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Music played in the small record store from the moment it opened until the second it closed. Needles and Notes, wasn’t large like some of the major music stores, but they also dealt exclusively in records. The shop had large shelves, filled with records, all carefully displayed, and three record players, set up so the customers could listen before they purchased. The register was tucked away near the front door, in the corner, with a large black board covering the wall behind the counter. There were seven columns drawn on the board, each with various songs listed, that changed every single day. The columns were listed as colors. Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Orange, Black and Pink. While the songs changed daily, the colors always stayed the same.

 

Anyone that worked in the neighborhood, knew exactly when the shop opened. Because that was when the music would start. The music was always a various mix, anything and everything could and was heard. Then, the door to the shop would open, usually being propped open with a sign, and would stay that way, all day, despite the weather. At night, the door would close first, then and only then would the music shut off.

 

The street was full of various shops, a bakery, Crystal Confections, three buildings down from the record store was a candy shop, Treats and Sweets, claiming the corner. Directly across from Needles and Notes was Alluring Brews, a coffee shop, while next to that was Second Chances, a physical therapy rehabilitation center that worked exclusively with veterans. Next door to the rehab center was a small apartment building. Most of the people that worked on the street lived in the apartments, making it a nice easy commute into work. The only exceptions were the owner of the record shop and his assistant.

 

 

Man, Shiro had become such a yuppie ; Keith couldn’t help but find it amusing, picturing Shiro in this sweet sleepy little area of town. Everything clean, every person he passed greeting him with a wave or a ‘good morning’. He hitched the bag on his shoulder a little higher as he walked towards Shiro’s office building. He wanted to stay mad at him, he really did, but he could see the appeal in the area. It was… pleasant.

 

Truth was, he missed Shiro. For the first time since they were kids, Shiro was living in another city. And yeah, ok, it made sense, his job was here, it would be a nice place to settle down. Keith got it, it just sucked. Damn if he’d be telling that to Shiro though. He was an adult dammit and he didn’t need his pseudo brother there all the time… except…. No, he was an adult. He worked a full time job, and yeah, ok, maybe it wasn't the best job, in fact, he kind of really hated it, but he had it and he paid bills and rent on his tiny little apartment, and only brooded over Shiro moving a little.

 

Shiro had been trying to convince him to come see the new place, take some time off. It was tempting, but he was trying to let Shiro go, for both their sakes. He had been asking him for weeks and Keith’s resolve had finally run out. He put a solid week on the board at work. The days crept up on him and he still hadn’t told Shiro he was coming. Maybe he was holding out hope that he could grow up and not pester the man… but here he was, showing up on Shiro’s doorstep, unannounced, for the second time in his life.

 

It was a dick move then and it’s a dick move now, but Keith shrugged it off as he climbed the steps to Shiro’s office, and pushed through the door. The ac greeted him at the same time as a familiar voice.

 

“Welcome to Second Chances, sign-in and we’ll be right with- Keith?”

 

“Hey, Shir-”

 

“What are you doing here?” Shiro closed the gap between them, and hugged him tight before his feet left the floor, vertebrae popping.

 

“Ow, jesus, Shiro, put me down.” He laughed and patted his best friend on the shoulder, his bag forgotten on the ground.

 

“Keith, what are you doing here? Not that I’m not happy to see you.”

 

“I thought you wanted me to come visit…”

 

“Of course I do, but a little warning-” Shiro glanced down at his watch. “Shit. You gotta go.”

 

“What?” Shiro started to bustle him about in a circle and usher him to the door. “Shiro!”

 

“I have an appointment.” Shiro opened the door and scooted him out.

 

“So you’re kicking me out?!” Keith stumbled back on the steps looking bewildered.

 

“That’s what happens when you show up unannounced, go see the area and I’ll see you in a couple hours.” And with that Shiro closed the door.

 

Keith blinked at the door in front of him, the warm sun beating on his back. Well, that wasn’t exactly the little reunion he’d been expecting, but Shiro was right, he could have called. He turned and took in his surroundings once again. The quaint little street he had admired not even ten minutes ago now seemed like a boring chore he was going to have to conquer. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, he could smell coffee and pastries on the air. Keith frowned and headed down the sidewalk.

 

The coffee shop called his name. He could sit in a back table and sip on a latte and just hang around until Shiro’s appointment was done.

 

“Fuck.” His backpack was still back in Shiro’s office. Well, anything that required a wallet was out. Keith wandered aimlessly down the street, trying to guess which shops Shiro might visit regularly, which ones he avoided. He was starting to wonder if he could maybe just sit in the outdoor seating of the coffee shop and go unnoticed when he heard music. He didn’t recognize it, but it had a good beat. The sign above the door said Needles and Notes and the various posters in the window made this shop stick out a little from the cookie cutter suburban shops.

 

Keith crossed the street and poked his head through the open door. The music was loud, but not obnoxious and the place didn’t seem overly crowded so he walked in. At least he wasn’t required to spend money just to be here. He slowly paced around the shop, taking in everything around him. He was surrounded by records, posters of bands littering the walls, but what caught his eye was the large chalkboard taking up most of a wall.

 

The brightly colored chalk on the board drew his attention. Under the name of each color was a list of songs. They didn’t seem to have any kind of order, as the same artist was in two different columns even if it was a different song. Unlike the other little shops, there was nothing to muffle the sounds of the music. There were two people near a corner, but neither one of them were actually speaking. It was nice, to just let the music soothe him a little. The song was unfamiliar, but Keith liked it. The singer was a woman, and her voice was low and soft, blending well with the almost soothing melody. Being a fan of mostly classic rock, this was completely new to him. But there was something about the lyrics that just struck a cord in Keith. He couldn’t quite figure out what it was about them, but whatever it was, Keith couldn’t fight the draw.

 

‘And of course I forgive

I've seen how you live

Like a phoenix you rise from the ashes

You pick up the pieces...’

 

He scanned the chalkboard one more time, trying to see if he could pick out the song, but none of the titles were familiar to him except for the ones listed under Red. Nearly all of those were songs that Keith had heard and enjoyed. Part of him wanted to just turn around and leave, but he also wanted to know the title of the song, so he headed toward the corner, where he assumed the employees were standing.

 

The two had their heads close together, the shorter one laughing under their breath. Golden eyes met Keith’s through large round glasses. Keith swallowed. He wasn’t an awkward kid walking into a new school for the first time any more. Sure he might be a slightly awkward adult walking into a small town shop for the first time, but that didn’t mean the employees were talking about him. He was past the point of no return, so he cleared his throat and the two turned to face him fully.

 

The taller employee looked almost sheepish, but it did nothing to hide how good looking he was. Keith barely caught himself from checking the guy out. No, he was going to ask his stupid question and then he was going to beat it. Shit, what was he going to ask? His question suddenly seemed lost in blue eyes.

 

“Uhhh… hi,” Keith choked out. “I was wondering… what’s the name of this song…”

 

The two employees exchanged looks. Keith could see an entire silent conversation pass between them before the shorter one smirked and started backing away.

 

“Yeah, Lance here can answer your questions.”

 

The tall, handsome guy, Lance he supposed, looked like a deer in headlights. He stared daggers into his retreating co-worker before turning to assess Keith. They stood awkwardly waiting for the other to speak. Lance opened and closed his mouth a few times, Keith started to wonder if he had forgotten the question.

 

“Uhh-” Keith started before Lance seemed to shed his discomfort like dead skin. He plastered on a smile that Keith was painfully intimate with, the good ole customer service smile. If he hadn’t been on edge before, he certainly was now.

 

Lance flapped a hand out in front of him before bringing it up to his head. What the fuck?! The pop of the wrist as the hand bounced down had Keith seeing red. Had Lance noticed him trying to hide that he was checking him out? Because that was the universal stereotypical gay hand gesture if Keith ever saw one. This guy may be cute, but Keith was not about to let Lance treat him that way. No. Fuck this guy.

 

“What the hell, man?” Keith’s shoulders hunched and his brow furrowed, his outburst causing Lance to freeze and his smile to drop. Good. Keith was fighting the urge to punch it off his face. “The fuck kind of place is this? You know what, fuck you.”

 

Keith turned on his heel and stormed out of the open door, wishing like hell it wasn’t propped so he could slam it shut behind him. What the hell was that guy’s problem? This wasn’t Bum Fuck Noweheresville where he thought he had to worry about shit like that, but obviously he was wrong. He was pulled tight like a rubber band and ready to snap. He knew he couldn’t go back to Shiro’s office, not worked up like this, what if he scared off Shiro’s patient, he’d feel terrible. He stomped across the street and into the coffee shop, just praying Shiro had some sort of running tab there he could use.

 

….

 

Pidge managed to hold out until the man was inside Allura’s coffee shop before they started laughing. They leaned against the counter, arms wrapped around the middle, and tears streaming down their face.

 

Lance on the other hand was furious. He turned and abruptly ended the song. He changed the record with careful but jerky movements, before a new song started playing. This song was nothing like the last one. It was full of bass and drums, the sound reminiscent of a thunderstorm. Then he crossed the room, and picked up the chalk, and angrily crossed off every single song on the board except for the red and black columns.

 

Pidge had finally gotten control of themselves and was frowning. “Oh come on Lance, it wasn’t that bad.. Don’t let one guy ruin the whole day…”

 

Lance scowled, before making several signs, his gestures sharp and furious.

 

‘No. If he comes back, you help him. I never want to see him again.’

 

Pidge sighed as Lance stormed into their storeroom. It was going to be a long day.

 

….

 

Keith had managed to find a crumpled dollar bill, three quarters and a nickel in his pocket and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu at Alluring Brews before collapsing in a back chair in a huff. The barista kept shooting him looks from where she stood behind the counter. He completely ignored her and sipped the piping hot black coffee counting down the seconds until he could barge into Shiro’s office.

 

He swung the door open and Shiro barely looked up from his paperwork. The coffee and time to collect his thoughts had done nothing to ease his temper. He stomped in and just barely resisted slamming the door shut.

 

“You’re lucky my appointment ended early-”

 

“You’ll never believe this asshole!”

 

Shiro looked up at that, frowning. “You were gone for an hour. How am I still surprised after all these years that you managed to get into it with someone so quickly?”

 

“Shiro, this guy was a complete dick!” Keith huffed as he paced. “And before you say anything, I didn’t even do anything. All I did was ask him a professional question and he made fun of me for being gay.”

 

“What?” Shiro stood and came around the side of his desk. The years of living in each other’s back pocket told Keith that Shiro was just as pissed as him, if not more, though he still looked every bit as cool and collected as before. “Who? Where were you? How did they even know, it’s not like you flirt. Ever.”

 

“Ok, first of all, that is not the issue here. It was some jerk that works across the street.”

 

“This street?!”

 

“No, Shiro, I walked all the way to the capital and got harassed there.” Keith rolled his eyes.

 

“You can dial back the sass a bit, I just can’t imagine anyone on this street would act that way. Who was it?”

 

“It was this guy, he was kind of cute, but I’m pretty sure he was already making fun of me and I just tried to ask him about the music-”

 

“The music? Wait.”

 

“-and then he just started imitating that fake ass gay guy hand wave thing.”

 

“Keith-”

 

“And if you think I’m going to stand for that-”

 

“Keith.”

 

“-he’s just lucky I didn’t punch him right then and there.”

 

“Keith!” Shiro grabbed him by the shoulders to halt his pacing.

 

“What?”

 

“Were you at the record store?” Shiro searched his face.

 

“Yeah, and-”

 

“Oh my god, Keith! No! Was he tall, kind of lanky, brown hair, brown skin?” Keith’s furrowed brow was the only answer he needed. Shiro dropped his hands from his shoulders. “Are you kidding me? That’s Lance, and he wasn’t making fun of you.”

 

“Yes, he was, Shiro-”

 

“No, he wasn’t, you jerk.”

 

“But,” Keith started to protest, how could Shiro take that asshole’s side over his?

 

“He was signing.”

 

“Yeah, that he thought I was gay.”

 

“No, like sign language, you moron,” Shiro laughed exasperatedly as he placed a hand over his eyes. “Lance doesn’t speak… And you are gay.”

 

“Sign… language…?” All the anger melted off of him and Keith wilted into the closest chair. “Fuck.”

 

“Fuck is right, now what did you say to him?”

 

“Oh god.” Keith covered his head in his hands as he bent over. “I yelled at him.”

 

“Keith, oh my god, you have to go back over there right now.” Shiro’s hands were placed on his hips and Keith had never been reminded of a father figure so much in his life.

 

“What? No! I can’t go over there!”

 

“That’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re going to go over there and apologize.”

 

“Are you serious?” Shiro stared straight at him. He was serious. “God, what do I even say?”

 

“I don’t know, but you better figure it out,” Shiro said as he bustled Keith out of his chair and out the door for the second time that day. “And I’m keeping your stuff here so you can’t just leave town.”

 

Well shit, that idea was out then. “I hate you so much.”

 

“No, you don’t. Now go, be nice.”

 

….

 

As Keith approached the record store, he noticed that the music was drastically different from earlier. This music was harsher, with more of a beat than the song that had so caught his attention before. Honestly, Keith felt very uncomfortable, but Shiro had made a good point. Keith had made an assumption and he needed to apologize for it. He straightened his shoulders, and stalked into the shop.

 

Two heads immediately turned when he entered, and the taller one, Lance, Shiro had said, stood and left the room. The shorter one, sighed loud enough to be heard over the music. They stood, came around the little counter and crossed their arms.

 

“Welcome to Needles and Notes, my name is Pidge. How can I help you?” Their tone was cold, and sharp. But, oddly enough, their face was blank.

 

“Ah.. yes.. I.. umm..” His eyes darted around, flitting from one thing to another as he tried to sort his words, when his eyes landed on the large chalk board again. Almost every song was marked off the board, except for two columns. It hadn’t looked that way before. Keith turned his attention back to Pidge. “I.. um.. Wanted to apologize for earlier…”

 

Pidge’s eyes narrowed. “Uh huh… Well, you’re telling the wrong person. Personally, I don’t care if you come in here and curse me out. I really don’t. But don’t ever talk to my friend like that again, or I will make you sorry.” They glared again, then sighed, moving over and turning down the music slightly.

 

“Look, I’m sorry.” Pidge pulled off their glasses and rubbed at their nose. “But, you need to tell that to Lance, okay?”

 

Keith wasn’t really one to get scared easily, but he absolutely believed it when they said they would make him sorry. The sudden shift from angry to calm was hard to follow, but he nodded.

 

“That’s why I came back.” He shifted, eyes darting around the shop again, noting the carefully done displays and the shelves full of records. His eyes drifted over the marked up chalkboard again before settling on Pidge again. “What happened to the board?”

 

Pidge sighed for a third time, this one long and drawn out. “That is another question for Lance. But, listen, mullet-boy. He’s not going to just.. talk to you, okay? You’re gonna have to work for it. But…” Pidge frowned. “It was partially my fault, so I’ll help you, just this once. After that, you are on your own.”

 

Keith stared, mouth slightly open as Pidge stalked out of the room and reappeared dragging Lance by the arm. Lance was gesturing and Pidge seemed to be ignoring him.

 

“Look, I want coffee. I need coffee. You know how I am when I don’t have it, Lance. Just help this customer, and when I get back, we’ll close up for the night.” They dropped Lance’s arm and stalked out of the shop.

 

Unlike last time, there was no professional smile, no eye contact. Lance was dedicatedly not looking at Keith at all, his eyes fixed on the counter. One hand was curled around the edge of a counter, and the other was moving papers back and forth. It was obvious that Pidge had been right, Lance’s wasn’t going to even attempt to sign.  

 

“Um.. I wanted to apologize for earlier.” Keith’s words seemed to hover in the air for a bit before Lance nodded, just once. It was likely the most awkward moment of Keith’s life and he has had many awkward moments.

 

The silence continued, until again, Keith broke it. “Ok, so I was a dick earlier.... Um, it was a misunderstanding and I feel like a total asshole and I’m honestly really sorry.”

 

Lance frowned, and again his mouth opened and closed before he pressed his lips tightly together for a moment. He took a deep breath, and opened his mouth again.

 

“O..Ok-ok-kay-y-y.” His voice was raspy, and quiet, and just louder than the music that was still playing in the background. The word was short, but the stutter was impossible to miss.

 

He hadn’t been expecting that. Shiro had said Lance couldn’t speak, right? He had realized Lance wasn’t deaf when he responded to smaller noises around him, but clearly there was more that Keith didn’t know. Yet. Keith was terrible at apologies and he wished now more than ever that this wasn’t the case. His chest hurt just knowing he had been so awful to Lance who he hadn’t even met more than two seconds prior, and here Lance was forgiving him. Grudgingly, sure, but it was more than Keith deserved.

 

Lance pulled a bit of paper over, scribbling on it, before offering it to Keith with a shy smile. The paper had the artist and song title that was the same as one of the songs that was marked off of the yellow column. Keith found himself returning the smile. He’d always enjoyed a good mystery, and Lance seemed to be full of them. Maybe, Keith could find more to do here than just catch up with Shiro.

 

….

 

Keith thumbed the scrap of paper in his pocket as he walked into Shiro’s office.

 

“How’d it go?” Shiro eyed him skeptically from his desk.

 

“Better than anticipated.”

 

Shiro rubbed his face and moved the paperwork in front of him into a drawer to his right. “I don’t have any more appointments for the day, so let’s jet. You hungry?”

 

Shiro ordered takeout on his phone as they walked around the corner and into the building next door. It was a nicer apartment than the one they had once shared by leagues. Keith followed Shiro through the clean and quaint building to the third floor. Shiro’s apartment seemed to be in a corner, a door across from him but no others in their stretch of hallway. The apartment itself was roomy and vaguely modern without looking too much like a catalogue. It fit Shiro.

 

“I actually have a spare here, so you don’t have to sleep on the couch.” Shiro led him into the stuffy room, opening a window over a desk that was clearly used often. “Make yourself at home.”

 

“Thanks, Shiro.” Keith hoped Shiro could feel the apology hidden in there.

 

“No problem, bud.” Shiro looked him over as Keith rummaged through his bag. “So, how have you been?”

 

“You know…” Shiro just blinked at him. “Same old, same old.”

 

Shiro sighed. “You still working at the photo studio?” Shiro leaned against the doorframe as he watched him.

 

“You mean Walmart?” Keith tried not to bite it out but failed.

 

“So, I take it that’s not going well?”

 

Keith huffed and turned, sitting on the edge of the bed. “I mean… it’s photography… and that’s what I want to do…”

 

“Keith?”

 

“I hate it.”

 

Shiro came to sit next to him. “Well… what do you want to do instead?”

 

“I don’t know…”

 

“I mean, you’re so talented, there isn’t anything you want to try to do?”

 

“I don’t know…”

 

“I mean, if you could do anything-”

 

“I don’t fucking know!” Shiro turned to look at him and Keith felt instantly guilty. “I just… I need you to back off ok?”

 

“Yeah, of course.”

 

“I’m sorry, I just, I’m lucky to even be doing photography, and… I don’t know…”

 

It wasn’t like Keith had never thought about it, but it wasn’t like he could just up and take off to travel the world and take pictures. He needed a steady income, there was too much risk involved. What if he wasn’t as good as Shiro seemed to think? What if he threw caution to the wind and failed miserably? Maybe in his younger days, but you had to grow out of pipe dreams at some point.

 

A harsh knock made them both jump.

 

“Pizza’s here,” Shiro said as he left the room.

 

They ate on the floor of the living room, just like they had living in their tiny ass apartment so many years ago. Even after Keith had gotten his own place, he and Shiro would still have pizza nights regularly and without ever having said anything, they both would sit on the floor together.

 

“What are your plans for tomorrow,” Shiro asked around a mouthful.

 

“Mmm,” Keith swallowed. “I can’t just hang around with you?”

 

“No,” Shiro laughed. “Some of us actually have to work. Speaking of, I actually need you to do me a favor.”

 

“Umm, alright.”

 

Shiro smirked. “I need you to pick up my order of records.”

 

“Are you shitting me? No, nuh uh, no way.”

 

“Don’t make me pull the guilt out.”

 

“You wouldn’t.”

 

“No, of course not, because I love you, which is why I’ve opened my home to you and-”

 

“Oh my god, stop!” Keith covered his ears. “ Alright, I’ll do it. Don’t be surprised when I get banned from that place.’

 

“You’ll be fine,” Shiro laughed. “Do yourself a favor and check out the other shops on the street. Allura’s coffee is top notch. If you go to Hunk’s place, Crystal Confections, ask for the Shiro cookie.”

 

“What the hell’s a Shiro cookie?”

 

“It’s a black and white cookie, but I’m hoping if I can get more people to call it that, that Hunk will officially change it.”

 

“Ok, you freak,” Keith laughed.

 

“Coran’s Sweets and Treats is just down from there, don’t let him convince you to get the green goo pops, they are not any better tasting than what they look like.”

 

“Noted.”

 

They sat and talked long past the pizza growing cold. Shiro told him that a lot of people that worked in the area lived in the building. Keith listened to him talk about the area and tried not to feel a pain in his gut at the stars in his eyes. He brushed his fingers over the piece of paper in his pocket and stressed over what he knew was coming the next day, but more importantly, the fact that he now had just shy of a week before he had to leave this storybook place and Shiro and go back to his world.



….

 

“Why can’t we ever listen to something a little less… cheerful in the mornings,” Pidge grumped from where they sat perched behind the counter, counting up the register. Lance made a face at them before mouthing the lyrics obnoxiously in their direction, cranking up the volume just a little louder. “Yeah, alright, I get it, I get it.”

 

Mornings on The Street were probably Lance’s favorite part of the day. They were soft and easy and he could smell Hunk’s fresh bread baking as he set out the sign and made sure the door was propped open securely. Allura waved to him as she set out her own sign, proclaiming the return of the Praline Latte. He smiled brightly, returning the wave before returning to the store as the final notes of the song played out.

 

Lance turned to Pidge, cocking an eyebrow as they scowled in return. Lance grinned as obnoxiously as possible as he moved toward the chalkboard, and started writing in his songs of the day. It was something Lance did every day, and was the one thing that he did not ever allow Pidge to do.

 

“Good morning!” The cheerful greeting was accompanied by a wide smile and the smell of fresh cookies.

 

“Cookies!” Pidge slammed the register shut and darted around the counter to snatch the entire plate from Hunk. Two cookies instantly disappeared, and they cradled the plate protectively.

 

Lance offered Hunk a wave and let Pidge chew the cookies before he snuck one off the plate earning a growl from his partner. His hands moved slowly, and carefully, letting Pidge do the translating. They’d learned it was easier on Hunk that way.

 

“Thanks for the cookies, Hunk.” Pidge parroted dutifully, before shoving another cookie in their mouth.

 

“You’re welcome! I’m making a new pie later, so you both better stop by and try it okay?” Hunk reached up and tightened the orange bandana he always wore to keep his hair out of his way. “I’ve still gotta find your favorite dessert, Lance!”

 

“Only if there are cookies.” Pidge mumbled, absently swatting at Lance as he laughed, before turning back to his board.

 

Lance was so focused on his task that it took several minutes before the silence in the room caught his attention, and he turned to see that Hunk was gone, and so were all the cookies. He again raised an eyebrow at Pidge, who just huffed, and made the sign for coffee before heading over to Allura’s.

 

Lance turned up the music a bit, and moved around cleaning and adjusting his displays. Yesterday hadn’t been that good of day. Yeah, the hot guy had come back and apologized, and Lance had even accepted it, but it still hadn’t been a good day. It always made Lance feel self-conscious when people came in and assumed that he was stupid or rude. There was nothing Lance hated more than feeling like he was less than everyone else. That was why he spent so much time learning ASL.

 

He sighed, resting his hands on the shelf and letting his head hang, for just a moment, before he raised it back up, and forcing a smile. It was obviously going to be a Black day.

 

....

 

Keith knew he should go straight to the record shop and pick up Shiro’s order, but it was ungodly early and he needed coffee. Especially, if we was going to be seeing Lance. Keith did not want a repeat of the last time. He rounded the corner and passed Shiro’s place before he registered the music.

 

He paused, and glanced across the street, noting the propped open door, and the sounds of what had to be Pink Floyd playing. Keith loved the classics, and the sound brought a small smile to his face as he continued on and entered the coffee shop.

 

The same barista as the previous day was there, her white hair piled high and pinned intricately into a knot, while her apron was not the traditional black, it was instead a pale pink colored. She looked up from the moustached man that was at the counter to smile widely at Keith.

 

“Welcome to Alluring Brews! How can I.. Oh!” Her hands clapped together, and her smile got brighter. “You must be Keith! Shiro’s told me so much about you! I’m Allura, and it’s wonderful to finally meet you!”

 

Keith wasn’t expecting that kind of welcome, and he certainly wasn’t expecting the woman to actually know him. “Um… okay?” His eyes darted to the other man, who was grinning then back to Allura.

 

A frown crossed her face before the smile was back. “He’s been so helpful since he opened his center. He even helped me move the tables just last week. Oh! Do forgive my rudeness. This is my uncle Coran, and he owns the candy shop on the corner.”

 

Keith relaxed slightly, after hearing Shiro talk about the place the night before it made sense that his direct neighbor would know about him. Shiro always did brag a little too much at times. “Nice to meet you?”

 

Coran grinned again, and extended his hand, shaking Keith’s with surprising vigor. “Excellent to meet you, my boy! How are you liking our little community?”

 

There was something about this man that made Keith relax a bit. He found himself leaning slightly on the counter, chatting with Coran when Allura turned and presented him with a heavenly smelling caramel latte. He had no idea how she knew what his favorite coffee was, but he was okay with blaming Shiro.

 

“Oh.. thanks…” He fumbled a bit for his wallet but Allura tisked at him, making him feel a bit like a wayward child.

 

“Consider it a welcome to our community, Keith. Now, uncle, please tell me you made more of those wonderful strawberry drops?”

 

“Tomorrow, my dear. Today, I am making candy roses for Hunk.”

 

Allura’s face lit up. “Oh! Is he finally going to take Shay for dinner?”

 

Coran chuckled, tugging lightly on his moustache. “I believe so, my dear.”

 

Keith sipped at his drink, enjoying the rich flavors, and absently listening to the conversation. They seemed like nice people, but Keith wasn’t really a good judge of character. “Excuse me.” He slipped away, to wash his hands before going to pick up the order for Shiro.

 

When he came out of the bathroom, the shop was silent. He stepped out of the short hall to find Lance balanced on one of the stool, hands moving smoothly, as he grinned at Coran. Keith watched as the older man started to sign in return and he was struck abruptly by the urge to take a picture of the scene.

 

It had honestly been months since Keith had felt that desire to snap a picture. But there was something about the way the light fell on Lance’s face, and the smooth easy movements of both his and Coran’s hands. How the scene was friendly, even without a word being said. Allura appeared then, setting a couple of cups down near Lance and smiling when he gestured at her.

 

Allura’s arrival changed the scene, instead of silence, there was Coran’s smooth tenor, translating each gesture, but what really stood out to Keith was that when Lance’s hands were moving, Allura’s eyes stayed on Lance, instead of Coran. That alone was interesting, but Keith shook his head. He needed to focus and just collect his cup and go get Shiro’s order.

 

Of course, Allura noticed him them “Oh, Keith, have you met Lance yet? He owns the record store across the street. It’s so wonderful to hear the music every day.” Her smile was fond.

 

Keith nodded, but Lance’s hands came up and started moving before he could speak.

 

“We’ve met, Allura. He came in yesterday and asked about one of the yellow songs.” Coran’s translation honestly shocked Keith. He was sure Lance would have taken the opportunity to tell all his friends about the horrible way Keith had treated him.

 

“Well, that’s good to hear. I hope to see you visiting my shop as well! I will give you one of my special Space Pops, on the house of course!” Coran was practically beaming, but Keith was focused on the grimace that flashed across Lance’s face, before it vanished, when Coran turned back to face him.

 

“Oh… um.. I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth…” Keith shifted, ready to leave, escape all this kindness, and the joy all of them seemed to have for their work. It only empathized how lost Keith felt.

 

Lance grinned again, sliding off the stool and grabbing the cups, before giving Allura a lopsided grin, and a half salute with one of the cups. Allura made a shooing motion and Lance started toward the door. Keith barely caught the door as it started to close behind Lance, hurrying out with a quick “Nice meeting you.” Lance must have heard the door chime suddenly behind him because he turned to see Keith hot on his heels.

 

“Um… I’m also… going this way?” God, he sounded like such an idiot, but he couldn’t help but walk on eggshells here.

 

Lance offered a shrug of one shoulder and an absent hum. He looked from Keith, to his hands and then back to Keith. Then his eyes darted toward the ground. Keith tried to keep a pace behind Lance. He wasn’t exactly sure that was any less awkward, but maybe if he didn’t have to look at Lance’s face… Unfortunately, Lance seemed to be adjusting to his speed, and now Keith couldn’t keep his eyes off of that face.

 

Keith cleared his throat before just barely whispering, “So, can you hear me or-”

 

Lance’s head snapped to the side and he stopped in the middle of the street. His eyes were narrowed and his mouth was turned down into a frown. He leaned, just a bit toward Keith and actually hissed. “Y-yesss.” Before he quickened his steps toward his shop.

 

“Sorry! Sorry, wait!” Keith jogged a little to catch back up to him. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t sure, I just wanted to make sure I could.. Talk to you. I don’t know how to-” Keith wiggled his fingers vaguely before they dropped to his sides pathetically. “I just wanted to know if you could hear me.”

 

Lance’s frown stayed fixed on his face right up until Keith wiggled his fingers, before a hint of a smile started to show. He stared at Keith for a moment, then sighed. He paused, then stopped completely. He was just out of sight of the open doorway, and he turned to face Keith fully.

“Y..y-y-y-yeah…” His voice was hoarse and raspy, the stutter almost worse than the day before.

 

“Oh, ok, cool.” Keith wasn’t exactly sure what to follow that with. “I-”

 

Pidge darted out the door then, pausing just long enough to snatch one of the cups before hurrying down the street. “Gotta see a man about cookies, Lance! Cookies! Chocolate brownie, maple cookies!!!” They half waved as they ran into Hunk’s shop.

 

Lance stared, then shrugged as if that was a normal thing, and motioned Keith into the store.

 

“So, whose shop is this anyway?” Keith looked around him. He felt at ease in this space, like it was no less peaceful than the front seat of a beat up pickup he barely remembered, classic rock softly breezing past him and out the open window. It felt homey in a way Keith really thought it shouldn’t. Especially after his first time in.

 

Lance took his place behind the counter, and took a drink of his coffee, before digging around in a drawer and offering a thin business card to Keith. The card was simple, blue with black music notes on it and the name of the shop clearly written. On the bottom left corner were the words Lance Mclain: Owner

 

“Oh, shit, no way.” Keith was impressed. Lance couldn’t be any older than he was, and the store seemed to be well established. He had assumed Lance just worked there. Keith looked up from the card and back at Lance. “That’s really cool.”

 

Lance’s face lit up, and settled into a proud look. His smile was back, wide and open and aimed right at Keith. Keith felt the moment the sun peaked over the buildings and into the shop because it was suddenly a few degrees warmer.

 

“So, uh.” Keith cleared his throat and tried to look everywhere but at Lance. “What’s with the colors thing?” He gestured to the giant chalkboard before glancing at Lance. “Shit, I should stop asking you questions probably…” Keith’s asshole status was suddenly renewed and he realized just how many questions he’d asked the guy who doesn’t speak in the last ten minutes. “Sorry.”

 

Lance shifted, taking another drink from his coffee, before glancing from the board to Keith and back. His mouth pressed together for a moment before he shook his head. His hands came up and then immediately dropped back down. Then, his expression brightened and he held up a finger before turning to the board.

 

He wrote near the bottom. ‘This is me. It’s how I express what I can’t say.’

 

Keith regarded the board, reading and rereading the message now scrawled there. He looked over the various song titles and artists, but he still felt like he was missing a piece of the puzzle. “But, what does it mean?”

 

Lance stilled, then erased his earlier scribble. He rubbed his fingers over his face, leaving a little smear of chalk on his cheek, before he started scribbling again. What do you think of when you see Black?

 

Keith’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Black?” He looked from Lance to the board and back again. “Uh… I don’t know… I guess…” He thought for a second, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He didn’t want to say the wrong thing. “Well, I know for a lot of people black is bad or dark or emo or whatever… but I think it gets a bad wrap?” He looked down at his mostly black outfit and had to force himself not to cringe at himself. “Like, it definitely can be those things, but it’s also determination and power and struggle? I don’t know, am I even making sense?”

 

Lance smiled, small and sincere, before writing again. It took much longer than the last two little messages, but finally he stepped to the side, letting Keith see what he had done.

 

You are. Black is all of those things. But to me, Black is the unknown. It’s shadows, and uncertainty, like change. But, it’s also easily overlooked. Everyone can see it, dismiss it like it’s nothing special. Black is hiding, keeping things you don’t want people to see, tucked away.

 

“Black... like the night..” Keith looked over the list under the black header with a weight that had not been there before. “So… all the colors are… like a metaphor? Like a feeling?”

 

Lance nodded, as his hand erased the chalk words. He studied Keith for a moment then took a sharp breath.

 

“W-w-w-w-whats-s-s B..B-b-blue?”

 

Keith’s eyes snapped from the board to Lance. The sound sent goosebumps racing across his skin. He thought briefly of the blue eyes he’d locked onto the first time they met. “Hmm… blue is... like the ocean or a storm. Tumultuous… but necessary. It can be beautiful or brutal…”

 

Lance hums, looking thoughtful. “B-b-blue is-s-s s-s-s-sad-d-d. No one w-w-wants-s-s b-b-blue.”

 

Keith’s brow creased, but this time it wasn’t from confusion. “Have you ever been out in the desert?”

 

Lance shook his head, tilting it slightly.

