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Rules Are Made for Breaking (the HR nightmare remix)

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He's no stranger to waking up with another person's warmth in his bed and is familiar with all the conventions of these situations: offering coffee and/or breakfast, polite small talk exchanged over same, assuring the other that he'll call or text and maybe even meaning it if the prior evening happened to be enjoyable enough. Takashi Shirogane, Shiro to everyone but his own mother, knows how this is supposed to work.

It's just that the person in his bed is supposed to be a near-stranger, is the thing. It's not supposed to be his best friend and lab partner.

This, Shiro thinks distantly, looking at the way Keith has his face mashed into one of Shiro's pillows, a small wet patch growing under his cheek from where he's drooling slightly, is going to be a problem. His hair is a tangled mess and there's a bruise marking his left shoulder that Shiro knows would match the shape of his own mouth perfectly, because he remembers putting it there—can recall the taste and texture of Keith's skin beneath his lips with perfect clarity, the tang of salt to match the smell of sex hanging heavy in the air as he'd rolled his hips forward and Keith had gasped his name—

Shiro tears his thoughts away from that path, wrenches them away with the same stubborn force of will that it takes to pull his eyes away from Keith, still asleep, still blissfully unaware of how much trouble they're in. He could wake Keith, have some company in his disbelief that they've done this thing, crossed the line that they absolutely should not have crossed, but—no. That's selfish of him. Let Keith sleep a little longer. Reality will still be there when he wakes up.

Shiro extracts himself from bed with care, though Keith doesn't even stir, and heads for the bathroom. He turns the shower on; while he waits for the spray to warm up, he inspects his reflection for incriminating marks. There aren't any that will show once he's dressed, but he rediscovers the ones on his back when he steps into the shower and the scratches begin to sting—they're from when he'd had Keith on his back, pinned beneath his weight and fucking him slow while Keith had hissed and sworn at him to go faster, harder

Shiro knocks his forehead against the tiled wall and wishes he could knock himself out just enough to acquire a mild case of amnesia. Or that they'd gotten blackout drunk. Or that he had a time machine and could go back in time and throttle himself for being such a colossal idiot.

To think that he was congratulating himself for leaving all the drama of grad school behind him just the other day. Hubris, that's what that was. Nothing but sheer hubris.

Neither a time machine nor a handy case of amnesia seem likely to turn up to solve his problems, so Shiro sighs and reaches for the shampoo.

His bed is empty by the time he wraps the towel around his waist and peeks in to check, but Keith isn't in evidence—no, scratch that, Shiro knows for a fact that he didn't get back out of bed to set the coffee machine last night, so the smell of coffee floating through his apartment must be Keith's doing. The apartment is quiet, but it's not the usual quiet of a single person's dwelling. Funny that the texture of the silence should be different when he's the only one occupying his space compared to the quiet of another person trying to be considerate, but there it is.

Shiro tells himself that he didn't really hope that Keith would see himself out while he was showering. Then he gets dressed and sets his shoulders, telling himself that they're both reasonable people, and leaves his bedroom to go face his doom.

Keith is sitting on his couch in the corner he usually claims for his own, in fact, but instead of the comfortable sprawl he usually takes, he's tucked in on himself, knees pulled up to his chest and hands holding a mug under his chin. He could just be prepared to defend his coffee against all comers (probably is, since it's Keith), but something about the way he looks at Shiro from behind the tangle of his hair says it's not about the coffee.

But then, why would it be?

They can't stare at each other day—shouldn't stare at each other all day—so Shiro nods at the mug Keith holds. "You save any for me?"

"Nope. This is the last of the pot. And you're out of coffee beans."

"Liar," Shiro tells him, heading for the kitchen. The carafe is waiting next to a fresh mug, the sugar, and the cream from the fridge door. There's even a spoon. When Shiro hefts the carafe, it sloshes like the thermal body is nearly full. The only thing Keith hasn't done is fix the cup for him, though Shiro doubts that it's because he doesn't know exactly how Shiro takes his coffee so much as he wasn't sure how long it would be before Shiro emerged from the shower.

He closes his eyes and wishes for that time machine again, then fixes his coffee.

Keith hasn't moved one inch when he returns to the living room, though his eyes track every move Shiro makes as he skirts around the coffee table and takes possession of the armchair. He's wearing his clothes from the night before and it looks like he did at least try to finger comb his hair. He doesn't offer to speak even after Shiro has settled in. Probably anyone else in the world would say his face is expressionless, but Shiro knows better than that, can see the wariness around his eyes and in the way his knuckles are a shade too pale for the grip on his mug to be completely casual. It's not entirely a comfort that Keith knows his own tells in turn.

