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There was nothing quite like the thrill of take off – the pull on your gut at the sudden acceleration, your breath going heavy on the inhale, the tilt of the plane and the sudden swoop as the wheels left the ground. It’s one of Lance’s favourite things, besides the salty ocean water and meeting a family member after a long time of being apart. The latter of which also had something to do with the excitement of stepping into the airport, seeing all the people coming from all over the world, speaking a slew of different languages he could never differentiate as a child. The idea of travel always thrilled Lance, and now he finally had the money and the time to make it happen.

 

As soon as he knew that it was happening – this great journey of his finally happening – Lance immediately made a point of booking a window seat on the plane. His first plane – or at least his first plane that had more than two people on either side of the cabin – was from an airline he’d seen on TV for years, so he knew that his family would give a sigh of relief with such a big name carrying one of the babies of the middle generation. Their concern was a little ridiculous, truth be told. Lance had, after all, greeted aunts and uncles, his older sisters and brothers, grandparents and great-grandparents and now nieces and nephews at the airport, and not all of them had taken big name airlines. The only difference was that this was Lance's first time, and he was doing it alone.

 

His older sister and oldest niece had fussed and fussed, fluttering about him like butterflies not knowing which flower to land on, and Lance sat in the midst of what was steadily intensifying into a whirlwind. His clothes were strewn about his bed and by extension his lap, his necessities in a jigsaw puzzle on his desk, a list of things to bring taped to his dresser and twitching with the breeze his family members were stirring up.

 

“Is this all going to fit, mom?”

 

“We’ll have to take some out.”

 

“But he needs the loafers.”

 

“Liza, honey, have you seen your uncle wear these?”

 

“No, so this is the perfect chance!”

 

“Lance, are you going to even give these a second glance on your trip?” asked his sister, Beth, whirling around.

 

Lance didn’t even blink. “No.”

 

“See, honey?”

 

“If he’d just try them on with these pants–“

 

“Sweetheart, your uncle Lance is going to be living rough. Give him one outfit for a night out.”

 

Lance’s niece wrinkled her nose. Liza was ten, closer in age to Lance’s nineteen than he was to his sister by one year, but had already made a statement in the family with her managerial skills. That, coupled with her need to organize things and plan out events, was the reason Lance had invited her to help him pack. It meant giving Lance more time to just daydream.

 

Beth began neatly packing away his toiletries into a soft carrying case. “So, Lance, you haven’t told us where you’re going yet.”

 

“Yeah I have, y’know, the big cities…” He gave a vague wave of his hand.

 

“Fascinating,” drawled Beth, “But actually. Mom starts to tell me but she always gets distracted around Paris. She really wants to go there, apparently.”

 

“Apparently,” agreed Lance. After many talks, he barely convinced his mother he had enough time to do a quarter of the things on the list she made for his trip into Paris. In the end, she’d scrupulously highlighted the necessities. “I’m starting off in Ireland, then Wales, England, France, Italy, Germany, then I’m going back to London for a couple nights before coming home.”

 

“So all the big cities, huh?”

 

Weellll, I’m gonna hide out in some little places in Ireland and Wales before going to London.” Lance snatched his iPod out of his sister’s hands before she could wrap his headphones around it too tightly – the wires around the jack were beginning to show. “London, Paris, Venice, Florence and Berlin. I'm going to drop in on a friend studying abroad, too. I want to go to more but then I’d need to stay over there to work and mom would bust a gasket.”

 

Beth snorted. “I’d say. Where’s your camera?”

 

“Er–“

 

“Lance.” Beth paused in her organization to stare at him. “Please do not tell me you’re going to take pictures with your phone.”

 

“Uh….”

 

“Mom, he’s probably going to take it with his iPod,” said Liza dismissively as she tightly folded a pair of sweatpants. “It’ll probably get stolen.”

 

“No pickpockets are going to get me,” sniffed Lance, wrinkling his nose at his niece. “Besides, my iPod can take as good a picture as a normal camera, okay?”

 

His sister made such a loud, derisive snort that Lance snapped his head around to stare at her, offended.

 

“For someone who spent a solid year planning this trip, you really have no idea,” sighed Beth, “Where’s the money purse nana bought you for this?”

 

Lance’s nose wrinkled even further. “You mean the fannypack?”

 

“Yes, Lance, the fannypack.”

 

“I’m not wearing that thing!”

 

“You can put it under your clothes, you baby,” muttered Liza. Lance squawked at the offence.

 

“My girl’s so smart,” crooned Beth, “Problem solved, Lance.”

 

“It’ll be all lumpy!” protested Lance.

 

“Then don’t wear tight clothes?”

 

“The majority of my shirts are fitted!”

 

“Make some exceptions.”

 

“I can’t wear a loose shirt with these pants! I’d look like an idiot! And those there–“

 

Beth drowned him out with a loud groan. “You’re such a diva. Fine. You have that jacket with the hidden pockets, right?”

 

Lance pursed his lips at the interruption. “Yes.”

 

“Great, then you can wear that every time you go out. Good luck with the heat. Italy is disgustingly hot even in October.”

 

Beth moved to his closet, pawing through it until she found the jacket. She added it to the pile beside her daughter who was diligently folding away. Lance watched as his sister stepped back to survey his collection skeptically.

 

“Are you sure this is enough for a month long trip?”

 

Lance slid off his bed, picking up the clothes that had fallen off his lap. “I need space to bring things back.”

 

“Can’t you just bring a bigger suitcase?”

 

“I’m going to be dragging it around everywhere, I don’t want to be carrying something bigger than I am.”

 

“Hm.”

 

“I’ve got my carry-on, too.”

 

“Alright!” announced Liza, straightening up behind the stack of clothes she built, “You’ve got five pairs of pants, six shirts, a sweater, a jacket, flip-flops, your date shoes, the sneakers for the flight and your delicates.” She gestured at a pile of mismatched socks and boxer-briefs she hadn’t bothered to fold.

 

“Thanks, Liza,” grinned Lance, ruffling her hair affectionately, “Okay, I’ll do the rest.”

 

Beth beckoned for Liza as she made her way to the door. “Come down for dinner, alright? Mom needs to give you another lecture on tourist safety.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, thanks guys.”

 

They left the door open behind them, leaving Lance to nudge it shut with his foot. He reached over to grab his tablet from his desk and dove back onto his bed. The tower of clothes fell over his back. Ignoring the mess he was making, Lance logged onto Skype.

 

7:01 PM

ℓα и ç ә

u actually there or playin sims?¿?¿

dr4g0ns14y3r

both, dinkus

what’s up?

done packing?

ℓα и ç ә

nearly

is it hot over there

dr4g0ns14y3r

fking boiling

you’re going to die

just telling you now

ℓα и ç ә

wtf

should i pack shorts

dr4g0ns14y3r

lmao no you’d look dumb

ℓα и ç ә

ok rude are u saying i always look dumb

when wearin shorts neway

dr4g0ns14y3r

well like all the time actually

ℓα и ç ә

dr4g0ns14y3r

:D

ℓα и ç ә

ok movin on bcos ur a rude ass

do u have the futon ready for me

dr4g0ns14y3r

dude you’re like, a few weeks early

that futon is staying folded up

i need the couch

ℓα и ç ә

well fine w/e

u better have a plan to show me around

its my only opportunity not to look like a tourist

pretendin i own the place

dr4g0ns14y3r

yeeeep

there’s actually a really cool bar here

it’s hard to find so only the locals know where it is

and me

ℓα и ç ә

perf i look forward to it

u making a lot of friends??

dr4g0ns14y3r

a few have potential

ℓα и ç ә

#nonewfriends

dr4g0ns14y3r

don’t pull that with me, fool

ℓα и ç ә

yeah yeah ok im going to finish packin this shit

see u in venice pidge!!!!!!!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

dr4g0ns14y3r

lmao :D don’t get robbed before you get here!

ℓα и ç ә

bye jerk!!!!

 

Lance tossed the tablet onto his pillow and carefully extracted himself from his clothes. He began to shove his clothes into his little suitcase with a fervor that Liza would approve of while judging his poor technique in the same breath. After talking to Pidge, Lance couldn’t help but feel the excitement building where it had fizzled into pre-travel jitters. Having a friend on exchange in one of the cities he was visiting was a bonus Lance was glad for. He wasn’t sure how the cities before that might treat him, and having someone familiar and trustworthy (relatively) waiting with a place for him to crash would do him good. Especially when they were waiting for him in Venice.

 

Lance took a moment to giggle at his suitcase.

 

And then, barely twelve hours later, he was waving at his family, grinning ear to ear, as he passed through the security check. Then Lance was facing the cafés and shops that lined the terminal, his heart thudding in his chest because despite the airport being as familiar to him as the back of his hand, this was the first time Lance had stepped foot into the departures bay. Whenever he reminded himself, Lance felt another thrill.

 

Hitching his backpack up firmly, passport and ticket clutched in one hand, Lance set off to find his gate.

 


 

9:10 AM

Hunkules

aaahh nooo!!!! I missed Lance leaving??!?!?!

 

10:41 AM

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

he’s got internet the minute he lands it’s fine

 

Hunkules

but still!!! :((((

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

i’m pumped to see how wrecked he is by the flight

lil baby hasn’t been stuck in a tiny cabin like that before

and he took the window seat what an idiot

 

Hunkules

Pidge!!!!

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

just telling it like it is

how’s the nursery?

 

Hunkules

:////

well it’s good!!

we haven’t actually done anything with it yet

but soon!!

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

and your lab partner?

 

Hunkules

um I think she’s good??? I don’t know we haven’t really talked much

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

mhmmmmmm

 

Hunkules

what??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

give me a second

 

Hunkules

??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

“her name is Shay and she’s really cool!!! :)))”

end quote

btw the tell here is that you smacked a smiley face on the end

with THREE mouths

 

Hunkules

…I don’t follow??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

you totally have a pre-friendship crush

 

Hunkules

>:(((((

and how many mouths is that Pidge……….

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

:DDDDDD

 

 


 

10:27 PM

ℓα и ç ә

f me up

that was the longest fukkin flight of my life

the guy in the middle beside me

wouldnt stop fuckin pissin

like dude hold it in

i know ur like ninety but srsly

also the movie selection was s u b p a r

except for spirit

stallion of the cimarron

cimmeron?? cimmarron??

neway shits gr8

Hunkules

LANCE!!!!

you made it!!!

how’s Ireland? is it cool?

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

**only flight of your life

at least you weren’t in the aisle seat

how did you hold in your piss for that long…

ℓα и ç ә

ireland is cold af

like its midsept why is it november chill

and the bus that took me to dingle was hella fukkin fast

the sheep were blurs

and also rly fukin treacherous like wtf dude slow down

also i held the piss in until critical limit was reached

then i fuckin dove over them

dr4g0ns14y3r

..dingle..lmao..

ℓα и ç ә

scuse me its a cute name

dr4g0ns14y3r

k bro

what’s the place you’re staying at like?

ℓα и ç ә

stone brick on the outside

it has an actual fireplace

its a hostel above a pub which is sweet

and INTERNET

Hunkules

that’s so cool!!

take tons of pictures!!!

ℓα и ç ә

my ipod is nearly maxxed out already lol

Hunkules

why didn’t you take a real camera?

ℓα и ç ә

why would i when i can listen to music at the same time

Hunkules

the quality is completely different though??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

don’t try to convince him hunk he’s dead set

and also has no iea how to work a real camera

idea**

ℓα и ç ә

ofc i do theyre not rock et science

but theyre unecessary

when i have a lil device that does the same thing

dr4g0ns14y3r

he doesn’t notice quality

 

Hunkules

that’s some kind of blasphemy Lance…

ℓα и ç ә

ah shut up w/e

ok im goin to bed

ive learned its impossible to sleep properly

on a plane

and a bus

dr4g0ns14y3r

sweet dreams pumpkin

 

Hunkules

good night Lance!!

 

Chapter Text

It was midmorning when Lance woke up. It took him a moment amidst his post-sleep confusion to realize he wasn’t in his bed at home – he wasn’t even in the country anymore. An entire ocean separated him from home. He rolled onto his back, eyes transfixed upon the textured ceiling. The Irish textured ceiling. The air he was breathing was Irish. The sheets his legs were tangled up in were Irish, the throw blanket knit from Irish wool.

Lance couldn’t help it – his face broke out into a wide grin, a laugh slipping out of him.

He flung his arms out, took a deep breath, and leapt out of bed. The first order of business was uploading all his photos to his tablet. While they were syncing, he ate a granola bar in lieu of a proper breakfast. The cash Lance had stashed away for his Dingle escapades was stuffed in the same box as his cold medicine. The money he’d divvyed for the rest of the trip had their own nooks. It was one way of making sure he wasn’t tempted to overspend in one place.

The tablet pinged an alert. Lance leaned over to tap an acknowledgement before ejecting his iPod. He didn’t bother changing into a new pair of pants – his sweats would do just fine – but he did pull on a hoodie in case it was chilly outside, despite being midday. He had arrived late and had expected the cold then, but with the sun out Lance assumed it would be better.

As soon as he stepped outside of the pub, he realized his mistake.

Ireland was cold. The sky was a dove grey, the sun a blurry bright spot high overhead but unable to touch the land. It was September, still technically summer, but it was like the country hadn’t received the memo. Folding his arms over his chest, Lance strode down the sidewalk in a random direction.

He kept an eye out for anything of interest he could take pictures of, and soon realized when he had taken fifty pictures and was only two streets over from the pub that everything in this little town counted. The street he was on was legitimately cobbled, although not every road in the town was. The majority of the buildings were stone or red brick, and shrubbery spilled out of the narrow spaces between stone walls and houses. There was no clear distinction between the residential area and the shops, from what Lance could tell. They were sprawled all among each other, and sometimes the shops were homes.

It was after the third pub that Lance started to keep track and take pictures of every sign. There was Ashe’s, Murphy’s, John Benny’s… In fact, most of them were just a person’s name followed by pub, restaurant, or inn. Lance couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed. He’d expected names like “The Queen’s Head” or “The Left Leg of Cardiff’s Finest”. Still, the fact such a small town had so many was enough that Lance had to have a picture of each one.

A breeze interrupted Lance’s wanderings just as he spotted a fine cheese shop. Glancing around to commit the location to memory, a shivering Lance turned around on his heel and hurried back to his room above the pub to grab his jacket.

 


 

 

7:35 PM

ℓαиçә

so when i said itt was cold

i thought that was jsut a night thing

im so v wrong

dr4g0ns14y3r

yikes

did you see anything cool?

ℓαиçә

not really?? or like nothing awe inspiring

the roads are cobbled which is adorable

n they have a tiny cheese shop here

dr4g0ns14y3r

please don’t tell me you bought cheese

ℓαиçә

no but it was a close call

dr4g0ns14y3r

wait till you find a bakery

then buy the cheese

ℓαиçә

what

dr4g0ns14y3r

fresh bread and cheese, bud

ℓαиçә

oooooooo

fuk that sounds amazingg

wait do u do that

dr4g0ns14y3r

usually

either me or my sister gets up in the morning for bread

before the fresh stuff is sold out

ℓαиçә

k ew morning

how early

also

sister??¿¿

dr4g0ns14y3r

the daughter of the host family i’m with

you’d drool tbh

and very early

like sunrise early

ℓαиçә

gimme a pic

pidge do u rlllly expect me to get up

at the asscrack of dawn

for bread

¿¿¿¿¿¿¿

dr4g0ns14y3r

no pics

i figure ireland probably isn’t as intense about it?

ℓαиçә

cant be too sure w europe

wheres hunk??

dr4g0ns14y3r

class?

ℓαиçә

this late tho

dr4g0ns14y3r

you’re five hours ahead, remember

ℓαиçә

oooo shit

wait so

oooooooooo he has class till 530 right

dr4g0ns14y3r

i think he’s with shay rn actually…

ℓαиçә

is that his lab gf

dr4g0ns14y3r

yes do you want to place bets?

ℓαиçә

in a sep convo tho so he cant see

u know hed be petty and not say anything

even if it did happen

dr4g0ns14y3r

and it will

but i see your point

 


 

 

On his second day in Ireland, Lance was prepared. Over his hoodie he had his jacket, some spending money spread out among his hidden pockets, and his iPod. He wasn’t able to sleep in this time around because he had booked a shuttle to take him out to the coast along the Ring of Kerry. They were to meet at the end of the road where the only bus stop in town was located. Several older men and women, maybe seven altogether, were already waiting there when Lance joined them. He was the youngest of the bunch by a fair margin, but that didn’t stop him from chatting up a storm. By the time the shuttle bus driver made his appearance, Lance had several of the grandma-age women in metaphorical stitches.

“Oh Lance, if only my kids were half as sweet as you,” crooned a woman with frizzy red curls.

“You flatter me, Barb,” said Lance, “Do you ladies need help with your bags? Luanne, yours looks heavy.”

“Nonsense,” scoffed Luanne, though she seemed to glow by the offer, “I’ve got a decade left before I need personal aid, young man.”

“I don’t doubt your arm strength,” nodded Lance, “You’ve got guns from keeping Henry in check, huh?”

The women cracked up at that, and Luanne’s husband, Henry, shook his head wryly. “You’ve no idea the fear whenever I see that ladle lift out of the pot.”

That drew out another peal of laughter.

They boarded the bus, the group growing fond of Lance and encouraging him to join them in conversation. He didn’t mind at all – staying silent on a long bus ride would be boring. Not to mention he was learning that these women would make his own nana’s toes curl if they ever met, and he found it hilarious.

Several times, the driver would point out the window, drawing the gazes of his passengers. Cameras were already out despite the smudged windows and the blur of shrubbery along the side of the cliffs. Lance couldn’t blame them – the view was amazing. The ocean was endless, dark grey and choppy, and it looked frigid. When the bus rounded a tight corner, Lance felt it shift on its wheels, as if any moment the axel would snap and send them all careening into the rough slate-coloured abyss. The driver was definitely taking those turns too fast. Barb was starting to get anxious about it. Luanne seemed to appreciate the thrill in her advanced age. Lance just shifted in his seat, iPod out to catch a few pictures. When the majority of them came out shoddy, Lance kept them to send to Pidge and Hunk, just to tick them off. He grinned at the thought. It’d really grind their gears to see unfocused, crooked pictures from someone going on an international journey of a lifetime. He’d bask in their ire.

For a time the ocean disappeared from their view and the shuttle ascended steadily up the winding road. Then it flattened out, the smooth grey sky engulfed everything, and they were parking in a gravel lot already occupied by several cars and a few other shuttle buses. Their driver slid out first, already talking about the sight before them.

“The entire ring is actually a hundred and seventy-nine kilometers,” he was saying as the bus emptied, talking slow to make up for his accent, “There’s stairs where they’re gathering over there. Careful with them. There’s a beach and a waterfall at the bottom.”

Lance tuned out the rest, making a beeline for the edge of the cliff. In all honesty, it made him slightly nervous to stand so close, when the wind buffeted him at random, but he felt as though he needed to close the distance between himself and the horizon, a blur between grey sky and darker grey ocean.

Then he heard gasps and startled murmuring from the knot of people at the top of the stairs, and Lance took a step back to see what all the fuss was about. Most were still clustered there, but several were taking edging steps towards the edge and peering over it. Lance went to join them, boldly planting a foot so his toes touched only air and – subsequently drawing concerned tuts from behind him – leaned over to take a peek down the cliff face.

At first, he thought he was seeing someone’s dropped coat. Why had they made such a fuss about it? It was just clothes – then Lance froze. Narrowed his eyes. Knelt on the grass-tufted rock to get a closer look.

The red plaid was moving quite deliberately, and it wasn’t exactly flapping in the wind. Slowly, but with no lack of confidence, a person was making their way along the cliff face. Something bounced against their back – a camera?

Lance stared at the sight, flabbergasted.

“Um, excuse me?” One of the tour guides had finally realized what was going on. “Sir? You’re… not supposed to be down there!”

The climber didn’t halt, so the guide raised her voice. “Excuse me! You have to come back up! Now, please!”

That made them pause. The climber looked up at them, eyes narrowed against the brisk air. Black hair fell forward, whipped by the wind, and a hand detached itself from the rock to push it under the edge of their hat. Lance felt his gut tighten and instinctively moved back from the edge. There was no way he was going to be witness to someone falling to their death today.

After a long minute, however, curiosity got the better of him. The small crowd was still watching, more than one set of eyebrows knit in concern. Lance shuffled forward, pretending he couldn’t hear Henry’s voice telling him to “step back from the edge lest you become an Irish pancake, boy”.

The climber was nearly at the stone steps that hugged the cliff as they zigzagged down to the pebbly beach. They paused, checked to make sure the DSLR wasn’t going to swing around and bounce off the rock, and then they jumped.

Later on, Lance would deny ever having gasped. The elderly people beside him were far louder.

But the steps were only a couple meters below, and the climber landed safely. They lifted a hand as if to prove they were fine, not bothering to respond to the spluttering Irish spilling out of the tour guide’s mouth, and then continued on down the stairs.

“Lord watch over him,” muttered Barb from the crowd.

“I think he’s going to need a lot more than the Lord,” said Henry.

“Effing Christ,” murmured Luanne.

It took far longer than necessary for the group to finally make their way down the steps. They were wide steps, but tall, which was intimidating with only a short rail stopping anyone from flipping over the other side. Lance was glad when his feet were solidly on the beach. He didn’t usually experience vertigo, but he’d felt it vicariously through the tartan daredevil on the cliff and Lance really didn’t appreciate it.

The tour guides were talking now, but Lance was only half listening as he wandered from the group. There was a trickle of a waterfall in a nook in the cliff, forming a clear pool where pebbles became coarse sand. A couple was already balancing themselves on a rock nearby to take a picture with it. Lance turned around and walked back towards the stone steps. They formed a sort of pass, with an outcropping of black rock stretching into the sky on the ocean side and out into the water. Lance walked between them, sidestepping table-level boulders in his path. He couldn’t hear the other people much anymore. The water was lapping noisily at the beach, and his shoes were loud on the stones grinding together beneath his feet. He snapped a few pictures with his iPod, taking a blurry selfie complete with duckface for shits and giggles.

When he was nearing the furthest edge of the beach, Lance saw a smudge of red in his periphery. He halted midstep and turned to look. Red plaid, a grey hat, fingerless gloves on hands wrapped around a DSLR aimed upwards. Lance blinked. There was the sound of a shutter. Then the daredevil was lowering the camera, face tilted towards the cliff, and stepped towards the rocks.

“Uh.”

They froze. Turned. Lance stared.

He wasn’t sure exactly what he was expecting. A grungy vagrant with a death wish, maybe. But instead he was looking at what Hunk, circa fifteen years old and emo, would call a “dark angel” in one of his high school poems. Despite the beanie holding back most of it, the daredevil’s black hair was escaping in chunks and wisps, as if he – and it took Lance a moment to pin that down kept scratching at his scalp under the hat. His skin was fair, cheeks and nose ruddy from the brisk air. Eyes lined by unfairly dark lashes appraised Lance, and then an eyebrow that could not have been unmanicured arched.

The young man – surely not much older than Lance himself – turned away and began walking down the beach, as if he hadn’t just been about to climb the damn cliff.

Lance snorted. “There are probably better ways to die.”

All he got was a fleeting glance over a red plaid shoulder, and that was the last time Lance saw the daredevil.

That day, anyway. But he didn’t know that yet.

Several weeks later, Lance would look back on their first meeting and be surprised only by the fact he didn’t join him on that perilous cliff straightaway.

 


 

11:48 PM

dr4g0ns14y3r

the water reeeeeeked today

actually i can still smell it

ugh

Hunkules

why does it smell?

dr4g0ns14y3r

don’t know

maybe it’s all the dead bodies tossed in there

Hunkules

I hate how believable that is

please don’t die Pidge

dr4g0ns14y3r

the fact you felt the need to say that is ominous

ℓαиçә

[IMAGE]

[IMAGE]

[IMAGE]

dr4g0ns14y3r

fuck off lance

you’re doing that on purpose

omfg

Hunkules

Lance… please get a proper camera…

ℓαиçә

:3c

dr4g0ns14y3r

you difgust me

disgust**

ℓαиçә

kkkkkk but guys some shit happened today

like good shit not bad shit

well

neutral shit?????

ok stuff happened let me recap

dr4g0ns14y3r

uh huh

ℓαиçә

so we went to this beach

first off all the old ladies love me

Hunkules

um

dr4g0ns14y3r

lance i know you’re a terrible flirt but that’s low even for you

ℓαиçә

stfu i wasnt flirting

im just adored

theyd set me up with their granddaughters at this point

dr4g0ns14y3r

no grandsons?

ℓαиçә

not ttly sure if theyr homophobes yet

kinda iffy when it comes to anyone over the age of 30

dr4g0ns14y3r

that’s optimistic

ℓαиçә

i try

neway

were at the beach and this guy was climbin the cliff

like straightup no ropes or anything

dr4g0ns14y3r

wtf what for?

Hunkules

please don’t tell me you did it too, Lance…

ℓαиçә

he was tryna get a pic or smth idk

….why would i do it too…….

Hunkules

because if you thought it looked cool, you’d probably try to like

one up him???

dr4g0ns14y3r

hunk’s got a point

ℓαиçә

ummm no

dr4g0ns14y3r

so you were scared!

ℓαиçә

no! wtf! im not scared@!!

NEWAAAYYY

the tour guide made him gtf down

and i saw him on the beach after taking this sweetass selfie

[IMAGE]

dr4g0ns14y3r

fuck off

ℓαиçә

and he was about to climb the fukkin wall again

u think hes one of those crazy bird ppl??

dr4g0ns14y3r

let’s ask a crazy bird person

hunk?

Hunkules

I’m not a crazy bird person

I just like birds

it’s a healthy interest

ℓαиçә

lol sounds like uve been practicing in the mirror

dr4g0ns14y3r

haha

Hunkules

if there was a nest of a rare bird then…

maybe he was trying to get to it?

do you know what kind of birds are in the area?

dr4g0ns14y3r

think about who you’re asking, hunk

ℓαиçә

yeaaaaaah no ffkin clue

seagulls??

Hunkules

……unlikely but sure

ℓαиçә

neway w/e he was doing he pretended he wasn’t gonna

ooo also i ate my first pub food!!

Hunkules

ooh what was it??

ℓαиçә

chicken pot pie

dr4g0ns14y3r

boring

ℓαиçә

fu

im starting classic

dr4g0ns14y3r

i had gelato

Hunkules

for dinner??

dr4g0ns14y3r

yes

Hunkules

Pidge….

ℓαиçә

this is why ur so tiny pidge

dr4g0ns14y3r

[IMAGE]

look at this sweet carving knife i bought today

ℓαиçә

……….

SO i also met canadians our age!!!

Hunkules

ooh where from?

ℓαиçә

…canada?

dr4g0ns14y3r

lmfao

you didn’t ask did you?

ℓαиçә

um

no?

dr4g0ns14y3r

I bet you told them your life’s story, though

ℓαиçә

well

sure

they might know alot more about me

but theyre canadian so like w/e

dr4g0ns14y3r

lance you know i’m canadian, right?

ℓαиçә

ur currently italian so

dr4g0ns14y3r

not how that works

ℓαиçә

sshhhhhh

we were talkin in a pub i wasn’t turnin on my charm

dr4g0ns14y3r

is that not how you meet people, though?

ℓαиçә

well we met didnt we?

dr4g0ns14y3r

fascinating

Hunkules

and you wonder why your love life is so subpar

ℓαиçә

w t f

Hunkules

like I love you but you can barely make friends

ℓαиçә

hunk!!!! wtf!!!!

dr4g0ns14y3r

B U R N

he’s right though

you can’t use the same charm on young people that you do on old people

ℓαиçә

what r u implying…..

dr4g0ns14y3r

old people love you because you’re a massive dweeb

ℓαиçә

:|

ooook ive had enough of THIS CONVO

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[IMAGE]

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dr4g0ns14y3r

JFC DID YOU TAKE ANY GOOD PICTURES?


On his third day in Ireland, Lance was again forced to wake up early. Yesterday had been more of a scenic drive than anything else, but this time around the shuttle would be taking Lance and his new elderly friends to several historic sites. It seemed as though the group as a whole were far more tired this morning than the previous, which meant for the next two hours the bus was filled with snores and the occasional mumble courtesy of Barb.

The driver had to nearly shout to wake them all up. Lance twitched, tugging his earphones out and making sure he hadn’t accidentally drained his iPod of its battery. Still three quarters full. Nice.

“First stop, Ross Castle,” announced their driver, “We’ll be meeting back here in an hour to move on, so don’t lose track of time.”

Everyone except Lance shuffled out after the driver to bombard him with questions. Lance had more of an interest in wandering all by his lonesome. It wasn’t as cold as the day before, so he’d left his hoodie behind on the bus, and the cloud cover was more of a thin veil than a blanket this time. With a bounce in his step, Lance forged ahead to the castle.

This time around he actually put some effort into many of the pictures. The cannons, the walls, the tiny windows overlooking the estate – Lance snapped a picture of everything. Several times he was asked to take pictures of people in front of things, which he did gladly in exchange for pictures of his own, such as posing crudely in front of a cannon.

Only once did Lance pause to absorb the reality of his situation. It was like waking up on that first morning all over again. With his hand on the cold stone, fingertips rubbing against the chips, Lance was overcome with a curious sense of awe that right there, it was possible he was touching the same spot someone had touched hundreds of years ago. He swallowed, lips twitching into a grin.

He didn’t need to be a history buff to be enthralled with the idea.

With a long inhale, and an equally long exhale, Lance took his hand from the wall and proceeded down to help Luanne take some questionably unchaste photos of Henry and a cannon. Lance had the bizarre awareness of seeing into his own future.

The next stop took only a quarter of an hour to reach, albeit the driver seemed as though he was making attempts at drifting around those sharp corners now.

“Muckross gardens,” announced the Forza-wannabe, “We’ll meet back here at noon. Take your time.”

“Okay,” chorused the bus’s occupants. The driver’s mouth twitched wryly.

At the edge of the parking lot was a large board plastered with a map of the house and adjoining gardens. It didn’t seem too complicated, so after bidding the rest of the crew adieu, Lance set off.

The clouds were beginning to congregate and fluff together, leaving room for the sun to actually peek out. Whenever he felt the heat on the back of his neck, Lance couldn’t help but pause and soak it in. While Ireland was a pretty interesting place, he knew the lack of sun would drive him up the wall before too long.

The path he took split several ways, a greenhouse directly ahead. Lance veered left, tapping his iPod to grab a picture every so often. A large tree with low hanging branches and leaves the colour of wine caught his eye. He took a decent picture before a second one with the blurred edge of his thumb in front of the lens. That one would be for Pidge specifically.

Looking around, Lance saw a little foot trail leading up into a thicket of multicoloured shrubs headed by a copse of trees. The concrete path he was on didn’t connect with it, but what was the point of a trail if it wasn’t meant to be followed? Lance glanced about one last time, in case someone was going to start shouting at him to get off the grass, before setting off towards the path. It was simple mulch with asymmetrical flat stones set into it, which hinted more towards its use than anything else. Intrigued, Lance followed the shallow steps up the slight incline until the manicured lawn and greenhouse disappeared from sight.

Lance found himself taking more pictures of green things than he ever expected from himself. Something about a bush being Irish sprouting from Irish soil made his thumb itch to take another photo. For the first time, he wondered whether his tablet would have enough space on it. If he reacted like this everywhere he went, it’d be doomed. Well, whatever, he could always use an online dropbox.

The path wove in and around itself, sometimes outright disappearing with only something like a deer trail connecting the two ends. Lance followed it, taking random turns when the path split. It took him ten minutes to realize it was sort of like a maze. The greenhouse was visible through the trees at one point, and then five minutes later he was staring at it again, although he’d been sure he was facing the opposite direction…

A branch snapped thinly above Lance. He turned to look upwards automatically, but saw nothing. Another branch shook slightly, the leaves rustling with their neighbours. Lance wondered if European squirrels looked any different from the ones back in New York. Maybe they were ginger. Curious, he crept quietly off the path, inching between two low growing shrubs and parting ferns with his hands. On the other side, perched in a split in the tree trunk, was red plaid.

Lance blinked, physically shook his head as if to dislodge the pattern from his retinas. But sure enough, the plaid was still there, albeit laying across the lap of the daredevil from the day before. The fingerless gloves were the same, matching the black of the loose shirt he was wearing, but the beanie was gone and the mass of thick black hair was free and grown out from what might’ve once been a short cropped style. Several black studs glittered in the shell of his visible ear.

It was impossible to deny even in his own head – Lance was floored.

Lance cleared his throat and the man flinched around, eyes widened in shock. Then he let out a breath through his nose, leaning against the tree trunk and lowering his camera.

“The tour guides must hate you, huh?” grinned Lance.

The man, who clearly had a penchant for climbing, cocked an eyebrow. The expression was a mirrored version from the day before. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

Lance noted the accented English. It wasn’t the same as Lance’s, whose English was less accented than his Spanish. His mother often said he had an American drawl when he spoke Spanish. Instead, Lance thought it was the opposite, like he only had reason to speak English fluently at home.

“What’re you taking a picture of that you need to climb a tree for?” asked Lance, nodding at the camera.

The man blinked, then turned his head to look towards the canopy. “Ah. Just…” He gestured vaguely. “The light as it comes through the leaves.”

“Couldn’t you just do that from the ground?” Lance squinted at the leaves. He stepped forward, then back a few paces, trying to tell the difference.

The man leveled a disbelieving stare on Lance. “The angle wouldn’t be right.”

“You sure? How different could it be?”

“It’s – it has to be just right.”

“What, like the gap between two leaves is going to look any different?”

He was starting to look affronted now. “I wouldn’t expect someone who takes pictures on their phone to understand.”

“Um, it’s not a phone, it’s an iPod.”

Lance was met with a snort at that. “Right, that makes a world of difference. Whatever, if you want to take crap photos then that’s for you to decide. I want my pictures of this place to be as beautiful as I remember them, not some pixelated, out of focus photo album forgotten on Facebook.”

Ouch. Lance wasn’t about to admit defeat, however.

“So you’re going to spend all your time trying to get the right angle instead of actually enjoying the view?” drawled Lance, folding his arms across his chest.

“I can see it well enough through my viewfinder, too, thanks.”

Lance snorted a laugh. “God, you sound like the sort of millennial the baby boomers harp on about.”

“Mi–millennial?”

“It’s an insult.” Lance paused. “Well, sort of. I mean, old people make it sound like an insult but I mean, it’s just a generation.”

The man squinted at him like he was an idiot. Which was rude since that’s exactly what Lance was trying to convey to Red Plaid™ about him and his camera. Whatever.

“Okay,” he said slowly, “So, I’m just going to go now.”

“What, now? You mean you don’t care about that perfect placement of leaves anymore?”

Red Plaid™ rolled his eyes with enough feeling that Lance felt straight up offended. “The lighting’s already changed.”

“Holy shit,” stage-whispered Lance, “You’re pretentious.”

“Shut up,” snapped Red Plaid™ in response, “I’m sure you’re the type that insists all your fuck ups are for ironic purposes. Like using that iPod instead of a proper camera, when you’re on vacation in Ireland.”

Lance never thought he’d see the day he got called out so efficiently by anyone other than Pidge or Hunk. He gaped at the other man for barely three seconds, but they were long, drawn out seconds. When he figured out his jaw was loose, Lance snapped it shut and scoffed. As if that would heal his pride.

“Don’t talk like you know me,” sniffed Lance.

“Take your own advice,” the man shot back as he prepared to descend from the tree.

God damn it.

 

“Whatever, I’m leaving, bye,” said Lance impressively before rounding on his heel and strutting away. There was no way he was letting Red Plaid™ leave ahead of him like that. He had to maintain his position on his imaginary social ladder.

It only took him two minutes to find his way out of the Not-Actually-A-Maze maze, but Lance found himself on a part of the main path he hadn’t taken before. He took pride in only being disconcerted for a solid ten seconds before he heard his name being called and turned to see his elderly friends waving at him from the end of the path, the corner of the greenhouse peeking out behind a tree. Lance beamed as he went to join them, though he wasn’t exactly sure why he was grinning so broadly.

“Sniff too many flowers, Lance?” jabbed Luanne with a smile.

Lance swung out an arm. “There are barely any flowers here, Luanne. Just trees and bushes. Like they’re nice, don’t get me wrong, but the flowers really don’t grow where there’s no sunlight, do they?”

“So, sniffing shrubbery, then?”

In that moment, Lance saw Pidge as a seventy year old.

“There’s a rose garden this way,” interjected Barb, “Maybe we can find something pricklier than Luanne there.”

Lance burst out laughing. “Oooooooh.”

Luanne sniffed dismissively, but she was grinning. Barb led the way to the rose garden with purpose, her steps short but quick. As it turned out, the garden was on the opposite side of the hill Lance had totally not gotten lost in. Stone slabs formed neat rectangular borders around the trellises jutting out of the dirt. Twisted about them were dense clusters of brilliant red roses. Lance wasn’t exactly a flower person, but even he could appreciate the deep colour, the pristine state of the petals when he took a closer look, and the temptingly sharp edges of the thorns. He made an impressed sound under his breath, and heard Henry chuckle.

 

The roses were all the same, so once Lance had his fill of them – and had taken numerous pictures both decent and infuriatingly shoddy – he stepped in line with Barb, Luanne, Henry and the rest of their group as it drifted towards the large stone house. Heat touched the back of Lance’s neck and he paused once more to enjoy it and let his skin soak it up. He turned to face the sun’s temporary warmth and opened his eyes to see the light turning the roses into crimson fireworks as they adjusted. Blinking rapidly, Lance’s attention was drawn to the red of the coat tied around the waist of a shaggy-haired man.

 

Lance’s lips twitched. The sun was apparently throwing off Red Plaid™’s photoshoot as he shuffled awkwardly around to prevent his shadow from falling over the flowers. He seemed to realize how awkward it was when he crouched and stood rapidly, bobbing about like some demented bird. He looked up, face stony as he glanced about quickly, before his gaze met Lance’s. Dark brows furrowed. As the day before at the cliff, the other man tried to appear nonchalant, as if he hadn’t just been doing something questionable. Lance treated him with a crooked grin that widened when Red Plaid™’s lip curled. Then Barb was summoning him, and Lance turned around and jogged to catch up to his group.

 


 

10:45 PM

Hunkules

someone tipped over our planters today

everything was on the floor when we came in

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

wtf you don’t know who did it?

 

Hunkules

no :/

it’s fine though, I just felt bad because Shay kept apologizing

even though it wasn’t her fault in the least

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

yeah

what about your project then?

 

Hunkules

it’s fine because it’s still early

most of them were fine anyway, we can still work with them

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

that’s good to hear!!

 

Hunkules

yep

how’s school there??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

the whole italian thing is throwing me off

but actually almost everyone speaks english anyway??

kinda disappointed tho

 

Hunkules

does your host family speak English with you???

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

mostly italian actually!

they’re really forcing me to practice

which i’m glad

 

Hunkules

nice!! you’ll be fluent in no time!!!

ℓαиçә

learning any good cuss words??

dr4g0ns14y3r

a ton

all of which i’ll be using on you

;)

ℓαиçә

bring it ON

gonna find some sweet ass disses in welsh to throw ur way

dr4g0ns14y3r

i smell a throwdown

ℓαиçә

ohohoho yessssss

Hunkules

dibs on moderating!!

ℓαиçә

o cmon hunk join in

i know uve got some hawaiian curses up ur sleeve

Hunkules

I’m definitely not teaching you guys how to use them

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

properly

we still have google

 

Hunkules

:I

I resent you guys

ℓαиçә

sloppy badly translated swearing comin ur way

Hunkules

ugh

ℓαиçә

BEFORE I FORGET guess who tf i saw today

dr4g0ns14y3r

uh

robert sheehan??

ℓαиçә

i fukkin wish but no

the dude that was climbin the cliff yesrday

cept this time he was in a tree

Hunkules

that’s a habit he’ll probably regret when he falls off a building

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

nice hunk

did you photobomb him?

ℓαиçә

wtf how did i miss that opp

w/e ill get into some of barbs

Hunkules

what was he doing in a tree..???

ℓαиçә

takin pics of leaves

like im not even shittin u

he needed it in the exact right spot

dr4g0ns14y3r

omg because there isn’t a ton of photos exactly like that everywhere

ℓαиçә

i kno its so dumb

dr4g0ns14y3r

kind of pretentious

if he isn’t a pro photographer anyway

ℓαиçә

thats exactly what i said!!

Hunkules

you said that...to his face???

ℓαиçә

yes…..

Hunkules

Laaaaance

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

making friends!

ℓαиçә

w/e the great thing bout traveling is u dont see the same ppl!!!

im in the clear!!

dr4g0ns14y3r

k but watch

he’s going to end up everywhere you go

haunting you for that one time you called his artform pretentious

ℓαиçә

god pls dont jinx me

o i got some p sweet pics of flowers

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[IMAGE]

dr4g0ns14y3r

i’m already numb

 

Hunkules

:||||||||||||

>:|

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

shit you’ve disappointed hunk

ℓαиçә

omg no

hunk buddy i didnt mean it

Hunkules

it’s too late for that Lance

you’ve broken flowers

that’s unforgiveable

ℓαиçә

nooooooooo

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HEAL

Hunkules

not even decent pictures will save you

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

OSHIT!!!!!

i didn’t know hunk’s friendship breakup horizon would be shitty pictures of flowers

ℓαиçә

huuuuunk

[IMAGE]

[IMAGE]

i even took a good selfie!!!

[IMAGE]

Hunkules

oooh nice lighting

but no

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

hahahaha

ℓαиçә

3:<

dr4g0ns14y3r

curly eyebrows

 

Hunkules

sad curly eyebrows

ℓαиçә

omf

 


 

“You’re eating well?”

 

“Yes, mom.”

 

“Sleeping? I know your sleeping habits are terrible. It must be past midnight already there.”

 

“It’s only eleven thirty, it’s fine.” Lance huffed fondly, unperturbed by the mother henning he was receiving.

 

“But if you have a big day ahead of you–”

 

“It’s fine, mom!” interrupted Lance with a laugh, “I don’t have any big plans tomorrow besides eating a lot of food and spending all my money.”

 

“Oh, well, in that case, tell me everything!”

 

His mother was peering closely at his image on her screen, leaning in so all Lance could see was from her nose up. She sat back when he prompted her with an embarrassed giggle. In the background, Lance could see the top of Liza’s head as she popped in and out of the kitchen to put away groceries.

 

“What do you want to know?” asked Lance languidly, shifting to get more comfortable on the bed.

 

“Well, what are some exciting things you’ve seen? How’s the town? Have you met anyone else travelling?”

 

“There was some cool stuff. A castle with cannons, and this really nice garden on an estate for fancy, rich people.” Lance paused to think about it. “We went to this place called Ladies’ View, and it was actually really beautiful? Like the sun doesn’t really come out often over here, but when it does it just lights everything up. All the colours change, and get brighter. And there was this stone fort called, um, S–Staigue? Staigue stone fort, I think, which was kind of boring, actually? The best part was walking up to it and making bets with Luanne about how many piles of sheep shit Barb would step in. Poop, I mean.”

 

“Oh, you made some lady friends?”

 

Lance snorted a laugh. “They’re like, at least seventy-five, mom.”

 

“Just as well,” sighed his mother as Liza’s face appeared over her shoulder. “It would be heartbreaking if you met a nice Irish girl and fell in love, only to leave after a few days.”

 

“Or…?” prompted Lance with raised eyebrows.

 

She huffed. “Yes, yes, or a nice Irish boy. But can you imagine your children with red hair? It would be adorable.”

 

“Mom, contrary to popular belief, there aren’t actually a lot of redheads in Ireland.”

 

“What?!”

 

“I know, terrible. Maybe they’re all in Scotland.”

 

Liza interrupted then, bouncing slightly on her feet. “Are you getting souvenirs?”

 

“Try to at least hide your greed,” snorted Lance, “but yes, tomorrow I’m going to grab a few things. Authentic things. That scream Ireland.”

 

“Don’t spend all your money,” reminded his mother.

 

“Uh huh. I have it all sorted.”

 

“Unless you see a really nice merino wool blanket, then triple digits is fine.”

