Riassunto: Not all of Shiro comes back from the war, and he's not talking about his arm. He doesn't think he can do much, but then his therapist convinces him he should take a service dog.
[A Modern!AU with a Shiro that has PTSD and how Black, a service dog, helps him get better. There's also love and friendship, but really, it's the dog]
Warning: PTSD, Heavy PTSD really
Note: Written for COWT8
His cellphone's alarm wakes him for the first time in years and Shiro startles awake, scared. He's not used to it anymore, but there's an underlying of shame inside him the moment he realizes that he just got scared because of an alarm he, himself, set up the night before.
Immediately Black is at the feet of the bed, barking. She can probably deel his panic and tries to make him feel better as best as she can.
"It's all right," he promises, getting up. "It's fine, don't worry." She still hovers, because that's jsut what she does, but she seems to be reassured by his tone of voice.
It takes a moment for Shiro to remember why, exactly, he needed an alarm. And the self doubt consumes him. Does he really want to go and meet Keith? Was Keith's proposal really genuine? After all he probably only said it because he felt pity towards Shiro, who was more than a little broken around the edges.
At the same time, the man had seemed awkwards the day before, a little bit unsure of himself. He had seemed genuine, in a way that Shiro hadn't expected from someone like him.
Shiro closes his eyes and tries to think about what to do. He had been sure the night before, sure enough to put the alarm, but now in the morning light it seems like a stupid idea.
What would they even talk about? Keith was obviously not someone used to dealing with people like Shiro. Sick people. And Shiro doesn't have really much to talk about that isn't strongly connected to his own sickness. And that isn't something to spring on someone on their first (or third) meeting.
He's agonizing over the decision when he feels the covers being pulled quite insistently. He opens his eyes only to see Black, usually so good mannered, with the covers in her mouth, pulling her. She reminds him of a mother, trying to wake her child who doesn't want to go to school.
It makes him laugh, a surprised sound. And something inside him stops.
Laughter. How long has it been since he laughed out loud without an underlying of sadness? Even now the moment of hilarity is nothing more than a fleeting second, being obscured by the realization of how miserable his life has been lately.
And while some of it, most of it, is connected to his trauma. Most of it is his own fault.
"Fine," he says, pushing the covers away from his body, "we're doing this. And if it's a terrible idea... then at least we'll know for sure."
Black barks like she understood him and then she wags her tail excitedly. Shiro smiles at her and pats her head. "First food, and then I have to do some exercises and clean the arm. And then..." he stops and shrugs.
He's sure that it will be a painfully awkward morning, but at worst it will be half an hour of tense small talks before Keith has to continue with his run and Shiro could go back to the safety of his own home.
Shiro doesn't know why is stomach is twisted in so many knots.
They reach the park at the same time of the day before, and he looks around trying to see if he can spot Keith and his dog. It appears like they are the only one there, and he tries to appreciate the peace.
In reality the park is too big, too full of blind spots or places where a sniper could easily hide. There is no one around, a perfect opportunity for a surprise attack and Shiro feels the anxiety mount inside him. This was a terrible idea. Yesterday had been a good day, but apparently today wasn't going to be one.
Black barks beside him, louder and louder, and Shiro tries to regroup. It's a park. He's in New York. And he's fine.
He bends and takes the harness off of Black. She looks at him a little confused and when he takes out her ball and throws it, she doesn't even look at it. Yeah, Shiro thought so.
He looks around and spots the same bench from the day before, reaching it and sitting down on it with a heavy sigh. Immediately Black runs to him and POGGIA her snout on his leg, a comforting presence.
The moment of panic is passing, but it's not something that ever leaves him, that hyper awareness of where he is, how many places to hide there are. How easy it would be for someone to take Shiro out right now.
It never goes away and it's exhausting.
Shiro almost startles when he hears a loud bark, and the noise of paws running towards them. He doesn't startles this time, and he looks towards the little road that traverses the park to see Red running in their direction. Black looks at the dog and then back at Shiro, evidently prioritizing her job over her friend.
Shiro doesn't know how he deserves her. He pats her head and she leans into his touch.
Red reaches them after a couple of seconds, but she calms down the moment she's beside Shiro. She looks nothing like the playful dog of the day before, she looks a lot like Black now.
