...uncle? Godfather? Something like that. Basically, he’s part of their family and helps her father run his various businesses. This one is all him, though. The place is seedy as fuck but it’s successful.”
Shiro made an appreciative noise and held up his drink in a mock-toast before taking the first sip. He immediately gagged and Keith had to keep himself from laughing.
“What the fuck is this?” Shiro gasped.
“Coran calls it nunvill. House specialty.”
Shiro looked like he was going to be sick. “It’s terrible. It tastes like alcoholic hot dog water.”
Keith shrugged and choked down a sip of his own. “Oh, it’s fucking awful. But it will get you shit faced really fast.”
With a final look of disgust, Shiro put his drink back down on the bar. “I’m driving anyway so I’ll just have a beer.”
Keith finally let loose the laugh he’d been holding back and waved the bartender over. He let Shiro order his beer of choice and said he’d pay for it to make up for the nunvill.
They spent a bit of time just talking and laughing together, until about thirty minutes in when Shiro finally asked what the band was that they were here to see.
“Just some local group, but probably nobody you know. Their music is overwhelmingly average. But entertaining enough for a live show.”
At that point, the band came on and began testing their sound with a few chords. Once the lead singer announced their opening piece, Keith and Shiro mutually allowed the conversation to lull in favor of listening to the set.
True to Keith’s’ warning, the music was mediocre at best. But Keith hadn’t come to Coran’s for the music. He had never even planned on coming there that night, merely blurted it out when Shiro asked what he was up to because he realized he wanted to spend more time with Shiro, even after the workday ended.
Shiro seemed to be enjoying himself well enough. He was happily drinking beer and smiling as he watched the crowd before them sing and jump in time to the music. Even if he hadn’t planned the outing initially, Keith was glad they did it. Something about seeing Shiro so relaxed and happy just seemed right to Keith.
Eventually, Shiro caught him looking. He didn’t say anything but gave Keith a knowing smile before turning back to face the stage.
They didn’t talk for the remainder of the set, but Keith was sure Shiro could feel his stare.
When the band finally said goodnight and took their leave, the bar began emptying out. Keith dodged Shiro’s gaze and went to find Coran to settle their tab. Shiro was waiting for him at the door once he finished up, so Keith had no choice but to fall in step with him as they made their way back to the car.
“Did you enjoy the show?” Shiro asked, tone innocent enough, but Keith saw the glimmer of something else in his eye. Hope, maybe.
“Yeah,” Keith replied, figuring simple answers were safest while he tried to determine Shiro’s feelings.
Shiro hummed in response, but let the conversation fall into a lull.
When they arrived back at the car, Shiro opened the passenger door for Keith and waited as he climbed into the seat. Neither spoke the entire ride back to the farm and by the time they pulled up to the house, Keith wasn’t sure he remembered how to carry a conversation. He tried to throw an awkward “goodnight” at Shiro as he got out, but Shiro reached forward and grabbed his forearm.
“Shiro?” Keith shot him a questioning look, but Shiro was staring at where his hand met Keith’s arm.
He let go after a minute, looking at Keith’s arm like it had burned him. “Uhm, goodnight, Keith.”
Keith cocked his head in confusion but returned the goodnight as he closed the car door. He stood in the driveway and waved as Shiro drove away.
He decided he was too tired to dwell on their strange interaction and that it was a problem for Tomorrow Keith. So instead, he walked up the stairs to the back door and called it a night.