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We Are Perfectly Okay

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“Who was that guy?” Shiro asks as Keith sits down at their usual table.

It’s their lunch break on Wednesday, the only day of the week where they have extended hours in the middle of the day where they can just sit and hang out. Shiro has the class he TAs for in a couple hours, plus some exams to grade in the meantime, and Keith has his advisor meeting in the afternoon; they stay busy. But every Wednesday, they get to have a few peaceful hours together, whether that be eating in one of their offices in the basement of the astro building, out on the quad, or in one of the cafeterias sprinkled around campus.

Keith hums in question as Shiro fishes out a homemade bento he makes for Keith on Wednesdays. Shiro slides it across the table along with Keith’s favorite pair of chopsticks. They have little dogs frolicking in a little line down the side of each.

“Who?” Keith asks as he cracks open the bento, his eyes brightening as he takes in the meticulous spread Shiro put together for him earlier that morning. His scent spikes sunshine bright, not that Shiro needs to smell Keith’s scent to know he’s happy.

“That guy,” Shiro says and hopes he sounds casual, tilting his head back towards the entrance. “You were talking to him when you came in.”

Keith frowns, looking towards the double doors bracketing the cafeteria before recognition sparks in his eyes. “Oh! Right. That was Ben,” Keith says with a dismissive wave of his hand. “He just wanted to touch base about a lesson plan I gave him… see if I’d change anything now that I’ve taught the class.”

“Oh,” Shiro says.

Based on the look on Ben’s face, Shiro doubts that he was much interested in talking pedagogy and far, far more interested in studying something else. Shiro is used to it: the mountains of attention Keith gets on campus and Keith’s complete obliviousness to it.

It doesn’t bother Shiro. After all, he’s pining, too. He still remembers grad orientation two years ago— he’d met Keith then, an incoming first year, while Shiro was volunteering at the Meet-and-Greet barbeque. Shiro had fumbled his way through an attempted flirtation only to get brushed off by Keith.

Keith is beautiful and he seems determined to never realize as much. Ben is just one of many, many misguided people determined to flirt with Keith, thinking they even have a chance with him.

“Shiro?”

Shiro jerks his head up, realizing he’s gotten lost in his thoughts. “Yeah? Sorry, I spaced out.”

“I said, these are really cute,” Keith says with a small smile, holding up a small veggie-sausage cut in the shape of an octopus. Keith wriggles it between his two chopsticks, like Shiro could have forgotten he painstakingly hunched over a sausage with a small paring knife, cutting it into the perfect shape. He regrets not going for the black sesame seeds as eyes and a mouth now, though.

Shiro feels his ears turn pink. “Oh, yeah— I thought it was cute. That channel I’ve been watching, the one with the housewife making her wife’s bento, they… uh, they do that a lot. I thought I’d try it.”

If Keith notices that Shiro’s essentially compared his bento box making to being Keith’s housewife, he fails to mention it or react to it. Shiro doesn’t mean it that way but also obviously Shiro’s never made a bento box for anyone except Keith. There was no hidden reason why Shiro started doing it. He wanted to practice making them and Keith likes eating them. Shiro likes providing for Keith.

“He seemed friendly,” Shiro says after he chews on a few bites of rice.

“Who?”

“Ben.”

Keith gives him a perplexed look. “I guess? We share an office.”

Shiro can’t describe why he feels a smoldering anger roil in his stomach at the thought of it. It’s not anything special to share an office. The university likes to cram five to seven grad students into one subterranean office to save space. The buzzing fluorescent lights, basement windows, and decades-old carpet is hardly the stuff of romantic dreams. Even if Ben does share an office with Keith, it doesn’t mean anything. Shiro knows this.

People flirting with Keith doesn’t bother Shiro. Not usually. Yeah, sometimes he can feel the twist of envy in his chest when he sees Keith smile at someone else who is so, so clearly trying to pick him up— whether it be during their shared classes, lounging around the grad offices, walking down the street, drinking at the bar after the day’s wrapped up. But Keith is Shiro’s best friend and has been since that orientation barbeque, and Shiro would never replace that. Keith’s friendship means more to him than he could ever express or has ever really expressed properly to Keith. At the end of the day, alphas might flirt with Keith (of course they do!) and everyone might think he’s beautiful (he is!), but Keith never seems to reciprocate that attention.

Shiro isn’t some creepy, possessive alpha, trying to insist his omega best friend only hang out with him or speak to him or look at him. The thought of it, of knowing that some alphas are like that, makes him want to break out in hives.

“He just seemed friendly,” Shiro mumbles. He doesn’t know why he’s stuck on Ben.

Keith gives him another funny look. “He wanted to know if my lesson plan worked, Shiro. That’s all.”

Shiro shoves rice into his mouth to keep from saying something stupid. He must look sullen and stupid because Keith makes a low sound in his throat, something that’s nearly an omega trill but not quite. It’s questioning, his lips quirked into a thoughtful frown and his eyebrows knitted together. The scent of his concern pools between them.

Shiro hates to worry Keith.

“Shiro?”

Stop thinking about Ben flirting with Keith! Shiro reminds himself. It’s weird that he even needs to remind himself. People flirting with Keith doesn’t bother him. It doesn’t.

It’s just a fact of life: Shiro and Keith are best friends. Shiro is in love with Keith. Keith is beautiful. Keith doesn’t seem to notice this. Everybody else knows it, though.

There’s nothing different or special about the way Ben stood in the doorway, puffing himself up like some big alpha, probably leeching his scent all over in some lame attempt to coax Keith closer, to make Keith bare his neck and trill for him. Keith never goes for such stupid, obvious tactics.

“Sorry,” Shiro says, ducking his head. He can feel the glow of his ears, hot with his embarrassment. He’s not sure why he’s letting someone as insignificant as Just Ben, Ben Who Shares Keith’s Office, bother him so much. “I’m, uh. It’s been a long day.”

“I get it,” Keith says and reaches across the table, patting his hand against where Shiro’s clenches around his chopsticks. “Grading makes us all go insane.”

Shiro forces himself to relax, resisting the urge to do something as stupid as shiver because Keith touched him. The air is thick with Keith’s concern and Shiro knows he’s acting weird.

“This is really good, Shiro,” Keith says and smiles, gesturing with his chopsticks down at his homemade bento.

Shiro hums and smiles, trying to feel normal and not examine the swirling anxiety building in his gut. “I’m glad. Are the croquettes okay? This is only the second time I’ve made them.”

Keith picks one up and takes a big bite. “Perfect.”

Shiro feels how honeyed his scent gets at that, flooding through him. He can’t help it. He beams at Keith, unrestrained and pleased. Keith laughs, his cheeks pink, and smiles back at him.

“I tried a different recipe with yours,” Shiro says. “Mine turned out weird, I think.”

“Really?” Keith asks. “Let me try. I bet it’s good.”

Shiro uses his chopsticks to break off a piece of his croquette and holds it up to Keith. Rather than take it with his fingers or his own chopsticks, Keith just leans forward and pops the whole thing into his mouth, brows furrowed in concentration as he chews.

Shiro forgets to move, arrested by the sight of Keith leaning across the table in order to curl his perfect, kissable lips around a piece of potato croquette. It’s hardly the most romantic image, but that hardly matters to Shiro. He wants to look at Keith forever.

Shiro growls in approval, soft enough that he thinks Keith doesn’t quite catch it.

“No,” Keith decides, leaning back again. “These are really good, too. You’re too hard on yourself, Shiro.”

Shiro wants to feed Keith again. He wants to pick up each piece of food and offer it to Keith, to cradle him in his lap and lavish him.

Instead, of course, Shiro returns to his food and his flurry of thoughts. They eat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes more.

“Did you still want to come over tonight?” Shiro asks. Shiro managed to find a decent enough one-room apartment that wasn’t outlandishly expensive, but Keith’s been stuck living in a five-bedroom with four other people for the better part of his time at grad school; Keith loves to take advantage of Shiro’s kitchen table as a study spot that’s quiet and undisruptive. His roommates are, apparently, loud and bad about staying clean.

“Of course,” Keith says, brightening up again. He scoots a little in his seat, leaning forward with his elbows on the table. His eyes are warm, hair falling to frame his face, and he’s so casually beautiful that it’s breathtaking. “I need to finish up that report for Coran before Friday, so the quiet space will help.”

“Plus the printer,” Shiro teases.

“And the printer,” Keith says with a demure nod. It hardly fools Shiro— Keith uses Shiro’s printer more than Shiro does.

Satisfied, Keith tucks back into his bento. Shiro feels a swell of pleasure in his chest at the sight of it, of knowing he can provide for Keith, even in small ways like lunch and personal printers. He only just manages to swallow an embarrassing, damning alpha sound— the croon halfway up his throat before he gulps it back down. Keith doesn’t notice.

 

-

 

Shiro stops by Keith’s office later after he’s finished teaching his class. He’s still holding a stack of essays to grade over the weekend as he looms in Keith’s doorway. He went to Keith’s office before stopping off at his own and he didn’t even think of it.

Shiro sniffs around but doesn’t detect any scent beyond Keith’s. Ben wasn’t here recently, his stupid alpha mind triumphs. Shiro steps into the room with a little knock against the doorframe.

Keith looks up and smiles wide when he spots him. “Shiro! Done for the day?”

“Almost,” Shiro says and gestures to the stack of papers in his hand. Of course he had to be Big Stupid Alpha and rush to Keith’s office first thing after dismissing his class. He’d been distracted teaching all day thinking about stupid Ben in the stupid office he shares with Keith.

Keith hums, turning to pack his supplies into his backpack. Shiro spends the few minutes of quiet stalking around the office, tracing his steps along the perimeter and sniffing around. Keith’s scent dominates the small space, sweet and comforting and welcome, with the stale undercurrents of his officemates lingering at their respective desks. There are the distant notes of students, flashing in and back out again for the brief moments when they arrive for office hours.

Shiro realizes Keith’s eyes are on him after he starts his second go-round the room. Shiro stutters to a halt and clears his throat, feeling his cheeks dust pink. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Keith says, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and following Shiro from the room.

They stop off on the other side of the building for Shiro to drop off his papers and collect his things. Keith lingers by the door, shifting from foot to foot. Shiro moves quickly, organizing everything and sorting through what he’ll need to do tomorrow— grading, grading, and more grading. Plus a meeting with Professor Slav that Shiro is dreading.

When he looks up, Keith’s chatting casually with another of the grad students in the hallway. Keith leans back against the doorway, casual and serene, arms crossed and head tilted, his hair spilling out over one shoulder. His scent wafts through the room, honey-sweet and intoxicating, and Shiro just wants to bury his face against Keith’s neck and breathe.

The other student is a beta, someone whose name Shiro can’t recall, and they’re standing far, far too close to Keith.

The growl erupts from Shiro before he can call it back in. It snaps out of him, a low warning that leaves Shiro baring his teeth. Both Keith and the beta whip around to look at him in alarm.

Keith’s arms uncross and drop to his sides as he steps into the room. “Shiro? You okay—?”

Shiro manages to rip his eyes away from the random beta— what does their name matter, anyway?— and looks back to Keith. He stops snarling immediately, only vaguely aware his expression had twisted into such a look.

“Anyway,” the beta says, taking a step back as they keep staring at Shiro with undisguised wariness. “I, uh, I’ll see you tomorrow, Keith?”

“Sure,” Keith says as the beta makes a hasty escape. Keith’s eyes are on Shiro’s, though, and Shiro feels that smug satisfaction— he is the one Keith’s paying attention to, not some lackluster beta whose name is probably boring and generic. “Shiro,” Keith says again, concern flooding his scent, and Shiro realizes he’s started growling again. He snaps his mouth shut. Keith makes a sound. “Are you not feeling alright? What is even going on with you…”

“Sorry,” Shiro says even though the roaring part within him isn’t sorry at all. His eyes flit over Keith’s neck, bare and unmarked and aching for Shiro to rub his cheek all over him. He resists that urge. He and Keith can be demonstrative with each other— hugs, shoulder pats, and the like— but he’s not so sure if Keith would be receptive to some friendly scenting.

“I can’t remember the last time you growled at someone,” Keith says, hands hovering like he wants to touch Shiro but isn’t sure if he should. Shiro’s heart thunders in his chest, aching for Keith’s hands on him. “Did Alex piss you off?”

“Who?”

“Alex,” Keith says flatly. “The person you just snarled at? Ring any bells?”

Shiro shrugs. What does he care about people he could scare off so easily? Anyone so afraid of one alpha is hardly a worthy mate of Keith, anyway. Who can think they have any chance with Keith if they don’t even have a backbone? Keith’s no pushover. He could throw Shiro to the ground easily if he really wanted to— he isn’t some submissive thing waiting to be played with.

Shiro growls again, something caught between pride at Keith and frustration at anyone else who dares think they could be worthy of Keith. Nobody is worthy of Keith— brilliant, beautiful, strong, hilarious Keith. Perfect Keith.

“Let’s get you home,” Keith says with a deep frown.

Shiro rumbles, pleased. “You’re staying, right?”

“You want me there?” Keith asks as they start walking. He glances at Shiro, the confusion clear on his face. “I don’t want to get you all snarly about your alpha territory or something.”

Shiro puzzles over the words, watching Keith as he fidgets with his hair, sweeping it back over his shoulders and exposing the perfect column of his neck. Keith’s hair is getting long— he’ll be able to tie it back soon, Shiro thinks— and his scent is so delicious beneath the layers of concern.

“You’re always welcome there,” Shiro says. And that’s true. The idea that Keith could ever be unwelcome in Shiro’s space, whether by his side or in his den, is absurd. It’s Keith. There’s no better place for him to be. He ducks his head, shame and common sense welling up in his chest. He mumbles, “I’m not trying to be weird.”

Keith pats him on the shoulder, the touch gentle, and Shiro nearly melts into it. He wants to just drape his arms around Keith and keep him close, nuzzling into his hair and pressing his lips against his jaw. It’s a desire that he’s long felt and left ignored, knowing better than to act on such an impulse. But the desire burns in his gut all the same.

Nobody is worthy of Keith, after all. That includes Shiro.

“I know,” Keith says. “It’s fine. I get it… stress and all that.”

They head out towards Shiro’s apartment. It’s not far from the campus, although usually Shiro will take the bus. It seems it’s a wordless understanding that they’ll walk today, Keith’s hands in the pockets of his jacket as they head down the sidewalk and past the campus entrance.

Shiro has to swallow back offended growls whenever someone approaches them, but he must be exuding an angry enough scent that most others cross the street well before they come upon Keith and Shiro walking together. Shiro tries not to feel smug about it. He glares at a few alphas in a car idling at the stoplight as if they’re there only to see Keith and not to obey the laws of traffic. Keith sniffs the air once, glances at Shiro, and then discreetly covers his nose for the rest of the walk. Shiro tries to rein it in after that.