 

“Blue skies as far as you can see. Then the storms roll in and they’re blue in their own way, dark and dangerous and consuming, but… they always pass… Blue isn’t always bad…” Keith could feel eyes on him, but he couldn’t make himself return the look. “So what’s red then?”

 

“R-r-r-red-d-d?” Lance blinked a couple of times. One hand absently making the sign for red over and over, before he nodded. “R-r-red-d-d, is-s-s-s l-l-l-lif-fe. F..f-f-fir-r-re, p-p-pas-s-sion, ang-g-ger-r-r.”

 

Keith laughed. “I like the red songs.”

 

Lance smiled, but looked nervous. Then he shifted, straightening his shoulders, and facing Keith completely. “I… I us-s-se m-mus-sic b-b-b-becaus-s-se… w-w-w-wor-r-rds-s-s-s d-d-don’t w-w-wor-r-rk.”

 

“Yeah, my brother would have a thing or two to say about expressing yourself with music. Apparently playing The Black Parade at top volume is frowned upon?” Keith shrugged, smirking.

 

Lance grinned something sharp and almost wicked. He held up a finger, and vanished into the back room returning with a phone and he fiddled with it for a moment before turning it around so Keith could see.

 

It was a video, and it was of the record shop, but the displays had been moved and nearly everyone that worked on the block was scattered around on the floor except for Lance. They were laughing and joking then, the music started. Oddly, it was Shiro that started singing along first, belting out the words to Queen’s We are the Champions badly. It only got better as Pidge seemed to encourage him to get up and dance.

 

Lance closed the video after the song was over, a wide smile on his face, as he reached up and tapped the word Orange on the board. “W-w-w-want a cop-p-py?”

 

“Oh my god,” Keith breathed, holding in laughter as best he could. “I am never letting him live that down, you have to send it to me.”

 

Lance smiled, and passed his phone to Keith, before moving over to one of the shelves. He came back with something tucked behind his back, waiting patiently until Keith was finished sending the video to himself.

 

“Amazing.” Keith smiled wide as he handed the phone back over to Lance. “I’m going to watch that every day until I die.”

 

Lance grinned, then pulled his hands around, and putting a record into Keith’s hands. The record was an old one, but the sleeve was still in good shape. The Black Parade.

 

“P-p-p-play-y-y this-s-s-s, w-w-when y-y-you d-d-d-do.”

 

Keith held the record gently in his hands. “Holy shit, I haven’t listened to this album in years… How much? Doubt I could afford it, I’m sure it’s worth skyrocketed after they broke up.”

 

Lance’s smile softened. He bit his lip, and then opened his mouth, words coming out slowly and carefully. His stutter was still there but it was obvious Lance was trying very hard to keep it, manageable.

 

“M-m-my, tr-reat. I w-want p-p-peop-pl-le to b-be hap-p-p-py. S-s-so b-be hap-p-py.” He took a step back, catching his coffee cup and taking a large drink.

 

Keith stared down at the record in his hands, a frown forming on his face though his heart was doing flips. “I can’t accept this… it’s too much…”

 

Lance shook his head. “G-g-gif-ft. Y-y-your-rs-s-s.” He took another drink, then nodded. “F-f-r-riend-ds-s-s?” He held out his hand.

 

Keith couldn’t seem to catch hold of a single thought. He slowly placed his hand in Lance’s, shaking gently. “Y-yeah, of course.”

 

Lance smiled, this one smaller and more shy, before pointing at the record and then to one of the players, tilting his head in question.

 

“Oh, hell yeah.” Keith smiled and headed over to where Lance had pointed. “Top volume?”

 

Lance grinned. “Of-f-f cour-rs-se.”

 

Keith gently lifted the needle off the record currently playing before swapping it out for the one in hand. He slid the vinyl out of the sleeve and drew a sharp breath at the beautiful artwork. “Woah.”

 

Lance looked pleased and slipped the other record out of the sleeve, setting it into the player and placing the needle near the center, only having to adjust it once before the title song started to play.

 

The first few notes of the piano rang out around the shop. The lyrics came in already loud and Keith smiled knowing once the song picked up that Shiro would probably be able to hear it from his office. “Oh shit, Shiro’s-” Keith’s words were nearly muffled by the onslaught of drums and Gerard’s voice. He couldn’t help but laugh because it was about to get so much worse.

 

“Lance,” Keith had to move closer to him in hopes of being heard. “Shiro’s order,” he called out.

 

For a moment Lance looked confused, then he snapped his fingers, and started moving around the shop, plucking a record off one shelf and then another from a display, all the while, mouthing along to the words. In the end, he handed Keith three records, all of them Blues albums.

 

Lance then moved over to the counter and scribbled on the board again. Shiro’s order.  He underlined it twice to draw Keith’s attention.

 

“Yeah,” Keith pointed at Lance’s note and nodded as he walked towards the register, The Black Parade still blaring around them. “Did he already pay?”

 

Lance shook his head, turning back to the board. He’ll come by later. He orders them for his clients. It’s okay.  

 

Keith read over the words and nodded, straightening the albums in his hands. “Cool,” he shouted over the music. “Thanks!” He yelled just as the music cut out, embarrassingly loud in the suddenly quiet shop. “Uh, thanks,” he said at a much more reasonable volume, a blush creeping up on his face. He nodded at Lance and turned to leave before he could make a fool of himself any more than he already had.

 

Lance blinked, then actually called out, voice carrying easily across the store. ‘K-keith, w-w-wait!” He darted across the store, carefully packing up the album and moving to Keith’s side, setting the record on top of the others. “Have a good-d-d, d-d-day-y…”

 

The blush now covered his entire face as he stared wide eyed at Lance. “You too… See ya around.” He smiled before turning on his heel and promptly walking away before his heart had a chance to escape his rib cage.

 

...

 

Pidge grinned as they slipped into Shiro’s building, and made their way to the counter.

 

“Shiro!!”

 

A loud bang echoed, followed by a sharp curse as his head appeared from under the counter.

 

“What are you doing on the floor?”

 

Shiro sighed, long and drawn out. “I dropped a paper. What did you need Pidge?”

 

Their grin was pure mischief. “Sooo, that friend of yours? What’s-his-name? Yeah. he’s over at the shop with Lance.”

 

“I know Pidge. I sent him there to get an order one of my clients wanted.” Despite the calm words, Shiro looked a little worried.

 

“Yeah, but did you know that Lance is talking to him? Like with actual words?” Pidge cackled at the dumbfounded look on Shiro’s face. Everyone knew that Lance could talk, but only Pidge and Coran had actually heard him. Well, and Matt, but Matt just showed up and disappeared at his own whims, so Pidge didn’t really count him.

 

“That’s.. Impossible.” Shiro blinked then frowned at Pidge. “I know you like jokes, but some things, just aren’t funny.”

 

Pidge rolled their eyes. “I’m serious. I went over to Hunk’s to get some cookies.. Don’t give me that look Shiro, they were chocolate maple brownie cookies.” They smiled happily at the memory before finishing their story. “I come back, and there is Lance, leaning on the counter, pointing at the board and telling… what’s-his-name about some of the songs.”

 

“Keith.” Shiro offered absently. “I can’t believe it. Keith told me he really upset Lance just yesterday.”

 

Pidge scowled. “Yeah, came in, and I figure, it’s just another customer, so you know me. I always try to make Lance interact at least a little each day, and it’s been slow, so I moved off, Lance started to sign, and dude lost it.” Pidge crossed their arms. “But, he did come back and apologize so, there is that.”

 

Shiro gave a long suffering sigh, but changed the subject back to the present. “Talking huh?”

 

“Yeah… and I have no idea what that means…” Pidge’s scowl softened into a frown. “I’m going back, but I wanted you to know.”

 

“Thanks Pidge… Wait.” Shiro shifted, moving toward his door and opening it, easily picking out the song that could be heard clearly. “Oh no… Pidge.. Please tell me that Lance had this song on his board? Pidge?”

 

Pidge was too busy laughing to answer.

 

 

By the time Keith made his way back to Shiro’s office, he felt like he was in a haze. He hadn’t expected Lance to give him the time of day, let alone spend the better part of the morning sharing fairly personal things with Keith. But, maybe that’s just how Lance was.

 

“-to Keith, earth to Keith, hello?”

 

Keith looked up from the albums in his hands to an amused looking Shiro. “What?”

 

Shiro laughed and took the records from Keith’s hands. He looked down and the smile instantly disappeared from his face. “Oh god, no, you didn’t.”

 

Now it was Keith’s turn to chuckle. “Hey man, can’t turn down a gift.”

 

“Lance gave you this? As a gift?”

 

Keith’s face lit up in a blush. “Uh, yeah, he insisted…”

 

“Huh.”Shiro smirked as he handed the Black Parade back to Keith and placing his order on his desk.

 

“What?” Keith’s brow furrowed as he followed Shiro with his eyes.

 

“Nothing.” Shiro shrugged. “Just surprised is all… and I’m going to have to thank Lance when I go over later,” Shiro grumbled under his breath.

 

Keith sat in one of the overstuffed waiting chairs, head tipped back as he brushed careful fingers over the album edges. Shiro didn’t miss the small smile fighting its way onto his face.

 

“So, you and Lance…”

 

“What do you mean, me and Lance?” That small smile was instantly replaced with irritation.

 

“I mean you were over there for a lot longer than it takes to pick up an order.”

 

“So?”

 

“So, I heard you guys were talking.”

 

“It’s called customer service, Shiro.”

 

Shiro laughed and took the seat across from Keith, leaning forward elbows on knees like every well meaning mentor figure from any movie Keith had ever seen. He didn’t even bother trying to fight the urge to roll his eyes.

 

“I heard that Lance was actually speaking to you. Verbally.” Keith shrugged, still not really meeting Shiro’s gaze. “That’s a pretty big deal, Keith. I mean, I’ve never heard him speak.”

 

Keith sat up abruptly. “What?”

 

“He’s never really explained it, I just knew he didn’t speak.”

 

Keith’s eyes darted around, trying to puzzle out what that meant. “He… struggles… to speak. But, uh, I don’t know how to, uh-” Keith wiggled his fingers in front of him just like he had when speaking to Lance earlier. Shiro laughed.

 

“You don’t know how to type?”

 

“What?”

 

“That’s the sign for typing.”

 

Keith groaned, covering his face with his hands. “He probably thinks I’m an idiot.”

 

“Yeah, probably.” Shiro received a pointed glare. “But, he clearly likes you-”

 

“Shirooo,” Keith groaned, slumping back in the chair once more.

 

“What? You don’t think he’s cute?” Shiro teased.

 

Keith shot him another quick look. “I’m pretty sure he’s only tolerating me right now because of you. But… I don’t know… he’s weird, but I like talking with him.” Keith didn’t dare confirm for Shiro what he thought about Lance, his looks or otherwise, but the look Shiro fixed him with said he knew anyway.

 

“Ok, so you do think he’s cute, but you’re going to pull a typical Keith move and avoid feelings at all cost, right?”

 

“You know, I’m starting to regret this visit,” Keith deadpanned.

 

“You should ask him out. You could-”

 

“Shiro!”

 

“What, I’m just looking out for you.”

 

“In the most overbearing way possible,” Keith laughed. “Just… I don’t even live here, we literally just met and I’m pretty sure he still kind of hates me. So, let’s just… not?”

 

“Ok, buddy, but I better not come home every day for the next week and hear My Chem blasting through the walls.” Shiro stood and went to his desk, organizing papers as he continued to lecture Keith on the pursuit of happiness, Keith slowly tuning him out more and more. Keith didn’t move from where he was comfortably slumped, eyes closed, but he couldn’t help but start to hum under his breath, slow at first.

 

“Keith, are you listening?”

 

The tune of We Are The Champions grew louder the more Shiro tried to interrupt.

 

“I’ve changed my mind, you two are not allowed anywhere near each other any more.”

 

Keith cackled as Shiro hurried out of the room.

 

...

 

When Pidge walked back into Needles and Notes, they are already planning the best way to tease Lance without actually upsetting him. Pidge was known to be very fond of pranks and jokes, but, they were also known for not always knowing when a joke had gone too far. It was, they insisted, completely their brother’s fault.  The only exceptions were Hunk, who regularly bribed Pidge with cookies and treats, and Lance, who was almost more of a brother than Matt was.

 

But talking? Without Pidge making him? That was huge for Lance and Pidge was not going to let him get away without some teasing. So, Pidge slipped through the door as quietly as possible, and grinned as they watched Lance sorting through a new shipment of records.

 

“Hey Lance, I’m back.”

 

Lance set a couple of records down, and turned hands already moving.

 

‘Hey, how was the bribe?’

 

Pidge crossed their arms with a huff, smile already growing. “It was not a bribe. Hunk is a sweet man who can do no wrong, and wanted to just give me access to my greatest love. Cookies.”

 

The corner of Lance’s mouth twitched as he started signing again. ‘What did you fix?’

 

Pidge mock glared before shrugging. “His register wouldn’t open.”

 

Lance laughed, one of the few sounds he would willingly make, and it never failed to make Pidge smile. But they had a mission.

 

“So… how did it go with the mouthy guy?” Pidge let their smirk grow.

 

Lance’s cheeks turned slightly red, and they glared before he sent Pidge a completely subtle one fingered salute.

 

Pidge snickered, “Sure seemed like you were getting along.. You were talking to him.” They moved closer, and poked his arm several times. “So what? You like him? Do you? You talked, Lance! That’s huge!”

 

Lance glared, cheeks still red as he made the sign for bird, which was the sign Lance had used for Pidge ever since he had learned how to sign. But Pidge kept going.

 

“I mean he’s kinda grouchy, but he did apologize.. Still I don’t..” Pidge froze when Lance raised his right hand sharply, his palm open and in the universal sign for stop.

 

Lance met their eyes for just a moment before he dropped his own, staring at the crooked stack of records sitting on the counter. For a long moment, he didn’t move then his hands came up, their usual smooth movements slightly jerky and rushed. Pidge knew that meant, Lance was actually upset.

 

‘Pidge. You have a lot of friends. Hunk, Allura, Shiro, Coran, Matt and all those people at your college. Because of you, some of them are my friends, as well. But.’ Lance paused, took a breath and raised his face to look squarely at Pidge, before he started signing again. ‘I made this friend, on my own. Without the help of anyone else. He’s the first… since you. So, please, just don’t.’

 

Pidge leapt the small distance between them and wrapped their arms around Lance tightly. They squeezed their eyes shut, and hugged as tightly as possible, heart breaking just a little at the thought that Lance felt this guy… this Keith was only the second friend he had made on his own.

 

 

Shiro had left Keith watching the counter, after three promises that Keith would not do anything but smile and invite anyone that came to sit. But, because of that, Shiro had a couple of minutes to come over and pay for his order, and chat with Pidge and Lance. He wanted to do something to let them know that the eruption the day before wasn’t how Keith usually was.

 

Shiro waved at Lance, and smiled across the counter at Pidge. “I’m here to pay for my order, before you send the thug after me.” He jerked a thumb toward Pidge, making them beam and Lance grin.

 

Lance’s hands came up. ‘Good, I can’t afford the bribe needed to get them to take out a slacker like you, Shiro.’

 

“Sixty-two dollars and eighty-four cents, Shiro, or I’ll take you out for free.” Pidge mock scowled, but took the bills Shiro offered, before they handed back his change. “So, enjoying your visit with your friend?”

 

Shiro grinned. “Yeah, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen him. By the way… I’m sorry about yesterday Lance. Keith’s not normally like that. He’s really a good guy, and he’s like my little brother, and I hate it that he upset you.”

 

‘It’s cool, Shiro. No big deal.’ Lance smiled, and picked up a record, stretching to put it back in it’s place.

 

“No, it really isn’t.” Shiro drifted around the shop, absently looking at the records but lost in his own thoughts. “It wasn’t easy for him, growing up, and I tried hard to help break some of his.. Bad habits… poor influences. But it’s hard, you know, when all he really did was spend time alone, listening to music and brooding all the time.” Shiro almost laughed at the memories of teenage Keith. “Don’t get me wrong, he really is a good kid, incredibly talented. I’m actually really proud of him, hell, he’ll probably be more successful than me, leave us all in the dust,” Shiro joked. “You know, if he can just focus and maybe find some better friends. I’m still working on it, but he goes home in a week so...”

 

“Enough!” Pidge slammed their hands on the counter, and it was only then that Shiro noticed the scowl Pidge had and the carefully neutral look on Lance’s face.

 

“What..?”

 

Lance’s hands came up, they moved quickly as he crossed the room toward the record players. ‘Of course, Shiro. I completely understand. Bad influences and all that. I promise that he won’t find those things here anymore. Excuse me.’

 

He lifted the needle of the playing record, something bluesy that Shiro actually enjoyed before heading toward the little room in the back.

 

Confused, Shiro did what everyone did when Lance didn’t exactly make sense, and he turned to Pidge, who was still glaring at him.

 

“Pidge…”

 

“Go away, Shiro, until you can remember to watch your words .” Pidge’s scowl grew as they ushered Shiro out the door and closed it behind him.

 

He stood there, staring at the closed door for several minutes. He’d never seen it closed before, when the shop was open, ever. He wasn’t sure why what he’d said bothered them so much.

 

 

Pidge slipped out of the dark music store, and headed straight for Hunk’s bakery. Usually, the bakery closed a good hour before Lance did, but after Shiro had left, Lance refused to come out of his room, and Pidge, who admittedly, didn’t know as much about music as he did, ended up closing the shop very early and spent the evening trying to get Lance to answer them. It only made Pidge madder at Shiro, because Lance had never shut out Pidge before.

 

They were worried but they couldn’t stay with Lance tomorrow because they had classes. Usually, they would ask Shiro or Allura to pop in and visit but it was Shiro’s fault and Allura would always side with her boyfriend. Coran was out because he got a lot more business than some of them did, due to the local kids and the fact that other than his Space Pops, his candy was actually pretty tasty. That left Hunk. Hunk who had Shay assisting him, and that meant he could check in on Lance for them.

 

Pidge slipped through the door, and sighed. Normally, they loved the bakery, and the wonderful smells that were always filling the air. But this time, Pidge didn’t even want a cookie. They moved toward the register, absently glancing around the scowled at the sight of Shiro. They noticed Keith standing next to him but decided to ignore them both.

 

“Pidge!” Hunk exclaimed, his smile wide and cheerful. “Are you here to try the new pie?” His smile fell at the frown they had. “Are you okay?”

 

Pidge shrugged. “I’m fine, Hunk. I just wanted to ask you for a favor. Mind checking in on Lance tomorrow? I got classes until three.”

 

“Sure, I don’t mind… but why? Where is he? He closed early, right?” Hunk fretted, coming around the counter and not even noticing Keith and Shiro moving closer.

 

“Yeah…” They glared at Shiro, who held up his hands, before sighing. “Yeah, he’s not feeling all that great.”

 

“What happened?”

 

Pidge’s head snapped up, eyes darting over to Keith, who had asked. Pidge still wasn’t too sure about Keith, but they remembered Lance’s sharp movements, his statement of this man being his friend willingly, so they gave him the benefit of the doubt, for now.

 

“Someone upset him today.” Pidge spoke softly, turning their head away from Hunk, away from Shiro and Keith, toward the smooth warm brown wood of the floor. “Made him feel like, he wasn’t worth being a friend to someone. So..” Their head snapped up. “He closed early. He’ll be open like normal tomorrow. It’ll be a Blue day. So, if you’ll stop by, I’ll owe you one, Hunk.”

 

Hunk frowned, and Shiro dropped his head a little, while Keith just looked confused.

 

“No problem, Pidge.”

 

“Great, I gotta get back.” Pidge nodded at Hunk and spun sharply, marching toward to the door.

 

 

“What’s a blue day?” Keith was frowning, not really understanding why Pidge seemed so angry.

 

Shiro looked away, frown on his face, while Hunk kept looking from one to the other. Finally, Hunk shrugged.

 

“It means Lance is only going play songs on his blue list. I don’t really get it, but some days Lance will play more songs from one list and not another. Once, some rich guy came, and bought a huge amount of his records. He played yellow songs for the rest of the day. Another time, he had a bad row with a customer, not long before you moved here, Shiro. Pidge was in class, and Lance played black songs all day. The minute Pidge got back, we didn’t see either of them until the next day. Pidge didn’t even leave for coffee. ”

 

Keith hadn’t known Pidge for very long, but he had already learned not to come between them and coffee. What was more distressing though was Lance playing nothing but black songs. Keith couldn’t quite remember what songs he had seen in that column but he remembered Lance’s explanation of what those songs meant to him. Dark and unknown, like the night and Keith was retroactively fucking pissed at whatever was said to make Lance feel like that. Now he was having a “blue day” and Keith wasn’t sure that he liked that any more. No one wants blue. They needed to figure out a plan, something, anything, one of them had to know what they could do.

 

Keith looked around the group, but he zeroed in on the guilty expression Shiro had. His eyes narrowed. “What did you do?”

 

Shiro’s human hand came up and he rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish expression. Keith had probably seen him do that exact same thing hundreds of times since they were kids, so he crossed his arms and scowled, looking as disapproving as possible.

 

Shiro sighed. “I… I went to pay for my order, and we were just talking…” Shiro could already see questions forming on the tip of Keith’s tongue, so he cut him off. “We were talking about you, and I was trying to hopefully excuse any and all transgressions on your part, but… maybe it didn’t go like I thought?”

Keith’s scowl intensified, and he all but bit out, “what exactly did you say, Shiro?”

 

“Well…”

 

“What did Pidge say?” Hunk interrupted, looking disappointed.

 

“Uh-”

 

“Why did you even bring me up in the first place, oh my god,” Keith huffed, covering his face.

 

“You came up on your..”

 

“What did Pidge say, Shiro?” Hunk interrupted again, more forcefully this time.

 

Shiro sighed, “Pidge said, that until I can watch my words, I’m not allowed back.”

 

Shiro honestly looked heartbroken over it. Ashamed and sad, and Keith could feel for him, it was usually him on this side of things.

 

“I’m not even entirely sure what I said wrong…” Shiro slumped into the closest chair. “All I said was that you needed to focus and maybe find new friends.”

 

Keith froze halfway to pulling out a chair for himself, knuckles white and the wood backrest groaning under his grip. “You. Said. What?” It came out slow and icy before the real storm blew in. “Are you fucking kidding me, Shiro? Oh my god!” Keith began pacing, arms flailing just this side of dangerous. “I can’t fucking believe- how can you be so goddamn stupid- and now he’s- and how am I- jesus christ!” Keith was barely breathing between words.

 

Hunk planted his hands on Keith’s shoulders and led him to the chair. “Deep breaths, come on, in… out… Okay, again..” Hunk repeated his directions a couple more times before asking. “Why did that upset Lance so much?”

 

“He- we- I… ugh!” Keith slumped forward, burying his head in his hands. “We were finally getting somewhere. He gave me a record. He asked if we could be friends. And then you fucking blew it.”

 

Shiro looked horrified but Hunk sighed and patted Keith’s shoulder. “Listen. All you have to do is go over there tomorrow and explain. I mean, Shiro can’t go until Pidge lifts their ban, but they didn’t say you couldn’t go. So go over there. Be the friend he asked you to be and prove that Shiro didn’t mean it.” Hunk took a step to the side, and shook his head at Shiro. “And you, should figure out how to apologize fast, or Pidge is going to kill you.”

 

“You better hope this works,” Keith pointed at Shiro, “or I’m going to do something I know for a fact you will regret a lot more than I will.” Shiro looked into his eyes with a mix of sadness and dread, and honestly Keith could never stay mad at him for too long. “And I’m kicking you outta the family.”

 

Shiro choked out a rather wet laugh. “Yeah, ok kiddo, you got it.” He drug a heavy hand down his face. “I’ll make sure to go over there as soon as Keith’s done, you think that’ll be ok, Hunk?”

 

Hunk’s brow furrowed. “I’d wait until Pidge is back from their classes. Try then, if nothing else? You can make an apology trial run.”

 

...

 

He had a love hate relationship with sleep. Nights like these where he restlessly stared at the ceiling just hoping for sleep to come. Keith had closed his eyes and started counting but after losing count twice, he called it a lost cause. He rolled over and checked the time, just after two. The glow from his phone illuminated the small room and Keith found himself staring at the album sitting on the desk. As the phone dropped in brightness, he made a decision and grabbed his phone off the charger. He was awake anyway, might as well do something. Keith thumbed to his YouTube app and started typing.

 

ASL common phrases

 

He scrolled until he found a video that caught his eye. The young woman went through about ten phrases. He watched blankly as she signed things like ‘my name is’ and ‘I love you’ but when she started showing the signs for ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’ he sat up, placing the phone in his lap to attempt to copy her movements. He watched and rewatched the video, focusing on the phrases he knew he'd want to use.

 

By his twelfth watch through, he felt pretty good about his signing, had even lazily signed through the phrases he had no intention of using purely because at this point he felt like he even had those memorized. Keith minimized the video as it continued to play the outro and cleared his search. If he wanted to talk to Lance, he should probably learn how to talk about the things that mattered to him most.

 

ASL for record

 

Keith had to retype to specify what type of record, but then he found a quick video of a man making the sign on repeat. He felt more awkward doing this one, it had more steps than he had expected. He signed it until he felt like he might not make a fool of himself, before going into his history and playing the first video again. He waited until she was going through the sign for ‘thank you’ and he tried his best to flow from that to the sign for record. He repeated the motions until she got to the sign for ‘sorry’. Keith stopped mid sign and began to copy her.

 

He settled back into his pillow, the phone propped on the bedside table. He sleepily signed along with the video, falling asleep to an endless stream of tutorials.

 

...

 

Keith awoke to a dead phone and an intense need for coffee. He plugged in his phone as he glanced at the window. The sun didn't seem to be too high, so maybe he hadn't slept in too much. He stumbled bleary eyed to his bag overflowing onto the floor. He crammed a few things back in, he could feel Shiro’s militaristic disapproval from here. He rummaged until he found a pair of jeans and a shirt he was pretty sure was clean. It smelled alright anyway. One of the legs of his jeans caught on the strap of his camera. He’d honestly kind of forgot he packed the thing, shoving it into his bag more habit than anything. Keith untangled the pants and set the camera on the desk.

 

He stared the damn thing down as he pulled his clothes on. He hadn’t taken a picture that wasn’t for work in months, hadn’t really felt like it. His job had drained so much of the creative ambition that had driven him before. Keith hooked a finger into the blinds and peeked through. It was really nice out this morning… Keith huffed as he grabbed the camera and slung it around his neck before heading out the door.

 

The street was already bustling this morning, and Keith could smell the enticing aroma of coffee as he lined up a simple shot straight down the road, the shops framing patrons as they moved from one to the next. A little basic, but it had been a while. He caught a couple of some mom’s with their kids. Keith pulled the camera away from his face to tweak some settings, catching movement out of the corner of his eye. Lance was adjusting the sign propping the door open, a focused look on his face. Keith snapped a burst of three images as Lance worked before moving back into the shop.

 

Allura was as photogenic as Keith had expected, her hair falling from her effortless bun in a way that every instagram model would kill to replicate. Coran caught him while he was taking a picture of his window display of colorful candies, insisting he give him the grand tour. Keith found himself with a series of bizarre images of swirling candy colors and alien looking machinery. A customer came in and Keith took the opportunity to duck out of the shop.

 

As he waited for a car to pass to cross the street, he noticed Allura meeting Lance in the middle of the street with a cup of something warm. An easy open expression on his face as she said something to him, a nod or two, a quick hug and then the two split and hurried back to their respective shops. Keith flushed as he realized he had captured almost the entire interaction, sifting through the series of shots.

 

Keith popped into Hunk’s, receiving a warm greeting and a sample of something warm and carmelized that melted in his mouth. He took several shots of the intricate cakes Hunk had displayed and few more he had in back, with promises to send him some for his website. He made his way back out into the street, capturing random passerby and the various other shops on the street. He may have ducked behind a bush to snap a few of Coran and Lance signing fast and furious, his hands a work of art, as they stood outside of Lance’s shop before Hunk joined them, a tray of muffins in tow.

 

Ok, maybe more than a few… more like 18. But, he had to make sure the framing was just right...

 

He told himself he wanted to give Lance some time to cool off, but Keith knew he was just procrastinating. What if Lance didn’t accept his apology? Keith wasn’t really ready to hear that, but if he put it off any longer, Lance really wouldn’t forgive Keith on behalf of Shiro’s blunder. He had just barely been able to hear any music coming through the door all morning, but gone was the more carefree music he had started to get used to hearing, kind of like the neverending film score to their lives. He snapped a shot or two of the outside of the building, and finally made his way across the street to Needles and Notes.

 

Keith peeked around the corner and into the shop. Lance had his back to the front, staring unmoving at the blackboard. No one else seemed to be in the shop, the only sound was the softly playing music drifting out of the speakers. It was slow and haunting and Keith realized he knew it. A familiar voice sang out in the empty store. My hands tired, my heart aches, I’m half a world away here. Keith didn’t think twice before snapping a picture of his friend radiating blue.

 

The shutter practically echoed in the relatively quiet store. Keith swore under his breath as Lance spun towards him. Keith fumbled to cap his camera and appear to be doing anything but creepily taking pictures of Lance, the guy he was supposed to be here to patch things up with, Come on Keith, focus. He looked up to see Lance just staring at him. Keith expected confusion, outrage, but the blank look fixed in his direction was far more unsettling.

 

“Um…” Keith stepped a little further into the shop. “Good morn- oh, wait-” Keith squared his shoulders, shrugging them a little to loosen his limbs. He took a deep breath and brought his hand up to his face, fingers touching his chin before he stiffly brought it down again. He smiled a little as he brought his left arm up horizontal across his body, hooking the fingertips in the crook of his other arm before bringing it straight up towards him, creating a 90 degree angle. It was clumsy, but he hoped Lance knew what he was trying to say.

 

Lance’s eyes widened as they tracked Keith’s careful motions. For a second, just a tick of time, the edge of his mouth twitched up, before it smoothed back into the blank expression. He repeated Keith’s motions, far more fluidly, then he paused, tilting his head. He raised his right hand, fingers all pressed tightly together and touched his right temple before drawing his hand down, thumb and pinky extended, the other three fingers folding into his palm.

 

“Uhh…” Keith looked sheepish. “Yeah, I don’t think I learned that one.” He tried to laugh it off, but it sounded lame even to him. “But, uh, I did learn a couple other things. Like-” Keith balled his right hand into a fist and made slow circles around his heart. ‘Sorry.’

 

Lance bit his lip, looking unsure, before he turned to the board, fingers fiddling with the chalk for a moment before he started writing. The lists were all short today, only three songs in each column them except for Blue. That column was filled from top to bottom.

 

‘A good attempt. Mine was Why?  Why would you try to learn? No, nevermind. What can I do for you?’

 

Lance tapped the board after he finished, moving toward the record players to switch it out. For a moment, there was the usual static sound that came from some old records, then a hint of voices. Low and hard to hear. Finally, there came the iconic gentle sound of a guitar.

 

Keith’s stomach bottomed out. This song had always held such weight for him, and he tried to focus on what exactly to make of the words scribbled across the board. He tried for words a couple of times. “I wanted to return the favor… you know… you spoke for me. I wanted to be able to sign for you…” Soft lyrics started to filter through the distortion. ‘So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell.’

 

Lance moved back to the chalk board, wiping the words away with the sleeve of his shirt, before picking up the chalk again. ‘That was kind of you. Shiro was right, you are a great guy. Thank you.’ He straightened after, a small smile on his face.

 

Keith frowned even harder if that was possible. “Lance, about what Shiro said. I wanted to clear some things up, because he was out of line.”

 

Lance blinked and shook his head. He tilted his head, then frowned. Lance looked at the chalk he was still holding then shook his head again, before repeating his earlier sign ‘Why?’

 

“He… He shouldn’t have even been talking about me first of all. But, he said I should get better friends? And I needed to tell you… that doesn’t include you… if you’ll still be my friend…”

 

Lance’s head ducked down, cheeks slightly red before he signed a couple things, then shook his head again. He looked at the chalk, then sighed. “It’s-s-s ok-kay-y-y. M-m-y-y-y b-b-bad-d-d.”

 

“No!” Keith scrambled forward, his camera smacking against his side as he moved. “It’s not. At all. It was a shitty thing to say and Shiro didn’t realize I thought of you as a friend. But, it really isn’t your bad…”

 

The sound of wind blowing caused Lance’s head to move toward the player. Lance moved over to the player but kept his eyes on Keith, movements practiced even without watching. “It’s-s-s r-r-real-l-ly-y-y ok-kay-y-y.” He smiled a shy smile before turning back to the records.

 

Keith returned the smile, but he wanted to make sure Lance believed him. “I, uh, tried to learn a couple things, but um, maybe you could show me sometime. If you feel like it.”

 

Lance placed the needle on the new record and moved back toward the chalkboard. He brought his right hand up, pointer finger next to his lips, fingers curled loosely and moved it slightly away from his mouth. He repeated the motion several times then wrote on the board. ‘Sure.’

 

Keith repeated the motion slowly and awkwardly,but he couldn’t help the smile sneaking its way onto his face. “Sure? Ok, great, uh, whenever, um whenever you want, or have time I guess. But uh, I did want to say one more thing…” Keith brought his fingertips to his mouth before swinging his arm away and down, then furrowed his brow while he tried to remember the next part, but he fanned his hand a couple of times over his arm before pointing his finger down and drawing a circle in front of him. ‘Thank you for the record.’ He looked up, trying not to look too hopeful.

 

Again, like before, Lance’s eyes tracked Keith’s hands with a focused intensity. Lance smiled, warmer than before. His hands shifted, much slower than usual making his signs carefully but unlike before, this time he speaks as he does. “Y-y-your-r-r w-w-wel-l-lcom-me.”