 

“That wouldn’t fit in my suitcase, mom, sorry to disappoint you.”

 

“Ah well, it was worth a try.”

 

“When are you going to post pictures?” asked Liza.

 

Lance shrugged. “I’ll sort through them before I leave tomorrow, I guess.”

 

“Do you regret not taking a real camera, yet?” His niece narrowed her eyes at him.

 

He gave her his biggest grin. “Nope!”

 

“Ugh.”

 


 

On Lance’s last full day, he made it his goal to visit every store the town of Dingle had to offer. He didn’t end up getting any cheese, but he did purchase a scone from a bakery that was still soft despite being several hours old. As he nibbled on it, Lance ducked into several stores and bought little knicknacks: a string bracelet in the pattern of celtic knots, a wooden ring with a druidic symbol, according to the shopkeep, and a pack of holographic sheep stickers he was planning on using to decorate Pidge’s room.

 

The only big purchase he ended up making was a merino wool shawl. A sweater would have cost him more than what he had left over for the first portion of his trip, and he figured with a shawl he couldn’t get the size wrong.

 

When he bored of the shops, Lance left everything he bought behind in his room, put on his jacket and left for a walk. The town itself was made up of shallow hills, with only the occasional stretch of flat ground. The landscape surrounding the town was no different. Lance followed the road until it split, one fork leading to the highway, and the other turning to hard packed dirt. Lance followed the dirt road, which curled up a tall hill.

 

Near the top was a gate overlooking some of the pastures. Lance perched himself on top of it, bracing his palms on the rough wood as he gazed out over the rolling hills. It was like the ocean, except a desaturated green where the dim sun didn’t touch instead of iron grey, and smooth where the water was choppy. But it still rolled and seemed to move out of time with the gusts of wind.

 

Lance sighed and inhaled deeply. The air tasted damp – rain was probably on the way. He would wait for it to reach him.

 

There was something peaceful about existing there, in that moment, Lance thought. Far from anything he was familiar with, distant from all the people who knew him, and detached from his stress and worries. He wasn’t himself, but another passing stranger whose gaze levelled with this unknown horizon. Everything that gripped his throat and soured his lungs was across an ocean – all the decisions he had to make, the fears and anxieties about his swiftly approaching future, the responsibilities he wanted to ignore. All of it was gone. Lance knew it was a temporary feeling, but he relished in it nonetheless.

 

Then the rain fell like a sheet on top of him, and Lance stood on the gate with his arms flung out, howling his glee to the broiling sky above and the heavens of his mother and father.

 


12:08 AM

ℓαиçә

thought i saw red plaid guy today

i went to the ub and there was live msuic

pub**

music ****dammit

n after the rain stopped there was this marching band outside

walkin down the road just giviner

n everyone was outside watching and cheerin

n i s2g isaw his mullet and i was like wtf srsly not again

but it wasnt him

lol

Hunkules

disappointed??

ℓαиçә

no….

Hunkules

are you leaving tomorrow???

ℓαиçә

yeah i have to grab a ferry or smth

Hunkules

“or something”

so you… don’t know??

ℓαиçә

yeah i should prob figure that out

Hunkules

please don’t get lost in another country

ℓαиçә

meh

[IMAGE]

Hunkules

oh thank god

it’s really pretty!! where’s it from??

ℓαиçә

a hill behindthe town (:

it was raining but then the sun came out

it was hella

Hunkules

looks like it!!

are you sad to be leaving??

ℓαиçә

meh kind of???

like its rly nice here but im excited to move on

like ireland was cool n all but mebs not my thing

four days was enough i think

Hunkules

too boring??

ℓαиçә

nah, just not enough sunlight

i need the sun

Hunkules

fair enough!

you ARE a sunflower :))

ℓαиçә

and ur a daisy :)))

Hunkules

<3

ℓαиçә

<3333

dr4g0ns14y3r

you guys are disgusting

ℓαиçә

venus fly trap!!!

dr4g0ns14y3r

:I

 


 

Chapter Text

Wales wasn’t that much different from Ireland, Lance decided, with its soft grey sky and chilly breezes and shallow hilly landscape. It did seem less cold overall, although he wasn’t sure whether that had something to do with the forecast or if it really was climate. Regardless, Lance appreciated being able to get away with just a hoodie or jacket rather than layering them both when he walked the town.

 

Currently he was exploring the area near the hostel. The walled town of Tenby was right on the coast, with clusters of sailboats sitting in the sand at lowtide. Lance learned quickly that many of the town’s charms were hidden in the nooks and crannies, in unassuming alleyways that opened up into courtyards, and narrow stairs that led to tiny shops and cafés. He found himself taking one particular set of steps between terracotta and brick structures, hunting for a shortcut down to the docks and the castle hill beyond them. Lance was just at the bottom of the steps, about to blow right on forward, when speckles of colour caught his eye.

 

He paused, his head turning before his body, and appraised the tiny, cramped bookstore in front of him. Green letters simply read “cofion” on a white frame. Clay planters hung from the red brick walls and the ground, filled with all sorts of little flowers. Lance wasn’t big on botany – that was Hunk’s gig – but he had picked up some knowledge by being in proximity to his flower-loving friend. Pansies clustered around some sort of grapefruit coloured flower in one pot, and another held begonias in the same hue.

 

But what really caught Lance’s attention was what laid past the open glass door: stacks upon stacks of books forming towers nearly as tall as the bookshelves, with barely enough room to inch further into the depths of the little shop, and postcards and photographs stuck to the inside of the pane glass window.

 

Lance knew he had to buy a book here.

 

And so he did, scooting past the first few stacks before stopping, barely two feet inside and already having passed hundreds of books. He didn’t know where to start. Eyes adjusting to the dim lighting, Lance went by colour instead of title, trying to find a manhandled book with an interesting cover.

 

“Looking for anything in particular?”

 

Lance twitched and spun to face the shopkeep, elbowing a dozen books clean off the tower behind him. Spluttering an apology, he bent down to pick them up, only sending more books cascading to the floor with a hip check.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” laughed the shopkeep, a kindly older man with wireframe glasses perched on his nose, “Just stack ‘em wherever.”

 

“R-right, sorry,” said Lance as he tried to put the fallen books in a position where they wouldn’t go flying too soon.

 

“So were you looking for anything specific?” asked the man again, resting an arm against a bookshelf. He had appeared around a corner Lance hadn’t even thought existed, as packed as the place was with books.

 

To answer his question, Lance shrugged. “Not really. I just wanted to get something. A classic, maybe.”

 

“Well I’ve got tons of those.” He gave a sweeping gesture at the entire wall. “New and old. A lot of these you can find freshly pressed in the big shops, but none of those are like the ones here. Pre-loved, worn pages, smelling all musty like the houses they used to live in.”

 

He sighed fondly. “Some even have pen doodles in the margins. I love those the best.”

 

Lance nodded his head, taking a moment to temper his enthusiasm. “Yes, yes, yes. Like that. I want a book like that.”

 

“Have at it, then,” chuckled the shopkeep, “I’ll have a see around this side. Is there a genre you’re more leaning towards?”

 

“Hmm,” mused Lance, “Nothing too heavy. Like, psychologically. 1984 messed me up big time. I started thinking too deeply and my showers became philosophical cesspools.”

 

“I’m guessing mystery thrillers aren’t your thing either?”

 

“Yeah, they stress me out. I’ve looked up spoilers on purpose just so I wouldn’t be shocked.”

 

“Maybe a picture book will do?” joked the shopkeep.

 

“That doesn’t sound too bad, actually.”

 

Lance took a stack of books in hand, reading titles as he dropped them back down one at a time. He could hear the shopkeep shuffling books, occasionally making a hum of consideration. Three harlequin romances in a row, and Lance was seriously considering one of them.

 

“How do you feel about Messengers of Deception?

 

Lance spluttered a laugh.”What’s that about? Wait, don’t tell me. Sci-fi?”

 

“Close.”

 

“Fantasy?”

 

“Getting colder.”

 

“Wait, wait.” Lance walked his fingers along the book spines. “Is it non-fiction?”

 

“That… depends on who you ask,” said the shopkeep, the grin evident in his voice.

 

Lance spluttered a laugh. “Oh my God, conspiracy theory? Please tell me it’s about UFO’s!”

 

“Nothing more classic than aliens.”

 

“I’m already in love –” Lance’s finger hit a book jutting out from the rest of them. “–but I think I just found gold.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Cat poems. Poems about cats. I never knew I needed this in my life until now.” Lance flipped through to a random page and made a strangled sound in the back of his throat. “There are pictures.”

 

The shopkeep burst out laughing, the sound becoming clearer when he rounded the shelf that separated them. “Then it was meant to be.”

 

Excited as he was for his new favourite book, Lance dumped a handful of random coins into the shopkeep’s palm. With a chortle, he picked through and half of them found their way back into Lance’s hand.

 

“This book just became my favourite souvenir,” declared Lance, suddenly holding it like it was made of glass. He hoped it wouldn’t break apart in his suitcase.

 

“If only all my books could find their way into the hands of people like you,” said the shopkeep with a grin.

 

Lance flapped a hand bashfully. “You give me too much credit. But… there’s one last thing, if it’s not too awkward of a request.”

 

“Hm? What’s that?”

 

“D’you think you’d be okay with taking a picture with me?” asked Lance, grinning sheepishly. “Y’know, for like a photo journal type of thing.”

 

The shopkeep hummed and hawed, and then his eyes crinkled in a good-natured smile and he nodded. “Go on, then.”

 

Lance excitedly took out his iPod, turning the front camera on and aiming it to get both their faces and the great stacks of books behind them in the frame. When all was said and done, Lance shuffled out of the store thanking the shopkeep profusely until he was past the potted plants.

 


 

9:58 PM

Hunkules

okay someone /must/ be doing this on purpose

some of the pots got flipped again

I got there before Shay so I could clean it up

but she noticed something was off and I couldn’t just lie to her

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

that’s shitty

maybe someone is trying to get rid of the competition

 

Hunkules

they’d better stop before I get mad ://

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

yikes

someone’s gonna get it

 

Hunkules

we’re in university!!

this is so immature!!!

not to mention whether they’ve got it out for me OR Shay

they’re dragging on someone unrelated anyway

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

want me to look into it?

 

Hunkules

that’s way too much work

and also illegal

so no

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

i’d just be looking up keywords in chat logs!

 

Hunkules

it’s a breach of privacy, Pidge!!

it’s also fine, nobody is getting hurt

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

mmmhmmmmm

well if you change your mind i’m always here!

 

Hunkules

unless you’re destroying everyone in your programming class

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

i always have an ear open for you guys :>

speaking of school, how’s your engineering classes going?

 

Hunkules

rough, fullstop

they’re interesting but they’re really demanding

I’m glad I took this envirosci class for the fall semester

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

a good break, huh?

don’t stress out like you did in high school

 

Hunkules

meeeeeh

I can’t turn it on and off :((

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

huuuuuunk…..

 

Hunkules

I’m serious!!

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

i knooow but the moment i catch you pulling your hair out about something miniscule

i’ll pummel you

 

Hunkules

well

I’ll leave it to you then

and your tiny fists :))

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

tiny sharp fists

 


 

10:36 PM

ℓαиçә

sry i wasnt on last night

i was exploring as soon as i got in

and maaaaybe got lost when it got dark

dr4g0ns14y3r

seriously lance?

ℓαиçә

i didnt have a map ok!!!!!

neway hunk buddy u ok??¿

Hunkules

yep!!

I actually figured out what I was doing wrong on this one assignment

now everything makes sense

and I’m in a GREAT MOOD :D

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

nice!

ℓαиçә

excellent

if u find out who those lil asshats are ill come back n kick em

dr4g0ns14y3r

oOoOoOo a mighty kick

 

Hunkules

don’t underestimate him, Pidge

he jabs with his toes

they’re like knives

ℓαиçә

dare i say theyre more painful than ur knuckles pidge???

dr4g0ns14y3r

:O

no...

 

Hunkules

I can attest

his charlie horses are the worst

ℓαиçә

;)

dr4g0ns14y3r

well

i can’t believe i’ve never had the honour of a lance charlie horse

ℓαиçә

im a gentleman

also can u imagine my mom if she knew i did tht to u

shed actually kill me

dr4g0ns14y3r

hahaha true

 

Hunkules

I’m sure Lance would be willing to show you when he gets to Venice :)

ℓαиçә

u realize thats basically inviting them to retalit

retaliate

dr4g0ns14y3r

scared, lance? :>

ℓαиçә

i dont want to suffer nerve damage

Hunkules

a valid fear

so what did you get up to yesterday and today??

ℓαиçә

ok first i found this super adorable bookstore

[IMAGE]

and the old guy inside helped me find a book

and we took a selfie!!

[IMAGE]

Hunkules

how does one even go inside!!

it’s /packed/

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

how did you manage to not knock anything down?

ℓαиçә

mebs cause i did

knock shit down

like a whole bunch

dr4g0ns14y3r

well ok that makes more sense

ℓαиçә

neway

i got a book full of cat poems

w PICTURES

:3c

Hunkules

yessssss

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

omg you would

 

Hunkules

please give us an example

ℓαиçә

this woudl be so much better if i could do a dramatic reading

i had a cat

grey

soft

fat

given to grrrring

quite softly

and prrrrring

slipped off one morning

near the green glen

htat was my cat

who was not seen again.

…….

dr4g0ns14y3r

umm

that was… kind of sad

 

Hunkules

yyeaahh…..

ℓαиçә

ok im gonna read through em first

before i accidnetally give u guys a sad one again

wtf

OMFG

dr4g0ns14y3r

what

ℓαиçә

O

M

F

G

dr4g0ns14y3r

….

WHAT

 

ℓαиçә

ok so um

luanne added me on fb

dr4g0ns14y3r

k who?

ℓαиçә

one of the old ppl i was bffls with in dingle

dr4g0ns14y3r

ah ok

ℓαиçә

so i thought she was married to henry

dr4g0ns14y3r

i take it she’s not?

ℓαиçә

but they live in the same house

dr4g0ns14y3r

scandalous?

 

Hunkules

I think this is build up

ℓαиçә

shes got a pic where

she and henry are chillin

except

dr4g0ns14y3r

except WHAT

ℓαиçә

[IMAGE]

Hunkules

awww :))

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

LOL OMG

ℓαиçә

is my gaydar broken???¿¿¿

how could i possibly overlook this??????

it was staring STRAIGHT AT ME

haha striaght

dr4g0ns14y3r

omfg do you think they might be married for

BENEFITS?

 

Hunkules

remember when you were worried they were homophobes??

ℓαиçә

DAMMIT I MISSED OUT ON SO

MANY

GAY JOKES

Hunkules

wait so are those people they’re posing with their actual SO’s???

ℓαиçә

from the comments

i think

theyre hookups

dr4g0ns14y3r

HOOOOOMY GOD

nooooooooooo

Nope.

 

Hunkules

Pidge it’ll be okay

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

my brain feels SOURED

ℓαиçә

well hey

it cant be as bad as

Hunkules

please don’t say it Lance

ℓαиçә

The Human Centipede

dr4g0ns14y3r

I JUST FCUKING FORGOT ABOUT THAT DAMN MOVIE

WHY WOULD YOU BRING IT UP OMFG

ℓαиçә

:3c

 


 

On his second full day in Tenby, Lance took a stroll down to the beach. He had already found some locally made souvenirs the day before: sculpted coal animals, a coin with the Y Ddraig Goch imprinted on it, and his favourite, a keychain that said “Welsh Pornstar” beneath an image of a sheep (he had no idea what was going on with that one). The majority of his pictures were quick snapshots of interesting street corners and creative shop displays, and the occasional video of a street performer or a couple wearing American flag t-shirts getting mobbed by birds for their food (another favourite). He’d tried to get a good picture of the wall that Tenby was known for, but it was difficult to get an angle that could show what it was without him needing to describe it, so Lance shrugged and committed the feel of it beneath his fingertips to memory.

 

The beach was an easy thing to admire. It was currently low tide, and the expanse of sand was massive. Several rock formations that were half engulfed by water in the early morning were now dry just past noon. Dozens of people were taking advantage of the extra space. Dogs were running free, bounding after balls and frisbees whizzing over their heads. Several children were working hard drawing a massive face in the sand using large sticks.

 

Lance was just making his way towards the stairs leading down when something caught his eye. Or rather, someone. She was leaning on the railing, elbows braced on the metal and hands linked loosely in front of her. Thick black twists were draped over her shoulders, held back from her face with a yellow scarf. She looked as though she was contemplating the people below her.

 

A perfect opportunity.

 

Running his fingers quickly through his hair to undo what the breeze had done to it, Lance sidled on up to the woman. Casually he leaned his forearms into the railing beside her, turning a heavy-lidded gaze on the woman as she looked up.

 

“Do you believe in fate?” asked Lance, the words dripping from his tongue like honey – or so he’d like to think. “‘Cause I do. And I think you should, too.”

 

She blinked at him, looking utterly lost for a brief moment before her bright pink lips widened into a smile. She laughed. Lance felt his chest swell with the sound.

 

“Really? Fate?” She lifted a hand to cover her mouth. “That’s the best you can do?”

 

The deflation to his ego happened a lot faster. “Uh – no. I’ve got a whole list, I can go through ‘em.”

 

“Oh God, please don’t.”

 

Lance turned up his nose. “Now hold on a hot minute – wait, you’re American?”

 

The woman raised her eyebrows with a smirk. “Ooh, you caught me. I’m a tourist. Trying to pick up some Welsh babes?”

 

“Um.” Lance pretended he wasn’t flushing – it was just the breeze nipping at his cheeks. “No? Okay, yes. So sue me.”

 

“Your game is pretty weak,” she said, turning her gaze back out onto the beach. “Nyma, by the way.”

 

It took Lance a moment to realize she was introducing herself, and he fumbled to do the same. “Er – Lance.”

 

“And I do believe in fate.”

 

“Wha–?”

 

“If you’re going to try picking up chicks with a line like that, you should be prepared to commit.” Nyma flashed a grin at him that seemed taunting at best. “So? You said you do?

 

Lance blinked once, twice. He reached up to scratch the side of his head sheepishly. “I.. don’t think I actually do.”

 

“So maybe you should change that pick up line.”

 

“I didn’t expect to find myself having a philosophy lesson–”

 

“Then you’re never gonna get a girl,” pouted Nyma mockingly, “You’re not genuine at all.”

 

“But fate? Really?” Lance snorted, dropping all pretenses when he realized that this woman, like so many others, just wasn’t having it. “Isn’t that a little juvenile?”

 

Nyma tossed her ropes of hair back, casting him a pitying glance. “Not believing in fate is like not believing in true love, or love at first sight, or, I don’t know, God? Do you not have something unexplainable that you believe in? Aliens? Mind reading?”

 

“Aliens, definitely,” drawled Lance, then reluctantly shrugged. “I don’t know. Love is love, it’s not like there’s some bond that transcends the mortal realm bringing two people together.”

 

His mother used to say faith and love were tied together, when he was young and ate up the stories almost as eagerly as he did candy. But as Lance got older, he found it difficult to blindly believe in something that he couldn’t find proof of. He didn’t understand the point of his family’s faith in a faceless deity, when he could easily pray to someone else’s gods. Why choose one over another? So, eventually, Lance stopped trying to understand, and while he was just as involved as his siblings when his parents willed it, he didn’t invest any faith in their beliefs.

 

To Lance, fate was much the same thing. What was the point of it? He thought it seemed a little weak willed, when people went off about soulmates and the strings of fate that tied them together. Especially when they did nothing to find that other half, even when they complained about their loneliness. If they wanted it so badly, why wait for a phantom when they could go out and meet people?

 

He remembers Hunk calling him cold for that one. He also remembers being offended, but saying nothing in response. So maybe there were people that couldn’t put themselves out there as easily as Lance – though it wasn’t easy in the least – so what? Their soulmate wouldn’t just appear out of the sky on a cloud of coincidences until they connected. That would be ridiculous – and far too straightforward.

 

Building relationships was messy, no matter what kind they were. And that was what Lance liked about them the most. There was no fate, just effort, and a willingness to look in places unconventional.

 

“How boring,” sighed Nyma. Lance shot her a weak glare, unable to fully commit to a scowl, and she laughed. “You’re probably the type of person that meets their soulmate and yet refuses to believe it till the very end.”

 

Lance rolled his eyes. “Someone doesn’t need to be a soulmate for me to know when we hit it off. If it clicks, it clicks. Fate’s got nothing to do with it.”

 

He leaned further forward, resting his chin in his palm. The air smelled salty, but less like fish than he thinks the Irish coast smelled like. Down below, the face in the sand had eyebrows and a crooked nose. A couple were dancing and laughing while someone took candid shots of them. A man wearing a grey beanie walked towards the island, path laid bare by the low tide. He paused, crouched, lifted his camera and aimed it at the stone house on top. Lance slowly lowered his hand from his jaw.

 

“Sometimes,” Nyma was saying, “You don’t hear the click.”

 

But Lance wasn’t really paying attention anymore, his focus zeroing in on the man on the beach. He pushed himself away from the railing slowly, brow furrowed. Why was he so familiar? The hamster was running fast in his brain’s wheel, he could feel it, but the pieces were falling into place too slowly.

 

Grey beanie.

 

Hefty camera.

 

Fingerless gloves?

 

“No way,” muttered Lance in disbelief. Impossible.

 

Then he was stepping away from Nyma and the railing as he said “Thanks for the heart to heart” over his shoulder. He didn’t hear her laugh wryly as he left.

 

He walked briskly to the stairs, taking them two at a time before hesitating. It wasn’t him, just another guy with the same monochromatic fashion sense and camera. It’s not like there was anything that stood out about Red Plaid™ besides the aforementioned red plaid. Actually, even if it was him, why would Lance go dashing across the beach? What would he even do? They weren’t friends, they didn’t even know each other’s names. It was stupid – but Lance was taking those damn steps two at a time anyway.

 

When he reached the sand, the other man was already at the island. The dark rock and his black clothing made it difficult to see him from where Lance was. The kids were giving their sand portrait something that looked like broccoli for hair, but it was right in Lance’s path. Without giving it much thought, he hopped through it like it was hopscotch, much to the loud dismay of the kids. After dodging a massive stick one of them chucked at him, and shouting at them to quit it, Lance looked up to realize the man was gone. Brow furrowed, he picked up his pace, but tried to keep from breaking out into a jog. He wasn’t totally sure why he was so impatient.

 

When he got to the island, Lance realized there was a gap in the rock face. He walked through it, keeping his eyes peeled. The other side was a clear view of the ocean, dark like the Irish coast but far less choppy. The curve of the island amplified the sound of the shallow waves trying to lap at the rocks. Moss clung to the rocks like tiny forests on mountainsides, and pools had formed in the lower of the rock clusters. But no matter where Lance turned, he was the only person there.

 

Lance approached the water, pausing just before it could reach his shoes, and turned with his brow furrowed. He could spot some tourists lingering around the far side, but he wasn’t too sure if one of them could’ve been the man he’d been following or not. Folding his arms across his chest, Lance shrugged it off and started back towards the gap in the rock. If he craned his neck from there, he could just barely see the corner of the building that sat atop the island. It seemed, to Lance, a strange place to put a house. Granted, he wasn’t even sure what it was for. That was probably something a tourist such as himself should’ve looked into.

 

However, as he was eyeing the wall, Lance couldn’t help but think that it was the exact kind of place he would’ve expected to see Red Plaid™ scaling the rock. His mouth twitched into a grin. Before he could think it over, he had both hands on the mossy rock and was trying to haul himself up. The rocks were slick, however, and no matter how madly he scrambled, Lance ended up ass first on the ground.

 

He couldn’t help but laugh at himself. He resigned himself to a quick picture on his iPod, and then another of his legs sprawled out on the sand to show the poor decisions he was making.

 


 

“Can you hear me?”

 

“Yeah. You’re clear.”

 

“Great. Now, tell me everything.”

 

“Define everything.”

 

“Where’d you go, what did you eat, who you spoke to–”

 

“Oh my God, calm down.”

 

“I can’t help it! My little brother is travelling all by his lonesome. I’m curious and concerned.”

 

“I’m not a child, Shiro,” sighed Keith, tilting the laptop back a bit so the camera didn’t cut off the top of his head. He was sitting cross legged on the bed, laptop propped up higher on a pillow he didn’t need.

 

“No, but this is your first time travelling alone, and not even on home soil.” The man occupying the majority of the screen was grinning dryly. “You’re not nervous?”

 

Keith shrugged.

 

“And the language barrier?”

 

The responding grimace was barely perceptible, but Shiro had grown accustomed to the minute changes in Keith’s expressions when he didn’t want them to be seen. His expression softened sympathetically. Shiro had travelled quite a bit, and people often assumed he was from the West by how clear his English was. Keith knew he had an accent, and nobody usually commented on it, but listening to words that were supposed to be English but sounded anything but was another story. He was relieved he could lapse back into Japanese comfortably with Shiro. At home they would flip between the two languages at random, forming oddly patchworked conversations that nobody but them could completely follow. Since Keith had gone to Europe, Shiro made a point to stick to Japanese. It was familiar ground.

 

“It’s not actually that bad,” amended Keith quickly, “The Irish accent was really hard to deal with sometimes. The slang. But it’s easier in Cardiff, since Welsh is a lot clearer.”

 

“Good to hear,” beamed Shiro, “So, get arrested yet?”

 

Keith jerked his head back with an offended splutter. “Arrested? What do you think I’m even doing over here? What crimes do you imagine I’m committing?”

 

Shiro laughed, the camera shaking with him. “I picture you waltzing into restricted areas of historical monuments. You know. Trespassing.”

 

“I haven’t done anything like that,” scowled Keith. Then his expression faltered. He swallowed, too late realizing Shiro would be able to catch that.

 

“Is that sooo?” Shiro had his all-knowing grin hitched on. Keith wished he could smack the laptop shut without any consequences, but he couldn’t avoid Shiro forever.

 

Keith sighed in resignation and said, “I may have been caught yesterday. Scaling a cliff.”

 

“You were what?”

 

“Climbing a cliff. Well, the side of an island, really.”

 

“And where was this?” asked Shiro slowly.

 

Keith cleared his throat awkwardly. “Um, hold on. I’ll upload everything to the dropbox.”

 

There was a tapping sound coming from Shiro’s end, accompanied by the tilting of his head in faux impatience. It didn’t take long for the pictures to start appearing in the dropbox folder as Keith dragged the load of them across the screen. He never bothered sorting through them. All the ones he didn’t think were good enough got deleted soon after he took them, anyway.

 

“You should take more pictures of yourself.”

 

Keith made a gagging sound, to which Shiro chuckled.

 

“I’m serious!” he said, shaking his head, “All your photos are great, but there’s none with you in them.”

 

“I don’t need to be in them,” sniffed Keith dismissively, “That’s the great part.”

 

“Yeah? But then when you look back at them, you won’t remember what you were like.”

 

“Uh, so?” Keith rolled his eyes. “I don’t need to know what shirt I was wearing when I climbed an island.”

 

Shiro’s sigh was barely audible, but it was there nonetheless. “It’s not about what you’re wearing – ah, nevermind, you’ll figure it out. Now, where’s the island?”

 

“Uuh, third down on the left.”

 

“Nice. But… there’s stairs right there.”

 

“Yeah, I was on the other side.”

 

“So, instead of walking around…”

 

“I climbed it.”

 

“Keith, why?”

 

With a grin and a shrug, Keith dismissed the question. “A few over is the one I took halfway up.”

 

“When did you get caught?” asked Shiro, brow furrowed as his gaze scoured the pictures.

 

“Right as I was hopping over the railing,” said Keith, “Although can you really call it caught if they never managed to catch me?”

 

“Oh my God, you ran?”

 

“I lost them when I got to the roof.”

 

“You… parkoured, didn’t you?”

 

“Yep,” admitted Keith in English, popping his lips on the p. “They thought I dove into the bushes or something. It was great. Actually, I have a picture of them looking for me.”

 

“I can’t believe you,” snorted Shiro, then backtracked and shook his head, “Actually, yes I can. Where was this?”

 

“Ah, St Catherine’s fort. I took a day trip into this town called Tenby.”

 

“What’s the significance of it?”

 

Keith couldn’t help it – his mouth twitched as he tried to hold back a laugh. “Uh – Dunno. I was too busy fleeing the tourist authorities.”

 

Shiro slid a hand over his face. “Yoouuu.

 

“Sorry,” squeaked Keith, a splutter escaping his pursed lips.

 

“You’re an animal,” lamented Shiro, “You take all these great pictures and have no idea what any of it is.”

 

“Uh, it was a fort?”

 

“I swear to God.”

 

“Hey, I got a souvenir at least!”

 

At that, Shiro dropped his hand and stared at him, or rather stared down at his screen that showed Keith. “You bought something? That wasn’t food? And that you plan on bringing back with you?”

 

“Yeah, hold on,” said Keith, trying not to look too excited as he stretched an arm out to rifle around the bag he had open on the bed with it.

 

When he drew out the book he was looking for and pointed it at the camera, Shiro’s face split into a massive smile before he burst out laughing. The speakers protested at the sound. Keith huffed at the excessive show of mirth, lowering the book and turning it over in his hands. A man in a black suit and bowtie was drawn on the cover, looking rather vampiresque, while a UFO shot a beam of light at the ground behind him. White and orange lettering at the top read Messengers of Deception. The old man in the cramped bookstore had been flipping through it casually when Keith came in, and had easily given to him as soon as he saw Keith’s expression when he laid eyes on it.

 

“Please tell me it’s fiction,” gasped Shiro, making a show of dabbing at his eyes with his knuckles.

 

Keith turned up his nose. “It’s a very compelling read, Shiro. The author makes a lot of good points, ones that you can’t ignore!”

 

“I love you, buddy,” said Shiro, his voice bubbling with a barely contained giggle, “But I’m not going to read conspiracy theories when you get back.”

 

“What if it’s a gift? Then you’d have to.”

 

“You underestimate me.”

 

“They’re not just theories, Shiro!” Keith shook the book at the laptop. “The government’s hiding shit from us!”

 

“I don’t doubt it, but aliens?

 

“There’s a book translated from Old Welsh about possible contact up to the fifteenth century that I want to get. I might be able to find some good locations while I’m here to see for myself–”

 

“That’s just asking to get lost in the middle of the Welsh wilderness,” sighed Shiro, “Please don’t. You’re leaving soon, right?”

 

Keith lowered the book into his lap, deciding to let the conspiracy theories slide (for now). “Yeah, I’m grabbing the train tomorrow.”

 

“King’s Cross?”

 

“Nah, Paddington.”

 

“Oh.” Shiro sighed in disappointment. “Can I request you go to King’s Cross to get a picture on platform nine and three quarters?”

 

Keith curled his lip at that. “That’s even worse than a selfie. That’s asking someone else to hold my camera and take a picture of me, what, pretending to go through a wall?”

 

“Uh, yeah?”

 

“No chance. They’d steal my camera.”

 

“Don’t pretend like that’s the reason you wouldn’t be willing.”

 

“Also why would I want pictures of myself?”

 

Shiro rolled his eyes. “There it is. Well, I stand by what I said earlier. You’ll figure it out.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

“Tell me about Ireland, then.”

 

“Ah!” Keith scrolled up through his pictures until he caught sight of the two he wanted to show Shiro. “Fifty two and fifty three. They’re the same picture but the sun came out in the second one.”

 

Shiro leaned in slightly to get a good look. “Oh wow, the difference in colour.”

 

“I know. It’s like the sun bumped up the saturation tenfold. Also, where are your glasses?”

 

“Great question,” said Shiro, blinking rapidly then narrowing his eyes, “I think I left them in my gym bag when I got changed. I need a new prescription anyway.”

 

“Old man.”

 

“Don’t start with me,” snorted Shiro. He pointed at the screen before remembering Keith couldn’t see what he was pointing at. “This here– I mean, behind the flowers. Is that a person?”

 

“What?” Keith expanded the photo to full screen. Sure enough, there was a figure, presumably male, visible between two flowers. He was much more visible in the second image. And familiar. “Ugh, that guy, he ruined my frame.”

 

“You know him?”

 

“Yeah,” sighed Keith, “He caught me climbing. Twice, actually.”

 

Shiro chuckled. “Did you run from him, too?”

 

“Nah, he was a tourist so he couldn’t do anything.” A muscle beneath Keith’s eye twitched as he recalled the other man. “He was taking pictures with an iPod. Not even a proper camera. And he gave me shit for how I took pictures.”

 

“Mm, maybe he’s a live in the moment kind of guy?”

 

Keith snorted. “He had no appreciation for real photography. For art.”

 

“He’s probably not there for the pictures, you know,” said Shiro with a lazy swing of his hand, “You could do with lowering your camera more often, though.”

 

“Don’t make it sound like it’s glued to my face,” snapped Keith with a scowl, though it lacked any real heat. He couldn’t actually get angry at Shiro anymore than Shiro could with him. “I’m capturing the moment while living in it. Everyone else is just missing out on immortalizing it.”

 

“It’s not like you’re going to forget–”

 

“But what if I do?”

 

Shiro frowned. “Keith–”

 

“It’s possible.” Keith ran a hand through his hair, perhaps a little too roughly. “One day I’m going to realize I don’t remember what the wind felt like, or what the coast smelled like, or how the rock felt under my hands. But these pictures could– they could jog my memory, or at least remind me where I’ve been, or –”

 

Keith, you’re not going to just suddenly forget all of this,” said Shiro, his frown deepening as Keith went on.

 

So he said. But Keith knew. He knew it was more like the trickling of memories in an hourglass, from what he could recall to what suddenly were blank spaces in sentences. What used to be so obvious, so familiar, became an unrelenting itch. Common knowledge became obscure. Thoughts and feelings became echoes. He knew, because he’d seen it happen.

 

And no matter how many times Shiro reassured him it wasn’t going to happen to Keith, those slight odds and his own paranoia were still there.

 

Shiro worried about him, encouraged him to obsess less and live more. So Keith didn’t tell him about the thousands of screenshots he had of conversations, images, websites, even confirmation receipts.

 

Other people could live in the moment, but Keith had to document it as close to how he saw it through his own eyes. Just in case.

 

“I–I just want the pictures to turn out,” said Keith weakly, “There’s not really a point to picture if they’re not good.”

 

Shiro’s lips pursed, but his expression smoothed over soon after. He knew he wasn’t going to spontaneously win that one. But then another expression crossed his face, and Keith felt the foreboding in the pit of his stomach.

 

“What is it?” he asked flatly, before Shiro could try to grasp another train of thought.

 

The sigh wasn’t audible, but Keith could see Shiro’s shoulders fall.

 

“You have another acceptance letter,” said Shiro as nonchalantly as possible, “Have you… given any thought about it?”

 

“No.”

 

“Keith–You know what, never mind.” The older man shook his head. “You’ve got time to think about it… but if you could actually consider your options…”

 

“Yeah, okay, I will.”

 

Another thing to be concerned about. Keith hated where their conversation had ended up, and he needed to get out of it before his mood was permanently soured.

 

“I think I’m going to go,” said Keith, reaching over to put his book back into his bag. “There’s a cat café I want to check out.”

 

There was a pause. Keith straightened to see Shiro’s eyes bugging out.

 

“A… a cat café?”

 

Keith nodded. “Here in Cardiff. It’s called Feline Good.”

 

Shiro took a moment to process that. His mouth widened into a grin. “You would find a cat café in Wales.”

 

“Who do you take me for?” scoffed Keith, “Some sort of non-cat-lover? Disgusting. It’s important I compare the cats from home with the Welsh variety. For science.”

 

Shiro was laughing, and Keith felt the growing knot in his chest unravel. “Of course! Please tell me all about them next time. Get some autographed postcards.”

 

“If they have merch, I’m all over it.”

 


 

7:27 PM

ℓαиçә

so i thought i saw red plaid guy yesterday i think im losing it

he wasnt wearing red plaid tho so like

probs not him

dr4g0ns14y3r

i ship it

ℓαиçә

no u dont

dr4g0ns14y3r

it’s FATE

ℓαиçә

omfg

so i tried to pick up this chick

and she ended up givin me a philosophy lesson

on fate specifclaly

dr4g0ns14y3r

omg

you got schooled?

ship it

ℓαиçә

noo u dont

like actually she did school me tho

i coulda said smth but i didnt want a debate

dr4g0ns14y3r

you LET someone win?

amazing

she must’ve been hot

ℓαиçә

k she was but thats besides the point

who goes off about fate n shit when someone hits on em

dr4g0ns14y3r

honestly

kind of sounds like you could’ve hit it off really well?

if you didn’t apparently run away

ℓαиçә

wat

dr4g0ns14y3r

buddy

she didn’t ignore you

she kept talking

she offered you a reason to take her out for a drink to talk more

ℓαиçә

wait

FUCK

i cant believ

dr4g0ns14y3r

you missed a golden opportunity

i’m actually so ashamed of you

ℓαиçә

this sucks

i cant even try to find her bcos im leaving tomorrow

shiiiiit

dr4g0ns14y3r

loooool

well now you know for future reference

she was probably one in a million though

ℓαиçә

:///

 

 

Chapter Text

Of the places he had been thus far – Dublin, Limerick, Cardiff, Tenby – Keith decided that London was going to be his favourite. The difference in sheer size was overwhelming, alongside the packs of city people all striding in several different directions, yet no one was running into one another. But the great thing was that with the amount of people, nobody was particularly paying any attention to him. A smaller crowd would have drawn attention to each individual, but with all the bodies, everyone was too preoccupied with just getting through. Keith liked hiding just under the radar, and he could do just that with either nobody around, or a mob.

With camera in hand and its case slung over a shoulder, he strode forward into the mix, eyes trained ahead to gauge the path of least resistance. He turned onto a one-way street where the crowd was thinner, mostly people headed towards the car park nearby. The graffiti decorating the white painted brick gave Keith pause. It clearly wasn’t petty vandalism. What appeared to be a paisley walrus took up the bulk of the wall. Surrounding it were tiny flying animals, from hummingbirds to what was probably an attempt at an abstract mermaid. There was some evidence of old graffiti art – simplistic lettering that couldn’t have taken more than a minute – but it was mostly obscured by the walrus and its companions. Overall, it wasn’t anything jaw dropping, but the little figures had a certain charm to them, Keith supposed.

 

After making sure his camera was on the right setting, Keith glanced up the one-way and stepped out onto the pavement.

 

He realized a second later that he’d looked the wrong way when the car hit him.

 

It hurt. A lot. Keith couldn’t remember something hurting as much. It was like a charlie horse, except worse. Much worse. The bumper took him out just below the knee, and his left thigh hit the hood while his shoulder struck the windshield. The car, bright yellow and checkered around the sides, screeched to a stop. The resulting combination of forces sent Keith flying back away from the car, incidentally righting himself. The flats of his shoes hit the pavement, his legs bracing at the sudden impact, and Keith was standing. It was as if a giant hand had just picked him up and dropped him several feet to his right. As if he hadn’t just been struck by a cab.

 

There was a muffled “what the FUCK” from, presumably, the inside of the cab. Keith just stared at his camera. His leg and shoulder were on fire, but it couldn’t be too bad, right? He was still standing. Nah, it didn’t actually hurt.

 

He could practically hear Shiro in his head, sternly saying something about shock and adrenaline, but Keith waved away the little subconscious Shiro and turned to look at the cab.

 

The driver was just staring at him, wide-eyed, his fingers twitching on the steering wheel as if he wanted to whip the car around and drive off. The thought irritated Keith, so he narrowed his eyes in a glare. The cabbie froze as if made of wax. Good.

 

But the back door of the cab swung open, and someone was throwing themselves out of it in a hurry, stumbling on the curb when their long legs didn’t unfold fast enough. Then they were at Keith’s side, hands fluttering about wildly. Keith still had his gaze fixated on the driver, as if daring him to roll away, because for whatever reason Keith was itching for a reason to tear his bumper off.

 

His little mind-Shiro was babbling robotically at him, the typical emotional reaction to pain includes anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, frustration –

 

Yeah, yeah, subconscious brotherly concern, leave it for another time.

 

Keith was pretty positive he was currently stuck on anger, anyway.

 

“–dude? Are you okay? Hellooo?” A hand was suddenly waving in front of Keith’s face, breaking his eye contact with the cabbie.

 

Keith turned his icy stare on the passenger. He was only slightly taller than Keith, skin like burnished bronze and dark eyes frowning down a narrow nose. Keith couldn’t quite place it, but he seemed familiar. Maybe he was on the same train when Keith came in a couple days earlier, or perhaps he’d been ahead of him in line at a store. Regardless, the stranger was far too concerned with Keith’s current state. He was fine. The man opened his mouth to continue berating Keith, but the palm held an inch in front of his noise stopped him.

 

I’m fine,” said Keith, nodding when his voice came out normal, “I didn’t get hit that hard.

 

A bold lie.

 

However, the stranger was staring at him with his brow furrowed even further. It took Keith a moment to realize he’d been talking in Japanese. Whoops.

 

Switching to English, he repeated himself, although he was far less convincing after having just forgotten the language briefly.

 

The other man was still staring at Keith, blinking far too often and lips starting to press together thoughtfully. Keith just stared back, with slower blinks and the dawning realization his leg really fucking hurt. He couldn’t be sure whether the bone was broken or not, or if it was just going to be one ugly black bruise, but he did know that in twenty four hours, he wasn’t going to be walking anywhere. The bone-deep pulsing ache from his shoulder was also a cause for concern. Or at least, mind-Shiro was pointing these things out to him, while the rest of his brain, with the aid of his petering adrenaline, convinced him that no, he was probably okay. In pain, but okay.

 

“Red plaid!” shouted the stranger suddenly, snapping his fingers.

 

The volume of his voice was like a slap directly to Keith’s eardrum. He let out an ugly sort of groan in response. Maybe he jostled his head a bit, too.

 

“It is you! What the hell. Wait, are you okay? Hello? Red plaid?”

 

The hand was waving around his face again. Keith sighed, drawing his attention away from his steadily growing discomfort and meeting the familiar stranger’s eyes.

 

“Who’re you callin’ re’plaid?” mumbled Keith. Odd. He was sure his voice came out stronger before. “I’m Keef. Wait, no, Keith. Thuh. Thuh thuh thuh.”

 

“O–kay, Keithuh,” said the man, the level of concern in his expression increasing exponentially. “I’m Lance, and uh – I think you might’ve hit your head a little. Let’s get you to the hospital. I’m sure our friend the taxi driver will be more than happy to do it for free.”

 

He raised his voice at the end, casting a pointed glare at the driver who still had yet to exit the vehicle. At least he looked ashamed about it. In response to what the slightly-familiar-Lance-fellow had suggested, Keith just huffed his assent and took a step towards the passenger door. Unfortunately, his brutalized leg had other ideas and promptly buckled beneath him. Lance caught him immediately, but, keeping with the theme of misfortune, a hand gripped Keith’s obliterated shoulder. White light bloomed before his eyes, accompanied by a flash of blinding pain. His mouth opened and closed wordlessly, but the other man clearly saw his distress and moved his hands from shoulder to elbow.

 

“Dicktits,” swore(?) Lance, “Sorry! Sorry – ah, watch your step here.”

 

Keith felt his arm lift slightly as Lance led him to step over the storm drain. The back door to the taxi was still open, and Keith folded himself carefully – with help – into the polyester seat. He looked down at the camera jostling against his ribs and lifted his hands to give it a half-assed once over. Lance slid in after him, even pulling the seat belt across Keith and clicking it into place.

 

“The last thing we need is for you to smack your head if our brilliant driver hits the brakes too hard,” said Lance as he gave the strap a tug to make sure it was slack enough. Then he leaned forward between the two front seats and exchanged hushed words with the driver, of which Keith heard none.

 

He felt the car moving, heard Lance grumbling under his breath, noted how the pain seemed to be spreading from the two points of contact until it engulfed his entire side in a burning ache. He could feel his veins practically pulsing as his skin bruised. The further the cabbie took them, Keith felt his mind begin to clear from the garbled mess it was before, coming full circle attentively. Unfortunately, that also meant he was very aware of just how injured he was.

 

“This sucks,” he groaned under his breath.

