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The smell of pizza wafted under the door as Shiro keyed into his apartment in Cor Leonis Hall. He’d gotten back late from his tutoring gig with the physics department, but he knew his roommate would still be up. Lights were on, alt rock blared softly from discarded earbuds on the ground, and Keith stood in the center of their common room, a slice of pizza in one hand and his anatomy book in the other. Notecards littered the floor.

Keith grinned. His shaggy hair was pulled back in a tiny ponytail and he wore a red tank top and loose joggers. Only Keith would wear a tank top during the first week of winter. It was like he couldn’t feel the cold. “Hey! I thought maybe your student had kidnapped you,” he said around a mouthful of pizza. “I ordered extra. If you’re hungry.”

Shiro shed his coat and backpack and took Keith up on the offer. “Thanks. Appreciate it.” Keith had strange taste in toppings, but Shiro was so hungry he almost didn’t mind. “What’s all this?” Shiro asked, lifting his chin at the notecards.

“I figured I should get a head start on the first exam. Medical Physiology is going to kick my ass. Notecards are kind of old school, but they say writing things down helps with memorization.” Keith let out a soft laugh. “Or at least my dad used to say that when I was little and he was studying for his EMT training. Our house was covered in them.” 

It was one of the first things that connected them when Shiro arrived at Garrison University Medical School four months ago: neither he nor Keith had a physician in the family. They weren’t med school royalty like some of their classmates and both of them were on scholarships. Shiro had been nervous getting a random assignment for a roommate, since his admission process had been, well, unusual, and everyone else he’d known in the program was now two years ahead of him. He showed up in two-day old clothes the day before lectures started, living out of a suitcase because his boxes hadn’t shipped. Keith had shaken his hand and lent him his biggest t-shirt, with Marmora Blades Ice Hockey emblazoned across the front . It just fit. Keith put him at ease immediately, though, and didn’t ask uncomfortable questions about Shiro’s prosthetic or the scar across the bridge of his nose. Instead he invited him out for drinks with a few of his friends and split an extra-large order of hot wings.

In a lot of ways, Keith was the ideal roommate. He cleaned up his shit, he smelled good, and he didn’t bring over tons of annoying guests. Very few guests, actually. Just a few of his quirky friends in the program, who seemed to want to include Shiro on their gatherings, too. Even though he could eat like a guy twice his size, Keith was wiry and oddly graceful. One time he caught an egg he’d dropped an inch from the floor, sparing it from splattering across the tiles. He’d played hockey in college but looked more like a runner, rangy and long-legged. Keith was often quiet in class but had a penchant for cynical comments, especially after lectures. 

The only problem Shiro had with him was that he was positively, absolutely stunning.

They’d started out simply as two people who inhabited the same space and slowly, in conversations over morning coffee and shared frustration over all-nighters prepping for exams, they’d gone from acquaintances to classmates to friends. Keith kept a lot to himself, but he’d quietly let slip his father’s passing and his mother’s military station, which kept them apart for years at a time. Every once in awhile he heard Keith through the wall at 2 or 3am talking with her, six time zones between them. Shiro wondered what it would feel like to still have family, even if only through a screen. His grandparents, who’d raised him on sci-fi movies and homemade noodles, who’d championed his science projects and got smartphones just to send him emoji hearts and stars, had passed during his senior year in high school and they were all he’d had. 

Shiro didn’t talk about being an orphan much, mainly because it was a quick way to make people sad. Hearing that Keith understood what it was to lose your closest family, to have to attend college graduation without a face you love in the crowd, made Shiro take risks he wouldn’t have taken. One night a few weeks ago, feeling brave after a few beers, Shiro told Keith about the night of the accident, about how he’d lost his arm and nearly his life. Keith had been quiet, eyes focused on him. He didn’t try to rush Shiro through the story or make any patronizing comments. Before they’d gone to bed, Keith put a warm hand on Shiro’s good shoulder and squeezed. “Thanks for telling me,” he’d said. It wasn’t until the next morning that Shiro had realized Keith was the first person he’d talked to about it, really talked, outside of his therapist and doctors. 

Keith was strangely easy to trust and Shiro had to hold himself back from telling more, saying more. They ate together, studied together, and even got a horrible virus two months into school at the same time, nursing fevers while collapsed on opposite ends of the couch. As close as they’d become, he didn’t want to burden Keith with more than he’d asked for, especially when Keith himself had enough to deal with on his own. They’d only known each other since the semester began, after all, and he didn’t want to take advantage and risk what had become the closest friendship he’d had in a long time. Shiro wasn’t used to people sticking around and he wasn’t ready to lose Keith, not when he’d just come into Shiro’s life. 

They settled onto the barstools at the counter in their tiny kitchen to eat, recounting anecdotes from the day: Shiro’s hopeless first-year physics tutee, Keith’s lab assistant job. “Oh, my god. Hunk threw up again at work today.”

Shiro groaned around a mouthful of pizza. “I’m eating.”

Keith scoffed. “Please. Don’t even. You watch surgeries online while you eat tacos. I’ve seen it.” Keith grabbed another slice. “He just keeps at it, though. Guy’s kind of admirable in a stubborn sort of way.”

“Hunk’s great.” Keith wasn’t wrong about the tacos and the surgery. Shiro’s ViewTuube account was a pretty wild fusion of medical procedures, workout routines, and mac and cheese recipes, which made his ‘recommended videos’ quite the unusual blend. “He and I talked a little about my arm,” Shiro said, holding out his prosthetic hand, flexing the fingers. “Hunk’s really interested in bioengineering so he wanted to hear more about it.”

“It really doesn’t bother you?” Keith asked. “The questions?”

“I mean, the stares are harder than the questions,” Shiro said. “But I’m used to both at this point. Most people just want to know how I’m planning on being a doctor with it.” Shiro coughed lightly. “Like I hadn’t considered that before going through the process of getting in med school. Or the admissions committee didn’t put me through a month of rigorous tests to make sure I’d be able to do the work.”

“It’s garbage. Your arm is stronger and more capable of fine movements than theirs are.” Keith’s gaze narrowed. “People at this school better not be giving you any shit.” 

“I’m good, don’t worry.” 

Keith actually looked like he was ready to fight, his shoulders tense as he cracked his knuckles. “I did have the dubious honor among my teammates of logging the most minutes in the penalty box for fighting. I’m stronger than I look. People think they can take me, but,” Keith tilted his head, “I don’t go down easy.”

“No need to defend my honor.” Shiro tried to let the words go down slide without thinking about them too much, but it was difficult not to dwell on the idea of finding out exactly how strong Keith was. “But, I, uh, appreciate you looking out. If I ever had to go into battle, I’d want you on my side.”

Keith gave a half-smile. “You definitely would.” He stretched his arms over his head, the lean muscles cording under the skin, and Shiro forced himself to look away. God. “So speaking of having each other’s backs, I’ve got a favor to ask you.”

Shiro licked a bit of cheese off his finger. “Is that why you bought me pizza?”

“I mean, I’m not above bribery. And I’m willing to throw in iced coffee for a week if you want.”

“A week, huh? Must be some favor.”

Keith groaned, jumping off the barstool to start pacing. He had a hard time talking sometimes when he wasn’t moving. “Okay. So I kind of fucked up and got my due dates confused, which is my fault, and I own that, but that lab report is due tomorrow and, um.” Keith let out a weak laugh. “Any chance you’d be my test subject?”

Shiro blanched and then caught himself. “Ha ha, what?”

“You know. The lab report for our cardio unit.”

“Oh yeah,” Shiro said, taking a sip of water. “The report.” His stomach clenched a little.

Keith groaned. “You probably did yours like weeks ago because you always do everything ahead of time.”

Shiri wasn’t above a white lie, but somehow the idea of lying to Keith made his chest hurt. He opted for misdirection instead. “That is my brand, right?”

Keith rocked back on his heels. “I know you’re busy and it’s a lot to ask but, help me, Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope. And we both know you’d make a great Jedi. Not sure I could rock the buns, though.” Keith smiled, knowing that Star Wars references were one of Shiro’s weaknesses. He could recite the original trilogy by rote. “Please?” 

What Keith didn’t know was that right now, Shiro’s biggest weakness was Keith. His roommate looked expectant, a little hopeful, dark bangs falling in his eyes. There was no way this was a good idea. Shiro’s palms were slick and he wiped them quickly on his black joggers. But this was Keith. How could he say no? He nodded, even though he knew he was going to regret this. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

Keith’s expression lit up, gifting Shiro with a smile. “That’s great! I really appreciate it. So much coffee is in your future, I promise.” He inclined his head towards his room. “I’ll be right back.”

The pizza that Shiro had wolfed down now turned uncomfortably in his stomach. He skimmed through the parts of the lab in his mind, realizing he was about to have to pretend that he wasn’t being affected by the fact that Keith was touching him. Not to mention there was a reason he didn’t take his shirt off anymore around people, because the scars others could see on his face were alarming enough; the ones on his body were worse. How the hell was he going to get through this? Working with a random lab partner to practice blood pressure in class was one thing, but Keith. 

Keith returned with his laptop and stethoscope draped around his neck, looking like a proper med student. God. “Okay, so you did this already for your report so you know the drill, yeah?”

“Um,” Shiro said, already starting to feel his heart beating faster. “Just remind me what you need me to do. My brain’s a little foggy. Long day, ha.”

“Yeah, sure. This won’t take long, I don’t think.” Keith waved him towards the couch. “Have a seat and just relax.”

Relax. Yeah, right.

Shiro couldn’t begin to count the number of people who examined him while he was recovering from his accident and the surgeries after. He’d felt like an experiment, monitored and tested, wired up to machines to the point he started to feel like one. Over time he learned which beeps were normal and which made residents come running. When they finally let him go home, the pain didn’t keep him up as much as the fact he’d gotten so used to being roused very few hours for vitals and blood and whatever else they wanted to take from him. 

Given everything he’d been through, it made him both shameful and furious that a flush was creeping up his throat. This shouldn’t even register on your radar. It’s just another exam. Get your shit together, Takashi. 

Keith sat beside him on the couch, putting his laptop on the coffee table. “Hey, does your watch track resting heart rate?”

“Yeah.” Shiro pulled up the app on his phone, scanning to find the most recent readings. The watch had been his gift to himself when he finished daily physical therapy and graduated to weekly. “Here you go.” He turned the phone in Keith’s direction. It felt a little intimate to hand over his health stats, as weird as that sounded in his head, but less so with Keith.

