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Hold On Loosely

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“Ooh, you know what looks good?” Shiro said, looking up from the table’s menu to grin over at Keith. “The chocolate lava cake. What do you say, you wanna split it with me?”

Keith shrugged, tilting his head to glance at the menu as well. He swallowed his bite of steak before slowly replying, “I dunno, it’s - it’s kind of expensive.”

“I told you, Keith, tonight’s my treat. Come on, if you don’t split it with me, I’ll just order it and eat the whole thing myself, and I will definitely get sick. So…”

“All right, fine, I’ll have the cake.”

“Great!” Shiro’s grin broadened as he waved their waitress down to place the order. “Every celebration needs cake,” he added to Keith as the waitress left. “Anyone who tries to limit it to birthdays is just closed-minded.”

“I still don’t really think we, um, need to be celebrating,” Keith said.

Shiro huffed in mock exasperation. “Bud, your grades were great, you’re being too hard on yourself.”

“I didn’t even get all A’s or anything. And I had a C in Professor Antonsen’s class - ”

“Keith, I assure you, her class is the hardest in the whole academy. Matt didn’t even get an A in it. Chin up.” Shiro reached across the table with his fork, the last bite of his salmon still on the tips of the prongs, and tilted Keith’s head up to look at him. “Hey. I’m really proud of you. I mean it. You did great work, and you deserve to celebrate.”

Keith stared at him for a moment, as though mulling his words over, then a tiny smile escaped him as he tilted his head down and ate the bite of salmon off of Shiro’s fork, too quickly for the latter to move it out of the way.

“Barbaric,” Shiro gasped. “Have you no manners at all?”

Keith just smirked, making a show of chewing loudly before he swallowed and said, “Still, we didn’t have to go somewhere all fancy like this. I would have been fine with just burgers or pizza or something.”

“Well, sure, but I was really in the mood tonight for a place with tablecloths, you know? It’s a big night.”

“They’re just grades.”

Shiro shrugged and set his fork down. “All right, time for me to confess. The reason I decided to go fancy is that we’re actually celebrating two things tonight.” Keith raised a brow, and Shiro went on. “I actually got some pretty big news today. And since Adam’s busy until tomorrow and my parents are in another time zone, you, my dear friend, get to be the first to celebrate it with me.”

“What is it?” Keith asked.

“Now, I will tell you, they’re not officially announcing this until Monday, so don’t go spreading the word to your classmates before then and ruining the surprise.”

“What surprise?”

“So if anyone asks, you don’t know anything about it, okay? You’re gonna be just as excited by the announcement as - ”

“Shiro,” Keith groaned. “Now you’re just doing this on purpose.”

“You caught me.” Shiro smiled. “So. Guess who has been officially selected as the youngest pilot ever to lead a Garrison exploration mission.”

Keith’s eyes slowly widened. “You - you got the Kerberos spot?”

“I got the Kerberos spot.”

“That’s awesome!” Keith breathed. “Holy - you’re going straight to the edge of the solar system! Oh my god, you’re gonna be in textbooks, Shiro! You’re gonna be, like, a legit historical figure. That’s huge.”

“We always knew Earth’s atmosphere couldn’t contain me forever,” Shiro said with a smirk. “So, you’ve managed to get settled into the Garrison pretty well by now? Fitting in with your class? I know you’re doing well grade-wise so…”

“I guess, yeah,” Keith said with a shrug. “Why?”

“Nothing,” Shiro said, waving his fork dismissively. “I’m going to be pretty busy for a while, is all, and then I’ll be gone for the mission after. Just wanna make sure you’re ready for that.”

“Oh.” Keith's smile flickered, the corners of his mouth drooping for half a second before returning to their place. “Yeah. Yeah, ‘course I’m ready. I mean, I - I knew you were gunning for that spot on the mission, so it’s - so, yeah, you know, I knew this was coming. I mean obviously it was coming, you’re the best pilot in - you’re, um, you’re definitely - ”

“Keith?” Shiro raised his brow. “You all right?”

“Yeah. I hadn’t really thought about, uh, what I would be, um - ” He drummed his fingers against the table, then moved to lift his knife and fork and start carving up what remained of his steak. “But that’s - that’s not important. It isn’t. We’re celebrating. And - and - and you got the Kerberos spot, and I got my grades, and that’s good, this is good news, it is, I’m happy! I’m happy for you. I’m very - ”

Gently Shiro reached across the table and laid his hand on Keith’s arm. “You’re starting to carve up your plate, there, bud.”

