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Love at First Sneeze

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***

Everything starts with an innocent sneeze.

On day one, Keith shrugs it off as nothing – Kosmo sneezes quite a lot. He can’t keep his nose out of shrubs or dusty corners, trying to inhale every last atom of scent he can.

One time, he got stuck in the bag of Bebe’s dog food in an especially desperate attempt to still his hunger. What followed was an ungraceful wriggling when he zapped into Keith’s quarters, wagging his head so forcefully he kicked a mountain of paperwork from Keith’s desk while trying to get rid of the bag. And when he finally emerged, the bag was empty – the only evidence of the mishap a sneezing space wolf, his nose sensitive from crumbs of the dog food. 

So yeah, Keith doesn’t think of it as a bad sign when Kosmo slams down on the sofa in his quarters that evening, nearly crushing Keith’s legs underneath his weight as he curls himself into a croissant and wrinkles his nose.

But Keith can only look up from his PADD and blink twice before Kosmo sneezes.

It’s a loud and forceful sneeze.

And when Keith blinks again, he’s sitting on a chair. Which is definitely not his chair. The black and white jacket slung over the armrest tells him as much. 

“Kosmo, where have you taken us?” Keith asks, though he already knows the answer. The uniform is too familiar. 

So he bends down to his wolf who’s currently sitting on the floor next to his feet. Kosmo just grins at Keith, his tongue hanging out of his open mouth like the good boy he is, anticipating Keith’s praise. What Kosmo gets instead is a raised pointing finger and Keith growling “You…” at him.

“Hey Keith, what’s up?” The warm and familiar voice of Shiro fills the room, interrupting Keith’s scolding. 

Keith’s chest does something funny when he notices that Shiro isn’t surprised by the sudden appearance of Keith and his wolf in his room. It’s been a while since Shiro told the Atlas to allow Keith’s access into his quarters whenever Keith needed it – and vice versa. Still, seeing Shiro being so casual about it is enough to warm his cheeks.

Shiro is a sight to behold, in his gray sweatpants and a black tank top, a towel slung around his shoulders. He’s obviously fresh out of the shower, his hair still a bit damp, still a bit ruffled.

It really doesn’t dim his attractiveness, Keith thinks. In fact, this casual Shiro, cozy and relaxed in his quarters, is something Keith hasn’t seen in a while.

There used to be a time when neither of them thought they would ever get to enjoy a lazy evening again.

But here they are.

“Apparently, Kosmo’s sneezes are now coming with a teleport feature,” Keith explains, rolling his eyes. 

It gives him a good excuse to tear his eyes away from Shiro when he finds his gaze focussing on the defined outlines of Shiro’s left biceps. Or the neckline of Shiro’s top where it shows enough of his pecs to drive Keith’s imagination wild. 

“Bad wolf.” Shiro laughs. With three strides, he’s at Kosmo’s side, scratching the space wolf behind the ears – one of Kosmo’s favorite spots. 

“You two show up just in time. Want to join me on the couch for movie night and snacks?”

Shiro’s smile charms his way into Keith’s heart. And really, who is he to pass on a possibility to spend time with Shiro? Especially when it includes awkward fumbling over the popcorn bowl, or their feet touching underneath the blanket? 

“I’m not saying thank you, though,” Keith tells Kosmo when they are back in their quarters hours later.

The wolf just tilts his head, his big eyes innocent and cute.

“Just don’t do it again, okay? We don’t want to annoy Shiro too much.”

Kosmo lets out a happy bark before he jumps onto Keith’s bed, curling up for the night.

*

On day two, Kosmo does it again. 

And again.

Every time he sneezes, he teleports. 

Sometimes it’s just a few inches to the left. Sometimes, his whole body flips around, making him land on his back or facing in a different direction. Sometimes he re-appears in the room next door. Sometimes, he vanishes for twenty minutes with no one seeing him at all before he comes back, as if nothing ever happened, wagging his tail ad begging people for snacks. 

A couple of times, he takes whoever happens to be in his proximity with him – leaving Keith awkwardly removing himself from a meeting (he didn’t want to attend in the first place) or having to explain to a furious Iverson why the space wolf thought it a good idea to teleport him into the hangar when he was supposed to be in his office.

The sneezing seems to be getting worse as the day progresses, testing Keith’s patience. Each time Kosmo teleports and pops up again, his mane is all ruffled-up and he’s padding around clumsier than before.