“Um, you sure that’s right?” Keith stared at the screen. “Can I?” Shiro nodded and Keith took it, flipping through days’ worth of readings. “The hell, man.” He clicked his tongue. “Your resting rate is in the 40s. Like I get you’re fit, but damn.”

Shiro shook his head. “That’s just when I’m asleep. It’s not that low all the time.”

“No, look. Here’s you yesterday in lecture.” Keith tapped Shiro’s phone, dragging his finger over the graph of Shiro’s heart rate. “Admittedly Dr. Iverson is boring, but you didn’t budge past 49 bpm the entire class. You’re bradycardic.” Keith put a hand over his own chest. “I drink too much caffeine for mine to get that low. Plus my workouts have been shot since the semester started.” Shiro’s gaze lingered on Keith’s palm, wishing it was his hand there instead. “I should be as disciplined as you. You don’t skip the gym, do you?”

He didn’t, for a lot of reasons. Working out had always been a stress reliever for him, a way to burn off his own anxiety, but after his accident, exercise became mandatory. There was so much physical therapy, new muscle memories to create, learning how to use the prosthetic as well as any other limb. He’d always been strong, but after his third surgery, he felt so weak, so atrophied, and he hated feeling helpless. It took him months and months to regain some semblance of his old body, but it was worth it to be able to have that autonomy back. 

That and his ex had departed not long after the first surgery, quietly leaving because of the burden of Shiro’s injuries and the aftermath. The gym was just one way Shiro could ensure he could care for himself, to carry his own weight.  

Keith's gaze was on him and Shiro realized he hadn’t responded. “Yeah. Habit, you know?” 

“Sure.” Keith leaned forward to type on the laptop. “So how many days a week do you work out?”

“Um,” Shiro rubbed his palms together. “Every day?”

Keith’s dark eyebrows arched. “You’re not at the gym every day.”

“I do other stuff. Some yoga or core in my room.” He shrugged. “I just feel weird if I don’t.”

“Well. You’ll probably be the fittest person in these reports.” Keith scrolled down, reading the next section. “Okay. Is there anything about your heart I should know about?”

Shiro looked at him stupidly. “I’m sorry?”

“You know, for the form? Like any issues, I guess?”

“Oh.” Shiro swallowed. Aside from the fact it was beating way too fast now? “Yeah, I mean, not an issue, but when you listen, you might notice a murmur.”

Keith stopped typing. “It's nothing, like, bad, right? Um, you’re okay, I mean?”

“Yeah. It’s totally benign.” His poor grandparents had been so worried, driving him around to different doctors for echocardiograms and studies. “Had all the tests to prove it. I'm fine.”

“Oh, good. That's a relief.” A slow grin came over Keith’s face. “Actually, don’t tell me anything else. I wanna see if I can hear it and figure out where it is.”

Keith had a habit of making little things into competitions: how many questions he could get right on exams, how many energy drinks he could down in one afternoon. On anyone else, Shiro would find it annoying, but somehow with Keith, it wasn’t. “All right. I won’t tell.”

Keith nodded. “I think that’s all the preliminary questions. So just to check before I start, are you cool with everything with the exam?” He chewed on his bottom lip for a moment. “There’s some, you know, touching involved and I don’t want to startle you.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sure. Fine.” He was not even a little bit fine, but Shiro attempted a smile. It was ridiculous to be nervous, he thought, even as his stomach clenched and his shoulders tightened. “Go for it.”

“Great. Could I have your wrist, please?”

Shiro extended his left arm, feeling Keith’s fingers curl over his skin and press against his radial artery. He could feel the quick thump of his heart against his own ribs, traitor that it was, and looked at the ceiling so as not to look at Keith. 

Thirty agonizing seconds passed and Keith finally let go. “Okay, so you’re a little fast.”

Shiro grimaced. “How fast?”

“98 bpm.”

Well. That wasn’t quite as bad as he feared. “Sorry. Little nervous, I guess.”

Keith patted Shiro’s forearm, his tone soothing. “It’s just me. You can just relax, okay?”

Shiro swallowed. There was no way to say, actually, Keith, you are the problem, because just having two of your fingers on my skin is enough to send me spiraling. “Ha. I’ll try.”

“Just take a few deep breaths. In and out.” Keith waited expectantly and Shiro did as he asked, embarrassed when his exhaled breath wavered. “That’s good. That’s perfect.”

Fuck. Keith’s voice praising him, even for something so small, made Shiro’s chest tighten. Usually taking a few deep breaths would slow his heart rate down, but if anything, it had only gotten faster with Keith’s gentle instruction. Every single beat seemed to tap out the same refrain: he knows. He knows. He knows.   

“Okay. Just going to check your carotid pulse. You don’t need to do anything, okay?”

Shiro gave a slight nod as Keith’s fingers pressed against the left side of his throat. Keith looked at his watch and Shiro could see his mouth moving slightly as he counted the beats, and it was all Shiro could do to not leap off the couch and run away. Why couldn’t Keith have picked Hunk or Lance or literally anyone else for this stupid assignment? There were thousands of people on this campus and Keith had the audacity to ask him. 

Thirty seconds was definitely a few years this time. The warm spots of Keith’s fingertips pulled away. “Let me check the pulse on the other side.” Keith repeated the same test while Shiro’s heart kept banging away like the asshole it apparently was. 

Keith nodded. “The pulses are nice and strong,” he said, typing in the numbers on the lab form. “You’re still fast, though.”

Shiro stared at the results. “108 and 114. Seriously?”

“You want me to try it again?”

“No!” Shiro caught himself. “No, I mean, it is what it is. Maybe I had too much caffeine today. Or not enough sleep?”

“It’s okay, Shiro. Hopefully it’ll calm down some as we go.” Keith stood, making room on the couch. “Can you lie down for me? I’m supposed to check aortic and apical pulses.”

“Oh, yeah. Sure. No problem.”

Keith hesitated. “It says on the lab sheet that if the subject is comfortable, if they can remove their shirt it’s a little easier for the next portion.”

The actual fuck. Shiro couldn’t remember the last time he’d been anywhere without a shirt on except doctor’s offices. The scars were, well, a lot, and he got enough stares and comments with his prosthetic. “Right.” Shiro reached for the hem of his hoodie, stomach twisting. It wasn’t that he didn’t want Keith to see, or that he was ashamed exactly, but this wasn’t how it wanted it to happen. He’d had these brief fantasies in the shower of Keith confessing a crush, which Keith definitely didn’t have, and Keith undressing him, boldly kissing his scars. 

“It’s okay if you don’t want to,” Keith blurted, looking quickly between Shiro and the laptop screen.

“It’s fine. It’s no big deal,” Shiro said, trying to convince himself. Keith wanted to be a doctor. Shiro was just a person, a body, just someone to examine for a goddamn lab report. It wasn’t sexual or intimate. It was clinical. 

Except in their common room, the smell of pizza still lingering along with Keith’s woodsy deodorant, it didn’t feel very clinical at all. 

Shiro prepared to tug off his shirt and he gave a soft laugh. “Um, hey, I know I told you about what happened. The accident. And like, just don’t be freaked out by the carnage, okay?” He yanked off his hoodie, holding his breath a few beats longer than usual as he tried to gain some semblance of control.

The gasp that came from Keith was small and short-lived, but Shiro heard it.

He wanted to dive under the couch, or better yet, out the window and into the night. Shiro cleared his throat, folding his arms over his chest as if it might hide what Keith had already seen. “Sorry. I probably should have given you a stronger warning. Like with flashing lights or a siren or something.”

“Shiro,” Keith said. His voice was soft, pained. It hurt to hear him sound like that. Like he pitied Shiro. 

“Look, I know it’s ug--”

“Hey, no. Please.” Keith shook his head, long bangs falling over his eyes. “I swear I wasn’t reacting to your scars, not in the way you’re thinking.” His bottom lip was chapped and he held it between his teeth for a moment. “I’m just sorry you had to go through something so painful.” Keith didn’t stop meeting his gaze as he spoke. 

That wasn’t what Shiro expected. Then again, when had Keith ever been? “I,” Shiro managed, dropping his chin. “Yeah.”

A moment passed between them, long enough that Shiro let his arms fall to his knees. Keith cleared his throat. “Um, maybe this is just because I’ve been around medical books since I was a kid, but honestly, whoever did your surgery did a beautiful job.” Keith gestured towards his prosthetic, but didn’t touch Shiro, which he appreciated. “Just your shoulder alone is incredible. You healed so well.”

His surgeons had been very pleased. Shiro was grateful to have full mobility, to be in a hospital with the latest advances and to have been accepted into the prosthetic trial program that gave him a shot at moving forward with his life and still becoming a doctor, but all Shiro saw now were the tears and puckers, the places where his skin and muscle had been torn and cut. “That’s what they say.”

“Can I ask you a question, if it’s not too personal?”

Shiro raked a hand through his hair, tugging on his forelock as he often did when he was feeling anxious. “Yeah, that’s fine.”

“Does anything hurt?”

Shiro wanted to laugh, or possibly let out a sob. What a loaded question. For a moment, he was back in his hospital bed alone, howling when the meds wore off, dry heaving from the pain. “Like right now?”

“Yeah. Or, you know, in general.”

“Um, not really.” Shiro pointed to the skin around his prosthetic. “It’s a little tender here, sometimes. And there’s a bit of scar tissue around my right rib that we’re still working on.” He sighed, not sure why he felt the need to be so fucking honest with Keith, and yet. “Most of the time I’m pretty good. If I’m tired or I haven’t stretched like I should, though, well, I have my bad days.”

“I hope you know that,” Keith stopped, glancing down. Maybe he was more bothered than he let on. “Anytime you’re having a bad day, if there’s anything I can do to help, I want to.”

Shiro grimaced. “Asking for help isn’t really my thing.”

“Me either. Guess we have that in common.” Keith clearer his throat. “But like, if it is a bad day, you don’t have to pretend it is. You know, with me.”

Shiro looked up, meeting Keith’s eyes. God, they were gorgeous. Pure as a starlit sky. “Okay.” He rubbed at his arm, feeling the goosebumps rising.

“Shit! Oh, damn. Look at you. You’re cold. My bad. Um.” Keith looked stricken. “I’m sorry. I, ha. Do you, I mean, are you still cool with the lab thing or would you rather, like, not?”

“I’m fine. It’s fine.” Shiro squared his shoulders. He was in it this far now. “I kind of have a vested interest in you doing well in med school, you know?”

Keith brightened. “You do?”

Shit. “I mean, roommates gotta support each other, right?”