Keith blinked down at his knife, then, with a slow breath, he dropped the cutlery and pulled back. “Sorry. Sorry, I wasn’t… paying attention. Shit, hang on.” He ground the heels of his hands into his eyes and mumbled, “I’m okay. I’m fine. Got a little… overwhelmed… by the good news. Just need a minute to, uh, to process.”

“Everything all right here?” came a soft voice behind Shiro’s shoulder, and he jumped in his seat, banging his knee on the table and whipping his head around to see their waitress, their cake in her hands and her face apologetic. “Sorry,” she said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“No, no, it’s okay,” Shiro said. “You’re fine. Thanks, it looks delicious.”

“Can I, uh, get you anything else?” the waitress asked, glancing toward Keith who was hastily trying to scrub at his eyes as she set the cake down on the table. “A drink refill or… some tissues, maybe?”

“We’re fine, thank you,” Shiro replied. “Uh, take your time with the check, please.”

The waitress nodded and hurried from the table. Keith, meanwhile, pushed his chair back, his head down and hair falling into his face as he mumbled, “I think I need the restroom…”

“Hey, hang on,” Shiro said, holding out his arm again as Keith stood. “Keith… you know, it’s okay if you’re upset.”

“I’m not upset,” Keith snapped.

“Uh-huh. I’ve told you before, bud. If you’re upset - or any other emotion - ” He added when Keith opened his mouth to protest - “You can tell me. I’m not gonna judge you for it, you’re not gonna be punished. It’s not good to bottle things up. Come on, talk to me.”

“It’s… nothing,” Keith said. He sighed and collapsed back into his chair. “It’s stupid. Sorry, I’m ruining tonight, aren’t I?”

“You’re not ruining anything.”

“Yes I am. You took me out to celebrate and I’m freaking out on you and raining on your parade and - and I should be happy about this. I am happy about this, I’m happy for you, so there’s - there’s nothing even to talk about.”

“Mmm.” Shiro tapped a finger thoughtfully against the edge of the cake plate. “You know, you’re allowed to feel more than one thing. You can be happy for me and still be upset. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Sure, but - ”

“Want me to start?”

Keith frowned. “Start what?”

“Sharing.” Keith still looked just as baffled, so Shiro continued. “I’m thrilled about the news, and I’m excited about the upcoming Kerberos trip, and I’m really proud of myself for having made it this far, especially so early in my career.”

“You should be,” Keith said with a fervent nod.

“But I’m kinda freaking out too. It’s a lot of pressure and responsibility, and I’m scared of messing up. There’s a ton of prep work that has to be done before the mission, which is going to be stressful and exhausting. And the mission is going to last for months, so I don’t know how claustrophobic or homesick or lonely I’ll get. I know I’m going to miss you. You, and Adam, and everyone else on Earth.

“I’m happy, yeah, but I’m all those things too. It’s a lot. But, I gotta admit, putting it all out there, out loud, it’s a bit of a relief. It’s on the table instead of on my shoulders, so now I don’t have to think so hard about what I’m dealing with, I can move on to actually dealing with it. And now it’s your turn.”

Keith paused before saying, “I feel like you missed your true calling as a psychologist.”

“I’m young, I’ve got time to chase a bunch of callings. No changing the subject.”

Shiro waited patiently as Keith fidgeted in his chair, chewing at his bottom lip and focusing intensely on the dishes in front of him. Finally, though, he spoke up, so softly that Shiro had to strain to hear him: “I guess I’m… not ready… for you to go.”

Slowly Shiro nodded. “That’s understandable, Keith. I - ”

“It’s not, though,” Keith bit out. “It’s not like I haven’t been on my own before, right? And, hell, I’m a couple years off from being an adult, I shouldn’t - I shouldn’t still be - and it’s selfish, right? This is, like, your dream, Shiro, and all I’m thinking about is how I’m gonna - how I’m - ”

“Hey, hey,” Shiro said, keeping his voice low and soothing as he watched Keith bunch up the edge of the tablecloth in his fists. “It’s not selfish. Okay? I don’t want you thinking that for a moment. It’s you feeling your feelings, and there’s nothing selfish about that. If you were selfish, you wouldn’t be nearly so concerned about how your reaction is making me feel, right?”

Keith only shrugged. “And Keith, what’s this about being on your own?” Shiro continued. “Me being gone doesn’t mean you have to be alone.”

