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BREAKING: SKY-HIGH SHOW-DOWN: VIGILANTE KNOWN AS 'THE TAILOR' BATTLES AT SKYSCRAPER-HEIGHT ABOVE THE STREETS HE FIGHTS TO PROTECT.

        By Takashi S.

 

 

  

“Lance?”

Lance freezes in the doorway.

Keith sits up, thick blanket pouring into his lap in a heap.

Don’t turn on the light don’t turn on the light don’t turn on the

Keith tugs the metal cord of the bedside lamp. His eyes narrow against the light; he blinks at Lance. “You okay, man?”

Lance is distinctly aware of the blood tickling a line down his right temple. His left palm has a slice in it, and the wrist is feeling nice and strained. His jeans have a hole in the knee that he hopes doesn’t reveal the bright blue of his hero suit underneath.

“Yeah, dude.” He waves a dismissive hand. His right hand. Better keep that left one tucked in the pocket of his hoodie until he’s out of Keith’s sight.

Keith frowns. “You sure? You look—”

“Yep!” Lance dumps his backpack on the bedroom floor and hightails it for the bathroom.

With the bathroom door locked behind him, he performs a practiced but always-painful routine. He washes his scrapes with water, then rubbing alcohol. The cut on his palm is deep and stinging. The alcohol makes him clench his jaw against a groan.

He wraps his hand, washes the blood from his cheek, and brushes his hair carefully over the scrape on his temple. He swaps his clothes and suit for a soft blue robe and wads up the shiny blue suit into a ball. He wraps it in the rest of his clothes, cautious that no bright blue peeks through.

“Where’ve you been?” Keith sounds concerned rather than accusatory, leaning back on his elbows in bed when Lance comes back in. The yellowy lamplight leaves the room half-dim, quiet and still with the late hour. “Everything okay?”

Lance dumps his clothes on the floor at the foot of his own bed, kicking the pile underneath the bed frame. He’ll put the suit away tomorrow.

“Yeah,” Lance says easily. He puts on a clean pair of boxers and slides under his blankets. The mattress is deliciously soft under his tired, aching body. “I was at Hunk’s.”

“What happened to your hand?”

Lance closes his eyes. If he wasn’t stupidly in love with everything about Keith, he’d be more annoyed at how damn observant he is.

“I, uh. Cooking. Me and Hunk were cooking. Knife slipped.”

“Ouch. Light?”

“Yeah.”

Keith leans up on one elbow to tug the lamp cord, the yellow glow flicks to blackness before Lance’s eyes begin to adjust. In the gloom, he can make out Keith lying on his side. Keith tugs the blankets up to his chin.

“Your hand—You need any help cleaning it? I know…My brother taught me a few things about first aid.”

Lance raises an eyebrow, trying to make out Keith’s expression in the dark. “Your brother the reporter?”

“Uh. Yeah, he…Yep.”

Lance makes an expression that’s the face version of a shrug and wiggles deeper under his thick comforter. “That’s okay. I figured it out, I think. Thanks anyway, man.”

Keith is quiet.

Lance bites his lip, twisting onto his back and staring up at the dark ceiling. Don’t say it.

“Maybe you could, uh. Help me wrap it tomorrow, though. If you, you know. Have a sec.”

Welp. It’s out there now.

“Sure,” says Keith’s sleepy voice. “’Course.”

Exhilaration tingles through Lance’s nerves.

This will be—fine. Keith’s going to gently bandage up Lance’s hand, which means sitting right up next to Keith, and a lot of soft, careful hand-holding, and Keith’s focused frown trained on Lance…

It’s going to be fine.

Lance resettles himself in bed, wriggling around and slamming his head back against the pillow.

Keith’s voice comes, half asleep. “You good?”

Lance shoots him a finger gun he’s sure Keith doesn’t see. “Awesome. Night, man.”

It’s going to be fine. Totally, completely fine. 

 

 

 

Lance flops backward onto the floor, letting his pencil roll out of his hand. “I’m never gonna get these force problems,” he tells the ceiling.

He feels his textbook leave his crossed legs, lifted away by a kind, kind angel. “That’s it. Take the physics away. Don’t let them touch me.”

“Acceleration is zero,” says Keith’s voice, dry, and the book is dropped in Lance’s lap from a few inches high.

“Ow!” says Lance. “That was like—a lot of force, if you do mass times gravity, dude!”

“For someone who manages to trip down the stairs five times a week, you sure have a low pain tolerance.”

Lance raises an eyebrow. “Is that how you get so bruised up all the time? Do you just, like, sit there and poke yourself until it hurts to prove how tough you are?”

Lance has been sharing a room with Keith for long enough to hear the scowl in Keith’s voice, even though Lance is still staring up at the tea-colored water stain in the middle of the ceiling.

“I told you. I do kickboxing with my brother.”

“Mm-hm. Whatever you say, tough guy.”

He hears shifting from Keith’s direction, and then his own pencil hits him in the cheek.

He sits straight up. “Hey!”

The edges of Keith’s mouth are just barely tilted upward, the hint of a smirk.

Lance flings the pencil at Keith’s face. The smirk breaks. Keith’s eyes widen. The pencil bounces off his chin.

A grin stretches Keith's mouth, and his eyes crinkle with it as he laughs.

That smile—it knocks the air from Lance like a punch to the solar plexus. Lance can say that with authority, okay? You get familiar with being punched when you’re a superhero.

Keith’s eyes glitter when he laughs and his grin is toothy and uninhibited and Lance is…Lance is…thunderstruck.

Lance is staring, also.

“What?” says Keith, amusement half-faded but still pulling the corners of his mouth.

Lance gives a dramatic sigh. I’m freakin’ in love with you, that’s what, he doesn’t say.

“I hate physics,” he does say. “I bet she’s good at physics.” He doesn’t have to point to the superhero poster above his bed with more than his eyes for Keith to know who he’s talking about.

Keith’s eyes roll. “Right.”

“I bet she is.” Lance nods, more and more sure of it. “She’s good at everything. Did you see the news last week? She used a frickin’ bow and arrow, man! Like it’s not enough to have a sick costume and a dope whip and crazy magic powers.”

“Yes,” Keith says, voice thin and smile gone. “You love her. We know, Lance.”

Lance swallows a burn of disappointment as Keith looks back to his textbook, bored by Lance’s lovesickness. That’s fine. It’s not like Lance was hoping he’d lunge forward and grip Lance by the chin and say ‘I like you, Lance. I’m right here. Let me win your love from her.’

Keith scribbles something in his notebook, shoulders hunched and bangs hiding his face.

Nah. Lance wasn’t hoping for that at all.

Lance looks down at his paper, squinting through a dark eraser smear. “I just don’t get—”

“Did you set the acceleration to zero?”

“Oh.” Lance licks his lips. “Nope. Thanks, dude.”

“Sure,” says Keith, and Lance finishes the problem, and he grabs an extra bag of Cheetos for Keith when he hits the kitchen later as thank-you, and it’s not a bad afternoon, all in all.

 

 

 

Hey! Lance’s brain yells. Hey, you! This was a mistake! Real bad job there, buddy!

Lance closes his eyes and raises his eyebrows and taps out a song with his feet.

“Quit moving.” Keith’s voice is flat, annoyed.

Lance quits moving.

Sure, Lance typically avoids getting so up close and personal with Keith unless he’s joking around. Sure, Lance ignores his feelings for Keith because it’s dangerous for anyone to get close to a superhero, and he doesn’t want Keith to get hurt. Sure, Keith tenderly binding his wounds kinda makes it extra hard for Lance to keep his feelings in check.

They’re sitting in kitchen chairs pulled out to face each other, both knees touching. Lance leans his left elbow on his thigh, hand extended for Keith’s ministrations.

“You almost done?” he asks, cracking one eye open.

