slow down (i just wanna get to know you) - Chapter 3 - tagteamme (2022)

Chapter Text

Somehow, Keith keeps it together on the long road trip. Sleeping for the nine hours he’s not driving definitely helps, even though it’s a fitful sleep that he does through mostly just to avoid dealing with his emotions. Keith’s not bad at handling himself, but the first twenty four hours after going through a breakup are the worst.

He knows this doesn’t exactly qualify as a breakup, given that they weren’t together together to begin with, but he can’t help but feel rubbed raw. It feels out of the blue, but he knows that he must have done something to warrant Shiro dropping him cold. He replays the last time they were together in his head, searching for where he could have mistepped, but comes up empty handed.

So instead, he bundles his sweater up into a pillow and props it up against the door of the truck and dozes through most of the drive. Lance and Hunk have picked up on the fact that there’s something wrong with Keith, but Keith likes to sleep through the discomfort whenever he can and they don’t prod. Not till Keith’s on the last driving shift anyways, and Lance is passed out in the back seat while Hunk’s sitting in the passenger seat. He’s got Keith’s terrarium in a secure hold, and lets the first half an hour of Keith’s leg of the trip go by in silence before he pipes up.

“Hey man,” he says. “Are you okay? You seem really quiet.”

“I’m good,” Keith says with no heart. He’s lucky that his voice is naturally kind of flat to begin with, but less lucky that his friend’s still able to tell that he’s lying. “I swear.”

“Is it to do with Jiro?” Hunk asks, and Keith immediately corrects him with a, “It’s Shiro.”

“Sorry,” Hunk says, raising one hand while keeping the other secure around the terrarium. “You know that I don’t pay attention to these things.”

“Nothing happened with him,” Keith says, pouring in extra concentration on the road ahead. Hunk shrugs and gives Keith a little thump on his shoulder.

“You looked a little more murderous than usual when you were passed out back there,” he says easily. “Normally you just look like an angry baby.”

“No I don’t,” Keith grumbles and Hunk snorts.

“Yeah?” Hunk teases, nudging Keith again. “Who said? Shiro?”

Keith opts not to reply; he tries instead to visibly frown instead. Clearly it doesn’t work, because he can feel the pitying look Hunk’s giving him in spades. Hunk thankfully doesn’t pursue it any further, either out of respect or out of not feeling like taking on the emotional burden at the moment. Keith doesn’t blame him if it’s the latter, because the three of them are historically horrible at giving each other any sort of romantic advice, so they try to avoid it altogether.

By the time they finally reach the hotel they’re staying at for the tournament, Keith feels as emotionally exhausted as he does physically. Even though his sadness-induced sleep had lasted hours, it had been a fitful few hours in the back of a bumpy truck. Hunk and Lance offer to take him out for a drink to get his mind off things, and Lance tells him that they’ll wingman Keith so that Keith can find someone better. It sounds like an objectively terrible idea so Keith tells them to go ahead without him and pour a drink out for him, and decides to go crash at their hotel room.

He knows that Shiro wants to talk to him tonight, maybe. Keith thinks he’s feeling a little too messy at the moment and doesn’t know if he’d be able to deal with seeing Shiro while the words of his text message are still playing over and over again in his head.

So Keith settles for a quiet night of dicing up a small cucumber for his snails. He’s not at the point yet where he’s going to confide in them about his problems. Mostly because they don’t have ears, but also because Keith’s paranoid his friends will walk in on him getting emotional as he tells his two snails that he’s not sure what he did to push Shiro away.


Shiro texts him again close to midnight, asks him a Are you up ? and Keith has to refrain from the knee jerk reaction of texting back. But he’s got an early morning the next day, and the last thing Keith wants to do is think about this, especially when he’s in one of the first races on the docket. He knows there’s no physical exertion actually needed on his part, but he’s sure that his snails feed off his energy as well. So he turns off his phone and rolls over in his bed, willing himself into a troubled sleep.

By the time Keith drags himself out of bed for the first race of the morning, he feels tired as he looks. Hunk and Lance try their best to give him a pep talk in the locker room, but they’re both kind of hung over and do a totally shitty job at it. Lance gives him his usual If you lose any of this we wasted all this time and money for nothing speech, and Keith gives him his usual Stay at home next time you suck as a coach retort, but there’s not a lot of heart in it.

The racing association has managed to appropriate a tiny, out-of season hockey rink for this race, and the seats are packed. Keith can smell the fries and the hot dogs in the air, and it’s making him nauseaus moreso than usual. The rink is divided into two, with a junior competition and a senior competition occuring on each end, and Keith’s side has a much louder audience.

He can’t concentrate on it though. Keith’s still not replied to Shiro, but Shiro hasn’t texted him again. Keith reasons that he needs to pour his concentration into the morning race, even though he feels distracted during the entire event.

He stands around the mini race track, one built to look like the Santa Anita Park, audience stands and spindly palms and all. Each competitor has placed their snail behind a small blue gated stall; as soon as the horn blares, the gates will automatically go up and the race will officially start. Keith’s glad he hasn’t built his rep around being a loud and showy competitor; he doesn’t know if he has the heart to stand and yell and cheer on his snail in as enthusiastic manner as possible for the roughly three minutes it takes for her to get around the track.

He can hear a few people chanting his name. Like always, it’s probably led by Lance, with the help of Hunk, followed by a couple of people who aren’t quite sure why they’re here to begin with so they’re just joining in with the loudest guy there.

“READY ,” The announcer booms over the PA system.

Keith knows that Shiro’s competing in the adjacent rink right now, the slightly bigger one reserved for people who also get social media sponsorships, and wonders if he’s thinking about Keith or if he’s focused on the race.

STEADY ,”

It’s a stupid thought to have because of course, Shiro’s focusing on the race. Keith needs to too, because he needs to place high in this race and the next race if he wants to scoot into Monday’s round without any effort. If he does bad here, his race tomorrow’s going to carry more weight.

SLOW! ” The announcer declares, and the horn blares.

