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tastes like the real thing

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Shiro really, truly wishes he had savored those moments in the days between the announcement and his birthday more. Three glorious perfect days before his birthday, Shiro found out that his restaurant, Kin’iro, was a semifinalist for the James Beard Best New Restaurant Award. His baby, the restaurant he managed to open the year before and was the chef-owner for, the one goal he had for his career, that very establishment was one of the semifinalists. The news had reached him in the middle of a Saturday lunch rush, and it had taken everything in his system to not just crash through the doors from the kitchen into the main restaurant and yell at everyone sitting there eating food from a menu he painstakingly created that he, Takashi Shirogane, and this restaurant, were up for a James Beard Award.

His restaurant staff rightfully got him absolutely wasted that night, and then kept him well-supplied with a drink the rest of the week until his birthday after every dinner shift was complete and the restaurant cleaned up. It was his 29th birthday, then. Turning 29 on February 29th. It was perfect already, and now he had the glow of being a James Beard semifinalist also lighting up his life. 

What could get better than this? Shiro had foolishly thought. Honestly? Not much. But what could get worse? So much. 

A month later when the finalists for the award were announced, Kin’iro was still in the running. Shiro actually cried when he saw the list on the website and his restaurant’s name was on there. This time he was standing in the kitchen of Kin’iro looking at his phone. There was some fish sauce on his apron from an earlier minor spill and the towel he had used to clean it up was still slung over his shoulder. He really needed to toss that into the laundry basket. 

They were in the lull between lunch and dinner getting ready for the evening when his pastry chef, Acxa, walked up to him tentatively. “So, this might be a bad time to tell you this,” she said.

“What?” Shiro wiped his face with the heel of his hand to get rid of any evidence of his tears. 

“Well, I’m going to be moving to Austin for my girlfriend’s job, so, uh, I need to quit—or, resign, I guess?” Acxa stumbled through the information.

“You’re quitting?” Shiro gasped.

“Yes?” she said it like a question, not a real answer.

“But we’re James Beard finalists now, Acxa,” Shiro cried. He took a minute to close his eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose. After a deep exhale. “Okay, we can work with this. When are you leaving?” he asked. Shiro had met Acxa’s girlfriend, Veronica, numerous times, and it figured her job at some startup was moving her out of New York, he supposed.

“Tomorrow,” Acxa said, fear in her voice.

Shiro is fairly sure he blacked out at that point because all he remembers is sitting in the restaurant office with his head in his hands, and his sous chef, James, was offering to bring him a paper bag to breathe into.

That was last week. Since then Shiro has had time to get himself together and take a moment to actually celebrate the fact that Kin’iro is a finalist while also dealing with the emotional turmoil of his pastry chef leaving right before the restaurant is in such a crucial period of time. The final voting committee would have their eyes on Shiro’s restaurant now while they had almost a month and a half to cast their final vote. This meant that any of those committee members could come into the restaurant, but even more important than that, being a finalist put a target on the restaurant. 

New York City is full of restaurants, James Beard winners at that, too, but that never makes the masses stay away from an establishment. No, the business was going to be booming now with critics and foodies flocking to try the high-end Japanese menu Shiro made for Kin’iro and the complementary dessert menu that the now-departed for Texas pastry chef Acxa had made to go along with it. His little Soho restaurant was going to be flocked.

So, what do you do when you need to find a new pastry chef? Clearly, the answer to Shiro was to hold open interviews.

Shiro put out the job advertisement and said he would be holding open interviews for two hours before the restaurant opened. He gave himself enough time at the end of the interviews for the restaurant staff to show up and prepare for lunch. 

A fair few pastry chefs of varying degrees of experience have come in to talk to Shiro, but he hasn’t been particularly blown away by anyone. There might be a few in the modest pile of resumes he’s accumulated that he could consider if things got down to it, but right now, he’s trying hard to not look at his watch as he wraps up the current interview. Shiro knows there can’t be too much time left before his interview window is over.

“Thanks again,” the pastry chef whose name he’s frankly already forgotten if he couldn’t look down at the resume real fast. “I’ll be in contact if we move forward.”

He stands to shake the chef’s hand and sighs as the door closes behind him finally. Shiro collapses down into the chair of the table in the back corner of the restaurant where he’s had everyone come sit and speak with him. Shiro gazes around the restaurant, taking a moment to appreciate the clean modern lines with a black, white, red, and gold color scheme that he had designed himself. Sometimes Shiro wondered if the space looked too severe to those who came in, but Shiro always found comfort in the black with gold details sconces on the walls and the shining black tile floors. All the tables and chairs were black with deep red upholstery on the seats. Maybe it was a lot, but it was what Shiro liked.

Glancing at the watch on his wrist, Shiro sees that there are indeed just 15 minutes left before he’s ending today’s interviews, and he supposes he can pick a day to hold more. Shiro sighs again and closes his eyes before putting his head in his hands and leaning his elbows on the table. He’s gone over every possible option there is in this situation, even just scraping the dessert menu during this fragile time for the restaurant, but he’s decided that he needs to find a new pastry chef. Fast. And this seemed like an efficient way to do it.

The sound of the front door opening jolts Shiro from his wandering thoughts, and he looks up to greet whoever has come in. The words get lost between Shiro’s brain and mouth as he sees who’s standing next to the host’s stand at the entrance of his restaurant.

---

It was the second week of his Culinary and Baking Fundamentals class at Garrison Culinary School, and Shiro has been loving every moment of it so far. He’s known since he was a child helping his grandmother and mother in the kitchen that this was something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He wanted to cook and feed people, make them warm and happy because of something he made for them to eat. He’d see how bright his grandfather would smile when his grandmother would set down simple tonkatsu on the table, and Shiro wanted to be able to do that for his family and friends one day, too. Any chance he got, Shiro would cook, and it all led up to him being at one of the best culinary schools in the country. 

This was a required class for both students in the culinary and pastry track, so it was a rare time he got to have classes with the pastry students. He knew the guy in the cooking station on the right side was pastry from the first day of roll call and introductions, and so far with the in-class work they’ve had, he’d been doing alright. But today he seemed to be frowning into the pan with the velouté they were working on.

“Things okay over there, Keith?” Shiro asked, and he hoped it didn’t sound condescending and just that he was trying to check in on the other aspiring chef.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Keith bristled. “Thanks, Shiro.”

“No problem, let me know if you need anything,” Shiro offered, and Keith gave a grunt in reply. 

A few minutes go by with the room filled with the sound of cooking and some general murmuring between the students and the wandering instructors. “Actually,” Keith started and paused. “My sauce isn’t thickening like it’s supposed to. Do you know why?” Keith asked.

Shiro jumped in to help right away, making sure everything at his station looked okay to leave for a minute and went over to Keith. It turned out that Keith had completely turned off the heat on the stock that needed to stay hot, so when he added it to the roux, it didn’t do anything. Shiro helped him through quickly fixing it, and then Keith had a pretty good velouté in his pain.

As they cleaned up, Keith turned to Shiro. “Thanks again for helping out.”

“Of course,” Shiro smiled. “Any time, in class, and otherwise.”

“Thanks,” Keith gave a small smile if it could be called that. It’s just a slight twitch up of one corner of his mouth, but just that does so much for Shiro’s mood. 

After that, they always talk to each other a bit in their shared class, and Shiro kept helping out Keith whenever he needed it, as he’s not much into the culinary side of things and much prefers the exact science that goes into baking.

“So, I guess you’ve got a real sweet tooth then, huh?” Shiro asked one day.

“No, actually,” Keith scrunched his nose. It was kind of cute, Shiro thought. “Just like baking.” Shiro laughed at Keith’s response.

Eventually, the two started to meet up outside of class to study some of their theory classes and to go over concepts they’re learning in their fundamentals class. This naturally led to them cooking and baking together in the shared kitchens of their dorms.

“I don’t get why we can’t have our own kitchens,” Hunk, Shiro’s roommate, complained one day while Shiro and Keith were working on making cornish hens in the kitchen that’s shared between six people.

“I think that would be giving hundreds of culinary students too much power,” Shiro replied as he stuck a meat thermometer into one of the hens. “Perfect, 175, these babies are good to go!” Shiro pulled out the thermometer and cleaned it on a towel before placing it in the sink. “How’s the soup looking?”

“Seems okay,” Keith shrugged as he stirred the sweet potato and butternut squash he has been working on. He grabbed a small spoon and thrust it towards Shiro. “Taste.”

Shiro stood next to Keith and dipped the spoon into the pot quickly and gave the spoon a small blow before sticking it in his mouth. “Mmm,” Shiro hummed around the spoon. “A little more paprika, I think.”

“Paprika, really?” Keith scoffed.

“Really,” Shiro smirked and hip-checked Keith.

“Hey! Not while I have a ladle in hand, I’ll hit you,” Keith waved said ladle, and some soup flew onto the backsplash.

“Guys, please, I have to clean since you’re cooking!” Hunk moaned uselessly. 

“What’s up?” Matt asked as he walked into the kitchen. He lived in one of the other dorms that shared the kitchen and seemed to magically always pop up wherever someone was cooking. Shiro sometimes wondered if Matt can cook at all, and he only knows he can because they’re in a French Techniques class together. 

“Making soup,” Keith and Shiro said at the same time, and then they looked at each other and laughed.

“Geez, the married couple,” Matt commented and sat down at the dining table next to Hunk.

“Shut up,” Shiro scoffed, and he hoped the pink on his cheeks is blamed on the heat of the kitchen and not the heat from being referred to as married to Keith.

Because in reality, after nearly a full semester now of working next to each other in class and spending time together outside of class, Shiro had fallen helplessly for Keith. He’s attracted to everything about the pastry chef in training—the way he pulled his shaggy hair into a short ponytail, the faint scar on his cheek, the way he snorted when he laughed too hard, the absolutely horrific amount of mustard he put on every sandwich and hotdog, and about everything else in between that he has gotten to learn about the other man. Shiro adored it all. The only issue was that Shiro wasn’t sure if Keith shared any of those feelings back about him and if it would be a wise choice to try and find out. For now, Shiro was content just to be in Keith’s presence.

On the final day of their Culinary and Baking Fundamentals Class, Shiro and Keith both cooked absolutely perfect dishes that earned the praise of the course instructors and positive murmurs from the other students who tried the food. While Shiro knew he should be happy over the feedback from an academic perspective, he can’t help but think back to when he was a kid and how excited his father would be when his mom made his favorite chilled soba noodles. This was what Shiro wanted, and he was here achieving it.

“Shiro, this is great!” Keith commented as he took a bite and gave Shiro a smile.

Yes, Shiro thought as he watched Keith eat his food, this is what I want forever.

Later during an end of the semester party at some second-year student’s house off-campus that Shiro and Keith managed to be invited to, they stood close to talk and hear each other over the music.

“Want to go outside?” Keith yelled into Shiro’s ear.

“Yeah!” Shiro nodded and said back.

As they made their way to the backdoor, Keith grabbed more beers for the two of them, and then, surprisingly, took Shiro’s hand to tug him the rest of the way through the crowd of people. There were still a good amount of people outside in the backyard, but it’s much quieter and better for holding a conversation.

“How are you feeling now that we’ve got one semester down?” Keith asked and popped open the can of beer he’s holding.

“Relieved to have made it,” Shiro replied.

“Relieved? Shiro, you were always going to do amazing!” Keith laughed.

“You don’t know that,” Shiro argued.

“Sure,” Keith added with skepticism. “Anyway, what about you?”

“I had a good time, actually, and looking forward to next semester,” Keith said thoughtfully.

“It sucks we won’t have a class together, though, huh,” Shiro smiled a little sadly and looked down at his beer before taking a large drink.

“But we’ll still see each other all the time, though, right?” Keith nudged Shiro’s elbow with his. “You can’t get rid of me now.”

Shiro gasped with mock drama. “I would, never,” he declared.

“Good,” Keith gave another of his little half-smiles that Shiro is also incredibly fond of. “Because you’re stuck with me.”

“I wouldn’t want anything else,” Shiro let out the words softly, his voice low. Keith was close, much closer than they needed to be outside. 

Under the stars on a cool night, Keith leaned up to close the distance between their faces. Right before their lips touched, Shiro breathed out his name. “Keith.”

---

“Keith!” Shiro’s voice is a little sharp as he looks at the other man and yells his name.

“Hey, Shiro,” Keith smiles, and it’s one of those small half-smile smirk things that does a little funny skip to Shiro’s heart. “It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, too,” Shiro beams and walks over to Keith. “What are you doing here?”

“Well,” Keith raises his hand to show what he’s holding. It’s a resume. “Heard you were looking for a pastry chef?”

“Yeah, wait, you, Keith, you’re interviewing here?” Shiro feels adrenaline rushing through his veins as he processes what’s happening. Shiro’s ex, who he’s still a little bit in a lot of love with, is standing in Shiro’s restaurant and wanting to interview to be the pastry chef. Holy shit.

Keith’s smile turns sheepish. “Yeah, if you’ll have me.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course, come here and sit down,” Shiro leads him over to the back table and they take their seats. “Um, I guess, I’ll ask you some questions to start, if that’s okay? If you want to just jump in?”

“Sure,” Keith shrugs and hands over the resume. Shiro takes a quick glance at it. To be honest, Shiro knows everything Keith has been up to since they parted ways. Their break-up was hard but one that they mutually agreed on given the state they were both at in their lives. Thanks to social media, Shiro has been well aware of the restaurants and bakeries that Keith has been working at over the years out on the west coast.

Shiro kind of just wants to hire him on the spot, but the other thing about Shiro is that he’s fair and honest until the absolute end. So, he’s going to go through the process he would for any other chef that came into the restaurant for the interview who he would want to call back, even if he does know beyond a doubt that Keith is one of the best pastry chefs out there right now.

“So, what made you want to be a pastry chef?” Shiro asks.

Keith chuckles and rolls his eyes. “Come on, Shiro, you know this one.”

“I do,” Shiro concedes. “But I’m trying to keep this like my previous interviews today.”

“Fine,” Keith sighs. “Well, in culinary school, I was in the pastry track, obviously, and there was this hot culinary student who I wanted to feed pastries for the rest of my life, so I thought, huh, why don’t I become a pastry chef.”

“Keith,” Shiro says his name a little harshly, but he really wants to say I wanted that too. Shiro knows he’s blushing like mad at the words.

“Just teasing,” Keith gives a wicked grin before crossing his legs under the table. “I had a big sweet tooth as a kid and always liked baking with my pop. Dad was a firefighter and the best baker, and then he eventually left the fire department and opened up a little bakery in our town. I helped out there for years and really loved it. Because of that, I decided to get a proper education at a culinary school for pastry. Kind of lost the sweet tooth along the way but never the love for baking.”

“I love that story, still,” Shiro smiles fondly. “Do you have that picture of when you were 17 and got covered in flour in the kitchen of the bakery from the bag exploding?” 

“Yes,” Keith grins. “Is that part of my interview?”

Shiro clears his throat. “Oh, no, sorry, that was unprofessional.”

“You can be unprofessional with me,” Keith kicks Shiro’s foot under the table.

“Well, I don’t want to be,” Shiro stutters. “I want to respect you during this interview.”

“Whatever you want, chef,” Keith nods in admission.

“Okay, so, what’s your favorite thing to cook, either at home or at work?” Shiro knows the answer. It’s upside-down caramelized apple cake.

“Upside-down caramelized apple cake,” Keith replies with a big smile, and Shiro ducks his head to try and hide his own grin. He wonders if Keith is thinking about the first time they made it together in the shared kitchen at Keith’s dorm and how afterward when they were both covered in some flour and caramel from getting a little too playful with their baking, they had gone and fucked in the shower. Shiro chances a quick glance up at Keith and from the way the pastry chef is eying him, Shiro definitely thinks they’re both reminiscing about that time.

