It all began when Keith sneezed in the only fashion he knew how: excessively.
Getting sick wasn’t a common occurrence in the life of Keith Kogane, but when it did happen? Sneezes for days. His record was a whopping 13 consecutive sneezes. Why exactly he sneezed so sporadically and frustratingly frequently when the flu caught him was unbeknownst to him, but despite the rarity of getting sick at all, Keith hated flu season vehemently.
It might have been the time spent away from Earth, or maybe it was a side effect of the high variety of planets they’d visited lately, with different plants and foods and climates and all, but Keith could just feel it coming on. He’d already suppressed half a dozen sneeze attacks, especially in front of the other paladins. But today? Today it was worse. Every swallowed sneeze came with Shiro’s concerned side-eye and Lance’s quirked eyebrow. But he’d made it through the entire day without sneezing once, and therefore it was a victory. They had just landed back at Allura’s castle, and were beginning to spread out to indulge in whatever post-mission activity they pleased. Keith focused all of his attention on keeping it together until he got into the safety of his room, but as he lifted his helmet, it came out of absolutely. Nowhere.
Lance, Shiro, and Hunk (Pidge had run off quickly, saying something about Rover or robots or other, Keith hadn’t really been listening) glanced at him in surprise. "Keith, are you sick?" Shiro inquired, brows furrowing in concern.
Keith began to respond, but was cut off by another sharp sneeze. Of course, Lance was the first to jump at the chance to poke fun. “Is that why you’ve been making all of those weird noises lately?” he guffawed.
Keith flushed, adamant, “No, I- uh- choo!” He fired off yet again, sneeze after sneeze after sneeze, a never ending chain. Lance’s laughing died down after the fifth sneeze, and as he continued on to five, six, and finally finished at seven, Lance frowned.
“Huh. Is it normal to sneeze that much? Like, biologically?”
Hunk glanced at him exasperatedly as he left to the kitchens. “Let the guy sneeze, Lance!”
“No, really, I-” Lance shrugged, but a quick, stern look from Shiro had him averting his eyes and grumbling to himself.
“Keith, if you're sick, you shouldn't have been out on that mission.” Shiro berated gently, worried and frowning. He placed a hand on Keith's shoulder, comforting, and Keith resisted the urge to squirm under his scrutiny. “You should have told someone, that could have been-”
Keith averted his eyes. “Dangerous. Right. Won’t put the team at risk again.” Fearing the impending wave of sneezes, and feeling a bit dizzier than he had before, Keith shrugged off Shiro’s hand and bid the rest of his team goodbye, retreating quickly to his room.
Shiro stared at his back as he left, frowning. “That’s not what I meant.” He mumbled, mostly to himself, and moved to follow after him when Lance jumped forward.
“Hey, so, I know this is usually your thing, but let me have a crack at this one?” Lance suggested, grinning widely, and Shiro fought down a grimace.
“Lance, I’m not really sure-”
“I won’t antagonize him or anything! Scout’s honor.” He pounded his fist and added as an afterthought, “Not that I do that anyway.”
Curious, Shiro asked, “What are you planning to do?”
“I have a huge family- when one of us has the flu, all of us have the flu. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking care of sick kids, you know?”
Shiro chuckled. “Keith isn’t a kid.”
“We’re all kids.” Lance shrugged.
There was really only one place Keith felt completely at ease in the castle, and that was the training room. There was something freeing about being able to hit a robot opponent (one which shares a striking resemblance with the robotic soldiers under Galra command) really, really hard. It was normally easier, however- now, Keith found himself weighed down, short of breath after the level 1 warm up, and nearly falling over after an uphill climb to level 3. This wasn’t like him at all.
“Retry Level 3.” Keith demanded, frustration building up like hot steam in his stomach. This wasn’t him, he didn’t get like this. The gladiator charged forward, alight and alive, striking with a speed Keith couldn’t seem to match. He lifted his bayard to deflect an overhead strike, but the strength of the gladiator’s movements overpowered him, forcing him to the ground. His bayard slid across the room and out of reach. The gladiator lifted the sword once more, ready to deliver a punishing blow, but Keith’s limbs were lax, cold sweat had broken out on his brow, if he could only just move-
The blue light flickered out of the robot’s eyes, and the sword was lowered without incident. Keith’s head lulled to the side, cheek pressed against the cool ground, and he watched Lance jog towards him. How long had he even been there?
“Idioto! I knew you were dumb, but really?” Lance’s tone was harsh, laced with an edge Keith couldn’t quite decipher at the moment, but his hands were gentle as he helped Keith off the ground. Once he was sitting up, Lance sat next to him, looking, for lack of better phrasing, peeved as hell. “Let's play charades real quick, humor me: ’I’m so sick I can’t see straight. What ever can I do to pass the time? Here’s an idea: training with a robot that could almost definitely kill me!’” Lance paused, for effect. “I’m you. That was you, just now.”