The gates raise and Keith’s fellow competitors start yelling encouragement at their snails. There’s a lot of hand waving and cheering but Keith keeps to himself, watching as Red slowly inches around the track. Occasionally, he throws some encouraging words forward, but he knows that there are cameras there and he’d rather be dead than be filmed losing his shit at a snail racing competition. No matter how much money it makes him. Lights flash from the camera and Keith has a fleeting moment where he wonders how exactly his life got to this point; moping over a guy who’s his enemy but is ( was ) his - Friend? Lover? - in private, a guy who he met through a shared passion of watching slimy creatures inch along a black cloth track.

Keith ends up placing sixth.

It’s terrible but not unexpected given the emotional turmoil Keith’s been experiencing. Keith knows it doesn’t directly relate to whether or not his snail decides to move across the track, but he likes to think that maybe she picks up on his feelings and moves empathetically. It’s a pain in the ass though; he’s placed so bad today that no matter what the outcome of his next race is, tomorrow’s race is going to count.

When he plucks Red off the track, Keith feels the phone in his back pocket buzz. He takes a quick look around to make sure no enterprising reporter is making a beeline towards him. Keith sees Lance and Hunk in the distance but they’re still green around the gills. Maybe they’re experiencing a second wave of their hangover or maybe they’re experiencing crushing disappointment, but they don’t look like they’re going to want to move any time soon. He pulls out his phone, and sees a text from Shiro.

Can we meet this evening? It reads. Whenever your last race is done. I’d rather talk in person.

Keith’s feels his stomach drop through the floor, and the words make him incredibly nervous. But he knows he can’t put this off any longer. Whatever this is. However, he can put texting Shiro off until later, and he does. He gets lunch with his friends and they tell him he looks a little nervous, and tell him that he’s going to make the next race count because they didn’t drive fourteen hours for nothing. Despite their absolutely terrible pep talk, Keith can hear some underlying current of concern in their voice.


He waits until right before his second race of the day to reply back to Shiro. He’s got thirty seconds before he has to bring Red’s portable terrarium out onto the tr ack, and thinks that this is as good a time as any to send out an okay sure where and then forget about it in the furor of the race. Sending the message isn’t quite cathartic, but it does put him at ease a little because as much as he hates emoting, he’s going to at least get to see Shiro’s face. He feels just the slightest bit better, and places second in the race.

Keith checks his phone for the fifth time in the fifteen seconds it’s taken for the elevator to make its slow descent. He’s left his snails and his friends back at the hotel room to meet Shiro in one of the more private lobbies of the hotel, away from prying eyes. It’s beside one of the smaller boardrooms, and it doesn’t take Keith long to snake through the first floor lobby and find the small plaque indicating where Meeting Room F is.

He kind of wishes it did though, because he turns down an empty hall and sees Shiro sitting on one of armchairs, frowning at his phone. Keith’s feeling incredibly jittery as he sees Shiro’s broad shoulders hunched over, and slows down. Keith is hoping at any rate that his nervousness isn’t written across his face; he tries to school himself into something as non-emotive and casual as possible as he approaches.

“Hey,” he calls out, and Shiro looks up from his phone. He straightens up in his armchair as Keith takes a seat on the couch across from him.

“Congrats on your race,” Keith says, smoothening out his sweatpants. Shiro placed first in his morning race and second in his evening race. Even though he hasn’t placed second in a while, he’s still in the top rankings for the tournament.

“You too,” Shiro replies, and Keith can’t help but snort.

“It’s the worst I’ve ever done,” he points out, and Shiro has the dignity to look at least a little sheepish. “But thanks, I guess.”

Shiro presses his lips together in a firm line and Keith thinks that he’s derailed whatever opener Shiro had. Shiro doesn’t say anything, which unsettles Keith. Even though they were just casual, Keith feels like he’s staring down the muzzle of a breakup, and the mounting anxiety is getting worse and worse by the second.

“So are you all set to start school?” Keith asks, before the silence starts to eat at him.

“Yeah,” Shiro nods, and lets out a short sigh through his nose. “Still have to find an apartment though.”

Keith’s knee jerk reaction is to offer to help Shiro, to offer to show him around town a little more so that he picks a place in a decent area. But he tamps it down because he’s got a gut feeling that this conversation is going to send things sideways for the two of them. Especially if it’s one that Shiro wanted to have it in person.

“Look,” Shiro starts. There it is, Keith thinks as he steels himself. “I’m sorry I ditched last week.”

“It’s okay,” Keith replies as easily as he can, throwing in a nonchalant shrug for good measure. He’s pretty sure it looks more like a violent twitch.

“I should have been more forthcoming,” Shiro says and from the tone of his voice, Keith knows they’ve reached the moment he’s been dreading. “Keith, I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?” Keith says immediately, even though he knows better.

“Whatever we were doing,” Shiro replies, and the way he says it starts to fiddle with some panic button inside of Keith. He’s glad at any rate that his emotions tend to make themselves visually known a good fifteen seconds after he feels them, and he’s got that small window to reign himself in.

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“I thought what we were doing was harmless,” Keith says. A moment passes; Keith’s not quite sure he’s said the right thing because Shiro’s face falls into something that Keith would almost call disappointed.

“Yeah,” Shiro nods slowly, and drops his gaze to the ground. “For you, I guess. For me…”

He trails off and folds his hands in his lap. He closes his eyes when he speaks next, and it’s got the stiltedness of a rehearsed speech that he’s still too unprepared to deliver.

“I kind of have to protect myself from it,” Shiro says. “If we’re just messing around then I...don’t know what I’m setting myself up for. And I kind of realized that after your friends walked in on us.”

The last sentence leads to a small sort of revelation for Keith, one that has his stomach stumble a little as he mentally replays that day and the reaction that his friends had upon walking in on them.

“Must be hard,” Keith says slowly, and Shiro looks up at him. “I guess it’d kill your rep if Lance accidentally spilled to the press or whatever, right?”

Shiro frowns, but he nods. “Yeah, I wouldn’t say kill it, but-”

“But you can lose your modelling contract, right?” Keith tries to prod, determined to extract a fully formed response. “If they find out you’ve been secretly having a fling with the competition?”

Shiro sinks back in his armchair and Keith takes it as a confirmation. He curls his fingers in his lap, letting his nails dig into his palms.

“Either way,” Shiro continues. “I don’t think continuing this would be fair to us.”

