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one dance

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Watching a movie with a merperson is much more difficult than it sounds. 

First, there’s the matter of what to watch the movie on. A simple phone screen seems a bit small, but lugging a laptop out to the beach seems like a bit of a hassle. 

Second, there’s the matter of keeping said phone or laptop or—whatever it may be—clean, dry, and free of sand. Which is not an easy task, considering the constant breeze across the shore, and the way that sand sticks to anything and everything, wet or dry.

Third, there’s the matter of privacy. Because it’s preferable that a merperson sighting doesn’t attract a swarm of paparazzi and nosy tourists to interrupt aforementioned movie.

Humans technically aren’t even supposed to know about merpeople in the first place, but Lance likes to think of himself as an exception.

He takes special pride in the fact that he manages to sneak out of the house in the early morning without waking anyone else, despite nearly dropping his laptop onto his foot while trying to stuff it into his backpack on top of an enormous stash of wrinkly packaged snacks. 

The sun is rising slowly in the sky as he picks his way across the shore toward his destination, the straps of his backpack heavy across his shoulders. He doesn’t actually really know where he’s going, only that he hopes merpeople are good at giving directions, because it’s already hard enough reading the handwriting scrawled across his loose piece of paper. At the very least, he thinks he must be headed the right way, judging by the increasing number of rocks scattered across the sand and jutting out into the oncoming waves. 

It’s not long before he finds just what he’s looking for: a small cave, tucked away among the growing rocks collected along the shore. 

He ducks through a narrow opening in the back after first shoving his backpack through, and then steps into the sand on the other side. It’s much dimmer inside, but enough sunlight is making its way inside through cracks and openings in the rocky walls for Lance to be able to take a good look around. 

There’s a decent length of shore stretching from one side of the cave to the other, and continuing forward about halfway until sand meets sea, the waves lapping gently against the ground and echoing quietly against the walls. The color of the sea grows deeper just as the water grows deeper, continuing to the mouth of the cave and beyond until all he can see if the sunlight glittering on the horizon.

“Whoa,” Lance breathes, stepping closer to the water with his head tilted upward to gaze around the cave. 

He’s practically lived on this beach his entire life, but he’s never found any place quite like this, even despite the impressive number of times he’s snuck out of the house to go exploring on his own.

He’s so distracted by the overwhelming excitement and newness of it all that it takes his brain an extra second or two to register the face staring up at him from the water when he finally looks down. 

It surprises him enough that he almost trips over his own feet in his haste to back away and subsequently nearly falls flat on his back. But no, he definitely did not scream, thank you.

“Holy sh—” He cuts himself off with an enormous breath and drops his head back to stare up at the ceiling, one hand clutching his chest. “God, Keith, how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me like that?” 

Keith just blinks up at him, completely unperturbed by the entire situation, as per usual. Lance rolls his eyes with a huff as he moves away and dives back underneath the water, resurfacing near a cluster of rocks a few feet away and hoisting himself up onto the biggest one. 

“You’re late.”

“It takes a lot longer to walk two miles on legs than it does to swim with a tail,” Lance points out, following along the shoreline but keeping just out of reach of the water. 

Keith flicks his tail, unimpressed, red scales glinting in the sunlight that’s beginning to trickle through the top of the cave as the sun continues to rise. “Did you bring the stuff?” 

Lance snorts, hopelessly endeared by the seriousness of Keith’s tone. “I mean, I wouldn’t phrase it like that, but…” 

He shrugs his backpack off his shoulders and Keith perks up, eyes alight with interest as Lance grins and jostles the stash of snacks stuffed inside. “Yeah, I brought the stuff. But! It’s for the movie, so you have to wait.” 

The small, delicate fins on Keith’s ears flutter irritably as his shoulders sink, and he pouts. “For what?”

He watches curiously as Lance carefully sets his backpack down and unrolls the towel strapped on top. “I brought a movie for us to watch.” 

