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Keith loves cats. Obviously, he loves cats or else why would he have started a cat cafe with Lance and Hunk. But he doesn’t just love them because of their independent nature -tThat’s just a bonus. No, Keith relates deeply with the noble creatures and how they’re often misunderstood.

 

Non-cat owners, or people who haven’t been exposed to cats in general, assume that cats are selfish, arrogant pets. Four-legged royalty who want their every whim catered too and aren’t as loving as dogs. But anyone who has owned a cat knows that that’s not true. That’s not the whole story. They’ll tell you that cats can be just as loving and loyal as any dog. It’s just a matter of earning the cat’s love and trust.

 

Keith relates deeply with that misunderstanding primarily because he is often misunderstood to be aloof and cold. At the same time, this isn’t something he’s challenged over the years to be clear. Rather, Keith has used to his advantage. Life is easier to get through if people believe they shouldn’t mess with you because you always carry a four-inch blade on you. It’s more like a switchblade anyways but his reputation allows him to lead a quiet academic life for the most part.

 

But then he’d been assigned on a group project with Hunk, Lance, and Pidge and suddenly he had a group of friends. And during one of their hangouts, Hunk had said, “You’re such a cat. People think you’re all independent and hate being touched but you’re pretty chill and appreciate a good cuddle.”

 

Tucked under Hunk’s arm in a half hug, Keith thinks about it and nods because that’s true he supposes. He does enjoy a good cuddle. And in their group, Hunk is the best person to cuddle with.

 

“I guess that explains why they’re drawn to you,” Hunk muses, tapping a finger against his cheek. “They know you’re one of them.”

 

Lance had immediately slapped his knee and yelled, “ That’s why we don’t get along! I’m totally a dog person!”

 

As she finishes popping a new disc into the console, Pidge drawls, “That’s funny. I thought you didn’t get along because you were hiding your envy under a rivalry Keith didn’t even know existed until you told him.

 

Keith had shot Hunk a questioning look - because, envy? - while Lance had squawked in protest and tossed a game controller at the back of Pidge’s head. She turned just in time to see the device coming and grabbed it before it hit. Hunk meanwhile had patted Keith’s back reassuringly and said, “He’s over it now.”

 

So anyways, the point Keith is trying to make is that he loves cats. He loves their individuality and personal quirks. He loves the way Red won’t eat until one of them stays next to her. He adores the way Buttercup will plop down by the backdoor minutes before Hunk arrives and meow happily as soon as he’s opening the door. He laughs at the way Joan won’t leave Lance alone, meowing pitifully when he closes the bathroom door on her, hissing, “No!” before doing so. He loves the way Butters won’t let anyone rub her belly and will plop down in front of Pidge and show her belly, purring throatily for bellyrubs.

 

Keith loves how Ginger won’t meow for anyone but Lance. How Prince will beg Hunk to share scraps of food. How Belle won’t sleep on anyone laptop except Pidge’s. They’ve got ten cats all together and it’s almost like looking after ten small people, each with their own set of individual requirements and preferences.

 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some habits that he doesn’t like. Take for example, how 10 year old Rover refuses to use his litter box unless Keith accompanies him. The cat will literally yowl at Keith until he’s got the human’s attention and then walk him towards his litter tray. And if Keith walks away before Rover is done? He’ll step out of the box and shit on the floor.

 

This means Keith has to accompany Rover to his litter tray everytime .

 

So when the ‘crisis’ happens, Keith is busy standing next to Rover’s litter tray, distractedly scrolling through his twitter feed.

 

He misses the following while catching up with what’s going on in the world: Patty sneaking out the front door, Hunk’s yell when he sees the gray kitten clawing her way up the big tree right outside, and Lance grabbing the phone to call the fire department for help.

 

These are all things Keith will regret missing because if he’d been outside, in the main part of the cafe, he’d have told Hunk to stop Lance from call the fire department and climbed the tree himself to grab Patty.

 

But as it is, he’s ten minutes late to the party. So when he steps into the cafe area, a peppy Rover by his side, the first thing Keith sees is Hunk yelling up a tree outside the shop. Pointing out the window, Keith asks, “What the hell is going on?”