It's going to be on him to get this started, which is… is fair, considering. Shiro allows himself a sip of coffee, collects his thoughts, and clears his throat. "So. That happened."

Elegant? No, but it gets the job done.

Keith snorts. "Smooth, Shiro."

Shiro shrugs at him. "I know you've known me long enough to know better than to expect anything else."

That nets a hint of a smile from Keith, who might not have borne witness to the mess of Shiro's undergrad years, but certainly was around to see a good portion of his grad school period. "Yeah, I guess that's fair."

He's not making this easy, that's for sure. Shiro allows himself another sip of coffee and lets his gaze wander to the coffee table and the detritus of their late-night coding spree, still standing testament to the choices that culminated in a really bad decision: their laptops, the empty beer bottles, the way the table itself sits askew—he remembers the way the legs scraped against the floor when Keith kicked it as Shiro had pressed him back against the arm of the couch and kissed him. Keith had clutched at his shoulders and opened up for him immediately, tasting like hops and the same hunger that Shiro had been ignoring for—longer than he cares to admit, even to himself. Shit.

He makes himself look up again, makes himself meet Keith's eyes. "We shouldn't have done that." No, that's not quite right. "I shouldn't have started it. I'm sorry, Keith."

Keith has always acted as though he's waiting for the other shoe to drop for as long as Shiro has known him. It's why he weathers nasty surprises and bad luck so well: he's always expecting things to fall apart one way or another and is braced for it, even if he doesn't have a contingency plan (but he usually has a contingency plan). This—this doesn't appear to be any different. Keith's shoulders drop a bit, but he's not surprised by the apology. If anything, he seems resigned. "Yeah, well, it takes two, you know."

He'd promised himself once that he'd never allow himself to be one of the people to let Keith down, had tried to promise Keith, too, except that Keith hadn't let him. Damn it. "It's still more on me than you," Shiro says. "I mean, I'm technically your boss. I shouldn't have—I just shouldn't have."

Keith shrugs a little. "Not like I said no."

If anything, that's a hell of an understatement, given the highlights reel playing inside Shiro's skull. He can't remember sleeping with anyone else who's ever made their consent as enthusiastically clear as Keith. Which, honestly, is the real problem, HR nightmares notwithstanding.

Shiro pushes that thought out of his head, since it's hardly relevant. Now is the time to mitigate the fallout as best as he can and hope he hasn't torpedoed his and Keith's friendship beyond repair. "All the same, I'm still sorry. I know better than to be propositioning my colleagues for sex. It won't happen again."

Keith looks at him, evaluating—Shiro doesn't know what he's trying to figure out, exactly. It could be anything. His silence drags on, until the lack of reaction makes Shiro want to fidget. He controls the urge and tries to channel the feeling into sipping his coffee.

He's just taken a drink when Keith finally speaks, and it's a near thing whether he's going to choke or spray coffee across the room. "If you know better, then why did you do it? One beer isn't enough to give you a buzz, and it's not like we've been running on fumes like we used to do in school. If you knew better, then why do it?"

It's a challenge as much as a question—Keith knows him the way he knows Keith, knows where all his bodies are buried. Knows how to call Shiro out on his bullshit, even when Shiro would much rather he not. He chokes the mouthful of coffee down under Keith's watchful, waiting gaze, and—this is a turning point, isn't it? Whatever he says next is going to determine where they go from here, will determine whether he gets to keep his best friend in his life or causes him to pull away, to withdraw his trust and relegate Shiro to the group of all the other people who've disappointed him.

In that light, well. The answer is easy after all. "I wanted to. I really, really wanted to."

Keith closes his eyes, lips parting on his sigh as Shiro voices the truth they've both been dancing around for a long time now. "I let you do it because I really, really wanted you to," he says, though Shiro hasn't asked, because Keith is scrupulously fair about these things. He opens his eyes and offers Shiro a tiny, rueful smile. "But you already knew that."

Shiro shrugs, acknowledging the point, trying to quell the bubble of something, laughter maybe, rising in his chest. This isn't a resolution, not by half. There's no reason to be relieved yet, except for the fact that Keith is uncoiling by increments, unfolding his legs and loosening his posture to something much more like his usual sprawl. They've solved one aspect of the problem, anyway, and it's the one that's most important no matter what HR might have to say about it. "You already knew why I did it, too."