 

“I’d say,” said Lance, eyes flicking from the passing scenery outside to fix on Keith. He lifted an eyebrow. “D’you have insurance?”

 

Keith took a moment to think about that. His mind-Shiro didn’t jump in to start rattling off the policy, a blessing, but Keith remembered the slip of paper Shiro had carefully written the plan details on. It was tucked inside his camera case, the only thing he was sure to carry around with him. Keith fetched it now, one-handed because his left side’s movement was becoming increasingly restricted. Mutely he held the paper up to show Lance, who nodded his approval.

 

“I’ll hold onto it for now,” he said, taking it and tucking it into a pocket on his jacket before Keith could protest, “Just in case, Keef.”

 

“Keith.”

 

“That’s what I said.”

 

He tried to shoot a glare at the other man, but his neck didn’t like the abrupt movement and froze him in place for a long moment. With a forced sigh, Keith tried to relax to relieve some of the pressure. It didn’t work.

 

The car turned and rolled carefully over a speedbump as the cabbie said, “We’re here.”

 

“Great,” said Lance, barely waiting for the vehicle to stop before throwing open the door, “Out you get.”

 

Keith very carefully extracted himself from the cab, putting most of his weight on his right side. Lance was there with hands outstretched, ready to help, but Keith purposely ignored his wordless offer. The hands lowered, but Lance kept glancing at him as he bent over to talk to the driver. Keith didn’t pay attention to their conversation. His eyes were on the entrance to the hospital, a suffocating hotbed of stress and angst that he didn’t really want to put himself in the middle of. Sure, Keith had been in hospitals before – courtesy of his easily provoked aggression as a young teen – but that didn’t mean he ever got used to them.

 

A presence at his elbow made Keith turn his head – carefully, carefully – to meet Lance’s gaze. “The cabbie is going to find a parking spot,” he was saying, “And then come right back. I called the police, too, so they’re going to come talk to you about it. You should prob– Hey!”

 

Bored of the one-sided conversation, Keith hobbled through the automatic doors of the hospital and straight to the front desk.

 

“I’m not done talking–” began Lance before breaking off with a huff, “Whatever. Get your brain sorted out while I deal with this.”

 

Keith was clear of mind enough to speak to the receptionist, however Lance stayed hovering over his shoulder, as if any moment Keith’s words would become garbled and need a translation – although it was a very real possibility. They were directed to the triage, where a doctor would come out to determine Keith’s spot in the wait with a cursory once-over. Keith hoped it would go fast. He had shit to take pictures of, and he definitely wasn’t about to arm Shiro’s mother hen instincts with snapshots of the inside of the emergency triage.

 


10:35 AM

ℓαиçә

[IMAGE]

[IMAGE]

dr4g0ns14y3r

what am i looking at?

ℓαиçә

red plaid

dr4g0ns14y3r

?

ℓαиçә

the climber

dr4g0ns14y3r

OH

what

ℓαиçә

the taxi i was in hit him

dr4g0ns14y3r

so you took a picture of him

inside the hospital?

ℓαиçә

yes

dr4g0ns14y3r

also

you’re in london right?

ℓαиçә

yes

dr4g0ns14y3r

so the guy

you met in ireland

and possibly saw in wales

is also in london right now?

ℓαиçә

YES

dr4g0ns14y3r

holy shit

ℓαиçә

ikr wtf

k funny part tho

he got hit bcos he was taking pictures

dr4g0ns14y3r

omfg

what a guy

oh is this why you’re online so early?

ℓαиçә

yeah he mightve hit his head

so im campin out here till hes good

also im technicly a witness

dr4g0ns14y3r

omg you’re going to talk to the cops?

ℓαиçә

YESSIR

im actually p proud of myself

i got the drivers info right away n everything

and called the police and made sure the driver didnt bail

so

ty for gettin smacked that one time pidge

dr4g0ns14y3r

asshat

you’re welcome though

glad you learned from my mistakes

ℓαиçә

:D

dr4g0ns14y3r

now if only you could learn from yours

ℓαиçә

>:I

 


 

Not even the excitement of talking to British police officers, or the ridiculously fast Wi-Fi, or the enlightening conversations happening behind Lance could make the five hour wait any more bearable. At the three hour mark, Keith was admitted, and two hours later still had yet to appear. Lance knew he could just up and leave – the police had told him as much when he’d finished his account of the incident – but he knew he’d just feel like a major ass not saying a word to Keith before going. So he waited. Hours.

 

Pidge could only chat for so long before needing to go to a lab they had to pay attention to, and Hunk was never online in the morning because of his own schedule, which left Lance scrolling through the various social media apps he’d downloaded on his iPod.

 

It wasn’t exactly the ideal way to spend his first day in London. He wanted to settle in at the hostel and find a something quick to eat while wandering the surrounding area, but instead he was sitting in a less than comfortable plastic seat, his feet propped up on his suitcase and carry-on bag in his lap. He was beginning to lose feeling in his legs when he chanced a look up to see Keith, his back to Lance and hair a mess, limping towards the exit.

 

Quickly, Lance scrambled to his feet, slinging his bag over his shoulder and stuffing his iPod into his pocket. Grabbing his suitcase by the side handle, he gave one last glance to make sure he wasn’t leaving anything behind before bounding after Keith.

 

“Leaving me behind?” huffed Lance, slapping his feet flat on the concrete as soon as he reached Keith. The man flinched, stopping and whipping his head around to stare at Lance, who watched as his entire face morphed into one of startled agony. “Yikes. You okay?”

 

No,” growled Keith, gingerly lifting his right hand to touch his neck, “I got hit by a car.”

 

“Which was totally your fault, actually,” said Lance cheerfully, “But alas, pedestrians usually get their way.”

 

Lance couldn’t see his expression, his head turned away, but he could hear the scowl in Keith’s voice. “Whatever. Why are you still here anyway? You don’t need to be.”

 

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to just go without saying anything. Also, your insurance info.” Lance held out the slip of paper to Keith, who took it and shoved it inside the camera case that now actually held his camera.

 

Keith started walking again, as if he knew exactly where he was going, favouring his left side as he went. Lance strode forward until they were side by side, then slowed his gait.

 

“So what’s the prognosis?” asked Lance.

 

“Why do you need to know?” asked Keith.

 

“I want to know the conclusion to this merry tale.” Lance grinned at him, though it went unnoticed. “I assume you’re not broken. Or have a concussion.”

 

Keith sighed. It was far more drawn out than completely necessary, Lance thought. “They ran some tests. Said I was fine, but the bruises will last awhile. That I should rest. And my head is fine.”

 

Lance whistled appreciatively. “What are you made of? Steel? Adamantium? I would’ve snapped.”

 

“I’ve got a sturdy body,” deadpanned the other man, as if this wasn’t the first time someone thought his lack of serious injury was amazing. “Why are you still here?”

 

“Okay, rude,” said Lance, swinging his suitcase forward and back, “I thought I should make sure you get home alright.”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“You got hit by a car.”

 

“No injuries.”

 

“What if you get hit again?”

 

“I won’t.”

 

“It happened once, it can happen again.” Lance pointed at the camera around Keith’s neck. “That thing is what’s going to kill you, bud.”

 

Keith frowned. “No, it’s not.”

 

“What you do for a picture, though?” Lance nodded wisely. “Although you won’t be climbing any cliffs or trees with a smashed up leg.”

 

“How do you…?” began Keith, pausing in his hobble to finally look at Lance. His brow was even more furrowed now as his gaze flicked over Lance, who waited patiently with a wry grin. Then it seemed to click and Keith rolled his eyes. “Oh, it’s you.”

 

Lance gaped. “What the hell?”

 

Keith waved at him dismissively as he continued his uneven march. “You’re the guy with the iPod.”

 

“Um, yes?” Lance tried to keep the scowl off his face but his ire still leaked into his voice.

 

Keith shot him a look, eyebrows raised, as if that was somehow an explanation. “I don’t need a babysitter, Lancel.”

 

“It’s Lance.”

 

“That’s what I said.”

 

He figured he might’ve deserved that one. “Ignoring how you just threw me shade, I did just babysit you all the way to the hospital, sooo…”

 

“So what?

 

“So I’m going to see it through!”

 

Ugh.” Keith limped a little faster.

 

Lance kept pace with him, switching his suitcase to his other hand. “You must be hungry.”

 

“You’re not buying me food,” said Keith with finality.

 

Lance snorted. “Yeah, no, you can buy your own. Ooh, café. Let’s go there. This’ll be my first go at London food.”

 

He leaned into Keith’s side, forcefully steering him to the street corner where the hospital’s driveway opened out onto the main road. Keith wasn’t having it, fighting back every uneven step of the way by angling himself away from Lance and causing him to stagger. They had just managed to cross the road and Lance was beginning to feel like he’d won when he realized Keith had taken the minute gap in his attention to disappear. Whipping around, Lance caught sight of him folding himself awkwardly into one of several taxis lined up along the curb.

 

“Hey!” Lance nearly dropped his suitcase changing directions, veering around to stride over to the taxi. He stopped beside the back door that Keith had just managed to close and rapped his knuckles against the window. “What’s your problem?”

 

Dark eyes stared at him incredulously from within. His voice was muffled, but Lance could hear Keith clearly enough. “I got hit by a car, I’m going to go sleep.”

 

“Don’t be that way,” said Lance, rolling his eyes, “You can sleep later.”

 

“I don’t get why you’re so – so insistent,” shot back Keith, “We don’t know each other. Go – go be a tourist!”

 

“Unbelievable,” said Lance, a retort forming already, but Keith turned to the cabbie and regardless of how close Lance was to the vehicle, it rolled away from the curb. “Watch it!

 

He huffed when the taxi merged into the traffic. Ridiculous. All he was trying to do was help and this? What a thankless brat.

 

Or at least, irritation was what Lance was trying to channel, when some sort of shallow disappointment and embarrassment was tickling the back of his head. It was true, he really hadn’t needed to wait for as long as he did. They didn’t know each other, and if it had happened to Lance and some random pedestrian had been the one to take him to the hospital, he sure as hell wouldn’t have expected them to stay. He wouldn’t have necessarily brushed them off like Keith did, but whatever. If that’s how it was going to play out, it was fine.

 

It was just going to be a funny story to tell at the end of the day anyway.

 

A day that was considerably shorter now that he’d wasted it away.

 


9:44 PM

ℓαиçә

i need help making a bucket list

Hunkules

oooh for your trip??

ℓαиçә

exactly

Hunkules

100??

ℓαиçә

uuh

lets shoot for mebs 50??

idk how many ill get thru

Hunkules

I guess nothing to include Ireland and Wales then

travel to london??

ℓαиçә

bit more obscure

like ive got hit a photographer in a taxi crossed off rn

Hunkules

seriously Lance??

ℓαиçә

what?¿

it was FUNNY

when tf does that ever happen

im keepin it

Hunkules

I wasn’t judging!!

okay just a little

but it /is/ pretty funny

ℓαиçә

im glad u see things the way i see them

ok

so

Hunkules

umm how about the Museum of Natural History??

ℓαиçә

...is it cool???

Hunkules

Lance………….

ℓαиçә

ok ok its on the list!!!

Hunkules

:))

oh the National Gallery!!

and you can knock off Trafalgar Square while you’re at it!!

ℓαиçә

nice

what about things that dont require $$$

Hunkules

you mean like

shaking a stranger’s hand??

ℓαиçә

YES stuff like that but not so boring

Hunkules

>:0

ℓαиçә

sry buddy

 

By the time Pidge came online nearly an hour later, Lance and Hunk had put together a long list of things he had to do. After some (easy) prodding, Lance included a bunch of monuments and galleries and museums, but he also managed to twist a few that were more his taste. Some of his favourites included (attempting) poledancing against the Eiffel tower, convince a tourist in Italy that his speaking Spanish was actually Italian, and blindly taking any mode of public transportation to a random part of whatever city he’s in. The last one he left some space for a tally, in case he felt like doing it more than once. Hunk was hesitantly against that one – something about muggers. Lance wasn’t too worried. When Pidge joined them, things started getting interesting. Lance wasn’t too hot on the idea of kissing the first person to buy him a drink at a pub, but the pub crawl was definitely a must. He hadn’t taken advantage of the multitude of pubs in Dingle as he’d hoped, but he still had opportunities. Pidge already promised to drag him out to taste all the signature wines in the best (cheap) restaurants in Venice.

 

Lance leaned back from his tablet, stretching and feeling the satisfying pop of his back. After he returned his attention to the screen with a satisfied sound, Lance looked over his bucket list. Well over seventy items were on it, a handful of which he could safely cross off preemptively. Many of them were harmless things, others he would have to grit his teeth for, but to him, if he managed to cross off even half of them, it meant he made good use of his time in Europe.

 

Satisfied, Lance bid his friends good night and got ready for the busy day he had planned for tomorrow.

 


 

One of the joys of being dropped in the midst of a bustling city jam packed with history and culture was that no matter where Lance looked, there was something to fascinate him. Sometimes it was a statue that no one else glanced at, but that attracted his gaze with the gleaming bronze claws clutching marble. Other times it was a street performer, loud voice drawing in a crowd, sliding through hoops too small for a human, or playing some Frankenstein’s monster of an instrument. Half the time, Lance’s iPod was forgotten in his pocket or backpack as he watched, eyes and grin wide. He wouldn’t have pictures for everything he saw, but he figured even those wouldn’t do these things justice. They had to be experienced.

 

Now Lance was stepping inside St Paul’s Cathedral, and immediately he knew that no picture of his would show just how the gold gleamed or the stone shimmered or the air vibrated with the gentle hums of carrying voices.

 

Not that he didn’t try.

 

Strictly speaking, taking photographs wasn’t allowed – unless one got a permit. Which Lance couldn’t be bothered with. All he wanted were a few quick snapshots, nothing that would require him to climb up a wall or something. So he took to pretending he was tapping on his iPod when he was actually taking stealth photos of the architecture.

 

And even if the quality of the images was abysmal, Lance would at least know.

 

His footsteps echoed softly off the checkered floor. Service had ended an hour earlier, and before midday service, the place was bustling with tourists. Their own steps combined with Lance’s, joining their hushed voices aimed towards the ceiling their gazes were glued to. Even though nobody had told them to be quiet, it still seemed inappropriate to talk any louder than a murmur. Lance felt like he would disturb something in the images painted above him. Sunlight filtered through the high windows, glinting off the gold on the arches. Instead of making the matte paintings look dull, it only served to draw the gaze more resolutely. Lance missed more than one step when he didn’t watch where he was going.

 

When he reached the dome and saw the people looking down at him from above, Lance knew he needed to get up there, too. He looked around for the staircase, eyes landing on someone with a camera slung over their shoulder like a purse whisk through a small archway. Lance glanced towards the apse. Someone past the choir was explaining the structure of the cathedral to a group of two dozen. Her voice was much louder than anyone else’s and it carried. She stood beside an open book in a case, was saying something about remembrance, and Lance heard enough. Hunk would probably give him shit for not putting more into the history of these places, but Lance only had a surface interest in that. He’d much rather just experience and see everything than hear about it. He could look it up later or something.

 

So he stuffed his iPod into his pocket and trotted through the archway. It led to a tightly spiralling staircase. Footsteps echoed down, so Lance took that as a good sign he was headed in the right direction. He walked up at his leisure, looking out through the deeply set windows, then settling his hand over the railing and feeling the metal under his fingertips. At the top, where a rope blocked him from going any further, Lance turned through the – admittedly claustrophobic – hallway. When he stepped out onto the balcony, he had to pause.

 

It was impressive seeing the dome from the floor, but it was something else seeing the cathedral from up high. The gold looked richer, somehow, as if the sun hitting it at a different angle to his eyes could change it that much. Lance gripped the railing as he inched out to join some of the other onlookers around the edge of the chasm.

 

There was a breathy whisper in Lance’s ear, and he flinched around to look over his shoulder. He blinked. No one was there. He turned his head back around, but there it was again. Brows knit, trying to convince himself that he’d listened to far too many of Pidge’s ghost stories, Lance creeped further out. It was when he glanced up and saw a pair of tourists turn to one another and speak, that Lance realized he was hearing their voices, from across the wide dome. Wait, didn’t he hear something about that before? The acoustics or something, carrying voices even when they were hushed whispers? A whispering gallery, or something like that. He’d have to ask Hunk about it.

 

For now, Lance took more than enough pictures. Looking up, he saw another, slightly smaller, balcony further above the first. Unlike where he stood, however, Lance saw no one up there. He figured it was probably out of bounds. He didn’t really want to stand where the dome curved in that steeply, anyway.

 

When he’d completed the circuit, Lance ducked back into the little hallway. It was even darker now, someone ahead of him blocking the last vestiges of light available. It was as his eyes were adjusting, and he was lifting his gaze from where he was watching his step, that Lance’s brain registered exactly what he was seeing.

 

So this is how it goes: Lance was no stranger to coincidences. He had come across a lot of them in his eighteen years of life. Many of them were just little things, like buying the same hazelnut macchiato (1 pump each of toffee nut, hazelnut, and white chocolate mocha syrup with spiced whipped cream to finish) as the person ahead of him in line, or seeing someone cosplaying some obscure character and then receiving a text message from Pidge five minutes later with a screencap of the same character, or excitedly showing off his striped yellow fox socks to Hunk, who in turn removed his shoes to show off his polka-dotted blue fox socks, and then having Pidge walk in later with pink fox print pajama pants.

 

Sometimes they were bigger things, like chatting about an actor being in the state for a commercial, and then witnessing that actor buy the same hazelnut macchiato Lance had been buying for the past month –

 

The point was, Lance knew coincidences. They happened, they often blew up in some form of excited hand gestures on Lance’s part, and then he and his friends would recall them fondly months or years later and have a chuckle about them.

 

But at this point, with his eyes following Keith as the other man paused at the staircase, Lance didn’t know if it could really be called coincidental anymore.

 

Then Keith surreptitiously lifted a leg over the rope blocking the stairs up, and he was gone.

 

Honestly, he probably should have thought it over a little more thoroughly, but Lance was, if anything, impulsive. So he thrust himself through the short corridor and carelessly hopped over the rope.

 

The staircase remained as narrow as before, and when Lance leaned over the railing to look up, he could see Keith’s hands where they gripped the metal. And man, was he flying up those stairs. Lance glanced down, seeing the heads of some of the tourists going up to the dome. He jerked back before any of them turned their gazes skywards. It was probably a better idea not to get caught.

 

At the top of the stairs was another archway. Lance stepped through it, noting the door as it gently swung closed behind him on less than silent hinges. He’d barely registered the large metal contraption occupying the majority of the room when his ears were ringing and his chest vibrating with the deep thrum of a bell. It wasn’t loud enough to hurt, but it did scare Lance, unprepared and definitely creeping somewhere he shouldn’t be. Apparently it also startled Keith, who leapt back from where he’d been eyeing the machinery and straight into Lance.

 

In the future, Lance would deny shrieking.

 

Also in the future, Keith would deny a shriek of his own, too.

 

Lance hit the wall just beside the door while Keith whirled, arms up like he was prepared to fight and camera bouncing against his chest, except his elbow hit part of the machine and much of the blood drained from his face. He clapped a hand over his joint, mouth forming soundless curses. The bell was still going, the massive black gears behind Keith churning with each sound. They stood apart like that, eyes wide, until the final hour was called and the clockwork stopped. When Lance cleared his throat, he couldn’t hear it over the last deep hum echoing in the room.

 

Keith got to his vocals first. The colour returned to his face and his teeth bared as he snapped, “What the hell are you doing here?”

 

Lance defaulted to a scowl immediately. “The hell am I doing here? You’re the one creeping off where you shouldn’t be!”

 

“And that’s not what you’re doing right now?” shot back Keith.

 

“I’m following a potential villain,” scoffed Lance, planting his hands on his hips, “I was making sure you weren’t about to– to sabotage this– this thing.”

 

“Really?” Keith rolled his eyes. His hand no longer cradled his elbow. “That sounds like bullshit. I’m just taking pictures, anyway.”

 

“You– Oh my God,” muttered Lance, lifting a hand to pinch between his eyes, “I’m not surprised. I don’t even know you, and I’m not surprised. Of course you’d go walking off to some out of bounds area for a few pictures.”

 

“Shut up – you’re here, too.”

 

“I told you, I’m making sure you’re not a vandal or something.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

“It’s true!” snapped Lance.

 

Keith’s eyebrows levelled humorlessly. “Bull. Shit.”

 

“Ugh, you–” started Lance, hands in the midst of spreading in a dramatic gesture. But Keith’s hand snapped up, palm out.

 

“Shut up,” he snapped suddenly.

 

“Excuse me?” squawked Lance, “You don’t get to–”

 

“I said, shut up!” hissed Keith with more feeling. The sudden drop in pitch was what made Lance’s lips clamp shut.

 

For a moment there was nothing but the subtle grind of some gear in the machinery turning in place. Then, accompanied by a slight waft from the gap between the door and archway, Lance heard it. Voices – hushed – and the soft patter of footsteps hastily making their way up the stone staircase.

 

Lance felt himself blanch and the back of his neck prickle. He definitely did not want to get caught here.

 

Before Lance could really panic about it, cool fingers were wrapped around his wrist and Keith was lunging around the side of the machine. Unceremoniously pulled along behind him, Lance didn’t get the chance to ask where they were going. There were suddenly iron steps beneath his feet, and sunlight flooded the narrow space between cold walls, and Keith was pulling him outside. Lance had the presence of mind to shut the wooden door behind them before Keith was hauling him away.

 

They were in some kind of open-aired hall. On one side were windows that Lance was pretty sure he’d seen from the inside of the cathedral, and on the other side was just a bare, tall wall separating them from the rest of the world. The floor was slanted slightly, and panelled like a roof. Keith dragged Lance underneath half an arch, and then another before pulling him down into a crouch behind the base of it. He said nothing, just held his hand up for silence, head tilted towards the wooden door.

 

Hinges creaked slightly, barely audible over the sporadic gusts of wind blowing over the cathedral. Keith tensed.

 

“–thought I heard–”

 

“–could be the–”

 

“–or call?”

 

Lance couldn’t distinguish any other words. Keith was leaning further forward. Lance’s hands itched to hold him back, but he didn’t. A long, incredibly tense minute passed in which Lance counted his breaths and Keith was impossibly still. Then he suddenly stuck his head out past the arch, Lance choked on his next breath, and Keith relaxed.

 

“They’re gone,” he said, standing up and looking over his camera.

 

Uuugh,” groaned Lance in lieu of a proper response. He rose as well, brushing off his pants. “Seriously? Now we’re stuck up here.”

 

Keith turned to cock an eyebrow at him. “We can just wait a bit. They’ll leave eventually.”

 

“And how long will that be? There’s only one way up and down–”

 

“It’s fine.”

 

“I don’t think you understand how not fine it is.” Lance paused, trying not to grind down on his teeth. Then he blinked, frowned, reached out to prod a finger into Keith’s left arm.

 

The other man yelped. Lance stared at him.

 

Keith slapped his hand away. “What the hell was that for?”

 

“You–” Lance just stared at his arm. “You got hit by a car yesterday.”

 

“Uh, yeah? You were fucking inside it–”

 

“Why are you here?

 

Keith snorted so violently, Lance wondered how his nose didn’t rip right off. “I’m enjoying the sights, obviously.”

 

“Dude, you said yourself, you should be resting,” said Lance, frowning, “Not gallivanting.”

 

“I’m not–” Keith frowned. “Gall–galli– whatever. I’m fine. It’s just a bit of bruising.”

 

“Did you hear the sound you just made?”

 

“I was surprised,” growled Keith.

 

“I’m pretty sure you’re kind of limping?”

 

“No, I’m not–”

 

“You totally are, though.” Lance rolled his eyes to the sky. “Okay, seriously, dude? Let’s just get out of here, and you’re going to sit down and not break yourself.”

 

“I know how to take care of myself–” started Keith with a frown.

 

Lance cut him off immediately. “How is any of this–” Lance wildly flailed to emphasize their situation as a whole, “–considered taking care of yourself? You shouldn’t be running at all, I’m pretty sure, and definitely not up and down stairs and on the roof of a cathedral. Why–”

 

He dropped the rest of his sentence, mouth hanging open. Keith was staring at him, baffled, but his annoyance was quickly returning. His lip curled as he prepared to defend his behaviour, which made his nose wrinkle, which made the black stud in his nostril glint. Lance felt oddly faint, and somehow personally offended by the presence of the nose stud he’d just noticed. As if it wasn’t bad enough that there were eight piercings already glittering ominously in the shells of Keith’s ears, now he had to go and put in a nose stud?

 

“Qu'est-ce que le fuck,” whispered Lance under his breath.

 

And now Keith was going off about something or other that Lance was certain had been relevant to him three seconds earlier, but seeing Keith’s face so animated – irate, but animated – while being framed by all of that

 

Lance’s brain was struggling to keep up. To top it all off, there was something minty in the air. Like spicy spearmint, or something. It was nice. Fresh. Interesting.

 

“Are you wearing cologne?”

 

Keith stopped mid sentence. His expression twisted oddly, torn between annoyed and confused and maybe embarrassed. It was only then that Lance realized, like an idiot, he’d asked that question out loud.

 

Damn it.

 

“I mean,” spluttered Lance quickly, “I just smelled something– Not bad! Good! It smells good, but it’s not– not normal London air– I mean, fuck, just pretend I never said that.”

 

Keith grimaced but seemed to give him the benefit. “O–kay. As I was saying, they’re just bruises, they’re not going to get any worse if I walk around. The doctor said I’d be fine if I took it easy.”

 

Lance tried to fight the humiliated blush creeping up his neck as he pointed out, “This is not easy.”

 

“It really is. I could be doing more… strenuous activities, but I’m not.”

 

What other shit was he planning on getting into? “I don’t think the doctor realized that when he said taking it easy, it would mean something completely different to you.”

 

Whatever,” groaned Keith, “Just drop it. I’m good. Now I’m going to go see if the way is clear. You can stay up here and complain until you magically reappear on the ground.”

 

With that, he strode back towards the wooden door. There was no limp in his step, but Lance knew he was definitely making a point of showing it didn’t hurt, when it had to. He got slammed with a four thousand pound taxi for fuck’s sake. Internalizing the rest of his exasperation, Lance followed after the other man, but not before taking a commemorative photo on his iPod.

 

Surprisingly, the clockwork room was empty as Keith led them cautiously down the iron steps. He was about to open the door to the stairwell without checking, but Lance clapped a hand on his good shoulder to stop him. Only when Lance was absolutely positive he couldn’t hear anything beyond what might’ve been coming from the whispering gallery did he open the door, slowly, carefully, lifting it to relieve some of the pressure off the hinges so they didn’t squeak. They picked up the pace going down the stairs. Lance hopped the rope without checking who might’ve been in the dome, but Keith was right behind him and not shoving him to go faster, so they were probably okay.

 

At the bottom of the stairs, they headed towards the main entrance of the cathedral. Lance kept checking to see who was around. There were a couple men in dress shirts and nametags. They were murmuring together, and their gazes fell on Keith and Lance when the pair left the stairwell. Keith noticed their eyes on them and his next step was quick with his intent to bolt, but Lance snatched him by the sleeve. Honestly, Lance would have felt better if he sprinted the length of the cathedral, but that would’ve definitely drawn some unneeded attention. So he forced himself, and Keith by extension, to walk as casually as possible until they were out the doors.

 

Lance exhaled sharply when the sun hit them. Almost immediately the light was blocked by a cloud. Keith yanked his sleeve free from Lance’s fingers, huffing as well from the release of tension.

 

“Glad that’s over with,” said Lance, running his fingers through his hair, “That was – yikes.”

 

Keith looked at him with his eyebrows raised, suddenly utterly poised. “It wasn’t that bad.”

 

“I don’t want to know what you’re comparing this to,” muttered Lance.

 

“I didn’t even get to climb to the–”

 

Hold it right there,” interrupted Lance on an inhale, his demand coming out in a wheeze, “It’s better I don’t know.”

 

“Suit yourself,” huffed Keith. Without another word, he turned away from Lance and started walking away.

 

Lance stared at his back, brain trying to form words while his legs just carried him after Keith. Reaching out, Lance gave Keith’s good shoulder a smack. The other man didn’t stop, but he shot Lance a reproachful look when he caught up.

 

“Where are you going next?” asked Lance, a bit before his brain could actually perform logic. When it did catch up, he wanted nothing more than to smack himself.

 

Keith was looking at him incredulously, eyebrows up. It was obvious he wasn’t going to respond willingly.

 

“Great,” said Lance, pushing forward despite his internal self-directed angst, “I mean, we’ve met this many times already, so I’m going to go out on a limb here. I am planning on going to the British Museum and maybe Trafalgar afterwards.”

 

He kept his eyes on Keith, waiting for his expression to change. When it did, he wasn’t disappointed. The eyebrows dropped into a baffled frown, mouth slack for a moment before his lips pursed. Lance couldn’t help it – he started to laugh. Part of it was dry, part of it incredulous, but most of it was just directed at how ridiculous the whole situation was.

 

“Ah shit,” he gasped, dragging a hand down his face, “I shouldn’t – even be – surprised at this point. Oh my God –”

 

Lance made an attempt at quieting his mirth, but his subsequent sputtering only made him laugh harder. Keith was quiet beside him. When Lance rubbed his watering eyes clear with the heel of his palms, and got a good look at the other man, the expression was still there – confused and just as incredulous as Lance thought. The best part, Lance decided, was that they were already halfway to the entrance to the underground and neither of them had bothered to mention they’d been headed in the same direction since leaving the cathedral.

 

“I.. see,” said Keith haltingly, “So, what you’re saying is…”

 

“Even if you tried to book it, chances are we’d still somehow end up in the same place. Again.” Lance threw up his hands, his pursed-lip smile doing nothing to hold back his amused snort.

 

Finally, Keith’s expression cracked, doing some sort of weird facial journey before settling on a more Keith-like version of Lance’s own dumbfounded amusement.

 

“Maybe I’ll just leave the museum for later,” said Keith thoughtfully, his mouth twitching at the corners, “And go to the gallery first. You know, avoid you at all costs.”

 

Lance shook his head with a grin. “You know we’d pass each other on the way. Besides, who else is going to make sure you don’t climb the exhibits when you’re still broken?”

 

“I’m not broken,” said Keith, rolling his eyes. He was leading, taking what was presumably a shortcut between some cafés. Ahead of them was the sound of the main road, heavy with the bustle of car and foot traffic alike. “Although that sounds like you wouldn’t try to get in my way if I didn’t have these bruises.”

 

“Way to make them sound less than what they are,” snorted Lance, “But actually, why would I pass up the opportunity to see a guy get yanked off a dinosaur skeleton and tossed out of a museum? Shit, maybe I should add that to my bucket list.”

 

“Bucket list?”

 

“Yeah, I’ve already crossed off ‘hit a guy with a taxi’,” beamed Lance. Keith gave him a flat stare.

 

“That list better have been made after the fact,” said Keith calmly, “Otherwise there’ll be hell to pay.”

 

Lance held up his hand like an oath. “I definitely didn’t instruct the driver to hit you.”

 

“Good.”

 

They reached the corner of the walkway, decorated with seasonal flowers surrounded by high curbs. People were using them as seats, resting bags and drinks beside them as they chatted to their companions or checked phones and wristwatches. Pedestrians were waiting on the divider between the lanes for the light to change. The opposing double lane one-ways merged to form a wider street. Red double deckers passed by on either side, but they weren’t what Lance intended to catch. Bus systems were iffy even in places he was familiar – his usual routes seemed to change in New York at the drop of a dime. But the subway was always reliable, and the St Paul’s underground was right on the corner.

 

“Did you grab a pass for the subway?” asked Lance, automatically rounding the little city garden and heading to the stairs leading underground.

 

“Uh – I loaded up a temporary one with money,” supplied Keith. He unzipped a tight pocket on his camera case and drew out the mint green card.

 

“Do you only carry that thing around?” Lance jerked his thumb at the case. “No wallet? No bag?”

 

Keith cocked an eyebrow. “It’s got space for my cards, and I don’t need anything else.”

 

“But like, if you had a backpack, like me,” and Lance pointed at the bag loosely cinched over his shoulders, “You can put shit in it and not have it flying around. I forget it’s there all the time. It’s great.”

 

“But then you have to reach behind you, when my case is always right here.” They rounded the glass structure supplying the location of the subway stop and waited for a family to pass before following them down. Keith continued, “And if it’s behind me, someone might make a grab for it, or something.”

 

“The number of hidden compartments in this thing would upset any pickpocket who tried,” scoffed Lance.

 

“They can just slash the straps and run.”

 

“Uh, highly unlikely. If you wanted to argue it, the same could be said for your camera, too.”

 

Keith shrugged, looking to Lance as if he decided it was pointless to continue. At the bottom of the stairs, Lance could hear live music being beaten on drums down one of the halls. He couldn’t see anything, but the sound carried incredibly well, so that wasn’t surprising. One of his favourite parts of being in the underground was being able to walk from one hall to another and hearing two different musicians going at it. Once, he’d just stood at a junction and listened to a violinist and guitarist perform a duet, going all out in some sort of anonymous duel since they’d been in different hallways. Lance had been late getting home for dinner that evening, but it was worth it.

 

“Westbound,” said Lance offhandedly, changing the direction Keith was plowing forward.

 

The great thing about the tube was that it arrived every few minutes. A double decker would be fun to ride, and it would land them just a little bit closer to their destination, but ultimately time was one thing that Lance didn’t have a lot of in a single day. The problem with winging a trip was never knowing exactly what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it, and how long it would all take – which meant doing the little things in between fast enough to warrant a chance to take it easy. Lance had taken to eating breakfast and lunch on the move. Dinners, at the tail end of the day, were better as a sit down anyway. Half the time, he just took food to his room and ate while messaging Pidge and Hunk, or skyping with whatever family member was in the house back home.

 

As soon as they were on the subway train, Lance took a seat and stretched out his legs into the aisle. Despite the abundance of empty seats, Keith stayed standing, leaning on a pole at a distance from Lance that made him think he was considering whether he could still ditch him or not.

 

The thought of which, somehow, bothered Lance.

 


 

The ride to the station closest to the museum was a bit on the awkward side. For whatever reason, Keith found that more uncomfortable than usual. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that up until that point, Lance had been rather chatty. Keith noticed something change when they stepped onto the train, but being unable to place it, and unwilling to provoke small talk, Keith said nothing.

 

As soon as their stop was coming up however, and Lance gave no sign as to whether he knew this or not, Keith spoke up uncertainly, “Tottenham, right?”

 

It took a moment for Lance to realize Keith was talking to him. He looked at Keith, then the map and the lights that indicated where they were. “Oh – yeah.”

 

He got to his feet as the train began to slow. This stop wasn’t any busier than the last one, so they didn’t have to shove their way through hordes of people. Keith really wasn’t looking forward to that when he inevitably got stuck in rush hour traffic on the way back to the hostel. On the way out, there was another musician, but instead of the usual instruments, the man had a koto on his knees. Keith hadn’t seen very many of them even back home, but they were easy to recognize, like horizontal harps. His fingers fiddled with the secured clasps on his camera case. The music was decent – nothing Keith would rave to Shiro about later – but it was more just seeing something so familiar in a foreign place that made Keith want to take pictures of it.

 

But Lance was getting ahead of him, one step lengthening into two as Keith’s leg slowed him down a fraction. Besides, it was still a little awkward for Keith to take pictures of other people –

 

Lance came to a stop in front of him, causing Keith to just barely miss bumping into his shoulder. “What the hell?”

 

“Hold on,” said Lance, turning to face the musician. They were still right in the middle of the hallway, but there was barely any foot traffic to warrant moving aside just yet.

 

Keith watched as Lance lifted his iPod, taking two seconds to focus the image on the screen before taking a couple photos. Unable to stop himself, Keith scoffed.

 

“Really? That’s going to do it justice?”

 

“It’s good enough,” retorted Lance, switching to video mode.

 

“The quality is awful.”

 

You’re awful. And shush!”

 

Muttering just loud enough that he’s certain he’ll be annoyingly audible in the video, Keith freed his camera from its case and stepped off to the side of the tunnel. The musician lifted his head to grin at them before turning his attention back to the smooth plucking off the strings. It would be difficult to get a good picture, but a passable one was fine, too. Keith kneeled, peered into the viewfinder, and snapped a few shots when the scene came into focus. He heard Lance coo something, but expecting it to be obnoxious, Keith paid him no mind. When he got the shots he wanted, Keith stood again and put his camera away. It was easier to take pictures when other people – even just Lance – were doing it, too.

 

By then, Lance had cut off his video. Before they left, he tossed several heavy coins into the tupperware container by the musician’s feet. Keith, carrying no money on him, did not, which Lance decided to pester him about the whole way to the museum aboveground.

Chapter Text

“It’s you.”

 

“That’s a helmet.”

 

“Yeah, and it looks like you. It’s frowning.”

 

“Okay,” said Keith monotonously. He turned on his heel and pointed at the turquoise sculpture of a head, black eyes bulging and what appeared to be real, cracked teeth jutting out of its jaws. “Oh look, it’s you.”

 

Lance pursed his lips. “That’s hideous.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

Wow.”

 

That was the sixth time Lance had declared something in the displays looked like Keith, and the first time Keith finally did the same for Lance. In truth, he’d been waiting for a particularly monstrous sculpture – preferably a shrunken head type deal – but the cracked teeth were the best he could come up with after the helmet scowling at him from the wall.

 

“Y’know, I’m not a self conscious guy,” began Lance, squinting at the head and baring his teeth as if in comparison.

 

“Noted.”

 

“But that was just rude.”

 

“You’re the one that said it was hideous,” shrugged Keith, already walking out of the exhibit.

 

“Too hideous to be me, is what I meant,” said Lance, meeting him stride for stride.

 

“Well, only slightly, maybe.”

 

Lance muttered, offended, under his breath. Keith tried not to grin, feeling victorious.

 

Suddenly Lance perked up and stepped ahead of Keith to grin coyly back at him. “But, you admitted I’m not actually hideous, which means you think I’m handsome.

 

Keith shot him a flat stare, deadpanning, “I gave you an inch, you took a mile.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m a magician when it suits me.”

 

The exhibit opened up into a broad hallway, benches situated periodically in the center with greenery on either end. To the right was a staircase leading up to the next floor, and to the left another mess of hallways that, in theory, should’ve been easy to navigate. If not for the maps Keith caught Lance sneaking glances at, they would’ve ended up in the restricted basement section or something. Keith didn’t think there was anything worth photographing down there, so it wasn’t a big deal to miss out on that.

 

“Let’s sit down for a minute,” said Lance, already headed for a bench, “Y’think with all the money they make they could make little trains to bring us around the exhibits.”

 

“There’s no entry fee,” pointed out Keith as he followed a half step behind. He couldn’t remember when he started taking Lance’s lead.

 

“Well – whatever,” said Lance with a dismissive wave of his hand. He practically twirled as he sank down onto the seat with a sigh. “Much better.”

 

Keith stayed standing, a solid meter between them. His fingers were tapping at his camera – it was hard to stop himself from taking a picture of every little thing, but he had missed out on quite a few opportunities. Part of that was Lance’s fault. He kept whisking ahead, laughing about something or other and pointing at displays for Keith to look at. Every time, with a grumble or a groan, Keith looked. Then Lance would be ahead of him again, and Keith didn’t have time to take any really decent pictures, and he couldn’t handle the irritating thought of the majority coming out blurry. All of which meant he hadn’t take nearly as many pictures as he’d told Shiro he no doubt would.

 

The bizarre thing was that Keith was letting it happen. The problem with being self aware – most of the time – was that knowing what was going on, or at least on the surface, sprouted only more questions for himself to mull about later. At least later on he’d be free from the source of his simmering troubles.

 

Lance was a gap between ferns on a mountainside. No real trail, nothing offering actual direction, but a trick of the mind convincing Keith that it was better to follow. So he did, automatically. He missed a lot, but at the same time he knew he wasn’t actually. He was seeing the displays, hearing Lance read the plaques out loud, feeling as though he was learning something. Meanwhile, his memory card wasn’t getting any fuller – and he didn’t mind.

 

Why?

 

“Why aren’t you sitting?” Lance stretched out a long leg to nudge Keith’s worn shoe with his own.

 

Keith blinked at him. “I don’t need to.”

 

An eyebrow twitched upwards. Lance’s gaze flicked down Keith’s left side. It was brief, barely imperceptible if Keith hadn’t been looking right at him when he did it. He realized that Lance probably didn’t need to sit down in that moment. Rather, he was still aware of Keith’s injuries, despite Keith doing an objectively great job at hiding how sore he was already. The expression Lance wore was doubtful, but there was also the minute tension at the corner of his mouth that was moving it into something like concern. Keith mentally shook the thought out of his head. There was no reason for him, a stranger, to be worried about him. No matter how many times Lance said something that should’ve convinced him otherwise. Keith was nothing if not stubborn.

 

“Come on,” drawled Lance, the tension leaving his face as quickly as it had come. He patted the empty space beside him. “Have a sit. If your knees are anything like mine, they’ll appreciate it.”

 

“How old are you?” snorted Keith, but he found himself moving to sit anyway. “Do you sit outside and say, ‘ooh, I feel it in my bones, there’s a storm tonight’.”

 

“Nah, that’s my finger.” Lance lifted his right hand, popping the joint of his index finger.

 

Keith stared at the finger. “What, really?”

 

“Nope,” said Lance casually, lowering his hand.

 

“Ugh.”

 

“I can pop them all, though.”

 

“Don’t.”

 

“Ooh, are you one of those people that can’t stand the sound of this–?” Lance lifted his hand near Keith’s ear just as the joint cracked.

 

Keith leaned away with a grimace. “It’s… unpleasant.”

 

For the following ten minutes, Lance made it a point to surprise Keith with the unnatural popping of his fingers. Halfway through a sentence he would raise his hand, and Keith would lift both of his just to fend off the unfortunate auditory onslaught. Only when Keith rose to his feet and walked off fast enough that his limp became more pronounced did Lance laugh and promise to stop as he caught up.

 

They wandered the first floor, which was the largest and had more packed into it than Keith thought he could properly see in a day. The displays moved smoothly from origin and time – Keith was beginning to notice a theme as materials changed over the centuries, and foreign forces left their mark on the history of other civilizations. Keith couldn’t really call himself a history buff, but he could appreciate what he was seeing. He could only imagine the effort it took to make so many helms molded the same way and cuirasses shaped into pectorals and abs. For entire armies, no less.

 

Keith paused at one display in particular. It was a complete set of Greek hoplite armor, shiny and bronze with battle wounds all over it. Keith looked down at the plaque, saw 500 BC written in plain text, and let his gaze drag back up the detailing on the leather. It was old. Really fucking old. And here he was, staring at it behind some glass, over two thousand years later. He wasn’t even twenty years old.

 

Shiro would get a kick out of this later: Keith having an existential moment because of a suit of old armor.

 

He raised his neglected camera and took several quick snapshots of the armor, along with the information on the plaque. It was when he was lowering his camera that Keith realized Lance was gone.

 

Keith turned around in a full circle. There were numerous other people lingering at other displays, but none of them were wearing the worn olive jacket and black backpack that Lance was. Keith looked back at the armor, a bit puzzled, and then he caught a glimpse of his reflection in front of the bronze plating and realized he was frowning.

 

There was really no point to that, was there? He wasn’t really sure whether he was supposed to be feeling – what was it? Disappointed? – or something else. It wasn’t like they had planned coming here together. It was just another coincidence on a long list of them. If they split up, it was just a sooner rather than later thing.

 

He turned away from the displays and walked down the hall into another exhibit. This one was far more spacious, filled with more people crisscrossing from one side to the other, where glass boxes studded the empty space in the middle of the hall on tall podiums. A large sculpture of four headless women, one of which had wings, took up the center. There were several busts against the walls, some more grotesque than others, if Keith was being quite honest. It was as he was passing one of these that he felt a familiar tug at his periphery, automatically turned, and caught sight of Lance on the opposite end.

 

Keith decided not to think about the very displaced but nevertheless present sense of relief that kicked away his disappointment. He made his way over, rubbing his thumb over the edge of the viewfinder, and halted a couple steps away. Lance was regarding the bust – bulging eyes, snarling face, hair comparable to Medusa’s if the ends had snakeheads – but his expression was what gave Keith pause.