 

-

 

Keith collapses onto Shiro’s couch with a sigh once they reach Shiro’s apartment. As usual, whenever he visits Shiro’s apartment, he makes himself right at home, kicking off his shoes at the door, dropping his backpack in its designated spot, and melting right into Shiro’s couch cushions.

Shiro chuckles to himself as he locks the door behind them, toeing off his boots and wandering into the room. He hovers just at the edge of the couch, watching Keith sprawl. He imagines how good it’d feel to drape himself over Keith, to sandwich him between his body and the cushions beneath him, to feel the satisfying trill erupt from Keith’s throat.

“… I’ll make some tea,” Shiro says and wanders away, resisting the urge to stalk around the perimeter of his apartment like some aggressive alpha patrolling his territory, determined to protect his mate within.

He shakes his head as he steps into his small kitchen, grabbing Keith’s preferred tea and spooning out a few level teaspoons. He has no idea what’s getting into him today— his head feels fuzzier than usual, his senses on high-alert. There’s nothing different about today that should mean he’s acting like this.

He punches the dispense button on his water boiler, feeling ridiculous. He’s usually better at controlling his emotional responses. He’s not some growly alpha incapable of controlling his baser instincts. He takes suppressants just like everyone else, practices mindful breathing and scent control. He isn’t some macho dude waiting to hulk out.

“Patience yields focus,” he mutters to himself, waiting for Keith’s tea to steep.

When he returns to Keith’s side, he’s hiked himself up on the couch to make space for Shiro, smiling gratefully when Shiro hands him his favorite mug full of his favorite tea. He takes an appreciative sip and hums, his eyes sparkling as he looks up at Shiro.

He pats the spot on the couch next to him and Shiro sinks into it without a word, settling into his spot by Keith’s side, exactly where he belongs.

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” Keith asks, voice gentle like he isn’t sure if Shiro will actually take the invitation.

Shiro blinks at him and sips his tea. The tea is Keith’s favorite, and the smell reminds him of Keith. It calms him down.

“What?”

Keith frowns at him. “Are you really stressed out about talking with Slav tomorrow?”

Shiro does have that meeting with Professor Slav tomorrow. It’s easily his least favorite thing to do throughout the term and it does tend to make him snappy and annoyed leading up to said meeting. And during. And after.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” Keith says when Shiro doesn’t answer. “You’re acting all jumpy and cranky. I know the last meeting was really bad but— it should be fine, right?”

“As long as I don’t snarl at him, I guess,” Shiro grumbles. “If I do, I’m sure that will launch Doomsday Scenario Number Seventy-Four or something.”

That isn’t why Shiro’s feeling all growly, though. Keith seems satisfied, but Shiro knows it isn’t quite that. It doesn’t sit right in his chest. It isn’t the typical Hate to Talk to Slav anxiety and something else entirely, something dark and deep and longing.

“It’s okay,” Keith says, sounding sympathetic. “We can go for a run afterwards or something. Burn off all that adrenaline.”

“Sounds good,” Shiro says, warmed at the prospect of spending more time with Keith. Any time with Keith is precious, but the times they get to exercise together is especially nice if only because Keith looks good sweaty and wind-swept, his cheeks bright pink with exertion. Shiro kind of wants to lick Keith after they run together. (If he’s honest, he always wants to lick Keith.)

The thought of more time with Keith is enough to summon a delighted chuff from deep within Shiro’s chest.

The sound makes Keith laugh, his cheeks blazing pink. “I know how much you like to run.”

“Yeah, running.” Shiro doesn’t bother correcting him, looking at him sprawled out and at home on his couch. “… You want to do your work now? I can make us food if you’re hungry.”

Keith shakes his head. “In a minute. I think I need to decompress. You want to watch something?”

Keith’s already plucking up the remote control from the coffee table, flipping on Shiro’s TV like he owns the place. Truthfully, he’s here enough that he has that comfort with Shiro’s things. It’s never bothered Shiro and today, if anything, it makes Shiro feel a burst of pride and happiness. It blooms wide in his chest and saturates his scent. He’s sure Keith can smell it even without a deep inhale.

“Sure. Whatever you want, Keith.”

Keith’s mouth twitches with a smile as he flips through the selections. Shiro loves documenting all of Keith’s smiles— the wide, toothy ones he can never hold back; the sly, confident smirks when he’s being competitive; the shy little curls when he’s embarrassed; the almost-not-there smile that tucks into the corner of his lips when he’s deeply pleased, the sentiment shining out through his eyes instead. Shiro loves them all, really. He loves this one, too. He kind of wants to lick it.

He really needs to stop thinking about licking Keith.

On the screen, the next episode of a docu-series starts playing as Keith sets the controller down. It’s a series they started watching a few weeks back and haven’t been able to return to frequently. Any time Shiro turns on his TV, it prompts him to watch the next episode and he never does. He can’t. Not until he can with Keith. Keith seems pleased to see Shiro waited for him.

Shiro watches Keith settle on the couch, adjusting and searching for the most comfortable position. He wriggles and shifts, seemingly incapable of finding the spot he’s satisfied with. Shiro rumbles low in his chest and reaches for him. Keith lets out a little breath of surprise when Shiro curls his arm around his shoulders and tugs him in close.

“Oh,” Keith says, his scent warming just before he sighs out a delighted chirp and sinks in against Shiro’s side. He settles then, finally content.

They watch the episode together, falling into a companionable silence. It takes all of Shiro’s restraint not to shove his nose into Keith’s hair and inhale, nuzzling during the full length of the episode. He holds still instead, letting his arm drape casually along the back of the couch, close to touching Keith’s shoulder. Keith’s draped in his usual sprawl, his favorite way of sitting in most chairs, and seems unconcerned now that he’s taking up the bulk of the couch, pressing into Shiro’s side.

It’s nice. Shiro can breathe normally and still smell Keith. His hair looks so soft today. Shiro barely watches the docu-series, focusing on Keith instead.

“This is nice,” Keith says about halfway through the episode. Shiro has no idea if he means their halfway cuddling on the couch or the show. Shiro hums his agreement regardless.

Shiro knows he should enjoy this while it lasts. Keith is so good, so kind, so lovely. It’s only a matter of time before someone catches his eye, too. Everyone knows how great Keith is, that much is clear— and when Keith reciprocates, it’ll be the end of evenings like this with Shiro, cuddled up together. Shiro can’t imagine another alpha would be too keen on Keith getting affectionate with his alpha best friend.

Whoever it is, he better be kind, Shiro thinks. Gracious and grateful to have someone like Keith in his life. He should worship Keith. Give him everything he could ever need— love, affection. Food. A good printer with soy-based ink. Laughter. Gentleness. That’s what Keith deserves.

Shiro’s so lucky to have Keith in his life. He’s his best friend. The greatest friend he’s ever had, really. Before meeting Keith, Shiro spent most of his life with close acquaintances and some good friends, but nothing that ever felt as soul-deep as this. Meeting Keith felt like something locking into place— a small piece of his soul finally made whole. He’s never had a friendship feel like that before.

“You okay?” Keith whispers, drawing Shiro gently from his thoughts.

Shiro blinks and forces his shoulders to relax, the slowly ticking tension sinking away. He nods his head. “Yeah. Just thinking.”

Keith pats him on the knee. Shiro’s never tired of Keith’s hands on him. Someday, that will stop, too. Someday, Keith will mate with someone and Shiro will be left, pining endlessly and fruitlessly. It will hurt, he thinks, but he’ll stomach it. Anything is worth having Keith in his life— as a friend or otherwise. He’d never do anything to jeopardize that.

Shiro has no idea how many people flirt with Keith in a day. He’s seen enough to know it happens fairly often. Keith is always polite, so long as nobody is being weird or aggressive about it. He smiles and nods, arms crossed and making easy conversation. Shiro wonders who it’ll be— who will, one day, strike up a conversation with Keith that will lead to the first of many conversations, of saved phone contacts, of dates, of kisses, of—

Shiro has to stop thinking about it before he starts growling. He squirms instead, shifting and adjusting. Keith hums in protest but lifts long enough for Shiro to stretch his legs out. For all of Shiro’s wiggling, Keith doesn’t drift away, seemingly content to stay close. It’s testament to how comfortable he is with Shiro, and that’s enough to soothe the ache in his chest. He flops back on the couch, half-lying against it, and tugs Keith down with him. It’s not the most comfortable position in the world, Shiro half spooning against Keith, but Keith just huffs and settles back against him.

“If you wanted a hug, you could just say so,” Keith says, a gentle tease in his voice. Shiro drops his head down, sighing as his forehead hits Keith’s shoulder.

“It’s fine like this.”

“Mm.” Keith’s hand lifts, brushing at the silver part of Shiro’s hair. The touch is an absent-minded one, but it shoots electricity down Shiro’s spine.

They reach the end of the episode. Shiro waits for Keith to untangle himself from the couch and start doing his homework at the kitchen table. Instead, Keith fishes up the controller and hits play on the next episode before settling back against Shiro.

The episode plays on, the easy silence building between them. Shiro sighs against Keith’s shoulder, nudging against him until Keith starts petting his hair again. It feels nice. Shiro closes his eyes, abandoning all pretense of watching the TV.

A few minutes in, Keith nudges at Shiro, laughing as Shiro rubs his cheek against his neck. “Hey.”

Shiro didn’t even realize he’d drifted so close to Keith’s neck, covering his scent along the patch of his throat Shiro’s rubbed up against.

“Sorry,” Shiro mumbles but doesn’t pull away. He should pull away, but his body feels too heavy.

“It’s fine.” Keith pauses, not drawing away from Shiro. The smug feeling in Shiro’s chest grows. “I, um… I don’t mind.”

He chirps a little in surprise when Shiro renews his nuzzling. Shiro keeps it simple, just his cheek and chin along Keith’s neck and shoulder. His heart pounds but Keith only makes a soft, cherishing sound and tilts his head a little to make space for Shiro. Welcomed there. Shiro’s not sure where his daring comes from, but he doesn’t stop.

“I didn’t realize how stressed out you are,” Keith murmurs, twisting around enough to loop his arm around Shiro to hold him in place, his fingers sinking into Shiro’s hair.

It feels so good that Shiro nearly wants to weep.

“Do you want me to go with you to your meeting tomorrow?” Keith asks. “I can wait outside the office and jump in if I smell you getting mad.”

Keith is perfect. Thoughtful and considerate and protective— just a few of the many things Shiro loves about Keith. He snuffles up against him, breathing out. He can smell himself on Keith’s skin and it makes him relax.

“You listening, Big Guy?” Keith asks, poking him in the side. He must have kept talking but Shiro can’t recall everything he’s said. He’s too drunk on the scent of Keith, delicate and sweet and nearly addictive. Shiro loves the way their scents mingle together.

He nuzzles up to Keith’s jaw. It’s pushing the line of friendship, he knows, but his instincts outweigh his common sense. Keith hasn’t stiffened up or drawn away, and Keith never makes a secret about what he wants. He’d smell Keith’s disapproval. He takes courage in Keith’s quiet acceptance and noses against Keith’s jaw. He inhales slowly, flooding his senses with the weaving of their scents together.

“I’m going to take that as a no,” Keith says with a throaty chuckle. He tilts his head back further to make space for Shiro and goes back to petting his fingers through his hair, sliding through silver and then black. “It’s going to be okay, Shiro. I promise. It’s just one meeting.”

“Mm.”

Keith shifts, pushing Shiro back enough to adjust their positions, so that they’re less pretzels on the couch and more hugging each other properly, Keith draped against his chest. Shiro croons his approval, shifting to nuzzle the other side of Keith’s neck now.

Keith squeaks but otherwise doesn’t protest, his arms looped around Shiro absently. Shiro can tell by the tilt of his chin that his eyes are on Shiro. The episode plays on, long forgotten between the two of them. Shiro keeps scent marking Keith’s neck, chuffing his approval when Keith slowly relaxes against him, until he’s boneless and limp in Shiro’s arms, heavy like a perfect blanket.

“This feels nice,” Keith says in a little voice.

Shiro growls his agreement, his hands lifting to touch the perfect line of Keith’s back, to trace his fingers down his spine. Keith makes the softest trill, arching at the touch.

“Is this helping?” Keith asks, sounding winded.

“Keith,” Shiro says, just managing to grit out the one name. He sounds far too punched-out, even to his own ears— husky and deep and not entirely platonic. His hands on Keith don’t feel platonic, his lips so close to pressing against his neck, his scent bathed all over Keith.

His fingertips slip down, his hands settling at the small of Keith’s back, his big hands spanning across his slim waist, glancing at his hips. The pointed touches make Keith keen.

“— Fuck,” Keith whispers, embarrassment flooding his scent as he draws away.

Shiro growls, chasing after him. “Wait.”

Keith freezes, looking at Shiro with wide eyes. The blush is climbing up his neck, across his cheeks, threatening to color even his ears. Shiro aches to touch him properly, to kiss him, to reassure him. That’s what a good alpha would do, a proper mate would do.

Shiro flounders, fighting against the instinct and urge and his better sense of self. He isn’t Keith’s alpha or mate. They’re friends. Good friends, but friends all the same.

This isn’t just some stress, Shiro thinks with some dread. He wouldn’t do this simply because he’s stressed. He knows better. His stomach roils with the slowly dawning realization.

“Y- you should start your work,” Shiro forces out, even though everything inside him screams to keep touching Keith, to keep worshiping Keith, to make Keith his. “Before it gets too late.”

There’s a still moment in which Keith looks at him, uncomprehending. And then just as quickly, his shoulders slump and his lips quirk into a deep frown.

“Ah… Oh. Yeah. Right… You’re right.” Keith’s eyes drop away, averting his gaze.

“I’ll make us dinner,” Shiro says, grasping desperately for that sense of normalcy.

“Sure,” Keith says, climbing out of Shiro’s lap. He stands there, looking uncertain for a moment, his scent a strange warping of too many emotions, and then he makes a hasty retreat to use the bathroom. Each step away from Shiro feels like a stab in his heart and he thinks he might even whimper when he hears the door close further down the hall.

Shiro takes a deep breath, Keith’s scent still lingering.

With some effort, Shiro drags himself into the kitchen. If he can’t scent Keith, he can at least provide for him.

When Keith returns, he smells normal again, although subdued. Shiro scents the air as subtly as he can but he thinks Keith notices anyway, his ears turning pink as he hurries to unpack his things at Shiro’s table.

Before sitting to work, Keith moves to the side table Shiro keeps his plants on as they sun in the east-facing window. He flips on Shiro’s essential oil diffuser, flooding the space with the scent of citrus. That, plus the smells wafting from the kitchen as Shiro prepares a quick meal, effectively mask their scents from one another.