“Excellent choice,” Shiro clears his throat to try and get a reply out and not let the air heat between them in the silence. 

“I thought you’d feel that way,” the smile Keith gives him has a hint of teeth, and god now Shiro is thinking of all the times those teeth have nipped his bottom lip or bitten a bruise into his neck. This is not how an interview is supposed to go.

“Okay, well,” Shiro tries to remember any other question he asks during interviews for the restaurant, but his mind has decided to completely betray him right now. “Are you familiar with Kin’iro’s menu?” he finally asks.

“Yes, I am.”

Shiro exhales. “Great, so, given your knowledge of the menu, what would be a dessert item you would want to add to the menu?”

Keith gives a small contemplative nod before speaking. “Definitely a sorbet of some sort, like yuzu and mint.”

“And why would you choose that?” 

“Your menu has an emphasis on the fresh: multiple tartare, chilled salads, and your sashimi selection,” Keith explains. “Your dessert menu has some good things, I’ll concede that but it could use something a little cleaner that would be a crisp way to end a meal here, and I think a sorbet with maybe some kind of sundae-esque element would work.”

Shiro almost wants to sigh at the explanation Keith gives because it’s perfect and makes complete sense. It’s even something Shiro had contemplated putting on the menu before but didn’t, but Keith’s words light a fire under him now. He’s a brilliant chef and an even more dazzling person. Keith needs to be his pastry chef, no matter what.

“Another perfect choice,” Shiro praises, and he watches Keith light up at the words. “Would you be able to come back to cook for me sometime in the next week?” 

“Of course,” Keith nods eagerly. “My schedule is open for you.”

They spend a few minutes with their phones pulled out trying to find a time for Keith to come in, and they eventually decide that Keith will come in before the restaurant opens in two days. Shiro tells Keith that he can make whatever he wants, there’s nothing in particular that Shiro wants him to cook.

“You can do anything you want,” Shiro says.

“Anything?” Keith gets that feral grin again and does a quick and appreciative up-and-down of Shiro, even all there is to see is his torso up as they’re still seated. 

“Anything,” Shiro replies, and it’s a little more breathy than he would like to admit.

---

“So, something happened,” Shiro starts talking as soon as Allura picks up his call. 

“Hello to you, too, Shiro,” she quips over the line. “What happened”

Once the restaurant opened, Shiro was thankfully able to throw himself into work and keep the focus on getting everything ready for lunch, then after lunch, he shifted into working on some of the bookkeeping that needed to be taken care of, and then that all wrapped up with dinner and finally closing the restaurant. His day didn’t lend itself to giving Shiro a moment to contemplate the fact Keith literally walked back into his life earlier that morning and was likely going to be working for Shiro because, let’s be real, Shiro was going to hire him. Not just because of their history but because Keith was an exceptional pastry chef.

Shiro crosses the street and lets the crowd of people swallow him up as he gets caught in the late-night rush down Houston trying to get to the Broadway-Layfette station. “You know how I held open interviews today?” he asks, and Allura makes an affirmative sound. “Yeah, so, didn’t go great, but then at the end, Keith came in.”

Allura gasps. “Keith! The Keith?”

Shiro met Allura at his first job in the city. They were both line cooks at an upscale hotel restaurant and got along right away. Because they had gone to different culinary schools and moved to the city at the same time without really knowing anyone, they became each other's first friends in the city. They even had a short period of time where they were roommates. Naturally, one of the first things they had talked about in their friendship was one drunk night where Shiro spilled everything about Keith. That had led to Allura immediately demanding to look through his Facebook and then spending the rest of the night consoling Shiro’s poor regretful heart.

“Yes, The Keith,” Shiro groans.

“Is this a good thing or a bad thing?” Allura sounds unsure.

“I don’t know, both?” Shiro scrunches his nose. “Good because I know he’s an amazing pastry chef and the restaurant would be so lucky to have him here, but it’s terrible for, I guess, me on a personal level.”

“And why would it be terrible for you?” Allura presses.

“Because…” Shiro doesn’t have it in him to say the words out loud. He knows it’s so much more than just being sad over an ex, but Keith is so much more than just an ex or the one that got away or whatever else. He’s Keith. He’s everything.

“I think I understand,” Allura’s voice is soft. “Do you want to come over and eat some ice cream?”

Shiro barks out a laugh. “This isn’t a breakup, Allura.”

“I know that,” she admonishes him. “But ice cream can fix anything, so you might as well come over and we can be extra and order it through delivery.”

Shiro rolls his eyes. “I’ll just go to the bodega, see you soon.”

When he hangs up Shiro feels better that he’ll be able to spend some time with a friend instead of going straight home to his apartment where he would undoubtedly sit on his couch trying to watch TV but actually not watch it at all because his mind would just keep wandering back to Keith. Is he maybe running from his feelings right now? Yes. But Shiro is up for a James Beard, and Keith is going to be his pastry chef most likely. This is about as good as things can be for him right now, not great, but okay.

---

Glancing out the window for what feels like the hundredth time, Shiro tries to tell himself to just stay calm. Keith is supposed to walk through the front doors of the restaurant any minute now to do the cooking portion of his interview. Shiro had nervously texted Keith the previous day to ask if there was anything specific that he would need for what he planned on making, and Keith had simply replied with “I’ll make do.” The answer was extremely Keith, ever the resourceful man in both the kitchen and life in general.

Shiro’s thoughts are broken when that very man walks through the door, and Shiro pushes himself off the table he had been leaning on. “Hey,” Shiro greets with a smile. “Glad to see you.”

Keith flashes a bright smile back. “You, too.”

Shiro opens and closes his mouth a few times because part of him wants to express how much beyond just glad he is for Keith in his life right now. It may have only been a few minutes they’ve been back in each other’s orbits, but it feels like a lightness has settled over Shiro’s shoulders since Keith appeared. The same feeling of lightness Shiro would feel in culinary school when Keith would drunkenly wrap his arms around Shiro’s shoulders and Shiro would pick him up and twirl them around as they laughed at some dumb party. Shiro misses that so fucking much right now.

“Ready to cook?” Shiro asks instead.

“Lead the way, chef,” Keith’s lips twitch like they’re holding back a grin, so Shiro turns and tells the pastry chef to follow him.

When they get to the kitchen, Shiro leads him around first just to familiarize him with where everything is located, and Keith silently nods along as he intakes the information. Finally, Shiro presents Keith with a spare chef’s jacket to wear while he cooks. It’s actually one of Shiro’s because he forgot to try and find another one in time. It has the restaurant’s name in kanji (金色) on the left side of the chest and below it, SHIROGANE is embroidered on. Keith notices this as he pulls it on and raises an eyebrow. “Already claiming me?” he asks, voice low but there’s a little laugh at the end. It makes the hair on Shiro’s arm raise.

“It’s not—I didn’t—it’s just what I have, not to assume you’ll be working here—” 

Keith cuts him off. “I didn’t mean you were claiming me for the restaurant, Shirogane.”

“Oh,” Shiro says dumbly, and he’s sure the tips of his ears are going pink.

“It’s okay,” Keith gives another small laugh, and it makes Shiro’s heart ache because he’s heard that laugh in its full boisterous potential, and he wants to pull that sound from Keith’s lips so badly.

“Sorry, thanks,” Shiro sighs. I’m going to let you go ahead and get started. Because you’re a pastry chef, I’m going to assume you want to bake, so I’ll give you an hour and a half. Does that work?” 

“Yes, chef,” Keith nods.

“Great, do you know what you’re going to make?” Shiro asks.

“Yes, a classic tarte tatin,” Keith answers. 

“Oh, great,” Shiro drags his thoughts back from wandering to another memory he has with Keith and tarte tatin. “I love that.”

“I know,” Keith says quietly.

“Okay, um,” Shiro panics, trying to keep the conversation going. “You can go ahead and get started, I’m going to grab some stuff to just sit here and work on while you’re cooking and be here if you need anything.”

“Sounds good,” Keith nods, and then Shiro watches as Keith pulls out a hair tie to push some of his hair back into a small ponytail. He looks good.

Shiro wanders off to grab a barstool so he can sit at the counter in the kitchen and brings his laptop as well to look over emails he has been putting off replying to. For a few minutes, Shiro doesn’t pay attention to Keith, he knows that the chef is capable of, but also the habit of watching Keith work in the kitchen isn’t something that Shiro can ever kick.

Keith has cold butter in one hand and a grater in another as he slides the solid block back and forth making small pieces of the butter that he’ll use in the pastry. Shiro feels mesmerized watching Keith work. He has the sleeves of the jacket pushed back, so Shiro can see the way Keith’s arm muscles flex slightly from the exertion. 

Then, Keith moves to measure out flour into the bowl and carefully sifts it down until it’s perfect and fine. The butter gets added into the large bowl where the flour now resides, and Shiro watches with full rapt attention as Keith starts to work the butter and flour with his hands. Some salt and water get added as well, and Shiro just cannot let his eyes break away from the rough way Keith’s hands dig into the mixture and squeeze to bring the ingredients together. He doesn’t know how much time passes, but he knows Keith is good at what he does and the dough came together fairly quickly. 

Keith tosses some flour onto the counter to coat the surface and places his pastry dough down to start rolling it flat. The way Keith’s wrists glide along in the rolling motion as he runs the rolling pin back and forth over the dough is mesmerizing. Keith’s wrists are small but sharp; they might look delicate but there’s so much power behind them that could both finely chop garlic so it’s paper-thin and also hold Shiro’s wrists above his head in bed. Shiro’s certain that Keith still can do the former, and the lizard part of his brain misses the latter.

“How am I doing?” Keith asks, shooting a look over to Shiro.

“Good,” Shiro murmurs softly. It’s such a gentle sound, much more tender than he intended. He doesn’t miss the way it shocks Keith as he stops the rolling pin for a second but then presses on.

“Thanks.”

Shiro actually forces himself to look back down at his computer screen while he listens to the sound of Keith finishing the pastry and doing the first folds before putting it away to chill. He does peak a couple of glances to see Keith set the oven to preheat and start the process of measuring out sugar and water for the caramel.

“Do you have a candy thermometer I can use for the caramel?” Keith asks, and Shiro jumps up from the barstool.

“Yeah, we should,” Shiro walks over to where most of the baking related equipment was kept and rummages around in the drawer for a minute before he finds their stash of candy thermometers. “Aha!” he declares and turns around to present them to Keith. Unfortunately, Shiro didn’t realize how close Keith was standing behind him, so when he spins around, even Keith’s quick jump back has them fairly close so their chests are almost touching. 

Keith scrambles back and plucks one of the thermometers from Shiro’s hand. “Thanks!” he says before running back to his cooking station.

“No problem,” Shiro says a little breathlessly as he doesn’t look back to close the drawer.

When Shiro gets back to his seat at the counter, he sees Keith look at one of the timers he’s using and hesitate, and Shiro realizes he’s trying to decide whether to start the caramel or to take the pastry out for its next fold. Keith ends up deciding the latter, so Shiro turns back to his work as Keith folds and rolls the pastry before getting it back into the fridge to chill.

As Keith starts working on the caramel, Shiro allows himself to look over the pastry chef. The most obvious change Keith had was his hair was longer than it had been in culinary school while they’d been dating. There were a few times it would creep to graze below his neck, but Keith would always go to get it cut. One time during a blizzard that hit campus, Shiro had actually been the one to trim it. Keith’s features are all still sharp, and one stray bit of hair is lying across his scarred cheek. He’s still as beautiful as ever, Shiro thinks, and he doesn’t believe he will ever feel otherwise when he looks at the other man. But that’s the past, and Shiro really needs to stop mooning over his ex. It’s not wise for so many reasons. 

Keith finishes the caramel, which Shiro knows will be perfect. He pours it slowly into the baking tin he found earlier and coats the bottom evenly. Keith’s caramel had been perfect when they were in school, so Shiro can only imagine that it’s somehow gotten better. After another folding and rolling out of the pastry, Keith turns his attention to thinly slice the apples, and there are those nimble knife skills that Shiro knows so well. Keith’s fingers move fast and precisely creating the evenest slices of apple to adorn the tarte tatin—the most refined-looking fruit to top the classic dessert. 

Once he’s finished with placing the apples into the tin on top of the caramel, Keith gets the pastry dough that has now been chilled and gone through the correct number of folds and turns. Shiro thinks it’s perfectly valid for him to watch as Keith assembles the pastry now since it’s almost the end of the test. For the last time today, Shiro watches as Keith rolls out the dough into a circle a little bit larger than the size of the tin and then lays that across the top of the apples and caramel. Instead of watching Keith’s hands at work this time, Shiro looks at his eyes. They’re focused and fierce, paying close attention as he tucks the edges of the pastry down to cover the sides. Shiro can see the slight movement of Keith’s eyes as they track his own hand movements on the pastry. 

Finally, Keith puts the pastry into the oven and sets one of the timers. Shiro belatedly realizes that Keith then starts to clean up the space.

“Oh, hey, Keith, you don’t need to do that, I can,” Shiro starts to stand.

“No, you sit,” Keith waves Shiro away. “I can clean up, and, anyway, it’s the responsible thing to do.”

“Okay, thanks,” Shiro nods, and he lets the sounds of Keith’s cleaning up the kitchen wash over him as he turns back to the work on his computer screen. 

“Hey,” Keith says and breaks Shiro out of his focus, and he looks up to see Keith leaning on his elbows on the counter across from Shiro. “So, the tart still has 30 minutes it needs to bake. Is there anything else you want to go over while we wait?”

Shiro thinks for a moment, and, honestly, he doesn’t have any additional questions or anything he wants to talk to Keith about—well, professionally, at least. There’s so much he wants to talk to Keith about outside of the world of Kin'iro. So, Shiro shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so, I think we’re good on the interview.”

Keith bites his lip before speaking. “Do you mind if we just, like, talk?” there’s a quiver in his voice. As if Shiro would ever say no.

“Of course we can,” Shiro snaps his laptop shut. “What’s up?”

“I just wanted to talk to you, see how you’ve been,” Keith gives a small smile.

“I’m okay,” Shiro nods. “Or, okay as someone who just got nominated for a James Beard Award for their first restaurant that they opened a year ago, and then their pastry chef quit but their ex who is a pastry chef showed up could be doing,” Shiro smirks as he ends the sentence.

Keith rolls his eyes. “You’re still such a little shit I see.”

Shiro feigns a gasp of shock. “Keith, I was never.”

“Don’t,” Keith holds a hand up to make Shiro stop talking, and it makes Shiro let out a snort.

“Anyway, what brought you out to New York?” Shiro asks. “I thought you were doing well in LA?”

Keith shrugs. “Felt like the time for a change. I was happy but something felt like it was missing. Something always felt off.”

“Honestly, I thought the same about being in New York for a while after I got here,” Shiro admits. “Something always felt wrong, and I thought maybe after I open the restaurant I’ll feel better.”

“Do you?”

Shiro thinks for a moment. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve had a moment to think since we opened.”

“Well you have a moment now,” Keith tells him softly. “Think, Shiro.”

Shiro chuckles. “I don’t think it’s that easy.”

“Shut up and close your eyes and just take a minute to think, Shiro,” Keith presses again. 