 

It wasn’t like he could pretend to know much about Lance at all, but he had been nothing if not upbeat the entire time. Except for several minutes on the subway, but Keith could already declare that an anomaly – one that was repeating itself right in front of him. Eyes glazed, expression blank, not really seeing what was in front of him. Maybe before, Keith would have thought he looked bored, but he had seen the entire expression on the subway. The slightly pinched brow, the way his gaze dropped slowly, almost as if he was being admonished for something he wanted to argue but couldn’t.

 

Keith decided he wasn’t very fond of that expression. “Is that your mom?” asked Keith suddenly.

 

Predictably, Lance jumped and half spun on his heel. When he saw Keith, it was like someone had let go of an elastic band. His previous air of self deprecation was gone, replaced at once by the cheerfulness he’d had since they’d stepped foot inside the museum.

 

“Jesus! What are you, a ghost?” huffed Lance. Then he looked back at the bust. “If my mom heard you say that, she’d kill you.”

 

Keith grinned. “I figure I’m safe halfway across the world.”

 

“For now,” uttered Lance darkly, but shook his head and waved a hand dismissively, “Besides, this looks more like an ex-boyfriend of mine. This is the exact look he got on his face when I beat him on the Wii.”

 

“You let go of someone with a face like that?” Keith’s grin quirked a little wider. “You’re never going to get anything better.”

 

Wow.” Lance threw up his hands then started using them to shoo Keith away from that particular sculpture.

 

They didn’t spend much longer in that particular exhibit. The rest of the way out was a lot of “You”, “Your new boyfriend”, “Marriage material”, “Oh shit, that is so you” and a multitude of pointing fingers and less than subtle snickers. Keith didn’t get many pictures, but he saw Lance take out his iPod and start taking snapshots of the sculptures, paintings, and in one instance, a stone dildo, all of which he declared to be Keith, or an extension of Keith’s family, or – in the case of the dildo – an extension of Keith himself.

 

“There’s a compliment somewhere in there,” drawled Keith, squinting at the phallic rock, “I just… need a moment to figure out where.”

 

“You sure? It’s kind of small. And thin, y’know? No girth, no length–”

 

Keith made a thoughtful sound through his nose. “I don’t know, it’s got the rock hard thing going on. And the texture. Nothing like doing it raw with a stone dick, right?”

 

Lance audibly choked on his own tongue and spluttered the entire way out of the exhibit. Keith shot him a victorious look, taking in the sight of Lance’s ruddy ears and the splotchy blush dominating most of his face and neck. But he was grinning, like he was ecstatic Keith could dish out as much as he got, and Keith had to lower his hands from his camera lest he take a picture of Lance in that moment. That would’ve been a weird thing to do.

 

“Dude, I can’t– You just–” attempted Lance before stopping himself. He inhaled, popped his lips like he was exercising them, then tried again. “First time we met, I would not have pegged you for– for this.” He accompanied the sentiment with a flapping of his hand, gesturing at Keith head to toe.

 

“Thanks,” said Keith dryly.

 

“Yeah, no problem,” said Lance, dutifully ignoring the sarcasm, “No offence, but I didn’t think you’d be so comfortable with, y’know, English. I mean, earlier you said a– what are those things, the phrases? Like you reap what you sow, uh–”

 

Keith cocked an eyebrow at him. “Idioms?”

 

Yes, those.” Lance nodded emphatically, eyes on Keith instead of where he was walking – which was nearly right into a group of other museum-goers. Keith pinched his sleeve and pulled him out of the way. He didn’t miss the way Lance’s eyes were glued to Keith’s fingers as he dropped the fabric, or how the gaze drew back up too slowly like he was doused in honey. But Lance was back on track almost immediately, gesturing wildly as he spoke. “Like – I get I sound like a douche right about now, but my grandmother only ever speaks English when she goes out, which is next to never, right? And she doesn’t really bother with the whole casual conversation thing? The colloquialisms or whatever. She just sounds really… stiff. Which I thought, before, was what you were like. I mean, I only speak Spanish when I’m with family, especially the extended bunch, so I assumed you were the opposite. But, people still say I have an accent sometimes. Like certain words. But they sound stupid when they’re said like in an American accent, so who can blame me? ...Shit, I’m not making sense, am I?”

 

Keith listened somewhat patiently, willing to give Lance the benefit of the doubt even though he’d opened up with what sounded like a dig at Keith’s language skills. He even managed to keep the confusion and annoyance and embarrassment off his face initially. But when he learned Lance spoke Spanish at home, he thought he could understand where Lance was coming from.

 

“Calm down, it’s fine,” said Keith when Lance paused to take a breath, “I think I get you.”

 

“You do?”

 

The hopeful expression Lance wore was a little much for Keith, so he quickly looked ahead. “Yeah. You’re kind of right. I mean, I’m from and live in Japan, so.”

 

“You what?” shrieked Lance. Immediately he clapped his hands over his mouth. After regaining his composure and clearing his throat, he went on, “Dude, that’s sick.”

 

“Is it?” Keith shrugged. “It’s home. Like do you think it’s sick you live in the States? Assuming you do.”

 

“Oh, true. But still. Japan.

 

“Uh huh. Anyway, I only really speak English at home, with my brother especially.”

 

“Then how’d you pick up all the…” Another round of vague gestures accompanied it.

 

Keith tried not to grimace. “Don’t laugh, but… we watched a lot of American television. And we got around to kind of just… mimicking the conversations? When someone said something really weird, or that sounded out of context, we’d look it up. Then start using it, too. Some of the adults thought our speaking skills would like, rot or something, but a couple native speakers said we sounded a lot more natural, so they didn’t tell us to quit it.”

 

Lance whistled appreciatively. “That’s actually really cool. What shows did you watch?”

 

“Age appropriate ones,” said Keith slowly.

 

“Like?”

 

Keith hesitated. It was brief, but Lance’s eyes were already shining when Keith next looked at him, and he could barely take it, like he’d glanced up at the sun on a clear day or something. That was a troubling comparison. He’d have to stomp all over that before it got out of hand.

 

“Uh, Pokémon?” muttered Keith.

 

Yes,” stage-whispered Lance, “Bless your little heart. You watched dubbed Pokémon while in Japan.”

 

“It was Shiro’s idea,” groaned Keith, “He found the cassettes and wanted to practice. All the characters sounded wrong, though.”

 

“Wait, wait wait wait.” Lance flung out an arm, stopping their forward momentum into the next exhibit. “You– You watched dubbed Pokémon while in Japan on VHS tapes?

 

Lance was already laughing full-bellied, knee-slapping, red-faced guffaws that Keith refused to reciprocate, even though the smile on his mouth was fighting him wholeheartedly.

 

“We couldn’t find the DVD’s, okay?” said Keith, though he wasn’t sure whether Lance heard him or not, his mirth only growing more pronounced. Keith didn’t know exactly what was playing out in Lance’s head, with tears forming in his eyes and gasping for breath, but if it was that funny, he kind of didn’t want to ask what he was imagining.

 

When Lance finally calmed down enough to rub his eyes clear, they resumed walking into the next exhibit. Keith still hadn’t gotten all the pictures he wanted. The Rosetta Stone was too popular for him to easily approach without having a dozen strangers’ faces in the background of the photo, and Lance had a habit of continuing conversations when they were several displays apart. Although sometimes the other man would be talking without realizing that he was speaking to a stranger, and that was something Keith could chuckle about.

 

It took the rest of the afternoon, slipping into early evening, for Keith to come to the conclusion he wouldn’t be visiting Trafalgar Square or the gallery that day. The bruises on his legs were throbbing with every beat of his heart, and his jeans were chafing the tender skin, and the strap of his camera case wasn’t helping where it pulled on his shoulder. Combined with the aching hunger in his gut – the danish he bought from the museum’s café was far from enough – Keith really just wanted to go back to his room, chuck off every article of clothing and slather numbing cream on every part of him that had come in contact with the taxi.

 

He didn’t say as much to Lance as they were walking down the steps into the atrium, but with every passing hour they spent in each other’s company, Lance was getting quicker to suggest they rest their legs for a minute or ten. Keith was pretty sure he wasn’t being that obvious about his growing discomfort, but he had to admit that Lance did seem a little sharper than he’d originally given him credit for.

 

“I think I’m going to turn in early,” said Keith at the bottom of the stairs. Every step had only made the throbbing of his leg and arm swell. He wasn’t grimacing – yet – but he could feel his own face twitch with the effort.

 

Good,” said Lance with feeling, levelling a look at Keith that he supposed was intended to be concerned. He just looked amused, however. “You’re a broken man, Keef.”

 

“I’m functioning fine, thanks,” sighed Keith, not even bothering with the name. They walked down the hall and out the double doors. Neither of them questioned leaving at the same time. “Anyway, thanks for… You know what, I don’t think I should be thanking you for anything.”

 

Lance gave an indignant huff. “‘Scuse you, I stopped you from getting caught by the church police!”

 

“Not really. I mean, if you hadn’t have been there, I don’t think they would have gone up to check. You stomp when you walk.”

 

“That’s a bold lie.”

 

Keith’s mouth twitched into a grin. “You’re a decent scapegoat.”

 

“Ru–ude,” drawled Lance, then his voice took on an exaggeratedly posh accent, “I suggest you take a bus, lest the cabbie runneth you over again.”

 

“The subway brings me right to the hostel,” said Keith, mimicking the accent, “I thank you for your unnecessary concern, Lancel.”

 

Lance snorted as Keith turned towards the subway, a hand up in a lazy wave. Their banter was natural enough that it took Keith a moment to place the nagging feeling at the back of his mind. Even though they hadn’t said goodbye, or any of the parting remarks that people usually heaped on as they parted, Keith had taken it for granted the unspoken words of see you later. He knew, though, that they probably wouldn’t. They didn’t have each other’s contact information, they didn’t know where the other was staying, where they were going, when they were leaving – and Keith was, incredulously, disappointed. Again.

 

“Hey! Hey! Keith!”

 

It was almost embarrassing how fast Keith whipped around. Lance hadn’t moved from where they parted, but he was flailing his arms to get Keith’s attention. When the other man turned, Lance cupped his hands around his mouth.

 

“What’s your last name?” he called out.

 

Bemused, Keith didn’t think and shouted back, “Kogane, why?”

 

“I’m looking you up on Facebook!” Lance beamed.

 

Keith tried to look stern. “If you send a request, I’m not accepting!”

 

Jerk!

 

Keith laughed and waved again as he swivelled back around to continue down to the subway.

 


 

10:22 PM

ℓαиçә

ok so like

remember how we made fun of brits n their tea

and how like

it doesnt make sense???¿ that they have Tea™

but not like

tea…...

dr4g0ns14y3r

you mean how they don’t have all the flavours we have?

ℓαиçә

ya so like

their normal tea is actaully p good

i had fukkin 4 cups

IN CUTE LIL TEACUPS TOO

likei felt english or smth

dr4g0ns14y3r

did you have little biscuits with your tea, too?

ℓαиçә

thats on my todo list

bucket list actually

dr4g0ns14y3r

didja cross anything off today?

what was the one that had to do with trafalgar? shit

that’s one of my faves

ℓαиçә

um

climbing onto a lion

and dabbing?¿¿?

dr4g0ns14y3r

YES while photobombing

omf i need this so bad you do not understand

ℓαиçә

i considrd for a sec that i woudlnt have the shamelessness for it

but

dr4g0ns14y3r

you’re fine

ℓαиçә

ill be good

Hunkules

hey guys!!

ℓαиçә

babe

dr4g0ns14y3r

demigod of strength and honour

 

Hunkules

how was London today??

ℓαиçә

gr8888

but most importantly

i made a discovery

dr4g0ns14y3r

aaaaaahhhhhhhhh

 

Hunkules

ooooh what is it??

ℓαиçә

i found red plaid rock climber mcmullet on fb

dr4g0ns14y3r

you what

 

Hunkules

:O!!!!

how on earth did you manage that???

ℓαиçә

got his name yknow

FOUND HIK

HIM

***

[IMAGE]

dr4g0ns14y3r

that’s blurry as fuck

 

Hunkules

is that the famous red plaid??

ℓαиçә

yes fck

um one would think that like

as a dude who is obssesed w takin pics

hed like idk taKE BETTER PCTURES

dr4g0ns14y3r

maybe it’s part of the ~*art*~

ℓαиçә

maybe hes a myth n thats why all his candids are blurry af

Hunkules

tartan bigfoot………

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

omfg.

yes!

YES!!!!!!!

ℓαиçә

[IMAGE]

fukkin mullet

dr4g0ns14y3r

is he asian?

ℓαиçә

pidge u RACIST

dr4g0ns14y3r

NO I’M NOT

IM JUST ASKING FFS

ℓαиçә

as the resident poc in this convo

hunk notwithstanding

dr4g0ns14y3r

jfc

ℓαиçә

i have to tell u when ur racist

u racist

Hunkules

if Pidge is the only white person here

wouldn’t that make them the resident white person???

ℓαиçә

://

dr4g0ns14y3r

lance doesn’t even know what he’s getting offended about half the time

ℓαиçә

hey now

all i need to hear is the TONE OF VOICE

Hunkules

that’s valid

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

okay i’ll give you that

ℓαиçә

also

he is

JAPANESE

he watched fckin DUBBED POKEMON as a kid

dr4g0ns14y3r

so did we, lance…..

ℓαиçә

except hes FROM JAPAN

like actually

Hunkules

oooooooooh!!!

I hope you didn’t ask weird questions……

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

oooooh okay cool!

wait why dubbed

wtf

ℓαиçә

i never ask weird questions scuse me

dr4g0ns14y3r

lol

ℓαиçә

he said he learned casual english from watchin tv

dr4g0ns14y3r

soooo much could go wrong with that

ℓαиçә

ikr

but he has a bro that sounds smarter so like

he probs made sure shit wasnt wild

Hunkules

nice!!

wait did he say all this at the hospital???

ℓαиçә

o lmao nooope :))

guess where i saw the lil shit today

dr4g0ns14y3r

are there any cliffs in london?

ℓαиçә

close

he was up a tower in st pauls cathedral

like the sort of tower ppl arent supposed to go up

Hunkules

and you… followed him up????

:l

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

did we have “get sent to jail” on the list?

i think we should add it on there

ℓαиçә

fight me

i was curious ok!!

Hunkules

pleeeeaaaase don’t do anything permanently damaging :((

ℓαиçә

chill bro im not the one that got hit by a car

o also hes not a homophobe

plus 1 point

guess it cancels out his fkin mullet

dr4g0ns14y3r

how do you know?

some phobes are really good at hiding it…

like my prof

 

Hunkules

ew that prof :((

ℓαиçә

if i see him while in venice

can i hoof him in the gonads??¿

dr4g0ns14y3r

yes

as long as he doesn’t know we’re friends

ℓαиçә

sweet

>:3c

and i said smth about my exboyf

and he like

didnt even look surprised he just said this noseless statue was my new hubby

dr4g0ns14y3r

oh my god did you get a picture of museum!rolo though?

ℓαиçә

i didnt fuq

but

rest assured the likeness after i rekt him at wii was a++

Hunkules

his expressions were pretty amazing

when he made them

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

god he was so slimy though

ℓαиçә

ya what a fuck tho

Hunkules

:0

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

……….

ℓαиçә

fucking idiot****

:))

Hunkules

nice save

ℓαиçә

ty

 


 

Lance was entering the subway car when he next saw Keith. The other man was sitting nearest the door, a hand resting on his camera case and the other idly fiddling with the hair escaping from under his grey beanie. His gaze met Lance’s in nearly the same instant. As Lance slid over to lean against the partition, he watched Keith’s face shift from its subtly surprised state to flat.

 

“It’s almost as if London isn’t a massive city with millions of people in it,” said Lance with a grin.

 

“True,” nodded Keith, “Are you stalking me, Lance?”

 

Lance shook a dismissive hand at him. “It’s more like how opposites attract. Your ugly mug and, well, me.”

 

“Well aren’t you rude.”

 

The train jolted into motion. Lance braced himself against the partition to keep his balance.

 

“Where you off to today?” he asked.

 

“You’re not very subtle about the whole stalking thing, are you?”

 

“Let it be known that I, Lance Rivera, am not stalking you.”

 

“Right,” said Keith, dropping his hand from tugging at his hair, “Well, I was just going to check out some historic sites. Tower of London, the palace, Big Ben. Maybe some others, depending on how much time I’ve got.”

 

“How speedy can you be, Bruisey McMullet?” snorted Lance.

 

As Keith protested the new title, for a moment, just a brief one honestly, Lance considered changing his plans for that day to tag along with Keith. The most glaring opposition to that idea was the fact that he and Keith weren’t friends. It didn’t really make sense to try and swing things in his favour when he didn’t have a good excuse.

 

So when Keith asked him in turn where he was planning on going, Lance kept to his original plan. “There’s an M&M emporium type deal I want to check out. Like three or four floors of just… merchandise. And chocolate, obviously. Who am I to pass on that opportunity?”

 

“You’re right, not like this city is filled with monuments to mankind or anything.”

 

“Hey,” said Lance, lifting his hands, palms out, “There’s only so much history I can handle before I need to see the good stuff.”

 

“Are you serious?” snorted Keith.

 

“Uh, yeah?”

 

“There’s literally no argument to which is more worth it,” said Keith, eyebrows raised in disbelief, “Where there’s history, there’s memory, and imagine all the people that walked there before you. They saw the same city, but totally different. And you’re skipping out on that for an M&M emporium?”

 

Lance rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’ve felt the whole holy shit someone touched this rock hundreds of years ago thing. I get it, but there’s other stuff in the city besides like, historical monuments, y’know?”

 

“You’re missing out.”

 

You’re missing out.”

 

Keith started to his feet and for a moment Lance thought he was going to engage in subway fisticuffs, but the train was slowing as it neared the next stop.

 

“Enjoy your giant candy store,” drawled Keith as he grabbed the overhead bar to keep upright, “Take a picture of Abbey road while you’re at it.”

 

“What’s that got anything to do with it?” Lance frowned at Keith as the doors slid open, calling out while the other man stepped off, “Enjoy your – your old bricks!”

 

“I will!” Keith flicked a borderline impudent salute before spinning around and disappearing as the doors shut again.

 

Lance got off several stops later, spending the rest of his travel time flicking through the photos he hadn’t gotten around to uploading the night before. He’d spent too much time creeping through Keith’s Facebook – did the guy know what privacy settings were? – and lamenting about his mullet. Pidge and Hunk would rather call it mooning, but Lance pretended he couldn’t read when they said that. From what Lance saw, Keith rarely ever posted pictures of his own. The occasional picture was usually him in the background of some other person’s event. The few that he was central to were only ever tagged by a guy named Takashi Shirogane – his brother maybe? Even his profile picture was blurry and indistinguishable and three years old, when his hairstyle was a different sort of mess and the man was still a gawky teenager. The only reason Lance even managed to figure out it was him was by the location and using Google translator on the sparse Japanese characters in Keith’s profile.

 

At the end of the night, Lance had forgotten to send both friend request and accompanying first message. He could do that later tonight.

 

At street level, Lance pulled up the screenshot he took of the route to the store. There were several stores that caught his eye along the way, and as a result it took him far longer to reach his destination than what Google maps supplied. When he finally arrived, Lance already had a plastic bag with several spontaneous purchases stuffed into his backpack. The moment he stepped through the doors, he knew he should’ve left some more room.

 

The first thing Lance saw was a bright red double decker bus – inside the shop. Kids were hopping up into the driver’s seat eagerly, hands sliding over the wheel like they were really steering it. The middle of the bus was gone to create an arch through it, and once Lance passed under it, his gaze landed on racks upon racks of M&M’s themed merchandise.

 

Honestly speaking, it wasn’t like he really had a thing for the little chocolates, but he’d heard some things about the glory of the store, and with the addition of the milling crowds, the entire set-up was more eccentric and enthralling than Hunk’s hobby workshop. So Lance plowed forth to snap the occasional terrible picture of plushies and snapbacks and wristwatches, and then proceeded to collect a massive bag full of the little candies when he was next faced with a massive rainbow wall of the things.

 

In its entirety, the store was four floors. On one of the floors that sold merchandise, Lance befriended a pair of young curly-haired siblings that were in awe the moment they heard him speak. Feeling his ego swell as they called him a “tv person” for his American accent, Lance ended up helping them reach items too high for their short arms. It was only when their father told them to knock it off ten minutes later was Lance free to dump the clothes and toys into the children’s arms and dash off before they could ask for more help.

 

Then, when he headed down to the bottom level, Lance saw it.

 

Four five-foot tall figures of the M&M mascots, facing the same direction and all in mid stride.

 

An M&M twist on the Beatles’ Abbey road album cover.

 

Lance lifted his iPod to take a picture, lips pursed tight. This, apparently, meant Keith was aware of the emporium,and had even been there. Lance wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to feel annoyed or amused. He settled for a rather unsettling mixture of the two.

 


 

9:02 PM

ℓαиçә

BAM

[IMAGE]

eminem imporium

dr4g0ns14y3r

emporium**

….

m&m…?**

ℓαиçә

im edgy

dr4g0ns14y3r

nah

is that supposed to be the highlight of your day….

ℓαиçә

part of it

i also dabbed at trafalgar

[IMAGE]

dr4g0ns14y3r

you have no idea how much respect i have for you

ℓαиçә

ty

dr4g0ns14y3r

also

you realize there’s an m&m’s world in nyc right?

ℓαиçә

……

hm

wELL this one is british kbye

dr4g0ns14y3r

mmmmmmmmhm

 


 

On his third day in London, with the sun just slightly warming the air, Lance made it his goal to cross “find a cool nook” off his bucket list. The goal, courtesy of Hunk, was to wander the city until he found a place out of sight that was the kind of place tourists generally overlooked, accidentally or not. So that’s how Lance found himself crossing off another item on the list by jumping off the subway at a random stop, taking a bus a few blocks over where the subway couldn’t reach, and then planting his feet on the cobbled side road running parallel to the Thames.

 

It wasn’t the the seediest place he’d been to, but it was enough that while Lance looked around the narrow buildings packed side by side, he made sure to remain aware of whoever else occupied the street with him. The majority of the buildings were probably apartments by the knickknacks Lance spied in many of the windows – a pikachu plushie in one, a dozen cacti in another. But at one point he paused at an alleyway, utterly nondescript, and when he peered down it his gaze was drawn to a flash of bright colour.

 

Later on, he wouldn’t tell his mother how he decided to walk down a narrow, shadowed alleyway in the middle of a neighbourhood where the only other people on the street were chugging morning pints and spitting on the road. But maybe he could cross off “make a probably unsafe decision” off the list.

 

However, when he reached the end of the alleyway, Lance wasn’t disappointed. The narrow path opened up into a courtyard, accessible by a couple other alleyways between the shops and cafés that ringed it. A young man in a pageboy hat was setting up his acoustic guitar, his companion testing a tambourine on her hip gently. One of the cafés had tables and chairs that spilled out into the courtyard, red and yellow and pink patio umbrellas keeping the meager sunlight from touching those who sat under them. Half the shop fronts were decorated with street art, but from the quality of it, Lance guessed that it was commissioned work to add to the warm and welcoming atmosphere the niche had going for itself. In the shop displays Lance could see frilly patterned aprons and lace doilies and floral print kitchenware, ceramic mugs and bowls and marble cutting boards, antiques ranging from a powder blue bicycle to an old wooden horse. There was a tiny flower shop that doubled as an art supply store, with brushes and canvases beside wicker baskets of brightly coloured blossoms, and a second hand clothing store that seemed to collect dresses of all styles. The clink of cutlery on plates and cups emanated from the cafés. The warm atmosphere doubled with the accompaniment of the smell of coffee and baked goods. The guitarist was plucking a few experimental strings on his instrument.

 

Lance decided he could safely assume: nook, found.

 

He took a panorama, swivelling slowly on his heel. When it came out acceptable, he strode into the café with the umbrellas decorating the patio. It wasn’t any special, but it matched the bright colours of the decor outside and of the dozen or so people that occupied it, it seemed like it catered towards the student population. Lance ordered a chai latte and biscotti to dip and nibble, and took his snack outside to sit by the lone tree in the courtyard. The music began, a gentle thrum from the guitar paired with an ethereal jingle of the tambourine.

 

And then, just before noon on the seventeenth of September, every coincidence leaking into the pattern of the predictable, Lance watched a man with a familiar outgrown mop of black hair walk through an alley. A loose grey shirt with the sleeves rolled up bared forearms leading to hands holding the DSLR that was the only staple of anything he had on him. From a glint beneath the sun, Lance knew the nose stud was present today as well. Keith’s entrance, paired with the upbeat tune the pair of musicians were getting into, made Lance want to laugh.

 

He broke off a small chunk from his half eaten biscotti and popped it into his mouth as he watched Keith’s gaze land on the wall art. His expression was minimalist by default, but in moments like these, Lance saw the spark. He’d seen it at the museum, too, when Keith seemed to forget Lance was there at all. Now the man was looking around like he wasn’t sure what to train his gaze on next, even though he was standing back from the wall as his hands lifted the camera to line up a shot. Lance watched Keith look down at what he took, then back up at the graffiti, down again, up again – comparing the real thing to what he had there on his camera. Lance wondered if he ever managed to get a shot that was exactly how he remembered it. He wondered if it was enough, even though the photograph didn’t have the smell of coffee or the sound of a guitar and tambourine or the gentle shift of the air.

 

Keith took several more pictures of the artwork, including those on the other walls, before he headed into the rival coffee shop. Lance chipped away at his biscotti until the other man reemerged, one hand delicately holding a steaming cup. As Keith glanced towards the antique shop, Lance broke off another piece of the almond biscuit, took aim, and threw. It missed his target, Keith’s head, but dropped onto the lid of his drink, bounced once and then settled. Keith flinched at the sudden movement. He stared at the piece of biscotti. When he looked up from it, baffled, his gaze landed on Lance with his arms in the air victoriously. Lance lowered his arms, watching Keith’s expression morph into something like wry amusement. He plucked the biscuit off the lid and flung it back at Lance, who tried get it in his mouth except for that it ricocheted off his nose and landed on the ground.

 

“Nice,” said Keith, walking over to him.

 

“I was close,” said Lance. He toed the chair across from him. “Have a sit. I have a bone to pick with you.”

 

“That so?” Keith obliged, keeping a firm grip on the back of the chair as if Lance was going to kick it out from under him (not that he hadn’t considered it, if he was being honest).

 

“Yesterday, when I went to the M&M thing,” said Lance as he went to his iPod before remembering he’d uploaded all the pictures already, “There was a curious thing I saw. Giant M&M’s, posing like the Beatles’ album cover for Abbey Road. When mine eyes laid upon this sight, I recalled with some incre– incredil–”

 

“Don’t hurt yourself.”

 

Incredulity. I recalled with some incredulity that a peasant earlier in the day did mention it to me.”

 

Keith took a careful sip of his scalding drink. “That so?”

 

Lance stared at him. “Yes. That is so. You totally went there before, didn’t you?”

 

“The world is full of mysteries,” said Keith, nodding seriously, “One among them is the fact I keep seeing your primeval ass.”

 

“My ass is very modern, thank you.”

 

Keith framed the iPod on the table with both his hands, giving Lance a deadpan stare.

 

“This shit is new as fuck,” said Lance, “And what sort of dubbed anime did you get that from.”

 

“Yu-Gi-Oh, I think,” said Keith in mock seriousness, and Lance burst out laughing.

 

When his laughter petered out, Lance leaned over his latte, chin in his laced hands. “So where you headed off to today, hotshot?”

 

“Don’t call me that,” said Keith easily, “I want to go up in the Eye. It’s my last chance of getting a good view of the city.”

 

“What d’you mean your last chance?” asked Lance, eyes already narrowing in suspicion. He could guess what it was that meant the giant ferris wheel across the river was his last resort for a view.

 

Keith looked at Lance with a straight face, although Lance could see the effort he was putting into schooling his features. “It’s weird. Apparently security isn’t too fond of random people trying to get to the spire of the Shard.”

 

“The Shard.” Lance squinted at him. “You mean, the massive tower in which you are, in fact, allowed to go up to take pictures? You… got banned? Trying to go higher?

 

“Yeah, I have some regrets,” sighed Keith, “I have to settle for only like, a hundred and thirty meters up, now.”

 

“You’re an anomaly.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

Lance shook his head. “Anyway, I’m coming with.”

 

Keith froze with his cup halfway to his lips. He leaned away when the steam wafted up his nose. “To the Eye?”

 

“Yep,” said Lance, “I want to go up, too. That okay?”

 

“I can’t exactly take pictures when you walk so damn fast.”

 

“Tell me and I’ll slow down. Besides, it’s the Eye. How fast can I go in a giant ferris wheel?”

 

“...Alright,” conceded Keith.

 

Lance beamed. “Perfect. Shall we?”

 

He rose from his seat, stuffing his iPod into his pocket and readjusting his backpack. Keith followed suit, tugging on the strap of his camera case going from shoulder to opposite hip. With drinks in hand, they set off back through the alley in which Keith had come, acoustic guitar and tambourine notes following behind them.

 

Lance left it up to Keith to direct them, since his original plan had been to get sort of lost in the first place. They turned out to be relatively close, with Westminster Bridge just a few blocks down from the courtyard. With the sun out and the temperature high enough that Lance could roll up the sleeves of his shirt, it would have made for a peaceful walk if not for the inevitable banter.

 

He would have been lying if he said he didn’t enjoy it though. There was something satisfying about Keith’s sharp retorts. Even when they sort of hurt more than probably intended, Lance found himself able to brush them off easily without getting too offensive with his own comebacks. They gave and took in turns: Lance poking fun at Keith’s need to take so many pictures of the same thing, Keith reiterating the quality of his pictures being far greater than any iPod’s, Lance dragging the quality of Keith’s mullet, Keith dragging the quality of Lance’s insults. It continued on when they were in line for the Eye. By the time it was their turn to board with a dozen other people, the pair’s competitive insults had dissolved into juvenile fits of laughter.

 

And Lance wasn’t sure whether there was anything as rewarding as that stoic face, once scowling at him from a tree, breaking into an outburst of mirth.

 

The teasing and taunting continued until the wheel brought them slowly halfway to its fullest height. Once he saw the view, growing in its expanse inch by inch, Keith had his camera out and focused. Even though the view wouldn’t be quite as good as what the Shard had to offer, which Lance pointed out, earning himself a scowl, they could watch the city grow beneath them. Lance took his pictures, wandering from one side of the carriage to the other. Keith took far longer. The care with which he held the camera, as if every frame cost him money instead of memory space, piqued Lance’s curiosity.

 

So he lapsed into silence, watching the concentration on Keith’s face and the quiet reverence he treated every shot with. Lance didn’t understand why it meant so much that he got the perfect angle – he was fine with whatever, his memory would supply the rest – but he could see that Keith had his reasons for his care and caution, just as Lance had reasons for his lack of.

 

Lance also enjoyed the irony of Keith’s lack of vigilance when the guy got hit by cars and chucked out of buildings by security.

 

Eventually, as the wheel turned and their carriage was on its descent, Keith spotted Lance staring. He narrowed his eyes and waved a hand slowly in front of him.

 

“What? Do I have something on my face?” he asked as he walked over. Then his expression twisted as he realized the opening he’d just given Lance. “Nevermind, I take that b–”

 

“Just a lot of ugly,” blurted out Lance, then he cursed, “Shit, I could’ve come up with something so much better. Give me a minute.”

 

“Hell no,” deadpanned Keith, “Cut it out.”

 

“Opportunity wasted,” sighed Lance. He leaned against the railing that lined the carriage. “Did you get all the shots you wanted?”

 

Keith shrugged as he joined him at the rail. “They’ll do.”

 

“Are you ever satisfied?”

 

“Sometimes,” said Keith, and then he sighed, “It would’ve been so much better if the guard hadn’t caught me…”

 

“You can only blame yourself,” snorted Lance, “Seriously–hoooomygod.”

 

Keith stared at Lance’s sudden wide-eyed expression. “Um.”

 

Lance leaned forward until his stomach was pressed into the railing. “How did I not notice? The aquarium. Dude, the Sea Life London Aquarium is right there – it’s on my bucket list – we have to go.”

 

He jerked back to look at Keith pleadingly. It took him a moment to process the fact that he was begging Keith, cliff-climbing, taxi-hitting, photography rogue Keith, to essentially take him to the aquarium. They weren’t even friends–

 

Except fuck it, they were.

 

Lance couldn’t deny that – regardless of how short their time spent bumping into each other was – in any other circumstance they would have surely become friends. Why would this be any different?

 

As he looked on, Lance saw Keith undergoing what was probably a similar thought process. The shock gave way to confusion, his dark eyes flitting between Lance’s, searching for something – an answer maybe? Or an excuse?

 

Lance obliged. With a dramatic wave of his hand, he gestured towards the aquarium sitting just beyond the line of people waiting for the Eye. “As my impromptu travel buddy, you are tasked with looking at sharks and jellyfish with me. I have decreed.”

 

Keith blinked, cocked his head slightly. “Impromptu.”

 

“Improvised,” said Lance with another grande wave of his hand, “Spontaneous. So? You coming?”

 

“You just said I had no choice,” pointed out Keith, but he was grinning, “But fine, if I must.”

 

“You’re also tasked with accepting my friend request.”

 

“Ah, I thought you wouldn’t notice that.”

 

They spent the rest of the trip to the ground bickering.

 


 

8:06 PM

Hunkules

[IMAGE]

my children are growing up so fast :’))

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

holy TALL

did you name them all? please tell me you did

 

Hunkules

how on earth am I supposed to tell them apart???

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

HUNK that’s like not being able to tell apart twins

what a terrible dad

 

Hunkules

why am I so offended by this

fine

I’ll put names on the tape

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

don’t forget to let shay name a few

she IS the mama

 

Hunkules

oh that’s true

although she’s been babytalking them for awhile now

they probably already have names if I’m being honest

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

k but like

you HAVE to name a couple after me and lance

 

Hunkules

okay

[IMAGE]

this one is you

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

……….

ℓαиçә

lol its the runt

dr4g0ns14y3r

hunk think about what you’re insinuating…….

 

Hunkules

:’)))

ℓαиçә

the leaves are ur arms

bcos

theyre short

dr4g0ns14y3r

thanks lance tell us about your stupid day

 

Hunkules

cross anything off the bucket list??

ℓαиçә

cool nook

[IMAGE]

also i think i can cross off make an unsafe decision

bcos the entrance was a shady af allley

Hunkules

please let that be the only dubious decision you make :\\\

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

unlikely hunk

sweetass nook though

 

Hunkules

yeah it’s really cool!! :))

ℓαиçә

plus went up in the eye

[IMAGE]

aaaand the aquarium!!

[IMAGE]

[IMAGE]

my personal fav is this asshole

[IMAGE]

stingrays fukkin smile

dr4g0ns14y3r

right so

trying to sneak that first one by us

is that red plaid?

sans red plaid

ℓαиçә

:3c

Hunkules

:0!!!

are you guys friends now???

ℓαиçә

i mean

why tf not right???

dr4g0ns14y3r

this is some next level movie plot shit going on

jfc y’all are going to get married at the end

ℓαиçә

cool ur jets pidgey

hAH HHEACCEPTED MY FRINED REUQEST

OHOSEOHRJSEOIROOH BOOYYY

Hunkules

uh oh

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

they’re not going to be friends for much longer

 


 

“I have a favour to ask you,” said Keith, slipping back into Japanese with some relief. Setting aside his contact lens case, he pushed his black framed glasses up the bridge of his nose.

 

“What’s that?” Shiro had his glasses on as well, multitasking his video call with Keith while pouring over a work file.

 

“If you could invent a machine that can pack all my things into this bag, that would be great.”

 

“You have, what, three outfits?”

 

“And more stuff.”

 

“You can deal with it,” said Shiro, eyes never leaving the file.

 

“Ugh.”

 

“Did you buy anything?”

 

“M&M’s.”

 

“That’s it?”

 

Keith glanced over the things he had sprawled out across his rented room, trying to remember the chachkas he’d bought. The undeniably large plastic bag filled with M&M’s sat on the nightstand. There was a new shirt, tags intact and already crumpled, forming the peak to his tiny Everest of clothes he probably should wash within the next couple days. Sitting atop his half empty backpack was a bootlegged DVD of Shiro’s favourite childhood show, complete with barely English subtitles that Keith knew Shiro would have a love/hate relationship with.

 

“There’s something for you, and I got myself a shirt,” said Keith, then scowled at the screen, “No, it’s not black. Or grey. Or red. It’s kind of a purple, maybe a bit more red than blue? Or more pink, I don’t know. It’s like–”

 

“Why don’t you just show me?”

 

Keith groaned and slumped forward. “It’s so far away.”

 

“So lazy,” chided Shiro. After suffering a moment of Keith’s indistinguishable whining, he asked, “Is your train tomorrow?”

 

“Bright and early,” said Keith, voice muffled slightly. He straightened up with a sigh. “My French is nonexistent, Shiro. They’re going to rip me apart.”

 

“It’s fine, half the people there speak English, anyway.”

 

“I’ve heard Parisians are bitter, and they hate it when you don’t try to speak French. But I know none. Except bonjour. S’il vous plaît. Merci.

 

Shiro tossed the file down onto his desk, the slap of paper coming loud through the speakers. “You sound more German than French, how are you doing that?”

 

Keith slumped forward again.

 

“Calm down,” said Shiro with a laugh, raising his voice over Keith’s groaning, “Even if those are the only words you know, as long as you use them, I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. They’re just people, too.”

 

Keith kicked his legs out towards the headboard of the bed so he could more fully utilize the duvet in front of his laptop to smother himself. He regretted it when his bruises throbbed bone deep. “Uuuuuuuuuugh–”

 

“You’re such a baby. Anyway, got any pictures to show me today?”

 

Angst immediately forgotten, Keith lifted his hands and face to tap at the computer. “Oh you bet I do. So I’m thinking of using these photos to put a panorama together.”

 

Shiro’s gaze travelled across the screen as he watched the images show up in the dropbox. He nodded along, asking the occasional question as Keith went through his favourite photos of the day. He’d taken two of Big Ben, one from street level and another from the Eye. The difference in quality was obvious – the encompassing windows of the wheel’s carriages weren’t the clearest, or cleanest. Given a bit of editing to sharpen the edges and bump up the contrast and the slight cloudiness would be gone.

 

“Hey, why don’t you post these to your Facebook or Instagram?”

 

Keith didn’t pause as he dragged another file from his desktop into the browser. “I haven’t posted anything in either of those in… hell, I don’t know. A long time. I’m not about to start.”

 

“Really?” Shiro frowned, causing Keith to mirror his expression. “Because on your Facebook, you’ve got some museum pictures– oh, someone else tagged you in them.”

 

“What.”

 

“Lance Rivera? Who’s that?” Shiro raised his eyebrows. Then his mouth twitched. “Uh, what’s with these captions?”

 

But Keith was barely listening. The speed in which his mind and fingers were working was far faster than the internet, and he felt like his stomach was full of bees. When the site finally loaded, his gaze locked onto the red notifications lit up in the corner of the screen.

 

“That little shitdick,” breathed Keith in English, clicking to see that Lance had, in fact, tagged him in a good twenty pictures. He wasn’t sure he wanted to look at them, but then Keith registered the fact that Shiro was laughing, pressing the heel of his hand into one watering eye with his glasses shoved to the crown of his head.

 

What Lance had taken the time to do was add all the pictures he’d taken during their time at the museum, mostly the hideous busts and mutilated sculptures and angry helmets, and all of Keith’s tags were situated squarely on their faces. Prompted by Shiro’s mention of the captions, Keith began to read them. Most of them just said “you”, but a few were captioned “ur new boyf” or “husband material amirite”. One in particular was a zoomed in and terribly cropped picture of a bust with no nose and tufty hair. It said “ur bro”.

 

Petty as he was, Keith promptly tagged Shiro in it.

 

“What– hey!”

 

“You deserve it!”

 

At the end of the album titled “people i found in europe accidentally” were a couple pictures from the aquarium. One was a very angry pufferfish that probably did, in fact, resemble Keith, as in that moment Lance had kept nudging his camera when Keith had been trying to take a picture. The second was actually Keith, crouching in the tunnel that ran beneath the shark tank. He was face to face with one of the hammerheads, teeth bared as he mocked the fish’s visage.

 

It was captioned “its ok keef, ur the prettiest”.

 

Despite his better judgement, Keith found his laughter bursting out of him until he had to remove his glasses lest they got smudged.

 

If that’s how he wanted to play, then fine.

 

 

Chapter Text

The room Keith was staying in was one of the nicest thus far, in his opinion. It wasn’t anything amazing, but it had a little balcony that overlooked the street, and he could see the Eiffel Tower from the fourth floor. Granted, it was on top of an arguably steep hill that a single bus serviced, but he couldn’t say he didn’t appreciate the exercise. His bruises were ever-present – they wouldn’t fully fade for a couple weeks – but the fact they weren’t black anymore was a bonus. The greatest downfall was that they still ached when he moved too fast. It made fleeing possible authorities rather difficult.

 

Not that he’d started off his first day in Paris doing such a thing, of course.

 

Having left London on the eighteenth, Keith had been in Paris for one full day since. The walk up the hill was good – with his bags digging into his shoulders and turning that dull ache from his bruises into a small fire – in that it let him scope out a place he could do laundry, buy breakfast (fresh) and find some ingredients for a meal he could make himself. The little produce shop didn’t have quite the selection of ingredients Keith was hoping for, but it’d be enough so that he could scrape together some semblance of a Japanese meal. He wasn’t quite homesick, per se, but having lasted three weeks on foreign food, his stomach and palate were yearning.

 

Now Keith was collecting his filthy, travel-worn and twice-washed clothes into a plastic bag. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be able to clean the clothes on his back. To combat this, Keith wore the sweats he used as pajamas since they were less likely to be crusted in a week’s worth of mud and sweat. Shiro had stuffed a bunch of detergent pods into his bag, vastly overestimating how often Keith would do his laundry while traipsing across the continent. Keith grabbed one now, adding it to the bag before leaving for the laundromat.

 

The outlet was a couple blocks down the hill. It was midmorning on a weekday so the streets weren’t busy, but there were still a fair number of people strolling with no real purpose. The laundromat, too, wasn’t busy, only one other person holding the top loader’s lid open when Keith entered.

 

Then the lid was dropped with a frustrated huff and a bang, and Keith spontaneously felt like chucking his bag of clothes across the room at the young man frowning at the washing machine.

 

Lance looked up. His eyebrows went up, then down like they couldn’t be bothered to actually portray surprise.

 

“What the fucknuggets, dude,” said Lance, then his expression brightened, “Qu’est-ce que le fucknuggets.

 

Keith went to the nearest washing machine and dumped the entirety of his bag into it as he said, “We’ve passed coincidence by now, right?”

 

“Like, so far.”

 

“When did you get in?”

 

“Late yesterday,” replied Lance, watching Keith as he stuck coins into slots and pressed a few buttons and twisted a dial. “Uh.” He looked at his own machine.

 

Keith cocked an eyebrow at him, willing his mouth not to quirk along with it. “Need help, Lance?”

 

“I don’t need help,” said Lance, wrinkling his nose. Cute.

 

Wait, no. Not cute. What the shit.

 

Keith mentally shook himself – although it was more like a thrash – before prodding Lance anymore. “So you don’t want clean clothes? You must reek.”

 

“Don’t even try that with me,” snorted Lance, sticking out an accusing finger at Keith, “I’ve seen you wear the same clothes on consecutive days.”

 

“Nonsense,” said Keith, even though he knew it was undeniably true. He had like, three shirts. Four, if he counted the sweater for chillier days. Straightfaced, he deadpanned, “I only ever wear my clothes once before washing them.”

 

Bold lie.”

 

Keith shrugged. “This conversation isn’t getting your clothes any cleaner.”

 

The other man made a whining sound in the back of his throat. He turned his frown back to the machine, gave it a kick, turned the dial around and around and around. The glances he was shooting Keith weren’t subtle in the least. Keith just watched him, armed folded across his chest as his own clothes were tossed around inside the washer.