 

-

 

Shiro sees Keith the next morning walking along the campus pathways towards the astro building and the feelings still haven’t gone away. The moment Shiro sees Keith, all he wants to do is drape against him, to encase him in his arms, and mouth at the back of his neck.

Shiro is used to these urges and imagining doing such things with Keith, but the intensity of the desire threatens to overwhelm him. He’s usually better at swallowing back his longing. But today, he yearns.

Keith offers him a little smile as they walk together towards Altea Hall. It’s a bright morning, the sun shining and the birds chirping. It’s one of those spring days that feels more like summer and usually that would be enough to put Shiro in a cheerful mood.

Today, he’s distracted by the way Keith’s jeans hug his hips.

“How are you feeling?” Keith asks sympathetically. He must be thinking about Shiro’s scheduled meeting with Slav. He’s a good friend, Shiro thinks miserably. The best friend anyone could ask for. Perfect. The most amazing mate. Lovely and powerful and sweet and kind and—

“Fine,” Shiro says.

“It’s just one meeting and it’ll all be over quickly,” Keith assures him. “And then you have the rest of the day to look forward to. Then Friday. And then the weekend!” Keith offers him a small smile. “Allura was talking about having a cohort hangout at the bar tomorrow after classes. You going?”

Shiro thinks about Keith in a bar, surrounded by other alphas vying for his attention. His lip curls and he growls. His chest puffs up, certain of his mission tomorrow: protect Keith from unworthy alphas.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’m going.”

Keith nods, seemingly satisfied as they climb up the steps to their building. It’s one of the older buildings on campus, the scent of moss and earth always lingering in the very walls. They weave through the wrapping hallways and make their way down to the Garden Level (the saddest attempt to make the basement offices sound more attractive).

Shiro shares his office with a few people, just like Keith, and Lance is already milling near his desk when Shiro slips in with Keith hovering at the door. Keith’s eyes dart to Lance with a small frown and Shiro thinks he hears him let loose the softest warning growl— but Keith’s never been a big fan of Lance. Hunk is there, too, sitting on Lance’s desk as Lance digs around through his many pencil cases to search for his one specific, lucky pen. Or so Shiro gathers from Lance’s stressed whining.

Lance looks up as Shiro and Keith come in, sniffs the air, and pales. “Dude,” Lance says, pointing at Keith. “You smell like Shiro.” His eyes dart between the two of them. “Did you guys—”

“Wow, good fucking morning to you, too,” Keith snaps, his ears turning red.

Shiro blinks in surprise at Lance, creeping to his desk to set down his backpack and unload his things. He looks back at Keith. Keith growls low at Lance but turns to look at Shiro when he notices his eyes on him. His expression smooths out and he enters the room, skirting to Shiro’s side. It all happens in quick succession, quick enough that Shiro can’t process the way Keith’s scent spikes protectively.

Shiro feels a rumble of pleasure build in his chest as he starts unloading his books and laptop. He has his meeting with Slav soon and he should really review his notes and reports so that he can at least anticipate whatever weird, arbitrary shit Slav has to say. Maybe he should bring Keith with him after all, if only for the moral support.

“But seriously,” Lance says because he’s never been good at letting things lie. “It’s like two Shiros just walked in here—”

“Anyway,” Hunk cuts in, kicking Lance in the shin. “That’s your guys’ business. Lance, remember how we don’t ask people things like that when it’s not our business?” He looks at the two of them. “Good morning, by the way.”

Lance wilts but his eyes are too curious, switching between Shiro and Keith like they might crack under the pressure and reveal all about a mating that didn’t occur. His scent fills the small space, bright with curiosity and the promise of gossip. Shiro knows way too much about the going-ons about the entire department simply because he shares an office with Lance: who’s hooked up with whom, who’s broken up with whom, who was scenting whom.

Lance can be loud and overenthusiastic, but Shiro likes him just fine. He’s a clean officemate, at the very least. Right now, Shiro isn’t sure what to make of him. Something inside him puffs up with pride at the thought that Keith still smells like him.

Normally, the last thing he wants is for him and Keith to be part of the rumor mill. But today— Good, he thinks darkly. If people think they hooked up, then that just means fewer alphas to flirt with Keith.

Shame floods him at the thought, disgusted by his own jealousy— he has no right to deny Keith a chance at finding his mate simply because he wants Keith for himself.

Keith’s hackles are up, his face twisted in annoyance. It’s a beat too long to feel natural before Keith finally addresses Lance, “Shiro and I just hang out a lot. Of course I smell like him. It’s nothing special.”

It’s nothing special. Shiro knows he must visibly slump because Keith turns to him with a questioning chirp.

Shiro shakes his head. Keith frowns deeper.

Lance looks between the two of them and it feels far too exposing. He lifts his hand, patting Shiro on the shoulder. “So, anyway, do—”

He doesn’t complete the thought before the hand disappears from Shiro’s shoulder, wrenched away. Keith moves like liquid, sliding into the spot between Shiro and Lance, shoving Lance’s hand away before he leans back casually against Shiro’s desk. He crosses his arms, butt planting itself right on Shiro’s files.

“Shiro’s just dropping off his stuff and then he’s coming to my office before his meeting with Slav,” Keith says with far too much casualness. Shiro can smell Keith’s scent even with Keith actively trying to clamp it down, the different twists of Lance-induced emotions twisting through the air— annoyance, frustration, maybe a sprig of anger.

Shiro glances at Hunk and Lance, feeling that strange twist of jealousy in his chest. Neither of them are flirting with Keith but Hunk’s smile is maybe too friendly even when strained, Lance’s eyes too cloying as he darts between Shiro and Keith. Shiro feels a growl rising in his throat, considering just snatching Keith away from them and keeping him for himself.

“Ugh, whatever,” Lance grumbles. He scrubs at his nose, brow furrowed. “Smells too much like weird Alpha and Omega in here.”

Hunk looks similarly nonplussed, rubbing at his nose with far more subtly. “Uh, yeah. Lance and I were going to grab some coffee before our classes. We, uh… we’ll just leave you both to it.”

They make a hasty retreat after that, Keith following them carefully with his eyes and not letting his arms uncross until they’re gone. He swivels around towards Shiro once they’ve exited, hand cupping Shiro’s shoulder right on the spot where Lance had so briefly touched him. He starts rubbing absently.

Now that Lance and Hunk are gone, Keith seems considerably brighter. Even his scent is lighter, and his smile is sweet as he looks at Shiro. “Don’t worry, Shiro,” Keith says. “I’m sure your meeting will go fine.”

Shiro nods, unsure what to make of the entire interaction. He sighs when Keith’s hand skirts over his shoulder and squeezes before drawing away. The room smells honey gold, the two of them smiling at one another.

 

-

 

All things considered, Shiro’s meeting with Slav could have gone far worse. It might help that during the meeting, Shiro keeps spacing out thinking about Keith— his smile, his pretty eyes that look like starlight, his silky-soft hair, his witticisms, the little fang that flashes when he’s barking a laugh.

Because he’s too busy thinking about the perfect shape of Keith’s hands, imagining how good they’d look laced with his mismatched ones, he misses all of Slav’s Doomsday Prognosis Lecture. He smiles in a Keith-induced daze as he watches Slav scribble note after note on his reports, circling damning sentences in red ink. It’ll mean a lot of revision but Shiro doesn’t care because he’s thinking of one particularly cute chirp Keith does when he’s happy.

It doesn’t matter. Keith smells like him today and that fills Shiro with pleasure. He must look downright moony because Slav loses his train of thought at least three times when talking with Shiro, looking up and gaping at his pupil’s distinct lack of attention.

The hour-long meeting goes by like that— Slav offering some horrible prediction and Shiro forgetting to be annoyed about it because he’s distracted thinking about the pretty curve of Keith’s biceps. He might even let out a forlorn sigh at one point, completely sending Slav into a tizzy.

An hour later, once Shiro slinks out of Slav’s office, he looks up in time to see Keith pushing himself off the opposite wall with a smile, trotting over to him.

“How’d it go?” he asks.

Shiro stares at him. “You’re here.”

“Moral support,” Keith says with a smile and then chirps a delighted laugh when Shiro engulfs him in a tight hug. “Hey,” he laughs, rubbing his hands down Shiro’s wide back. “It seems like it went okay? I didn’t hear you shouting this time.”

“Keith,” Shiro sighs happily, nuzzling at his neck before he can stop himself. It’s far too intimate, especially in the middle of a random hallway in Altea Hall.

“That’s my name,” Keith agrees affectionately, his hand rubbing up Shiro’s spine and curling around the back of his neck. His fingertips play with Shiro’s hair and hold firm, keeping Shiro pinned protectively against his neck.

Well, Shiro can take the hint. He nuzzles, chuffing quietly. Shiro knows he should stop, if only for common decency’s sake, but Keith hardly seems to mind.

“You always save me,” Shiro says with a sigh that sounds far too lovestruck.

Keith tugs on one piece of Shiro’s hair, chirping quietly against his ear. “Yeah.” He laughs, embarrassed but pleased, if his golden scent is anything to go by. “You’re so affectionate today.”

“Mm.”

“It’s nice,” Keith says quietly and chuckles as Shiro curls around him further.

It feels easy. It feels like last night, just before Shiro made things awkward. Keith feels more relaxed in his arms, like this is how they were meant to be.

Shiro wishes it could always be like this.

 

-

 

The rest of Shiro’s Thursday passes like that— he’s relaxed and happy when he’s with Keith, and tense and frustrated when he’s away from him. When Keith has to leave for his afternoon classes, Shiro struggles his way through grading papers, jumping and snarling at anybody who dares interrupt him.

Sort of awkward when today is his office hours. He’s relieved when none of the students he TAs for show up— the first time in history he isn’t bummed out that no undergrad comes slinking into his office with questions about papers, reports, or presentations. Today, it’s a small mercy. Shiro would feel miserable if he made one of his students feel like shit for daring to ask a question in his vicinity.

He lasts approximately two and a half hours before he goes hunting for Keith, like some needy, clingy puppy. He’s embarrassed about it, but not enough to stop his search. He goes sniffing around and finds Keith just outside Altea Hall, sitting on the table of a picnic bench and absorbing the afternoon sunshine. His tote bag full of his teaching materials is beside him, so he must have just finished TA-ing his 100-level intro course.

He sits with his hands planted behind him, his face tipped back so that the sun hits him full force. He smells like the sunshine, a gentle overlay with Shiro’s lingering scent on him. And, fuck, he really does smell like Shiro.

Normally, if Keith were to sit like this for a while, someone would undoubtedly approach him. The possessive, jealous part of Shiro decides that nobody is here because Keith smells like an alpha. Good.

Keith must hear Shiro approaching, or otherwise catch his scent on the breeze, because he turns his head away from the sun and looks towards him, blinking his eyes open.

Shiro wonders how he could never have noticed it before— the specific way Keith brightens when he sees Shiro, his eyes lighting and his scent warming. Because we’re friends, his logical brain reminds him. Of course Keith would be happy to see his friend. But deep down, his instincts roar in pleasure that Keith should react in such an obvious way, so demonstrative in his joy at seeing Shiro.

“Shiro!” Keith says with a grin, Shiro’s favorite little fang glinting. Shiro loves him so much.

“Class over?” Shiro asks as he climbs up onto the picnic table to sit beside him. Keith chirps a greeting and nudges against him. Shiro feels like he could soar right into the sky.

“Yeah, thank fuck,” Keith says with a sigh. “Now I don’t have to worry about it until Tuesday.”

Shiro chuckles. Keith grins at him, cheeky and unrepentant. All of Keith’s students know that he doesn’t much care for TA-ing— he does it to get the tuition waiver and that’s about it. He’d told Shiro once that he knew he was a shitty teacher. Shiro disagrees— he sat in on one of Keith’s lessons once as a peer-reviewed teaching evaluation and saw the way Keith lit up the room, how his students laughed easily at his jokes and felt welcome to ask their questions. It made for lively conversation. Keith never believes Shiro when he tells him he’s a great teacher.

Keith smiles at him. “Feeling better now that Slav-ageddon is over with?”

“I have another meeting next week,” Shiro says. “I think he’s mad I didn’t actually acknowledge his suggestions.”

Keith scoffs, scooting closer to drop his head against Shiro’s shoulder and nuzzle once, an affectionate headbutt. Shiro’s smile turns wobbly and he tips forward, burying his nose in Keith’s hair and breathing in before he can stop himself.

“I’ll protect you,” Keith mumbles. “Stand guard outside his office and burst in if I smell you getting distressed.”

“My hero,” Shiro says, his voice whisper-soft and far, far too fond. Shiro’s lips brush across the crown of Keith’s head, subtle enough to be an accident but feeling too purposeful to ignore. Shiro resists the urge to kiss the top of Keith’s head properly like some lovestruck alpha.

Keith hums and nuzzles against his shoulder a second time before drawing away to smile up at him, his eyes shining in the afternoon sun. He’s so close, his hair framing his pretty face, and all Shiro wants to do is lean in and kiss him.

He wonders how Keith would react to that.

 

-

 

The rest of Shiro’s Thursday passes without incident. He finishes classes, walks Keith home, then returns to his apartment to shove his face against the pillows on the couch and inhale Keith’s lingering scent.

By the time Friday morning rolls around, Shiro slogs his way to his office only to find Keith already there and waiting, holding out a cup of chai wordlessly. The scent of spice wafts through the air and Shiro groans his appreciation.

“You’re still feeling strange?” Keith asks him sympathetically as he makes himself at home on Shiro’s desk, planting himself right on top of Shiro’s files again.

“I’m not so sure it’s stress,” Shiro admits. If he’s honest with himself, he’s known for days it isn’t stress but he isn’t sure if he wants to put voice to what he suspects it is. He’s way off schedule. He can’t possibly be rutting this early in the spring. He usually has to suffer a rut twice a year and his last one was back in March.

“Flu?”

Shiro shakes his head.

Keith frowns. “Your… muscle pain?”

Shiro rubs absently at his arm where his prosthesis attaches. He shakes his head. He’s been good about managing his illness over the past couple years and he hasn’t had a muscle flare-up in months. The ache he feels has nothing to do with fatigue or nerve-pain. If anything, Shiro feels tired from yearning, like he’s some poor repressed Victorian-era alpha. Absurd.

He’s just an idiot pining for his best friend. And maybe it’s triggering a rut.

“I think I just have a lot on my mind,” Shiro mumbles. It feels wrong to lie to Keith, but he’s not ready to say it aloud.