“Us?” Keith raises his eyebrows.

“Yeah,” Shiro gestures to himself. “If we keep, uh— if it continues, I don’t want you to have to deal with all of this.”

Keith’s smart enough to infer what Shiro’s saying. He’s about two seconds away from feeling completely crushed, but he nods along like he gets it, like it’s understandable.

“Yeah,” He agrees, even though every fibre of his being is telling him to put up some sort of argument. Shiro has his jaw set though, and Keith doesn’t even know what he can say right now that won’t make him look like an idiot.

“Shouldn’t be too bad, right?” Shiro asks, and his voice starts to show some forced cheeriness. “As you said, it was just harmless. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of nothing.”

Something about that statement twists Keith wrong, doesn’t sit well with him. It almost feels false, and Keith suddenly feels the compulsion to address it, his reticence falling away.

“Shiro,” he starts, but he’s cut off by a shrill ringing.

“Shit,” Shiro swears, staring at his phone. It blares back angrily at him, and he looks back up at Keith. “Sorry, Keith, I-”

“No worries,” Keith waves him off, and stands up. His legs feel like they’re shaking in the worst way, and all he wants to do is high-tail it back to his own hotel room. “You should take that. And I should go.”

“I’ll see you around?” Shiro asks, and Keith nods as he picks up the call. He takes it as his cue to leave, and stalks out of the hallway as Shiro starts talking to his coach.

He waits till he’s back safely in his hotel room with confirmation from his friends that they’re currently trying to destroy each other at skee ball in a local arcade, before he lets his face crumple. Keith manages to keep it together for the five minutes he needs to rinse a cabbage leaf in the bathroom sink and drop it into the terrarium. His snails give him a pitying look, though Keith thinks he might be self projecting.

At any rate, he doesn’t think they’re in any place to judge; he got Rouge for Red after one night where he got really drunk with a few people from his philosophy elective and a heated argument started over whether or not his snail got lonely or not. Keith kind of wishes he had some larger force that’d go online and order him a new friend in a drunken stupor, because then he wouldn’t have to navigate whatever just happened with Shiro.

As soon as he flops down on the bed, Keith feels the hot prickle in the corners of his eyes. Crying is a loser’s game, so he rolls over onto his belly to bury his face into his pillow. It’s pathetic, but if he’s not emoting out in the open, he can at least deny it happened.

Keith crashes and burns in his Sunday morning race.

It’s not his snail’s fault. It can never be her fault, as Keith’s pretty sure she’s not quite aware of what exactly she’s doing. It’s Keith’s fault, because he got a grand total of two consecutive hours of sleep since last night and has been feeling completely crushed since the talk with Shiro. It’s all he can think about, all that plays over in his head. He’s pretty sure he wasn’t this hung up over his last breakup, and this technically doesn’t even qualify as a breakup.

He’s so spaced out that he doesn’t notice Red crawling over one of her other competitors. Each racer has a timed fifteen seconds to pull their snail off if it mounts another before they’re disqualified, and it doesn’t even register in Keith’s head what Red’s done till a full twenty three have passed and Lance is yelling at him from the sidelines. By then, the announcer is already announcing that Keith, Last Name Unknown, is officially disqualified from the race.

Keith snaps to attention, and immediately begins apologizing as he pulls Red off. She curls slightly, and hearing the announcer repeat the fact that Keith just got disqualified makes him go red.

“I’m sorry,” He says to the owner of the other snail, a sandy haired girl with glasses that looks incredibly familiar. “So, so sorry.”

She squints at him in return, and opens her mouth, but Keith turns away to drop Red into her mini terrarium. His face is burning, and he can’t believe he got distracted enough to get disqualified over something so stupid. As soon as he steps off the stage, Lance thumps his back hard with a “What the hell was that, man?” in an incredulous voice. Keith shoves him off and ducks his head, deciding instead to power walk towards the rotunda doors of the rink.

It takes a lot of effort to not just break out into a run, but Keith doesn’t want to embarass himself in public any further. He manages to duck and weave and lose his friends, and kick a discarded beer can down the hall in frustration.

Later on in the afternoon, he sits in his hotel room washroom, Hunk and Lance banging on the door outside. It’s masochistic for Keith, but he’s watching Shiro’s interview because he knows what the reporters will ask him. And he’s absolutely not surprised when a smarmy one that kind of looks like Lance shoves a microphone in Shiro’s face and asks him what exactly he thinks about his biggest competition, the up-and-coming protege of the racing world, losing out so badly in his morning round.

Keith mentally prepares himself for whatever jab is coming his way. He thinks it’ll be almost comforting to have Shiro insult him— it’ll be a good indicator that maybe things can go back to normal, and they can be friends after all. But Shiro presses his lips together and shakes his head on camera.

“It happens to the best of us,” He says, and turns away. The reporters try to hound him down, but he keeps telling him that he’s got no further comment. Somehow, that hurts more.

When he leaves the washroom, he tells Hunk and Lance that he’d rather start the trek home this evening than extend their hotel stay. There’s no point, he says, if he’s not even competing the next day. Keith’s pretty sure he looks extra pathetic, because Hunk and Lance agree without a word.

They do, however, get him to spill on the way home under threat of leaving him on the roadside (but making sure his snails have a comfortable ride home).

So Keith grudgingly starts from the time he met Shiro. As soon as he starts getting into the details of the first hookup, Lance starts making a retching sound to drown him out. Keith leans forward from the backseat to flick at his head before jumping forward to what Shiro is actually like as a person and how weird Shiro had acted after he had left their dorm room. The two of them listen intently, and Keith knows they’re paying attention because Hunk hasn’t been slyly turning up the volume of the radio.

“I can’t believe you’re sleeping with the enemy,” Lance interjects no less than five times throughout Keith’s story, and each time Keith responds with an eyeroll and a “It’s competitive snail racing .”

Hunk takes Keith’s side on it, especially when Keith reveals that Shiro’s only mean for show, and that he doesn’t actually mean what he says nor is he that rude as a person. Hunk in general is amused by the fact that people who race snails also have to develop media personalities and make actual money doing so. Keith tells them about how Shiro’s actually pretty nice, and tells them that he’s looking for ways to transition into a softer persona for the public, and tells them about the text that Shiro had sent him. Hunk and Lance are silent for a full minute, before Lance finally speaks.