 

Lance cleared his throat. “So… weird machines, huh? No words on them…”

 

“The pictures are pretty straightforward.”

 

“No, they’re not,” denied Lance, “What does squiggly-squiggly-circle mean?”

 

“Have you seriously never used a washer in your life?” asked Keith incredulously, walking over to Lance.

 

“I only ever used the one at home!” Lance planted his hands firmly on his hips, cocking them for extra attitude when Keith rounded the corner. “I’m not fluent in washing machine hieroglyphics!”

 

“What– Okay, look, I offered you my help,” said Keith, giving Lance’s sad pile of clothes a pointed look. “You don’t have to be so roundabout in accepting it.”

 

Lance squinted at him. “Somehow, I feel like less of a man accepting your help.”

 

“You have some issues to work through, huh?”

 

With a grimace, Lance flapped a hand at the machine. “Just – fix this.”

 

Keith raised an eyebrow.

 

“...Please,” added Lance, casting his gaze elsewhere.

 

“And you gave me a hard time for rejecting your help,” muttered Keith as he reached over to press the appropriate buttons and spin the dial to its original setting.

 

“You were hit by a car.”

 

“So, theoretically, accepting help with washer controls should be easy, no?”

 

Lance mumbled something assumably offensive under his breath, but Keith let it go as he slammed the lid down over the clothes now being sprayed with cool water. With a sound that may have been something like gratitude, Lance hopped up to sit on top of the machine.

 

“So, where you headed to today?” asked Lance. Almost immediately, his feet started to kick against the machine, making banging sounds.

 

Keith reached out with a foot to intercept the other man’s heels. “Eiffel Tower.”

 

“Well, shit, I guess I’ll see you down there,” said Lance with a wry grin, an expression that Keith had come to appreciate seeing, “Look out for the guy pole dancing.”

 

“Pole… dancing?” reiterated Keith slowly, uncertain whether he’d heard correctly. But then again, it was Lance.

 

Who nodded, his grin widening. “It’s on the bucket list. I need to pole dance on the Eiffel Tower.”

 

“Uh.”

 

“It’d be great if you got a picture of it.”

 

“I’ll not sully my memory card with an ingrate like you.”

 

“Knowing you probably learned half of that from an anime just makes it hurt more.”

 

Keith grinned, lifting his hand to it so Lance couldn’t see how easy it came. They spent the rest of their washing cycles with idle chatter, agreeing to share a dryer because they both had small loads. While that turned round and round, Keith marvelled at how easy it was to talk to Lance. Sometimes it felt like he was barely hanging on as Lance spoke, his words coming thick and fast and even in combinations that Keith wasn’t wholly familiar with, but nevertheless he found his mouth keeping up faster than he consciously could. His own responses dropped easily, almost naturally, in ways that they usually didn’t unless he was with Shiro. It was nice, actually, having another conversational partner that made him feel like speaking English was natural. Of course, Keith would never tell Lance that – his head would swell.

 

When their laundry was done, they went their separate ways with Keith headed back up the hill, and Lance down. They hadn’t bothered telling each other when they were planning on visiting the tower – it always just sort of worked out before. Keith grabbed food for later, mumbling a quick merci when the equally quiet cashier handed him his change. Once the fridge had a meal waiting for him and his clothes were dumped in a pile to sort through later, Keith dressed in freshly washed black jeans and a dark red tee and set off.

 

The day was steadily warming and already past the mild temperatures which London had provided him. He was glad for it. After suffering through Ireland and Wales’ chill when it was still summer, he was beginning to think that all of Europe would act as if heat was a foreign concept. Luckily, Paris was normal.

 

His walk down the hill wasn’t the easiest thing. It was far, Keith knew the climb back up would be worse after hours of walking around, and he could just take the Montmartre bus, but he felt like forcing his bruised limbs to work out would make them heal faster. Bee ess, Shiro would no doubt drag out if he knew. But he didn’t. Because Keith never told him he got slammed by a car, and he wasn’t ever going to. Those floodgates weren’t allowed to open.

 

At the bottom of the hill, Keith took to the subway, eternally easier to navigate than any bus system in any city he’d attempted. Bus systems tended to change between cities, especially between countries, but subways – and Keith had taken to the Tokyo metro often – followed the same map. So navigating his way to the Eiffel Tower wasn’t hard. When he climbed the stairs back up onto street level, there was a wall of eateries blocking his view of the tower. At the corner of the street, he could just see the Seine, a wide canal with boats coasting by, and then to his right was the Eiffel Tower, glinting in the noon sun.

 

Rather than using a map to find his way, Keith kept his gaze locked on the tower and followed whatever sidewalks, streets and shortcuts got him there faster. He stopped just short of hopping over a tall fence surrounding a parkette, not because it was socially unacceptable to do so in public (nobody was around, anyway) but rather he wasn’t sure his leg would handle the stress. So Keith plowed on down the sidewalk, a hand on his camera case to stop it from bouncing off his hip. He stopped only once to take several pictures of the tower as he saw it looming over the cream stone buildings that looked to be built in the 1800’s.

 

Keith came upon the Eiffel Tower on the other side of a pond, a path between broad trees the only visible link from his end and the tourist crowd hanging out beneath the monument. With no one to pester him, and no eyes on him, Keith took the opportunity to take a few pictures at his current angle. The lighting wasn’t the best – he wished the sun was a bit lower on the one side – but it captured the moment. Letting his camera hang on its own strap around his neck, the case zipped shut at his side, Keith followed the pathway around to the sidewalk parallel with the busy street. Groups of tourists were crossing, holding up traffic when they thought they could get across before the light changed (they couldn’t). Keith was already on the right side, so he strode forward until he was beneath the behemoth.

 

With his eyes and his lens trained skywards at the architecture, Keith didn’t notice he had company until he felt the kick to his ass. His grip on the camera tightened as he whirled, free hand ready to unleash a world of pain – but it froze, and Keith heaved a sigh.

 

“Lance,” he grouched at the beaming man, “Don’t hit my butt.”

 

“Can I grab it?”

 

No.”

 

“Pity,” said Lance. He held up the two soft serve cones occupying both his hands. “Not like I could anyway, with these bad boys. Here.”

 

He held out one of the cones and Keith blinked at it and intoned, “I’m lactose intolerant.”

 

Lance’s face fell. Keith nearly felt bad for his joke.

 

“I’m kidding,” said Keith, reaching out to take one of the cones, “Thanks.”

 

The speed in which Lance recovered was impressive. He chomped off the top of his ice cream with a slight shiver, but was apparently otherwise unbothered. Keith was more careful, as prone to sensitive teeth and brain freeze as he was.

 

“No problemo,” said Lance around the cream, “Didja take any sweet pictures? Leave room for my portrait?”

 

“All my pictures are sweet,” replied Keith, “And no. There’s never any room for you.”

 

“You have to. I swear it’ll be worth it. Memories, and all that jazz.” Lance accompanied the last sentiment with a flourish of his free hand.

 

“I don’t think you pole dancing is something I want to recall,” drawled Keith. At Lance’s indignant squawk, Keith found himself grinning and he occupied himself with his ice cream.

 

“Just trust, it’ll be awesome,” assured Lance with a confident nod. He practically shoved the last of his soft serve, cone and all, into his mouth with the speed in which he finished it. Keith watched while leisurely lapping away. “You gotta watch my back though.”

 

“...Why.”

 

“In case it’s illegal.”

 

“Lance.”

 

“Don’t even start with me,” snorted Lance, “You’re the one that hopped into the restricted section of a cathedral.”

 

Keith mulled it over a moment. Then he shrugged. “True. I’m going to pretend I don’t know you if the police come, though.”

 

“Rude, but fair.”

 

Three of the four legs of the Iron Lady had purpose beyond structural stability. Of those, one held a staircase, and another the elevator. Keith wasn’t sure he’d be able to get further than the first floor with the state of his one side, but he also knew that if Lance started to goad him, Keith would definitely race him to the second floor, too. With a mental sigh, Keith succumbed to the knowledge that yes, he already knew how weak he was to perturbations via Lance. He could pretend he was above it all, but yeah, he knew.

 

“You could just dance… on the stairs,” suggested Keith.

 

“Um, no,” scoffed Lance, “What do you take me for? An –”

 

“Idiot,” cut in Keith immediately, eyes wide and nodding with feeling, “Yes, Lance, yes I do.”

 

Keep your blatant disrespect to yourself,” hissed Lance, “I’m not one to go half assed. The list says pole dance on the tower, and that would be dancing with no pole in the tower.”

 

“The fact that you plan these things…”

 

“Right, I plan my adventures, you toss yourself onto the hood of them.”

 

“When are you going to stop bringing that up?” muttered Keith into his swiftly vanishing soft serve.

 

“Never,” declared Lance cheerfully, “Now hurry up and finish that.”

 

Keith didn’t hurry, but he did finish the cone in the time it took for Lance to sneak around to the one foot of the tower that wasn’t being swarmed by people. Lance shoved his iPod into Keith’s hands, forcing him to promise to take some pictures with it before he was launching himself at the rock. His first two jumps weren’t high enough, but the third saw his long fingers hooked over the first ledge. With a lot of grunting and kicking, during which Keith had Lance’s iPod recording the endeavor, Lance eventually scrambled his way inelegantly to the iron supports.

 

“Ready?” he huffed, grinning down at Keith. When he received a nod, Lance began his frankly embarrassing dance.

 

Keith had to bite down on his lip to stop himself from laughing, but a few snorts escaped him nevertheless. By the enthusiasm Lance was putting into it, it seemed like he was confident in his atrocious performance, but Keith could see his entire face darkening as blood rushed to his cheeks. No iPhone picture could capture that, and despite Keith having recorded the entire thing as a video, he prematurely tapped the red button in favour of lifting his own camera. Lance wasn’t paying much attention to him at that point, glancing around to make sure nobody with authority was rushing forward to arrest him as he swung under a support beam. With the viewfinder up to his eye, Lance’s iPod sandwiched between his palm and camera, and his grin hidden by all of the above, Keith snapped picture after picture. It wasn’t until he noticed Lance’s eyes meeting his through the viewfinder that Keith realized the other man had stopped dancing. Instead, now he was staring.

 

“You…” started Lance, one hand gripping the iron, the other dangling at his side, “You took a picture of me.”

 

“Uh…”

 

The smile that lit up Lance’s face was blinding. “Hah! I’m a part of your memory card!”

 

With ridiculously giddy laughter, Lance started to climb down. Keith was burning up for no reason – it had to be the sun, okay – and his palms were sweaty.

 

What the shit.

 

Or as Lance would say, qu’est-ce que le shit.

 

Keith looked down at his feet, grimacing, and noticed his shoelaces starting to unravel. Losing a shoe while traipsing up the Eiffel Tower was not something he planned on doing, especially in front of Lance. With the iPod still in hand and his camera dangling from his neck awkwardly, Keith bent over to grab the aglets about to escape their confines. Then he felt the weight lift from his neck.

 

With a panicked swoop in his belly, Keith’s hands went to camera in an effort to catch it, because of course the first thing his brain decided on was that it was slipping impossibly over his head. Not, unfortunately, that it was being taken from him.

 

Stolen.

 

Keith snapped upright, both hands going to where his camera should be and coming up empty. He whipped around. All he saw was the loose crowd, clustered around the other feet of the tower. Then, movement – someone slipping a camera strap over their neck as they walked too quickly towards the road.

 

“Yo, Keith, what’s up?”

 

Lance was at his side, but Keith couldn’t wrench his legs into motion. He didn’t see Lance’s gaze fall to where Keith grasped an iPod and nothing else.

 

“That has my life in it,” was all he managed to murmur before Lance was running.

 

Despite the instant protest in his legs, Keith wasn’t far behind, the sudden jolt of Lance leaping into action knocking the paralysis from his muscles. But Lance was surprisingly fast, weaving through a Dutch tour group without so much as knocking a shoulder. Keith lagged behind when he nearly barrelled into a family. By the time he apologize gruffly and skirted around them, he couldn’t see Lance, never mind the thief.

 

Which left Keith standing beneath the Eiffel Tower with an empty camera case and an iPod clenched in his fist. Instead of standing there rooted to the spot, Keith started towards the road, eyes scouring for any sign of someone running, someone chasing, or maybe a struggle. But there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It was like they had just vanished.

 

Until he saw a long, brown arm waving enthusiastically from the center median. Keith watched as the light changed, the cars stopped, and the pedestrians – including Lance – crossed in a hurry. Lance was beaming again, never once stopping as he drew up to Keith. He looked mighty proud of himself. Keith’s gaze dropped to the DSLR held in one hand, the strap wrapped around his wrist.

 

“Got it,” said Lance unnecessarily, “The thieving asshat severely underestimated my experience with sneaky nieces and nephews. Tried to pass it off, hah. I grabbed ‘em like this–”

 

Lance went on as he gestured wildly, though Keith wasn’t fully listening. His gaze was on the camera, but it was travelling to the hands that gripped it, firm but careful all the same. Keith wasn’t one to let people hold his valuables – he had an issue with sharing his things in general – but he found himself trusting Lance. On any normal day, because today definitely wasn’t one of those, Keith would have snatched the camera from him, but for now it felt safer to let Lance hold onto it for a moment longer. Especially since there was a bizarre prickling heat warming his neck and face and that wasn’t part of a normal day.

 

“Thanks,” said Keith after that moment, cutting Lance’s tale short, “For getting it back. Really. Thank you.”

 

Lance blinked at him. Then his lips twisted oddly and he rubbed the back of his reddening neck with his free hand. “Gratitude looks weird on you, but it’s… whatever, man. No problem.”

 

Now Keith was feeling even more flustered, meeting Lance’s gaze for a moment – dark blue, like sapphires? Storm clouds? The ocean? – before both of them were casting theirs elsewhere. No, really, what the actual shit was going on?

 

After an awkward moment, they traded the devices in their hands and Lance regained his shameless enthusiasm when he saw the video.

 

“This is so much better than a picture,” said Lance, laughing at himself dancing, “Oh, this is perfect.”

 

He clapped a hand on Keith’s good shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and then he was walking and talking his way back under the tower. Given no choice but to follow, Keith accepted his lead once again, keeping his hands on his camera instead of laying one on his shoulder.

 

As predicted, Lance successfully goaded Keith into climbing to the second floor as well. It gave Keith an opportunity to take some admittedly good photos of the view and the structure reaching up to the sky above them. But it did also push his leg beyond its current comfort levels. As usual, Keith hid his discomfort from Lance as they returned to the ground and walked back towards the subway station.

 

“You took the subway?” asked Lance, not waiting for an answer before plowing on. “I attempted the busses. It was terrible. First off because I had to ask what the fare was and let’s just say, they need to plaster the numbers over those ads. ‘Cause shit, that was humiliating. I kept wanting to slip into Spanish, too, and let me tell you, the looks I was getting? Unreal.”

 

He kept talking all the way to the corner before the station, until the Eiffel Tower was out of sight. Then his words tapered off and Keith found himself casting curious glances at the other man. Keith watched Lance lick his lips, almost nervously, before frowning and then whipping his head up to look at Keith, who flinched at the sudden movement.

 

Food,” declared Lance. Seeing the look on Keith’s face, he visibly shook himself before elaborating, “I’m hungry. D’you want to eat here?”

 

He pointed at the pizzeria opposite the station. Keith gave it a once over before shrugging.

 

“Sure.”

 

He didn’t expect Lance to gape at him in astonishment, as if they weren’t always stumbling into each other wherever they went, no matter what country it was. What was so special about grabbing a bite to eat?

 

Lance, apparently, intended to explain. “In London, you refused to go to that café with me–”

 

“Lance, how much has happened since then?” sighed Keith, “You were a stranger.”

 

“And I’m not now?”

 

The inflection with which Lance asked it made Keith cock an eyebrow at him. The other man was frowning slightly, though it didn’t seem negative. More just a little uncertain and a bit more… hopeful?

 

“What did you call it?” Keith rubbed a knuckle thoughtfully against his chin. “Im...promptu travel buddies? Have you already forgotten?”

 

No,” said Lance, still staring at Keith, although now he was grinning, “I didn’t think you’d accept it. Hah. Now you have to introduce me as your friend.”

 

“To who?”

 

“...Dunno yet.”

 

“Okay, you think on that,” said Keith, stepping into the pizzeria with Lance close behind.

 

He wasn’t going to say it, not in a million years, but he was kind of just a little bit glad to be called his friend. Even if it was Lance – spontaneous, unpredictable, shameless Lance. And if he tried to comment on the heat in Keith’s face, he was going to lie and say he got a sunburn.

 


 

“It got stolen?

 

Yes,” said Keith for the third time, “They grabbed it right off my neck.”

 

“That’s terrible.” Shiro was frowning, his glasses shifting with the expression. “You chased them down in that crowd of people?”

 

“Ah, well, actually,” said Keith slowly, “Lance caught them.”

 

“Lance.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“The same Lance that tagged you in all those pictures?”

 

“...Yes.”

 

“The same Lance that just tagged you in a video of him…” Shiro broke off to resettle his glasses and peer at his screen. “...grinding on the Eiffel Tower?”

 

Keith mumbled a long string of Japanese curses under his breath that Shiro ultimately chided him for. He opened up his web browser, navigating to his Facebook profile and, lo and behold, there was the video. He wondered what his mess of Facebook acquaintances thought of it.

 

“I uh, I was the one that took the video,” admitted Keith.

 

Shiro practically slammed his palm on his desk, disturbing the camera so it looked like an earthquake was shaking a grin out of him.

 

“Did you take any pictures of him?” asked Shiro, inappropriately excited, “Send everything to me right now.”

 

“Ho–Hold on,” stammered Keith, cursing himself silently when Shiro’s eyes widened. Damn it.

 

“You do,” breathed Shiro before laughing, “You have pictures of him! You! You actually took pictures of a human being. Willingly. I need to see them.”

 

“No, you don’t,” grumbled Keith, sorting the images of Lance on the tower into a separate file before dumping everything else into the dropbox.

 

Shiro was still chortling, though he was calming down as he spoke, “This is a milestone! Oh, please, I need to see at least one.”

 

No.

 

“Are you shy?

 

“I’m not shy!” snapped Keith, but it lost some of its impact when he felt his own face redden.

 

Which didn’t escape Shiro’s notice. “Is it the lighting, or did you just turn into a lobster?”

 

“I hate you.”

 

“You know, friends take pictures of friends all the time, and–” Shiro made a weird gesture at his screen, as if Keith could see it. “–you are Facebook official.”

 

Keith cursed his inability to lie directly to Shiro’s face.

 

“Maybe next time you Skype me, you can bring him over–”

 

No.”

 

Shiro shook his head. “What a buzzkill.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“So when are you going to see him again?” asked Shiro innocently.

 

Keith glowered at him. Shiro stared back, smiling. Keith barely suppressed a sigh.

 

“...Tomorrow. We’re going to the Louvre.”

 

Shiro’s laugh was practically a squeal.

 


 

Keith scowled as Lance, once again, planted himself in front of the alleyway Keith apparently very much wanted to go down. It was dark, dingy, and there were a couple people having what was probably a drug deal, but as Keith mentioned several times already, it was a photo opportunity.

 

Lance waved a hand in front of Keith’s wandering gaze. “I swear to God, Keith, can you stop? Do I need to put you on a leash?”

 

“No,” growled Keith, planting a hand on Lance’s shoulder and trying to push him aside, “Can you not get in my way?”

 

“Dude, no, we’ll get mugged,” snapped Lance, not budging.

 

“You don’t have to come.”

 

You’ll get mugged.”

 

Keith’s scowl deepened. “Remember in London, where we met in a place that literally could not have been accessed by anything but an alleyway?”

 

Lance shrugged. “That’s different.”

 

“How?”

 

“It wasn’t nearly as creepy,” said Lance, lifting his hand and counting off his fingers, “There were bright colours at the end of it, it didn’t smell like piss, and it was an English-speaking country, so like, chances of someone being like “oh I didn’t hear them screaming help because I don’t understand English” are lower there.”

 

Keith blinked at him, then snorted and rolled his eyes. Lance tried not to mimic his expression. Incidents like this seemed to a recurring theme with them. They couldn’t seem to agree where to draw the line, and despite the Venn diagram of their interests having a sizeable overlap, the rest just caused a hold up. Now Keith was eyeing the grungy alleyway again, fingers tapping an impatient beat on his camera case, and Lance stuck his head in the other man’s field of vision.

 

“Remember that time,” began Lance with narrowed eyes, “I took care of you on the way to the hospital…?”

 

“What about it, Lance,” sighed Keith.

 

“You owe it to me to not get us both sent to the ER.”

 

He levelled his gaze with Keith’s until, incredibly, the photographer looked away first. “Fine. You’re holding us up, anyway.”

 

Lance laughed incredulously, but he emerged victorious, so of course he clapped Keith’s shoulder several times with obnoxious words to match. They eventually did make it to the museum, obvious by its glass pyramid sitting over top, without anymore delays (AKA Lance took to steering Keith away from sketchy corners with a hand on his shoulder).

 

It took a few minutes for Keith to get the pictures he wanted of the pyramid, but Lance waited until he was satisfied before ushering him down the steps into the underground museum. The lobby was filled with light from the open sky above. The squares of sunlight were hot with no breeze to soothe the contact of light on skin. Lance paused for a moment while Keith went ahead to the front desk, letting the heat soak through his shirt and exposed skin, feeling it in his hair. When he reached up a hand to run fingers through his hair, Lance felt the warmth like he’d been sunbathing on a beach back home. It was a familiar sensation, but there was no sand or ocean water where he stood now. Lance knew that, given time, he would probably feel the tugs of homesickness in his gut. It was through sheer force of will that kept it at bay, stomping down on the phantom feelings with his logic that he’d be back in a few weeks.

 

When Lance turned around, eyes adjusting slowly to the edges of the room cast in shadow, Keith was watching him. After a moment, the other man blinked as though shaken from a trance, and crooked a finger at Lance. He stepped forward to join Keith at the desk.

 

“You under eighteen?” asked Keith when he reached him.

 

“Nah, why?”

 

“Hm, it’s free for minors. Looks like we’re both paying.”

 

Letting out an overdramatic whine, Lance fished out some bills from a pocket within his backpack.

 

Touring the inside of the museum was something else, to say the least. While Lance kept to pointing at particularly expressive paintings and telling Keith precisely why he resembled this particular head on that particular pike, he was also steadily in awe of the architecture. Forget the paintings on the walls, the very ceiling was an art piece all on its own. Lance’s neck was aching by the time they reached the Mona Lisa. There was a sizeable crowd swarming the thing, which was far smaller now that Lance was witnessing it in real life. Keith immediately lost himself to the crowd, diving straight in with a determined expression. Lance kept to the outside, instead taking pictures of all the other people taking pictures. He’d start a new album on Facebook, tentatively titled “because taking pictures of the mona lisa is better than just googling it afterwards”.

 

Once he got his fill, Lance stood aside, letting the minor gap he’d vacated fill with more people that it could comfortably allow. He occupied himself with glancing at the neglected paintings around the perimeter of what was clearly Mona Lisa’s room. It wasn’t for another five long minutes until Keith reappeared at Lance’s side, looking windswept but satisfied.

 

“Got it,” he declared proudly, putting the lens cap back on his baby. A lock of hair fell in front of his eyes as he did so, and he tried to blow it out of the way.

 

Lance was positive his hand was moving on its own when it raised to brush the offending lock aside. Only when Keith looked up to blink at Lance and his suddenly frozen in mid-air hand did he realize what he’d done. Heat crawled up his neck, and he tried to will it back as simply as he had with his homesickness. The hand dropped.

 

“You need a haircut,” said Lance to fill the gap between them, as if his words were tangible and would block the path his hand took to fall back to his side. “Those split ends would drive me nuts.”

 

“I–” Keith began, brow pinched.

 

“Well, whatever floats your boat,” said Lance breezily, “C’mon, we’re hogging up the breathing room.”

 

He left the room first. Incidentally, that meant he also missed seeing Keith lift an uncertain hand to touch the ends of his outgrown hairstyle.

 

The rest of their tour was much the same as before. Lance racked up more artwork to add to his album of “Keith” and “Keith’s boyfriends”. Keith treated the game like he was above it all, but Lance saw him sneak a few pictures of his own while a grin tugged at his mouth. It was nearing evening when they finally hiked their way out of the museum. Lance was feeling the day’s wear on his legs, so he knew Keith was far worse off. The sun was well into the west, casting long shadows that were only getting longer.

 

Keith also took note of this with a curious twist of his mouth. “I think I might brave the bus, if it gets me up that damn hill any faster.”

 

“That’s desperation,” noted Lance. They sat on the ledge surrounding the fountain, Keith lowering himself onto it with a quiet sigh.

 

“Mm,” agreed Keith, “Nothing like walking around staring at art all day to really make me feel like I haven’t exercised in years.”

 

“Tell me about it,” huffed Lance, “Like, come on, legs, I’ve trained you to be better than this.”

 

Keith cast him a curious glance. “You do sports?”

 

“Ah, swimming, soccer,” Lance said with a wave of his hand, “I used to live right by a beach so I’d just swim until somebody dragged me out of the water. What about you?”

 

“I was on my track team in high school,” shrugged Keith, “But I really just like… running, I guess.”

 

“Oh.” Lance glanced for a second at Keith’s leg, the one he knew to be aching no doubt, before looking ahead. “The other day, I bet you could’ve ran down that pickpocket in five seconds flat if you didn’t have a bruise the size of Texas.”

 

“You bet,” said Keith with a soft laugh, “You were actually really fast, though.”

 

Lance’s gaze snapped back to Keith, seeing the vestiges of his smile before it turned into wry regret. “Did you just compliment me?”

 

“Don’t ruin it, Lance,” sighed Keith.

 

“I need to burn this into my memory.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

They stayed on the ledge for a few more minutes before Keith got to his feet with a huff, declaring it was time to head home. Which, to Lance, sounded ridiculous. There was no time to head home. There was just as many things to do in the evening as when the sun was high in the sky.

 

Besides, Lance wanted to stay with Keith a little longer.

 

“Can you see the Eiffel Tower at night?” Lance found himself blurting out.

 

Keith nodded. “From the window.”

 

“But–” Shit, why was he trying so hard? “But I know how to get a better view. Um, if you’d like.”

 

“How?”

 

Lance took in Keith’s skeptical expression and couldn’t help but take it as a challenge. He gave the other man a cocky grin. “You’ll just have to trust me.”

 

“That’s asking a lot of me,” drawled Keith, but a grin of his own, heated and challenging, was forming, “But I’ll bite.”

 

Lance whooped, throwing both hands into the sky as he leapt to his feet. “This is going to be sick.”

 

“Should I update my will? Call my brother one last time?”

 

“That might actually be a good idea.”

 

Keith levelled a stern frown at Lance, to which he replied with a beaming smile.

 

“Actually,” said Lance with a glance at the camera perpetually hanging around Keith’s neck, “We might want to drop this bad boy off first.”

 

“Okay, so, this idea of yours definitely involves some sort of danger.”

 

“Well, yeah.”

 

Keith sighed. “Fine.”

 

It was rather gratifying how easy it was to convince Keith to follow along with his plan, Lance decided. Granted, his plan was the epitome of spontaneous – he’d recalled a video from some months before and inspiration hit. If there was anything to do in the evening, in Paris, with someone who also had something like a daredevil streak to them, it was this.

 

Of course, Lance couldn’t just say what it was he was planning, no matter how Keith tried to casually weasel the information out of him. They ended up taking the bus to the nearest stop by Keith’s place, although Lance – with his experienced edge – was the one to lead with several awkward attempts at French words. At the top of the hill, there was a couple more side streets to traverse before Keith was pushing open the door to the apartment building. His was on the top floor, but Lance didn’t enter the apartment to snoop around as Keith took under a minute to drop off his camera and reappear in the hall.

 

“A coat?” wondered Lance when he saw the familiar plaid tied around Keith’s waist.

 

“Just in case,” shrugged Keith.

 

“We’re not in Ireland anymore.”

 

“You don’t need to remind me,” snorted Keith, “I can feel my fingers here.”

 

Lance barked a laugh at that. It was good to know he wasn’t the only one petty about the unfortunate weather on the far coast. They took the bus back down as the sun neared the rooftops of the tallest buildings; Lance was forced to complain about his sore feet to get Keith onto the vehicle, because he knew the other man had to be reaching his upper limit. Keith wasn’t the type of person to mention it, however, so Lance was left to use his empathy to figure it out. It was kind of exhausting in its own way.

 

However, Lance was determined now that he had that video playing over and over again in his head. No massive, car-induced bruise was going to stop him! Or, er, Keith, rather.

 

To give the other man more time to rest, and of course hide his true intentions, Lance suggested they eat in a sandwich shop near the river.

 

“Is it just me, or does regular bread taste better here?” Lance picked at the crust, in simplistic awe of the way the fibres pulled apart.

 

Keith paused with his salami-stuffed bun halfway to his mouth. “It’s not like they’re using packaged stuff.”

 

“True, but like, if I were to eat at a Subway, the buns here must be different.”

 

“Speaking of,” said Keith, tapping his index finger against the bun, “There was a Subway beside that pizza place we went to. You could compare.”

 

“Oh shit, yes.”

 

“Maybe add that to your bucket list.”

 

“What, rate all the Subways I come across?”

 

“Or Mcdonald’s. I’ve seen at least five already.” Keith sank his teeth into the sandwich.

 

Lance shook his head. “Mcdicks. They really do infiltrate wherever they go.”

 

A spluttering sound punctuated the end of Lance’s sentence. He watched with wide eyes as Keith coughed violently into his napkin, a hand already up to ward off Lance’s concerned ones. When his coughing fit subsided, Keith looked at Lance in disbelief, eyes watering.

 

What did you call it?”

 

Lance stared at him, mouth gaping. “Did you just choke on your food because I said Mcdicks?

 

There was a beat of silence. Then Keith burst out laughing. He slapped the table with one hand, bringing the other up to cover as much of his face as he could while heaving for breath. Awestruck, Lance watched it happen; the way Keith’s cheeks reddened, his eyes crinkled, his hair shook along with his shoulders. It was actually kind of mesmerizing, watching another person laugh so hard they couldn’t physically keep it together – and Keith was no exception. Lance found himself pursing his lips to keep his mouth shut. It would only be embarrassing if Keith got a hold of himself just to see Lance, slack-jawed and staring.

 

“Have you never heard that before?” asked Lance, using the words as an excuse to pull himself out of his own bizarre reverie.

 

Keith shook his head emphatically, lowering his hand just enough that Lance could see his bright eyes. “No. Is this an American thing?”

 

“I don’t know,” said Lance with a helpless shrug of his shoulders, “I thought it was a universal sentiment.”

 

With another shake of his head, Keith took control of his mirth, though his amused grin lingered. “I’ve heard some people use restaurant names as like, verbs, though.”

 

Lance stuffed another bite into his mouth, barely waiting to swallow before saying, “Sometimes I say like, let’s sushi. Like that?”

 

“Basically.” Then Keith’s lips twitched. “Let’s Mcdicks.”

 

Immediately he clamped a hand over his mouth, blowing a raspberry against his palm in his attempt to stifle his laughter. Lance tried to keep calm, he really did – but laughter was contagious, Keith’s especially. They wheezed as one, Lance’s hand knocking into Keith’s and starting a slapping war that only ended when Lance bent over the table, stomach cramping, and clocked Keith’s head with his own. Then they were nearly knocking the table over, laughter overcome by groans. Eyes watering, the glower of the cashier following them, Lance and Keith shuffled out of the sandwich shop with their food in hand.

 

If they’d been out in the countryside, no doubt the deep indigo sky above would have been filled with stars and the recognizable shapes of constellations. As it was, however, Lance could only see the unmistakeable Big Dipper. Everything else was dimmed by the light pollution and the orange gradient as the last vestiges of the sun dipped below the horizon.

 

“So, where are we going?” asked Keith from beside Lance, still picking away at his sandwich.

 

They were walking towards the river. Across the water, Lance could see the Iron Lady dominating the skyline. The lights would come on soon.

 

“Nearly there, I think,” responded Lance, avoiding a shortcut that was hard to scope out in the dim light. The streetlights were already on, casting distorted shadows on the walls of buildings. It was a weekday still, but loud noises were coming out of the bars and restaurants they passed. “I’m kind of just taking a wild guess here.”

 

“I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”

 

“That’s the point.” Lance shot a grin at him. “It’s a surprise.”

 

“Surprise! We’re lost,” droned Keith.

 

“Where’s your optimism?”

 

“Back in my room, where I left my camera.”

 

“Haha.”

 

Certainly, he probably should have looked it up a bit more instead of just going off his memory, but Lance liked the added edge of the unknown. It’d be a massive bummer if the whole plan flopped because he led Keith to the wrong stop, however he could still work with it. After all, even misadventures were fun if you had the right person with you along the way.

 

Regardless of his concerns, Lance spotted the bridge that extended across the channel, connecting the two sides of the city. The bright lights on either end of the bridge indicated exactly where he wanted to go. Picking up his pace a little, Keith at his side, Lance strode towards the train stations. On their side, a pedestrian walkway stretched over the broad road, busy with traffic. They started up the stairs, but halfway up Lance paused.

 

“Okay,” he said, leaning on the railing and turning to face Keith, “You need to be honest with me here.”

 

Keith gave him a look, uncertain but willing to hear him out. “Alright?”

 

Lance pointed at Keith’s left leg. “That – and the rest of it, where you got hit – is it sore?”

 

Keith took a moment to follow the trajectory of Lance’s finger. His gaze flicked over himself, as if judging his constitution with his eyes. Then he lifted his head to grin at Lance.

 

“Fit to take down a pickpocket.”

 

Lance tried to judge for himself by watching Keith’s expression; there was no way he was going to purposely drag him into doing something definitely dangerous if he wasn’t prepared. His grin was confident, however, and Lance felt the wordless challenge in Keith’s gaze, egging him on. It made… something prickle the back of Lance’s neck.

 

He exhaled a breath he’d unknowingly held, then asked, “Fit enough to jump onto a train?”

 

At that, Keith paused. His head turned to look at where they stood – halfway up the stairs, adjacent to the roof of the station. Lance could hear the train coming now, slowing as it rolled into the stop to pick up its passengers. Lance’s grip tightened on the railing, his body tensing.

 

“You ready?”

 

Keith looked at him, astonished. Then the smile broke across his face. It was sharp, it was dangerous, it was hungry – and that wasn’t a prickle on Lance’s neck anymore, it was a thrill throughout his body. His heart was tattooing a beat against his ribcage, his breath caught in his throat, his eyes glued to Keith’s drilling into him.

 

“Ready,” breathed Keith, and he was launching himself over the railing and onto the roof.

 

Lance felt the tension snap like a cable pulled taut. He threw himself up after Keith, uncaring to the sound their shoes made on the surface. The train screeched to a stop, the doors were open. In the corner of his eye, Lance noted the flashing of lights as the Eiffel Tower lit up, but he kept his focus on the train in front of him and Keith poised like a lion beside him. The doors to the train closed, it started to move –

 

They jumped. Lance’s heart was in his throat. They landed at the same time, Keith steady and Lance nearly toppling with the shock of landing on something in motion. They stayed crouched as the train pulled away from the stop, oblivious to its two additional passengers. Then it was coasting out over the water and the chill from the river swept over Lance. His skin prickled with goosebumps, but he barely felt it with the adrenaline coursing through his veins. He looked at Keith, wanting to simply share his excitement – they were trainsurfing – but whatever Lance was prepared for, it wasn’t this.

 

The reflection of the glittering tower in dark eyes, wide with awe and excitement, that starved grin growing until Keith was laughing – and the sound triggered Lance into a breathless laugh of his own. Those shining eyes turned to Lance, that expression doubling the adrenaline pumping under his skin.

 

“This – This is –” attempted Keith, but the rest was just laughter that Lance reciprocated.

 

The other station was coming up now. They would have to move fast – there wasn’t a roof to leap onto. They turned their backs on the tower as the platform approached. When the keening of the brakes was at its loudest, and the train was still moving albeit slow enough to be considered “safe”, Lance launched himself off. He landed hard, the flats of his feet burning as he rolled into a somersault and hopped to his feet. Turning to see if Keith was okay, Lance nearly stumbled as the other man raced passed him. Lance tore after him, his breath coming in gasps as he tried to inhale and control the excited laughter bubbling from him.

 

They practically flew down the stairs to street level. Keith was ahead, but Lance cleared the last five steps in a bound that brought them even. Then they were out on the street, taking advantage of the pedestrian signal to put as much distance between them at the station before skidding to a halt near the booming entrance of a club.

 

Keith turned to Lance, eyes crinkling when all that seemed to come out of him were gasps of half formed words followed by incredulous laughter. Lance replied in kind, except the adrenaline was still kicking and he had no way of voicing anything, so he slammed into Keith, arms whipping around his neck. Their chests heaved against each other, Lance could feel the sweat cooling against his neck, but where they touched he burned. There was hard muscle, the tickle of hair against Lance’s cheek, and the heat were Keith placed his hand on Lance’s back. Unbidden, Lance shivered.

 

“You’re freezing,” huffed Keith, pulling away from the other man, his hand trailing against Lance’s side.

 

“And you’re not?” retorted Lance, clamping a hand on Keith’s bare forearm. He stared at it, feeling somewhat offended by the heat radiating off it.

 

“Nope, I’m burning,” said Keith cheerfully, then burst out laughing at Lance’s expression.

 

Before Lance could react, Keith was tugging his coat from his hips and unceremoniously draping it across Lance’s shoulders. The red plaid stared back at him, as visually loud as a siren was audibly. The sleeves were warm where they’d been touching Keith, and the fabric was too thick for the relatively mild Paris night, but Lance found himself pulling it around his body all the same.

 

“Better?” asked Keith, grinning.

 

“Yeah,” breathed Lance, unsure what his expression looked like even as he tried to school it into something neutral.

 

He trailed a few steps behind Keith as he turned down the sidewalk. The thumping of the club followed them. A car horn honked from afar, a group cheered down another street.

 

And Lance found himself looking at Keith’s back. His eyes followed the line of his shoulders, broader than what Lance gave him credit for. The sleeves of his shirt were pushed to his elbows, exposing smooth skin and wrists that appeared delicate, but Lance knew better.

 

Then he swallowed, and found a lump in his throat that wouldn’t go away. He wasn’t sure when it started, but the cracks Lance had so carefully flattened over the years now have edges, and they’re curling. The surface was rough, and it chafed where Lance’s attention fell. He felt something putting pressure on the fissures, threatening to open them up and leave the raw interior exposed.

 

But Lance knew how to take care of it. He bit the inside of his cheek until it stung. He closed the distance between himself and Keith until they were walking side by side. He slid trembling hands into his pockets.

 

And he faked.

 

 

Chapter Text

11:12 PM

 

Hunkules

so not totally sure yet

but I think I might know who’s trying to sabotage mine and Shay’s project

it’s petty revenge for something unrelated

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

what...

revenge for what?

 

Hunkules

I’ll tell you guys when I’m certain!!!

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

why must you tease us like this….

ℓαиçә

foreal hunk

u cant dangle that shit!!!

Hunkules

I’m sorry!!! But just in case!!!

ℓαиçә

u filthy tease

dr4g0ns14y3r

actually

 

Hunkules

so!!! You’re going to see Pidge real soon, Lance!!!

ℓαиçә

i see wat ur doin

and i will let it go

for now

dr4g0ns14y3r

god less than 3 days

ℓαиçә

P U M P E D

!!!!!!!

ok but i have a question pidge

dr4g0ns14y3r

the walls are too thin for you to bring people home, lance

ℓαиçә

wow u

almost read my mind

freaky

Hunkules

please don’t tell me you’re going to be hunting for a fling in Venice

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

lance….. omg……..

ℓαиçә

ok not ttly but like

i just want some hot ass

mayb not to bang

just

idk

a distraction

dr4g0ns14y3r

a distraction… in venice….

 

Hunkules

Lance, what???

ℓαиçә

i just need some mindless fun ok!!!

nothing intense!!!!!!!

ok!!!!!!!!! fuck

Im not gonna spend my whole fukkin time lookin for a fuck

im just sayin i want

fukinngrsioerngskf

DISTRACTION UFCK

dr4g0ns14y3r

um okay?

i don’t think i can really help you with that…?

 

Hunkules

Lance???

are you okay??

did something happen????

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

yeeah you’re a little over the top right now

like cool your jets?

 

Hunkules

if you want to talk, we’re here!!

I can video call you if you want??

ℓαиçә

sry

dont worry abt it

Hunkules

you sure??

ℓαиçә

yep thanks buddy

 

What a lie, Lance decided as soon as he thrust the tablet halfway across the bed. The conversation ran on without him, Pidge and Hunk sending more confused, slightly concerned messages. When Lance didn’t respond, the topic changed into something else. Lance was grateful, even though he wasn’t a part of it anymore.

 

He realized as soon as his fingertips hit the screen that he was just searching for an excuse. Going on a hunt for a one night stand or something was a stupid idea, and bringing it up to his friends was a surefire way to get some common sense rammed into him. Lance wanted them to talk him out of it, and they did, even if they didn’t realize it.

 

The problem, and Lance was so painfully aware of it, was that there was something growing on Lance’s side of his friendship with Keith. It was warm, and tingled sometimes, and often there was a little kick of excitement in his chest and a swoop in his belly, and Lance knew that nothing good would come out of it. He wanted to nip the problem in the bud before it started to fester – before it became painful.

 

Searching for a fling was so obviously the wrong way to go about it, hence warning his friends in a roundabout way that maybe not all was chill with Lance. He wouldn’t tell them outright – acknowledging it in such a permanent way? No, bad idea – but it was just enough that if things took a turn for the worse, they wouldn’t be blindsided.

 

Across the room, a red plaid jacket was flung over the back of a chair. Lance’s gaze was drawn to it, like a magnet. He’d forgotten to give it back at the end of the night, and Keith hadn’t mentioned it either. Now it had a place of honour in Lance’s room, and he was growing increasingly frustrated with how it persistently caught his wandering attention. He wanted to get up, grab it, and just lay it across his shoulders – which was weird – but he didn’t. It stayed there, on the chair, and Lance ripped his gaze away stubbornly every time the urge washed over him.

 

Ignore it, ignore it, ignore it, chanted Lance in his mind, his fingers hovering over the surface of his tablet and yet typing nothing. Shit.

 

In an effort to get his mind off Keith, Lance opened up his Facebook profile to watch the video of himself dancing against the Eiffel Tower. Almost immediately, he realized just how conniving his subconscious was. His mind was going nowhere, because the audio in the video was two parts white noise from the crowd and the breeze and the rustle of the hand holding the iPod, and one part Keith giggling.

 

Even though he knew what he was doing wasn’t helping in the least, now that he had the sound in his head, there was no going back. So Lance just replayed the video, gaze unfocused, listening to the sound of Keith’s amusement – because of him. Keith was laughing because of Lance.

 

“I’m so uncool,” said Lance to the empty room.

 

When he was finally fed up with his creepiness, Lance closed his profile and blasted whatever was on the French hit list. The majority of the songs were the same as back home, but occasionally a French song would come on, and Lance would belt along despite not knowing any of the words, and improvise with Spanish. Listening to the music got him thinking of the nightlife in Paris. He opened up his browser and began his search, and before he knew it, Lance’s belly was flipping in anticipation. He opened up Facebook again, but this time he sent a message – or rather, messages – to Keith.

 

12:31 AM

Lance Rivera

dude

bro

u awake???

water u doin

waKE UP!!!!!!!

!!!!!

!!!

!!

!

Keith Kogane

christ

what

Lance Rivera

wut u doin tomorro

today

askin for a friend

Keith Kogane

….

notre dame

Arc de Triomphe

some museums if i have time

...why

Lance Rivera

ok first off

u definitely copy n pasted arc de triomhoprt

Keith Kogane

……….

maybe

Lance Rivera

dont blame u kiddo

ok and secondly

what do u think of a pub crawl??¿¿

Keith Kogane

isnt that more of a thing for britain

why paris

Lance Rivera

BECAUSE its paris u COUNTRY-IST

Keith Kogane

right

Lance Rivera

so???????¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿

Keith Kogane

ive never done one but

sounds cool i guess

Lance Rivera

jesus put some enthusiasm into it

Keith Kogane

SOUNDS SUPER COOL LANCE!!!!!!!