Shiro realizes that if she's one of the dogs that help Keith and Hunk train the others, Red must be trained as well. So now he has two dogs being scared for him, great.
Keith catches up after a minute and Shiro looks at him trying to gauge his reaction at seeing Shiro here. Is he sad because Shiro has accepted his invitation? Happy? Unsure of how to act?
For what Shiro can tell, he feels nothing at all.
Keith's face doesn't reveal anything of his inner state of mind. He's panting a little, obviously out of breath, and he runs up to them without hesitation.
"Hi," he says, and in that one word he manages to convey all the awkwardness that Shiro is feeling. It's a pretty funny situation if someone thinks about it objectively.
"Hi," Shiro responds in kind and he tries to smile, hoping it comes off as sincere. "I decided that it was nice. The part at this hour."
Keith looks at him, and then he looks at Black and the way she's sitting beside Shiro's leg, in a clear sign that her owner isn't as calm as he wants to appear. Keith could call him out on his lie, tell him it's obvious that he's not feeling comfortable, and Shiro will be caught in his lie, unable to say anything. Instead, Keith just nods and sits down on the bench, on the empty space beside Shiro.
"I'm glad," Keith clears his voice and pats Red, obviously trying to think of something to say. It's almost amusing seeing him struggle so much. It makes him feel a little better, that he's not the only one who doesn't have an idea about what he's doing. "It's nice."
Shiro nods, and they fell into silence. Shiro should be making more of an effort, he should find something entertaining to say since Keith had been the one to make the first move and actually invited Shiro to hang out with him. But there is nothing that comes to mind.
"Lance," Keith blurts out, apropo of nothing, and Shiro looks back at him a little startled. Keith is looking at his own hands, and there is a blush on his cheek that wasn't there before, almost as if he's embarrassed, "the other day Lance arrived at the center, and he was dragging Blue behind him because, apparently, he had taken her to the toiletter. I... I don't know what he wanted them to do, probably Blue's nails because Lance does things like that. And apparently Blue had just jumped over the person that was supposed to do her nails because she was excited. And the person almost broke her hand."
Shiro looks at the other like he's crazy, and he's not sure Keith isn't. He has no idea where that story came from, or why Keith decided to tell it, but he decides to just observe for a moment.
Keith looks wound up, tense, like he's feeling awkward enough that he doesn't know what to do with his body. And Shiro can't help but understand. He doesn't know what he's doing here, why he even accepted this, maybe out of loneliness, maybe he just wanted to try and reach out to someone.
Maybe he's just that desperate.
But it's obvious now that while Keith had made the offer, he doesn't know what to do now that Shiro has accepted. And this tale, this stupid story spoken out of the blue, is his way to try and say something.
Shiro wants to laugh, because of how terribly embarrassing they both are, but he doesn't. Instead he asks: "Did Blue get her nail polish in the end?"
Keith looks up, surprised at Shiro's interest. Shiro smiles at him, as encouragely as he can, and Keith relaxes a little. "No. Not this time at least. Once Lance made her come back with pink polish. It was ridiculous."
Shiro smiles and laughs a little, looking at Black. "Lance must love her very much."
"He does. I mean, I don't really get him most of the time, but Hunk loves him and Blue likes him so he must have some good qualities." Keith says it with a shrug, but Shiro can see a little bit of mirth in his tone. He figures it must be some kind of inner joke he doesn't get because he's not part of their group of friends.
It irks him a little, but he allows the strange spike of jealousy wash away. They have been nothing but kind and forthcoming with him, all three of them, and it has been Shiro who has taken every occasion to distanciate himself from them. He has no right to feel jealous of a friendship he has been putting the breaks on since the very beginning.
"I'm sorry," Keith says after a second, "that was the only thing that came to mind. I... I didn't prepare anything."
Shiro looks at him surprised for a second before he laughs, unable to stop himself. "I don't think you should have prepared anything. It's not a job interview."
Keith shrugs, and he doesn't seem embarrassed about what he has just said. There is a genuinity in him that is almost refreshing. It seems like Keith believes in saying what he thinks. "I know, but I also know I don't make the best first impression," the other shrugs and pets his own dog, "not with human anyway. Apparently I'm too direct."