Also, the spots Kosmo teleports to seem totally random. From the complaints he received that day, as well as from his own experience, Keith can’t make out a specific pattern.

Expect for all the times he is forced to join Kosmo in his porting.

When he first appears next to Shiro at breakfast, Keith doesn’t make anything of it. The spot next to Shiro is usually reserved for Keith anyway. And Kosmo knows Matt will be there, sneaking the space wolf some of his scrambled egg when Matt thinks no one is looking.

The next time he’s caught by Kosmo’s sneezing, he ends up standing next to Shiro in a meeting while Shiro is explaining trade routes to some Olcarian delegates. He  leaves the room, muttering “Sorry, sneezing space wolf.” The delegates just nod in understanding as Keith beelines for the door, shooing Kosmo into the hallway.

Keith is spared from Kosmo’s sneezing shenanigans for the next couple of hours – until he finds him after dinner, all curled up on Keith’s sofa. Keith makes it exactly two steps into the room before Kosmo’s nose wrinkles. 

The sneeze sends both of them onto the training deck. 

It would be half as bad, Keith thinks, if it wasn’t for the training deck to be empty, except for Shiro. A Shiro who’s only wearing his sweat pants while beheading training dummies with his Altean prosthesis. 

And really, there are worse things than having a front-row seat of shirtless Shiro working out, Keith thinks, patting Kosmo’s head. 

“You can’t keep teleporting me into Shiro’s proximity,” Keith explains the wolf, earning a questioning glance in return.

Great, Keith thinks.

How should he explain to his space wolf how Shiro is just a friend – when Keith knows Kosmo can read the affection Keith has for Shiro? Though the space wolf can’t talk to him, their mental connection is strong enough to convey emotions. And apparently, Kosmo is fed up with Keith pining from the distance, using his sneezing as an excuse to play match-maker.

With a bitter chuckle, Keith shakes his head. If it was only as easy as Kosmo wanted. There’s no way he can ever tell Shiro how he feels for him. 

“Hey Keith, I could use some challenge,” Shiro says, interrupting Keith’s thoughts. 

And well, how can he say no to a sparring session?

When he flops into bed that night, Keith makes a mental note to ask Coran if space wolves could catch colds – but he gets distracted from his thoughts as hears the familiar sound of Kosmo sneezing. It's followed by the blue light Keith’s gotten so used to. 

Two seconds later, Keith finds himself sitting on Shiro’s couch. 

In Shiro’s lap.

“Oh, another movie night?” Shiro just says as Keith hurries from his lap, growling “Just you wait!” into the direction of his wolf. 

He can’t be mad at Kosmo, though. Because Kosmo looks too cute with his mane fluffed up, his fur poking up in every direction. 

So Keith sighs instead. And well, another movie night doesn’t sound bad.

*

On day three, Keith awakes with a sneeze. 

A very loud sneeze, very forceful sneeze, making his head ache and his nose tingle afterwards. 

At least I don’t teleport, he jokes to himself as he tries to get out of bed.

His body seems to think otherwise. He can feel himself tumble back into bed, his head colliding with his pillows just a second later. 

From the corner of his eyes, he can see the space wolf emerge from the covers, stretching his body heartily.

“Good morning, Kosmo,” Keith says, his voice throaty and low. 

There’s movement on the bed and Keith can feel the weight lift from the mattress. Exhaustion makes his eyes heavy and clouds this thoughts.

“Keith, Keith are you okay?” Are the last words Keith hears before he falls back asleep.

*

“Space Pox?”

When Keith wakes up again, the first thing he hears is Shiro’s soft voice, talking somewhere close to him. There’s something heavy and wet on his forehead and a hand holding his. He blinks his eyes open, seeing Shiro sitting at his bedside. The hand that isn't wrapped around Keith’s is holding up his PADD. Shiro seems to be talking to someone. 

There’s a smile on Shiro’s face when he sees that Keith is awake.

“Yeah, a very contagious disease going way back. Normally, young Galra get it and it’s harmless, a mere case of the slipperies. But it’s worse if you’re an adult, giving you a fever and headaches on top for a few days. Keith should be fine, give him a few days rest.” Keith can hear Coran’s voice come over the PADD in Shiro’s hand. “He must have picked up the Space Pox from Kosmo.”

“Is it dangerous for humans?” Shiro asks, giving Keith’s fingers a light squeeze.