Keith’s tongue is poked out the side of his mouth, his brows drawn tight in concentration. That look—focused on Lance—sends something shivering through Lance’s bones, electric. He wiggles the fingers of his free hand, jittery with the soft-warm press of Keith’s palm cradling Lance’s own left hand.

“You did this with a kitchen knife?” Keith says, instead of giving Lance an ETA for when Lance can leave this living hell.

Lance swallows. Keith dabs gently at the cut with an alcohol-dipped tissue, and Lance hisses through his teeth. Keith frowns down harder at Lance’s palm, rubbing a thumb soothingly against the side of Lance’s hand. I love you, Lance thinks, feeling the touch burn through him. He looks up at the ceiling.

“Yep,” he says. “With a kitchen knife. For sure.” Definitely not with a piece of broken glass I used as a weapon against a super-villain, haha! That’d be wack, right?

“I think you should avoid handling knives from here on out.” Keith’s warm hand leaves Lance’s; he snips a length of tan, self-adhesive stretch tape with a pair of half-size scissors from when Lance was in elementary school that now live in a mug on their kitchen counter. The blue handle says “Lance” on it in wobbly Sharpie letters.

“Well.” Lance licks his lips. “Maybe I like having my cute roommate nurse me back to health. Ever think of that?”

Keith snorts, the corners of his mouth lifting.

Lance sighs and returns his gaze to the ceiling.

Yeah. It’s probably better like this, anyway. Keith doesn’t take Lance’s flirting seriously, and Lance never has to awkwardly turn him down because of the superhero thing even though he’s like, totally head over heels for the guy. It’s better for their friendship this way. And, like, for Lance’s emotional wellbeing, probably.

“I’ll get out the scrubs next time,” Keith says, dry, and presses a folded rectangle of gauze to the cut. He’s gentle, but it still makes Lance scrunch his nose.

“Hot,” Lance says.

Keith winds the bandage around and around, guiding Lance’s hand where he wants it with a careful, shifting grip.

“Seriously,” Keith says. He tucks the end of the bandage under the last wrap, securing it snugly but not too tight. “Stay away from knives.”

“Mm. I make no promises.” He grins. “Your bedside manner’s just so great, man.”

“I’m holding your wounded hand right now. You’re pretty vulnerable here, Lance. Don’t be a dick.”

Lance sighs. “The lengths a guy’s gotta go to to get you to hold his hand!”

Keith flicks him in the ear and stands up. “Stop teasing me.”

Lance tells himself the chilly feeling sinking in his chest is relief, not disappointment. “Right,” he mumbles. “Just teasing.”

 

  

 

Lance zips between buildings fifteen feet above the ground, cool night air sluicing by, the city painted in alternating yellow lamplight and gloomy shadow.

Below Lance a sprinting, gray-suited figure covers distance with supernatural speed. Then the figure eats sidewalk.

Lance hoots out a laugh. “Sharp work, Samurai!”

He leans forward into a dive and sticks out an arm. “Freeze!” he shouts. The ice blast catches the escaping villain, encasing him.

Grinning, Lance floats downward. His toes brush the sidewalk in front of the prone, groaning figure on the ground. “Doin’ okay, bud? Looks like you had a little trouble with your feet, there.” Lance bobs up and down in front of the guy, enjoying his own weightlessness.

“I’m fine,” the guy snaps. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it, Red.”

The guy gets up, brushing pale dirt from the dark gray of his body suit. His mask—dark gray, with a simple pattern of glowing red lines—hides what sounds like a definite scowl. “Don’t say my name like that.”

Lance waggles his eyebrows. The guy can’t see him through the blue fabric of his own mask, but still. “How do you want me to say it, hot stuff?”

“Red is a perfectly good name,” says Red, indignant. “Better than ‘The Tailor.’”

“Come on, man! You know it’s ‘cause of how I thread the needle!” Lance floats higher, curling through a lazy loop-the-loop.

“Funny. I thought it was because you leave every fight needing stitches.”

Lance scowls. “You’ll need stitches if you keep talking like that, tough guy!” He points down at the guy from his position of superiority.

Red flicks a hand—a dazzle of red-orange blazes through the air.

The villain’s hand, poking free of the ice casing, flexes and drops the pistol as flame licks his fingers, going out a second later when it doesn’t find easy kindling.

Lance blinks.

“‘Red,’” says Red. “I think it works.”

Lance makes a face behind his mask. “Shows how stupid you are.”

Red makes a throaty noise of frustration. “I’ll show you stupid.”

“Yeah? Gonna take your mask off?”

The tensing of Red’s shoulders is blatant through his tight bodysuit.

“Hello there, boys!” comes a low, jovial voice.

Lance whirls in midair. Red grips the sword at his belt.

Lance sets his jaw. “Fentress.”

Her half-mask and her armored suit are maroon, her torso crisscrossed with gray weapon straps. A hood rimmed with white fur rests around her shoulders.

Ice bursts from Lance’s fingers.

Fentress blocks it with the flat of a huge sword drawn from the sheath on her back. She likewise catches a crackling ball of fire from Red.

“That’s it?” she says. Her mouth is hidden by the half-mask, but Lance imagines she’s smiling.

He shoots ice from his fingers. He shoots himself upward while she deflects the ice. Then he dives back down.

She’s too fast. He misses her.

Pavement rushes to greet his nose—he stops, parallel, just before he hits the asphalt.

He rights himself and speeds after her. She’s advancing on Red, now. He’s faster—stupidly fast; no one’s fast like Red—but she’s strong and aggressive and pretty quick, herself, and—

“Red, watch out!” Lance shouts.

Fentress swings her sword up at Red’s left side. He blocks it. When he does, she decks him square in the gray-masked face.

“Hey!” Lance shouts. He zaps out a few beams of ice even as he watches Red crumple. “Cool it!”

Fentress turns to face him.

And then she’s flung into the side of the nearest office building by a blazing, humming burst of neon pink energy.

Lance’s eyes go wide. “Oriande,” he breathes, watching a nimble pink figure parkour delicately down from a low roof nearby, a still-glowing palm outstretched.

“I’ve got this from here,” she says, crisp and British-accented. “Red, Tailor. Always a pleasure.”

Fentress struggles to her feet, and Oriande pummels her backwards with another burst of pink energy.

“Wow,” says Lance, bug-eyed.

Oriande ties Fentress up with bright pink climbing rope and leaves her on the sidewalk.

“Can I get an autograph?” Lance asks in a strangled, squeaky voice.

He hears Red snort. He flips him off.

“Perhaps next time,” says Oriande, and sprints away down the street.

Lance watches her go, slack-jawed.

Red is gone too, by the time he thinks to pay attention.

He waits by himself for the other super-villain to thaw in order to be properly bound, grumbling about manners the whole time he ties the guy up.

 

 

 

 

“Shiro!”

The front door hits the wall with a bang, which Keith knows Adam hates, but Keith has way bigger problems right now.

Shiro slogs into the front hall in black pajamas and fuzzy purple socks, rubbing at his eyes with his single hand. Guilt slicks Keith’s insides. Shiro has to get to work by six, and he’s already taken a beating of his own this week, out defending the city streets from villains.

“What’s going on, Keith?” Shiro asks, tired but still concerned.

Keith clicks a button on his mask, and the whole thing retracts into his hood with a faint hiss.

“Oh,” says Shiro. “Yeah. That doesn’t look good.”

Keith makes a frustrated sound in the back of his throat. “Yeah, I know.”

“Got hit in the face?” Shiro flicks on the hall light, raising his eyebrows with a mixture of sympathy and exasperation.

Keith doesn’t say anything. The black eye and purpling nose speak for themselves.

“Let’s get some ice on it.” Shiro heads for the kitchen, socked feet hitting the carpet with gentle thumps. “You’ll want to down a lot of ibuprofen for that one. I’ll get the Arnica, too.”

“Isn’t there something—else?” Keith follows close on Shiro’s heels, his stomach churning. He’s been beaten up before, sure, but his face has never been this messed up. He has to go home. He has classes tomorrow. He has physics, with Lance!