 

“Patty sneaked out and climbed up the tree,” Lance explains, gently nudging Oscar away before he tries to weave between Lance’s legs. “Hunk’s just making sure she stays put till the fire department sends someone over.”

 

Keith scowls immediately. “Why’d you call the fire department for that? I can get her down.” And without waiting for Lance’s reply, he’s making for the front door. Honestly, why’d they call the fire department for something as simple as this?

 

As soon as he pulls the door open, Hunk’s concerned face turns his way. Keith stands next to the larger man, stares up the tree and it’s full foliage and asks, “Where’s Patty?”

 

Hunk waves him over, making him stand next to him before pointing up, “You gotta stand over here. No, right here. Okay, so you see that branch?”

 

Squinting up, Keith asks, “Where?”

 

Hunk points deep into the foliage and patiently guides Keith’s vision until he can see the gray kitten shivering behind a clump of leaves. And then lets out a startled, “Whoa! What’re you doing?” when Keith tugs his apron off, tosses it towards Hunk, and steps determinedly towards the tree.

 

While looking for a good handhold, Keith answers, “Gonna climb up there and get her down myself.”

 

“Why?” Hunk asks in alarm, clutching the gray apron with both hands as Keith does a slow turn around the tree trunk. “We already calle-”

 

Keith grabs a branch and starts to heft himself up, “You shouldn’t have. I’ll bring her down in a couple of minutes.”

 

But before he can lift himself up all the way, Hunk’s darted forward to grab him by the ankle and insistently pull him down. “ No ! That’s dangerous! If you fall, you won’t be covered by your health insurance.”

 

Rolling his eyes, Keith tries to kick his foot free. “Do you know how many trees I’ve fallen down from in my life and never gotten hurt?” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a small crowd forming around them, curiously watching them while whispering between themselves.

 

“Nope. I’m not letting go of you! If you break a bone on my watch I’ll never forgive myself.”

 

Hunk !” Keith snaps, putting all his weight into yanking himself out of the bigger man’s grip but no dice.

 

They remain locked in that stalemate long enough for a fire truck to pull up next to the curb. The crowd around them turns as one when they hear the bells peeling down the street.

 

Hunk immediately brightens, letting go of Keith’s ankle to wave at the driver. With a yelp, Keith swings in place, the bark scratching against his palms. The sudden and sharp sting of pain reflexively make him let go of the branch. He falls on his tailbone, causing several people around them to wince in sympathy.

 

Tutting, Hunk helps him up to his feet. “I told you you’d get hurt.”

 

With an angry scowl, Keith points his finger at his friend and is ready to go off on him when a cheerful voice from his side asks, “Hey, are you the guys who called about the cat emergency?”

Keith snaps, “There’s no cat emergency! I’ve got it under control” before turning to look at the speaker. And immediately is taken aback by the smiling firefighter looking between him and Hunk.

 

He’s half a head taller than him, tipping his dark helmet up with a gloved hand. He’s got gray eyes that remind Keith of summer storms and a smile that makes him forget why he was ever angry in the first place. Keith’s eyes dip down lightning fast to check for a name tag of some kind on the dark jacket but there’s nothing. So he looks back up at the man’s face, admiring the sharp cut of his jaw and the line of his nose.

 

When’s the last time Keith has given thanks to living in a small town because right now, he is incredibly grateful for this. If this were a bigger town, the fire department wouldn’t have responded to their call.

 

Hunk takes advantage of the brief pause to pull Keith out of the way with one hand and point up the tree with the other. “One of our cats climbed up there and we couldn’t get her down.”

 

That snap’s Keith out of the pink haze that’s descended on him. He scowls at Hunk and then at the firefighter. “I was about to get her down when Hunk made me fall on my butt.”

 

“Oh sure, I stop you from breaking your bones and this is how you thank me.”

 

“Now, now,” the man diplomatically steps between them, both palms up. “I’m glad you waited for us. You can still help us get her down. It’ll probably be better if someone she knows is there to calm her down instead of a stranger. Uhh...”

 

Those pretty gray eyes lock onto him, making Keith’s heart race for a moment. Keith stares back at him, wondering why he’s suddenly the subject of this man’s full attention before he realizes that he’s supposed to share his name. “Keith.”