“Alteans can’t get infected, but there are no records of how it will affect humans. So I would suggest keeping the other Paladins away from Keith for a few days.” Keith raises an eyebrow at Coran’s words. He can’t believe he’s confined to his bed for days

“I’ve been with Keith for the past few days. If it’s so contagious, why don’t I show symptoms?”

As Keith finds, it’s hard keeping track of the conversation when Shiro’s thumb grazes over the back of his hands, drawing small circles. 

It’s the best feeling in the world.

“Hmmm.” There is a long pause before Keith hears Coran’s voice again.

“I’m afraid Haggar made the clone bodies immune to something as trivial as Space Pox,” Coran explains. “Congrats Shiro, you’re officially in charge of taking care of Keith. I’ll send you some information, just make sure Keith gets a lot of sleep and warm Weblum soup.”

“I think I prefer chicken,” Keith croaks as soon as Coran hangs up.

“You’re awake,” Shiro says, squeezing his hand again. Once he put away his PADD, he bends into Keith’s space, his free hand lifting the wet towel from Keith’s forehead.

“Yeah. Feel like a pack of space wolves trampled over my head.”

Shiro’s laughter fills the room and, Keith thinks, even with his headache it sounds beautiful.

“Can’t be that bad if you still have your humor. Here, drink this.” Shiro hands him a glass of water and a headache pill. Keith takes it gratefully.

He wants to throw something witty back at Shiro, but the pack of wolves in Keith's head keeps trampling. This – and the fact that Shiro raises their interwoven hands to his mouth – manages to take his breath away.

“I was so worried,” Shiro explains. Keith’s skin feels hot where Shiro’s lips move against Keith’s fingers.

“Kosmo fetched me. He appeared in my room, without you. Never heard him whining so miserably. Stole my blanket before he pulled at my pants – and next thing I knew I was teleported to your room.” Shiro’s mouth rests against Keith’s knuckles and, damn, Keith might have forgotten how to do this breathing thing.

“And there you were, nearly passed out in your bed, burning from fever.” Shiro's expression looks stern, concerned. His Altean arm comes up, fingers softly sweeping some strands from Keith’s face before his hand cups Keith’s cheek.

Keith hopes he doesn’t imagine the way Shiro bends closer again, whispering “You can’t do this to me.” 

“Shiro, it’s okay, it’s nothing,” Keith says, his voice low. He tries to avert his eyes, but Shiro’s gaze is fixed on him and it’s mesmerizing being so close.

“Keith. I care for you. So much.” 

Keith wants to answer, but the feeling of Shiro’s thumb grazing his cheek is too much, too intimate. And it’s definitely not the fever that’s making his cheeks burn.

“Shiro, I…”

“So much,” Shiro whispers again, his voice so soft Keith is sure he might imagine his words.

Keith wants to say something, wants to tell Shiro how he cares for him so much , too. The words are burning on the top of his tongue.

But before he can answer, Shiro squeezes his hand one last time, shifting back. “Please let me stay with you until your better.”

“Think you can handle me like this?” Keith tries to joke, but he’s sure it doesn't come off as witty or funny as he intends it to.

“Always, Keith.” The smile on Shiro’s lips is beautiful. So beautiful. 

Keith doesn’t deserve his kindness.

“I need to take care of a few things. Tell some people not to set the Atlas on fire.”

A weak smile makes it to Keith’s lips as he notices how he’s overwhelmed by another wave of exhaustion.

“I’ll come back soon, okay?” Shiro says, squeezing his fingers again as he stands up.

Keith can only nod before he dozes back to sleep.

*

When Keith wakes up again, the wolves in his head are gone. 

And Shiro is at his side again.

He seems to have fallen asleep while sitting at his bedside, his head resting on Keith’s mattress and his fingers interlaced with Keith’s. Again.

He could get used to the feeling, Keith thinks.

As Keith shifts, Shiro stirs awake as well, rushing to help Keith sit up. 

“Here, let me help you,” he says, his big hands warm and firm against Keith’s arms.

The feeling is fleeting, though, when Shiro pulls his hands away to offer Keith a glass of water. 

Keith downs it with one gulp.

“Everything alright with the Atlas?” Keith’s fingers wrap around the cold glass in his hands.

“Yeah, nothing’s on fire. Sam has taken over. I met Matt on the way, he hopes you’ll get better soon. Everybody does, actually. Hunk said he’ll send soup.”

Thinking of everyone being concerned about his health overwhelms him. He’s just Keith and this is probably just a cold. Over the years, he’s learned to accept people caring about him, but still… It brings a smile to his lips, thinking about Hunk cooking soup just for him.