Shiro shrugs, grabbing the ibuprofen from the cabinet and reaching for a water glass. “’Fraid not, buddy.”

“Crap.” Keith digs his knuckles into his eyes—then hisses, wincing, at the sharp burn of pain through the bridge of his nose. It’s not broken, but it hurts like all hell.

“What do I do? I can’t cover this up with some makeup.” He prods gingerly at the swollen skin around his eye.

“I don’t know what to tell you.” Shiro pushes a glass of water at Keith and pulls out a chair at the kitchen table. “You’ll have to make something up.”

“What did you tell Adam, before he knew?”

Shiro raises an eyebrow. He doesn’t speak until Keith sits down and swallows the ibuprofen.

“Honestly? I don’t remember. I’m always pretty careful, you know. I usually keep my face protected.”

“Yeah, but when you didn’t.”

Shiro’s eyes skate sideways away from Keith. “I’m gonna see if the Arnica’s in the bathroom cabinet.”

Keith gets up and follows him. “Shiro!”

Shiro walks faster.

Shiro should know better than to try to run from Keith. Speed is literally one of Keith’s superpowers. “Shiro. What did you tell him?”

Shiro spins on his heel outside his and Adam’s closed bedroom door to give Keith a warning look. “Don’t wake Adam.”

Keith rolls his eyes. In a whisper, he asks, “What did you used to tell him?”

Shiro’s mouth pinches into a small frown. “He may have been under the impression I had a particularly aggressive cat.”

Keith’s eyebrows climb. “Oh my god.”

“Shut up,” Shiro says, and slips into his room before Keith can tease him more.

 

 

Lance is freshly showered and sporting wet hair, pajamas, and a face mask by the time Keith cracks their bedroom door.

“Hey, man,” Lance says, not looking up yet. He has a headphone in one ear and a novel open in his lap.

Keith stills in the doorway. Is it too late to dip out and head back to Shiro’s? Should he—cover his face with his hands, or something?

Lance tugs out the earbud, glancing up. His eyes widen. “Whoa, Keith!” He unfolds himself from bed, a tangle of hurried long limbs. “Are you okay, dude? What happened to your face?”

He crosses the tiny room in a few strides, his hands rising like he’s going to touch Keith’s jaw. He stops, hands hovering in midair. He lowers them slowly.

Keith swallows. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

Lance takes a step back to let Keith into the room, and Keith dumps his duffel bag at the end of his own bed and plops down onto the red blankets. He aches faintly all over. He can feel his pulse thump in his swollen cheek.

“What happened?” Lance sits on Keith’s bed next to him, hand going to the small of Keith’s back.

Keith makes himself not shiver. He wants to turn and lean into Lance, hide his aching face in the crook of Lance’s neck and tell him about what happened while Lance rubs slow, soothing circles on his back.

It doesn’t matter how much Keith wants it. He won’t put Lance in danger like that.

Keith rests his hands on his knees and flexes his fingers, staring down at his bruised knuckles. He can pass off most of his bruises as kickboxing-related, but he’s not sure Lance would be chill about Keith saying his brother accidentally kicked him in the face.

“I, uh. Fell into my brother’s coffee table,” Keith says, rubbing his hands slowly up and down his legs. His thigh muscles sting with exhaustion. Super speed has its drawbacks. “Tripped on his cat.”

Lance makes a strange noise in his throat, and Keith glances up at him. Lance’s lips are pressed together in a tight, twitching line. His eyes are wide, sparkling with amusement.

Keith shoves him over onto the mattress. “Are you laughing at me?”

“Sorry, sorry!” Lance embraces his new position, sprawling out on his back and pillowing his hands behind his head. “It’s just…You tripped on your brother’s cat! And you make fun of me for being clumsy!”

Keith rolls his eyes. “Don’t get face mask on my blankets.”

Lance flaps a hand dismissively, closing his eyes.

“Aren’t you the one who mistook your hand for a cutting board?”

Lance’s mouth twists in a scowl.

“Careful,” Keith tells him. “You’ll mess up your mask.”

Lance kicks lazily in Keith’s general direction without opening his eyes. Keith smiles, small and fond.

“Wake me when my timer goes off, ’kay? We can hit the rest of those physics problems after I wash this mask off.”

“Sure.” Keith gets up, tugging down the zipper of his hoodie and looking around for his pajamas.

“Hell yeah,” Lance says, tiredly. “We make a pretty good team, huh?”

Keith smiles even though he tries not to, and it tugs sharply at the pain in his cheek. “Whatever, beauty queen.”

“Mm. Good superhero name,” says Lance.

Keith snorts, ignoring the short burst of panic in his chest.

 

 

TRENDING NOW: FENTRESS, OTHER SUPER-VILLAINS OVERPOWERED BY UNEXPECTED SUPERHERO TEAM-UP. CLICK TO READ MORE.

        from Adam W.

 

 

Keith ignores the link to Adam's twitter Adam texts him the next morning. He doesn't need to skim Adam's article to check for incriminating details—he knows Adam would never give away his identity—and he's not thrilled about the idea of reading a sensationalized version of his own recent fight.

“Heroes were out last night,” Lance says through a mouthful of Cheerios. “You see the news?”

Keith says, “Yeah,” and that’s it.

Lance always wants to talk about superheroes. Keith’s stress level really doesn’t appreciate it.

Keith had skimmed news from eight different sources this morning to get a sense of how bad it was. His mask hadn’t slipped; there weren’t speculative stories circulating about Red’s identity. He hasn’t seen any shots of himself getting punched in the nose, either, which is a stroke of good luck.

“You finish your lab report?” Keith pokes the coffee machine button until it finally splutters to life, then grabs a piece of bread and bites into it.

Lance’s eyes narrow in disapproval, but he doesn’t restart the old argument. “Nope.” He gulps his orange juice. “The Tailor caught some bad guys last night. You taken a good look at that guy lately?” He points at Keith across the kitchen island. “Hot.”

Keith rolls his eyes. “The spandex isn’t an excuse for you to check him out.”

He feels simultaneously relieved and disappointed that Red's not the one Lance has been checking out. It’s better for Keith's secret identity, obviously. It’s a disappointment to the part of Keith that doesn't care about the risk, too caught up wanting Lance to think he's hot.

Lance gestures with his spoon. “I heard all the other heroes left early, and The Tailor had to wait around to tie up the last guy all by himself!”

Keith raises an eyebrow, leaning on the counter. His coffee starts pouring into his to-go mug with a stuttering gurgle. “Isn’t he the one who froze the guy in the first place?”

Lance rolls his eyes. “It just seems rude, is all I’m saying!” He takes another bite. Brandishing his spoon wildly and talking with his mouth full, he says, “Like, it would’ve been better manners for everyone else to stay and hang out, you know?”

Keith screws the lid on his mug and chews a bite of cold bread. “You’d prefer they all risked their identities?”

Lance pushes up from the counter, frowning at Keith. He sets his dishes in the sink and grabs for his jacket and bag, following Keith to the door. “I don’t know! It just seems rude, that’s all I’m saying!”

“All I’m saying is you shouldn’t be checking out random superheroes.”

Ones that aren’t me, at least.

“It’s creepy, Lance.”

“You’re creepy.” Lance lets the door bang behind them.

“Okay,” says Keith, just barely smiling. “I’m driving.”

Lance waves a hand. “Whatever, man!”

Lance turns the radio up obnoxiously loud, and Keith—loves him.

Keith rolls his eyes and drives only a little over the speed limit, and he and Lance play tic-tac-toe all through their physics lecture.

 

 

 

“You’d better not fall,” says The Tailor, swinging his feet over the city unfolded below. “I’m good, but I don’t know if I could catch you.”

The building they’re sitting on has eight stories. Keith knows, because he ran, super-fast, up each flight of stairs to get here. The Tailor just flew. Show off.