 

“Keith,” the man smiles. “I’m Shiro. Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll get the ladder out and put it on a branch near where your cat is. Then we’ll go up together and get her down. How’s that sound?”

 

Keith glances up at where the kitten is trembling in place, he asks, “Do you want me to go first?”

 

“I’d like you to go behind me. It’ll be safer that way. I just need you to talk to her and try to calm her down.”

 

It’s not how he’d like to do it but the man’s a professional so Keith cedes to his experience. He nods and takes a step back, watching Hunk gently shoo the rest of the crowd back to make room. A willowy lady and the handsome man pull a ladder out of their rig before asking Keith, “Where do you want to put this?”

 

The lady is at the front so Keith gestures for her to step forward. Once she’s by his side, he points up into the tree. “You see her? She’s right over there. Next to th-”

 

“Oh yeah!” Her eager nod have a few strands of dark hair slipping out from under her helmet and brush against her brown cheek. “I see her. Okay, just take a couple of steps back while we set this up.”

 

It takes them less than a minute to put the ladder in place. While lady double checks that the ladder is against a secure bough, the man steps next to Keith. “Okay so, I’d like you to stay a step or two behind me, alright? And let me know if you’re having any trouble.”

 

Keith nods, hoping against hope that maybe the guy is going to take his bulky dark jacket off so that Keith can see what kind of build the guy has, but no dice. The guy doesn’t even take his helmet off. He just tells his fellow firefighter, Sandra, to keep a good hold on the ladder before he starts climbing.

 

Despite his size, the man moves swiftly. He climbs up the ladder with a quick grace that Keith admires. Other things Keith admires, his view. He’s at least sure the guy has a very nice butt if the way his pants cling to his butt with every step-up tell him anything. A disapproving voice that sounds a lot like Hunk chides him for being a pervert. Keith feels bad almost immediately and look away towards Patty.

 

The kitten is trembling on the branch, feet under her body. A pang of hurt twinges in his chest, making him call out to the feline. “Hey Patty, we’re almost there. It’ll be okay. Just hang in there.” Her ears turn towards him. She doesn’t exactly perk up but she recognizes him enough to start pitifully meowing at him. “I know honey, I know. We’ll get you back inside in no time.”

 

Patty’s meows turn low and angry, clearly displeased with her present situation. Her ears flatten as the firefighter reaches her eye level. Keith notes the ears and the way she’s whipping her tail before warning the guy, “Better be careful. She’s not happy to see you.”

 

“I can tell,” the man laughs, holding his gloved hand out for the kitten to sniff. “Hey Patty. My name’s Shiro. I’m here to help you down.”

 

So that’s his name.

 

Patty hisses distrustfully before meowing deeply at Keith.

 

Keith moves up a rung, trying not to think about how his face is so close to Shiro’s ass. He reaches his hand out, stretching as far as he dares so that Patty can sniff his fingertips but he falls shy by half an inch.

 

“It’s okay Patty-cakes. You can trust Shiro.” The kitten continues to glare distrustfully at Shiro’s hand. Keith sighs and tries to catch the other man’s eye. “Maybe it’ll help if you took your glove off?

 

Shiro doesn’t reply. He’s focused on Patty, who is gingerly leaning forward to press her nose against Keith fingertips. Before Keith realizes what’s happening, Shiro’s hand shoots out to grab Patty and the kitten lets out an angry yowl. A startled blink and a drop of something warm and hot falls on his cheek. Bewildered, Keith rubs the spot and stares in confusing at the deep red color on his fingertips before looking up at Shiro.

 

The firefighter is holding the squirming kitten against his shoulder, one eye squeezed shut in a pained wince as a drop of blood hangs heavy against his chin. “Holy shit,” Keith blurts out.

 

With a weak smile, Shiro says, “It looks worse than it is.”

 

The blood drop falls, rolling down Shiro’s jack sluggishly. Keith tugs on Shiro’s pants leg urgently even as he takes a step down. “It looks as bad as it is probably. I know how bad a deep scratch can be. Come on down. I’ll clean that up for you.”