 

Keith mimicked the movement a couple times, before he realized that silence had settled on them. He should probably get out of Lance’s hair, he had a store to run after all. “Well-”

 

A bag came sailing through the open door and slid smoothly to a stop just in front of the counter. A second later Pidge appeared, hair sticking up everywhere and stalking in as if the entire world had personally offended them. “People suck!”

 

Lance chuckled quietly, and sent Keith a small smile and a shrug, before reaching over and tapping Pidge’s head so that they would pay attention

 

“Oh… it’s you..”

 

“Uh, yeah, hey…” Keith was still very wary of Pidge. They seemed to be a sort of gatekeeper to Lance if you misstepped and Keith was not about to do anything wrong in their presence ever again if he could help it.

 

Pidge raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. “Anyway, people suck. One of my idiot classmates, managed to electrically charge the parts I planned to use and it shocked me bad enough that the teacher in his infinite wisdom decided I needed to go home for the lunch break. Can you believe it??”

 

Lance bit his lip, then outright laughed. Pidge grinned and nudged Keith, giving him a small nod. Keith was just glad he was still standing near the counter and had something sturdy to hold onto, because he was not prepared for that laugh. What was breathing, how do you do it?

 

Lance’s hands came up, but he made sure that he was facing both Pidge and Keith as he signed.

 

“Pidgey here, regularly comes home with stories about their insane classmates.” Pidge stuck their tongue out at Lance. “I hate that nickname.”

 

Lance shook his head and kept signing.

 

“So Keith, since my partner here has to go back to class, I can show you some ASL between customers today, if you want?” Pidge blinked, “Wait, really? You wanna learn ASL?”

 

“I mean, I’m trying, Lance will probably tell you I’m terrible at it, but… yeah.”

 

“Huh?” Pidge adjusted their glasses for a moment, then Lance tapped their head again, so they sighed theatrically and translated again. “Well, it would be nice to have someone translate properly… You liar. I am a perfect angel.”

 

Lance shook his head and pointed at Keith before letting his hands make a halo.

 

“No,” Keith laughed, trying to fight down the color staining his cheeks. “Definitely not. And Shiro would back me up on that.”

 

Pidge scowled. “Shiro is a dork that doesn’t watch what he says.” Their arms crossed. “He’s in trouble.”

 

“Yeah, you’re telling me. Don’t worry, I wrote him out of the will,” Keith deadpanned but followed it up with a conspiratorial smirk.

 

Pidge grinned. “Good. Make him work for it. I’m going to.”

 

Lance rolled his eyes, and signed a couple of things at Pidge who politely flipped him off. “Mom here, says I need to eat. You’re eating too. If you leave, I’ll find you.” They pointed at Keith firmly, then nodded. “I vote for sandwiches and Hunk’s cookies.”

 

“Oh, yeah ok,” Keith mumbled through his surprise.

 

Lance chuckled again, low and raspy, before he pulled a little sign from under the counter and hung it on the open door. Then he motioned Keith to follow as Pidge led the way through a storeroom full of boxes, records and stands, and up a little flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a short hall, that opened up into a combination livingroom and kitchen. It was a decent space, open with a lot of windows. There was a green beanbag near a corner surrounded by bits of electronic equipment, and a blue one in the opposite corner, that had books and papers next to it. Near the little bar dividing the kitchen from the living room was a rickety looking table, with four oddly sturdy chairs. There a couple of posters on the walls, and a bookcase filled with books and pictures of the two, occasionally with other people but mostly just the two of them. It was a nice space, peaceful.

 

“So, welcome. My room is on the left, and off limits to everyone ever except for Lance. His is on the right. Bathroom is the last door before the stairs. Sit, stand, whatever.” Pidge moved toward the kitchen and started rummaging around

 

Lance rolled his eyes but ganced at Keith a few times before biting his lip, and picking up a little notebook. “S-s-so… How-w-w is-s-s the r-r-recor-r-d-d?” He then promptly threw the notebook at Pidge when they started laughing.

 

“Well, every time I try to play it, Shiro must have a damn sixth sense about the thing, because he always wrestles me away from the record player, and that asshole fights dirty, but he must have gone out for a bit last night because I managed to get through most of it, and, uh…” Keith looked into his lap for a moment while he tentatively brought his hands up. He pointed to himself before holding his hand out in front of him with his thumb, pointer and pinky all out before repeating the sign for record, this time with a little bit more confidence since he’d already showed Lance that one.

 

Lance stared for a minute before his face flushed red, and a loud laugh came from the direction of the kitchen. Pidge was holding onto the edge of the counter as they laughed, one hand wrapped firmly around the corner and the other clutching a jar of peanut butter.

 

Lance immediately threw another notebook at them before turning to Keith with a smile. He nodded. “G-g-good-d.” He made a short hand gesture at Pidge, then kept speaking. “S-s-stop-p-p! He’s-s-s l-l-lear-r-rning-g-g.”

 

Keith frowned, looking between the two and waiting for one of them to explain, but nothing came. “Did I mess up record? I practised it a bunch, but that one’s kind of a lot to remember…”

 

Lance shook his head several times, and glared at Pidge who was finally calming down.

 

“I’m sorry. It’s just been a while since I’ve seen a beginner. That’s all. You had record perfect. You’re fine.” They choked down one last laugh before starting to make the sandwiches.

 

...

 

Pidge ended up telling stories all through their lunch. Absurd stories about things her classmates have done, or pranks that they have played on others. Twice, Pidge managed to get Lance to laugh at their stories but only once was Keith able to snap a picture of that laugh. To be honest, he had almost forgotten that he had his camera with him. But Lance had taken their plates to the kitchen and Pidge was in the middle of how they had creatively used a bunsen burner to light someone’s hair on fire, when he took the shot.

 

Lance had one hand up, almost covering his mouth, his eyes were crinkled and it was obvious the joy he had in his expression. There was no chance that Keith couldn’t take the picture. He pointedly ignored Pidge’s knowing smirk, before they announced that it was time for cookies, and dragged Lance down the little hall, calling for Keith to hurry up.

 

Hunk’s place smelled heavenly, just like every other time he had been in there and Keith’s mouth watered contemplating his options, but he had made a promise, and so he requested a Shiro cookie. He shouldered the ribbing he got from Pidge and the bemused irritation from Hunk who told him to tell Shiro that he was NOT renaming the cookie. Pidge practically elbowed Keith out of the way once he had paid and ordered several apple cinnamon cookies before scurrying off to a table to wait. Lance stepped up to the counter and Hunk just looked at him for a moment or two before ducking and pulling out a thick slice of pie. Lance smiled and took the plate before taking a bite for Hunk who waited expectantly. Lance smiled but crinkled his nose, shaking his head. Chocolate mousse pie was not Lance’s favorite it seemed. Hunk murmured a sort of kid friendly type curse that made Keith laugh before swearing he’s get it next time, but Lance laughed and took the rest of the slice with him.

 

 

Pidge shoved the last cookie into their mouth, before looking at Lance. “Will you get me coffee before I go back, please?”

 

Lance’s eyes narrowed, but he shrugged, before slipping out of the chair and making a couple of signs before heading for Allura’s shop.

 

Pidge then turned to Keith. “He said he’ll be right back, but I wanted to talk to you.”

 

Keith choked down the last bite of his cookie. “O...kay…” This couldn’t be good.

 

Pidge rested their elbows on the table and folded their fingers together. “So, I’m sure you’ve heard but I’m pretty particular about some things. I will always eat every cookie ever made, my coffee is less coffee and more like nine espresso shots with a little bit of vanilla, and that there is nothing I take more seriously than Lance. Yeah?”

 

“Yeah… I’ve definitely noticed.” Keith shifted awkwardly in his chair.

 

Pidge smiled, but it was much chillier than their usual ones. “Good. Three things.” They held up one hand, three fingers extended. “First, Lance talks to you. That is huge, you don’t even realize how huge that is. Don’t mess it up. Two, I’m willing to give you a chance, despite Shiro and your own screw ups, because Lance says you two are friends. But, no more. I don’t know if you understand how upset he was last night, but it was bad, alright? Finally, three. If you are absolutely serious about learning ASL, I’ll help you a little on the sly, but only if you are really serious.”

 

Keith felt terrible about Lance being upset, but he was ready to do whatever it took to make up for it, including making a deal with the devil that was Pidge. He’d sign his name in blood. “Yeah, absolutely. I really really want to learn.”

 

Pidge tilted their head. “Okay then. I’ll help you but, why? Most people don’t wanna put that much effort into Lance. They think he’s either deaf or too dumb to speak. Those that do stick around for awhile are…” They pressed their mouth together for a minute, looking over Keith’s shoulder at Hunk who was smiling at a customer. “Well, they don’t stick around for long after they learn Lance can talk but doesn’t. So, why?”

 

Keith frowned deeply. He couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to spend time with Lance. “Because… he’s really easy to talk to, and I’m really not, and I thought maybe… I don’t know… fair's fair, right? I mean, ugh, I’m not making any sense, but I thought, maybe if we could talk to each other, without you or the board, or whatever, it would… be… better. I’m not great with words, but… maybe I can be better in-” Keith fumbled through the letters for ASL. He shrugged, not quite able to meet Pidge’s eyes.

 

Pidge stared, eyes fixed on Keith’s face except when their eyes automatically glanced down to watch his heads before moving right back to Keith’s face. “Okay. Then,” They stood, collecting the bag they had brought with them. “I have class until three, I’m going to stay late to do some extra work. Stick with Lance today then. Be friends. But NO Shiro. He hasn’t apologized yet.” They glared, light glinting off their lenses. “Got it?”

 

“Um, yeah.” Keith hurried to stand as well, shocked that he had managed to get through that conversation unscathed and unbanned.

 

“Good. Now I have coffee to collect.”

 

 

Lance met Keith outside Needles and Notes with a shy smile and a coffee cup, both of which were offered to Keith, before Lance took the sign off the door and moved inside. He scribbled a short note on the board before moving towards the record player.

 

‘Allura said this is your favorite?’

 

Keith took a sip and shook his head, a fond look in his eyes. “Does Shiro just tell all of you every little thing about me or what? Because, yeah, this is definitely my favorite.”

 

Lance shook his head, and then carefully, pointed at Keith’s drink and made the sign for coffee several times. Then he shrugged. “Jus-s-st Al-l-l-l-l-l-lur-r-ra. I d-d-did-d-dn’t k-know-w any-y-ything-g-g.” He looked exceptionally pleased at the last word.  

 

“Oh, huh, that’s not weird or anything…” Keith wasn’t sure how he felt about some stranger knowing such specific details about him.

 

Lance looked confused, but shrugged, then frowned. “W-w-w-w-wait…” Lance moved back to the board and write for a couple of minutes before stepping back and tilting his head.

 

‘You’re like his brother right? Why wouldn’t he tell his girlfriend about you?’

 

Keith nearly spit out his mouthful of coffee. “His what?!”

 

Lance’s frown grew a bit, before he erased the board and wrote again. ‘His girlfriend? Or is it his brother part? Because he called you that yesterday when he was here.’

 

Keith set his coffee cup down, moving closer to the board as if that would make the words written there somehow make more sense. “Fuck… oh my god. That’s why- no wonder- holy shit.”

 

Lance’s brow furrowed, and he didn’t even bother to erase the earlier words before he was back to writing. ‘Didn’t he tell you? Allura told all of us, Shiro was going to invite his brother here to meet her. She said that like.. Three months ago?’

 

Keith leaned heavily against the counter. “What? No… he didn’t…” He scratched his fingers through his long hair for a second or two. “But jesus, that makes so much sense…”

 

Hands came up and made the sign for why. Lance was starting to look worried.

 

“He’s been insistent on getting me here, and she seemed to know who I was the second I showed up, and she knows my coffee order? That’s not normal information to give out. And he mysteriously was gone last night long enough for me to listen to the album…” Keith felt like all these puzzle pieces were coming together now.

 

Lance’s expression faded from worried to confused, to slightly amused and back to confused. He wiped the board clear and started writing. It took much longer this time, but eventually he stepped away, looking at Keith before shrugging.

 

‘About three days after Shiro moved here, Allura basically announced dibs on him. Despite Pidge loving cookies, Hunk being very, very interested in his assistant Shay, Coran, happy as a bachelor and me knowing better than to ever try a relationship, with anyone. I was sure he told you the first night you got here.’

 

This was too much information all at once, but one thing did manage to stick in Keith’s quickly overwhelmed brain. “What do you mean you know better than to try to date someone?”

 

Lance stared at him, his expression almost shocked before he was back to writing. ‘People want conversations, compliments. They want to hear about your day and talk about theirs. My last girlfriend, if she could be called that, said it was annoying I wouldn’t even compliment her out loud, and my last… for lack of a better word, boyfriend said that ASL was only for deaf kids so they felt like real people. So yeah, I know better.’

 

If everything in this store didn’t belong to Lance, Keith would have thrown or kicked something. “That’s bullshit! Real people? What the fuck? Lance, you’re perfect, and those people were assholes. And, you’re perfectly capable of having a conversation, we’re having one right now. How’s your day?”

 

Lance blinked, looking even more confused than before. He signed, bringing his hand to his chest and just touching his thumb to it but keeping his fingers and palm open. “F-f-f-fine?”

 

“Yeah, mine was pretty-” Keith signed what he remembered being the first part of good morning and just hoped it was the same thing. “What do you think about my hair?”

 

‘M-m-mul-l-l-l-l-l-et… b-b-b-b-ut ok-kay-y-y?”

 

Keith tried to look offended, but he couldn’t hold back a laugh. “I mean, it’s not the best compliment I’ve ever gotten, but we can count it… I think you’re-” Keith copied Lance’s sign for fine.

 

Lance’s face promptly turned crimson, and he looked away from Keith, tugging at bit at his sleeves. He wiped the board clean and wrote something on it, keeping his face turned a bit away. ‘Are you a thief?’

 

The smile started to slip from Keith’s face a little. “No?...”

 

‘Because someone stole all the stars and put them in your eyes.’ Lance then dropped the chalk and covered his face.

 

Keith choked on air, coughing hard, his face quickly matching Lance’s. “Y- yeah… that’s, uh, better.” Fuck. Keith’s chest felt three sizes too small suddenly. “See? You, uh, can totally do the relationship thing…” Lance would make someone really happy, he thought.

 

Blue eyes peered over his hands before Lance finally let them drop. His cheeks were still red, but he met Keith’s eyes easier. ‘Ok-k-kay-y-y. S-s-so…” He snatched up his own coffee cup and took a hasty drink before he went back to the board. ‘Sorry. I got us off topic. What are you going to do about Shiro and Allura?’

 

Keith had to think for a moment, having completely forgotten what they had previously been talking about. “Oh, uh… Nothing?” He shrugged. “I’m happy that Shiro found someone that makes him happy. He deserves to be happy… He’ll tell me when he’s ready, I guess.”

 

Lance raised an eyebrow, before an almost wicked smirk crossed his face and he was back to the board.

 

‘If it were me, I would play dumb to all his little hints and really make him work for it. Be busy if he wants to take you over there. You know… have fun with it.’  

 

Keith laughed. “To be fair, I think I was already doing the first part… but, yeah, he deserves to be fucked with just as much as he deserves to be happy.” Keith aimed a cheeky grin towards Lance.

 

 

It was a fun time, learning signs between customers and songs. Lance kept the music playing steadily, and had even encouraged Keith to pick a couple of songs to play himself. By the end of the afternoon, Keith was confident he knew at least a dozen more signs and Lance had more chalk on his sleeves than the board did. He didn’t object to Keith taking pictures, even made a ridiculous pose and pouted then Keith just laughed at him.

 

It wasn’t until Pidge wandered back in, nose buried in a book and a huge cup of coffee in their hands that either of them realized it was almost five in the afternoon. Shiro wandered in mere moments after Pidge, eyes darting from person to person as he wiped his palms across his pants. He apologized profusely to both Lance and Pidge, it took some doing for Pidge, but in the end, he was forgiven. Shiro told Keith he’d ordered dinner again if he was hungry so the both headed out the door, waving as they went.

 

“Ok, I’ll see you guys later! Bye, Pidge. Bye, Lance,” Shiro called over his shoulder, Keith already stepping off the curb. Keith nearly tripped over himself as he remembered part of his conversation with Lance from earlier in the day.

 

Lance had dated a girl, but more importantly to Keith, he had dated a guy… Shiro had to catch Keith after walking straight into him. “Woah, you ok there, buddy?”

 

“Fine,” Keith croaked out.

 

...

 

Keith rolled out of bed far earlier than he planned. The skies were still a dark grey and the streets were empty, and it would be another few hours until the shops were all open, so Keith padded into the kitchen as quietly as possible to start a pot of coffee. He pulled a mug out of a cabinet and leaned heavily against the counter.

 

“Hey.”

 

Keith jerked, banging his knee and elbow against the counter as Shiro came into view. “Jesus christ, Shiro,” Keith hissed.

 

Shiro pulled his own mug out and leaned next to Keith. He was suddenly taken back ten years to two young men just trying to figure out what they were doing, what they wanted. Not a lot had changed, Keith thought as they stood in a dark kitchen in nothing but boxers and t-shirts waiting for the coffee to brew. Shiro had better coffee now.

 

“I have today off,” Shiro attempted around a yawn.

 

Keith rubbed at his eyes. “Then why are you up so early?”

 

Shiro shrugged. “Good question” He pulled the pot from the maker just as it beeped, ignoring the glare Keith shot him as he poured the first cup. “Hey, you want to… get breakfast this morning?”

 

“I guess.” Keith took the pot from Shiro’s hand.

 

“I was thinking… we could go somewhere kind of… nice?”

 

“Why,” Keith asked surprised as he sipped at his steaming coffee. They weren’t the nice place kind of guys. They were hole in the wall, greasy diners, gas station hot dogs kind of guys.

 

“I thought it might be… nice.”

 

“Nice…” Keith repeated. “Why are you being so weird?” It was too early for this.

 

“I’m not being weird,” Shiro snapped as they both moved toward the living room.

 

“You’re being really fucking weird. Have you been body snatched? It’s like an undercover cop, you have to tell me if I ask you.”

 

“Ok, first of all, that’s not how either of those things work.” Shiro sighed heavily, turning his cup in his hands. “I just thought… you and I and… Allura could grab some breakfast. She has the day off too, I think.”

 

Keith choked a little on his coffee, relieved that Shiro was looking anywhere but at him so he managed to discreetly compose himself. He had completely forgotten about Shiro and Allura. It wasn’t his fault, he had slept since then! Shiro was so awkward and part of Keith wanted to immediately come clean and tell Shiro he knew, but Lance’s smirk filled his thoughts and a message to mess with his big brother flashed in his mind.

 

“Uh, yeah, breakfast sounds good, but you don’t want to just have some brother bonding?” Keith sipped his coffee to hide his smile.

 

“Well, if you want, but… I was thinking… it might be nice if you guys got to know each other…”

 

“I don’t know, I think we know each other pretty well. She already knows my favorite coffee,” Keith chirped brightly.

 

Shiro blinked at him a couple of times, mouth slightly slack, but quickly a scowl pulled at his face. “Who told you?”

 

“I don’t know what you mean,” Keith deadpanned.

 

“Dammit. I wanted to tell you myself, was it Hunk? He’s so gossipy sometimes, it’s a good thing I love him becau-”

 

“Lance told me,” Keith laughed. “But, I’m happy for you and she seems really nice.”

 

“Lance told you, huh?” Shiro raised an eyebrow in his direction.

 

“Fuck off.” Keith stood and started to walk to his guest room.

 

“No, Keith, tell me about your day with Lance!” Shiro called after him.

 

“You want me to embarrass you in front of your girlfriend at breakfast?” Keith could hear Shiro laughing as he shut the door behind him.

 

Keith put on his good pants and only teased Shiro a little as they walked through the apartment building. Keith had assumed that they were picking up Allura at the coffee shop, so he was surprised when Shiro took a left at the stairwell and stopped at the first door. Allura opened the door before Shiro could even knock, looking way too pretty and cheerful for so early in the morning.

 

They walked the block and a half to a little cafe that Keith knew before walking in that he didn’t belong in there. Shiro and Allura looked like the perfect couple, her in a soft pastel sun dress and him in black jeans and a grey polo. Like the stock photos plastered around the studio.

 

It was awkward at first, but Keith actually liked Allura. She was smart and feisty and clearly wore the pants in the relationship, and Shiro had never looked so fucking happy. Keith was happy for them, he really was. Shiro was the greatest man he knew, if anyone deserved love and happiness, it was him. But something dark and mean wriggled in the back of Keith’s thoughts. They were everything he wanted. Happy, successfully doing what they enjoyed and so clearly in love.

 

Keith pushed those thoughts from his head and tried not to lament a partial loss of the big brother he could comfortably be gross and rude and all his worst parts in front of. He was Allura’s partner in crime now, and Keith would just be returning to his shitty life in a few days.

 

The hashbrowns were good though.

 

...

 

There was no music on the quiet little street this time. The smells from the bakery were there, along with Coran’s cheerful voice calling out to a group of kids, but no sound of any music at all. The door to the record store was open now, and a battered brown duffle bag was lying in the doorway.

 

At first, Keith was sure that something was wrong. This was only his fourth morning here, but Lance always played music, even Keith knew that.

 

“Hmm, that’s odd,” Allura murmured from her spot on Shiro’s arm.

 

Shiro, lost in Allura responded dumbly with, “what’s odd?”

 

“No music,” Keith answered.

 

Shiro’s trance was broken as he snapped his head up and towards the record store. “What, there’s always music.” Keith watched as Dad Shiro came out in full force as he grabbed Allura’s hand, checking both ways before half jogging across the street, slowing before they reached the strange bag in the door. Keith couldn’t hold onto a thought for longer than a second. What was going on?

 

“You lying bastard!” Pidge’s shout was immediately followed by two bodies tumbling into the sidewalk, and rolling around before Pidge emerged the winner, sitting on what appeared to be a dirty older version of themselves.

 

Lance came to the door and was half doubled over, laughing so hard he was almost weezing.

 

“You did not see a damned yeti in the mountains, Matt! You are a liar and I will tell dad!” Pidge shoved away before crossing their arms and huffing.

 

“Aww, Midget. I thought you missed me.” The older Pidge, apparently Matt seemed happy to lay on the ground. “Well, hello, Shiro-boy! Looks like you finally got lucky!”

 

Keith stared wide eyed, his brain struggling to keep up with everything, but Shiro laughed leaning over this Matt guy. “Luckier than you, it seems.” Shiro put out a hand to help him up before giving him a tight hug, Allura laughing and patting his shoulder while Matt whispered things that made Shiro every shade of red.

 

Pidge huffed, but there was a smile twitching on their face. “Yeah, Matt. You haven’t seen a bath in weeks.”

 

“My Midget, how does our Lancey put up with you all the time?” An arm came out and ruffled Pidge’s hair before cheerful eyes landed on Keith. “Oh? You’re new. Well, hi there!”

 

Lance whistled, and sighed a few things rapidly before motioning for them all to come inside.

 

“Keith, this is my idiot brother, Matt. He grew up with Lance and me. Ignore everything he says because he’s a liar.” They smacked Matt, who immediately returned the favor  and it ended with Shiro dragging both of them into the shop.

 

Keith followed, the last one in, tracking Matt and his interactions with everyone. It was another moment or two before he realized he hadn’t actually said hello. Or anything. Was it too late to respond now? Would it be awkward? Fuck.

 

“Uh, hi… Keith.” He nodded towards Matt, hoping he had heard him over the growing noise in the shop, because he was not sounding like an idiot for a second time.

 

Matt grinned at him, and looped an arm around Lance’s shoulders. “Nice to meet ya. If you were out doing something continue on, I just dropped in to see my people before I take off again.”

 

Lance smirked, and made another set of short gestures, that made Pidge giggle and Matt swat at him.

 

“Fine, and a shower. Rude kids both of you.”

 

Keith wished now more than he knew more ASL. He felt left out of the conversation, and the easy way everyone seemed to interact just drove home the fact that he was an outsider here. Just visiting. He tried to watch the quick fluid movements of Lance’s hands, but he couldn’t keep up. Allura and Shiro kept leaning into each other, Shiro occasionally throwing out one handed signs before whispering to her again. Keith was starting to wonder if he should leave.

 

Pidge wormed their way in-between, Shiro and Matt and shoved both of them at the same time. Shiro and Allura toward the door and Lance and Matt toward the stairs.

 

“Ugh, out, both of you. You two know better than to share your feelings all over around me. I’m allergic. Shoo, before I get hives. Matt, you reek like a wet dog lost in the jungle, go away! Keith is my new favorite!”

 

Mat grinned and pointedly pulled Lance in for a tight hug, making sure it lasted long enough for Pidge to gag. “Come on buddy, show me where the towels are, so I don’t offend Midget. Shiro, ‘Lura, Catch up later?” Matt kept his arm around Lance and lead him toward the stairs.

 

It took a couple seconds for Keith to tear his eyes away from where Lance and Matt had disappeared. They seemed… close. Like really close. Keith didn’t really want to think about it. Not about how big Lance’s smile was. Not about how long that hug had seemed to last. Definitely not about how Lance had practically bounced out of there to take Matt to get- no. It was time to go. Keith turned and headed for the door.

 

“Where are you going?” Pidge demanded, hands settled on their hips. “You agreed to ASL lessons today. Granted, since Matt is here, I’ll be taking him around to say hi to everyone, so you’re stuck with Lance.”

 

Keith frowned, turning his head away from Pidge. “You guys seem to have a lot going on today. I’m sure you and… Lance want to spend some time with Matt.”

 

Pidge blinked, and then glared a hovering Shiro and Allura out of the shop. “Keith. My brother does this. He wanders off for months at a time, then shows up, is a complete dork to everyone and then spends a day with me before he’s off doing… whatever again. We’ll catch up at dinner.” Their eyes narrowed a little. “Do you not like Matt? I mean, I get it, but most people do.”

 

“No. No, he seems great. Really great. Seems to make Lance pretty happy, so I guess, uh, yeah, I’m sure he’s great.”

 

Pidge squinted at him. “Wait. Hang on a tick.” They actually pulled their glasses off, cleaned them and put them back on to squint at Keith again. “Oh my God! You’re jealous! Holy, Shit Keith! Of Matt?? Wow..That’s so.. Silly. I mean. That would be like… being jealous of me. Lord.”

 

Keith finally looked at Pidge, scowl still stuck on his face. “What, no, I’m not, and what does that even mean? He and Lance… I mean, Lance still hasn’t come back downstairs, but that’s… great… I’m happy for Lance,” he said but the grimace on his face didn’t exactly sell it.

 

Pidge snickered for a minute before finally reaching over and yanking Keith away from the door and closer to the counter. “Okay so, first. Me thinks you doth protest too much. Second, I’ve known Lance since I was five, and Matt was eleven. We’re all too much like family for anything like that to ever happen. Third, Matt’s a billionaire. He won the lottery when he was eighteen and took off to do whatever he wanted. He’s kinda of like.. If you took a hippy and mixed it together with an Indiana Jones wanna be, then you would get Matt. He’s like.. So wrong for Lance.”

 

Keith huffed, pulling from Pidge’s hold. “Ha. Ha. I get it, it’s really funny Pidge, but you didn’t have to make me feel like such an idiot and you don’t have to make a bunch of other stuff just to point out how stupid my crush-” Keith froze, face reddening in a second flat. “Just, you know what, forget it.” Keith turned on his heel, ready to sprint out the fucking door.

 

“So… what you mean is that Lance’s little crush on you is stupid too?” They crossed their arms, smile gone in a second. “Fine.”

 

Keith turned and bumped into a display case with his hip. Hard. “Ah, fuck! Ow, god dammit,” He hissed as he held onto the case for a second. “You better not be fucking with me right now, Pidge.”

 

“What is my third rule Keith? That I don’t take anything more seriously than I do Lance. Do you seriously think I would spill his secret like that just to fuck with you? Shiro? Sure. Allura and Coran, absolutely, but Lance? Think for a damn second.”

 

Keith’s eyes darted across the space in front of him, trying to find words. Or a thought. Or anything that wasn’t Lance has a crush on me? “I… uh… ok.”

 

Pidge looked unimpressed. “Right, so smoothing over the whole dumbass act you were pulling. Matt. Wrong for Lance. I’d kick his ass in a heartbeat if he tried.” Pidge shrugged. “You though, I dunno. You seem to just fuck yourself over.”

 

Keith actually let out a sharp laugh at that. “Yeah, I’m gonna need you to tell me something I don’t already know.”

 

Pidge smirked, a sight that regularly brought men to their knees in fear. “Lance’s favorite song. How is that for something you don’t know?”

 

Keith cocked his head, straightening as he rubbed the bruise forming on his hip. “Yeah… actually… what… what is it?”

 

Pidge shifted a little closer. “Let’s make a trade then, Keithy, I will tell you Lance’s favorite song, but you have to tell me what you are gonna do with this information.”

 

“What I’m gonna… I’m not going to do anything with it? It just seems like an important piece of Lance, and… I just want to know him.”

 

Pidge’s expression softened. “God, you are gonna give me a cavity. Lance’s favorite song is on the board. Every single day. It is the only song on the board that does not change. It’s also the only song he doesn’t ever play. Because it’s a damned love song, and he’s all sentimental like that. It’s also a country song. There You’ll Be.”

 

The frown on Keith’s face as he’d been staring at the board, listening to Pidge, quickly melted into something softer. “Thanks,” he all but whispered. He felt like he knew the song, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, so he told himself he’d look it up as soon as he was alone. Lance’s favorite song. Felt more like Pidge had given him all the answers he’d been searching for.

 

Lance bounded into the room then, his smile growing a bit when he saw Keith and Pidge. He waved, and crossed to stand near Pidge. His eyes darted from one to the other before he frowned at Pidge.

 

“Don’t even frown at me. Get out of here both of you. Go eat something and I’ll watch the shop til you get back. Lord knows Matt will take an hour in the shower.”

 

Lance mouth pressed together before he shrugged, looking over at Keith and tilting his head.

 

“I- um. Could eat,” Keith offered.

 

They ended up at this tiny little hole in the wall burger place, which was a block away from the shop. The only good things the place made were the burgers and the milkshakes, and Lance spent the short wait pointing at the menu then making the sign for whatever word he was indicating. But, by the time they were on the way back, he was starting to frown a little, and kept looking at Keith then looking away.

 

Keith was looking down at his hands as he signed hamburger over and over. It was pretty simple, like forming the patty, and he smiled a little to himself before looking over to Lance. The smile slipped when he saw his expression. “What? Was… that wrong?”

 

Lance shook his head several times, then sighed. “Ar-r-re y-y-y-you m-m-mad?”

 

Keith frowned instantly. “What? No, why would I be mad?” He stopped walking so he could face Lance for a second.

 

Lance pointed at Keith, then brought his finger up to his lips in a shh motion, then he frowned. “Q-quiet tod-d-da-y-y.”

 

It was like a punch to the gut and Keith felt so guilty. He just, was trying to process everything Pidge had told him. How were you supposed to act when the guy you were starting to like liked you back? This wasn’t something that happened to Keith very often and he was so scared he’d fuck it up just like Pidge had said. “Sorry, just… a lot on my mind today. But, I’m not mad.”

 

Lance nodded. “Ok-kay-y-y” He then pointed down the block, toward his shop, and tilted his head, before pointing toward Shiro’s, and he traced a question mark in the air.

 

“No, I’m ok, we can keep hanging out. Let’s go back to the shop before Pidge puts out a hit on me for abducting you.”

 

Lance actually laughed, as they crossed over to the shop. But as they got close to the door, Matt appeared in it. He was much cleaner than before, and he smiled at them both.

 

“Hey, Midget is looking for you Lancey, something about an order. Besides, I gotta get all the embarrassing Shiro stories outta this guy before I leave.”

 

Lance blinked, looked from Keith, to Matt, to the shop and back to Keith, before he shrugged and went in.

 

“Got a question for ya, kid.” Matt grinned, leaning against the shop wall.

 

“Ok…” Keith’s eyes followed Lance through the window. He was all for embarrassing Shiro, but he didn’t really know how he felt about this guy yet.

 

“So I really do want all the Shiro stories, but I gotta ask. You know Lancey is like my little brother right?” Matt shifted, then shrugged. “Fuck it.” He threw his hands up and grinned at Keith. “I’m shit at this kinda thing. Midget is the scary one. So, don’t make them have to be scary, okay?”

 

What… what even was this supposed to be? Was this really the big brother shovel talk? “Um, yeah, you got it…”

 

“Cool.” Matt pushed off the wall and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Well then, until I hear otherwise, we’re cool, kid. You need something, call me.” He turned and yelled into the shop. “I’m leaving, Midget! If you are coming let’s go!”

 

“Shut your face, Matt!” Pidge’s yell beat them to the door. But they were grinning when they came out. “Fine, let’s go. You owe me cookies Matt. Later, Keith, we’ll be back for dinner. You can come.”

 

Matt shrugged and dragged Pidge along toward Hunk’s shop.

 

Keith turned towards the door, trying and failing to keep the nerves over the upcoming dinner at bay. Lance was pulling records from the shelf and piling them on the counter as he went. Was everything he did so fluid? It was like a dance as he moved in time with the music, collecting the order. Shiro had convinced Keith to take his camera with them this morning. He’d urged him to show her some shots in the same way an overbearing parent might, but he had gotten a couple good ones of them walking together. He pulled the cap off the lens and snapped a few of Lance working.

 

Lance paused at the odd sound and looked toward Keith with a raised eyebrow. He set the couple of records in his arms down, and raised an eyebrow. “W-w-what?”

 

Fuck. He was caught. “Sorry… it’s a bad habit, I should have asked first, just… it made for a nice shot…”

 

“I d-d-don’t m-m-mind-d-d. M-m-mak-kes-s-s y-y-you hap-p-py-y-y r-r-ight?”

 

Keith looked down at the shot of Lance, fingers dipped into a row of records. “Yeah, it does. Hasn’t for awhile, but… I think it’s starting to again.”