Shiro’s hand lands where Keith’s thigh is buried underneath his blanket as he continues. “We don’t want to risk anything, so you’ll have to cope with me taking care of you.”

“There are worse things.” Keith’s smile gets bigger, more self-assured. His head feels way clearer now and his limbs don’t seem to betray him any second.

“Matt suggested I should put on a nurse costume.” Shiro chuckles and shakes his head, his hand finds his temple in disbelieve.

Keith can’t help but laugh. “Classic Matt.”

Their laughter gets interrupted when they hear the familiar zapping of the space wolf appearing in the room.

“Hey buddy,” Keith huffs as soon as the space wolf pads towards Keith, nudging his snout against Keith’s arm.

“Thank you for fetching Shiro,” Keith adds, patting Kosmo’s snout affectionately. It causes Kosmo to lick his fingers, carefully, tickling Keith in the process.

“Yeah, you’re such a good boy, I know.”  

The space wolf stops in his tracks, his nose wrinkling dangerously.

Keith can so much as shout “Kosmo, no,” and squeeze his eyes shut before the wolf sneezes.

He expects to wake up on the training deck or in the mess hall – but when he opens his eyes again, all three of them are still in Keith’s room. Kosmo still looks a bit disheveled, the fur on his ears all fuzzy. 

But no random teleportation.

“At least one of us is feeling better.” Keith smiles. 

“Hey, Kosmo,” Shiro interrupts. “How about you go and ask Hunk about Keith’s soup?” 

The space wolf turns his head to Shiro, licking right across Shiro’s cheek before he teleports away.

Seeing Shiro’s horrified face makes Keith laugh. He bends over to wipe Shiro’s face with his sleeve.

“So, nurse Shiro, hu?”

Keith can feel how Shiro’s features are getting soft underneath his touch. It leaves a funny feeling in his chest.

“At your service.” Shiro chuckles, saluting him.

“So you’re stuck with me,” Keith says, a bit hoarse. He really doesn't want to be a burden to Shiro, keeping him from important diplomatic meetings or intergalactic ambassador missions.

He wants to tell him as much, when Shiro suddenly bends forward, his face only inches away from Keith’s. The hot breath fanning against Keith's cheeks makes his heart beat faster and his grip on the glass in his hands tightens. 

“I wasn’t joking. I’ll take care of you. I always will,” Shiro whispers into the space between them. 

From up close, Shiro’s eyes are big and beautiful, a deep gray Keith finds himself getting lost in.

“Shiro,” he whispers. This moment seems so surreal and maybe it’s the fever dreams, Keith thinks, because there is no way Shiro would actually feel the same for him.

“I’m sorry I haven’t told you before.” Keith can feel the curve of Shiro’s thumb against his lower lip.

And it’s the most natural thing for Keith to surge forward, pressing his lips to Shiro’s mouth. 

It’s an awkward kiss, rushed, stumbled. And still, it’s as perfect as a first kiss can get. As perfect as a kiss from Shiro can get.

Shiro’s cheeks are red and puffy and his eyes are glassy when they part. 

“Keith,” he whispers, astonishment on his face.

“That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?” 

Keith is alarmed. Because suddenly, it doesn’t feel so natural anymore. Suddenly the only thought in his head is how he’s carelessly killed their friendship with such a reckless gesture.

But Shiro doesn’t answer with words. 

He pulls him into another kiss instead.

This time, there’s more finesse, even more emotions in the kiss. Still, it’s rushed and heated and very much as Keith has always imagined kissing Shiro would be. 

It’s later, way later, that Shiro whispers “Yes. Yes,” against his lips before they part for air again,

“I’m doing this all wrong,” Shiro huffs, one of his hands ruffling the floof of his hair.

“What do you mean?” Keith raises an eyebrow.

“When all of this is over, let me take you out to dinner. Ride our bikes in the desert. You deserve a romantic confession under the night sky. I’m...”

“Shiro,” Keith does the only thing plausible. He shuts Shiro up. “I really, really don’t need a fancy dinner.”

Shiro’s mouth curls into a surprised ‘oh’.

“Taking out the hoverbikes sounds nice, though.” Keith smiles.

“Or maybe we ask Kosmo to sneeze us to some faraway planet. Just the two of us,” Shiro suggests, a smug grin on his lips.

And well, that definitely is not a bad idea, Keith thinks, as he bends into Shiro’s space again, planning to kiss the grin from Shiro’s face. As many times as it takes.

***