The planet smells amazing. The sky is a delicate pink color, the sun a pale orange, casting a pastel glow over the flush of vegetation the red, blue, and green lions are nestled in. The shrubs of the undergrowth hang heavy with flowers, the nearby trees groan under the weight of ripe fruit. Even the short, soft grasses they wade through seem to emit a sweet scent when crushed under their boots.
Keith has had his helmet off enjoying the luxury of fresh, non-recycled air for a grand total of forty-five seconds before Pidge's voice crackles over the coms.
"Probably a good idea to keep your helmets sealed, guys. The local fauna are putting off some really weird chemical signatures."
Lance groans in protest, and Keith gives a disappointed sigh as he reaches for the helmet that he's only just hooked to his belt.
"Weird how? Like, spit acid in our faces weird? Liquefy our internal organs with venom weird? Or, or, taste especially delicious if we cook 'em weird? Give us superpowers if we let them bite us weird." Lance quips. "I'm just saying, weird doesn't have to be bad, y'know. All this negativity, jumping to the worst conclusions. Maybe not every planet wants to kill us, eat us, or sell us to the Galra."
Keith rolls his eyes and hides his exasperated smile behind his helmet as he pulls it back over his head. "No, of course not. Just the last dozen we've been to."
"See, it's bad attitudes like that that lead to being trapped in giant alien spiderwebs, or carried off by giant alien eagles. You receive what you give, Kei-" Lance cuts off midway through his diatribe to stare at Keith. Then he snickers.
Keith has already gone cross-eyed staring at the insect crawling across his faceplate. It looks pretty non-threatening, at least. Alright, that's actually an understatement. It's pretty large for a beetle, about the size of a small kiwi fruit, but it's got no fangs, or mandibles, or barbs, and the sticky little feet inching its way across across the clear plasteel of his helmet end in round little nubs instead of spikes or sharp insectoid feet.
It's also bright pink, and distinctly heart shaped.
"Aw, Keith." Lance giggles again. "It's so cute. I think you should keep it as an accessory. It suits you."
Pidge glances over at them absently, still sweeping the nearby flora with her scanner, then does a double take and points it right at Keith's face, forcing him to blink away spots as the lasers momentarily blind him. The bug flutters its wings.
"Keith." She says lowly. "You should really seal your helmet. Slowly."
The mirth dies off Lance's face. "What, the little Valentine's bug is the dangerous thing? Are you kidding me?"
"I'm detecting high amounts of that foreign chemical in it, yeah."
Keith swallows, reaching slowly up to the side of his head towards the button that will seal his helmet off. Just as he reaches it, the bug gives a sudden burst of movement, scurrying downward and under the lip of the visor. It hangs there, upside down for a moment, both of them completely still. Keith swears it's staring at him.
Then it lunges.
Keith feels a sharp pain on his cheek, and a rapid, spreading warmth that bleeds out from the bite and through his whole body. Warm, then hot, then burning, and then his whole body is on fire and he's stumbling back, tripping on something, falling, his back impacting the soft grass with a dull thud as his muscles lock up from the searing heat in his blood, and dimly he can hear Pidge and Lance shouting his name, feel the impact of their feet on the earth as they dash over to him, but the world is black, the sounds are muted.
"-gotta get him back to the ship-"
"-take the insect for testing-"
"-don't have time for-!"
"-an antidote you idiot!"
There is a sharp tug on his cheek. Almost immediately the burning lessens, but not enough, and he doesn't have the strength to resist as someone tugs him to a sitting position. He groans in pain, his battered muscles protesting the movement, and abruptly they stop.
"Keith! Keith, stay with me buddy. I swear I will give you so much shit if I have to write 'death by adorable heart bug' on your grave."
A series of light smacks on his unbitten cheek hurt more than they should, and he struggles to open his eyes, intent on glaring at Lance for his terrible bedside manner, but the light hurts, and it only gets brighter as he feels Lance tug his helmet off.
"-stop." He manages to croak, his throat suddenly dry as a desert, and forces his eyelids open to see Lance bent over him, his face a mask of panic, eyes wild with worry, and-
The pain stops.
All of it, all at once, the tension in his muscles evaporating into thin air and leaving him boneless and more relaxed than he can ever remember being in his life as he gazes up at Lance, whose brow furrows in confusion at whatever he sees on Keith's face.
The soft orange light of the planets sun frames Lance, throwing his silhouette into sharp relief against the alien sky, and highlighting the golden tones in his skin. The world is sort of fuzzy at the edges, and his brain feels vaguely like it's been stuffed with soft cotton fluff, Keith registers dimly, but Lance is sharp and clear and beautiful before him. Lance blinks, slowly, confused, and Keith feels his stomach plummet abruptly for the split second he can't see the ocean blue of his eyes, until he realizes that the sharp contrast of Lance's eyelashes against his skin is just as nice, and sighs in relief, and-
He knows that Lance is pretty, has spent countless hours in too-close proximity with him, seen him in all of his moods and states of being, spent enough time pretending not to stare at him across training rooms and dining room tables and halls filled with smoke and gunfire not to know, but.
Lance is so pretty.
Even when he's snapping his fingers in Keith's face like that. Even when his beautiful face is a mask of terrified concern.
"Keith? Oh quiznak, hurry up with the stupid bug, Pidge. Earth to Keith? Hello?"
Keith blinks up at him, and slowly reaches up to capture Lance's flailing hand in his.
"Hi." He breathes. Lance freezes. Keith reaches his other hand up to Lance's face, drags his fingertips down his cheek and marvels quietly at its softness. "You're so pretty, Lance."
There is a moment of total silence, in which the blood drains from Lance's face and Pidge leans over his shoulder into Keith's field of vision, looking stunned. Keith understands. She must have just realized how amazing Lance is too. Keith's eyes widen at the thought of Lance holding Pidge the way he's holding Keith now, his gut twisting uncomfortably.
