Actions

Work Header

Laughter Lines

Chapter Text

For most of his life, Keith didn’t know what family was. Family was merely six letters that meant little more than faceless parents abandoning him when he was a toddler. It was three syllables that never kept him warm when he was homeless at fourteen. It was countless foster parents, some kind, the majority of whom gave him beatings rather than food.

It became his company that he had started his sophomore year of college. The gym was a failure at first, but after a bad initial year, took off, its combination of cardio, self-defense, and karate catching on well with the upper class as well as the local university students before expanding into other states as franchises. Now, four years later, Keith found himself as a CEO with a profitable business and more money than he ever imagined he would have, the majority of which went into savings accounts and investments because life on the streets never really leaves you alone.

It became Shiro, his adoptive brother whose family he had lived with in his early teen years until Keith couldn’t stop getting into fights at school and the disappointing looks his foster parents gave him became too much to handle, so he ran away, only to reunite with Shiro in college and reestablish their friendship, a bond of brotherhood that Keith would never walk away from again.

It became his friends. It became nights drinking and laughing, or playing video games until way into the early morning. It became Hunk’s homemade cinnamon rolls and Pidge hacking his phone to send the selfies Keith took of himself shirtless to everyone in their group chat (even if Keith hadn’t forgiven her for that because they were progress pictures of his workouts okay). It became Shiro and Allura getting married and Keith being able to stand next to them and be apart of it.

After having nothing, Keith was more than content with the family that had built itself around him. Of course, that didn’t stop other people from asking about his love life because apparently, once you hit twenty-three and you aren’t married or in a committed relationship, then your life is completely void of any and all meaning.

It wasn’t like Keith was actively avoiding searching for a relationship; he had hook-ups and even an occasional boyfriend, but no one ever stuck around. He wasn’t exactly the most open person and wasn’t that great at social interaction, which he figured was understandable considering his childhood. But it seemed to be a problem with most of his partners. They either hated the fact that he wasn’t this suave, James Bond-esque heartthrob they thought he would be because of his wealth and attractive face, or they couldn’t get past the fact that it took him a while to warm up and they took it as rejection. Keith never felt strongly enough about them to put effort into opening up faster, so the relationships sizzled out quickly.

Shiro kept telling Keith that love would happen when he least expects it, which Keith secretly scrunched his nose up at because it was cheesy but it was also Shiro saying it, so Keith knew it was genuine. Pidge and Hunk had a bet going on what kind of person would be able to finally melt Keith’s “cold heart”. Keith wanted in on it, but they denied him, saying something about ‘conflict of interest’ before high-fiving each other and going back to playing Mario Kart.

*

Keith was having a terrible week and it was only 11 AM on a Monday. His alarm hadn’t gone off, there was an accident on the freeway so he had an extra thirty minutes added onto his already delayed commute, the barista at the coffee shop across the street from work had put in milk in his coffee even though he ordered it black but he didn’t notice until he was already in his office, but he decided to drink it anyway, caffeine more necessary than taste. Then, of course, he proceeded to drop it on his shoe right as he was heading into a meeting with a potential brand wanting to partner with him for an advertising deal. Somehow he managed to seal the contract, but the victory didn’t help his sour mood in the least.

“Hunk, please give me your highest calorie burger and fries.” Keith said as he collapsed at a table in the restaurant Hunk’s family owned. “And a beer. Please.”

Hunk raised an eyebrow as he set a water in front of Keith. Lemon included. “Rough day? Also, I’m putting this burger in as your usual chicken salad because we both know you just get moodier when you brood-eat.”

Keith glared but he didn’t argue because Hunk was right and Keith didn’t really need to go through the rest of the day feeling sluggish from too much grease. “I still want the beer.”

“I’ll have Lance bring one over.” Hunk patted Keith’s shoulder sympathetically. “Sorry you’re having a bad day, bud.”

Keith sighed and managed a small smile; Hunk’s warmth always calmed him down, even if it was only for an hour during lunch. Hunk’s restaurant was only a block away from the gym, so Keith found himself eating there at least once a week, usually when he didn’t have time to prep a meal or he just needed to get away.

Before Hunk could walk away, Keith quirked an eyebrow and said, “Lance?” Keith knew most of the waitstaff thanks to his frequent visits, so it caught him off guard to hear a name he didn’t recognize.

Hunk’s face broke into a blinding grin, confusing Keith even further. “New guy! And one of my best friends growing up. He started last week.”

“Oh.” Keith said, and before he could say anything else, there was a loud burst of laughter from a few tables over, making him jump and he knew they were just having fun, but he was in this mood where other people’s fun annoyed him merely because he wasn’t having any. Of course he wasn’t going to snap at strangers (at least, not anymore. His teenaged self was, uh, a bit of a different story), but he was narrowing his eyes and glaring at the group before he could stop himself. (It was a reflex, okay.)

But then Keith saw the most beautiful person he had ever seen and the glare vanished like it was never there, replaced instead with wide eyed, near-ogling of said beautiful person and it was totally conspicuous but he couldn’t help it.

Standing at the head of a table with an apron tied around his waist was who Keith could only assume was Lance. He was tall and lean, long legs covered in loose jeans and arms with the barest hint of muscles peeking out from his blue t-shirt. He had dark skin and bright blue eyes that Keith wouldn’t mind getting lost in, and his brown hair was just long enough for him to brush it behind his ear with a pencil. When he smiled, he did it with a cockiness that Keith usually despised in guys, but something about the playful tilt of it and the whiteness of his teeth made Keith’s heart beat faster instead.

Keith swallowed hard, and he realized he was staring when Lance glanced over at him. Immediately, Keith turned away to continue his conversation with Hunk, only to notice the other man was smiling down at him, his eyes twinkling. It made Keith feel immediately on edge.

“What?” Keith asked, though it came out choked. He coughed to try and cover it up, but Hunk’s smile grew, letting him know he had failed.

“Nothing, nothing!” Hunk said and it only served to set more alarms off in Keith’s head, but Hunk walked off before Keith could demand more of an answer.

A beer was set in front of him. Keith followed the long, tan fingers up the arm Keith had been drooling over just minutes before to see Lance standing over him, smiling down at him. He seemed shorter now that he was closer, and Keith noted that Lance probably wasn’t that much taller than him.

“Your beer!” Lance said, happily, releasing it to put his hands on his hips. As though bringing Keith his drink order were some great triumph.

“Uh.” Keith replied, feeling his throat run dry. Lance’s smile faltered and he slanted his head, curious. It made him look like a cute kitten and Keith felt his cheeks start to warm. Keith cleared his throat and grabbed his drink, the condensation barely noticeable with how sweaty his palms were. “Yeah, thanks.”

Lance stared at him for a moment longer, as if waiting for Keith to say something more. When Keith didn’t, Lance gave him a quick nod and walked back to the kitchen, and Keith tried his best not to watch him go but, well, it's not his fault he’s incredibly attracted to nice butts and Lance’s definitely was that, even in jeans that didn’t quite fit.

As he waited for his meal, Keith couldn’t keep his eyes off Lance, and he couldn’t have been the only one. Lance was boisterous and bright, the center of attention with every table he waited on. He laughed openly and talked easily to guys and girls alike, age seemingly not a prerequisite for his cheesy pickup lines that Keith doubted ever worked on anyone.

With a clenching in his gut and a bitterness in his mouth, Keith watched Lance give some girls a wink and finger guns for the umpteenth time. The bitter taste intensified and he took an extensive sip of his drink to try and wash it away, but predictably, it didn’t help.

“Do you always flirt with your customers?” Keith asked as Lance walked up to his table with Keith’s chicken salad in one hand and, in the other, a new glass of water to replace the one Keith had finished. Why aren’t you winking at me was what Keith actually would have loved to say, if that weren’t a really weird thing to ask, and if he weren’t currently stewing in jealousy because this waiter he had just met wasn’t flirting with him like he was doing with the rest of the freaking restaurant and probably population and ugh, Keith needed another drink.

“Only the cute ones.” Lance replied easily, with a smirk as he set down the water and caught Keith’s eyes. Lance’s were bright and his tone sounded playful but for some reason it rubbed Keith entirely the wrong way, as though it were bait or a challenge. Keith had an undeniable urge to rise to it, to hit back at Lance with words of his own. It was a feeling he hadn’t had since he was living on the streets and not as in control of his temper.

“You do know that I’m going to be tipping you based on your service, right?” Keith bit back, his own tone far harsher than it needed to be.

Shock flashed through Lance’s eyes, all playfulness falling away. It was followed by something darker, something angrier. He set the plate down unnecessarily hard, a few pieces of lettuce bouncing off it and onto the floor. The sound it made on the table was loud enough to draw attention from nearby tables, as well as Hunk from behind the register.

“Enjoy your meal, sir.” Lance sneered before storming away, entire body tight and riled up. Hunk whispered something to him as he walked past, but Lance just gave a quick shake of the head before disappearing into the kitchen. Hunk cast a concerned glance Keith’s way and Keith threw his arms up in the air as if to tell him that Keith had not a single clue as to why Lance was acting as childish as he was, even though somewhere, deep down, Keith knew he had unnecessarily pushed Lance’s buttons. The worst part was that he couldn’t figure out why he had done it at all.

Keith spent the rest of his meal in brooding silence, feeling a flash of both guilt and agitation every time he saw Lance talking to other customers and pointedly avoiding Keith’s table, instead pushing Keith onto Hunk. Lance’s flirtatious grin was back, as though his entire interaction with Keith had never happened. It just served to piss Keith off more and more each time he saw it.

When Hunk came back over with Keith’s credit card, Keith told him that the tip he was leaving was for Hunk. The “not Lance” went unsaid. Hunk opened his mouth, probably to apologize for Lance, but Keith stood up and walked out.

It was the first time Keith ever left the restaurant feeling worse than he did going in, and it just made him despise Lance that much more.

Chapter Text

It didn’t take long for Keith to realize he definitely didn’t despise Lance as much as he wanted to.

He couldn’t get Lance out of his head. Whether it was the anger on Lance’s face and the gnawing regret that came with remembering the encounter, or fantasies of completely wrecking Lance in every way physically possible (that he for sure shouldn’t be having during a team meeting at three in the afternoon), Lance was a constant thought that Keith couldn’t shake off.

And he wasn’t just there during the day; Lance had weaseled his way into Keith’s subconscious, too, and Keith had had more wet dreams in the few days since he met Lance than he’d had in at least six years.

Dreams of their lips against each other, hot and wet and dirty. Of Keith pushing Lance against an elevator wall and dropping to his knees with a frantic need to watch Lance come apart under his lips, a craving to leave him a whimpering mess. Of Lance above him with that sly smirk that grew with every moan he pulled from Keith’s lips with each roll of his hips, his thighs pressing into Keith’s sides. Of Lance beneath him and panting into Keith’s ear, their chests pressed against each other and hearts competing to see who could beat faster.

Yeah, despising Lance was a far cry from what Keith actually wanted to do to him.

And shit Keith was getting hard again. What was he, fifteen? Keith groaned into his hands then ran them up his face and into his bangs, pushing them out of the way so he could glare unobstructed daggers into his unnecessarily tall ceiling.

Maybe I just need a good fuck, Keith thought but then an image of Lance on his back, writhing and gasping, flashed through his mind and Keith knew that no one would probably satisfy him. No one besides Lance with his dorky winking.

Which made Keith regret their first meeting that much more. Keith groaned again, burying his face into his silk pillowcase (which was proven to help keep the tangles in his hair to a minimum and Pidge could laugh herself into a knotty haired death for mocking him for it). Even if Lance were interested in him before, which Keith doubted, there was no way he would be after the way Keith had treated him. Keith had royally screwed himself over with the first guy he had been attracted to in god only knows how long. To make matters worse, Lance was a friend of Hunk’s and also worked at Keith’s favorite place to eat, so Keith’s chances of running into him again were high and he dreaded it happening. The whole situation was just one huge fuck up and it was Keith’s fault.

Maybe he could just ignore it for now. There was no rule that he had to go to Hunk’s restaurant; there were other places he could dine at. So maybe if he stayed away from Lance for long enough, Lance would forget the whole thing even happened and Keith could forget about Lance and this little flame would just sizzle out without burning anyone else.

Lance’s face, hurt and angry, pushed into his mind again before Keith could stop it.

Shit.

*

By Friday night, Keith was so over everything (including loud, sexy waiters invading his every thought). The only thing pulling him through was the thought of his weekly dinner with everyone. He was so totally ordering that goddamn burger with an extra order of fries and not even Hunk would be able to stop him, and he might even add onion rings to the top of the burger and maybe extra cheese because this week deserved to burn. His mouth was already watering as he walked into the daycare Shiro worked at.

When Shiro had decided to take the job at a local daycare center instead of the teaching job at the best private school in the city, Keith had questioned his sanity, but he hadn’t been surprised. Shiro was a gentle, natural born leader. The warm air around him was comforting, even if you didn’t know him, and he could calm any sobbing child with a mere smile (Keith was usually blessed with the talent of making them cry harder, even if he was just standing there not looking at them). Shiro working with kids made sense, and it had worked out in the end- the owner of the center, Coran, was Allura’s uncle and had been the one to introduce the couple.

Shiro’s talent with children was reaffirmed as Keith walked up to the front door of the daycare. Through the glass, he saw Shiro doing an elaborate handshake with a boy, probably around four or five. The two finished with a fist bump and the boy’s mother laughed softly before bowing slightly to Shiro. Keith held the door open for the two of them as they exited and the mom nodded her thanks.

“Keith!” Shiro smiled at him from behind the desk, his hands- prosthetic and real- organizing the papers on it.

“Hey, Shiro.” Keith replied. “Sorry I’m a little early. I can just hang out.”

“You’re fine. I’m almost ready to go actually. There’s just one more parent getting their kids from Coran’s class.” Shiro said, gathering up the now neat stack of forms and stepping into the side office as Keith nodded and told him to take his time.

Keith had been to the daycare center only a handful of times, but it wasn’t much different from before, still just as bright and colorful, despite how aged the building itself was. The school was one of the more affordable ones in the district; Coran’s mission was to give those kids in less than fortunate situations a safe place to get a good, starting education. Rather than spending money on fancy computers, most of the money the school made went to hiring educators like Shiro who cared about the children and were highly accredited and qualified. The front entry room was small but cozy, giving off a welcoming air. A glass door with an electric lock led into a large open area that was the older kid’s classroom, while the rest of the age groups had their own rooms sectioned off, with the toddler and younger rooms being the only ones with doors that shut.

Keith did notice there was a new edition to the room: a large TV screen was secured to the wall next to the front desk. It displayed multiple video angles, which Keith quickly realized was a feed from the many cameras situated throughout the school. He glanced through them and saw the video feed showing the entry room and pulled a face upon seeing himself because was his hair seriously that big of a mess? He knew he should have brushed it before leaving the gym-

Movement on the cameras caught his eye and he looked up just in time to see someone walking past the camera in the open room next door. Keith felt his jaw drop.

There, making his way towards the door was the same Lance that had been haunting Keith’s every waking (and sleeping) moment. Keith wasn’t sure what made him panic more- Lance’s stupidly handsome face or the way Keith’s heart jumped at the sight of it and his throat started to go dry.

Then, Keith noticed Lance wasn’t alone. Instead, Lance was literally covered head to toe in children. Lance had one of the smaller kids- a toddler who couldn’t have been more than a year and a half, strapped to his back, a hat pulled tightly onto the girl’s head. The little girl’s mitten hands were tugging obnoxiously at Lance’s ears, tilting his head all over the place as she laughed. Lance didn’t seem to notice as he adjusted the other toddler in his left arm, this one a boy if his blue coat was anything to go off of. He and the girl toddler looked nearly identical and Keith quickly realized they were twins. A girl with large brown eyes and dark curls spilling out from her snow hat was hopping in front of Lance. She was practically pulling him along, tugging at the hand Lance held in his. Lance let her go as they neared the door and she stumbled a little but laughed, rushing forward to grab the handle and pull it open. Lance was smiling at her, and even though it didn’t quite light up his eyes, it was full of affection and softened his features from the tightness Keith had noticed the other day.

At the sight of that smile, Keith felt a familiar pang of envy that hadn’t touched him in years. No one had ever looked at Keith like that. It was a look usually reserved for parents doting on their children; a look that somehow combined fear, pride and fondness in a perfect little smile, and Keith couldn’t believe he was actually feeling jealousy towards a little girl he had never met solely because someone was smiling like that at her instead of him.

The jealousy must not have painted a kind expression on his face because he was startled out of his thoughts by Lance saying, “You got a problem?”

Lance’s smile had morphed into a scowl. Keith hated himself for being the reason the smile had gone away.

“Not at all.” Keith replied after a second, trying to pull his face into something more neutral. He wasn’t trying to piss Lance off, but he seemed to be naturally graced with a talent for doing so. He cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. “I was just surprised to see you. Again.”

“‘Again’?” Lance asked. For a moment, he squinted at Keith and Keith was offended and hurt because Keith had spent so much freaking time obsessing over Lance and Lance didn’t even remember him?! Keith opened his mouth to snap something back, but then Lance squawked, all three kids jumping at the sound. “Ah! Y-You’re that mullet from the other day!”

“Wh- ‘mullet’?!” Keith said, hand instinctively going up to touch the back of his head once more. “How do I have a mullet?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe by having a mullet?”

“That doesn’t- !” Keith stopped, throwing his hands in the air. “You make no sense!”

“I know you are, but what am I?” Lance shot back, sticking his nose up defiantly and his free hand on his hip, looking far too cocky and triumphant for a completely illogical comeback that left Keith wanting to pull his hair out in frustration. Despite this, the young girl clapped her hands and said, “Ooh, good one!” Lance grinned down at her.

Once again, Keith took notice of the kids attached to Lance and he was hit with the realization he for some bizarre reason hadn’t put together yet: Lance was the parent Shiro had been referring to before. Lance, who looked to be around the same age as Keith, was a parent. To three kids, no less. Keith’s eyes drifted to Lance’s hand, but he didn’t see a ring. Was Lance a single parent? Or did he have a girlfriend, maybe?

Well, there was a thought that kicked Keith in the stomach.

Whether it was Keith’s totally unnecessary disappointment at discovering Lance was potentially taken or simply his brain deciding he hadn’t hit his quota for mortifying moments that month, Keith found himself asking, “Aren’t you a little young to have kids?”

It was judgmental, even to Keith’s own ears and he would never, ever workout again if it meant he could turn back time and stop himself from saying it. Because shouldn’t he be using this chance to freaking apologize for his screw up the other day instead of just messing it up even further?

“W-wait, that’s not-” Keith started, wanting to clear up the misunderstanding before it could grow, but he was too late. Keith saw hurt flash through Lance’s eyes before they filled with that same anger from the restaurant, and it left Keith reeling back.

“Holy shit, you’re the biggest asshole ever.” Lance spat, the words like venom digging into Keith’s skin. “How about it’s none of your business, you fucking jackoff!”

Hermano, lengua!” the young girl holding Lance’s hand said. Keith didn’t know what she said, but if he didn’t know any better it sounded like a scolding.

“Sorry.” Lance said to her, but his tone was flat and unapologetic. His attention was still laser focused on Keith, as though he were putting his entire body into the scathing glare he was giving the other man. It was intimidating, even with the toddler on Lance’s back pointing to Lance’s eyes, nose, ears, everywhere, exclaiming the name for each one as she did so.

At hearing the commotion, Shiro appeared from the other room, concern etched into his expression as he glanced back and forth between Lance and Keith. “What’s going on?”

“Lance said the bad words but it’s okay because I told him not to!” the little girl said, giving Shiro an enthusiastic thumbs up. “It was a success of epic opponents!”

Shiro smiled at her gently. “I believe you mean ‘epic proportions’, Isabella.” He looked back to the two older males. “Keith, Lance? Is everything-”

“It’s fine. Dandy. Everything is peachy.” Lance snapped. From the stiffness in his body to the anger in his voice, it was obvious it was anything but. Lance went to storm out, but he paused and turned to Shiro. His face softened just enough to be remorseful. “Sorry for being rude. We’ll see you tomorrow. Guys, say “bye-bye” to Mr. Shirogane.”

The three did as they were told, Isabella the most enthusiastically as she ran over to give Shiro a brief hug before returning to take Lance’s hand. The little girl on Lance’s back giggled and waved while the boy peeked out from Lance’s shoulder to offer a soft flick of the wrist before bringing his hand back and gripping at Lance’s scarf. Shiro’s smile was forced, but he still waved back, saying his own “bye-bye” back to them. Then Lance pushed past Keith, avoiding touching him despite the tight space of the room. The door flew open with too much force, the chime attached to the top clanging loudly. Isabella glanced back to Keith for a brief moment, large brown eyes blinking at him in confusion and making him feel even more like a jerk, before Lance tugged on her hand to get her attention and they walked out, the door closing behind them.

After a minute of watching the family disappear into the parking lot, Shiro turned to Keith, who refused to look back because he just knew Shiro had that disapproving frown that made Keith want to hide. “Keith, what did you do?”

Keith groaned, and dropped his face into his hands, rubbing at his eyes in an attempt to wipe away the image of Lance’s hurt expression, but it did no good. It was etched into his mind and if Keith didn’t hate himself before, he definitely did now.

Chapter Text

“So let me get this straight.” Pidge said, far too amused at Keith’s misery. “You found a guy you think is cute and your method of flirting with him was to be an asshole not once, but twice?”

“You don’t have to look so happy about this.” Keith replied, taking a long swig from his beer.

Pidge grinned. “I’m not happy- your love life is fascinating, that’s all.”

“Wait, I’m confused on something.” Hunk inserted. “So at the restaurant, I get you were mad about the flirting- well, I don’t get get it because it seems kind of silly to be mad about-” Keith’s glare stopped Hunk from continuing that sentence, so instead he said, “but at the daycare, what actually happened? It's not like Lance was flirting with anyone there.”

Keith shrugged. “I saw him with his kids and I thought he was taken, and, ugh, I don’t know why but it just pissed me off.”

“It pissed you off because you lov- ow, fuck!” Pidge jumped as Keith’s toe slammed into her shin. “Don’t kick people!”

“Keith, you can’t be mean to someone just because you think they’re in a relationship with someone else.” Shiro said, and that was definitely his Disappointed Father™ voice. Keith curled further into himself. “What exactly did you say to him?”

If there was one thing Keith definitely didn’t want to do at the moment, under the curious eyes-slash-scrutiny of his friends in a bustling dive bar (that also happened to have the best burgers in the city), it was admit out loud what he had said to Lance. It made Keith cringe and want to puke just thinking about it, the words still a regret on his tongue that even a tasty burger couldn’t get rid of.

Keith shifted uncomfortably in his seat then took another long gulp of his drink, finishing it off just to stall for time. Without looking any of them in the eye, he finally said, “Um, I believe my exact words were, ‘Aren’t you a little young to have kids?’”

For a moment, his reveal was met with blank stares and silence. Then, each of them dropped their heads into their hands and echoed Keith’s previous groan, and Keith would have been impressed with their synchronicity if he weren’t dreading the rightfully due judgement he was about to receive.

“Well, I was bummed when Lance declined my offer to come out tonight, but after that,” Hunk said, pointing his beer at Keith to emphasize that the ‘that’ he was referring to was Keith himself, which Keith would have bristled at if it weren’t so deserved, “maybe it’s a good thing he didn’t come.”

“Oh, Keith.” Allura sighed with a shake of the head; she had been silent until then, sipping her cocktail with a curious expression. Now, her disappointment was hitting Shiro levels. Maybe that was a side effect of being married to one another.

“I didn’t mean to say it, okay!” Keith replied and it was probably the weakest defense ever but it was the best he could think of. “Like, I don’t even care that he’s a dad! It just caught me off guard!”

Hunk and Shiro shared a look, then Hunk said, “Uh, listen, it's not really my place to say anything, but Lance isn’t a dad.”

Keith’s eyebrows shot up, surprised and confused. “What?” He glared at Shiro. “You said he was a parent!”

“That’s what we call all the guardians of the kids we teach. Confidentiality and all that.” Shiro said, shrugging an apology that wasn’t actually an apology. Keith dropped his head onto the table with a thud. He would have left it there on the sticky wood if Shiro’s tone hadn’t softened to a whisper as he continued, “They’re Lance’s younger siblings. It seems something happened earlier this year that left the four of them as orphans, so now Lance is taking care of them.”

A tense silence settled over the group. Keith straightened immediately, not even noticing the piece of peanut shell sticking to his forehead until it fell off. His eyes trailed to Hunk and he noticed the other was sitting solemn, one hand wrapped tightly around his beer and the other clenched into a fist on the table. Hunk was by far the most empathetic person Keith knew, but even seeing him effected to this degree was jarring. Whatever had happened to Lance and his family must have been even worse than he and Shiro were letting on.

Finally, Pidge broke the silence and said, “Wow. Bet you feel like even more of a douchebag now, huh, Keith?” On instinct, Keith made to kick her again, but she easily evaded.

Well, no shit he this new information made him feel horrible; anyone would be hit with sympathy at a situation like Lance’s, even without all the details. But none of them had insulted Lance like Keith had done. The guilt that had been chewing away at Keith turned to claws, digging into him with a raw vigor that left him feeling nauseous and lightheaded.

“What…” Keith swallowed, his throat tight. “What happened?”

“And that,” Hunk said, poking Keith in the chest with his index finger for emphasis, the tension in his shoulders loosening slightly, “is definitely not my place to share. You’ll have to find that out from Lance. Y’know, if he ever lets you talk to him again.”

“Listen.” Pidge said before Keith could groan again, obviously growing annoyed at his moping. “You can still fix this.”

A flicker of hope past over Keith’s eyes. “I can?”

“Yes!” Allura replied instead. Pidge and her exchanged smiles, apparently both on the same wave length without even saying anything and Keith didn’t know whether he should feel reassured or worried because those two together was scary. “Hunk, when is Lance’s next day off?”

Hunk squinted at her, obviously searching his brain for Lance’s schedule. “He comes in late on Monday, I think.”

“Perfect.” Pidge pushed her glasses further up her nose, a sure sign she was plotting and Definitely worried, Keith thought. “Keith, cancel all meetings you have Monday morning. You’re going to his place and you’re going to woo him.”

“Uh, how exactly?”

“With dumplings.” Pidge replied, like it was the most obvious answer to every philosophical question ever asked.

“Dumplings?” Hunk, Shiro, and Keith repeated, each looking equally as confused as the other. Allura’s smile grew wider.

“Dumplings.”

*

Standing in front of Lance’s door with a tupperware of homemade mandu because it was the only thing Keith could successfully make in the kitchen (he had even burnt freaking salad once but only once, and it had been two years but screw you for laughing so hard you cried, Hunk), Keith had never felt stupider in his entire life. That included every interaction he’d had with Lance so far and that time he accidentally tripped at the celebratory opening of a new children’s hospital he was a donor to and fell into the red ribbon, tearing it in half, all while on national television.

Yeah, he felt that stupid.

Keith was starting to sweat as he rubbed his free hand against the leg of his jeans, hoping to dry it even a little. He glanced around the hallway, obviously stalling but also trying to calm himself down.

Lance didn’t live in a horrible part of town; it was definitely more middle-class, surrounded by older houses with well-kept yards and where people didn’t have to worry about walking alone at night. The apartment building he lived in was far from updated with faded walls, dim lighting, and old-fashioned carpet with stains, but it seemed nice enough to comfortably raise kids in, even if there was no security or lock on the entrance doors and Keith could hear the slamming of doors and footsteps of those in the apartments above him.

Keith looked back to the door in front of him and took a breath to steel himself. This was it. He had to do this if he had any hope of ever moving forward with Lance, whether that was as cordial acquaintances or friends or maybe even people who hold hands and kiss and touch each other while naked-

Keith’s hands were starting to sweat again, taking another deep breath as he raised his hand to knock.

The door flew open before Keith’s knuckles could even touch it. Keith jumped and the person on the other side who was rushing through the doorway, nearly colliding with Keith as he did so, started as well, though his was accompanied with a shriek that startled Keith even more and Keith stumbled backwards.

“Holy shit, don’t do that!” Keith yelled, hand on his chest. His heart was pounding a frantic, harsh beat beneath his palm.

“Dude, you scared the crap out of me!” Lance shouted back. He was bent over with one hand resting against his knees and the other covering his eyes, the door held open against his side simply because Lance hadn’t moved out of the way yet. He took in a stuttering breath, then glared at Keith. “What are you doing out here?!”

As Lance’s gaze caught his, Keith’s heart pounded in his chest for another reason altogether.

Lance’s blue eyes were blown wide in surprise, obviously from their shared, near heart attack experience just now, but the rest of him was just as frantic. One shoe was half off and his jacket was haphazardly thrown on, only one arm in its sleeve. He looked like he had just gotten out of the shower, his cheeks still flushed red from the heat and his hair haphazardly blowdried, the bangs sticking to his forehead. Keith saw one droplet slide down from a particularly damp section of hair behind Lance's ear; his eyes traced its movement as it drifted down Lance’s dark skin and into the scarf he was wearing, leaving a line of condensation in its wake that Keith wanted to taste.

“Uh.” Keith said, once he realized Lance was raising a finely trimmed eyebrow at him, now standing straight. He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Dumplings.”

Lance’s eyebrows joined each other in a furrow. “What?”

“I, uh, brought you dumplings. That I made.” Keith held up the tupperware way higher than necessary, like a peasant presenting a sacrifice to the god they believed in. “To, you know. Apologize.”

Lance glanced at the container Keith was offering him, then back up at the other man, squinting in a way that said he was searching Keith’s face for any sign this was a joke or prank. His mouth opened and closed a few times before he said, “Seriously, what?”

Keith could feel himself start to panic because he wanted this to work but god was he so bad at this sort of thing. “The other day I said something mean, and I didn’t mean to say it, at least not say it as rudely as I did.” The words were tumbling out and Keith knew he was rambling, but he couldn’t stop himself, nor bring himself to look at Lance’s face. “But I still said it because I was jeal- uh, dealing with some stuff. But it wasn’t fair to you so I made mandu, which is the only thing I’m good at making and I promise they’re delicious and not, like, poison or anything, and-”

“Okay, okay!” Lance eventually said, and Keith was grateful for the interruption because who knows how long he would have rambled on for. “I’ll take your non-poisonous dumplings, jeez!”

With the way Lance said it, Keith expected him to be annoyed, but when Keith finally looked at him again, Lance was smiling, clearly amused. He reached out for the container and Keith panicked that Lance would notice how sweaty it was from Keith’s palms but then their fingers brushed against one another and all other thoughts slipped away. Lance’s were cool against the warmth Keith’s were radiating, and it grounded Keith because it felt so natural, like they had touched each other countless of times before.

It was over in less than a second, but it lingered, even as Lance stepped back into his apartment towards the kitchen that was directly to the right of the entryway. Registering that he still awkwardly had his arms up in the air, Keith tried to cover it by keeping the door propped open, which he realized only after he did it that it was probably weird to do, considering the nature of their relationship thus far. But Lance either didn’t notice or didn’t care as he set his keys on the counter and opened the fridge.

“Uh, there are enough for the kids, too.” Keith stuttered out, half to fill the silence, half because he really wanted Lance to know that he really wasn’t judgemental of the fact that Lance was a single-parent, or guardian, or whatever Shiro had called it.

As he closed the refrigerator door, the mandu now safely tucked away in front of some orange juice and eggs, Lance stared at Keith. He took in the way Keith shifted uncomfortably in the doorway, the way he scratched at the back of his head nervously and looked at Lance with hopeful, anxious eyes. There was a moment of silence as they faced each other, and Keith’s heart pounded in his chest because this was the moment of truth- this would be where Lance either believes him and they move on, or Lance proves that Keith had irreversibly screwed up and no amount of dumplings could ever fix that.