Keith’s annoyed expression quickly shifts into something thoughtful as he cocks his head to the side. 

“Movie,” he repeats slowly, sounding out the word carefully. His tail flicks again in the air, sending a small spray of water into the air. “What’s that?”

“I’ve already told you what a movie is,” Lance sighs, laying his towel out across the sand and glaring at it when one of the corners folds underneath. “Twice.” 

“So?” Keith folds his arms over the rock’s surface and lowers himself until his chin rests on top. “Just tell me again.” 

Lance flips the towel a second time and smiles in satisfaction when it lays flat. “Why?”

“I like hearing you talk.” 

Lance tries not to choke on air.

He succeeds—mostly. 

“You—” He coughs, trying his best not to stutter out his words. “You like—I mean—uh.” His voice suddenly sounds too loud echoing around the cave as he lets out a sort of nervous, high-pitched laugh, rubbing the back of his neck. “Okay, well, you live in the ocean, so I imagine you’ve heard plenty more things that are way better to listen to than me. Like—whales! Whales, and dolphins, and… things. Way more interesting. Especially when all I do is go on and ramble about dumb human things that you don’t necessarily even care about that much, plus—” 

He abruptly cuts himself off when he realizes that he is, of course, rambling. And when he glances over, Keith is just watching him, arms folded, cheek resting on top, tail waving idly in the air, and what can only be described as a fond smile on his face. Lance clears his throat and quickly turns back to his towel to hide the flush of his own cheeks.

“Anyway, just, um. Come over here and I’ll set everything up.” 

To his relief, he hears the telltale sound of a small splash as Keith slips back into the water and reappears closer to shore, hauling himself onto the sand and dragging himself further out of the water. 

Lance does his best not to think too much about Keith’s expectant gaze on him as he opens his laptop and starts it up, then reaches for his backpack again.

“Here.” Keith’s eyes light up as Lance dumps his entire selection of prepackaged snacks out onto his towel, grateful for the distraction. “I don’t think you’ve ever told me what your favorite is, so I just sort of brought a little bit of everything.”

He smiles as Keith immediately reaches for a pack of Fruit Gushers, tearing the package open and humming in satisfaction after popping one into his mouth without hesitation. “Is there any Crash?” 

Lance laughs a little, leaning past Keith for one of the soda cans that’s rolled toward the other side of the towel. “It’s Crush, and yeah, I did.”

He returns to his laptop after showing Keith again how to open the can, and watching his ear fins flutter excitedly at the sound it makes. There’s a bit of rustling as Keith rummages through the pile of snacks beside him, still chewing on his Gushers. “Can I have the cakie?”

“Cookie,” Lance corrects without looking up, chuckling quietly. “Take whatever you want, Keith.” 

Hardly a second has passed before Keith is thrusting a pack of Animal Crackers in Lance’s face. “Will you show me all the animals again?”

Lance snorts, pushing Keith’s hand down. “Again?” 

He raises an eyebrow as Keith pouts, pulling his hand away and crossing his arms over his chest. “I wanna remember them all.” 

“Okay, okay.” Lance sets his laptop aside with a sigh, feigning exasperation when really, his chest is so full of fondness and amusement he thinks he might burst. He holds his hand out, wiggling his fingers. “Hand ‘em over.” 

Keith perks up again and he quickly unfolds his arms to drop the package into Lance’s outstretched hand, shifting closer and leaning forward on his hands to watch as Lance pulls it open. Lance wipes away some of the sand that’s already scattered onto the towel and empties some of the crackers out onto it, separating all of them until there’s a neat line of little animals.

“Alright,” Lance starts, tapping the first one. “This one is a buffalo, remember?” He glances over at Keith in time to see him quietly mouthing the word to himself, brow pinched in concentration, and it’s so simple and innocent that Lance finds himself biting back another smile. “Got it?”

Keith nods, so Lance moves on to the next one in line. “This one is a camel.” 