“Okay,” Lance says slowly. “So why are you so hung up?”

“What do you mean?” Keith asks, and sees Hunk and Lance exchange a look.

“Well it was nothing right?” Lance says, flipping down his visor so that he can stare at Keith through the mirror. “So why are you hung up?”

“What?” Keith frowns. “It wasn’t just nothing. Not for me, at least.”

“You sure?” Hunk says. “Because that’s what you told us that day. It was nothing.”

“And you said it in front of him,” Lance adds. “Though it doesn’t sound like it was nothing on his part, especially if he’s constantly trying to make nice. And, er, other things.”

Keith blinks. Ten seconds of silence pass, and Lance huffs.

“Don’t you see how that comes off?” Lance turns in his seat to give Keith an incredulous look. “You literally just said he’s a friend and it was nothing. In front of him. Why are you twisted that he wanted to cut things off?”

“I didn’t-” Keith starts indignantly, and then stops. And then hears an audible click in his brain.“Oh.”

Oh,” Lance mocks, then snorts before turning back around. “Dumbass.”

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“Shut up,” Keith kicks the back of his seat, and Lance continues to look unimpressed. “How was I supposed to know? I was tired!”

“So did you at least talk to him after?” Hunk asks, and Keith pauses at the question.

Keith cringes as he recounts their meeting in the lobby, because he’s finally starting to realize Things with a capital T. By the end of it, Lance has his head in his hands. Hunk keeps looking at Keith through the rearview and shaking his head, and Keith doesn’t exactly blame him. Now that he’s revisited events with an irritated third party, it stands out like a neon sign that maybe Keith’s misinterpreted a couple of things here and there.

Keith replays the conversation over and over in his head, and feels the slow build of dread that maybe he’s been the one that’s been coming off as callous and not serious about what they had been doing.

It’s killing Keith a little, because he’s starting to see now why Shiro wouldn’t want to risk anything over something that Keith had called nothing. Keith stares at the hot dog shaped air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror as a slow montage of every single moment he and Shiro have shared plays through his head. Keith thinks that maybe he does deserve to be left on the side of the road.

“Are you still with us?” Hunk says, and his voice sounds distant and far away. “Keith?”

“He’s contemplating life,” Lance tells Hunk. “Leave him alone. He’s coming to term with his wrongs.”

“I hate you both,” Keith says but with little heart, because he’s still internally kicking himself for acting like an idiot in what’s probably an irreversible way.

“Not as much as you hate yourself,” Lance singsongs, and there’s too much truth in it at the moment for Keith to retaliate beyond banging his foot against the back of Lance’s seat again.

By the time they’re two thirds of the way home, Lance catches a country radio station talking about the results of the snail race. He turns it up to listen just as the DJ announces that in a career-low, Takashi Shirogane has placed fifth overall.

Keith mopes the first day back— there’s no other way to describe it. He sits and stares at his wall for the first twenty minutes of the day, and functions the rest of the time on autopilot. He manages to have a meeting with his advisor who spends more time staring at their papers than at Keith, and stands and listens to a charity spiel from someone on the curb. He makes continuous eye contact with them as they talk and he zones out and by the time they’re done, he hands them a twenty. They’re too unnerved to ask him to fill out the regular donor card, and he thinks it’s for the better.

Lance and Hunk corner him in the main cafeteria and try to talk to him, but it goes in one ear for Keith and out the other. Keith picks pathetically at his mac n’ cheese while Hunk starts reading him freshly-googled inspirational quotes from his phone. It distracts him long enough for Lance to take his phone from where it had been tucked under the curve of his plate.

“You should really put a password on this,” Lance says idly as he unlocks Keith’s phone.

“What?” Keith frowns, then grows panicked as he finally registers what Lance has in his hands. “Hey, give that back!”

Lance sticks an arm out and mashes his palm against Keith’s face as he starts to type with his other hand. Keith grunts and strains and is two seconds away from actually making Lance sorry he stole his phone; Lance senses this as well and tosses the phone across the table. Hunk catches the phone and finishes up whatever Lance had been typing, and Keith’s eyes bug out when he hears the soft shwoop of the message sending.

Hunk throws the phone back to Lance, and Lance hits a couple more keys before Keith pounces on him and tries to wrestle the phone out of his hand. It provides a brief emotional interlude where instead of sadness, Keith feels an immense amount of irritation, and he snatches his phone back from Lance.

“What’d you send?” he demands, and Lance raises both his hands.

“I deleted it,” he says simply. “So if he doesn’t reply, then you can pretend you never sent anything in the first place.”

“I didn’t,” Keith insists. “You did!”

“From your number,” Lance says happily, and Keith glares at him. He’s tempted to text Shiro, tell him that a friend got a hold of his phone, but realizes that’s going to look even more pathetic.

Later on in the evening, they try to cheer him up again, try to invite him out, try to take his phone and see if Shiro has replied. Keith doesn’t show them the ten call me ’s that Shiro’s texted him since whatever Lance had send to Shiro, because then they’re going to ask why exactly Keith hasn’t called. Lance still hasn’t revealed what he messaged Shiro, and Keith doesn’t trust that he hasn’t sent some sort of insult to Shiro. Keith doesn’t have enough emotional fortitude to deal with the fallout, so he’s currently pretending that his phone’s dead until otherwise indicated.

Eventually they leave him be in his room, and he spends the evening feeding his snails strawberry slices and watching an unhealthy amount of horror movies. The day’s over before he knows it, and he gets one last text message from Shiro, asking him to call him.

Keith turns over his phone instead.

When he wakes up the next morning, he experiences a good five minutes of clarity where he realizes that he probably should show some initiative. Shiro’s texted him enough times that if Keith peeks through his own sadness for more than three seconds, it’s kind of clear that Shiro’s determined to talk to him about something. That’s about as far as his morning-fogged brain will go, so he opens the texts, and sends a quick sorry, I’m free to talk right now if you want , and waits.

And waits.