Behind his mask, Keith rolls his eyes.

“You wouldn’t wanna hit from up here.” The Tailor is still talking. He doesn’t ever stop, apparently. “Dude. Mass times acceleration from up this high? Physics would kick your ass harder than Fentress did last week.”

Keith snorts despite himself, though more at his own thoughts than at The Tailor. God, he hears mass times acceleration and his brain goes: Lance. Studying with Lance. Lance all stretched out on the floor of the bedroom you share, all long limbs and sweatpants and soft, sleep-messy hair. 

Keith needs to get a goddamn grip.

“There’s this reporter guy,” says The Tailor, swinging his feet over the city unfolded below. “Adam something. You’ll never believe what he said.”

Behind his mask, Keith raises his eyebrows. “Yeah?” He doesn’t always read Adam’s column, so his curiosity isn’t feigned.

The Tailor throws his hands in the air. His motions are all like this even outside of battle, it seems. Excessively dramatic.

“He said we should team up!” He gestures vigorously between himself and Keith. “Like, you and me.

Keith blinks. “He said what?”

Adam said what? He’s going to have to talk to Adam. Just because Keith doesn’t always read the column, did he seriously think Keith wouldn’t hear about this?

“I know!” The Tailor gestures wildly. “Like, come on, man! We couldn’t be a team. We’re classic rivals! Fire and ice! Two opposing forces of nature.”

Keith frowns. He says, “Wait. Is that what this whole rivalry thing is about?”

The Tailor’s hands, ever-moving, go still in the air. His blue-masked face turns toward Keith. “I mean,” he says haltingly. “I guess? It doesn’t help that you’re like the Black Paladin’s frickin’.” A single jerk of one hand, a sharp, uncertain gesture. “Protege.” His hands fall to his lap. “Stings ju-ust a little, you know?”

Keith raises an eyebrow. “You’re a Black Paladin fan?” He keeps the smile off his mouth and out of his voice, but man, this is always fun. Shiro’s cheeks go so bright when he hears about his fans. He goes all quiet, too, and starts speaking exclusively in solemn, clipped sentences.

“I mean, duh!” The Tailor’s hands take to the air again. “Are you kidding me? He’s so cool! I heard does like, kickboxing in his spare time, that’s why he’s so built. And like, his hand? Dude!” The Tailor’s hands are flying around again, aimless but excited. “Man. When he just, like.” He makes a weird whooshing noise through his teeth, so it comes out more ‘zhwoosh,’ and slices a flat hand slowly through the air. “So cool!”

Keith grins behind his mask. Shiro’s powers are concentrated mostly in his single hand, which can blaze with purple energy at Shiro’s discretion.

“You sound a lot like one of my good friends,” Keith says around a huge smile. His eyes are full of Lance, on his back in bed, flailing his arms around and making dumb sound effects as he imitates his favorite heroes.

“Yeah?” says The Tailor. His hands pause again. He looks—different, when he’s not made up completely of movement. A little closer; a little more like a person.

“Well.” The Tailor swings his legs. “I bet your friend does the noises wrong.”

Keith snorts. “Yeah? You spend a lot of time practicing that?”

“Oh, you know it!” The Tailor says, aggressive like it’s something to be proud of. “Dude, my roommate’s always on me to quit—”

“Heads up,” says Keith, pointing. He took Lance’s advice on ‘manners’ or whatever. The Tailor froze a super villain solid, because that seems to be the main move in his arsenal, and someone’s gotta stick around to tie the guy up once he thaws. Keith didn’t have anywhere to be. Lance said it was like, rude that he left last time instead of hanging out, so. Here he is, waiting on a rooftop with The Tailor.

And now the wait is over.

“Nice!” says The Tailor, immediately shoving himself forward off the edge of the roof. He floats there long enough to give Keith a jaunty salute, and then dives, nose-first, for the ground.

Rolling his eyes, Keith heads for the stairs.

They won’t take him long, at least. Perks of super speed.

 

 

 

He’s gonna recognize you! He’s gonna recognize you! Keith, man, he’s so going to know

“You know,” says Lance, tapping a finger to his chin, “I usually prefer guys who know how to go slow.” He smirks in a way Keith has seen many times before. “But for you, I think I could make an exception. You’re so hot. Get it? With the whole…” He gestures like tossing a baseball and makes an accompanying sound effect, a little ‘pow.’ “Fire ball thing?”

Keith’s eyebrows rise. “Are you hitting on me?” he asks, grateful his mask distorts his voice. “Right after I saved your life?”

“Well, duh. A cool superhero just saved my life. You think I’m not gonna hit on him?” Lance scoffs. “Plus you’re like, cradling me in your big, strong, superhero arms, dude. And I’m expected to, what. Not hit on you?”

Oh, right. Keith is still, uh. Holding Lance. Bridal style.

Keith tries to set him on his feet in a manner that’s simultaneously gentle but detached. He’s not sure how he does.

Lance grins at him, smug like he can tell just how twisted up Keith’s insides are. “Anyway. Thanks, man. For, you know. Saving my life.”

Keith—shrugs. “Comes with the job description.”

Maybe the flood of fear through Keith’s veins at the sight of a car headed for Lance in the crosswalk goes beyond his duties as a superhero. Maybe he hadn’t even been cognizant of his costume or his powers or his responsibilities. He’d just seen Lance in trouble, and he ran to shove him out of the way. Or, carry him out of the way. Look, he didn’t want to slam Lance into the asphalt and injure him in the process of saving his life, okay? Keith knew he could pick Lance up. Why wouldn’t he have just—

Oh, god. Oh, boy.

He really just charged Lance at super-speed and swooped him up like he was ready to carry Lance over the threshold of their new house, huh?

He really just did that.

“Anyway.” Lance rubs the back of his neck, glancing away. “I should get going. My roommate will kick my ass if I’m late for dinner again.”

Oh, shit. Keith’s gotta get home. He’s supposed to be meeting Lance soon!

“You ever meet a Keith Kogane, don’t tell him I think it’s cute he worries about me if I’m out late, okay?” 

Keith’s heart tries to go super-speed.

Lance grins, waggles his fingers goodbye, and takes off down the sidewalk.

Keith watches him go, his insides fluttering.

Then he sprints. If he beats Lance home, he can shower before dinner and still have time to rag on Lance for being late.

 

 

 

MORE THAN JUST FLASHY: CITY'S "HOTTEST" SUPERHERO SPOTTED SAVING COLLEGE PEDESTRIAN FROM ONCOMING TRAFFIC. HERE'S 10 OTHER MINOR ACTS OF HEROISM YOU DIDN'T NOTICE.

         By Takashi S.

 

 

 

  

Lance lets himself fall out of the air.

Force equals mass times freefall acceleration (9.8 meters per second squared). His feet strike the center of Sendak’s back with enough force to send Sendak to his knees.

Lance pumps a fist. “Boom! Physics!”

“Don’t celebrate until we actually win, please.” Pidge flicks her wrist, and a thick green vine bursts into existence and coils around Sendak, pinning his arms to his sides.

The detachable left arm of his suit burns purple. There’s a sizzling sound and a smell halfway between mown grass and cooking spinach. The vine splits, charred, and falls to the pavement.

“Yo, Block!” Lance shouts.

“Already on it, buddy!” Hunk extends an arm in Sendak’s direction. The asphalt ripples. A split rends the road. The pavement crumbles; the blacktop seems to stretch. Slabs of road rise and wrap around Sendak’s kneeling form, chunks of black gravel cascading down.

He breaks free like it’s nothing.

“Well,” Lance says. “Crap.”

“Don’t worry about it, Tailor!” The voice is smug and familiar. A ball of fire shoots past Lance towards Sendak.

Sendak ducks.

Lance rolls his eyes. “It’s about time someone else showed up.”

He blasts off an ice beam. Red…also shoots off an attack. Fire and ice collide and fizzle out in a hiss a steam.