“Okay,” Shiro acquiesces and lets his eyes flutter shut. He thinks about if that something that felt off while he worked in other people’s restaurants in New York was gone now that he had Kin'iro or if it was still there. He didn’t come to any immediate conclusions, so Shiro visualized the exterior of the restaurant. It wasn’t that impressive, just a simple little place that probably looked like many other restaurants in the city tucked into a corner of SoHo, but this one was his. The dining room was also minimal with reds and black and small gold accents. All of this is what he had built up and created, and it did make him happy. Maybe he did have everything?

Shiro opens his eyes, and Keith is standing there staring at him, eyes fully focused on Shiro’s face.
“So?” he asks.

And then here’s his restaurant’s kitchen with Keith here standing in it, and the smell of his tarte tatin is now starting to waft through the space. Keith is here, and he will likely be staying here for a while—in Shiro’s kitchen and Shiro’s life, at least as Kin'iro's pastry chef.

Maybe Shiro does have everything now.

“Yeah, I don’t think it’s missing anymore,” Shiro speaks gently.

Keith’s smile unfurls slowly, like dripping honey. “Good.” Shiro wants to reach out for him, but he doesn’t. Instead, Keith pulls back and glances over at his timer. “Do you mind if I give my parents a quick call? I owe them one, and the timer still has 15 minutes on it.”

“Yeah, sure, you can go in the dining room or our back,” Shiro points at the door that goes into the small alleyway behind the building.

“Thanks,” Keith nods and walks to the door to go into the back.

When the door closes, Shiro lets out a sigh and covers his face with his hands, elbows resting on the countertop. There are probably a thousand reasons why this is the wrong thing to do, but there are also a million reasons this is the right thing to do. Shiro doesn’t know how to tell which is the right path to take, but when he’s got Keith standing in his kitchen that smells like a tarte tatin looking at him so intently, well, Shiro is going to follow his heart a little here.

Shiro manages to pull himself back to look over the weekly budget document to make sure all the finances appear like they’re going well for the month. Just as the timer goes off for the tart, the door to the back opens and Keith walks in, sliding his phone back into his pocket. He grabs a towel and opens the oven. Shiro can just see his profile, but there’s a smile on Keith’s face at what he sees in there. The tin gets pulled out, and Shiro watches as Keith tips it to let extra juices go into a saucepan. Keith sets the tart aside to cool while he heats the liquid in the saucepan to thicken it into a sauce. Once that’s done, Shiro holds his breath as Keith prepares to flip the tarte tatin out onto a plate. He doesn’t hold back a gasp as Keith does the flip and then pulls the tin away to reveal the beautifully caramelized top with apples of the tart. 

“Really, didn’t think it would come out right?” Keith asks with a raised eyebrow.

“I know, it’s just always stunning to see,” Shiro admits.

“Well, thanks,” Keith replies as he grabs the saucepan and spoons the sauce over the top. Keith then grabs a knife and fork and walks over to Shiro to put the plate down. “Here you go, Chef Shirogane, a classic tarte tatin.”

“Is it going to be perfect?” Shiro asks, taking the offered knife.

“You know the answer to that.”

Shiro cuts a slice of the tart while Keith brings over another plate for them to place it onto. He may not be a pastry chef, but Shiro knows what to look for in a tarte tatin. The apples look perfectly cooked, the pastry looks crisp and well-baked, and the caramel is not one shade off from the color it’s supposed to be. It’s flawless. Shiro cuts a piece of the slice and brings it to his mouth. The flavors burst onto his tongue of warm pastry and sweet caramel along with the tart apple. It’s just absolutely lovely, that’s the only way Shiro can describe it, and he can’t hold back the small moan of appreciation that leaves his mouth.

---

“Fuck,” Shiro groaned as he slowly pushed into Keith. 

Shiro and Keith just moved into their new apartment. It’s their third year of culinary school, and they made the big decision to finally live together. They have a few weeks before the semester starts, so for now, the two of them are just having as much fun as they can.

They’re young, but in the back of Shiro’s mind, he knew that his knees were going to hurt tomorrow. Keith’s, too, probably. Through a chain of events that started with Keith walking around the apartment wearing a pair of short running shorts and one of Shiro’s gym shirts that hangs off his body and ended with him purposefully touching Shiro in brief ways all day until he finally plastered himself to Shiro for a kiss, the two found themselves on the floor of their living room with clothes discarded. Shiro should have insisted they move, if not to the bedroom, at least the couch, but right now, Keith’s on his hands and knees in front of him and Shiro is slowly fucking into him. And it’s their apartment with the bottle of lube that Keith had put in the coffee table drawer with his spectacular foresight now lying on the floor next to Keith’s head, it’s their space to do what they want, and right now, well, this is what they both want.

“Feels good,” Keith whined when Shiro ground into him.

“Yeah?” Shiro asked, but it’s not really a question—it’s an affirmation that the man he loves below him is enjoying himself.

“So good,” Keith panted out, and Shiro trailed his hand up from Keith’s abdomen to his neck where Shiro’s shirt was bunched up. They never really managed to get it off before the two of them became more concerned with getting each other off, but now Shiro tugged at it so it came off Keith and tossed it somewhere into their living room. They’ll find it later. 

Shiro put his prosthetic hand at Keith’s chest, rubbing his thumb over a peaked nipple, before sliding his hand along Keith’s warm and sweat-slick skin to loosely close around Keith’s neck. Shiro knew the slight texture on the fingertips of the hand made Keith’s breath hitch. The touch of Shiro’s large hand to his throat also made Keith gasp, and that turned into a soft whine when Shiro thrust in. 

“Up here, baby,” Shiro murmured and used the grip on Keith’s neck to haul his boyfriend up so now they’re both on their knees, Shiro’s chest to Keith’s back. Every point they’re touching felt a little fevered to Shiro, and he’s convinced that he’s become addicted to the feeling of Keith on him over the years they’ve been together. One of Keith’s hands came up to lay over Shiro’s, and their fingers twined together on Keith’s neck.

“Come on,” Keith rasped. “Make me come, Shiro.”

And who is Shiro to deny him? All he can offer is a groan before placing his other hand on Keith’s abdomen, just above where he’s hard and leaking, and he gave another hard thrust. Both of them let out moans, and Keith’s free hand flailed to move back and grab onto the sharp jut of Shiro’s hip. They moved against each other as coordinated as they could in the position they were in, with each time he slid into Keith, Shiro pushed him back onto Shiro as well while Keith used his grip on Shiro’s hip to thrust himself back. The result of their combined efforts are hard thrusts that neither of them can keep quiet over. 

Shiro buried his face into Keith’s neck, and Keith tilted his head to the side to give Shiro more open skin. Thankful for the offering, Shiro started leaving kisses and sucking bruises into the soft skin. Some of these will linger tomorrow and not be hidden by the chef’s jacket Keith will be wearing in class, and the thought of that made Shiro grind into Keith hard. 

The sounds escaping from Keith’s mouth at every movement Shiro made kept getting just a bit louder, his breathing a slight bit more ragged, so Shiro knew he was close. Shiro pushed Keith back down on all fours and lied across Keith’s back, shoving him down onto the bed and putting everything he can into moving in Keith. One of Keith’s hands batted around on the sheets until it found Shiro’s, and Keith wrapped his pinky around the thumb of Shiro’s prosthetic. It’s something so simple, so small, but the gesture makes Shiro feel like his heart is going to burst from the affection he holds for the man under him.

He told Keith as much, and those words timed with a deep thrust are all it took for Keith to let out the loudest cry yet and come across the bed and his own fingers where he’d been working himself. Keith collapsed down, letting go of any strength to hold himself up but turned his head slightly against the sheets to look up at Shiro. His face was red and his eyes slightly bleary from exertion. He weakly tightened around Shiro at his next thrust, and Shiro can’t hold back and came inside Keith with a gasp of his boyfriend’s name.

They spent as much time as they could steal wrapped in each other after, leaving kisses across exposed and cooling skin that’s still a little slick with sweat and murmuring soft sounds and words of affection to each other. Eventually, they did have to pull themselves out of bed, and Shiro smugly smirked to himself when he saw Keith pull on one of Shiro’s shirts.

Once they got cleaned up, Shiro and Keith wandered over to the kitchen and started to rummage around at what ingredients they have. Sure they’ve cooked together more times they can count at this point, but it was always either in the dorm shared kitchen or at the kitchen in their respective apartments. This was the first time they were about to be in their own kitchen together to make something. Shiro knew it’s probably a little dumb to be getting sentimental over this, but he can’t help it. And Keith, ever vigilant about Shiro, picked up on it right away.

“Hey, are you okay?” Keith asked, gently touching Shiro’s arm.

“Yeah,” Shiro nodded. “Just...it’s dumb, never mind.”

“Tell me, babe,” Keith coaxed him, and Shiro was always weak to hearing Keith call him ‘babe.’

“It’s just, this is our kitchen, and we’re about to cook in it together. Just feels nice,” Shiro mumbled a little bit of the last part.

“It does feel nice,” Keith said, and when Shiro looked over at him, the other man was beaming with a smile so wide that it made any feeling disproportionately emotional about this crumble away. Of course, Keith would feel the same way.

“I’m really happy,” Shiro said, and he couldn’t help but move the arm that Keith is still holding so that he can take Keith’s hand in his. Keith squeezed the fingers of Shiro’s prosthetic, and Shiro squeezed Keith’s fingers back. 

“Me, too,” Keith said softly. They spent a few seconds simply marveling at each other while Shiro thought about how lucky he was before Keith tugged at his hand and jerked his head back in the direction of the kitchen. “But I’m also hungry, let’s cook.”

After a few minutes of properly evaluating their groceries, Keith declared they should have a pastry day and he can make a tarte tatin and Shiro should make a quiche. Shiro thought it’s just the type of light extravagance that they both deserve and agreed with the plan. Keith started to pull things out of the fridge for Shiro, and Shiro made two piles on the counter for what will be needed for Shiro to work on the quiche and what Keith will be using for his tart. Once Keith had gotten everything out, Shiro took his quiche supplies to the other side of their reasonably sized kitchen that allowed both of them to comfortably cook in it. 

“Are you going to make pastry?” Shiro asked with raised eyebrows. He flexed the fingers of his prosthetic before taking a knife in hand and letting the sleek handle settle into his grip. Before he started cutting, Shiro looked over to see Keith bent over and still rummaging in the fridge. The sight both settled something warm in his chest and desire coiled in his gut. They might have just fucked, but Keith just had a way to constantly draw Shiro back in again and again.

“Nope,” Keith announced as he straightened up and held something in his hand above his head. “I made pastry last night, just in case,” Keith looked over his shoulder at Shiro with a proud grin.

“Fuck, I love you,” Shiro groaned.

Keith saunters over to Shiro and draped himself across Shiro’s back after setting the chilled and wrapped pastry next to Shiro. “I think you just love my pastry,” Shiro could hear the pout in Keith’s voice as he spoke. It’s a side of Keith no one else ever gets to see, and that hooks something possessive in Shiro and anchors him to the other man.

“I love all of you, baby,” Shiro cooed. “The pastry is just a bonus.”

“I knew it,” Keith sighed. “You want my baked goods.”

Shiro let out a startled laugh. It was so rare for Keith to be this playful and crack jokes so freely, but maybe this is what happened when Keith is living with someone he loves in their own space. Shiro puts down the knife—it’s not like he even had the chance to start slicing the shallots—and turned in Keith’s arms to wrap his own around the pastry chef. “I already had your baked goods,” Shiro smirked.

It was now Keith’s turn to let out a snorting laugh. “God, you’re so fucking, lame, Shiro,” Keith jokingly pushed him away. “Get to work on the quiche.”

“Yeah, yeah, you just want me for my cooking,” Shiro muttered.

Keith pinched Shiro’s ass when Shiro turned his attention back on the shallots. “I love you, chef.”

Shiro didn’t say anything, just smiled down at his hands as he picked back up the knife and finally started to slice the shallots. Keith didn’t speak again either, going to the other side of the kitchen to start work on his tarte tatin.

While he quickly sliced the shallots as thin as he could get them, Shiro heard the sounds of chopping behind him as well and assumed that Keith was likely working on preparing the apples for the tart. “Is 375 on the oven good for you?” Keith asked, and Shiro made an affirmative sound. A few beeping sounds a couple of seconds later told Shiro that Keith had set the oven to preheat.

With the shallots sliced, Shiro pushed them aside and grabbed the gruyere to shred, except he needed the grater, which happened to be in the bottom cabinet next to where Keith was currently standing. Shiro slowly trailed over to the other side of the kitchen and gave Keith a quick kiss on the shoulder as he squeezed past him to then crouch down and open the cabinet door. He couldn’t help but look over at the fact Shiro’s shirt Keith’s still wearing only came down to barely skim the top of his thighs, so Shiro did the most reasonable action, which was to lean forward and kiss the side of Keith’s leg. 

Not expecting that, Keith jerked away before letting out a small laugh. “You idiot.”

“Sorry, got distracted,” Shiro apologized with no remorse. He loosely put his hand around Keith’s ankle, his fingers able to completely encompass it, and Shiro gave a squeeze. “Couldn’t resist.”

Keith let out a hum of amusement but didn’t say anything, so Shiro just grabbed the grater and pushed himself back up—except Keith was waiting for him. Shiro let out a surprised sound as he found Keith’s arms wrapped around his neck and his head pushed down to meet Keith’s lips. With the grater in one hand, Shiro put his free arm around Keith and dragged him close to kiss him harder. They stayed like that for a while, simply making out in their kitchen. The cooking they had started, forgotten, until the oven beeped letting them know it had reached 375 degrees. Reluctantly pulling away, Shiro dragged his nose lightly across Keith’s cheek and along his jaw before leaving a kiss below Keith’s ear. Keith giggled at the ticklish feeling, and the sound made every nerve in Shiro’s body light in a warm fire.

Eventually, they did work on making their respective dishes. Shiro sauteed the shallots in butter while Keith stood next to him at the stove and made caramel. While Keith carefully laid out apples in a precise spiral in his baking tin, Shiro molded Keith’s beautiful pastry into his pastry tin. Shiro evenly layered the caramelized shallots onto the pastry with a generous layer of the gruyere placed on top, and Keith gently poured his caramel over the apples. As Shiro poured the mixture of eggs, cream, and rosemary, and salt over the pastry so it didn't splash, Keith tucked the pastry over the apples and caramel to seal up the bottom of the tart so it would flip over when baked perfectly. 

They took a step back from their pre-oven dishes to admire the work they’ve done. “I think they look good,” Keith crossed his arms and nodded with satisfaction.

“We haven’t even baked them yet.”

“Yeah, but it’s us, and when we cook, we do it fucking well.”

Once the tarte tatin and quiche were in the oven, Shiro and Keith set timers and relocated to the living room couch so they could resume their earlier making out on a softer surface with the sounds of a true-crime documentary playing softly on their television in the background. When the pastries were done, they took slices back to the living room and fed each other with Shiro sitting on the couch, and Keith seated with his back to one couch arm and legs draped across Shiro. Keith made claims about who he thinks committed the crime on the show around a mouth full of quiche, and Shiro was in love.

---

Keith has always been good, so good, at everything he does, and it's always left Shiro a little dumbstruck with love. He feels that now while he looks at Keith across him at the counter, cheeks flushed from the warmth of the kitchen and some pride at his baking. The tarte tatin is good—really fucking good—and even better than every single time he made it when they were in school. Shiro never thought back then that it could get any better, but then here Keith is, wearing one of Shiro's chef jackets after making a perfect pastry in his restaurant's kitchen. 

Smirking, "I know," Keith says before Shiro can swallow the bite and say anything about the tart. 

"Know what?" Shiro asks, but Keith turns away and saunters through the kitchen as if he's already employed there, and, honestly, who is Shiro to deny the fact that Keith is very much going to be the pastry chef at the restaurant.