Lance Rivera

ngl that was kinda scary

Keith Kogane

….

Lance Rivera

BUT GR8888

i looked up a bunch of cool plaes we can go

places***

we can meet at like 6?? at the montmartre museum

Keith Kogane

sure

 

Lance stared down at the conversation for a long moment. Then his mouth twitched up into a smile, down into a grimace, and he flopped onto his back to stare at the ceiling and groan. Hopefully, an afternoon on his own and an evening of casual entertainment would be enough that Lance could stamp down on the feelings that the adrenaline from earlier had pricked into existence.

 


 

Keith would have been lying if he said that he wasn’t looking forward to the pub crawl. He’d done similar things back home, like a food version of a pub crawl where they’d stopped at every vendor on a street. That had been with Shiro and some of his friends, though. This time, Keith was with Lance.

 

And he’d be lying again if that didn’t make it a fraction more exciting.

 

He wasn’t sure when his appreciation for Lance’s company started, but amidst all the exasperation and incredulity and, well, fun, Keith realized that enjoying what Paris had to offer was subjectively better when he was enjoying it with someone else. He regretted not pushing Shiro more to join him – but at the same time, Keith figured it all kind of worked out anyway.

 

Keith pondered this while on the subway back, flicking through his photos of the day and occasionally shooting cold glances at those whose eyes lingered too long on his camera. All the pictures he’d kept were, as usual, generally satisfactory, but there was also something missing from them. Keith couldn’t be positive, but it was like they were suddenly less… interesting. It wasn’t as if the Parisian sights were boring compared to the Irish ones, but in the end Keith added that to his list of Things to Think About and Move On From.

 

From the subway station, Keith walked the rest of the way up to his rental. He dropped off his camera and its case, replacing his passport with some cash and using the passport holder as a makeshift wallet. He didn’t expect they would be outside much longer than walking between bars, so he didn’t go searching for his coat.

 

It was shortly before six when he made it to the museum. It was situated on a narrow one-way (of which Keith was now wary of) and covered in a wall of ivy. The sun couldn’t reach him from where he was, but even in the shade he was warm. He pushed his sleeves up to his elbows, wishing he’d at least layered so he could take off something.

 

Then he looked up the road and saw Lance. The other man was moving from sunlight to shade, eyes blinking as he got used to the difference in lighting. He was wearing the same ensemble he’d had when they met in the courtyard in London; a dark blue button-down with the sleeves rolled and buttoned above the elbow, and grey dark wash jeans. Then he spotted Keith as well, and a grin broke out across his face.

 

It was as though the sun had suddenly found Keith, throwing down its heat on his chest and neck.

 

Keith abruptly wanted to throw something at Lance and maybe run away.

 

Instead – because he could function dammit, not because he didn’t have a bag of clothes this time – Keith greeted him with a slight smile of his own.

 

“No camera?” noted Lance as he came up to Keith. His arm swung oddly, as if he was unsure what to do with it, before he shoved his hand into his pocket.

 

“I’m not going to put my camera through a night of drinking,” said Keith wryly.

 

“See? Reasons to have a piece of shit,” grinned Lance as he plucked his iPod from his pocket and gave it a twirl between his fingers.

 

“Also, will I want to immortalize anything that may come to pass?”

 

Lance shook the iPod at him. “You will, mark my words. Have you eaten?” Keith shook his head. “Alright, we’ll just eat whatever at the first place. Off we go!”

 

No amount of prodding could get Lance to divulge exactly where they were going for the evening. Keith was beginning to think he was either winging it, or couldn’t pronounce the names of the bars. All he found out was that they were all a five to ten minute walk between destinations. That was good. Keith wasn’t a lightweight, but he expected Lance was the type of drunk to get louder the more he drank, and being out on the street where he could get tossed into a Parisian jail? After picturing it, Keith almost wanted to tempt fate.

 

The first place they entered was a craft beer pub with dark wood finishes and leather stools and brass studding. It was all very classic pub, and it was bustling with dinner patrons. Keith and Lance took their seats at the bar, ordering their first beers and a basket of finger foods with minor language barrier issues.

 

“An IPA?” Lance wrinkled his nose at Keith’s beer of choice. “Really? Nobody actually likes that shit.”

 

Keith frowned and pointedly took a sip. “It’s good.”

 

“It gives bitter a whole new definition. Not to mention the aftertaste is… something else.”

 

“And you think a – a – what do you call that? A blonde? Isn’t that a hair colour– Whatever. You think a blonde is any better? It’s barely beer.”

 

Blondes,” declared Lance with emphasis, picking up a pretzel bite, “Go far better with finger foods.”

 

IPAs,” retorted Keith in a similar manner, “Go far better with fries.”

 

He plucked a battered fry from the basket and made a show of dipping it into his beer before putting it into his mouth. He regretted it immediately, but kept a straight face while Lance looked on in horror.

 

“You didn’t just do that,” whispered Lance.

 

“I did.” Keith went for another fry, but came up with something larger, vaguely triangular and battered. “Uh, what is this supposed to be?”

 

Lance barely spared the morsel a glance. “Deep fried pickle, probably.”

 

“That’s a thing?” Keith wrinkled his nose.

 

Lance’s horrified expression came back tenfold. “Keith, you did not just say that.

 

“Deep frying a pickle doesn’t make sense. It sounds so… American.”

 

“The thing you need to understand, Keith,” said Lance slowly, “Is that anything and everything can be deep fried. Like butter, and ice cream. Don’t look at me like that. Pickles actually are amazing. Try it.”

 

“Um.” Keith gave the pickle a shake. It wobbled. “I don’t think I want to.”

 

“Keith, you’re in a pub in Paris. Try something new, you big weenie.”

 

“I’m not – Ugh, fine.” Keith gave the pickle a scowl before taking a tentative bite. He came away with just batter, so took a slightly larger bite to make up for it. Lance was watching him tentatively, brow furrowed seriously when Keith paused mid chew. “It’s… Huh.”

 

Lance’s frown vanished as his grin appeared. “You like it?”

 

“It’s a bit salty,” said Keith, finishing the bite and going for another, “I don’t think I could shove my gut full of them, but they’re, yeah, kind of alright.”

 

Hah, told you.”

 

“It’s still a weird concept.”

 

Lance shrugged. His hand dove for a pickle. “Well, yeah, but it’s the kind of unholy matrimony that builds nations.”

 

“Sure, Lance.”

 

They polished off the basket of food and ordered another before they finished their first drinks of the evening. The next place on Lance’s list was less of a pub and more of a bar, with a wall of hard liquor and blue ambient lighting. There was still a lot of people sharing food between themselves, but the age group was definitely higher than the more family friendly pub they’d just left behind.

 

As soon as they entered, Lance strode up to the bar and slapped his hand on the counter with a beaming smile. “Bonjour! Parlez-vous anglais? Nice. If you have any specialty drinks here, my friend and I are interested.”

 

Specialty drinks turned out to be shooters paired with a dark beer. Keith, distracted by how awful it looked, didn’t hear exactly what each were, but Lance was clearly excited by how he thanked the bartender. He slid Keith’s beer and shot over to him.

 

“I feel like it’s too early for this,” said Keith as he eyed the pair.

 

“It’s never too early. Have you had one of these before?”

 

“Well.” Keith lifted the shot. “I drop this in the beer and… chug it, I guess?”

 

“Right on,” beamed Lance, the cool lighting making his teeth gleam ominously, “You ready?”

 

“Yes,” lied Keith.

 

They clinked the edges of their pint glasses together and lifted the shots over them. Keith couldn’t help it when his eyes flicked from his drinks to Lance. When his gaze met Lance’s, he felt frozen in place, pinned there by deep blue irises that melted into black pupils. Keith swallowed.

 

“Don’t back out now,” said Lance, that grin coming back around, oblivious to the petrification effect he had on Keith. Then he dropped the shot into his beer, and with a flinch Keith did the same.

 

Then all Keith could focus on was not spluttering as he poured the beer and liquor down his throat. It burned and bubbled, and tasted like some sort of caramel, but also bitter with a spicy kick. The liquid churned in his stomach as soon as it entered, and when Keith slammed his glass onto the counter not two seconds after Lance, his belly felt like a pool of lava. Lance was grinning at him, using the back of his hand to wipe the beer that had splashed onto the tip of his nose. Then Keith burped, loud and obvious, and Lance bent over in a fit of laughter.

 

“Sh-shut up!” stuttered Keith, wiping his own face quickly. He gave Lance a kick to the shin, but the other man couldn’t – or didn’t bother – reigning in his laughter. He did raise his head to look at Keith, eyes narrowed and watering, his mouth stretched impossibly wide until his hand clapped over it. The mixture of alcohol in Keith’s stomach seemed to go straight into his veins, heating them up and warming his neck and face.

 

“So?” asked Lance when he finally calmed down, “How was it?”

 

“Terrible,” said Keith immediately.

 

“You only say that ‘cause you lost.”

 

“Since when was this a competition?”

 

Lance snorted. “Everything's a competition, Keith. Who do you think I am? So, you a lightweight?”

 

“Definitely not,” Keith told him flatly, “I could outdrink you in any lifetime.”

 

“Ohoho, is that so?” Lance turned to the bartender, getting his attention with a wave of his hand. “Deux whiskey shots, s'il-vous plaît!”

 

Keith rolled his eyes, but he didn’t stop Lance from escorting the shot in front of Keith with his fingertip. “Look at you, with all your French.”

 

“That bus incident boosted my confidence, what can I say?” Lance raised his shot to tap it against Keith’s again before they downed it simultaneously.

 

“You know you’re going to lose this one,” said Keith, nodding at the glasses, “I can take a lot.” A fact that he had proven, much to Shiro’s chagrin, on several occasions.

 

“So can I,” said Lance dismissively, “I’ll be the one dropping you off at the foot of your apartment building. I’ll even take a few pictures for Facebook. Let your brother know exactly what kind of animal you are.”

 

“Do that and I’ll kick your ass. But also, never going to happen, so whatever.”

 

By the time they decided to leave the bar, they had stacked three shot glasses each. Outside, the sun had set some time ago but the last vestiges of its light were still streaked across the sky. Keith had a good buzz going on. The warmth from the alcohol was in his toes and fingers and became apparent whenever he turned too quickly. Not to mention he was much faster to laugh when Lance’s toe caught between the bricks of the sidewalk. Meanwhile, Lance’s filter was melting away to nothing rather quickly. His cheeks were dark in the unnatural lighting cast by the lampposts, eyes glinting wickedly whenever he turned to grin at Keith and say something.

 

It was probably the alcohol, too, that stoked a blaze in Keith’s belly whenever Lance bumped into him, and especially when for one brief moment, Lance rested his chin on Keith’s shoulder. The tickle of Lance’s hair against his face reminded Keith of the hug from the night before, of the feeling of Lance’s chest against his, of the breathlessness in their lungs and the laughter escaping them anyway.

 

But that was dangerous to think about when he didn’t have a totally clear head, whether it be due to adrenaline or alcohol.

 

Lance flung open the door to the next bar with too much force, but the noise that came pouring out was enough that nobody heard the bang. It was steadily getting busier, but this bar especially seemed to be packed moreso than the ones before. There weren’t any places to sit, so Lance wriggled his way to the bar to get shots – “I’m not letting you drink anymore nasty IPA” – while Keith found a bubble of breathing space beneath a television showing off a soccer match.

 

Keith wasn’t claustrophobic, but with so many other people yelling over each other to be heard, he was definitely relieved when Lance returned shortly after with four shooters between woven fingers. Unfortunately, while the television offered them some space, it came with the company of men and women that roared when a player took a shot on net. Fortunately, it meant having to lean in to talk to Lance – or, wait, no, not fortunately. Shit.

 

“You feeling it yet?” asked Lance, as if he wasn’t constantly trying to find something to lean against.

 

“Just a little warm,” said Keith, which was a bit of an understatement.

 

They clinked shot glasses, droplets of liquor running over fingers, and knocked back the first two.

 

Lance handed Keith his second shot. As Lance opened his mouth to say something, the group watching the television began to howl angrily, something about rouge and words that sounded like English curses except with French accents. Keith leaned in closer to Lance, who lifted an arm to lean it, and some of his weight, onto Keith’s shoulder.

 

“Say again?” asked Keith.

 

Lance turned his mouth towards Keith’s ear. “I said, tell me something I don’t know.”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Anything! Could be fun facts about pineapples, or something about you. Just surprise me!”

 

Lance pulled back slightly so Keith could see his grin. The lighting in this bar was far warmer than the one previous. It made Lance look – ah, Keith didn’t even want to think it. If the cool glow made Lance mischievous, then the warmth that softened his edges and lit up his eyes was almost... seductive.

 

Keith knocked back the second shot without warning. He heard Lance protest, something about it being unfair, before doing the same.

 

Then Keith leaned into Lance’s space. “I played the flute for a couple years as a kid.”

 

Eyes blown wide, Lance gaped at him. “You what?

 

“Yep. I was a musician. For two years, but close enough.” Keith grinned at Lance’s stunned expression. “Before you say it, you’re right. It really didn’t suit me.”

 

“Holy titbasket, can you still play?”

 

“Tit–? Uh. No. I mean,” Keith shrugged, jostling Lance who was still leaning on him, “If you handed me a flute I could blow it, I guess. Oh, shit, damn you–”

 

Lance guffawed so loudly that the next time a player got a yellow card, Keith could still hear him over the bellows of the fans.

 

“Shut up!” Keith gave Lance a backhand to the stomach, but the other man was unaffected. He just wiped an imaginary tear – or possibly a very real one – from his eye and gave Keith a hearty pat to his chest.

 

“Did you ever go to band camp, Keith?” asked Lance with a wriggle of his eyebrows.

 

“No,” said Keith flatly, “You tell me something I don’t know.”

 

“Oh, but there’s so much–”

 

“I swear to god–”

 

“I couldn’t eat red meat for a long time!” shouted Lance over Keith, “I thought it was like chicken, and if I ate it when it wasn’t totally cooked through, I’d like die or something. It was a very intense phase in my life.”

 

“Please tell me you were a kid.”

 

“I was like, eleven.”

 

Keith spluttered.

 

“Don’t even with me,” snorted Lance, “Everyone has something stupid they believed in when they were that age. It’s the awkward in between, okay!”

 

“Alright, alright,” said Keith. He paused a moment, knowing he’d probably regret it later, but he decided to humour Lance. “I couldn’t ride my bike without training wheels till I was ten.”

 

No.”

 

“Yep, and now I have a motorcycle.”

 

Lance suddenly gripped Keith’s shoulder, hard, and repeated, “No.”

 

Keith laughed and nodded. “The only reason I actually learned how to ride a bike was when I saw a kid half my age whizzing around without the training wheels. I got a bit… envious.”

 

“You’re so fucking adorable,” declared Lance. His fingers squeezed Keith’s shoulder briefly before he finally trusted his weight to his own two feet. “Just adorable.”

 

Then he was scooping the shot glasses from Keith’s hands and marching with a purpose towards the bar again. Keith watched him go, a faintly confused laugh bubbling in his stomach. It took much longer for Lance to return, with only two shots this time. He kept glancing over his shoulder at the entrance to the bar, brow furrowed.

 

“A massive group just came in together,” said Lance, handing a shooter to Keith, “This place is going to be one sweaty mass soon.”

 

“That’s disgusting,” said Keith with a grimace.

 

“Right? If people start dancing, we’re shuffling our way right out. Deal?”

 

“Deal,” said Keith, sealing the agreement with the clink of glass on glass. They downed the liquor, and another flash of warmth joined the low fire in Keith’s stomach. “It’s your turn. Tell me something.”

 

Lance tapped the glass against his bottom lip thoughtfully. His expression brightened as a thought came to him. “I’ve got ADHD!”

 

“Really?” Keith looked him over as if he’d be able to tell. He realized quickly that was impossible. “Huh. Well. I can’t swim.”

 

No,” gasped Lance, that horrified expression back on his face, “Dude, my man, are you serious?”

 

“Never got a chance to learn,” shrugged Keith.

 

“Okay, then–”

 

“We’re not going to swim drunk in the river.”

 

Lance let out a startled laugh. “Shit, how did you know I was going to say that?”

 

Keith levelled a stern glare at him. “I had a feeling.”

 

“Okay, okay, you say that but like, I bet you ignored at least three don’t enter signs before we met up. Right? Am I right? Look at me and tell me I’m not.”

 

Lance stared at Keith, who could feel a sweat breaking out over his skin from the intense gaze. The problem was probably that he could not, in fact, deny that he had maybe broken a couple rules. How else was he supposed to get a good picture of the statues on the outside of the basilica?

 

“I fucking knew it!” crowed Lance when Keith said nothing, slapping his hand against Keith’s chest and nearly knocking the breath out of him. “Dude, your brand of rule breaking and mine should not mix.”

 

“Yet here we are,” snorted Keith, unable to keep the grin from his face.

 

Lance’s expression mirrored his as he repeated, “Yet here we are.”

 

They looked at each other for a prolonged moment. Keith saw a sweat beading at Lance’s hairline. It definitely was getting too warm in the bar. It seemed like the white noise – the conversations of other patrons, the soccer game, the music that had just started – was bordering on deafening. His heartbeat was thunder in his chest. The alcohol was fire.

 

“Let’s go to the next place,” said Lance suddenly, breaking the silence that stretched between them. Keith felt his fingers twitch, but luckily the rest of him stayed still until he nodded.

 

They left the shot glasses on the counter on their way out. It became clear that standing relatively still had given Keith an advantage – as soon as he began to walk, it was as if the alcohol and his buzz spread. He didn’t exactly get drunk often, but he knew he was well on his way to hammered with every step. The bar was definitely more densely packed than when they entered, which was a feat and a half. Keith felt himself fighting not to hold his breath as he squeezed past people. His fingers were just shy of grabbing Lance’s hand, barely a foot ahead of him – but he held back, and it was with great relief that Keith broke through the perimeter of the bar’s mob and tasted (arguably) fresh air.

 

A weight descended upon Keith’s shoulders, and he looked to his side to see Lance leaning into him. His eyes were trained forward as he relaxed, as if trying to drag Keith to the ground. With a huff, Keith needled him in the ribs until he slapped his feet flat to the ground and stood up properly. His arm didn’t leave Keith’s shoulders.

 

“Alright, my turn,” declared Lance as they swayed slowly down the sidewalk, “I did drag once. And I loved it.”

 

Keith stared at him. “Explain.”

 

“Hunk knew a queen who was thrilled to have a curious canvas. So I got dolled up, shoved out onto stage and told to lipsync. It was basically glitzy karaoke – at least when I did it.” Lance heaved a nostalgic sigh. “The performances everyone else did were magical. Made me wonder what else I was missing out on.”

 

“Huh.” Keith steered them back from the edge of the curb. “I… kind of want to check out a drag show.”

 

Lance abruptly gripped Keith’s shoulders, spinning him around to face him. His eyes and grin were bright. “Tomorrow! We can find one tomorrow, I swear it! There’s gotta be something in Paris, weekday or not.”

 

Keith shook his head ruefully. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

 

Lance froze. He blinked once, twice, and a third time until his brow furrowed. It was like it was just dawning on him that they weren’t travelling together, that their timelines were slightly out of sync despite the broad overlap.

 

“Oh,” murmured Lance, disappointed. Then his fingers dug into Keith’s shoulders and he was practically shouting, “Where? Where are you going after? Venice? Florence? Where?

 

Laying steadying hands on Lance’s waist, Keith returned Lance’s wide-eyed stare. “I’m– I’m going to Rome tomorrow–” Lance’s face fell. “–And Florence after that.”

 

Lance practically yelped. Keith barely withheld a grimace as the other man’s grip tightened even more. “Florence! I’m going–! I’ll fuckin’ be there! Holy fuck! Dude!

 

His excitement was palpable, and contagious, if the violent fluttering in Keith’s stomach was anything to go by. Without fully realizing it, his own fingers were digging into Lance’s waist, his palms warm through the fabric – then Keith saw Lance’s mouth twitch as he inhaled sharply.

 

And Keith let go, Lance leaping back in the same moment. They stared at each other, something kind of wild reflected in Lance’s eyes back at Keith.

 

It’s the alcohol. Just the beer, just the liquor, just the atmosphere.

 

When?” forced out Keith, “When are you going to Florence?”

 

The cogs working in Lance’s brain were practically visible by the way his face screwed up in thought. “Fuckin’– end of the month, shit, uh– Twenty ninth! I’m getting in on the twenty ninth!”

 

“I’ll be there a day before you,” said Keith breathlessly – since when were his lungs unable to get enough oxygen? – and then he laughed, “How the hell?!”

 

Magic,” stage-whispered Lance dramatically, “This is some witchcraft, I’m telling you.”

 

“Don’t tell me you’re into pagan rituals, Lance,” gasped Keith, “Is this another thing I don’t know about you? You’re in a satanic cult, meanwhile I just have purple marbled crocs?”

 

“Don’t make such a big leap– Wait.”

 

“Shiiiiiiiiit.”

 

“You have crocs?

 

Keith spun on his heel and began marching down the street. Lance skipped after him, flinging his arm back over his shoulders to keep from bowling into a lamp post.

 

“Purple!” cried Lance in sheer glee, “Marbled! Crocs!”

 

“They’re comfy!” protested Keith, hooking his arm under Lance’s to grip his far shoulder.

 

“You’re–” Lance broke off with a laugh, “You– Oh my God, you’re fuckin’ adorable! Crocs. Please tell me you wore them learning to ride your bike.”

 

“Bicycle or motorcycle?” asked Keith, before his mouth ran ahead of him to dig a hole to dive into, “Because I can say yes, to both.”

 

The resulting gleeful conniption that followed ended with Keith half-carrying a mirthfully sobbing Lance into the next bar on the list. The instant they paid their entry fee and walked in, Keith felt the bass in his chest. The music was loud, and had he been sober, overwhelming – but he was buzzing with a confidence that didn’t feel like his own. The press of bodies was nothing, and either time was passing slightly faster, or he himself was. Keith kept his hand on Lance’s arm as they navigated to the bar. The shelves of alcohol behind it were lit up in blue, but as Keith watched, they gradually changed to green, then yellow, and so on as it cycled through the rainbow.

 

Lance breath was hot against Keith’s ear as he leaned in. “Have you tried a jaegerbomb, Keith?”

 

“We’re not having one of those,” declared Keith.

 

Whyyy?” whined Lance, “You’re still acting sober! I want to see you shitfaced!”

 

“Trust me, I’m feeling it.”

 

Liar.”

 

Lance reached out with a hand to drag it down the front of Keith’s face, causing him to splutter.

 

“The hell, Lance?”

 

“Holy shit,” said Lance, eyes wide and reflecting pink from the bar light, “Your hair is soft. What the fuck?”

 

Keith tried to lean away as Lance tried to pet his hair. “Why are you so offended?

 

“You haven’t cut it in forever! Where are the split ends? Where are they, Keef?” Lance lunged, nearly grabbing a handful of Keith’s hair in his efforts. He managed to pinch a lock between thumb and forefinger, and wasted no time rubbing his fingers together as Keith squawked in protest.

 

“Lance, what the shit!”

 

“Found them!” crowed Lance, looking for all the world as if he’d won a gold medal. “You really do need to chop a couple inches off – Wait, I can do that. Let me cut your hair.”

 

“Oh, hell no.” Keith pried his fingers back to free his hair and scalp. “I’m not letting you anywhere near me with scissors.”

 

“Don’t be a spoil sport,” pouted Lance.

 

“Don’t be weird.”

 

Lance made an offended noise that got drowned out by a loud whoop from a group of people nearby. They seemed to find the song playing – something French, with a fast beat and deep vocals – exactly what they needed to get amped for the night. As they progressively got louder, Keith couldn’t hear Lance even with his mouth an inch from his ear. A minute of that, and Lance grabbed Keith by the hand and tugged him through the milling crowd to the other end of the bar. It didn’t help very much since everywhere was at different levels of loud, but they didn’t have to scream at each other anymore.

 

In the lead, Lance managed to make it to the bar before several people tried to pass between him and Keith. Suddenly cut off, Keith attempted to skirt around the block, but a patron’s elbow caught him in the side. Keith grunted at the sharp pain. There wasn’t very much space to move, but a gap opened up and Keith could see Lance backtracking several paces to him, but in Keith’s periphery he saw the frantic fluttering of apologetic hands.

 

“Ah! Gomen nasai,” apologized the woman when Keith turned to her.

 

Keith didn’t even think before responding, “Ii desu yo.”

 

There was a beat where they simply stared at each other before realizing they’d both spoke in Japanese. Then, tentatively, the woman spoke again.

 

Um, are you… from around here?” she asked, the words coming out slightly slower as if she was uncertain whether Keith had responded purposefully before.

 

The familiarity of the language, and the woman’s Tokyo accent, excited Keith. “No, I’m travelling.

 

Me, too!” replied the woman, a wide smile breaking across her face, eyes bright under blunt black bangs. “Are you not part of the bar crawl?

 

Keith cocked his head to one side. “I am doing one with my friend. Is there an organized one?

 

Oh, yes! There’s a large group of us – though I don’t know many of them. I’m here with several of my friends.

 

As they spoke over the loud music, their words began to spill out faster as Keith sank back into his almost hasty speech patterns and the woman replied in kind. It was nice being able to not only speak his first language again, but also with someone that wasn’t Shiro. Keith wasn’t one to strike up random conversation with strangers, but he appreciated it now with another Japanese person in a foreign country.

 

So involved with their conversation was Keith that he forgot Lance had been just behind him. He turned then to gush about meeting someone not only fluent in Japanese, but had gone to the same school several years apart, and maybe to introduce them? Keith wasn’t totally sure at this point, he just wanted to share his excitement. He didn’t even think twice when he saw Lance spinning to face him, a wild grin on his face, and then suddenly their words were overlapping each other – Keith in bubbling Japanese, and Lance in rapid fire Spanish. Like a mirror image, they both went silent. Keith watched astonishment grace Lance’s features, and he was certain his own face was making the same stunned expression. Lance started laughing first, a hand reaching out to clasp Keith’s shoulder. Keith, in turn, grabbed Lance’s wrist like it was an anchor as his stomach cramped with how hard he laughed.

 

“I–I didn’t even realize!” gasped Lance.

 

Keith bit down on his lip to stop his guffaws. It shook, but he managed to get out, “I was so confused.”

 

“I just–” Lance started, before trying to clear his throat and gesturing towards the bemused young men standing at his side, “These guys are from Argentina, and I forgot? That I don’t speak Spanish to you?”

 

“I just straight up forgot English,” admitted Keith with a wide grin.

 

Introductions were made, and even though nobody’s first language was English, they managed to pass with hesitant sentences and varied accents. Lance’s new friends were on the pub crawl, same as Keith’s conversation partner. When the young woman summoned her friends over to join them, their end of the bar suddenly became as loud as the group that Lance and Keith had left behind ten minutes previous.

 

Two hours later saw Lance with his arm across Keith’s shoulders, the latter with his arm around Lance’s waist to keep him as upright and walking straight as possible (which wasn’t very). They’d missed the last bus of the evening, but luckily the club had been relatively close to the glorified hill upon which both men temporarily resided. It meant dragging their feet on an incline for half an hour – which would’ve been twenty if Lance just walked on his own.

 

“They were so nice,” gushed Lance happily. He’d accepted a couple more drinks from his new friends that he probably should have traded for water. “They’re my new favourite people.”

 

“What about me?” pouted Keith jokingly.

 

Awwww.” Lance curled his arm in until he could press his cheek against Keith’s. “You’re my ultimate favourite.”

 

Keith blamed the alcohol for how stupidly happy that drunken declaration made him.

 

Lance stumbled on the edge of the pavement, nearly dragging Keith down with him. “Ack – I can’t flippin’ see where my feet go!”

 

“Try harder,” suggested Keith as he practically dragged the mostly limp Lance along.

 

“The world is spinning, Keith,” whined Lance. He went quiet for a moment, then let out a long groan. “Oh, fuck, closing my eyes was a bad, bad, bad idea – I’m gonna – fuck –”

 

At the sound of Lance gagging, Keith leapt away from him. One hand remained on Lance’s shoulder to steady him as he turned to slump against a lamp post and hurl. Keith looked away immediately, trying to stifle his gag reflex as Lance regurgitated the contents of his stomach beside the curb. The only upside to the situation, Keith reasoned, was that one good rainfall would wash the mess away down the stormdrain a few meters down.

 

“You’re disgusting,” said Keith, fisting his hand in Lance’s sleeve lest he drop forward.

 

“Fuck you, twatwaffle,” croaked Lance before shuddering as another wave of nausea hit him.

 

They stayed there for several long minutes, Lance just clinging to the post and spitting occasionally. Keith kept his hand on him until he was as certain as he could be that Lance wouldn’t start gagging again, then Keith took him by the arm and started their journey back up the hill.

 

“Where’s your place, Lance?” asked Keith as they went.

 

Lance’s response was a garbled mess. It was apparent that the alcohol, the puking and the hill had caught up to him to take its toll. When Keith asked again, the reply was much the same. The only thing Keith could make out was don’t take pictures and shitnuggets. With a sigh, Keith resigned himself to taking care of the other man at his own apartment.

 

It took even longer in the end, but eventually Keith half-carried, half-dragged Lance to the apartment building. He propped Lance against the wall as he fished in his pockets for his keys, and then had to coax Lance into standing on his own two feet to get up the stairs. Once inside his rented apartment, Keith led Lance to a chair, sat him down, and left to get both of them a glass of water. When he returned, Lance was lying spread eagled on the floor and moaning about the room spinning. It took a lot more effort than before to get Lance onto the bed, but by then Keith managed to get him to drink two cups of water before he collapsed diagonally. His long limbs were sprawled out, effectively occupying the majority of the mattress. Keith swayed where he stood, forcing himself to chug as much water as he possibly could, while Lance mumbled things under his breath that barely sounded Spanish.

 

“Keeeeeith,” drawled Lance when the other man gave up on the water and flopped down beside him at the foot of the bed.

 

“What?” grunted Keith into the blankets, wishing he had the energy to brush his teeth.

 

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

 

Mmph.”

 

“Pleeeeeeeaaaase.”

 

Keith heaved an unnecessarily loud sigh. “Favourite colour’s red.”

 

“Mm, mine’s blue. Like, dark sea foam-y blue.”

 

“Isn’t that green?”

 

“No, blue.”

 

Keith grunted. He didn’t want to argue it.

 

“Your turn.”

 

With monumental effort, Keith rolled onto his back. It brought him too close to Lance, his shoulder leaning up against Lance’s hip and their legs overlapping, but at least he wasn’t inhaling fabric.

 

“First celebrity crush was Brad Pitt,” mumbled Keith.

 

“Basic.” A pause. “Mine was Rosario Dawson.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Gail. In Sin City.”

 

Keith frowned slightly at the ceiling. “How… old were you when you watched that?”

 

“Too young,” admitted Lance with a tired chuckle, “I also might’ve had a thing for um, Bruce Willis.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Of course,” repeated Lance. There was another stretch of silence between them where Keith could only hear the occasional whisper of a car driving by outside. “I wished I was as badass as him for awhile. Y’know, knock down all the asshats that bullied me.”

 

Keith blinked, his frown coming back. He lifted an arm above his head, as if he could reach out to touch Lance’s face for whatever reason, but it took too much strength he currently did not have, and the limb fell to rest on Lance’s chest.

 

“You were bullied?” asked Keith instead.

 

Lance was quiet for a moment, and Keith heard him clear his throat just slightly. “Yeah.”

 

“Why?”

 

It was a stupid question, and Keith regretted asking it as soon as the word left his mouth. He inwardly cringed and berated himself until he felt his arm shake as Lance laughed tiredly.

 

“I was a scrawny kid,” said Lance. His voice was light, like he was grinning as he said it. Keith couldn’t see, but he could picture the self-deprecation. “They’d make fun of me for it, push me around sometimes. Mostly it was little things like picking me last for sports. My parents didn’t know for the longest time, ‘cause it wasn’t visible or anything.”

 

He cleared his throat again. Keith’s chest hurt a little.

 

“I was a weak kid looking back,” continued Lance with forced nonchalance, “I kind of deserved it. I mean, it probably made me– ouch! What–?”

 

Keith didn’t know where the energy came from, but he needed it, needed to use it, as he hastily rolled over again. His shoulder dug into Lance’s hip, causing him to flinch at the sudden pain. Then Keith’s hands were pressed into the mattress on either side of Lance’s waist, arms holding Keith over Lance so he could scowl down at him.

 

“You didn’t deserve it, Lance,” snapped Keith, startling him with his ferocity, “Nobody deserves to get bullied, you least of all. Getting picked on and left out and made fun of didn’t make you a stronger person. You grew into that yourself, not thanks to some shitstain excuse of a kid.”

 

Lance stared up at him, mouth slightly agape. Keith’s arms were trembling with the effort of keeping him upright. The silence stretched between them, and then Lance smiled.

 

“Thank you,” said Lance, voice soft and genuine and which had the bizarre effect of making Keith want to cry.

 

But he didn’t, he just nodded sharply. Then his arms decided that was that and buckled. With twin groans, Keith collapsed with his head on Lance’s chest. If his limbs had felt like they were doused in honey before, now Keith felt like his bones were made of lead. It was a strange sensation, and it meant there was no way he was capable of moving in the near future. He could hear Lance’s heartbeat through his chest, pumping fast and steady, and his breath as he inhaled and exhaled deeply.

 

Keith knew they hadn’t known each other for very long. He hadn’t considered Lance a friend for even less than that. Yet with his cheek pressed into his chest, feeling the warmth through his shirt, Keith trusted Lance – and he felt that he owed Lance a piece of himself in exchange for what Lance had presented him.

 

Which led Keith to saying, eyelids sliding shut, “I’m adopted.”

 

Lance said nothing. Keith didn’t expect him to.

 

So he continued, “Shiro isn’t my brother by blood. My mom raised me herself until I was ten, then she died, and her best friend took me in. It was weird for awhile. This woman that I’d called auntie for my entire life was suddenly my new mother. My friend was now my brother. But neither of them expected me to call them mother or brother. Auntie said – she said we were family before, but – but all that changed w-was that I’d lost a mother, and sh-she’d lost a sister, and we had to take care of each other now.”

 

Keith felt his throat tighten and his eyes warm. His grit his teeth to stop himself from making a sound. It would no doubt start the waterworks, and he didn’t want to start drunk-crying on Lance. So he kept silent and tense until the danger subsided, at which point he felt the barest of pressures on his head. Then, slowly, hesitantly, fingers brushed through his hair. The tension melted away instantly, and Keith’s whole body went slack. Unbidden, a sigh escaped him. The hand running through his hair kept at it, emboldened by the sound.

 

“Sorry,” murmured Keith, “I didn’t mean to unload that much on you.”

 

“No, it’s fine,” said Lance softly, “I don’t mind.”

 

“Sorry,” repeated Keith, before adding, “Thanks.”

 

“Mm.”

 

Neither said anything for awhile. Keith heard some people pass in the street below, laughing together in French. Several more cars. A door closing. Lance’s steady breathing, steady heartbeat, steady everything. The hand in Keith’s hair stilled after a time. Keith thought Lance had fallen asleep, but the other man spoke again.

 

“My middle name is André.”

 

Keith felt the corner of his mouth curve up. “Lance André Rivera.”

 

“Yup.”

 

“I don’t have a middle name.”

 

“What? I’ll give you one.”

 

“No thanks.”

 

“Charles.”

 

“Mm, nah.”

 

“Henry. Gerald. Bentley.”

 

“...”

 

“William. Joel. Louis.”

 

“...”

 

“Pablo. Ernesto. Jesus. You asleep?”

 

“...Nah.”

 

“Okay. How about Richard? Keith Dick Kogane.”

 

Keith huffed a tired laugh. “I should mention, Keith isn’t my first name.”

 

“Wait, what?” Lance’s chest shifted beneath Keith’s head, as if Lance was trying to lift his own to look at the other man. Except that required energy he didn’t have, and with a soft sound, his head dropped back to the mattress. “I’ve been calling you by the wrong name this whole time?”

 

“Keith’s my English name,” he explained, pausing to let out a yawn, “But my actual name is Akira.”

 

Lance made a thoughtful sound. “Akira. Akira, Akira, Akira. Akira Kogane.”

 

It took a lot of self control for Keith not to press his smile into Lance. His lack of energy definitely helped, too. “It’s gonna sound weird the more you say it.”

 

“Can you like, introduce yourself in Japanese?”

 

Keith did so after a brief moment, throwing in a couple common expressions that, to him, sounded like they came straight out of a tourist’s phrasebook.

 

Lance hummed thoughtfully, the sound reverberating gently against Keith’s ear. “I like your voice.”

 

Keith’s eyes flew open. He waited for a follow up, but nothing came.

 

“Introduce yourself in Spanish,” suggested Keith hesitantly.

 

Lance did, and Keith held back from voicing the same sentiment as Lance. He liked listening to Lance’s voice in Spanish. It sounded deeper somehow, and smoother. English sounded rough and unforgiving no matter who spoke it, but his Spanish rolled. It was pleasant.

 

Keith hummed a little in place of a verbal response. They lapsed back into another silence that Lance broke again some minutes after Keith closed his eyes once more.

 

“Do you prefer Keith or Akira?”

 

After summoning the last few dregs of his energy, Keith replied, “It’s weird if you call me Akira.”

 

“But do you prefer it?”

 

“Call me Keith.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“...”

 

“If you get up before me…”

 

“...Yeah?”

 

“Don’t take any pictures.”

 

Keith would have lifted his head to stare at him if he could. He certainly felt as though he would never have strength to rise again. “...’Course not.”

 

“You hesitated.”

 

“Ssshhhhhhhh.”

 

And with that, Keith’s mouth stopped forming words. The way he fell asleep was like being dropped into a shallow pit made of heavy warmth. It was a gradual, if fast, descent, and before Keith knew it, he was dreaming.

 


 

Stripes of hot sunlight baked Lance’s face and chest. He woke gradually, first with his mind as he made note of the heat, and then the gritty, parched sensation that was in his mouth, and finally with his eyes as he cracked them open. The sunlight blinded him for a moment until he adjusted. The window was not the same one in the hostel where he stayed, framed by green curtains, but instead had white blinds pulled halfway up. That little detail kickstarted Lance into wakefulness. With his return to the world of the living came the realization that the heat on his chest wasn’t from the sunlight – because the slats of bright warmth were falling across the head and torso resting on Lance.

 

Lance’s neck strained with the effort of keeping his head held up as he stared down at Keith. The other man was curled on him, their legs tangled together, one hand in a loose fist on Lance’s chest. Slowly, he let his head fall back. His arms felt like lead, and for that Lance was glad – otherwise he wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to hold back from carding his fingers through Keith’s hair again.

 

Oh, yes, that was definitely a thing he remembered.

 

The one bonus from puking before sleep was the lack of a hangover and the clarity of his mind. While much of the night was a blur, the commentary in his head switching between English and Spanish, Lance’s clearest memories were from the hour or so before he’d passed out.

 

Raw.

 

He felt raw.

 

But he couldn’t find any regret either. Eyes the colour of the sky at twilight – so genuine, so earnest, so desperate that Lance understand his own strength – filled Lance’s head and permeated his chest and belly and limbs with a different kind of wakefulness.

 

Summoning moisture into his mouth took almost as much effort as extracting himself from beneath Keith. The other man woke up in stages, groaning in protest as his human mattress slid out from under him. Luckily, Lance was already sitting up and reaching for the half filled glass of water on the bedside table when Keith was able to form words.

 

“Fuck.”

 

Lance couldn’t help but grin. “Buenos días.”

 

Ohayou, asshole,” grated out Keith almost petulantly.

 

“Aw, someone has a hangover?”

 

“And you don’t?”

 

“Nope,” said Lance cheerfully, “Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”

 

Nooo,” groaned Keith into the mattress before – very, very carefully – pushing himself up into a sitting position. “This is going to be the worst travel day of my entire fucking life.”

 

“Look on the bright side,” said Lance as he got to his feet, picking up both empty glasses of water, “You can sleep on the way.”

 

“It won’t be sleep that claims me, but death.”

 

“So dramatic.”

 

“You’re rubbing off on me.”

 

Lance chortled as he left the room to refill the glasses. He handed one to Keith when he returned, who chugged the entirety of it like he’d spent the night in the middle of the desert. Lance could kind of understand, though. No amount of water was going to wash the muscle-deep dryness from his mouth.

 

For a couple of shiny new friends that had just spent the night tangled together, drunk and sharing bits of themselves, there wasn’t anything awkward hovering between them, begging to be discussed. Lance was concerned about it for a short while, but normalcy had resumed instantly, and he relaxed. Breakfast was comprised of whatever was left over that Keith needed to get rid of before he headed off to Rome.

 

As Keith packed up, Lance clapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. “Florence. Six days.”

 

Keith blinked at him, as if just remembering. Then his mouth curved into a grin that did things to Lance’s stomach that he didn’t want to acknowledge.

 

“Six days,” said Keith, “Finally, a break.”

 

Lance snorted. “Ass.”

 

“Go enjoy your last day in Paris, André.”

 

“I will, Akira.”

 

Lance left the apartment with a bounce in his step.

 


2:06 PM

 

Keith Kogane

lance

you wouldnt happen to have my coat would you?

Lance Rivera

meh

Keith Kogane

lance….

Lance Rivera

its mine rn!!!

u can have it back in florence

Keith Kogane

or you can give it back before i leave?

my flights in two hours

Lance Rivera

nah

i need a hostage

Keith Kogane

oh my god

Lance Rivera

see u <3

 

 

Chapter Text

The rattling of the train was oddly calming. Outside the windows, the French landscape gave way to Italian – which is to say, Lance had no idea when the change occurred. He simply got off at the stop he was meant to and grabbed his connecting train, showing his passport when it was required, and stammering when he greeted a barista in French and they replied in exasperated Italian. The dose of caffeine was worth the embarrassment. The ride from Paris to Venice was the longest travel day Lance had planned yet. Even if it was slightly cheaper than a flight, the time it took probably wasn’t worth it. Two hours versus the entire day? When he was presented with it, Lance realized he essentially wasted a day he could have spent harassing Pidge into showing him the cool nooks Venice had.

 

When he wasn’t sleeping (or rather, attempting to), Lance took advantage of the free WiFi on the train, which also gave him time to catch up with his family and message Pidge with every minute update as the hours between them shrunk. He sent a couple emails to those of his family that didn’t frequent Facebook and therefore wouldn’t see his daily updates. While on the social media website, Lance found himself clicking onto Keith’s profile. Nothing new had been added – typical. Nevertheless, he was scrolling through the album he’d tagged Keith in, feeling his mouth curve into a smile as he recalled every snarky comeback, dry laugh and reluctant grin that paired with each picture.

 

It wasn’t long until his train of thought ventured down one of fiction. In the imaginary world Lance’s mind built, he was a kid again, but this time, he wasn’t alone facing off against those bullies. He had a friend beside him, a little short but more than making up for it with sheer ferocity. It was easy imagining a young Keith’s expression, twisted in anger and indignation. Fists clenched tight, raised as a pair in front of him, positioned between Lance and the bullies. Lance wondered just how different his childhood would’ve been had Keith been there with him – probably a lot wilder than it was. They would’ve gotten into so much trouble. Lance had already had a reputation among the neighbours and the other students’ parents – he couldn’t imagine how that would have changed with a partner in crime like Keith.

 

While flicking idly past his own pictures, now going backwards through those from Wales without really looking at them, Lance caught himself rubbing his fingers together. He tried to remember what it felt like to have Keith’s hair pinched between them. Soft until just before the ends, where they really needed a trim – not wholly uncared for but not like Lance with his bimonthly cuts. Realizing what he was doing, and feeling a shiver of embarrassment, Lance stretched out his fingers and wrapped them more firmly around the tablet. He was glad he packed away Keith’s coat, otherwise he couldn’t trust himself not to do something weird, like fondle it, or something. Ugh.