He’s not sure if he can explain it easily to Keith. Stupid, really. He grabbed supplies for Keith the last time his suppressants stopped working and his heat left him clawing up the walls. He knows Keith would understand if he were to say it. He’d insist Shiro put in sick leave and lock himself up with all his necessary supplies, calling him in the evenings to check on him and stopping by when safe.

But Shiro doesn’t want to admit to it. Yeah, Keith. I’m scenting you all the time because I want to mate you and my rut is making it harder to resist. It doesn’t sound that romantic after years of pining. I’m snarling at any person who comes near you because the idea of you being with someone else makes me want to rip their heads off. Creepy. Possessive.

That isn’t Shiro. He doesn’t want to lock Keith away and keep him for himself— he loves that Keith can make friends, that he can feel comfortable with others. He knows that friendships have been a struggle for Keith who so often feels disconnected from others, like he’s never really understood social cues or how to be a real friend. He loves that Keith can come into his own, grow more confident and happier, studying what he loves and working towards his advocacy goals.

It doesn’t stop Shiro from wanting to mark every inch of Keith’s skin, to mate him, to breed him, to make the world know that he’s his.

Some of Shiro’s chai slips past the lip of his cup and falls into his lap. He curses out, fishing around for a napkin to dab it up off his work slacks. He scrubs at the wet spot the tea left at the top of his thigh. Keith watches him, eyes tracing over Shiro’s splayed thighs, and the glance feels like a brand.

Keith looks back up at him with a small smile, his cheeks pink. Shiro wants to bite Keith’s mouth until he whines, to kiss him until neither of them can breathe. He wants to see how far down that blush goes.

Shiro feels his own cheeks heat, throwing away the napkin and downing the rest of his drink.

They sit in a strange silence. It doesn’t feel uncomfortable, necessarily, but Shiro can’t help but feel that strange thrum of expectation. He looks up at Keith, sitting on his desk and leaning over him.

“Thanks for the tea,” Shiro says. “You didn’t have to.”

Keith smiles. “Sure, but I wanted to. You’re lucky I like you so much— and you’re welcome, of course.”

It’s a tease. You’re lucky I like you so much. Shiro’s heart aches.

His mind unhelpfully summons up the image of Keith smiling at someone else— an alpha who isn’t Shiro, an alpha who couldn’t possibly appreciate Keith the way Shiro does. Someday, Keith will bring a cup of coffee to some unworthy alpha, will smile and chirp at an unworthy alpha, will bare his neck and let an unworthy alpha bite into the skin.

An unworthy alpha who, someday, Keith will like so much. He’ll love that unworthy alpha. He’ll choose that unworthy alpha.

Shiro’s glad that he’s finished his drink because his prosthetic hand spasms and clenches around the paper cup, crushing it easily. He plays it off as purposeful, tossing it into the wastebasket by the door.

Someday, an unworthy alpha will hold Keith in his arms. An unworthy alpha will kiss Keith, learn every smile and every sigh he can make. An unworthy alpha will get to call Keith his mate.

He knows his scent must be getting spiky. He hears Keith make a soft sound of distress, consolatory and instinctual— trying to calm him down.

Shiro turns back to Keith. Keith studies him, frowning deeply.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

Someday, an unworthy alpha will get to kiss each of Keith’s freckles. He’ll map a constellation out of the moles on his arms. An unworthy alpha will get to pet his fingers through the soft downing of his arm hair. An unworthy alpha will get to mouth down his chest and taste him, every inch of him.

“You’re just… really pretty,” Shiro’s betraying mouth answers. He has no idea why he’d say that beyond it being the truth.

Keith scoffs like Shiro’s told a joke. He ducks his head, smiling, and tucks a piece of his hair behind his ear. “What?”

“It’s true.” Shiro sounds neutral as he says it, but his chest is a squirming mess. “You look nice today.”

Keith kicks his feet out, the toes of his boots knocking against Shiro’s thigh affectionately. “Don’t make fun of me.”

He does look nice, though. He always looks nice. Shiro aches to slip the leather jacket off his shoulders and kiss his collarbones. He wants to strip those stupid skinny jeans clean off his legs so he can bite at his thighs.

He really needs to get ahold of himself.

“You look nice, too,” Keith says shyly. His eyes sparkle as he sweeps his gaze over Shiro, drinking him in. Shiro tries not to preen. “Handsome.”

There’s nothing teasing in the way he says it. His scent is honey-gold, sweet and gentle. Shiro scoots his chair forward, moving himself closer to Keith and Keith seems to bow into him, making space for him, his smile warm.

“Not that you don’t always look handsome,” Keith says casually, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s no wonder so many people like you.”

“People don’t like me,” Shiro says even as he knows it’s an insane and untrue statement.

Keith rolls his eyes. “Sure they don’t, Shiro. Big, strong, sweet alpha? Uh huh.”

Shiro feels his ears heat with a blush. He wishes he still had the cup of chai left to fiddle with. He drums his fingers against his desk, dangerously close to brushing against Keith’s perfect thigh.

Keith’s hand ghosts across his shoulder, curling around the back of Shiro’s neck and squeezing. Instantly, Shiro feels himself relax. He looks up at Keith.

“Does it bother you?” Keith asks when their eyes meet. “That people think you’re hot?”

Shiro furrows his brow. “Does it bother you when people flirt with you?”

“People don’t flirt with me,” Keith says with a laugh, like the very idea is absurd. He waves his hand dismissively, his other hand still curled protectively around the back of Shiro’s neck. His thumb swipes, glancing over one knob of Shiro’s spine.

Shiro can’t put into words the way his thoughts swirl— delight that Keith isn’t returning the affection from other alphas but distress that Keith could think he’s unwanted in general.

“They do,” Shiro insists. “There are so many alphas that would jump at the chance to be with you.”

Saying it feels like spitting out ash. He feels his mouth twist around the words.

Keith scoffs again. He shakes his head, his expression sobering as he looks at Shiro. “I don’t care about that kinda stuff. I don’t care about— um. Alphas. Other alphas.”

“Omegas flirt with you, too. And betas. Everybody.”

“They do not,” Keith says like it’s still a joke. “I’m pretty sure I’d notice that.”

Shiro begs to differ but he doesn’t press it. His lips thin and he shifts, sitting up straighter so that he’s closer in Keith’s space, his hand lifting and shifting, planting itself on Keith’s thigh to keep him pinned there. He stares into Keith’s eyes, unwavering.

“You’re beautiful,” Shiro says with all the power he can muster. It’s the truth and the words flow freely. “And anybody in the universe would be damn lucky to be with you.”

Keith is quiet for a beat too long, staring at him. He must be focusing all his efforts on clamping down his scent because Shiro can’t smell anything beyond his own lingering scenting on Keith’s skin.

“I’m— I’m not sure how this turned into a pep talk for me,” Keith finally musters with a little laugh, although it sounds weak. He looks away, eyes darting to the window. His smile is quiet and not entirely pleased. “But thanks, Shiro. I’m glad you think so.”

Shiro stands from his chair. It puts him towering over Keith now and Keith shifts, his legs parting enough to make space for Shiro to stand there. The hand on his neck slides down from the strain, resting against his shoulder instead. Keith’s fingers twitch and then curl around Shiro’s collar, hanging on.

Keith looks back up at him, his eyes soft. He chirps quietly and Shiro’s answering chuff is instinctive and immediate.

“Anyone,” Shiro insists, his hand lifting to curl gently around Keith’s wrist. He holds tight, not drawing him away but keeping him there. Keith blinks up at him. “I mean it. I know it. You’re amazing and— and someone good will realize that about you and it’ll be… it’ll be really good. For you. You’ll be happy. You deserve that.”

Keith says nothing, his lips pressed into a thin line. He doesn’t try to pull from Shiro’s hold on his wrist, but his fingers glance along Shiro’s collar, adjusting it for him. He studies his collar, eyes on Shiro’s bobbing throat as he swallows. Shiro’s infinitely aware of where his thumb presses against Keith’s wrist, slotted perfectly over a scent gland.

It’s self-sabotage, Shiro thinks. Of course even in a rut he’d be telling Keith all about some future guy who’ll make him happy. What he should be doing is proving himself to Keith— he’s a worthy alpha, a worthy mate— no. He isn’t, really. Not really. Nobody is good enough for Keith.

“Thanks, Shiro,” Keith says weakly. He still doesn’t sound like he believes him.

Shiro makes a low whine of protest. It snaps Keith’s eyes back up to him. “I mean it, Keith. Anybody would be lucky to call you theirs. Anybody would want that.”

“Would you?” Keith asks suddenly.

Shiro freezes up, words utterly escaping him, and in that moment, Keith laughs to himself, the sound hollow, and tugs his hand free of Shiro’s grip. He hops off the desk, dusting himself off and smiling at Shiro— although it hardly reaches his eyes.

“Anyway,” Keith says. “I gotta go prep before my advisor meeting. I’ll see you tonight at Lions, right?”

It takes Shiro a moment for his fuzzy brain to process what’s just happened. He stares at Keith in the moment it takes for him to process. Right, the Castle of Lions. Allura’s Friday get-together at the bar. He’d forgotten.

He nods, the movement wooden, but doesn’t have the chance to say more before Keith nods and strolls out of the room. Every movement and every smile are with a forced casualness. His smile is wooden, his movements are tense, and he laughs like he’s dismissing a secretly offered truth rather than a joke.

In the wake of him, Shiro has no idea what to make of the conversation. All he feels is a resounding failure— as an alpha, sure, but especially as a friend.

 

-

 

Shiro spends the rest of the day feeling miserable. When he stops by Keith’s office after classes only to discover that Keith’s already left for the Castle of Lions, he restrains a low whine in his throat.

He sniffs the air sadly, satisfied to find no lingering scents mingling with Keith’s, and then feels like an asshole for thinking it in the first place. He has no claim on Keith.

Part of him knows that going to the bar tonight is probably a mistake. It’s been a long week and, truthfully, Shiro should slump back to his apartment, call in his sick leave for his rut, and suffer through the next few days on his own. Maybe he should take advantage of his lucid state right now and plan out his lesson plans for a substitute TA on Monday.

He thinks all this and yet still finds himself traveling downtown to the Castle of Lions bar. It’s early enough in the day, not quite happy hour, that there aren’t many people milling around outside at the outdoor seating. A few people from his cohort have commandeered one of the outdoor tables and they wave to him in greeting. He doesn’t spot Keith or Allura, so gives a polite nod before slipping inside the bar.

Inside, it takes a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, but as he makes his way towards the bar, he sees a few others from the Garden Level ordering their drinks and socializing. Keith’s at the end of the bar, waiting his turn to place an order, and his eyes glance over Shiro when he enters and then glance away again.

The rejection stings, soothed only when Keith looks back at him a half-moment later, as if self-correcting, and offers a wobbly smile. Shiro returns it, his insides feeling squirmy and uncertain.

Shiro doesn’t have consistent symptoms with his rut. He’s never sure how it will affect him. Sometimes, it’s mild and other times, more intense. Sometimes it’s just migraines and feeling restless and other times it’s a fever-pitch of sexual frustration. He’s had ruts for years without partners or even a crush on someone to occupy his rutting brain. This oncoming rut feels like a physical weight in his chest— seeing Keith there, unmarked and unmated, arms crossed as he leans against the bar counter, still waiting for the barkeep to pay attention to him so he can place an order.

Keith consumes Shiro’s thoughts at the best of times. Now he’s drowning in thoughts of him— of his smile, of his scent, of the touch of his hand, of his dumb jokes, of his delighted chirps when he eats Shiro’s homemade bento. Keith. Everything, Keith.

Shiro wants to go to him immediately, to prove himself somehow. He doesn’t know what he’s done wrong, knows he’s miss-stepped somehow, can see it in the way Keith holds himself— rigid, distant, uncertain of his welcome— and everything inside him screams to correct the mistake, to make it better, to prove to Keith that he’s done nothing wrong. He could never do anything wrong. It’s Keith.

Before he can step towards Keith, though, Allura catches him by the elbow and tugs him along. “So glad you could make it, Shiro,” she says warmly, sidling up to the bar with him. “Let’s get you a drink, shall we?”

Shiro likes Allura. She’s been a good friend ever since they joined the program together. Right now, though, her scent feels wrong— alpha and floral and not like Keith at all. Shiro feels a rumble in his chest, his heart twisted up and aching, and he glances back over to where Keith stands.

Keith isn’t looking at him anymore, finally placing his order with the barkeep. When he finishes he leans back from the bar and sighs, turning so that his back is to Shiro and he’s just leaning against the countertop, waiting. He looks warm and inviting, so perfectly handsome that it feels like a punch in Shiro’s gut.

“Shiro?” Allura asks. He hears her sniff the air and go quiet, her scent twisting up with concern.

Shiro swivels his head around to look at her, blinking. He has no idea if she’s spoken or if she’s trying to get his attention. He stares blankly, floundering on what to say, and Allura gives him a sympathetic look.

“How should I… put this,” Allura says slowly. “Ah, perhaps, it might be better for you to…” She bites her lip, fingernails clicking against the countertop as she taps them in a random little pattern.

Shiro ducks his head before she can put it delicately. “You can smell it, can’t you?”

“I’m afraid a few people might have noticed already,” Allura says. “I might have… also heard murmurs down the halls yesterday.”

Shiro sighs, shoulders slumping. He wonders if Keith’s realized, too. He wonders if he’s freaked him out. Come on too strong. Been too possessive, somehow. Too touchy. They’ve always been close, touched one another, but it’s different when there’s that inherent clinginess behind it all— like Shiro is trying to lay claim to what could never be his. Maybe Keith sensed that. Maybe he’s finally pushed Keith away.

He must look miserable because Allura croons a soft, sympathetic hum. Instead of soothing him, it just makes Shiro’s shoulders feel too tense. He doesn’t want another alpha’s comfort. He doesn’t even want another omega’s— he just wants Keith’s.

The realization settles through his veins. He knew it already, of course. It’s always been about Keith. Not omega, not alpha— just Keith. The understanding feels like a crisp bell sounding in his heart.

“I should go home,” Shiro says.

“Or perhaps best not to drink,” Allura says, signaling the bartender. “I’m sure everyone would understand if you had to duck out early.”

Shiro should go home early.

Shiro’s eyes stray towards Keith. Someone from the cohort is speaking with him— a tall alpha, his smile charming and sweet. Shiro can’t even recall his name in that moment he spots him, blinded by a hot flash of anger that burns out too quick and leaves guilt behind. He has no right to feel this way.

No, Shiro thinks. He can’t go home. Not now. Not when Keith is surrounded by alphas who all want to claim him. He should be Shiro’s.

No, he reminds himself. Keith isn’t his.