With a sudden movement that leaves Lance reeling backward in surprise, Keith throws himself forward and wraps his arms around Lance's neck. He scowls at Pidge over Lances shoulder.
Pidge clears her throat and taps her helmet.
"Castle, this Pidge. We need an emergency pickup. I think Keith's dying."
Coran and Allura take one look at the small, heart shaped bite mark on Keith's cheek, the way he's wrapped around Lance's lanky frame like an especially clingy starfish, and Lance's harried expression as he drags Keith into the med bay, and burst into hysterical laughter.
"Oh, oh no-" Allura gasps, doubled over and wiping tears from her eyes. "I'd hoped those wretched things had gone extinct while we were in stasis. Oh Keith-"
Coran has to lean against one of the medbay consoles to support himself, claps a hand to Allura's shoulder as he wheezes. "Oh, the wonders of the black market! Millions of parsecs and thousands of years from home, and one of them turns up here!"
Shiro and Hunk, standing behind them, exchange blank glances with each other, their panic from Pidge's distress call melting away in the face of the Altean's mirth. Pidge raises an unimpressed eyebrow at them.
"So I take it you've seen one of these before?"
She proffers the clear sample flask containing the beetle at them. Allura takes one look at it and breaks off into fresh peals of laughter.
"Hey!" Lance tries to wave his hands at them in irritation, but is sidetracked when Keith makes a protesting sound and latches on tighter to his side. He goes red and settles for waving just his free arm. "So does that mean Keith isn't dying? Because I'm pretty sure Cranky McMullet hugging me is a sign of brain failure. Or the universe ending."
"You're so dramatic, Lance." Keith giggles and nuzzles Lance's arm. Lance makes a sound like a small animal being stepped on.
Shiro clears his throat.
"I think we'd all appreciate knowing what's going on."
Coran gets his wheezing down to a manageable level and stumbles over the the medbay's main terminal.
"It's a Quartian Love Bug." He chuckles, quickly pulling up the computers data on the insects and spreading the information packets across the display for them all to see. "It's quite safe really, just a bit... Inconvenient for the one that's been bit."
Hunk stares up at the holograms of the bugs, all of them various shades of pink. "A Love Bug. You're kidding."
"Not at all! They used to be incredibly sought after on the black market, usually by young folks such as yourselves. The Altean empire tried to ban the trade of them - invasive species you see - but they were so popular it was impossible to get rid of them all!"
Allura finally collects herself, and gestures at the screen with an expression dangerously close to fond. "They were a bit of a fad when I was a girl. Several of my friends managed to get a hold of one, and passed it around the court. At least a dozen young men were bitten inside a week. You've never seen such pandemonium- they followed their ladies around singing love songs and showering them with praise and flowers." She presses her lips together, clearly trying not to laugh again.
"So, let me get this straight." Pidge breaks in, adjusting her glasses roughly as she swipes through the images to get to the encyclopedia entries behind them. "This bug bites people, and it makes them fall in love?"
"Oh, it's a bit more complex than that." Coran waves an airy hand at her. "The bite induces a sort of romantic imprinting, usually on the first person the recipient of the bite sees. The Love Bug was so sought after because it allowed someone to experience the full affections of their crush for a short time, with relatively minor consequences. It's not permanent, not to worry."
"Really." Allura says warmly, eyes still sparkling with laughter. "It's quite harmless."
Pidge, still looking at the holoscreen, nods. "It says it lasts from four days up to a week. Side effects include headache, nausea, and moderate to severe embarrassment."
"No. No no no, I can't deal with this for a week!" Lance protests. "There's gotta be some way to get him back to normal sooner. Or maybe we can just lock him in his room until he's himself again? Look at him, he's gonna kill me when he's back to normal!"
They all turn to look at Keith, who's wrapped his arms around Lance's stomach from behind and is nuzzling between his shoulder blades. At Lance's protest he freezes, pulling away. He looks up at Lance with wide, sad, horrified eyes.
"I- I'm sorry, I didn't realize I was upsetting you. Do you want me to stop? I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I can just go..." And then his breath hitches, and those enormous purple eyes fill with tears. He looks like a puppy who's just been kicked and is wondering what it's done wrong.
Lance makes a choking sound. Hunk actually whimpers.
"Oh no, Keith, man, come on, don't look at me like that, please. You know you'd never do this normally, right? You're not that far gone, come on, oh god don't look at me like that please just stop ok don't make me the bad guy here Iseriouslyfeellikeamonsterdon'tdothis."
Keith hiccups. Lance makes a sound halfway between a whine and a protest and closes the short distance between them, sweeping Keith back into his arms.
"No, no, you're fine dude, don't worry about it, all the hugs you want okay? I am all about the hugs. Just please stop making that face." Immediately he feels Keith relax and go boneless against him, tucking his head under Lances chin and sighing contentedly.
"How do you of all people have weapons-grade puppy dog eyes, seriously." Lance mutters into his hair.
"This is going to be the greatest week of my life." Pidge proclaims, snickering.
Shiro looks at her sternly. "This is not an opportunity to collect blackmail. I expect all of you to do what you can to make this easier on Lance and Keith."
"I will do literally anything as long as I never have to watch Keith make that sad face ever again." Hunk says, burying his face in his hands. "My heart seriously can't take it, you guys."
From the warm circle of Lance's arms Keith nuzzles against his neck and coos. "You smell so nice."
"Maybe it won't be that long." Lance gazes up at the ceiling, as though the metal beams have the ability to grant him patience against this madness. "Maybe he'll snap out of it early. He's obnoxiously stubborn right? Maybe it won't be so bad."