 

Lance grinned, “Then, tak-ke as-s-s m-m-many-y-y as-s-s y-y-y-you w-w-want.” He set one last record in the stack and scribbled a short note. “J-jus-s-st tak-ke one w-w-with m-m-me b-b-bef-for-r-re y-y-ou l-leave.”

 

Keith was glad that the strap was around his neck, because his fingers had decided it was time to stop working, the camera falling and hitting him in the stomach.”Oof- uh, yeah, sure, I can do that. Can totally- um, yeah.” Lance just looked at him for a moment expectantly. “Oh, now?”

 

Lance nodded, and moved closer to Keith, smiling brightly, before smushing his face next to Keith’s in an absolutely ridiculous pose. “R-r-read-d-y-y-y!” He laughed lightly before smiling properly.

 

Keith fumbled the camera a bit, turning the lens towards them and knowing he was going to look twelve days to fucked for this guy. He snapped the picture, and released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding as he stepped just an inch or two out of Lance’s personal space. “There, that was… good.”

 

Lance smiled and moved back to the counter, picking up the chalk and writing on the board. ‘Not used to being in the pictures, huh? Sorry, I should have thought of that.’

 

“No, it’s ok. I liked… that. Uh, but yeah, not usually on that side of the camera.”

 

A sharp nod then more writing. ‘Oh hey, so we’re gonna eat later.. Me and Matt and Pidge, do you.. Wanna join us? You can tease Matt with Pidge about knowing what my board means, since he doesn’t.’

 

“Really.” he blurted. “But you guys seem so… close. I’m surprised.”

 

Lance shrugged, wiping away the words. ‘We used to be, but Matt’s gone a lot. Freebird.’ He paused to make that sign to Keith, before finishing his writing. ‘Can’t keep up with him.’

 

“Oh… yeah, I’d love to go to dinner with you.” Keith coughed. “You guys. I’d like to go with you guys…”

 

Lance hugged Keith briefly, before letting go with a wide smile and picking up the stack of records to move them under the counter. Keith was rooted in place, brain fried and body on fire, why was it so goddamn hot in here?

 

Keith helped Lance around the store a little, and by that, he mostly was in the way, but Lance didn’t seem to mind. They practiced signing between customers and waited for Pidge and Matt to return. Keith tried not to blush or shut down every time Lance smiled at him. So far he wasn’t doing a great job of it.

 

Matt and Pidge’s return to the shop was almost as explosive as their departure had been. Pidge was frowning, and had their arms crossed while Matt was grinning widely. As was apparently their normal behavior, they were arguing.

 

“No one will have any fun there Matt. Not me, not Lance, not Keith, not even you! Why would you want to go to a stuffy place like that?” They raised a hand as they entered, but kept their attention on Matt.

 

“Exactly because it won’t be any fun for the snobby workers either. They won’t want to wait on us, and proving to them that a silly bunch of average adults can afford to eat there will be enlightening.”

 

“No one really wants you to enlighten them Matt.”

 

“Fine then, we’ll make it a vote.” Matt directed his smile first at Lance then at Keith. “I’m buying so either of you down to embarrass a bunch of snotty workers at a fancy place?”

 

Keith looked to Lance, but it seemed like Lance was waiting for him to answer. “Uh… yes?...” It didn’t really sound like his scene, but he was still trying to make sure that he was making good impressions here. Matt was an important person in Lance’s life, and Keith sure as hell wasn’t going to turn down whatever place he wanted to go for dinner. And besides… It was a nice place? A nice place for dinner. Where Lance would be. At the same time. That was almost like a… date, right?

 

Pidge frowned, and looked at Lance, actually batting their eyes at him. Matt laughed and clapped Keith on the shoulder.

 

“Sorry Midget. Looks like this one has really good taste.”

 

“Lance…. Come on!”

 

Lance grinned, easy and comfortable, before pointing at Keith, then at Matt and nodded. He then shifted closer to Keith to avoid Pidge’s attack.

 

“Ha! Fancy place it is.” Matt turned to Keith. “So, how we do this is, we don’t even try to dress up. We look just like we would everyday, and let them have a minute of trying to politely tell us all to leave before I wave my magic plastic card and they all trip over themselves to wait on us. Then, we all act really offended and see how much we can get for free. Got it?”

 

Honestly, who the fuck was this guy? Keith couldn’t even help laughing. “Weird, but I’m in I guess.” Keith had spent his whole life looked down on by people like that, might be kind of nice to switch things up. He looked to Lance to gauge his reaction.

 

Lance was grinning, with his arms tucked behind his head. He unfolded them and signed a few things, Matt oddly enough translating for Keith.

 

“Lance loves doing this. Because at some point they figure out he won’t talk and then it’s even more fun because they want to treat him like crap but they can’t and it’s beautiful to watch.” Matt ruffled Pidge’s hair. “Stop sulking, you enjoy doing this too. Besides, imagine telling everyone about it later.”

 

Pidge made an odd noise. “Fine. Let go then. But, Matt.” They pointed at their brother. “Tomorrow, we are doing what I want to do.”

 

“Deal. Oh hey, kid, do you need to tell Shiro, you’re gonna eat with us?”

 

“I’ll text him. But, I guess, I’m ready when you are.” Keith glanced at Lance and back to Matt. He was mostly relieved that he didn’t have to dress up, but at the same time, Lance probably would have looked really good in- Keith, focus, don’t be weird.

 

The arrival at the restaurant went exactly as Matt said it would. They stood there for almost ten minutes before a man appeared and tried three times to politely tell them to leave. It was then that Matt, pulled out a very shiny credit card, the kind only people with money could get and they were ushered to a table immediately.

 

The food was very nice, and Matt and Pidge made a game of turning any perceived slight into a huge deal. Lance for his part, signed at everyone. The waiter, the bussmann, Keith, and he did it with a flair that was missing from his usual signing. Once, Pidge caught the waiter jerking away from one of Lance hands and ended up with an extremely expensive dessert courtesy of the management.

 

Keith made a point to ask the waiter to describe half the menu, despite each dish being clearly described on the menu. Staring up at them almost unblinkingly before ordering something he hadn’t even asked about. He had felt someone nudge his shin under the table at his unfazed facade and turned to catch Lance struggling to hold back a laugh, his eyes crinkling. Keith shot him a smirk before requesting another drink.

 

Matt had launched into some bizarre story about a yeti that had their table erupting in laughter. Keith couldn’t help but look around the ornate building, finally starting to realize that the comment about Matt being a billionaire may not have been a joke. He chuckled at Pidge’s interjection, turning to listen to the rest of the story, but lost all track of what they were saying when he saw Lance watching him. Their eyes met for a second before Lance quickly downed the last of his very expensive liquor and signing in response to Matt.

 

By the end of the meal, their waiter had been replaced by a different one, Pidge had earned two more free fancy desserts, Matt had shamed them all by staring straight faced and demanding to know if all the food they had been served was vegan, and Lance had cursed out three staring patrons in ASL much to the delight of Pidge.

 

Matt had waved his card when their waiter brought the bill, too interested in one of Pidge’s stories to actually pay attention, and by the time they had left, it was late, and the sun was long gone. That didn’t stop Matt from grabbing Lance and twirling him around on the sidewalk before spinning his partner at Keith and diving for his sibling.

 

Keith caught Lance as he hurtled towards him, limbs tangling just a bit until he steadied them both. They were close, too close and Keith could see the blush on Lance’s cheeks as they stared for a second or two. He knew he wasn’t faring any better. He wanted to swing Lance around like Matt was currently doing with Pidge, or joke about how he couldn’t dance. He wanted to close the small gap between them and press his lips to Lance’s. But Keith didn’t do any of those things. He stood stock still thinking how this is what he had wanted when he’d been sitting at breakfast with Shiro and Allura, but Pidge had never been more right than when they’d said he fucked things up. It didn’t matter how much he wanted… something with Lance, or even that Lance might somehow like him. He was a fuck up. He worked a shitty job that he hated. He lived in a crappy little studio apartment that barely had working ac. He got angry and misunderstood and just was not good enough.

 

So he smiled gently, an apology in his eyes. “Thanks for dinner, but it’s kind of late, I should probably get going…”

 

Matt paused with Pidge off the ground in mid-swing and actually pouted at Keith like a little kid. “Aw, but we were having such a good time..”

 

Pidge opened their mouth but Lance held up his hand, and smiled at Keith.

 

‘Its-s-s ok-kayy-y-y. S-s-see y-y-you tom-m-m-m-m-mor-r-r-r-r-row-w-w?”

 

Matt’s mouth fell open and Pidge immediately smacked him hard.

 

Keith wanted to pull back a little, but he knew he wasn’t strong enough. He was weak and he was willing to admit it. He only had a couple days left and he was going to soak up as much as he could of this dream world he’d found himself in since day one. He nodded at Lance, fighting to keep the small smile in place. “Yeah. I’ll see you.”

 

Lance hugged him briefly, before stepping back and making a couple of signs. ‘Good night.’ before moving a bit away, closer to Pidge and Matt. Matt had set Pidge down and was looking from Lance to Keith with wide eyes, while Pidge simply looked pleased. Both waved as they all headed toward Lance’s shop.

 

Keith walked in silence back to the apartment building, letting himself into the dark unit and into the guest room. This was more what he was used to. Coming home alone and basking in the silence. It suited him, right?

 

He untangled the camera strap from where it was wound around his head, tossing it onto the bed before digging out his laptop. He hadn’t even bothered to ask Shiro for the wifi, so he went straight to his editing software and plugged in the camera. He passively watched the images flicker on the screen as they downloaded. He’d promised Hunk those pictures of his cakes, and maybe if he focused a little he could have them done before he split town. He scrolled past the saccharine images of Shiro and Allura, and the many shots of town, but he paused when a picture that was definitely not a cake caught his eye and he kicked himself as he opened it up.

 

Lance laughing in his kitchen with Pidge. Slightly fuzzy in one corner, the lighting kind of strange, by all technical means, it wasn’t exactly the best shot, but- Keith snapped close his laptop and hastily shoved it the floor, the camera only slightly more delicately following. He flopped back onto the bed and prayed for death to take him.

 

...

 

When Keith got to Lance’s shop, it was still a good hour shy of Lance’s usual opening time, but he could hear the faintest hint of music from behind the closed door. It was pouring and Keith had honestly been hoping that he could convince Lance or Pidge to let him in despite the time. He had that itch under his skin again, that one he got after a long shift at his job, that dissatisfaction that he had felt almost every day before he finally came to visit Shiro. He’d hoped that a visit with Lance and Pidge, maybe even Matt, would help him clear his head.

 

He peeked into the window, but the shop was dark, and the board was blank of everything except the names of the colors that were always there. Frustrated, he stomped away, his camera bumping his ribs from where he tucked it under his jacket to keep it dry. That was when he heard it. It sounded like singing, but the voice wasn’t familiar. Despite his poor mood, Keith found himself walking around Lance’s shop and stopping dead at the sight he found.

 

It was breathtaking. There was Lance, cleaning up the little area behind the shop, singing softly under his breath. His hair was wet and hanging slightly in his face, while his shirt was plastered to his shoulders. But what really hit Keith hard, was his voice, because fuck. Fuck. Pidge had told Keith a few facts about people that had stutters. Like that many stuttered because it was hereditary or due to a traumatic incident, that some would only stutter if they were nervous or in groups of people, as well as the fact that many, could talk or sing to themselves, without a hint of their normal issues, no matter how pronounced the stutter actually was.

 

But to hear Lance, singing quietly, along with what Keith assumed was the faint music from inside was completely different from any damn abstract fact. His voice was still a little raspy, most likely from how little Lance used it, but it fit the song so well.

 

“Kiss the rain

And wait for the dawn

Keep in mind

We're under the same sky…”

 

Keith forgot about the rain, which he normally hated, he forgot about the itch under his skin and how unhappy he was with his life most days. All he could focus on was Lance, singing so softly, the sounds of the rain only adding to the tranquil moment. Keith fumbled for his camera, but it took him three tries to manage to take his eyes off Lance long enough to actually get the lens cap off and line up the shot.

 

Just as Keith started to press down on the shutter button, Lance looked up. His eyes caught Keith’s through the camera and he smiled, something smaller and more goddamn intimate than Keith had ever seen directed at himself and it ripped the breath from his traitorous lungs. As Lance made his way across the yard to greet him properly, Keith took a second to look at the picture he had just taken. It was perfect.

 

 

Lance ended up dragging Keith into the shop and up to his apartment. He disappeared briefly into his room and reappeared with a little bundle of clothes that he shoved into Keith’s arms before motioning to the bathroom.

 

Keith pulled off the wet clothes that were clinging to his body, draping them over the side of the tub. Lance had given him a pair of sweats and an t-shirt and Keith stared at them realizing he was about to be in Lance’s clothes and something about that pulled at his stomach. He pulled on the sweats and as he brought the shirt down over his head, he caught a whiff of it. Keith logically realized it smelled like laundry detergent, and it was silly for him to be blushing over it, but it smelled like… Lance. God, he felt so stupid. He shoved his arms into the sleeves, noticing how soft the fabric was. Hair still dripping slightly, he stepped out of the bathroom.

 

Lance was in the little kitchen, stirring something into a mug. He was in sweats as well, and a dark gray sweater, but he smiled at Keith and raised his right hand holding it  slightly in front of his right eye, making the sign for K before quickly twitching the two extended fingers and grinning.  He then held out one of the mugs.

 

Keith took the mug and sipped at the sweet drink. He sort of mimicked the sign. “Cocoa?”

 

Lance shook his head as he came around the little counter. He repeated the sign, then pointed at Keith. “M-m-m-means-s-s y-y-y-you.”

 

Keith actually felt his heart skip, he swallowed the cocoa down too quickly, causing himself to cough harshly when he said. “O-oh.” Lance had given him a sign?

 

Lance frowned, and tilted his head a bit. He took a drink from his own mug and settled into a chair. He signed as he went, with none of the outrageous flair he had used at dinner the night before. “K-k f-for-r y-y-your-r-r nam-me. This-s-s f-f-or-r-r y-y-your-r-r cam-mer-r-ra.” Lance paused, then ducked his head, and moving to curl around his mug. “D-d-do y-y-you l-l-lik-ke it?”

 

“It’s perfect,” he blurted, eyes stuck on Lance. He couldn’t even be embarrassed, it was true and it made Keith’s heart soar.

 

Lance smiled, wider than the one he had given Keith outside, but just as warm. And he looked pleased. Then he, leaned forward a bit, and tapped at his wrist where one would wear a watch, then made the sign for why. “Ear-r-rl-l-ly-y-y?”

 

“Uh, yeah, sorry, you probably have a bunch of stuff to do before you open, and I just was… but I can go and let you… do stuff.” Keith finished off the last of his cocoa.

 

Lance shook his head several times. “Cl-l-los-s-sed-d tod-day-y-y. S-s-stayy-y?”

 

“Oh…” Fuck. “Yeah, of course…” Keith was starting to panic a little bit. He had spent some time alone with Lance, sure, but it was always in the shop, there were always customers or one of the other shop owners popping in or Pidge making a random appearance. Even when things were slow, it was a public, professional space. But this was Lance’s home. No customers, no work to be done to distract them. Just him and Lance.

 

It was silent for a bit, not exactly an awkward silence but not as comfortable as some that they had shared before. Lance fidgeted, toying with his mug, and a bit of paper before frowning and standing abruptly to snatch a notebook off of the book case before sitting back down and looking at Keith while he wrote. Then he slid the little notebook over, so that Keith could read it.

 

‘I’m being dumb, sorry. It’s been a long time since I actually wanted to talk to someone, and I think I forgot how.’

 

Keith chewed on the inside of his cheek to keep whatever intense emotions were washing over him at bay. It was too much. He wasn’t even good at holding a conversation but damn, he wished he was. The fear of messing up was not enough to overcome the elation at Lance’s words. He laughed a little, looking up through his bangs. “Not dumb. I can promise I’m worse… but, uh, I’m gonna try to be better…”

 

Lance smiled a little pulling the notebook back over and scribbling on the paper again. His brow furrowed, and the tip of his tongue poked out a bit in concentration. After several minutes, he again offered Keith the book.

 

‘Maybe, we can practice while you are here… you know.. If you wanted to. It’s okay if you don’t, I won’t be mad, I just..’ There were several lines written and scratched out so that they were unreadable. ‘You’re nice, and my friend, and…’ There were another couple of scratched out lines. ‘I want to spend time with you while I can.’

 

Lance was looking toward the window, cheeks red and his mouth pressed tightly together.

 

Keith’s stomach sank a little. He didn’t want to think about leaving. It was too soon. “Of course, I’d really like that.”

 

Lance made a sign then that mischievous grin crossed his face again. He yanked the book forward turned to a clean page and started writing. After a few minutes, he tore the page out and handed it to Keith. It was a list of every single possible curse word and exactly how to sign them.

 

Keith bust out laughing, harder than he could remember doing in a long time. “Oh man, Shiro’s gonna be so mad-” Keith made the sign he had seen Lance just do, seeing that description next to fuck. “Yeah, he’s gonna freak.” Keith laughed again, pouring over the page.

 

Lance smirked. He wrote one last thing before pushing the book forward. ‘Shiro knows every single word of every Queen song ever made, and he sings worse than I do. I have proof of all of it. Let him freak.’

 

Keith snorted. “It’s like he can’t hear himself. It’s so bad. When I was a teenager, he used to sing in the shower. Loudly. I’d be trying to watch tv, and it was like cats dying.”

 

Lance laughed, low but obviously pleased. “Al-l-l-lur-r-ra al-l-lm-mos-s-st cr-r-ried-d w-when s-s-she f-f-fir-r-t hear-r-d-d.” He grinned at the memory, but then it fell, and a frown flitted over his face before he smiled again, this one a little thin.

 

Keith scowled. “What was that face?”

 

Lance flinched, and shifted, arms tensing a bit before he went limp. “I… I w-w-wanna s-s-sa-y-y s-s-som-ething-g-g, b-b-but…” He bit his lip hard, then finished. ‘I d-d-don’t w-w-wanna m-mak-ke y-y-you m-mad-d.”

 

Keith’s frown deepened before he forced himself to soften up his rougher edges. “You won’t make me mad, say what you want.”

 

Lance sighed. “S-s-som-metim-mes-s-s I..I hate that they-y-y ar-r-re s-s-so ha-ap-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-y-y-y.”

 

Shock covered his face before Keith bust out laughing. He couldn’t catch his breath, and he could feel Lance leaning a fraction closer out of worry. He was sure he looked insane. “S- ha- sorry. Sorry.” He calmed before trying again. “That’s just the best fucking thing I’ve heard all week.”

 

His eyes were wide and Lance looked a little panicked. His mouth opened and closed several times but his hands were moving, three signs over and over. ‘What?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Okay?’

 

“It’s just, I really hate it too.” He smiled. “Like, I’m really happy for them and all that shit, but god, could they be any more disgusting? It’s the fucking worst.”

 

The expression on Lance’s face was a mix of shocked and relieved. He returned the smile, before he frowned again. ‘B-b-b-but S-s-s-shir-r-ro s-s-said-d that y-y-your-r-r g-g-going-g-g to b-b-be g-g-g-gr-r-reat?”

 

“Shiro has always lived in a bubble. He’s happy and successful and in love, and he thinks that those things should just happen to everyone. But… that’s not really how it works, and I’m no Shiro…” Keith shrugged, no longer meeting Lance’s eyes.

 

Lance frowned, then he straightened his shoulders and reached out, grabbing Keith’s hand and tugging him toward the bookcase. Lance pointed at a picture. It was of Lance and Pidge, both of them several years younger. Pidge was grinning at the camera and was holding some kind of paper, and Lance as at their side, smile there but not as wide as Pidge’s.

 

He took a deep breath, then started talking. His words were slow and careful, something he did when he was trying to control his words. “ W-when P-p-pid-dg-g-ge g-g-gr-r-rad-duated-d, they-y-y w-wanted-d to g-go to s-s-s-school-l-l f-for-r com-mp-p-puter-r-r-rs-s-s. The b-bes-s-st s-s-school-l-l f-for-r-r that is-s-s acr-r-ros-s-s-s-s the countr-r-r-y-y-y. They-y-y w-wanted-d-d m-me to g-g-go too.” Lance paused and finally released Keith’s hand, shoving his own into his pockets. “Ther-r-r-e w-was-s-s no p-p-p-p-point in m-me g-g-going-g-g. B-b-but they-y-y w-woul-l-ld-d-dn’t g-go w-w-without m-m-me. W-we f-f-fought…. A l-l-ot. I tol-l-ld-d-d them-m-m, to g-g-go, b-b-becaus-s-se… I b-b-bel-l-long her-r-re, in thi-s-s-s s-s-shop-p-p-p. They-y-y b-b-bel-l-long-g s-s-s-som-m-mewher-r-re el-l-ls-s-se, b-being-g-g g-gr-r-r-reat. They-y-y enr-r-rol-l-l-l-l-lled-d-d at the col-l-l-l-l-lleg-g-ge her-r-re the ne-xt d-d-day-y-y.” Lance paused, and looked around for his mug, and moved over to drink the last of the now cool liquid.

 

Keith’s heart ached for Lance. He couldn’t blame Pidge though, he would have done the same. “Life...” Keith searched for his words. “Life doesn’t always go as planned, right? We can’t all be sunshine and rainbows like Shiro. It’s knowing where you belong or making sacrifices for your friends. It’s building a life that’s yours…” Keith thought about his little apartment and his shitty job.

 

Lance nodded, and reached out his hand, eventually wiggling his fingers at Keith until he finally let Lance grab his hand. He lead Keith down into the darkened shop, pulling him in front of the big chalkboard.

 

Lance grabbed the chalk and started writing. ‘We didn’t talk for a while. Then, I made this board. I wanted to show Pidge why I couldn’t leave, and also why they should. Even if my life is a little lonely, and I’m sure I won’t even be as lucky as Shiro or Hunk, or rich like Matt and Coran. All I needed were these things.’

 

He pointed up at the names of the colors.

 

“I would kill for all this,” Keith realized he was saying before the thought had even entered his head. He looked from the board to Lance. “Sorry, I know everyone has their… stuff… but, you have friends. You have a really cool job that you seem to really love. Seems nice.” He shrugged. “Besides, if a dork like Shiro can find someone, you’re fine.”

 

Lance’s mouth curled upward slightly. Small and secretive. He started writing again. ‘I have those things, now. At that time, I didn’t. The only friend I had ever made on my own was Pidge, until you came in and cursed me out.’ Lance grinned, and went back to his explanation. ‘This place brings me almost all these things, because I belong here. What brings Pidge all these things, is across the country at a very very nice school. Which is why, Pidge is going there next year.

 

Lance shifted and made a little column, writing down his colors and exactly what they stood for.

 

‘Blue - Sorrow

Red - Passion

Green - Friendship

Yellow - Contentment

Orange - Joy

Black -  Uncertainty

Pink - Love’

 

Then Lance pointed at Keith and made a check mark next to Red, Green, Black and Blue. He wrote one last thing then stepped away from the board.

 

‘All you have to do is go until you find that place or, thing or person that brings you the rest. Just go, and do it. Because, you deserve it.’

 

Keith stared at the words written on the board. He wasn’t sure what to say. Lance wasn’t wrong. “You knew you belonged here, and I know where I belong. Your life is really beautiful, Lance, but some of us just live. So, in a couple days, I’m going to go back to the city and my job and my life, because that’s where I belong. It’s not like I can just leave the country, take pictures, see the world. It’s just not realistic.”

 

Lance nodded, even smiled, but he wouldn’t quite meet Keith’s eyes. He pulled his sleeve over his hand and wiped the board completely blank, even erasing the names of the colors that were always present. He glanced at Keith, then at the board then shook his head, a frown growing on his face. He opened his mouth then snapped it shut, curling his fingers into fists, then letting his shoulders drop.

 

Keith wondered if this was a mistake. Maybe he should just spend the rest of the next couple of days with Shiro. Lance seemed ready to see him go, and he knew he was going to disappoint him. One day Lance and Shiro and everyone that kept saying he was meant for something great would finally see that he was just Keith. “Sorry, I guess I’ll go now.”

 

Lance held up a hand. He took a breath and started writing.

 

‘I’m sorry that I butted my way into your life. I shouldn’t have done that. Of course, it was stupid of me to think that my silly opinion counted when you already seem to know what you want and need.

But, before you stand there, convinced that everything is beautiful on this side, consider this. Think about how hard it is to never be able to say what you mean because you are too afraid to hear the laugh that nearly always comes. Consider how it feels, to be so scared that you can’t even let yourself talk to the people that are supposed to be your friends because part of you deep down still thinks that they are kind to you out of pity. Consider, how it is that you can only really express yourself to a select few people, and that is only if they are actively paying attention to you. Think about how lonely it is that you can’t even admit out loud to the boy you like that you like them? Think about that and then tell me how beautiful things are.

I’m sorry for trying to help. But, I got too caught up. I forgot for a bit that friendships have expiration dates and that ours was only good until you leave. I just wanted to make you happy, because you do deserve that, even if you think you don’t. Again, sorry. I’ll leave you alone now. I hope you have a good trip, be safe, Keith.’

 

Lance dropped the chalk and forced a smile on his face before nodding politely and taking a couple of steps away, eyes fixed on the floor.

 

“Lance, I-” Keith moved just a step closer. He wasn’t even sure where to begin, but his bullshit wasn’t what was important. Lance was what was important. “I do care about your opinion. Way too fucking much if I’m honest. I’ve been tripping over myself all week just trying to, fuck, I don’t know. And I was never supposed to like you, I’m here for a week, I’m not a teenager in a romantic comedy, life doesn’t work like that. And I want that happiness, I do, but I’m not… I’m just me…”

 

Lance’s head snapped up at that last part and he glared, eyes narrowed and expression fierce. He snatched up the chalk and his hand moved quickly across the board.

 

‘Just you? What the hell is wrong with that? Just the first person to actively try to learn to communicate with me? The first person in a long time that didn’t have to be threatened into apologizing? Just the person that I wanted to be my friend? Tell me what the hell is wrong with that?’

 

Keith’s heart fell into his stomach, his brain going a mile a minute. “I’m not… you make it easy to be that person. But, I get mean and angry and say stupid stuff. I’m going nowhere in my life and I don’t know how to treat you like you deserve, and my crush on you didn’t magically change all those things and I’m a messy person and I curse too fucking much and I’m just…” Keith tried to catch his breath. He ran a hand down his face before his eyes snapped open, his brain finally catching up to his mouth.

 

Lance’s eyes were wide and glassy, his mouth was slightly open and then he lunged, latching a hold on Keith’s and and pressing the other over his mouth, shaking his head back and forth.

 

“No. No! Not tr-r-rue!” Lance shook his head again. His mouth moved a couple of times, before a frustrated look crossed his face and he jerked backward, back hitting the board. “It’s-s-s not…” A couple of tears fell down Lance’s face as he kept shaking his head.

 

Horrified, Keith slowly took hold of the hand covering his mouth and moved their clasped hands to their sides before gently wiping Lance’s wet cheeks. “Lance… please, I don’t…” Keith barely knew how to handle his own emotions, and here was Lance, breaking him apart from the inside, and all Keith wanted was to console him, but damn if he didn’t know how. “I’m sorry, please… I don’t know what to do, just tell me what to do.” His voice cracked on the last couple of words, but Keith honestly would do whatever would make Lance stop crying.

 

Lance kept shaking his head, and did actually open his mouth to try and speak but, he couldn’t seem to actually form a single word. Finally, Lance squeezed Keith’s hand tightly, then mimed drinking, before pointing up. He took a couple of short, quick breaths, but didn’t even try to move away. Keith pulled gently at their joined hands and led Lance back up to the apartment. He opened a few different cabinets until he found one with cups, finally breaking his handhold to get water, handing the glass to Lance.

 

Lance downed the entire glass, before putting it carefully down and looking over at Keith. He twined his hands together and sniffed a couple of times, before roughly wiping at his own face. Lance shifted, just a bit, and mimed writing, along with the sign for ‘stay’ and ‘please’ .

 

Keith nodded turning towards the living room and looking for the notebook Lance seemed to always have around. For the first time since they met, the silence that had settled around them wasn’t awkward. It was heavy and intense, but Keith was so relieved to still be there. He grabbed the notebook and returned to Lance, handing it over.

 

Lance’s hands shook a little as he wrote this time, obviously still upset, but trying to stay calm.

 

‘I’m sorry. I always do this. I get too involved and push too much. I shouldn’t have tried to help. I’m sorry that you had to see that too. I know it doesn’t excuse any of it, but.. You aren’t like that, not to me anyway, and I hated hearing you say it. It was all my fault.’

 

He lightly nudged the notebook toward Keith, and turned away, refilling the cup.

 

“It’s not your fault, Lance, this is what I meant,” Keith said quietly. “I mess things up.” Keith saw Lance start to shake his head, but he pushed on. “But, I don’t want to leave a mess behind like I always do, so what… what do I do? What do you want me to do?”

 

Lance looked up, mouth turned down and he glanced around the little room, before he carefully put the pencil down. He pulled the little notebook closer, before picking up the pencil again.

 

‘Tell me the truth. What do you want, more than anything else, right now? If you do that, I will return the favor.’

 

Keith stared through the words on the page. What did he want? He wanted this week to never end. He wanted to hug Lance even though he knew he’d make it awkward. He wanted to lay down and stop existing for a little bit because fuck, emotions were so hard sometimes. He wracked his brain for a reasonable answer. He thought of all of Shiro’s nagging for the last… forever.

 

“I want to make Shiro proud… be the kind of man he sees in me.”

 

Lance nodded, and wrote down one more thing then slid the notebook back to Keith.

 

‘I want you to wait right here, while I help you do that.’

 

Lance straightened, ran a hand through his hair a couple of times, and signed stay three times, before he bolted down the hall and down the stairs.

 

Keith was frozen, wide eyed. “What…” he said into the empty apartment. He sat down in Lance’s chair, ran his fingers over a blanket draped over the back. He couldn’t hear Lance down in the shop. What was he doing? Keith sat back further, frowning. He had really fucked this up. How could he have been so stupid. He’d come in and fucked up Lance’s life so completely just to dip out. He tugged at a piece of his hair. Still no sign of Lance, but Keith was full blown freakout mode so he busied himself with looking at the pictures on the shelves, only moderately relaxing once Lance had finally returned.

 

Lance came back into the apartment with all the speed he had left it. He practically slipped trying to stop in front of Keith before he crouched down, hands holding several little envelopes. He stared for just a minute before a slightly sad smile crossed his face then he nodded. ‘R-r-read-dy-y-y?”

 

He handed over the first envelope, that had the name Pidge on it. Inside was a printed plane ticket.

 

“W… what is this?” Keith’s hands were clammy and he wasn’t really sure what to make of this.

 

Lance shook his head, and handed over two more envelopes, One with Allura and one with Coran’s name on them. Both had cash inside. Lance didn’t even pause before pulling one from Hunk out of his pocket, this one containing coupons for restaurants. The one from Matt had vouchers from hotels and a couple of maps.

 

Lance was smiling, as he waved the last two in front of Keith. One with Shiro’s name and one with Lance’s. He handed over Shiro’s. Unlike the other’s it only had a thin paper in it. A letter. Even if the envelope hadn’t had Shiro’s name on it, Keith would have recognized the scratchy scrawl.

 

Keith,

You’re the best little brother I never asked for. You’re weird and funny and smart when you’re not being an idiot. So don’t be an idiot, and take what Lance is giving you. I know you want to be stubborn about it, but don’t. He called in every favor he had to make this happen. So don’t be an asshole, I raised you moderately better than that. So, go, be great.

PS I have always been proud of you.

Shiro

 

Keith couldn’t fully comprehend the situation, but he registered the pricking in his eyes and blinked back tears that were threatening to fall.

 

“I still don’t really understand.” Keith looked to Lance. “What am I supposed to do with all this stuff?”

 

Lance fingered the last envelope, then handed it over. It also had a note inside, in addition to the phone numbers of everyone else that had given Keith something. The note was written in Lance’s writing and it simply stated. ‘Live your dream.’

 

Keith lurched across the small space between them and pulled Lance into a crushing embrace. He just breathed for a moment or two. Tried to hold onto this moment. To hold onto Lance. He wanted to take this with him. Hoped if he held just a little tighter, Lance wouldn’t forget him, or hate him for leaving. He wanted to always be able to remember the moment things changed.

 

“I.. can’t thank you enough, Lance,” he croaked.

 

Lance wrapped his arms around Keith, hugging just as tightly, before pulling back just enough so their eyes could meet. ‘B-b-be hap-p-p-py-y-y and-d w-we’r-re even.”

 

...

 

“You can’t do this.”

 

“Well, I am.”

 

“That’s bullshit. You’re going to regret this, and-”

 

“Honestly, fuck you, Deborah, and fuck that job. Have a nice life,” Keith laughed as he hung up the phone.

 

And maybe no notice was kind of a dick move, but Keith couldn’t possibly care. He vibrated with an energy he’d never felt before. His cheeks were starting to hurt from the smiling. He was actually going to do it. He was going to do what he’d always been too afraid to do. And all of it was because of Lance.

 

The few things he’d brought with him littered the bed. Keith tossed his phone into the mess and just stared at it for a moment. This was all so surreal, he expected to wake up any moment. A know at the door and Keith shoveled his belongings unceremoniously into his backpack.

 

“Yeah?”

 

Shiro opened the door, poking his head in. “You ready kiddo?”

 

“Yeah… I guess so…”

 

Keith followed Shiro out of the apartment for the last time in who knows how long. He wasn’t much of a sentimental guy, but he looked over Shiro’s shoulder as he closed the door behind them. One week, and it already felt like more of a home than his shabby apartment ever had. He had just over two hours before he needed to be at the airport. Thankfully Shiro was taking him, because Keith could barely focus on breathing, let alone getting himself to the airport. They made their way down to the street. It didn’t look any different than it had a week ago, but Keith had fallen in love with it without ever meaning to.