“It - it kinda does,” Keith mumbled. “I, um, I - I may have exaggerated, a bit, um, how I’m fitting in with my classmates.”

Shiro narrowed his eyes. “Are those other pilots still giving you a hard time? If they are, we need to go to your CO, file a report.”

Keith shook his head. “No, they aren’t - there haven’t been any other incidents or anything, just - I’m still not really - I’m not part of the group or anything. We have classes together, but that’s all. And you know I can’t get an ‘Adam’ of my own, I’ve - I told you about that, about how I don’t - so I don’t have friends, I don’t, not really. And I definitely don’t have a ‘partner’ or whatever, so that just leaves family, and - well, that’s you. Just you. That’s all I’ve got. And so if you’re gone…”

He let out a sniff and wiped his nose with the tablecloth. There was only so much the Garrison could do to instill table manners into their cadets. “Forget it. Like I said, it’s nothing.”

“That’s not nothing, Keith,” Shiro said. “That’s… that’s fair. That’s fair and valid and I’m glad that you told me.”

“Kinda ruined the whole ‘celebration’ vibe, though.”

“We’ll have plenty of time to celebrate before the mission. I, um - did - were you always worrying about this? The whole time I’ve been applying for the Kerberos spot?”

“I dunno. I wasn’t really thinking about it. Was trying not to, you know? It, um, wasn’t important.”

“When am I ever going to finally convince you that your worries are important?”

“More important than Kerberos?”

“Equally.”

Keith snorted. “Shiro - ”

“You know, in the coming months I’m gonna be spending a lot of time preparing for the mission. Maybe we should come up with a game plan so you can do the same.”

“Shiro, you barely managed to convince the Garrison to let me into the academy, you’re never gonna convince them to let me join the mission.”

“Much as I’d love to have you, that’s not what I meant,” Shiro said with a little smile. “I meant that while I’m getting ready to go to Kerberos, we can get you ready to stay on Earth. We’ll go through the things you’re worried about, the things that you need to prepare for, and we’ll start planning for them.”

“How do you mean?”

“Like, okay, you’re worried about being lonely while I’m away. So let’s plan for that. We can talk to Adam, and Colleen, make sure you’re able to turn to one of them if you need anything at all. And we can even schedule some weekends out, get you some vacation from the Garrison to wind down. If you’re worried about keeping up with schoolwork while I’m around, we can contact your instructors to let them know, maybe see about any extra credit work you can do while I’m gone.”

Keith nodded slowly. “Okay. And, um, if I’m worried about… you know…” The tips of his ears went red as he mumbled, “Missing you?”

Shiro resisted the urge to tease him about the blush of embarrassment and instead broadened his smile. “I’m gonna miss you too, you know. What kind of brother would I be if I didn’t?” Keith bit his lip, and Shiro would bet any amount of money that it was to hold back a smile. “We’ll figure something out. We’ll make sure to get a ton of pictures together before I go, for starters, and I can let you babysit my hoverbike while I’m gone.”

Keith’s mouth dropped open. “You’ll let me be in charge of your hoverbike?”

“Promise not to crash it?”

“I… can’t make that promise.”

“Promise you’ll try not to crash it?”

That I can do.”

“I’ll take it. So we’ve got a plan in place, and we have plenty of time to come up with more. And if it helps, I swear, I’ll come back from Kerberos as soon as I possibly can. Sound good?”

“Yeah.” Keith nodded. “Sounds good.”

“Do you need a hug too?”

“No,” Keith said, spreading his arms out to accept one anyway. Shiro scooted his chair around the table to embrace him, rubbing Keith’s back as the latter sighed into his shoulder, and he didn’t let go of the hug until he felt Keith finally pull away.

“Now,” Shiro said, scooting back into place. “This cake has just been waiting to be eaten, and we should really help out.” He nodded toward Keith’s dessert fork . “Come on, I’ve seen the memes, I know you love cake.”

Keith let out a breath of a laugh as he lifted his fork and started to cut off a piece from the cake. “If you’d seen all the memes, you’d know I also love pizza.”

“Well, in a few years, when we’re celebrating you getting your first big mission and breaking the youngest-pilot record, we can go out for pizza instead. Deal?”

“Deal.” They both took their first bites of the cake at the same time, and Keith rolled his eyes as Shiro made a show of moaning in contentment at the taste. “By the way,” Keith said as he moved in for his second bite, “I really am happy for you. Cadet’s honor, I am.”

“Thanks, Keith,” Shiro said with a grin. “I’m happy too.”