Shiro orders a tall drink of iced tea and chugs it down in nearly one gulp once he has it in his hand. It does little to settle his nerves, but it at least gives him something to do. He focuses his efforts on his scent, keeping it under control. Slow, smooth, controlled. He’s handled his ruts for years without issue and the last thing he needs to do is stink up the bar with his rutting alpha scent. That’s a one-way ticket to getting banned from Castle and he actually likes the drinks here.

His eyes keep flickering back to Keith, leaning casually against the bar and talking with the other alpha. There’s nothing different about the interaction— Keith is as friendly, and only friendly, as usual— but it still burns in Shiro’s heart. Keith isn’t looking at him. Keith is smiling up at an alpha that isn’t Shiro.

Allura elbows him when he starts to growl. He gives her a wounded look.

“You could go talk to him,” she says lightly.

Shiro shakes his head. “Don’t want to interrupt,” he mumbles into his glass, empty save for too much ice, his eyes burning daggers towards the other alpha. “He seems… friendly.

Allura sighs out, long-suffering and fatigued. Like she can judge him. She ruts just like anybody else, Shiro thinks.

And then the alpha talking with Keith reaches out and casually pushes Keith’s shoulder. It’s a flirty gesture, a light play-hit that’s meant to make them both laugh. His grin is obvious, charming and delighted, and his hand lingers on Keith’s shoulder.

It’s too much.

Shiro’s moving before he even fully realizes he’s doing so. He shoulders past Allura, ignoring her yelp of disapproval, and rudely pushes a few people aside to get to the other end of the bar. He grabs the alpha’s hand and rips it from Keith’s shoulder, shoving himself between the two of them with a barely restrained snarl.

“Shiro—” Keith says behind him, his eyes wide in shock as he’s slammed with the full weight of Shiro’s alpha scent.

Shiro snarls again at the other alpha, who takes an instinctive step back, hands lifted in alarm. Up close, Shiro remembers his name, vaguely— starts with a T, or an E, whatever— and he watches as the alpha instantly backs down. Shiro half-expected a fight, half-expected to have to punch the guy to get him to back off Keith. What stupid alpha wouldn’t fight every bloody fight necessary to win Keith’s hand, really? Pathetic.

“Geez,” the alpha says. He lifts his shirt collar to cover his nose, brows furrowed. “You gotta get that shit under wraps, man, it’s—”

Shiro growls again, fangs out and hands curled into fists. He’s too much electric energy, ready to fight, ready to lay his claim, ready to—

Shiro’s growl grows louder in volume, his thoughts swirling with Keith, Keith, Keith— “Don’t touch hi—”

Keith shoves out from behind him. Before Shiro can mourn the rejection, Keith grabs Shiro by the wrist, slams some bills down on the counter, and drags him from the bar. He calls something out to Allura, an apology or explanation, Shiro doesn’t know. He’s stopped paying attention and processing now that Keith is touching him.

Shiro blinks with a low whimper when he’s out in the sunlight, lifting his hand to shield his eyes from the glare.

But Keith doesn’t stop once they’re outside the bar. He ignores their fellow grad students calling to them from the outdoor seats and drags Shiro down the sidewalk instead. He must look murderous, or Shiro’s rut scent must be obnoxious, because strangers on the street literally spring out of the way so as not to come near them as Keith barrels past them.

“Keith—”

Keith ignores him, not stopping until they round a corner on a side-street less-trafficked, and spins around to stare up at Shiro.

“What the hell is going on with you?” Keith asks, sounding breathless. There are spots of color on his cheeks, his eyes wild with concern. He doesn’t let go of Shiro’s wrist, like he’s afraid that Shiro’s going to bolt back to the bar to start fighting like a dumbass alpha.

Shiro swallows the whine lodged in his throat.

Keith huffs. “You’ve been acting weird all week… What’s wrong?” His scent turns to thorns, worry and frustration prickly out all at once. “I thought it was just about Slav or school stress but it’s— what’s gotten into you?”

Shiro stays rooted to the spot, unsure how to respond to that. The answer seems obvious. He can’t imagine that Keith hasn’t realized it. They stare at one another, Keith’s eyes never leaving his.

“Shiro…?” Keith’s voice goes a touch softer at that, his concern outweighing his alarm at Shiro’s behavior.

Keith is so good. Keith is perfect.

It takes a moment of struggling before Shiro can find his words, can think of anything beyond simply Keith.

“Can’t you smell it?” he says, ducking his head, embarrassment burning through him. “Keith… I’m in rut.”

A still quiet meets Shiro’s words. He holds his breath, waiting for Keith’s disgust, for his realization, for the words to ruin everything. It’ll snap everything into focus, he’s sure, all of Shiro’s creepy, jealous, possessive, stupid behavior.

And then Keith growls. The hand around Shiro’s wrist twitches and then shifts down, seizing Shiro by the hand just as Keith turns and starts walking again, dragging Shiro after him.

“Keith—?”

“I,” Keith says through gritted teeth, his jaw clenched, “am taking you back to your damn apartment. What the hell are you doing walking around if you’re in a rut, Shiro? You know better than that!”

“I—” Shiro flounders, blushing up to his ears as Keith drags him bodily down the street. He’s stunned as Keith glares at anyone who gets too close, baring his fangs. Keith’s growls are ferocious. Shiro is helpless and a little bit further in love as he’s dragged along behind him.

“I’m taking you home and you’re staying there,” Keith snaps, sounding winded and just a little heartbroken. “Honestly, Shiro, what are you thinking?” The last part sounds punched out of him and Shiro whines, unsure what exactly he’s done wrong to earn Keith’s disappointment and disapproval. “I’m not letting you wander around like this— so you can fight any alpha that looks at you funny or scent any omega that comes near you.”

“I wouldn’t—”

Keith shoots him a look over his shoulder and Shiro snaps his mouth shut. Worry squirms in his gut, his brain lodging on those last words. Any omega, any omega—

No, that’s not right. He wouldn’t.

“Keith, really, I’m—”

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Keith interrupts.

Shiro flounders. “I— I wasn’t sure if it was actually that. I didn’t mean to keep it from you. I mean it.”

He digs his heels in the ground, stopping them in their tracks. He tugs his hand gently, waiting until Keith turns back to look at him with a sigh.

“Keith,” Shiro says quietly. He’s vividly aware of how Keith grips his hand, unrelenting and earnest. “I mean it… I— I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to act weird these last few days.”

“We can talk about it when I get you home,” Keith says and the words aren’t honeyed in the least but it still shocks a shiver down Shiro’s spine. Keith’s scent is all spike and thorn, his distress coloring all else.

Shiro’s displeased him.

“Okay,” Shiro murmurs, any remaining fighting draining from him. He stares at their hands as they start walking again. He’s unwilling to look away. He doesn’t want to risk asking Keith if he’s planning on staying once they get back to his den, all his alpha instincts insisting that he make a nest good enough to entice Keith to stay.

Keith was there just a couple days ago but suddenly Shiro doesn’t know if it’ll be good enough. He doesn’t have any food prepared. He hasn’t vacuumed. Did he remember to fluff the couch cushions up? Is his bed good enough for Keith to feel relaxed on it? Would the scent of Shiro saturated throughout his apartment let Keith relax, sprawled out on the blankets, warm and open for him? Would Keith even want to be in his bed—

Shiro locks the thoughts back up again, trying to focus on the grounding touch of Keith’s hand. Keith is his friend. His best friend. He has to stop thinking about Keith like this, like he’s his mate. He isn’t. No matter how much Shiro might wish it, he simply isn’t. His blood roars through his veins, the rut twisting all his feelings up in his heart.

 

-

 

Keith shoves Shiro down onto the couch as soon as they’re in his apartment. Shiro goes down without protest, feeling the chill of Keith’s absence as he steps away, leaving Shiro bereft. He just wants to hold Keith, to curl around him, to press his mouth against his neck and hold himself there.

“What supplies do you have?” Keith calls from the kitchen, his question punctuated with the sound of opening and closing cupboards. “Do you have enough food to last you the weekend? Blankets? Uh…” Shiro hears Keith flounder, then the quiet murmur of, And the… other stuff…?

Shiro stands from the couch and wanders into the kitchen, watching Keith hunt through his measly supplies. No, he doesn’t have a lot in way of prep— he wasn’t expecting his rut for at least two more months.

Shiro watches Keith in silence for a breath, then says, “A rut isn’t like a heat, Keith. I don’t need to make a nest unless it’s for a mate.”

Keith sniffs, although Shiro isn’t sure if it’s a dismissive gesture or scenting the air. He’s setting out Shiro’s Tupperware on the counter like he’s debating meal-prepping for him right then and there.

He gives Shiro a withering look. “Call the school. Put in your sick leave.”

Shiro fumbles to find his phone and do as Keith commands. It’s an automated system, the number saved in his phone for emergencies. He navigates through the recorded voice prompting him to hit the proper numbers, inputting his student ID and his requested days-off due to rut-sickness. It’s over in a few minutes without him having to speak to another human. He disconnects the call and looks at Keith with wide eyes, waiting for the reassurance that he did it right.

“Keith,” Shiro says as he steps closer. “You don’t have to take care of me. I know I’m putting you out…”

Keith glares at him, his shoulders hitched up towards his ears. “You don’t want me here?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Keith sniffs again, returning to his organizing. There’s the bag of rice on the counter and Keith’s muttering something about congee to himself as he kneels before Shiro’s fridge, organizing his easy-to-grab snacks to the front of the shelves. The gesture is appreciated, small as it is. It’s earnest in its own way, heartfelt. That’s Keith.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me,” Keith says again as he slams the fridge door shut. He stands, hands on his hips. Though he’s mostly glaring at Shiro as he says it, Shiro can see the hurt pinching the corners of his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Shiro says. “I didn’t know.”

Keith grunts, rubbing at his neck in a nervous gesture. He smells less like Shiro now and more like distressed omega, and the realization hits Shiro hard in the gut. Before he’s even fully aware he’s doing it, his instincts push him forward and he steps closer towards Keith.

Keith blinks at him in surprise as Shiro looms near. His hand lifts and presses to Shiro’s chest, stilling him gently and effortlessly before he gets too near. “Hey,” Keith says, voice softer now as he takes in his expression. “Let’s get you into bed, okay? Resting and all that… And I can, um. Leave you to it.”

“Are you staying?” Shiro asks, when what he really means is, Please stay with me.

Keith gives him a funny look. “… I’m not sure if that’s a great idea, Shiro.”

The rejection is a stab in Shiro’s gut. He can’t even swallow back his low whine. Keith’s expression splinters and Shiro turns away, padding towards his bedroom. He misses the touch of Keith’s hand on his chest, barely-there and restraining though it might have been. Maybe he can just sleep this rut off and die of embarrassment about all of this later. He’ll need to apologize to so many people in the cohort. Keith most of all. Most importantly.

“Wait,” Keith says quietly, his hand reaching out to catch Shiro’s. He looks up at him, his eyes wide. “Talk to me, Shiro. Tell me what you need.”

Shiro shakes his head, unsure how to answer that properly. The longing he always feels, the way he yearns for Keith, feels magnified. There’s one thing he needs. Desperately. And he knows he can’t say it.

“Shiro?” Keith asks in a low murmur. “Come on… Let me help. I know how hard these things can hit. Whatever you need…”

Shiro shakes his head again, staring down at where Keith’s hand grips his. Their hands look good together, he thinks with no small amount of longing. Keith’s fingers are slim but he’s always been so strong. His hand looks warm against the metal of Shiro’s prosthesis.

“Hey,” Keith whispers, stepping closer. Shiro realizes he’s letting loose a low, pained whine. He snaps it quiet as Keith steps into his space. His free hand lifts, touching Shiro’s shoulder. He stares up at him, his eyes full of concern. “Hey,” he says again. “It’s okay, Big Guy. I’m here.”

Shiro imagines what it’d be like, if he could call Keith his. He’d draw him close, nuzzling against his neck and smothering him in his scent. He’d spoon against Keith as they watched TV. He’d kiss him and kiss him and kiss him. He’d wrap his hands around his waist and draw him close, laying worship to every sound Keith might make for him.

His apartment would always smell like Keith. Because it would be theirs. He’d smell like Keith. Keith would smell like him.

He’s never wanted anything so much in his life. He didn’t realize it was possible to want someone this much, this cosmically, this eternally.

“I’m not used to seeing you like this,” Keith says absently. “All this week. No wonder you looked like you wanted to fight everybody who got near you.”

“Near you,” Shiro corrects before he can think better of it.

Keith frowns up at him. “Me?”

“The people who flirt with you.”

“People don’t—” Keith cuts himself off, shaking his head. Keith stares at him, understanding dawning. “You asked me if it bothered me before, but… Does it… bother you?”

Shiro wilts, his shoulders rounding out. The question is an innocent one, but it feels like damnation to admit to it. He can’t exactly lie, either, can’t pretend that Keith doesn’t matter infinitely to him. Keith should know how precious he is, how much he’s cherished.

“I don’t— I don’t own you or anything. It’s not like I’m your Alpha. And even if I was,” he says, the words tumbling out of him, “you could still do whatever you wanted. I just— I just…”

“Shiro?” Keith looks stunned. He sounds hushed.

“They don’t deserve you,” Shiro says helplessly.

Keith frowns deeper, his fingers twitching against Shiro’s shoulder. He doesn’t move away though. He just breathes in slow, his chest rising and then falling again with his exhale. Shiro watches him, his eyes sweeping over him.

“You’re jealous.”

There’s no sense in denying it. Shiro rumbles in agreement.

Keith breathes out again. “I can’t believe it.”

“Why is it hard to believe?” Shiro asks. “I don’t like it when they flirt with you. I don’t like it when they touch you.”

Keith shakes his head. He doesn’t seem to have an answer to the question but Shiro doesn’t press it. He’s too distracted looking at the way Keith’s fingers curl and uncurl around Shiro’s. He doesn’t let go. He doesn’t draw away.

“I don’t like it when people flirt with you, either,” Keith says after a stilted pause. “Or touch you.”

“People don’t,” Shiro says. Not really. Not much anymore, at least. He heard an omega in their class whispering to his friend once— Takashi Shirogane is friendly but unapproachable. People learned early on that he wasn’t the most receptive to their advances. He was an alpha many people found attractive and yet few ever bothered to approach.

Maybe they all clocked into the fact that he’s in love with Keith and knew better than to bother. Maybe they saw him for what he was— a pretty face, but not much else. A dumb alpha who can’t even act normal around his best friend.

“They definitely do,” Keith mumbles and then sighs. He steps away from Shiro, but tugs him along with him before Shiro can start whining over the separation. “Let’s get you to bed.”

Shiro digs his heels in, though. “Keith.”

Keith stops obediently, turning again to look up at him. His eyes are bright and maybe a little too glassy. Shiro puzzles over it, his instincts flaring to life. Protect Keith. Reassure Keith.