 

He hefted his bag up between his head and the window and tried to make a decent pillow out of it. Despite the abundance of hard objects – tablet, iPod, the book of cat poems – there was enough soft things to take the edge off and make it an acceptable headrest. For the rest of the trip, he wove in and out of a state of semi-sleep, where his daydreams led themselves away from his awareness but he could still hear the people murmuring on the other end of the car. Luckily for him, Venice was the last stop, and when it came to a smooth halt, Lance was roused by the voice over the intercom declaring the end of the line in both Italian and accented English.

 

Oddly enough, Lance hadn’t felt the quiver of anticipation for the entirety of the trip until that moment. Pidge was waiting for him outside the station – his best friend, in Italy, in Venice, whom he hadn’t seen since the beginning of the summer semester months ago when both they and Hunk had left for school. So, yeah, the excitement was a little late, but it was like it was making up for it if the vibrations in Lance’s fingers and stomach and head were anything to go by.

 

With his backpack slung over his shoulders, his suitcase firmly in hand, Lance strode off the platform to the double doors that barred him from the night air. Other apparent tourists were also exiting alongside him. They didn’t appear quite as confident as Lance was, although he had the advantage of a friend who knew the ins and outs of the city – a friend who emerged from the hazy glow of a street lamp to knife him in the side with their hand.

 

Agh!” cried out Lance, flinging up his free hand in a weak attempt at self defence.

 

The short brunet just hopped back and grinned at him, looking mighty proud. “Welcome to Venice, you massive dork,” they said before going in and squeezing his middle in a tight hug.

 

“You monster,” said Lance, releasing his suitcase so he could return the embrace. Only after he’d hefted them into the air and Pidge started writhing did he let them go. “Why can’t you skip the pain, Pidge?”

 

“I have a reputation to uphold,” said Pidge with a dismissive wave of their hand, “Now let’s get back to the house. Pay attention to where we’re going, ‘kay?”

 

“Am I going to get lost here?” asked Lance, picking up his suitcase as Pidge turned and began walking.

 

There were numerous stalls and pop up shops that were closed for the night except for a couple street food vendors. A wide bridge arched over the water – the first Venetian canal Lance laid eyes on – but Pidge ignored it in favour of the dark pedestrian road that ran by it.

 

“For sure,” replied Pidge with certainty, “I still get lost occasionally, but it’s easy to find your way back. Just try not to get lost after dark – there’s not a lot of light.”

 

“I can see that,” muttered Lance. While there were street lamps, there were a great many gaps between them that allowed for the shadows to permeate all the nooks and crannies and make them seem darker. “It’s so empty here.”

 

“Yeah, till like five in the morning,” said Pidge, “Everyone wakes up, gets their bread, and then a few hours later the tourists get up and it’s a shit show.”

 

“Yikes.”

 

“You kind of get used to it.”

 

“I’m only going to be here for like four days.”

 

“You’re going to get used to it, trust me.”

 

Lance tried to tear his eyes away from the shadows. It was proving far more difficult than he thought possible. “Okay, so, if I get lost, what do I do?”

 

“You’re going to look for the plaques on the corners of the buildings,” explained Pidge, “They’re a lot clearer when you get to the squares. The one up ahead here is Campo San Geremia. That bridge we just passed was Ponte degli Scalzi. You got that?”

 

“Sure. Ponte, puente, and campo’s the same. Easy, peasy.”

 

“Right, so anywhere in Venice, there’s a sign that’ll say alla Ferrovia, which is the train station. So if you get lost, just follow the signs back there, and it’s pretty much a straight walk down here. If you keep seeing signs that say Per Rialto, you’re headed in the exact opposite direction you should be. You following, still?”

 

“Totally – uh, Pidge?”

 

“What?” They stopped at the entrance to a narrow alley between two shops. There were no lamps at all except at the very end. Pidge just looked at Lance with an eyebrow raised expectantly.

 

“You sure this is the way?” asked Lance weakly.

 

Pidge pointed down at a plaque, barely discernable in the weak lighting, set into the ground at the entrance to the alley. “Every alley here is a legit road, warning you now. Just remember this one is marked.”

 

Lance stared down at the plaque, unable to clearly read it and reminding himself he needed to check it out again in the daytime. Then Pidge was whisking down the alley and Lance practically leapt after them. He wasn’t particularly afraid of the dark, but he couldn’t deny there was potential for claustrophobia when the walkway was so narrow and so dark. He kept close to Pidge as he dragged the suitcase behind him, grimacing at how loud the wheels sounded against the cobblestones.

 

“Generally speaking, the alleys aren’t that sketchy around here,” Pidge was explaining, “But definitely don’t wander down them in the dark if you can help it.”

 

“Great idea, I’ll just be glued to you for the next few days, thanks.”

 

“You’re going to have to peel off me at some point,” said Pidge breezily, “Because we’ve got a scavenger hunt to obliterate.”

 

“What.”

 

The grin Pidge shot him was especially ominous in the dim lighting. “It’s part of the fun of being an exchange student.”

 

“I’m not a student–”

 

“But you’re a foreign volunteer!” beamed Pidge, and then they were halting at a gated building and digging around in their pockets for the key. “And this is home!”

 

They pushed open the gate and stepped under the brick arch dripping with ivy. Lance followed slowly, glad for the lights that lit up the short walkway to the house. Trellises of grapevines framed the cobbled path and the plants continued their climb up the front of the house. Pidge beckoned impatiently for Lance, who’d slowed considerably to gaze at his surroundings, their hand already pushing open the front door.

 

“Allura?” called Pidge as Lance stepped over the threshold, “We haven’t died.”

 

“Not going to speak in Italian?” needled Lance, earning a swift kick to his knee that sent him buckling against his upright suitcase.

 

Then there was a tall woman practically gliding down the hall towards them, a bright smile on her face. Lance snapped upright immediately. Her hair was in a silky knot atop her head and was escaping in tight curls every which way, accentuating the contrast between her pale hair and dark bronze skin. Lance was instantly on edge, every fiber of his being telling him not to fuck up, to make a good impression, and make sure there wasn’t anything stuck between his teeth.

 

“Hello, Pidge has told me so much about you,” she greeted him, her accented voice so pleasing that Lance figured he could listen to her talk about the chemical reactions occurring in between his neurons at that moment and not grow bored. “I’m Allura, their host sister.”

 

“I’m Lance, nice to meet you,” said Lance, mirroring her smile. Hearing her use Pidge’s nickname and preferred pronouns made him relax.

 

“Let’s get you settled in!” chirped Allura, and reached for the suitcase, but Lance got to it before she could.

 

As Allura turned to lead the way down the hall, Lance raised his eyebrows down at Pidge with an impressed grin. His friend beamed back and trotted after Allura with Lance taking up the rear.

 

The hall opened up on one side into a spacious living room. There were several couches framing a wood coffee table, each of a slightly different style and colour that matched the late century rustic aesthetic. Knit blankets were tossed over armrests and the backs of the furniture. The walls were covered in small framed mirrors – some were the size of pocket mirrors, others with intricate handles and loops. Allura led them past the couches, beyond which Lance saw an island bar that separated the living room from the kitchen. Then they were at the very end of the hall surrounded by doors.

 

“This is the bathroom,” explained Allura as she gestured to each door, “This is the linen closet. Pidge’s, mine, and my uncle’s room. You’ll be staying in this guest room.”

 

“I told her you could deal with sleeping on the floor in my room,” said Pidge, “But she insisted.”

 

“Why waste a perfectly good room?” said Allura with the slightest of pouts.

 

“I’m not complaining,” said Lance cheerfully as he rolled his suitcase into his designated room, “This is amazing.”

 

The rooms he’d stay at up until Venice had been relatively plain, much like hotel rooms but with better decor. They’d also been small, since he didn’t need the space. But now he was staying at an actual house that someone actually lived in and didn’t just rent out to tourists. It was far warmer, and he instantly felt at home, helped along by how casually Pidge flung their body across his apparently freshly made bed.

 

“I’ll leave you to get settled,” said Allura, leaning against the doorframe, “We’ve already eaten, but there’s leftovers you may heat up. Pidge can show you how. If you need anything else, I’ll be in the study.”

 

Lance hooked his backpack off his shoulders as he turned to Allura with a broad grin. “Thanks a ton for letting me stay over. Seriously.”

 

“Of course,” smiled Allura, “Any friend of Pidge’s is a friend of mine.”

 

And then she whisked away and Lance was staring at Pidge.

 

Who stared back. “If you dare flirt with her, I will personally see to your untimely demise.”

 

“Jesus, right, okay,” spluttered Lance, “I was just going to say she’s gorgeous.”

 

“Which she is, but don’t flirt. I’m serious. If you embarrass me, you won’t have any–”

 

“Hands or feet, right, right, gotcha.” Lance heaved a theatrical sigh. “I guess I’ll just save it all for Florence.”

 

“You mean Keith?”

 

What?” squawked Lance, gaping indignantly at Pidge, “No! God, that’d be so weird.”

 

“Would it?” drawled Pidge, busily messing up all the sheets on the bed.

 

Yes, we’re friends,” sniffed Lance, “I don’t flirt with friends.”

 

“You flirt with Hunk all the time.”

 

“Okay, Hunk is my platonic soulmate though, sooo.”

 

“Right, right, my bad.” A pause while Lance unzipped his suitcase. “Isn’t it weirder that you guys are friends at all?”

 

“Me and Hunk?” Lance straightened immediately. “Are you spewing blasphemy, Pidge? Do I need to–”

 

Keith. I meant Keith, you twat.”

 

Lance relaxed. “Oh, right. Sort of, I guess. I mean, how we met was really weird and all the coincidences are really weird, but we’ve had a ton of fun. You’d probably actually hit it off really well with him – but that would also mean I would suffer so yeah, let’s not indulge.”

 

Weak.”

 

“Hush. Feed me.”

 

Pidge released a long, drawn out whine as they rolled off the bed and onto their feet to lead the way into the kitchen, Lance cheerfully following behind.

 


 

Lance woke up sticky with sweat and tangled in his sheets. Desperately he kicked them away to maximize the amount of bare skin that came in contact with the air. Unfortunately, it was still much too warm for him. Pidge had warned him Venice was especially hot, but the mild night had tricked him. With a sigh, he rolled off the bed and over to his suitcase to put on the thinnest, loosest clothing he had.

 

Already refreshed by the wardrobe change, Lance left his room with his tablet in hand and his morning pill in his pocket. He hadn’t bothered to set an alarm, since Pidge was notorious for mercilessly waking anyone so long as plans were made for the day. He found his friend already stretched out across one of the couches, a muted mustard yellow thing with plush cushions.

 

“Morning,” said Pidge, not bothering to look up from their phone.

 

Buonjiorno,” chirped Lance.

 

Pidge glanced up briefly only to narrow their eyes at him.

 

Pretending he hadn’t noticed, Lance slid over to the brick red couch opposite Pidge’s and draped himself across it. “What time is it?”

 

“Nearly ten,” replied Pidge, eyes glued back to the screen again, “I got up at five, if you were wondering.”

 

“God, why?” asked Lance in horror.

 

“Bread run. Needest to get the freshest shit in the bakery. And I did.”

 

“I hope you know that I’m never going to even atte–”

 

“Gotta do it once,” interrupted Pidge mercilessly, “It’s part of the Venetian experience. Deal with it.”

 

Ugh.”

 

“Go eat the bread.”

 

With a grunt, Lance shoved himself up off the couch, leaving the tablet behind on the coffee table. The kitchen was a small thing, but it made use of the space by eliminating unnecessary clutter, with a rack for pots and pans hanging over the sink. On a chopping board was a loaf of bread, wrapped in brown paper with the open edge rolled and tucked to stop the exposed end from drying out. Lance moved the bread knife sitting on the board aside as he pulled out the loaf.

 

“Oh, sweet, is this olive ciabatta?” asked Lance excitedly.

 

“Damn right. Olive oil and balsamic is in the cupboard beside the pots.”

 

“Uh, can I just have butter?”

 

“You uncultured swine,” deadpanned Pidge before adding, “Also beside the pots.”

 

“I just want to compare it to how I have it back home, okay?” sniffed Lance as he fetched the butter dish from the cupboard, “Which means I need to prepare it the exact same way.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, just eat.”

 

As Lance cut slices of bread and buttered them, Pidge moved from the couch to a stool at the island. They continued to scroll through what appeared to be news articles, expression void of interest.

 

“Plans for today?” asked Lance as he opened every bottom cupboard until he found the garbage bin.

 

“I haven’t got class, so I’ll just show you around. Maybe ditch you and see how long it takes you to find your way back.”

 

“I don’t think that’s how a tour guide is supposed to do their job…”

 

“Hey, I’m not getting paid,” shrugged Pidge, “The risks are all yours.”

 

“You could at least pretend to be overjoyed you get to hang out with me after so long,” pouted Lance, taking a seat beside them.

 

“I am overjoyed,” said Pidge, widening their eyes and staring balefully at Lance, “So joyed. Too few people here know the true me. I need to take advantage of you while I can.”

 

“You’re terrifying,” stated Lance solemnly, “Please let me update my will, first.”

 

“Take whatever time you need to prepare.”

 

“But first, food.” Lance bit into the bread, and felt his tastebuds ascend.

 

When he’d finished his breakfast – and exhausted his vocabulary explaining just how delicious it was – Pidge led the way out of the house. As expected, the alley was a lot more welcoming when the sun was up, the sky was blue, and Lance was comfortably warm. He could hear people where the night before there had been silence. Pidge, obviously immune to the dissonance between the two times, strode back down the alley the way they’d come. Lance wasn’t far behind, lengthening his stride to match Pidge’s speedy gait.

 

The road that had been empty patchwork shadows was now alive with throngs of people. The stores were open, doors wide and propped open to allow a constant stream of potential customers. On one side of the alley’s entrance was a shop filled with little glass knickknacks, while the other was a small restaurant sporting a gelato bar at its front.

 

“All the gelato is pretty much the same,” said Pidge as they passed by and headed towards the bridge outside the train station, “The prices aren’t, though. I’ll show you the cheapest stuff. Also, limoncello is the best.”

 

“Right on.” Lance had every intention of trying all of the flavours – which meant multiple treats a day, but who was he to deny himself that?

 

“And that restaurant is usually open till just past midnight, except Sundays.”

 

“Good to know.” Midnight snacks to boot.

 

They went to the bridge, just beyond which was the numerous stalls now open for business. Lance saw food, keychains, masks with sequins and plumes, wooden fans in all sorts of colours, and a great many other things he didn’t manage to get a good glimpse of before Pidge’s hand was on his arm and dragging him.

 

Even on the bridge, men in patterned polos were selling things. Blankets and towels were draped over the steps where sunglasses and handbags sat. They spoke in heavily accented English – although the accent was definitely not Italian – to those who drifted closer out of curiosity, or made the mistake of letting their gazes linger too long on the wares.

 

“Is that Gucci?” mumbled Lance under his breath as Pidge, gaze fixed straight ahead, walked on.

 

“Nope, they’re fakes, obviously,” said Pidge, “Allura said the guys come in from overseas. They set up shop here, sell stuff, and when the police come they wrap everything up and book it.”

 

“D’you think they sell a lot?” wondered Lance, looking over his shoulder at the street sellers.

 

“Who knows. I’ve only ever seen a couple tourists buy things from them. But really, the ones you have to watch out for are the people with clipboards. Young twenties, look like college students. They ask you for donations, talk you up while someone pickpockets you. I’ve watched it happen.”

 

Lance stared down at Pidge. “You watched someone get pickpocketed?”

 

“Yes.” Pidge looked up at him with a crooked grin. “I started pointing and yelling right afterwards, though. The looks on their faces were prime.”

 

“Jesus, you’re evil,” huffed Lance, “I don’t feel like running after thieves again, so please warn me beforehand.”

 

“Again?” Pidge squinted at him curiously. “Is there a story you failed to tell us?”

 

Lance didn’t try to smother his proud smile, even going so far as to puff out his chest. “Keith’s camera got nabbed when we were at the Eiffel Tower. I booked it after them, caught them trying to switch hands, and wrecked them.”

 

“And by wrecked, I assume you mean you grabbed it and ran back?”

 

“Pretty much.”

 

Pidge snorted a laugh. “Swoon. With speed like that, I really don’t need to warn you, do I? You should be at the top of your game. Paris is way worse than Venice.”

 

“Are you sure? You’re like, the savvy local already. Your opinion is biased.” Lance looked around him as they squeezed through a busy alley, on the hunt for any suspicious persons. He didn’t have his backpack with him, only his iPod and some money in his pockets, but even so he wasn’t worried because he also had Pidge with him.

 

“Maybe,” conceded Pidge, taking a turn down what looked like a drain, not a path, “But y’know the Eiffel Tower is notorious, right? Like to the point they wouldn’t let people under it for awhile. Venice is just… watered down.”

 

“Haha. Watered down.”

 

They crossed another bridge, much smaller than the first. Fewer people were walking there, and the majority of those seemed to be locals going about their daily business. As they went, Lance caught sight of the signs fixed to the corners of many of the buildings. Many just had names of the squares they were entering or leaving, and the names of bridges, but the few that repeated had arrows pointing the way. The familiar words alla Ferrovia were on several of them, pointing back the way they’d come.

 

When Pidge finally slowed down in a square with a clock tower in the middle of it, Lance’s shirt was beginning to stick to him. To his dismay, Pidge appeared to be faring better than him, which went against nature. Granted, Pidge had survived the entire summer, having gone overseas months before to get used to the city, work a bit and pick up some Italian. Lance had spent several weeks in the cold Ireland, cool Wales and less than warm England. His body wasn’t quite ready for the obscene heat that Italy was smothering him with.

 

Still, he was going to pretend he wasn’t weak to the heat. While his friend wasn’t looking, Lance flapped the collar of his shirt to get the air flowing between the fabric and his skin. It helped, slightly, while the rest was simply deep breathes and brushing his hair off his forehead.

 

“Damn, they’ve already started,” sighed Pidge, startling Lance’s hands away from his cooling measures.

 

“What’s started?” he asked, smoothing the wrinkle in his shirt.

 

Pidge lifted a finger to point at the base of the clock tower. “That.”

 

Lance’s gaze followed their finger. It was actually kind of embarrassing how he hadn’t noticed the crowd before. Presumably he’d assumed they were just some more tourists – every awkward clump of people was a group of foreigners to him now – when actually they were locals, all about college age, all doing some questionable things.

 

The first thing was that five or six men and women were kneeling on sheets of clear plastic that stretched from the cobblestones beneath them over the tall base of the tower. The second was that they were also writing something on large pieces of paper with the occasional shout. The third involved the people standing, some of whom were throwing cooked spaghetti at those kneeling, a few with globs of paint, and others still with balloons of soapy water.

 

“What’s… going on?” asked Lance as the girl closest to them received a clump of noodles that clung to her shoulders. She spluttered and cursed but wrote on.

 

“Hazing,” shrugged Pidge, “Or program initiation, or something like that. I don’t actually know. I just heard something was going down today.”

 

“Your program isn’t going to do this, is it?”

 

“Nah, just the scavenger hunt.” Pidge batted their eyelashes at Lance. “Although, it could be arranged…”

 

No, thank you,” said Lance with feeling, “I’d rather avoid public humiliation.”

 

“Funny,” said Pidge as they skirted around to see how the students on the other side of the tower were faring, “I seem to recall you grinding on the Eiffel Tower.”

 

“Details, details.”

 

One of the initiates received a massive water balloon to the head; it exploded in a shower of purple soapy water. He spat and shook his hair out of his face, but continued writing. Lance still had no idea what they were writing – a pledge of some sort? – but it didn’t detract from the entertainment. Something about none of it making much sense only made it more funny, and Lance found himself guffawing as one poor student practically drowned in spaghetti slick with blue paint.

 

When he and Pidge made a full circuit of the clocktower, an older man with grey in his full beard approached them. His accent was incredibly thick, but he spoke without hesitation. “Ah, Katherine. I would not expect you to come to another program’s trials.”

 

Lance stared hard at Pidge, who smiled blandly at the man. “Ciao, dottore Russo. Someone said I should check out the other trials to see how good I have it.”

 

“And what do you think?” asked Russo, presumably a professor Pidge was acquainted with.

 

“I’m glad I’m in the program I am,” said Pidge.

 

Russo chuckled and clapped a hand on their shoulder. “You are a smart girl.”

 

He gave Lance a friendly nod but didn’t pull him into conversation, and then the professor was off to chat amicably with a student carrying a tupperware of noodles.

 

“Don’t tell me,” said Lance as soon as the older man was out of earshot, “Straight to the gonads.”

 

“Yep,” huffed Pidge, rolling their eyes so forcefully it was a wonder they didn’t fall right out, “I literally introduced myself as Kat to him and whoosh, right over his head. He was confused at first, thought I was a dude, and has been overcompensating for it ever since.”

 

Katherine,” snickered Lance, “God, it’s been awhile since I heard that.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, shut it,” muttered Pidge.

 

“So do you want me to hoof him?”

 

Technically, he didn’t say anything homophobic, so.” Pidge shrugged with a heartfelt sigh to match. “I guess he can keep his balls where they currently dangle.”

 

“Does everyone except Allura call you Kat?” asked Lance as they wandered around to the other side of the tower, incidentally putting as much space between them and Russo as possible.

 

“It’s a mix. It’s weird if people that aren’t actually my friends call me Pidge, y’know.”

 

“Aw, you just admitted we’re friends.”

 

“Ah, sometimes I wonder why I put up with you.”

 

“Mean.”

 

Eventually Pidge took him through another series of convoluted alleys. The squares they led into were rarely ever square in shape, and some of the paths were in corners that looked like they ought to be dead ends. Every gap led somewhere new, however, like an authentic mask shop in the shadows of a narrow road, apparently the only store along that stretch, or a restaurant whose busy patio took up half the square. The entirety of the city was made up of nooks joined by crannies. Lance loved it, and he knew Keith was definitely missing out, so he took out his iPod and began snapping picture after picture to show him when he got back.

 

“God, that stupid iPod,” sighed Pidge at some point.

 

“Don’t start,” said Lance, trying to get the thing to focus on some masks on display, “I dealt with Keith’s judgement already.”

 

“I’m so glad you found someone to act as our collective criticism.”

 

“Haha. I already found someone who was like an older version of you.”

 

Pidge whipped around, consequently smacking their hand against the brick wall and grimacing as they cradled it against their chest. “Ow, shit. God.”

 

Lance’s snicker earned him a jab to the ribs.

 

“Who?” asked Pidge as Lance squawked and massaged his injury.

 

“Jesus, you monster,” pouted Lance, “The gay old lady from Ireland. Luanne. She was like, hella sharp. She is you in forty years.”

 

Pidge wrinkled their nose, then nodded. “I have no complaints. I, too, will only marry for convenience.”

 

“Or money.”

 

“Well, I mean, if the opportunity arises…”

 

By the time they returned across the bridge, the sun was making a slow descent. Lance was hungry despite the gelato – cheapest shop on this side of the Rialto, Pidge claimed – they’d eaten an hour before. Pidge assured him there was always something to eat in the house, as long as they made an effort to replenish supplies while out and about. As it was, they only had to wait around the apartment for an hour until Allura’s uncle began dinner.

Pidge’s host father was… eccentric, to say the least. When the pair of them returned to the house, the man was vacuuming the hallway while belting showtunes. Upon realizing company had come, the vacuum was forgotten as the middle aged man practically bounced down the hall to enthusiastically shake Lance’s hand. Lance, enthralled by the glorious ginger moustache that shook from his upper lip, nearly missed him introducing himself as Coran.

 

Then Pidge and Lance were seated at the island as Coran regaled them with a tale of his youth.

 

“–And the beast blindsided me! With a mighty swipe of his claws, he broke the sapling I hid behind, and before I knew it, a bear was upon me! I fought back with all I had, pulling out all the stops and summoning the martial arts I’d learned as a young lad–”

 

The story was incredible, as was the Scottish accent Coran had. Though the older man was whisking about the kitchen now, getting all the ingredients together for a bolognese sauce, there was no lapse in his storytelling, and no opportunity for Lance to ask Pidge how, exactly, Coran and Allura were related. Even if he had time, Lance doubted Pidge would pay him any mind – they were hyperfocused on their phone, blocking out Coran completely, as if that was the norm.

 

“–and done!” declared Coran, cutting off the end of his story. Four dishes were laid out on the counter, a large helping of fusilli in each topped with a hearty sauce. “Right on time.”

 

As he said so, there came the sound of the front door opening and the shuffle of paper bags. Allura appeared around the corner, and only then did Pidge put their phone away.

 

“Hello!” said Allura with a smile, “I just picked up groceries. Could you help me put them away?”

 

Despite Lance having no clue where anything went, he jumped up to help. He dealt with the most obvious things, like putting the vegetables in the crisper, while leaving the sorting of foods into the cupboards to the rest.

 

“Coran was telling us the story about the bear again,” said Pidge as they slid a new jug of cleaning vinegar under the sink.

 

“Again, Coran?” sighed Allura.

 

“Lance hadn’t heard it yet!” snipped Coran with an arm full of paper bags to fold, “It’s a thrilling tale, of course I have to tell it.”

 

“I swear the details keep changing,” mumbled Pidge.

 

Coran’s nose wrinkled indignantly, and Lance cut in, “It was a cool story. I’d love to hear more.”

 

While Pidge and Allura adopted twin expressions of resentment, Coran’s entire face lit up.

 

“But of course!” he beamed, half his smile hidden by his moustache, “Let’s sit down and eat, and I’ll tell you all about the Sphinx’s riddle–”

 

He prattled on as he scooped up a plate and headed to the dining table. The rest followed suit, with Lance parrying Pidge’s knife hands until they sat down and he could respond with toe jabs.

 

Dinner was a comfortable event. Allura was friendly, but Lance could tell she was one to take no shit. She looked at each of them like she expected the answers they gave, and even needled Pidge once or twice when they chose the abbreviated response. Coran, while slightly crestfallen when his stories did not end up being the center of attention, involved himself in any and all conversations with gusto. Lance found himself enjoying the way the man tittered immensely, and laughed maybe too hard when Pidge mimicked him into their food. It was a relief, actually, to see how well Pidge got along with their host family. They were such obviously different people – colourful personalities didn’t seem to cut it – but they each had an edge that fit together. Even if Pidge denied it in the long run, Lance knew his friend would sorely miss them at the end of their year in Venice.

 


 

It wasn’t quite dawn yet when Pidge woke Lance with some sharp jabs to his ribs. He rolled over with a drawn out groan, cracking an eye open to peek at the window. The sky was dark, but a pale gradient was creeping up over the rooftops. For some reason, the fact that it was morning churned slightly in Lance’s gut. He couldn’t remember what he’d been dreaming about, but whatever it was hadn’t been good. Despite the sarcastic cheer Pidge was treating him with as they gave his ankle a yank, Lance felt sour and muted, not sleep heavy and cranky.

 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a feeling he was entirely unfamiliar with.

 

However, he couldn’t succumb and sleep for another five hours like he wanted to. Pidge was still persistently shaking his leg about, chanting quietly about bread. So Lance summoned what strength he could to thrust himself upright, to muted cheers from Pidge. He grabbed whatever from his suitcase and began dressing as Pidge flounced out.

 

“Why are you so cheerful?” grunted Lance as they stepped out of the house.

 

“There’s something satisfying about having someone suffering more than I am,” chirped Pidge.

 

“What are those things called?” grumbled Lance, “The ones that feed off despair?”

 

“Dementors!”

 

“You’re a dementor.”

 

“Thanks, toots.”

 

With each word that left his mouth, Lance felt the weight drag heavier on his limbs – but he pressed forward after Pidge, trying to appreciate the early morning. It was quiet, with no tourists and no street sellers, and only the early rising locals to keep them company. Pidge took Lance to a bakery across the bridge, which was as bustling as a business got before the sunrise. It smelled like warm, fresh bread – a scent that Lance appreciated immensely.

 

Pidge bought more of the olive ciabatta, along with a rounded loaf that looked delicious on its own. While they did the exchange completely in Italian, Pidge’s patronage was thanked in English along with a friendly smile. The bakery’s employees knew everyone by name. The atmosphere it created was a warm and friendly one.

 

Soothing as it was, the muted fog around Lance’s mind didn’t lift – but at least it didn’t get any worse. With the knowledge that a bed was waiting for him, Lance forced a bounce into his step as he and Pidge carried the bread back to the house. Once inside and the bread was put away, Pidge offered Lance breakfast, but Lance shook his head emphatically and didn’t even bother changing as he collapsed back onto the bed.

 

Sleep wouldn’t come to him.

 

He tossed, and turned, and tangled his limbs up like pretzels with the pillow between his legs, then under his waist, then folded between his head and shoulder – but nothing worked. The more he tried to get comfortable, the more frustrated he was, until the restlessness joined the chilly discomfort in his chest.

 

Lance didn’t know why – maybe it had something to do with the lingering negativity from the dream – but he felt brittle. The cracks were curling again, and any moment they’d start to chip and expose the sensitive rawness. It only added to his frustration when Lance tried to focus on something else. He thought of his family back home in New York, but with that came the reminder they were across the ocean. There was no wandering downstairs to worm his way into his mother’s embrace, not here. His next attempt was to think of all the cool things he’d seen since coming to Europe. The list was long, but no matter how the memories ran through his head, Lance couldn’t grasp any of them long enough to appreciate how good he had it.

 

The air seemed colder against his skin than before, even though he knew that was untrue. There was a thin layer of dampness on his skin from walking outside, and the promise of the sun was already warming up the room. Yet Lance shuddered. With a huff, he rolled himself off the bed and grabbed blindly for his hoodie. When his fingers curled around soft cloth, he straightened and dragged his feet out into the living room. If he was going to be unable to go back to sleep, he might as well force a change of scenery.

 

Pidge was at the island, apparently unaware of Lance’s entrance, with their eyes stuck to the screen of their phone yet again. Lance made a beeline for the mustard yellow couch, sticking his arms into the sleeves of his hoodie as he went.

 

Except, he realized, he wasn’t wearing his own hoodie. Thick, red and plaid, Keith’s coat was much too heavy for the imaginary chill Lance was feeling – but he was already collapsed on the couch, and he found he didn’t want to take it off. Instead, he burrowed himself in it, smelling a mild Paris night shot through with breathless laughter and shaky legs. Eyelids sliding shut, Lance saw fierce eyes looking down at him, a face framed by unruly hair, and he heard not the words Keith said that night, but the inflection with which he said them – determined, protective, certain.

 

Keith had smoothed Lance’s edges that night in a heartbeat, and had opened himself up in turn – and what had Lance done for him?

 

Nothing.

 

He’d said nothing.

 

And Lance came to the sluggish realization – compared to Keith, cool and collected and talented, with his steadfast determination and pride in his photography, his ability to see right through Lance, the ease in which he seemed to do everything fearlessly – compared to that, what was Lance if not worthless?

 


 

For the first time on his trip, Keith found himself on a tour bus. It was a deliberate decision on his part after his experiences in other cities. The big monuments were something he could see in one day, escorted by guides and flanked by Westerners in khaki shorts and polos, while the little things he could enjoy on his own time. These little things mainly meant finding cool nooks and the occasional shopping. With so much to see and experience – and photograph – Keith wanted to get through the staples first.

 

At the top of that list was, of course, the Flavian Amphitheater. All Keith needed to hear after the bus parked was what time they’d be expected back if they got split from the group, and he was gone. He didn’t need a history lesson when Shiro would just link him to the Wikipedia page anyway. So Keith wandered off on his own, camera around his neck with both hands firmly holding it.

 

It was, unfortunately, incredibly crowded. The day was a hot one, and people were taking full advantage. The architecture of the colosseum meant there were shadows available to those needing time out of the sun, which also meant clusters of people in inconvenient places. Even still, Keith pushed forward until he could find a sizeable gap in the crowd to snap a picture of the arena. The flooring had been stripped away but for a small section. Laid bare was the labyrinthian bowels beneath the arena floor. While Keith managed to get a few photos of the crumbling stone, people were beginning to press in on him.

 

He was by no means claustrophobic, but with so many strangers jostling him and the majority forgetting basic manners, he really needed his own space. Clutching the camera protectively to his chest, Keith freed himself from the first few rows of people trying to get a look at the open arena. The sheer size of the crowd was a little distracting to the point that Keith found himself people watching. The fact that the majority of white men were wearing the same khaki and polo get up, and every woman over the age of forty wore a wide brimmed hat and white pants – yeah, maybe Keith found that a little funny, and maybe he took a few pictures of the crowd because of it.

 

But there were only so many pictures one could take of the same thing, and inevitably Keith found himself wandering in the areas that were less populated. This tendency, as Shiro had mentioned during an evening of psychoanalyzing, was probably what urged and, in the same vein, allowed Keith to get up to no good. Namely, crossing into areas not meant for the general public. Adventuring. Keith could practically hear the word in Lance’s sardonic drawl, poking fun and taking part in the same breath.

 

Keith wondered how his unlikely friend would react if he saw Keith now, standing in front of an iron gate eight feet high, chained and padlocked with a sign indicating Restricted – No unauthorized access beyond this point in a slew of different languages. Keith couldn’t deny knowing exactly what the sign meant when the message was staring back at him in two languages he spoke and read fluently. Alas, he was certain the gate was barring him from the labyrinth beneath the arena floor, and he had every intention of seeking it out.

 

With a surreptitious glance in either direction, Keith packed his camera back into the bag slung across his chest. Then he wasted no time in gripping the gate and hauling himself skywards. Muscles straining harder when the gate jostled unsteadily on its hinges, unused as it was to bearing weight, Keith slung his legs up and over in a vault. The drop down was rough on his ankles and the flats of his feet, but he shrugged it off in favour of his new adventure.

 

He didn’t bother taking his camera out immediately. The presence of guards was still a possibility. Instead, Keith waited until he’d successfully made it to the ground level, and from where he stood hidden by the shadows, he could peek out and see the tourists lining the rim of the arena.

 

Keith couldn’t help it – the first photo he took was of the tourists leaning on the rails, every other person hefting a different kind of camera. When he was satisfied, he turned his focus on the dilapidated structures before him. It was difficult to imagine it all being the center of a bloody sport, whose funding saw the rise and fall of a leader’s popularity. Yet the history was there, seeped into the rock. That was something Keith couldn’t capture, but he could do his best to lay down the groundwork within his photographs.

 

Keeping to the shadows, Keith skirted the perimeter of the arena, taking pictures here and there. Some were focused on minute details, like the flowers growing amongst the grass at the base of what might’ve been a staircase at one point. Others were centered around the colosseum as a whole, such as the ones where Keith laid nearly flat on the ground to get the right angle, to see up towards the circuit at the top of the amphitheater.

 

When he’d wrapped up his stealth photoshoot, Keith took a moment to go through what he had. As always, Keith immediately deleted the ones that weren’t good enough, either blurry or with poor lighting or subpar framing. Some he wouldn’t be able to gauge their true quality until he had them uploaded to his laptop, and thus a bigger, brighter screen. He kept most of the tourist-focused ones, however.

 

Keith leaned against a wall, cool and dusty, as he zoomed in on one of the images. There’s a couple with matching visors, one in pink and the other in blue, as if they needed to colour code themselves. A snort escaped Keith without him fully realizing it. Despite being very much alone, he was instantly embarrassed, but the grin was glued to his face.

 

And it was when he felt his jaw ache from trying not to laugh that Keith became conscious of the fact that he was taking these pictures not only for his own memories. He was taking them with the intent to show someone, a specific someone, because he thought they would enjoy them, laugh at them, see meaning in them.

 

He wanted to convey his experiences to Lance as he had them, awkward tourists and all, not just a pretty picture on the front of a postcard.

 

Keith clipped the lens cap on his camera and zipped it away inside its case. One hand lingered on the zipper. He took a deep breath through his nose, and as he let it out, Keith pushed himself from the wall and went to find the gate.

 

Lately, thinking about Lance had come with a myriad of conflicting emotions. In passing, Keith was safe. He would remember something funny or annoying that Lance had done, snort under his breath or shake his head, and he wouldn’t miss a step. Other times, the memories triggered meant something far more – the brush of fingers through his hair, faint vibrations from a voice, eyes lit up with excitement, arms around his neck. Accompanying the recollection would be a clenching in his gut, a fizzle in his chest, and all sorts of different warmths that Keith didn’t think were possible – and every single one of them was dangerous.

 

Because if he let his thoughts linger too long on the things that made him feel good and happy, he would have to remember that those things weren’t meant to last. There was nothing for him to pursue, and in the end, all he had to look forward to was the bitter taste of disappointment.

 

That was something Keith could contemplate when he had nothing to distract him – such as a tall gate separating acceptable tourism territory from its inadvisable and restricted counterpart. After hitching his bag more securely across his chest, Keith jumped to get a hold of the crossbar near the top of the gate. Then, much in the same manner as he got across in the first place, he kicked his legs over to the other side and landed on the balls of his feet. When he straightened, Keith noticed another tourist ogling him from several meters away. Her gaze flicked to the very obvious sign on the gate, then back to Keith, eyes wide. Then she turned and shuffled off quickly and Keith took that as his cue to book it back to the tour bus.

 


 

In the afternoon, when Pidge returned from their three hour lecture, Lance had not moved. The only indication that he had done anything at all was the empty plate with a scattering of crumbs on its surface. Otherwise, his position was the same, lying on his back with his legs bent, gaze fixated on the ceiling. It was no wonder that Pidge didn’t wait any longer to drop their backpack to the floor and take a stand beside the mustard couch.

 

“Lance?”

 

Their voice drew his gaze, but nothing else. Pidge frowned.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Yes, he wanted to say. Yet he couldn’t. There was nothing else he wanted to say, and so he stayed silent, eyes trained on Pidge.

 

His friend’s concern grew more pronounced. Their gaze shifted to the red plaid Lance was still wrapped up in.

 

“Aren’t you hot in that?” asked Pidge. A safer question.

 

This time, Lance managed to nod.

 

“Why’d you take it?” A less safe question.

 

Lance had been trying to figure that out himself. Just because, just because, just because had been playing on loop whenever the question rose to the forefront of his hazy mind. He didn’t want to think any deeper than that, and the fog had helped, but now Pidge was asking it. A third party intervention always worked when Lance felt like that – except now he wasn’t so sure he was ready to confront it.

 

But as ever, his mouth spoke his honesty before his brain could register.

 

“Because – ‘cause then I’d have an excuse,” said Lance slowly, “To see him… at least once.”

 

He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to –

 

“Fuck,” whispered Lance, gaze falling to his knees, “Fuck. I stole his coat. I–I just took it. I’m the worst. I’m pathetic. Holy fuck.”

 

He didn’t need to see Pidge’s face to know the expression they were wearing – it was obvious in their voice. Uncertain, cautious, and a little afraid.

 

“Lance? What are you talking about?” They sat on the armrest by Lance’s feet, fingers picking at the seam of their pants. “You’re friends, aren’t you? It’s a little joke. Not like anyone needs a jacket in Italy, right?”

 

Friends.

 

Without meaning to, Lance let out a laugh. It sounded fake even to his own ears.

 

“It’s not actually like that at all,” said Lance, “It’s just me – imposing on him. I’ve been dragging him along places, it’s not like I ask him half the time – and even the first time, in London? It was just me. Me, latching on, like a fucking loser. I don’t even know why! How hard is it just to let a stranger be a stranger? There was no point – no point in talking to him and I – Fuck, I’m such a downer. He’s just cool, you know? He’s got this–this charisma and I just fuckin’ latched on, for no good reason, and I’ve been bothering him ever since, even though I should have just said nothing the next time I saw him, I should’ve just let him go about his day, not interrupted, just left him alone, said nothing, just– just–”

 

Lance gasped for a breath he didn’t realize he missed. His vision was blurred, his eyes too warm, and his mouth was dry and tasted bitter. The words flowing from him were bitter. The breathless laugh he gasped out was bitter. The coat was stifling, yet his fingers curled into the fabric of the sleeves and refused to let go.

 

“Lance.”

 

Ah, he’d nearly forgotten Pidge was there too. A hand reached down to rest on top of his foot, but he could barely feel it.

 

“Lance?”

 

“Sorry,” said Lance, voice flat. He focused on blinking without letting any of the wet heat escape his eyes.

 

“Are you… are you on a low?”

 

The question was tentative. Rare, always, coming from Pidge.

 

“No,” replied Lance.

 

The response wasn’t satisfactory. There was a short pause wherein Lance inhaled slowly past the mucus clogging his nose.

 

“Did you miss taking your Vyvanse?” Another pause, much briefer this time. “I know you said you lose ground if you forget to take it.”

 

There was nothing Lance could do to prevent the flash of irritation that shot through him. But he could stop his mouth from spitting out words that could potentially hurt his friend. So he bit down on his tongue until the initial sour feeling passed. He knew Pidge was just looking out for him. He knew that, yet still he wish they wouldn’t. It was true, Lance had missed his medication before. His friends always seemed surprised when they found out he forgot, because by all means taking pills should be an ingrained habit, yet for Lance, remembering was a volatile thing. Much of the time he had to rely on multiple reminders, because it didn’t matter if it was accidental – the results were always the same.

 

A haze, a fog, a melancholy, and a smothering reminder that he was less.

 

But this wasn’t born from any negligence on his part – it just was. Which also meant Lance knew how to take care of it on his own.

 

“Sorry, Pidge,” gritted out Lance, “It’s not that. Just – trust me, okay? It’ll go away in a couple hours.”

 

“You’ve been here all day –”

 

I know. I’m fine. I’ll be fine. I just…” He pursed his lips and regretted everything he said before. “I just need to think.”

 

Pidge shifted from the armrest to sitting upon Lance’s feet. The weight caused Lance to lift his gaze – only slightly less blurred than before – and see the indistinct frown that Pidge wore.

 

“Lance,” said Pidge, lifting a hand to rest on Lance’s knee, “You know, Keith is only human, too.”

 

“I know,” said Lance, because yeah, he knew that. Obviously. That didn’t mean that Keith wasn’t anything less than what Lance believed. The guy was – well, it was hard to wrap his mind around the concept of Keith, but Lance just knew the other man was something more.

 

“He likes you, too,” continued Pidge. Their fingers tightened on Lance’s knee. “Why else would he put aside his plans to go along with you?”

 

“No, it was just me,” mumbled Lance, “Getting in his way.”

 

“Do you think he’s the kind of guy to let you?”

 

Lance smiled, the corners of his mouth pinching up in a self-deprecating curve. When he spoke, there was no humour. “I’m really annoying.”

 

The frown gracing Pidge’s features deepened. They reached over to grab Lance’s tablet off the coffee table, index finger sliding over the screen as they said, “Say what you have to say, but I’m going to prove you wrong.”

 

They paused, looked up from the tablet to glare hard at Lance.

 

“I’ll keep proving you wrong,” they said with a sudden ferocity that Lance couldn’t say he understood, “Every. Single. Time. Until you start believing it yourself, okay?”

 

He could do nothing but nod mutely. Pidge turned their attention back to the screen, finger tapping with a stubborn fervor. Then, their mouth set in a determined line, they lifted the tablet and turned it around.

 

“This,” they said.

 

It was a picture Lance had taken. He recognized it as being from Paris. During their night out on the bar crawl, Lance hadn’t taken many pictures, but there was a couple he’d especially liked. One of them was what Pidge had blown up to full screen. Lance himself wasn’t in the picture, but only because he’d needed flash to take a group shot of the friends he and Keith had made with the other crawlers. Argentines and Japanese stood together with arms slung over shoulders and drinks lifted in the air, with Keith at the very front closest to where Lance had been taking the picture.

 

Pidge waited until his gaze scoured the image before asking, “Where is he looking?”

 

Lance nearly bit his tongue again to stop himself, but the words slid out harsh with ire, “What does it matter?”

 

Who is he looking at?” insisted Pidge.

 

He swallowed his next rebuke. His gaze met the eyes of almost everyone in the picture. They were all looking at the camera, after all – except for Keith. Those eyes – the sky at twilight, Lance recalled – were focused elsewhere.

 

“Who?” prodded Pidge again.

 

Lance’s mouth was open for a full three seconds before he managed to say, “Me.”