“Y’know,” Lance said, pulling Keith’s focus back to the present and out of his own self-deprecating head, “when someone says their food is both non-poisonous and for the kids, it tends to set off some alarms.”

Keith blinked, caught off guard by Lance suddenly standing in front of him again. Keith took a step back, out of Lance’s way, but then he noticed that Lance was smirking at him, playful and open, and all the tension in Keith’s body loosened at the sight of it.

“Uh, no, I promise they’re edible and safe and-” Keith was cut off by Lance barking out a laugh, the sound echoing through the hall and it was such a beautiful noise that Keith wanted to hear it again and again.

“Dude, I’m just playing with you.” Lance said as he stepped into the hallway, the door slowly swaying shut behind him. Then, he winked at Keith and holy fuck Lance just winked at me oh my- “Oh, I forgot to grab my-”

The door clicked shut. Lance wiggled the handle, but nothing budged. Eery quiet filled the hallway as both Keith and Lance stared at the unmoving door. Lance tried the handle again, his eyes wide in horror as the reality set in that, yes, he most definitely had just locked himself out.

“Did you just-”

Shit!” Lance exclaimed, making Keith jump, then listen in awe as Lance set off into a chorus of what Keith could only call Aggressive Swearing in Spanish, and it probably shouldn't have been sexy, but Lance’s voice dipped lower, his anger was making his words huskier and rougher.

“Do you not have a spare?” Keith asked, needing to stop Lance’s tirade before it made Keith lose complete control of himself, but also genuinely wanting to help.

“I keep it in my car, but the keys to that are on my key chain. Locked in my fucking apartment.” Lance replied, lightly pounding his head against the wood and letting out a frustrated moan. “Goddamn it, the one morning I have off to actually get shit done-” Lance whipped out his phone, frantically unlocking it and scrolling through his contacts. When he brought it to his ear, Keith noticed the back of it was cracked in multiple places, then Lance was speaking in Spanish again and Keith shifted awkwardly in the hallway, unsure if he should leave or go.

Arguably, Keith had achieved at least the bare minimum of what he had come here to do, which was give Lance the dumplings and see if the guy was even willing to talk to him again. That had happened. Achievement unlocked, all systems go. But they hadn’t really discussed anything. Lance had joked with him and Keith had shown that he knew how to awkwardly stutter out an apology, but it didn’t clear anything up. Keith still didn’t know where he stood with Lance or what the situation was. Had Lance actually forgiven Keith, or had the dumplings been accepted as a mere peace offering and nothing more?

Lance was still talking on the phone and even though Keith didn’t know exactly what he was saying, his voice was full of frustration and dismay and exclamation. Then, Lance paused abruptly, and when Keith turned back to him, he was staring at Keith with wide-eyed awareness, and the same skepticism that comes along when Pidge says, “I’ve got an idea” started to prod its way into Keith’s mind.

Into the phone, Lance rushed out another few words and then ended the call. He slipped the phone into the back pocket of his jeans and put his hands on his hips, a dangerous grin on his face when he turned back to Keith.

“Alright, Mullet.” Lance said, still slightly breathless from the stress of the last few minutes, but somehow managing to sound composed and confident. Keith might be able to get behind the stupid nickname if Lance said it like that every time. “You came here to ask my forgiveness, right?”

Hesitantly, Keith nodded.

“Well,” and here, Lance’s grin grew, and so did Keith's apprehension because, yeah, he definitely knew what a grin like that meant. “I’ve just figured out how you can redeem yourself.”

Chapter Text

“So here’s the deal.” Lance said, ignoring the weariness painted clear as day on Keith’s face. “The manager is going to send over a locksmith but someone physically has to be here, otherwise they can’t do anything, and they can’t get here until early afternoon. The problem is I have to be at work by eleven and it is currently,” Lance glanced at his watch, “9:22.”

“Okay…” Keith said, put more on edge because this wasn’t nearly as bad as he had been expecting. He had some clients scheduled for the afternoon, but he could easily put some of the other trainers with them. But this was too easy. It felt more like a trap than anything else. “So you need me to wait here for the locksmith?”

“Yep.” Lance replied, popping the ‘p’. Then, he held up two fingers and it took Keith a second to realize Lance wasn’t flashing him a victory sign. “But that’s part two of the plan.”

Knew it, definitely a trap.

“Uh, what’s part one?” Keith asked, even though he wasn’t sure he wanted to- “Wait, why are you doing this out of order?”

“Part one!” Lance declared, clapping his hands together and completely breezing past the second half of Keith’s question. “I had a shitload of errands that I needed to run this morning before work. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to a vehicle.” Lance poked Keith in the chest. “That’s where you come in, Mullet.”

“Okay, please stop calling me that. I don’t even have a mullet.” Keith said and he was not pouting. “So, what? I’m going to be your errand boy?”

“Eh, more like delivery boy.” Lance replied, walking towards the exit, Keith trailing slowly behind him. “You take me where I need to go, then drop me off at work later. Sound good?”

“Y-Yeah. That’s fine.” Keith replied, walking through the door where Lance was holding it open for him. The brisk November air made him suck in a breath as it struck his face, stinging his cheeks.

All things considered, this wasn’t the worst punishment Lance could have come up with. Keith was actually pretty impressed with how quickly Lance had been able to come up with such a complicated plan on the fly. Minor inconvenience of having to wait around for a few hours later aside, Keith could deal with driving Lance around for a few hours- okay, he could more than deal with it. Getting more opportunities to inconspicuously check out Lance’s ass while also proving to the other man that Keith really, seriously, was not as big of a douchebag as he seemed to be, he just said things without thinking them through sometimes? It was a far cry from actual punishment.

Granted, Keith was going to need to keep his dumb mouth in check, and probably do his best not to stutter and flush like a twelve-year-old girl talking to her crush for the first time every time Lance so much as glanced his way.

“Once you’ve got the keys, you can just hide them in the glove compartment or something and leave it unlocked. It should be fine for a few hours at least.” Lance said as they walked to the small, open parking lot just to the side of the apartment building. He shoved his uncovered hands into the pockets of his jacket and shivered, then paused in front of a parking space, gesturing to the vehicle occupying it. “This is Bertha!”

Keith blinked at the silver mini-van, less caught off guard by the state of it- there was a crack in the windshield and there were a few dents, the biggest on the passenger side door and it looked like it hadn’t been washed in months- and more by the fact that it was a freaking mini-van. Because Lance was a guy who screamed overcompensating sports car and not soccer mom, even if Keith knew Lance had kids he cared for.

“A mini-van?” Keith said before he could help himself, immediately snapping his mouth shut because he didn’t have any more fucking dumpings and it had only been, like, fifteen minutes since he had given Lance some for his last misstep.

But Lance just snorted, gestured with his head to the bike a few spaces down, and said, “You put three carseats on the back of this fancy motorcycle of yours and let me know how it goes.”

Keith flushed and because he had no defense against that, stuttered out, “H-How do you even know this is mine?”

“Dude, fingerless gloves? Biker jacket? It’s not difficult to put two and two together.” Lance replied. He dropped down into the seat of the bike, hands grabbing the handles despite Keith’s indignant ‘hey!’ next to him. “Why the hell are you driving this in the winter anyway? It’s, like, negative seventy degrees out here, man.”

Lance yelped as Keith roughly shoved him backwards on the bike, out of reach of the handles because it didn’t matter how hot Keith found Lance to be, you don’t just go touching his baby like she’s a goddam tonka truck. He grabbed an extra helmet from the compartment and shoved it into Lance’s hands. “I like riding in the cold. It’s freeing, as long as the roads aren’t icy or snowy.” He yanked on his own helmet, fastening it and ignoring Lance’s comment about how chapped skin isn’t sexy. “Also, do you unnecessarily exaggerate even the simplest things?”

“I’m told I have a knack for being dramatic.” Lance replied easily with a shrug and then he pulled on the helmet Keith had given him. Keith watched him struggle with the latch, the tip of his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth and eyes going slightly crossed eyed as he tried to see what his own hands were doing.

It was by far the stupidest expression Keith had ever found attractive.

“How are you so bad at putting on a helmet?” Keith huffed after watching Lance for a good minute. “Here, just let me do it.”

Before Lance could reply, Keith pushed Lance’s fingers away, taking the straps and quickly fastening them with a soft ‘click’. The back of his knuckles brushed against the skin of Lance’s neck, feeling his adam’s apple move as Lance swallowed and took in a sharp breath. The feeling of it made Keith look up from the space beneath Lance’s chin to his eyes, and Keith felt his own breath catch when he found Lance openly staring at him. The blue of Lance’s eyes was as striking as ever and Keith didn’t know what emotion it was that was swimming in them, but the small flare of hope that he felt while taking it in was immediate and unmistakable.

“Y’know, if you want me to stop calling you ‘Mullet’, you should probably tell me your real name.” Lance said, and the feel of the words beneath Keith’s fingers, still settled against Lance’s neck, made it impossible for Keith to feel offended by Lance not actually knowing his name.

“Keith.” he replied, then silently congratulated himself because he was able to say it without his voice cracking.

Lance nodded, a small, soft motion, and they stared at each other for a second more before Keith dropped his hands and turned away, dropping into his seat in a rush, praying his ears weren’t as red as they felt.

“S-So where to first?” Keith said and there was the voice crack he had come to expect.

Lance cleared his throat and shifted behind Keith, and Keith was a little relieved that Lance was feeling at least a sliver as awkward as he was. “Uh, the bank. Do you know the one over on 70th and Q?”

Keith nodded in response and started up his bike without a word, doing his best to not tense as Lance’s arms settled around his waist. Then, Lance’s chest pressed against his back, his breath, warm and quick, falling onto Keith’s neck, and Keith forgot how to breathe.

 

*

 

After the bank, where Lance deposited some cash and also got twenty dollars worth of quarters (“Laundry ain’t free, dude.”), Lance declared his next stop was the grocery store. At Keith’s dubious expression, eyes drifting to his bike because uh, hello, it's not like he had a whole lot of space here, Lance rolled his eyes.

“Calm down, Mullet. I just need a few things for dinner tonight.” Lance said, struggling again with the helmet straps. “God, are you this skeptical of everything?”

“My name is Keith.” he replied, reaching over to fasten Lance’s straps for him once again (this time refusing to allow himself any sort of lingering skin contact because he just couldn’t deal with that right now). “And there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. Maybe you’re just too laid back.”

“Laid back is good, my man.” Lance said, unfazed as Keith sat down in front of him and started up the bike once more. “Go with the flow. Smell the roses. Pick the peach- bah!” Lance screeched, hands shooting out to clutch desperately at Keith’s jacket as the bike jumped forward, just enough to startle him. “What the fuck, you did that on purpose!”

“Duh.” was all Keith said in response, biting back a smile as Lance huffed into his ear.

Luckily the grocery store wasn’t too far of a drive. Keith had never really noticed the sting of cold while driving before, but with Lance bringing it up and the warmth of the other man pressed too closely against him, it made the winter air feel that much chillier. The warmth of the store was a welcome break from it. Lance skipped past the carts, going directly for a basket, calm but chipper as he whistled and swung it leisurely in his hand. He led the way to the produce section, Keith trailing behind him- and y’know, making good on that thought of secretly checking out Lance’s ass because his jeans today were far tighter than the ones he’d had on the other day, and even if it was thinner than Keith usually prefered, it was tight and shaped in a way that would probably feel amazing for Keith to dig his nails into.

Keith was drawn out of his thoughts by Lance mumbling about how expensive apples were when they weren’t in season. He had a paper list in one hand, the basket cradled in his elbow, and was marking down something on his cracked phone. Lance worried his lip between his teeth for a second before grabbing two granny smiths.

“Maybe if I tell Colton they’re alien apples, he’ll eat them anyway.” Lance said as he dropped them into his basket and then moved on to scrutinize which potatoes were best. At Keith’s raised eyebrow, Lance added, “Oh, my younger brother. I guess I never told you their names. Colton and Clara are the twins and they’re almost eighteen months, and Isabella is the older one. She’ll be four in February.”

Something about learning their names made Keith feel warm all over, as though Lance was letting him in on a big secret meant just for him to know. Which was dumb because it’s not it was actually secret information- Hunk, Shiro and Coran all already knew that. Still, Keith felt unnecessarily happy over it.

“Surprised to hear they aren’t actually my kids?” Lance said when Keith didn’t respond.

Keith, constantly on edge of offending Lance again, quickly shook his head, hard enough that he felt a little dizzy from the motion.

“N-No. It makes sense.” Keith replied. He shifted from foot to foot. “Uh, I’m sorry for, you know, assuming the other day.”

Lance paused, a potato in each hand. Keith stuck his hands into his pockets, trying to look casual even though he wanted to run away. Then, Lance gasped and put his hand over his heart, face painted with embellished awe.

“Be still my heart, what’s this! Keith giving me both non-poisonous ‘I’m sorry’ dumplings and a verbal apology? I feel honored!”

The theatrics had the desired effect; Keith’s awkwardness was forgotten as he bristled. “H-Hey, I’m trying to be serious here!”

Lance cackled and the other shoppers around them glanced over, but Keith didn’t even notice them because all he wanted to do was stomp his foot, frustrated with how easygoing Lance was being.

“Alright, alright, I got it.” Lance said, his laugh dying down when he noticed Keith’s glare. A genuine smile tugged at his lips, and Keith couldn’t help thinking it was a really nice look for him. “Thank you, seriously. I appreciate it.” He scratched at the back of his neck. “I mean, I should probably apologize, too. I probably overreacted a bit. It's not like most people wouldn’t assume the same.”

Keith blinked, caught off guard. “I- uh. No, it’s fine.”

He hoped Lance chalked his awkwardness up to Keith being bad at small talk and not the fact that he felt a little dirty knowing the information already, as if he had done something wrong. Lance just nodded, giving him one last smile before leading him to the cereal aisle.

It was oddly domestic, shopping with Lance and it had been a long time since Keith had gone grocery shopping with someone else. Hell, it had been a long time since he had gone himself, usually opting to use one of those grocery delivery services since he worked so much and it just made life easier. (Not like he could cook so most of what he got was those prepare salads that had to be eaten within a day or they went all brown and soggy.) Keith watched as Lance’s gaze would linger on certain items, unnecessary things like cookies or higher quality items like filet mignon, and Keith could tell how badly Lance wanted to pick them up and add them to the basket, but he would move on, never diverging from the list he was holding beyond skipping some items due to the limited space of Keith's bike. His attention was constantly split between the list and whatever he was writing on his phone. He crinkled his nose, just a little bit, as he concentrated and it was so cute that Keith couldn’t look away from it.

“What are you doing?” Keith asked eventually, only because he figured he should try to make small talk and didn’t know what else to say.

“I’m keeping track of the price of everything. Gotta stay within budget.” Lance furrowed his brow and when he raised his eyes to Keith, Keith recognized the annoyance that was beginning to rise up. “Something wrong with that?”

“N-No!” Keith replied, louder than necessary but wanting to make Lance understand he wasn’t trying to insult him in any way. He forced himself to relax and said again, softer this time, “No, not at all. I’ve had to do that before, too, when I lived on the streets, so I was just… curious, I guess.”

The annoyance vanished and Lance blinked at him, eyes owlishly big in their surprise. He seemed to be waiting for Keith to continue, maybe to give more details, but Keith didn’t particularly feel like getting into it, not there in the middle of the produce section at the grocery store. He hadn’t really meant to give Lance that much information anyway; it was too heavy of a topic and just ended up being awkward for everyone, which was proven when Lance continued blinking at him.

“O-Oh.” Lance said. He coughed and scratched at the back of his head, sheepish. “Sorry.”

Keith shook off his apology with a quick shrug, stuffing his hands back into his pockets as Lance shifted again, an awkward silence settling around them until Lance turned and began walking to the deli without another word.

As Keith followed, he noticed something: Lance was incredibly defensive whenever it came to his home situation. Sure, Keith could do a better job with how he worded things, but there was undeniably more to it on Lance’s part. It was insecurity, Keith realized. One that Lance tried to keep in check but it was constantly at the surface despite his best efforts to keep it buried. Any sort of prodding or poking, whether intentional or not, would flare it up. Keith could recognize it because he understood it, probably better than anyone. When he was just starting to get his life together, fresh off the streets and in college, the same insecurity had reared its ugly head more often than once, and let’s just say it had almost gotten him expelled a few times. And that was without having the responsibility of providing for three young children who couldn’t fend for themselves.

Suddenly, Lance’s shoulders looked a lot smaller than they had before, the confident square of them loosened, as though a heavy weight rested upon them, and Keith was struck with an intense urge he had never felt before: an overwhelming need to take that weight off Lance’s shoulders and carry it on his own. It was bizarre and startling, and Keith had absolutely no idea what to do with it.

*

“Okay, seriously, how are your lips not constantly chapped and bleeding?” Lance demanded as they rolled to a stop in front of Hunk’s restaurant with only four minutes to spare before Lance’s shift. “I’m gonna have to sleep in lotion to get moisture back to my precious skin.”

“It’s not my fault you aren’t wearing gloves.” Keith replied as Lance climbed off and Keith ignored how lonely he suddenly felt without Lance’s hands on his waist. Lance stuck his tongue out in response and Keith rolled his eyes. “Mature.”

“Hey, thanks for today.” Lance said, unexpectedly enough to throw Keith off guard. Lance stood on the sidewalk next to the bike; there was a comfortable space between them, not close enough to be intimate, not far enough away to make it weird. He stood on his tiptoes before rolling onto his heels, then back again. It was an obvious, nervous habit and Keith added it to his definitely not creepy list of “Things Lance Does that are Fucking Adorable”. “I know I kind of forced you into it and you didn’t really have to go along with it. So, yeah. Thanks.”

Keith was about as good at receiving gratitude as he was at giving it (aka he was basically the worst at it), so he had no idea how to respond to Lance’s words like a normal person. “Um, it’s fine.” He forced a smirk he hoped look natural. “It was my way of redeeming myself, right?”

“Hell yeah it was.” Lance said, putting his hands on his hips and puffing out his chest. “Now you know better than to piss off the handsome perfection that is moi!”

Keith suddenly wished he had the ability to both glare and roll his eyes at the same time.

“Oh, here.” Lance said, unclasping the helmet and holding it out for Keith. Keith shook his head.

“You can hold onto it.” Keith said and because Lance tilted his head in that adorably curious way that made Keith feel stupid and giddy, he added, “Don’t exactly have space for it right now since someone’s groceries have taken over.”

Lance snorted a laugh, and Keith internally cheered for himself because he had delivered a joke in front of Lance without managing to come off like a total moron.

“Um, I’ve got to get going. But first-” Lance said, tucking the helmet under his arm and digging his phone out of his pocket, unlocking it and handing it to Keith. It was open to the “Add New Contact” screen. Whether the redness on Lance’s cheeks was from the cold or uncharacteristic bashfulness, Keith couldn’t tell (though he couldn’t help hoping for the latter.) “let’s exchange numbers so you can let me know if there’s any issues with getting the keys.”

With shaky fingers (from the cold and absolutely not from excitement because he was actually giving Lance his number and they would probably be texting each other and was this real life?), Keith took the phone and quickly typed his name and number. After handing it back, Lance typed a short text and then Keith’s own phone sounded with a notification, but Keith kept it safe in his pocket; he’d check it when he wasn’t close enough for Lance to see the ecstatic smile that would definitely overtake his face.

“Talk to you soon, Mullet.” Lance said, beginning to walk backwards towards the restaurant’s entrance, that cocky smirk back on his face.

Keith started up his bike, feeling a sudden vote of confidence and sending Lance a smirk of his own. “See ya, Flat-Ass.”

The blush that overtook Lance’s face that time most definitely wasn’t from the cold, and Keith stayed just long enough to commit it to memory before pulling away from the curb and driving off.

*

From: Unknown Number
10:59 AM

poop emoji

From: Unknown Number
11:02 AM

how DARE you
my badonkidonk is flawless thank you very much

Keith didn't know what to say to that so he sent back a thinking emoji and then dropped his head into his hands, smile so big it hurt.

Chapter Text

To: Group Chat
11:16 AM
Dumplings delivered.

From: Hunk
11:20 AM
I’d say
Why don’t you tell the group who dropped Lance off at work today, Keith
(2 minutes late btw)

From: satan’s spawn
11:21 AM
WHAT
DOES THAT MEAN.
IT WORKED?

From: Allura
11:21 AM
OMG KEITH
DETAILS

To: Group Chat
11:22 AM
HUNK
WHy

From Hunk
11:24 AM
Because I’ve had to deal with Lance complaining about you & your mullet for the last 22 mins
Also that was SO nice of you to let him keep your extra helmet!
Planning on taking him for another ride soon?

From: Allura
11:25 AM
KEITH I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS
YOU DIDN’T SCREW IT UP
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE

To: Group Chat
11:26 AM
Wow okay fuck you
Just for that I’m telling you nothing
Oh but we did hang out all morning
ttyl

From: satan’s spawn
11:33 AM
.........
AND?

From: Allura
11:45 AM
KEITH
KEITH KOGANE
I swear to god i will end you

From: Shiro
12:51 PM
Keith, please don’t speak like that to your sister-in-law.

*

“So, you locked yourself out, huh?” the locksmith asked as he set to work on Lance’s door.

“No. I don’t live here, I’m just helping out.” Keith answered, not bothering to look up from where he was scrolling through facebook on his phone. He was leaning against the opposite wall, Lance’s groceries on the floor around him. He was hoping the locksmith would understand through body language alone just how much Keith despised small talk, but apparently his plan had failed.

“Gotcha.” the locksmith replied. “The tenant your girlfriend?”

Keith’s phone slipped from his hand and it bounced around in the air as Keith made several desperate attempts at grabbing it before it landed on his foot, undamaged. Keith rushed to grab it, cheeks flushed red when he realized the locksmith was staring at him, and Keith shook his head frantically. “Um, n-no! I’m just a guy who brought him dumplings!”

Because that didn’t sound totally stupid or weird.

The locksmith merely raised an eyebrow and said nothing more, leaving Keith to deal with his burning face until the door clicked open, and Keith could breath a sigh of relief.

“All done.” the locksmith said, pushing the door open for Keith to step through before leaning down to gather his supplies. “Let your non-boyfriend know the manager of the building will send him over the bill.”

Keith wanted to glare at him, but instead he just nodded, bidding the locksmith a farewell as the other man retreated down the hall. Once he was alone, Keith gathered up the two bags of groceries and stepped into the apartment for the first time, heart pounding weirdly fast. He felt as though he was about to be caught somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be.

The layout of Lance’s apartment was simple but cramped. The kitchen was immediately to the right of the entryway and on the other side of it was the dining room, though that might have been too liberal of a word, considering how tight it was with the small dining table and two highchairs crammed into the corner. The living room was bigger, but just as cramped with all the toys lining the walls, either stacked on one another or in bins. A weathered couch sat in the center, facing a TV, and on the far wall was an entrance to the small balcony. It was tiny, but surprisingly clean.

But still, despite its lack of space, the apartment felt warm, far more like a home than Keith’s own “bachelor pad” (Pidge’s words, not his). Keith had never been one for decorating, so the walls of his apartment were bare, lacking of any art or frames. The few pictures he did have, Shiro or Allura had printed off for him, and they sat on his nightstand or the dresser in his room. Lance’s apartment was the opposite: there were pictures everywhere in the living room, of all different shapes and sizes. To the left of the front door was a hallway, which Keith assumed led to the bedrooms, and it was covered from floor to ceiling in paper. Keith stepped closer and realized they were drawings- well, scribbles would be a more accurate description. Sporadic streaks of crayon that amounting to nothing more than a collection of lines, or pages ripped from a coloring book where the artist was more preoccupied with coloring the bunny green instead of staying inside the lines. The name of the child who had made it was written in the bottom corner next to the date it was done on.

Keith had never been a sentimental person, but looking at the artwork, proudly displayed as though they were done by the next Picasso, made Keith feel warm and fuzzy all over, a pull of affection he wasn’t used to feeling. It was just so sweet and endearing to know that Lance had been the one to hang them so proudly.

Who knows how long Keith stood there, staring at that wall, but he was lost in thought enough that when his phone buzzed in his pocket, he jumped and dropped the plastic bag he was holding because of immediately putting the groceries away like a normal person, he had instead looked around the apartment of a guy he barely knew. Because Keith was apparently the biggest creep in the world.

At least he hadn’t snooped around in Lance’s room.

Though, thinking about it now, Keith was a little bit curious-

His phone buzzed again. Keith quickly set the groceries down on the counter and pulled his phone out, feeling extra grateful for the interruption when he noticed it was Lance who had texted him. Keith probably wouldn’t have been able to look Lance in the eye again if he had gone into Lance’s room without the other man’s knowledge.

From: Lance
2:04 PM
hey how’s it going with the getting the keys

Oh. Right. The keys.

To: Lance
2:04 PM
Locksmith just left, all good. Was just going to put your groceries away and then head out

From: Lance
2:05 PM
yaaaaaaaaaay! thank ya, my man!
ps dont creep in my room
i know you were thinkin about it ;)

Keith was grateful no one was around to see the guilty, embarrassed blush take over his face and he frantically glanced around because did Lance have freaking cameras in this place? Of course he didn’t, but Keith still felt as if he had been caught red handed, and if his fingers hit the simulated keys a little too aggressively as he typed his reply, well, that wasn’t his fault.

To: Lance
2:05 PM
wtf i wouldn’t do that!!!

It was less than ten seconds later that Lance sent him fifteen of the laugh-crying emojis and Keith refused to dignify it with a reply, so he shoved his phone back into his pocket with a huff. He set about putting away the items that needed to be refrigerated, leaving the rest for Lance to deal with. Then, Keith went to grab Lance’s keys, eyes lingering briefly over the thick stack of bills they were sitting next to. That same protective urge he had felt at the grocery store came hurdling back, hitting him with a force.

This is ridiculous, you’ve barely known him for a week, Keith thought, shaking his head. Realizing he needed to get out of there, he snatched the keys off the counter and left, refusing to look at that wall full of artwork one last time, even though he really wanted to.

*

Later that night, as Keith was still working at the office, Lance sent him a snapchat. It was a picture of Lance’s brother, Colton, which Keith somehow remembered, even though he was always horrible with names. The toddler’s face was scrunched up and red, looking as angry as a tiny human could, and he was mid-motion of smacking an apple slice out of Lance’s hand. The caption over it read, “Alien apples = fail”.

Keith wasn’t usually one of those people who enjoyed receiving pictures of kids he didn’t even know, but he couldn’t help but laugh- the caption combined with how utterly pissed Colton looked because of an apple was just too funny.

Keith
well granny smiths are the worst, so can’t say I blame him

Lance
wow you guys would be best friends. you can bond over your pretentious apple preferences.
how does it feel knowing you’re the same as a toddler

Keith
you seem to know the feeling better than I do so you tell me

Lance
whoooooooawwwwww
if i ever win the lottery i’m buying you a lifetime of granny smiths
and i’ll put one on your doorstep every morning
you will never again escape the granny

Keith wanted to tell Lance that maybe he should just wake up in Keith’s bed every morning instead. Which was definitely, very obviously way too forward and he would never say it in a million years, but the thought of it- of Lance naked beneath the sheets, hair ruffled from sleep and eyelids heavy and sexy- caused his brain to short circuit. Luckily, he was saved from typing a response by a video message of Lance saying, “Apple?” and Colton replying, “No!” at the same time Clara, in the high chair next to him, shouted, “Grape!” It put a soft smile on Keith’s lips. He hesitated for a second before taking a deep breath and typing his next message.

Keith
they’re pretty adorable

Lance
IKR?! :)
must run in the family ;)

Keith
Flat asses aren’t cute tho

Lance
you muthafuck

Keith sent back a winky face then put his phone away because Lance had already spent the entire day preventing Keith from getting work done, and he seriously needed to get through at least some of this paperwork because stacked up paperwork was the most annoying thing ever.

(Every now and then Lance’s blushing face as he stood on the sidewalk would flash into Keith’s mind and it made everything a little bit easier to deal with)

*

It was Friday before Keith saw Lance again. With the upcoming holiday season (aka busiest time of the year aka hell), he hadn’t been able to do his weekly visit to the restaurant.

It didn’t seem to matter much though; Lance had taken to sending Keith snaps of the most mundane things- selfies of him with filters, a pigeon hopping down the sidewalk, Hunk in the middle of doing something, thus making a derpy face (those snaps Keith always made sure to screenshot and send in their group chat because revenge). They were stupid and adorable but Keith smiled at every single one, even if he wasn’t able to respond every time (and when he did, it was always with a chat message because Keith didn’t do bunny filters).

So when Keith walked into the daycare center that week to meet Shiro and he caught a glimpse of Lance in the video feed again, he couldn’t help the happy punch to the gut he felt. He also couldn’t help but glare at Shiro when he noticed the older man grinning at him.

“Okay, cut that out immediately.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Shiro said, pretending to be preoccupied with typing on his computer.

Before Keith could open his mouth, the door into the front room was pushed open, revealing Lance once again covered in children. He had Colton and Clara in his arms, one twin balanced on each hip, and Isabella was holding the door open for him, talking a mile a minute about the songs she had danced to that day. Lance was nodding to her to show he was listening, but he was also saying something to Clara, who shook her head before ripping off her hat and giggling, despite Lance’s exasperated sigh. Lance sat Colton down on the single chair in the room, ignoring the way he whined and pulled at Lance’s coat sleeve, then set Clara down in front of him and took the hat out of her hand to pull it back down on her head once more.

“Off! Off!” Clara exclaimed, reaching up to yank it off again (holy crap her arm was fast for how short it was, Keith thought), and Lance pulled her hand away. When she started to pout, Lance clapped his hands together and said something in Spanish that had her eyes lighting up, and all thoughts of ridding herself of the offending hat vanished.

Lance looked ready to sigh again, but then he glanced up, finally noticing Keith standing awkwardly in front of the desk, and he blinked, surprised.

“Um. Hi.” Keith said with a quick, little wave because apparently he still didn’t know how to greet Lance properly.

“We meet again!” Lance said, grinning up at Keith from his kneeling position. “How’s it going, Mul-”

“Ah!” Isabella interrupted, pointing her mitten covered hand at Keith with far too much enthusiasm. “You’re that mean mule!"

Keith looked down at the tiny, accusatory mitten, startled. “Wha-”

“Isabella, I think you mean ‘mullet’.”

“Shiro!” Keith shouted, offended. “Don’t correct her on that-”

“You’re hot.”

The room fell silent. Isabella stared at them all, an innocent but proud smile on her lips. Keith blinked, completely caught off guard because was that a normal thing for a four year old to say? He glanced to Shiro and noticed the man was surprised as well, mouth slightly hanging open as if he was temporarily at a loss for words. Then there was a high-pitched, choked noise and Keith looked back to Lance to see him pale as he possibly could be, eyes wide and panicked, and his entire body petrified, even as Colton began poking him in the nose and Clara took her hat off again. Keith almost wanted to reach for his phone so he could snap a picture because the horror on Lance’s face was actually kind of hilarious, even if Keith didn’t quite understand it. Was he just embarrassed to hear his little sister say something so blunt? Or was it because-

“Isabella,” Shiro, with a soft albeit slightly flustered smile, “that’s not something we should just blurt out, okay?”

“Why not?” Isabella replied, looking genuinely confused. “That’s what Lance said! When we leaved last time and Lance was very mad, he said, ‘Stupid mule, thinks just because he’s hot he can say sh-’”

The rest of Isabella’s words were lost behind Lance’s hand as he slammed it over her mouth, cheeks no longer pale, instead a flaring red, as he leaned in close to Isabella and hissed, “¡Cállate!” Then, he turned to Shiro and Keith, a shaky smile on his lips and voice an octave too high. “Silly kids, huh! A-always saying the silliest things! Well, this has been wonderful but we gotta skedaddle! Let’s go, children!”