 

“I’ll be in the car,” Shiro called out to him as he rounded the corner. “Take your time.”

 

Keith took a steadying breath and walked next door to Allura’s. Coran was leaning against the bar, a drink in hand as he and Allura chatted quietly. A couple people were in the shop, sat in armchairs towards the back. When Keith made his way over to the counter, Allura squeaked and ran around the side of the counter.

 

“Oh, Keith, I’m so happy for you, Shiro has shown me your work, and I know you’ll be great!”

 

“Thanks, Allura,” Keith chuckled as Coran clapped him on the shoulder. “Keep my brother out of trouble, will you? He’s a mess, can’t imagine how he survives without me.”

 

Allura laughed, eyes a little misty as she gave him a quick hug. “Of course, I’ll take good care of him… I know he’ll miss you, so please do call him when you have the chance.”

 

“Yeah, I will, I wouldn’t want him getting mopey on you.”

 

“Enjoy the adventure, my boy,” Coran cheered. “You’ll never be this young again. Why when I was your age-” Keith listened to Coran as he inched his way to the door. Waving and calling out goodbye, he headed towards Hunk’s.

 

Hunk was standing on the step of the shop, mouth pinched in an anxious look and he grinned when he saw Keith.

 

“Hey! I was worried you weren’t going to come by!”

 

“Couldn’t go without saying goodbye to my friends…” Keith shrugged trying to hide his small smile.

 

Hunk chuckled. “It’s a good thing too, because have I got a treat for you. I had Shay make them special. Your favorite, in travel size.” He produced a white box from behind his back, and handed it to Keith with a care usually given to small children.

 

Keith tilted his head as he opened the box enough to peek inside. “What,” Keith exclaimed, laughing as he pulled out one of six small desserts. “How did you know tiramisu was my favorite?”

 

Hunk beamed, looking extremely proud. “It’s a gift, I can always tell anyone’s favorite.. Well, except for Lance… But I’ll get it. Now, try one so I can tell Shay if you like it. Just.. take care, and if you need us, call, okay?” He sniffed.

 

Keith took a huge bite out of the dessert in his hand. His eyes involuntarily closed and he’d never admit to the soft groan that snuck its way out of him. “This is fucking amazing, oh my god.”

 

Hunks grin only grew. “She’s amazing.” His sighed a little at the end then hugged Keith, being careful to squish the box before stepping back. “Have fun, buddy!”

 

Keith nodded, patting Hunk’s arm as he swallowed the last bite of the tiramisu. “Thanks, Hunk. I will.” He smiled as he walked out the door, box in hand. One more stop. He turned towards the record store, but stopped in his tracks when he realized Pidge and Matt were standing outside.

 

Pidge was scowling up at Matt, who grinned down, before ruffling their hair. Pidge jerked forward hugging their brother before shoving him away. Matt smiled and it turned into a grin when he saw Keith.

 

“Hello there, fellow wanderer!”

 

“Don’t be a nerd, Matt. Keith, get over here!”

 

Keith walked over, trying hard not to smile too fondly. Pidge still kind of scared him, but Keith had grown to really like them. They were a good friend, and he was glad to have met them.

 

“So, where are you going to go first? Africa? Asia? No, Turkey! Man, there are some neat things to see there!” Matt pulled his battered bag over his shoulder and rocked a bit on his heels.

 

“Dumbass. He’s going to Greece. Because that is where the ticket I bought him says he is going.” Pidge rolled their eyes. “And he’s going to call us so we know he’s alive… right?”

 

“Yeah, as soon as I get there, promise… and... thank you guys. For everything.” Keith awkwardly looked between them, not sure if either of them were hug people, but not entirely sure what to do with himself.

 

Pidge rolled their eyes. “Dude, because of this, that picture Lance had will never see the light of day, I should be thanking you. Hell, we should all thank you. Especially Matt.”

 

“True, I was once a far less handsome man than I am now..”

 

“You aren’t handsome now!”

 

Matt ducked behind Keith, and leaned against him comfortably. “Seriously though, I know Lance gave you my number, if you need something call me. Granted, I’ll be on a boat in the ocean for a good three months but whatever.”

 

Pidge held up their hand for a five. “Go on Keith, or this dork will talk for days.”

 

Keith high fived them, turning to do the same for Matt. “Hey, uh.. I know you will, but, uh… watch out for him? Like, make sure he’s ok? I just… want to make sure he’s alright…”

 

Pidge’s face softened, and Matt cooed obnoxiously. “Of course I will. I always do. Just.. maybe.. Ugh, feelings .” They groaned loudly. “Visit or some shit.. Ugh, I am going to be sick. Just get in there!” They shoved Keith toward the door.

 

Keith stumbled in, barely catching himself from tripping. He nodded over his shoulder out the open door. Music played softly, but Keith wasn’t sure he could make out what was playing. He looked around at the eclectic little shop. His heart lurched as he realized just how much he was going to miss this place. How much he was going to miss his new friends. How much he’d miss Lance.

 

Lance wasn’t at the counter, but was instead near the little record player, fiddling with his hands at he watched Keith look around. He smiled just a bit, before he shrugged.

 

“Hi…”

 

“Hey…” Keith dragged a hand through his hair as he slowly closed the distance between them, setting the dessert box on the counter as he passed it. “What are you playing?”

 

“R-r-r-rhiannon…” Lance ducked his head a little, then made the sign for Keith. “F-f-fleetw-w-w-wood-d-d M-m-m-ac… Ab-b-b-bout b-b-b-b-being-g-g tak-ken… b-b-by-y-y the w-w-wind-d-d-d.” He smiled a little.

 

Keith was glad he’d set the box down, because he would have dropped it in that moment. He was so fucking gone for this boy and yet here he was leaving him. No, because of him. Lance was singlehandedly making it possible for him to follow his dreams. “I like it…” They were close enough now that Keith could easily pull him into a hug. “Thank you, Lance. I really can’t thank you enough, and I… I’m going to miss you.”

 

Lance smiled, and leaned forward brushing a piece of Keith’s hair back before he spoke again, hand still raised. “B-b-b-be h-h-hap-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-py-y-y” He ducked just a bit and kissed Keith lightly, before backing away and burying his face in his hands.

 

Keith’s face was on fire. Scratch that, his whole body was on fire. After the moment or two for his brain to come back online, he reached out, stepping forward-

 

HOOONNK

 

“I know I said take your time, but you’re gonna miss your flight,” Shiro yelled from where he was parked just outside the door.

 

“God fucking damnit,” Keith hissed from where he had jerked back in alarm. He looked back at Lance, wanting to stay just a little longer.

 

Lance had both his hands clapped over his mouth now, eyes wide from the sudden sound. His eyes darted from Keith to the door and then back to Keith several times before he finally moved them. “G-g-g-good-d-db-b-by-y-ye, K-keith…”

 

“Goodbye, Lance,” Keith murmured. “I’ll, uh, see you…”

 

Keith turned, knowing if he didn’t leave then, he might not ever. He jogged to the truck and got in, eyes glued to the dash. Shiro waved to Matt and Pidge before driving away. Keith’s breathing had mostly returned to normal by the time they’d reached the airport. He climbed out of the truck, slinging his backpack over a shoulder.

 

“Keith,” Shiro said as he pulled him into a tight hug. “Have fun, be safe. For the love of god, don’t do anything stupid. Hide your wallet from pickpockets in the cities. Make sure you’re eating-”

 

“Ok, ok,” Keith laughed pulling out of the hug. “I’ll be fine. You raised me pretty tough, old man,” Keith teased, laughing when Shiro punched him solidly in the arm.

 

“I miss you less already.’ Shiro ruffled his hair aggressively before patting his shoulder as if he’d break. “I’m going to miss you, kid, but promise me you’ll have a good time, this is your dream after all.” He smiled, stepping back. “And call me every once in awhile.”

 

“I will… and I’ll miss you too…”

 

“Love ya, Keith.”

 

“Love you too, Shiro.”

 

He turned and walked through the sliding glass doors and tried not to let his heart rattle out of his ribcage.

 

...

 

Fifteen hours. Fifteen hours of sitting cramped with a bunch of strangers, crying babies and all, and not a moment of that was spent thinking about anything other than that kiss.

 

Keith had gone over it a thousand different times, and each time he felt more and more at a loss. What was it supposed to mean? Because by playthrough seven, Keith was starting to think it was more of a goodbye than he’d realized. A permanent one. Lance was letting him go. Keith knew it had all been too good to be true, and Lance deserved better than him. He hadn’t changed his mind about that. What had changed was how much he wanted to put all his own bullshit aside and try .

 

He watched the clouds slide past his window. The baby four rows back cried again. Keith huffed and dug out a pair of headphones from his bag, plugging them into the screen in front of him. He clicked through until he got to the music channels and selected one of the first ones, turning it to full volume. He caught the tail end of something he didn’t recognize, fading to silence before the next song started. Distorted guitar notes rang out and Keith couldn’t help the emotions warring on his face. He’s heard this song his entire life, too many times to count, and yet, one time playing in the record store was all it took to forever make him think of Lance. Just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl… Keith wished Lance was here as he watched the ocean blur down beneath them.

 

The song ended and the endless thoughts of Lance still circled his head. Thoughts of Lance flitting around the shop, of him comfortable and laughing in his kitchen, of the too short kiss. Keith jerked in his seat, suddenly remembering something Pidge had told him what felt like a lifetime ago. He scrambled to pull out his laptop, impatiently drumming his fingers waiting for it to boot up before ripping his headphones free of the airplane screen and plugging them into his laptop. He fumbled for a second with youtube, hoping he remembered correctly and selecting the first video to pop up.

 

Piano and guitar chords played pleasantly into his ears. Images of an old plane and a farm glowed orange from his screen. He closed his eyes, listening. The lyrics started up and he tried to imagine Lance listening to his favorite song. When I think back on these times, and the dreams we left behind, I’ll be glad ‘cause I was blessed to get to have you in my life.

 

Keith’s chest hurt as he snapped his eyes open, suddenly much more misty than they had been a couple seconds ago. Clips of the singer morphed into scenes from a movie and Keith realized he did know this song. He laughed a little to himself as the chorus picked up. In my dreams, I always see you soar above the sky. In my heart, there’ll always be a place for you. For all my life, I’ll always keep a part of you with me. And everywhere I am, there you’ll be.

 

Keith wiped at his face quickly, hoping the Japanese businessman sitting next to him was still asleep. He minimized the video, he didn’t need the entire row behind him to know he was getting emotional over a damn Faith Hill music video. After sitting staring at his desktop for a second, he opened the file of photos he’d taken over the last several days.

 

He scrolled straight past the ones of town. He slowed when he saw the ones of Hunk’s cakes, making a mental note to email him the finished images when he landed. He stopped when Lance’s bright smile caught his eye. He clicked through each one he’d taken in his shop and his home. By the tenth one, he realized he’d been separating his favorite ones into a new folder. He blushed as he set their selfie as his background. Keith had spent the last several years taking people’s photos for a living, but all of those images didn’t hold an ounce of the life that just one of Lance’s pictures did. Distantly he realized the music had ended some time ago.

 

The pilot announced their arrival, and Keith closed his laptop and stowed it away, missing Lance more than he thought would be possible after less than 24 hours. He was right back to overthinking and analyzing the kiss as he shuffled with the crowd towards the front of the plane. The sun was bright overhead as they were herded across the tarmac, but Keith’s body reminded him that it was the middle of the night back home and he really should have slept on the plane some.

 

Keith plopped down in a chair outside of a coffee shop, connecting his phone to the airport wifi so he could figure out where he was staying tonight and how he was going to get there. As soon as he went through the bullshit required to use the free wifi, a couple messages flashed across his screen. One from Shiro asking Keith to text him when he landed, so he shot off a quick ‘ here’. The other was from Lance, and contained a link. He clicked it, his youtube app opening.

 

The video started with static and images of crowds as a single tone rose and fell. Keith looked at the video title, and remembered it being a fairly popular song years ago. He couldn’t really remember how it went though. A man’s voice began to sing and Keith listened like his life depended on it. Keith’s brow furrowed as he tried to decode what Lance was trying to tell him here.

 

Keith was as conflicted as the lyrics. Was this our last embrace? ... It could be wrong, but it should have been right It could never last… Maybe Keith was right, Lance was trying to tell him that they didn’t belong together…

 

Love is our resistance… I’ll wait a thousand years just to see you smile again…

 

Fuck. Keith didn’t know any more, but fuck the angry thoughts that convinced him he wasn’t enough, that he wasn’t good or smart or kind or any of the things someone like Lance needed and deserved. The way he felt about Lance was enough to make him want to try. If Lance would have him.

 

A tray clattering on a table near him snapped him back to the present. He was a world away from Lance. He was here to follow his dream, and Lance had made that happen. Keith decided he was going to do everything he could to make all this worth it. To make the most of it, because it was a gift from Lance, and he was going to ‘be happy’ dammit.

 

He made a reservation at a nearby hotel and set up an uber to get him. He made his way to the pickup zone, the warm air making its way into the building in bursts. His ride pulled up, and he hitched his bag a little higher on his shoulder, camera clasped in his hand. Before the car started to move, he opened his messages and with the last moment of wifi, texted Lance, ‘ are you awake’.

 

 

The area around the airport was like any other airport Keith had ever been to, but as they made their way through the city, Keith’s breath was taken away. Limestone and terracotta buildings engulfed them, and when Keith rolled his window down, he could smell the salt of the sea. He clicked a few photos as they would through the old buildings, the breeze ruffling his hair.

 

He could see the Acropolis atop its hill as they came around a hill, the ancient building looming closer as they went. The uber came to a stop outside of a building covered in windows, planters draping greenery in some spots, and a door framed in columns. Keith double checked the voucher Matt had given him for the address, because this couldn’t be the right place. Keith thanked his driver and got out.

 

The acropolis was so close and the people going in and out of the door were dressed nicer than Keith had ever been in his life. He glanced at the voucher and the writing on the hotel. They matched, so he walked past the doorman and into the lobby. The minute he saw the ornate space, he expected someone to appear and toss him right back out. Maybe he should have looked the place up and not just blindly called the number…

 

The woman at the desk gave him an odd look, but when he gave her his name, he was reminded of the night at the fancy restaurant, and soon he was being whisked away to a room several stories up. Apparently the voucher information was attached to Matt’s name, and that meant the royal treatment. Keith cursed as he walked into his room. The entire wall facing his bed was a window with the most amazing panoramic view of ancient Athens. He dropped his backpack on the floor, taking a few pictures with both his camera and his phone. Shiro was going to shit himself. He bit back a smile as he opened his phone, finding the wifi connection before plugging it in to charge and going back to standing in front of the large window.

 

His phone buzzed a couple times from the bedside table. Keith reluctantly pulled away from the view and crossed the room. Shiro kept hours nearly as weird as his own, so maybe he was responding.

 

‘Pidge has reliably informed me that sleep is for the weak. So yeah, I’m awake.’

‘How was the flight?’

 

Keith gripped his phone tight as he reread the text from Lance. It’s been over half an hour since he’d texted him, no telling when Lance’s response had actually been sent. What if he’d gone to bed after the radio silence. Keith tapped the side of his phone on his thigh.

 

‘Sorry, I was’ No, Keith backspaced. ‘I miss you’ Nope, not that. ‘Still awake?’ Ugh, Keith stared at the blank message box, leaning against the foot of the bed.

 

Can I-’ Keith thought for a second, ‘ facetime you?’ He needed to hear Lance, see him talking, not just text.

 

‘Sure, let me go to my room, give me five, kay?’

 

Fuck. Shit. Ok, Keith, you can do this, just fucking pull it together. What was he going to say to Lance? Oh god, what was Lance going to say to him? He looked over to the table near the door to his room, littered with fine wines and champagne. Fuck it. He poured himself a small swig of the only amber colored liquid on the table, the label in a foreign language. He downed it, looking out the window, a swell of bravery he wasn’t used to sweeping through him. Love is our resistance. His phone lit up with the image of his and Lance’s face pressed together, and Keith only had a second to blush at the fact that he’s emailed himself the picture so he could set it as Lance’s contact image before answering. He was weak.

 

Lance’s nose was wrinkled when the image popped up, but it smoothed out immediately. He smiled wide then opened his mouth. “Hi.. K-keith.” His hands moved along, signing as he spoke.

 

Keith returned the smile as he drank in Lance. How had it only been a day? It’d felt like forever since he’d seen him. “Hey, Lance.” Keith had so much he wanted to say. He wanted to tell Lance how he felt, how he missed him. Ask him what the song meant to him. He wanted to stare at that face until his phone died. But Keith just sat there smiling like a dope.

 

Lance leaned a bit away, showing a hint of dark blue walls and the edge of picture, before his hands were moving again, slowly and carefully, just like his words. ‘How-w-w is-s-s Athens-s-s? P-p-pr-r-r-retty-y-y-y?”

 

Not as pretty as you, Keith thought. “Yeah, it’s amazing… wanna see?”

 

Lance nodded several times, even bringing the phone a little closer to his face, like that would help him see better. “Y-y-yeah.”

 

Keith smiled at him, not even bothering to hide it as he stepped up to the window. He pressed the view switch in the corner until the panoramic view came up on the screen.

 

There was silence as Keith moved the phone before a very soft, “Whoa..” came from the speaker. It was awed, and there was no trace of a stutter.

 

“Wish you were here to see it,” Keith said before he’d really thought it through.

 

Lance cleared his throat, the sound odd through the speaker. “Y-y-yeah?”

 

Keith cleared his throat. “Yeah. I ended up in this over the top hotel room, look-” Keith turned to show the large bed and ornate decorations as he walked through the room. “I don’t have anyone to help me make everyone uncomfortable and- holy shit!” Keith had walked into the floor to ceiling marble bathroom. “What the fuck, this bathtub is big enough for at least two people,” he laughed as he stepped into it, his dirty boots a funny juxtaposition to the porcelain.

 

Lance whistled, then laughed at the bathtub comment. “L-l-l-lies-s-s. Coul-l-ld-d-d f-f-f-fit thr-r-ree if-f-f-f y-y-y-your-r-r-r f-f-f-fr-r-r-riend-d-dl-l-ly.”

 

Keith blushed. “Uh, yeah, you probably could.” He switched the view back around to his face, hoping Lance couldn’t see the blush in this light. “So…”

 

Lance had his head tilted slightly and a soft smile on his face. “Y-y-you ok-kay-y-y?”

 

“Yeah! Yeah… I’m fine…” Keith pushed his hair back from his face. “I, uh… liked the song.”

 

“Oh?” Lance perked up a bit at that, smile a bit wider than before. “M-m-mus-s-s-se. Not on the b-b-boar-r-rd-d-d.”

 

“Really?” Keith couldn’t bring himself to ask what Lance was trying to tell him with the song. What if his initial reaction was right and Lance was trying to tell him they weren’t a thing? “What is on the board? Or, I guess it’s too late, you haven’t put it up yet… I’m gonna miss seeing the board everyday…” Keith wondered if Lance knew he meant that he’d miss seeing him everyday.

 

Lance smiled, small and more like Pidge’s smiles. He shifted, phone wiggling as he moved before a piece of paper was filling the screen. The paper had the word red on the top and was full of songs, all of them fitting Lance’s theme. “F-f-f-or-r-r tom-m-m-mor-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-row-w-w.”

 

The phone shifted again, Lance’s face again filling the screen. “B-b-but…” He glanced to the side. “I’l-l-l-l-l-l s-s-send-d-d y-y-you a s-s-song-g-g. Ok-k-kayy-y-y?”

 

“Yeah,” Keith murmured. “That would be great… It’s, uh, weird being all the way out here, just me, but that will… make it easier.”

 

“Ever-r-ry-y-y d-d-day-y-y-y… P-p-pr-r-rom-m-mis-s-se!” Lance signed the word for promise several times, his smile small and shy. Then he made another sign, and repeated it three times as well. “P-p-p-pictur-r-re?”

 

Keith copied the sign along with Lance before tilting his head in thought. “A picture? I mean, yeah, I’ll be seeing some cool stuff, I’ll make sure to get a picture of the coolest places on my phone so I can send them.”

 

Lance blinked, then nodded. He disappeared from the screen for a moment and came back with a cup, taking a drink before looking back at the camera. “Ok-kay-y-y-y…” He took a deep breath, and blew it out slowly. “Can I have one… J-j-jus-s-st f-f-for-r-r m-m-me?”

 

Keith blanched. “Oh… uh, yeah…” Keith crawled up onto the bed and layed on his stomach. “Like… uh… of… me?....”

 

“Of-f-f-f any-y-y-ything-g-g. J-j-jus-s-st w-w-want one s-s-sp-p-pecial-l-l f-f-for-r-r m-me….” Lance’s eyes went wide, and he waved his hands back and forth a few times. “I..I..I m-m-mean… if-f-f you w-w-want to….”

 

“Yeah! Uh, yes, yeah, I can do that.” Keith buried his face in the crook of his arm before peeking back up at the phone. “I didn’t get overseas service set up, so uh, it might get to you at a weird time…but, yeah...”

 

Lance shrugged. “That’s-s-s-s ok-kay-y-y. Y-y-y-you’l-l-l-l-l-l-l b-b-be too b-b-bus-s-s-sy-y-y to r-r-r-rem-m-m-mb-b-ber-r-r-r.” He grinned, then made the sign for picture again.

 

“Yeah,” He mumbled through a yawn. “Hey, Lance?”

 

Lance hummed, head tilting a bit. “S-s-s-sl-l-l-leep-p-pyy-y-y?”

 

“No, well yeah, but what I was going to say is… thank you again… for all of this… it means a lot.”

 

Lance shook his head. “It’s-s-s-s nothing-g-g. J-j-jus-s-st a f-f-few-w-w f-f-favor-r-rs-s-s. S-s-s-shir-r-ro al-l-lr-r-read-d-dy-y-y ow-w-wes-s-s m-m-me a new-w-w one.”

 

Keith laughed. “I don’t even think I’m surprised.” He sighed watching Lance, knowing he could easily fall asleep just watching him and listening to him speak. Just effortlessly slip into slumberland, and Keith had never felt that way before. Lance had repositioned again, and Keith followed his lead, pulling an overstuffed pillow under him as he listened to the story Lance was trying to tell him. His eyes were growing heavier until he was rolling over, his room dark and quiet. The bright scenery outside his window had been replaced with the warmly lit city nightscape.

 

“Ah, fuck,” Keith croaked as he rubbed at his eyes. His phone jabbed into his back, and he realized he hadn’t even taken his shoes off. He sat up and a soft noise filled the room. Keith frowned, preparing to chew out his neighbors before realising it was coming from his phone. He realized the moment he’d rolled over that he’d passed out on Lance, and he was prepared for a text telling him off a bit, or even maybe a screenshot of his sleeping self, but he wasn’t ready for what he saw when he turned his phone over.

 

Somehow, and Keith suspected Pidge’s involvement, Lance had managed to get the screen to split, one side showing a small note that simply said, ‘Sleep well, Keith.’ While the other side was showing the name of a song and how far along it was in the song. Keith peered at it, and saw that the song was in repeat. Into the West, played softly, melody calm and soothing while the words were filled with the promise of home.

 

‘Night is falling… You have come to journey’s end….’

 

Keith let the music wash over him as he sat in a strange room, so far from home. He laid back down against the mountain of pillows and took comfort in the song as it built. Nostalgia tempered the softness of the setting, but he tried to listen with fresh ears.

 

‘You and I will meet again, and you’ll be here in my arms, just sleeping…’

 

Keith had to catch his breath. For such a soothing song, his heart was fucking racing. He jumped from the bed, pacing for a second or two, before walking to the bathroom and splashing water on his face. When he looked up, he realized the cold water had done nothing for the bright red of his cheeks.

 

He let the song continue to play as he dressed and unpacked what few things he had, taking up less than a drawer. It played while he turned on his laptop and worked on the pictures for Hunk, sending them off. It played the entire time he sifted through the pictures he’d set aside of Lance, playing with the levels ever so slightly, making him stand out and glow even more than he already did. Keith wondered if he should feel like a creep about them, but he couldn’t bring himself to regret taking them, and what was the point in taking a great photo if he didn’t do anything with it. Maybe he’d print the one of Lance and Pidge in their kitchen and give it to them for Christmas…

 

The song didn’t stop playing until Keith had ventured out of the hotel and onto the street. It was still far too late or early depending on how you looked at it, for him to be able to do much, but his camera took pretty decent low light pictures, so he set to work. Keith spent the day getting acquainted with the city, taking pictures as he went. He watched the sun come up from the Acropolis, and in the golden light of morning, he pulled out his phone and took a quick selfie in front of the ancient building.

 

 

As soon as Keith is through the door of the hotel, sweaty and exhausted from his day, he texts Lance the selfie from that morning. He’s squinting a little in the light, and his hair is a little wind blown, but it’s the first time he’s ever smiled for a photo and it actually look like he meant it. After hitting send, he plugged in the phone and camera before heading for the bathroom.

 

It took an hour for his phone to chime, causing Keith to vault over the chair he’d been sitting in, but there was a blurry picture along with a fairly long text. The picture was of Shiro, and his eyes were wide and his mouth was wide open. Despite the blurriness, it was easy to see that the man looked like a fish.

 

‘I love it! You look really happy there! Sorry it took me so long to answer but Shiro and Pidge kept trying to look over my shoulder like the nosy shits they are, and when I finally showed them, Shiro well, did his very best impersonation of a guppy. Now I have two things against him, and he is whining in the corner about how he doesn’t have any pictures of you smiling. Congrats, man, I think you broke him.’

 

Keith laughed, louder than he’d expected. He opened his camera app and snapped a picture before opening his texts again. ‘ Here, you can give him this one’ he typed out before attaching the image of him smiling widely, his face mostly obstructed by his middle finger.

 

The phone chimed again almost immediately. ‘Will do, one minute.’ There was a long pause, before the second text. ‘Wow.. Shiro just cussed you out in two languages. That was actually impressive. Pidge is also on the floor laughing. But, I have to say, I like the first one better.’

 

Keith blushed. Would he ever get used to talking to Lance? ‘ Yeah? Maybe I can send more, make it like a regular thing?’ Keith threw his phone, covering his burning face with his hands. He was going to explode.

 

His phone chimed, then immediately chimed again. The first text was simple and to the point. ‘I’d.. like that.’  While the second was again a picture. This one was also of Shiro, but instead of looking like a fish, he had one hand half covering his face, which was very red in color. Pidge was right in front of him, and had one hand out, while pointing outside the shop.

 

‘Shiro got kicked out again. He said he didn’t want any pictures of you anyway, so Pidge told him they were telling Allura, and then screamed it across the street. He is in trouble twice now.’

 

I’ll remember that when he gives me shit later.’ Keith laughed as he sent off the text, saving the two pictures of Shiro.

 

 

It was almost three am, and Pidge was going to kill him for staying up so late, but honestly Lance couldn’t help himself. He’d promised to send Keith a song every day, and he was going to make sure that it was there in time for him to wake up, even if that meant he slept a little less.

 

Lance almost never shared songs with people, like he did with Keith. Some of them, felt so personal to him that he couldn’t bare it if they weren’t understood the right way. But, sending them along to Keith felt, natural, like it was exactly what Lance was supposed to do.

 

He fiddled with his phone, taking him time to make sure he found exactly the right version of the song he wanted. He loved the band he’d chosen today, but he also hated how they sounded live. Some bands could make it work but this one was far better as a studio band. Finally locating what he wanted, he hit send before he could talk himself out of it. Then he stood, walking over to a little paper and scratching a name off of a paper.

 

 

If Keith hadn’t fallen asleep with his phone on his face, he wouldn’t have woken to the chime, but when your cheek is suddenly vibrating, it’s hard to keep sleeping. He rolled over, groaning and pulling the blankets over his head, blocking out the sun. He blinked at the too bright display on his phone, registering the local time. It was later than he typically slept, but it was like three back home so whatever. He was getting ready to roll back over, but the banner across his screen had him waking up on the spot.

 

Lance had once again sent him a link. Just like he’d promised. Keith tried to remain calm as he clicked the link. Keith furrowed his brow, not instantly recognizing the band or song, but strings and violins began playing, followed by a woman’s crooning voice. Keith watched the lyrics scroll across the screen in time with the music as he hid in his blanket tent. ‘ I’m holding very tight, I’m riding in the midnight blue, I’m finding I can fly so high above with you…’

 

Keith’s phone slipped from his hand, smacking him in the face. He cursed, rubbing at his cheek, pulling the blankets back down in frustration. He replayed the song, cutting it off halfway through when he opened his messages. He opened the thread with Lance, holding the phone tightly above him and snapping a quick picture of him smiling softly. ‘ That was really nice to wake up to’ he sent along with the picture before he had time to wake up and come to his senses.

 

 

Keith checked out of the insanely nice hotel room, honestly, a little relieved to be leaving a space he felt so out of place in. He toured a little more of Athens, taking pictures of the locals and the landmarks. He found a cute little cafe that Hunk had actually given him a coupon for, so he settled in and mapped out his next few days. He couldn’t really afford to fly to his next destination, and an uber driver would only take him so far. Keith snapped a quick pic with his phone to send to Hunk later.

 

He thumbed through the few personal pictures he’d taken, smiling a little bit at the memory of Lance and his messages. Keith handed over the coupon for his meal, not sure what the standard practice of tipping was in Greece, left a few dollars on the table and set off walking along the main road north. He’d walked, taking pictures of scenery for three and a half hours before someone finally slowed down when he stuck his thumb out. The stranger didn’t speak a lot of English, but he offered to take him as far as Kakavia, wherever the hell that was. Keith pulled out his phone, taking a selfie pointing at himself, captioning it ‘ Guess who’s riding in cars with strangers’ and set it up to send to Shiro once he had wifi again. He looked at the goofy picture, an idea hitting him like a train.

 

Keith quickly took another picture pointing at himself, but this time, a much fonder look on his face, a blush already fighting to be seen. The guy driving made some sort of noise, followed by what Keith could only assume was something mildly rude in Greek. The beautiful cliff sides melded into plains framed in mountains, and Keith captured what he could from the car. His new friend pointing out things as they went, and even allowing Keith to take a picture or two of him.

 

Kakavia was nestled in the foothills and while it was kind of run down, it had a certain charm to it. He said goodbye to Adnan and began walking. Keith was quickly starting to realize there was nothing in this town. So much for a cheap meal and an even cheaper night in a hostel. He snaked through a cluster of what he guessed were apartment buildings until he found an unsecure wifi. He couldn’t find any uber drivers, but he managed to find a taxi company from the next town over and waited to be picked up.

 

It was a good eight hours to Brindisi, Italy, and just after midnight by the time Keith rolled in, exhausted and out of nearly four hundred euros. He just wanted to get to Italy already, and at least in a city with an airport, he was sure to be able to find something to eat and somewhere to stay. Brindisi turned out to be beautiful, at least what Keith could see in the dark, and bizarrely enough, Matt seemed to have a voucher for a place here as well. Although, everything with Matt was just a little bizarre.

 

Keith barely plugged in his phone and kicked off his shoes before climbing into the large bed. He was just starting to drift off when his stomach gave a loud gurgle. With a string of curses and groans, he rolled back out of bed and called down for room service, logging into the hotel’s wifi as he argued with the concierge about what was a reasonable midnight snack.





His phone buzzed lightly on the little table several times. Six messages from Shiro and three from Lance. Lance’s first one was as short, a simple, ‘I’m glad’ , while the next was long, taking up almost the entire screen with the message.

 

‘So this new guy showed up today. Says he’s opening a bar across from Coran’s place. Seems shady to me, a bar near where kids hang out. He’s kinda a dick. He’s got this white hair and doesn’t actually look at you when he talks. He’s already pissed Pidge off by calling them a she, then pissed them off again by asking if I had hearing problems. I admit.. It’s kinda a Black day, now… But, I wish you were still here, it’d be great to make fun of him with you. Apparently his name is Lotor. A douchy name for a dickhead.’

 

The last message was a touch lighter. ‘Keith? Do you know why Shiro just screamed at his phone in the middle of the street?’

 

Keith snorted at the image of Shiro reacting to his picture. He thumbed down the menu and could see the string of all cap messages waiting for him. But, the wall of text was more important right now. ‘ A black day? Are you ok?’ A knock at the door broke through the worry that was building.

 

When Keith came back there were two messages, one was from Hunk, thanking him for the pictures of the cakes and wishing him well and the other was from Lance.

 

‘Yeah, it’ll be fine. Pidge says I should tell you that they’re gonna kill him and join you to go into hiding, but it’s really not that big of a deal. They happen, right?’

 

Keith moved the room service cart closer to the bed, shovelling french fries into his mouth with one hand as he typed with the other. ‘ I could use the company, but why is this asshole making you have a black day? Because, yeah, I guess they happen sometimes, but they aren’t fine, Lance.’

 

The next message took almost an hour to arrive, Keith’s food long gone and sleep clawing at him once more. ‘It just, pisses me off that because I don’t want to talk that makes me stupid or unable to, like I’m… less than everyone else. No. Nope. Not doing this.I am not going to bring you down while you are.. Wherever the hell you are, living it up. Thanks, but I’m good. Also, do you really want to spend time with Pidge when they have no cookies or wifi?’

 

Keith frowned. Not only did he hate that Lance was feeling this way, but it was a brutal reminder of their first meeting. ‘ You’re not bringing me down. I’m just laying in bed. In Italy? Yeah Italy, it’s been a weird day. I may be living it up right now thanks to Matt, but I definitely was not for most of the day. I’d rather hear about your day.’

 

Almost immediately, a message appeared, but it wasn’t from Lance, it was instead from Pidge. It was a picture and a short text. The picture was of Lance, all curled up in the blue beanbag chair, with his phone still in his hand and sound asleep. The message was a simple, ‘Thank you, Keith.’