He knows it’s ridiculous to wonder why it’s been fifteen minutes and he hasn’t received any text back from Shiro, because Shiro is a grown man with commitments, a schedule that Keith’s not attuned to, and is decidedly not a moping university student. Not yet, anyways. So Keith tosses his phone on his bed, and tries to go about his day.

Not that his day is packed to begin with. Instead of staring at the ceiling of his room, he starfishes on the main quad and stares up at the sky instead. He’s left his phone behind, so he’s not keeping track of time. It’s fine though, because the only duty he had all day had been to return a library book he forgot he had taken out to begin with. By the time he had done that, it had been the afternoon, and he had still gotten no reply.

Keith looks at the clouds passing above him, and wonders if Shiro’s texted back yet. Wonders if maybe he should have brought his phone with him on the quad, just incase. Wonders why suddenly the sky’s blocked out, and someone’s staring him down from above. Keith squints at the backlit figure for a moment, before recognition dawns upon him.

“Hey,” he says, looking up at the short girl. “You’re...Pidge?”

“Katie off the tracks,” the girl replies. “Keith, right? I thought I recognized you when I was walking by.”

“Yeah,” Keith says, and sits up. “You go here?”

“I was gonna say the same for you,” she says, and sticks out a hand. Keith grasps it for a moment before standing up, and dusting off his pants. “You looked vaguely familiar when I first saw you, but I couldn’t place where.”

“I didn’t know that the sport was so popular here,” Keith says, and Katie lets out a short laugh.

“I just do it because my brother and his dumb friend used to do it,” Katie replies. “And they got money doing it too. My brother thinks he’s some sort of PR prodigy now, even though it’s just because his friend’s hot.”

Keith opens his mouth to ask who her brother is, but he remembers a face from a few weeks ago that looks like an older, more masculine version of Katie. A face that had accompanied Shiro into a dimly lit bar on country night, that belonged to the guy who came to pick Shiro and his coach up from their shared house the next morning.

“Please don’t associate me with them,” Katie says before he can say anything. “For the record, I think it’s totally stupid that Shiro pretends to be mean on camera. They said it was Coran’s idea, but Matt was the one dumb enough to suggest it to begin with.”

“Ah,” Keith’s really not sure how to reply to that, so he shrugs instead. “I’m cool with it. It’s kind of funny to begin with it.”

“It’s because Coran and Matt can’t write an insult to save their life,” Katie informs him. “If they had let me do it, no one would have come out alive.”

Keith barks out a genuine laugh at that, and Katie gives him a playful shove. She asks him if he wants to get a coffee, because she has thirty minutes to kill before she has to meet a professor. He figures he needs some sort of socialization, so Keith agrees and follows her across the quad.

Keith learns that Shiro and Katie’s brother have been friends since high school, and Matt had been the one to put Shiro on to snail racing. The two of them had been fresh off duty, and had been trying to figure out where exactly they would go with their lives from there. In the interim, Matt had an impulse to try out something completely ridiculous. He was too lazy to be a coach, but they had a family friend called Coran who was a professional photographer a spacious white RV, so they roped him in to be part of their team.

Matt and Coran’s insistence on pushing Shiro’s looks above all else is the main reason they’ve turned what was a joke sport into a lucrative career. Pidge had joined around the same time, mostly so that the group could get family discounts on motel rooms, but races only intermittently, and not with as much fervour.

“If you want to get him back good, ever,” she says as she slurps up an iced coffee while Keith walks her to her building. She’s entertaining to talk to, and it’s nice meeting someone outside of his emotionally condensed group of friends. Something in the back of Keith’s head asks if he’s also just really into the fact that she’s got stories about Shiro, but he pointedly ignores it. “I’ll give you my number. I know exactly what you can say.”

“Yeah?” Keith raises an eyebrow, and she nods as they round a corner. “Like what?”

“If you really want to hurt him, you have to make fun of the names he chose for his snails,” Katie replies. “He and Matt spent four hours on a baby name generator, just to pick the stupidest names. Ebony and Ivory?”

Keith doesn’t want to point out that his snails are just two different variations of the same colour, but he nods along anyways. Matt sounds like Lance but a little cooler, and when he points it out to Katie, she makes a face at him.

“Never call my brother cool again,” She says flatly, but she ends up taking his number anyways with a promise to give him a list of insults that’ll be better than anything her brother can even dream of.

Keith feels a little better when he gets back to his room. Normal, almost. At any rate, he’s feeling a little more optimistic when he digs his phone out from the bundle of sheets he threw it into in the morning. When he unlocks it, there’s no new messages.

On the third day, Keith decides to shower. It’s less because he’s realized that he needs to wash away the large amount of self-pitying he’s been doing for the past few days and more because at around eleven thirty in the morning, Lance stands over Keith’s bed and tells him he stinks.

(Video) Putter acceleration

“You went without for two weeks last semester,” Keith points out from where he’s sprawled on his bed. He’s got a bag of Doritos sitting on his chest, and has been watching funny dog videos for the past hour. He copes however he can. “And it wasn’t even finals.”

“Because I was upset over getting dumped,” Lance says, and grabs Keith’s wrist. He starts to tug, completely disrupting Keith’s set up. “Your sadness makes you smell infinitely worse, and I think I’m going to choke.”

Keith finally acquiesces, and grudgingly slings a towel over his shoulder. He grabs his bottle of body wash and his flip flops and gives Lance the finger for good luck as he exits the room.

The shower does do him some good. Keith’s not one for long showers, but the hot spray clears his mind and he lets it steam his body till it’s pink. He soaps himself up and washes his hair for good measure, and feels a little lighter when all the grime is gone.

For the first time in the past few days, he finds himself not dwelling too hard on what had passed. He’s almost optimistic, really— if Shiro’s not going to contact him, Keith’s going to give it a couple of days before he reaches out again. If Shiro ghosts him then too, then Keith’s going to eat his feelings for a week straight at the cheapest local diner, and then pick up and move on. Hopefully. He’s just got to have faith in himself.

Keith makes it back to his room twenty minutes later, and Lance sits up as soon as he enters.

“Put some clothes on,” Lance wrinkles his nose in Keith’s direction. That had actually been Keith’s plan, but since Lance just told him to, Keith gives him a flat “no” and dumps his dirty clothes on his bed. Lance makes a face and pretends to gag as he stands up and dusts his jeans.

