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Three A.M. Family

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His head hurt.

Not like a run of the mill, low-grade headache a child would use to get out of school, or a simple burst of tension put off to stress or exhaustion - this was a tangible, pulsating, persistent throb against his skull that had him nestling his face deeper into his sweat-soaked pillow.

His stomach churned in time with his brain, and, in turn, his heart palpated inside his chest as if he was a cop who’d just committed to a foot chase against a track-star convict. A shiver ran up his spine and he groaned, tugging closer his previously disregarded blanket. Heat licked against his skin, the thin material of the cover suddenly feeling all-too thick, and he kicked it off, shifting onto his other side in a feeble attempt to escape the discomfort.

The light in his room was dimmed to a red glow, leaving just enough illumination for Keith to make-out its structure. His desk lay adjacent to his bed, with a small laundry basket tucked beneath its shelving, and the bathroom door just to its left. His stomach bubbled then gave a lurch, and he put a hand to his gut as if he could ward the nausea away with a warm touch.

Nevertheless, his throat constricted, a trap door slipping, and he gagged, pulling himself from his mattress and stumbling across the floor. He steadied himself against his desk chair, a dizzy spell draping across his senses. His insides felt itchy, a million fire ants crawling up his esophagus, and he pushed himself up, taking a few uneasy steps into the bathroom, before crumbling onto the tile in front of the porcelain throne. He gagged again, then vomited, acid burning the lining of his stomach.

“Fuck,” he whispered, wiping away saliva that stringed from his bottom lip and tears that streamed down his cheeks.

He pushed himself up on shaking arms, legs wobbling beneath his weight, black spots blotting his vision.

He wanted Shiro.

Shiro’s room was next door to the right. All he had to do was make it that far.

He took a long breath, turned on the sink, dunked his mouth beneath the faucet, and swallowed a gulp of water.

The trek to the hallway didn’t seem near as treacherous as the venture to the bathroom. Still, his feet dragged across the ground, his head spun, and his stomach convulsed. The red lights guided his way, leading him to his bedroom door where he placed an uneasy hand on the print scanner. In the meantime, he steadied himself against the wall, leaning most of his weight into its stature. After a moment, the door parted with a quiet hiss, revealing the dim hallway ahead.

Keith slipped into the darkness, still relying on the wall for support, and turned right. He imagined Shiro opening his door - hair pointed every which way, eyes creased the way they always did so early in the morning - pulling the red paladin inside, and into wrapping him into warm arms. Keith figured it was a big brother thing, the ability to amend anything with a simple hug.

He reached Shiro’s door as the adrenaline in his legs dwindled to almost nothing. With the last ounce of power he had, he curled his fists - thumbs over fingers, just like Shiro had taught him as a child - and pounded them against the metal.

Keith wasn’t sure how long he stood there, body pushed against the wall, arms beating the surface. After a while, the door let out a grunt, then pried open.

Both satisfaction and ease swelled inside Keith’s chest and if it weren't for the fever he would’ve pushed the sensations down immediately. If he couldn’t handle a simple cold alone then what good was he being a paladin?

He felt a figure appeared before him and peeled open his eyes. A blue pair of slippers swam into view. Wait, he thought. Shiro doesn’t wear -

“What the fuck, Keith? Do you have any idea what time it is?”

Keith sighed, raising his head.

Lance wore a set of long-sleeved blue pajamas. His face was creased, eyebrows knitted into a frown, arms crossed over his chest.

“Sorry,” Keith said, slightly startled by the raspiness of his voice. He cleared his throat. “Wrong room.”

Lance grumbled. “It’s three in the morning, Keith. That’s what time it is.” Then he paused for a moment, tracing over Keith’s features. “Wait. Are you okay?” he asked, face softening.

“‘m fine,” Keith huffed.

“Are you sure? You don’t look so -”

“I’m fine, Lance.”

The blue paladin frowned. “Are you sick or something?”

Keith sucked in a short breath, rolling his eyes. His energy was draining, legs feeling like they could give out at any moment, and he feared that if he didn’t make it to Shiro’s room soon, he wouldn’t make it at all. “No, I -”

“Keith…”

“Lance.”

Lance sighed. “You’re not lookin too hot,” he said. “You can come in if you want.” He shifted slightly, clearing a pathway as if to further inforce his statement.

“No, it’s all right, I -”

“I’m serious, Keith. Shiro’s had a long day, let him sleep.”

Keith stilled. “How did you…?”

“Who else’s room would you be looking for at three am,” Lance said with a smirk. “Come on.” He gestured his head to the opening he’d cleared.

Later, Keith would have to convince himself that the only reason he complied was because of the fever.

Lance’s room had the same dim lights as Keith’s though this time they were tinted a shade of blue. Video game controllers, magazines, and clothes were strewn across the floor, the surface of the boy’s desk coated with various trinkets and half-eaten snacks.

“Lay down,” he said, placing a hand on Keith’s shoulder and guiding him to his bed.

“No, Lance, it’s okay, I-”

“It’s fine, Mullet. Lay down.”

Another justification Keith would have to convince himself of later.

He slipped into Lance’s bed, heavy limbs sinking into the mattress, and rested his hand on the pillow.

Something cold brushed against his forehead. “Shit, dude, that’s a killer fever.”

Keith nodded into the memory foam.

“You still with me, buddy?” Lance asked.

Keith nodded again, though everything seemed so far away, like a balloon slipping from a child’s hand.

“Okay. I’m gonna get you some water.”

“Lance?” Keith asked, cracking open his eyes just enough to make out the figure in front of him. “Why…?”

Lance let out a chuckle. “I used to take care of my siblings all the time. That’s just what family does, I guess. And you looked so helpless in the hallway, I couldn’t just leave you there.”

“‘m not helpless,” Keith grunted.

The blue paladin huffed. “Sure you’re not.” He walked toward the door, pausing as he reached the frame. “Oh, and, Mullet? This never happened.”

He flipped off the dim blue glow and disappeared into the hallway.