 

 

Keith woke relatively early the next morning, considering the time he’d fallen asleep. He moved around the room, trying to find anything remotely clean. He might need to see if the hotel can wash his clothes… that’s a thing right? I mean, rich people, right? Keith nodded to himself, he’d do that as soon as he got back. He grabbed his camera and wallet, pocketing his room key just as his phone chimed. A text from Lance came through, and Keith smiled widely seeing another link in their thread.

 

The image of a unicorn looked back at him and Keith tilted his head in surprise as guitar accompanied by tinkling chimes filled his small space. ‘ Horizon rising up to meet the purple dawn. Dust demon, screaming, bring an eagle to lead me on. For in my heart I carry such a heavy load. Here I am, on man’s road.’ Keith listened to the easy paced music, and like the song suggested, it would be a long time until he found his home.

 

He quickly typed out ‘ I really like this one. I’m going to have to download all these someday.’ Keith jogged down the stairs and out the front door and into the bustling city. The day was spent drifting through the walled part of the city, capturing a cute old couple walking hand in hand and hundreds of bronze gods and goddesses sprawled across the sand. He stopped in front of a church, listening as the bell rang in it’s tower. He turned his back to it, pulling out his phone and not caring how silly he looked sticking his thumb and pointer finger out in a poor approximation of one of Lance’s finger guns. He knew Lance would like it.

 

When he got back to the hotel, he sent his clothes down to be washed and collected his things. It was the middle of the week so he figured everyone back home was probably pretty busy, so he sent out a couple of texts to those he figured might care. ‘On the move. I’ll let you know where I’m going when I get there.’

 

 

A day and a half later and Keith found himself in Rome. He’d been in Naples the night before, but due to a mix up with a cab driver, he’d wound up in a part of the city that had to be the shittiest place he’d ever been. Keith was honestly a little frightened as they drove around. The hotel the driver dropped him off at was sketchy as hell but Keith was tired and this place had beds, so he checked in. The night desk guy was even sketchier than the building and Keith didn’t even bothering asking for the wifi information. At least the pizza around the corner was amazing. He made sure to swing over to the coast before leaving, standing in front of the crashing waves, holding his hand in a circle in front of his eye as he peered out along the shore and taking a picture before the wind blew him away.

 

Rome was everything his time in Naples had not been, and Keith took two different cab rides just to see the sites. He even asked a random passerby to take his picture in front of the coliseum, holding up a peace sign and smiling shyly.

 

Matt had like three different vouchers for Rome, so Keith just picked at random and found himself in a historic building, as beautiful as the rest of the city. He hurried to connect his phone to the wifi as he made his way down the hall and to his room.

 

His phone buzzed four times, feeling like a weight in his pocket until he was able to drop his bag on the bed and fish it out of his pocket.

 

The first message, was an apology. ‘I’m so sorry. I have no idea if you sent me anything after the America song, because some white haired asshat stepped on my phone and it took Pidge all day to fix it. So… sorry.’

 

The second message was again a song. Third, there was a short bit of text and then nothing until the usual song link for that morning. The text read. ‘Sorry, I should have known Pidge was just messing with me.’

 

Keith clicked on the first link and at first it seemed like it was going to be your average hair metal ballad, but the second the lyrics started Keith almost fell over. This… this was a love song. This was… ‘ These empty days are filling me with pain. After I left it seems my life is only rain. My heart is longing to the better times, when everything was still so fine.’ Keith’s heart was working double time as the next part started up. ‘ I wonder why it happens so fast, you give your heart away knowing it might not last. I’m still here waiting for the rain to fall and to see you once again.’ Keith wasn’t sure if he was still breathing at all at this point, the chorus singing about 4000 rainy nights and Keith was sure he was having an episode. This was how he died. ‘I keep your memory in my heart. You give me hope when everything is so dark. That thing nobody can take away, forever in me.’

 

Keith wanted so badly to just send Lance a facetime request, but his curiosity over the other link won out. If it was anything like the first, Keith was on his way to an early grave. He wasn’t sure what Pidge had to do with anything, but he was anxious to see what it was. He was taken aback a little when Free Bird was suddenly playing. Keith let it get as far as halfway through the second verse, the scowl on his face growing with every line. ‘ Bye, bye, baby, it’s been sweet love. Though this feeling I can’t change. But, please don’t take it so badly, cause lord knows I’m to blame.’ Keith closed the app with sharp motions, pulling up his contacts and pressing call.

 

The phone rang twice, then there was a click before.”Yeah, this is Pidge.”

 

“What the fuck is going on?”

 

“Oh, thank all the Gods and the fishes! Hang on.” There was some static then Pidge’s voice sounding muffled. “I’m going upstairs.”

 

There was a long moment of silence then. “Fuck, Keith.”

 

“Why is Lance sending me Free Bird? He said you were messing with him, so what the fuck is going on,” Keith bit out as he paced around his room.

 

A long sigh. “Honestly, I wasn’t. This dickhead Lotor stepped on Lance’s phone and broke it, so that message you sent out? About not being in contact? He never got it. I didn’t even hear about until I got out of class today and Shiro talked to me. He thought I was messing with him, because I told him to be more obvious about his feelings. Then when you didn’t answer after the whole day…. Well… He thought it was too much.”

 

Keith lurched to a stop. “He thinks I don’t like him back… fuck.” Keith resumed his pacing. “What’s with this Lotor guy anyway?”

 

“I don’t know. He’s kind of a giant dick, and not even Coran likes him, and Coran likes everyone. He’s spending a lot of time just lurking around, but I’m keeping an eye on him.. Of course.. Lance isn’t speaking to me right now.. He’s not even signing at me. I’m… sorry.”

 

“Ugghh,” Keith groaned. “I wish I was there. I’m calling Lance now, but promise to take this guy out at the fucking knees if he so much as breathes wrong near the shop.”

 

“Already planning to skip class tomorrow. I got this covered. Again.. I’m sorry. I honestly have no idea what he’s been sending you except for that…” There was a pause, “Weird movie song the last time you two talked. But, give me like ten minutes before you call? I want to try to get Lance out of the shop first so you two can actually talk.”

 

Keith gave the go ahead, disconnecting the call and trying not to panic in the meantime. He watched the minutes tick by on his phone, and the second ten minutes were up, Keith was calling Lance with a facetime request. He still hadn’t stopped pacing.

 

It took three buzzes before Lance appeared on the screen. He was smiling, but it looked a little forced. He waved, then made the sign for Keith.

 

“Lance, I didn’t get the messages,” he rushed to get out. “I mean, I did, but only just now! I was on the road, I didn’t have wifi, but I would have told you I love- ‘4000 Rainy Nights’... it , uh, was…” Keith started blushing furiously, tripping over his mile a minute words.

 

Lance was staring at Keith, wide eyed, mouth slightly open. He blinked several times, then tilted his head. He dropped his eyes, and shrugged. “It’s-s-s-s ok-kay-y-y. Y-y-y-you ar-r-re s-s-s-sup-p-p-p-p-p-pos-s-s-sed-d-d to tr-r-ravel-l-l-l”

 

Keith’s heart cracked. “Lance… I…” Keith couldn’t find the words. He watched Lance, the smallest movements, the way his chest would rise and fall with each breath. “I took more pictures for you…”

 

Lance’s head snapped up so fast it looked painful. He bit his lip, before he shifted, eyes darting around the screen. “R-r-r-real-l-l-ly-y-y-y? Y-y-you’r-r-r-re not… m-m-m-mad-d-d?”

 

“What, no, of course not. You didn’t do anything wrong… You, uh, want me to send them now?” Keith smiled, the worry from before slowly starting to ease its way off his face.

 

Lance nodded, making the sign for yes a couple of times, then making a slow string of signs before speaking. “I’d-d-d l-l-lik-ke that.”

 

Keith swiped through his phone, sending the pictures to Lance as quickly as possible. There was no fighting the blush when he pulled their facetime back up. “Ok, on their way… Been a rough couple of days…” For both of them it seemed.

 

Lance smiled, a little weak but a far more real one than the smile at the beginning of the call. He held up a hand, in the universal motion for wait and started poking at the phone. The screen went a little fuzzy for a moment then the view of Lance was replaced on the left half of the screen by the pictures Keith had just sent. Oblivious, Lance grinned widely at the picture of Keith pointing at himself, eyes crinkling before moving on to the finger gun shot, that made Lance laugh. He tisked a bit, at the sloppy gun before sliding over to the next picture. He laughed again. “Pirate…”

 

He looked at that one for a long minute, mouth curved upward fondly before he swiped again to the last picture of Keith flashing the peace sign. Lance mimicked the pose before poking at his phone again. The static flickered over the screen again and Lance was smiling at Keith again.

 

“Thos-s-s-se ar-r-r-r-re g-g-g-r-r-r-reat!”

 

A small pinch had started to form between Keith’s eyebrows watching Lance, seemingly without his knowledge. He was so cute, it was physically paining him, but he shook it off as soon as Lance was back. “They’re kind of ridiculous, I’m not the selfie pro you are.”

 

Lance rolled his eyes. “P-p-p-pleas-s-se. Y-y-your-r-rs-s-s ar-r-r-re b-b-bes-s-s-st.” He frowned a little before speaking again. “S-s-s-s-sor-r-r-r-r-r-ry-y-y-y, ab-b-b-bout the tex-xts-s-s-s.”

 

“No, Lance, it’s ok. I didn’t really give a lot of warning, and I really only texted you and Shiro. I should have texted Pidge too.”

 

Lance looked confused before shaking his head. “No. Not that.” He shook his head again. “I f-f-f-for-r-r-r-rg-g-g-got y-y-y-your-r-r-r s-s-s-song-g-g tod-d-d-ay-y-y-y.”

 

Keith smiled, small and sweet, but it quickly grew wider. “I guess you’re just going to have to play it for me then.”

 

Lance grinned and was immediately up and out of view for a few minutes before the song could be heard playing, and he was back again, eyes soft, but with the same wide smile. Keith couldn’t help but mirror him, barely able to focus through the first chunk of the song until he realized he’d heard it somewhere before. He could make out the feeling of riding through the desert in a beat up pickup, before he refocused on the song Lance was playing him. ‘If it all fell to pieces tomorrow, would you still be mine?’ Keith had been watching Lance’s mouth move ever so slightly, as if he was trying not to mouth the words, but as soon as that line registered, his eyes locked onto Lance’s.

 

“Yeah,” Keith murmured. “I would be...if it all fell to pieces, I still would be…”

 

Lance froze, wide eyes staring at Keith. “K-keith.. W-w-what..”

 

“LANCE!” Pidge’s voice was loud and Lance only had enough time to jump before Pidge was there, yanking on his arm, tossing an apologetic look at the phone. “Sorry, sorry, but that customer is back and he wants to know exactly how many records we have from the years 63 to 67 and I have no idea, and I tried to stall but…”

 

Pidge’s voice faded and they tugged Lance up, despite him not taking his eyes off the screen for a second as they dragged him away. Keith gaped at the ceiling of Lance’s apartment for a few moments and when Lance didn’t return, he closed out of the facetime, flopping backwards onto the bed. He hadn’t planned on venturing out today. He wasn’t sure what he’d planned to do, but now Lance was busy, surely Shiro would be too. Keith could feel a familiar loneliness creeping in, but Lance’s request for him to be happy wormed its way through his thoughts.

 

He grabbed his laptop and started uploading the photos from the day before. He’d already sifted through and found some pretty incredible shots he hadn’t even realized he was capable of. The file was growing day by day, and soon he could probably submit a handful of them to contests, or even possibly for publishing in a newspaper or magazine. Out of curiosity, Keith googled the bigger name photography contests and exhibits that fit his genre. Most were so far out of his league it was laughable, but he’d bookmarked a couple that he thought he might do alright in. Boredom was a powerful tool and Keith spent over an hour going down that rabbit hole, the exhibits and contests more niche and small than the last, until he recognized one of the museums on the list.

 

It was one he’d passed on his way to see Shiro, outside of town by maybe half an hour. They were having a contest, the winner to be displayed in their own exhibit right there in the museum. The theme was vague at best, as they all tended to be, but the guidelines required at least five images to be submitted, all centered on ‘ Life in Technicolor’. It was cheesy, sure, but Keith could probably scrape something together.

 

He opened his photos are started scrolling, repeating the theme in his head as he went. It wasn’t until he’d scrolled all the way back past his travelling pictures, none of them feeling quite right, that he realized how stupid he was being. He switched gears, deciding on a set of pictures relatively quickly, editing them ever so slightly and uploading them. Each image was allowed to have a caption, a chance for the artist to explain why they chose it or what they were feeling when they took it. Keith had never been great with words, but for the next hour, he carefully chose exactly what he wanted to say.

 

...

 

The next several days became a blur as Keith settled more into his new life. He’d let everyone, and that meant everyone, know that he wasn’t sure when or where he’d be able to get in touch. He’d been able to text Shiro once or twice, and had been able to facetime Lance for approximately 30 seconds before his phone died while at the train station, but he’d promise to catch up when he could.

 

Rome, to Florence, where Keith posed inside a museum, hand held up in front of him, fingers half curled down, thumb curled towards his palm just below them. He had a wide smile, the image a little fuzzy as a security guard seemed to be approaching him from behind. He’d been kicked out not five minutes later. From there to Milan, Keith shot the most fashionable series of portraits he imagined he ever would. During lunch, he got someone to take his picture in front of the large church all the tourists were flocking to. He smiled brightly despite the hang loose sign he was currently making. France was not nearly as embracing as Italy had been, and Keith spoke even less than usual as he’d wandered through the streets of a town he couldn’t pronounce if he tried. He rode a cable car through the air to the mountains, the beautiful city stretched below him. He set the timer on his phone and took a selfie, hand circled around his eye as he looked out the windows, nearly a hundred feet in the air. By the time he’d made it to the hotel in Paris, he was was beyond exhausted, but he opened the doors to the balcony and with the Eiffel Tower illuminated in the distance, he smiled softly, hand held up with his pointer and middle finger extended and pressed to each other.

 

The bed called to him and he slumped into it, burying his face in the pillows and not even bothering to fully undress. His belonging were still scattered across the comforter, but in moments he was asleep.

 

...

 

Keith woke to his phone buzzing. It felt like he’d only just gone to sleep, but the room was bright with light, so it had to have been several hours at least. He reached one hand up, patting around for the phone without actually moving his head, until his fingers caught the edge and dragged it closer.

 

It wasn’t Lance’s name that flashed on the bright screen but Shiro’s, and Keith honestly considered just letting it wait while he slept a bit more, but his curiosity got the better of him. He turned his head, just enough to see the screen clearly. It was.. A video? Shiro never sent videos. He shifted a bit more, and pressed play, immediately laughing at the image of Shiro that filled the screen.

 

Shiro was wearing a tight pink shirt that had the logo for Allura’s coffee shop printed across the front. He was grinning at the camera “Keith! I didn’t want you miss our block sale, so Allura convinced me to walk around a bit and show you everything we’re doing! It’s something that they do every year, but it’s the first one I’ve been here for.”

 

The camera shifted, shakily landing on an image of the coffee shop, where Allura was moving around serving a patio full of people. She was wearing the same shirt that Shiro was, and the scene shook a bit as Shiro moved closer, while his voice came from off the screen.

 

“Here, we have the prettiest woman that works on the block. Hunk and I actually took a poll, and Allura beat Shay by one point. Hunk says it doesn’t count because Lance refused to vote, but you and I know the truth. Allura! Say hi to Keith!”

 

She looked up, waving brightly as several of the customers turned to look toward the camera.

 

“Hello Keith! I hope you are doing well! We miss you!” She turned away with one final wave and a smile, before the camera shifted again, landing on Coran’s shop.

 

Coran was surrounded by children, and was pulling little bits of candy from behind ears and letting the kids find them in their pockets while the parents watched indulgently. “As you can see, Coran is as popular as ever. He actually made some new kind of candy recently. Of course, he named it some weird thing but the kids really like it. Allura says it tastes like raspberries but I thought it was closer to cherries. It’s yellow, so neither of us actually want to ask him what flavor they are supposed to be.”

 

The camera stayed on Coran while he did a rather impressive sleight of hand trick before a laugh from the side, caused the camera to turn sharply, wobbling a bit before Shiro steadied it.

 

Hunk was coming out of his shop with a large platter in each hand. One was full of cookies while the other had fluffy little white things on it. Shay was also outside, standing serenely behind a table and trading plates for money right and left.

 

“The cookies are sadly not Shiro cookies. I was outvoted, when he asked what he should sell. They are these.. Double chocolate strawberry filled things and this has to be the fifth platter he’s brought out and it’s only past noon! The white things, I have no idea how he did this Keith, but they seriously taste like, honey and almonds and he swears there are no nuts in them at all. They already ran out of Shay’s choice, which were apple cinnamon raisin muffins.” Shiro made a pleased sound. “They were amazing.”

 

The camera watched for a minute before Hunk glanced up and tapped Shay’s shoulder. “Hey, say hi to Keith, honey.”

 

She blushed but waved cheerfully. “Hello Keith. I hope that you are healthy and happy.”

 

Hunk’s hand settled on her shoulder. “Don’t listen to anything Shiro says! Have fun!!”

 

Shiro laughed, the camera shifting as he turned to right, finally bringing the record store into view.  There was a large crowd of people, with a song barely audible. The screen shifted to the ground as Shiro moved closer, before images of shoes and legs filled the screen. When the screen rose again, there was a clear view of the front of the record store. There were cords, running along the ground from the open front door, leading to two large speakers. The music was louder now, but the camera was focused on Pidge and Lance, both of whom were grinning at each other as they danced around to the song in the space left by the crowd.

 

For just a moment, the female voice singing rose up a bit and could be clearly heard over the sounds of the crowd talking and laughing.

 

‘There'll be swinging, swaying, and records playing… Dancing in the street…’

 

It was obvious that neither Lance or Pidge really cared what they looked like, as Lance swung Pidge a bit, but it was plain to see that they were having fun. Shiro then shifted, starting at one edge of the crowd and panning across several laughing faces, before he ended at the other end of the crowd where a man with white hair was carefully watching, a leer on his face. The camera turned back to Lance and Pidge, as they spun a couple more times, before stopping when the song did. Shiro moved again, camera tilting oddly, before it finally settled on his face again, the crowd behind him now.

 

“Well, I hope you enjoyed it. Next time you settle for a minute, call me. I miss you. Be safe and stop hitchhiking! You are almost as bad as Matt! Bye Keith.” Shiro’s hand came up as the screen went black.

 

Keith ran the video back. He sat up, pulling his legs under him as he rewatched Lance and Pidge dancing. He couldn’t quite keep the smile off his face, but as soon as the white haired man leering came back into view, he paused the video. He leaned in closer, studying his face. There was no way it could be anyone other than the dick Pidge and Lance had mentioned. Keith already hated him. Fuck this guy, who did he think he was? He took a screenshot and texted Pidge, ‘ Is this the asshole?’

 

Surprisingly, the reply was immediate. ‘Where did you get that? And what the fuck is he staring at?  But yeah, that’s him.’

 

‘I don’t like him. He’s watching you guys dance, and I want to punch him in the face.’ Keith huffed, pulling the video back up for a split second before texting Pidge again. ‘ What’s Lance doing?’

 

‘What, like right now? He’s at the bakery. We’ve been selling records and dancing all day and he was hungry so he went to get something.’ There was another beep immediately after. ‘You are freaking me out, why?’

 

Keith ignored Pidge’s text for the moment, instead sending Lance a quick, ‘ Facetime?’ and hoping he’d say yes.

 

‘Um.. okay, but I’m at the bakery..’ Lance reply was almost as quick as Pidge’s had been.  Keith was making the call before he’d even finished reading the text. As soon as Lance’s face appeared on the screen, Keith let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

 

“Hey,” he said, voice cracking on the end.

 

Lance blinked, looking startled, the wall of Hunk’s bakery behind him. He waved then immediately made the sign for why.

 

“Sorry. I- Sorry, I just missed you, uh… wanted to see how you were.” Keith bit his lip a little, trying to listen for who might be around.

 

Lance face softened and he smiled a bit, before he held up one hand, slowly spelling out two and then making the sign for wait. He waved at someone out of the screen, the voice answering sounding a lot like Shay’s before he was walking back to the record shop. He didn’t say anything, but quietly walked, past the buildings between his and Hunk’s, pausing only long enough to spell out a couple of quick words to Pidge before heading into his empty shop.

 

Lance settled his phone on the counter, leaning on one arm, before he spoke, much quieter than he usually did. “Hi. I m-m-mis-s-s-s-s-s-ed-d-d y-y-you too.”

 

Keith smiled at him, it was impossible not to. “Having fun with the… thing?”

 

Lance nodded. “S-s-sur-r-r-re. It’s-s-s the onl-l-l-ly-y-y tim-m-m-me I can d-d-d-ance.” He glanced toward the door, before looking back at Keith. “How-w-w-w ar-r-r-re y-y-you? Hap-p-p-p-p-p-py-y-y-y?”

 

“Hey, it’s, uh, good. I just woke up, so I haven’t caught up on the songs yet… but.. I guess I just wanted to check on you. See you for a minute…”

 

“Oh…” Lance flushed, then turned his head toward the door, frowning a little, before picking up his phone and turning it so Keith could see the line of people, before turning it back to himself. ‘S-s-s-so-r-r-r-r-r-ry-y-y-yy, I have to g-g-go… Can… w-w-we ta-l-l-l-lk-k l-l-l-later-r-r-r?”

 

“Oh, yeah, uh but Lance?” Keith hurried to get out.

 

Lance froze, then tilted his head making a sign as he talked. “W-w-what?”

 

“Just, take care of yourself, ok? Um, be safe and all that…” Keith would need to text Pidge after this. “Oh, and I’ll send you a new batch of selfies in a little bit.”

 

Lance grinned, before he nodded. “Ok-kay-y-y I’l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l l-l-l-look-k s-s-s-soon as-s-s-s w-w-we’r-r-r-re d-d-d-one.. B-b-b-by-y-y-ye, K-keith..”

 

“Bye, Lance.” He watched the screen close out. God, he didn’t know what to do or say about this Lotor guy, but he knew that he gave him a bad feeling. He saw a string of insults from Pidge at not answering, so he explained what he’d seen in the video and asked Pidge to let him know if anything more happened with the creep.

 

He selected the selfies he planned to send Lance, making sure they were in order before sending them.

 

As soon as the message sent, a new one popped up on his screen. It was from Pidge, and they were obviously not happy.

 

‘You mean to tell me, that a slimy, dirt ridden, smug piece of shit is gonna try to do something to my friend and I’m supposed to tell you, who’s fuck all knows how far away instead of handling it myself? What. The. Fuck. Keith. What the fuck? How does that even make sense? I think I should just borrow Coran’s knife and make that shithead a lot less clear skinned. But.. fine. Fine. But if I think for a minute that it’s too much. I’m telling Shiro.’

 

Jesus, Pidge, you know what I mean.’ He shook his head as he set his phone down to charge.

 

‘Rule three, Keith.’

 

Nothing more came after that. Keith moved the phone into the bathroom and showered and brushed his teeth, keeping an eye on the dark and unchanging screen. He moved back into the bedroom, turning on the tv. He flicked through the channels until he found cartoons, the French voices jarring coming out of familiar characters. He checked his phone every few minutes, sending out a text to Shiro asking if things were still going well, but it went unanswered. He laid on the bed. Flipped channels again. He moved to the chair, replaying the video Shiro had sent again. He wasn’t even sure what show was playing when he moved back to the foot of the bed, tapping his phone against his thigh as he failed to focus on the woman crying in an orchard as men on unicycles rode through the background. He changed the channel again before tossing the remote and flopping back onto the bed with a heavy sigh. Twenty minutes of staring at the ceiling and he heard a text come through. Keith rolled to the edge of the bed, having to catch himself on the wall as he grabbed at his phone. It was a wall of text from Pidge.

 

‘Okay, first off, never ever ask me to do this again. I actually feel bad about sneaking around Lance. Especially since he’s looked so damned happy after he checked his phone when the block sale was over. He’s been hold up in his room for the last ten minutes so that’s why I’m only just now sending this. I may have to admit that you might possibly be right. Lotor did hover around Lance all afternoon, even followed him into Allura’s and Lotor and Allura hate each other more than Matt hates rules. Then, about two hours ago, when we were all packing up, he offered to help. I know, people do that, Pidge… don’t be paranoid, Pidge. Bite me. He hasn’t had one good thing to say to anyone since he showed up. But the thing that really bugged me? He kept staring. Staring Keith! Like… Like, I look at cookies, kinda staring. Then, before I could kick him out, he started asking Lance all these questions. Like, his favorite color, and why he didn’t sell CDs like everyone else, and everytime Lance went to sign, Lotor scoffed, telling him real men talked to each other. I know, I know, that isn’t what you wanted me to look out for… but it fucking bothered me. But, you asked me to look out for Lotor being a creepy ass fucker. So how is this for creepy.. He demanded that Lance go to dinner with him tomorrow. WITHOUT ME! So is that creepy enough? Can I get Shiro to break his jaw now ?’

 

Keith was gripping his phone, knuckles white and shaking. Shiro liked to tease Keith about being violent, but Keith had never felt so murderous in his life. How could someone talk to Lance like that? If this guy was demanding dinner, would he take no for an answer? For anything? Keith already had half his stuff packed as he opened his contacts and found Matt. The phone rang a few times and as soon as the line opened on the other end, Keith was speaking.

 

“Matt, I need a favor.”

 

There was a long groan. “Oh, please tell me you didn’t get arrested? I mean, I will absolutely bail you out but I’ll also owe Shiro a hundred dollars and I don’t want to owe him. So, please tell me you are not in jail?”

 

“No, I’m not in jail! I can’t believe you and Shiro- No, that’s not important right now. I need to catch a plane.” Keith continued shoving everything into his bag.

 

There was a long pause, before Matt spoke up again. “Kid, we are docked in Kaktovik, Alaska, and tomorrow I am going diving for a giant octopus. Getting arrested is not that big of a deal. But, I’ll bite. A plane to where?”

 

“Home,” Keith said, freezing as he waited for an answer. In this moment, he couldn’t imagine anything ever being more important.

 

There was an odd shuffling sound then a quiet hiss. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, cold! Shit.” Matt cursed again before speaking up. “Okay… So, I’m confused, and now extremely cold from the waist down. So, you want to go back to your apartment? I mean, don’t really get why, but whatever works for you, Kid.”

 

“No, no not my apartment,” Keith huffed. “I need to get back to Lance.” Fuck it, there was no reason to beat around the bush. There was one reason and one reason only that he was going back stateside.

 

There was a sharp breath and a very quiet ‘Oh..’ before Matt was off, rattling about carriers and planes, asking for times and what city Keith was in again?

 

With confirmation email on hand, backpack full and a racing heart, Keith left the hotel, hopped in a cab and raced to the airport. Matt had booked him the first flight out, but he still had some time to kill before he would be boarding. He tried texting Shiro again, but no answer. He even sent an underwhelming, ‘ hey’ to Lance, but it was still unread. Not even Pidge was answering and Keith was about two seconds from having an aneurysm. He phone chimed and the lady sitting next to him jumped when he jolted to pick it up.

 

Unfortunately it was just an email notification. Keith couldn’t give a shit about his emails right now, but it wasn’t like he had anything else to do. He had a couple from subscriptions he had and another about this month’s electric bill, but the only one he bothered opening was one from the contest he’d entered. He skimmed through it, eyes glazing over and mouth ajar. They’d accepted him as a finalist… He and a few others would have their entries displayed starting this coming week and the winner would get a pretty substantial cash prize as well as a semi-permanent exhibit during which time they’d receive a fraction of the ticket sales. That was more than he’d ever expected, honestly.

 

A voice came over the intercom announcing the boarding of his plane, and Keith shuffled with the crowd. He still hadn’t heard from anyone by the time he was having to turn off all devices, the plane taking off and Keith settling in for twelve hours that could not go quick enough.

 

 

Once the sale was over, it took all of Lance’s self control not to just abandon Pidge to do all the clean up and race to his room so he could see what Keith had sent him. Lance had been enjoying the pictures he’d gotten so far, even if some of them were pretty silly poses.

 

It would have only taken them half the time if it wasn’t for Lotor. Lance really did not like the guy. He didn’t like how he talked to Pidge, or the way he ridiculed Hunk’s treats, or Coran’s candy. He absolutely hated the fact that Lotor kept demanding that Lance talk to him. Lance didn’t like talking to anyone . He hated his stutter, and how dumb it made him sound when he did try to speak. Honestly, the only reason he talked to Keith, the first time was because he was positive that would end everything and Keith would ditch him like so many others had.

 

But no… Keith kept coming back, he’d asked about Lance’s board, something that no one else ever did, he seemed to actually get it too, and not even Pidge really got it. Then he had made such an effort to learn Lance’s preferred way of communicating. By that point, Lance was gone, and he couldn’t help but talk back, even if he hated it.

 

So, as was becoming his new habit, Lance made a halfhearted attempt to sign, and tried to let Lotor’s comments just roll off him, happy enough to let Pidge yell for a while before they finally kicked the guy out. Maybe Lance could talk to Coran about banning the guy from his store. He never bought anything and Lance was honestly sick of the guy.

 

It took almost two hours before they had finally gotten everything done, and he was finally able to look at the pictures Keith had sent. He flipped through them quickly as they made their way up to their little apartment above the shop. Keith looked happy, a smile on his face in each and every picture. Honestly, even if Keith hadn’t figured out what the songs really meant, that was okay with Lance. Because he was definitely happier than he had been before he left.

 

Once he was settled in his room, he looked through the pictures again, wanting to pick his words carefully before Keith called again. He may be willing to talk to Keith, but he still thought about each word carefully so he didn’t upset him like he had before.

 

He laughed at the first picture, too distracted by the security guard to really notice much more than the wide smile Keith had. Lance hoped he could get the story out of him without using too many words, but he really needed to know what happened there.

 

Lance had to admit that the church in the second one was gorgeous, and he could kind of see why so many people were looking at Keith oddly as he made a hang loose sign, but then again, it kind of was like Keith to irritate people like that. Lance loved that he was willing to act like a dork in these pictures for Lance. Fuck, Lance was going to end up sending him another sappy song again, he just knew it.

 

He sat there, looking around his room, considering what the best song to send would be. He didn’t want to send too many songs from the same band, because Keith might get bored, but he was genuinely considering Leather and Lace. Lance had a soft spot for Stevie Nicks, and that song had exceptional lyrics.

 

Finally, he shook his head and swiped to the next picture, chuckling at the sight of Keith, and the stunning view behind him. Lance almost wished he was there with him. Of course it never would work, not with Lance so unwilling to talk. He bit his lip a bit, maybe… Maybe he should look into those new speech classes Pidge had suggested months ago. No, that wouldn’t work. Keith was supposed to be out there, being happy, not being dragged down by Lance.

 

Lance squeezed his eyes shut, swiping the picture away so he could look at the last one. Like the last one, the view was breathtaking, but it was Keith’s pose that finally caught all of Lance’s attention. His hand came up, making the same sign, looking at the ‘U’ his hand made dumbly for just a minute before he was tapping out, and going back to the very first picture and paying careful attention to Keith’s hands now.

 

He studied each one closely, mouth moving silent as he followed each shape with his eyes. His heart was pounding and when he reached the sign for ‘V’ he screeched and threw his phone across the room, burying his head in his hands.

 

There was no way. No way. It simply wasn’t possible that Keith was saying what Lance thought he was. It just… didn’t happen. Lance was so far gone into Keith that he was seeing things. No. He stood up and yelled as loudly as he could. ‘P-p-p-pid-dg-g-ge!”

 

The door flew open and Pidge stood there, looking almost frantic, eyes darting all over the room like they expected someone else to be there. Whatever, Lance did not have time for Pidge’s paranoia to start. He waved his hands and started signing, fast.

 

‘Pidge! Oh fuck! Pidge! Keith… Keith.. Sent me pictures. And they spell something but it can’t be true and I need you to look at them for me!’

 

Pidge, took one more look around the room then sighed. “Jesus Lance, you scared me! I thought…”

 

He shook his head, pointing at his phone frantically. ‘Not now! Go look! What is he signing?’

 

Pidge crossed the room and picked up the phone, flipping through the pictures as they talked. “Lance, you sign better than I do! I mean you taught me for chrissake! And…” They blinked, a wide grin crossing their face as they flipped from picture to picture. “Damn Keith. That’s clever as fuck.”

 

Lance threw his pillow at them.

 

“Fine! Lord!” They moved to Lance and handed the phone back to him. “I see a guy signing that he loves a big dork.”

 

Lance screeched again and flopped backward, face hot with his hands covering his mouth. He stayed there as Pidge laughed at him, and stayed there even when they started poking at him.

 

“Lance! Well aren’t you going to answer him? Call him up! Tell him, end all this damn pining before I have the urge to water you like a tree.”

 

Lance flipped Pidge off, but sat up, his face still red but his mouth turned down a bit. His hands moved almost hesitantly this time. ‘But.. it’ll sound so stupid. Just like every other time I try to talk. I.. I don’t want to sound like an idiot when I say it to him the first time.’

 

“Well.. no offense but, he’s been taking these for a while it looks like. I mean.. That’s gutsy, and I think he’d just be glad to hear it. Don’t you?”

 

Lance sighed, fingers tapping against his leg as he thought. Then, he looked at his phone, and up to Pidge. ‘I need a favor. If you help me with this, I will hand over three Matt blackmail pieces and one for Shiro.’

 

One of Pidge’s eyebrows went up, and they nodded, quickly. “Damn, you must want something really big.”

 

‘Yeah.. I do. Here is what I need…’

 

 

The moment the plane touched down, Keith was unbuckling and grabbing his shit. The flight attendant glared at him as he stood before the plane had even really come to a stop at the gate. He was out the door as soon as they’d opened it, jogging through the terminals, weaving through people and snagging an empty taxi just as it pulled up. He told the driver he’d give him extra if he got him there in less than twenty minutes and with that they took off careening towards town.