“The one that lives in the dessert?”

Lance can’t help but laugh, shaking his head slightly. “Close. They live in the desert.” 

“Desert,” Keith repeats slowly, like he’s trying to commit the word to memory. “Okay.” 

“Okay, and this one—” 

“Hippo!” Keith interrupts suddenly, pointing eagerly at the next cracker. “That one’s a hippo, right?”

“Yeah!” Lance grins, laughing again as Keith flicks his tail in excitement and accidentally sends a light spray of seawater over the both of them. “See, you’re learning already.”

He can’t stop smiling as Keith picks the cracker up and carefully settles it into his palm, tracing the ridges along its surface with a finger. He didn’t even know that it was possible to smile so much in such a short amount of time, so much that he can’t even remember any point that he wasn’t.

It’s just all so incredibly endearing, the way that he’s so excited about animal crackers of all things, and his eagerness to learn about so many human things despite not really needing to.

He chews on his lip for a moment as Keith takes a bite of the cracker, chewing thoughtfully.

“Hey, I’m gonna finish setting up the movie real quick.” 

“Okay,” Keith agrees distractedly, lifting the half-eaten cracker toward his face to look at it better. 

(Lance probably would’ve set up the movie quicker if he hadn’t been so distracted by the glitter of Keith’s eyes, and the way he peers back down at the first couple of crackers to mouth their names again, and smiles to himself when he gets them right.)

They do get around to watching the movie, eventually. 

Or at least, Keith does. Lance spends more time watching Keith’s reactions than anything and tells himself it’s because he’s never had the chance to witness a real merperson watch The Little Mermaid for the first time, and not just because Keith’s small gasps and tail flicks and impressive range of facial expressions are really, really cute.

Objectively cute, obviously. Although, Lance supposes that’s irrelevant, considering that he’s long since admitted to himself that he’s definitely developed a crush on a half-human half-fish who lives in the ocean. 

Because of course that would happen to Lance. Not that he’s all that surprised, just that it’d be nice to have feelings for someone he might actually have a chance with, for once. As if a real merperson would fall in love with a real human. 

So he tries to ignore the way those feelings only seem to grow each time he sees Keith, and keeps telling himself that they’ll pass, after a while, because they couldn’t possibly last forever, right?

That doesn’t make it any less adorable (or any easier to handle) when Keith becomes very clearly emotionally invested in Ariel’s character hardly ten minutes into the movie, despite already voicing multiple complaints about how fish don’t actually talk, and lobsters’ eyes aren’t that big, and wait, evil eels? 

(Keith finds that laughable, for whatever reason. Lance doesn’t really understand why, but it’s super endearing, nonetheless.)

Also, evidently sharks don’t try to eat mermaids.

“I knew sharks aren’t actually that mean,” Lance mutters to himself, and rolls his eyes when Keith shushes him even though that’s the only thing he’s said so far, and Keith himself goes on to ask questions throughout the majority of the movie. 

(“Do all dogs look like that? 

Would Ariel like Animal Crackers?

Are you a prince, too?”)

But what’s even more adorable, is Keith’s reaction to Ariel getting her legs for the first time, for reasons which Lance doesn’t quite understand until after the movie is over. 

“So,” Lance hums when the credits start rolling, propping himself up on one elbow and resting his chin on his hand. “As an actual, real life merman, what’d you think? Do you guys actually have, like, merkingdoms? And do your rulers have fancy tridents—” 

“Do you think I could sell my voice to a sea witch, too?” Keith interrupts, eyes still fixed intently on the screen.

Lance blinks at him, confused, and then huffs a small laugh. “I mean, I don’t think sea witches actually exist, buddy.” He pauses, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. “Although, I guess I wouldn’t really know, considering the fact that I didn’t think merpeople existed until I met you—”

“But Lance,” Keith starts, effectively cutting Lance off yet again, and then freezing him in place when he turns his eyes on him; brow furrowed, gaze set, looking unbelievably more sincere than Lance has ever seen him. “I need to have legs so I can dance with you.”