He tugs on their hands and Keith trips forward. He doesn’t protest as Shiro folds around him, holding him tight. It puts Keith’s face pressed against his neck and Shiro can feel the dark stamp of his breath against his skin. It makes him shiver.

“I don’t understand what you want from me,” Keith says in a little voice. With Shiro’s arms around him, he can feel the way Keith trembles.

Shiro makes a soft sound of distress, an inquisitive croon for his mate.

Keith buries his face further against Shiro’s neck and takes a shaky, lopsided breath. He’s so close to scenting Shiro, he realizes, and it burns through him. All he wants is for Keith to do it. Suddenly he can’t think of anything he wants more than that. To be surrounded by Keith, marked by him. Welcomed. To claim him.

He needs to get ahold of himself.

He doesn’t draw away.

“You keep…” Keith trails off, his voice hitching. “I don’t know what you want.” He pushes back from Shiro, staring up at him with bright eyes. “Shiro,” he says. “What do you want?”

“You.”

The word sighs out of him before he can swallow it back. But even as it leaves him, Shiro can’t regret the truth of it. He watches Keith’s eyes widen, the unexpected, involuntary chirp that punches out of him. His scent turns less spike and rounds out in surprise, swelling over Shiro like a wave cresting.

Shiro murmurs a low, encouraging growl at him, but Keith doesn’t return it. He bites his lip instead, shaking his head. “You’re in your rut,” he says quietly. “Of course you’d want an omega.”

“No,” Shiro says. He catches Keith’s hand, tangling their fingers together. He was right— it does look perfect, the weaving of dark metal and warm skin. “Not an omega, Keith. You.”

Keith makes the softest hiccup of a sound and stares at him. He’s quiet for so long, so still, that Shiro begins to worry that he’s made him uncomfortable. He sniffs the air, trying to uncover hints from their scents mingling between them.

Keith makes a little sound of distress. “When you scented me the other day, but nothing else, I— I didn’t know what that meant.” He looks away. “And then you kept talking about how someone would really like me someday, but—”

“Keith—”

With another shake of his head, Keith keeps looking away. His eyes glance over their fingers tangled together before flickering back up at Shiro. Shiro holds himself still, unrelenting but unwilling to push too hard. He can let Keith come to him. He can be patient. His instincts roar at him but, in this, he can be patient— it’s worth getting it right.

Never in a million years would Shiro have imagined having this conversation with Keith like this.

“You want me?” Keith asks in a little voice, like he can’t quite fathom that as the truth.

Shiro doesn’t hesitate. He squeezes Keith’s hand tight and chuffs quietly. “Yes, Keith.”

He’s not sure how he can explain it further. He’s spent months, years, imagining all the poetry he’d whisper to Keith if he were ever to reach this point. All the reasons why he loves Keith. All the reasons for how amazing Keith is. All the ways that Shiro isn’t worthy of him but how he’ll try, every day, to make sure that he is. All the thoughts are gone from him now, replaced instead with the perfect swirl of Keith’s scent, the beautiful shade of his eyes.

He’s so beautiful and he’s looking at him like he might cry.

He steps forward then, moving easily into Shiro’s space. He leans up, snuffling against Shiro’s neck, and then licks one wet stripe up his throat. It makes Shiro groan, his entire body going rigid at the feeling of it, at the sensation of Keith marking him with his scent.

Keith chirps quietly, a soft invitation, and Shiro goes to him. He engulfs him, arms sweeping over him, and he ducks his head to nuzzle at his jaw and down his neck. Keith does the same, whimpering once as he rubs his cheek against Shiro’s neck. Their scents bloom between them— Keith’s that perfect honeyed sweetness and Shiro’s thick with his rut, nearly overpowering but tangled with pleasure.

They stand like that for a long moment, Shiro’s arms tight around Keith. Keith rubs his cheek against Shiro’s neck, and chirps quietly when Shiro does the same, mouthing at his throat.

“Come on,” Keith murmurs, nudging at his shoulders. He doesn’t draw away from Shiro but instead leads him backwards, step by step, towards Shiro’s bedroom.

Something thrills inside Shiro’s gut and he drops his hands to cup Keith’s hips, letting himself be guided. He doesn’t even really appreciate the fact that it’s Keith inside his room— for all the times Keith’s visited his apartment, he’s very rarely stepped into Shiro’s bedroom itself— until the back of his knees hits the bed and he drops down, pulling Keith with him into his lap.

Keith goes easily, settling there, his legs bracketing Shiro’s hips. He looks good like that, his hands touching Shiro’s shoulders and then sliding down absently, fingertips keying along Shiro’s collarbones.

Keith’s face is a pretty pink, his cheeks flushed, his lips parted, his eyes sweeping over Shiro. Shiro watches him in silence, letting Keith drink him in, memorizing the unguarded, flourishing way that Keith just looks at him. Looks at him like he’s wanted, too.

When their eyes meet, Keith smiles at Shiro. His hands lift, brushing his hair away from his face, cupping his cheeks. “Is this helping?”

“You always help me, Keith,” Shiro says in a low murmur.

Keith smiles wider and tilts his head to the side, exposing the delicate line of his neck. Shiro takes the invitation, leaning in to nuzzle at Keith. He focuses on the perfect feeling of it, the way his scent lays out across his skin. He keeps it simple for only a few moments before he turns his head and presses his mouth back to Keith’s neck, his lips and tongue laving over Keith’s skin.

Keith makes a breathless sound, his back arching like a bow. His fingers dig deep against Shiro’s shirt, all twisted up. He makes the most amazing sounds, Shiro thinks, as he sucks on a spot at Keith’s neck. It makes Keith groan a low chirp, his body thrumming. Shiro cups Keith’s waist, keeping him there in his lap. He can feel all the ways Keith flexes and shifts and it feels good, too good.

Shiro’s fangs scrape against Keith’s skin just once, mouthing his way down his neck. Keith already smells like him, but Shiro doesn’t want to stop. It settles that primal need in his gut, that urge to claim Keith. The more he does this, the more his brain feels fuzzy, the rut settling in now that he has someone to direct his focus.

Shiro nips playfully at Keith’s neck and Keith trills. Shiro’s response is immediate, a deep groan he can’t swallow back, and he does it again. He bites at Keith’s neck, swiping his tongue over his skin in an absentminded promise and apology, holding Keith tight as he trembles in his lap.

“Shiro,” Keith whispers, far too breathless.

And Shiro can’t stop himself from reacting to that. He feels his cock go half-hard as he does this to Keith. It’s just the simple act of covering Keith in his scent, of scent marking him, of having Keith so close— breathing shakily, trembling in his arms, sitting in his lap. It’s everything Shiro could have dreamed when he imagined holding Keith in his arms.

With Keith sitting in his lap, it’s impossible for him not to notice Shiro’s reaction. When Keith trills again and it makes Shiro’s cock twitch, he feels Keith shift and freeze up. The little thorn in his scent makes Shiro grumble, instincts dictating that he protect Keith. He growls low, lips pressed to Keith’s neck.

“Y- you’re…” Keith murmurs, fingers curling in Shiro’s hair tight enough to guide his face back so that he can look at Shiro properly. Shiro almost protests but relents, letting Keith tug on his hair. It makes him shiver.

“Yeah,” he says, his voice far too husky. “Sorry.”

“No! No… don’t be sorry,” Keith says, his face bright red. “I just— didn’t expect that.”

Shiro looks at him flatly. “I’m in rut, Keith.”

“I know that,” Keith grumbles, somehow blushing brighter. “I just… It’s me.

Shiro makes a questioning rumble. “Of course it’s you.”

Keith laughs then, a punched-out sound that doesn’t feel like Keith’s regular laugh.

Shiro rumbles again, his hands slipping up Keith’s sides, fingertips tracing his ribs. “You have no idea how much I want you, Keith. How much you mean to me.”

Keith stills, like the words have taken him by surprise. He blinks at Shiro, looking small in the dark light of Shiro’s room. His fingers flex and unflex against Shiro’s shoulders, then curl around his shirt again and hold tight.

“… How much do I mean to you?” Keith asks tentatively.

“Everything,” Shiro says, his response immediate.

He tugs Keith in closer, leaning up enough to press his forehead against Keith’s, his eyes burning as he stares at him. His instincts roar for more, to push Keith down, to cover him, to worship him. It’s a struggle to say the words not because they’re untrue, but because his mind doesn’t know how to summon the language.

His voice is husky, far too quiet and strained, when he growls, “I love you, Keith.”

Oh,” Keith gasps, the sound instinctive and from deep within him. Keith’s eyes go glassy and he has to duck his head away, rubbing the heel of his palm over his face. “Fuck, I didn’t think— I.”

Instead of completing the thought, Keith sucks in a sharp breath and then dives at Shiro, smashing his mouth against Shiro’s. He trills quietly at the connection, throwing his arms around Shiro’s neck and clinging tight.

Shiro’s quick to respond. He cups his hands over Keith’s back and drags him in, kissing him like he’s always imagined, like he’s never been able to before. If scenting Keith was good, this is bliss. Keith opens to him, trilling sweetly as Shiro kisses him slow and sensual. In this, even in rut, he can be patient— Keith deserves to be treated kindly, to know just how wanted he is. All his instincts focus on this: giving Keith exactly what he deserves.

The kiss turns sloppy, Keith all tongue and lips, his nails pricking against the back of Shiro’s neck as he keeps him there. He breathes out harshly against Shiro’s mouth, nearly panting, and keens quietly when Shiro bites at his lip.

Their scents bloom together, filling the room with desire. Even beneath the stink of his rut, Shiro can smell the ways his scent weaves with Keith. He can smell Keith in his room and knows it will linger for far longer, driving him mad every time he comes here to sleep.

Keith’s lips are soft against his, pillowing at Shiro’s mouth. When Keith growls and grips him tighter, licking into his mouth, Shiro can’t help his approving groan. That seems to fuel Keith onward, growling again triumphantly as he sucks on Shiro’s bottom lip. His fangs scrape against his mouth and it feels good.

Shiro doesn’t know how long they kiss like that, never even pulling back to breathe, instead panting against their open mouths before deepening the kiss again, Keith’s breath just another stamp of possession against Shiro’s skin. It’s all he wants. He growls approvingly whenever Keith comes closer and whimpers when he dares to lean back again. It’s easy to chase after Keith, though. When Keith quiets, it only takes Shiro licking into his mouth to get him to purr again.

The sounds are as addictive as tasting Keith. Shiro maps out what Keith likes that way, listening for the chirps and trills, for the soft gasps of his breath and the barely swallowed-back groans. Keith likes it when Shiro pauses to kiss the corners of his mouth, chaste and sweet, before cupping the back of his head to guide him forward, to put him in the position Shiro wants him. He likes biting Shiro’s mouth until Shiro opens for him, chirping his approval when Shiro anticipates what Keith wants. He responds to each of Shiro’s groans with his own.

And when Keith squirms closer in his lap, Shiro knows just how much Keith’s been enjoying it. He can feel the swell of his cock through his jeans, the small bulge impossible to ignore.

It’s that feeling that makes Shiro finally break the kiss, panting. He must look wild. It’s how Keith looks, his hair a mess, his lips kiss-swollen, his eyes burning. He growls low in protest when Shiro doesn’t immediately dive back in to kiss him.

“You’re hard,” Shiro says and he barely recognizes his own voice for how deep it’s gone.

Keith nods, looking somehow both embarrassed and delighted about it. “… Kind of impossible not to be, Shiro.”

Shiro rumbles his approval, his eyes dragging down over Keith. He looks good in his lap, flushed and relaxed, smelling like Shiro.

“Do… do you want to…?” Keith asks in a little voice, his hand slipping down the front of Shiro’s shirt and resting at his stomach. The touch is still way too far away from his cock to give any real relief, but the very prospect that Keith might touch him makes his hips snap up just a little. He’s fully hard now, has been for minutes, and all he wants is to show Keith how much he’s wanted.

“I should— we should—”

“What?” Keith prompts when words fail Shiro.

Coherent thoughts feel too hard to grasp onto. Shiro struggles for a moment, trying to put his thoughts to words, his fingertips tracing along Keith’s ribs, the perfect flat expanse of his stomach. He’s so strong. So pretty. Shiro wants to lick every line of his body.

He forces himself to focus.

“We shouldn’t… do this the first time when I’m in rut,” Shiro manages to force out, although everything inside him screams at the thought of stopping, of denying himself his mate. “So… you know I mean it.”

“Shiro,” Keith says, hushed. He smiles, something secretive and sweet. “I know you mean it. It’s you. You wouldn’t— just lie about something like that, no matter how horny you are.” He bites his lip, looking at him with eyes that are fire-bright. “You… you said you love me.”

“I do.”

Keith beams then, not even bothering to swallow back his delighted trill. The sound hushes through Shiro, his heart twisted up and his stomach flipping. He lifts his hands to touch Keith’s face, cupping his cheeks, and Keith smiles at him— wobbly and sweet and overwhelmed.

“I love you,” Shiro says in a quiet murmur. He swipes his thumbs absently across Keith’s cheeks, although there are no tears to catch this time.

“Yeah,” Keith whispers, his voice as wobbly as his smile. He lifts his hand, curling his fingers gently over Shiro’s wrist. It puts his fingers so close to the scent gland there and it makes Shiro whimper. Keith smiles. “And I know, no matter how bad a rut is, you’d never say that if you didn’t mean it. Not to me. Right?”

“Right,” Shiro says. “Never, Keith.”

Keith laughs. He ducks his head, ears pink. Shiro wants to bite them. He watches Keith turn his head, pressing his lips to the tendons of Shiro’s wrist, the sweetest kiss Shiro’s ever seen. His smile is infectious, like he can’t even smother it down. Shiro’s answering smile feels weightless.

“I guess this explains why you got all weird at people talking to me this week,” Keith says against his skin, drawing back to look at him again.

It makes Shiro wilt, just a little. He’s not ashamed of it, not when it means it’s brought him to this moment with his mate, but he’s still a little embarrassed. “Sorry.”

Keith shakes his head, though. He squirms in Shiro’s lap, hands fidgeting where one still rests against Shiro’s stomach, the other gripping his wrist.

“I don’t mind,” Keith says quietly. He looks at him, his smile only partially shy. “… I kind of like it. Now that I know it’s— it’s a rutting alpha thing and not you being stressed out.”

Shiro stares at him, unsure how to process those words.

Keith fumbles, his cheeks blazing red. “The— it’s a compliment. The possessiveness, you know? I mean, a little. You’re not being creepy about it.” He looks at him and smiles. “Makes me feel like you really want me.”

“I do,” Shiro says immediately. He can’t stress that enough. He’ll need to say it over and over again when he’s not in his rut brain.