Then, Lance gathered the twins in his arms and ushered a still confused Isabella towards the door with impressive speed, blush growing even more intense when he happened to catch Keith’s shocked gaze as they walked past. Lance laughed out an awkward farewell but was out the door before Keith could reply, leaving him and Shiro to stare speechless after them for the second week in a row.

Chapter Text

From: Lance
6:31 PM
Children are liars

To: Lance
6:32 PM
I thought kids were supposed to be the most honest out of everyone?

From: Lance
6:40 PM
You think that but then they hide a poop diaper in your closet and tell you it was the dog you don’t have

To: Lance
6:40 PM
Ok ew.

From: Lance
6:49 PM
Told ya
you know nothing about kids, Jon Snow

To: Lance
6:50 PM
Why are you calling me Jon?

From: Lance
6:51 PM
Game of Thrones?
Wait.
WAIT.
DO NOT TELL ME YOU HAVEN’T SEEN GOT

To: Lance
6:53 PM
Uhhhh

From: Lance
6:55 PM
HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE
I’M SO DISAPPOINTED IN YOU

To: Lance
6:59 PM
But you still think I’m hot, right?

From: Lance
6:59 PM
anogia;hreiogaehjklfgjslkdfgnboeguhoighaaijgkfdjjdshf!!!!!

 

*

 

Keith knew Friday Friendship Dinner would be an interrogation about him and Lance, so he gave extra consideration to whether it would be worth it to skip it all together, but he knew if he didn’t, they would just hunt him down and carry out some torture plan that the women would be far too happy to have come up with. He had already been pushing it by ignoring all texts that week, so he decided to bite the bullet and show up.

But then Pidge reached around Hunk from where they were squeezed into the booth and yanked Keith’s beer from the table before his fingers could close around the glass, and Keith seriously reconsidered his decision.

“Spill.” Pidge said, swaying the beer just out of reach, taunting.

“Pidge, give me my beer or I’ll spill you.” Keith said. He watched as a few drops spilled over the rim and Keith wanted to growl because he paid for that.

Allura, settled next to Shiro on the other side of the table, gently took the beer from Pidge’s tiny demon claws and Keith briefly felt a surge of love for her but then she set it down next to her own cocktail and smiled at him in that conniving, terrifying way she did when she was about to get her way, and the love turned to exasperation.

“You’ve kept us hanging for days, Keith.” Allura said, direct and to the point. “We want details.”

“Fine.” Keith said. He waggled his fingers for his beer because like hell was he going be totally sober while dealing with their obnoxious commentary on his love life.

Gratefully, Allura pushed the beer across the table to him and Keith drained half of it before diving into everything that had happened. From the successful mandu to Lance locking his keys in the apartment to the grocery shopping adventure and everything in between. (Of course he left out the details of how every time Lance touched him, Keith felt sparks from the contact and that seeing Lance smile made Keith happier than it probably should.)

“Don’t forget to mention the endless snaps you send each other.” Hunk said when Keith took a moment to pause. Allura out right squealed and Keith glared at the man next to him. Hunk shrugged. “Listen, if Lance is going to send you pics with me in the background looking dumb, then I have a right to divulge that information to capitalize on your pain.”

Before Keith could open his mouth to combat that inane logic, Shiro said, “Let’s also not leave out how Lance called you hot.”

What?!” Allura and Pidge shouted. Hunk seemed completely unsurprised, as though it was old news, and just continued chowing down on the complimentary bread the waitress had dropped onto the table before scurrying off.

Allegedly called me hot.” Keith said, though the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth was difficult to bite back. “He immediately texted me to let me know that, apparently, you can’t trust anything children say.”

“As someone who works with children, I can’t necessarily disagree.” Shiro said. When Keith’s smile fell away and his brow began to furrow, Shiro was quick to add, “But I also don’t think Isabella was making it up. It was far too genuine.”

“I’m gonna agree with Shiro on this one!” Hunk said, licking crumbs from his fingers. “Izzy has her normal kid fibs but she’s way happier repeating anything and everything you say. I keep telling Lance he needs to watch what he says around her, but he never listens to me. Last weekend when my mom was watching the kids, Izzy started singing the lyrics to ‘Baby Got Back’ and oh boy did Lance get a scolding for that one.”

Pidge and Allura burst out laughing, and Keith couldn’t help the chuckle that left his lips at the thought of Lance cowering in front of Hunk’s mom as she told him how inappropriate it was for children to listen to rap music about women’s asses.

Then, the image of Lance’s back at the grocery store, the responsibility of providing for his family resting heavy on his shoulders, came back to the forefront of Keith’s mind.

“Hey, Hunk, is Lance alright?” Keith asked as the laughter around the table settled. Hunk raised an eyebrow at him. “I mean, I don’t want you to tell me about his parents or anything, but I just get the impression... I don’t know- it can’t be easy, right?”

Hunk was silent for a moment, watching Keith carefully before he glanced at Shiro. The other man nodded, giving Hunk the supportive go ahead to answer as he saw fit.

“Lance is pretty good at putting up a tough front.” Hunk started, gently and slowly as if picking his words carefully, not wanting to disrespect Lance by divulging information he shouldn’t be, “and he’s got a talent for staying cool under pressure. But he’s someone whose emotions are at the surface, and he’s really sensitive about, like, everything. Not in a bad way- more like he’s a feeler in every sense of the word, but he tries to pretend he’s not. He keeps acting like everything is fine and under control but I know he’s barely keeping everything together.” Hunk rubbed at the back of his head, obviously distraught as he thought about his best friend in pain. “There was a time there, right after… everything happened, where the state was talking about putting the kids in a foster home, so Lance had to fight to show he could handle being their guardian. Had to drop out of grad school and get a job to prove he had income to provide for them. He’s lawfully their guardian now, but I think he’s still paranoid they’ll get taken away if he’s not careful. And I think he has a hard time asking for help because he thinks it’ll show some kind of weakness when he needs to be strong for the kids.”

The table was silent as they took in Hunk’s words. Keith exhaled, uneven and tight, and he wanted to take another drink of his beer but his body felt too tense to move. He almost regretted asking but, at the same time, felt relieved to have his suspicions about Lance confirmed so he could move on to figuring out how exactly he could help Lance out.

“I wish he would talk to me more about it.” Hunk continued, rubbing at the tears beginning to wet the corner of his eyes. “He’s never been one to shy away from talking about his problems with me before, but losing his family, his money troubles, how hard it is to suddenly becoming a single parent- he won’t talk to me about it at all. I don’t know if it’s because he doesn’t want to burden me or he thinks I’ve already done enough by getting him a job after he lost his last one, but… he’s my best friend, y’know.”

“Oh, Hunk.” Allura said, reaching across the table to give Hunk’s free hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’m sure Lance knows how much you care for him. He’s just going through a hard time.”

Hunk smiled back at her around his tears, quickly returning her kindness with a gentle squeeze of his own. “Yeah, I know. I just wish there was more I could do to help him.”

Same, Keith thought to himself as Pidge tried to steer the conversation into something less heavy, the topic of which just so happened to be the status of Hunk’s current crush on Shay, the owner of the flower shop across the street from his restaurant.

Keith chuckled along with everyone else at the burst of red that exploded on Hunk’s cheeks, but he couldn’t shake Lance from his head and Keith decided then and there, in the Voltron bar among his best friends, that he would find a way to lessen that burden on Lance’s shoulders any way he possibly could.

 

*

 

The following week moved at a whiplash pace. With Thanksgiving in less than a week, Keith still had countless details to figure out for the The Red Lion Gym’s Black Friday campaign. His focus being pulled in every direction, which meant he couldn’t reply to Lance as quickly as he wanted, resulting in fewer Lance Selfies that always brightened his day, even when Keith was having the kind of day where he to escape from his assistant to hit a punching bag for fifteen minutes because someone had found a way to misspell “Lion” as “Leon” on the fliers that were being sent out the next day.

As Keith settled into the booth at The Voltron Bar that Friday, he felt his entire body immediately melt against the cushion, head resting against the wall behind him and eyes closed.

“Ah, the start of Meltdown Keith.” Pidge said as she settled into the booth on Keith’s left. The two of them and Shiro were the first ones to arrive, and Shiro chuckled softly at them from the chair across the table. Pidge patted Keith’s head, mockingly placating. “Can’t wait for “Exponentially Pissy Keith” and “Soulless Keith” to make their appearance in January and March, respectively.”

“Don’t forget about “Kicks Birds Keith”, set to make his grand entrance around February 1st.” Shiro added.

One time that happened!” Keith exclaimed, head shooting away from the wall so he could scowl at Shiro. Keith smacked his hand on the table for emphasis. “And it’s not like I was aiming for the pigeon, it just jumped in front of the can I was going for!”

“Dude, you kicked a bird?”

Keith’s turned so fast to glare at the newcomer that his neck popped. He had a kind ‘fuck off’ totally prepared, but it died on his tongue when he saw Lance standing next to their booth, expression amused and hands in the pocket of his weathered coat. His nose was adorably red from the cold and he wore those same dark, tight jeans that had given Keith morning wood for days. Keith’s his mouth dropped open.

Lance? Wh-why- what, why- how-” Pidge elbowed him roughly in the side to jolt him out of broken record mode. “Um, I mean, hi?”

“Yo.” Lance replied, flashing Keith a quick, lazy salute.

Hunk appeared at Lance’s side, smacking Lance hard on the shoulder, completely oblivious to the ‘oof’ Lance let out at the contact. Hunk’s grin was large and genuine, ecstatic at the fact that Lance was there with him, but Keith could have sworn it turned just the slightest bit mischievous when his eyes settled on Keith. “Look who I brought! It’s Lance!”

“It’s me!” Lance exclaimed, chest puffing and grin growing to match Hunk’s as the two of them shared a fistbump.

“Here, Lance, why don’t you sit by Keith since you guys are already acquainted.” Hunk said, and yeah, okay, his grin was no longer mischievous, it was downright conniving. Without preamble, he pushed Lance into the booth with more force than necessary so that Lance stumbled in and fell roughly against Keith’s side, and Keith prayed the heat on his cheeks was far less visible than it felt.

Pidge snickered next to him and when he glared at her, she wasn’t even trying to hide her smirk, the little shit.

Introductions were quick and routine, since Lance was familiar with everyone at the table besides Pidge and Allura, the latter of which Lance ‘graced’ with one of his cheesy, flirty pick up lines, all in good humor and even though Allura rolled her eyes she still giggled behind her hand.

“So.” Keith started once everyone was done putting in their drink orders. The space in the booth was limited with an extra body there, so Keith was hyper aware of how Lance’s arm was pressed against his. “Someone watching the kids?”

“Oh my god!” Lance exclaimed, following it with a dramatic gasp and hands spread dramatically on the table. “The children!”

Keith bristled next to Lance, taking offense to being made fun of even as everyone else laughed at the joke. Lance grinned at Keith’s frown, completely unapologetic as the waiter appeared with their drinks.

“Managed to find a babysitter.” Lance said, nodding gratefully as Hunk pushed his drink to him (a large, strawberry daiquiri with sugar on the rim, which Keith crinkled his nose at). Lance settled his crossed arms on the table and as he moved forward, his t-shirt pulled further away to reveal more of his long neck, the beautiful brown of his skin smooth and unmarked aside from a small trio of freckles just beneath the jut of his jaw. Keith swallowed hard as he fought against the urge to lean forward and lick at the dip of Lance’s collarbone.

“The kind, old Mrs. Melfoy from down the hall is watching them.” Lance continued. “I’ve got a strict 9:30 curfew, though. Sick kiddos to tend to and all that.”

Oh yeah, Keith thought, feeling like an insensitive asshole as he remembered that while his week had been crazy busy, Lance’s hadn’t been any easier, if his messages throughout the week had been anything to go off of. It was after midnight on Tuesday night when Lance had sent Keith a picture of Colton sleeping cuddled against Lance’s chest, the two of them sitting on the couch with the moonlight filtering in through the patio doors, illuminating half their faces. The caption had read, “Sick baby life,” and as the week carried on, Keith received snaps that revealed Clara had joined her twin in the late night snuggle sessions, both their cheeks flushed red with fever and tiny fingers clinging to Lance’s t-shirt.

Sitting this close to Lance, Keith realized how prominent the dark circles under Lance’s eyes were, how exhausted his smile was as he spoke. Hell, he even looked thinner than the last time Keith had seen him. Hunk’s words about Lance’s need to appear composed echoed in Keith’s ears and he had to resist reaching over and pulling Lance into a hug which was ridiculous and bizarre because Keith was not at all a hugging type of guy.

“How are the twins feeling?” Shiro asked, drawing Keith out of his thoughts.

“They broke their fevers this morning, which is good.” Lance said, exhaling heavily out his nose and running fingers through his hair, musing it, distressed just thinking about how sick his siblings had been. “Doctor said they’ve both got another double ear infection. Third one since September, I feel so bad for them.”

“It’s always hard when kids are sick, since they don’t really understand what’s going on.” Shiro said, shooting Lance a comforting smile. “Luckily they’ve got such a great older brother to take care of them.”

Lance shifted in his seat, obviously uncomfortable with the praise, but doing his best to return Shiro’s smile. He tried to cover the shakiness of it by downing the rest of his drink and trying to laugh it off as he said, “I’m pretty sure they’re over me singing them ‘Rock-a-Bye Baby’ though, which apparently only makes them cry harder now.”

“Maybe it’s less the song and more the fact you sound like a dying hyena when you sing.” Hunk said, smirking as he poked Lance in the shoulder.

Lance smiled gratefully at Hunk for picking up on his cue to pull the conversation in a different direction, then settled into mock offense. “I beg your pardon! I have an amazing voice, thank you very much!”

A shrill, loud beep interrupted, making everyone at the table flinch and jump, as well as the people in the booth next to them.

“Talk about dying hyenas, what the hell is that?” Pidge asked, rubbing at her ear.

Lance scratched at the back of his head, bashful as he pulled his phone out of his coat pocket and tried to silence it. “That would be my poor phone. Izzy dropped it into the bath this morning and somehow broke both the speaker and the silence button, so now not only will it not let me turn the sound off, it lets out that beautiful noise you just heard every time I get a text. Also can’t talk on it anymore, so I can only communicate via text which means all the dying hyenas all the time.”

He set the phone on the table next to Keith’s. It wasn’t a particularly old model of the iPhone, but it had definitely seen better days. Despite the case it was in, it was littered with cracks and scuffs, and what looked like a black line from a permanent marker? (Keith was gonna go out on a limb and guess Isabella had something to do with that.)

“Lemme see, lemme see!” Pidge exclaimed, fingers waggling in anticipation and Keith could have sworn she was nearly drooling.

“You don’t seriously think you can fix it, do you?” Lance asked, eyebrow raised skeptically as he handed the phone over to her maniacal little hands.

“If not, you can have mine.” Keith said, the words tumbling out before he could stop himself. The instant he said it, his mouth clamped shut as all eyes turned to him because what the hell did he just say? “I, uh, I mean, I’m getting a new one soon, so, you know. You can have this one. Which will then be my old one.”

It was a complete and total lie. Keith had absolutely no intention of buying a new phone any time soon, which everyone but Lance seemed to know given how skeptical their gazes were.

Lance’s expression was blank as he watched Keith. His eyes glanced down to Keith’s phone, sitting without any sort of blemish on the tabletop, and when he looked back to Keith, he seemed to be searching Keith’s face for something, but Keith didn’t know what.

Finally, Lance nodded, even though he still seemed a little hesitant as he said, “That’d be awesome. Thanks.”

There was an awkward beat of silence which Lance broke by exclaiming his need to take a piss, and the way he hurried out from the booth towards the restroom made Keith want to go back in time and keep his foot shoved perfectly in his mouth. Instead, he pointedly kept his gaze focused on a crack in the table while his friends stared at him, different levels of scrutiny on their faces.

“What.” Keith finally demanded.

“Keith.” Pidge said, and Keith just knew her eyes were twinkling behind her glasses. “Since when are you in the market for a new phone?”

“I’m allowed to buy new phones, Pidge.” Keith said but the shake in his words gave away how uncertain he was feeling about the whole exchange that had just happened.

“Yeah, but not when your current one is still in one piece.” Shiro said, pointedly poking at Keith’s phone innocently resting on the table without a scratch or crack anywhere on it. “It took you breaking your last phone in half, literally, to buy a new one.”

“And that was despite the fact that your keyboard stopped working and you could only type in caps.” Allura added.

“Dude, you’re not, like, trying to buy Lance’s affection, are you?” Hunk asked. Keith could see his expression darkening, getting the slightest bit angry and protective over his best friend.

“Of course not!” Keith answered in a rush, and even if he understood how Hunk got that impression, he was still miffed that Hunk could even think Keith would do something like that. Keith tugged at his hair, frustrated. “Look, I don’t know, okay? I just- I just want to take help him and I don’t know how to, but at least I can do this? Besides, it’s not like I can’t afford it, so it’s fine, right?”

“Well, that’s new.” Pidge said, going back to her examination of Lance’s phone. “You’ve never been one to lavish your partners with expensive gifts.”

Which was one hundred percent true. Was Keith’s need to take care of Lance seriously that strong that he was willing to drop hundreds of dollars to buy him a new phone?

Well, yeah, actually, Keith realized as he considered it for a second. He actually was totally fine with doing that for Lance. Which was less weird and more frightening because Keith didn’t do that. It was a sticking point that ended most of his recent relationships- when his boyfriends realized Keith wasn’t loose with his money, didn’t use it as a way to keep his partners happy, they revealed themselves to be petty gold diggers and left him in search of a different rich boyfriend that would buy them all sorts of expensive sunglasses and gadgets. So the fact that Keith was willingly doing this for someone he was interested in was startling, even to him.

Hunk sighed. “Keith, I know you don’t have any bad intentions. And if you’re doing this, then you’re obviously a lot further gone than we thought you were.” At Keith’s blush, Hunk couldn’t help but smile. Hunk watched as Lance made his way back to the table and quickly added, “Just be sure to make that stupidly clear to Lance, alright?”

Keith wanted to remind Hunk that, hello, how the ever living hell does he do that because Keith was shit at that sort of thing, especially when it came to Lance. Nerves and anxiety bubbled in Keith’s chest, even as Lance slid back into the booth next to him and called for another round of drinks.

 

*

 

“Well, that was a success, if I do say so myself!” Lance exclaimed, his words only slightly slurred as Keith pulled up in front of Lance’s apartment building and parked his bike. Hunk, who had given Lance a ride to dinner, had declared afterwards that totally sober Keith should be the one to give Lance a ride home (and Hunk’s wink was so obvious that even Lance would have noticed if he weren’t happily tipsy off sugary daiquiris and laughter). Afterall, Lance had brought Keith’s spare helmet to return it, so he might as well use it, right?

Keith hummed in agreement as he reached up to pull his helmet off, Lance doing the same and handing it to Keith. Keith cleared his throat as he hung the helmets from the handlebars, then said, “I’m, uh. I’m glad you were able to come out.”

Lance was silent behind him, and Keith thought he might have said something wrong, but then he stilled as Lance’s arms wrapped around his waist once more. His fingers, still bare because apparently Lance didn’t own gloves, made their way under Keith’s jacket and settled against his stomach, resting there with no intention of doing anything beyond making Keith shiver; despite the bitter cold of them, they sent a jolt of heat through the fabric of Keith’s shirt. Lance’s chest pressed against Keith’s back as he nuzzled his forehead into Keith’s shoulder, and okay, Keith was officially panicking and caught off guard because he was not at all prepared to have Lance wrapped around him like this, and Keith knew there was no way, with all the different places Lance was touching him, that Lance couldn’t feel Keith’s heart slamming a frantic rhythm against his ribcage.

“Me too.” Lance said. It took Keith a second to realize Lance was replying to his previous statement because his breath was warm against Keith’s already hot neck, and the words were soft but the silence of the still night made them seem louder than Lance probably intended them to be. Keith didn’t know if he was supposed to reply, but Lance added. “Its nice to get away sometimes. It’s hard between working all the time and taking care of the kids... That probably makes me sound like a horrible person, huh.”

The laugh Lance let out against Keith’s shoulder was self-deprecating, and it grounded Keith just enough for him to pause his racing thoughts and notice how open and raw Lance was actually being.

Maybe it’s the alcohol, Keith thought, but he didn’t say anything, instead reaching for Lance’s hand under his coat so he could wrap his own fingers around Lance’s slim wrist. Not to pull it away, but to run his thumb in what he hoped was a soothing way along it.

“I don’t think so.” Keith replied awkwardly, because he was about as good at comforting someone as he was at keeping his mouth from getting him into trouble. “That seems pretty normal to me.”

Lance simply laughed again, softer this time, and he turned his head just enough for his lips to brush against Keith’s skin, above the collar of his jacket. For a moment Keith found himself hoping all his fantasies about Lance up until that point were about to come true. Maybe Lance was about to invite him up into his apartment where Keith would finally be about to push Lance against the wall and kiss him until Lance was pliant and moaning Keith’s name against his lips.

But the timing didn’t feel right. As much as Keith’s body craved to (and, god, with Lance so close, did he crave to), Lance’s demeanor right then, combined with Hunk’s words earlier made the idea of doing anything physical with Lance that night seem like a very, very bad one.

“Lance…” Keith whispered, taking a deep breath to steel himself, thumb still tracing lines into the skin of Lance’s wrist. “If you need any help, y’know, with money or anything, I’m totally willing to-”

Lance went stiff against him, and then, much to Keith’s disappointment and dropping heart, he jerked away, putting as much space between the two of them as possible. Keith looked over his shoulder, already fearing the angry, hurt look he knew would be there and it was, and Keith had been the one to put it there again.

“I knew it.” Lance scoffed, the twist of his lips a mockery of a smile. “I fucking knew it.”

Confused, Keith asked, “What? What are you talking about?”

“This is some sugar daddy shit, right? That’s what this is, isn’t it?” Lance continued, shaking his head as he pushed himself off the bike and stumbled onto the sidewalk, still a little tipsy but his anger making him sober up quickly. “The whole phone thing earlier and now this? And here I fucking thought you might actually- ”

“What the fuck, Lance?” Keith replied, reaching out and grabbing onto Lance’s wrist before the other man could storm away. It was his turn to be pissed off because even if Lance was misunderstanding him, it gave him no right to act like Keith was the world’s biggest asshole when Keith was just trying to be nice. Lance was being totally unreasonable, even with the given circumstances. “Of course that’s not what this is! I just want to fucking help-”

“Yeah, well, I don’t need your help!” Lance shouted, yanking his arm out of Keith’s grip with a strength fueled completely by rage. “I don’t need anyone’s, okay? So what if the twins need tubes in their ears or the van needs new tires or I can’t pay for Isabella to do swim lessons even though she keeps begging me for them-”

Lance’s words cut off on a choked sob. He wasn’t looking at Keith anymore, instead focused on his own feet, planted as if he was ready to sprint. His fists shook at his sides until the tears in his eyes spilled over, hot on his cheeks and he desperately wiped at them. When he caught Keith’s eyes, wide with shock, his face scrunched up in a sneer, but Keith knew it wasn’t aimed at him in the slightest.

“I’m taking care of it just fine.” Lance said, but the words were weak and broken, no matter how much anger he tried to put behind them. “Because I have to take care of it and I don’t need your pity money or whatever the hell else you want to give me, so just leave me alone, got it?”

With that Lance turned on his heel and stormed into his apartment building, leaving Keith to stare after him, stunned and speechless.

Chapter Text

The weekend came and went, and Keith didn’t even care that he hadn’t heard from Lance since Friday night. Didn’t care that his phone wasn’t lighting up with new messages from him. Didn’t care if Lance was regretting how close their bodies had been on Keith’s bike or if Lance was recovering from his breakdown, or if Lance and him were ever going to talk again.

Except, y’know. Keith did care. Like, a lot. He couldn’t get Lance’s crying face out of his mind. Couldn’t stop the echo of Lance’s broken words about how rough of a time he was having from replaying in his ears. Couldn’t stop feeling the ghost of Lance’s lips on his neck.

But he was also so fucking pissed off at Lance for accusing him of trying to buy him for sex. Sure, Keith could understand how Lance might have come to that conclusion, but it didn’t make Lance taking his repressed emotions out on Keith any less uncalled for.

And his words had hit Keith in a sore spot because Keith knew what it was like to have to sell yourself for money; he understood the painful hit your pride takes and what it could do to your self-worth. Keith didn’t regret what he had done in his teens because he had done it to survive when there was no other way to do so, but those interactions in back alleys or sleazy hotel rooms weren’t his favorite memories to look back on. So it didn’t matter if Lance was unaware of the wound his words were adding salt to because they stung all the same.

Keith had never felt like this before. In the past, if someone he hardly knew had accused him of something like Lance had, Keith would have been pissed off enough to just cut ties then and there (maybe after uppercutting them in the chin or breaking their nose or something, which, yes, Keith knew wasn’t a healthy way to resolve conflict, okay Shiro, he got it!). But Lance was different. For some reason, Keith didn’t want to never see Lance again. Just thinking about not admiring every expression on that stupidly pretty face again made Keith feel… sad? Which was just weird and Keith didn’t know how to deal with feeling weird.

Of course his friends had texted him asking for the lowdown on what had happened, wanting to hear all the dirty details of the makeout session they assumed had to have happened, but Keith merely replied, “I don’t want to talk about it.” His friends apparently now knew when they could badger Keith into spilling info and when they needed to leave him the fuck alone because no one prodded further. Except for Shiro, of course, who texted him outside of their group chat to tell him he was there if Keith needed to talk, which Keith appreciated but didn’t feel like taking advantage of at the moment.

By the time Monday morning rolled around, Keith’s mood was such a new level of “jumbled mess” that Pidge would probably coin a new stupid nickname for it if she were there to witness it. He had barely slept all weekend despite finally having a day off, this time because he couldn’t stop thinking about how worried-slash-pissed off at Lance he was as opposed to obnoxious, albeit pleasurable, dreams about him and Lance frantically ripping off each other’s clothes. Keith didn’t require much sleep in the first place, but the two or three hours a night he had gotten the past few days was rough, even for him. The dark circles under his eyes were far too prominent and his hair was extra tangled from the Frustrated Tugging Treatment™ he was currently giving it, making it so he had just given up and pulled it back into a low ponytail, pinning his bangs back as well to avoid doing something stupid like chopping them off in a fit of rage. His clothes probably would have been ruffled and wrinkled if it weren’t for the fact that his housekeeper Maggie always made sure they were hung up and clean, even his workout clothes.

When Keith’s intercom buzzed at 9:24 AM, he was typing up an email to the smoothie chain they were doing a brand deal with, probably jabbing the keys a little too aggressively for an innocent message. He didn’t even turn his glare away from his screen when he smacked the talk button and said, “What.”

“The breakfast you ordered is here.” Nyma, his assistant and the gym’s resident yoga instructor, answered casually, completely unaffected by Keith snapping at her because apparently working together for two years made it easier to ignore Keith when he was in a Mood.

Keith glared at his intercom, even though it was a machine and had no way to quiver in fear. “I didn’t order any breakfast.”

There was some muffled talking on the other side of the intercom (was Nyma giggling?) and Keith’s fingers twitched with the need to rip the machine out of the outlet, but then Nyma’s voice came over it again. “Apparently it’s a special delivery. You need to sign for it though, so I’m just gonna send him on in.”

“Wha- Nyma!” Keith yelled because did no one in his life freaking respect his requests anymore?! “I don’t want-”

But, to Keith’s irritation and demand, the door to his office still opened and when Lance stepped through it, a bright smile on his face and a plastic bag in his hand, Keith’s anger dissolved into shock so quickly that if he were standing up, he probably would have fallen over.

“Thanks for your help, gorgeous!” Lance said over his shoulder to Nyma and part of Keith bristled as he heard her giggle again, but then Lance closed the door behind him and suddenly it was just the two of them alone in the office. Lance’s nose was red from the cold and he was wearing a gray beanie, his dark hair peeking out to frame his cheeks, and Keith didn’t know he found hats attractive until right then.

Neither of them said anything. Lance hadn’t moved away from the door and was doing that nervous habit of his where he rolled from his heels to his tiptoes and back again, and then he finally looked up to meet Keith’s wide eyes, lips pulling back into his standard smirk, but lacked any of the confidence it usually had. The sight of it jolted Keith out of his petrified surprise, and before Lance could open his mouth, Keith snapped, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Apparently Keith was grumpier than he thought because he didn’t even have the desire to put on a show of friendliness. Lance flinched at Keith’s tone and Keith ignored the flash of guilt he felt at it because who did Lance think he was, just showing up at Keith’s workplace unannounced after what had happened?

“Um, I made you cookies.” Lance said, slowly holding up the plastic bag. When Keith did nothing beyond glare at it, Lance’s hand fell back to his side and his smirk faltered into a weak smile. “I’m not very good at making dumplings, so this is the best I have to offer.”

Keith looked back to Lance’s face. Actually taking him in beyond the beanie, Lance looked miserable as he chewed on his lip anxiously. His clothes were a mess, his jacket sliding off one of his shoulders and his shoelaces untied. The circles under his eyes rivaled Keith’s, which was actually impressive, and Keith was pretty sure the expression on Lance’s face was the epitome of the kicked puppy look. Much to the disappointment of the petty, bitter side of himself, Keith found his anger towards Lance rapidly slipping away.

Lance must have either found a sudden vote of confidence or sensed Keith’s intensity easing up because he chanced walking further into the room towards Keith’s desk, stopping just close enough to set the bag down onto the top of it. It was full of caution, as though he was expecting Keith to immediately shove it to the floor.

“I wanted to apologize for Friday night.” Lance said, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I haven’t gone out with friends in, like, a really long time, and I’ve always been kind of a lightweight when it comes to drinking, so I kind of over did it.” Keith opened his mouth to tell Lance that his alcohol tolerance was not the issue at hand, Lance shook his hand frantically and continued, “I know that’s not an excuse or anything, but I just wanted to- fuck, I don’t know.”

Lance yanked his beanie off so he could run his hands through his hair, and Keith watched his fingers move through the tousled locks, noticing how they were standing up everywhere and held a slight grease to them- not a gross amount, but enough to give away that Lance probably hadn’t washed his hair that day. Lance took a breath to steel himself as he pulled his hat back on, bangs just long enough to be pressed against his forehead by it. It made him look younger than he was.

“I’m just really sorry for what I said the other night. I’m dealing with some stuff and I took it out on you when I shouldn’t have. You were just being nice and, yeah. I really hope I didn’t fuck this up, because I kinda like yo-” Lance’s eyes widened and his mouth slammed shut so hard his teeth clanked, as if whatever he had been about to say would have been a big mistake. Keith narrowed his eyes at the red starting to creep onto Lance’s cheeks as he frantically stuttered out, “Uh, um! I-I, uh, I… enjoy… you? As a person. I enjoy you as a person.”

Keith was used to being the one rambling nervously, so he couldn’t deny that he enjoyed watching Lance currently acting like a bumbling idiot. More than that though, happiness was blossoming in Keith’s chest, heartbeat rapidly picking up speed as he took in Lance’s words, starting to gain a blush of his own (which he just knew was going to be much more noticeable than Lance’s, stupid pale ass skin, you betrayer).

The silence in the room was quickly getting awkward and Keith had no idea what to do with it so he glanced down at the plastic bag now sitting on his desk and asked, “Are they poison?”

Lance blinked as if shaken from a trance. Then his face scrunched up like he was trying to both raise and furrow his eyebrows at the same time. “What? Why would they be-”

Then, Lance noticed the smirk on Keith’s lips and Keith could tell the instant his reference clicked in Lance’s brain because his face brightened and his body relaxed instantly.