Lance scowls. “Hey!”

“Not now, guys,” says another familiar voice.

Lance’s face brightens. “The Black Paladin? Sweet!”

The fight that follows is multicolored.

The Black Paladin’s hand burns purple. Pidge makes greenery explode out of thin air to match the green of her costume. Hunk wrangles pavement and the uncovered earth below. Ice and fire bloom through the air.

The huge, mechanized left arm of Sendak’s suit is powered by glowing magenta-purple energy.

Red and Hunk are occupied with one of Sendak’s buddies; Pidge throws plants at another.

Sendak is quick, strong, and well-armored. Lance flings ice at his head. Sendak blocks it with one metal forearm, hardly glancing away from his fistfight with the Black Paladin.

Lance swoops around him. He needs a better angle, a way to catch Sendak off guard. 

“Look out!” yells Pidge’s voice.

Lance whirls. That stupid detaching arm!

That stupid detaching arm grabs Lance by the chest of his suit.

He’s yanked forward. Then hurled.

The world smears past, blurring.

His back slams into something very hard. A building? A building. Ow. His lungs don’t have air in them anymore.

Groaning, he lets himself sink to the hard ground and slump forward, head spinning.

He’s gotta get back to the fight. He’s gotta—oh, ow, okay, his back hurts, his head hurts, ow, ouch. He drags air back into his lungs, which makes his back hurt some more, so that’s fun.

He makes himself look up. Hunk and Red have one of the bad guys knocked out on the ground. Sendak’s arm flies—and Pidge slices through the magenta energy connecting it to Sendak.

“No!” Sendak roars.

“Yeah!” cheers Pidge.

“Alright,” says a bright voice, delicate and accented. “That’s enough of that. Red, a hand?”

Oriande flicks her glowing pink whip. It wraps Sendak’s right arm to his torso. The dazzling pink energy coursing down the whip stops, leaving only a sturdy, flexible gray metal.

Oriande tosses the weapon’s grip to Red, who knots together the ends of the whip faster than Lance’s eyes can keep up with.

“Alright!” says Hunk. “Nice work, team!”

There’s a chorus of agreements and a smattering of high-fives. Lance sits himself upright, wincing at the deep ache settled in his back. He’s gonna have one hell of a bruise.

“Tailor.” Red jogs toward Lance at normal-person speed. “You okay?” He drops to his knees at Lance’s side, looking him up and down for unnoticed injuries. Seeing none, he offers Lance a hand up.

Lance grasps it, smiling behind his mask. “You know?” he says.“We do make a good team.”

He can’t see Red’s face behind the guy’s mask, but by the way his voice comes out just one degree softer than usual, Lance thinks maybe Red’s smiling, too. “Yeah.”

He tugs Lance (who groans) to his feet, then releases his hand and jogs off into the night.

Sendak lies bound on the sidewalk. The heroes begin disperse: first Red, then The Black Paladin leave.

“Need a place to change your clothing?” asks a light, accented voice.

Lance blinks and turns toward the voice. He says, “Huh—what?”

Oriande tilts her head to one side. “Yes or no, Tailor?”

“Yes, yeah, yep.” Lance nods rapidly. “Yep, definitely. Yes, please. Thanks.”

“Do you need an address, or a ride?”

Lance is startled all over again. “Uh,” he says. He took the bus here. “A ride, I guess. Please. Thanks?”

She nods once, spins, and flicks one finger to indicate that he should follow her.

He does, wide-eyed.

“I’m just gonna.” He gestures vaguely upwards. “Grab my stuff. Don’t wait up.” In a handful of seconds, he’s grabbed his duffel with his clothes and phone from the rooftop of some random office building, and he rejoins Oriande walking down the sidewalk.

It’s one hell of an awkward car ride. Lance digs his phone from his duffel to text Hunk.

>Getting a ride w Oriande?!! [eyes emoji]

>Gonna change before I head home.

Hunk warns him not to let his guard down, and Oriande plays bubbly synth pop in her little silver Volvo, not yet removing the pink bandana covering the lower half of her face, and it’s the weirdest car ride of Lance’s life.

Taking an elevator up to the third floor of a building downtown and being let into a small, quaint apartment with a fluffy pink throw carpet and glittery décor on the walls is even more surreal.

Oriande tugs off her bandana as soon as she’s shut the door behind her. “Oof,” she says, shaking out her arms. “Tough one, huh?”

Lance—stares. This is…the weirdest thing ever. She’s, like, right in front of him. Weirder than that: she’s, like, a real person. With a complete face, not just half of one. She has an apartment and a fuzzy carpet and dirty dishes in the sink and a bedazzled mirror hanging on the wall inside the front door.

“Uh,” says Lance.

Oriande looks amused. “I’m Allura,” she says, extending a hand. “Nice to meet you.”

Lance considers this.

Screw it, he thinks, and tugs off his mask.

“Lance.”

He accepts her gloved hand. Her handshake is firm and decisive.

“Well, Lance.” Allura smiles at him, a small one. “The spare bathroom is the first door on the right. You’re welcome to take a shower, if you wish. Towels are under the sink. First aid materials are in the mirror cabinet.”

So Lance grabs his duffel, starts the shower and lets the small, pink-painted bathroom fill with steam, and finds a fluffy pink towel in the cabinet under the sink.

The shower stings where he has broken skin but feels luxuriously good on his tired muscles. Should he be more worried that this is some strange plot to kill him? Yeah, probably.

If Allura wants him dead though, he figures he doesn’t stand much of a chance no matter what. He might as well enjoy the shower.

Allura’s medicine cabinet has antibiotic spray, band-aids of every size, and brand-name aspirin that Lance swallows with a handful of water from the sink.

He returns to her living room in jeans and a soft blue sweatshirt, hands hidden in the big sweatshirt pocket.

Allura’s nestled on her pristine white couch, wearing pink sweatpants, a gray hoodie, and a puffy pink blanket over her shoulders. She cradles a pink mug in her hands and looks up from a magazine when Lance emerges from the bathroom.

“Tea?” she offers, lifting the mug.

“Uh,” says Lance. “I’m good, thanks.”

Allura shrugs. With a tilt of her head, she gestures for him to join her on the couch.

She’s a person with an apartment and a crooked smile and her name is Allura. The world wobbles for a second under Lance’s feet, and then goes normal again. Allura. Not a half-faced fantasy with badass powers and long legs. Allura. He raided her medicine cabinet and used one of her pink towels.

He’s incrementally less lovestruck by this person he doesn’t really know, but, like. This whole situation? Still weird as hell.

Mouth dry, Lance swallows and sits at the opposite end from her, drumming his fingers on his legs.

Allura sets her mug down on a smart black coffee table on top of the fluffy pink rug. Lance stares at the mug, bouncing his right knee.

“I would like…” Allura says.

Lance flicks his eyes up. Allura sighs. She stares at her mug of tea with a stern frown.

“There is a crime boss I would like to take down,” she says, straightening the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. “But he's too powerful for me to face alone. I need…” Her brow furrows, her whole face taut with the frown. “A team.”

Lance raises an eyebrow. “You need a…” His eyes widen. “Wait a minute. You mean—?” He puts a hand to his chest. “You came to me?” He sits up taller. “I mean, of course you came to me.”

Allura rolls her eyes, a bundle of prim disdain wrapped in baby pink. “Will you help me, or not?

“Well, obviously. Team up with Oriande? Take down a big-time baddie?” Lance grins. “Sounds like a good time to me.”

“And your friends. Would they be willing to help, as well?”

“Block and Meklavar? Yeah, probably. I can ask them.”

Allura nods once. “Thank you. And Red?”

Lance blinks. He says, “Uh.” Allura’s gaze is intimidating, clear and sharp and focused on Lance. “I mean, I don’t really know the guy. It’d be kinda hard to ask him.”

