Summer isn’t really Keith’s favorite season. The weather always left him unbearably hot and sticky with sweat, and even his fur got a bit tacky if he wore anything more than a simple top and pants. And, okay, sure, Keith kind of hates the summer, but there were some things that made enduring it worthwhile. For one, summer meant sweet fruits like cherries (and therefore cherry tartlets), trips out to the beach and cool dips in the ocean (even if Keith prefers the damp sand between his toes), and picnics with his friends at his campsite where Hunk would bring out popsicles for everyone. Although, there was something that Keith especially loved, and it was this . Clear nights full of endless stars and hours of stargazing.
It’s late, probably closer to the morning than night, but Keith doesn’t mind and Shiro doesn’t seem to be in a rush to head home either. This was one of those days where their mutual friends would all gather together and they’d have a nice picnic, but that was several hours before and they’ve since left, leaving the two alone by the campfire Keith had set up. He and Shiro lean against an old, dried log with tin cups in each of their paws and filled with some dark ale they’d smuggled from Slav’s cellar some time ago. (Shiro will likely apologize to the hemulen, offering to buy him a new bottle of ale, while Keith would stand off to the side looking anything but apologetic, shaking his head in exasperated fondness.)
It’s such an amusing thought as he stares up at the sky that he nearly misses Shiro’s finger drawing up a pattern from the stars. Currently, the two are playing a game of pointing out constellations and calling out their names and telling their stories. Although, at some point, they’ve exhausted all of their shared knowledge of the constellations between them and have begun naming ones that don’t actually exist— an effort to extend their time together.
“That,” he starts, “is Sernin, the brave warrior.” Keith’s eyes trace the next set of constellations Shiro’s drawn-up, pointing to it, “and that one is…. Astralis, an artist and Sernin’s beloved companion. They travel the universe together on a white lion and a black wolf, and they go on many adventures together, never leaving the other’s side.”
Despite it all being completely made-up, Shiro seems genuinely enraptured with the stories of each imaginary constellation. There’s a glint in his eye as he presses himself closer to Keith. In turn, the Mumrik slumps deeper into his side, tucking his head beneath Shiro’s muzzle. It’s warm and comforting, and like this, Keith feels surrounded by Shiro and lulled by the gentle thumping of his heart. He tries not to picture many nights spent together like this, or days where they’d roam distant forests, sailing vast oceans, or trekking through mountains, but Keith fails. The images come to his mind so clearly and his heart aches with a longing that should not exist in creatures such as himself. Mumriks were never meant for sentimentality, keeping very little and always traveling wherever the wind went. Yet, here was Keith, hoarding away every bit of love he has for his dearest friend and making a home out of his person. It was foolish. Keith was foolish but cared little of this fact.
“That must be nice.” Keith feels more than hears Shiro murmur.
Keith nods sleepily, struggling to keep up with their conversation as he banishes his previous thoughts. He sucks in a deep breath, “It is,” he says. His eyes begin to flutter as sleep attempts to claim him, and Keith swears Shiro’s heart begins to drum louder when he says, “We should do that. S’nice” He doesn’t mean to say it, but the words settle between them like a weighted blanket. When Shiro says nothing, Keith expects this to be the end of the conversation, but Shiro doesn’t seem so keen to let the conversation die. He makes an inquisitive noise as he looks down at Keith.
There’s a lump in Keith’s throat and his instincts tell him to take back his word, but his wayward heart finds that he can’t do it. Not when Shiro is looking at him a little wide-eyed and maybe even full of longing. Wistfully, Keith lets his eyes fall shut and he sighs, quietly, “Travel.” His tail slips between them, shyly intertwining with Shiro’s much longer one.
Shiro’s tail tightens around Keith’s just a fraction, just enough for Keith to know it’s intentional as Shiro somehow squeezes closer to Keith, all but pulling him into his lap. “Yea?” Shiro asks, and Keith refuses to believe that Shiro actually sounds hopeful. Instead, he gives his best friend a tiny, affirmative hum. Shiro says nothing more to this, and eventually, Keith finds himself too tired to see what else might come from the conversation and falls asleep.
He offers a sad smile that Keith misses. He takes Keith’s cup and sets it down following his own. The tall moomin rises, scooping Keith into his arm and settles the Mumrik inside his tent. He bids his friend a good night that goes unheard, his own heart aching. Silently, Shiro makes his way home.
When morning comes, Keith finds himself alone in his tent. Dread begins to pool in his heart.
Summer is coming to a close. The forest is all aglow with reds and oranges and yellows as the oak trees shift and their leaves begin to litter the floor. The mornings begin to go chilly and thick fog settles on the valley in the evenings. Since the night he and Shiro had stayed up stargazing, the moomin’s been avoiding any mention of their late-night talk.
They still continue to hang out and join in on crazy shenanigans Pidge, Lance, and Hunk get into, but the topic of traveling together continues to sit between them, making things a touch awkward at times. Keith hasn’t made an effort to confront Shiro about it and doesn’t know if he should bring it up at all. Keith thinks it’s silly to feel so disappointed, but he can’t fight the sting from Shiro avoiding their conversation. He expected Shiro to at least talk to him, maybe explain how he couldn’t drop his responsibilities so suddenly and without warning. What Keith didn’t expect was the awkward dodging.