“Look at you, bringing it full circle!” Lance said, skipping around the desk to stand next to Keith’s chair, blatantly ignoring the fact that it probably wasn’t socially acceptable to do that in someone’s office you were visiting for the first time. Keith watch with widening eyes from his seat as Lance was suddenly within arm’s reach, leaning against Keith’s desk with an easy confidence as he crossed his legs at the ankles and his arms over his chest. He tilted his head to look down at Keith, white teeth peeking out from behind a coy smirk. “I’m impressed, Mullet!”

Keith would have responded if his brain weren’t currently malfunctioning because fuck, Lance was so unfairly sexy even when he was being a cheeky little shit. Every bit of attraction Keith felt towards Lance was rushing back with a force, sending Keith’s entire body into overdrive and all blood racing south as he fought the urge to grab Lance by the belt loops of his jeans and yank his hips forward. To lift the hem of Lance’s shirt and drag his teeth along the protruding hipbone and feel Lance shudder beneath his teeth, and oh god, Keith needed to get a handle on himself before his body betrayed him completely.

Lost in his dirty thoughts, Keith jolted as the object of said fantasies was suddenly kneeling on the floor and leaning against the armrest of his chair, pushing their shoulders together as he blinked at the work on Keith’s computer. He let out a low whistle.

“Damn, that’s a lot of spreadsheets!” Lance said, cheek close enough to Keith’s that he had to feel the heat radiating off it. “I still don’t really picture you as a numbers kinda guy but apparently it’s true.”

“Do you have no sense of privacy?” Keith asked. It came out gravely and dry, but all he wanted was to keep Lance’s attention away from the situation starting to happen between Keith’s legs. He jostled his shoulder back against Lance’s, wanting it to come across as annoyed but it was too soft to be anything other than lighthearted. “Or personal space?”

“Nah, I’m a pretty cuddly guy.”

Keith snorted at that, remembering how affectionate Lance had been the other night when Keith dropped him off. “Yeah, especially when you’re drunk.”

For a brief moment, as Lance’s shoulder against his stiffened, Keith regretted bringing that specific moment up so casually. But it was out there now and probably for the best because they definitely needed to at least acknowledge it had happened. Keith wasn’t good at this kind of awkward conversation, and when it came to previous relationships, he had never actually been the one to bring it up. But even if Keith dreaded the rejection it could possibly lead to, it had been driving him crazy the last few days not really knowing where he stood with Lance, and he much rather prefered the “just rip the bandaid off” method over dancing around the topic any more than they already had.

Lance’s eyes were still focused on Keith’s computer screen, but didn’t seem to actually be reading anything on it. This close, Keith could see the freckles scattered across Lance’s nose and how long his eyelashes were, and Keith was struck with the fact that he didn’t just find Lance sexy- Keith was pretty sure he had never seen any person, place or thing as breathtakingly beautiful as the man next to him. It made Keith’s desire to protect Lance grow even stronger. He wanted to brush the curling tuffs of Lance’s hair behind his ear and tell him over and over that he deserved to be taken care of until it was impossible for Lance to ever doubt it.

Lance’s jaw tightened before he exhaled slowly. He turned his head towards Keith and Keith must have been unconsciously leaning towards Lance because he could have sworn their faces hadn’t been this close before.

“Yeah, I can’t really deny that. Not with everyone though.” Lance said. His eyes met Keith’s as he continued, voice growing softer, “Depends on the person I’m with.”

Yeah, okay, Keith could be pretty oblivious when it came to flirting and usually missed a lot of the signals guys would send his way, but right now he didn’t even need to read between the lines, and holy shit, was it physically possible for a heart to literally explode out of your chest from beating so hard?

“I like your hair, by the way.” Lance said when Keith just stared at him because he couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t “ohmygodohmygodohmygod”. Keith pushed down the displeased noise he wanted to make as Lance moved back slightly, but then he tugged on Keith’s ponytail. “Your mullet cleans up good!”

Keith huffed and pushed Lance’s hand away. “I could say the same about you. Nice beanie.”

“Why, thank you!” Lance exclaimed, shooting Keith some of those stupid finger guns he seemed so fond of doing.

Keith rolled his eyes. Then, before Lance could say whatever silly thing that was about to pop out of his mouth, Keith grabbed the front of Lance’s beanie and yanked it down so the cloth covered Lance’s eyes, smirking when Lance sputtered indignantly at his sudden blindness.

Then, because his heart was still slamming an excited, lovesick rhythm against his ribs and Lance was right here so close to him, all of Keith’s logic and restraint slipped away as his fingers slid to cradle Lance’s cheek and he moved forward to push his lips to Lance’s like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Lance inhaled sharply, and it was enough for Keith to realize he had actually gone and fucking kissed Lance and just after they had started to clear up that previous misunderstanding, too and Keith didn’t even want to think about how badly he had messed this up-

But then Lance made a soft, pleased noise in the back of his throat and pressed back against him, tilting his head to slot their lips closer together as his hands grabbed onto the front of Keith’s shirt, and his beanie was still covering his eyes but neither of them seemed to care.

It wasn’t anything like the first kiss Keith had fantasized about; there was no tongue and no fighting for dominance. By all means, it was probably the most chaste kiss Keith had ever had, but it didn’t matter because it was Lance who was moving his lips against Keith’s, and god it lit Keith’s body on fire with an intensity he didn’t know he could feel from just a kiss.

Their noses brushed as they broke away, neither moving to put much space between them. Lance released his grip on Keith’s shirt to grab the back of his beanie with both hands and slowly pull it back. Keith’s breath caught as, bit by bit, the fabric fell away to show Lance’s eyes, wide and sparkling. They were as piercing as ever, but the blue of them seemed even brighter now, the thick lashes framing them perfectly, and combined with the red painted across Lance’s skin, they were the most captivating thing Keith had ever seen.

Keith didn’t know how long they sat there, simply looking into each other’s eyes and he usually hated sappy romance cliches, but he couldn’t find himself caring about anything beyond tasting Lance’s lips again. Lance seemed to have a similar idea, because the two moved at the same time, desperate to close the distance-

A shrill piercing cut through the air, making both of them jump, and suddenly their next kiss turned into a painful collision of heads smacking against each other.

“Son of a bitch!” Lance yelled, now splayed on the floor, having lost his balance after the unexpected headbutt. He rubbed at the red spot starting to form on his forehead and Keith couldn’t help but groan in agreement, gingerly pressing his fingers against a similar mark above his own eyebrow.

The two looked at each other for a still, silent moment, and then Lance was barking out a laugh, hand slapping against his thigh, and even though his head still stung, Keith couldn’t help but smile, too.

“Well, it’s safe to say the mood is completely destroyed.” Lance said. He sighed dramatically before standing up, making a show of dusting his pants off even though Keith knew the floors of his office had just been cleaned that morning.

“Y-yeah.” Keith replied, rushing to stand as well. Because apparently when he wasn’t angry at Lance or they weren’t kissing he reverted back to the awkward, stuttering Keith that didn’t know how to hold a proper conversation.

But Lance was still smiling at him, so that was all that really mattered.

The ear piercing noise went off again. Lance cursed in Spanish and fished his phone out of his pocket, pressing at random buttons in an attempt to stop it from continuing its assault on their eardrums.

“Pidge wasn’t able to fix it?” Keith asked, gesturing to the offending device in Lance’s hand.

“Nope.” Lance replied, sighing again as it finally muted itself. ”She did demand its dead body for dissection when I finally decide to move on, though.”

Keith snorted. “Seems par for the course for her.”

Lance snickered, then paused. He bit his lip for a moment, obviously hesitant about whatever he was about to say, and he was doing that heel-toe thing again. He cleared his throat, finger tapping a soft but quick beat against the side of his phone.

“So, I know I was a dick about it and asking this probably makes me an even bigger one, but,” Lance glanced up at Keith from beneath his lashes, smile sheepish and small, “is that offer from the other day still available?”

It took all of one second for Keith to realize Lance was referring to the offer of giving Lance his old phone, and if it was any other person asking him, Keith would have dragged them out of his office and told them to kindly fuck off. And yeah, maybe Keith should have at least been slightly annoyed, but he couldn’t muster up any semblance of annoyance, even if he wanted to because the fact that Lance was actually accepting his help made him so overwhelmingly happy.

“Yes!” Keith blurted, belatedly realizing that he had said it far louder than he had needed to.

Lance blinked at him, caught off guard by Keith’s enthusiasm when he had more likely expected Keith to rip him a new one. “Really? Are you sure-”

“Yes!” Keith said again then tried to reign his excitement back in because he was realizing this wasn’t something a normal person got this spirited over and he didn’t need to give Lance any more reasons to think Keith was a weirdo. Keith coughed awkwardly and averted his eyes. “Uh, I mean, yes, definitely.”

Lance observed Keith for another second, obviously still a little hesitant that Keith was about to beat him to a pulp, but then his face broke out into a beaming grin. “Dude, you’re awesome! Thank you so much!”

“Y-yeah, no problem.” Keith flushed and he never knew another person’s gratitude could make him feel so warm inside. “Um, I haven’t gotten a new one yet but I’ll try and drop it off at the restaurant this afternoon.”

Lance’s eyes widened and he quickly shook his head. “N-no, that’s fine! No need to rush, I know you’re busy so I can wait-” The dying animal that was Lance’s phone screamed again and Lance glared down at it and mumbled, “Oh, for fuck’s sake-”

“I think it's better for the entire population’s ears if that sound goes away as soon as possible.” Keith said. There was something about it that made Keith want to chuck a watermelon at a squirrel and he would buy Lance an entire Apple store if it meant Keith never had to hear it again.

“Ha, fair enough. Shit, I’m gonna be late for work.” Lance said, lips taking on an adorable pout. It was probably at the thought of work, but Keith couldn’t help hoping it was because Lance was as bummed as he was they wouldn’t be making out on the couch in Keith’s office and Keith was very disappointed about that. Especially when Lance looked up at him again from beneath those gorgeous lashes and said, “I’ll see you at the restaurant later?”

“R-right.” Keith replied, throat going dry. He gestured weakly to the forgotten plastic bag on his desk. “Um, thanks for the apology-cookies.”

“Thanks for accepting them.” Lance said with a smile, then a wink. “Let me know if they do the trick! Otherwise I’ll make you apology-ceviche or something.”

Which sounded a lot like a date and Keith was opening his mouth to immediately tell Lance the cookies were now being rejected, but Lance stepped forward and pressed a soft kiss against the corner of Keith’s mouth and then he hopped backwards, making his way to the door before Keith could fully process it.

“Oh, by the way,” Lance said, pausing at the door, hand on the handle. He tilted his head and smirked over his shoulder at Keith. “Izzy was telling the truth the other day- I definitely did call you hot.”

Lance stayed just long enough to watch the words sink in and Keith’s face explode in red. Then, he was gone, leaving Keith to collapse into his chair, cheeks burning and a stupid smile on his lips.

Chapter Text

Lance
Thought I’d grace you with the first selfie ever taken on my fancy new phone.

Keith
Did you have to use the creepy old lady filter?

Lance
Duh.

Keith
So the phone is working out?

Lance
ITS SO AWESOME
So much faster than my old one and the large screen is just ugh so DOPE
Izzy said its bigger than a t-rex
Which I think is a good thing?

Keith
haha

Lance
But yeah its great
It works so good, I’m surprised you needed a new one
thanks again. for real :)

Keith
:)

*

It was a little after two in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day and Keith flopped back into his chair with a heavy, relieved sigh. By some miracle, nearly everything was actually prepared for their Black Friday campaign. And he still had fifteen hours before the sale went into effect and they had a rush of new clients there to take advantage of the discounted memberships.

It was going almost too well. So well that it was eery and set Keith on edge, like Nyma was going to jump out at him and tell him he’d been pranked and then inform him that every treadmill in the building was broken and oh god he was starting to sweat, head swiveling from side to side as he searched for any signs of her.

After peeking his head out his office door and looking around the reception area, he realized he was still the only one there and that he was probably being just a tiny bit paranoid. He sighed again and walked over to the front desk, glancing at the stacks of cardboard boxes set on the floor around it. They contained the latest printing shipment of their sign-up forms for clients to fill out. They had worked with the printing company hundreds of times before, so it shouldn’t really be causing Keith as much anxiety as it was, but, as he stared at the ten boxes, something just felt wrong.

Gulping, Keith reached out with shaky hands to remove one of the lids. All he needed to do was pull out one of the stapled forms, make sure all ten pages were in order, and then he was home free. Good to go. Maybe he could actually eat Thanksgiving dinner at home for once (which was just a pathetic, pre-made turkey salad because Maggie had the day off and Keith was never home for this holiday anyway, but still, it was the principle of the matter).

But of course, life fucking despised him and he had apparently used up all his luck when he’d been granted the opportunity to kiss Lance the other day because, as he thumbed through the forms, he quickly realized that by some fucking shitty whatever the opposite of a miracle is, the printing company had managed to get every page but the cover out of order.

All one thousand copies.

The form in Keith’s hands was slowly ripped in two as he felt his ears begin to steam, entire body becoming engulfed in a black rage. On any other day, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. He would have called the company and they would have reprinted it for free and overnighted it. But it was Thanksgiving and they weren’t open and last year Red Lion had signed over two hundred new clients with more than that expected this year.

Which meant Keith wouldn’t be going home any time soon; he was about to spend the rest of his Thanksgiving unstapling, reorganizing, and then re-stapling at least four hundred of these things alone because he refused to make his employees work when they instead could of been spending time with family.

Fuck, Keith thought as he dropped the now torn form and sunk back into the chair the receptionist used. He needed alcohol. And coffee. And maybe alcohol in his coffee.

Begrudgingly, he began dragging the boxes into the conference room where he would have more space to lay everything out, mumbling curses at the printing company and Thanksgiving and the world in general.

As Keith was plopping the last of the boxes onto the table, his phone beeped and even that pissed him off. He yanked the innocent device out of his pocket, but his face brightened as though on instinct when he saw who the text was from.

From: Lance
2:36 PM
Happy Thanksgiving, Mullet!

Attached was a picture message of Lance and the kids, all dog piled on the couch and wearing the same cheesy grin (aside from Colton, who Keith was pretty certain only smiled when Lance offered him food). Keith felt himself smiling and his entire bad mood was instantly forgotten because that’s just what happened with Lance, as pathetically clingy as that made Keith sound.

To: Lance
2:37 PM
Same to you, flat ass.

From: Lance
2:37 PM
I’ll let that go since it’s the day of forgiveness and all that

To: Lance
2:38 PM
Uhhhhhh
I don’t think that’s right

From: Lance
2:39 PM
Today it is

To: Lance
2:39 PM
What

From: Lance
2:40 PM
You spending the day with Shiro and Allura?

Keith took a picture of the current disaster spread across the table and sent it over.

To: Lance
2:40 PM
My Thanksgiving companion is paperwork, unfortunately

It wasn’t like he hadn’t been invited over by Shiro and Allura- he was every year, and maybe one day he would be able to make it, but he had too much work to do. Plus, he always felt like he was imposing since they usually spent the day with Allura’s family since they lived in the city. Hunk also usually invited him to his family dinner, but he was spending the weekend with Shay’s family out of town.

But it was fine with Keith. He was used to being alone on holidays, had only ever spent a handful of them with other people he actually cared about. Most of his Thanksgivings had been at shelters surrounded by other homeless strangers just grateful for a warm meal. So he didn’t feel particularly lonely or anything spending the holiday by himself; it was what it was.

Keith was jolted out of his thoughts by his phone’s ringtone suddenly going off and he blinked when he noticed Lance was calling him? Which he had never done before so it was really bizarre and when the hell had Lance set his contact photo to that selfie of himself with that stupid old lady filter Keith hated, they had only seen each other once since Keith had gotten his new phone-

Keith smacked the answer button and, feeling a little winded, he brought the phone to his ear and said, “Hello?”

“Are you seriously spending Thanksgiving at your office?!” Lance shouted, so loud the speaker crackled and Keith jumped, jerking the phone away because it was much less pleasant than Keith expected Lance’s voice in his ear would be.

“Uh, yes?”

“Wha- why?!” Lance replied, as though it was the most offensive answer Keith could have given him.

“We have a big promotion for Black Friday tomorrow and there’s still things left to do.” Keith glared at the stacks of paper in front of him and resisted the urge to growl at them. “Thanks to a goddam printing mishap, I’ll probably be here the rest of the day. So.”

Lance let out a loud, displeased noise. “At least tell me you aren’t alone? You’ve got someone else there, right?”

Keith felt like he was being scolded right now and he wasn’t exactly sure how to deal with it when it wasn’t Shiro doing the scolding. He shrugged, then realized Lance couldn’t see it and said, “I don’t make my employees work on holidays.”

There was a long pause. “Do you have dinner plans?”

Keith’s stomach began to do that silly fluttering thing it did when Lance said something that made him feel giddy, but then the mess on the table caught his eye and the fluttering turned into his stomach dropping. Grateful Lance couldn’t see him pout, Keith said, “Well, no, but I don’t really have time to go anywhere.”

“Then we’ll come to you!” Lance exclaimed. Because it was apparently that easy.

“Hey, I just said-”

“How do you like your pizza?”

Keith crinkled his eyebrows. “My what?”

“Pizza.” Lance answered. “You seem like a pepperoni kind of guy. All hot headed and stuff and wearing red like it hasn’t been out of style for at least five years.”

“Excuse me-”

“The kids are napping but we can be there around five!” Lance said. Keith could hear the smirk in his voice. The fluttering was starting again, and Keith felt like he should be responsible and reiterate that he seriously couldn’t stop, but there was something about how genuinely excited Lance sounded that made it impossible for Keith to say anything. He wanted Lance’s voice to always be that happy.

Keith willed the butterflies to calm as he swallowed and said, “Five sounds great.”

Lance whooped and Keith smiled, and he was so far gone but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

 

*

 

“Pizza delivery!” Lance announced, grin wide as Keith unlocked and opened the front door of the gym. He was balancing the pizza box in one hand and holding Colton on his hip with the other. Izzy and Clara were at his feet, stumbling through the door in front of him, grinning up at Keith.

“Pi-a!” Clara said, pointing to the box with the hand not currently holding onto her sippy cup. “Pi-a!”

“She said, “Pizza”!” Izzy told Keith, chest puffing out, proud of the fact that she could translate her younger sister's half-word.

“Uh, yeah.” Keith replied awkwardly, unsure of what else he should say, so he just moved to grab the pizza box from Lance’s hand instead. He shuffled his feet for a moment, then met Lance’s eyes and said, “Hi.”

“Hey.” Lance said, grin softening. He opened his mouth to say something else, but then his arm shot out, grabbing Clara by the hood of her coat and yanking her to a stop, much to her startled disappointment.

¡Oye!” Lance shouted in Spanish, ignoring the way Clara was struggling against his hold. “Isabella, no running!

Izzy, who had began making her way towards the merchandise section to the right of the entrance, froze mid-step, leg dramatically lifted and she slowly turned, looking like she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “I wasn’t running! I was super hero walking!

Super heroes don’t run, they fly!” Lance shouted back, and even though Keith didn't know what they were saying, Lance still looked far too offended for whatever it was, and he released Clara so he could gesture for emphasis. The toddler flopped forward onto her face and Keith gasped and quickly reached to help her up, but she stood like it hadn’t happened, waddling towards her sister and giggling.

“Naruto runs!” Izzy said, slipping back into english as she put her hands on her hips, and Keith had no doubt as to where she’d learned her sass from.

“I’m not having this argument again.” Lance said, even as Clara began chanting what Keith assumed was her version of Naruto’s name. When he turned back to Keith, he found the other man just standing there with the pizza held between both hands, looking entirely uncertain of what to do. Lance laughed and shifted Colton on his hip, the boy clutching the stuffed lion he was holding closer to his chest. “Uh, sorry.”

“N-No, it’s fine.” Keith said. He glanced toward the girls who were looking at the gatorades in the vending machine with awe but not touching, even if their hands twitched like they wanted to. The corners of Keith’s lips quirked into a small smile. “It’s pretty cute, actually.”

Lance made a choked noise that sounded like a cut of groan, and when Keith turned his attention back to him, Lance averted his eyes, but not before Keith saw something dancing in them. A light blush was dusting his cheeks. Lance cleared his throat and said, “So. Best place to feed this herd and devour some traditional Thanksgiving pizza?”

Keith raised an eyebrow as he started leading Lance towards the conference room, the girls following on their heels, where there was just enough space currently unoccupied by the stupid forms Keith was organizing (and had already gotten no less than five papercuts from). “You guys usually eat pizza for Thanksgiving?”

Lance was silent for long enough that Keith looked back at him. The happiness had fallen away, replaced but a much more somber expression.

“No, this is the first.” Lance said, voice soft as he looked at Colton nuzzled against his shoulder. Then, he smiled at Keith, but it was too wide to be entirely genuine. “But hey! There’s nothing wrong with new traditions!”

Keith knew Lance was pushing down a heavy emotion of some kind; which one Keith wasn’t sure. Probably a combination of everyone you feel when it’s the first major holiday after losing the family you’ve celebrate every year with before. Grief, loneliness, denial, a longing for the past. Not to mention, the desire to make sure his siblings had a good day despite dealing with all of those. Keith couldn’t imagine the weight Lance had, and it made it that much easier for Keith to be okay with setting his work aside for an hour or so. If it meant Lance feeling just a little less lonely, Keith didn’t care if it took him until four in the morning to finish.

“Well,” Keith said, doing his best not to shuffle his feet or look away when Lance caught his eye, “my Thanksgiving dinner usually consists of a smoothie and some salad, so I’m okay with this new tradition.”

The darkness in Lance’s eyes began to lift and the smile he gave Keith this time was real and perfect as he replied, “Me too.”

Keith felt himself start to blush up to his ears and he couldn’t fight the urge to look away any longer, so he busied himself with setting the pizza box on the table and opening it. The delicious smell of it immediately filled his nostrils and his stomach growled, reminding him all he’d had earlier that day was a microwave breakfast sandwich. He blushed harder when Lance decided not to grant Keith mercy and ignore it, and cackled instead.

Lance and the kids shed their winter clothes, and then they all settled into the meal in relative silence, filled only by Lance talking to the kids and getting their food and cups of milk organized. He sat Clara and Colton on the floor with their pizza on paper plates he’d brought along, and the two immediately dug in (and Keith was totally right about Colton because as the toddler munched on his slice crust first, it was the first time Keith had seen him grinning, red sauce smeared across his face). Izzy grabbed her own slice and plopped down next to them, talking a mile a minute about why pizza was a vegetable. Once Lance was sure they were good to go, he happily grabbed his own piece and hummed as he bit into it, breathing out a satisfied moan that had Keith pushing away dirty thoughts (which wasn’t easy, especially not when Lance’s tongue, pink and long, slid out and licked the stray piece of sauce away from his top lip and goodness that wasn’t fair).

“So, these boxes what’s keeping you working late?” Lance asked around a bite of food, and Keith still thought Lance was pretty but that was gross.

Keith groaned and nodded. “The company that prints our application forms printed the pages out of order so I get to go through and reorganize all one thousand copies before we open tomorrow morning.”

Lance’s eyes nearly bugged out of his skull and he spit pizza crust all over the table as he gasped. Keith crinkled his nose because seriously ew. “O-one thousand?!”

“Yep.” Keith growled, just thinking about it. “That stupid printing place, I’ll destroy them all.”

Lance snorted, then glanced back at the stacks. “How many do you have left?”

“About nine hundred.” Keith replied, unable to keep the pathetic whimper out of his voice. “I can probably get away with doing only four hundred or so. Either way, I’m gonna be here for a while.”

Lance hummed. He took another bite of his pizza, chewing as he stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. Keith watched his throat bob as he swallowed, then Lance’s attention was back on him. “Does this fancy gym of yours have one of those childcare rooms?”

Keith raised an eyebrow. “I think Shiro would kill me at least twice if it didn’t.”

“Perfect! It’s decided then.” Lance said, grinning. “I’m all yours!”

*

As soon as they finished eating, they began the process of moving all the boxes and applications into the childcare room. It was big and spacious, with little plastic slides, colorful toys, and countless books. There were playmats and plenty of space for the kids to run around, and the instant they stepped foot into the room, it was as though Keith and Lance no longer existed. Even Colton wasted no time in rushing off to the corner of the room where the books lined the walls.

Lance and Keith sat themselves on the floor on the opposite side of the room, facing one another with the papers spread out between them, surrounded by the boxes. They quickly figured out a system (and by ‘they’, Keith actually meant ‘Lance’ because in addition to being hot, he was also surprisingly brilliant at coming up with efficient plans on the fly) where Lance would remove the staples and then set the forms into a pile for Keith to grab and reorganize. Every fifty forms, Lance would re-staple the ones Keith had fixed.

“So, what’s your favorite animal?” Lance asked out of nowhere. They’d been working in silence for the past ten minutes, so the question caught Keith off guard. When he raised an eyebrow, Lance added, “The silence is killing me, dude.”

“So you choose awkward small talk instead?”

“Nah, I’m choosing to find out more about the guy I made out with the other day.” Lance said, chipper and singsong, and even though he was pretending to focus on removing a staple, he was smirking as Keith sputtered and his face exploded in red. Lance dropped the ruined piece of metal into the trash and met Keith’s eyes. “So, favorite animal?”

Keith shifted uncomfortably and cleared his throat. “Uh, phoenix, I guess?”

“What!” Lance said, then broke out laughing, hand slapping his thigh. “That’s not an animal!”

Keith glared. “Yes it is! It’s a bird!”

“It’s not a real animal, though! It’s from Greek mythology!”

“So? It’s cool!” Keith huffed, then crossed his arms over his chest and said, “Let me guess- yours is a dolphin.”

Lance gaped at him and Keith realized shock was a good way to shut Lance up when he was being obnoxious. “What the fuck! How did you know that?”

“They’re known to be one of the animals with no ass.” Keith replied, casually, like he was talking about the weather. It was his turn to smirk as Lance flailed so hard he threw the staple remover across the room.

“You take that back!” Lance shouted, shoving a threatening finger in Keith’s face, “Or I swear to god Keith-” Lance blinked, the anger slipping from his face. “Wait, what’s your last name?”

“Seriously?” Keith stared at Lance in disbelief and slightly indignant. “It’s Kogane! How do you not know that-”

“I swear to god Keith Kogane,” Lance continued, ignoring Keith’s miffed squeak, “You take that back or I’ll shuffle all of these papers and leave you to sob.”

Keith rolled his eyes. “Fine, I take it back. Please forgive me.”

“While the sarcasm was unappreciated, apology accepted.” Lance replied. He crawled over to grab the staple remover he’d thrown earlier, and if he turned around he would have realized Keith was a big ol’ liar because Keith found himself leering at Lance’s ass, memorizing the subtle curve of it.

Only slightly flat, Keith thought, refocusing on the papers he was shuffling before Lance could catch him staring.

Their conversation continued easily after that, with Lance asking questions and Keith replying before Lance offered up his own answer. It was nice and relaxing. Lance was loud and obnoxious at times, but that side of his personality made this back and forth feel natural. It set Keith at ease; he didn’t feel like he had to perform or put on a front of someone he wasn’t. And he committed to memory every detail he learned about Lance; like the fact that he hated pickles, or that he was a gold medalist swimmer in high school, or that he had been attending school for astrophysics.

Each fact he learned made Keith realize how amazing of a person Lance was, and Keith couldn’t wrap his head around why Lance was still single because how had no one seen how perfect he was and snatched him up? Sure, he was a cheesy flirt and he seemed to have some insecurities but still. He was so far out of Keith’s league that Keith was beginning to have a hard time comprehending how he got so lucky to have Lance sitting across from him and that he was actually laughing at things Keith said.

“Colton!” Lance said, an hour or so into their conversation when Clara let out a loud cry as Colton ripped a book from her hands. The kids had been impressively well-behaved, mostly playing with each other and themselves, and aside from a diaper change for each of the twins, Lance had been able to talk to Keith without interruption. “Clara had that first. Why don’t you grab a different book and Clara can share with you later?”

There was a moment where Colton seemed like he was going to refuse and ignore Lance’s request, a hard scowl on his lips, but then he passed the book back to Clara, who grabbed it and shuffled away. Colton glared at her back, then looked at Lance for approval. His older brother smiled and made a hand motion that Keith realized was sign language, probably thanking Colton for listening. The toddler didn’t respond, just turned to play with some legos Izzy had abandoned for a coloring book.

Lance sighed out his nose as he went back to restapling a stack Keith had just finished. Keith watched him for a moment; he had seen Lance interact with his siblings a few times now, but he was continually impressed with Lance’s ability to handle them considering he had been thrust into the “parent” role just recently. Hell, Keith didn’t even know when a kid could eat grapes, much less what sort of discipline was appropriate for each age.

“You’re really good at this.” Keith said. When Lance raised an eyebrow asking for clarification, Keith added, “This kid stuff, I mean.”

Lance let out a self-deprecating laugh. “Not really.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Keith said, narrowing his eyebrows, and his Protect Lance At All Costs Button™ was suddenly pressed and his mouth was running away from him before he could stop himself. “You work really long hours to provide for them and take care of them when they’re sick and you make sure they get the apples they want and they’re really well behaved- like, earlier, they all threw their paper plates away without you even asking them to and they let you clean their hands, which I hear kids can be really angry about for some reason. And just now, you stopped the twins from arguing, which is really impressive because I probably would have made them somehow slap each other or something, so you shouldn’t get down on yourself because I think you’re amazing.”

Finally realizing what he was saying, Keith’s mouth clamped shut so quickly his teeth clanked together. Lance was clearly taken aback by what Keith had said; his mouth fell open but no words were coming out, and he was sitting up straighter as he searched Keith’s face for any sign Keith wasn’t serious. Then, he groaned, running a hand over his face and said, “Holy shit, how are you even real?”

Before Keith could ask what Lance meant, Lance’s hands were pressing against the floor on either side of Keith’s thighs and he was capturing Keith’s lips in his own. It was hot and passionate, as though Lance couldn’t stop himself from doing it, and it was so different from their first kiss, but it lit Keith’s skin on fire all the same.

Keith’s body didn’t need to be told to move; his hand went on instinct into Lance’s hair, pulling him closer and loving the way Lance moaned against his mouth, and when Lance had to put his hand on Keith’s knee for balance, his fingers digging into the fabric of Keith’s pants, Keith had to fight against every animalistic urge he had to tug Lance completely in his lap and bite marks into the skin of his neck. Keith ran his tongue against Lance’s bottom lip, begging for access, and Lance was ready to give it, opening his mouth with no hesitation and breathing heavy through his nose as Keith deepened the kiss and-

“Lance, I have to go potty!”

Lance and Keith jumped away from each other so quick that Lance only barely avoided knocking Izzy over in the process, and they were both already flushed from what they had just been doing, but that only increased as they stared at the little girl currently yanking on the sleeve of Lance’s shirt. In unison they were both struck with the itty bitty reminder that they weren’t exactly alone here and oh god they had just hella made out right in front of Lance’s siblings. Keith buried his face in his hands, petrified beyond belief, and Lance didn’t seem to be faring any better in his embarrassment.

“Oh, yeah, of course, potty, right.” Lance said, voice an octave higher than it normally was. He stood on shaky legs and grabbed Izzy’s hand to start leading her to the door, but he paused and, sheepishly, asked, “Uh, are you okay to watch the twins for just a few minutes?”

Keith dropped his hand away from his face and looked over to the toddlers who were currently stacking and knocking over blocks together. For a moment, he hesitated because he had never been alone with kids before, at least not where he was expected to keep them from, like, dying, but they seemed to be pretty chill at the moment, so how hard could it be? It was only going to be a few minutes, so he nodded and Lance mumbled a thanks before leaving the room.

At the opening of the door, Colton glanced over just as Lance and Izzy stepped out into the hallway. He blinked, then turned to look at Keith, and Keith could tell the instant it clicked in the boy’s mind that his main caregiver had left the room because his lip stuck out as far as it could go and he burst into tears, shooting up from the block tower he was building and running to the now closed door and pounding his hands against it.