“Oh, yeah. Totally.” Keith looked a bit uncertain, but he lifted a palm. “So I’m going to put my hand over your heart, yeah?”

Shiro nodded, and a moment later, the warmth of Keith’s hand landed over his left ribs, gently pressing along the fifth intercostal space. Keith’s brow furrowed until shifted his fingers and then he brightened. “Oh! I found the pulse.” A little grin turned his mouth. “Wow. It’s really palpable. It’s just like, bam, bam, bam. ” 

Keith’s hand was so warm and the weight of it against Shiro’s skin made his breath actually stop. He tried to say something, tried to make the moment less awkward, but he couldn’t get a sound out.

“You’re like, holding your breath. Just breathe, yeah?”

He grabbed a long inhale. “Sorry.”

“There you go.” Keith looked at his watch, counting. “You’re still so fast. It’s 120.” He kept his hand pressed over Shiro’s heart and Shiro felt it beating hard against Keith’s palm. He wondered if he might actually just die right there on the couch. “You sure you’re okay?”

God, would his heart ever slow the fuck down? Shiro heaved a breath and felt Keith’s hand move with it. This was weird. Keith would think it was weird. What could he even say to explain? I’m totally hot for you, Keith, and have been since day one? I’m also super into you feeling my heartbeat? And I can’t explain why? 

“Shiro?”

“No one touches me,” he blurted, his mouth now conspiring with his heart to utterly destroy him. 

“What?” Keith asked, his fingers flexing over Shiro’s skin.

“Sorry. I mean, besides doctors and PTs and well. It’s been a minute since anyone outside of that actually, you know--” He stopped, trying to stop the wrong words from coming out, but they kept coming. “Not that you’re, you know, not a doctor. Or you’re trying to be one. I mean, you will be someday. God. Ignore me.”

“Oh,” Keith said softly. “That’s a lot.”

Shiro croaked a laugh. “Ha. Yeah. Okay, I didn’t mean to go full-on therapy with you just now. Yikes. Wow.”

“No, I didn’t mean what you said was a lot!” Keith said, pulling off his hand to wave it, and Shiro felt the loss of heat immediately. “I meant that it’s really impressive that you’ve had this whole life-changing experience and you want to help others. I just think you’re going to be a really good doctor, that’s all.”

“Oh.” The word came out as a breath. “Um, thanks.”

“Also, I appreciate you.” Keith looked a little flushed. Maybe this was embarrassing for him, too. “You know. Helping me out with this.”

“Yeah. Of course.”

Keith chewed on his lip again, typing for a few moments on his laptop before turning back to Shiro. “Can you lie on your back? I need to check your aortic pulse. And maybe we can get it to slow down a little.” 

With your hands on me? Don’t count on it. Shiro shifted, lying on his back against the couch cushions.  

“Um, are you ticklish?”

“Yeah, kind of,” Shiro said, feeling a blush creep up his throat.

“I’ll be extra careful then. You cool if I touch your stomach?” He rubbed his palms together as Shiro nodded. “Hopefully my hands aren’t too cold.” Keith’s palm felt like heaven, a splash of warmth over his chilled skin. “Shit, your abs are kind of ridiculous.”

Shiro’s blush got worse. “They’re whatever.”

“Whatever? You’re kidding. You’re like a goddamn anatomy textbook. Or like, a freaking Greek statue.” Keith shook his head, his fingers pressing in around Shiro’s belly button. “How am I supposed to feel your pulse under all this muscle? This isn’t like a six-pack, it’s like something you’d get a Costco. So many packs. God.” He moved his hand again. “Oh, wait a sec, I found it!”

For a moment, Shiro didn’t even care that he was blushing and that his heart was racing. All he could focus on was Keith’s hand, the heat of it, the gentleness of it. It was strangely grounding, like the only thing that mattered was the point of contact between them. He felt his breathing even out a little. It was almost comforting, just the knowledge that he was alive and Keith was feeling that life beating inside him. 

“That’s really fucking cool.” He grinned. “You want to feel it? Give me your hand.” Shiro watched with equal parts amazement and horror as Keith lifted Shiro’s left hand and pressed it over his abdomen, covering Shiro’s hand with his own and pressing down. Under his own fingertips, Shiro felt the quick throb of his pulse, jumping slightly with each beat. “Crazy, right?”

It was, and crazier still that Keith’s hand was still on top of his. Shiro couldn’t even get a word out so he nodded, trying not to focus on the feeling of Keith’s warm fingers. 

“Are you good if I move on to listening?”

Shiro coughed, finding his voice. “Yeah, um, sure.”

Keith put in the earpieces of his stethoscope, suddenly looking a lot more serious even in his tank top and shaggy hair. “Okay. Just lay there and breathe, all right? I’m going to see if I can find that murmur.”

The diaphragm touched Shiro’s chest along with Keith’s hand and he nearly wanted to leap off the couch. Fuck. He could feel the surge of adrenaline spike in his blood and his heart took off with it. The increase in his heart rate registered in Keith’s expression. He looked concerned. “It’s okay. It’s just me.”

Shiro nodded, closing his eyes. Think about anything else. Think about watching unboxing videos. Think about making oatmeal. Think about tomorrow’s lecture on histology that you haven’t prepped for yet. Just don’t think about the fact Keith can hear every single fucking beat of your heart and it’s going to fly out of your chest because you like him so much, you lo--

Shit.

He’d fallen in love with Keith. 

God, he never meant for it to get that bad. Crushes were manageable. They were killable, if necessary. 

Love wasn’t like that. 

Keith’s hand moved the diaphragm to a different spot. “I tried aortic. It’s hard to tell because your heart’s so fast but I didn’t hear it there. Let me try pulmonic.”

Shiro didn’t know where to look. If he looked at Keith, he would die. If he closed his eyes, it somehow made it worse. He focused his gaze on the ceiling, following the cracks of the paint from a water spot over the couch. God, Keith must think he was some kind of a wreck. 

“Dude, you’re breathing kind of fast.” Keith moved the stethoscope again. “I still can’t hear the murmur.” He moved the steth over the tricuspid valve, but he frowned after a minute. “Damn. Still can’t find it. I’ll try mitral.” Keith waved his hand, trying to get Shiro’s attention. “Oh, hey, I want you to try something. A breathing thing. Maybe we can slow your heart down a little, yeah?”

“Um, okay. Sure.” 

Keith pointed at himself. “Watch me. It’s 478 breathing, yeah? Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8. Give it a try.”

One of his therapists had been fond of this one. Shiro nodded, following Keith’s count. God, his voice was so stunning that it was hard to concentrate on the air in his lungs. “Yeah, that’s it. Good job. Now, try again. In for four, and hold for seven, and then let go.”

He tried. Shiro tried even though his breath wobbled and his lungs felt tight and Keith was so earnest, trying so hard to make him feel at ease. With each hold, he could still fill the wham wham of his heart against his ribcage like a bird banging against a window. Keith had him try the breathing cycle five times and Shiro chanced a glance at him. Keith’s eyes were closed and he was concentrating so hard that a little crease formed between his eyebrows. Shiro wanted to kiss it. 

“Okay. Not quite the effect I was hoping for,” Keith said, pulling out his earpieces. “You went from 124 to 111, so a little drop, but not much.” He sighed and Shiro hated the disappointment in his voice. “I was kind of hoping to find that murmur, but I don’t think I’m good enough at this yet to hear it.” 

Shiro chewed the inside of his cheek. He wished he had enough control over his damn pulse to not make an ass out of himself, but it was far too late for that. “Sorry about that, I’m--”

“No! It’s not your fault at all!” Keith patted his arm. “I appreciate you trying. Hey, you can sit up. The next part should be super easy for you since you’re basically the fittest person on earth. It’s just two minutes of some type of cardio, like jogging in place or squats or whatever you want.” He handed Shiro his shirt. “Um, just in case you’re more comfortable.”

Shiro froze, just for a moment. Oh. Because Keith wasn’t comfortable looking at him. 

For a second, he was back in the hospital, his ex staring at the walls, the floor, the shitty watercolor paintings, anywhere but Shiro. He knew what the scars meant. They proclaimed to the world, you are broken. You are too much. You are not who you used to be.

His scars meant you aren’t worthy. Of care. Of attention. Of love.

Keith had been so polite earlier, but that was because he was in training to be a doctor. It made sense that he wouldn’t want to see Shiro any more than he had to, especially while he was exercising. He was even careful about tank tops because one time in the gym one of the trainers had given him a grim look because the strap had fallen a little askew and some of his scars were visible. People didn’t want to see that. It wasn’t a surprise that Keith would feel the same. 

He didn’t trust himself to speak and he tugged his shirt on a little too roughly. Shiro rose to his feet, feeling like he wanted to throw up. He’d do his two minutes of cardio, Keith could get whatever readings he needed, and then he could escape. Go to the library. Go for a run. Climb into a rocket and leave Earth altogether. Anything to get out of this room and the emotions that were suddenly too big for his body. 

“You okay?” Keith asked, looking up from the notes he added to his laptop. There was something a little soft around his eyes, something Shiro was sure he was imagining. “Can I get you some water?”

“I’m fine.” His ribs felt like barbed wire in his chest. “What do you want me to do?” His voice came out a little sharper than he meant it to and he winced. 

“Oh.” Keith worried his bottom lip, and Shiro could see where it was split in the corner. “It’s up to you, whatever you’re comfortable with. Any kind of cardio you want.”

He already had his shoes off and he needed this to be over as quickly as possible. “I guess squats are fine.” He glanced at Keith. “You’ll tell me when to go?”

“Sounds good.” Keith tapped on his phone timer. “Okay. 3, 2, 1.”

Shiro started, not even bothering to count. He could do squats in his sleep. When he hadn’t been able to do arm and shoulder exercises after the accident, he’d relied on squats and other weight-bearing workouts to try to shake off the atrophy of his muscles after weeks recovering in bed. His PT had corrected his form, made sure he did them perfectly, every time, because he needed to strengthen his entire body to take up the additional weight of the prosthetic. It wasn’t much more than his flesh arm, but the slight difference was noticeable. 

It was a little awkward to have Keith standing nearby just watching him. His expression was unreadable and Shiro couldn’t tell if he was bored or annoyed. Shiro picked up the pace, looking away from him, channeling his embarrassment and anxiety into the squats, dipping lower. God, hadn’t it been two minutes already? He hated feeling like some kind of zoo animal, some evolutionary misstep. 