“Oh.” Allura looks away from him, a delicate frown pulling her mouth. “Well. That’s alright, then.” She frowns at her tea for a moment, and then her eyes widen slightly and she looks back up again. “Do you need a place to spend the night?” she asks. “I don’t know your situation. Would it benefit you to stay here?”

Lance raises his eyebrows. “At least buy me dinner first.”

Allura produces a small, fluffy, pink throw pillow from behind herself and lobs it at Lance’s head. He yelps and bats it away, laughing. A thin smile curves Allura’s mouth.

Lance grins at her, feeling the same sort of warm he does when he and Hunk and Pidge chill out after a mission. It’s comfortable.

With some reluctance, Lance says, “My roommate will only worry more if I don’t show up tonight. I’m already gonna be in hot water trying to keep all these scrapes covered up.”

“Oh,” Allura says.

That’s it.

Lance is struck by the fact that she reached out to a random stranger for help on her big mission. Judging by the number of doors he sees in the apartment, it’s a one-bedroom.

“You, uh.” Lance rubs at the back of his neck, not looking at Allura. “You wanna watch a movie or something? I’m always wound up after a fight.”

“Oh!” Allura says. She blinks. A crooked smile rises, the softest one he’s yet seen. “I’d love to! What do you want to see?”

And so Lance and Oriande—Allura—curl up under a heavenly-soft blanket and watch House Hunters, and maybe Lance leans his head on Allura’s shoulder, and maybe he makes her give him her number so they can do a proper movie night sometime.

He heads home, thanks all the saints he can think of that Keith’s already asleep, and collapses face-first into his pillow.

 

 

 

It turns out Lance and Allura have a lot in common.

The superhero thing is obvious. 

They both like swimming. And face masks. And Pop Tarts. 

Also, they’re both pining hard for their best friends, so they bond over that pretty fast.

“Allura,” Lance says, voice tight. “Hey. ’Lu. Red alert.”

Allura’s voice is thin and electronic through the cell phone. “What is it, Lance?”

Lance takes a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Keith fell asleep with his shoes on.”

The thin morning sunshine glares off the polished windows of the tall building on Lance’s left. He hitches the grocery bags over his shoulders so they thump against his back, his fingers twisted in the cloth handles.

“Keith fell...What?” says Allura.

Lance fills his torso with air and lets it out explosively. “Ugh. Keith fell asleep with his shoes on. Allura, it was the cutest freaking thing.”

“Hm,” says Allura. “Well. Romelle brought an extra coffee to work for me this morning, so. I think it’s clear which one of us has it worse, really.”

Lance rolls his eyes. “His sneakers on. In bed. Sneakers. Jeans. No shirt. Dead asleep on top of the covers.”

“A vanilla latte,” Allura counters. “My favorite.”

“Uh-huh. Right. Sure.” Lance takes a deep breath. “Allura? His hair was so messed up. Like.” His fingers, tangled in the grocery bag, flex. “Floofy, you know? All in his face and stupid-looking.”

“Hm. I’ll admit that does sound grievous.” 

“Thank you.” Lance bumps his student ID card, in his wallet in his back pocket, against the RFID sensor outside the dorm with his hip. “Hey, I gotta go, okay? I’m gonna try to make breakfast before he wakes up.”

Allura sighs, wistful. “You should make him his favorite coffee.”

Lance opens the door with his hip. “Rough morning, huh?”

“She has her hair in this braid today, Lance.”

“Ugh,” Lance says.

Allura sighs again. “I know. See you later for a movie?”

Lance peers up the stairwell. Empty. Grinning, he rises a few inches from the ground and begins to float up the stairs. “You got it, girl.”

 

 

 

  

SUPER-POWERED DREAM TEAM GIVES REPEAT PERFORMANCE, THIS TIME WITH A FEW NEW FACES. KEEP READING FOR ALL THE DETAILS.

        Article by Adam W.

 

 

“This seems really off,” Shiro says for about the fourth time in the last hour.

“Yeah,” says Keith. “So does Zarkon’s evil mastermind plan, going by the note.”

Shiro’s voice is tight with exasperation. “Deciding to trust the note is exactly what I’m worried about, Keith.”

“Whatever. I thought you told Adam we’d be fine.”

“Of course, I did. You know Adam worries.”

That’s fair. Adam worries enough that he broke up with Shiro for a while over Shiro’s extracurricular crime-fighting. They’re back together now, but. Yeah: Keith knows Adam worries.

“I still think it’s fine,” Keith says, getting out of the car. The parking garage is empty except for them and a sleepy gathering of cars, parked for the night. The sky is visible only in dark stripes through the concrete of the parking structure.

They take an elevator to the third floor, hoods pulled up and fingers crossed they don’t encounter anyone who thinks it’s weird that there’s two guys in masks in the elevator.

They get lucky. The hallway is empty when the elevator door swooshes open.

They walk to door 371.

Shiro’s masked face turns slightly toward Keith, and Keith shrugs. Shiro lifts his flesh hand and knocks.

They’re let in by…Holy shit. That’s Oriande. It has to be. She has the rest of the pink costume, bandana covering half her face or not. But she’s not wearing it right now, is the point.

“Hello!” she says brightly. She extends a hand. “It’s wonderful to see you! I’m Allura.”

Keith’s eyebrows skyrocket.

When he doesn’t move to shake her hand, Allura simply uses it to gesture them into the apartment.

“Come in, come in. The others have already arrived. I take it you received my letters alright?”

“Uh,” says Keith.

He eyes the other people in a very pink-ly decorated living room. Block. Meklavar. The Tailor.

“Yes…?” says Shiro.

Allura claps her hands together. “Excellent. Then you’ve had a brief overview of Zarkon and the reasons I’d like to prevent his continued operations in the area.”

“Yes,” says Shiro. “I—” He glances at Keith, who nods. “We’re in,” Shiro tells Allura.

There’s a beat of quiet.

“Look,” says The Tailor. His dancing hands are placating: they’re palms-up, movements smooth rather than fast and jerky. “If we’re gonna be a team, we should know each other, right?” He grips his balaclava-style mask at the crown of his head and tugs it off.

Keith’s mouth drops open. He says, without even planning to speak, “What?

Lance narrows his eyes. His hair is a wreck from the mask, pieces sticking every direction. “What what?” He crosses his arms, staring Keith down.

Keith—swallows.

He clicks the button that makes his mask retract.

Lance’s eyebrows try to take flight. Flight, which is one of—one of Lance’s superpowers. Lance has superpowers. Lance. Has superpowers.

Keith?!” says Lance, who has superpowers.

“Uh,” says Keith. He manages a small, crooked smile, and lifts one hand in a tiny wave. “Hey, Lance.”

Lance’s eyes go huge. “You’re—.” He points at Keith, an aggressive stab of his index finger. It puzzle-pieces so perfectly into place that Keith feels the knowledge settle into his chest, its wild rattling calming. Of course Lance is The Tailor. Who else has Keith ever met who talks with his whole body the way Lance does? Who else would insist on shouting ‘Freeze!’ every time he encased a villain in ice?

“Yeah,” Keith says, still smiling a little. “I am. And you’re…” He just gestures vaguely at Lance, instead of pointing at him so viciously.

Lance blinks a lot of times, fast. “What the hell!” he says, a whine crawling into his voice. “And you didn’t tell me? Come on, man!”

Keith rolls his eyes. “I didn’t want to put you in danger.”

Lance’s mouth pinches like he wants to complain, but the complaint doesn’t come out. He sighs through his nose. “Yeah. I mean, same.”

“This is going to make everything so much easier,” Keith says, floored by the relief of it. “Coming home late. Coming home scraped up.” He shakes his head. “You’re not really that clumsy, are you?”

Lance grins, sheepish. “Nah.” He raises his eyebrows. “Do you and your brother really box?”

Shiro coughs.