“I’m heading out,” Lance announces, and Keith grunts in return, busy pulling his blankets back so that he can dust his sheets. He feels a hand on his shower-wet hair and immediately jerks back. He whips around and has to step back again.

“What are you doing?” He demands, and Lance reaches over to pet his head. Oddly, he tries to smooth Keith’s hair down, even as Keith tries to flick him away.

“I’ll be gone till the evening,” Lance informs him. “Be good.”

“Please be gone longer,” Keith requests, and Lance licks a thumb before reaching for Keith’s eyebrows. Mortified, Keith jumps out of the way just in time, and Lance snickers as he grabs his hoodie off his bed. He slams the door behind him, and Keith makes a mental note to wedge something under the door so that Lance has a hard time getting back in.

Keith flops down on the bed, towel still wrapped around him. He considers putting on clothes, but since he has the room alone to himself, air drying himself seems like a more appealing option. He feels like a lighter man now; there’s something revitalizing about the strong pine scent of the 3-in-1 he used.

His phone buzzes, and though Keith’s been keeping a vigilant eye on it since he last texted Shiro, the shower has relaxed his muscles way too much for him to reach for the phone on his desk. He’s actually kind of glad he’s clean now, because when he inevitably stares at the ceiling for an hour straight, he won’t feel like he’s wallowing.

Two minutes later it buzzes again, this time continuously, indicating a phone call. Keith knows that that is probably something he should answer, so he starts to will his body to move just enough to sit him up. Just as he creaks onto his feet, the phone stops vibrating. It’s replaced instead by a sharp knock on his door.

Keith groans, because it’s a little harder to ignore someone knocking on his door. Especially when they wait less than ten seconds to knock again. He picks up his towel woefully as they knock again , and wraps it around his hips.

“I’m coming,” He calls out, stepping over a stack of textbooks as he secures his towel. He’s got a sixth sense for when his parents drop by for a surprise visit, and it’s not tingling at all, so he knows it’s probably some classmate panicking about a grade they got or someone wanting a place to crash because they’ve gotten sexiled. He swings open the door, ready to ask what the hell his visitor wants, when he comes face to face with Shiro.

“Hey,” Shiro says. Keith blinks.

“Uh,” He replies, and Shiro scratches the back of his head. He looks incredibly sheepish, and Keith suddenly wishes he was wearing something more than just a towel. Seeing Shiro in the flesh requires some sort of mental preparation on his part, and Keith has none of it. At least he’s washed off the stench of general sadness from himself, he thinks faintly. It’s the small victories.

“Lance signed me in,” Shiro says, looking hesitant. “I hope that’s okay. I wanted to talk to you.”

“Lance?” Keith blinks, and Shiro nods. Keith’s first thought is that it explains Lance’s odd behaviour, including the weird grooming before he left. Each subsequent thought is some variation of Holy shit, he’s here. “How is he talking to you?”

“He messaged me on one of my social media accounts,” Shiro says, digging his hands in his pockets. “Sent me a picture of himself to prove it was him. It was a really terrifying one. But uh, he said you’d be cool with talking to me. I’m sorry for showing up out of nowhere.”

Keith opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He waits a second, hoping some of the few remaining brain cells he has will start to rub together and fire up one of his neural pathways. Unfortunately, they’re still trying to process the fact that Shiro’s shown up at his front door, dressed in a snug black shirt and faded Wranglers like he’s about to be on the cover of a gritty country album. He looks a little tired too though; Keith can see the faint dark circles under his eyes, and wonders what’s been keeping Shiro up.

“Yeah,” he says, for lack of having anything else to say. “Yeah, uh, come in I guess.”

Shiro looks incredibly awkward as he lumbers into the room. Keith pushes aside the dirty clothes he had dumped on his bed and watches as they pathetically flop to the ground. He’s glad he and Lance at least deigned to wash their sheets, and that the general stench of cheese doritos common throughout their dorm has been effectively nuked by one of Lance’s jasmine candles. He gestures towards the bed, and Shiro takes a seat.

Keith debates whether or not he should tell Shiro to close his eyes so that he can put on some underwear or some pants or something to cover himself up. He doesn’t know if it makes sense, since Shiro’s already seen him naked in a few colourful ways. Keith also registers that he’s been silently standing and staring at Shiro for thirty seconds, so he decides to sit down on the opposite end of the bed.

“So,” Keith starts, not knowing where to look. He takes a side glance at Shiro, and Shiro’s fully turned on his bed, one leg propped up on the mattress so that he can face Keith. It already feels like the conversation is moving fast.

“So,” Shiro echoes. “I wanted to talk to you.”

“I guessed as much,” Keith’s still trying to process that Shiro’s here in his shitty little dorm room, in person instead of in a small screen on Keith’s phone. It sends a familiar fluttering sensation through him and he’s got an itch to touch Shiro, even though he’s not sure that he’s allowed to. “About what?”

“Your text,” Shiro replies, like it should be a little obvious but he isn’t judging Keith for it.

“What?” Keith frowns, and then is hit with a mildly horrifying realization of a oh right, that text that made him blow up your phone. That you ignored . His stomach drops, and he swallows back a gulp. “Oh. Right.”

“Yeah,” Shiro looks slightly bemused, but Keith’s not sure how he can unpinch his own eyebrows. “The one you sent me on Monday.”

“Uh,” Keith trails off. He’s not quite sure how to tell Shiro that he didn’t actually see the text. Ever. That he didn’t send it to begin with. He thinks that Shiro might telepathically pick up on this,because in an act of mercy, he digs out his phone and unlocks it. He turns the screen towards Keith, and Keith scoots closer so that he can lean in and look.

I’m sorry I called you just a friend you mean more to me but it’s ok if you don’t want to do this anymore, it reads, and Keith’s eyes widen. Instantly, he feels his cheeks start to burn. But if you think it’s worth a shot I think it’s worth a shot.

“Oh,” Keith says. “That text.”

A pin-drop silence falls over the two of them. Keith keeps his eyes glued to Shiro’s phone screen, even after it automatically goes to sleep. Shiro clears his throat, but Keith’s still not ready to make eye contact with him.