 

Keith finds it attractive and aggravating in equal parts that Shiro makes sure to gently hand Patty over to Hunk and make sure she’s okay before letting Keith herd him into the back of the shop. Even that’s delayed because Shiro’s directing his partner to please put the ladder away, pausing to greet Lance and Pidge, and almost tripping over a curious Rover heading towards Hunk and Patty walking in after them.

 

“Sit,” Keith points at an empty chair before crouching down to pull the first aid kit out of the cabinet. The box is sloppily closed, a long string of gauze sticking out. He makes a face, making a point to remind the others to neatly put the kit away after they’re done patching up.

 

Turning around, Keith sees a muscled back being revealed to him. His jaw doesn’t exactly drop but there’s a moment where he can only stare in open mouthed admiration of Shiro’s physique. He traces the muscles with his eyes, greedily taking everything in. Keith notes the bionic arm and doesn’t have the time to spare it a thought because Shiro touches the red scratches on his shoulder with a hiss, propelling Keith into motion.

 

“She got you good,” he offers sympathetically.

 

Shiro laughs, touching the dried blood on his cheek. “It’s not the first time I’ve been scratched by a cat on a rescue but it’s probably the worst cut I’ve gotten.”

 

“Sorry about that.”

 

“Don’t be. She was scared and didn’t know any better. I’m glad she’s okay now.”

The man sweeps his white fringe over his head with his left hand to give Keith full access. It’s a good look for him. Keith wonders if Shiro sweeps his hair back often. But the white bangs falling across his nose was a good look too. Different but good. He also wonders how old Shiro is.

 

Probably thirty something .

 

“So, Keith.” Shiro begins, voice low in a way that sends anticipation racing up his spine to heat his chest. “How long have you been working here?”

 

He starts by wiping the dry blood away as gently as he can before answering, “I started the cafe with Hunk and Lance straight out of college. Seemed like a good idea to start our own business and be our own boss instead of joining some big company.”

 

Tossing the dirty cotton away, Keith grabs the tube of antiseptic cream. Glances at Shiro’s soft gaze before looking back down at his fingers unscrewing the top open. “What about you? How long have you been a fireman?”

 

“Three years. I tried doing the 9 to 5 thing everyone else does but it wasn’t for me. About two years after college I shifted careers.”

 

He tallies the numbers up and gives Shiro a surprised look, “You’re 27 ?”

 

Laughing, Shiro corrects him, “26 actually. Why? Don’t I look it?”

 

“No! I didn’t think you were only a year older than me.”

 

“Ouch,” Shiro jokes, hissing as Keith smoothes the gel on. “ Ow . That stings.”

 

With a soft apology and a hopeful heart, Keith hopes he’s not reading Shiro’s gaze wrong and begins, “I’d like to make this up to you.”

 

“Hurting me?”

 

It’s a horrible joke but it still makes Keith grin. He finishes folding the gauze into a large square before he presses it against Shiro’s cheek. “Hold this. Yeah, for that and as a thank you for your help.”

 

Shiro shifts in place, straightening his back before presenting his cheek to Keith to tape the gauze in place. “What did you have in mind?”

 

Somehow his fingers don’t tremble as they press the tape against Shiro’s covered wound. His voice comes out a lot more flirtatious than he plans when he asks, “Dinner whenever you’re free? I know a place that has great burgers.”

 

“I love burgers,” Shiro answers immediately, grinning up at Keith.

 

Keith smiles back as he finishes up, taking a step back before gesturing for Shiro to turn around in the seat. “That’s settled then. I’ll give you my number so we can...”

 

He trails off as he glances up at the door and sees four faces peeking through the open crack. All four Identical shocked expressions immediately whip out of sight, followed by a low, pained groan that’s hurriedly shushed away. Shiro glances over his shoulder at Keith curiously and the movement is enough to pull Keith back in the moment. Mentally, he resolves to figure out some way to get back at the others for eavesdropping on this conversation.

 

“So we can figure out when we can meet up,” Keith finally finishes, checking the claw marks on Shiro’s right shoulder. His eyes linger on the scarred junction that gives way to Shiro’s bionic right hand and wonders what’s the story. But he doesn’t ask. Despite his blunt nature, even Keith knows when to be polite and tactful.