"It's good," Keith replies and grabs a fork from a drawer.

"Well, yes, it is," Shiro answers dumbly. Keith is right. Shiro may just be a culinary chef with some dabbling in pastry, but he knows a damn good tarte tatin when he tastes one. Part of that is because his experience was with the best—the man now sitting across from him and happily tucking into the tart straight from the tin. "Really?" Shiro laughs as he watches Keith stuff a piece into his mouth.

Keith chews slowly, and Shiro's eyes trail down to his neck to watch the way Keith swallows. "Really, what?"

"Just digging right in?" Shiro asks.

Keith looks around the kitchen. "I mean, there's no one else who I plan on sharing this tarte tatin with, so yeah, might as well just go all in."

"What about me?" Shiro gapes.

"What about you?" Keith tilts his head. "What, you think I care if we eat out of the same pastry tin? Shiro, after all we've shared, you think I care?" Keith lets out a laugh, but it's suddenly cut off and he looks down at the pastry, stabbing another piece to shove into his mouth. Shiro supposes that is fair but doesn't add anything. "Anyway, so, you've got a restaurant now, huh," Keith waves his hand lazily to gesture at the kitchen.

Shiro lets out a breathy laugh. "Yeah, I guess I do."

"How does it feel?" Keith finally looks up from the tart and settles his eyes on Shiro's. The look pierces him in ways Shiro wasn't ready. It's not anything sharp and demanding, it's simply the look Keith used to give him of I know you, don't hide from me when Shiro would have his bad days and want nothing more than to not leave the bed.

"Good," Shiro replies softly. "Really good, but, uh, I don't know..." Shiro trails off and breaks the gaze held between them because he's scared that letting it linger any longer will unlock something he's not yet ready to examine. 

But then Keith speaks so softly, "Hey, what's going on?" 

What indeed, Shiro thinks. Instead, he sighs, but still doesn't turn back to look at Keith. "I don't really know, honestly," Shiro admits, part of him is screaming at the fact he's already just openly talking to Keith as if the last time they saw each other wasn't after having broken up, as if the last years of their agreed-upon "still friends"-ship wasn't just occasionally liking Facebook statuses and Instagram pictures. As if Shiro hadn't cried the day [Kin'iro] opened because Keith had commented "proud of you" on his Instagram post, and Shiro had wished so much that Keith could have been there. 

But Shiro isn't ready for that conversation just yet.

"It's okay," Keith leans forward and reaches out. The movement makes Shiro turn his head in time to see Keith settle his hand on Shiro's prosthetic. Keith's fingers run along the textured rubber of the finger pads. Shiro doesn't have sensation in the prosthetic, it's just an advanced biometric model that allows him to have better dexterity that he needs to be cooking in a kitchen. The touch is comforting at the same time. "You don't have to say anything."

Shiro lets out another breath. "No, it's okay," Shiro shakes his head. "If you become my pastry chef, you'll be my right-hand man at Kin'iro, so you might as well know what's going on here." Keith simply nods and doesn't let up on the gentle swipes of his thumb across Shiro's knuckles, and Shiro wonders if the gesture is unconscious or not. "I'm really, really, proud of everything that I've accomplished here so far, really, and a lot of is thanks to my team, but as much as being nominated for a James Beard makes me feel like I'm almost on top of the world, it scares the shit out of me as well."

"You'd be an idiot if it didn't," Keith offers with a half-smile. 

"Thanks, Keith," Shiro rolls his eyes.

"You're welcome," the edges of Keith's eyes crinkle as he chuckles, and god this is dangerous, but Shiro never was one to not take the reckless path.

"So, my pastry chef left to follow her girlfriend to Austin, and now I have a little over a month until the awards ceremony where they announce the winner, which means for the next—" Shiro pauses to do some math in his head, "—30-something days, my restaurant is about to be one of the most scrutinized in the city, which is fun because we all know the restaurant industry in New York City is famous for how kind it is." He concludes with a wry smile.

"So, what do you want to do?" Keith asks, and it's a question Keith has asked him in various forms so many times. Every time an unexpected bump or small issue would cross his path while they were in a relationship, Shiro had always been able to go to Keith and share his worries. Keith never would straight off tell Shiro what to do, he'd always, always, ask Shiro first what he wanted to do, and from there, they'd find the path together. Shiro hopes they can do that again as colleagues in the restaurant this time.

Shiro turns his hand to loosely grab Keith's. It's a bold move and makes Keith's eyes widen, but those bright eyes settle on Shiro's face and Shiro looks right back at him. "I'm going to ask you if you would accept the position of being pastry chef at Kin'iro, and if you say yes, I'm going to work my ass off with you and the rest of the team here to be the absolute best we can be. Then, at the end of that, I'm going to go to the James Beard Awards ceremony in Chicago, and when I get back to New York, it's going to be as the winner of Best New Restaurant. What do you think?"

"I think," Keith grips Shiro's hand a little harder, "I'm going to say yes.”

---

As Shiro predicted, business at Kin'iro exploded as the buzz grew about the restaurant following its being named a James Beard finalist. On one hand, Shiro wants to be absolutely over the moon for the rising number of diners they are having come through the restaurant, but on the other, he’s absolutely petrified that something will go wrong. He’s not just the chef-owner of some restaurant in New York City, he’s the chef-owner of a James Beard-nominated restaurant, so the people coming through the doors aren’t just expecting a good experience, they’re coming in anticipating having one of the finest dining experiences one can have in the city. That’s fucking terrifying to Shiro, but he thankfully has the best staff at Kin'iro that he could ask for that help him keep everything afloat.

Weekend dinner rushes are normal for the restaurant as it was already well-regarded in SoHo, but now it felt like the pre-James Beard dinner rush was absolutely a breeze. Shiro thanks his stars for the job Romelle does as his restaurant manager, expertly watching over the hosts and server staff as they seat customers and turn tables over as fast as they can so the wait time never grows too daunting.

In the kitchen, Shiro usually at least has some separation from knowing how hectic things are in the dining room because his head is down in pots and pans, tasting sauces and sauteing vegetables over flames as he usually does. The difference, of course, now is that he feels like for every one dish he would be cooking he’s now preparing about three. 

Shiro may not be a seasoned veteran of the restaurant industry yet, but he’s been working in restaurants since he could first get a job as a busboy in high school, which gradually allowed him to move up until he was a line cook at a local steakhouse in his hometown. During culinary school, he hopped around jobs as he could to support himself—and Keith—but it wasn’t until he graduated and moved to New York City that he truly found himself in the trenches and learned how to run a kitchen. It’s with his years of gained knowledge and experience that helps him lead his team in the kitchen.

Even the newest addition to the Kin'iro kitchen has seamlessly blended, and now Shiro wonders how he was even able to work without Keith at his side yelling at line cooks to make sure the white chocolate is tempered correctly as it's plated as a sauce next to strawberry kasutera.

Romelle glides through the kitchen doors straight over to where Shiro is searing tuna. She’s wearing her simple attire of sharply creased black pants with a white button-up tucked in and a blazer on top of that. Her hair and makeup are usually where Romelle goes a little wild, and Shiro always enjoys what her look of the day is. Today she’s put light blue blush on her cheeks, her eyes feature a sharp cat eye with yellow eyeliner, and her hair is pulled into a loose bun that still manages to look like every stray hair was chosen by her to be there. 

“How’s it going back here, Shiro?” she leans forward, elbows on a counter, as she speaks.

“About as good as we can expect,” Shiro replies, turning the tuna over in the pan.

Romelle gives a hum. “Front of the house is moving smoothly, too, the wait is only about 30 minutes right now.”

“Perfect,” Shiro sighs, both at the news as well as the perfectly finished seared and crusted tuna that he will now plate.

Whether Romelle stays quiet so Shiro can finish plating and push the dish out for the servers or because she’s apprehensive about asking what’s on her mind, Shiro isn’t sure of, but he can tell there’s something she wants to say.

"Spit it out," Shiro says to Romelle as he puts the finished plate on the counter. He briefly looks up at her before turning around to work on the next dish.

"I don't know what you're talking about?" she retorts, and he can almost see the hair flip she would do if her hair wasn't up right now.

"Sure, sure," Shiro rolls his eyes but glances back at her quick enough to see that her gaze drifts over to where Keith appears to be working on a sauce for another dessert. "Like I said, spit it out."

Romelle gives a dramatic sigh. "So, the new pastry chef..." she starts and trails off.

"What about him?" Shiro asks.

"You know him?" Romelle asks.

"Yes, he's my new pastry chef," Shiro answers as he throws onion into the pan and sautees it.

"I'm aware," Romelle answers dryly. "That's not what I'm asking, though."

"Romelle, you asked if I knew him, and I told you, yes, I do, as he is Kin'iro'S new pastry chef. I believe I've answered your question, right? Isn't there something out front you need to be managing?"

"You know damn well that's not what I mean, Shiro," Romelle huffs when she speaks, an edge of frustration in her voice. "This might be your restaurant, but everyone knows full well that I'm your eyes out here, and I deserve to know what's going on with you and Keith. I know there's something there."

"What makes you say that?" Shiro's eyes shift over to quickly look at her before he returns to cut steak he has started working on for a tartare.

"The way you look at him," Romelle gives her simple reply. The words make Shiro falter in his cooking, and he knows his manager's eyes don't miss anything that goes on. She'll have noticed the effect the words had on him. "I mean, there's more, too, you guys touch each other a lot, you know? Lots of hands on shoulders and lightly grabbing onto sleeves to get the other's attention, but mostly the shoulder touches and looks."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Shiro responds with an air of feigned ignorance. 

"When he talks, you look at him like he's the only one in the room," Romelle presses on, and the first sentence feels like it knocked Shiro out of orbit. "Like you'd pack up and leave here to go with him if he said he would travel to the edge of the universe, and you would just go with him immediately. You'd go with him anywhere. You look at Keith like you l—" 

"Romelle," Shiro cuts her off, voice harsher than he would like it, but he can't hear this right now. He has too much to work on, not only during this shift but with the restaurant in general with the pressure of the James Beard award weighing over him. "Is there something you need to do out front?"

"Fine," she snaps at him. "But we are talking later."

"Fine," Shiro barks right back at her, and he knows she doesn't deserve the rough tone and the guilt over it chews away at him as Romelle turns on her heels and heads back out into the dining room.

Shiro lets the process of cooking drag him away from Romelle's words because if he contemplates them for too long, he'll want to go sit in the corner of one of the walk-in freezers and cry a little, probably. Instead, once one of the chef's calls out the incoming order, Shiro turns his attention to making the specialty tartare dish of Kin’iro.

Somehow when Shiro comes out on the other side of making the tartare, the restaurant hits a small lull in the dinner rush. Shiro takes a step back from cooking and makes his way through the kitchen checking up on all his chefs and cooks to make sure they're feeling okay and to figure out break schedules. 

When Shiro reaches Keith, the pastry chef smiles wide at him, and the force of that bright expression knocks Shiro back a little, it's so powerful.

"How's it going?" Shiro asks.

"Great," Keith nods. "Love a weekend dinner rush, almost everyone gets dessert, too." There's a bit of feral pleasure in the grin that's settled across Keith's face. Shiro wants to kiss the edge of it.

"Of course," Shiro chuckles.

"Actually," Keith fidgets with the sleeve of his chef's jacket. "I wanted to talk to you about something if you have a minute?"

"Sure," Shiro nods.

Keith makes sure the cooks working with him will be okay if Keith steps away for a bit, and they assure him they will. Shiro can't help but smile and tilt his head slightly in admiration as Keith thanks them and hypes them up with compliments on the work they've been doing this shift. That's Keith, always there wanting to lift up his team as much as he can.

"What are you grinning for?" Keith asks as they walk to the small back office.

"It's just nice to see you leading a team like that," Shiro shrugs.

"Well," Keith pauses as if contemplating his words. "I did learn from the best."

Shiro scoffs. "I didn't teach you shit."

"I wasn't talking about you, you asshole," Keith snorts. 

Shiro gives a fake gasp. "You mean I didn't demonstrate leadership in our fundamentals class when I wanted to lead a revolt against learning to temper chocolate?"

Keith lets out an incredulous laugh. "God, you're the absolute worst."

"Yeah, you love it," Shiro jokes, not thinking about his words and immediately regretting them. Before Keith has a chance to say anything else, Shiro rushes on as they get to the office. "Anyway, take a seat," he gestures to the office chair and the bar stool crammed into the space. Keith goes got the stool and perches on top, so Shiro collapses down into the chair. "What did you want to talk about?"

Keith wraps his arms around himself and begins speaking. “So, I’ve been here for a few weeks now, right?”

“Yes,” Shiro nods, unsure of where this is going. 

“And I’ve been doing okay, too, right?” Keith presses on. 

Shiro scowls. “Of course, you’re brilliant. Do you want a performance evaluation or something?”

Keith waves a dismissive hand. “No, but you trust me, right?”

“Yes, but, Keith, what’s going on?”

Keith lets out a breath and then speaks quickly. “I think I should make changes to your dessert menu.”

That was definitely not what Shiro was expecting to hear, and he takes a few seconds to gather his thoughts before he can formulate a reply.

“What do you mean?” Shiro asks cautiously.

“I think your dessert menu could do with a revamp,” Keith explains. “It’s a solid base menu, but I know I can take it to the next level. And what better time to do that than when you’re in the spotlight? Putting out new dessert menu items now would be perfect.”

“No,” Shiro surprises himself with the abrupt answer, and Keith’s eyes widen briefly before he resets his expression. “This isn’t the right time to do it. Not when we have the attention. Maybe after, for sure, we can talk about it more then, but I don’t think it’s wise to change the menu right now.

“I thought you trust me?” Keith’s words slice through Shiro sharper than any knife out in the kitchen.

“I do,” Shiro’s voice is tense.

“Then what?” Keith straightens up on the stool. “Why do you think I can’t update the dessert menu now? Do you think I’ll fuck it up? Do you think I don’t know what I’m doing? What is it?”

“No,” Shiro struggles to explain. “I just don’t think now is when we should do it, there’s too much pressure on all of us already, and I can’t have new menu items thrown into the mix.”

“So you don’t trust me,” Keith replies flatly. 

“Keith—” Shiro starts but gets cut off.

“No, listen to me, Shiro, why are you being so scared like this? You were always one of the most courageous chefs I’ve known, our history or no, how else would you have landed a James Beard nomination right now on your first restaurant a year after opening? It’s because you’re talented and take risks,” Keith’s voice is almost pleading, and it eats at Shiro’s heart. “What better time than now, with me as your pastry chef to do it? It’ll be so fucking good.”

And it does sound good. It sounds absolutely fucking perfect, but it also terrifies Shiro just a little bit to make the changes when people are going to be coming to the restaurant expecting one thing. “I’m sorry, Keith,” Shiro sighs. “I don’t agree with you on this. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize to me,” Keith snaps back. “Apologize to yourself and your staff because you’re holding Kin’iro back from being even better.”

“I’m not!” Shiro doesn’t mean to raise his voice, but the accusation stings.

“Then let’s do this!” 

“No.”

With that final rejection, the two look at each other in silence, and Shiro hates that he’s so concerned about the restaurant’s reputation he can’t even budge a little bit when he knows this would be a good move. But there’s something in the back of his head pulling him back, telling him things could go wrong and then what?

“Then I don’t really see myself staying at Kin’iro, then,” Keith declares, and it’s a stab to Shiro’s gut.

“What do you mean?” Shiro asks.

“If my chef doesn’t trust me, then why should I be here?” Keith hops off the stool and doesn’t look at Shiro as he walks out of the office. He pauses at the door. “I’ll stay for the rest of the shift because I would never abandon my team and the restaurant like that, but don’t expect me here tomorrow.”