“If—“ Shiro starts, then stops. He coughs, and tucks his phone back into his pocket. “Is it true? Do you mean it?”

“Um…” Keith continues to stare at the empty space where Shiro’s phone had been. His brain has come to a grinding halt, and he’s not quite sure if he can speak again.

“If you didn’t, it’s okay,” Shiro says hastily, and Keith finally looks up at him. Shiro looks part embarrassed, part concerned, and Keith’s pretty sure he’s imagining this part but Shiro almost looks a little hopeful . “If you don’t anymore it’s okay too.”

Keith knows this is his moment. Knows he should come clean and tell Shiro that yeah, even though he wasn't the one he texted him, he still means everything. But his heart seems to be caught in his throat, and he still feels tongue tied.

Shiro’s face falls when Keith gives his non response. He looks down on his lap, twists his hands. That crestfallen expression finally kicks Keith into gear.

“No” Keith rushes out as sincerely as possible. “I meant it. I still mean it.”

“Oh,” Shiro blinks. “Okay. Just wanted to make sure.”

“Yeah,” Keith closes his eyes and sighs. He knows it’s his turn to be a little forthright. “I didn’t mean it when I called us nothing. I was just trying to get them off our backs and I didn’t think, especially since we’ve never talked about it before.”

“Yeah?” Shiro gives a short laugh, and scratches the back of his head— something Keith's recognizing it as his nervous tic. “I was kind of crushed when I heard that, not gonna lie. I didn’t really know what to do with myself.”

“What?” Keith internally cringes, because it’s a concrete confirmation of what he feared and what his friends had said. “God, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Shiro assures, raising his hands. “It’s my fault too. I should have asked you on a proper date or something. Probably should have had this conversation earlier too.”

“You wanted to take me out on a date?” Keith blurts out, and Shiro nods.

“Of course,” He says, leveling Keith with a serious look. “But you were always busy or something. And after your friends walked in on us, I thought you only saw us as one thing. Or only wanted one thing.”

(Video) Tag Team - Whoomp! (There It Is)

Keith finds himself automatically edging closer to Shiro, feeling inexplicably drawn to him. He’s trying not to look too eager, but he’s also desperately hoping this isn’t some sort of fever dream.

“What do you want from me, Shiro?” Keith asks, trying to swallow down the butterflies in his stomach.

“I like you,” Shiro shifts too, slowly shrinking the gap between them. “A lot, as a person. Outside of uh, what we occasionally do.”

“What?” Keith raises an eyebrow. They're sitting almost thigh to thigh now; Keith’s growing acutely aware that the only thing he’s wearing right now is a damp towel. “Snail racing?”

“You know what I mean,” Shiro nudges Keith gently, before shifting his arm back. He leans in slightly, and Keith feels himself drawing in too. “I like you and I want to be together. Properly.”

Shiro tilts his head and smiles at Keith and the sight of it is so overwhelming that Keith doesn't wait for Shiro to meet him halfway. Keith surges up for a kiss; maybe too enthusiastically by the way that Shiro plants a hand on his arm to steady him. He doesn't hesitate to move his lips against Keith's though, and his fingers curl against Keith's bicep. Keithangles his head, and feels cool metal cup his cheek. It’s unbelievably saccharine, but he doesn’t think he’ll be able to get enough.

“Won’t this ruin your rep?” Keith asks when they break apart, trying to remember how to breathe. “You said you were trying to be more professional.”

“It’s snail racing,” Shiro says in an amused voice, the corner of his lips quirking. He leans down to peck Keith on the lips again. “I only only agreed with you then because I was nervous as hell. I think I’ll be okay. ”

“You’re the one that’s made a career out of being a dick,” Keith points out, and Shiro has the decency to look a little sheepish. “I’m not the one with a Calvin Klein ad on the line.”

“It’ll be fine,” Shiro replies, and “I’ll make sure of it.”

“I don’t know if I’m convinced,” Keith teases lightly, but Shiro’s face goes completely serious. He looks like he’s on the verge of trying to make another case, but Keith cuts him off before it can go anywhere.

“I like you too,” Keith replies, and the rest comes to him without even thinking. He kisses Shiro again, looping an arm around his waist so that they can get pulled together even closer. Shiro starts to tug, and Keith finds himself slowly getting edged onto Shiro’s lap. His towel shifts, and Keith prays that it stays on. Maybe.

“Good,” Shiro says, moving to kiss Keith’s chin. “I’m actually in town for a bit so I can take you out properly. If you’re free.”

“A bit?” Keith tips his head, and Shiro presses another one to his jaw. “Checking out apartments again?”

Shiro freezes against Keith for a moment, long enough that Keith pulls back to give him a questioning look.

“That would be smart,” Shiro says, and Keith squints at him. “I uh, should get on that.”

Something dawns on Keith as Shiro tries to lean in for another kiss. He leans back, and gives Shiro an incredulous look. He doesn’t want to sound too full of himself but—

“Did you come here only for me?” Keith asks point blank, and Shiro presses his lips together. The longer he goes without answering, the brighter his ears get.

“That’s why I didn’t reply yesterday,” Shiro says, embarrassed. “We were going to go sightseeing but I got your message and I couldn’t see myself talking about this over the phone. So yesterday I spent the day driving down from Spokane and kind of just hoped for the best.”

Keith can’t help it. He launches forward again, catching Shiro by surprise as he kisses him with a sloppy intensity. Shiro makes a sound, but wraps his arms around Keith, and Keith decides to clamber fully onto Shiro’s lap, enthusiastically moving their lips together.

“The point of this was for me to let you know that I want you for more than just this,” Shiro murmurs against his mouth, but Keith makes a sound and presses forward to shut him up.

“It’s okay,” Keith says in between the kisses, and he’s pushing Shiro down onto the bed with a wide smile. “I believe you.”

Shiro makes an amused sound, and Keith feels the cold metal of his hand start to slide up his thigh. It’s addictive in a familiar way, but it’s louder this time.

Keith’s heart thuds against his ribcage as Shiro squeezes his thigh. He runs a hand through Shiro’s hair, pushing his bangs off his face as he pulls off. Shiro gives him a small smile and Keith can’t help but return it before diving in for another kiss. He feels his towel shift over Shiro’s hand, and knows it’s on the verge of dropping off. And he’s completely fine with letting it.