You knew this was a bad idea. You knew it and you agreed anyway. Because you wanted to help Keith, you wanted to be what, a good roommate? Lab partner? Friend? More? The fuck, Shirogane. He doesn’t want you. No one wants you.

He was dimly aware of his heartbeat thudding in his ears when Keith suddenly appeared in front of him, waving. “Uh, that’s two minutes. More than.” Shit, maybe he hadn’t been paying attention. “Let me just get your pulse.”

Keith’s fingers took his wrist and Shiro stared at the ground, catching his breath. He shouldn’t have felt winded after two minutes, but his lungs seemed a little tight, like he couldn’t quite draw air as deeply as he wanted to. “Hey,” Keith said, his tone threaded with concern, “Are you feeling okay? You’re, like, 184.”

He started to say, “Yeah, I’m fine,” but he only got the first word out before he swayed a little, his breath rasping uncomfortably in his chest.

“Shiro!” Keith caught him in a surprising show of strength, keeping him upright when his knees buckled. “Let’s get you to the couch. I’ve got you.”

The common room blurred out around him as he leaned heavily on Keith, his prosthetic draped around Keith’s neck and Keith’s arm around his waist. This wasn’t happening. It wasn’t happening. God, it was so hard to breathe. His wrenched lungs got tiny sips of air, not nearly enough. He heard himself gasping as Keith helped him sit on the couch, Keith’s hands warm points of contact. Everything in his vision kept vibrating. Why was it vibrating? He blinked, trying to make it stop. 

Oh. He was shaking.

“Hey,” Keith said, his voice low and calm. It felt like Shiro was underwater, like he could see sunlight shining on the surface above him, but he couldn’t quite get there. Every cell in his body was screaming for more air. “Can you nod if this has happened to you before?”

It had been six months since his last panic attack. It happened about a month before med school started and he’d been out for a jog, trying to work off some excess energy. It was a gray day with the slightest threat of rain and he’d been listening to his favorite playlist, running down familiar streets. It wasn’t like in the movies where he saw someone who looked like his ex or saw an accident and was suddenly triggered. One moment he was on track to getting a PR and the next, he was shuddering and gasping as the dizziness sent him staggering off the trail. He held on to a tree, panting so hard he cried, feeling like he might die next to the sign pointing towards the port-o-potties.  

Shiro nodded. Keeping his eyes open somehow made it worse, so he kept them firmly shut, even though he could feel the solid presence of Keith’s body next to him, the press of Keith’s knee against his. 

“What can I do that’ll help?”

Getting out a word took everything Shiro had. “Stay.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here.” Keith’s hand touched Shiro’s and he gripped it like a lifeline. “Okay. I know it feels scary right now, but you’re safe. This will pass.” 

A dim part of his brain was screaming about how embarrassing this was, how weak he was. How did he ever think he was going to be a doctor when he was like this? How was he going to be able to make it through his life alone if the littlest things could take him down so easily? His throat burned and he knew if he opened his eyes that tears would spill over. God, he was such a mess.  

Keith’s voice floated in, drowning out his thoughts. “You’re doing really well. I’m proud of you. This isn’t going to last, okay? It’s temporary and you won’t feel it much longer.” Ketih took their joined hands and pressed the back of Shiro’s hand against Keith’s chest, letting Shiro feel the rise and fall of it. “When you’re ready you can try to slow your breathing down a little. You can follow me if you want.”

Keith’s breaths were deep and easy, and through his tank top, Shiro felt the steady thump of his heart beating against his skin. Bit by bit, Shiro’s stampeding gasps started to decelerate, starting to fall in line with Keith’s. 

“That’s so good. So, so good.” 

The extra oxygen brought some clarity with it. He opened his eyes, focusing on the cool air coming into his nose, the warm breath leaving his mouth, the comforting jump of Keith’s pulse against his hand. He wasn’t alone. He wasn’t in danger. His body would slow down. The tide would go out on his ocean of anxiety. This would pass.

The shaking slowly started to ebb and his throat opened up, letting his voice out. “I,” he said, “I’m...sorry.”

Keith gripped his hand a little tighter. “There’s nothing to apologize for. You want me to get you some water?”

“No, don’t,” Shiro hitched a breath. “Don’t go yet.”

“I’m here as long as you need.”

The words broke something inside of him and Shiro pressed his free hand over his mouth, trying to stifle whatever was about to come out: a cry, a confession. He made a pathetic little sound, mewling and embarrassing. He couldn’t break down here, not in front of Keith. 

His thigh muscles tensed, ready to push up and away, to run before he lost any shred of control, when Keith spoke, his voice hesitant and soft. “I get them too.” 

Shiro froze. “You do?”

Keith waited until Shiro looked at him before continuing. “After my dad passed. I had my first one while I was playing hockey. I didn’t know what was happening and I thought I was going to die right out on the ice. My teammates just circled around me and it made it even worse. They took me to the hospital. Luckily the doctor there knew what was happening. Eventually I got a therapist, but it took awhile. Panic attacks really suck.” 

Shiro nodded, waiting for the flight instinct to still. “Haven’t,” he said, measuring his words around his breath, “had one. For a couple of months.”

“Sometimes they sneak up.”

“Yeah.” Keith kept Shiro’s hand pressed against his chest, his grip tight enough to be reassuring yet not confining. 

“Is there anything else I can do? Something that’s worked for you before?”

“The last time,” Shiro said, concentrating on his breathing, “I was alone. The last few times.” He felt his mouth try to smile, but it didn’t quite take. “This is better.” He nodded. “With someone.”

“Good. I’m glad that at least me being here helps a little.” He dropped his chin. “I know people get different kinds. And need different things. I’m not saying ours are the same. Just that I get it.”

Though he wouldn’t have wished panic attacks on anyone, there was something that resonated in Shiro knowing that Keith had them too. He wasn’t alone in experiencing that loss of control. “Thank you. For telling me.”

The world was coming back into focus again as Shiro’s lungs remembered how to work, as his body stopped feeling less like it was going to collapse like a Jenga tower. Keith reached out and gently brushed back Shiro’s hair from his sweaty forehead. “You’re doing great. Really.”

A shaky laugh came out of him. His breathing was finally back under control and the panicked hum flowing through his veins was subsiding. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“You should.” 

“If you say so,” Shiro said, letting himself slump against the couch cushions. God, it felt good to be able to breathe again.

“I do.” Keith sighed, his dark bangs falling over his eyes. “Especially since this is all my fault.”

Shiro frowned. “No, it’s not.”

“It is.” Keith let Shiro’s hand fall down to his lap, but he didn’t let go. “I pushed you way too hard. It wasn’t fair of me.”

“It wasn’t the exercise, Keith. You didn’t push me. I push myself ten times harder every day than that.”

“No.” Keith raked a hand through his hair, his frame tense. “I mean I should have realized this would be traumatizing for you. All this medical stuff. The exam. After everything you’ve been through. I mean, you’ve told me your story. It was shitty of me. I’m sorry.”

Shiro bumped Keith’s knee slightly. “Don’t apologize. I knew what I was getting into with med school. I can’t blame you for that at all.” 

Keith tipped his head back against the couch, blowing out a breath. “No, you can blame me. This isn’t a new thing for me. You know. The making people uncomfortable thing.” He let go of Shiro’s hand, covering his face with both palms. 

“What?” Shiro shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

Keith’s exhale was slow. “It’s not like I haven’t been worried about this. Like, I know I’m smart. I know I can do this work and pass the tests. It’s just,” he hesitated. “God, the last thing I want to do is burden you. You’ve had a rough enough night as it is.”

“I’m fine, Keith. I really am. Just tell me.”

“I,” Keith said, his voice breaking a little, “I haven’t really talked about this. Um, I have a hard time connecting sometimes. Like I think maybe it’s my personality or something. Maybe I’m too detached or too competitive, I don’t know. But I’m not always good with people. Not like you are. And I know it’s going to be a big hurdle.”

“You’re fine with people. I don’t get what you’re saying.”

Keith’s smile was grim. “See, you say that, but I wasn’t comforting for you at all. Like my bedside manner with you clearly sucked because all I did was make you more nervous. Like you know me and you couldn’t relax around me.” 

“Your, um, bedside manner is fine,” Shiro said, stomach twisting painfully. “It’s better than fine. Don’t talk like that.”

“You’re always so encouraging, but like, there’s something about me that puts people off.” He reached down with a sigh, taking Shiro’s wrist. “See? I haven’t helped you at all. Your heart is still racing.”  

It was. Shiro could feel it slamming in his chest, giving away everything. He choked back a breath, the words stuck on his tongue. “Keith,” he managed. 

“Shit, are you okay?” Keith’s expression was tight with worry. “You’re flushed.” He squeezed Shiro’s wrist. “Maybe we should get you to a real doctor. Someone who actually knows what they’re doing.”

“No, Keith, it’s not,” Shiro dragged air into his lungs. “It’s not what you think.”

“Look, I might suck at this but I can tell you your pulse is not normal, you’re--”

Fuck. The words came out as a single breath. “I like you.”

Keith froze. “What?”

“I have feelings for you. I,” Shiro pressed his prosthetic over his forehead. “I’m sorry. This isn’t what you wanted to hear.”

Keith was so still that Shiro couldn’t even feel him breathe. “I,” Keith said after a beat, “I wasn’t expecting you to say that.” 

“God, I know.” Shiro wanted to sink into the couch and through the floor. Maybe if his soul left his body Keith would take some pity on him. “I know you don’t feel the same way. It’s partly why I was so nervous with you and, well, shit.” A sad laugh escaped him. “Anyway. Sorry. I guess unrequited crushes do a number on my heart rate.”

Keith still had his hand wrapped around Shiro’s wrist, the warm points of his fingertips feeling like fire. “Why do you keep saying that?”

“Um, which part? The whole humiliating myself thing?”

“No. You keep saying sorry. Why would you think I’d be upset?” Keith’s voice was strangely soft, not quite a whisper but nearly.

“Because you,” Shiro sputtered, gesturing between them with his prosthetic. “This isn’t mutual.”

Keith’s eyebrow raised and Shiro felt his heart palpitate. “Says who?”

What the fuck. “Keith.” Whatever else he wanted to say got stuck halfway between his lungs and his mouth. 

“You think I’m not into you too?” Keith reached down, taking Shiro’s metal hand and pressing it against Keith’s chest. “You think you’re not doing the same thing to me?” Keith’s heart answered for him, thumping hard and fast beneath Shiro’s palm. “You think I haven’t been thinking about you since the day we met?”