Shiro thinks back at his own thoughts the first time he had met Keith and those seem like the exact thought he had on Keith. A little too direct, not very good at small talk, but not a bad person.
It seems that, however, there are more inner depths of Keith that he has yet to discover.
"I'm not that good at first impressions myself lately, or small talk," Shiro admits, because it only seems fair that he gives something in return for Keith's honesty. "I kind of like that you're not good at this, it makes me feel less lonely."
Keith turns towards him and there is something in his eyes, like he's trying to decipher Shiro. "Everyone loved you. Lance couldn't shut up for two days," Keith says in the end, "Hunk was worried we scared you off. I knew that wasn't the case."
"Why?" he asks, unable to contain his curiosity. He had been scared off in a way, even if not by them. His own feelings, his own mind, he was scared of them and how fragile they seem to be lately. So Keith's belief in him and this apparent strength he has are not well placed.
"Because you joked about it," Keith says, shrugging, "You own trauma. And you were... you didn't avert your eyes while we explained everything to you. You seem stronger than many."
It's the way he says it, as matter of fact as possible, that almost sets Shiro off. Is he stronger than many? Once he had thought so, but now? He feels as normal and fragile as anyone else and he's starting to accept that there is nothing wrong with that.
"I'm not. I'm... I need Black for most things, and I can't even come to the meetings because I don't trust myself," Shiro tells him, a little out of breath. "I'm not that strong."
Silence falls on them again, and this time Shiro doesn't think Keith will make an attempt to say anything. What there is to say about what Shiro just unload on him? Will Keith realize that he's just wasting his time?
"You came here," Keith's voice comes as a surprise, and Shiro almost flinches. He turns towards the other, and he's surprised to find Keith's eyes focusing on him, burning his skin. "You came here, even with someone who you don't know and that isn't the best at talking and that takes courage. You don't give yourself enough credit."
The urge to fight Keith, to scream at him that he's wrong and doesn't know what he's talking about is strong, but Shiro takes a moment to swallow it down. All the words he wants to scream, all the way he can refute Keith's kind words. He makes them disappear.
'What I want you to do,' Coran had told him, 'is stop refusing when people give you a compliment'. It's hard, because the urge to make them see, to make them understand how broken Shiro actually is it's overwhelming.
But he stops in time and lets Keith's word wash over him.
"You're better than you think too," respond with a compliment of your own, "it's true you seem a little rough in the beginning. But it was kind of you to invite me today. I don't... get out a lot."
Keith seems surprised that Shiro said something nice to him back, and it's nice seeing the confused and surprised expression on the other's face. It makes him feel a little better.
"Not many people call me kind," Keith murmurs, furrowing his brow. It almost seems like he's trying to think if he should get offended and Shiro finally laughs, surprised at himself.
It seems that he surprised Keith too, considering the way the other startles, but Shiro can't help it. No one has ever looked that offended at being called kind.
The joy of the moment washes over Shiro, and he pushes away all the bad thoughts, all the sad feelings, and for a moment he allows himself the luxury of being happy. Of smiling.
When he finishes he looks back at Keith, and the other seems almost incredule. Shiro can't help but smile at him again.
It's nice, he realizes. It's a nice day, and it's nice to talk with someone who isn't Allura or Coran, someone that doesn't seem hell bent on fixing Shiro.
And when Keith tells him he needs to go, because he actually has work, Shiro actually feels sad at the idea.
"I'll be here tomorrow too," Keith says, looking a little unsure. "If you want. Yeah. Like I said I run here everyday."
Shiro nods, and he wants to say that he'll be here and the best thing is, he wants to be here the next day. "Thank you," it's what he settles for in the end, "I think I'll be able to free myself."
Keith answering smile is happy, but also a little confused, almost as if he can't understand why Shiro wants to spend time with him.
For the next three days they actually spend time together at the park and every day Keith arrives with new and completely ridiculous tales about Lance and Blue. Most of them don't even feel real, but Keith promises they all are.
Honestly, Shiro doesn't care. They might be false, Keith might be making all of them up, but it's fun to see the animated way Keith tells the stories, and it's obvious that he and Lance have some kind of friendship based on making fun of each other. It makes Shiro aches in good ways, it makes Shiro miss the good times with Matt, and not just make him think about all the terrible ones.