Of course, Keith panicked because Colton was obviously in distress and Keith had no idea how to comfort adults let alone babies! He looked at Clara, as though she would somehow have an answer from him, but she was starting to look concerned herself as she listened to her brother cry, and Keith didn’t know much about children, but he did know that two crying babies were much, much worse than one crying baby.

“Uh, um, hey… tiger.” Keith tried, then scrunched up his face because what the fuck are you saying, self. Keith knelt down and Colton turned to him, face now blotchy red and tears making his hair stick to his cheeks. Keith gulped and reached out to pat his head. “There, there?”

Colton paused but before Keith could breathe a sigh of relief, the kid let out another scream and a fresh set of tears started to flow. Keith’s mind began to race, trying to think of how Shiro acted with children and if there was any info there he might be able to pull from, when an idea struck him.

W-When all of your flaws and all of my flaws are, uh, are laid out one by one.” Keith sang, soft and unsure, starting to blush because he had never really felt at ease singing in front of people he didn’t know. He cleared his throat and shifted awkwardly on his knees but kept on, “A wonderful part of the, um, mess that we made, we pick ourselves undone.”

The effect was instantaneous: Colton’s crying halted and he stared at Keith, eyes still puffy and tear-stained, but he was entranced. Keith didn’t dare stop, voice eventually growing more confident as Colton stepped closer. It took only until the second verse for him to raise his arms, silently asking for Keith to pick him up. Keith was struck with another wave of panic, but still hesitantly gathered Colton in his arms. Colton immediately buried his face into Keith’s chest, his tiny fingers gripping at Keith’s shirt, but he seemed to be calming down, his breathing evening out.

You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeves and I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.” Keith continued as he stood, stepping away from the door to settle back down on the floor where he and Lance had been working. Clara was suddenly at his side, her face curious and smiling as she listened to Keith’s voice go over the chorus once more, and it was a little weird to have her staring this intently at him, but she was so adorable, with her curly pigtails swaying as she tilted her head, that he couldn’t find it in him to care all that much.

“What the hell?” Lance exclaimed as he stepped into the room right as Keith was finishing the final verse. He looked winded and stared at Keith as though he were a two-headed unicorn. Izzy and Clara ran over to one of the slides, unbothered by Lance's shrieking. “How are you that good at singing? That’s so unfair!”

“You don’t have to sound so surprised!” Keith replied, flushing; he hadn’t really wanted Lance to hear him because it was just something else for Lance to hold over Keith’s head. “Colton started crying! I didn’t know what to do!”

At the sound of his name, Colton sat up and cautiously peeked around the room. When he recognized Lance was back, he wiggled out of Keith’s lap and ran over to him. He wrapped his short arms around Lance’s calves and said, “Up! Up!” until Lance gave in and scooped him up.

“You did the perfect thing. Colton really loves music.” Lance explained as Colton wrapped his arms and legs around his older brother, like a koala bear hugging a tree. “Mamá was a professional vocalist and used to sing to us all the time, so I think that’s why it’s so soothing for him.”

Colton swiveled around in Lance’s arms, startling Lance enough for him to jump, and pointed at Keith. “Más.”

Keith was pretty sure it was the first word he’d ever heard Colton say, and it was as demanding as it was cute.

Más. Más.” Colton repeated, squirming in Lance’s hold until Lance set him down. He walked over to Keith and pointed to Keith’s lips and said it again.

“Looks like you’ve got yourself a fan!” Lance said, laughed, sounding impressed as he sat back down across from Keith. “Congrats! You’ll be singing forever now.”

“Wait, what?” Keith said at the same time Colton clapped his hands and exclaimed, “¡Can’o!

At Keith’s confused blink, Lance said, “That means ‘song’ in toddler gibberish. Aka, he wants you to sing again.”

Keith looked from Lance back to Colton who was staring at him with dark brown eyes and pursed lips, and Keith realized he might have made a big mistake.

*

“I’m gonna say it’s time for me to get these kiddos home.” Lance said a little after eight. He nodded towards Keith and grinned. “Even though I hate to break up your adorable cuddle session.”

Keith glanced down at the sleeping boy cradled in one arm and quietly snoring into his chest. Sometime around seven and without a word, Colton had walked over and crawled into Keith’s lap, much to the surprise of the two adults in the room. Keith had flailed his arms, nearly sending papers everywhere, then looked at Lance for direction about what the hell he was supposed to do. Lance shook himself out of his shock and gestured for Keith to wrap an arm around Colton’s shoulders, effectively holding the toddler against him. A few heavy blinks and one big sigh later, he was fast asleep and Keith had lost the use of one of his hands, but didn’t really mind (though he’d had no idea toddlers could generate this much heat, like, what). Izzy was still playing with some dolls, but was rubbing at her eyes more and more, and Clara had fallen asleep on the couch near where Keith and Lance were working, Lance’s coat draped over her as a makeshift blanket.

“Sorry I can’t stay and help more.” Lance said as he stood and cracked his back, casting an apologetic glance Keith’s way.

“Don’t even worry about it.” Keith said. He nodded towards the three hundred forms they had managed to finish. “Thanks to you, I’m way ahead of where I would have been if I’d been alone.”

Lance smirked and gave a cocky shrug of his shoulder. “Well, what can I say, you’re lucky to have me.”

“Nevermind.” Keith replied, rearranging Colton in his arms so he could stand without waking him up. “I retract all my gratitude.”

“Nu-uh, too late! Gratitude already received!” Lance sang, reaching down to look through the backpack style diaper bag he’d brought and make sure he had everything. Then he slung it over his shoulders and called Izzy over to get her coat and mittens on. The three year old was sluggish as she walked over, eyelids heavy, and she did as she was told with no resistance. Lance then grabbed Colton’s coat and handed it to Keith. “Here, the van’s parked pretty close so you can just lay this on top of him.”

Keith nodded, but wasn’t exactly sure how to successfully do that without either a.) falling over, or b.) dropping the child on his head and having Lance hate him forever. Lance must have taken pity on him because he snickered and took the coat from Keith’s fingers and placed it on Colton’s shoulders, Keith’s arm immediately going to hold it there. Keith breathed a huge sigh of relief as Colton’s eyes remained shut.

The walk to the van was quick, the brisk air stinging their skin and making them crave shelter from it. Izzy stumbled into the van first, immediately crawling into the back and into her booster as Lance got Clara strapped into her carseat. She whined and blinked her eyes open, a pout starting to form on her lips before she let out a small cry. Lance ran a soothing hand over her hair, shushing her gently before shutting the door so he could walk Keith to the other side. Keith wasn’t entirely sure how the transfer would work, but he should have remembered by now that Lance was a total pro at this and it took all of five seconds for him to get Colton from Keith’s arms and into his carseat. Like his twin, Colton jolted awake just as Lance finished strapping him in, and Lance patted his head just like he’d done with Clara, though it didn’t stop him from crying as Lance shut the door.

“Standard.” Lance said with a shrug even though Keith hadn’t said anything. “They’ll chill out once I start driving.”

“Cool.” Keith replied because he didn’t know what else to say, and he flinched the second he left his mouth because it was the furthest thing from smooth. He shivered and rubbed at his arms to try and warm them- Colton was like an oven and now that he was gone, the chilly air felt that much colder to him. “Uh, thanks again. You really saved me.”

Lance smiled back, but didn’t say anything as they walked to the driver’s side door. He opened it and started up the van but made no move to close his door and drive away. He tapped his finger against the steering wheel and bit his lip, obviously having something he wanted to say but not knowing how to.

“So,” Lance said, finally looking back at him, and Keith noticed that when Lance was unsure about something, he never wore that flirty smirk, instead opting for a soft quirk of the lips. “Uh, it’s really hard for me to go out, but if you ever, y’know, want to come over sometime...” The words were slow and precise, as if Lance was testing the waters. “I mean, the kids go to bed pretty early, so-”

“Sure.” Keith interrupted, because Lance’s entire demeanor made it seem like he was preparing for Keith to reject his offer, which, hello, Keith would never in a million years do something as stupid as that. And just so Lance knew with complete certainty that Keith was telling the truth, Keith stepped forward so he could lean his head into the van and kiss him. He didn’t even care that their lips were freezing because when Keith bit gently on Lance’s bottom lip, Lance shivered against him in a way that Keith knew wasn’t from the cold.

“I’d like that.” Keith added against Lance’s mouth when they parted. “A lot.”

Keith brushed Lance’s bangs behind his reddening ear, and Lance grinned and kissed him again.

Chapter Text

Black Friday went well. Great, even.

Okay, maybe it went amazingly and Keith couldn't stop grinning because they totally killed it. They got even more new clients than they anticipated (he's happy he decided to stay a little later and get through the rest of the forms because it turns out they did need them) and it was madness, but everyone did their jobs and there were no other mishaps. Every client left excited, this quarter's profits were looking to kick last quarter's ass (and last quarter had been great), and Keith was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief that all of their hard work for that day had paid off.

Plus, the day before he got to make out with Lance (well, almost), which would put anyone in a good mood. Not to mention the fact that when he sent Lance a text about how well Friday went, Lance sent back a selfie of himself grinning excitedly with the text 'YAY CONGRATS' over it, but that wasn't the best part- the best part was that Lance had apparently just gotten out of the shower: his hair was wet and sticking to his forehead, face just slightly pink from the steam, and even though the picture cut off just below the shoulders, more than enough skin was visible to show he was most definitely not wearing a shirt.

So yeah, the last few days of Keith's life had been pretty fantastic and if the way Pidge's mouth dropped open in shock when he walked into Hunk's restaurant the next day to meet her for lunch was an indication, his happiness was painted plain as day on his face.

“Oh my god.” she said as he made his way over to her table. “Who the hell are you and what have you done with Meltdown Keith?”

Keith rolled his eyes, prepared to reply with his usual stop calling me that goddammit when he heard his name being called and he looked over to see Lance smiling at him from behind the register. Keith's heart picked up pace at seeing him, like he was some middle school girl, and he awkwardly waved back, unable to keep the smile from making its way to his face. Lance's own grew before he turned back to focus on the task he was working on.

“Okay, it all makes sense now.” Pidge said, drawing Keith's attention back to her. She smirked up at him. “Apparently the remedy for your grumpiness is a good ol' dose of L-O-V-E.”

“Wha- shut up!” Keith said, doing his best to glare despite his embarrassment. Pidge simply cackled before sipping at her lemonade, so Keith refused to indulge her further.

Outside was freezing, but the restaurant was warm and the flustered increase of his heart rate wasn’t helping, so Keith unzipped his coat and draped it over the back of his chair just as Lance, face bright and happy, walked over to them. But whatever he had started to say broke off into a garbled noise. When Keith raised his head to look at him, curious, he found Lance staring at him with eyes so wide they were ready to pop out and he was... blushing for some reason?

“Is, uh, something wrong?” Keith finally asked when Lance continued to stare at him without saying anything. The question seemed to jolt Lance out of whatever trance he was in and he frantically shook his head.

“Nothing! Of course, nothing! What's wrong with you- I mean, how! How are you?” Lance said and it all came out in such a rush that Keith's head was beginning to spin, and Lance didn't even give him space to answer before he added, “Nice shirt!”

Keith glanced down at his shirt and all it did was confuse him even more because it was just one of many standard black tank tops that he used when working out or training clients. It was by far the most mundane shirt in existence, didn't even have a picture aside from the logo. Keith could not for the life of him figure out how it justified Lance's weird behavior. He cast a glance towards Pidge but she looked equally as confused as he was.

“Thanks, I think?” Keith said, and when he looked back to Lance, he found those blue eyes were still zoned in on him.

It wasn't like Keith minded having Lance's attention on him, but he couldn't place why exactly Lance was looking at him like that- like Keith had grown purple bat ears or was some sort of mythical creature, and he couldn't help how self-conscious it was making him feel. He shifted awkwardly as the silence stretched to uncomfortable lengths and then reached up to rub at his neck, nervous.

To his surprise, Lance made that same strangled noise as earlier, sounding like a choking turkey. His blush deepened, then he spun on his heel and rushed away towards the kitchen without a word, leaving Keith behind to gape at him.

There was a stretched second of silence and then Pidge, eyebrow raised, asked, “Is that a normal occurrence?”

“I don’t think so?” Keith said, slowly settling into his chair, still unsure the encounter had actually happened. He looked at his shirt again and pursed his lips. “Maybe Lance likes sports attire, or something?”

Pidge squinted, scrutinizing him from head to where his body disappeared beneath the table . “Hmm, I don’t see why your shirt explains-” She stopped, eyes narrowed in on him and they seemed to be staring at a specific part of him but Keith could tell what part it was. “Oh. Oh.

“‘Oh’? ‘Oh’ what- stop looking at me like that!” Keith growled when she continued staring at him and the blush was starting to spread to his neck, so he reached over and forcefully turned her face away from him. She made a surprised noise then immediately returned his glare.

“Just for that, I’m not telling you a damn thing.” Pidge said, readjusting her glasses before pointedly taking another drink through her straw, which meant there was absolutely no way Keith would get any information out of her whatsoever and he was left to figure out what the hell had happened on his own.

Which probably wasn’t going to happen, Keith thought as he caught Lance’s gaze a little later and Lance immediately ducked his head and scurried away once more.

 

*

 

To: Lance
1:23 PM
you were acting really weird earlier
did I do something?

From: Lance
2:34 PM
Ugh no you didn't
I mean, besides existing

To: Lance
2:35 PM
????????

From: Lance
2:35 PM
I've never seen your arms before okay

To: Lance
2:36 PM
Uhhhhh
What?
I've always had arms?

From: Lance
2:36 PM
Nononono
I mean
Like i've never seen your ARMS
YOU KNOW WHAT
NEVERMIND

To: Lance
2:37 PM
You're not making any sense??

From: Lance
2:40 PM
SORRY BREAKS OVE TTYL BAI

To: Lance
2:40 PM
You have at least 5 minutes left
Why are you saying weird things about my arms???

To: Lance
2:41 PM
LANCE
HELLO?????

To: Lance
2:44 PM
??????????

 

*

Three days later, Keith still hadn’t gotten a clear answer out of Lance and it didn’t seem like he would. Lance continued sending him snaps and texts like nothing had happened, making it plainly obvious he would rather just avoid the topic, and Keith didn’t want to come off as obsessive or pushy, so he didn’t bring it up again.

Not that it did anything to lessen the anxiety starting to eat at him because did Lance regret the kisses they had shared on Thanksgiving, or even the ones before that? Was that why he had been so weird? But he’d acted totally normal up until they had seen each other in person again, and he was acting totally normal now. It was just that one interaction and the texts afterwards that made no sense.

Keith groaned because this was something super silly to be this frustrated about but it was driving him crazy not knowing. To make it worse, Keith just wanted to see Lance in general, but with how Lance had acted, Keith wasn’t sure he should be the one to initiate a hangout. He was an adult, dammit, it shouldn’t be this complicated to figure out.

He was in the process of groaning again when his phone’s ringtone rudely interrupted him. Seeing Shiro’s name flashing across the screen, Keith narrowed his eyebrows and glanced at the time. Shiro should’ve still been working and it was unusual for him to call during a shift. Keith quickly hit the accept call button and brought the phone to his ear.

“Why are you calling me?” Keith asked, rushed and worried. “Is everything okay?”

There was a surprised noise on the other end, mingled with the distant sound of children laughing, then Shiro said, “Well, hello to you too! Everything’s fine?”

Keith breathed a sigh of relief. “Don’t scare me like that!”

“All I did was call you!” Shiro said and Keith could picture him throwing his hands up, exasperated.

“You never call me, unless there’s an emergency or-” Keith narrowed his eyes, “you need an immediate favor.”

“That is not true! I called you last week!”

“Because your car ran out of gas and you needed me to bring you some! For the third time in two months! Seriously, how do you constantly run out of gas, your car freaking beeps at you when it’s low and Allura keeps telling you to watch it-”

“Okay, so sometimes I ask you for favors.” Shiro said, sounding like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “And maybe this is one of those times.”

“Called it.” Keith said, not bothering to bite back the annoyed sigh.

“Would it help if I told you it wasn’t for me but for Lance, your current favorite person?” There was a sly edge to the words, like Shiro knew he had already won.

Which he kind of had, because Keith immediately sat up straighter at the mention of Lance’s name and there was a jittery feeling in his gut at the thought of getting to see him. So evidently all anyone needed to do nowadays to get Keith to do something was mention that it involved Lance and wow this crush was bad.

“That helps a little bit, I guess…” Keith said, attempting to cling onto the tiny sliver of pride he still had but when Shiro chuckled, Keith knew he hadn’t fooled Shiro in the slightest.

“Okay, so here’s the deal.” Shiro said and there was a soft noise of him typing on a keyboard, “Lance picked up the kids a little bit ago but he forgot to take home the twins' medication for their ears. I'd run it over myself but it's Allura's only night off from the hospital, so-”

“So you need me to take it to him?” Keith finished, and if his voice sounded a little too excited, it wasn’t his fault. “Like to his apartment?”

“Yeah, is that okay?” Shiro asked. “I can drop it off at your office in an hour or two-”

“I’ll just grab it now.” Keith said, sounding slightly winded and far too desperate, so he added, “I was just about to leave anyway.”

Shiro hummed, amused, and Keith knew a teasing jab about him and Lance was on the tip of Shiro’s tongue, so he ended the call without saying good-bye and when Shiro sent him a sad face emoji, Keith sent back the creepy yellow moon emoji he knew Shiro despised.

 

*

 

For the second time in barely a month, Keith stood outside Lance’s front door trying to build up the fortitude to knock. Unlike last time, where Keith had felt sick to his stomach with nerves that Lance would punch him in the face, this time it was an excited energy making his palms sweat and heart skip, and he was struck with the realization that between the first time and now, they’d gone from apology mandu to kissing on more than one occasion, and maybe tonight could be more than just the interrupted kisses they’d had so far. It made happiness bubble in his chest and he stood in the hallway grinning like an idiot until the next door neighbor opened their door to leave and caught him.

Choosing to wipe that horrifying moment from his memory forever, Keith shook his head to clear the embarrassment and raised his hand to knock but paused when yelling from inside the apartment caught his attention. It wasn’t a shouting match by any means, but he could definitely make out that something less than happy was happening on the other side of the door.

Fist still raised, Keith hesitated, unsure if he should leave or not. He had texted Lance that he was on his way over with the medicine, but he hadn’t gotten a response. Was Lance going to be upset he was there? Should he just come back in an hour or so, when the kids were more likely to be asleep and he and Lance could be alone?

The medicine rested heavy in the palm of his other hand, a reminder for why Keith was even there in the first place. If it was important enough that Shiro needed him to make a house call for it, then it was likely Colton and Clara needed it before bed that night. Keith couldn’t just postpone it because the visit might not be the pleasant (and hopefully sexy) hangout he was hoping it would be. That wouldn’t be fair to either Lance or the twins.

Keith gulped, took a deep breath to steady himself, and then he knocked. He would just hand over the medicine and if Lance wanted him to stay, he would. If Lance wanted him to disappear, he would, even if the idea of that made his stomach drop.

The loud voices on the other side of the door barely paused, but the more masculine voice was suddenly much closer and then Lance was opening the door with more force than he usually would. He was the most frazzled Keith had ever seen him. His hair was a mess, his hoodie was hanging off one shoulder and he had what looked like fresh pasta sauce all over his shirt and pants. There was a crease between his brows and agitation clear in his expression, but when he saw Keith, it turned to shock and a little terrified.

“Keith?”

Something about the soft disbelief of it that made Keith feel like he’d made the biggest mistake of his life by coming here and it stung enough to irritate him. He opened his mouth to snap at Lance but there was a loud bang from inside followed by a shrill scream, and Lance immediately whirled around back into the apartment, leaving Keith to awkwardly linger in the doorway. Deciding it would be way weirder to just leave without a word, Keith stepped into the entryway and quietly closed the door behind him before making his way to the dining room where both Colton and Clara were in their high chairs and Lance was currently attempting to wipe up a puddle of milk with a paper towel. A sippy cup and it’s lid sat abandoned next to him.

Clara, I told you not to throw your food!” Lance said, and even though it was in Spanish, his frustration was evident in the tightness of his voice. “If you’re done you say ‘all done’, okay?

Clara slammed her hand on the table of her highchair and whined, long and high, like whatever Lance had asked her to do was the worst request in the history of the world. Then she looked Lance dead in the eye, pausing just long enough to make sure she had his entire attention, and proceeded to push her entire plate of spaghetti off her tray with enough force that it flew through the air and landed on the other side of the dining room with a jarring clank. The pasta scattered across floor, the red sauce smearing across the tile, painting it like a scene from a horror movie and Keith had never thought a one year old was capable of looking dastardly, but the self-satisfied smirk on Clara’s lips was exactly that as she waited to see how Lance was going to react.

Keith, albeit slightly impressed with the distance Clara managed, had the feeling she hadn’t made the correct decision. He was proven right when he looked from the mess to Lance, whose jaw was clenched tight and was breathing in heavy exhales through his nostrils. Without a word, he dropped the soaking paper towel back onto the floor and stood, and the toddler’s expression finally dropped as he began pulling her from her highchair. She screamed and her body flailed like something out of the exorcist and when Lance set her down, she immediately threw herself onto the floor and rolled around, barely missing the half-cleaned milk puddle.

Lance ignored her and started to take Colton out of his highchair, and right when Keith thought he might finally be able to get a word in, Isabella came rushing into the room. Her face was set and determined as she walked right up to Lance and held up a photo album, and she hadn’t even said anything but Lance looked so completely done with her already.

¡Mira!” Isabella exclaimed, shaking the album for emphasis. “Here’s a picture of me swimming with Papa when the summer was happening ten years ago-”

“Isabella, it couldn’t have been ten years ago,” Lance said as he set Colton onto the floor next to his still pouting twin, “you’re not even four yet-”

“That’s a technology!” she replied with a stomp of her foot, “But see it’s proof I did swim lessons before so I should get to do swim lessons now!”

“I know you did them last year, but I told you it’s not possible at the moment, okay?” Lance said. Keith could tell he was doing his best to have patience, but it was painfully obvious it was running out at a rapid pace.

“No! It’s not okay!” Isabella cried, tears beginning to form in her eyes. She clutched the album to her chest. “It’s not fair! Just because mama and papa aren't here anymore-”

“Enough, Isabella!” Lance said, and it was enough to shock Isabella into halting her tirade. He seemed as caught off guard as everyone else at how loud the words had come out, and his mouth snapped shut, teeth grinding against each other. He took a deep breath and turned his attention away from her to start picking up the spaghetti Clara had thrown on the floor. His voice was quieter, more restrained, but just as frustrated, “It's just not happening right now, got it?”

Isabella's face scrunched up further in anger, her shock forgotten. She stomped her foot, more hot tears making their way down her cheeks. “You're so mean! I hate you!”

When Lance just shook his head and refused to say anything more, Isabella let out a yell of frustration and stormed to what Keith presumed was her bedroom and slammed the door as hard as a three-year old could. The noise startled both of the twins and they jumped forward to cling onto Lance's shirt, Clara's feet sliding into the pile of spaghetti Lance had just finished scooping together. Lance bit back a curse, his entire body jolting in a way that Keith could tell he was having to restrain himself from snapping at the toddler now letting out a long whine about her dirty feet.

With a heavy exhale, Lance reached up to rub a hand down his face, only realizing it was covered in pasta sauce after he felt it sticking to his skin. His nose scrunched up in disgust and if it were any other situation, Keith would find it amusing and cute (well, okay, he still found it cute), but the air in the apartment was still heavy and tense, and Keith wasn't exactly sure what he should be doing with himself. The whirlwind of the last few minutes had him slightly shaken and he hadn’t even been involved in it. He couldn’t begin to imagine being in Lance’s position, to be the one at the center of yelling and food being thrown and having every word you say met with complete resistance. Keith didn’t know how, but if he could make Lance’s life at the moment just a little bit easier, he would do it in an instant.

A wet washcloth sitting on the counter caught his eye, which was better than nothing, so he grabbed it and walked over to the trio still sitting on the floor. He held out the damp rag and said, “Uh, here.”

Lance jumped and looked up, startled, as though he had forgotten Keith were there. He averted his eyes but not before Keith caught the shine of frustrated tears in them.

“Thanks.” Lance said and took the offered washcloth, still refusing to meet Keith's eyes. As he wiped at the red staining his face, he laughed, but it sounded forced and lacked any actual amusement. “People always talk about terrible twos, but no one mentions how threenagers are so much worse.”

“Yeah.” Keith said and internally flinched because he wanted to offer Lance some sort of comfort and that was seriously all he could think of? “Shiro wanted me to drop off the twins’ medication you left at daycare.”

“Oh.” Lance glanced at the medication in Keith’s hand. “Thanks.”

Keith nodded and awkwardly set it on the table. Face now clean, Lance used the washcloth to wipe up the spilled spaghetti and milk, then stood up, ignoring the whines and upset screams the twins let out as he walked to the kitchen to dump the mess into the sink. He turned on the facet and began to wash his hands, and Keith barely heard him over the sound of the running water when he cleared his throat and said, “Uh, sorry you had to see that whole thing with Izzy.”

“It's fine.” Keith said and he wanted it to sound reassuring, but instead it was stiff and awkward, even though it really was fine- besides feeling unsure about what to do, Keith didn't care at all.

What he did care about was the dark blush on Lance's cheeks and the defeated slump of his shoulders because it was easy to tell Lance was more than embarrassed- he was ashamed. Like Keith had seen something he shouldn't have and Lance was waiting for Keith to attack him for it or get freaked out. Maybe if it had been any other person, Keith might have gotten out of there as fast as possible because his relationships were never about more than momentary fulfillment and pleasure.

But this was Lance, the guy Keith had been crushing on since the first time he saw him. The guy Keith thought about taking care of as often as he thought about having him naked in his bed. The only person Keith could see himself kissing and laughing with for a long time, even though Keith didn’t think about that sort of cheesy stuff ever and they barely knew each other; who knew what would happen the more they spent time together. Keith didn’t want to lose the chance to find out.

“Clara, wait, don't walk on the carpet, your feet are still-” Lance said, pulling Keith from his thoughts, and then broke off into a frustrated growl as Clara did exactly that, leaving behind tiny footprints of spaghetti sauce in the off-white carpet. She blinked up at him then looked down at her feet, then at the trail of red behind her and her mouth went into a perfect, surprised 'o'.

“Uh oh!” Clara said, high pitched and genuine as she walked back to the first stain and put her entire body into pointing at it, not even noticing Lance's squawk as she made new marks to get back to it. She looked at Lance with wide brown eyes. “Oh no!”

And holy shit it was one of the cutest things Keith had ever seen and he wanted to laugh but he bit it back because Lance legitimately looked like he was about to cry this time.

“I can clean it up.” Keith said, his Protect Lance at All Costs button suddenly pressed.

Lance gaped at him in complete disbelief. “You don’t have to do that. I can-”

“I’ll do it.” Keith said and gestured to Clara and Colton (who was currently staring at Keith with wide eyes, probably searching his toddler brain for why he recognized him), “You probably have to get them ready for bed, right?” Mutely, Lance nodded. “So I’ll clean it up so you can do that and then… then maybe we could hang out?” At Lance’s shocked expression, Keith quickly added, “I mean, if you want to. We don’t have to, I know I kind of showed up unannounced so I can just let myself out after I’m done-”

“No!” Lance said, reaching out to grab Keith’s wrist when he took an unconscious step towards the door. “I want to!” Lance looked at the twins then the disarray throughout the apartment and then finally at his own clothes. He worried his bottom lip between his teeth. “But it’ll take me a while. I’ve gotta give them a bath and sometimes it takes a bit for them to go down, so it would be really uncool of me to ask you to wait around.”

“You aren’t asking me. I want to.” Keith said, staring at Lance’s hand around his wrist. He hesitated, then pulled his arm out of Lance’s grip just enough to slide their fingers together. “I’m okay with waiting for you.”

Keith didn’t even realize the possible double meaning of his words until Lance’s mouth fall open and he blushed which made Keith blush and wow Keith, way to be the cheesiest creep ever. He dropped Lance’s hand from his like it was fire and crossed his arms across his chest, shifting on his feet.

“O-Okay.” Lance said, and he didn’t seem uncomfortable or put out. In fact, if Keith was reading him right, he actually looked happy. “Then I’m gonna just-” It was his turn to motion towards the twins, who had begun to pull at his pant legs again, demanding he pay attention to them and not this awkward guy making their older brother look like a lobster. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Keith nodded and then Lance gathered Clara and Colton in his arms and as he walked to the bathroom, Keith could tell the back of his neck was beat red which made him feel less stupid and more proud of himself.

(And he couldn't help but smile when Colton's face finally brightened in recognition and he started shouting "¡Can’o!" over Lance's shoulder.)

After finding some stain remover under the sink, Keith set about cleaning up the carpet as best he could. Luckily it seemed like he’d gotten to the mess in time and the little footprints began to disappear within a few minutes as he scrubbed at them. After he finished that, he stared at the dishes in the sink, arms crossed and finger tapping against his bicep as he thought long and hard about whether it would be worth the effort because he hated dishes. But then the possibility of Lance looking at him with a surprised, beaming expression flashed through his mind and suddenly dishes didn’t seem all that bad. Besides, the dishwasher was empty so all he needed to do was fill it, so it wouldn’t take that long.

As Keith worked, he listened to the laughter and delighted screams coming from the bathroom. He could hear Lance’s voice, suddenly energized, making monster noises and playful yelps, followed by belly giggles and what sounded like water splashing over the edge of the tub. It was hard to believe those same joyful laughs were coming out of the same kids who had been screaming in anger less than an hour before. The sound was calming and warm in a way Keith had never known and he couldn’t help thinking this is what a home feels like. There was a longing feeling in his chest he hadn’t felt in years and it wasn’t pleasant, so he shook his head to clear it as he slid the last plate into the dishwasher. Right as he pressed the ‘start’ button, the door to the bathroom opened and he watched, amused, as two buttnaked toddlers flew out of it, still dripping water and giggling like maniacs, and Lance was right on their heels with a giant towel, doing his best to wrap them in it. He quickly gave up in favor of opening the door to the same room Isabella had disappeared into earlier. He threw Keith a funny face over his shoulder before following them inside.

Keith exhaled a laugh, then made his way to the living room and was about to settle onto the couch with his phone when the frames on the wall caught his eye. He had briefly glanced at them the first time he was there but had felt like he was invading Lance’s privacy so he’d quickly turned away. This time, he stepped closer to get a better look at them.

The photos showed a large family with so many members, Keith had a hard time wrapping his brain around it. The only people in them that Keith recognized were Lance and the kids, though Hunk had a cameo in one or two. The photo at the center seemed to be the most recent and showed a group of nine, with Lance in the middle of who Keith presumed were his parents and they were probably the most gorgeous looking parents Keith had ever seen; it was easy to see where Lance got his looks from. They were younger than Keith would have expected, but each had the barest hints of wrinkles around their eyes and mouth, and Lance was the perfect combination of both of them. In front of Lance was Isabella, smile so big her eyes were closed and her nose was scrunched. The twins, no older than a few months with much less hair, were on either side. Colton was being held by a teenage girl who looked identical to their mother and Clara was giggling in the arms of a boy, no older than ten, with the same striking blue eyes Lance had. A wave of dread made Keith’s heart feel heavy when he realized he didn’t recognize either of them, despite the fact this was obviously a photo of Lance’s entire immediate family, which meant-

“Best lookin’ family in the universe, amirite?”

Keith jumped and whirled around to see Lance grinning at him, but it didn’t quite meet his exhausted eyes. He smelled like citrus, like he’d recently used some face wash or some kind of lotion and he was wearing a clean t-shirt, hoodie abandoned at some point during the kids’ nighttime routine. There were two opened beer bottles in his hand and he held one out to Keith, offering it with a slight tilt of his head. Keith mumbled a thanks and took it.