 

This time when Keith applies the antiseptic cream on Shiro’s wounds, he doesn’t do anything but twitch at the sting. His voice is steady and pleased as he offers, “I’m free on Thursday actually. Does that work?”

 

Keith’s got a shift that ends at 7 but given that he’s just caught his friends slash coworkers spying on him, he’s certain they’ll let him go. As he prepares the gauze to apply on the claw marks, Keith checks the door again. He can’t see his friends and Shiro’s partner peeking in but knowing his friends, they’re probably straining their hearing to the max to hear their conversation.

 

Shaking his head, Keith finishes folding the gauze up before answering, “I can work something out.”

 

He lets out a startled noise when Shiro suddenly leans forward across the table. Keith’s about to ask what he’s doing when he realizes that Shiro’s grabbed a pen out of the Daffy Duck mug that holds all the writing utensils. Shiro turns in his seat, clearly looking for something to write on before he turns to Keith and asks, “Give me your hand.”

 

A little confused but willing, Keith holds his hand out, palm up. His stomach twists pleasurably as Shiro’s warm hand curls around his wrist and tugs him forward. A small shiver runs up his arm as Shiro carefully pens his number on the inside of Keith’s forearm.

 

“There.” Shiro says with satisfaction as he dots the i in his name. Keith stares at the number scrawled on his skin and suddenly understands the sentiment of ‘I’ll never wash this hand again.’ “Let me know if Thursday’s okay or I’ll switch shifts with someone to whenever you’re free.”

 

Nodding in surprise, Keith’s not sure how good of a job he does bandage Shiro’s shoulder wounds because he gets distracted by pleasurable tingles that keep racing up his arm as he relives the memory of Shiro’s gentle grip on his wrist.

 

Before he knows it, Shiro’s slipping his shirt on with a laugh. He fingers the small tears on his right shoulder, saying, “I never realized kitten’s claws could be that sharp. So, you’ll call me right?”

 

Keith nods, giving Shiro a shy wave as he walks backwards out of the employee lounge. The man has only just walked out when Lance comes stumbling in, declaring, “You’re welcome for calling the fire department.”

 

Any other day and Keith would grudgingly thank the man but he’s still reeling from the warmth of Shiro’s hand and his smile so he happily, if a bit distractedly, replies, “Thanks for calling them.”

 

Lance stares at him for a second before turning to address Hunk and Pidge, who are walking in as well, “I think the guy broke Keith.”

 

That brings Keith firmly back into the present and he struggles not to throw the roll of tape at Lance’s head. Hunk shoots him a warning look but Keith’s already shoving the tape back into the box. As he snaps it shut, Keith points out, “I’m going to need someone to cover the last hour of my shift on Thursday.”

 

As one, the trio’s expression shifts. They’re eyeing each other warily before Pidge asks, “The usual way?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Ready?” Hunk asks, waiting a beat as they all hold their fists out. “Rock, paper, scissors, go! AAAGH!” His annoyed yell is drowned out by Lance’s hoot of delight.

 

Pidge tuts while Hunk stares at his fingers, “You always go for scissors in the first throw.”

 

“I don’t! Do I?”

 

Lance sympathetically pats Hunk’s back. “Sorry, but you do.” He turns to Keith and flashes him a victory sign, “That’s taken care of. When are you gonna call him?”

 

“Later.” But to be safe, Keith pulls his phone out to transfer Shiro’s number over.

 

As he plugs the digits in, Lance groans, “Booooring! Call him right now! I bet he’s waiting!”

 

“I’m not calling him with you guys around. You’ll eavesdrop again .” Hunk’s expression turns guilty while Pidge and Lance sport identical, too-innocent expressions that make Keith roll his eyes. “That’s not going to work so don’t think I’m going to let you off easy for what you did either.”

 

Vague disease and worry flits through their gaze. Keith turns around to put the first aid kit away and hide his smirk. He’ll let them stew over how he’s going to get his revenge and let them walk around on eggshells. And once their nervous anticipation is at its peak, Keith will strike. He’s not sure how yet but he’ll have a couple of days to figure out what to do.

 

Keith glances over at the digits on his forearm and smiles. In the meanwhile, he’s got to think about what he’s going to say to Shiro and where they can go on their date.