It was so much. Almost too much. Keith’s heart racing under his hand while his own pulse ratcheted against Keith’s fingertips and both of them trying to breathe and their knees touching and Shiro not even able to form a word. All this time? Months? How could he have been so oblivious? “Since the day we met ?”

Instead of replying, Keith leaned forward and kissed him. It was warm and confident and everything that Keith was in a movement. Shiro had fantasized about this moment for so long that it took him a beat to realize it was actually happening, before he could actually lean into the press of their mouths, to breathe in the scent of Keith, to feel the heat coming off his skin.

When their lips parted and they sat back, both breathing a little faster, realization crystallized in Keith’s expression. “Holy shit. Your heart was racing the entire time because of me .”

Shiro gulped and in his kiss-fevered haze, more words fell out. “Ha. Um, yeah. Because of you and the heart thing.”

Oh, my God. 

“Wait.” Keith’s tone moved from shock to curiosity. “What’s the heart thing?”

His stupid, stupid fucking mouth. “Ha. Um. It’s not important,” Shiro said, laughing weakly.

Keith started moving, drawing his legs up on the couch, and Shiro couldn’t help the soft sound he made when Keith climbed into his lap, his thighs straddling Shiro’s hips. “Is this okay?”

Shiro’s mouth was so dry. He licked his lips. “Yeah.”

“I think you should tell me,” Keith said, running his fingertips gently over Shiro’s forearms, “about the heart thing.”

“Oh.” Shiro ducked his face, knowing a blush was creeping up his neck. “I mean.”

Keith waited a breath to see if more words were coming. “Is it a good thing or a bad thing?”

“It’s good.” Fuck, why was this so hard to talk about? Why couldn’t he just say it?

“Good like exciting?” Keith’s hand moved up his arm, tracing over his shoulder, and finally pressed against Shiro’s chest. “Like if I feel it beating? You like that?”

Shiro actually shuddered. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. “I, yeah. Yeah, I do.” He looked down at Keith’s hand on his chest, trying to find the words. “It’s this weird thing, and it’s totally separate from school or, like, medicine or being a doctor or any of that, it’s—“

“Shiro.” Keith used his free hand to tip up Shiro’s chin. “You’re fine. I promise. You’re allowed to like things. Be excited by things.”

Shiro looked up, finally meeting his gaze. God, his eyes were gorgeous. Nearly violet. “I just don’t want you to think I’m weirder than I actually am.”

Keith adjusted himself in Shiro’s lap, his warm weight shifting. “I just told you I’ve been dying for you since the day we met, and you think you’re going to put me off with a little kink confession? Especially one as cute as this? Not likely.” He nosed against Shiro’s throat, his breath hovering over Shiro’s pulse point. “I want to know more about it. What you like.”

“I…”Shiro opened his mouth and then shut it again. “Um.” 

After a moment, Keith kissed against his collarbone. “You haven’t talked about this much, have you?”

A new flush came over Shiro. “I guess that’s obvious.”

“Hey, no, that’s okay.” Keith pressed more closely to Shiro, squeezing his thighs a little. “Don’t be embarrassed.” He hadn’t seen this smile on Keith before. It was small and private, like a whisper meant only for his ears. “You mind if I ask you questions?”

Shiro nodded weakly. His senses were thrumming with Keith’s scent and warmth, his mind reeling with the words they’d spilled. This wasn’t a fantasy or a shower daydream. Keith was in his lap and he was into Shiro and they’d kissed and probably would again. Like soon. Any second. And now Keith knew about his heart thing and he hadn’t frowned or walked away. He was curious. 

It was dizzying and Shiro never wanted it to stop.

“Yeah. You can ask me.” 

Keith trailed his fingers trailing along Shiro’s neck, and then pressing two fingers against his carotid. “You like it when I feel your pulse? Feel how fast it is?”

“Um,” Shiro blinked. “Yes.”

“Good.” Keith leaned forward, pressing his mouth over the same spot. “You like it,” Keith asked, lingering there, “when I kiss here? Feel your pulse speed up under my lips?”

Shiro let out a soft gasp. “Oh, my God. Yeah.”

“Good boy.” Keith laughed against his skin, sucking over the pulse for a moment before sliding a hand under Shiro’s hoodie. He sobered, meeting Shiro’s eyes. Keith’s hands smoothed up Shiro’s chest, fingers light. “Can I take your shirt off?”

Shiro tensed, and he knew Keith felt it. He heaved a breath before saying softly, “But you told me to put it back on.”

“Oh, wait, you thought,” Keith’s gaze softened. “Shit. I thought you were uncomfortable, and you thought the opposite. God. I’m sorry.” He fingered the hem of Shiro’s shirt. “Listen, if I had my way, you’d never put your shirt back on.”

Shiro bit his lip, unused to the praise. “Keith.”

“I’m just saying.” Keith tilted his head, his hair falling across his forehead. “You’re gorgeous and I want to look at you. If you’re cool with it.”

“I’m not gorgeous,” Shiro said, throat tight.

Keith’s lips found his again, the kiss chaste until Shiro opened his mouth and Keith licked into it, and everything was hot and needy and perfect. He hadn’t been kissed in a long time and Keith was exceptionally good at it. “You,” Keith said, his breathing a little unsteady, “are stunning.” He wrapped his arms around Shiro, holding him like he was something precious. “Do you trust me?”

Inside Keith’s arms, the answer was obvious. “I want to.”

Keith slowly let go of him and lifted the edge of his shirt, pulling it up far enough for him to put his ear over Shiro’s chest. “Do you like it when I listen?”

“Keith, holy shit.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Fuck, yes.”

“Your heart is beating so fast.” Keith chuckled, his breath ghosting along Shiro’s skin. “I can feel it against my cheek. Shit, it’s so strong.” Fingers lightly traced his ribcage. “You’re holding your breath again. You gotta breathe, baby.”

Baby. Shiro exhaled and followed it with a gasp. “Sorry. This is,” he managed. “A lot.”

The ear on his chest pulled away and Keith studied him. “Too much?”

“No. It’s good. Really good. Beyond.” Shiro looked away sheepishly. “You, um, you called me baby.”

The pressure from Keith’s palms eased a little. “Too soon?” He held his bottom lip between his teeth. It was charming and hot at the same time. 

“No one’s ever called me that.” Shiro smiled shyly. “I like it.”

“Good. I’m glad.” Keith leaned in again, rocking his hips against Shiro’s. Fuck. Keith was hard. The knowledge of that fact was enough to send Shiro into the stratosphere. “Please. Please let me take your shirt off.” 

Shiro nodded. “As long as you do, too.”

“I’m so ahead of you.” Keith yanked off his tank top and Shiro barely had a second to admire the taut skin of his abdomen and the lean lines of his chest and arms before Keith grabbed the hem of Shiro’s shirt and lifted it gently, almost reverently, over Shiro’s head. “God, look at you. So beautiful.”

Despite Keith’s words and the eager press of his hips, it took everything Shiro had not to cover himself. Every scar, every bit of puckered skin and discoloration was exposed. He wanted to make a joke, try to disarm and distract to keep Keith from noticing all his flaws, but before he could get one word out, Keith was kissing him again. With their bare chests pressed together, Keith’s warmth radiated; the man was like a small inferno. If he really concentrated, which was difficult to do with Keith’s tongue in his mouth and Keith’s hands in his hair, Shiro could feel the confident slam of Keith’s heartbeat against his own rib cage. 

Your hands. You need to touch him. Shiro slid his flesh hand around the back of Keith’s neck, earning a pleased groan from him, and then gingerly used his prosthetic to squeeze Keith’s hip. Keith leaned into his touch, kissing him harder. His entire body hummed, lost at sea on adrenaline. 

“Could have been,” Keith said, laughing a little against Shiro’s mouth. “Kissing all this time. God, kissing you is like, next level shit.” He bent down a bit, pressing his ear over Shiro’s heart again. “Your heart’s into it, too.”

“It is?” he asked stupidly, as if he couldn’t feel his own pulse tripping hard enough to make his chest shake. It was so fucking bizarre to talk about it that Shiro hardly knew how to repsond 

“Do you know how fucking hot it is to know it’s beating this hard because I just kissed you?” Keith reached over and lightly thumbed Shiro’s right nipple. “Wonder what would happen to your heart if I kept that up?”

Shiro hissed through his teeth. Keith’s touch was electrifying, sending a jolt of pleasure through every nerve ending. “Fuck.”

“You like that?” Keith’s thumb plucked at it again. 

“Yes. Fuck, yes.”

“I can hear how much you like it.” Keith’s forefinger joined his thumb, lightly squeezing his nipple. “Your heart is so reactive to everything. It’s amazing. I swear I could just listen to it and know how everything I did was affecting you.”

Shiro let out a soft moan. Keith’s words alone had him throbbing in his pants.

“You sound so good. Your heart pounding and the little noises you make,” Keith said, his voice low and quiet as he gently rolled the hard nub between his fingers. “You can’t imagine the ideas this is giving me.”

Shiro shifted underneath Keith, levering his hips just to feel Keith’s erection against him. “I think I have a clue,” he said, pressing a hand at the small of Keith’s back to push him even closer. “Shit, you feel good.”

“I just want to touch you everywhere. Feel everywhere.” Keith pulled away from Shiro’s chest with a whine. “Fuck, imagine the way your heart would beat if I got you off right now.” He stopped, eyes wide, as though he’d caught himself by surprise. “God. Sorry. Too soon.”

It wasn’t too soon. It couldn’t happen fast enough. Shiro reached out, cupping Keith’s face before kissing him greedily, loving the way Keith responded, how quickly he followed Shiro’s mouth. The kiss bought him enough time for his adrenaline-addled brain to think of what to say. 

“Not,” he managed, breaking their kiss to breathe. “Too soon.”

“Really?” Keith’s grin made Shiro want to kiss him again. “I can touch you?”

“Yeah.” Shiro nosed against Keith’s throat. “Do you wanna,” he said, feeling bold from Keith’s praise, “go across the hall?”

“Hell, yeah.” Shiro slid both arms under Keith’s ass and lifted him off the couch, earning a gasp from Keith. “Oh, my God. Fuck, you’re strong.” He laughed. “You’re carrying me? Shiro.” Keith’s long legs wrapped around Shiro’s waist, squeezing tight. “Wait! Hold on.” He leaned back and grabbed his stethoscope from between the couch cushions. “We’re going to need this.”

Their bedrooms were next door to each other and when Shiro hesitated, Keith nudged his ribs. “My room, yeah?” He nodded and set Keith down on the bed, only to have him tug Shiro by the wrist and pull him off balance towards the mattress. “Lie down on your back for me, gorgeous.”