“Sorry that took so long.” Lance said as he flopped onto the couch with a sigh, motioning for Keith to do the same. “Isabella is apparently still pissed at me so she preferred fake crying during story time instead of listening, so it made it harder to settle the twins down."

“It’s fine. Really.” Keith said as he settled down next to Lance, leaving a hint of distance between them. “I was just, uh, looking at your pictures."

Lance hummed and followed Keith’s eyes to the wall. “There’s a lot of them. Mama used to always make sure the walls at home were covered- like, I’m talking floor to ceiling, and they were never evenly spaced which drove dad absolutely bonkers, and every time he complained she would add another one that was even more crooked, just to piss him off.”

“That’s amazing.” Keith said, laughing around a sip of beer. He watched Lance’s grin turn into one much more genuine as he recalled the memory. “They sound awesome.”

“They were.” Lance said, gaze fond as he quieted down, lost in another special memory he held close to his heart, one just for him that Keith wasn’t allowed to know just yet. He relaxed further into the couch, his head falling backwards to rest completely against the headrest. “I can’t believe it’s only been six months since they died. Feels a lot longer than that. I miss them.”

Keith’s fingers twitched to grab Lance’s hand, but he stopped himself before he could. Instead he said, “I never knew my parents, so I can’t imagine what it’s like.”

Lance turned his head, cheek sinking slightly into the cushion. “Did your parents die when you were young?”

Keith shook his head. He hesitated for a second, trying to figure out how much he should share without making it sound like he was digging for pity, then said, “They left me at the hospital the day I turned two. I don’t even know if they’re alive. I spent most of my time growing up in foster homes.”

“Shit.” Lance said, caught off guard but sympathetic. There was a small crease between his eyebrows and he shifted just enough to brush his knee against Keith’s. “That sucks.”

Keith shrugged, trying to ignore the electricity shooting through him from where their legs were touching. “It sucked at the time, but I’ve moved on. Besides, it’s how I met Shiro and I can’t imagine not having him in my life, so it’s not all bad.” He smiled at Lance to show he was telling the truth. Lance’s eyes softened as he returned it.

Keith chewed at his bottom lip and tapped a finger against the bottle in his hand, working up the courage to ask the question he had wondered about since the day Lance had cursed him out at the daycare. “So, you can totally punch me in the face if you think this is inappropriate for me to ask…” Keith took the curious quirk of Lance’s eyebrow as a positive sign to continue, “but what happened with your parents?”

Lance raised his head off the couch to fix Keith with a confused look, not at all the reaction Keith was expecting. “Wait, you don’t know?”

“N-No.” Keith said. “Hunk and Shiro said I should ask you, so… that’s what I’m doing. Asking. Like I said, if you don’t want to tell me-”

Lance’s knee knocked against his again, effectively silencing him. “It’s fine. I’m just surprised you didn’t know. I thought that was why you were-” He paused, as though he were second guessing the thought, then gave a half shrug. “I figured Shiro might’ve told you.”

“He said I should hear it from you.” Keith replied, even though all really wanted to do was ask Lance to please finish that sentence.

Keith watched Lance’s adam’s apple bob as he swallowed hard and Keith’s heart was already dropping into his stomach even before Lance spoke again.

“Did you hear about the plane crash earlier this year?” His voice was so even and tight, a pretense of calm that told Keith he was barely keeping it together. “The one that happened in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Of course Keith had heard of it. The plane that was heading to Cuba, an easy, routine flight that had engine troubles and crashed into the water, leaving no survivors. It had been national news for months, covered endlessly to the point where it grew into just another story-

The realization hit Keith so hard he felt like he’d been physically punched.

“Fuck, Lance.” Keith whispered, because no other words were good enough.

“They were flying there for my cousin’s wedding.” Lance pressed on, like pausing would make him lose his nerve to keep talking about it. He picked at the wet label of his beer, slowly tearing it with his thumb, eyes following the motion. “My parents, my sister, my ten year old brother- my grandparents. I was at school out of state and had a final, so I was planning to fly out the next day, but then I got the call.” Lance’s nail dug harder into the paper, scrapping a large chunk off without intending to. He breathed heavy and shaky out his nose. “My parents decided to leave Izzy and the twins with a family friend, I can’t even remember why, but if they hadn’t then they would have been on the plane too, and-”

This time, Keith didn’t stop himself. He reached out and grabbed Lance’s hand in his. Lance stilled and took in a sharp breath, watching as Keith’s fingers rested warm and heavy on top of his, but he didn’t shake Keith off. The next breath he took seemed easier, more grounded, and he balanced his beer between his thighs so his other hand was free to wipe at the tears blurring his vision.

“I dropped out of school and had to sell our house, which really fucking sucked because that was our home." Lance said, sniffling. "It was the last part of everyone we had left, and I wish I could give Isabella everything she wants, but I can't. Sometimes I wish I could go back to just being their older brother, y’know? Shockingly this parenting stuff is pretty hard.”

Keith snorted and he almost felt bad for doing it considering they were having a moment here, but Lance’s eyes seemed to twinkle happily as he watched Keith laugh at his stupid joke. He relaxed his head back against the cushion again and sighed. “But I am glad I’m able to take care of them. Even if they drive me crazy.”

“But who takes care of you?”

Lance blinked at him, as though it was the most bizarre concept he had ever heard. “What do you mean?”

Keith gulped, knowing that what he was about to say could come out terribly wrong, but he had to say it. Needed Lance to hear it.

“I think you should let others help you more.” Keith said, and Lance’s face was starting to take on that defensive anger, but Keith rushed on, “You’re not doing a bad job- you’re fucking amazing, but it can’t be easy dealing with this all alone, right?”

The anger softened as Lance took in Keith’s words, pursing his mouth into a tight line, but he hadn’t tried to rip his hand from Keith’s hold yet, so that had to mean Keith wasn’t doing all bad.

“I know Hunk would probably like it if you talked to him more.” Keith continued. He bit his lip and cleared his throat, took a swig of his beer for courage, then said, “And I want to help, too. Not necessarily with money and stuff, but y’know, however I can. No matter what it is.”

Silence settled between them, Lance observing him with an expression Keith couldn’t read and Keith doing his best not to look away from those blue eyes currently locked on his.

Just when Keith thought he was going to pass out from lack of breathing, Lance said, “I can understand about Hunk, and you’re right, I should probably rely on him more. But you,” Lance slipped his hand out from under Keith’s and moved closer until their thighs and shoulders were flush against one another. His breath was warm against Keith’s cheek, “Why would you go that far for someone you barely know? Like I get we kissed, but still, we’ve only know each other a month.”

Lance was too close. Way too close. Keith’s entire body was alive with the desire to grab him and bite marks into his neck. Keith’s throat was going dry and the entire side of his body Lance was leaning against burned so bad it stung. But this was an important moment; Keith had do what Hunk had advised and make it stupidly clear to Lance that Keith wasn’t offering this because he wanted something in return. He was doing it because somehow, in the short time they’d known each other, Lance, with his cocky smirk and stupid pick up lines and adorable siblings, had weaseled his way into Keith’s life and every thought, and he was someone important to him now.

Keith licked his lips, not missing the way Lance’s eyes followed the movement. He swallowed, and his voice was raspy and low when he finally answered, “Because I think you deserve to be taken care of.”

Apparently it was the right answer because Lance’s eyes widened and then he was closing the space between them and kissing him like Keith was the air he needed to continue breathing.

A moan was startled out of him, then Keith was pressing back, tilting his head so he could deepen it. He set his beer on the coffee table to free up his hands, which were craving to touch Lance’s face, his neck, his waist. Lance followed suit, breaking the kiss just long enough to abandon his drink onto the floor, and then he was in Keith’s lap like he was meant to be there. He wasted no time, long arms wrapping around Keith’s shoulders, fingers burying themselves into Keith’s hair and tugging, drawing their lips back together. It was hungry and needy and Keith was so, so into it. Just like he was into the noise Lance let out, something caught between a whimper and a sigh, when Keith’s hands, cold from his drink, slipped under his shirt and ran up the expanse of his back. He dug his fingers into the muscle, felt it twitch beneath his touch, then moved his hands lower to grab Lance’s narrow hips and yank them forward, the distance between their waists still too much and they moaned into each other’s mouths as it was closed.

Lance’s mouth was addicting, Keith decided as he licked into it, swallowed each sigh and pliant moan Lance made in response to Keith’s tongue pressing against his. He tugged again at Keith’s hair before smoothing his hands down his shoulders and across his collarbones, then further and further until they were slipping under the hem of Keith’s shirt. Lance broke the kiss with a huff, a pout on his lips (which should not be this far away from Keith’s right now).

“You jerk, I should’ve known you’d have a six-pack.” Lance said, but he was breathing too heavy for the words to have any actual bite behind them. His fingers traced over the definition of Keith’s stomach and his pout gave way to a smirk as goosebumps rose on Keith’s skin. Keith’s breath hitched as Lance’s long finger moved lower and lower until it was dipping into the hem of Keith’s jeans, just barely. He drug the back of his nail across Keith’s skin, over the fine hairs there across his waist to scratch at Keith’s hip bone. It was teasing, but Keith was bucking up into the touch anyway-

And then it was gone. Lance pulled his hand away, but before Keith could growl and force it back because that was totally unfair, Lance gripped at his biceps and said, “These though- these just get me.”

He met Lance’s smirk with one of his own. “Is that so?”

Lance hmmed, eyes dropping from Keith’s so he could watch his own hand squeeze Keith’s toned arm. “Definitely. Had to stop myself from jumping you the other day when you came in wearing that black tank top.”

Oh, Keith thought and Lance’s bizarre behavior from the restaurant suddenly made much more sense. Still, Keith blinked up at him, caught off guard. Usually, the compliments he got from guys were about his face, abs and ass which, hey, it wasn’t like he was going to complain about those. But Lance getting that turned on by a part of Keith’s body that rarely got attention made Keith feel strangely happy and noticed, and it made him want Lance even more and how was that even possible at this point.

Lance squeezed his arm again and the muscle tightened on instinct. Keith had a brief moment of panic because it made it seem like he was intentionally flexing which just seemed douchey, but then Lance’s breath hitched and his nails were a sharp, pleasant sting on Keith’s skin that went straight between his legs. Keith enjoyed having Lance in his lap, looming over him, but now he needed Lance beneath him, needed to pin him to the cushions and feel him from head to toe as he came apart.

Keith’s hands shot forward, grabbing Lance under the thighs before standing, just long enough to turn and throw him back onto the couch. He landed with a bounce, then Keith was on top of him, between his legs and slamming their lips back together. Lance made a muffled noise of surprise, so Keith pulled back, eyebrow raised. Lance was gaping at him, eyes wide with shock.

Keith frowned. “What?”

“D-Did you just manhandle me?” Lance said, his voice squeaking.

“Yes.” Keith answered, blunt and impatient. “Is that a problem?”

“No. Nope, definitely not.” Lance replied and grabbed Keith by the shoulders, yanking him down and kissing him with a renewed vigor and, yeah, Keith was definitely filing that piece of information away for later.

Keith ran his hand down Lance’s neck, thumb tracing his pulse, felt how it was racing. Lance was so responsive, quivering and panting beneath him, as though Keith were the first one to ever touch him like this, and Keith leaned back just enough to look at Lance’s face. He looked completely wrecked, pupils blown wide, bangs matted to his forehead and lips wet and swollen, and if he was this far gone just from making out, Keith couldn’t imagine how he would be if they went further, if Keith did everything he’d been fantasizing about. Would Lance be this sensitive if Keith took him into his mouth? Would his nails scratch even harder into Keith’s shoulders as Keith’s fingers teased and worked him open? Would the noises he was trying and failing to bite back be even louder if Keith pushed his legs apart and pressed into him like he’d been dying to?

The thought had him diving back in again, reveling in Lance’s satisfied sigh and the way he immediately opened his mouth for him. Keith’s hips jerked forward, the hardness beneath their jeans grinding in earnest for the first time and Keith wanted to sing at how amazing this alone felt. He thrust forward again and Lance let out a startled whimper against Keith’s mouth, then suddenly the thighs pressed against Keith’s hips trembled and Lance’s entire body tensed-

Keith pulled away to catch the tail end of Lance’s blissed out expression, which was really fucking hot, even if Keith hadn’t been prepared for it, but then it turned completely mortified as realization dawned on Lance that he had put a sudden, unintentional halt to their make-out session way earlier than either of them had wanted to.

“Um, I-I’ll be right back!” Lance screeched, pushing Keith off of him with more strength than Keith thought those lanky arms possessed and rushing out of the room, face flushed red for a reason must less fun than what they had just been doing.

As Keith heard a door across the apartment close, he sat paralyzed where Lance had left him, brain still trying to process what had just happened when half his blood was still currently much further south than his head. Keith groaned and flopped face first into the couch, hard-on pressing uncomfortably between the couch and his jeans as the excitement pulsing through his body began to fade away, leaving behind dissatisfaction because even if Keith hadn’t really expected to get off the first time him and Lance did this, this wasn’t exactly his preferred outcome.

Still, he had gotten to see and feel Lance as he came because of him and what he was doing, so Keith couldn’t say it was a total loss. In fact, all it did was fuel Keith’s flame even more because he wanted to see it again and again. What he’d gotten wasn’t enough and Keith briefly wondered how healthy it was to be this addicted to someone.

When Lance came back out, he was wearing loose sweats with his hand shoved deep into the pockets and shoulders hunched. His face was still burning and he looked so embarrassed that any awkwardness Keith felt was easily ignored in favor of doing his best to show Lance it seriously wasn’t a big deal.

“Um, do you want to watch TV or something?”

Lance gaped at him. “Wait, seriously?”

“I mean, I can go if you want me to-”

“N-No! It’s just…” Lance bit his lip, looking unsure. He hesitated another moment before walking over and plopping down next to Keith. He glanced at Keith out of the corner of his eye and said, “I can do you, if you want?”

Keith could tell that Lance was being genuine in his offer and it wasn't like Keith didn't appreciate it or was against accepting it (his body was very much in favor of it, having just calmed down). But the bags under Lance’s eyes seemed even more prominent now that things had settled down. Who knows what time Lance had woken up that morning or what kind of customers he’d dealt with during his shift or what other hell the kids had put him through beyond what Keith had seen, plus talking about his family’s deaths had to take some sort of emotional toll on him that wasn’t easily shaken off.

He nudged Lance’s shoulder with his and said, “It’s fine.”

Lance crinkled his brow, unconvinced. “You sure?”

Yes.” Keith said, rolling his eyes because even if he wanted to make Lance feel better, this was just ridiculous.

Lance watched Keith for another moment, then to Keith’s confusion, he grabbed a pillow off the floor and immediately buried his face into it and screamed, “Ugh, this is so embarrassing!”

“Lance, it's fine. I don't care.” Keith said, unsure whether he should reach out and give Lance a comforting pat or if that would just be hella awkward, so instead he just added, “It was pretty hot, actually- ow! What the fu-”

“Don’t patronize me.” Lance replied, going to smack Keith in the face with the pillow again, but Keith was prepared this time, grabbing it before it could make contact and yanking it away from Lance’s death grip. Lance huffed and turned away, crossing his arms and pouting. “It’s not my fault, okay? It’s been a long time, so-”

“Wait, really?” Keith asked, shocked, because was everyone in the world blind and stupid? Had these people not seen Lance?

Lance shrugged, but it was too self-deprecating to be nonchalant. He pulled the pillow back when Keith’s grip went slack on it and hugged it to his chest. “Surprisingly, no one wants to go out with the 23 year old dude with three kids under three and no time or money to treat them to fancy dates.”

“I do.” Keith blurted, and he would have regretted it if it weren’t so obviously the truth.

Lance’s eyes widened and his arms tightened around the pillow, but he stubbornly kept his focus on the wall in front of him as he took in what Keith had said. Then, with a hint of the slyness Keith was growing pretty fond of, said, “Is that your subtle way of asking me out?”

“Uh, yes?”

“Even though I come with three very demanding little humans who think poop is funny and will probably color with sharpie on your super expensive leather couch?”

“I don’t have a leather couch.” Keith said, shaking his head. “And still, yes.”

Finally, Lance turned to him and Keith stared back until the corners of Lance’s lips quirked up into a grin. Then, he dropped his head onto Keith’s shoulder, snuggled into his side, and said, “Cool.”

Keith wanted to reply but he was worried the words would come out a jibberish mess and Lance had to hear how hard Keith's heart was beating, there was no way he couldn't. So instead he simply let his cheek rest against the top of Lance's head, enjoyed the softness of his hair as it tickled his skin, and tried not to grin too hard.

Chapter Text

Boyfriends?!” Pidge sputtered, glasses falling down her nose.

“You don’t have to act so surprised.” Keith replied, but he had to bite back a smile because boyfriends. Lance was his boyfriend and god, he wasn’t sure the bubble of happiness in his chest at the word would ever go away.

“Dude, I see that smile on your face. You two are like smitten kittens, and I would throw up if I wasn’t so happy for you.” Hunk said, grinning. “But as a great big thanks for not throwing up on you, I would really appreciate it if you could delete that picture Lance sent you this morning after he told me, thanks.”

Keith quickly snatched his phone from Hunk’s completely conspicuous fingers, dancing across the table towards the device and said, “Not happening.”

“Keith, I’m so proud of you!” Allura said, ignoring Hunk’s disdained groan and practically leaping across the table to hug Keith, so tight he actually felt light headed for a moment. She gave him another quick squeeze before pulling back, and Keith followed her gaze to Shiro, who had thus far sat quietly on the other side of the table, smiling softly. The two of them shared a look, words unsaid between them, and then Allura stood, quickly but with her usual grace that always left Keith impressed.

“This calls for celebratory shots!” Allura said. She squeezed Shiro's shoulder, thumb lightly running along his collarbone, brief and comforting. He smiled up at her and she returned it before gesturing for Hunk and Pidge to follow her.

Neither of them were dense enough to miss her intentions, but Hunk still groaned as he stood up to follow, mumbling, “How many shots are we talking here? Because I have early shift tomorrow.”

As the three of them walked to the bar, it left Shiro and Keith at the table alone. Silence settled over them, not too stifling but enough to make Keith hold his breath in anticipation.

Forever encouraging as he was, that didn't stop Shiro from being the harshest critic when it came to Keith’s relationships. He was never judgmental of Keith's one night stand lifestyle, but when it came to the few short relationships he had been in (though that was probably too liberal of a word for them), Keith couldn't think of a single boyfriend Shiro had approved of. It was standard “protective older brother stuff” because he wanted Keith to have someone who treated him right. He never vocalized his worry, but he always stared at them when he thought Keith wasn't looking, eyes narrowed and disapproving, and it took a real shit of a person for Shiro not to like you. If Keith were to say Shiro's opinion had no influence on his decision to end it with the guy, he'd definitely be lying.

But this was different- this was Lance. Keith didn’t just care about Shiro approving of him- he needed him to. He didn't know what he would do if Shiro didn't like the idea of Keith and Lance dating. The logical part of Keith reminded him that Shiro had been encouraging this relationship for weeks and he already seemed fond of Lance, but it didn't stop dread from clinging onto him, didn't keep the nerves from kicking at his stomach.

So when Shiro smiled and patted Keith on the shoulder, Keith couldn’t help the relief that washed over him.

“I’m happy for you two.” Shiro said. “Lance is a good guy.”

He was being genuine, but there was a lingering hesitancy there that wasn't subtle enough for Keith to miss. “Why does it sound like there's a 'but' at the end of that sentence?”

Shiro sat up a little straighter in his seat, a sign that he was going to change the entire tone of the conversation, take it from lighthearted to serious. Not because he wanted to dampen the mood, but because whatever he was about to say was necessary for Keith to hear. “You're not just dating Lance. You understand that, right?”

Keith raised an eyebrow because he didn’t know what he expected Shiro to say, but it definitely wasn’t that. “What do you mean?”

“There are kids involved here.”

“Uh, obviously?” Keith was starting to get a little annoyed because where was Shiro going with this and did he think Keith was that dense as to not have remembered the three tiny humans in Lance’s care?

“Which means,” Shiro said, the firm tone catching Keith off guard, “that this isn’t just about you, Keith.”

Oh. Oh.

“Dating someone who has kids is far different from dating someone who doesn’t.” Shiro continued, softening when he noticed Keith starting to pale. “You’ll be going from no parental responsibility to a lot of it. You’re going to be an important figure in their lives and that’s a big weight to take on, but it’s something you need to seriously consider you’re ready for. You need to be as committed to them as you are to Lance.”

Of course Shiro was right (Keith was hardpressed to remember a time when Shiro wasn’t right), but still, it was a lot to take in. Keith had been so focused on Lance and his desire to help him that he hadn’t really thought about the kids themselves and what it would mean to be a part of their lives.

He couldn’t just think about the here and now: the exciting start of a relationship where it's all fun and butterflies and learning about each other. Keith had to think about the future. Honestly- and maybe this was the power of infatuation talking- the idea of being with Lance for a long time and maybe getting married one day, surprisingly, didn't freak him out- it actually made him really happy. And maybe Keith had never been in a serious relationship before, but that picture just felt right and perfect and like a reality that could happen.

But that picture had to include three kids, too- it had to include becoming an actual family.

When Lance had brought it up the other night, Keith didn’t hesitate to reassure him it was fine. But now that he was thinking about it, really thinking about it, that was all sorts of terrifying. Keith didn’t know how to be a parent- hell, he didn’t even know how to interact with a kid. Granted, he didn’t know how to interact with people in general, but still, he would be a horrible role model. He was hotheaded and dense and socially awkward, and what if he had to cook for them, oh god-

“I’m sorry for throwing all this pressure at you,” Shiro said, doing what he did best and yanking Keith from his spiraling thoughts at just the right moment. He reached across the table to squeeze Keith’s shoulder, “but I’ve seen what can happen to kids when their parents go from relationship to relationship. Izzy and the twins- they’ve already lost very important people. They may be young, but the effect of it is still there. If you guys ever break up- and I'm not saying that because I think you will, but if you do, it’s not just the two of you that stand to get hurt. It would be inconsiderate to not think about that.”

“Yeah.” Keith said. His throat felt dry and he rubbed his sweating palm against his jeans. “Yeah, I get it.” Even though he wasn’t sure he really did.

Shiro breathed heavy through his nose and gave Keith’s shoulder one last squeeze before dropping his hand away. “I really am excited for you, Keith. I can tell you really like him.”

Keith stared at his untouched beer bottle, watched the condensation run down the glass, and thought of Lance’s head resting on his shoulder, the warmth of his body pressed against his and the shy smile he gave Keith when he accepted Keith’s awkward attempt at asking him out. He smiled to himself. “I do.”

“Good. I think you guys are good together.” Shiro said. “Just promise me you won’t say any bad words in front of Clara. I’ve already had to talk to Lance about how she says ‘shit’ every time she drops something- I don’t want to have to scold you, too.”

The thought had Keith bursting out a laugh and Shiro smiled, the heaviness of their conversation fading away.

“I make no promises.” Keith said and the other three returned to the table before Shiro could plead for Keith to reconsider.

“Lance says ‘thank you’ for the selfie.” Pidge said as Allura set the shots of tequila onto the table and equally distributed them. There was a new message sound and she glanced down to read it. “Oh, and he says you look good shirtless and now I’m grossed out. So please take this back and get me some eye bleach.”

“Wha- when did you-” Keith’s eyes widened at his phone dangling innocently from her fingers. He made a mad grab for it and quickly unlocked it to see what damage she had caused. He broke off into an unintelligible screech, sounding much like the noise Lance’s old phone made every time he got a new message. “Pidge, what did you- oh my fucking god, you sent him one of my shirtless gym selfies?! Stop doing that!”

“Think of it as a lesson because 0-0-0-1 is the worst security code ever.”

Keith downed two shots and swore to himself that all Pidge would be getting for Christmas was two hundred cans of peanuts.

 

*

 

Keith stood outside Lance’s apartment building, hesitating at the entrance with a racing heart and turning stomach.

Lance worked a double on Saturday and then a half shift Sunday morning so the next opportunity they had to see each other again wasn’t until Sunday night. It would be the first time they had seen each other since they’d become official.

And also the first time since his talk with Shiro. He was seriously working himself up over it, more than he probably should have been, but he couldn’t help it; the anxiety from it lingered in his mind, some parts of himself screaming to run away and bail because he would never be able to handle the responsibility of raising kids.

But the other side- the one reminding him about how happy Lance made him, about how much he wanted to make Lance feel that same way- was just as loud, yelling him that he had to at least try.

He took a shaky breath and finally walked into the building, hands sweating beneath his gloves despite the bitter cold.

Lance had texted him that they were in the laundry room, and Keith didn’t know where that was but he heard a blast of music coming from the opposite end of the hall and instinct told him it had to be Lance’s doing, so he followed the sound. The door into the room was glass and he would have pushed right through if it weren’t for what was happening on the other side.

It turns out the song filling the hall was ‘Single Ladies’, and it blasted from Lance’s phone from where it sat on top of an unused washing machine, the speakers cracking at full volume. In the middle of the aisle was Lance, almost perfectly imitating the movements of the dance, as though he had memorized them and done the routine countless of times which honestly wasn’t surprising at all, and, okay, Lance had said he wasn’t able to sing, but he sure as hell could move his hips and the control he had over his lanky limbs was purposeful and effortless, if not a little restrained for the sake of the kids watching him closely.

Izzy stood next to him, much less coordinated but still hitting the major beats with just as much sass as Lance, a self-satisfied smirk on her lips as she propped her tiny hand on her hip and flipped her wrist in time. On Lance’s other side were the twins; Colton’s face was serious and concentrated as he watched Lance’s movements, his own slightly delayed but still hitting with an impressive accuracy for his age, whereas Clara’s arms were outstretched as she shuffled her feet as fast as they would go, and she had to be dizzy from the tiny circle she was spinning herself into, but she was still giggling wildly and smiling so big her nose scrunched and eyes nearly closed, her complete lack of rhythm a total non-issue for her.

And then they shuffled themselves into a line for the end of the chorus, all laughing and smiles. Clara and Colton each grabbed one of Lance’s hands to jump up and down in some form of universal toddler dance, and Izzy grabbed their free hands to hop along with them.

That stab of longing was in his chest again, but it was different this time; instead of jealous or bitter, it was comforting. Because in front of him was what he had always seen from a distance but never felt like he could be a part of. What he thought he didn’t care about having because it was six letters that meant faceless parents and holidays spent alone and countless foster parents.

But here it was, so close all he had to do was walk through the door for a chance to be a part of it, and suddenly he felt like crying, and when Lance glanced up to catch him staring and his grin grew, Keith couldn’t help thinking, How could I ever want to run away from this?

 

*

 

“Why is your name ‘Mule’?”

The question made Keith jump, startled because he hadn’t even noticed Izzy had hopped up onto the couch to sit next to him, where he had been patiently waiting while Lance got the twins ready for bed. She was already dressed in her pajamas, worn pink princess ones that looked like they had been handed down for years. When he realized what she had asked, he felt himself start to bristle and snap at her like he did at Lance every time he called him that. But then he paused because he probably shouldn’t yell at a kid, let alone his boyfriend’s little sister. Plus, she looked genuinely curious, brown eyes large and unblinking.

Keith schooled his expression, hoping his glare hadn’t been that intense, but if she was scared, she didn’t show it. Keith shifted on the couch and scratched at his hair, self-conscious under the intensity of her gaze. “Uh, It’s not actually my name.”

Izzy tilted her head, the high ponytail holding her curls back jostling softly with the motion. “Why not?”

Keith opened and closed his mouth, frantically searching for the right answer, even though he could probably say anything and she would believe it. “Because my name is Keith.”

To his surprise, Izzy made a confused noise and crinkled her brow, as though it was the most bizarre answer he could have given. She turned away from him, expression contemplative as she held her chin between her little fingers, a picture of mature thoughtfulness far beyond her years. Then, her face lit up and she scrambled to her feet so quickly the couch shook.

“I know! I got it! I’m a genius!” Izzy grinned, bouncing up and down on the cushion before grabbing onto Keith’s shoulder and frantically shaking it. “Santa can do it!”

Keith blinked. “Uh, do what?”

“He can change your name to ‘Mule’! Like you always wanted!” Izzy exclaimed. The tiny hand on Keith’s shoulder shook with excitement. “You gotta be on his nice list though!”

“But I don’t want-”

“Mule.” Izzy said, all hint of glee gone in an instant, face suddenly serious and dire, as though whatever she was about to say was top secret information, disastrous if it were to ever fall into the wrong hands. She grabbed Keith’s other shoulder, forcing his entire upper body to turn towards her, ensuring she had his full attention. She narrowed her eyes and leaned in, no sense of personal space whatsoever, and whispered, “Santa is watching.”

Then she patted him twice on the cheek, hopped off the couch and skipped out of the room, ponytail swaying behind her.

“Oh my god- your face-” Lance exclaimed, his laughter making Keith jump for the second time in five minutes, “holy shit, I can’t-”

Keith blushed but tried to cover it with a glare as he watched Lance cackle, grabbing onto his sides from the sheer intensity of it. He even had tears in his eyes, the jerk-

“Holy shit, that was amazing!” Lance said after what felt like an eternity of teasing at Keith’s expense. He folded his arms and rested them on the top of the couch, grinning. The posture put his face at equal height with Keith’s, allowing Keith to take in Lance’s cheeks, pink from laughing, and eyes sparkling, and Keith felt himself blushing for an entirely different reason until Lance poked him in the forehead and said, “You’ve been summoned.”

Keith furrowed his eyebrow under Lance’s finger still resting against his head. “Should I be scared?”

“When it comes to kids, you should always be scared.” Lance said, gesturing for Keith follow him.

Keith snorted, but stood up to trail after Lance into the hallway. “Trust me, I’ve already got that down.”

Lance’s chuckle this time was more refined, more of an agreement with the sentiment than actually finding humor in it beyond the perfect timing of the delivery. He bumped Keith’s shoulder with his before grabbing his hand and intertwining their fingers, as if they were about to embark on a dangerous journey and only had each other to lean on. Then, he tugged Keith with him into the kids’ bedroom and ‘dangerous journey’ didn’t seem that far off anymore.

He had all of five seconds to take note of how the room was a decent size but it felt smaller because of how cramped it was with a bed on one side and two cribs on the other. Then, suddenly, there were three sets of eyes on him and he had no time to react as a chorus of demands for ¡Can’o! were being thrown his way and two sets of tiny hands were grabbing at his pant legs. He froze, all thoughts of oh god what do I do coming back until he felt Lance squeeze his fingers, pulling Keith’s attention to him.

“You don’t have to.” Lance said softly.

Keith knew Lance was simply being understanding and sweet, but it took Keith back to his conversation with Shiro; about how dating Lance didn’t just mean kissing and laughing together, it also meant things like this. And as Keith glanced down to Clara and Colton, dressed in their pajamas and toothy smiles waiting on him, he found he was really okay with that.

So he squeezed Lance’s hand back and said, “No, I want to.”

Lance’s face brightened, a combination of shock and happiness, and Keith suddenly wasn’t just okay with it, that look made him happy to do it.

Still: “Uh, do I sit with them somewhere, or...?”

Lance blinked at him again, seemingly a little shaken, like he couldn’t believe Keith had actually agreed, then quickly gestured towards the only bed in the room. “We usually all sit on Izzy’s bed together, but you can-”

“Lance has to sit by me!” Izzy said from where she sat on the bed, leaning against the wall it rested against. She excitedly patted the spot next to her for Lance, then pointed to the opposite end of the bed and if Keith didn’t know any better, he would say she was glaring at where his and Lance’s hands were connected. “Mule, you go there!”