 

Keith was holding on for dear life through the drive and had to practically peel himself off the seat when they skidded onto the street, the familiar welcoming corner of town such a sight for sore eyes. Keith grabbed his bag, and not even a step later, he was being bombarded by Coran and Allura.

 

“Keith!!” Allura squealed and raced over, wrapping her arms around him in a very tight hug, while Coran came up at a more.. Respectable speed.

 

“It’s a pleasure to see you, my boy, but, are you alright?”

 

Allura planted her hands on his shoulders and stared at him. “Shiro didn’t tell us you were coming back so soon! Did something happen? Are you hurt? Sick? You didn’t get kicked out a country did you? Shiro said that was possible and Matt’s done it before…”

 

“No, I’m fine,” Keith interrupted hastily, pulling free of Allura’s grip. “I’ll explain later, but I gotta go.” He barely avoided an oncoming car as he ran across the street. The door to the shop was right there, but as Keith neared it, a hand gripped his arm tightly and pulled him into Crystal Confections. He was ready to throw blows, but Hunk was looking back at him apologetically.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Don’t punch me!” Hunk winced then blinked. “Sorry, but I have to talk to you before you go in there. It’s important!”

 

“Ok, what is it, Hunk?” Keith failed to keep the exasperation from tinging his words. He’d feel bad later, because come on, it’s Hunk, but he needed to get to the shop like right stat now.

 

Hunk bit his lip. “Okay so… before you left.. I had this… feeling that you were.. Kinda into Lance.. So, I didn’t want you to go see him and get upset because this new guy has been hanging around a lot lately, and he told Shay last night that he was going to take Lance out to dinner tonight, and convince him to be a dancer at his bar… and…”

 

“Hunk!” Keith took a deep breath, but started to make his way to the door as he called out, “I know about Lotor, and I’m going to fight him in the street.”

 

“Oh sweet cookies…” was just barely heard as the door closed behind Keith.

 

The bright light of day made him squint as he turned towards Needles and Notes, Keith’s muscles tightening with every step. If anyone else came between him and and Lance, he was going to start swinging.

 

Strong arms circled him as he barked out, “for fuck’s sake!” Keith turned to see Shiro, only a fraction of the fight leaving his body. “Shiro, I don’t have fucking time for this!”

 

“I got your message, but I gotta tell you-”

 

“Yeah, Lotor, got it! Listen, we’ll talk in a minute but I gotta-” Keith didn’t even finish, just hurried through the open door to the record shop.

 

“I said not now!” Pidge had both hands planted on their hips, as they stared up at Lotor, as they blocked the door to the back room. “He’s fixing a record player and I’m not letting anyone bother him right now!”

 

“Hmm.. That does sound like something more suited to you.. Does it not? I have heard that… is what you do here…”

 

Pidge’s eye twitched. “Listen here. I work with computers, jackass! Record players are delicate and the parts used in them are easily broken. If you startle him, he could get electrocuted!”

 

A hand came up flipping a long piece of hair over a shoulder, before Lotor absently smoothed down the expensive suit jacket he was wearing. “Which is exactly why I told you to get him. We have reservations.”

 

“You mean you have reservations.” Pidge scoffed. “I already told you no. Lance said not to bother him.”

 

Keith stepped right into Lotor’s space. The guy had several inches on him, but when he saw the look on Keith’s face he stepped back just a bit. “Are we going to have a problem here,” Keith said slowly, words etched in ice.

 

Lotor seemed to have regained his composure, looking pointedly down his nose at Keith. “Not that it is any of your business, I’m here to collect my date and I was simply telling this young lady-”

 

Lotor’s head snapped back with the force of Keith’s single solid punch to the nose. He sputtered, coming back up with a face full of blood. Keith, still facing Lotor, spoke to Pidge who was somewhere behind him. “Pidge, do you mind getting Lance for me, please?”

 

“Yeah… Yeah, okay…” Pidge smirked before vanishing through the door.

 

“Now, normally I’d kick your ass and tell you to fuck off, but I think you should stick around for a minute before I never see your face again,” Keith spat.

 

The door flew open, revealing Pidge with Lance right behind them. Pidge, stepped to the side, while Lance grinned, making Keith’s sign.

 

Keith left Lotor where he was bleeding and smiling wide, half jogged towards Lance, high fiving Pidge along the way before grabbing hold of Lance, knees buckling a bit and squeaking. Keith rolled with it, leaning Lance back into a dip and planting a bruising kiss on his lips. He was only vaguely aware of a whistling Pidge nearby and even less so of Lotor stomping out the door. Keith brought Lance, eyes wide and rigid, back up.

 

“Look, Lance, I like you, and I’m sorry if that wasn’t something you wanted but-”

 

Lance’s eyes flicked to Pidge, as they narrowed, but Pidge raised their hands up, so Lance leaned forward, stopping Keith’s words with a kiss of his own, softer this time, before pulling back just a bit, and curling his arms around Keith’s shoulders.

 

“Oh, uh,” Keith stammered, blushing. “I… I realized the whole time I was trying to be happy for you, that I really just wanted to be back here… with you… because… I love you. I’m so in love with you. I didn’t know someone could be so in love with another person.”

 

Pidge pointedly cleared their throat, a smirk on their face. “And on that note, I’m going to step out, but.. I suggest you check your phone, Keith. In fact.. I insist on it.” They turned, crossing their arms behind their head and whistling as they left.

 

Lance made no effort to move, just kept smiling softly at Keith.

 

“I think I figured out where I belong,” Keith murmured. “Where I’m supposed to be…”

 

Lance leaned forward, rubbing his nose against Keith’s and brushing one of his hands over Keith’s cheek before taking a small step back. He folded his fingers into a fist leaving the thumb and pinky extended before bringing it up to his ear, like a phone. His smile never wavered.

 

Keith watched him in a haze, Lance his only point of focus in a sea of fuzziness, but he registered the pantomime, recalling Pidge’s comment. He pulled out his phone, realizing for the first time the number of missed texts and calls. He scrolled through his drop down, noticing one voicemail, and it was from Lance. He looked up at him, an eyebrow quirked as he selected it, bringing the phone to his ear.

 

The voicemail was very short, but it was also extremely clear. Lance’s voice was soft, and low, and there was no trace of any stutter. ‘I love you too, Keith.”

 

Keith looked up, eyes like saucers, jaw on the floor before laughing, breaking out into the biggest smile, eyes crinkling as he swept Lance into a hug. He held him tight, spinning just a little, not caring who saw them. Keith had never felt this happy in his life.

 

Lance again wrapped his arms around Keith and held tight, eyes wide as he was spun around, before tapping on Keith’s shoulder. “Hi.”

 

Keith placed Lance back on the ground, but did not pull away. Now that he had him, he wasn’t letting go. “Hey.” He smiled.

 

Lance grinned, then glanced around, poking Keith lightly in the chest, then motioning around the shop. “How-w-w?”

 

“I may have sold my soul to Matt,” Keith laughed. “I needed to be here.”

 

“B-b-b-but..” He let go with one hand to spell out ‘p-i-c-t-u-r-e’ , before hugging a little tighter.

 

“It was lonely out there and I missed you, but… I think I may have found something a little closer to home… hopefully, but even if it doesn’t pan out, this is still where I want to be.”

 

Lance pulled back just a fraction, eyes wide, before he ducked his head a bit, biting at his lip to keep his smile in check. He moved back to where he had been, hiding his face in Keith’s shoulder. Keith took his hand, pressing a gentle kiss to the side of Lance’s head.

 

“Well you showed me how it feels to have the sky within my reach,” Keith breathed, soft and raspy, just loud enough for Lance to hear. He didn’t have much of a singing voice. “And I’ll always will remember all the strength you gave to me. Your love made me make it through. Oh, I owe so much to you. You were right there for me,” he crooned, tapering off.

 

Lance froze as the the first few words fell from Keith’s mouth, before his head shot up, eyes wide and damp. His fingers curled tighter into the folds of Keith’s jacket before he let out a watery laugh and buried his burning face right back into Keith’s shoulder. He waited until Keith was finished, before shifting just a bit closer and whispering. “M-m-my-y-y-y K-keith..”

 

“Oh my god! I told you they weren’t done yet! Shiro.. Why would you do this to me!!” Pidge grouched, before punching the other man sharply.

 

“Ow! Pidge!” Shiro rubbed his arm, looking sheepishly between Keith and Lance. “Sorry, but uh, I think everyone’s starting to worry…”

 

Keith groaned. “Just a few more minutes, Shiro.”

 

“I’m not waking you up for class, Keith. You came rushing into to town, didn’t explain anything to anyone, and now they’re all kind of freaking out. Also, I saw Lotor coming out of here covered in blood?”

 

“Yeah, I punched him.” Keith shrugged, nonplussed.

 

“It was beautiful.” Pidge wiped a fake tear from their eye. “He looked even dumber than usual, I just wish I had recorded it and then could set it up to play on every screen on the block for a week.”

 

Lance giggled into Keith’s shoulder. It was infectious and Keith couldn’t keep his own laughter from sneaking in when he said, “Fuck that guy… look, if anyone wants to talk to me, they can come here. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Pidge adjusted their glasses. “Give it up Shiro. Just go get everyone and bring them here. There’s enough space here and maybe by then Lance will let go long enough for others to get a hug.” They laughed when Lance uncurled just enough to flip them off. “Or not.”

 

Shiro shook his head, grumbling about hanging out with nicer people before he disappeared out the door, returning seconds later with the rest of the group. Keith went bright red realizing they’d probably all been watching the whole time.

 

Coran was beaming, and already halfway through a story to Hunk who was nodding absently with slightly glassy eyes, but Shay offered Keith a shy wave.

 

“It is very nice to see you, Keith. Will you be staying long?”

 

Keith turned slightly more towards the group, not quite letting go of Lance. “Yeah, actually, uh, I think I’m gonna move here…”

 

Shiro clutched his chest. “Fucking finally.” He breathed a heavy sigh. “I’ve been trying to get you here for months, I hate you being so far away in that terrible city. You always have a room with me.”

 

“He means us,” Allura smirked from beside him. “Asked him to move in with me, but of course, you still have a room with us Keith. We’re so happy you’ll be staying here.”

 

Pidge yawned, before nudging Hunk just a bit. “Yeah that won’t be awkward for Keith at all. Staying with in a room while his brother and future sister-in-law have all the fun in the next room. Nope not weird at all.” Pidge tapped their chin, ignoring the horrified looks Allura and Shiro had. “Poor guy…”

 

“Yeah,” Keith laughed making a face. “Thanks, but no thanks, guys. I can just find my own place.” Keith shrugged.

 

Hunk groaned. “That is way too much information about Shiro and Allura. Keith, I love ya man, but we’re out, come see us tomorrow, okay? Give me time to erase that image forever.”

 

Shay giggled. “Good night.” She slipped her hand into Hunk’s and tugged them both out of the store.

 

“I must say, I am pleased at this, but, Keith, what about your photography? I understand that you wish to stay here, but I have been told by both Shiro and Lance how much you enjoy your photos.”

 

Lance shifted, before stilling.

 

“Oh, actually, I uh, think I might have something closer to home…” Keith shifted.

 

“Ah, very well, then.” Coran tugged at his moustache, “If you require any help, please let me know.”

 

“Ugh, okay, too much. Out, out!” Pidge made a shooing motion. “Go, be cute and shit somewhere else. I can’t kick him out,” they jerked a thumb at Lance. “But I can you lot. Shoo!”

 

Lance tightened his hold a bit in a silent request for Keith to stay. Keith brought their joined hands up and kissed Lance’s knuckles, smiling before dropping them again. He’d stay forever if Lance let him.

 

Pidge firmly closed the door behind Shiro, shooting him one last glare when he half turned to say something else. The shop finally much quieter, they turned and just stared for a minute. “Finally, you two almost killed me.”

 

Lance shifted just enough to stick his tongue out at Pidge.

 

“Seriously? I did all that work for you and you treat me like this?”

 

“I p-p-paid-d-d y-y-you.”

 

Keith looked between the two of them. “What am I missing here?”

 

Lance finally let go, and took a step back, cheeks pink and staring at the ground a little. Pidge though, pointed at Lance.

 

“He was so determined to send you that voicemail but he didn’t want to stutter when he said that to you the first time. So he asked me to help. I covered our apartment in recorders and had to spend five hours with Hunk while he walked around repeating it to himself over and over before we finally got one that worked.”

 

Keith’s head snapped back towards Lance. Keith was once again floored by what Lance did for him. “I love it, but it wasn’t necessary. I love you, all of you, Lance. And hopefully I get to hear you say it in person some day.”

 

Pidge groaned. “Ugh.. go away. I’ll close down here, but for the love of everything go away! Please?”

 

Lance chuckled, before twisting his hands a bit, then he pointed up and traced a question mark, before pointing at the door and making another.

 

“Upstairs.” Keith nodded, gripping Lance’s hand tightly.

 

Lance led Keith up to the apartment, but stopped as soon as they reached the living room. He shifted before very softly saying. “K-keith..”

 

“Yeah?” Keith was starting to worry maybe this was all a bit much a bit too fast. Jesus, he’d punched a guy in Lance’s shop not even half an hour ago, maybe Lance was finally starting to see what Keith had been telling him was there all along.

 

Lance leaned close, lightly kissing the corner of Keith’s mouth and breathing out. “I l-l-love y-y-you…”

 

Keith’s breath caught in his throat before he pulled Lance to him and then down to the big blue beanbag, peppering his face in kisses and getting as close as possible. “I- love- you- more,” he breathed between kisses.

 

Lance giggled, before eventually catching Keith’s face and pressing a light kiss to his nose before tucking his head comfortably on Keith’s chest, and just laying there, lightly playing with Keith’s hand, looking completely content. Keith sighed as Lance’s fingers danced across his skin. He felt so at home here, with Lance. He leaned his head back allowing Lance to cuddle closer, the jetlag and chaos of the last day catching up with him as his heavy eyes blinked close.

 

Several hours later, Keith woke with a crick in his neck and two text messages. Pidge had sent him a picture of him and Lance passed out on the beanbag. Keith snorted, saving the image. The other was a link from Lance, who was still sound asleep, his phone clutched in one hand, the other curled in Keith’s jacket. Keith clicked the link, the haunting echo of a steel guitar lilting out of the speaker. The lyrics started and Keith was sure the beat of his heart was going to wake Lance.

 

Follow through, make your dreams come true. Don’t give up the fight, you will be alright. ‘Cause there’s no one like you in the universe. Don’t be afraid of what your mind conceals. You should make a stand, stand up for what you believe. And tonight we can truly say, together we’re invincible.

 

...

 

“You don’t have to talk to anybody except me… well, I guess you don’t really have to talk to me either if you don’t want…” Keith said distracted as he led Lance towards the entrance. “It’s an art exhibit. A bunch of people that barely know anything about art are going to mill around humming endless stupid remarks to no one in particular while everyone else drinks, but I’m not going to make you go in if you don’t want to.”



Lance had been looking at the crowd since they had gotten out of the car, one hand firmly laced together with Keith’s and the other tugging on the end of the jacket he’d barely remembered to grab when Keith towed him out of the shop. He tugged on their hands a bit, head ducked down as he spoke soft enough that only Keith could hear him.

 

“I.. w-w-want to tal-l-l-lk-k to y-y-you… and-d-d it’s-s-s im-m-mp-p-por-r-rtant to y-y-you. Of-f-f cour-r-rs-s-se I’m-m-m g-g-going-g-g.”

 

“You’re more important to me, I have all these on my computer-” Keith stopped short when Lance tugged on their hands. “You sure?” Lance nodded. “Ok… then let’s go,” Keith huffed nervously, his grip on Lance’s hand tightening as they walked through the large glass doors and into a clean modern room with vaulted ceilings.

 

As soon as they had walked in, the three groups of people nearest them all started staring and whispering. Keith fidgeted, oh boy, he may have fucked up. With each group they passed, the staring became more evident. Keith made a beeline to the refreshments table.

 

Lance did perfectly fine at first, too distracted in looking around the room, but as more heads turned toward them, he started to look a little worried, slowly inching closer and closer to Keith, until their shoulders were touching. Was there something wrong? Maybe their clothes were too casual for an art event? Was it because they were holding hands? A quick check at some of the small groups, which caused even more whispers, made Lance start to tug on his jacket a little harder. Well, no one else was holding hands… maybe that was it? Was there something wrong with him? He didn’t think there was, he knew his clothes were clean, maybe his hair was sticking up?

 

By the time they had reached the refreshment table, Lance was seconds away from dropping Keith’s hand and bolting out of the building. But, this was important to Keith, why, Lance had no idea, but if he had to be uncomfortable in order to see Keith was happy, so be it. But, Lance had never, ever wished for Pidge more than he was right now, technical first date or not.

 

Keith grabbed two glasses of champagne, handing one to Lance and downing most of his in one gulp. He looked around, eyes shifting quickly before nodding towards an opening to another room. “I think I’m that way…. Let’s just… do you want to see?” He locked eyes with Lance.

 

Lance blinked, drawn out of his circling thoughts. He leaned just a bit, small frown on his face, but nodded. He took a breath, and straightened his shoulders before moving toward the other room, determined to ignore the looks for as long as possible.

 

Keith led them hastily towards the adjoining room. He peeked around the corner before turning back to Lance. He took a steadying breath, slamming the rest of his drink before finishing off Lance’s and setting both glasses on a nearby table. “Ok, let’s just get this over with.”

 

The next room was softly lit, rather large photos spaced around the walls, but before Lance could really get a good look, Keith was positioning them in front of the closest image. Lance went willingly enough, curious now, and a little confused, but froze up when he was staring back at himself. Blown up in front of him was a large photo of him, signing away to Coran and Allura as they stood in the street, coffees in hand. The placard beside the picture read, ‘ Green. Friendship, in all it’s forms. A shared coffee, a good conversation, your favorite book that you just keep coming back to.’

 

Lance took a sharp breath, all thoughts of the staring people forgotten as he stared up at the picture. He didn’t even remember that specific day, because they met that way so often. He hadn’t even known Keith had taken the picture. His free hand came up and paused before shifting to the placard, his fingertip tracing the words before he looked at Keith with wide eyes. That was his meaning for green. But? How? “W-w-what?” His voice was barely audible.

 

Keith smiled shyly, but instead of answering, he pulled Lance towards the next image. In glowing light, Lance and Pidge laughed brightly, their kitchen in the background. Lance quickly searched out the placard. ‘Yellow. Warm and content. At home. Everything happy and easy and good.’

 

Lance let his fingers actually rest on the placard, unsure if he was really breathing. He remembered this one. Their little lunch, the first whole day Keith spent with him. Idly, he wondered how bad Pidge would freak at knowing their picture was on the wall of an art gallery but he honestly didn’t care. He couldn’t stop himself from following the play of light, how happy Pidge looked, how at peace. Lance was not going to cry. He pointed at the word yellow, tilting his head.

 

Keith smiled, just a little more surely. The next was one of his show stoppers, but he wasn’t sure how Lance would feel about it. So far things were going better than expected though. There stood Lance, pain etched into his entire being as he stared away from the camera and towards his black board. It had been the first time Keith had known he’d do anything to make this boy happy. ‘ Blue. Without sadness we never truly know what happiness is. But like a storm in the desert, it comes and brings life as it goes. Blue skies always come in the end.’

 

Lance’s grip on Keith’s hand that had grown loose as he’d looked at the other two photographs instantly tightened. He stared, mouth slightly open. It was the same day as the previous photo, right after Shiro had basically said Lance wasn’t any good for Keith. The lopsided columns proved that, even if the words were too small for Lance to read the songs listed there. He was pretty sure that was the first time he noticed that Keith even took pictures. Lance sniffed, as he read the description three times. Keith had remembered. He turned just a bit, pointing at the word blue. “B-b-b-b-b-but….” He took a deep breath not able to keep speaking.

 

“You were wrong.. I want blue. If it’s you, I want it.” Keith’s gaze flicked away before he moved them to the next one, a blush on his face. It was his personal favorite. Taking up most of the print, Lance looked up through rain soaked lashes, straight into the camera and Keith’s soul. Water droplets had clung to the lens near the edges, but Lance was perfect. ‘Red. Life, love, passion. Hearts beating fast. Fiery and fast as it consumes you, and you welcome it, crave it, walking straight into the flames because it’s all you’ve ever wanted.’

 

Fuck it, Lance was going to cry and not a damned thing was going to change it. His eyes darted all over, heedless of the tears sliding down his cheeks. Was this… Keith’s board? Lance already knew that Keith expressed himself best through his pictures, just like Lance did with music but… this was.. All him? He dropped his hold on Keith’s hand, both hands coming up to press tightly over his mouth. He couldn’t even consider thinking, let alone trying to express those thoughts. He just stared at the picture.

 

Keith let Lance have another moment before he gently directed him to the last photo. Keith hoped Lance couldn’t see how bad he was shaking. The last picture was their selfie, Lance smiling brightly, face squished against Keith’s practically scared shitless one. There was hope in his eyes, his mouth just starting to quirk up in the corner. ‘ Black. Uncertain like the night. Like the future. When anything can happen from here, because this is where it all begins... But, I have a pretty good feeling about this. I hope he does too.’

 

Lance’s eyes had only finished passing over the placard before he broke, hands covering his red face and tears running freely. One hand shot out, catching Keith’s arm and dragging him closer, slipping his arms around Keith like he was the only thing holding Lance up. He shook his head, then haphazardly pointed at the last sentence, before nodding, over and over. Then he buried his head on Keith’s shoulder.

 

“Yeah?” Keith’s laugh was wet, his voice cracking as he spoke. “Good… so… uh, will you be my boyfriend?”

 

It took Lance almost four full minutes before he could calm down enough to raise his right hand, the angle awkward as he spelled. ‘Y-e-s’ , then his hand was moving again. It was rough shaky signing, especially for Lance, but he had to say what was running through his mind even if he had to spell each letter. ‘Y-o-u-r-s  f-o-r-e-v-e-r’

 

Keith’s face bordered on pain, before a wobbly smile took it’s place as he kissed Lance in front of their only picture together, in front of god and every patron in the building, but Keith couldn’t fucking care. He was so happy. “I love you so much, Lance. You’re my red, my yellow, all my colors, my whole fucking rainbow, I love you,” Keith whispered to him.

 

Lance couldn’t make a sound if Keith’s life depended on it. Instead he caught Keith’s face, fingers soft against his jaw, holding their foreheads pressed together. There were a hundred things, Keith didn’t know about him, probably a thousand more he didn’t know about Keith. His favorite color, song, hell his favorite food. But Lance was so thankful that Keith was willing to give up so much for the chance to learn all those things. He kissed Keith, then pointed at the pictures, spelling out the word, ‘w-h-e-n’ .

 

Keith straightened Lance’s collar that he’d thoroughly disheveled. “When I was really missing you somewhere in Europe. I couldn’t stop looking at them and wishing you were with me… Is it ok? Kind of weird having our faces being stared at, huh?...”

 

Lance’s smile was soft, as he raised one hand, pointing over at a good half dozen faces that were openly staring at them from the room door. Then he shrugged, before pulling Keith a bit closer. He moved his right hand, fingers brushing Keith’s cheek, and placed it gently over his chest, tapping it twice before putting that hand back on Keith’s face. “M-m-m-mine.” His voice was raspy and so very soft.

 

Keith blushed furiously. “Let’s get the fuck out of here. They don’t need me here, they won’t even make the official announcement until tomorrow anyway.”

 

Lance nodded, but kept his hold on Keith’s face when he went to step back. He stared for just a moment, before he spoke, soft and careful, the words for Keith alone. “Thank-k-k-k y-y-y-you. I l-l-l-love y-y-you.”

 

Keith pressed one last kiss to Lance’s lips before pulling him through the staring crowd and back out into the parking lot. When they made it to the car, Keith couldn’t help but press Lance up against the door, bodies pressed close together as he kissed him breathless.

 

One of Lance’s hands settled at the base of Keith’s neck, fingers curling in Keith’s hair while the other was a little more daring. It slipped just under the edge of Keith’s shirt, and made random patterns on the soft skin there. He pressed just a bit closer, his mouth opening slightly. Keith took full advantage, pulling Lance’s bottom lip between his teeth, a low rumble coming from his throat as he dove in, knocking Lance’s head back into the side of the car. “Mmf, sorry, sorry,” Keith breathed in the almost non-existent space between them.

 

Lance shook his head, nose just brushing Keith’s before using the hand that was curled in Keith’s hair to draw him back in. The fingers on his skin pressed just a fraction before they were back to slowly running up and down Keith’s spine. It was impossible not to melt into. Keith licked into Lance’s open mouth, body alight with the elation that he was allowed to do this. That Lance was his boyfriend, and he could steal kisses, hold his hand, makeout with him in the parking lot of the exhibit he was trying to win an award for… shit.

 

“Mmm, Lance,” Keith tried, breaking the kiss before Lance claimed his lips again. “Maybe- mmf- this isn’t the best- mm- place.” But despite his words, he continued to kiss Lance, hands brushing high cheekbones, his neck, his chest, his waist. God, he was a fucking goner. He kissed along Lance’s sharp jawline and down to his neck, breathing him in as he tasted the warm skin there.

 

Lance’s head tilted slightly, to give Keith better access. He heard Keith’s words but they were not registering. It always took Lance a long time to find an even keel, especially when he was was overwhelmed like he had been in the gallery. To know that he meant so much to someone, especially someone like Keith, was a bit much for him to honestly comprehend and then, this? The entire block could be on fire and Lance wouldn’t even notice.

 

“We… we gotta go.” Keith felt more than he saw the shivers his breath ghosting over Lance’s neck caused. He brushed his lips against the kiss damp skin. “Yeah, we should-” his teeth grazed across Lance’s jumping pulse point. Keith shook his head in a vain attempt to clear it, pushing away from Lance just enough to see his face clearly. “Home?”

 

He blinked, eyes unfocused. It took a minute before he nodded, his hands stilling but staying where they were. “Ok-kay-y-y…”

 

Keith huffed out a laugh, tempted to kiss Lance one more time, but not trusting his resolve. “Ok, come on.” He maneuvered Lance out of the way so he could open the door for him, fingers lingering as he helped him in. Keith hurried to the other side of the car, completely aware of how affected he’d been by Lance. He may have sped on the drive to Lance’s apartment. Just a little.




Coran met them outside the apartment building, and insisted that since he hadn’t got to spend any time with them lately, that he was forced to kidnap them for coffee. He also was smart enough to latch onto Lance’s arm, and tugging him along. Lance, looked from Keith to Coran and back, wiggling a bit to try and get free.

 

“Uh, Coran, can we get a raincheck,” Keith asked, forced to follow behind his boyfriend currently being abducted right before his eyes. “We’re kind of… uh… Can this wait?”

 

“My boy, if I accepted every offer of a raincheck I would never see any of you with the exception of Miss Shay. I understand you lot are all young, but I think of you all as my family and I wish to share that with you. Now, come along.”

 

Lance sighed, one hand reaching back for Keith. He couldn’t exactly sign with one arm held by Coran, so he was at least going to hold Keith’s hand with the other one.

 

Keith laced his fingers into Lance’s, cursing under his breath. It looked like they didn’t have much of a choice. If they were lucky, they could sneak away after just one story, but even then, they’d be with Coran for at least twenty minutes. Keith squeezed Lance’s hand, he was not about to forget about kissing the socks off his boyfriend.

 

Surprisingly, Coran simply bought them coffee and spent only ten minutes with them before he rushed out, claiming he needed to get back to his shop. It hadn’t exactly been a bad time, but Lance thought it was a little strange for him to be so insistent and then have to leave. He eyed the retreating man, then poked Keith, pointing at the counter where Allura was oddly missing. He tilted his head, tracing a question mark on the tabletop.

 

Keith frowned for a split second before shrugging. “You know, I don’t even care right now, let’s go to your place.” He stood offering Lance his hand.

 

He looked up, eyes trailing from Keith’s hand, up his arm and finally to his face. A smile slowly grew on his face, before he took the offered hand. Lance took a second to clear the table, something they all did to help each other out, before lacing his fingers with Keith’s and nodding.

 

The street was bustling, but the record store was empty, which made Lance scowl. There wasn’t even any music playing, which only made the scowl worse. He looked all over, wondering exactly where Pidge was, before the scowl turned into a worried frown.

 

He had just turned to face Keith when Pidge appeared at the little door, a wide smile on their face.

 

“Well, it’s about time!” They walked over, and yanked Keith down to their level, before tugging him after them toward the apartment upstairs.

 

“Christ, Pidge,” Keith barked, surprised. “What are you doing? I know where I’m going, you don’t have to drag me!”

 

Pidge paused long enough to turn and roll their eyes. “No, you are staying right with me, I have something to show you so suck it up.”

 

Lance blinked, and held up both hands when Pidge turned to him. “You stay put! Right here! Do your music thing or whatever.”

 

Lance nodded, looking at Keith with worry as Pidge dragged him up the stairs.

 

“Pidge, seriously, what gives?” Keith was starting to get seriously irritated at his time with Lance being interrupted.

 

Pidge glared one last time before stopping outside the door to their room. “Listen up, because I am only going to say this once. I’m..” They paused, took a breath, then stared up at Keith. “I didn’t like you at first because you were a jerk, yeah you apologized, I even helped you to do that, but that didn’t mean I liked you.”

 

They crossed their arms, face turned toward their door. “Then you did something, I don’t know what, but you got Lance to talk to you. He’s never talked to Shiro, or Allura, or even Hunk. He talked to Coran, when he smashed his hand in the shop’s door once, but other than that, he hasn’t spoken to anyone other than me and Matt for years. I decided a long time ago, if Lance ever found someone that he could talk to without worry, that I would do what I had to to make sure he was happy. So, this is me, making him happy, maybe even you too.” They opened the door and shoved Keith inside.

 

The room was rather stark, but Keith’s bag was sitting on the bed, and a couple of his posters were on the walls. The old table that Keith had dithered about putting into the storage unit he rented just last weekend, was sitting near the bed his camera resting on top of it. On a desk in the far corner, far too big to move, was Keith’s laptop and a couple of his photography books set neatly. The closet door was ajar, his hoodies and flannels peeking out.

 

While Keith stared at the room, Pidge kept talking. “I know that right now, everything feels perfect, and I hope it all stays that way, so try and remember that when Lance wakes you up with slightly burned eggs in the morning. Remember that he sits down on his beanbag every night to work on his lists for his board, and he’s terrible at remembering that anyone is even around while he does it. He’ll sing and sign along to songs at the worst possible times, and every time you want to be mad at him he’ll do something so sickening sweet that you can’t help but smile.” They sniffed, before turning to stare at the wall.

 

“He’s a dork and he’ll always put himself last to make sure you’re happy, even if it means he’s alone or has to work extra. But, he’s also really insecure. Little things that wouldn’t bother me or you, he’ll overthink and it’s important to try and catch those moods early, because.. I’m trusting you with him. Do you understand?”

 

Keith had slowly stepped into the room, not quite believing what he was seeing. Pidge’s words were seeping in like molasses, but when they finally registered, Keith turned and pulled them into a tight hug. When he put them down, a few traitorous tears had leaked out and he wiped them furiously. There were no words to say how much this meant. “You know… you’ve grown on me too.” Keith laughed, running the back of his hand under his nose.

 

Pidge had flailed a little at the hug, but didn’t really protest too much, but they rolled their eyes. “Excuse you, I’m perfect.” They shoved him just a bit, a smile curling the edge of their mouth. “But.. I’m serious here. I’ve known Lance a long time, he’s honestly been more of a brother than Matt sometimes, so.. You.. better take care of him, or I will hunt you down, and Matt will pay to insure they never find you.” They nodded, then took a step back, into the hall, pointing toward the living room. “Go on, we’re not done.”

 

Keith did as told, body tight with uncertainty. He did his best to keep an eye on Pidge as he headed towards the living room. “For the record… He means the world to me… I know that blue and black days are gonna happen, but... I’m gonna try to be responsible for more yellow and red than anything… I want to make him as happy as he makes me.”

 

“Keith, I don’t even know what red stands for on that board. I know blue, black, and pink. Green is for birthdays I think.. He plays songs from that list on our birthdays.” They shrugged, before gesturing to the living area.

 

Pidge’s green beanbag was gone, along with most of the computer equipment, and in it’s place was a red one. A wide chair was tucked away near one of the windows, easily big enough to hold two people.

 

“Shiro insisted on putting some food that he says you like in the cabinets, Allura donated the chair. She says it’s not right to have no furniture. Beanbags are more comfortable.” They waved a hand, dismissing Allura’s opinion completely. “So, I’ll be taking your old room at Shiro’s until he moves in with Allura. Then I’ll probably just rent a smaller place, because if I can’t handle you and Lance, I can’t handle them either.”

 

Keith laughed absently as he walked around the room, pressing a hand to the beanbag chair as he passed it. “Pidge, this is… overwhelming if I’m being honest, but… thank you, and I promise. To eat his shitty eggs, to tell him how great he is every single day, to… ask him how his day is and tell him about mine and I swear I’ll never ask for a compliment. All of it, I promise…”

 

Pidge nodded. “Well, I have been planning it since you came back. I mean, don’t agree to the eggs until you try them, they get old after a while. Just.. You just promise me one thing, and then we’ll never speak of this again, and you can go downstairs and bring Lance up here because he has no idea that I did this... So.. promise me, that you’ll really learn ASL, okay? Because there are going to be days that, he isn’t going to want to talk even to you and, it makes him feel better if you sign back. So…” They stuck out a hand. “Promise?”

 

Keith lifted his hand to shake, but instead launched into a series of sign. ‘ I’ve been practicing… better?’ “I had a lot of downtime in Europe… it’s not quite there, but yeah, I promise.”