They don't talk much about themselves, and Shiro feels like Keith keeps things close to himself. Shiro is okay with it, he knows he's not ready to tell Keith anything about himself yet, and he feels like he has no reason to push the other into opening up.
Their talks are fun, light, and they are Shiro hasn't felt so alive in years. He's sorry that it took Keith, an almost complete stranger, to make him feel this way when Allura had tried for so very long.
But while Shiro will forever be grateful to Allura for everything she does and has done for him, it's freeing talking with someone who doesn't know all of Shiro traumas and doesn't seem eager to find them out. It's like they are real friends.
It's also nice to see Black having fun with another dog. She always looks older when they are at home, when she watches him and takes care of him. Seeing her relax and act a little wild makes him feel happier in return.
"She likes you very much," Keith says on the fourth day. Black and Red are playing between themselves, but every once in a while Black comes back to them to bring Shiro things. It's mostly sticks and grass, but she seems very proud of it.
SHiro doesn't know why she's doing it, he's feeling fine today and the only time Black had acted this was was after Pidge's visit.
Still, he looks back at Keith, a little surprised. "Isn't it normal?" he asks, because they have trained these dogs to be loyal and be ready for anything their owners might need.
"Sure, but Black was a special case. She's a little older than usual, and we were worried she wouldn't bond much with you," Keith doesn't really look at Shiro while he talks, focusing on the two dogs playing around, "but she's bringing you things even when you seem fine. It's not to make you come back from an episode, it's just because she wants you to be happy."
Shiro feels his own throat close up, swelling with some kind of emotion that is half sadness and half awe. He really doesn't deserve this.
He wants to reveal to Keith that he hadn't taken care of her as he should have, that he had let her pee inside the house because he hadn't felt good enough to leave the bed. Keith would probably look at him as disappointed as Shiro is with himself. So he stays silent, because he's not as strong as Keith thinks he is.
"Sometimes I'm scared I'm not taking care of her in the right way," his admission is a little scared, the most he can concede to Keith about his failures. He doesn't want to explain much more, but he hopes Keith at least understands something from Shiro's admission.
The other man is silent for a while, and Shiro doesn't press him. In these past four days he's finally starting to understand Keith and the strange way he's made. Words are not his forte, but that doesn't mean that Keith doesn't try. Most of the times his silence speak louder than any words, and other times it just means he's trying to find the way to express himself.
"The reason I like animals," Keith finally starts, slow and careful, "is because they are loyal. And honest. If they like you, then they like you. And if they don't, they tell you clearly. I think it's a comfort, I'm not always the best at reading clues."
Keith admits it with a self deprecating smile, and Shiro wants to reach forward and console him, make him feel better in any way, but Keith continues before Shiro can do anything. "When I got Red, she was bad. She was used as a fighting dog, it's why she has some scars, and she was very angry and very scared."
Shiro looks startled for a second and looks back towards Red, who is now play fighting with Black. It surprised him, seeing her so carefree.
"She hated humans and dogs," Keith explains, "and I understood her. I was pretty angry myself at the time," it feels almost too personal for Shiro, and a part of him wants to stop Keith, tell him he doesn't need to know, but another wants him to continue, wants to know everything.
"But I got into my head that if I helped this dog, then I could help myself. I was young, this was like five years ago, and so I searched for a treatment center for gods. It's how I found Voltron. It was run by other people then, and I mean they weren't really focused on helping dogs with PTSD, but I think they made an exception because they looked at me and thought I needed them."
Shiro holds his breath, almost scared of doing anything that would make the other stop. He wants to know everything, he realizes, a curiosity that burns inside him with a surprising strength.
"I thought they would give me a miracle cure," the other scoffs at the memory and smiles, "it doesn't really work like that. We worked really hard, and some days Red just growled at me the whole time. We were both angry I think, but she was scared too. More than I was. At one point I forgot about myself and tried to help her," Keith seems completely lost in his memories, his eyes unfocused. "It was all i could think about. I became a little obsessed and out of the blue, one day, Red just licked my finger."
There is still a little awe in Keith's voice, almost as if he still can't believe it himself. Even if it's obvious they have, since then, gotten very close.