Shiro did, suddenly feeling tremors of nervousness stamping down his excitement. Keith was going to see him. All of him. At least it wasn’t bright in the room; only a lamp in the corner cast a pleasant golden glow over the space. Keith’s room was lived-in but not messy, and it smelled like whatever woodsy, peppery smell he liked to use, something warm and spicy. He craned his neck to see what Keith was doing and found him digging around in the drawer beside the bed, making a pleased sound. 

“Found it.” He flashed Shiro a smile, climbing up next to him on the bed. “You gotta turn over for me, baby.”

God, that word. It made his stomach clench and his blood run faster. Shiro eased himself onto his back and immediately Keith started pressing kisses against his stomach. “These should be illegal.” Keith let out a low groan. “I knew they were good but like, this good? Shit.” He rested his cheek against Shiro’s belly for a long moment. “How do you get anything done with these abs under your shirt all day and not just, you know, touch them?”

Shiro blushed, lightly brushing his hand over Keith’s hair. It was so soft and heavy in his fingers. “It feels good when you do.”

“You like me touching you?” Keith’s palm ran slowly up and down Shiro’s stomach, the sensation making his abdomen flex involuntarily. “You like when I tell you you’re beautiful?”

Fuck. Shiro shut his eyes, unable to stand Keith’s gaze on him. It was too much. “You’re beautiful,” he said, the words barely a whisper. “Not me.”

Keith’s fingers traced a scar, one of the longer ones over the bottom of Shiro’s ribcage. “I think you are. You’re strong and tall and fucking ripped, but you’re graceful. And pretty. And sweet. And brilliant. And kind.” Keith shook his head. “How is that not beautiful?”

“I’m all,” he gestured weakly at himself. “Well. You can see me.”

Keith’s voice was so gentle and his touch so feather-light that it nearly made Shiro cry. “I can see you.”

Shiro couldn’t answer. He just nodded. 

“Look at me for a sec, yeah?” Shiro did, opening one eye. “Can I take you on a quick tour?” He held out his right arm, catching the light over a long, thin scar up his forearm. “Compound fracture. Fell on the ice. 8th grade.” Pulling down the waist of his pants, he tilted his hip forward, showing a discolored patch of skin bigger than his palm. “Borrowed my neighbor’s dirt bike. Okay, stole. Burned myself on the motor when I flipped it over.” He lifted his hair, showing his temple. “First concussion. Eight stitches, too.” Another scar on his ankle, delicate and small from a skating accident. A bigger one across his cheek, still pink. “From my last season. I got in a fight protecting a teammate. I won, even though it doesn’t look like it.”

Shiro reached out, touching the scar on Keith’s arm. It was faded, the skin soft under Shiro’s fingers. “Sounds like the kind of thing you’d do.”

Keith rubbed his thumb over Shiro’s wrist. “I’m not trying to minimize what you’re feeling. I’ve just never seen anything more stunning than you.”

“Keith.” Shiro tucked his face against Keith’s arm, kissing gently over the place where in middle school, a bone had broken badly enough to pierce the skin. “Your scars. They’re like a roadmap that led you here.” He tilted his head up, pressing a kiss on Keith’s cheek over his newest one, feeling the muscles of Keith’s face move into a smile under his lips. “I like them.”

“Then touch me. Show me. I’ll show you.”

Shiro dragged a breath, lips over Keith’s neck, feeling the thrum of his pulse under the skin. It beat hard and fast, the rhythm quieting Shiro’s fears. This wasn’t in his head. Keith wanted this. Wanted him. “Where should I touch you?”

“Everywhere you’re touching me now feels amazing. Touch anywhere you want.” Keith moved to straddle Shiro’s hips, his thighs warm through his thin joggers, and then leaned forward to smooth both hands over Shiro’s abdomen and chest. “Where do you like to be touched?” He glanced down at Shiro’s erection with a mischievous smile. “Besides the obvious.”

No one had ever asked him that specific question before. “I mean,” he said, “I like it when you run your fingers through my hair.”

“Yeah?” Keith kept one hand pressed over Shiro’s heart and the other carded through his forelock before dragging deliciously over his scalp. “Like that?”

“Shit. Yes.”

“What else?”

“My… my neck is really sensitive. And the inside of my thighs.”

“Good to know.” Keith nuzzled his lips against Shiro’s throat, making him shudder. “Right here? Right over the spot where I can feel your pulse picking up speed?”

Shiro hissed through his teeth. “Yeah.”

“I want to touch you on all of those places. And so many more.” Keith hummed against his neck. “That’s it. Good boy. Don’t try to hold back. Just let yourself go. Let your heart race. Let me feel everything you feel.”

Shiro’s eyes clamped shut as Keith’s hand slid down along the seam of his pants. “Shit.”

“So good for me. You feel so good. And your thighs. I can feel them through my pants,” he said, squeezing his own thighs against them. “So strong and fucking thick.”

“The things you say,” Shiro said, voice escaping in a sigh. “God, Keith.”

“You like me telling you how you feel underneath me? How you’re such a good boy for me? The way you’re breathing a little fast and how your muscles tense when I kiss you? And how it’s taking every ounce of my self control to not shove my hand down your pants?”

“Please,” Shiro whined, his hands sliding up Keith’s spine, the pull of his back muscles like a glorious arc. 

“Baby, I will make you feel so good. And I’m going to hear you, too. How does that sound? Me stroking you while I listen to your heart getting faster and faster until you come like the good boy you are?” Keith’s voice was nearly a purr. “You want that? Want my hands on you?”

Shiro’s breath faltered, hitching his chest. “Yes.” His fingers gripped Keith’s shoulders like a towline.

Keith pressed a long, lazy kiss against Shiro’s pulse before tucking his lips near Shiro’s ear. “I’m going to take your pants off now. Wanna see you, yeah? See those gorgeous thighs that have me dripping. And that pretty cock of yours.”

He wouldn’t have described Keith as quiet exactly, just more reserved. As a roommate, he was respectful. As a friend, he was thoughtful about space but warm in his conversation.

In bed, he was just filthy and chatty as hell. 

And Shiro loved it. He’d never experienced anything quite like it and Keith’s words alone had him panting like a sprinter.

Keith’s fingers hooked over the waistband of his pants and he slid them down to Shiro’s knees. “Boxer briefs,” he said, nodding in approval. “I think you’ve ruined them for me. No one else could possibly fill these out like you do. Damn. You’re the hottest thing I’ve ever seen.” He grinned. “Aww. Look at how hard you are. Are you leaking already?”

“Fuck, Keith,” Shiro hissed as Keith touched him through his boxers.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you. You’ll be so good and I’ll make you feel better than you’ve ever felt.” Keith pulled down the band of Shiro’s briefs and clicked his tongue. “Look at you. Perfect. You’re just perfect.” He finished removing Shiro’s clothes and let out a sigh. “You’re like the goddamn Louvre. Except I get to touch the artwork. Such a good, beautiful boy.” 

The praise was good. Better than good. Shiro felt the flush but somehow it wasn’t embarrassment; it was more like pleasure. “You, um, like it?” he asked. He knew his dick was pretty decent, proportional, at least. His ex had never complained, but Keith had given him more compliments in the last half hour than Shiro remembered in his entire last relationship. 

“You naked is even better than I imagined, and my imagination is pretty good.” Keith actually licked his fucking lips and gave him a heavy-lidded stare. “Like doesn’t even begin to explain. Shit, you’re gorgeous.” He reached over and picked up his stethoscope. “So. Here’s what’s going to happen. This is all about you now. You’re going to hold the chestpiece for me. And I’m going to listen while I touch you. And you’re going to let me do all the work and just lie back and let go like a good boy, all right?” 

This wasn’t a new fantasy, the idea of someone hot listening to him, but it had always been just that: a fantasy. It wasn’t something he shared with anyone, let alone experienced outside of his own imagination. His expression must have conveyed some level of panic because Keith leaned forward and kissed him, warm and sweet. “You okay?” Keith asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, automatic. This was okay. This was amazing. Also, kind of terrifying after so long of just being intimate with his own hand.

“I’ll take it slow. Or faster, if you want. Just say the word.” Shiro nodded and Keith handed him the chestpiece of the steth. “Do you listen to yourself?”

Oh, my God. It wasn’t any more embarrassing than anything else he’d shared, but somehow it seemed worse. “Like, during?” He could feel the burn climbing up his skin.

“Don’t be embarrassed. It’s hot that you do. Put it where you like to listen the most.”

He took a breath and put the chestpiece over his heart, pressing over his tricuspid valve, where he knew it would be loud. Keith fitted in the earpieces and immediately closed his eyes, letting out a short, stuttered laugh. “Holy shit. I thought you were fast before.”

Keith hovered over him for a moment, stroking over his collarbone. “You’re so reactive. It’s amazing.” He kissed along the column of Shiro’s throat before finding his mouth again. “So good. You’re so good.” 

Shiro’s tongue was in Keith’s mouth and his heartbeat was in Keith’s ears and his entire body felt like it might fly apart from sheer adrenaline and desire. Keith’s hands felt like something divine, almost healing. They ran along Shiro’s shoulders and down his chest. “You’re shaking, baby,” Keith said gently. “Do you want me to stop?”

“I’m okay,” Shiro said. He could feel it now, the slight trembling of his own limbs It was hard to tell if it was excitement or fear or anticipation or a mixture of all three. “I promise.”

“You don’t need to hold back. I just want you to feel amazing.” Keith nuzzled his nose against Shiro’s neck. “Your heart beats faster when I kiss you. It’s going so hard and I haven’t even touched you yet.”

HIs pulse fired so rapidly that it wasn’t easy to tell one beat from the next; Shiro just knew it was pounding from feeling it through the chestpiece as he pressed it in place. He used his free hand to drag his fingers through Keith’s hair, closing his eyes. “I dreamed about you touching me,” he said, the haze of desire knocking aside his usual filters.

“You did?” Keith seemed delighted by this prospect. “What other kinds of things did I do in your dreams?” 

So, so many things. Shiro dragged in air. “I don’t want to say,” he managed, “in case they won’t come true.”

“Did I do this?” Keith reached down, slowly stroking Shiro’s cock, feather-light.

Shiro gasped and the sound that followed was desperate, a low groan. “Keith.”

“Or was it more like this?” Keith asked, pouring a bit of lube on his palm before sliding it along Shiro’s length again. 

“God!” Shiro shuddered, chest heaving. 