“Wouldn’t have killed me.” Keith grumbled, exhaustion and irritation melting into his muscles. Fatigue pulled at his eyelids; he was only just beginning to catch his breath.
“Okay, don’t care, let’s go,” Lance supported Keith as they stood and began making their way through the castle to Keith’s room. “Honestly, look at what you’re doing, making me be the responsible one here. Do you know how off that is? You’re upsetting the balance of the universe, here, dude.” While his words danced teasingly, Keith could make out an underlying tension.
“Thanks,” Keith mumbled, in hopes of erasing the stress from Lance’s brow. Talk about uncharacteristic; stress really didn’t suit him.
“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Lance responded a bit gentler, shoulders a bit lighter. “So here’s what’s gonna happen, right- you’re going to go to your room, get as many z’s as you can, and you’re not going to leave your room for, like, at least a day. Comprende?”
Keith considered arguing, but the bone-deep exhaustion mixed with the image of the worry etched on Lance’s face when he raced towards him in the training room kept his mouth shut. He nodded, and Lance huffed, satisfied.
Keith wasn’t sure when exactly they arrived at his room, but he blearily registered being helped into bed (somewhere along the way he’d lost his gloves and his shoes) and having his hair smoothed over by cool, lingering fingers. He leaned into the touch, and was asleep before the hand left his forehead.
“Yo, Keith, buddy, how long are you gonna make me stand out here?”
Keith woke sluggishly, covered in blankets and sweat. He didn’t even remember having four blankets, where in the world had they come from? He squinted at the clock and frowned, silently questioning the many hours that had passed since they’d come back from their mission. He’d spent all that time sleeping? It seemed impossible, he never slept for more than a few hours at a time, five or six at most. Any more than that and he felt he was losing too much valuable time. He glanced at his door as Lance knocked again (”Keeeiiiiith!”) and threw his covers off, standing (and nearly falling over), using the wall to steady himself. His hair stuck to his forehead and the back of his neck, and why was everything so heavy? Keith pressed the button to the right of the door, nearly missing it due to an uncharacteristic shakiness, and blinked at the sight before him.
“Dude,” Lance eyed him, one hand holding a cup of steaming liquid and the other holding a bowl of what seemed to be… soup? “Someone call the producers of the Walking Dead, because right now you could pass as Zombie #3 perfectly.”
Keith raised an eyebrow, unamused, and Lance took the opportunity to sidle into the room, flicking the lights on and sitting on the bed. He glanced up at Keith, and Keith would be lying if he said those blue eyes never left him a little at loss for words, so it was no surprise when he stared speechlessly as Lance patted the bed. “Come on, I brought things.”
Those “things” ended up being the “finest ingredients in all of Altea mixed together in a profoundly impressive display of culinary mastery,” or so Lance claimed. Keith quirked his eye, lifting the bowl to take a sip. “Hunk's cooking has never disappointed before.” he mumbled, taking a tentative sip. Despite Hunk’s skill with a set of alien herbs, they were still very alien and therefore posed a very real threat to his taste buds.
“Hunk?” Lance snickered. “No, no, this was made by yours truly.”
Keith stopped mid-sip. “You? Made this?”
Lance nodded. “Yeah, you like it?”
"... Is it poisoned?"
"No, it's- honestly, you do a guy a favor! Just try it. You won't be disappointed." Lance leaned back, sporting a cocky grin accompanied by a teasing glint in his eyes which stole Keith’s breath. Keith noted, however, the stiffness of his pose, and the way his eyes flickered between the spoon in Keith’s hand and his face.
“It’s… actually really good.” Keith affirmed, quirking a small smile as the tension in Lance’s shoulders dissolved, and Lance nodded, grinning with pride, flopping back on the bed.
“Yeah, well, what else did you expect? I made it, after all.”
They sat together for a while, the only sounds being Keith slurping up the soup and taking occasional sips from the tea Lance had brought (”I didn’t make that one, but I could have. Made tea, I mean.” “I believe you, Lance.” “Good. You should. Cause I can. Do that, I mean.”) when Lance cleared his throat. “So, uh,” he began, with a hesitance that Keith thought didn’t really suit him, “Shiro was right, you know? About what he said yesterday. Telling us when you’re sick and all.“
Keith blinked, and then frowned, placing the soup bowl, mostly empty, on the ground next to the bed. “Did you come to scold me or something?”
Lance raised his hands. “Hey, show some appreciation, I saved your ass from that demon robot in the training room last night,” he sat up, and Keith tried not to pay attention to how close they suddenly were. “I scolded you already, remember?” Keith didn’t remember, actually, which was a bit concerning. Lance latched onto his confused expression, sighing exasperatedly. “Dios mío, you don’t remember. How sick are you, man?” Lance was leaning forward now, frowning, taking in every clue Keith gave off about the state of his health.