"She was telling me that she liked me, that she knew I was doing my best," Keith laughs, shrugging, "and ever since then she never changed her mind. Never stopped. People are not like that, you know? She loves you. Trust yourself a little bit more."
Shiro blinks and nods, surprised and a little upset by the story. Keith can't know how much Red's story hits close to home, he doesn't think. However much they had disclosed to them to make him have Black, he's almost sure they didn't get the full report.
They don't know about the sand, the arena, the fights. He understand how Red must have felt, he thinks, he wonders if he's like her too. Angry, but mostly scared.
It also seems funny that Keith, who seems to have helped Red when she needed someone, is unknowingly doing the same thing again with Shiro. It seems that, maybe, broken things gravitate towards Keith.
"Thank you," Shiro says after a second. His voice is still a little croaky, and Keith notices immediately. He had tried to hide it, hoped to hide from Keith how much this story has affected him, but he has failed. He sees the regret on Keith's face, the moment he berates himself for upsetting Shiro, and he hurries to explain. "No, please, really, thank you. This story must mean a lot to you, and I'm... thank you for sharing it with me."
Keith nods, still a little bit unsure, and Shiro tries his best to make him understand that he's honest. That he means it.
It's obvious Keith doesn't believe him, and Shiro wants to do something to show it to Keith, but the only thing he can think of is sharing something of himself too. Maybe if he told Keith something personal, something of his past and his trauma, Keith would understand how sincere Shiro is with his thanks. He can't, however.
The moment he tries to speak it's like he loses all strength. The arena, the sand, the blood. He can't talk about it here, now, with Keith. He's sorry, he wants to be better, to be able to do it, but he can't.
Some of his struggle must show on his face because Keith hesitates a second before he reaches forward and puts his hand on Shiro's arm. "I believe you," Keith reassures him, with so many emotions that Shiro isn't able to decipher them all. "It's okay, I believe you. I'm glad."
Shiro nods, and he feels better. Pushes back down the memories, the smells. The taste.
He thinks of Red, playing with Black, and can only hope that one day he'll be that carefree too. That he'll be healed.
That night, he smiles at Allura when she comes to take Black for her usual walk. She's been careful with him ever since the day he had his flashback, and he understands why. He must have scared her, and while he's sorry, he's not sure how to make it up for her.
She's more worried, lately, seems tired. He can't help but think it's his fault.
"I'll bring her back in half an hour," Allura says, smiling, and Shiro looks at her and Black. He thinks of Keith and his story.
Allura has tried so hard for him and sometimes he feels like he has never tried for her.
Shiro inspires deeply, steels his resolve, and then he says: "I'm coming too."
He sees the way Allura freezes in the doorway. She seem surprised, hopeful. But, he realizes with a little bit of shame, she seems scared too.
"You want to...?" she says, surprised, and Shiro nods again. He knows it's a big step, knows he still sometimes feels scared in the mornings where the light is strong, but he wants to do this.
No. He needs to do this.
"I'm not sure how much company I'll be," he admits with a sheepish smile, "but I want to try. If you think it's okay."
Allura looks at him and nods. Once, twice, and then she smiles. "I can talk for both of us, I still haven't told you about work today. Or we can just talk in silence, whatever you want."
Shiro smiles at her and shakes his head. "Talk, please," he always enjoy hearing her talk. Allura smart, tough, but sweet, and her voice is much like her.
He thinks that he can do this if she keeps talking.
She must read something in his eyes because she steps closer and puts a hand on his face. "I just want you to know that you don't have to do this. If you don't want to, if you're not ready. It's okay," she smiles at him, full of love and understanding, "I'm proud of you either way."
Shiro knows she is, but he wants to make her realize that he is getting better, even if sometimes he doesn't think so himself. He wants her to know that he appreciates her.
"I'm ready," he says, and she smiles at him again before taking his arm.
"Then I'll talk," she promises.
She does. She talks for half an hour straight, even if Shiro doesn't contribute much to the conversation.
Her voice allows him to focus on her, and while he's still not comfortable out at night, he doesn't freak out too badly. She keeps touching him the entire time, and that centers him enough that he can avoid looking at the shadows for soldiers, he can stop thinking of taking cover.