Keith’s eyebrows climb. “Oh,” he says. “My brother. The reporter. Yeah, he’s—”

“Hi, Lance,” says Shiro, pulling off his mask. He then extends the same hand for Lance to shake, since his other one is prosthetic. He always wears it as part of the costume, since ‘It throws people off the trail, Keith.’

Keith has never seen Lance’s eyes so wide or his jaw so slack. “Shiro?! You’re the Black Paladin?”

Shiro fricking shrugs, which makes Keith laugh without opening his mouth.

“I mean,” Shiro says, “yes.”

“Oh my god.” Lance puts a hand to his chest and takes a step backwards. “Oh my god.”

“Dude, stop, you’re making Shiro uncomfortable,” says—well, Block, but he pulls his mask off, too, and yeah, that’s Lance’s friend Hunk.

“Hey, Hunk,” Keith says.

Hunk gives him a wave and a sheepish smile. 

“This is Keith?” Keith follows the voice to see Allura looking at him curiously, her head cocked to one side.

Keith frowns. “What do you know about me?”

“Just that you’re my roommate!” Lance says. His long legs eat the space between them easily, and he tosses a warm arm around Keith’s shoulder. “So, yep. This is Keith. My roommate Keith. Who I’ve talked about, because he’s my roommate.”

Allura’s eyes narrow. “Your roommate Keith,” she repeats. She narrows her eyes harder. “Who is also a superhero.”

“Uh.” Keith shifts his weight to his other foot. “Yeah. Hi.”

Lance and Allura have decided now is the opportune moment for a staring contest, apparently. Lance’s arm is draped over Keith’s shoulders, warm and heavy, but for all the attention he’s paying Keith, Keith may as well not be here.

“Anyway!” Lance’s voice is that high pitch it goes when he’s nervous or lying. “So, that’s that.” He removes his arm from Keith. “Keith, you already know Hunk and Pidge, so that makes this easier! And we’ve like, sort of met Shiro from when he helped you move in, so.”

“Lance,” Allura says, trying to pin him down with her eyes.

“Hey!” Lance says, ignoring her sharp gaze.

Keith’s surprised Lance isn’t more intimidated. It’s a pretty terrifying look.

“Keith, we’re actually gonna be a team now, just like that reporter wanted!”

Ah, yes. ‘That reporter.’

“Yeah,” says Keith. “Actually. Adam Weiss? That’s Shiro’s fiancé. He’s my, like, adoptive brother-in-law, I guess. I think he just ran that story to get under my skin.” 

Lance frowns. “Why would that get under your skin?”

Keith rolls his eyes. “I mean, he knows how much The Tailor—you—annoy me.”

Lance holds up a hand. “Hold on a minute. He knows you’re Red?”

“Of course, he does. Me and Shiro are both heroes. He was always gonna find out eventually.”

Lance pouts his mouth and narrows his eyes. After a moment of cross-armed consideration, he says, “Okay. ’Cause I’m like, ninety-five percent sure that guy knows my identity.”

Keith’s eyebrows shoot up. “He knows you’re The Tailor?”

Lance makes a face.“Uh, yeah. That’s what I just said, dummy!”

“But he never told me!”

Lance tosses his hands in the air. “Well, duh! Why would he tell you that?”

“You’re my roommate!” And he knows I’m in love with you! Keith doesn’t add.

“Keith,” Shiro says, calm and even. “He wouldn’t have given up Lance’s identity. He lives with the two of us: he knows better than anyone that it wasn’t his place.” Even if he knows you’re in love with Lance, Shiro doesn’t add.

“Maybe he thought he was nudging you in the right direction, with that article,” Shiro suggests. “He couldn’t tell you, but maybe he thought if you started working together, you’d be even more likely to find out.” And then you’d be more likely to get together and stop wallowing and pining all the time, Shiro doesn’t add.

Keith folds his arms over his chest. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Wait. So you’re like…” Hunk points at Keith, brows knitted in thought. “You’re a superhero. And your brother’s a superhero, too? But you’re not related?”

Keith scratches the back of his neck. “It’s kind of how we met.”

Shiro raises a brow. “Kind of?”

Keith rolls his eyes. “I was…maybe a little reckless when I first started out. Shiro kind of…gave me a few pointers, I guess.”

Now Shiro’s the one who rolls his eyes. “Took you in, more like.”

“And you live with your fiancé? Adam? You guys live with him?” Pidge’s mouth pokes out in a curious pout. “And he knows about you guys?”

“Yeah.” Shiro twists the black fabric of his mask in his hands. “I kept it from him for a while, but…We’re both reporters. He’s pretty observant.” He glances down at the mask. “It was…rough, for a while. It was hard on our relationship at first. But, yeah.” He gives Pidge an encouraging smile. “He knows. We were all in the same apartment before Keith moved to the dorm.”

“So you all already know each other?” Allura asks, her eyes flicking between all of them.

Keith shrugs. “I guess so?”

Allura narrows her eyes. Then her face clears, and she shrugs. “I suppose that makes this easier. Would you all like to watch a movie, or something?” 

“Oh, hell yeah!” says Lance. Then his face falls. “Wait. Can I…borrow some sweatpants, Allura?”

She chuckles, and nods, and gives Hunk permission to raid her kitchen cabinets while she goes to look for spare clothing.

“I’ll grab our bags from the car, Keith,” Shiro offers.

In the kitchen, still in his super-suit, Hunk puts a package of popcorn in the microwave.

“So—your hand?” Keith says, folding down to sit next to Lance on Allura’s couch.

Lance looks at Keith, then looks down at his own left hand, ungloved but the palm still wrapped in stretch tape. “Oh. Fight at the top of a skyscraper. Smashed a window.”

Keith shakes his head, the both of them staring down at Lance’s tape-striped palm. Keith wants to grab it again. He wants to hold Lance’s hand like he did when he bandaged that cut. He wants to cradle the back of Lance’s hand in his own palm, warm and bony but soft-skinned, and to caress the side of Lance’s hand with his own thumb when Lance grimaces in pain—and when he’s not in pain. He wants to hold Lance’s hand when he’s not bandaging it up, just for the purpose of holding it.

“Lance!” Hunk’s bright voice comes from the kitchen. “You gotta taste this popcorn! Allura’s got this flavored olive oil? Dude.”

Lance claps Keith on the knee (with his right hand, the one without the bandage), and joins Hunk in the kitchen, catching a piece of popcorn in his mouth when he’s halfway there.

“I have to ask where she buys this stuff,” Hunk says. “So great, huh?”

Keith looks at the slope of Lance’s back, the curve of his shoulders into his ribs.

Allura emerges from her room in a gray sweatsuit and throws a pair of black sweatpants at Lance’s head. Shiro returns not long after.

There is a funny line-up outside Allura’s bedroom and bathroom doors as they all take turns changing. Keith digs an extra t-shirt from his duffel for Lance (red), and Lance gives him this—this soft smile that hits Keith so hard he feels like it cracks his ribs.

Keith sits down on the couch once he’s changed out of his suit and Lance is out of sight in Allura’s bathroom. He breathes.

Lance is a superhero.

Lance is a superhero, too.

They’re going to be on the same team. Any super-enemies of Keith’s will already be enemies of Lance’s, whether Keith spends his spare time kissing Lance or not.

That’s…a thing.

“Alright!” Lance says, entering the room with a broad grin, spread arms, and—oh, hell—wearing Keith’s red t-shirt. “Lancey-Lance has new Pantsy-pants.” He smirks at this as if it’s wickedly clever. He surveys the general living room situation.

Pidge and Shiro have taken to the floor in front of the couch atop a formidable pile of pillows. Allura’s tucked on one end of the couch, Keith sits at the other end, and Hunk is in the middle with a massive pink bowl full of popcorn.

Keith pats the space on the couch between himself and Hunk, trying not to look like he feels any type of way about it. Sit next to me! his brain yells. Fall asleep on my shoulder!