Keith’s hand lifts, cupping Shiro’s cheek, thumb swiping gently. His smile is delicate, like he’s afraid to accept it fully. But Keith knows Shiro. He trusts Shiro. He must know that Shiro wouldn’t say anything just for the sake of bedding an omega. Keith isn’t just anyone, he’s Keith.

“So you can, uh… make me yours, I guess,” Keith says with a little laugh. His fingers trace over Shiro’s belly and down. It’s barely a ghost of a touch, just his fingertips brushing over the bulge in Shiro’s pants, but it makes Shiro whimper. Keith’s eyes snap back up to him, seemingly delighted by the response.

Shiro jerks forward to kiss Keith again, sloppy and impatient this time. Keith chirps and kisses him back, rolling his hips forward so that it presses their cocks up against one another, separated only by their clothes. It makes them both groan and Keith shivers, clinging tight to Shiro.

“I don’t know what to do,” Shiro confesses when they draw back from the kiss again. Instincts can only take him so far, in the end.

Keith laughs, a soft, disbelieving sound. “You think I know, either?”

“Hm.”

Keith chuckles at the sound, petting his fingers through Shiro’s hair. There’s a nervous energy to his scent, but he isn’t shying away from Shiro. His mate is brave, Shiro thinks. His mate is perfect.

Shiro goes to him then, his hands falling to touch at Keith’s side. Keith breathes in, his chest swelling, and he shivers beneath Shiro’s palms. With careful gentleness, Shiro drags his hands up over Keith’s sides, taking the shirt with him until he slowly draws it up and over his chest. Keith silently lifts his arms over his head, holding his breath as Shiro drags the shirt off entirely. Keith’s hair goes spilling around his shoulders and his eyes are wide and bright as he looks at Shiro.

He’s never been more beautiful. Shiro makes a soft sound at the thought of it, a low rumbling that blooms in his chest. Keith shivers again, his eyes dipping down and splaying his sooty eyelashes across his blushing cheeks.

“I’ve never, um…” Keith says, trailing off for a moment. He clears his throat as he looks back up at Shiro. “I haven’t done this before.”

“Me neither,” Shiro answers. “Not really.”

Keith blinks at him and his lips hint at a shadow of a smile. He shifts closer, fingers curling around the hem of Shiro’s shirt and holding tight. Shiro gets the distinct impression that Keith is pleased even before he feels the flood of Keith’s honeyed scent— delighted, relieved, and just a little smug.

“Just me, huh?” Keith asks in a low murmur.

“Always you,” Shiro agrees. “Only you.”

It makes Keith blush further and he chirps, kissing Shiro quickly on the mouth. It’s just a soft peck and he darts away when Shiro chases him to deepen it again.

“Want to undress you,” Keith says as explanation, grabbing Shiro’s shirt and tugging. He yanks it off Shiro with far less fanfare than Shiro did for him. But it feels good to press chest-to-chest when Keith slumps forward, pressing a tentative kiss to his jaw, then nuzzling down his neck again, like Shiro still has spots left that don’t smell like Keith.

Shiro pets his fingers down Keith’s spine, feeling his bare skin. It feels good. Perfect, really. Everything about Keith is perfect.

“So we can, um… Figure it out together,” Keith says, his smile shy where it presses against Shiro’s skin.

Their touches are exploratory after that— fingertips sweeping over newly exposed skin. Shiro studies Keith, memorizing the perfect lines of his body. He’s seen Keith shirtless before— exercising at the gym, their usual runs, sometimes Keith just forgoes a shirt entirely— but it’s different in this context. Different now that he’s allowed to touch. And Keith’s hands on him feels good in turn.

And the sounds Keith makes are too good. When Shiro cups Keith’s cock through his pants, it makes him trill, his back arching and his breath punching out of him as a gasp.

“Shiro,” Keith whines and grinds forward against his hand, seeking that friction.

He pushes Shiro’s hand away when he goes to unsnap the button of his pants, though. Before Shiro’s rutting brain can take it as rejection, Keith reaches for him instead. He works loose Shiro’s belt and undoes the button and zipper, his hands fumbling in an eagerness to get Shiro naked.

Shiro lifts his hips up to accommodate Keith, letting him strip him down with little fanfare. He shimmies out of his boxer briefs, inching them down his hips enough for Keith to grasp and yank off entirely. It is, in the end, shockingly easy to get him naked.

He lets Keith look, preening a little when Keith inhales a short breath. Keith’s eyes sweep over him, skirting down the flat expanse of his stomach, the cut of his hips, the splay of his thighs where Keith sits, and his cock hard and curving against his belly.

“Fuck,” Keith breathes and reaches for him. His hand curling around Shiro’s cock is bliss, good enough that Shiro forgets to focus on much of anything else. He immediately thrusts up against Keith’s fingers, his cock hard and aching. All he wants to do is bury himself in Keith, to spend hours taking Keith apart, filling him again and again, breeding him, knotting him—

Shiro ducks his head with a groan, mouthing at Keith’s bare shoulder. Keith chirps quietly in reassurance, nuzzling at Shiro’s ear. His fingers grip his cock and, slowly, stroke down. In this, too, he’s exploratory— taking his time to touch Shiro, to stroke over him. Shiro wonders if this is the way Keith touches himself. If he’s learning the ways they’re similar in pleasure.

Keith,” Shiro whimpers.

“You’re so fucking big,” Keith mumbles, sounding shocked and absurdly delighted by that fact. He squeezes Shiro’s cock until he moans. He can hear the grin in Keith’s voice when he murmurs, “You feel good.”

“Keith…”

Keith hums happily, corkscrewing his hand as he lets Shiro fuck upward into his fingers. It’s nothing like sinking into Keith, to knotting him, but it’s a way to take the edge off. It feels good because it’s Keith— beautiful, perfect Keith in his lap, his pretty hand on Shiro’s cock, touching him. Shiro can feel his baser instincts demanding, but he can take his time. It’s worth taking his time if it means Keith’s happy, if he’s relaxed and here and wanting to be mated. If Keith wants to take care of him, then Shiro can let him do that.

“You,” Shiro rumbles, his voice husky as he reaches for Keith. This time, Keith doesn’t protest as Shiro undoes the zip of his jeans. He lifts up onto his knees long enough for Shiro to shuck them off him, squirming and wriggling until he can kick them off, forgotten wherever they fall on Shiro’s floor.

And Shiro drinks him in, staring at Keith as he settles on his knees. He doesn’t sink back onto Shiro’s thighs just yet, seemingly waiting for Shiro to take all of him in. His cock beads precome at the tip already, pressed against his belly, and when Shiro’s gaze slips further down, he sees what Keith must want to show him— the slick sheen slipping down his inner thighs, evidence of his readiness. Keith is wet, and with his clothes gone, it’s all Shiro can smell.

He groans, primal and needy and alpha, and Keith gasps when Shiro’s claws dig into his hips and yanks him back down into his lap, so that their cocks slide together, so that Shiro can feel the full expanse of Keith’s slick against his thighs.

“Shiro—”

But whatever Keith’s about to say gets cut off when Shiro’s fingers slip back and pass over him. Keith’s slick pools and he keens quietly when Shiro’s fingers play over him, feeling him. His hole opens easily to Shiro’s fingers even without him seeking to finger into him. His scent is intoxicating and Shiro nearly sees stars.

Shiro might say Keith’s name. He might groan some sort of praise. He isn’t sure. All he knows is that he’s sinking his fingers into Keith for the first time and Keith is arching against him, sighing sweetly through breathless trills. He looks beautiful, his hair tumbling from his face, his kiss-soft lips parted around his whimper.

And then, as if instinctive, Keith just rolls his hips back and fucks himself against Shiro’s fingers. He looks perfect like that, wild and feral alongside Shiro. They move in tandem, instincts guiding them, and it’s perfect— Shiro’s fingers spread inside Keith and Keith writhes against him, whimpering out. Shiro focuses on the sounds Keith makes to guide him, to know when to stroke his fingers along the inside of Keith’s body, when to spread or to thrust, when to tease, when to fill him. Keith’s thighs tremble as he rocks his body against him in turn.

If he weren’t in a rut, Shiro thinks he’d tease more. He’d spend hours just working Keith open, licking into him, tasting him. He wants to taste every inch of his body, to swallow Keith’s cock with a smile, humming his approval when it drives Keith wild. He wants to learn all the things Keith likes, all the things Keith wants to do with him.

Later, maybe. For now, his rut demands one thing. His fingers slip from inside Keith as easily as they entered, shifting to grip Keith’s hip and guide him forward. Keith seems to understand what instincts drive them, too, because his hand drops to touch Shiro’s cock again, curling around the base so that he can guide it to the right position. Even in this, Shiro thinks with rumbling pride, they work perfectly together.

Keith takes his cock and guides it to his hole, the glistening head of it smearing through the wetness there. It makes them both moan, their voices hitching, and it feels so good that Shiro nearly wants to weep for it.

Keith angles his hips back and sinks down. When just the head of his cock slips in, it makes Shiro shudder. He grips tight to Keith’s hips, trusting his mate to take what he wants, to give them both what they need.

“Yeah,” Keith pants. “Yeah, Shiro. You feel good. You—”

It’s overwhelming when Keith sinks down into his lap fully, to be fit so snug within Keith. They both shudder through it, Keith’s claws sinking in against Shiro’s shoulders. He bites his lip to swallow a whimper.

“Shiro,” Keith whines, the sound primal and needy.

Shiro bites at his neck and then kisses his jaw, moving until they’re pressed forehead to forehead. Keith smiles at him, chirping sweetly. It feels good like this, though. Like they were meant to fit together in this way.

Keith is all around him, surrounding him, and when he clenches experimentally around Shiro’s cock, he nearly cries. Shiro shudders, his cock pulsing, and it makes Keith groan in turn.

“Should we—”

“Don’t move,” Shiro says, his breathing too punched-out. “Just— stay. Like this. Want to feel you.”

He doesn’t know where the urge for it comes, but he gives into it. Maybe a proper rutting alpha would want to fuck and fuck and fuck and not stop. But Shiro stills in this moment, holding steady. It feels too good to ignore it. He wants, for a moment, just this with Keith. Just the two of them, connected. He wants this feeling forever, suspended, the two of them as close as they possibly can be. Not because of Shiro’s knot locked in place, but because they choose it. Because they want it. He holds Keith in his arms, infinite and precious, and doesn’t want the moment to end.

Keith slumps forward, burying his face against Shiro’s neck, and nods mutely. He clings to him, squirming in his lap, inching Shiro’s cock deeper inside him. Shiro rumbles out a pleased gasp as Keith squeezes around him, tightening down on him.

“It’s okay?” Shiro asks. “Are you okay?”

Keith hums, pressing an absent kiss to Shiro’s neck. He trills quietly when Shiro nuzzles at his ear.

“You’re good,” Keith sighs. “Big.”

“Hm,” Shiro says, unwilling to apologize for it. He suspects that Keith isn’t complaining.

“I’m okay,” Keith says, clenching around Shiro’s cock again, adjusting to the size of him buried within him. He seems just as content to hold still with him, to simply feel where they’re connected.

They hold like that, breathing in one another’s space. Occasionally, Keith shifts and squirms, rocking his hips forward to nudge Shiro’s cock within him. Once, Keith reaches his hand down to feel at the base of Shiro’s cock, where his knot will eventually inflate and plug him. But it seems Keith’s more exploring the spot where Shiro’s cock disappears inside him, wet and open and clenched around him. Keith’s hole is stretched wide, accommodating Shiro’s thick cock, and the pooling of slick between them guides the way. The featherlight touch of his fingers makes Shiro shudder, instinctively fucking upward.

It makes Keith gasp, rocking his hips down to grind against him. It leaves them both panting and whimpering, chasing their pleasure. Shiro’s hips stutter in little jerks while Keith rolls his body down, grinding against him. The pleasure builds between them, both of them clinging, groaning the other’s name, and it feels good, too good, so good, infinitely good—

“Keith,” Shiro moans. He reaches for Keith, his fingers closing around the perfect handful of Keith’s cock.

“Fuck!” Keith shouts at the sudden touch, fucking forward. His hips jerk involuntarily, his body fluttering and clenching around the cock buried inside him, and when he comes, it takes them both by surprise.

Shiro doesn’t pause, though. He milks Keith through it, stroking his fingers over his cock without sense of rhythm or technique. He gives his mate what he wants, mesmerized by the way Keith looks when he comes— the clench of his eyes, the way his mouth flops open with his surprised gasp, the perfect flush of his cheeks.

And the way his body responds, too. He clenches around Shiro’s cock, his body fluttering and pulsing, like he’s trying to milk Shiro dry, too, like he’s trying to coax him to knot. It takes all of Shiro’s restraint not to come there, too. He wants it to last, although he doesn’t know why— wants to see Keith’s pleasure, first. To give him what he needs. Everything he deserves.

Shiro knows now just how far down Keith’s blush goes, flooding down his chest and nipples. He leans in to kiss Keith’s bobbing throat as he stops riding against Shiro’s cock. Come streaks his stomach and dribbles down Shiro’s clenched fingers. When Shiro thumbs at the cockhead, it makes Keith whimper, slumping forward.

“Fuck, sorry,” Keith mumbles, embarrassment swirling through his sex-drunk scent. “You surprised me.”

Shiro chuffs a little scoff. His only real response is to lift his hand and lick it clean, making sure Keith sees him do so. He smiles at him, probably looking smug, and Keith shudders.

He waits until Keith’s breathing returns to normal before he leans in to kiss him. Keith sighs sweetly and melts against him, kissing him back sloppily. Shiro likes the sensation of it, of how boneless Keith goes after coming. He’s sweet and relaxed, purring gently as he kisses Shiro. It’s the sweetest sound in the world and it’s all Shiro’s.

“Keith,” Shiro whispers, voice soft against Keith’s lips.

Keith trills quietly in question.

Shiro draws back enough to meet his eyes, holding his gaze for a moment and holding still, trembling with the feeling of Keith all around him, the perfect weight of him in his lap, the drape of his arms over his shoulders, the warm heat of him encasing Shiro. He wants to drown in Keith. He wants to be lost in him forever.

“You’re— everything to me,” he says, taking care to say the words clearly, to make sure Keith knows he’s lucid. “You’re it for me.”

Keith stares at him only for a moment before the low, possessive growl curls out of him and he lurches forward, cupping the back of Shiro’s head and kissing him sloppily. He licks into Shiro’s mouth with a low whine, his fangs dragging across Shiro’s bottom lip. He squirms closer, clinging to Shiro like he wants to be as close as he possibly can.