There is very little that the public at large knows about Keith, last name unregistered.

They know that he’s a university student that’s never specified what major he studies. They know he’s a prodigy, and they’ve voted his team uniform as ugliest in show at almost every tournament he’s been to. They know that he favours placing his snail in the outermost lane.

They also know that this tournament was his first tournament where he went toe to toe with his greatest enemy, Takashi Shirogane, who openly laughed in the face of a reporter who asked if he was worried about his competition. He’s not insulted Keith, not yet, but enthusiasts of the sport are closely watching for whatever needle he decides to publicly stick into Keith’s ego.

Keith’s completely fine with the public only knowing that. The air of mystery that surrounds him is maybe fractionally due to privacy or Lance’s efforts to build a silent bad boy persona for him; it’s mostly because he’s too lazy to be forthcoming with any information. He’s also got some sense of propriety, which means when a reporter catches him and asks him if he’s got anything to say to Shiro, his reply is not a “Yeah, the shirt you left at my place shrunk in the wash so it’s mine now”.

They’ve talked about whether or not they want people to know about their relationship. Keith’s fine with whatever, because he knows that Shiro’s built his public persona on being extremely dramatic. He’s not needy enough to demand that Shiro publicly tell the whole world that he’s never meant what he’s said about Keith. Shiro’s recently landed a fashion advertisement that’s paying quite an understandable amount, and Keith’s not going to get in the way of that. Though, Keith’s pretty sure that after his initial underwear ad, Shiro’s landing jobs more because he looks like he’s been genetically engineered to be perfect and less because he picks on a physics major.

“Even if he didn’t today, Shirogane’s spent so much time insulting you,” the reporter in front of Keith asks, jabbing a giant spongy microphone in front of him. The race is over, and they’re about to announce the winners, and Keith’s had reporter after reporter come after him. He’s not quite sure why snail racing has this much coverage, and wonders how he can leverage this into tuition money. “How do you maintain your composure?”

The answer to that is simple. Keith takes this sport only semi-seriously, and is riding it out for as long as it’ll give him money. He also has grown to love his snail, which he will admit to no one but her. Keith also thinks that any insult Shiro’s ever thrown at him publicly is dulled by the fact that he knows how Shiro looks when he’s flushed and exhausted and sated.

“Too much salt can kill a snail,” Keith says sagely instead, and the reporter nods along with wide eyes. This is the longest sound byte anyone’s ever gotten out of Keith, and Keith knows they’re going to run with it as far as they can.

There’s a three step podium where each of the winners have to stand, mini terrariums in hand as a pretty girl in a sparkling dress drapes a medal around them. In third place is a man who Keith saw dumping the complimentary jam packets into his pocket at the hotel breakfast bar; in second place is Pidge, who’s got an ever-smug expression on her face; and in first place is Keith, trying to squeeze onto the podium beside Shiro.

Keith’s still not quite sure how two snails can travel across the track at the exact same speed. In the photo finish, the tip of Shiro’s snail had crossed the line at the same time one of eyestalks of Red. The crowd had roared when the judges had thrown the photo up on the screen hanging in the centre of the basketball court the association has rented out for this race. Keith had put his hand on his hips, squinted at the screen, and had exchanged a “ huh ” with Hunk and Lance before one of the race volunteers had ushered him onto the podium.

It’s unprecedented, the announcer bleats over the microphone, and hasn’t happened in the past thirty years of the sport. The last time it did, the two winners had gotten into a fistfight at a bar afterwards and had both spent three nights in the local jail.

Keith looks up at Shiro as the announcer speaks and gives him half a grin. The cameras are on the emcee of the event, listing off all the sponsors, so Keith tries to sneak in a line with Shiro.

“What are you going to say?” He asks, and Shiro raises his eyebrows.

“When?” He asks, and Keith tips his head towards the press pit just ten feet away.

“When they ask you how it feels to share the podium with your arch nemesis,” Keith says gravely, and he can see the laugh that Shiro visibly chokes back.

“You want me to say something?” Shiro says, just as the screen switches back to the winners, and Keith bites back the urge to wink at Shiro.

“Now or never, old man,” Keith teases lightly and he can see Shiro’s mind clicking and whirring visibly. Keith’s sure that he’s very soon going to finally be on the receiving end on an incredibly stupid insult carefully handcrafted by Matt and Coran.

“Well,” Shiro says, and Keith braces himself. He’s already got three different retorts ready, and hopes no one realizes that he’s stolen them from popular social media posts. Shiro slings an arm around Keith and draws him close, and Keith blinks in surprise.

“What-” Keith starts, but can’t finish because suddenly, his mouth’s occupied by Shiro’s. On live television.

In front of a crowd that goes absolutely bonkers .

Keith stands frozen on the spot for a hot second, trying to process the fact that Shiro is kissing him on live television. He manages to catch his brain right before it shuts down, and snakes his arms around Shiro’s waist so that he can turn Shiro and kiss him properly. The announcer is yelling something over the PA, and Keith can feel the heat of a million camera flashes, as well as the palpable surprise of the entire room.

“I’m not going to insult you again,” Shiro murmurs when they break apart, cupping Keith’s face. “I really like you.”

“Yeah?” Keith goes a little cross-eyed as Shiro draws close. “Good for you.”

Shiro barks out a laugh and ducks his head, but Keith places a finger under Shiro’s jaw and tips him forward so he can peck his mouth again. It turns into another kiss, and if the painted apple box hadn’t rattled ominously when they both stepped on it, Keith would dip Shiro back like they were on the cover of the world’s corniest romance novel. Keith knows he’s going to get clowned hard by all his friends, and he knows that Lance isn’t running towards the podium with the gatorade bottle to give Keith something to drink.

(Video) Theory Of Rhythm | Music Lesson

So the public ends up learning a new thing about both Takashi Shirogane and Keith, last name not applicable: they’re no longer sworn enemies on the field. They have, in fact, surmounted all their differences in favour of kindling a romance that has many of the sport’s lovers speculating when exactly the animosity stopped.

No one can pin point it because it had never truly begun, but Keith’s fine with the public not knowing that.

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