“Yo, Miss Bossy-pants!” Lance said, releasing Keith’s hand so he could put his hands on his hips, fixing Izzy with a stern look. “That isn’t how we talk to people.”

Izzy’s lips pulled back into a pout and she did a perfect imitation of Lance’s puppy dog eyes. “Please?”

“Yeah, that doesn’t work on me. I invented that.” Lance said as he scooped the twins up and walked to the bed, Keith hesitating before following. “Now apologize.”

Izzy’s pout grew and she huffed, but she turned to Keith and, sounding not at all happy about it, said, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Keith replied and shrugged because he didn’t know he if was supposed to say something more than that but Lance tugged him into the bed before he could do something embarrassing like awkwardly stand there.

After some rearranging (they obviously weren’t used to having another full-sized adult cuddling up with them) they were able to find a way to squeeze all of them into the small bed. Keith and Lance sat next to each other, Colton and Clara snuggled together in Lance’s lap and Izzy on Lance’s other side, leaning her head against his shoulder. The only sound was the white noise machine in the corner of the room as they waited for Keith to start.

He took a deep, shaky breath, opened his mouth- and then promptly slammed it shut.

“I don’t know what to sing.” Keith admitted when Lance glanced at him.

The room was dark besides the hallway light filtering in through the cracked door, but he could still make out Lance’s patient smile. “They love ‘You are my Sunshine’ and ‘Circle of Life’. But don’t think too hard, they’ll listen to whatever you pick.”

That’s the problem, Keith thought, becoming increasingly more aware of all the eyes and ears paying close attention to him. He searched his brain, desperately trying to remember the lyrics to ‘You are my Sunshine’, and once he felt he had a grasp on them, he cleared his throat and set into it.

His voice was shaky at first and he couldn’t look any of them in the eye, unable to shake off the nerves, but he pressed on, and he must have done something right because the kids were all silent, listening intently to every word.

He started on the second chorus, stumbling when Colton crawled into his lap, eyes heavy as he wrapped his arms around Keith’s neck and nuzzled his head into his shoulder. Keith panicked on instinct, still not used to things like this, but he wrapped his arms around the toddler with less hesitance than he had the first time, and when he glanced at Lance again, he couldn’t help return the smile the other man was giving him. It gave him the confidence to continue into the next song, making sure the words came out as soft and gentle as possible, like each song was a lullabye even though he was singing Queen and Panic at the Disco! because he couldn’t think of anything else.

Before long, Colton was breathing deep and heavy on his shoulder, snoring softly. Clara cuddled into Lance’s chest, eyes still open but blinking heavily, sleep just moments away. Izzy was watching Keith carefully, but she had crawled under her comforter and curled up around her pillow, baby doll cradled in her arms. Lance ran a soothing hand through her hair.

Briefly, Keith wondered how long he was expected to sing.

Somewhere during the sixth song, he realized he didn’t care.

Chapter Text

“Thanks for doing that.” Lance said, closing the door to the kids’ bedroom behind him after they had settled everyone into their respective beds, all of them now sound asleep.

“N-No problem.” Keith shifted his feet, uncomfortable under the praise and because now that he and Lance were finally alone, he was distinctly aware that he hadn’t touched Lance- really touched him like he needed to- in days and his entire body was dying for it-

And he wasn’t the only one, if Lance’s sudden heavy exhales were anything to go off of, and in the next moment they were moving, meeting in the middle of the dimly lit hallway. Hands grabbed hips and hair, and when they kissed, it was messy and uncoordinated with teeth tugging too hard at lips, but it was still so good after not being able to touch one another in what felt like forever.

“God, I just wanna kiss you all the time.” Lance said, sighing when Keith’s hands slid under his shirt to drag his fingers along his spine. “All night, every time I see you-”

“Then keep kissing me.” Keith said, impatient because he could probably be around Lance every second of every day and still not get tired of touching him. It was never enough so he appreciated it when Lance snickered softly before obliging.

The hallway was tiny; it took no effort for Keith to back Lance into the wall and finally get his hands onto that ass he’d been desperate to grab for weeks. Somehow it felt so much better than he thought it possibly could, firm and tight under his palms, and when Keith massaged it, Lance whimpered and pressed back against his hands. His nails scratched at the back of Keith’s neck, tilting Keith’s head into the angles Lance wanted; Keith was happy to let the other man have the control if it meant he would continue whatever he was doing with his tongue because holy shit did that feel incredible.

It was when Lance broke away to kiss at Keith’s neck that Keith opened his eyes, dazed and beyond turned on-

And came face to face with a cartoon drawing of a frog.

“What’s wrong?” Lance asked, pulling back to see why Keith’s entire body was now petrified.

“Uh.” Keith said, having a hard time getting his brain-to-mouth connection to work. “Not gonna lie, I feel a little weird doing this against a wall with all this kid’s artwork on it.”

Lance needed a second to fully comprehend Keith’s words, the haze of arousal already making his eyes glaze over, but then he laughed- a startled, genuine laugh that he breathed against the line he’d been licking down Keith’s neck, a chill going through Keith at the feel of it against the drying spit. He leaned back just enough to relax his head and shoulders against the wall, the slouch of it making sure the inch or two he had on Keith momentarily didn’t exist.

“I can respect that.” Lance quirked an eyebrow and nodded towards the other end of the hall. “I mean, my room is only about seven steps away, if you wanna?”

“Um, duh.” Keith said, because Lance’s hooded bedroom eyes made his ability to think with his brain completely nonexistent. Lance laughed again and Keith took a moment to appreciate the sound (because even though Lance laughed a lot, Keith would never get over how beautiful it was) before his impatience had him biting a mark into Lance’s neck. Lance’s laugh startled into a gasp, then a long moan, and all amusement was gone.

Lance pushed back against Keith, just enough so he could peel himself off the wall and maneuver them down the hallway, walking backwards and digging his fingers into Keith’s shirt to tug him along. When they got to the room, he pulled away to close the door, quickly but quietly, and then his lips were back on Keith’s, the messy heat of the kiss earning him a moan that he replied to with one of his own.

Lance’s bedroom was smaller than the kids’ room, but Keith didn’t care; it just meant he could push Lance onto the mattress and climb on top of him that much faster, Lance’s hoodie shoved off his shoulders and onto the floor along the way. Lance dropped his thighs apart immediately as his back hit the mattress, letting Keith slot their bodies better together, pulling a moan from them both.

They lost themselves for a few minutes in simply kissing, the desperation simmering as they focused on exploring each other, learning which press of lips and shift of hips made the other breathe heavier. They separated, breaths quick against the other’s cheeks, noses brushing tenderly, and Keith memorized the fluttering of Lance’s eyelashes, how his freckles were dusted red and the way his brown hair fell across the pillow, inviting Keith to run his hands through it.

Lance was looking at him too, blue eyes tracing every angle of Keith’s face. Keith briefly wondered what Lance saw because it couldn’t be as beautiful as what Keith was looking at, but he still stared at Keith like he was seeing stars for the first time, awed and at a loss for words. His hand slid from Keith’s hair to brush his cheek, gentle, like if he pressed too hard Keith would break, and despite the tenderness of it, it sent a desire through Keith like electricity and he groaned, low and needy.

His hands were moving to unbutton Lance’s jeans and pull them off his skinny hips before he even realized he was doing it. It wasn’t until they were half-way down Lance’s thighs that he asked, “This is okay, right?”

“More than okay.” Lance said, nodding quickly. He lifted his hips so Keith was able to pull the jeans all the way off and toss them to the floor, leaving him in blue boxer-briefs that were skin tight and had Keith biting back a moan. Lance grinned. “Now, take off your shirt, I need to see if your abs are as good in person as they are in your gym selfies.”

Keith groaned but sat back on his knees anyway. “I can’t believe Pidge sent you that.”

Lance’s grin simply grew wider. He tugged playfully on the hem of Keith’s shirt. “Off, off!”

Keith rolled his eyes but obliged, pulling his shirt off and throwing it to join the rest of the clothes just as Lance honest to god whimpered, all mirth gone and eyes clouding over as he took in Keith’s body, immediately going to touch anywhere he could.

Keith found himself smirking despite the flush making its way across his upper body, looming over Lance and leaning into his touch. “So? Is it better in person?”

“Better. Much better.” Lance groaned deep in the back of his throat, hands never ceasing as they roamed freely over Keith’s pecks and abs. “And of course you’ve got tattoos, fuck-”

The words were husky and cracking with need, and the caress of Lance’s hands everywhere was making any patience Keith had quickly disappear. Keith moved to take off Lance’s shirt, desperate to see what was beneath it, but Lance gripped his wrist. When Keith raised an eyebrow, Lance averted his eyes, biting his lip, and the blush on his cheeks was less from arousal and more from embarrassment.

“Uh, I don’t exactly have time to go to the gym everyday…”

“So?”

So,” Lance said, looking a little annoyed that Keith wasn't immediately picking up on what he was trying to say, “there isn’t a whole lot of definition going on.”

He tried to play it off with a laugh and Keith hated it- the fact that Lance thought there was anything beneath his shirt that could turn Keith off- not when he was this far gone for the other man. He let go of the hem of Lance’s shirt and Lance released his wrist, hand falling defeated back onto the mattress. Keith tilted Lance’s face towards him, forcing him to stop avoiding Keith’s eyes.

“I don’t care.” Keith said, kissing Lance briefly, then he pulled back to frown down at him. “Unless you’re covered in boils or something.”

Lance blinked, then managed a breathless chuckle, which was much nicer than the one from before so Keith counted it as a win. He leaned in to kiss Lance again, harder this time. There was a lingering hesitancy on Lance’s end, the insecurity obviously not forgotten just because of a joke, but it took only a few touches of Keith’s tongue against Lance’s lips and then he was relaxing, melting into him again and when Keith’s fingers attempted to push Lance’s shirt up and off a second time, there was no resistance; just shivers and goosebumps as his knuckles brushed along Lance’s ribs.

Keith had no idea what Lance had been so shy about: his skin was smooth and beautiful, the brown of it glowing against the white sheets. Maybe he wasn’t as toned as Keith, but he was lean, and his muscles twitched and jumped when Keith smoothed his hands down his sides to settle on his slim waist. The juts of his hipbone were enticing, and when Keith ran his thumbs across them, Lance sighed, shaky and slow. His chest moved with the exhale and Keith watched it with a dry mouth, taking in the dip of Lance’s collarbones, stopping himself from licking them like he’d been dying to do before remembering that now he could.

So he did. He leaned down to bite at one and Lance shuddered, one hand burying itself in Keith’s hair, the other wrapping tight around his bicep, thumb tracing where it flexed. Keith slid his hands around Lance’s waist to settle on his ass, once again loving how it felt before using the hold to pull Lance’s hips forward against his in a thrust that had Lance gasping and tightening his legs around Keith’s thighs. And it didn’t even matter that they were rutting against each other like teenagers because it just felt so fucking good-

And then Lance was pushing against Keith’s chest, forcing him to move back. Ignoring Keith’s confused, annoyed look, he rolled them over so he could lean over him and bite at Keith’s lips once before pulling away.

“So that definitely feels amazing, but I really don’t want a repeat of last time.” Lance said, complete lack of hesitance as he unbuttoned Keith’s pants and pulled them off and wow Lance being forward was fucking hot. He grabbed Keith’s arm and tugged at him until he was sitting on the edge of the bed, Lance kneeling on the ground between his legs and Keith had to take a few deep breathes to stop himself from coming on the spot at the sight. Lance bit at the inside of one of Keith’s thighs, eyes twinkling up at him. “So I’m gonna suck you off. If you’re cool with that, I mean.”

Obviously, Keith thought but couldn’t say because all he could manage was a choked noise and a nod as he helped slide his boxers off. Then Lance shifted closer, nibbling at Keith’s other thigh, sucking a mark into it before moving his mouth to where Keith had dreamed of having it and was this really happening?

He had thought endlessly about what Lance would feel like, lips wrapped around him and breath hot against his stomach, but he could never have imagined it feeling as incredible as this. Lance moaned, approving, as Keith gripped at his hair and panted above him. It wasn’t long before Keith was saying, “Fuck, Lance-” and curling over him, back arching and toes digging into the carpet as Lance brought him over the edge and further. Until Keith’s thighs were shaking beneath his palms and he was tugging at Lance’s shoulders, oversensitized but still riding the high, slow to come down.

Lance leaned back on his heels, tongue licking his lips clean of the last bit of evidence of his work, and it shouldn’t have been as sexy as it was. “My mouth is good for things besides smooth pickup lines, huh?”

Keith wanted to call Lance out for being a cheeky little shit, even in bed, but he couldn’t; not with the way Lance’s lips were red and swollen, and the tightness of his boxer-briefs did nothing to hide what reducing Keith to a pile of loose limbs had done to his own body.

So instead he yanked him up by the arm, enjoying the yelp Lance let out as as he threw him onto the bed and then Keith showed Lance that he wasn’t the only one who was good with his mouth.

(And this time, when Lance came, Keith made sure he had the opportunity to take it all in; indulged in the way Lance threw his head back and gasped Keith’s name over and over again, face pinched and back bowed, fingers grasping at the bedsheets and then pulling at Keith’s shoulders, demanding a kiss that Keith was more than happy to give.)

 

*

 

“What made you decide to start a gym?”

Keith raised an eyebrow at Lance from where he lay on the bed, bare back pressed against the wall and wearing nothing except his boxers, the sheet pooling low across his waist. “Is this your idea of pillow talk? Because it kinda sucks.”

Lance snorted and grabbed a dirty t-shirt off the floor. He pulled it over his head, unfairly covering that chest Keith hadn’t had enough time to explore with his tongue, but it also left his hair ruffled and adorable. Plus, it barely fell to mid-thigh, leaving those long, slender legs free for Keith to drool over, so it was a trade off Keith could forgive.

“You want pillow talk, I can do pillow talk.” Lance said, for some reason taking Keith’s statement as a challenge. He spun on his heel, throwing one arm out dramatically, the other resting over his heart as he burst into a ear piercing version of Pillow Talk by Zayn until Keith chucked a pillow at him, hitting him square in face.

“Yeah, no.” Keith said, stealing the other pillow and pulling it under his head. “That’s enough of that.”

“Okay, it almost seems like you don’t like my singing voice.” Lance said as he plopped down onto the mattress with no amount of finesse, his elbow barely missing Keith’s chin. He shimmied under the covers, leaving a bit of space between them but one of his bare legs stretched out so he could hook an ankle around Keith’s calf (Lance was touchy-feely in every sense of the word; Keith couldn’t bring himself to mind). “Which is understandable but also totally rude. I’ll forgive you though because you’re a good kisser.”

Keith opened his mouth to remind Lance that he had to be more than just “good” if their earlier romp was anything to go off of but Lance was quick to cut him off with a kiss, soft but lingering long enough to be playful, and any arguments Keith had disappeared with the feel of Lance’s mouth sliding against his.

“Now,” Lance said after he pulled back and flopped his head back down onto his pillow, chuckling softly as Keith chased after his lips, “answer the question.”

“It’s not that exciting of a story.” Keith said, and he was definitely not pouting at Lance putting distance between them again. He shrugged. “Before I dropped out of high school, I had a business teacher tell me I couldn’t, so I did it to show them they were wrong.”

“Ooh, disregard of authority. I dig it.” Lance shot him a toothy grin. There was enough of a sly edge to Lance that Keith wasn't even surprised to hear he approved of Keith’s rebellious side. He traced a finger across the tattoo on Keith’s ribs (a red lion he got as a congratulatory gift to himself after the gym’s first profitable quarter) and bit his lip, hesitated, then said, “How long were you homeless?”

Keith could feel his heart rate picking up beneath Lance’s gentle touch; whether it was from that or nerves at the idea of talking about his past, Keith couldn’t tell. He never was good at talking about himself like this, especially not with people he went to bed with because the usual reactions were less than positive. But Lance was watching him carefully, a look that said he understood if Keith didn’t want to answer, and it made him feel a bit more at ease. Plus, it felt nice to have Lance asking about him, to be taking an interest in getting to know him.

“Four years.” Keith said, voice dipping just a little bit lower. “I was in and out of foster care the rest of the time until I moved in with Shiro when I was 18.”

Lance’s fingers paused and Keith braced himself for the usual pointless apology that most people offered him when learning about what he’d lived through, but Lance just watched him carefully then sighed dramatically. “It kind of pisses me off that you’re this amazing.”

Keith’s eyebrows shot up. “What?”

“Your childhood sucked but you totally made something of yourself and now you have your own super successful company!” Lance exclaimed, leaning up on one elbow and gesturing wildly with the other. He seemed almost offended by the fact that Keith was confused by what he was saying. “You seriously don’t see how cool that is?!”

Keith’s entire body lay petrified, eyes ready to jump out their sockets and mouth hanging slack until the words really settled in then holy shit, Keith didn’t even know he could blush this hard and his brain was short-circuiting and was Lance serious right now?

“Oh man, did I break you?” Lance asked, leaning closer until their noses were almost touching and when Keith’s mouth still refused to work, Lance started cackling, so obnoxiously that it broke Keith out of the spell enough to flick him in the forehead.

“You can’t just say stuff like that!” Keith yelled, fighting the urge to pull the blanket over his head and hide away until his blush had faded.

Lance looked at him like he was crazy and shrugged, plopping back down onto his pillow. “Whatever dude, it’s true. Kinda don’t get why you’re hanging out with someone like me, but I’m not gonna question it.”

Keith raised an eyebrow because whatever Lance meant by that definitely didn’t sit right with him. He opened his mouth to ask, but Lance stretched, groaning with it and yawning loudly. He reached out his hand and swapped lazily at his nightstand until he found his phone.

“You work early tomorrow?” Keith asked as he watched Lance set his alarm for 5:30 AM, barely seven hours away.

“Yup. And Colton always wakes up by six, anyway.” Lance dropped his phone back onto the nightstand and when he rolled back over to face Keith again, he had a dreamy look on his face. He snuggled his face further into his pillow, ruffling his hair even more, and goddammit, how was he this cute. “Someday I’ll get to sleep in past nine again. Sleeping in is the best, Keith.” Lance stabbed him in the chest with his finger, as though accusing Keith of something. “Never take it for granted.”

Well, Keith couldn’t really disagree with that so he just grabbed Lance’s hand before he could move away, folding their fingers together and resting their joined hands between them on the mattress. He didn’t miss the way Lance smiled softly at the action. “Do you work doubles a lot?”

Lance blinked at him, long and heavy, like the mere reminder of his long shifts made him exhausted. “I will be. Christmas is coming up so I’ll need some extra money for presents, and the twins will need to get tubes in January and we don’t have insurance, so.” He shrugged, leaving Keith to fill in the ‘I don’t have a choice’ himself. “I’m just grateful Hunk is as understanding with my schedule as he is. It kinda sucks because it means less time with them and finding someone to watch them that often isn’t the easiest thing.”

“If you need it, I might know some people who can help.” Keith said. He was pretty sure Maggie had mentioned something about wanting to be a nanny once before. Keith paused, then added, “And I can help out, too. If I’m free, I mean.”

Lance eyebrows shot up. “Dude, have you ever even changed a diaper before?”

Keith couldn’t find it in himself to be offended. “Well, no. Kids tend to look at me and then run away.”

Lance snickered into his pillow, white teeth gleaming, then he softly kissed Keith’s knuckles, still intertwined with his own. “Don’t worry, I can make you into a pro. Also, not all kids hate you. Colton doesn’t like strangers but you’ve somehow gotten two cuddle sessions out of him.”

Keith snorted, unimpressed. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure he only likes me because he can get me to sing for him whenever he wants.”

“Can’t say I blame him.” Lance said. Keith’s eyes traced Lance’s lips as they pulled back into smirked and god Keith was getting desperate for Lance all over again. “Your voice is pretty solid.”

With Lance looking at him like that, Keith was finding it difficult to think, let alone speak. He swallowed, hard. “I can’t dance though.”

Lance’s face brightened, the tilt of his smirk turning cocky as he pushed himself up. “Ooh, someone likes my Beyonce moves.” He slid into Keith’s lap, each move of his limbs deliberate, until his knees pressed into the outside of Keith’s thighs and he was straddling him, much lower than Keith preferred him to be. “Y’know, I can do other kinds of dancing, too.”

Keith’s hands fluttered for a moment, craving to touch but hesitating because he didn’t have much confidence in his self-control. Lance made the decision for him; he grabbed Keith’s hands and brought them up to slide beneath the hem of Lance’s t-shirt and grip his waist, his own fingers holding Keith’s against his skin. Keith’s throat went dry, rational thought quickly dissolving.

And then Lance added: “Kinds that involve a lot of hip action, if you know what I mean.”

It was such a cheesy line, like something out of a porno, but Keith didn’t have the brain capacity to roll his eyes. Not with the way Lance emphasized it with a slow roll of his hips, and Keith could feel it under his fingertips. The tightening of his muscles as he moved, the shift of cotton against Keith’s knuckles as Lance’s shirt hiked up just barely as he leaned forward, his hips just close enough for the fabric of their boxers to brush against each other.

“I thought you were tired.” Keith said, breathless, but still managing to smirk up at Lance. It was as much a challenge as it was searching for confirmation that Lance was up for a round two because Keith definitely was.

Keith had his answer when Lance returned the smile. “A man can change when there’s a sexy guy in his bed.” Lance let go of one of Keith’s hands so he could push his palm against Keith’s stomach, dragging it up over his abs to his shoulder before sliding off to press into the mattress beside Keith’s head. Not allowing their bottom halves to meet, Lance brushed his lips over the shell of Keith’s ear, making Keith shiver beneath him. “Now-”

Suddenly, the door burst open and Lance and Keith’s eyes widened at each other and then there was a frantic scrambling to cover themselves up with sheets and pillows or whatever they could, heart slamming in their chests.

A loud cry of Lance’s name pulled both of them out from under the covers and they looked to the doorway to see Izzy, hair wild around her and her doll clutched to her chest. Her face was blotchy and red, brown eyes panicked and full of tears.

She looked utterly terrified; Keith’s heart dropped in his chest.

“Izzy?” Lance said, all embarrassment forgotten as he rushed out of the bed to kneel in front of the crying girl. He grabbed at her hands to stop them from wiping frantically at the tears on her cheeks. “Isabella, what’s wrong?”

Mama! Papa!” Izzy cried, broken and distraught as she buried her hands into Lance’s shirt, clinging desperately to him. “There was fire and then Nora- she- she- the water was mean and-

Lance shushed her gently, running fingers through her hair. “It’s okay, Izzy, you’re okay. It was just a bad dream. I got you.

Why is Mama gone?” Izzy screamed and grabbed tighter onto Lance’s t-shirt. “Lance, I want Mama!”

“I know.” Lance said, softly. He swallowed, thick and hard, and rubbed a soothing hand over her back. He kissed her sweaty forehead and whispered, barely loud enough for Keith to hear, “I do, too.”

Besides attempting to pull his pants on underneath the covers, Keith didn’t know what he was supposed to do with himself. Should he just stay there and do nothing? He already felt like he was imposing, seeing something he shouldn’t. Should he try and help? But how would he even do that because he wasn’t good with emotional things like this; he always said something to make it worse or awkward.

“Maybe I should go.” Keith finally settled on, because maybe it would take some of the pressure off of Lance if he didn’t have to feel bad about kicking Keith out, not that Keith would have taken it personally if he had because they hadn’t really talked about him staying the night-

But when Lance looked at him, it wasn’t with the relief Keith was expecting. His eyes widened and he seemed startled as he watched Keith stand and grab his shirt off the floor. He opened his mouth, then closed it, looking back to the crying girl shaking in his arms. It immediately made Keith second guess his words, and he was about to offer to stay if it meant Lance would stop looking like that- so disappointed and torn.

But then Lance said, “Sure, I’ll walk you out,”and it was obvious he was trying to be casual, but it was too forced, his voice shaking slightly.

Izzy cried again when Lance made to stand, arms wrapping around his middle and Keith could see her hands shaking as they clutched at the back of Lance’s shirt, the fabric tight between her fingers. Lance bit at his lip as he glanced from Izzy to Keith, and Keith couldn’t figure out why he looked so anxious and panicked, like he had done something wrong.

“Um, I’m sorry, it’s just-”

“No, it’s okay.” Keith said, hoping it came out reassuring, but from the way Lance seemed to slightly deflate, it hadn’t and Keith didn’t know what he should do to fix it. He hesitated in the doorway, unsure if he should give Lance a kiss goodbye or not in front of Izzy, before he lamely said, “I’ll text you later?”

Lance nodded and tried to smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Sure.”

Keith hesitated a moment more before slipping out and his heart was pounding as he gathered his boots and coat, unease gnawing at his stomach, and when the front door of Lance’s apartment clicked shut behind him, Keith leaned heavy against it, feeling like he’d just made the biggest mistake of his life.

Chapter Text

To say Keith didn’t sleep well that night would be an understatement. He tossed and turned, regret making it impossible for him to get comfortable. His bed felt too big and too empty. Having Lance laying next to him, foot curled around his ankle and fingers touching his skin- Keith was apparently addicted to it already, and he’d only had it once. Now there was a chance he wouldn’t have it again.

All because he had panicked and bailed.

And okay, maybe he was overreacting just a little bit but it was justified because he couldn’t even get Lance to talk to him now.

Keith had texted him the minute he got home, not wanting to do it any earlier than that because Lance was probably still taking care of Izzy and he didn’t want to do anything to interrupt that. And when Lance didn’t texted back right away like he usually would, Keith figured he had fallen asleep, which was good. Lance needed his sleep. He deserved sleep.

But then the clock struck six and, okay, Lance was getting the kids ready for daycare so of course he wasn’t able to text back. And so what if he didn’t send any snaps of Clara’s shirt on backwards because she insisted on doing it herself or Izzy with a silly dog filter. Maybe they were in a rush that morning, had overslept or something.

When Lance’s shift started and he still hadn’t texted- well, that’s when Keith really started to freak out. More than once he picked up his phone, ready to send another message, but then he closed it. He didn’t want to mess this up further by being clingy.

But it was okay because he knew what he needed to do. He needed to see Lance and talk to him as soon as possible. He couldn’t freak out and put it off; it would just make this whole situation worse. (See, Shiro, your constant lectures about facing conflict were paying off!) He would just go to Lance, tell him he was insanely sorry, Lance would give him that cute little “I forgive you” smile, and then they could pretend like it never happened.

So yeah. Easy peasy. Totally fixable…

Hopefully.

Unfortunately, it was a pretty terrible day for a “I know I fucked up but please don’t break up with me” conversation because Keith’s day was booked solid. The holidays were getting closer (Christmas only three weeks away), so he had clients all day that he already rescheduled on too many times. Plus, he had meetings and an appointment to get his suit tailored for this stupid Mayor’s Ball happening that Saturday which he had completely forgotten about and also dreaded even thinking about.

So he didn’t finish wrapping everything up until 4:57 PM and Lance’s shift ended at five, which meant Keith had all of three minutes, five at most, to get to Hunk’s restaurant, convince Lance to hold off on picking up the kids and have an uncomfortable conversation with him instead. The nerves had his stomach churning as he ran down the sidewalk (empty handed because he didn’t have time to make dumplings). Running was faster than getting his motorcycle from the parking garage, and besides, Keith had seen enough cheesy romance movies (Allura and Hunk loved them) to know that racing to your lover was always seen as a grand romantic gesture, though the people in those movies never looked as sweaty as he felt.

Sprinting had been the right decision because he reached the restaurant just as Lance was walking out the door. He was wearing his beanie again, tuffs of hair framing his face adorably, as gorgeous as ever. But his eyes were tired and he was frowning at the ground, head dropped in a way that was unfitting for someone like Lance who was usually stood so tall. His movements were sluggish and he looked small, shoulders slumped and hands in his pockets as he sighed and let the door swing shut behind him, the chipper chime of the bells a stark contrast to Lance’s heavy mood.

Keith didn’t think he could hate himself more, but seeing Lance like that and knowing he was the reason for it made him want to give Pidge all his money in hopes she could create that time machine she always joked about.

“Lance!” Keith said when he realized Lance was about to walk away without even noticing him. It came out rushed and more forceful than he meant it to, like any control he had over his desperation had snapped the instant he saw the other man.

Lance jumped, whirling around, eyes wide. When he saw it was Keith who had spoken he tensed further. It made Keith even more upset with himself: Lance should be relaxing and happy at the sight of him. Not looking like a startled cat on the verge of bolting.

Lance cleared his throat, but his voice was hoarse when he said, “Uh, hi.”

“Hi,” Keith replied, more on reflex than anything, and then his mouth ceased working.

It was way too frigid outside for them to be standing on a sidewalk and staring at one another in silence, but neither knew how to start this. The anticipation of the looming conversation hung over both of them. Lance was perceptive with a keen intuition, so Keith didn’t doubt he knew why he was there.

Frantically searching his head for an icebreaker, Keith blurted, “Did you sleep okay?”

Which was probably the stupidest thing he could have asked.

“Fantastic,” Lance mumbled. He seemed to realize how harsh he said it because he flinched, then dropped his eyes but didn’t offer up anything else.

Keith shifted his weight from foot to foot, clenching and unclenching his fists in an attempt to calm himself. “How is Izzy?”

Lance was a little surprised at the question, but his lips twitched with the faintest hint of a smile. “She’s okay. She started have nightmares a lot after everything happened, but she calms down pretty fast.”

“Oh. That’s good,” Keith said, the last bit trailing off awkwardly.

Cars raced by. People walked past them, talking loudly on their phones. But it was too quiet, with neither of them saying anything. This was bad. They weren’t supposed to be this weird or hyper aware of one another. Keith bit at the inside of his cheek to stop himself from doing something stupid like deciding he couldn’t deal with this and running away. He had to say something.

Right as the silence began to tip over into unbearable, Lance let out a heavy sigh, his breath visible thanks to the cold. “Listen, about last night-”

“I’m sorry-” Keith said at the same time.

The two blinked at each other, both caught off guard by the other speaking. Then Lance frowned and said, “Wait, why are you apologizing?”

Keith wanted to repeat the question right back, equally as confused as Lance looked. It threw him off his game enough that the apology monologue he’d been preparing all day suddenly vanished from his mind.

“Last night,” Keith started, swallowing hard and anxiously rubbing his palms on his jeans to get rid of the sweat, except it did nothing but make him feel like an idiot because he was wearing gloves, “I didn’t mean for it to seem like I was rushing out of there because I was freaked out-”

“You were freaked out though,” Lance interrupted, and Keith expected him to be angry, but when Keith finally looked at him, he was smiling. Worn and stretched thin, but genuine all the same. “Most guys would have- I would have, if I was in your shoes. It wasn’t exactly the best way for the night to end.”

Well, Keith couldn’t argue with that and if he was interpreting it right, Lance was telling him he was off the hook. But Keith didn’t feel relieved. If anything, it made Keith a little angry because Lance was making it sound like he expected Keith to leave him. Like Lance deserved that to happen.

“Yeah, but even if it makes sense why I did it, it doesn’t mean I should have.”

Lance stared at him, considered his words for a moment with a furrowed brow, then, “Dude, we’ve only been dating for a week. It wouldn’t be fair for me to expect that of you. You didn’t do anything wrong, I promise.”

“Then why didn’t you text me back?” Keith asked before he could stop himself. He didn’t mean for it to sound so hurt because it wasn’t his style to let things like that bother him, but if Lance wasn’t mad at him, why couldn’t he have had the decency to tell Keith that earlier? Instead of making him lose sleep and feel like the shittiest person alive? “If you weren’t mad at me, what did I do to deserve that?”

Lance was probably hoping Keith wouldn’t bring that up because he flinched, looking guilty. He was doing that nervous tick again where he rolled from this tiptoes to his heels and the red on his cheeks was no longer simply from the bitter December air.