Lance’s brain pretty much blanks.

Only it simultaneously seems to be perfectly aware of what Keith just said, because Lance can feel his cheeks growing hot even before he can properly process anything. And of course, because apparently his natural instinct when he’s around Keith is to ramble, he does exactly that.

“Oh!” is what he manages to squeak out, eyes snapping away as he lets out a tiny laugh that sounds more like a wheeze. “Yeah, that’s cu—I mean. Ha. What?” 

Keith is frowning when Lance chances a look at him and he sputters a bit, fighting down the sudden panic rising in his chest. He clears his throat awkwardly, still not quite meeting Keith’s eyes. 

“Anyway, that’s—even if that were possible, which I’m, like, eighty-five percent positive it’s not, I’m sure we could figure something out that doesn’t involve witches?” He laughs again, proud of the way that it only wavers once. “Did you miss the part where the sea witch is evil?”

Keith’s shoulders slump. They actually, visibly slump, and it makes something weirdly hopeful flutter in the pit of his stomach but he doesn’t even know what for, and it doesn’t even seem fair because Keith seems genuinely upset about it all. He turns back to the screen, which has long since turned black now that the credits have finished rolling. 

“I was just asking,” he mumbles, eyes falling to the sand. 

Lance might have believed him, if he didn’t already know that Keith never “just” asks for anything. He feels his heart sink as Keith ducks his head, tracing a finger idly through the sand as they fall into a thick, heavy silence. 

It’s always been implied since the first time they met three summers ago, that the things they could show each other and do together were limited by Keith’s inability to walk on land and Lance’s inability to breathe underwater. But that’s never stopped them from being curious, or from doing their best to share whatever they can with each other. 

So why stop now? he thinks, chewing on his lip as Keith curls his tail toward himself, frowning at the ground. Lance takes a deep breath to finally steady himself.

“We could try dancing in the water.”

Keith’s head snaps up so quickly, Lance has no idea how he doesn’t get whiplash. 

“In the water?” he repeats cautiously, brow furrowed slightly, like he doesn’t want to get his hopes up again too quickly.

“Uh, yeah.” Lance rubs the back of his neck, eyes still lowered to the ground. “I mean, I’m a good swimmer, and so are you, for—obvious reasons. We don’t have to go all the way in, just far enough that my head is still above the water and you have room to move your tail, so…” 

He trails off when he finally brings himself to look up and meet Keith’s gaze, only to find that Keith is already watching him intently, expression smoothed out into something thoughtful. Lance’s heart does approximately three somersaults in his chest before he remembers what he was saying.

“Anyway, so.” He tries for a nonchalant shrug, picking at a some sand stuck to his arm. “It can’t hurt to try, right? Assuming… you still want to?” 

“I do,” Keith blurts, flicking his tail and accidentally sending a small pile of leftover snacks scattering across the towel. “I want to try.” 

Lance smiles, biting his lip in an attempt to hide how hopelessly endeared he is by Keith’s earnestness. “Last one into the water is a rotten oyster?”

“Looks like you’re a rotten oyster then,” Keith teases, already moving back into the water and pointedly ignoring Lance’s noise of protest. 

“I didn’t even say go!” Lance calls after him, before Keith easily slips away and disappears underneath the oncoming waves. “I still have a shirt on, I’m at a disadvantage!” He rolls his eyes when Keith resurfaces a small distance away and turns to make a face at him.

“Dork,” he grumbles as he pushes himself to his feet, even though he still hasn’t stopped smiling. 

Keith swims a bit further out as Lance kicks his sandals aside and pulls his shirt over his head, bunching it up and tossing it onto the towel before stepping out into the water. He’s waded out far enough that it reaches his knees when he looks up to find that Keith has surfaced again, only to dive back underneath when Lance catches him looking.