With that, Keith walks out the door back into the kitchen.

---

Maybe it was because they were young and in love and felt invincible. Shiro was easily at the top of the class among the culinary students and the same could be said of Keith for pastry. Their cooking skills were impeccable and their creativity in the kitchen felt unparalleled. Professors praised them for their work and other students were always eager to try what they had made in class.

Yes, Shiro felt like nothing could go wrong with Keith at his side. The issue with that was they were both too—not afraid, exactly—but apprehensive to talk about what comes after they graduate. What happens when they have their degrees and the whole restaurant world has opened in front of them? Where do they go?

They were lying in bed together after their graduation ceremony earlier in the morning and the rest of the day had been spent with their families. Shiro’s parents and grandparents along with Keith’s parents and his horde of uncles had spent the day celebrating the couple’s completion of culinary school, and they had toasted their futures at dinner. Too bad the two of them had managed to neglect to reveal the fact they had not really talked about what would happen when their lease was up in two months and they’d leave the small restaurant jobs they had in town.

“What are you thinking about?” Keith asked, his head comfortably cushioned on Shiro’s chest. Shiro had his arm wrapped around Keith and was tracing lazy patterns with the texturized tip of a prosthetic finger on Keith’s back, leaving goosebumps behind. Keith shivered in the soothing motion.

“Well, I guess, everything,” Shiro said.

“Everything, huh?” Keith chuckled and turned his head to leave a kiss on Shiro’s chest. “That’s a lot.”

“Yeah,” Shiro sighed. 

“What’s on your mind?” Keith scooted back just a little so he could look at Shiro’s face.

“About what happens when we leave here,” Shiro began thoughtfully. “About us and where we’ll go.”

Keith burrowed back into Shiro’s naked chest. “Wherever we go, we’ll be together.”

“Yeah,” Shiro sighed again, but he wasn’t sure. “Where do you want to go?” 

“Start working in a restaurant there and work my way up. Maybe some bakeries. Who knows, just go along and see where it all takes me,” Keith shrugged.

“Oh,” Shiro replied, that sounded just like Keith. “And I’ll be there with you?”

“Of course,” Keith answered like he couldn’t believe that Shiro was asking that.

“Of course,” Shiro parroted back, and he wondered why he thought anything else would even happen.

A month before their lease was up, Shiro and Keith started to apply for jobs. They applied in the same cities figuring that they’d both manage to get some solid leads somewhere for them to move together. That’s what they had thought at least.

Shiro was offered a possible position in New York City at a prestigious Japanese restaurant that fell perfectly in line with his career goals of one day opening a modern Japanese restaurant. He had already spoken to both the owner and the head chef, and all he needed to go was get himself to the city and interview in person and cook for them. Keith was offered the chance to be part of the staff that opened a new location of a trendy bakery in Las Vegas where they were going to be making the familiar pastries and baked goods of the bakery and Keith would play a role in developing new items that would be city-specific. They were both the ideal jobs Keith and Shiro wanted, but they just weren’t in the same place.

They sat in the dining room of the apartment they had shared for the last two years. Most of it was packed up now, ready for the two of them to move out and on to the next part of their lives. It just didn’t seem like it would be together.

“You have to take the job, Keith,” Shiro was holding Keith’s hand, and Keith was gripping back on his tightly. “It’s perfect.”

“And you have to take the New York one, Shiro,” Keith replied, tears starting to slide down his face. “It’s the start of everything you want.”

“Fuck,” Shiro said because it’s all he could think of to sum up the frustrations he was feeling. Why did it have to be like this?

“I didn’t think this would happen,” Keith admitted, almost reading Shiro’s thoughts. “It’s supposed to be us together.”

“I know,” Shiro whispered, and he wanted nothing more than to just get up and wrap his arms around Keith right now. It felt like the wrong move.

The thing was, both of them would give up their job offers in a second to go be with the other, but then the other would never forgive for walking away from a job for them. They were stuck, and the only way to go was in opposite directions.

“What should we do?” Keith asked voice strained with trying to hold back tears.

“You go west, and I go east, and…” Shiro trailed off, tears slipping down his cheek. “And that’s it.”

“Should we break up?” Keith’s voice wobbled dangerously like he was on a cliff’s edge.

“I love you,” it’s not the first time Shiro has said it.

“I love you, too,” it’s not Keith’s first time either.

“But.”

“But I think we have to go in opposite directions,” Keith admitted, and every word felt like it was painful for Keith to say.

“I think so, too,” Shiro confessed, and it truly did kill him inside. He felt like everything was breaking apart.

Neither would ever hold the other back from their career and dreams, but they never thought this would happen—that it would end up pulling them apart and flinging them in two different ways. It would also kill them to try and maintain their relationship from opposite coasts while entering one of the most demanding professional fields. It was an option, sure, to be long-distance, but Shiro thought that would probably kill the both of them even more.

Keith laughed, but it was a wet sound from his crying. “We really never thought this would happen.”

“We didn’t,” Shiro smiled sadly.

They stayed at the table until the sun set and they were covered in darkness, just holding hands and looking at the other while crying. That night they went to sleep wrapped in each other’s arms, but Shiro felt haunted more than comforted by it. Shiro had boyfriends in high school but those breakups felt like nothing compared to this. This felt like his soul was being ripped against his will. It felt like he never wanted to get up and do anything again, but if he did that, it wouldn’t be what Keith wanted. The last thing that Shiro ever wanted to do was hurt and upset Keith.

Of course, they agreed they’d keep in contact as they could while they started on the next part of their lives, but Shiro knew that looking at social media to see how Keith was doing would absolutely wreck him.

When the day came for Keith to leave first, an early flight back to Arizona to be with his family before heading to Las Vegas, they stood in front of the apartment door hugging until the last possible second. “I’ll find you,” Keith whispered into Shiro’s ear before pulling away. 

Shiro wasn’t sure what Keith meant by that, but he had replied. “Okay.”

---

Shiro runs. It’s all he can think of to do in order to clear his head. After they had cleaned up once the restaurant closed, Shiro had wanted to try and talk to Keith more, but Keith had immediately made a beeline out of Kin'iro before Shiro even had a chance. So, he lets his mind wander on his uptown train home, changes into workout clothes, and runs. 

Shiro follows his usual running path; the turns down streets and dips onto the street through the narrow sidewalks of Washington Heights are ingrained into him. It's the ideal running path for when you need to allow your mind to wander and think, which he needs to do now with how thoughts are racing through his head about everything with Keith, but there's one question at the front of his mind.

Why won't Shiro let Keith change the dessert menu now?

It feels like one of the most natural things for Shiro to say yes to. Of course, Keith knows Shiro's culinary style already and has adapted to the restaurant, and he's a talented pastry chef on top of that who's well-known for developing new recipes for the places where he works, so Shiro would be an idiot to deny Keith the opportunity here. Except, there's something there keeping him back. 

Over the past few years since their breakup, they've spoken a few times, nothing long or serious, just a quick call to catch up and maybe an exchange of texts here and there, as if doing anything more than the base level of formalities to keep in contact would be too painful. Shiro followed Keith's career from successfully opening the new bakery location in Las Vegas to another expansion of the business in San Diego. Keith had a hand in developing new cookie and cake recipes for the bakeries that have become staples of those locations now. From there, he had spent time working as a pastry chef for a cake shop that specializes in cakes for big events. Shiro had felt so proud looking at pictures of Keith posing for cakes he made for Hollywood premieres, weddings, and fundraising events. 

But then Keith had walked into Shiro's restaurant and asked for an interview for the newly vacant pastry chef position, and it had almost been like the two of them had spent no time apart. They had not really acknowledged their past relationship yet, staying fairly formal and professional as they were working together, but there was no awkwardness, no need to hastily apologize for not keeping in touch as much as they had promised each other all those years ago in a dark kitchen.

The thing is, Shiro realizes, that once he had sat across from Keith in that dining room while Shiro ate a cookie that Keith had freshly baked and was then scribbling notes on some stray paper, most likely about the ingredients he had used, and Shiro had thought one day we're going to run a restaurant together. There was some flour on Keith's nose that also managed to smudge onto a cheek, and Keith's eyebrows were furrowed in concentration as he mouthed words silently to himself—likely ingredient proportion. It had been a rare Saturday when both of their shifts at the restaurants where they worked ended at the same time, and they were choosing to ignore their homework. Well, Shiro was ignoring his, the cookies were something Keith needed to do for class. Shiro made them quick omelets for dinner while Keith also squeezed in working on his baking. They danced around each other effortlessly and perfectly in their cooking and baking.

It was almost too good to be true, and Shiro supposes it was. But it was that day that it dawned on Shiro that he wanted nothing more than to both spend the rest of his life with Keith and run a restaurant with him. Even though Kin’iro was Shiro's, having Keith as his pastry chef made it feel like theirs. Wasn't this what Shiro had once dreamt of? But the issue was, well, he had seen them running a restaurant together in a much different situation. 

"You can't always get what you want, Takashi," Shiro whispers to himself as he turns the corner back onto the block of his apartment. Part of him wants to keep running and go for another small lap, but Shiro also knows there's something more important he needs to do. He needs to call Keith and apologize. He needs to tell Keith that changing the dessert menu is the perfect move and Shiro's own hangups can't set them back. 

Shiro runs up the stairs two at a time, once again pondering why he lives in a 5th-floor walk-up apartment. As soon as he makes it through the door and closes it behind him, Shiro pulls his phone from his pocket and taps away until he's calling Keith and collapses down onto the couch.  He's afraid that Keith won't even pick up.

"Hey," Keith's voice over the phone sounds tense.

"Hi," Shiro replies. "I was worried you wouldn't answer."

"I almost didn't," Keith admits.

"Oh, well, I'm glad you decided against that," Shiro clenches and unclenches his fist not holding the phone to try and let some tension out of his body.

"What do you want, Shiro?" Keith asks with exasperation.

"I want to tell you that you were right and that I was wrong," Shiro begins. "I want to tell you that my own fear of fucking up was keeping me back from making one of the easiest decisions in my life of letting the brilliant pastry chef at my restaurant take the dessert menu and make it perfect. I want to tell you that I'm sorry for not keeping in touch like I said I would when we broke up."

There's silence for a few minutes, and then, incredulously, Keith starts laughing. "Shiro, you big fucking idiot."

"I'm sorry?" Shiro asks, confused.

"First, thank you for admitting that you're in the wrong and should be practically begging me to update your dessert menu so it fits even better with Kin’iro," Keith starts. "But also, I understand that you're stressed right now. You'd be crazy not to be with James Beard hovering over all of your thoughts and actions at the restaurant right now. So, I also want to apologize for pushing so hard today because it was unfair of me. If you don't want to change the menu, don't do it for me, do it because of you."

"I'm not doing it for you or me, I want to do it for us," Shiro admits. Keith's sharp intake of breath at the words echoes through the phone. "I want to do this so you, me, and the rest of the Kin’iro team can push ourselves to be even better, whether we get the James Beard or not, whether we are nominated or not, we should be trying to be better, to be the best restaurant in New York that we can be, and you're going to help with that as the pastry chef."

"Oh, well," Keith seems at a loss for words. "If you say so."

"I do," Shiro chuckles.

"Okay, well, next, I just want you to know you shouldn't blame yourself for us not keeping in touch," Keith says. "It's a two-way street, communication, you know, and I didn't hold up things on my end either."

"It's okay, though, you were so busy—"

"And you weren't?" Keith laughs. “You opened a whole fucking restaurant, Shiro.”

“I guess that’s true,” Shiro’s lips can’t help but quirk up.

“So I get to redo the dessert menu?” Keith asks, and Shiro can hear the smile over the phone.

“Yes,” Shiro affirms.

“I’m going to need your help, though,” Keith explains. “I can’t do this alone.”

“Neither can I,” Shiro admits. “It’s been hard without you.” The confession scares Shiro.

“Can I tell you something?” 

“Anything, always.”

“The day of your open interviews, I was across the street at that coffee shop,” Keith tells Shiro. “I was sitting there watching people go in and out of your restaurant, just making sure I could be the last one to go in to talk to you.”

Shiro sucks in a breath. “Why?”

“Because I missed you.”

“I’ve missed you so fucking much.”

“God,” Keith groans. “I wish I was with you right now. I’ve wanted to just be alone with you so badly these past few weeks, it’s killed me.”

“Same,” Shiro nods even though Keith can’t see him. “I thought it would be easy to just work in the restaurant with you, but every single day, I just wanted to talk to you, tell you how much I miss you and how much I want to just get my hands on you.”

“What would you do if we were together right now?” Keith presses.

“Fuck,” Shiro closes his eyes and lets his head fall onto the back of the couch.

“Already?” Keith’s laugh is something Shiro hasn’t heard in years. It’s something he only ever heard while they were pressed close together. 

“No,” Shiro sighs. “I want to run my hands through your hair. Is it still soft? It looks like it is. I’d kiss you on the jaw and then on your cheek before giving you a quick one on the lips. It’ll barely feel like I even kissed you, and you’d try and push forward to get a real, proper kiss, but I’d just hold your face in my hands and keep leaving them everywhere but where you want them.” Keith whispers Shiro’s name, but Shiro keeps going. “And when I could tell you’d be good, I’d kiss you just the way you want. It would be gentle at first, just to get reacquainted for a bit, but then we’d sink into it. I want to lick into your mouth so bad.”

“Come on, come on,” Keith urges, and Shiro holds back a groan. This isn’t where he expected the conversation to go, but, well, he’s not going to stop it now.

“I’d be too impatient at first,” Shiro shifts on the couch, sliding down a little and spreading his legs. “It’s been so long since I’ve been able to touch you like I want to, so I’d get your shirt off, leave kisses everywhere and suck bruises into your skin. You always were so easy to mark up. I’d get your pants off next—”

Keith groans but also manages to laugh at the same time. “You’re so impatient. That’s different.”

“You’re so hot, of course, I’m impatient,” Shiro growls. “Fuck patience if I have you in my bed, I want to be inside you.” Over the phone, he hears Keith gasp and then sounds of movement. “Are you touching yourself?”

“Of course.”

“Look who’s the impatient one.”

“Then get your pants open, too,” Keith murmurs, and his voice drips dark. “I know you want to.”

“Fuck,” Shiro lets the word burst from his mouth and hurries to put the phone on speaker and turned up so he can switch his attention for a moment to opening his pants and pulling himself out. The first touch makes Shiro thrust into his hand immediately with a gasp.

“That’s it, Shiro,” Keith encourages him. “Then what would you do.” Shiro can hear the sounds of Keith working himself through the phone, which means he’s further along than Shiro is. The thought of that makes Shiro harder in his hand.

“I’d get my mouth everywhere but where you wanted it, and then, just when you’d think I was finally going to swallow you down, I'd flip you over instead,” Shiro squeezes himself at the sound of Keith’s whine. “I’d pull you back so I’d have your ass right where I wanted it so I could spread you and start licking you open.”

“Shiro!” Keith cries out his name, but it’s not the way Keith yells his name when he comes. Shiro knows that sound and has still dreamt of that sound. 

“That’s it, baby,” Shiro starts to work himself in earnest now, wanting to get off with Keith. “I’d work you open on my tongue, wanting to go slow at first, make sure you really feel the stretch as I go and work fingers in you so you’re wet and ready for me, but you’d be impatient by then, too, wouldn’t you, Keith?” All he hears is a moan over the phone. “Keith, you want me now?”

“Yes!” Keith cries over the phone. “Please, please, I want you, fuck me.”