He’s warm against him, his body clenching around Shiro’s cock, warm and wet and welcoming to him. It makes Shiro shudder, his hand flexing tight against Keith’s hip.

“Me too,” Keith whispers when they part again, Keith’s eyes glassy and soft in the dim light of Shiro’s room. “M… me too, Shiro.”

Shiro’s fingers lift, tracing over his jaw, thumb ghosting across Keith’s kiss-swollen lip. He touches him, memorizing him in this moment— the brightness of his eyes, the gentle curve of his smile. Hopeful and sweet. He never wants to forget this moment.

“It’s— it’s not just because of the rut,” Shiro says. “I promise.”

Keith catches his hand, pressing a kiss to each fingertip. “I know. I know you.” He leans forward then, kissing Shiro gently on the mouth, the two of them lingering close as they breathe each other in. “Shiro,” Keith sighs against his lips, tipping forward to press his forehead to his. “Shiro…”

It feels overwhelming in its own small way, less with pleasure and more with something deeper. Something soul-deep and connective between them, joyous and instinctive. Shiro loves the feeling of it, loves to think that Keith knows. He can’t imagine why he was ever afraid of saying anything to him.

They hold each other like that, simply cradling each other. It feels good, the way it always feels good to be with Keith. He knows Keith understands. Keith has always understood him. He presses a kiss to his forehead and chuffs happily.

It makes Keith huff a breath, overwhelmed and sweet. And when he starts squirming in Shiro’s lap, that feels good, too. The pleasure builds between them. Keith pulses his hips up and down in little swivels. His cock is half-hard again, a remarkable testament to his stamina.

“Let me—” Keith says but swallows the words before they can fully form.

“What?” Shiro asks, stroking his hands up his sides. “Tell me what you want, Keith.”

“Want to feel you,” Keith says, kissing his smiling mouth. “Want you.”

“Yeah,” Shiro whispers, panting. “Yeah, Keith. Take what you want—”

Keith’s hands dig in against Shiro’s chest, nails kissing his skin, as he does just that. He pushes Shiro down onto his back and rides him, relentless in the rolling of his hips as he grinds down against him, soaking Shiro’s lap and keening quietly as he writhes.

He looks good like that, his stomach flexing with each move, his thighs bracing as he lifts himself up only to sink himself back down. His hair is a wild wave around him, strands stuck to his sweaty forward and kissing over his shoulders. Shiro’s hands flex against his hips, guiding him through it.

Keith hunches down, chirping quietly just before he ducks low enough to kiss Shiro. It shifts Shiro’s cock within him, leaving Keith a garbling mess against his lips. He shudders, rocking harder against Shiro, his cock sliding against Shiro’s stomach to seek that friction.

It doesn’t take long for Keith to come like that, whimpering happily as he spills out over Shiro’s body, staining his chest again. Shiro is sticky and sweaty and smells only of Keith. He’s never been happier, growling his pleasure as he licks into Keith’s panting mouth.

It’s easy for them to move like this. Keith gulps down breath as he slumps against Shiro, whimpering with each little movement. Shiro pets his hands down his back and over his ass, feeling the place where his cock disappears inside Keith, his hole stretched wide and wider still when Shiro pets his fingers over him.

He makes Keith come like that, focusing less on the urges of his rut and more on Keith’s pleasure, on laying worship to every inch of his skin. He feeds his cock into his body, letting Keith ride against it. He spreads Keith’s hole with his fingers, curling inside him until Keith comes shouting. He strokes his hand over his cock, letting Keith fuck into the circle of his fist, gasping and cursing and growling out Shiro’s name. When Keith grows tired of fucking against Shiro’s cock, Shiro rolls them over so that he presses down against Keith’s body, his legs parting and wrapping around Shiro’s hips, heels digging in tight against the small of his back.

Deep in his rut, all Shiro can focus on is Keith’s pleasure— on the flood of his scent all around him, on every perfect sound he makes, on the way he takes and takes from Shiro. Shiro’s pleasure feels secondary, less about breeding Keith and more about feeling him, of having him, of making him know that Shiro can be worthy of him.

When Keith hits his fourth orgasm, there’s no come that dribbles down Shiro’s fingers. He’s milked dry, shuddering and pulsing around Shiro, his hole fluttering and clamping down tight against Shiro’s cock.

Shiro growls loudly, all his self-restraint focused on Keith, on not coming yet, on simply feeling the perfect heat of his body.

“F- fuck,” Keith moans and there’s no mistaking his pleasure.

Shiro rumbles happily, kissing Keith with unbearable sweetness. Keith shifts and squirms beneath him, his scent sex-bright and satiated, thick with Shiro’s own scent. If Keith smelled like Shiro before, it’s nothing in comparison to now. Shiro licks Keith’s lips, crooning happily when it makes Keith hiccup a laugh.

“Fuck,” Keith says again, cupping Shiro’s face. He smiles at him, looking sex-dazed and fucked-out. “Are you always like this or is this a rut thing?”

Shiro shrugs. He isn’t sure, but he can guess that he’ll never stop being delighted over having Keith in his bed. He nuzzles forward, nosing at Keith’s jaw and biting his ear, chuffing happily as he buries against Keith’s hair.

Keith chuckles, sounding dazed, and turns his head to kiss Shiro’s jaw. “Fuck me,” Keith laughs. “Why do I feel like I’m the one in heat here?”

Shiro chuffs again, tipping his head to the side to expose his neck and whimpers happily when Keith starts mouthing there without question, teeth and tongue dragging over his neck.

Shiro hopes he smells like Keith, too. He hopes it’s the only thing anyone will be able to smell on him for days.

“You’re so good, Shiro,” Keith whispers, petting his fingers over him. “You take care of me so well…”

Shiro chuffs again, delighted with the praise. He can feel his chest swell with instinctual pride, and it makes Keith laugh beneath him. He looks beautiful like that, hair fanned out around him, a wild, dark crown.

Words are hard, but Shiro manages it. “You too. You take care of me.”

Keith smiles at him, the expression heartfelt. He pets his fingers over Shiro, his thighs tight around his hips.

“Good, Keith?”

“You’re perfect,” Keith says. “I— I love you, Shiro.”

Shiro growls, the words sinking into him and bursting him open. He presses down against Keith, kissing him with all the love he can fathom, worshipping him. Keith opens to him, as he always does, and trills quietly when Shiro starts to fuck into him in earnest.

He sinks into Keith, overwhelmed, and this time he can’t fight the urge to come as it crests over him. He fucks into Keith, feeling the perfect clench and flex of Keith’s thighs as they lock in around his hips, and when he feels his knot swell, he follows that feeling, too— he strokes deeper and deeper into Keith, working him open, swallowing every gasp and trill.

He loses his pacing as his orgasm comes, forceful and intense, and he growls Keith’s name as he fucks into him with one last thrust and then feels his knot press against Keith to lock into place. Keith feels it, too, his thighs shuddering as he arches with a gasp, his eyes widening at the stretch.

Shiro whimpers as he shudders through his orgasm, filling Keith. He can feel the rush of his come, the way Keith meets him, body clenching around him as he milks him dry. He can’t thrust as the knot locks in, so he grinds instead, sunk deep into Keith and moaning for it.

Keith touches him wherever he can reach, purring absently as he settles beneath Shiro, shivering at the wide stretch of his body around the knot. They’ll be locked together for some time, but it feels good— intimate, perfect. Locked together.

Shiro licks the spot just beneath Keith’s jaw, his fangs teasing like he might bite down. Keith trills softly.

“Yeah,” Keith sighs. Shiro isn’t sure if it’s permission or something else, but settles for kissing and biting at his ear instead. It makes Keith chuckle, shoving at his shoulder. “Shiro…”

“Yeah?”

Keith hums and arches up, kissing him sweetly. “You feel good. You feel so good for me, Shiro.”

Shiro whines low in his throat and Keith grins at him, knowing exactly what the words must do for him. He strokes his fingers over Shiro’s jaw and over his cheek, fingertips tracing the arch of the scar over his nose.

“Do you feel good?” Keith asks him.

Shiro nods. “Keith…”

Keith chuckles at the response, slumping back into Shiro’s bed. He looks right at home like that, hair curling around him, the sheets a mess beneath him. Right at home, his rutting brain thinks triumphantly. Like he was always meant to be here with him.

“You’re so beautiful,” Shiro says, petting his fingers through Keith’s hair. “So beautiful. Inside and out, Keith. You’re perfect. You’re—”

“God, stop,” Keith says, laughing, his face bright red. He pushes at Shiro’s shoulder without any heat or force. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“Keith,” Shiro says. “You’re beaut—”

Keith kisses him silent, humming his acceptance of the words. Shiro mouths it against his lips anyway, endless praise that leaves Keith blushing and shivering. He bites Shiro’s bottom lip in protest and punishment when Shiro draws back again.

“You’re embarrassing,” Keith says, scent flooded with affection.

“You love me,” Shiro says, the words still wondering.

“I love you,” Keith echoes back and then grins. “And I only want you to think I’m beautiful, anyway.”

Shiro scoffs and it makes Keith laugh, fingers lifting to pet over Shiro’s face, brushing back the slick silver hair of his fringe.

“You’re mine,” Keith says. Then, quieter still: “All mine.”

“Yeah, Keith.” Shiro’s heart beats fast, soaring away from him. His. He’s Keith’s. “And you’re mine.”

Keith grins at him, omega fangs pointed and deadly and unbearably sweet. “Obviously.”

Shiro chuckles, relief washing through him.

“Does this mean you’ll start flirting with me now?” Keith asks with that same toothy grin.

Shiro kind of wants to lick his fangs. He blinks, focusing on the words themselves as they penetrate through his rut brain. “If you want…”

“Yeah,” Keith says, playing with Shiro’s hair still.

“I tried to,” Shiro says. Words are still hard, but this is important. “At the orientation barbeque. You shot me down.”

Keith’s brow crinkles. “What? You didn’t flirt with me.”

“I did,” Shiro says. He can remember that much, even with the rut making his brain fuzzy. He shifts a little, inching his knotted cock deeper into Keith. It makes them both groan, distracted for a moment. Shiro mumbles, “I’m— I’m not great at flirting. But I tried.”

Keith considers this and then groans, eyes clenching shut. “Am I really that bad at noticing these things?”

Shiro thinks of the scores of people— alpha, beta, omega, it didn’t matter— who have flirted with Keith over the past few years of knowing him and growls low in his throat.

Rather than alarming Keith, the response makes him laugh, eyes opening again and his fingertips tracing over Shiro’s lips. “Got it,” Keith says. “I’m bad at noticing it. I promise I’ll notice it if you flirt with me from now. I’ll even flirt back.”

Shiro nips at one of Keith’s fingers, satisfied. Keith chuckles again, the sound warm and husky, sinking into Shiro’s gut and making his cock stir again.

Keith notices. His laughter quiets into a small sigh and he starts squirming, swiveling his hips enough that Shiro’s cock starts to plump up again in earnest. If it felt good to be buried within Keith before, it’s nothing compared to hardening again already inside him, wet with his slick and Shiro’s come.

“You want to go again?” Keith asks, breathless.

Shiro nods and ducks down to catch his mouth with his. It’s different to fuck like this when Shiro’s still inside him, his knot still not fully down. It means short little nudges of thrusts, but they make it work. They move together, Shiro following Keith’s directed pace, and it feels good. Keith’s legs flex and tighten around his hips, nudging him in deeper still, and the scent of him intoxicates Shiro.

They move like that for a few minutes, quiet and focused, and it feels good. Shiro’s fully hard inside Keith by the time his knot deflates, and he can start thrusting into him in earnest. He rolls his hips, languid in his pace for now, aiming for deep, long strokes of his cock. He sinks into Keith, open and ready for him, and sighs sweetly. Keith is open with his slick and Shiro’s come and it feels good to know he’s already been inside him. His fingertips find Keith’s cock and curls around it, holding it against his palm as they move.

And then Keith asks: “Hey baby, you come here often?”

It makes Shiro stutter to a stop, taking a beat too long to parse the words. Keith bursts into a flurry of laughter as soon as he finishes saying it, throwing his head back and exposing the perfect arch of his throat and adam’s apple. His heel pushes against the small of Shiro’s back, coaxing him to keep thrusting.

For his troubles, Shiro leans in and bites at his throat. Keith’s laughter trails off into a gasping moan. Shiro smiles when he feels the flex and shift of Keith’s throat as he swallows. He rolls his hips forward, fucking into Keith with that same slow pace. He thumbs at his cockhead just to make him gasp.

“You’ll appreciate that joke way more when you’re not being all Rutting Alpha,” Keith grumbles, sounding breathless from Shiro’s distraction tactics.

Shiro licks up Keith’s throat and along the underside, biting his chin. Keith sparks another laugh, shoving at him. “I got the joke,” Shiro says with as much forced solemnity as he can muster. “It’s a bad joke… rut or no.”

“Hm,” Keith hums, looking amused. He twists and untwists one finger in Shiro’s hair, coiling it around his knuckle and tugging, coaxing Shiro in closer to kiss his nose. He squirms beneath him, clenching around Shiro’s cock. “I think I’m hilarious. And you’d agree if you were a good…” He pauses then, eyes glancing up at Shiro. “A good boyfriend?”

The statement ends on the question, shining there in Keith’s eyes. They both still, pressed together like that.

Shiro nods. “Boyfriend,” he agrees. “And mate.”

Keith laughs. “Mate… You move fast.”

Shiro shrugs. If he’s honest with himself, he’s been gone on Keith since the moment they met. It hardly feels fast to take two years to reach this point. Keith hardly seems to mind, though. The opposite, really.

“And mate,” Keith echoes in a quiet murmur, his eyes bright. “A good boyfriend and mate would agree that was a good pickup line.”

“I already know you come here often,” Shiro says with forced seriousness, hand closing tighter around Keith’s hard cock and stroking. Despite the stupidity of this exchange, Shiro’s chest swells with smug alpha pride. He can make his mate feel good, countless times over.

Keith gasps in surprise, arching. He groans, a mix of pleasure and embarrassment. “Okay, that maybe is a bad pickup line.”

Shiro makes sure Keith’s looking before he rolls his eyes. It makes Keith laugh.

He leans back, sprawled out in Shiro’s bed like he belongs there, his body arched and warmed through, his eyes soft with far too much affection. He reaches for Shiro and chirps a delighted breath when Shiro’s hands find his, their fingers weaving together just before Shiro pins them up over Keith’s head and holds, pressing down against him chest to chest.

Keith studies him, his smile sweet and overbright. Shiro’s flooded with the scent of him— happy, content, satisfied— and the beating of his heart against Shiro’s.

“… Tell me I’m beautiful again?” Keith asks.

Shiro smiles back and ducks his head, determined to do just that for the rest of his rut— and everything that follows.