He continues to move deeper while he waits for Keith to come back up, pausing every few steps to get used to the chill of the water. 

The sun is high enough now that it’s shining directly on the waves through the cave opening, scattering light across the water and onto the sand below. Lance watches a small fish skirt around his ankle and glide away, tiny body glinting every time they catch a hint of sunlight.

It’s not hard to catch sight of Keith moving through the water toward Lance, the bright red scales of his tail glittering nonstop as if they’re encrusted with tiny gemstones (which, frankly, would not be all that surprising at this point). Lance smiles as Keith twists around him once before following alongside while Lance keeps wading, until the water finally reaches just below his shoulders, even as the waves float by. 

Keith breaks the surface yet again when Lance stops, wet hair clinging to his forehead and his shoulders and looking over at him expectantly. “Right here?” 

Lance raises an eyebrow, glancing around at the open expanse of water all around them. “As opposed to three steps in literally any direction?” He laughs when Keith scrunches his nose and smacks at Lance’s legs with the end of his tail. “Okay, okay, I’m done. Are you ready?” 

“I guess?” 

“Alright, so—I’ll do most of the dancing, okay? You just have to hold on to me.” 

Keith nods eagerly, voicing zero protest when Lance finds his hands underwater and pulls him closer. He feels strangely calm despite it all, carefully lifting their linked hands and guiding Keith so that his arms are wrapped around his neck before lowering his own, gently settling his hands on Keith’s waist.  

That is, he was calm, until it becomes pretty much impossible to ignore the way Keith is staring, gaze expectant and attentive as ever. It suddenly makes him feel twitchy, and uncertain, and self-conscious about every little thing he can think of. 

He swallows, his heart stuttering in his chest as he takes a first, cautious step into a tentative dance. “Why are you always looking at me like that?”

Keith tilts his head to the side. “Like what?”

“I don’t know.” Lance huffs a small, nervous laugh, fixing his eyes on a wave that’s breaking further out at sea. “Like I’m important, or something.” 

Keith seems to still, then, one arm slipping away from around Lance’s neck so his hand can rest on his shoulder. “You don’t think you are?” 

Lance chuckles, but it’s a bit too flat to be convincing. “Well,” he starts, forcing himself to look back at Keith. “I’m no prince, that’s for sure.” 

Keith meets his gaze for a moment longer, eyes searching as he chews at his lip. Then they fall, and he turns his head away slightly, dark hair hiding his face. 

“You are to me,” he says quietly.

Lance somehow manages to trip on water.

Keith immediately steadies them with a flick of his tail, looking back up with a slight frown as Lance tries to find his footing again, digging his toes into the sand. “I don’t think you’re dancing right.” 

“Sorry,” Lance chuckles breathlessly, hoping his face isn’t as red as it feels. “You just—took me by surprise.” 

Keith’s frown deepens. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No!” Lance shakes his head quickly. “No, not at all, you—” He cuts himself off to take a breath, because from the look on Keith’s face, he clearly doesn’t sound very reassuring. “Sorry,” he says again. “I just get nervous.” 

“Why?” 

Because I think I’m in love with you and I don’t know what to do about it, Lance thinks. “I guess… because you’re my best friend and I don’t wanna do anything to mess that up.” Not quite the truth, but honest all the same.

Keith has gone oddly quiet, eyes still fixed on Lance as he looks down at his feet through the water and takes another careful step, watching the disturbed sand swirl around his ankles and Keith’s shimmering tail. His heartbeat seems too loud in his chest as the silence stretches out for a moment, only interrupted by the sound of the wind and waves around them.

Lance stiffens slightly when Keith finally moves again, slipping his other arm back around his neck and lowering his head onto his shoulder. 

“I don’t wanna mess it up either,” he says softly.

A small, relieved smile tugs at Lance’s mouth as he breathes out, hands tightening unconsciously around Keith’s waist, the pads of his fingers smoothing over the scales there that gradually turn into skin. For a while they continue to sway in the water as Lance steps in a small, lazy circle, until they fall into rhythm with the tide of the ocean surrounding them.