Shiro chuckles. “Yeah, I’d get you so ready for me, but we’re in a hurry and you’d be begging like you are right now. I’d push into you so fucking easy.”

Keith starts chanting variations of “yes” and “Shiro” over and over, and the way Keith’s breath is starting to stutter is all Shiro needs to know. It’s like he allows the memories he’s locked away of what it’s like to fuck Keith, to be fucked by Keith, and to see this side of him finally be opened again.

“I can’t wait, can you come for me?” Shiro asks.

“Yes, anything, always,” Keith chokes out, and then, finally. “Shiro!” That’s it. That’s the way he says Shiro’s name when he comes. It’s what pushes Shiro over the edge as well, and he’s vaguely aware of babbling about how much he wishes Keith was there with him right now, in his lap or on his bed or just anywhere so he could fuck him for real.

There’s silence after that—well, besides the sound of them panting, there is no other noise. They don’t speak, maybe wondering who’ll break first.

“Keith?” Shiro whispers with caution.

“Hey, Shiro,” Keith replies, and then, he starts giggling. Truly laughing, and the sound feels like some kind of salvation has come to help Shiro get through everything that’s going on. So he does the only thing he can think of, which is to join in the laughter.

Eventually, they say their goodbyes, not acknowledging what happened even though there’s come drying on Shiro’s abs. But it feels like the star to something, Shiro hopes.

---

That weekend, Shiro and Keith take time to work on updating the dessert menu. For some existing items, Keith revamps them and tweaks them until he feels they fit the rest of the food served at the restaurant more, and others he completely crosses out and shares with Shiro all his new ideas. Shiro is enraptured by everything Keith says and how passionately he explains his reasoning for things like adding persimmon custard and convincing Shiro that maybe three yuzu based desserts are too many. It all makes sense, and even when they hit parts of the changes that they disagree on, the two chefs manage to reach decisions together. They work perfectly, flawlessly. It’s everything that Shiro dreamed of a couple of years ago.

The only thing is that both of them continue to not acknowledge that night on the phone, but Shiro can’t shake how prettily Keith moaned his name when he came. And then they continue to not say anything to each other about it for a few more days, which turns into a week, and that evolves into Shiro wondering if it was all just a very nice dream he had on the couch after getting home from his run. The only reason he doesn’t completely believe that to be the case is that Keith and he seem to be, well, more tactile lately. More stray touches in the kitchen while passing each other. Even more hands on shoulders while they discuss restaurant matters in the kitchen. Leaning a little on each other during drinks with the staff even happened one evening.

Allura is over at his place, and they're doing one of their favorite drinking games they created while watching a Chopped marathon. During a commercial break, he tells Allura about The Phone Call with Keith.

"Oh my god, you had phone sex with Keith?" Allura laughs loud and hard. "And you haven't even talked about your relationship or anything?"

"Nope," Shiro snaps the word and takes a long drink from his whiskey ginger. 

"You are both so fucking dumb," Allura continues to laugh, almost doubled over while gently holding her beer bottled cradled between two fingers. "Wait," her head snaps up. "Where did you do it?" 

Shiro waves at the couch where they're sitting. "Um, well, here."

"Oh, hell," Allura rises from the couch and moves across the room to sit in the old armchair Shiro bought during a West Elm sale to try and feel like a real adult. Once she sits down, she points her bottle at Shiro. "You need to talk to him and soon."

"I know, I know," Shiro agrees, but he doesn't quite know how to start.

Shiro wonders if he's also hallucinating the rise in what he would classify as flirting. It starts with Keith making small passing comments in front of the kitchen staff at work, but Shiro isn't one to sit by idly and pushes back just as much.

They're cleaning up the kitchen at the end of a shift, and Shiro is taking his time giving the usual amount of detailed care he always does to make sure that the stovetop is shining and pristine. "You're always so focused when you clean the stove," one of the line cooks, Ezor, comments.

"Yeah," Shiro breaks out of his cleaning trance. "I don't know, I've always liked getting into all the parts of the stove to make sure it's cleaned, ever since college."

"That's not the only thing you've liked since college," Keith smirks as he carries whisks over to the dish cleaning area. 

"Um," Shiro manages to say dumbly, but his eyes follow Keith as he walks across the kitchen, missing the looks shared by the staff.

The next day before Kin’iro opens, everyone is talking about how Romelle went to the new gelato place in Bushwick that has some buzz going around it. She mentions it was a date with her girlfriend and how they made the mistake of deciding to get it in cones to go so they could walk to the park together because the heat meant the gelato had started to melt immediately and caused a mess. Keith frowns during her story, which she notices.

"What's got you so upset about gelato, Keith?" Romelle asks. "You're a pastry chef, don't tell me you hate ice cream."

"I don't hate ice cream," Keith scoffs. "I hate cones."

"You hate cones?" Romelle's eyebrows rise, and she looks up from where she's been folding napkins. "Really?"

"It's messy," Keith shrugs. "It just gets everywhere and you have to lick it up if you don't have napkins. And it's sticky."

"Hmm," Shiro muses from where he's sanitizing menus at another table. "I don't seem to remember you feeling that way about things before."

"Excuse me?" Keith exclaims, and Shiro looks over at him with a wide grin and winks.

"Do you know we're here?" Romelle gestures to herself and the other servers who are working, Nadia and Ryan. 

Shiro ignores them and keeps his eyes on Keith, who just rolls his eyes and gets back to making notes on his new dessert menu recipes. This is the closest either of them gets to discussing their anything regarding the two of them outside of the professional setting of the restaurant.

Shiro is also fairly sure his staff hates him and Keith now. The line cooks, Ezor, Zethrid, James, and Rolo, seem to be at their wits end with having to constantly witness Shiro and Keith interact in the kitchen. Meanwhile, the front-of-house servers Nadia, Ryan, and Ina along with Romelle only have to suffer in Shiro and Keith's company mostly before and after shifts. 

Keith has a day off while Shiro is at the restaurant on a Wednesday. He's sitting in the office trying to get the supply orders for the following month together when Romelle waltzes in and takes a seat on the stool. 

"Can I help you?" Shiro asks.

"Yeah, I have a question," Romelle tells him.

"Okay," Shiro turns his attention from the computer screen and looks at her. "What's up?"

"What's going on with you and Keith?" Romelle's voice is demanding.

"Good talk," Shiro replies and turns back to the laptop.

"Oh my god, you're such a damn child," Romelle groans with exasperation. 

"Am not," Shiro fires back immediately.

"You said we would talk about it later, and now it's much later," Romelle pushes. "It has been weeks of everyone at Kin’iro having to suffer watching the two of you flirt like crazy in front of us. It makes some of us feel very single."

"You're not single, you have a girlfriend," Shiri points out. "And Zethrid and Ezor and engaged."

"Yes, these are exceptions, but think about poor, James," Romelle explains. "He has to watch his boss relentlessly flirt with one of the other chefs every single day.”

"First," Shiro starts, "I do not flirt with Keith every single day. Second, James is a big boy, he's fine."

"So, you admit you do flirt with Keith, just not every day?" Romelle counters with triumph.

Shiro scowls. "That's not what I said at all."

"Shiro," Romelle's voice is stern. "As your manager, I think I deserve to know this. Am I effectively not second-in-command? I think I get to know what's going on in the restaurant."

She has a point, Shiro must admit. Reluctantly, he turns away from his sweet escape of restaurant administrative work and looks at Romelle. "He's my ex."

"Oh my god," Romelle, always one for dramatics, covers her mouth in shock. 

"Yeah," Shiro shrugs. "We were together for, like, almost four years, but then we broke up at the end of culinary school because we both got our best job offers and opportunities on different coasts. He just came out here, heard I needed a pastry chef, and well, he was at the top of our class in pastry and has done some really incredible work at bakeries and restaurants in Vegas and San Diego. He was the best choice to hire. It just so happened...that we used to date and live together."

"Oh my god," it appears to be the only thing Romelle is capable of saying, Shiro thinks, but then she goes on. "And you're not fucking right now?" 

"Romelle!" Shiro shrieks a little, scandalized. "No, not really, no."

"What do you mean ‘not really’?" Romelle's eyebrows knit together in confusion.

Shiro wonders if she'll laugh at him as Allura did, but he decides not to go into it. "Yeah, it's, well, it's complicated right now, but we aren't together or anything."

"Well, I guess if the worst thing we have to endure is you guys being grossly in love in front of each other, which we frankly already get pretty often with Zethrid and Ezor, then I think it's fine," Romelle concludes.

"Thanks for your approval, Romelle," Shiro replies dryly.

"You're welcome," she smiles cheerfully and leans forward to pat Shiro's head. "As long as it doesn't mess up anything with the restaurant, we're all good here." She hops down and leaves the office.

Shiro's first mistake here was telling Romelle. He tells her, and then some amazing way, everyone in the restaurant knows.

"So, you and Keith, huh?" Ezor comments while Shiro is prepping a foie gras next to her during a lunch shift. 

"What about us, chef?" Shiro asks, sighing. He looks over at the perfectly plated confit she made. He can't even try and shift the conversation to say something about her cooking because she's a damn good chef, so of course, there's nothing to critique.

"I hear you two used to be an item," Ezor giggles.

"We did," Shiro replies shortly. "But right now we're both chefs at Kin’iro, so I think it would be good for you to remember that and work on the next order. What do you think?"

"I think you're no fun," Ezor laughs again but goes back to work, and Shiro sighs, hoping this will be the only time he has to deal with this.

He's wrong.

Shiro is walking to the subway station with Nadia after work since they both live along the A train, and they're just having a nice, pleasant general conversation catching up about life, when she hits him with the question he'd been hoping to not hear again.

"So, you and Keith used to date?" Nadia asks.

"More than," Shiro grumbles. "But that's the past, it doesn't matter."

"Are you sure?" Nadia raises an eyebrow. "Because I think all of us with eyes, so the whole staff, and everyone with ears, which, again, is the entire restaurant staff, can tell that it very much matters."

"What do you mean?" Shiro frowns.

"The other day you were talking about the new sauce bowls you ordered, and Keith was looking at you like you just personally hung stars in the sky for him," Nadia deadpans.

"Oh," Shiro is glad it's dark out because he feels his cheeks heat.

"Yeah, oh, it's a mix of cute and gross," she shakes her head. "You're worse than Ezor and Zethrid."

"How?" Shiro asks.

"Because you're so in love and not even together," Nadia explains.

Something about being told he's in love with Keith by Nadia hits Shiro like the scaffolding they're walking under has just fallen on him. Shiro knew he loved Keith when they were together during culinary school. Shiro was certain he was still a bit in love with Keith in the years after the breakup. Hell, Shiro realized he still had love for Keith the day the pastry chef walked into Kin’iro, but it's hearing the words spoken out loud into the world that shake him.

"So, I hear you're in love with Keith?" James asks with his usual lack of gracefulness one day while they're both in one of the walk-in fridges doing inventory, and it takes everything in Shiro's power to not fling the almost empty container of calamari at his sous chef.

It turns out his restaurant staff, the very people he considers family alongside his own parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, are ready to betray him at a moment’s notice. Shiro can only be thankful for the fact they wait to pull this shit until the end of the day when there aren’t people filling the dining room, but then again, Shiro would really like to just go home already.

It’s Zethrid who ends up being the one to betray Shiro. She’s been the chef who’s worked closest with Keith so far on the dessert menu, and she calls for Shiro, saying Keith needs him for something in one of the walk-in fridges. Shiro goes without question.

“What’s up?” Shiro asks Keith as he enters the fridge. Keith is crouched down looking at the fruit they have stored, and Shiro wonders if there was something missing in today’s delivery that came in the morning.

“What?” Keith turns to look at him with his face scrunched.

“Zethrid told me you needed help with something?” Shiro explains.

Keith’s face relaxes but then his brows furrow. “I didn’t.”

“What?” Shiro sighs and turns to leave the fridge. On cue, the door opens slightly and a piece of crumpled papers gets thrown at him before the fridge slams shut. Reflexes cause Shiro to raise a hand to catch it. Keith makes a distressed sound from the corner.

When Shiro unfolds the paper, there's Romelle’s neat writing on one of the paper pads with the restaurant’s letterhead on it that the serving staff use to take orders. It’s a short note, but to the point.

The two of you are locked in until you talk about feelings and kiss at least one (1) time.
Love,
The Kin’iro staff

Shiro gives a humorless laugh and passes it over to Keith. He watches Keith’s eyes skim over the note quickly, and the line between his eyebrows only deepens before he looks back up at Shiro to ask, “What do you think?”

“I think it’s a good thing we’re locked in a fridge. Can’t go hungry,” Shiro shrugs.

“You want to avoid talking that badly?” Keith questions.

“No,” Shiro explains. “But I don’t know where to start talking.”

“Valid,” Keith nods. “I’ll start then. How’s that sound?” When Shiro nods, Keith nods back and starts talking. “I already told you the other day on the phone that I missed you, and you said you missed me, too. I’ve been away from you so long that I almost thought I learned to live without you, but, surprise, I really, really cannot do it. I was growing restless out there and wanted to move on to something new. It just...worked out that I decided to make the jump to move across the country to be here, and then I heard you were looking for a pastry chef...Everything started to click.

But then, you never said anything about us. At first, I was a little upset about it, but then I realized, I’m not saying anything either. I think we were both too scared after so long to take the jump back into being, well, Shiro and Keith again. The other night...it was really good. Really fucking good. And every single day since I’ve just wanted to reach out and touch you but don’t know if I’m allowed to, which sounds crazy. I think I know what you want. I think it’s the same as me. But why am I so scared?” By the end of his small speech, Keith’s face has completely drifted from looking at Shiro and has turned down to look at his feet, as if frightened to see what would be on Shiro’s face. 

Shiro doesn’t hesitate to cross the short distance between them and place an arm around Keith to bring him in close. The sudden movement and embrace make Keith let out a squeak sound that he will never admit to making later. “I’m sorry,” Shiro apologizes. “I just really needed to hold you before I said my part.”

Keith looks up at Shiro, and they really are quite close, Shiro muses. This is the closest they’ve been in years. One of Keith’s hands comes up to rest on Shiro’s cheek, thumb grazing the edge of the scar that sits across the bridge of Shiro’s nose, and Shiro raises the arm not around Keith to place his hand over Keith’s. “Okay,” Keith whispers.

“I’ve been scared,” Shiro admits. “I was too scared to say anything and ruin the fact you were here, working in my restaurant with me and being your absolutely brilliant self under this roof. I used to dream about this, and I realized this was almost perfect. The only thing missing was calling you mine and me yours, and if that's what I had to give up to come close to having everything I ever wanted, well, I accepted it. But I’ve missed you, too, and as much as I’ve been able to do things without you, like open this place, I’ve just wanted you here with me so much, Keith, so fucking much—”

Shiro doesn’t get a chance to finish because Keith pushes up on his toes and brings his mouth to Shiro’s. 

The kiss is everything and better than what he remembers from being able to graze his lips on Keith’s. It’s soft at first, but then Shiro’s lips part in a gasp of want for the other man, which Keith doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of so he can deepen the kiss. One of Keith’s hands grips Shiro’s bicep so tightly he hopes that there will be bruises there under his chef’s jacket. Shiro plays with the slightly longer hair at the nape of Keith’s neck right as they touch the chef’s jacket collar. 

Even though Shiro feels hot from every single point his body touches Keith’s, especially as Keith slides his tongue into Shiro’s mouth, when Shiro takes hold of Keith’s hand, he can feel how cold it is from the fact they’re still standing inside a fridge. Shiro pulls his mouth away slowly, but Keith chases after it. “Keith, hey, we need to leave the fridge,” he chuckles quietly.