“Oh, that’s my good boy. That got your heart even faster. You like it slick, baby? Like my hands on you? How do you like it, fast or slow? You’re so hard already.”

“Keith,” Shrio keened, one hand holding the steth in place and his prosthetic scrabbling along Keith’s thigh until it found Keith’s hipbone. He squeezed, holding on as Keith’s fist slid along his cock. “S’good. So good,” he said, words punched out on exhales. 

“You’re breathing so fast. It’s like you can’t keep up with your heart. I love it. Love hearing you come undone just for me.” Keith’s thumb rubbed the pre-come leaking from his tip along the head of his cock. The sensation sparked along his nerves until Shiro couldn’t keep his eyes open, couldn’t stop his core from trembling. 

“Fuck,” Shiro gasped, giving himself over to Keith’s hands.

“There’s so much I want to do to you. So many places I want to touch. I want to hear what happens when I do.” Keith’s warm fingers dragged along the underside of his cock as he pressed his mouth along the inside of Shiro’s thigh. “Oh, you just picked up again. You’re so good for me, letting your heart just race away. You like me touching you here, don’t you?”

All Shiro could feel was Keith’s palms, Keith’s lips, and the pounding of his own pulse so loud in his own ears that all other sounds greyed out, lost like static. He was losing control, his body tensing, drawing back like a rubber band until finally, it snapped.

“You’re so gorgeous like this,” Keith said. “So good for me. Letting me hear your heartbeat while I work you up, letting me--” Keith stopped as Shiro let out a cry and came hard across his own belly, spilling along Keith’s hands.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shiro felt panic trip into his blood. It was too soon. He hadn’t wanted to come yet. He didn’t want the feeling to end. 

“Shiro, you’re good, you’re so good, just ride it out, just feel it all, that’s it, that’s good,” Keith soothed, his fingers easing up as he coaxed out the aftershocks of Shiro’s orgasm, touch gentle and voice even more so. “So beautiful. Everything about you. You could hear it, I could hear it right when you were going to come, your heart gave you away.”

Shiro panted liked he’d set the pace on the treadmill far too high, suddenly aware that he was still holding onto Keith’s hip and his prosthetic could have left marks the way he was gripping Keith. “Keith,” he managed, gasping for breath. “I didn’t mean--”

Keith tugged out the earpieces, leaning forward to line up his face with Shiro’s. “That was fucking hot. Holy shit.” He kissed Shiro, long and deep. “You were amazing.”

“I came too fast,” Shiro said sheepishly, turning his face away.

“It was kind of an ego boost for me,” Keith said, snuffling a laugh into Shiro’s neck. “Had you so turned on you couldn’t hold back. What isn’t hot about that?”

“I didn’t want to disappoint you.”

Keith made an exasperated sound. “Have you seen your cock? It has never, and I repeat never, disappointed anyone. Full stop.” He gave Shiro a lazy smile. “Plus you talk like I won’t get to give you lots of orgasms in the future. Now that would be disappointing.”

Looking up at Keith, the lean lines of him and the soft curve of his grin, Shiro’s chest seemed to unclench, like he could breathe again. “I, um, think I might have bruised your hip.”

Keith craned his neck, smoothing a hand over the spot where Shiro’s hand had been. “God, I hope so. Wouldn’t that be a treat to find in the shower tomorrow. Better than any hockey bruise I ever got.”

Shiro frowned, rubbing his thumb over Keith’s hip. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You didn’t. I promise.” He pushed himself up in one smooth move, all feline grace, and inclined his head towards the bathroom. “Let me go grab a towel and clean you up.”

“Wait.” Shiro grabbed Keith’s wrist before he could leave the bed, holding tight. “Don’t go.”

Keith looked down at him and eased his way back to Shiro’s side. Keith’s body felt so warm next to Shiro, so grounding, so good. His voice was low, soft. “You okay? You’re a little shaky.” 

He felt the slight trembling of his limbs and core. Shiro tried to steady himself, but his body hadn’t quite gotten the message. He wanted to say, that’s what happens when the person you’re in love with tells you they’re into you and strips you naked while playing out your secret fantasy. Instead he responded, “M’okay.”

“I’ve got you.” Keith kissed his crown and then plucked a few tissues from the bedside table before wiping  Shiro’s stomach clean. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yeah.”

“You haven’t been with anyone for awhile, have you?”

He hated being so obvious, but a rueful laugh escaped Shiro’s mouth. “Um, it’s been a minute.”

“It’s been a minute for me, too.” Keith kissed him again and Shiro dragged a hand down Keith’s abdomen, suddenly realizing that Keith was still hard against him.

“Keith,” he said, pulling away from the kiss to tug at Keith’s waistband. “Let me help you.”

A mischievous grin turned Keith’s mouth and he shook his head. “Next time. This time, just watch. I’ll show you what I like.” Keith slid a hand into his pants, sliding down the elastic to free his cock. “I’m so hard just from looking at you. Just touching you, listening to you, I’m already dripping.”

Keith’s cock was smeared with pre-come, lean and gorgeous just like the rest of him. He was leaking enough that he didn’t even need lube. He straddled over Shiro as he slid his fist loosely up and down his cock, using his other hand to grab Shiro’s hand and press it over his chest. “Look at me, baby. You see what you’re doing to me? You feel my heart? You’ve got it pounding. Just feeling you under me, thinking about what you looked like, what you sounded like when you came, shit.”

Keith’s heart banged against Shiro’s palm and the sounds Keith made were needy and delicious. He wanted to commit them to memory, hear them in his dreams. “Fuck, Keith.”

“Feel what you do to me, Shiro.”

The tangible recklessness of Keith’s pulse was like a revelation. Beyond anything Keith said, any grin or flick of his hair, there was definitive, undeniable proof that Keith wanted him in every beat of his heart. 

It was impossible not to stare at the stunning sight leaning over him. The lean muscles under Keith’s skin flexed as he drew himself closer and closer, his chest heaving with low groans. Dark hair hung across his forehead and his thighs gripped Shiro’s body tighter and tighter as he changed up his rhythm, going from slow to fast, thumbing over his slit and twisting his hand just slightly on the upstroke. His cock was so pretty that Shiro’s mouth watered.

“You’re so hot. I can’t stop thinking about your body and your cock and how good you feel.” 

He tried to think of things Keith had said to him, the waves of praise. “Look at you,” he said, trying the words out on his tongue. “Such a good boy.”

“Oh, hell, yeah. Keep talking.” Keith’s heartbeat picked up even more under Shiro’s fingers. “I’m close, shit, I’m close.”

The entire scene had Shiro’s mind reeling, but he had enough brain cells firing to grip Shiro’s thigh with his prosthetic. “You could come on me.”

Keith’s eyes, which had been screwed shut, flew open. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He massaged the muscle of Keith’s quad, feeling his legs straining. “That’s it. You’re so good for me. Come for me, baby.” 

As soon as he said the word, Keith came on Shiro’s chest, shuddering out a moan that sounded like Shiro’s name. The rush of hot come across his skin sent a thrill through him, just knowing that he was the reason Keith came, that he was what Keith was picturing in his mind when he stroked himself.

Keith fell forward with a sigh, riding out the last of his orgasm. “Holy fuck, Shiro. When you said that.”

“Baby?”

“Yeah. Shit. I came just from how you said it.” Keith laughed, kissing Shiro on the mouth. “Now we really need a towel. I messed you all up.”

“I like you messing me up.” Shiro hesitated. “But next time I want you inside me.”

Keith’s head fell back as he let out a moan. “You are going to get me hard again. And also, yes. Yes to that. And if next time I don’t get to go for a ride on your gorgeous dick, well, I might cry.” 

He climbed off the bed, letting his joggers fall off until he was crossing the room naked with the swagger of someone who knew he looked fantastic, which he did. Keith came back with a towel and a water bottle, gently wiping Shiro’s chest clean. “Here. Take a drink.”

Shiro did, not even realizing how parched he was as he downed nearly half the bottle in one go. “You taking care of me?”

“I like taking care of you,” Keith said, taking a swig from the bottle before climbing back into bed next to Shiro. 

As soon as Keith’s body touched his, Shiro wrapped his arms around him, holding him tight. He always felt the need to be close anytime he was intimate with someone, but never quite as much as he did in that moment. 

“Hey, there.” Keith’s breath was against Shiro’s shoulder, his fingers tracing lightly along Shiro’s back. “I’m not leaving. This is my bed and I want you to stay.”

Shiro’s arms held Keith close enough that he could feel the beat of his own heart against Keith’s ribs. “Is that too tight?”    

“Nah, you’re like a weighted blanket. Feels good.” Keith nosed against Shiro’s skin. “Should have figured you for the cuddly type. I’m into it. Also, God, you’re strong. I bet you could just pick me up and hold me against a wall.”

Shiro felt his breathing start to even out. “You want me to try?”

“Not right now, but yes.” Keith laughed. “Do you have any idea how long my list of things we could try is? Because it’s a Google doc at this point.”

Shiro kissed him, because his list was probably just as long but it seemed like a little too much to say so. Kissing was really perfect, because it kept him from saying things that he shouldn’t, like where have you been all my life, you found me, I love you .

Keith hummed against him, mouthing along his collarbone. “Lying in your arms naked is some next level shit.” His grip on Shiro tightened a little. “Now that I have you, I’m not letting go.”

A shaky breath left Shiro as he pressed a kiss to the top of Keith’s head. “Good. Same.”

“I know we didn’t talk about this,” Keith said, tipping up his chin to meet Shiro’s eyes. “But I’m not a casual kind of guy.”

Shiro couldn’t stop the sigh of relief that came out as a laugh. “Oh, fuck. Me either. Thank God!”

Keith pulled back just enough to give Shiro’s biceps a squeeze. “There's a reason I don't bring people around here, because that's not my thing. Plus I've been pining for you since day one, and there's nothing casual about my pining. I pine hard.”

Shiro nodded sagely. “You give good pining.”

“Don’t I fucking know it.” He tilted his head, his grin lopsided. “You’re no slouch yourself.”

“You know, I work hard at bottling up my feelings and sharing them with no one and honestly it’s time I got some appreciation for that.”

Keith’s burst of laughter was like a serotonin hit. “You know what I like?”

“What?”

“You.”

Keith.” Shiro buried his face against Keith’s shoulder. “You’re making me blush.”