He stays by her side and he makes it all the way to the end. It's only a walk, but it feels like the first step to something more.
Coran looks at him patiently while Shiro tries to make order of his thoughts. He knows he wants to talk about Keith, and he thinks he should, but he's not exactly sure how to start.
What does one say? It feels like he's a little boy telling his parents he just made a new friend. However, he think he needs to talk with Coran about Keith, and his story with Red, and make him understand why it affected him so much.
He and Coran have still never talked about Matt, or the time he was imprisoned, and after all this time, Shiro thinks he's getting closer to actually being ready to share. He's not looking forward to it, fears it, but he knows it's necessary. The fact that he even realizes it, he thinks, it's a testament of how much he has progressed.
"Allura tells me she has found you in a better mood," Coran starts, when it's obvious Shiro is struggling to talk. "Is there a reason?"
Shiro nods, finding it easier to answer a direct question instead of just talking on his own. "Yeah. I've been getting up earlier than usual, taking Black to the park. It's nice, it makes me feel more like my old self."
Coran nods, smiling. "That is very good, I remember you telling me that physical exercise used to be part of your routine."
Shiro nods, but he knows it's not the reason why he's feeling better. "I also... I meet someone there." Coran doesn't seem fazed by Shiro's admission, and he simply nods, focused on him and seemingly fascinated by his story. "His name is Keith. He works at Voltron, he was one of Black's instructors. Since I didn't go to the weekly meeting, he said they were worried."
Coran doesn't reprimand him for not going, and Shiro feels like he can breathe a little easier. "We met each other once because I couldn't sleep, and he invited me there again," he admits, smiling, "there is this bench in the east side of the park where we sit and talk. An hour every day. I know it's not much, but..."
"Nonsense," Coran interrupts him, with a smile, "It sounds like an incredible news and a very good thing for you. A month ago you wouldn't have been able to go there, am I wrong?"
Shiro thinks about it for a second, and then shakes his head. He had barely been able to meet with Allura for lunch, he doesn't think he would have been able to have another commitment every day with someone he hadn't known.
"See? An hour sounds very good, my boy," Coran repeats with a nod and a smile. Shiro feels a little lighter at the compliment.
"He has a dog," he continues, looking back at Black, "and she helps train other dogs. But she used to be... she was used for fighting." He looks back at the other man, trying to see if he can read anything on his face, but there is nothing but open acceptance on his therapist face. He doesn't want to admit that he was just like her, not so openly, but he thinks he can push it enough that Coran will understand. "He helped her get better, and he says she used to be scared all the time."
Coran nods, "I'm not an expert on dog psychology, but it's seems like a very normal reaction," he assures him. "Being scared is normal, needing help to get back on your feet is normal too. This dog has help getting better, right?"
Shiro nods. Once, twice. It seems like Coran understood what Shiro wasn't saying, and he thinks that's exactly it. "Yeah. I know. I'm... I'm trying."
Coran looks at him and smiles, something soft and encouraging. "I can see it, Shiro. Everyone can. I know it's hard, but you're making progress every time we see each other and I'm very proud, my boy."
Shiro averts his gaze, unable to stare at Coran's face any longer. Black, at his feet, is just resting, content that Shiro seems to be okay. And the fact is that he is okay.
Which is not fine, or good, but it's not terrible either.
"You think you'll go to the next weekly meeting?" Coran pushes a little, sitting back again and looking at him with an open expression.
Shiro has been thinking about it, considering the meeting is in two days time, but he still doesn't know if he's ready for it. He wants to see Hunk and Lance, if he's honest, especially after all of Keith's stories, but the other people who will be there, scare him.
"I don't know," he admits. And after the good news he has just given Coran, it feels like taking a step back.
The other, however, simply nods. "Of course, you take your time. I think it can be good for you, to try again. And it seems like you'll have more people on your side to calm yourself now."
It's true. He thinks he can count on Keith and Lance to keep him company, at least he hopes so, and maybe this time there will be less crying.
Still, the only thing he can say is, "I don't know."
Coran accepts it with a smile.
The next day, Keith is a little late, and Shiro just stares at the park. The bench where they keep meeting is hard on his back, but it offers a good spot to observe the trees. Sometimes couple pass in front of him, or some runners, and he enjoys looking at them from afar.