“Why?” Keith seems uncaring about their environment.

“Because we can’t stay in here, baby,” Shiro murmurs, and saying that nickname again awakens something behind Keith’s eyes. They glow brightly in the fluorescent fridge light, and his hand digs a little deeper into Shiro’s arm.

“Oh, yeah, okay,” Keith seems dazed but reluctantly peels himself off Shiro, but Shiro catches one of his hands as they move apart, holding it.

“I’m not letting you go far,” Shiro smirks.

“Good,” Keith replies. “I’m not leaving.”

They walk over to the door, and Shiro gives a hard knock to it a few times, banging hard so the staff outside can hear. The door opens just a tiny bit and one of Romelle’s eyes becomes visible. “So, did you do what we told you?”

“Yes,” Shiro rolls his eyes and then holds up their clasped hands.

“Are you pretending?” Romelle’s single eye narrows at them.

Shiro opens his mouth to reply, but he’s yanked back by Keith who kisses him. Shiro’s already open mouth means that Keith’s tongue makes its way home inside quite immediately. The kiss ends as suddenly as it starts, and Shiro feels mildly disoriented by it. “Is that pretend?” Keith asks Romelle with a raised eyebrow.

“Seems not,” Romelle nods and pulls the door open fully. As the two chefs step out of the fridge, Romelle turns her head to yell out into the kitchen. “Congrats, crew, Chef Shirogane and Chef Kogane are official!”

“Did you have to announce it?” Shiro scowls as he walks into the kitchen, and he’s greeted with the sight of the whole staff from the dinner shift standing there, and Ryan is holding a bottle that looks suspiciously like champagne. Shiro doesn’t get to question it before the cork is popped and a rather disappointing burst comes from the bottle.

“Really?” Keith deadpans. 

“Let us hope the two of you explode better than the cheapest bottle the corner liquor store has the offer!” Ryan exclaims, raising the bottle.

“Oh my god, I hate you all,” Shiro groans, his ears warming.

“You love us,” Nadia yells as she puts down glasses for everyone.

Shiro doesn’t say it, but, yes, he loves his restaurant and everyone who works there with him.

---

From there, things are good. Shiro would go as far as to say that things are absolutely amazing, actually. He’s officially in a relationship with Keith again, and after some more talking and kissing in the much warmer environment of Shiro’s apartment, they’ve decided to take things slow even though they have years of being together behind them. As much as Shiro would love to do some of the things he told Keith over the phone that one night, there really is something to be said for kissing each other good night and cuddling. And the cherry on top of all of this is Shiro is still the owner and head chef of Kin’iro, his restaurant, which is a finalist for a James Beard Award. He wonders how he managed to be so lucky.

The even busier weekend dinner rush that they’ve gotten used to since becoming a finalist is underway on a Saturday night, and Shiro is in his groove in the kitchen along with the rest of his chefs and cooks carefully sesame-crusted tuna and Kobe beef tartar among the other handful of dishes that are on the carefully crafted menu. Keith and Zethrid are also kept busy in their part of the kitchen with the dessert menu. Shiro can see that Keith has out the torch to caramelize the black sesame creme brulee.

Romelle bursts through the kitchen doors, which is nothing new at all, but when Shiro looks up at her, she’s biting her lip and her eyebrows are disappearing behind her newly acquired bangs from a haircut earlier in the week. 

“Everything okay?” Shiro treads cautiously.

“So, you know how we’re James Beard finalists?” Romelle shifts between her feet while she speaks.

James snorts next to Shiro where he’s preparing to cook scallops. “No, shit, Romelle, we are?”

“Oh, fuck off, Griffin,” Romelle scowls at him. “I’m getting there, well, one night I couldn’t sleep, so I looked up who the people voting are and what they do and what they look like and what restaurants they are affiliated with and what—”

“Romelle,” Shiro cuts her off, pressing forward for urgency to get to her point.

“Okay, well, so maybe I know what some of them look like and who they are, and we had a reservation for six people that just came in and at least two of them are people I recognize from seeing them that night when I was looking stuff up. There’s a good chance more of them are, too,” Romelle cringes when she finishes talking.

“So,” Shiro starts slowly. “You’re telling me that there’s a table out there that has at least two and up to six people who will be voting on whether we win a James Beard award?”

“Yes, Shiro, yes,” Romelle says, waving her hands frantically.

“Then we are going to give them the best fucking meal they’ve ever had right now, okay?” Shiro’s eyes go wide as he tells Romelle this. “What do you say, Romelle?”

“Hell yeah!” Romelle punches a fist in the air. “Nadia is their server, so they’re in good hands, and they’re at table three for when orders come back.” She reaches over and ruffles Shiro’s hair. “Don’t fuck it up!” she yells at the kitchen before leaving.

“What are we not fucking?” Keith yells over at Shiro.

“Table three is James Beard voters, and we’re going to be giving them the best damn meal when their order comes in, got that?” Shiro yells out to the kitchen staff.

“Yes, chef!” they all sound back to him immediately. He knows they replied promptly out of their own training from working in kitchens before his, but Shiro also knows that they’re all internally freaking out just as much as he is right now.

“What’s the plan?” James asks.

“Nothing different than normal, which, if you think about it, is how it should be because we should always be on the top of our game, not just when some important table comes in, yeah?” Shiro puts down a plate of seared tuna with a garlic sesame pickled vegetable salad down for Ryan to come to grab for a table at the same time as James perfectly sets down the scallops for the same table. Ryan walks through the doors and nods at them as he takes the plates.

“Sounds good, chef,” James replies.

Everyone has a few minutes of getting pulled back into the comfort of forgetting that James Beard voters are sitting out in the dining room, but that all crashes away when Nadia walks into the kitchen to tell them the order. 

“Hit us with it,” Shiro puts a towel over his shoulder and claps his hands together.

“It’s an easy one for that, table three, let me tell you,” Nadia adjusts her glasses. “One of everything on the menu.”

“Oh, that’s cool,” Shiro’s voice raises an octave out of a fun mixture of fear and anxiety.

“Excuse me,” Keith is suddenly next to Shiro. “Did you not literally just say that we shouldn’t treat this differently than any other busy night?”

“That I did.”

“Well, then,” Keith puts his hand on Shiro’s shoulder. “Let’s get to it, and let Zethrid and me know if you need us to hop on making anything. It’ll be a while before they make it down to desserts.”

“Thank you,” Shiro takes Keith’s hand and squeezes.

“Oh, there they go,” Nadia mutters.

“Sorry, sorry,” Shiro looks back at her. “Let them know with that order things will come out in waves if they’re okay with that.”

“They already said that when they ordered,” Nadia gives a thumbs up. “Just rock it, kitchen crew!”

“Thanks, Nadia!” everyone in the kitchen yells back at her as she turns to head back out into the dining room.

“Alright,” Shiro once again claps his hands together and turns to his kitchen staff. “Table three isn’t special, they’re no different than the other tables we’re serving, so just cook your best as always and push these plates out. Let’s go, team!”

“YES, CHEF!” the force with which they all cry it back to Shiro stuns him for a moment, but Shiro smiles and moves back to his station in the kitchen.

Their menu isn’t too long, only about 20 items total and then the additional five that are on the dessert menu. Everyone has specific items on the menu that are the ones they focus their work on, but they all also have the ability to easily hop over and cook something else if it’s needed. 

Shiro will admit one of the foods he’s always been most fascinated by is tartare. He can’t explain it, but fresh beef made just right into tartare is something that he’s just really into—a fact reflected in that there are two tartare related items on the menu and he’s in charge of them both.

Shiro gets the cut of beef he needs, the chill of it making the tips of his fingers momentarily numb. He handles the piece carefully as he sets it on the cutting board and starts to precisely chop it down into the small pieces he requires. Once that's done, he gets the beef into a metal bowl and washes his hands. The other ingredients that go into the regular appetizer tartare are fairly simple, and Shiro quickly gets the parsley chopped and the sesame seeds tossed in. Once he adds in some salt and pepper and gives everything a mix, Shiro gets the special sauce he developed for this recipe. He makes a new batch of it every single day so it's always fresh. The recipe originated somewhere on his mom's side of the family and was passed down for years as a general sauce to use while cooking and Shiro modified it a bit to work with a tartare. After he gets some added in, he gives everything one more good mix together before getting a dish and a mold to carefully plate it. All that's left now are the finishing touches with some thinly sliced dried seaweed placed on top and a quail's egg with the top perfectly cut away. Once the quail's egg is set atop the beef, Shiro puts a lemon wedge on the side and gives a pleased nod at the plate. It's exactly as it should be.

When Shiro puts the plate down on the counter where the dishes for table three are going, he sees the other chefs are also wrapping up their first appetizers as well and getting them over for Nadia with Ina's help to take out.

"These all look perfect," Ina comments as she picks up Shiro's plate in one hand and the buns that Rolo made in the other. 

"Thanks, Ina," Shiro smiles at his oftentimes stoic server, but he can tell there's a bit of bounce in her step of excitement over the shift today. Once Nadia and Ina take out the first plates, Shiro checks in with the staff to see how they are managing the rest of the dishes for table three along with other table orders that are coming in. Keeping active communication going in the kitchen matters to Shiro, and he feels great pride in the fact that his team trusts each other and is open when they're having days like today especially.

Shiro starts working on the first of the two entrees that he's in charge of to get to table three, plus there's another table ordering it as well, so he'll easily have two pans of the tuna going. First, Shiro gets plums cut up and covered in honey so that he can get them into the oven fast for them to caramelize. The seaweed salad also comes together quickly with Shiro tossing in sesame oil, vinegar, some more honey, and just a bit of the same sauce that he uses in the appetizer tartare. With the side dishes for the tuna out of the way, he turns to the main feature, the tuna. Shiro takes two beautiful pieces of the fish and coats them in a thin layer of wasabi before gently pressing them into a dish of sesame seeds to get them completely coated in an even crust. Checking the time, Shiro grabs the plums from the oven so they don't burn and have a chance to cool down while he gets the tuna seared. 

While Shiro is plating the seaweed down on first, Nadia comes back into the kitchen with the first of the empty plates that went to table three. "How's it going?" Shiro asks.

"Clean plates, so I would say good," Nadia holds up one of the plates to make her point.

"Amazing," Shiro sighs as he slices the tuna into even pieces and lays them across the seaweed. Once the caramelized plums are down on the plates as well, Shiro drizzles the top with some more sauce and gets them down to be pushed out next. Shiro feels like they're making good time getting dishes out for the James Beard table as well as the other tables in the restaurant. 

We’ve got this, Shiro thinks, opening his mouth to keep encouraging the staff. He's just about to tell them they're going amazing and to keep it up when James yells out a string of curses and holds his hand up. The same line of words goes through Shiro's head as he sees blood trickle down his sous chef's hand.

"Get Romelle!" Shiro yells at Nadia when she comes into the kitchen to get the next plates. Her eyes go wide when she sees James, but she just nods and moves as swiftly as she can.

Shiro helps get a clean towel around James's hand and ushers him over to the bathroom so he can get the cut clean all while James is trying to apologize to him for managing to hurt himself like this on such a high-pressure night.

"I told you," Shiro shakes his head. "This is just any night, it could have happened any day."

"But—" James starts to argue at the same time Romelle arrives and takes over helping with James's hand.

"James, shut up and get that hand fixed up so we can get you back in the kitchen, okay?" Shiro claps him on the shoulder.

"Yes, chef," James responds, his face sobering up and his back straightening. 

"Good," Shiro nods. "Thanks, for helping, Romelle."

"No problem, go get 'em," Romelle smiles.

When Shiro gets back into the kitchen, he looks over at Keith, who's already got his eyes on him with the edges of his mouth turned down. "Keith!" Shiro calls for him. "You're sous chef."

Keith promptly comes over to Shiro's side. "How's James?" he asks.

"He'll be fine, but I need you to take over his dishes," Shiro looks into Keith's eyes. "Is that okay?"

"Of course, you don't even need to ask," Keith nods. "You know I love getting to cook next to you." The smile on Keith's face boosts Shiro's mood in ways he didn't realize he needed.

"Perfect, I'm going to get the specialty tartare going, can you make the cherrywood wagyu?" Shiro asks.

"You got it, chef," Keith gives a thumbs up.

Shiro quickly goes over to wash his hands before starting on what is probably the most ridiculous dish on the entire menu. The recipe was a result of Shiro thinking what could he make that would be just a little extravagant but also something that could be accessible high-end cuisine. Shiro fucking hated gatekeeping on food, and this was almost a fuck you to certain elitists in the profession.

James has been Shiro’s sous chef for the past year, and whenever they cook next to each other, Shiro is aware that the other chef is there but doesn’t really think about it. It’s just James and Shiro doing their work. Whenever Keith starts prepping to cook next to him, though, well, Shiro feels something electric go down his spine. In the time that Keith has been working at Kin’iro, the two of them have been cooking in their separate areas of the kitchen. Shiro hasn’t actually cooked alongside Keith like this since they were in culinary school together. The fact they’re about to cook together again lights a bright flame under Shiro as he gets to work.

The restaurant has an oven set aside for smoking the wagyu, so Keith doesn’t need to work on the meat preparation, he just has to focus on the sides and plating. Shiro knows that Keith can get that done in no time, so he tries to just occasionally glance over while cooking.

When Shiro and Keith cook together, it’s a perfect dance.

Shiro chops the kobe beef for the specialty tartare, and Keith slices shallots. Shiro gets the pickled cantaloupe that’s made in sake lees to dice finely, and Keith grabs the pickled okra to put in a small dish on the plate. When Shiro finds himself needing more pepper, he doesn’t even need to say anything, Keith’s eyes shift over to see Shiro’s outstretched hand and then the container of pepper is placed in it. When Keith finds himself unable to locate the micro wasabi, Shiro immediately tells him where to look when he sees the distress on Keith’s face. 

Keith gets everything on the plate save for the meat itself, and Shiro nods at how primly the tomatoes, shallots, pickled okra, and micro wasabi salad are arranged, all waiting for the final crowning item on the plate. Shiro gets the foie gras and caviar that he uses to top the tartare and works on whipping the foie gras until it achieves a slightly airy texture. As soon as Keith finishes the smoked wagyu, he’s already getting out a pan to start working on the scallops. 

“Thank you,” Shiro tells Keith, gently placing the beef into the small circular dish he constructs the specialty tartare in. 

“Of course,” Keith smiles and uses the back of his arm to wipe away some sweat that’s slowly making its way down the side of his face. Shiro really wants to kiss it.

Shiro gets the foie gras layered on next and then finally tops it with the caviar. He kept his hands so steads that there isn’t one stray bit of food coming off the even edges he has on the dish, and Shiro mentally pats himself on the back. This is one of the most beautiful times he’s made this, for sure. Next, he quickly gets some squares of bread cut and toasted and tops them with dollops of the pickled cantaloupe. He sets a thin spoon that will be used for scooping the tartare mix out in the middle of the plate and sighs. 

“Looks good,” Keith nods down at the plate as Shiro walks it over to the counter as part of the next round of dishes going out to the table.

“Thanks, you, too,” Shiro grins, and it’s not really clear if Shiro means Keith looks good or the raw scallops that he’s just put in a buttered pan do. It makes Keith blush all the same, and that’s a win in Shiro’s book.

Shiro checks up on the staff, and it turns out of the main menu, the scallops that Keith is working on and Ezor’s oxtail stew are the last things that need to be pushed out. Those are both also close to being finished, which means Keith will need to get back to pastry work. Zethrid has already gotten her desserts going, so Keith’s specialties of the black sesame creme brulee and yuzu mint sorbet sundae will be all that’s left. 