“I’m not that sick.” Keith averted his eyes, hoping the heat rising in his cheeks wasn’t noticeable.
“Alright, you’re not sick, it’s normal for you to almost pass out in the middle of sparring and- dude, are you overheating or something?” Lance pressed, raising a hand and covering Keith’s forehead, then shifting to press against his cheek. “You’re burning up, dude.” He shook his head, eyes catching Keith’s, but a smile tugged at his lips. “You think your greatest rival won’t notice when you’re off? I’m extremely observant, don’t underestimate me.” Keith laughed wheezily at that, and both boys seemed to realize that Lance’s hand hadn’t left Keith’s cheek. Lance drew his hand back, his bashfulness betrayed by the pink dusting his cheeks. He cleared his throat, suddenly awkward. “Anyway, you’re allowed to be sick, you know.”
“I-” Keith blinked, clearing his throat (unintentionally, he also began to sneeze, and Lance waited patiently for him to finish, offering a tissue from a pack inside his jacket pocket). “I know that, but it didn’t effect the mission. It wasn’t a big deal.”
Lance studied him for a moment, frowning, and Keith held his breath. Sure, Lance was a goofball. Sure, Lance never failed to seize a chance to deliver an awful pun or a silly pick-up line. But Lance could also be observant, so much so that Keith often worried that he saw more than Keith intended to show.
“Shiro wasn’t talking about the team, you moron,” Lance finally said, lifting a finger and pressing it to Keith’s chest. Lance kept his gaze steadily. “We care about Keith first, Paladin second. You get it?”
Keith swallowed, trying not to glance down at Lance’s hand, and nodded, finally breaking eye contact. Now he was really doomed; he couldn’t look damned stupid Lance in the eye without flushing up to the tips of his ears.
“Ah... mierda,” Lance breathed, so low Keith was almost unsure he’d heard it at all, and when he lifted his eyes, Lance’s hand lifted to the back of his neck and guided Keith’s head forward. Lance’s lips touched Keith’s, and holy shit, what? Lance’s lips moved against his for a moment before he released Keith’s head, leaning back, eyes firmly locked on the wall across the room and was he- he was blushing, of all things!
“Lance?” Keith prodded, holding his breath. “What…”
“Dios, just get better fast, pendejo,” Lance stood, swift and awkward, looking anywhere but Keith, occupying himself by collecting the forgotten dishes. Keith’s chest pulled with something- affection? Endearment? He didn’t get it, any of it, really–why he was attracted to Lance in the first place, why he couldn’t seem to dislike him, why Lance always seemed to send him into a stupor… none of it made clear sense to him. No matter how much he turned it over and over in his mind, Keith really just couldn’t figure it out. These days, though, not much made sense anyway.
Lance bent down to pick up the forgotten dishes, and before he could straighten up, Keith reached out, grabbing the sides of Lance’s face and pressing his lips to Lance’s. After a moment of stiff-lipped surprise, Lance returned the kiss enthusiastically, tossing the bowl and cup aside, hands carding through Keith’s hair, teeth nibbling at Keith’s lips. Once both were satisfied, they pulled back, remaining not an inch from each others’ faces.
“Wuh- why did you do that?” Lance sputtered, and Keith nearly threw his hands up.
“You did it first!”
“I-!” Lance swallowed, unable to look away from Keith’s flushed face. “I didn’t think you’d do it back.”
“Well…” Keith frowned, frustrated, “I did.”
“You did.” Lance echoed, and a slow grin spread across his face. Before Keith could react, Lance tangled his hands in Keith’s hair, doting kisses on Keith’s forehead, his nose, his lips, and he was grinning, of all things. It was an odd sensation, Keith could feel Lance’s smile against his neck, his jaw, his forehead. He couldn’t seem to keep a grin off of his own face. Lance climbed into the bed beside Keith, lying beside him, refusing to stop his barrage of kisses. Keith laughed, his hand on Lance’s side, and Lance laughed, his hands caressing Keith’s face. This kind of happiness was foreign to Keith, this kind of warmness in his belly. He fell asleep shortly after Lance relaxed beside him, hands tangled in Keith’s hair.
Keith knew Lance had stayed before he even opened his eyes, because Lance snored. Badly. Keith groggily reached up, plugging Lance’s nose, and snickered as the boy wrinkled his face but slept on. Keith had always entertained the notion that he was interested in Lance, never for more than a few seconds at a time. But lying there, Lance’s long limbs pulling him close and his obnoxious snoring in his ear, Keith was beginning to understand exactly how far gone he’d become. He didn't dwell on it, however, releasing Lance’s nose and pressing kisses to the brunet's cheeks, nose, lips, forehead, and whatever else he could reach with minimal movement, and gradually drifted back to sleep. Lance had been right; the soup worked wonders.