"I'd hoped I did." Keith sets his mug down and sinks his fingers into his hair, raking it back from his face. "You've been giving off mixed signals for a while now." The look he gives Shiro then is direct. "Was pretty sure you were going to come out here and tell me last night was a mistake that we needed to pretend never happened." He huffs when Shiro twitches at the all-too-accurate assessment. "Yeah, that's what I thought."

"I am technically your boss," Shiro points out, though that's really not how he runs his lab. "So it kind of was a mistake."

"Having me work for you was the mistake." Keith's tone is firm enough that it's clear he won't be budged from this position. He gestures at himself, at Shiro. "Us—this—no. That's not a mistake." He pauses there and catches his bottom lip between his teeth, the look he gives Shiro searching. "I mean. You think so too, right?"

Shiro rubs a thumb along the worn print of his mug. "It is if I end up losing you." Admitting it out loud feels like stepping off the edge of a cliff. "You know what my track record with relationships looks like."

"None of those guys were me." It should sound arrogant, but somehow Keith just makes it sound certain. "I already know all your bad habits. And you know mine. There's not going to be any reason for you to freak out when you realize that I've figured out that you're just as human as I am."

"Ouch, buddy, don't hold back or anything." Shiro aims for it to be light in the face of a devastatingly accurate appraisal of his major relationships to date. "What's going to stop me from freaking out that you know me too well?"

"Nothing, probably." Keith draws in on himself a little, hunching his shoulders, and has to clear his throat. "Just like nothing is going to stop me from freaking out that you'll end up changing your mind and leaving." He doesn't say the like everyone else part out loud, but then, he doesn't have to. Not to Shiro. "But I still want—I still want to try. I think we can make this work."

Shiro has never known anyone with as much bald courage as Keith has, to be able to say things like that, to admit to wanting things like that, in the face of all the experience that might argue against it.

There's just one problem. "I'm still your boss, though."

"Only for three more months," Keith points out.

He should have known that Keith would have an argument for that, too. The grant that funds Keith's position does expire then. It's true that there aren't any guarantees in life, but the work they're doing on is promising. Till now, Shiro hasn't had any reason to think that they won't be able to renew that grant. That they wouldn't want to. "That's… true. Are you saying you're going to look for a new lab, or…?" Keith's sharp enough to make the jump to the private sector, if that's what he wants.

Keith's smile is the tiny, secretive one he only pulls out when he's got a joke that no one else knows about. "Who says I need to look? Kolivan has a spot for me. He's been after me to come take it for a while now." He rubs his chin, thoughtful. "Probably just because he wants to harass me into getting serious about finding something tenure-track, but I guess I need to do that anyway."

"You really do," Shiro agrees automatically, brain still hung up on the fact that Kolivan has been trying to poach Keith out of his lab. "Wait, just how long is a while?"

"A while," Keith says, absolutely unhelpful. "I just didn't see the need to take him up on it till now. Not while I was working with you. But if working together is gonna get in the way of better things, well." He shrugs, offering Shiro a small, shy smile. "I'd rather have those. Wouldn't you?"

The question is, and is not, lighthearted. Keith is watching him closely, fidgeting with the ripped-out knee of his jeans, waiting on Shiro to decide whether he wants to go down this road too. Whether he's willing to take the risk and give it, them, a shot.

But then, wanting has never been the problem. He'd like to be annoyed with Kolivan's nerve, but it's hard to muster up much in the way of irritation when, like it or not, Kolivan has resolved the problem that's been holding him back. "We're going to have to be discreet until your contract runs out," he says, the possibilities already ticking over in his head. "I'd say we should wait until then to do anything, but, uh, I'm not sure we can unring that bell." Not when he has such vivid memories of Keith in his bed. Not when there are so many more things that he wants to do with him.

He's catalogued plenty of Keith's smiles before, but none of them can match the brilliance of the one that spreads across Keith's face at that. "I can do that. I can do anything for three months, as long as you mean it."

Shiro smiles at him in return, helpless to do anything else. "I really do mean it."

He has just enough time to put his coffee down before Keith is on him, pushing into his lap and taking Shiro's face in his hands. "So do I," he breathes, smiling at Shiro as bright as the dawn, and stoops to kiss him as Shiro lifts his hands to gather him in.

("Yeah," Pidge says some fourteen weeks later, "we all knew. You guys aren't even a little bit discreet." She catches the looks on their faces and breaks into laughter. "Oh my God, you thought you were being discreet, didn't you?"

"Shut up, Pidge," Shiro mutters.

Pidge does not in fact shut up, not for a long, long time thereafter.)