Right as Shiro starts on another table’s order of tuna, Keith swipes a clean towel across the edge of his plated scallops to soak up any stray spots of miso garlic butter sauce. “Back to dessert, then,” Keith gives a half-smile to Shiro and gets the plate on the counter. Shiro misses Keith’s presence next to him immediately, but he doesn’t have the time to dwell on it since he needs to push out this table’s order and keep an eye on getting someone else on any other of James’s dishes that might get ordered. It all goes by in a bit of a whirlwind. Rolo hops over to work on another plate of scallops for a new table, and Shiro keeps concentrating on maintaining the flow of the kitchen as they conclude serving table three. A pristine creme brulee and a yuzu and mint sorbet sundae topped right with whipped cream and raspberry sauce go out in Ryan’s hands, and Shiro swears the entire kitchen lets out a sigh of relief. That’s done, and it was the best that they all could cook—since it was how they always cooked.

Romelle gets James patched up, and he takes his station back up next to Shiro while trying to apologize for injuring himself during the shift again.

“James, shut up and cook,” Shiro tells him.

The sous chef’s eyes go wide. “Yes, chef.”

Just as Shiro thinks that he can start relaxing since the rush is dying down and the James Beard voter table has been taken care of, Romelle slams through the kitchen doors. “They want to talk to you.”

“Excuse me?” Shiro asks, his eyebrows go up, disappearing under his bangs. 

“Table three,” Romelle explains. “They want to talk to you, Shiro.”

“Keith,” Shiro yells his name without thinking. “You’re coming with me.”

“Why the fuck?” Keith yells back. He’s making another portion of raspberry sauce, but he’s also already handing the saucepan over to Zethrid.

“Because you’re my pastry chef and as much a part of this as I am now,” Shiro retaliates.

Keith wipes his hands on the towel tucked into his chef jacket’s side pocket and shrugs. Shiro resists the urge to take Keith’s hand as they walk out into the dining room. No one really turns to look at the two of them, most people too engrossed in their food, which Shiro takes as an excellent sign. When Shiro and Keith approach the table that’s been the center of their attention for the evening, they’re met with eager faces.

“Hello, I’m Takashi Shirogane, head chef and owner of Kin’iro, and this is Chef Keith Kogane,” Shiro puts his hand on Keith’s shoulder. “He’s the pastry chef.” Keith nods in greeting to the table.

It takes Shiro back at first. Everyone introduces themselves and tells them they’re part of the James Beard voting committee and that they had enjoyed everything that had come out for them to eat. Shiro internally sighs in thanks. He’s a little dazed by all the compliments they both get showered in, and he keeps a pleasant smile on his face through all of it when Shiro kind of really just wants to start crying in relief over receiving this response. The flood praise from the table finally dies down, and Shiro can feel the slight movements of Keith next to him shifting from foot to foot. He’s never been comfortable receiving any form of applause from strangers like this. Shiro thanks the table one more time, and Keith follows him by giving echoing gratitude with a smile. 

“How do you feel?” Keith asks as they turn around and walk back to the kitchen.

“I feel great,” Shiro says, and he stops to put a hand around Keith’s neck and pull him up to meet his mouth. There, in the middle of the dining room of Shiro’s restaurant, Shiro kisses Keith with his eyes closing softly and the soft sound of voices murmuring and the clinking of plates around them.

---

When Shiro and Keith get to Shiro’s apartment that night, Keith is quick to push Shiro down onto the couch and immediately drops to his knees and spreads Shiro’s legs. 

“Eager?” Shiro gives a breathless laugh.

“Very,” Keith smirks and gets his hands on Shiro’s jeans. The words Shiro had spoken over the phone about how they’d be so eager to touch each other ring through his brain, but then Keith yanks open his jeans and doesn’t hesitate to get his hand on Shiro to pull him out leading to Shiro not thinking much more of anything at all.

Shiro bites his lip as Keith slowly strokes Shiro, and Shiro is completely mesmerized by the sight of himself being held in Keith’s hand like that again. “Missed this so much,” Keith whispers, and just the stirring of breath near Shiro makes him twitch a little. 

“Tell me something,” Keith whispers, mouth just so close to where Shiro needs him. 

“Anything,” Shiro would do anything for Keith right now. 

“Why did you name the restaurant Kin’iro?”

“Because it means gold,” Shiro holds his breath. 

“And why did you pick that?” Keith gives the smallest lick to the head, and Shiro feels like he’s crumbling apart. 

“Because your last name means gold,” Shiro pants. “And it felt like having you here.”

“Fuck,” Keith swears, no more questions follow, he just swallows Shiro down, and Shiro opens his mouth to cry out wordlessly with surprise at the feeling of Keith’s mouth finally on him.

Shiro’s eyes flutter for a moment before he jolts them open, reminding himself that this is something he’s waiting to see for years, so he can’t go closing his eyes on Keith’s mouth moving on him right now. Keith’s hair is still up in the small ponytail he throws it up in during work at the restaurant, but there are still stray bangs that fall down and obscure his face. Shiro moves a hand to glide through those strands and push them back onto the top of Keith’s head and hold them there. The movement pushes Keith’s head back a little and his eyes slide up to meet Shiro’s. His mouth is stretched bright red around Shiro, and there’s spit sliding down around his mouth. It makes Shiro groan and try to thrust up. Keith is strong, though, always has been, and he pushes Shiro’s hips back down. 

Letting go of Keith’s hair, Shiro glides his hand down the side of Keith’s face until he’s loosely holding his jaw and if he pushes just right he can feel himself in Keith’s mouth. Keith pulls off, knowing what he’s doing, and pants while smirking. “Trying to feel yourself in me?” Keith asks.

Shiro nods, not able to form words. He tries to push Keith’s mouth back down, and Keith laughs, indulging Shiro with a quick lick from base to tip. “What do you want?” Shiro asks.

“I want to fuck you,” Keith simply replies, and Shiro visibly twitches and leaks more in Keith’s hand. Their eyes are both drawn to the sight, and Keith leans down to swipe his tongue across the crown and catch everything in his mouth. 

“Yeah, okay,” Shiro nods, dazed, in agreement. 

“Good,” Keith laughs and pushes up from the floor, which Shiro thinks is tragic until Keith holds a hand out to Shiro and pulls him up from the couch. “Is this where you were when we were on the phone?” Keith nods at the couch.

“Yeah.”

Keith bounces up to kiss Shiro, and he can taste himself on Keith’s lips, making him groan. Keith made a mistake deciding to kiss Shiro because now he’s refusing to let go of those lips, so they try and navigate through Shiro’s small apartment while they’re kissing, bumping into furniture and laughing along the way until they finally collapse back onto the bed. They even manage to be efficient and lose some clothes along the way so by the time they’re in the bedroom, Shiro’s left in his underwear and Keith has a t-shirt still on.

Once he peels Keith’s boxers off, Shiro pushes him back onto the bed and moves to settle down between Keith’s legs. The skin there is still smooth and soft like Shiro remembers, so he starts to leave kisses everywhere he can reach there and suck bruises into the skin. Keith really does mark up so fast. One of Keith’s hands fists in the sheets while the other takes a hold of Shiro’s bangs and tries to pull him up to get his mouth where Keith wants it. 

Shiro eventually acquiesces but only to kiss Keith at the base. “I’ll blow you after you fuck me,” Shiro informs Keith, voice low and eyes glassy with want.

“Fuck,” Keith groans. “Fuck, yes, get up here.”

The rest of their clothes are thrown off across the small bedroom and Shiro fishes around for the lube he knows exists somewhere in his bedside table. When he emerges victorious with it, Keith is looking at him with an amused grin. “What?” Shiro asks.

Keith just gestures down at Shiro’s body. Shiro had been sprawled half across the bed and half dangling off to get at the drawers, and his ass was sticking up a bit at this angle. Oh. “Good view,” Keith comments. “A preview.”

“Only for you,” Shiro tries to joke back, but there’s some truth to it.

Shiro rolls back onto the bed properly and lets Keith take a hold of the lube while they kiss again. Keith eventually maneuvers Shiro to be on his hands and knees. “I thought about you doing this to me,” Keith comments as the cap snaps open. “But then I just wanted to take care of you now.”

“Next time,” Shiro replies and turns his head to look over his shoulder. “Next time I’ll push you into the sheets.”

“You’re going to blow me, remember?” Keith raises an eyebrow and starts to push a finger into Shiro. 

This is another touch that Shiro knew well—and will now get to know again. The feeling of Keith’s slender fingers that have made some of the finest pastries and award-winning desserts in the country are now attending to Shiro’s body in order to open him up to let Keith in. Keith leaves bits along the insides of Shiro’s thighs as he moves his fingers in and out.

When three fingers have stretched Shiro and his thighs are covered in signs of Keith’s claiming the skin, Keith finally moves up to hover over Shiro and line up to press in.

Something settles deep in Shiro’s bones as he lies there looking up at Keith. He can only describe it as the final piece of a puzzle being found or being given water when you’ve been parched for so long. Keith asks Shiro if he’s ready, and Shiro nods, never more certain of something as Keith pushes into him. 

Shiro arches back through the feeling of Keith hard and hot sliding slowly inside Shiro until the two of them are flush against each other and breathing heavy. Everything is snapping back into place. The hundreds of times they have done this before flicker through Shiro’s mind, and now all his jagged edges that had been missing Keith are being stitched up and joined to his other half—Keith. 

Fucking Keith and cooking with Keith are the same in some regards. Both leave Shiro breathless from exhilaration, for different reasons of course, but Shiro thinks there’s something intimate in both activities. At least with the two of them, the former has always felt like something a little more, another way to express themselves with each other. Lying in bed with Keith as he fucks Shiro is another representation of their relationship. A different type of trust and love that runs into their bones and settles heavily with how they can never feel physically closer than this. 

Keith twines the fingers of his hand with Shiro’s prosthetic and presses it into the pillow above Shiro’s head, and Shiro sinks his free hand into the flesh of Keith’s thigh—reached forward to pull Keith even closer to him. Keith’s thrusts are slow and rolling so Shiro can feel every single drag of Keith moving inside, and that overwhelms him. Makes him moan and throw his head back so Keith can easily fit into the space created for him in Shir’s neck. The steady grind leaves both of them a little breathless while also wanting more and more.

“Faster,” Shiro chokes out, and Keith grunts in response, moving around to put some space between them in order to hold Shiro’s hips and start fucking him in earnest with all the power he can throw down. It’s what Shiro needs; it’s what Shiro missed. Keith’s eyes are blown wide as he watches where he’s fucking Shiro, and Shiro can’t do anything but let out small whines while looking at the way Keith keeps such rapt attention on the movement. 

“You look so good,” Keith murmurs, eyes still on where he’s entering Shiro. “You’ve always been beautiful, but, fuck, Shiro,” Keith moans and holds Shiro’s hips harder, speeding up even more and slamming in with all the force he can let out. “Come on, I want you to come, please, I want to see your face.”

Shiro would never stop that from happening, so he watches as Keith wraps a hand around Shiro and starts to stroke him as in time with his thrusts as he can. Shiro’s hand misses where Keith had been holding it, so he flails to try and grip onto anywhere of Keith, eventually wrapping a hand around Keith’s wrist. The hand lets go of Shiro’s hip and slides to hold Shiro’s. “Keith,” it’s the only word Shiro really knows right now.

And with one more rough thrust, Shiro sees white and arches back, squeezing Keith’s hand as he cries out and comes into Keith’s other hand sliding fast along his length, pulling him through it until Shiro can’t take it anymore.

When Shiro comes back down and still feels Keith thrusting, rushing forward to come, Shiro pushes up on his elbows with effort and then shoves Keith back on the bed. Keith looks up at Shiro with wide eyes, but then he realizes what’s happening as Shiro crawls to climb over Keith’s thighs. “Keith,” Shiro drags a hand down Keith’s chest. “You feel so good.” With that, Shiro takes a hold of Keith and sinks down on him, using what strength he has left to rise and squeeze around Keith in order to drag him over the edge and come inside.

Keith’s head is thrown back with his mouth slightly agape, but his eye-open eyes stare down at Shiro bouncing. Shiro bends forward to take one of Keith’s nipples between his teeth, biting and soothing his tongue, and that ends up being what does it for him. Keith shouts Shiro’s name and both hands grip Shiro’s head down to his chest as he shakes apart and thrusts up into Shiro, coming. 

They sprawl next to each other on the bed after that, upside down with their heads at the foot of the bed. Shiro doesn’t care, and neither does Keith. Shiro pulls Keith to him, and Keith goes easily, sliding into the space made between Shiro’s arms against his chest and cradled under his chin. 

“You found me,” Shiro says softly, remembering when Keith made that promise years ago on the last day they saw each other before going in opposite directions.

“I did,” Keith kisses Shiro’s chest, above his heart.

Right now, this is where Shiro needs to be. He vaguely thinks about what will come after—once they’ve gone another round, once Shiro has felt Keith hit the back of his throat, once they’ve gotten up and eaten properly and talked more about the future and them and the restaurant and—

That’s next.

---

Shiro knows what’s next. 

He’s seated at a small table with Keith at his side, and they’ve somehow made it to the day of the James Beard Awards being announced. It’s a formal ceremony held in Chicago, and Shiro had insisted on Keith joining him, not only as his boyfriend but as Kin’iro’s pastry chef as well. The other people sitting at their table are up for other awards. The actual ceremony had properly started a good 30 minutes ago, and they’ve worked their way down the list of awards and are finally at Best New Restaurant. 

The chef presenting the award walks up to the microphone and introduces the award and what the qualifications were for being nominated that eventually led to the finalists. They then list off the finalists before opening the envelope and reading the winner into the microphone. Keith squeezes Shiro’s hand.

“Kin’iro, New York City, head chef and owner, Chef Takashi Shirogane.”

Shiro feels dazed. He doesn’t know what to do as shock creeps down his spine, and his eyes go wide as applause starts around them. Keith grips his hand harder and says his name. “Shiro, get up, go,” he urges Shiro.

“Come with me,” Shiro starts to stand up and doesn’t let go of Keith’s hand.

“No, why? You won!”

“We won, come on, please,” Shiro pleads, and Keith can’t say no again.

They make their way up to the stage where Shiro gets handed a hefty crystal award and the envelope. This isn’t the Oscars or some other big award show, so he knows the acceptance is just supposed to be a short thanks.

“Hi, thank you,” Shiro says into the mic. “Kin’iro was a dream I’ve had for years, and now with my boyfriend and pastry chef at my side, Keith,” Shiro grabs Keith’s hand and pulls him closer, “along with the rest of my staff, who are all like family to me at this point, I really feel like I’ve finally, as cliche as it sounds, achieved it. I’m beyond thankful to everyone who has come by the restaurant since we opened and enjoyed it, and I hope to keep making people happy that come through the door. Thanks.” Shiro dips his head in a small bow of gratitude and moves away from the mic. He knows that Keith didn’t want to say anything, Shiro just really needed him to be there with him. 

As they walk back to the table, Keith pulls him close this time as they weave between tables and whispers in his ear. “You make me so happy.”

“I love you,” Shiro replies breathlessly. It’s been years since he’s gotten to say those words to this man. The last time was in a dark kitchen. This time they’re in a brightly lit gala hall holding one of the most prestigious awards they can achieve in their profession. Shiro could have lost the award, frankly. All that matters to him is that Keith is at his side, and he loves him. 

“I love you, too,” Keith tells him quietly. They’re back at the table and there’s a light shining down hitting Keith right on the top of the head making him glow. 

Shiro is going to spend the rest of his life cooking with this man.