Even if it's an open space, this spot has become his safe place. He doesn't feel like he has to check out every single trees when he arrives, and sometimes he even manages to forget to look behind him every minute or so.
Black always seems more relaxed the moment Shiro sits down, almost as if she can feel the way Shiro relaxes there.
He doesn't mind waiting for Keith a little bit more, and it feels like an accomplishment he couldn't have achieved before.
"I'm sorry!" he hears in the distance, and when he looks up he sees Keith, who is not dressed in his usual running attire. "My alarm didn't ring. And I was late and..."
Shiro looks at him, and he realizes that the other isn't here to run. He gave it up to spend time with Shiro. He got dressed and run there to meet him.
"It's all right, you could have slept in. It's fine," he says, because he feels bad, although he's flattered, that Keith was so eager to meet him.
"I don't have your number," Keith says, shrugging, "I didn't want you to wait and thought something had happened. We're... I mean I think we're friends."
Shiro blinks surprised, and he doesn't know what to say. He too thinks of Keith as his friend, but for some reason saying it feels almost too much. To avoid the situation he takes his cellphone and he smiles at Keith. "Put it here, so next time you sleep in, you can just sleep."
Keith seems surprised, but he takes Shiro's cellphone eagerly, putting his own number and then calling it. He gives it back to Shiro and he seems to be still confused.
They are friends, Shiro thinks, and enjoys the warmth the thought brings to him.
Keith sits down beside him, and for a moment they just enjoy the silence. It's less awkward than what it was before, the first times they met. It feels comfortable.
Then, Keith talks about the last of Lance's silly story, and Shiro just smiles at him.
He thinks about Coran's words, and Keith easy acceptance. He thinks that maybe he's ready to take some risks, that he should.
Keith keeps talking, but Shiro's mind is far away, wondering and planning.
He will go to the next meeting, he decides and it's like a rock lifts from his chest.
"I want to go, next week," he says, and Keith stops mid sentence. He looks at Shiro a little surprised and Shiro smiles at him.
"To the meeting? There is one tomorrow, right?" Keith nods and he looks at Shiro like he's trying to figure him out.
"You know you don't have to, right?" Keith asks, in the end. It reminds him of Allura, ever so gently trying to respect his boundaries, trying to see if maybe she had pushed too much or too hard. "Lance and Hunk would be happy to see you, but..."
Shiro stops him with a shake of his head. "I think I need to," he says, as honest as he can be, "if I keep hiding nothing is going to change, right? I need to get better. I need to be able to face some things."
Keith will not understand, he knows, but he thinks of Pidge who hasn't called since the last time. He needs to be able to see her, to tell her it's all right and he's not angry with her. He has always only been angry at himself.
He needs to get better not for himself, but for the people around him, and that is a better motivation than Shiro ever had.
Keith seems unsure, like he wants to push, say something, but doesn't know if it would be welcomed. It's unusual to see him hesitate so much. "Okay then," Keith settles for, "everyone will be happy. And if you need anything I'll be there. I'm not as good as Lance or Hunk at deflecting the attention of people, but I scare them, so they usually stay away."
That makes Shiro laugh, because he can't help the hilarity of Keith scaring people just with his mere presence and probably angry look. But, Shiro is starting to notice, Keith is never actually angry.
He's maybe sometimes lost in thought, or a little closed off, but he's so gentle with Red - in the way he handles her, in the way he pets her - and he has been gentle with Shiro too - tentative, careful but still determined. It's a little sad that there aren't more people that see this side of Keith.
"Thank you," he says, meaning every word of it.
Keith just shrugs, almost as if to say that it's really not a big deal, but Shiro has been getting better at noticing what Keith doesn't want people to see. He's happy at Shiro's words, happy that Shiro has made this decision.
Shiro wants to smile and tell him it's all thanks to him, that Shiro is making this decision because he thinks he can do it if Keith is there for him.
He doesn't think he's ready to say anything like this either, especially after the moment of panic when Keith had called them friends, but he promises to himself that he will do it one day. That he will tell Keith everything he's feeling today and thank him in the right way.
Shiro hopes that day can come soon.