It’s not exactly a real dance, but it’s still the best that Lance has ever had. 

His gaze has drifted further out to sea once more when Keith mumbles something into his shoulder. Lance turns his head to look down at him. “Hm?” 

Keith’s hair tickles Lance’s neck as he shifts, pressing his face against Lance’s collarbone. “Can we… try the other thing?”

Lance lifts an eyebrow, continuing to sway. “What other thing?” 

“The thing.” Keith’s arms tighten a bit around Lance’s neck. “When they—at the end.”

He’s still mumbling, and Lance has to strain to hear him over the noise of the ocean. “What do you mean?” 

“The kissing thing,” Keith blurts. 

Lance comes to an abrupt stop and Keith practically flinches, burying his face further against Lance’s chest. 

If Lance weren’t already sure that Keith could hear how loudly his heart is beating, he definitely is now. 

“Oh,” he breathes, suddenly very painfully aware of their closeness. Keith’s shoulders are hiked up to his ears, face completely hidden. Lance fumbles for something to say. “I—Keith, I don’t think—” 

“Never mind.” Keith’s arms slip from Lance’s neck and he pushes away from Lance’s chest, pointedly looking anywhere but at Lance. “It’s dumb.” 

“No!” Lance quickly brings his hands up to grip Keith’s arms, keeping him from moving away any further. “No, it’s just—” He swallows, almost grateful that Keith won’t make eye contact with him. 

“Kissing is… that’s something you—humans think of kissing as something you do when you really care about someone.” He clears his throat, eyes darting to the side. “Romantically.” 

“I know that,” Keith mutters.

Lance blinks. It takes a moment, for the meaning of Keith’s words to register. But the second that they do something warm, and overwhelmingly hopeful flutters in the pit of his stomach just like it did before. Because unless Lance is completely misinterpreting things, then that means that Keith… likes him back. After all this time, Keith actually likes him back. 

Keith still won’t look at him, hands curled into fists on Lance’s chest. Lance tries not to stare for too long, because that would be weird, and a little creepy, but—

“Do you trust me?” Lance hears himself say.

Keith finally does look up at that, dark hair a mess across his forehead and cheeks flushed pink. He nods immediately, gaze locked with Lance’s. 

“Okay.” Another wave ripples slowly past them, the water rising up to their shoulders before lowering again. “Okay, just—close your eyes.”

Keith closes his eyes. Lance tries not to think too much about it and brings a hand up to settle against his cheek; Keith’s lashes flutter at the contact, but his eyes remain closed.

Lance doesn’t let himself stare for any longer, because if he did then he doesn’t think he’d be able to stop. So he takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and leans forward.

The kiss is short and sweet, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Nothing much more than a brush of their lips that lingers long enough for Keith’s hands to come back up to Lance’s shoulders, and for Lance to feel like he could slip under the waves with him and be perfectly content despite being unable to breathe. Keith’s eyes are still closed when Lance pulls away, breath feeling stuck in his throat. 

“How was that?” 

Keith’s eyes flutter open and Lance would be lying if he said he didn’t panic a little when his brow creases. “My stomach feels weird.” 

Lance can’t help but laugh, half out of relief and half out of amusement. “You have butterflies.”

Keith’s face goes pale, one hand slipping into the water to splay across his stomach. “Is that bad?” 

“No,” Lance shakes his head reassuringly, smile growing as Keith lets out a small breath of relief. “That’s a good thing.” 

He still can’t stop smiling when he feels Keith’s tail curl loosely around his legs, and his arms slide back around his neck. Keith bites his lip, leaning into Lance’s hand still resting on his cheek. “Can we try it again?” He giggles as Lance gently pulls him that little bit closer, until hardly any water can pass through the space between them.

“As many times as you want,” Lance says. 

And this time, Keith is the one to close the distance.