Maybe Shiro thought the request so selfish and didn’t know how to tell him. Or worse, maybe Shiro figured out Keith’s feelings towards him? What if this was his way of quietly letting him down? It was such a painfully Shiro thing to do, trying to spare Keith his feelings and ignore his own discomfort. Yes, perhaps he’d been foolish. Still, Keith doesn’t want to deny how badly he’d hoped that Shiro would have said yes.
If he closes his eyes, Keith can still picture the intimacy of the fire, Shiro beside him beneath the blanket of stars. The way the shadows and light had painted him so vulnerable and full of yearning, the desperation for Shiro to see him and know what he felt without uttering a word. The words had slipped out then, but at the moment, Keith could not bring himself to regret it because he meant it. He wanted to show the world to Shiro, to see the way he’d light up at every new thing they’d come across, his eyes crinkling with delight. The thought leaves Keith’s heart pit-pattering.
So here was Keith now, his arms around his knees as he sits atop the bridge connecting the valley and surrounding forest, waiting for Shiro to come by. The moomin had promised him that he would stop by once he finishes helping Colleen with her garden chores. They’d spend the rest of the day together, fishing on the bridge to pass the time. Normally, Keith would be eager for the time together, but now, a part of him wanted to hide away. As the autumn breeze brushes by, Keith distantly wonders if it was still too early to leave the valley. It wouldn’t take long to pack away his meager belongings, and then he could wait for Shiro. Keith would offer an apology for putting him in such a difficult position. He’s let him know that he was leaving for the rest of the year, offering up a goodbye with the hopes that the extra time away would clear up the air between them. And…. it might allow Keith’s heart some time to mend itself. This hypothetical plan is beginning to sound more and more tempting that Keith completely misses the sounds of heavy footfall until their owner is looming right beside him.
He startles violently, his tail puffing up as he tips over into the river. As his world begins to tilt, Keith manages to catch a split second of Shiro’s face, their eyes connecting before his vision is filled with water. As he crashes into the river, his hearing goes static, but in the distance, he hears shouting and an accompanying splash of water. Panic gets him kicking out as he desperately tries to break the surface, but Keith was never a good swimmer and only manages to flail about ungracefully. It’s a relief then when he feels Shiro’s arm wrapping around his waist, yanking him toward the surface.
“Keith! Keith, I’m so sorry! I-I thought you saw me coming over!” Shiro’s looking him over, making sure there are no visible injuries. Keith doesn’t have the heart to say that the only casualties on his person are his pride and his now wet clothes.
Keith just shakes his head, spitting out some river water. He looks up at Shiro when he realizes how ridiculous they must look standing in the river, both of them sopping wet and clinging to each other. It almost makes him laugh, maybe cry, or probably both, but his thoughts from before return and suddenly Keith doesn’t know what to say or do. Thankfully, Shiro beats him to the punch before he could say anything stupid.
“I want to go with you.” He blurts out, and the two blink at each other in surprise. Shiro pinks, his blush peeking out from underneath his fur and blending with the scar on his muzzle. He looks embarrassed but endearingly determined, as he says, “I-I mean if you’ll have me, I would love to go with you on your travels, Keith. I wanted to tell you sooner, but I…. it’s stupid, but I—” He falters before letting Keith go to lift up his hand between them. This is when Keith notices a ribbon tied around his wrist. It’s hard to tell the color because it's soaked like him, but as Shiro removes it, he presents it to Keith to get a better look. The sunlight shines against it, and…. And it’s beautiful . The silk looks as if Shiro had pulled a strip of the night sky, with its blend of dark blues and purples and minuscule specks of white. It’s far too extravagant to be an accessory, and then Keith understands. It’s the most stunning betrothal ribbon Keith has ever seen, but his heart can’t stop the way it sinks to the pit of his stomach.
“Y-you’re betrothed?” Keith asks, trying to keep the shakiness from voice and failing miserably.
Shiro, for his part, looks utterly mortified at this as he sputters. He turns even redder than before, “No, wait! Keith, I’m— this is for you! I wanted to give this to you! I didn’t want to go without telling you first in case you didn’t feel the same. I-I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable during our travels.” Keith’s struck so dumbly that he doesn’t immediately reply, which is a mistake as Shiro pulls his paw away, embarrassment, shame, and dejection coloring his features. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…. This was a bad idea. You don’t—”
“NO!” Keith grabs at Shiro’s paw, startling them both. Keith flushes but he doesn’t let Shiro’s paw go, “Shiro— I love you . I thought…. I didn’t think you wanted to come or that you didn’t feel the same, but I want this . I want you so, so much.” To make his point clearer, he gently takes the ribbon from Shiro and ties it around his tail, a sign of engagement. Keith turns back to him, fire in his eyes and daring Shiro to argue otherwise.
But the moomin just stares back, stunned and utterly in awe. He leans down, pressing his forehead to Keith’s, and Keith can feel his ferocity settle. Tentatively, Shiro nuzzles his snout against Keith’s nose, unsure if the affection was wanted. Keith is having none of this as his hands shoot up to cup Shiro’s face, smooshing their faces together. It’s clumsy and probably not at all romantic, but it startles a laugh out of Shiro who just pulls Keith closer.
“I’ll buy you one too,” Keith vows, “And everyone will know how lucky I am to have you as mine and me yours.”
Shiro grins dopily, eyes crinkling, “Oh? You gonna show me off?”
Keith’s chest puffs, “ Yes .” He purrs. Pulling Shiro in for another bout of nuzzling. There was still a whole conversation that probably needed to happen, but for now, the world outside the valley could wait another day or two. ‘ Or a week ,’ Keith thinks happily.