 

Pidge nodded, looking pleased. “Yeah that is better… oh. Yeah, I should probably tell you something because lord knows Lance never will. So, remember when you signed that you loved the record?”

 

“Yeah?...” It felt like forever ago, but it burned bright in Keith’s memory. It was the first time he had signed to Lance, and the look on his face would stay with him forever. “What about it?”

 

“Okay so, you signed it like this.” They copied Keith’s movements from that day, then showed him the correct way to sign it. “If you sign it the first way… you actually say, I love you, record. Which was why I laughed.”

 

Keith lit up, blushing hard. He had thought it was just the universal sign for love. “Well… I guess it doesn’t really matter now… he’s going to be seeing that sign all the time anyway…”

 

“Ugh, he isn’t even up here and you are still managing to throw feelings all over the place. Gross.” Pidge made a face, crinkling their nose. “Whatever, I told Lance I would watch the shop for him today while you were out, but, I really do need to go straighten my stuff before Allura starts touching everything. So, you have two options, wait and show him all this later, or convince him that closing early will not be the end of the world.” They punched him lightly in the arm. “I’ll still be around here a lot, at least until I go out to the new school. Need something, ask. I’m gone.” They tossed a wave as they walked down the hall.

 

Keith followed Pidge down into the shop, watching as they headed out the front door. Lance was at the register, handing a customer their purchased records, smiling as they left. Keith slipped behind Lance, wrapping his arms around him and resting his chin on his boyfriend’s shoulder. Soft music was drifting out of the speakers, Keith finally tuning into the lyrics. ‘ -Darling come and hold me, hold me close. We could be making love, and with the slightest touch, we could set the night to music.’ Keith smirked, placing a chaste kiss to the side of Lance’s neck, pulling him tighter against him. “And here I thought I was going to have to try hard to convince you to close early…”

 

Lance shivered, then tapped his wrist, frowning a little. He honestly looked torn, biting at his lip a bit. Then his eyes widened a little. “W-w-what d-d-did-d-d..” He took a breath, “P-p-p-pid-d-dg-g-ge w-w-want?”

 

“Hmmm,” Keith hummed into Lance’s shoulder. “I guess you’re just going to have to close early and I’ll show you.”

 

Lance turned just enough to give Keith a flat look. “L-l-l-lik-ke P-p-p-pid-d-dg-g-g-ge w-w-woul-l-ld-d-d hel-l-lp-p-p w-w-with that.”

 

Keith laughed. “Fair enough… but-” Keith turned Lance to face him, peppering him in kisses as he went. “You weren’t even supposed to be working at all tonight, so… can we just… pick up where we left off?” Keith’s eyes shifted away, cheeks burning red before he looked back to Lance.

 

Lance bit his lip, then sighed. He raised a hand moving it in the sign for yes, then pointed at the door. “F-f-f-fine, b-b-but I g-g-g-gotta d-d-d-do a coup-p-pl-le thing-g-gs-s-s.”

 

Keith beamed. “I can help, just tell me what to do,” he said moving towards the open door.

 

Lance shook his head, a smile on his face, as he wrote down a couple things on the board. ‘Close and lock the door, maybe.. Keep me company while I count the register? I can do the rest in the morning.’

 

Keith jogged to the front door, pulling in the sign and locking the door before returning to Lance’s side. Lance had a stack of bills in his hand and Keith watched for a moment as he thumbed through them, before brushing the back of his knuckles up and down Lance’s upper arm.

 

The hands froze for a second, before Lance looked at Keith out of the corner of his eye. He smiled softly, then cleared his throat a little, going back to his counting. “I.. Tel-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l m-m-me ab-b-bout y-y-you?”

 

“Like what?...You already know Shiro practically raised me. I suck before I have coffee?” Keith laughed. “What do you want to know?”

 

“W-w-w-wel-l-l-l-l-l…” Lance ducked his head, keeping his eyes on his task and pointedly not looking at Keith. “W-w-w-what d-d-do y-y-y-you l-l-lik-ke?”

 

“I’m guessing you’re not going to just let me say photography, huh?”

 

Lance shrugged. ‘D-d-d-don’t have to s-s-say-y-y.” He set the stack down and picked up another.

 

“No, I… I’m just not used to people asking… uh…” Keith fixed his eyes to the wall in front of him. “I like… motorcycles… the desert, uh, long road trips, the worst kind of junkfoods, coffee, uh, music that’s too loud… you?” Keith chanced a look at Lance. “Anything else?”

 

Lance hmmed, scribbling another number on a bit of paper before setting the stack aside and turning to the board. He wrote for a long minute before offering Keith a shy smile.

 

‘I’ve never ridden a motorcycle, or seen the desert. I have swam in the ocean and gotten thirteen colds from playing in the rain. My favorite color is the red-orange of leaves in the fall, and I don’t just like you. I love you. Also, all music can be too loud. Anything special?’

 

Keith pulled Lance into a kiss. “I love you too, are we almost done? I’ll tell you whatever you want to know while we go. I’ll start now,” Keith said as he started to slowly back towards the stairs. “I’ve lived in 14 states and three countries. My favorite movie is ‘Jurassic Park’. Favorite color is a dark bluish-grey like stormclouds. My favorite song is ‘The Taste of Ink’ by The Used, and my favorite person is currently taking forever .”

 

Lance shoved the bills into a little bag, while Keith talked, laughed when he finally finished, before ducking down and sliding part of the counter to the side, there was the sound of a couple buttons then Lance tossed the bag in and slid the piece back. ‘Ok-k-kay-y-y, I’m-m-m d-d-done.” He crossed the floor and turned off the record player, before finally flipping the light switch by the door, smiling over at Keith.

 

Keith smiled widely as he grabbed Lance’s hand, practically running up the stairs. Before he opened the door, he turned to see Lance’s face, kissing him short and quick before holding the door open for Lance.

 

Lance’s smile was soft, and he touched Keith’s cheek briefly before going down the short hall but stopping just before he was completely in the living room. He stared at the red beanbag, then looked at his own and back to the red one. “D-d-did-d-d P-p-p-pid-d-dg-g-g-ge’s-s-s-s b-b-br-r-r-reak-k?”

 

“No, I have a feeling they took it with them, besides, I think red suits me better, what about you?”

 

Lance spun around so fast he almost fell over, eyes wide and mouth slightly open. “W-w-w-what?” His hands came up and cycled through about seven signs before he caught himself. “W-w-w-why-y-y-y?”

 

Keith shrugged. “Maybe we should check their room…” Keith turned back towards the bedroom, checking to make sure Lance was coming.

 

Lance stared at the red beanbag for another moment before he dumbly followed after Keith, not even caring about Pidge’s usual ban on people being in their room. This time Keith went in first, stopping in the middle of the room. “What do you think?”

 

Lance’s eyes were fixed on the clean floor, floor that he honestly hasn’t seen since the third week they lived there. Pidge was brilliant but very bad at picking things up. His eyes darted to Keith, then trailed all over the room, jumping from object to object before his hands came up again.

 

‘What? I don’t, But.. oh fuck.’  He continued with a long and impressive string of various curses before crossing the room in two short strides. He poked Keith then waved a hand around the room.

 

Keith laughed, wrapping his arms around Lance. “I don’t know what terrible things Pidge did to make it happen, but they did this while we were gone… If you’re ok with it, I think I’ve moved in…”

 

Lance stared at Keith, eyes still wide before ducking just a bit and pressing a hard kiss to his mouth and throwing his arms around his shoulders. “A-r-r-re y-y-y-you s-s-s-sur-r-r-re?”

 

“I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be,” Keith whispered. “This is where I’m supposed to be.”

 

Lance pulled back just enough to grin at Keith, before putting his right hand on his chest and tapping it there twice, pausing for a second before pressing his hand to his chest and holding it there before making his sign for Keith. ‘Mine. My Keith.’

 

God did that do something to Keith. He was Lance’s and Lance was his . A fire lit in him and he dove in for a heated kiss, using Lance’s surprise to his advantage, pulling at his lower lip with his teeth. His arms wound tighter around Lance. He couldn’t get close enough. Keith stepped forward, the motion causing Lance to stumble over his own feet until Keith had him backed against the wall. They hit with a thud before Keith was kissing him fast and hard. God did he love Lance.

 

Lance missed the light switch by inches, perfectly content to ignore the slight ache in his shoulder in favor of kissing Keith back. His arms were looped around Keith’s shoulders, hands tangled in his shirt and hair. It felt so much better than in the parking lot, Lance was still honestly a little embarrassed about that, but here, in Keith’s room, it felt perfect.

 

Their hips bumped as Keith tried to press closer. “This ok,” Keith breathed across Lance’s kiss swollen lips before nipping at his jaw and down to his neck.

 

Lance had no idea that his neck was so sensitive. It felt so good when Keith kissed him that it made it hard to think. The slight scraping of Keith’s teeth near the junction of his shoulder caused a whine to slip out, and he pulled one of his hands away from Keith’s shirt to slap a hand over his mouth. Distantly, he realized, Keith had asked him a question so he nodded, letting the hand in Keith’s hair drift, slowly down his neck.

 

If Lance kept making noises like that, Keith was going to explode. He was going to be like a teenager cumming in his pants. He could feel the growl working it’s way from low in his stomach and up through his teeth as they bit down just a touch harder than they had been. “You’re so goddamn amazing, Lance.” Keith kissed the reddening bite mark, back bowing, causing his and Lance’s groins to press and slide against each other. Keith let out an almost embarrassing groan at the contact.

 

Lance shook his head, denying the compliment. He wormed his hands loose, and let them trail down Keith’s shirt, palms flat, before they tugged just a bit on the hem of the shirt. His fingers played just above the waist of his jeans before he was tugging Keith’s shirt up not even bothering to pull it all the way off, with quick insistent motions, before whistling low and long. His left hand came up and started drifting over warm skin, while the other drew Keith back for another kiss. He whispered, ‘P-p-pr-r-r-retty-y-y…” Right before their mouths reconnected.

 

Keith laughed into the kiss, noises muffled by Lance’s mouth until he was smiling too much to actually kiss back. “You didn’t even get it off,” Keith teased.

 

Lance turned his head just enough to be able to scowl at the wall, a pout working its way onto his mouth. “I’l-l-l-l-l g-g-get-t y-you of-f-f,” he huffed, playfully pushing at Keith’s shoulder.

 

Keith froze, shocked at both Lance actually having a good come back for once,though Keith wasn’t even sure Lance realized how well it worked, as well as how much it was actually working for him. “So hot,” he muttered before yanking off his shirt and pressing right back into Lance’s space.

 

Lance whined again. It was not fair for anyone to look that damned good just taking off their shirt. Lance sure as hell didn’t look that good. Fuck, Keith was too hot and Lance was going to die, but hell, what a way to go. He flipped his boyfriend off on principle though, before letting his hands trail all over those lovely muscles and the surprisingly soft skin.

 

He found his back again pressed to the wall, but this time he avoided the kiss so he could explore a little of his own. He wondered if Keith’s neck was as sensitive as his was. He wondered if a soft touch behind the ear would make him growl again. That had been really hot. He also wondered, exactly what Keith tasted like. So he let the tip of his tongue drift, from Keith’s jaw, to the junction of his shoulder before settling happily over his collarbone.

 

Keith bucked when Lance’s tongue slid into the dip of his collar bone. He bit his lip as another moan threatened to escape and repeated the motion. He could feel how hard Lance was getting, their erections bumping against each other with every move of Keith’s hips. Keith could come undone right here, just like this, but fuck if he didn’t want to see and feel more of Lance. He gripped the edge of Lance’s shirt, pulling it tight. He waited for a moment to allow Lance to stop him before breaking away and pulling the shirt gently over Lance’s head and arms.

 

He had to take a moment to just drink Lance in. He was so beautiful and Keith knew he could spend the rest of his life covering every inch of Lance’s body in kisses. He caught his breath, smiling. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

Lance flushed, his ears turned red, along with his cheeks. The red covered the back of his neck, and he ducked his head, shaking it slightly, before trailing a hand across Keith’s shoulder, down his arm, then over his chest, eventually stopping to slip behind and brush along his back. He shook his head again, his free hand coming up to poke Keith firmly in the chest.

 

If it came down to which one of them was better looking, Keith would win every time, hands down. He made a little sound, of complete appreciation, before looking Keith up and down. He smiled, softly, then took Keith’s hand, tugging lightly. As fun and hot as the wall was, Lance’s shoulders were actually starting to hurt now, and his bed was a hell of a lot more comfortable.

 

He kept Keith with him, through a series of gentle tugs and encouraging kisses, before he led him into his room, face on fire, but absolutely wanting more.

 

Keith couldn’t keep his eyes off of Lance as they walked. He’d never been in Lance’s room, but standing there, hand in hand, looking at the slight muscle of Lance’s back ripple as he moved suddenly seemed so much more intimate than anything they had done yet. Keith’s steps sped up until he was able to press his bare chest against Lance’s toned back. He placed kisses along broad shoulders and moved them to the bed together. When Lance’s knees bumped against the edge of the bed, Keith let go, kicking off his shoes in a hurry and unbuckling his belt.

 

Lance lost his balance when Keith let go, landing on his bed with a slight “oof”. His eyes trailed down Keith’s frame. The strong shoulders, impressive arms that always felt so good wrapped around him, an athletic waist, and hands that were frantically getting tangled in his own belt.

 

A little surprised at himself, he found his own hands settling over Keith’s, slowing his hands and working the belt free, all the while Lance left little kisses, over his stomach, the dip of his waist, anywhere he could reach before looking up at Keith through his lashes. He toed his own shoes off, before letting go to scoot back just a little, the blush not fading in the least, but wanting Keith right there with him.

 

Keith’s stomach had jumped at the light kisses and fuck was he painfully hard. As soon as his brain caught up, he pulled off his pants and socks before crawling over Lance, his body hovering just a fraction away as he bent his head forward for a kiss. He curled his tongue into Lance’s mouth teasing before pulling back and trailing kisses down Lance’s body, pausing at the waistband of his jeans. Keith placed his hand over the button, his fingers stretching down to just barely touch Lance’s erection. “Can I?”

 

Lance nodded, his bottom lip caught between his teeth. Keith fumbled to undo the button and zipper as quick as possible, hastily peeling off Lance’s pants, tossing them to the floor. Kneeling between Lance’s knees, Keith took a second to appreciate the view in front of him, Lance sprawled across his bed, hickies blooming on his neck, hair disheveled and looking at Keith like he held the stars. Without breaking eye contact, Keith slowly bent down and kissed at the bulge tenting Lance’s underwear, swiping his tongue across the tight fabric.

 

Lance hissed, then whined long and low. He sucked in a sharp breath and bit his lip hard as both hands came up. He made the same signs over and over, biting hard to keep any more embarrassing noises back in his throat where they belong. ‘Oh God, oh God, oh God.’

 

Shit, hellfire and damnation. Keith was going to kill him. Lance was this close to completely embarrassing himself in the worst possible way and the last thing he wanted right now, was Keith to laugh at him. Shit, it was like divine torture, in the form of Keith.

 

Keith’s fingers rubbed soft circles across Lance’s waist before pulling down the top of Lance’s underwear, lifting his hips to wiggle them off and adding them to the pile of clothes on the floor. He placed one hand on across the soft happy trail below Lance’s navel, the other holding Lance’s dick as he placed open mouth kisses up and down the length before licking a solid stripe from root to tip. He smirked before taking Lance into his mouth, the tip of his tongue pressing up as he slid down slowly, teasing.

 

Nope, that was it, Game over for Lance. He shrieked, vision whiting out, and his back bowing as he threw his head backward. For a long beautiful moment, everything was glorious, it was light and soft and wonderful, before reality crashed into Lance with the force of a brick to the face. He’d just… and Keith was… and he hadn’t even… Oh stars above someone kill him right now.

 

He couldn’t even consider looking at Keith, he just brought his hands up, covering his face, trying so very hard to pretend he hadn’t just done what he thought he had. Just ruined something so wonderful by being such an.. An.. idiot. An inexperienced idiot that shot off like an asshole the first time someone mouthed him. God, kill him now.

 

“Fuck.” Keith sat up, licking stray drops of cum off his lips, cheeks red and voice rough. He crawled up the length of Lance’s body until he could pull at Lance’s hands. When Keith couldn’t manage to move them, he leaned down next to Lance’s ear and whispered, “that was really hot… do you need a minute or keep going?” Keith couldn’t keep his hips from working in small circles against Lance’s stomach. This boy was going to be the death of him.

 

Lance shook his head several times, too mortified to even look at Keith right now. But, he also wasn’t a complete dick, no matter what lies Pidge and Matt spread. He took a couple of shaky breaths, before slowly inching one of his hands down just enough to peek at Keith and whisper a very very soft. “S-s-s-so-r-r-r-r-r-r-ry-y-y-y-y… I.. I…”

 

Fuck. Fuck everything to hell. He took another breath and pulled his hands away before immediately covering his face again, aware this he was likely red all the way to his navel. How could anyone look that good even after their moron of a boyfriend just ruined it all. “I… I.. I..”

 

“What? So you’re sensitive, it’s, uh, kind of really fucking killing me here how hot that was. Besides, means you can go longer this time… whenever you’re ready…” Keith tried again to pull the hands away from Lance’s face. His grinding was becoming a little more insistent, so Keith gave in and rolled the band of his underwear down enough to pull his cock free, lazily running his hand over it as he watched Lance.

 

Lance shifted, before he slowly dropped his hands, still feeling like a complete idiot, but.. Maybe Keith didn’t care? He didn’t sound like he was mad. His eyes landed on Keith’s face, and he was struck with the urge to kiss him. Not because he was the hottest thing Lance had ever seen, crouched there, lazily rubbing himself, but because he was Keith.. Lance’s Keith, that didn’t care his boyfriend was a loser.

 

He took a breath, and reached one arm up, curling it over Keith’s cheek, as he shifted, raising up just enough to brush his mouth to Keith’s. “Y-y-yeah..” He brushed his hand over Keith’s cheek one more time, to help him steel his nerves before kissing him again, properly.  

 

Keith keened, the noise getting caught in his throat as his lips met Lance’s. He gripped Lance’s shoulder as his back bowed. “We- I- do you have stuff?” If they didn’t get the show on the road, Keith was going to end up blowing his load across Lance’s chest.

 

Lance flushed just a bit more at the noise Keith made before nodding. He was still so very nervous, but, this was Keith. He wiggled just a bit, hissing a bit at usual sensitivity, before catching Keith’s face and turning it slightly, so he was looking at a small nightside table. He’d gotten the stuff years ago, during as Pidge liked to call it “That Time Lance Lost His Mind and Dated A Dickhead” Fortunately, he’d never used or moved it so it would be easy for Keith to reach.

 

Keith launched towards the nightstand, nearly falling off the bed in the process. He grabbed the lube and ripped open the box of condoms, making an apologetic face towards Lance before laying them on the pillow next to Lance’s head and kissing him. He ran fingers through Lance’s hair and down the side of his neck. “How- Who- Can I… Are you a top or bottom?...”

 

Fuck. That was a very, very unfair question when Lance had absolutely zero idea. He settled for a simple shrug, because that was about as clear as he could possibly be at this point. It would take forever for him to explain it to Keith and that just.. wasn’t fair. He caught Keith’s hands, swallowing nervously, before drawing them around him, and leaning close.

 

He tapped Keith’s nose, before he held his palm out, fingers straight. It looked very similar to the sign for stop so Lance spoke it out loud so Keith wasn’t confused. “Y-y-y-your-r-r-rs-s-s.” He repeated the sign, finding a bit of comfort in the usual sharing of signs. Then he leaned forward, kissing Keith softly, one hand on his chest and the other around his neck.

 

Keith’s breath caught in his chest and he had to squeeze the base of his dick to keep from losing his cool. His eyebrows pinched as he tried to calm down. “Yeah… ok.” He nodded, letting go of himself and scooting back on the bed. He grabbed the lube and condom as he went, settling himself between Lance’s legs. He ran gentle fingers up and down his thighs, brushing his thumbs over prominent hip bones. Keith watched Lance’s face as he positioned his boyfriend’s legs how he wanted them. Lance was mostly hard again and Keith wrapped his fingers around Lance’s cock, pumping at an easy pace, rubbing the pad of his thumb into the head. When Lance arched, Keith smiled, removing his hand as he found the lube again.

 

He popped the lid, coating two fingers, rubbing them together as he shifted back a bit further. Keith leaned down, kissing the smooth thighs on either side of him. His lips followed the same patterns as his fingers had before he placed a wet kiss to Lance’s perineum. Lance bucked and Keith gripped his hip with his clean hand, licking down to Lance’s hole, circling it a few times.

 

Lance was either in the best kind of heaven or the worst kind of hell. He couldn’t think anymore. He shifted, wiggling a bit, to get closer or away he honestly couldn’t tell you. It was wonderful, if a little terrifying, to have that warm wet feeling running all over, and he wanted to touch, kiss, do something more than just lay there, letting Keith do everything. He shoved one hand in his mouth to muffle those, embarrassing sounds he kept making, and let the other drift through Keith’s hair.

 

When Lance’s hands seemed to grip Keith’s hair just a touch too hard of their own accord on a particularly deep thrust of his tongue, he couldn’t stop the growl that ripped through him. Ok, enough bullshit, Keith needed to be inside of Lance now. He replaced his tongue with one of the lubed up fingers, sliding easily to the first knuckle. Keith flushed as he watched Lance, pressing around the rim and sliding his finger in and out in short little motions. Once his finger moved without resistance, Keith added the second, giving Lance a moment to get used to it before curling and scissoring them.

 

“You’re doing so good, Lance. Look so good.” Keith was goddamn awestruck, he’d never been so achingly hard in his life.

 

He bit a little harder at the fleshy part of his hand. Rationally, he knew it was supposed to hurt. He wasn’t a complete moron, he did his research, but it was one thing to read about it and another to feel it. It burned, but he kept his teeth clenched on his hand and focused on breathing and relaxing. Shit, he had to be doing something right, if Keith was still looking at him like that, but damn if he knew what the hell it was. He hissed, the sound muffled and finally relaxed his fingers in Keith’s hair.

 

Keith’s fingers stilled. “Lance, you ok?” He placed a quick kiss to the inside of Lance’s trembling thigh.

 

Lance immediately nodded. Yeah, it hurt, more than Lance had expected but, it was supposed to. It wasn’t like Keith wasn’t being careful, he was. Lance was fine, he could handle it.

 

Keith’s fingers stayed frozen while he watched Lance for a second, head resting on his hip. “You don’t look ok… too much? Because we can stop. I just want to make you feel good. But… you gotta let me know if I’m not…” Keith looked up at him with no judgement, eyes soft and sincere.

 

Lance frowned, unhappy that he’d done something wrong. He tried to focus on words and what they sounded like again. He wiggled just a bit then jerked, eyes wide, his hand falling to curl into the sheets. Oh, so that was what that felt like. That was… he wiggled again, finally relaxing.

 

Keith chuckled, mouthing at the expanse of skin between Lance’s hip bones as he pressed into that spot repeatedly. He slid his finger in and out, making sure to hit Lance’s prostate on every pass, watching as he fell apart at his fingertips. Keith pulled out his fingers, smirking at the whine it elicited from Lance, coating the fingers in more lube, this time adding a third. Keith slowly slid in the fingers this time, telling Lance to breathe as he did. Once they were all the way in, Keith pressed them up against Lance’s prostate hard . Lance cried out as Keith rocked his hand back and forth.

 

“Can you take one more, baby?” Keith kissed and nosed just below Lance’s balls before making eye contact again.

 

The pet name made Lance melt even more than he already had. He adored nicknames, but Matt was the only one that ever indulged him. He was too worked up to speak, he knew that, hell, God knew that, so he slipped his fingers out of Keith’s hair, and caught his hand, pulling it up so he could press a soft kiss to the inside of his wrist, before nodding firmly, lacing their fingers together and wiggling one more time.

 

Keith sucked in a breath. “Fuck.” He scrambled to grab the lube, coating his fingers once more, sliding them between Lance’s cheeks and across his rim before pushing them in. Keith worked them in and out, Lance’s breathing coming in sweet puffs, little noises lilting out in a never ending stream, growing louder each time Keith hit his prostate. Keith sat up, leaning up the bed to kiss Lance. “Ready?”

 

Yes. Anything Keith wanted. Yes, Lance was ready, anything at all. He didn’t care. He just wanted Keith. Close to him, he wanted his arms around him, he wanted his hands on him. Fuck. Lance nodded, then moved his hands far too fast for anyone but Coran to understand. He nodded again, reaching one of his arms out for Keith.

 

Keith caught Lance’s outstretched hand in his own, lacing their fingers together as he pulled out his fingers, swiping the excess lube over his dick before lining up, kissing Lance’s knuckles as he pushed his swollen head in. He rubbed his fingers along Lance’s waist as he slowly inched in. When Lance started to tense, Keith moved his free hand down Lance’s stomach and to his leaking cock. He pumped his still slick hand up and down as he pressed his hips forward. Once he bottomed out, he continued to jerk Lance while he breathed through it. The grip on his hand tightened when Keith pulled out just a bit and pressed back in.

 

He rocked his hips in ever widening strokes. When he widened his knees and bent just a bit, he managed to hit Lance’s prostate again. Keith threw his head back, eyes squeezed shut for a moment. He wasn’t going to last much longer. Lance was so tight and he was so fucking hard and he loved his boyfriend so much and this was so much. Keith realized his hips had sped up, he let go of Lance’s dick and grabbed his soft thigh, pushing it up towards Lance as the both cried out at the change of angle. Keith hooked Lance’s leg over his shoulder, pistoning faster and harder than was usually his style, but god Lance had him so worked up. He drank in every sound that left Lance’s lips like a man dying in the desert.

 

It felt like everything was in a haze. Lance could just barely see Keith’s face, hear his soft panting. Lance’s hands were curled tightly in the sheets, and he couldn’t stop shaking. The sparks behind his eyes every time Keith moved just right, that damned whine that he couldn’t keep from escaping, it was just too damned much and Lance was gone again, his back bending like a taut bowstring, as he shrieked, a wordless sound.

 

Keith continued to pound him through it, Lance tightening around him and Keith was tipping over the edge right behind him. Keith buried his face in Lance’s neck as he came white hot, nails digging into Lance’s thigh and the back of the hand he was still holding. Keith twitched through his release, breath held, eyes shut tight. He took a deep breath, panting in time with Lance as he gently lowered his leg, bringing up his hand to caress Lance’s cheek. Keith peppered him with kisses before finally letting their lips meet in a languid kiss.

 

Lance hissed and shook when Keith pulled out. He watched Lance’s twitching hole leak cum. “Oh fuck… Shit, Lance, I forgot the condom… but, I’m clean, I, uh, get tested regularly… can’t be too safe right,” Keith chuckled awkwardly.

 

Lance blinked, clearly gone, before he waved a hand back and forth. “Can’t catch if-f-f-f y-y-y-you d-d-don’t p-p-p-pl-l-l-layy-y-y…” Before he dropped his head back on the pillow.

 

Keith froze from where he had been about to drag his thumb through his cum, eyes wide. “Lance…. Was… are you… What does that mean?”

 

Lance shook his head a couple of times. He stared up at the ceiling unaware of Keith’s freak out. His hand came up, lazily making shapes in the air, before he finally answered. “New-w-w-w to m-m-me..”

 

Oh fuck. Keith was caught between full on meltdown and realizing just how hot that thought was. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, at a loss. He had been Lance’s first? Oh god, he remembered his first time. He prayed he had made it better for Lance than what he’d gotten. Lance yawned and finally Keith got with the program. He wished he’d known before, he would have wanted to be the best for Lance, but at the very least he could start now. Keith smiled softly before following through and dragging his thumb through the cum still leaking from Lance, collecting it and sucking his thumb into his mouth while winking at Lance. “Stay right there.” Keith climbed off the bed and left the room.

 

Where did Keith think he would go? Why would anyone ever want to move after that? He waved a hand, shifting a bit, before burying his face in his pillow. He honestly kind of wished Keith hadn’t gone anywhere, he really just wanted to curl up into his boyfriend instead of his admittedly comfortable pillow. But the pillow wasn’t warm like Keith was, and it didn’t move with each breath. Stupid pillow.

 

Keith came back a minute or two later, damp wash cloth, glass of water and bottle of ibuprofen in hand. When he walked in to see Lance curled around his pillow, he couldn’t keep the fond look off his face. “Don’t fall asleep yet,” He teased, climbing back onto the bed. Keith manhandled Lance as he wiped him down, hands soft and slow. When he deemed Lance sufficiently cleaned, he tossed the cloth onto his pile of clothes. “Can you drink some water?”

 

Lance lifted his head, nodding, taking the glass and drinking almost half of it, before making a grabby motion for Keith.

 

Keith laughed, placing the water on the bedside table. “I brought some painkillers, hopefully you don’t need them, but you’ll tell me if you do right?”

 

Lance’s eyes tracked Keith’s movements. “Y-y-yeah… ok-kay-y-y-y.” Then he frowned, and tossed the useless pillow over his shoulder. “Ss-s-stup-p-pid-d-d p-p-p-pil-l-l-l-l-low-w-w-w. W-w-want y-y-you.”

 

Keith melted. He grabbed the blanket that had made its way to the floor and scooted Lance over, wedging himself in and under him before situating the blanket over them. He slid one arm under Lance’s head, curling it around him and pulling him close. “I love you,” Keith whispered into Lance’s hair.

 

Lance burrowed closer, looping an arm around Keith and tucking his head on his chest. He wiggled, then pressed a soft kiss on his chest. “L-l-l-love y-y-you..” Then he giggled, muffling the sound as much as possible. “Hel-l-l-l-l-l-l of-f-f-f a hous-s-s-s-sew-w-w-ar-r-r-r-m-m-m-m-ing-g-g-g.”

 

Keith snorted. “You think Pidge actually expected me to use that bed in the other room?”

 

Lance shook his head, then shifted, tangling as close as possible. “Theyy-y-y’r-r-r-e the s-s-s-sm-m-m-mar-r-r-rt one… B-b-bl-l-lam-m-me S-s-s-shir-r-r-o.”

 

Keith actually laughed at that. “Fair enough,” he mumbled around a yawn. He ran his fingers through Lance’s hair long after Lance’s breathing had evened out, until his fingers slowly stilled, tangled in soft brown strands.

 

...

 

Warm sunlight filtered through the window. Keith stretched, scratching at his chest. Oh, he was naked… Keith frowned, slightly more awake now. This wasn’t his room. He rubbed at his eyes, then blinked as he took in his surroundings. Blue walls peaked out from between several posters for bands and local shows. Keith flushed, the night before finally replaying in his head. He rolled over, burying his face in the pillow. Wait, where was Lance? Keith picked his head up, looking around again. The haze of sleep was melting off him as he sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

 

The room was pretty clean. Cleaner than Keith ever kept his, in fact, half the mess on the floor was the clothing they had shed the night before. Keith grabbed at the first thing he could identify as his and pulled on his pants. A picture caught his eye as he worked his button. It was the only personal picture in the room as far as Keith had noticed, and when he stepped closer, he realized it was a framed printing of that first selfie he’d sent Lance from Greece. He flushed, chest blooming with a warmth he now only associated with Lance. His thoughts were broken by the clattering of a dish in the sink. Keith padded towards the kitchen.

 

Lance was leaning against the counter, one hand holding a spatula, and absently stirring a pan of eggs as he wrote on a paper. He was singing softly under his breath. His hair was sticking up, and he had several dark marks visible over the collar of the gray shirt he was wearing. He straightened, still singing softly as he moved the eggs around a bit more before going back to the paper.

 

“And I'll take your hand and pick you up

And keep you there to so you can see

As long as you're alive and care

I promise I will take you there”

 

Keith stopped in his tracks. Keith had never seen something so picture perfect before. His hot boyfriend, covered in his marks, singing his song. Keith was kicking himself for not having his camera already on him. He tried to sneak up on Lance, but as he got closer, he saw a familiar red covering Lance’s backside and thighs. The sight of Lance wearing his underwear had him running into the counter, effectively ruining the element of surprise.

 

Lance jerked at the sound, eyes wide and brandishing the spatula like it was a real weapon, before he took a long look at Keith and red flooded his face. He immediately tucked the spatula behind his back, and made his sign for Keith.

 

“I, uh…” Keith swallowed. “You look so fucking good.” Keith closed the distance between them, wrapping his arms around Lance, kissing over the dark marks peeking out from his shirt. “I love you so much.”

 

Lance ended up dropping the spatula and immediately looping his arms around Keith’s shoulders. “Hi…” He squirmed a little, the marks slightly sensitive before nosing at Keith’s temple, nudging him up for a proper kiss. “Y-y-y-you l-l-look-k b-b-b-better-r-r-r.”

 

“Not possible,” Keith breathed into the crook of Lance’s neck. “Where’s my camera, I should be filling whole rolls of film right now.”

 

Lance blushed, then swatted at Keith. “S-s-s-stop-p-p.” He was grinning, before he blinked, and cursed out loud. “F-f-fuck-k.” He wiggled free and dove for a drawer, pulling out another spatula and quickly piling fairly black eggs on a plate before pouting at it.

 

Keith laughed. “They look delicious, babe.” Keith took the plate and signed ‘ thank you’ before smirking and signing ‘ I love you ’.

 

Lance sighed, before he took the plate away from Keith, wrinkling his nose at the eggs, and turning off the stove. He dropped a kiss onto Keith’s shoulder, before looking up with a mischievous grin. He took a deep breath before he made a couple of signs, slower than usual.

‘I’ll make more later. I want to explore this time.’ He winked then walked back toward the bedroom.

 

Keith’s eyebrows shot into his hairline. He understood enough of that. He hurried after Lance. “How many times do you think we can get you to cum this time,” He called with a smile on his face. He was going to have to buy Hunk out of his cookies for Pidge, he owed them big time.