“You’re cute when you’re all flushed and flustered.” Keith adjusted himself so he could lay across from Shiro on the pillow. “And your hair. Look at your floof.” Keith’s fingers carded through the longer hair across Shiro’s forehead, separating out the individual waves that happened when Shiro’s hair got damp. “It’s so soft. So perfectly white.” 

“It’s kinda weird.” Shiro shivered a little as the pads of Keith’s fingers worked along his scalp, moving in small circles. “Kind of a family thing.”

“It’s beautiful.” Keith’s ankles twined with Shiro’s, pressing warmth against his skin. “You’re like a fairy tale.”

Shiro huffed a laugh. “The kids in middle school had other words for it.”

“Kids in middle school are assholes.” 

Shiro tilted his head, leaning into Keith’s touch. “You’re playing with my hair?”

Keith’s fingers paused. “Is that okay?”

“It’s like heaven.” Shiro curled closer to him, loving the soft sweep of Keith’s hands, the gentle press of warmth along the sensitive places near his neck and temples. “Never stop.”

“Okay.” Keith hummed again, fingers buried in Shiro’s hair. “I’ll just follow you around campus like this. You can wear me like a backpack and I’ll just massage your scalp all day.”

“Aside from the weird looks we’d get, I say yes.” Shiro couldn’t help but reach out and smooth his hand over Keith’s hair, tucking it behind his ear. “How can you rile me up so much and then calm me down like this?”

“It’s my superpower. Good thing I’m chaotic good instead of evil, you know?” Keith said, tugging a little on the shell of Shiro’s ear.

“Aw, shit. Now you know why I grow my hair out over the sides. I gotta cover them up.” He pressed a palm lightly over his ear. 

“Are you kidding?” Keith pulled Shiro’s hand away, tracing the conch. “They’re adorable.”  

The touch sent Shiro’s nerves off. God, that felt good. “No, they’re not! They’re so big.”

“They’re perfectly sized for me to whisper filthy, dirty things into them. You want me to try it?” Keith leaned forward, lips brushing against Shiro’s ear. “I want to get my mouth on you. Find out what you taste like. I wouldn’t waste a drop, you know that?”

“Keith.”

“See?” Keith gave his ear a slight tug. "Don’t you appreciate your ears now?”

“I thought you were being good.”

“I’m chaotic good, remember?” Keith’s fingers returned to sliding through his hair. “But for you I’ll be perfectly good.”

“You are, you know.” Shiro breathed. “Perfect.”

Keith’s breath stilled for a moment and he opened his mouth to reply when Shiro’s watch suddenly beeped faintly. “You need to get that?”

Shiro reluctantly dug his arm out from underneath Keith and tapped the screen. “Oh. Shit. It’s my reminder for my meds.” He let out a sigh. “It’s really late.”

To his surprise, Keith slid a hand around his waist and tugged him closer. “Meds are important. But if you get out of my bed, you might not come back. And that would completely suck. So you gotta promise you’ll be right back, okay?”

He tilted his head, looking at Keith. He had a faint smile on his lips, hair a bit disheveled from the pillow. There was nothing Shiro wanted to wake up next to more, but his stomach still fluttered, like this was a mirage that would all collapse as soon as his feet touched the floor. “You’re sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I’ll even sweeten the pot by brushing my teeth before you get back in.” Keith pressed a kiss to his forehead before releasing him. “You mind if I watch your stupidly hot ass as you leave?”

“Not at all. Enjoy the show.” Shiro pushed himself up from Keith’s mattress, laughing a little to himself like some kind of drunk high schooler as Keith made some whoops of appreciation.

Once in his own bathroom, he fumbled at the sink to get his meds out of the bottle. His hands were still shaky. Everything felt shaky, but in the best possible way. Three hours ago, he’d had pizza with his roommate. Now, he was about to get in bed with him. This wasn’t the kind of upending Shiro was used to; usually in his experience the unexpected brought crisis or pain, problems to solve. This was something else altogether. 

He tugged on a soft pair of gray pajama pants and washed his face, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror. There was a slight pink mark on the side of his neck and he touched it with his prosthetic, the fingers slightly colder than the rest of him. His cheeks were flushed and the grin on his face wouldn’t go away as he brushed his teeth. There were still traces of adrenaline humming through him, but also an unfamiliar peace, the kind that kept repeating it’s not just you. It’s not just you. It’s not just you.   

As he approached Keith’s door, buoyed by the events of the evening, a sober thought dragged him back to earth. Ever since his accident, he hadn’t been able to sleep in total darkness. There were a lot of habits he’d been able to change and realities he’d gotten used to, but this one was a fixed entity. It was too much like that night, the way he’d been pinned down and screaming with pain and unable to see anything beyond pitch black. He pushed open the door, bracing himself for the darkness, building up all of his courage to ask Keith if he’d be okay with leaving a light on.

Instead of a dark room, Shiro gasped when he saw a small, soft globe of light in the corner. 

A moon.

A paper moon lamp.

Keith stepped out of his bathroom, an oversized pair of gym shorts hanging off his hips. “Hey.”

Shiro walking towards the lamp, drawn to it like a moth. “When did you get that?”

“Oh! It’s kinda new. I saw it when I was running errands awhile back and I don’t know, it made me think of you.” Keith grinned, ducking his chin. “You’re rubbing off on me. The astronomy posters in the living room, the constellations on your ceiling, well. I didn’t realize space was so incredible.”

“It’s,” Shiro reached out, gently touching the paper surface of the moon lamp. “It’s beautiful.”

Warm arms slid around Shiro. “I kinda had an ulterior motive though, if I’m honest. I guess maybe I hoped that someday you’d stay here with me and I could leave it on for you.”

Shiro looked over his shoulder to meet Keith’s gaze. “How did you know? About the,” he paused, forcing the words out. “About the light.”

“I pay attention.” Keith kissed the spot between his shoulder blades. “Come on. Time for bed.”

He let Keith take his hand and lead him towards the mattress, tugging him down gently. Keith settled onto his back and Shiro lay beside him, resting his cheek over Keith’s warm chest. Under his ear, Keith’s heart kept a steady rhythm, the pace slowing down a bit as Keith’s body relaxed under him. Just knowing he was close enough to Keith to feel the rise and fall of his breath, the beat of his heart, was overwhelming. 

A light chuckle vibrated through Keith’s ribs before he smoothed a hand over Shiro’s hair. “As many times as I’ve thought about this, it’s even better in real life.” He used his other hand to trace light fingers over Shiro’s bicep, which was flung over Keith’s waist. “Do you have any idea how good you feel in my arms?”

Shiro blushed, pressing his cheek more firmly against Keith’s skin. “It must be good, because your heart just skipped.”

“Ha! You’re affecting me already.” Keith stilled. “Is it skipping now?” 

“No, just the one.” Shiro breathed in the soft scent of Keith’s deodorant. “It sounds beautiful. So strong.”

Keith hummed, sliding his hand down Shiro’s arm and settling on his wrist. “Did yours finally slow down? I can’t feel your heart well enough to tell.” Keith’s fingers pressed into his wrist, and after a long moment, he kissed Shiro’s forehead. “Oh, there you go. It’s so steady and calm.”

Shiro tilted his head to kiss the nearest patch of skin. “I think I’m more content right now than I’ve been in,” he stopped, afraid to say ‘years’. “A while.” 

“Good. You deserve it.” Keith kissed the skin on the inside of Shiro’s wrist. “Now that I’ve got you right where I want you, you gotta tell me. I’m dying to know. Who was your partner?”

“Hmm? What do you mean?”

“For the lab. Who do I get to be jealous of?” Keith groaned. “Please don’t say it was Lance. Or Hunk.”

Shit. So much had happened over the past few hours that Shiro had forgotten about that. Shiro coughed. “Um. Yeah. About that.”

Keith poked his ribs lightly. “Allura? Seriously?”

“No, I,” Shiro let out a sheepish laugh. “So, you said I’d probably done it already, and I said that’s my brand, because it usually is, but, um, I kind of omitted the fact I actually haven’t done the lab yet.”

“What?” Keith shook his head, whistling. “Takashi Shirogane. Of the Four. Point. Oh. You haven’t done your lab yet? It’s due tomorrow!” Shiro muttered into Keith’s chest. “I’m sorry? What was that? I couldn’t hear you.”

“I said, I wanted to ask you but I was too afraid. So I just pretended I had. I didn’t lie,” he added quickly. “I don’t like lying. Especially to you.”

“Shiro.”

“What?” Shiro bit his lip.

“You’re so fucking cute that I can’t even live.” Keith let out a sigh. “You were too nervous to ask because you like me and then I asked you to be my partner and nearly put you in the hospital.”

“It wasn’t that bad.” Shiro groaned. “I would have calmed down eventually.” He shifted against Keith. “Um, any chance I could maybe do the lab real quick on, you know, you? In the morning?”

Keith kissed him quick and soft on the mouth. “I’ll let you examine me anytime, baby.”

“Oh, my God. Keith.”

He carded his fingers through Shiro’s hair. “I can’t wait to get a steth on you again. Find your murmur. Get you all hot and bothered and tell you how good you are for me.”

Keith.”

“What? You like it. You like me.” Keith dissolved into laughter. “I’m sorry. I’m messing with you and you’re trying to calm down and go to sleep.”

Shiro blinked into the semi-darkness. “How am I supposed to sleep when Keith Kogane is hot for me?”

Keith blew a raspberry. “You should sleep like you do usually because that dude has been into you for months .”

Shiro smoothed a hand over Keith’s cheek, tracing the soft skin of his scar. “No pressure, but this has been one of the best nights of my life.”

“No pressure, but same.” 

He kissed Keith then, pouring all of his desire and joy into it, drawing out a long, beautiful moan from Keith. “Can we,” he said, breathing a little fast, “do that tomorrow?”

“Oh, hell yes.” Keith laughed, nosing along Shiro’s throat. “There’s a lot we can do. But first we gotta get some sleep so I can keep up with you. One of us doesn’t go to the gym every damn day.”

“Right. You’re right. Sleep.” Shiro cuddled close to Keith’s chest, seeking out the comforting beat of his heart again. “I should probably warn you, but sometimes I have bad dreams.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Keith’s fingers ran along his spine in soothing patterns. “Happens sometimes to me, too.” He kissed Shiro’s crown. “You won’t tonight, though.”

“How do you know?”

The drag of Keith’s fingertips was perfect, warm and smooth along his skin. “I just do.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.” Keith’s voice was a low, gorgeous rumble in his chest. “Sleep well, baby.”

Shiro tried to say ‘I love you’, but all he could say before he drifted off was "you too," and that, he decided, was probably enough for one night.