Lance heads for the couch, giving Keith one of those eyebrow lift and nod bro-nod combo things.

He has to pass Allura’s end of the couch.

She trips him.

Like, it’s not subtle. Her feet were folded up beside her on the couch, and she has to extend one leg to hook Lance’s ankle with her foot.

She times it impressively well. She must, as Lance predicted some time ago, be pretty good at physics.

Lance topples.

His eyes go wide; his arms wheel, motions large and dramatic as ever.

Keith—has super speed.

He catches Lance. It’s not even, like. Difficult.

He twists Lance as he catches him, wary of Lance’s nose crunching right into his knee.

Lance looks up at him. His eyes are that startled kind of dazed-surprised. His hair is still all ruffly from his mask. He’s got the faintest shine of popcorn butter—or olive oil, or whatever—on one corner of his mouth.

God I freaking love him, Keith thinks.

“Uh,” Keith says. “Hey, there.” He digs up a smile, or half of one, at least. “I thought the clumsiness was just a cover.”

Lance’s mouth—pink, soft, close—twists in a scowl. “It was! That was not—I’ll have you know, I’m very—See, that wasn’t fair, because…” His eyes stop, freeze on Keith’s, like catching on a hook. “Uh.”

Lance,” says Allura. “He’s a superhero.”

Lance’s nose scrunches. “There’s still unknown factors here, ’Lura.”

“Lance!” says Allura.

Keith raises an eyebrow.

Lance rolls his eyes. Looking up at Keith and smiling, just small, he says, “Hey, man.”

Keith keeps his eyebrow raised.

There’s a room full of people here. Everyone is staring at them. Keith’s brother is staring at them.

Lance is staring at Keith.

Keith’s lungs are starving for air even though they’re plenty full of it.

Lance isn’t getting up. He’s not shifting at all; he’s just laying with his shoulder blades across Keith’s lap, legs still flung out straight, feet on the far side of Hunk.

“Lance?” says Keith.

Lance licks his lips. “Yeah?” he says, half strangled.

Keith bends and kisses him.

Lance tastes like olive oil with like, maybe jalapeño? It’s not bad. Keith will have to try the popcorn.

Lance leans up, leveraging himself with a hand on the back of Keith’s neck. His warm touch sends sparks jolting all the way down Keith’s spine. Exhilaration coils in his gut; his firm grasp on Lance’s arms is the only thing keeping his hands from shaking.

Lance kisses like he talks, all responsive energy. Keith tugs on his lower lip, and Lance opens his mouth and yanks Keith even closer, and then—

Well then, Shiro’s voice says, with all the tiredness of a confidant entrusted with hours and hours worth of Keith’s pining for Lance, “Finally.”

Allura claps politely, although her grin, when Keith separates his face from Lance to look, is devilish.

“Not that I’m not happy for you guys,” says Hunk, “but can we get back to movie night now?”

Pidge rolls her eyes and grabs for the remote to power on Allura’s TV.

“I mean,” Lance says, extracting himself from his awkward sprawl across the couch and settling in more comfortably against Keith’s side, “yeah. ‘Finally.’”

Keith laces their fingers together and squeezes Lance’s hand.

 

 

Shiro’s the only one who goes back to his own place that night.

Pidge, Hunk, and Allura all fall asleep in the pillow-pile in front of the couch after Hunk informs everyone that he will be coming over to Allura’s frequently from now on to watch movies and make flavored popcorn. Allura grins. Lance demands a text alert so he can come partake.

“Don’t worry about texting me,” Keith says, giving Hunk a wry smile, “I’ll just tag along with Lance.” Lance wraps an arm around Keith’s shoulders, and Keith thinks it’s funny that he’s the one with fire powers, but with one touch Lance can make him feel like he’s burning.

“Whatcha smilin’ about, bud?” Lance asks hours later, eyebrow quirked, his own smile soft. He’s reclining against Keith’s shoulder on the couch, Keith’s arm around him and their legs tangled in a blanket.

“Just. It’s nice I won’t have to make up excuses for you when I come home beaten up at four in the morning,” Keith says.

“Hey!” Lance sits upright. Cold air rushes in to fill the space behind him. Keith’s smile falls. “You think you’re still gonna be coming home all beat up? We’re a team now, dude! We’ve got your back! No one’s gonna touch us, man!”

Keith shakes his head, feeling the smile return to his lips. “You’re so cocky. I can’t believe I didn’t notice you were The Tailor.”

“True,” Lance agrees, settling back in against Keith’s shoulder. “That was pretty stupid of you.”

Keith rolls his eyes but doesn’t move another muscle. Lance is so warm warm warm. It burns along every inch of Keith’s left side and tingles in his nerves. 

“Hey,” says Lance, slotting his fingers through Keith’s from behind, Lance’s palm to the back of Keith’s hand. “We should have new team names, you know? Like, I know superheroes can keep their names when they join a team, but…This feels different, you know? This feels like it’s it . Like we were always supposed to be a team.” He rubs lazy circles on Keith’s pinky with his thumb. “Does that sound stupid?”

Keith turns his face into the top of Lance’s head, putting a lazy kiss there even as Lance’s messy hair tickles his nose. “No. It doesn’t.” He looks down at their tangled hands. “Actually…I don’t think Shiro would mind…I mean, I think it’d be okay with him, if you wanted. We could, like. All be paladins? I could be The Red Paladin.”

“Dibs on blue,” Lance says. Then: “Really? You think we could do that? He’s the Black Paladin, man! He’s—! I mean…Dude!”

Keith smiles into Lance’s hair. Lance flips his hand around to grip Keith’s palm-to-palm.

“Why ‘Red,’ anyway?” Lance muses. “How is that what you landed on?”

Keith raises an eyebrow. “Honestly?”

Lance snorts. “No, make up a load-of-crap story for me.”

Keith grins. “It’s ‘Red’ because Shiro shot down ‘Thunderstorm Darkness.’”

Lance sits up straight again. Keith misses his warmth again. He grasps Lance’s hand tighter.

“Wait.” Lance’s eyes are wide. “Is that the honest one, or the load-of-crap version?”

Keith just raises his eyebrows, still grinning.

“Keith!”

Keith laughs through shushing Lance. “Don’t—you’ll wake the others.”

Lance whispers, viciously, “Keith!

Keith tugs him into a kiss by the collar of the red t-shirt. It sort of shuts him up. He still gets out a whispered, “Keith!” every several seconds, pulling his mouth just far enough away to hiss the word indignantly before leaning back right back in.

“Lance?” Keith says, holding Lance away with a hand flat to his chest. “Shut up.”

Lance grins at him, grabbing Keith’s hand from his chest and wrapping it in both of his own. Keith pretends like it doesn’t set him on fire. “Aww, babe. It wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t running my mouth the whole time!”

“You know what I hate?” Keith asks, tugging Lance’s hands to pull him closer for another kiss. “When you’re right.”

He kisses Lance again, and Lance laughs into his mouth completely inelegantly, and Keith is so in love that it burns all the way in his bones.

“We have a physics midterm tomorrow,” Lance says, into Keith’s mouth.

“No,” Keith says.

Lance laughs again. “Yes, dude. Completely.”

“Stop talking,” Keith tells him. “We studied. It’ll be fine. Right now, I’m kissing you.”

“That last argument’s really the kicker.” Lance slides his hands up and down Keith’s chest, lazy. “You shoulda led with that.”

“Noted,” says Keith, against Lance’s lips. He kisses Lance again.

And again.

Tomorrow, physics. And then, saving the world.

For now?

Yeah. Kissing his boyfriend.

 

 

 

 

 

EXCLUSIVE: NEW SUPER-TEAM GIVES SUPER-CONFIDENTIAL INTERVIEW WITH OUR VERY OWN ADAM W. READ ON FOR ALL THE DETAILS: NEW NAMES, NEW COSTUMES, AND BIG NEW PLANS.

        Article by Adam W.