“I’m sorry,” he said, voice wobbling with the threat of tears, “I’m really tired and sometimes I don’t handle things like I should and-”

“That sounds more like an excuse than a reason,” Keith snapped, not bothering to hide his annoyance. Any other time, he probably would have let Lance off the hook but Keith was exhausted and deserved an explanation.

“I know, I’m sorry, it’s just-” Lance’s hand dropped back to his side, heavy like it had lost its strength, and he refused to meet Keith’s eyes. “I’m really embarrassed, okay?”

Keith blinked, all anger vanishing in an instant because that… wasn’t an answer he was expecting. “What? Why?”

“Because! Because we were about to-” He gestured frantically between them, unable to say it even though he had been less than bashful the night before, “and instead we got interrupted and, like, no guy wants to be interrupted during sex anyway but to have it be by his kid doesn’t exactly make him the most appealing person in the world and I totally understand why you would want to break-”

He stuttered to a stop when Keith closed the distance between them and grabbed Lance’s shaking hands. He was actually wearing gloves today, the cheap cotton kind that got holes easily and barely provided any protection. Keith traced over the ridges of Lance’s knuckles, hoping it was as soothing as he wanted it to be.

“Lance, you don’t have to feel embarrassed,” Keith said, gently pressing their foreheads together. Lance stiffened at the touch but to Keith’s relief, he exhaled heavily through his nose and pressed back, chewing on his bottom lip until Keith ran a thumb over it, softly prying it away from the abuse. “I left because I thought it would make it easier on you. I don’t know how to deal with situations like that, but I really didn’t care that it happened. It doesn’t stop me from wanting to be with you.”

Lance pulled his head away and Keith felt ten degrees colder. Lance still looked like he might cry as he searched Keith’s face before pursing his lips, unconvinced. “You say that, but if you were with someone else, that wouldn’t have happened.”

“What are you talking about?” Keith asked, confused. “I don’t want to be with someone else.”

“Yeah, but-” He must have thought better about whatever he was about to say because he snapped his mouth shut. His gaze faltered and his fingers started to slip from Keith’s. He gulped when Keith tightened his hold. “Nevermind, it’s stupid-”

“What is it?” Keith asked because it would eat him alive if he didn’t and Lance cut off his sentences way too often and it was really starting to grate on Keith’s nerves. “What were you going to say?”

Lance quickly shook his head, taking a step backwards but Keith still refused to let him go. “It’s nothing-”

“What is it?” Keith asked again, more persistent. Reigning in his glare wasn’t easy but he did his best because terrifying Lance probably wasn’t the right direction to go in right now.

Nothing.” Lance snapped. Then, he swiftly stepped back into Keith’s space and kissed him.

It was far from gentle; it was an icy, hard press of lips that he knew was meant to distract him. Of course it worked because Keith was weak and Lance didn’t play fair- his tongue was already licking its way in, and he softly purred in the back of his throat when Keith finally started to kiss back.

“I just like you,” Lance whispered when they parted, wrapping his arms around Keith’s waist and interlocking his fingers behind him for leverage, leaning in until their chests pressed together. He playfully brushed Keith’s nose with his. “A lot.”

It was honest and real, but part of Keith despised the fact that this was when Lance chose to say it. When he was obviously trying to push Keith away from the truth. It made Keith feel happy but jittery, a gross twist of emotions that he couldn’t remember ever feeling before. He was half-tempted to continue pressing for an answer, but the tired, pleading look Lance sent his way made it difficult to.

Instead, Keith wrapped his own arms around Lance and pulled him closer, burying his nose into the crook of Lance’s neck. He smelled like coffee and sweat, evidence of a long, hard day of work, but there was also the trace of citrus Keith was starting to associate with him. He breathed him in, felt Lance’s heartbeat pounding against his own even through their coats, and pushed the lingering dread to the back of his mind until it was nothing more than a faint warning he could ignore for now. This whole thing hadn’t gone how Keith thought it would, but he had Lance in his arms again, so maybe it was better to leave it.

“Yeah,” Keith finally said, lips brushing against Lance’s freezing skin where the collar of his coat couldn’t reach. He felt Lance shiver. “I like you, too.”

They probably made a ridiculous sight, doing this in the middle of a busy sidewalk on the coldest day of the year so far, simply standing there and hugging each other. But Keith was okay with it- they seemed to be pretty good at being unconventional.

Lance pulled away just enough to give him an appreciative smile, but he quickly sobered. He loosened his arms until his hands rested on Keith’s hips, clinging onto the fabric of Keith’s coat. He took a deep breath to steady himself then said, “I really am sorry. About not texting you back, I mean. That was pretty shitty of me.”

“Yeah, it was,” Keith said, blunt and not at all delicate as the gross feelings from that morning came back to him. Lance grimaced; Keith let him feel it for a moment, then slowly ran his hands up and down Lance’s arms, trying to comfort him and warm him at the same time. He waited until Lance met his eyes again before he smirked, slow and mischievous. “Though I guess it’s been awhile since one of us got apology food, so it was only a matter of time.”

It got Lance to laugh, that vibrant and sparkling sound that Keith adored, and the heavy air resting over them finally lifted enough for them to breathe easier again.

“I like it when you have jokes,” Lance said, pressing a quick kiss to Keith’s lips, then his cheek. He gave Keith’s hips one last squeeze before dropping his hands away, looking as reluctant to let go as Keith felt. “I should get going, but I’m glad we talked about this.”

Keith nodded. “Me too- Oh, wait!”

Lance made a curious noise and blinked at him, too adorable for his own good. The butterflies in Keith’s stomach this time weren’t unpleasant, but they still caused him to scratch at the back of his neck, self conscious.

“Uh, not to completely change topics, but the mayor hosts a Christmas party every year and he invites the CEOs of all the local businesses,” Keith started and oh god, no, not the Lance induced word puke- “and I don’t really like to go but Allura forces me to because networking is important apparently, and we’re allowed to bring dates so I was wondering if, you know. You would want to go?”

Lance waited patiently for Keith to finish, growing more amused with each word.

“With me,” Keith clarified before Lance had a chance to respond and then immediately hoped his inner monologue of oh god what the fuck why did I say that, that was so stupid wasn’t painfully apparent.

It was easy to tell that Lance was trying his best to bite back his laughter, but he took pity on Keith for once, actively choosing to not bring attention to his flushed cheeks and obvious nerves. Still he couldn’t resist asking, “Why are you so nervous about asking your boyfriend on a date?”

Keith pouted. “You don’t have to make fun of-”

“I’m not, I think it’s cute!” His mouth curved up into that smile that made Keith’s stomach do backflips. The amusement fell away, something more timid taking its place. “I’m assuming this will be a “black tie affair” sort of thing?”

“Uh, yeah,” Keith replied, furrowing his brows, not fully understanding the reason for the clarification.

Then, he glanced down and suddenly it made sense. Lance played with the hem of his shirt; it was too long and peaked out from the bottom of his coat. It was frayed and he pulled at a large thread with his fingers, the nails of which were uncovered thanks to a few holes in the tips of his gloves.

“Okay, cool,” Lance said in a rush, dropping the thread like it had caught fire. “Just curious! Dress code is important!”

It left no room for Keith to assure him he could show up in t-shirt and jeans and Keith wouldn’t care at all, as long as they were going together.

Lance covered his previous show of insecurity by leveling Keith with a sly smirk. “Though a fancy ball for our first date? I’ll end up spoiled if you’re not careful!”

Keith wanted to remind Lance that he was more than happy to spoil him, would buy Lance all the fancy suits in the world if he wanted him to. But instead he played along. Rolled his eyes because he knew it was the response that would make Lance more comfortable.

Then the ‘date’ part of Lance’s sentence replayed itself in Keith’s mind and he smiled.

“So, you’ll go with me?” It wasn’t smooth at all but he was too giddy to care. “On a date?”

Lance grinned; it was beaming and bright, the white gleam of his teeth almost blinding, and Keith’s heart soared when Lance said, “Duh” and then threw his arms around Keith’s shoulders like he just couldn’t help it.

*

From: Hunk
To: Keith, Lance
5:12 PM
Guys, please stop making out in front of my restaurant.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure he won’t pee on me?”

“I mean, that’s not really something I can promise-”

“What about poop? I heard kids poop.”

“Keith, everyone poops. Haven’t you ever read the book?”

Keith’s head snapped towards him, gaping. “There’s a book about people poop- ah, Colton, no, come back!”

Lance snickered next to him as he watched Keith jump to grab a pantless Colton and drag him back, laying him down on the changing mat once more. Coltron whined, half-heartedly kicking his feet as Keith fumbled with the diaper.

“Okay,” Keith said, exhaling heavily, like this was the biggest challenge he’d ever faced. “I’m going to change the diaper. I can change a diaper. Easy. Easy.”

Lance nodded, patient, but his shoulders were shaking with restrained laughter which any other time Keith would be irritated by, but he was too nervous to be anything other than grateful that Lance wasn’t outright mocking him.

“Do it like I just showed you,” Lance said as he shimmied Clara’s pink, panda bear pajama pants up her legs. He picked her up and blew raspberries against her belly button as she giggled like mad. “Though I should warn you that you’re about to put it on backwards.”

Keith flushed and quickly turned the diaper around while also doing his best to stop Colton from flipping over and trying to escape again and how was he so fast for such a tiny human?

Remembering his training, Keith took a deep breath, and then jumped into it like a sprinter leaping out the gate, scared if he didn’t do it quickly he would lose his nerve. He stumbled when he realized he didn’t know what to do with the dirty diaper once it was actually off and he would have panicked if Lance hadn’t taken it from him, but Keith hardly noticed, so laser focused on getting the fresh diaper on, the fear of getting covered in bodily fluid driving him to finish as quickly as possible.

Finally, what felt like the longest buildup to a jump scare ever, he was pressing the final clasp on and holy shit, he had done it.

He had successfully changed a diaper.

“See!” Lance whooped next to him, jostling their shoulders together and knocking Keith out of his stunned stupor. “You’re a natural!”

His excitement made Keith feel less stupid for being as proud of himself as he did. Maybe it was a simple diaper change, but it felt freakin’ monumental. Like the first time he sealed a brand deal for the gym, or when he had successfully managed to talk to Lance without sounding like the world’s biggest jerk. He matched Lance’s grin with one of his own (and felt more than a little bit satisfied when Lance blushed and his next cheer turned into a garbled noise in his throat).

The last two hours had been a whirlwind of lessons in Keeping Children Alive 101: he learned how to unbuckle a car seat, how to say ‘eat’ in sign language (well, more recognized how to say it after Clara started aggressively signing it at him, getting frustrated until Keith frantically asked Lance what she was saying), that you had to cut grapes before letting kids eat them, and, finally, how to change a diaper.

The most surprising thing was discovering that out of the three kids, Clara was by far the one he needed to watch out for the most because even if she was sweet, extroverted and unassuming one second, she was also impressively devious the next. More than once Lance told her not to do something and it was immediately followed by her staring him straight in the eye and doing exactly what she was told not to do.

(She was also, much to Lance’s horror and Keith’s amusement, obsessed with Keith’s red biker jacket and was constantly trying to put it on even though a full sized quilt would probably have fit better. “Oh my god,” Lance had said, “She’s only going to date stereotypical, cheesy bad boys, isn’t she?” “Hey!” Keith snapped back.)

¡Cosquilla!” Colton said as Keith stood him up and zipped up his footie pajamas. He grabbed Keith’s hand in both of his tiny ones and pulled at it. “¡Cosquilla!

“Tickle,” Lance supplied, then proceeded to do just that to Clara’s neck, making her cackle.

Keith hesitated, feeling just the slightest bit self-conscious, but it wasn’t like there were that many ways he could mess this up, so he tickled Colton's underarms until the toddler was cackling, giving Keith a sudden vote of confidence to roar playfully and tickle him again. Colton’s little legs gave out from under him and Keith gave him a moment to breathe before attacking his stomach, much to Colton’s enjoyment as he giggled, toothy smile pulled so wide it took up nearly half his face.

Lance gasped dramatically next to him. “I’ve been abandoned!”

Keith had no time to ask what he meant before Clara stumbled into his lap. Her tiny fingers wiggled against Keith’s chin in what he realized was her own version of tickling, and even if she was barely successful, she was still grinning like she was the best tickler ever.

Then Colton was also rushing into Keith’s lap, but for some reason he was much angrier than he had been a second before. His arm swiped out at Clara, narrowly missing her face as he cried, “No! Mine!”

Keith was no stranger to breaking up fights but an outright slap war between toddler twins was entirely new territory he didn’t really feel the need to experience. Frowning, Keith gently lowered Colton's arm before he could try again. “Hey, be nice.”

Colton pouted at him, completely betrayed and wow, did that look make Keith feel like the worst human alive. He whined and rolled off Keith’s lap, rushing to Lance’s, and Keith now understood what Lance meant by feeling abandoned.

“Oh, uh,” Keith stuttered, struck by the realization he probably shouldn’t be the one disciplining them when Lance was right there. “Was that okay?”

To his relief, Lance nodded, entirely unbothered. “Works for me. Colton is really embracing the whole “toddler who refuses to share” thing.” Lance sighed as he glanced down at Colton now snuggled in his arms (and glaring at Keith… definitely glaring at Keith). “Shiro says they’ve been working on gentle touches with him, but he’s more stubborn than he appears.”

“Wonder where he learned that from,” Keith said, smirking at Lance’s offended noise until Clara tapped his cheek, demanding more tickles. He cradled her in his arm, tilting her upside down so he could pretend to eat her toes, and her full-bellied laughs felt like a victory that had Keith smiling too. Still, guilt made him a little uneasy as he looked at Colton, his face now buried against Lance’s chest. “Is he going to be okay?”

Lance snorted, brushing Keith’s worry aside with a casual wave of his hand. “Give him five seconds and he’ll be fine. Trust me, you get used to feeling like the meanest person in the world. No one guilt trips like a toddler guilt trips.” As if to prove the point, he lifted Colton in the air, jostling him playfully. “Isn’t that right, little monster?”

The effect was instantaneous: Colton laughed, arms waving and legs kicking when Lance tossed him a few inches then caught him and immediately brought him down to scatter kisses across his face. Then Lance pointed at Keith and said, “Alright, go get Mullet! Go get him!”

“Stop telling them to call me that!” Keith snapped, then yelped as Colton did as Lance said, jumping at him, Keith’s fast reaction time the only thing stopping him from slamming head first into Clara’s nose. The twins shared a look that eighteen-month-olds shouldn’t be capable of, definitely devised by Clara, and then they were double teaming him, doing their best to tickle his face and chin. The touches were too light to actually feel like anything, but they were so enthusiastic about it that Keith found himself playing along, making a show of trying to get away before surrendering.

Of course, it made it even better when, out of the corner of his eye, he caught Lance watching them, expression soft and heartfelt, and Keith wanted to memorize it with his fingers so he always had a reminder of what perfection looked like.

But before he had the chance, Izzy burst into the room, long hair damp from her bath and doggy slippers making soft thumps on the carpet as she rushed to Lance, a brush and plastic bag of assorted hair ties and clips in her hands which she promptly shoved into her brother’s hands. “¡Péiname, por favor!”

“You asked so nicely!” Lance gasped. He grabbed one of her hands and twirled her until she giggled. “What’ll it be, Princesa Isabella?”

“Pigtails!” Izzy replied easily as she plopped down onto the ground in front of him, shooting him a lopsided grin over her shoulder. “Braided, ¡obvio!

¡Obvio!” Lance said and set about brushing through her long curls.

Of the three, Izzy had been the most conscious of Keith, not interacting much beyond staring him down every time he got too close to Lance. Keith had heard of older siblings being protective and never really the opposite but holy crap, Izzy’s glare could kill. It took a strong voice of reason that sounded suspiciously like Shiro telling him, “You can’t glare at your boyfriend’s three-year-old sister,” for him to not glare back.

Thankfully, she wasn’t glaring at him now. Instead, she squinted her eyes at Keith, scrutinizing him and he shifted uncomfortably under her stare because he couldn’t tell what she was thinking and that kind of scared him.

Then she nodded and declared, “You need to brush your hair, too.”

Lance choked on a laugh. Keith touched his hair, petrified because it didn’t look that bad, did it? He had showered at the gym before coming over so maybe he had a bad case of helmet hair and if that were true then he’d been hanging out with Lance while having horrible hair oh no-

Izzy was unaffected by Keith’s wounded pride. She dug into the bag, tongue sticking out as she searched, then pulled out a handful of hair ties and clips. She held them up proudly to Keith. “Don’t worry! I’ll do it for you!”

Keith blanched, mortified at the sheer idea. “Uh, no, I’m okay-”

Then there were four pairs of puppy dog eyes pleading at him (even Lance, the shit), and Keith’s willpower was only able to take so much of such an unfair tactic. Keith sighed and nodded, earning him joint cheers from Izzy and Lance, with Clara joining in a moment later and clapping her hands.

“All done!” Lance sang. If Keith had to wager a guess, he’d bet those braids were done in record breaking time. The way Lance smirked at him confirmed his assumptions. “Alright, it’s your turn, Mullet!”

Izzy jumped up and raced over to him, hopping up and down in place. “Turn around, Mule!” She paused, looked at Lance, then added, “¡Por favor!”

Keith glared at Lance then sighed again, resisting the urge to groan as he turned around. Colton plopped down into his lap and held up ‘Good Night Moon’, silently asking Keith to read it, which he would have done anyway, but who knew how long he would be Izzy’s guinea pig so he might as well multitask.

“Okay, first! You need to spray it!” Izzy said right as there was a burst of cold on Keith’s shoulder, dampening it, a sign that Izzy probably didn’t have the greatest of aim with a spray bottle. “Or it will hurt and hurting hurts!”

“Uh, right,” Keith said, quickly clenching his eyes shut and throwing a protective hand over Colton’s face when Izzy circled around him to spray his bangs, blissfully unaware of the fact that she nearly blinded both him and her little brother with the detangling spray.

She tossed the bottle onto the ground with a sassy flourish then held up the brush and okay, Keith was a little scared about what was about to happen. Especially when she patted the paddle against her palm like it was a baseball bat. (He might have gulped.)

“Now,” Izzy said, a borderline threat, all serious business, “I have a vision, so sit still!”

To her credit, Izzy was much gentler than Keith expected a three year old could be as she brushed out the tangles, starting at the bottom. She commentated every step, stopping every now and then to grab a clip or hair tie and add it to the “art” already scattered throughout his hair. As she grabbed a single chunk of his bangs and clipped them to the side with a bright pink bow, Keith gave up on picturing what he looked like and just accepted it was probably ridiculous. All he could do was thank every god he had ever heard of that no one was here to see-

There was the unmistakable click of a camera and Keith’s eyes shot up.

“Oh my god, this is amazing!” Lance said as he stared at the picture he’d taken. The force of his laughter sent him rolling backwards onto the floor, wiping at his eyes. Clara tumbled onto him, taking it to mean it was wrestling time and Lance gasped as her knee collided with his rib but it somehow didn’t stop his cackling. “Pidge and Hunk are gonna love this! Oh, I should send it to Shiro, too.”

Keith jumped to knock the phone out of Lance’s hand but Izzy grabbed his shoulders and demanded he sit still, and Colton was now grabbing onto his t-shirt like almost being thrown from Keith’s lap was the most traumatizing thing to ever happen to him, and Keith could definitely sympathise with that right now.

Especially when Lance said something along the lines of, “That’s what you get for having a mullet.”

Then Izzy declared she was finished and when she held up the mirror, she was bouncing with excitement. Keith froze, petrified at his reflection. He had seven ponytails all standing up like something out of an anime and his bangs were parted in an unflattering way and pink was not his color. It was downright horrible but when Keith looked at Izzy, she was so proud of herself that he couldn’t bring himself to feel anything other happy along with her.

Lance’s camera clicked again but this time he wasn’t laughing and when Keith met his eyes, there was a welcoming warmth there Keith would never get tired of.

“Don’t worry,” Lance said, “This one’s just for us.”

*

“Do you want sugar or anything in your- holy crap!” Lance jumped and barely missed knocking over the newly poured cups of tea as Keith suddenly appeared behind him, strong arms wrapping tight around his stomach. “Don’t ninja me!”

“Sorry,” Keith mumbled, sounding anything but as his cold fingers danced under the hem of Lance’s shirt to ghost over the planes of his stomach.

“You are not!” Lance said, body automatically pressing back against Keith’s chest to escape the teasing touch when Keith ran his thumbs over the thin, sensitive skin of Lance’s hipbones. “I can feel you grinning, you ass.”

Which was true, Keith most definitely was smiling against Lance’s skin, mouthing at the juncture where his neck met his shoulder until Lance elbowed him in the stomach with a chuckle. He turned around in Keith’s hold, hips still pressed to the tile counter. He reached up to fluff Keith’s already mussed hair, snickering when his boyfriend crinkled his nose, unamused.

“Aw, you took out your hair!”

“I don’t know if you know this or not, but that many hair ties and pins is painful. There were seventeen, Lance. I counted.”

Lance clicked his tongue. “Beauty is pain, Keith. And it was so pretty, too!”

Then Lance’s brushed his fingers through the strands, nails scratching gently into Keith’s scalps and Keith nearly purred. Lance tilted his head, eyes tracking Keith’s face in a way that made Keith feel bare and on display and adored, which couldn’t be possible because no one ever looked at him like that.

“Not that you need help being pretty,” Lance said, almost pouting if not for how breathless he looked from simply being this close. He ran his hand down Keith’s neck to the collar of Keith’s sweater - Lance’s, because the apartment was chillier than it was last time and Keith’s black t-shirt did little to fend off the cold. He wrapped his finger around the string, using it to tug Keith closer so he could whisper into his ear, “I like you in my clothes, by the way.”

Then he pulled back, throwing Keith off balance even though their chests were still pressed together. Lance cocked an eyebrow and flashed Keith with a toothy grin-

Then promptly shoved a warm mug of tea into Keith’s hands.

Keith pouted as Lance wiggled his way out from between Keith and the counter. “Fuckin’ tease.”

Lance’s grin just grew as he walked to the living room, an extra shimmy to his hips which Keith knew was just to further prove his previous statement but Keith couldn’t be too mad, considering his current view.

Though, speaking of clothes-

“Are you sure you’re okay for a suit tomorrow?” Keith asked, hoping it didn’t come out insulting, “It’s last minute, so like I said you can borrow one of mine-”

“I told you I’m good,” Lance said, setting his tea onto the coffee table to count off the items on his fingers, “Shirt, suit, belt, tie-”

He stopped and thought for a moment, brow pinched, then maneuvered around Keith and made his way to the coat closet without a word. He threw it open and dropped onto his knees, digging through a tower of unorganized shoes until finally leaning back on his haunches, defeated. He stood up and rubbed at his hair and made his way back to the couch, suddenly much more subdued. “Uh, except for shoes I guess.”

“I can pick you up some shoes,” Keith said, and his heart skipped a little because Lance was actually asking him for help and it didn’t matter that it was a small thing like this, it was huge to him.

“Are you sure that's okay?” Lance chewed on his bottom lip and settled back into his spot on the couch, posture less open and more curled in on himself. It wasn’t a front; he looked genuinely guilty about accepting Keith’s offer. “I’ll pay you back next week-”

Keith cut him off with a quick shake of his head. “No, it’s fine. It’ll be a- a gift!”

Lance stared at him, a little bewildered by how excited Keith sounded about getting him a single pair of shoes, but then he exhaled, smiling softly. “Okay. Thanks.”

Keith beamed back and Lance stared at him, then tried to hide his smile behind the rim of his mug but Keith could still make it out. Along with the endearing blush painting his ears red, he was so cute, so Keith had to lean over and kiss him.

A Christmas tree had been added to the room since the last time he was there; it sat in the corner, toys and a shelf moved to the other side of the room to make way for it. It was worn, obviously used for years, but the colorful glow of the lights reflecting off the crazy amounts of tinsel made it warm and cheerful. Ornaments were placed sporadically amongst the branches, both homemade and store bought, and the top drooped with a golden star with more than one light burned out.

“My parents loved Christmas so much it kinda carried over to all of us,” Lance said when he noticed Keith staring at it. “When I was going through all the stuff I needed to sell or put in storage after they died, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.”

His voice was fond and the lights casted a soft glow across his face, evening out the sharpness of it to make him look far more youthful, like he did in the pictures on the wall, taken before life became so much heavier.

Lance’s toes wiggled under Keith’s thigh, chilly despite the thick, fuzzy socks he wore. He cleared his throat and said, “So, uh. I talked to Hunk the other day.”

Keith arched an eyebrow at him, confused at the sudden direction change in conversation.

“About everything that’s been going on with me and how hard stuff is,” Lance clarified, “He came over and I kinda just spilled it all out.”

“Oh,” Keith said, unsure of how to respond. “That’s good.”

Lance nodded. He was chewing at his bottom lip, fingers tapping anxiously against his mug. Keith watched, growing concerned each time Lance opened his mouth only to promptly shut it.

Finally he took a deep breath to steel himself and said, “I wanted to apologize again. For what I said that one time.”

Keith was learning that sometimes when Lance talked, he didn’t put his sentences in the right order. It was difficult to follow, but at least Keith’s puzzlement was obvious on his face because Lance added, “Y’know, the sugar daddy stuff.”

The words tumbled out rushed, like if Lance didn’t force them out they would get stuck in his throat. He sucked in a breath and waited, watching Keith’s face to gauge his reaction.

Which, okay, Keith did need to figure out what his reaction was. He was more surprised than anything; he never expected Lance would bring it up again. But it shouldn’t be surprising- Lance was the type of person to remember each detail, to be conscious of everything because he couldn’t look out for the people he cared about if he didn’t.

“Hunk didn’t tell me specifics,” Lance rambled, obviously nervous now that Keith had been silent for so long. “But he was really mad at me, too, and like I said back then it was a shitty thing to do and I really am sorry for being so insensi-”

Another thing Keith was realizing: the fastest way to shut Lance up was with a kiss. It didn’t matter what kind, a quick peck or a lingering one with lips moving together in a sensitive slide; they all worked to distract him from whatever worry was making him lose control of his words.

This time, Keith went for the latter. Lance sucked in a surprised breath through his nose, then moaned as Keith broke away only to turn his head and dive back in, tongue tracing Lance’s bottom lip and Lance dragged his fingers up Keith’s jaw to cradle it as their mouths worked together.

“It’s okay,” Keith whispered when he pulled away a second time. Their breaths were heavy and warm against each other’s cheeks. Lance’s hand slid down, holding onto the zipper of Keith’s sweatshirt like he was grounding himself. Keith moved back a little more so they could look at each other clearly. Lance’s cheeks were red and his blue eyes were wide and god Keith would kiss him forever if he could always make Lance look like that. “I’m not mad.”

“O-okay,” Lance said, a little shaky and winded as Keith settled back into the couch, sitting closer than before. “Um, I know you’ve probably dealt with it, but if you ever need to talk to someone…” He trailed off and shrugged his shoulders, setting his cup on the table to keep his hands occupied.

Keith blinked, genuinely thrown for a loop. “Why would you care about that?”

It was Lance’s turn to be confused, attention shooting back to Keith. “What? Why wouldn’t I?”

It was a simple question really, but it didn’t compute in Keith’s brain. “Isn’t it weird?”

“No?” Lance said, slow like he just couldn’t understand how Keith could possibly believe that. “You’re my boyfriend. I want to know more about you.”

Huh. That was… different.

“You don’t have to tell me anything, I don’t mean to put you out.”

“It’s not that,” Keith said, still trying to work through what he was feeling. “Just… No one’s ever asked before. At least no one I’ve been, you know,” He gestured between them then let his hand drop onto Lance’s knee, “like this with has.”

Lance’s furrowed his brow. “Really? Why?”

Well, there’s a talk Keith hadn’t expected to lead them to. The one about past boyfriends, where he would have to tell Lance that his track record for actual relationships was non-existent. He wasn’t necessarily embarrassed, but it put out there how shitty Keith was at this sort of thing. How he’d never even considered he wanted to be in one.

Not until Lance. Which sounded cheesy and cheap and was a pretty big deal, and he wasn’t sure he could say it out loud yet. It felt like he’d be adding a pressure to Lance about this being Keith’s first and Lance didn’t need that.

He rubbed at his hair and shrugged, sinking a little further into the couch cushions and probably looking as self-conscious as he felt. “I guess most people like to think of me as the guy with money, not a sob story. Fits better with the picture in their head. If they know I used to be one of “those poor people”, it doesn’t fit with what they believe a rich person is supposed to be. There’s not a whole lot to tell, anyway. When you’re on the street, you’ve gotta make money anyway you can,” Keith said, clearing his tightening throat because apparently this was harder to talk about than he thought it might be. He squeezed Lance’s knee, belatedly wondering if that was weird until Lance’s hand settled over his own, thumb soothingly tracing his knuckles. Keith turned his head on the cushion, taking in Lance’s expression. It was a steady patience, letting Keith fill the silence with whatever words he needed to.

“I’m really glad I’m not in that place anymore. I did what I had to do, but I don’t really like to remember it,” Keith swallowed, hoping Lance would pick up on how he wasn’t sure what else to say; how anything more might be splitting open old wounds he didn’t want to discuss right then. There were other things he’d rather focus on. Like Lance’s hand on his, supporting him enough to let him smile despite the heavy memories. “Thanks for wanting to know.”

Lance’s face brightened instantly and he smiled back, not at all upset at Keith for not wanting to continue. “Thank you for telling me.”

The stared at each other for a moment, the importance of the conversation sinking in, then their lips brushed, chaste but alluring in its own way. Then Lance laid his head on Keith’s shoulder, face turned away as he nuzzled in. His hair tickled Keith’s cheek when he relaxed against it and there was a silent moment where they simply breathed together.

Then Lance whispered, “You deserve to be happy,” and it was muffled against Keith’s shoulder, barely loud enough for Keith to hear it.

It was reassuring, and it made Keith smile. Made him feel warm and comforted in a way he wished he could have been back then, when thin blankets and homeless shelters had been the only things to fight off the cold.

But there was something more there, something unpleasant. Something resigned and defeated. That feeling he’d had a few days ago standing in the cold with Lance in his arms began to poke at him again, and all Keith wanted to do was tell Lance that he was already the beginning of that happiness. Couldn’t he tell that he was happy just doing things like reading to the twins or letting Izzy make his hair into a monstrosity or even sitting with Lance on the couch, Christmas lights twinkling pretty in his eyes whenever he smiled at Keith?

He opened his mouth to tell Lance those things, but of course Keith’s luck would have his phone suddenly exploding in notifications.

And like that, the moment was gone.

Keith grabbed his phone from his pocket as the sound of multiple emails and texts became a continuous stream followed immediately by a call from Nyma which was never good.

Lance raised an eyebrow at the phone lighting up in Keith’s hand. “Work emergency?”

“Looks like it,” Keith said. He silenced it and sighed. He frowned. “I’m sorry.”

“I get it,” Lance said, “I’ve got some bills and stuff I’ve been putting off, anyway. I would’ve done them earlier but my super hot boyfriend keeps distracting me with his chiseled body.”

The sigh that accompanied it was borderline theatrical and Keith hummed, amused, pretending the tips of his ears weren’t suddenly burning hot. He dropped his phone onto the coffee table, then crawled across the couch into Lance’s space and pushed against his chest. Lance went easily, back relaxing against the armrest as Keith loomed over him, his hand over Lance’s beating heart the only part of them he allowed to touch. His lips ghosted over Lance’s before he pulled back and smirked, enjoying how winded the man beneath him looked.

“I mean, I’ve got at least ten minutes before I definitely have to leave.”

Lance licked his lips, eyes going dark and hooded. “Fuckin’ tease.”

But still, he carded his hands through Keith’s hair, fingers scratching gently, then pulled him fully on top of him and into a kiss that left Keith’s toes curling and his head dizzy, and successfully pushed that uneasy feeling in Keith’s chest away once more.