 

“He’s smiling pretty big.”

 

And Pidge was right. When the picture was taken, Keith hadn’t been paying attention to it. Instead, he’d been speaking to Lance, looking at him – and yeah, that smile was wide and uninhibited and undeniably aimed directly at Lance.

 

“But–” he started anyway, despite knowing full well that smile was for him, because something in him didn’t want to accept it.

 

Pidge was having none of it, interjecting immediately with “This is just the first example.”

 

And then they were pulling up other photos, jabbing with a pointed finger at Keith in each and every one. Yet for each and every one, Lance stubbornly began with another “but”, and each and every time he did, Pidge interrupted him loudly. It wasn’t until Pidge seemed to give up that Lance did, too, feeling a bitter sort of relief.

 

But Pidge was shoving the tablet at him once more, boosting the volume to max.

 

“Listen,” was all they said.

 

Lance knew what it was right off the bat. He saw himself in the video, goofing off at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The camera shook. The audio was white noise – the sounds of the crowd and the breeze and the shifting of a grip around the iPod – until the commotion gave way to a laugh. It was the same laugh that Lance had replayed the damn video a dozen times just to hear – and it had the very same effect on him as the first time he heard it.

 

Lance still felt a little bit melancholic, a little bitter and a lot tired, but there was no stopping the small smile that took control over his lips.

 

Pidge saw it, and the anxious tension around their shoulders fell away. They grinned, self-satisfied and relieved, and simply left the tablet in Lance’s lap to replay the video and the laugh.

 

“See? Told you.”

 

“Shut up,” mumbled Lance, but there was no irritation there, not anymore. He looked up from the video. “Pidge?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“‘Course.”

 

He still felt fragile, as if a good wind could knock him down. In spite of it all, Lance could see where the cracks were now, and he knew where to step so as not to curl the edges any further.

 

Keith’s laugh came through again, and Lance relaxed.

 


 

Luckily for Lance, Allura and Coran didn’t know him well enough to call him out on his lethargy for the rest of the evening. He did his best not to drag them down, and Pidge more than made up for it. They even went out to bring home a small tub of gelato for Lance to shovel into his mouth. The sweetness helped, and so too did the cold even when he’d already taken off the coat.

 

The following morning, Lance set several alarms to force himself to get out of bed relatively early. No residual negativity from any dreams plagued him when he sat upright, although his one arm was full of pins and needles from being stuck in a prolonged awkward position. Resting right beside his iPod was his bottle of medication, an orange reminder. He paid special attention to take his pill with breakfast, regardless if he hadn’t actually missed a dose the entire trip. The last thing he wanted was another crash. Already, Lance was disappointed in himself for wasting an entire day.

 

Although, having the scavenger hunt to look forward to was exciting enough to erase most of that negativity as well. At first, Pidge tiptoed around him, but when they were on the receiving end of one too many height jokes, they realized he was on the mend and started quipping right back.

 

It was late in the afternoon on Lance’s third full day in Venice. Pidge was wearing running shoes and tapping them impatiently against the tiled floor of the entryway. Lance hadn’t brought shoes fit for prolonged running, but he did have his standard sneakers – although the moment Pidge laid eyes on them, their nose wrinkled.

 

“You’re going to ruin your arches,” snipped Pidge, “Don’t you have any other shoes?”

 

“I wasn’t exactly expecting to be sprinting all over the place,” mumbled Lance.

 

“Well, you will be. And I mean full tilt, dead sprint. Arms trailing behind you. Air parting around you. You’ll be feeling the drag–”

 

Right. Except I have nothing better, so here we are.”

 

Pidge scowled at him. Lance could feel his impending doom – death by best friend who lost because he couldn’t run fast enough.

 

Then Pidge’s expression turned thoughtful and they called out, “Allura?”

 

Their host sister popped her head around the corner. “Cosa c'è?”

 

Lance manca scarpa de corsa,” replied Pidge.

 

The two stared at each other for a long, hard moment.

 

E buono, il tuo italiano,” said Allura with a narrowing of her eyes and a sly quirk to her smile.

 

“Dammit,” grumbled Pidge.

 

“Oh, Pidge,” sighed Allura, “You think I wouldn’t know? It’s been a month since you started school. Nice try. Now, I believe Lance may fit into my running shoes – give me a moment.”

 

The woman whisked down the hall towards her bedroom, leaving the two of them standing quietly.

 

“Pidge,” said Lance out of the corner of his mouth, “Have you been… faking incompetence?”

 

“No.”

 

“Liar.”

 

“I was just… avoiding the inevitable,” mumbled Pidge.

 

“You’re in Venice for a year and you refuse to learn Italian–”

 

“Shut up,” they hissed, “That’s not it. I just wanted to cling to English for as long as possible at home.”

 

“Do they not teach in Italian?” asked Lance, raising his eyebrows.

 

Pidge glanced off to one side. “It’s mostly code anyway.”

 

“Uh huh.”

 

Allura returned then, a plain black pair of runners hooked on her fingers. “Here, try these on.”

 

Lance did so, thanking her when the shoes did, in fact, fit almost perfectly. It didn’t bother him too much that he shared a shoe size with Allura – he was mostly just grateful they weren’t unnecessarily feminine. Although maybe it would’ve been more satisfying crushing their opponents with glittery pink running shoes on.

 

Pidge led the way out of the house once again, although they seemed a little more rushed. Allura simply smiled as she waved them out. When they crossed over the bridge, Lance thought they would head to the same square where they’d run into Pidge’s professor, but after a couple minutes, Lance realized Pidge could’ve taken him on a loop back to the house and he’d still not know where they were going. At one point, however, Lance noticed the demographic was shifting from mostly tourists to predominantly college-age students. They crossed over another bridge, the route alive with young adults either in the midst of fervid discussions or humorous stories. On the other side was a walled courtyard, a double gate laid open. Lance got one look at the metal letters spelling Università Ca’ Foscari before they were passing beneath it.

 

The courtyard was full of students. A loose group of them were hovering right by the entrance, and Pidge made a beeline for them with Lance in tow. There were numerous greetings in Italian, but then they switched to English for Lance and Pidge’s benefit, and also for the benefit of several other international students that adopted slightly panicked, glazed expressions whenever someone spoke too fast in Italian.

 

It seemed they made it just in time, as a tall man with a mop of black curls stepped up onto a stone bench to address them.

 

“Thank you for coming, amici,” he said with a wide grin, throwing his arms outwards to indicate the group, “We will now begin our annual matricole scavenger hunt!”

 

After explaining the rules in English, he switched to repeat them briefly in Italian. It was strange to hear something so similar to Spanish and yet not at all the same. Some words were familiar, but pronounced slightly differently, like they’d been run through an online translator several times over and lost their original context. Lance tried not to get hung up on the Italian half of the instructions while they were being spoken, especially since Pidge was practically vibrating with competitiveness at his elbow, and if he got distracted… well, he might suffer for it.

 

Sealed envelopes were handed out to every pair of students. They were technically in groups of six, but there were three different lists to complete, and their scores at the end of the time limit would be added together. Pidge only briefly introduced Lance to the rest of their team. It wasn’t all that necessary since they wouldn’t see one another again until the end of the hunt.

 

The senior student with the curls was on the bench again, hand in the air.

 

“Ready? Set – via!

 

Pidge latched their hand around Lance’s wrist and dragged him out of the courtyard, immediately running across the bridge despite not having even opened the envelope yet. A few other pairs had done the same, but it seemed the majority were ripping open their lists where they stood.

 

“Okay, okay, okay,” repeated Pidge, eyes glinting as they skimmed over the list, “Easy, easy, less easy – oh. We need someone who’s trilingual to sign their name and repeat a sentence in their three languages.”

 

“We need to take a video?” asked Lance, already cringing at the thought. Frankly, he’d been hoping the whole hunt was mostly picking up certain flavours of gelato – not getting complete strangers to talk to them. While any other day he would’ve been all for it, he was still feeling a little stretched out, a little worn thin. Running around would help, he knew that much, but in that moment he just wanted to go back home.

 

“You know it,” said Pidge. They tore their gaze from the list to flick over Lance’s expression, and he knew he was being read like an open book. Still, he struggled to keep the grimace off his face. Then Pidge added, “I’ll do that one. I need you to get a Medico della peste mask. The–”

 

“The one with the beak?” guessed Lance with instant relief, “Like during the plague?”

 

“Yeah, those,” grinned Pidge, “Come on, we’ll start back at the train station. You check the stalls, I’ll harass the tourists.”

 

Lance mirrored their grin, and then they were off, wasting no more time as they practically flew back the way they’d come.

 


 

Within half an hour of starting the hunt, Lance’s mood improved exponentially. Perhaps he didn’t laugh as loud as he might’ve when Pidge was forced to dance a jig with a shopkeep, but he was still grinning wide enough to make up for it. Aware that he was still in the midst of recovering his spirit, Pidge delegated most of the tasks revolving around finding items. His eyes were sharp and suited for the task, proven when he only had to glance to either side of the train station to spot the plague doctor mask hanging from a stall at the other end of the road.

 

The hunt lasted two hours. Lance was especially thankful for Allura’s running shoes. He definitely would not have lasted as long as he did if not for the extra support. Even so, both he and Pidge were running on fumes by the time they returned to the courtyard ten minutes before the limit. The curly-haired student was already verifying items and videos and pictures, but the line was still short.

 

When Pidge was showing him their completed list – involving not only the mask and a trilingual, but also included things like performing a jig with a store employee, limoncello gelato, fake Prada sunglasses, and a serenade which Lance nearly fell off a bridge to capture on camera – the line had swelled as the two hours came to an end.

 

When their list was accepted, Lance and Pidge joined their team by one of the benches, immediately launching into a discussion of what they had to do to cross things off. One of Pidge’s friends, hair in a permanent state of disarray, was emphatically retelling how she had to race another team across the Rialto just to get a selfie with a glass seller when the scoring was finished.

 

Pidge clapped their hand on Lance’s shoulder and gripped it hard. “If we don’t win this I’m going to stage a protest.”

 

Lance stared straight ahead. “I’m only here for a couple days, I can get away with a crime.”

 

“This is why I keep you around.”

 

In the end, they tied for first, but lost in terms of time. Pidge had to settle for second place. Lance was just glad he was back to being able to chuckle about it.

 


 

“What do you want for dinner?”

 

“Something yummy.”

 

“That doesn’t help.”

 

“Hey, I narrowed down the options.”

 

Allura shot Lance an unimpressed look that he matched with a wide grin. “This is your last night here. There must be something you want to try.”

 

Pidge pocketed their phone as they walked into the kitchen. “Make your specialty.”

 

“Do we have the ingredients?” wondered Allura, turning to hunt through the fridge.

 

Lance turned his attention back to the photos on his tablet. “Ooh, an Allura special? Sign me the heck up.”

 

When Pidge had returned that morning from their early classes, they’d taken Lance out to Murano via water taxi. Together they wandered from shop to shop, peeking inside the glass blowing room to witness the artistry first hand. In the end, Lance had blown the majority of his money delegated to Venice in one fell swoop. Several glass rings, pendants and bracelets found their way packed inside his suitcase for his family back home, and one glass figurine of an owl Lance had tucked away inside Pidge’s toiletry bag for his friend to find later. He’d also returned with a bottle of relatively pricey red wine, the decision-making process helped along by Pidge, to which Allura had been thrilled about.

 

Now Lance was able to kick back and relax as a guest while Allura began dinner preparations, Pidge delegated to assistant while Coran was out. The pictures he’d taken that afternoon were numerous, although there were a great many more videos of glass blowing and Pidge and the boat ride. His tablet was definitely feeling the weight of so many videos and pictures, so he went back to the first bunch of photos from Ireland and began uploading the ones he definitely wanted to keep to an online dropbox to retrieve when he got home. There was one picture Lance forgot he’d taken – half a cropped Luanne taking a swat at Henry. The focus was on the canons on the wall of the small fortress, but Lance liked seeing the inclusion of people in his photos. They weren’t really memories unless they were there too, right? It only made sense.

 

Which brought Lance to an image of the rose garden. He remembered stopping to let the sunlight warm him up, his elderly new friends calling for him – and he remembered seeing Keith struggling to take a picture of a rose. Lance’s mouth twitched. That had been before he even knew his name. At that time, Keith was just Red Plaid™. The fact that several weeks ago, Lance had no idea who he was, caused an incredulous laugh to bubble up from his chest. If he could go back in time to when Lance saw Keith contemplating climbing that cliff on the Irish coast, he wasn’t too sure he’d try to stop him – or offer to race him to the top.

 

Lance sucked his lips into his mouth and bit down on them to shrink the smile on his face. With each picture he flicked through, he wondered what it would’ve been like had he and Keith known each other back then. A pub crawl through Dingle would’ve been a riot. Trying to shove each other into sheep dung? A definite. There was so much Lance had experienced that were already fond memories, but he couldn’t help but think they would’ve been better had a friend like Keith been there with him.

 

He remembered then, that Florence was just around the corner. Tomorrow, in fact, and Keith would already be there. Lance’s fingers paused over the screen of his tablet. He wanted to ask Keith what he was up to, what his plans were, if – time permitted – they could meet up…

 

Something tensed in Lance’s belly. Shit.

 

He really, kind of, maybe missed Keith.

 

A lot.

 

Shit.

 

Lance started rapidly flicking through the pictures, as if the speed in which he did it coincided with how easily he could stop thinking about Keith, and Keith’s smile, and Keith’s laugh, and –

 

He really needed to stop thinking about the guy, or else his thoughts would go further and he would have to acknowledge that maybe his feelings – the swoop, the tingle, the warmth – ran a little deeper than just friendship.

 

Then Facebook messenger pinged at him, and without thinking Lance went straight to it.

 

5:04 PM

Keith Kogane

i have regrets about my choice of accommodations

minor regrets

 

Lance had his palms pressed flat to each other, fingers resting on his mouth before he even realized what he was doing. They hadn’t messaged each other since Keith left Paris, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t interacted. There were new pictures of ugly statues on Keith’s profile courtesy of Lance, and vice versa. Frankly, Lance thought that Rome might’ve topped Venice in the Hideous Sculpture department, but he wasn’t about to tell Keith that.

 

Lance Rivera

is there someone livin under ur bed??

Keith Kogane

lance what

Lance Rivera

jw

u never kno

neway can i expect u to greet me at the train station :3c

Keith Kogane

that sounds like a lot of effort

Lance Rivera

i have ur coat u bean

Keith Kogane

bean..

its hot here i dont need it

Lance Rivera

:////////////

 

How was he supposed to bring up the fact he wanted to hang out? Go visit stupid museums and take sneaky pictures in cathedrals together?

 

Like you ask any of your other friends, provided the logical half of his brain.

 

Or be awkward and don’t, said the other half, the one he tended to listen to more often than not as of late.

 

His Skype thread with Pidge and Hunk was starting to ping, but Lance focused on the one he had going with Keith. If he tore his gaze away now, he might not have the courage to look back at it – which was ridiculous, but alas, such was Lance.

 

Keith Kogane

as i was saying though

minor regrets

theres a hard rock cafe right outside

and im thinking it isnt going to be so quiet at night

Lance Rivera

hAH

just dont sleep

Its fine

Keith Kogane

oddly enough i need a few hours to function

Lance Rivera

what???¿ no!!!!

i didnt think ud make time for sleep

when theres sO MUCH to take pictures of

Keith Kogane

i know im falling behind clearly

theres not enough time in the day for everything…

anyway

if the cafe is going to be there we might as well go

 

Lance stared at those two letters referring to the pair of them as a collective, slowly lifted his hands to cover his mouth and made a series of garbled noises. Two letters, and suddenly Lance felt foolish for ever having doubted that Keith considered him a friend as well. Mustering his calm, Lance lowered his hands from his face. He was terribly glad Keith couldn’t see him – if the burn was anything to go by, Lance must’ve been crimson.

 

Lance Rivera

im down

Keith Kogane

cool

….and now im going to go try and take some pictures

Lance Rivera

ofc

nerd

see u tomorro

Keith Kogane

see you later

 

Lance let the tablet drop face down on his stomach as he flailed his legs against the couch.

 

He didn’t get to catch his breath before Pidge was wailing from the kitchen, “Lance! Laaaance! Holy shit! LANCE!

 

WHAT?!” he shouted back, flinging his arms down.

 

Pidge slammed a hand down on the island, utterly ignored Allura’s reproachful look, and glared at Lance. “Check Skype you fool!

 

Lance frowned and flipped over the tablet, switching applications. There was a long list of messages primarily from Hunk, and when Lance caught some of the words he quickly went straight to the oldest one sent barely a few minutes ago.

 

5:10 PM

Hunkules

okay

so

we had some things to do later so Shay and I switched the time we’d check on the plants

so Shay was there first

but there were also these guys that definitely aren’t from our class

and I can see they’re giving Shay a hard time

I had no idea why until I got closer and one of them

grabbed

one of the pots

and dropped it to the floor

dirt EVERYWHERE

and Shay is really upset so I go in immediately and

okay you guys know I’m not usually that confrontational

but this

this is the closest I’ve ever come to losing my cool

I got in between these guys and Shay and I ask them what they think they’re doing

the first guy is a heavyweight boxing type and he’s already got a black eye

I don’t know who would want to punch him but I doubt they got away with it

and this guy has a bloody eye, like the blood vessels are SHOT

normally I just wouldn’t bother because terrifying, what if he shanks me

but he tries to get around me to talk to Shay and I’m llike hell no???

and he gets way too close, trying to use that scary voice you use, Pidge

except it really isn’t nearly as terrifying

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

thank you

also

please let this be going where i think it’s going

 

Hunkules

he said some things

I said some things

and then I shoved him back and he tripped into one of his two other goons

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

b l e s s this day

 

Hunkules

this guy looks like he’s going to murder me and then set the greenhouse on fire, honestly

but I remembered thaht time Lance got into an altercation with someone on the bus

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

choice words

lance got into a fight

ℓαиçә

hey he deserved it

dr4g0ns14y3r

you would’ve lost…

 

Hunkules

but he didn’t!! because Lance is the master of bullshitting!!

so I told this guy that if he didn’t leave immediately

I’d tell the greenhouse supervisor, who would tell the dean, and they’d have him kicked out for academic misconduct and he’d have that on his permanent record for the rest of his life

 

ℓαиçә

oshit

dr4g0ns14y3r

oshit

 

Hunkules

and he didn’t seem to believe me at first but his goons looked it

so I thought

might as well milk it

and I said I would sue

ℓαиçә

OSHIT

Hunkules

for academic interference and social misdemeanor

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

OSHIT

is that even a thing

 

Hunkules

I have no idea!! I just tacked on as many syllables as I could

and

It worked

ℓαиçә

B R O

dr4g0ns14y3r

omfg no way

 

Hunkules

so like they’re gone

 

ℓαиçә

omg it’s not done

Hunkules

and

long story short

Shay and I are going out for dinner tonight

 

ℓαиçә

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

dr4g0ns14y3r

ÅÁÄAAAAAAAAAAAAAAÅAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

 

Lance kicked his legs even more ferociously. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH–

 

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.” Pidge’s shout overlapped his own. “AAAAAAAA–NO I DON’T WANT ACCENTS DAMMIT–AAAAAAAAAAAH–”

 

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH–”

 

“Good heavens,” wheezed Allura, leaning against the counter as Pidge and Lance lost their minds.

 

Needless to say, Allura lost her dinner assistant for the night when Pidge launched themself bodily onto the mustard couch that Lance occupied. Their legs pretzeled together and Lance began flapping one hand, to which Pidge reciprocated until their fingers were hitting each other with muted claps.

 

Hunkules

are you guys going to stop anytime soon??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

ℓαиçә

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

dr4g0ns14y3r

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

 

ℓαиçә

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

god i think im cryin??????¿¿¿

 

Hunkules

:’))

 

Chapter Text

“Don’t be afraid to call!”

 

“Yes, and if ever you want to visit Venice again, we would love to have you.”

 

“Also, I’ll send you those recipes ASAP!”

 

“Of course, and I will email the links to the Cinque Terre tours once I find them.”

 

Lance couldn’t subdue the smile dominating his face as Coran and Allura fluttered about him like an anxious uncle and aunt. They had given him several containers of food for his train ride and the next couple meals. Honestly, he missed being cared for in the way his family did back home. Despite the blip in his mood in the midst of his visit, going to Venice was definitely never going to be a regret of his. The only lingering worry he had was whether Pidge would be willing to part from the floating city. Lance could tell it had become a home for his friend, one that offered so much in such a small space that even Lance was a little envious. He would have liked to stay a bit longer, but whenever the thought came to him, he remembered what was waiting for him in Florence – and every time, he couldn’t wait to leave Venice.

 

“Thanks for having me,” said Lance for what was probably the fifth time since he’d packed up his suitcase. “Really. It’s good to see Pidge is in such good hands.”

 

Allura simply melted and looked as though she wanted to hug Pidge, who was wisely poised defensively behind Lance. Meanwhile, Coran’s chest puffed out with pride, and his moustache seemed to do the same.

 

“Pidge is a delight,” proclaimed Coran, “We might well refuse to let them leave at the end of the school year!”

 

Lance gasped. “You would dare steal my friend away?”

 

“They’re the little sibling I never had,” sighed Allura.

 

“O–kay, let’s head out before they start crying on me,” decided Pidge, reaching behind to open up the front door, “I’ll be back in like, fifteen minutes you goons, stop sniffling.”

 

“I can’t help it,” sniffed Coran.

 

“Thanks again, you guys!” said Lance, accepting another set of warm hugs from the host family before he was out the door and on the road.

 

The cobbled streets were as busy as ever with tourists coming in, going out, and wandering about. Lance felt a little odd dragging his suitcase behind him. He’d come to feel more like an exchange student, hanging around with Pidge and seeing what the locals saw, rather than a tourist with a set itinerary. He already missed the gelato, despite knowing full well he would be able to get his fill in Florence as well.

 

“Excited?” asked Pidge as they passed the bridge.

 

“Ecstatic,” replied Lance.

 

Wow, you’re that pumped to leave me?”

 

“Shut up, I already miss you.”

 

Aw, you’re gross.”

 

Pidge dodged the hand that reached out to ruffle their hair, earning a laugh from Lance.

 

“Don’t forget about us while you’re having fun with your new friend,” sniffed Pidge, hands raised to fend off Lance’s.

 

Lance heaved a dramatic sigh. “I guess I could find some spare time for you other people.”

 

“Otherwise you won’t hear about Hunk’s progressing relationship with Shay.”

 

“Sorry, Keith, suddenly I can’t hang out.”

 

“There we go.”

 

Pidge followed Lance into the train station, bustling with people, the exact opposite of how it was when he’d first arrived in the dead of night. A black billboard flicked through arrivals and departures, destinations and platform numbers. The train for Florence was nearly at the top of the list, the train already in and preparing for boarding. Lance exhaled long and hard. This was it. Funny; he hadn’t felt like this leaving anywhere else.

 

“You sure you’ve got everything?” asked Pidge, coming to a halt before the gates.

 

“Yep – probably – who knows.” Lance shot them a grin. “If not, you can just bring it back in May.”

 

“If I don’t have room, it’s staying here with Coran,” said Pidge with a snort, “He’s got a collection of things left behind, y’know. Some slippers, a pair of shorts, a lot of hair scrunchies. I’m thinking of building something with them just for shits and giggles.”

 

“With supplies like that, you’re set for your end of year project.”

 

“Ninety-nine average, here I come,” drawled Pidge.

 

They lapsed into a brief silence. The intercom buzzed to life to remind passengers in Italian and English to have their tickets ready. Lance drew his suitcase until it was pressed up against his leg, then faced Pidge with both arms spread wide.

 

“See you later, Pidge,” he said with a smile.

 

His friend eyed him, then their hand shot out to nail Lance in the ribs. He squawked in surprise – really should’ve seen that one coming – but when his arms dropped, Pidge was there embracing him. Their arms tightened around him for half a second and, before Lance could get his arms around them, Pidge was stepping back with a mischievous grin.

 

“See you later, Lance.”

 


 

Two hours later, and Lance heard Firenze Santa Maria Novella being announced over the intercom. At some point during the first half hour of the ride, his stomach had turned into a rolling mess. The feeling reminded him of staying awake at three in the morning with three coffee’s worth of caffeine fueling him. Only during the last half hour did he settle, mostly due to sheer force of will on Lance’s part. Still, there was a leftover buzz, tingling at his extremities. It was persistent, and kind of embarrassing when Lance thought about it too long. He needed to figure that shit out.

 

Considering the time of day, when Lance exited onto the platform, it wasn’t as busy as the Venice station. He kept a firm grip on his suitcase as he walked out towards the front doors. It was as he was passing under a large clock that Lance froze. The evening before, he’d figured out when he was coming in and passed on the information to Keith. The only problem was that the time on the clock was an hour earlier than the time Lance had given Keith.

 

Given the fact his accommodations were only a ten or fifteen minute walk from the station, Lance figured he could drop off his things and come back to meet up with Keith. The woman he was renting from said he could pick up his key from the mailbox in the lobby, which meant he didn’t need to wait for anyone. So off he strode, pulling up the map he’d screenshotted on his iPod.

 

Outside the station was a grassy square, complete with a large circular thing that Lance thought was a fountain – until he walked closer and saw it was a winding ramp into the underground. Towards the first set of stoplights was an entire parking lot dedicated to mopeds, motorcycles and bikes. They were packed in far tighter than any of the cars, utterly ignoring the guidelines painted on the pavement. Allura had vehemently reminded him to be careful of anything with two wheels – they were notorious and would kill him, given the chance.

 

Well, Lance did like a bit of a challenge. Playing chicken with scooters? Bring it on.

 

The flow of other pedestrians steered Lance across the road when it was safest, or at least when there was no impending death by traffic. The atmosphere of the city was far closer to that of London than it was Paris or Venice. Stalls were set up along the walkways that looked like they were copy and pasted from Venice, but lacked the same charm its Venetian counterparts had. Maybe it had something to do with the familiar McDonald’s sign across the road.

 

Despite not being hungry, Lance knew he needed to buy something. Who was he to deny his body the chance to try Italian McDonald’s?

 

So he dragged his suitcase – which felt as though it was trying to hold him back – over the arching square cobblestones and into the restaurant. There were several lines, each rather long as the location drew in tourists coming from the train station or the tour buses parked nearby. Lance plunked himself behind a couple in matching white polos. Their teenaged daughter was occupied by the Nintendo DS in her hands, though she did shuffle forward automatically when the line moved.

 

“D’you think their burgers taste any different?” asked the man, fanning himself with the brim of his Tilly hat. A tuft of blond hair flapped with every gust.

 

“Why would they? Cow tastes like cow,” replied his wife, eyes glued to the menu.

 

Immediately Lance could pick out the Boston accent in their short O’s and rounded vowels. Slowly the line moved forward, but the couple were still deep in discussion of whether a cow tasted different depending on which country it came from. It got to the point where Lance began to wonder as well, and his fingers itched to Google it.

 

“Can we just agree cow is cow?” sighed the wife, “What are you gonna order?”

 

“A hamburger. I want to know for certain.”

 

“How can you tell if you don’t have it side by side? You’ll just convince yourself it’s different when it’s not.”

 

“Honey, I think I know what a burger tastes like.”

 

“Uh huh,” sighed the wife, “Can you order it in Italian?”

 

The husband snorted dismissively. “Everyone speaks English here, y’know? How else would they get tourists in if they can’t talk to ‘em?”

 

“The decent thing to do would be to try.”

 

“Why? Nobody tries in America. They slur their words together like I can understand their babble.”

 

The wife tilted her head back to look at the ceiling with a mildly pained expression – this clearly wasn’t the first time she had to listen to her husband’s garbage. The daughter’s eyes seemed to be glaring holes into her DS.

 

“At least say please and thank you in Italian,” she said.

 

“And what’s that?” grunted the husband.

 

“It’s – um.” The wife frowned. “Oh. Let me check the handbook –”

 

“Don’t bother,” snorted the husband, “I’ll just use English like any self-respecting American would.”

 

By then, Lance had a blandly polite smile hitched onto his face.

 

“Excuse me,” he said as the wife got ready to rifle through her oversized backpack, “You don’t speak any Italian?”

 

The husband turned, his gaze flicking down to Lance’s luggage. He stopped fanning himself, and his tuft fell across his forehead awkwardly.

 

“Not a word,” said the man, and if Lance hadn’t heard the earlier conversation, he wouldn’t have believed him to sound proud of it.

 

The wife looked ready to apologize for her husband’s glaring faults, but Lance saw an opportunity.

 

“Please is por favor,” said Lance calmly, “And thank you is gracias.”

 

Gracias,” repeated the husband, although it sounded like grass-iss. Lance tried not to visibly shudder at the blatant butchering of Spanish. “Thanks, kid.”

 

The wife looked uncertain, and the daughter actually paused with her thumb over a button, brow furrowed. No doubt they had paid at least that much attention in Spanish class, but the husband was the one Lance was throwing under the bus. Neither the wife nor the daughter had time to question it as they were next in line.

 

“I’ll get a quarter pounder, a Big Mac, and a chicken burger, por faffor,” said the husband in a voice much too loud even for the din of the restaurant, “And some.. Pa–pati– Fries. Give me some fries. Grassiss.”

 

The young woman at the till looked at the man, unsure whether he was being serious. Then she gave him a tight-lipped smile and finished the transaction with tired and heavily accented English. Lance almost felt bad – for the employee, not the man whose daughter was looking mortified as realization dawned.

 

Then it was Lance’s turn. “Small patatine and a cheeseburger, per favore.” The cashier gave him a polite smile, far less strained than the one before, and gave Lance his change. “Grazie.

 

It was probably for the best that the husband didn’t catch on, otherwise Lance wasn’t too sure he would’ve gotten out of the restaurant, food in hand, without an angry man chasing after him. Lance took a moment outside the McDonald’s to face the blue sky, inhale deeply, and enjoy the petty satisfaction incurred from his small revenge.

 

Another thing to cross off the bucket list.

 

Nibbling on his burger, Lance set off back down the road, following the map on his iPod. He was delighted when he managed to snag a decent apartment so close to the station. Being near a transportation hub like that meant he could easily find basic necessities no matter where he turned – for instance: McDonald’s. Venice had spoiled him, considering how small it was. Not to mention it was near impossible to get lost, what with the signs that all led back to the train station. Now he was going to have to relearn the habit of taking screenshots of maps to where he needed to go.

 

As Lance turned down another street, he was barraged by a multitude of stalls overflowing with colourful gifts. As soon as the vendors laid eyes on him, many of them began gesturing towards purses and magnets and scarves, as if his patronage could be won over if they flailed hard enough. Rather than their pantomiming, it was the colours that caught Lance’s attention. It took a lot of self control to keep moving. He was nearly at the apartment by the street names at the intersection. Only a minute tops. It was only when he convinced himself he could have a good look when he wasn’t lugging around a suitcase that was heavier than when he started, and a bulging backpack, that Lance could finally tear his eyes from the wares.

 

The roads there were one-ways, but Lance knew how dangerous those were, so he checked both directions regardless before crossing. He eyed the map again to make sure he was headed in the right direction, looking once more at the road names that, as in Venice, were stone plaques on the building corners. They were tiny, and nearly impossible to see especially when the name was long. Lance couldn’t fathom how anyone in a vehicle would be able to navigate without prior knowledge of the roadways – or at least without pausing at every corner to squint up at the letters.

 

As Lance checked the names, his gaze was momentarily drawn away again, but this time towards the deep red awnings perched beneath the sandy stone archways of the building across the road. People were sitting at tables beneath them, sipping drinks and eating finger foods. There was music coming from inside, but it wasn’t loud enough for Lance to distinguish exactly what was playing. Not that he was paying much attention to that, as he was trying to figure out why the white letters spelling Hard Rock Café were so familiar. He’d definitely seen one – or at least advertisements for – the restaurant back in New York, but there was something else niggling at the back of his mind.

 

Standing there staring wasn’t going to solve it. Figuring he’d have an epiphany later, Lance tossed the last fry in his mouth and turned down the road he was mostly certain his apartment was on. He passed by a couple stores that were intimidatingly posh – Valentino? Seriously? – before stopping at a set of doors twice his height. Beside them was a sign with Agenzia Pucci written on it. On the other side was a list of apartment numbers and a speaker.

 

Lance parked his suitcase at his feet to stare at the giant slabs of wood. Brass doorknobs were set into the center of the doors, one each, but they weren’t functional. Not that they could be, when Lance would’ve had to reach above his head to grab them. Instead, a matching brass handle was mounted onto the right door. Lance reached to take it in hand when the door suddenly swung inwards, pulling him halfway through.

 

He staggered back, nearly tripping over his suitcase. “Shi– Sorry! Sorry.”

 

“It’s fine – Ah!” The man in the doorway paused, an arm extended to keep the door ajar.

 

Lance’s head took several seconds to compute the fact that the man standing in front of him, with tousled black hair and wide indigo eyes, lips parted in shock – yeah, that was Keith. Meanwhile, his chest seemed to receive the information straight from his spinal cord. As if the sight of Keith had spurred a reflex, Lance’s chest felt like it was filling with helium. His rib cage was far too small to contain his lungs and his heart, jackhammering as it was against its confines. Tense at his sides, Lance’s arms felt like they wanted to jump up and– and what?

 

Fling around Keith? Hug him? Oh god, he needed to calm down. Keith’s face was still frozen in surprise. His piercings were visible in the shell of his ear, glinting darkly even in the shadow cast by the five story tall buildings on either side. Arched eyebrows began to draw together – and only then did Lance realize that Keith had cut his hair.

 

An inch or two at most, but suddenly Lance felt faint with the need to reach out and rub the ends between his fingers. Instead, he curled his fingers until his nails bit into his palms. Keith was still staring at him – only seconds had passed, but it felt far longer – and Lance was beginning to feel the telltale pricks of uncertainty through the helium floating in his chest.

 

That is, until Keith threw his head back and laughed.

 

Lance couldn’t help it – he started laughing as well, in incredulity, but mostly relief.

 

They were probably an odd sight, two men gaping at each other and then suddenly doubling over in hysterics. What else was new with them?

 

“Fucking Keith, seriously?” gasped Lance when he regained his breath. Or most of it.

 

Keith pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, mouth stretched in a wide smile. “I’ve been here a day already, don’t give me that.”

 

“Well shit, I knew you were going to be in the city,” said Lance, flinging his arms up to the sky, “But right here? Actually?”

 

“It was bound to happen,” said Keith with a snicker, “The universe is playing a joke on us now.”

 

“Hey, I don’t even mind.” Lance grinned, uninhibited and genuine. “It’s good to see you, man.”

 

Keith’s responding smile was warm. It did odd things to the fluffy lightness in Lance’s chest. Predominantly, making it fluffier. “Yeah. It’s good to see you, too. I was just coming to meet you at the station, was it early?”

 

“Nah, I gave you the wrong time.”

 

“Nice. Well, are you coming in or not? This door is heavy.” Keith’s arm really was starting to shake from the effort of keeping the door open.

 

Taking pity on him, Lance slid the handle down on his suitcase and grabbed it by the side grip. Keith leaned his shoulder against the door to let Lance pass. To the left was a set of stairs, and on the right were several doors and the mailboxes.

 

Lance stood in front of the boxes as the heavy door swung shut. “First off, should we take bets on how close our apartments are?”

 

“I bet… dinner, that we’re neighbours,” decided Keith, arms folded.

 

“Accepted. I’ll bet we’re on different floors.”

 

Lance made a show of cracking his knuckles and popping his finger joints, to which Keith grimaced. His room was on the third floor, so Lance looked for the number 303. Once he found it, he turned to watch Keith’s expression – presently impassive with a quirked eyebrow – as he blindly reached for the unlocked mailbox and reached in to grab the set of house keys. Keith’s eyebrows soared high enough to disappear beneath his newly trimmed bangs. Then he snorted.

 

“Well? Who wins?” demanded Lance as he looked to double check the number on the fob.

 

“Uh, me, I think,” said Keith, lifting a hand to his mouth, “You’re, um, right across from me, actually.”

 

“Oh. Huh. Wait, does that count as a neighbour?” Lance squinted at Keith, heroically maintaining his cool despite the heavy thumping of his heart. “Neighbour implies side by side.”

 

Keith shook his head in denial. “Does it? Do you not call the people across the road your neighbours?”

 

“They’re the neighbours across the road. When I just say neighbours, I mean the people beside me.”

 

“But neighbours across the road – you still call them neighbours.”

 

“Yeah – no – shut up.”

 

“So I do win.”

 

“...I’m still gonna call bullshit.”

 

“Wow,” deadpanned Keith as Lance picked up his suitcase and started up the stairs, “You’re such an adult, Lance. So mature. Can’t take a loss.”

 

“Shut it,” sniffed Lance, “Neither of us won.”

 

“I’m pretty sure I did, neighbour,” drawled Keith.

 

The bickering didn’t end by the time they reached the third floor. Even when Lance unlocked his apartment’s door and walked inside, Keith followed, casting his gaze around as he argued his win. Or loss, since he didn’t win. Nope.

 

“Why are you creeping around?” asked Lance in lieu of anything better to say.

 

Keith turned to cock an eyebrow at him. Lance’s stomach felt like it was in freefall. He really needed to get that under control.

 

“Mine’s better,” said Keith, nodding his head at the L-shaped couch occupying the living room, “More blankets.”

 

There was already a mound of knit blankets resting over the back of the sofa. Lance imagined a nest of the things taking precedence in Keith’s place. Across from the couch was a wide doorless cabinet with a flat screen TV and numerous books that looked more decorative than actually interesting. The square glass coffee table was covered in a spread of pamphlets and booklets designed for tourists in mind, with information on sightseeing, rentals and restaurants. Keith was reaching for a takeout menu when Lance moved into the kitchen. Like Pidge’s host family’s house in Venice, it was an open concept, with the sink facing the living room so conversation could still be held between the two rooms.

 

“You’re judging it based on the number of blankets it has? How shallow.” Lance opened up the fridge to find it empty but for several bottles of varied vinaigrettes. A wire rack beside the appliance held a single bottle of wine. Lance knew better than to drink it – the owner of the place would charge him for it unless he replaced it before leaving.

 

“You can never have too many blankets,” said Keith as he settled into the cushions, “Though I admit, your couch is better. Mine is leather.”

 

Lance snorted. “You say leather like it’s cheap.”

 

“It’s hot, okay? Leather and skin don’t mix in weather like this.”

 

“True.”

 

“Speaking of hot – where’s my coat?”

 

“So impatient. It’s in my suitcase.” Lance shut a cupboard and moved to pluck a sticky note from the countertop. “I’ve got the internet login here if you want it.”

 

“Yes, please,” said Keith as he slid over to the other end of the couch to grab at Lance’s suitcase.

 

Lance intercepted him before he could fumble with the zipper. He stuck the post-it to Keith’s forehead, nabbing his luggage with his other hand to drag it to where he could sit down. Grumbling at the manhandling, Keith detached the note from his face and looked over the letters written on it. Lance opened up his suitcase. Most of his clothes had been designated to packing duties, wrapped around some of the more fragile gifts he’d bought. Keith’s red plaid coat was the buffer between those and the toiletries sticking out at stiff angles on the inside pocket of the luggage. Lance unfolded the coat and tossed it at Keith’s head, stifling a snicker at the other man’s yelp of surprise.

 

“It was a great pillow,” said Lance as he lowered the suitcase shut.

 

“You’re a shameless thief,” huffed Keith, pulling the coat off his head. His face was slightly flushed, and even if Lance had taken his words seriously, the tint to his cheeks would’ve stolen the edge right off of them.

 

Suddenly unable to look him in the eye, Lance turned away to busy himself with obtaining WiFi. “I required collateral. Anyway, I need to tell you about this guy in the McDonald’s.”

 

Lance was just finishing his dramatic retelling when the email came through. It was from Allura and contained her suggestions for a wine tour through the Cinque Terre. Her top pick required reservations at least a month in advance, but she told Lance to give them a call anyway and see if they couldn’t take on an extra person or two.

 

The only problem was working up the courage to mention it to Keith. Lance knew thinking about it too much would just make it more difficult in the long run, and it was not like they had a lot of time. It was either stay silent and stew, or blurt out the question.

 

It was looking like he was going to leave it, but then Lance laid an open-handed slap on his own thigh. Keith flinched at the sudden sound and eyed Lance in confusion, who simply thanked the sting for jolting him out of it.

 

“Wine tour,” said Lance, eternally glad his voice sounded more put together than he actually was, “Were you planning on going on one? Because if not, my friend’s host sister in Venice gave me a recommendation I was going to look into. If you want to come. Too.”

 

The two of them looked at each other for a moment. Lance was trying to breathe evenly, willing his heart to follow suit. How was he supposed to do anything when his bodily functions turned traitor so often? Meanwhile, Keith’s face was unreadable. Then, as calmly as if he was being offered a glass of water, he nodded.

 

“Sounds good,” he said simply, “I didn’t consider it but it sounds like a fair idea.”

 

“Sweet.” Lance managed to keep his head from nodding more than three times. “I’ll call them later and let you know if I managed to grab us a spot.”

 

With the big question out of the way, Lance relaxed exponentially. It was a lot easier to talk to Keith when he wasn’t worrying about something he had yet to say or do. The coat was back in Keith’s possession, he didn’t needle Lance anymore about it, and all Lance had left to do was organize the wine tour.

 

Easy.

 


 

10:10 PM

ℓαиçә

god im so tired

o b4 i forget

keiths apt is right across from mine

dr4g0ns14y3r

of course it is

ℓαиçә

im tryna convince him to give me the spare key

dr4g0ns14y3r

what for?

also are...you guys together right now?

ℓαиçә

Damn Right.

hes watchin rly shitty tv dramas rn

i think it was supposed to be ironic at first but

hes gettin rly into it

dr4g0ns14y3r

i’m not surprised

those things are hella addictive

ℓαиçә

i dont even wanna tempt myself

neway

i want his key so i can bust in while hes out and do shit

not sure exactly wat yet

dr4g0ns14y3r

but

aren’t you guys together all the time?

when will you have time…

ℓαиçә

were not together all the time…….

dr4g0ns14y3r

mhm

not like the location vs time spent together curve is exponential or anything

ℓαиçә

>:I

dr4g0ns14y3r

you guys are going to turn into those like

really obnoxious dudebros

that can’t say anything without being like

“haha chad would’ve found that hilarious SIGH what a bro”

ℓαиçә

i cant believe

i would only ever say that IRONICALLY

dr4g0ns14y3r

mhmmmmmmm

 

Hunkules

okay guys I got more info on what happened the other day!!

ℓαиçә

have u kissed shay yet?????

Hunkules

://///

no Lance I have not!!!!!!!!!

ℓαиçә

my interest in this convo has plumetted

plummetted

plummeted

Hunkules

>:(

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

it’s okay, hunk, please continue

i am invested

ℓαиçә

im jk i rly wanna know

Hunkules

okay well

Shay has a brother named Rax who has a bad temper

or not really a temper but he comes off as...brusque

so he got on the bad side of some guys in his class (not our program)

I guess they realized they couldn’t really get to Rax??

so they tried to get to him through Shay, except Shay never said anything to Rax

so basically they bullied Shay and got nothing out of it

ℓαиçә

wow!!!

wtf!!!!

dr4g0ns14y3r

what a bunch of shitheads

what were their names?

 

Hunkules

the big one is Sendak

but I think that’s a combo of his first and last names

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

hmmm

 

Hunkules

...you’re not going to look him up are you??

ℓαиçә

they ttly are

dr4g0ns14y3r

just gotta figure out possible names

 

Hunkules

leave it, it’s fine!!

everything is taken care of!!

ℓαиçә

ok so senegal is apparently a name

senan?? sennett?? seneca????

dr4g0ns14y3r

okay if we could get last names first that would be easier

 

Hunkules

guys!!!!!

ℓαиçә

gondek

owait thats w an e

o theres just dak

or van dak

dr4g0ns14y3r

holy shit

found him

 

Hunkules

…….

ℓαиçә

WHATS HIS NAME

dr4g0ns14y3r

sendak

aka

sennett dak

ℓαиçә

wow that was easy

Hunkules

I’m… actually surprised you managed to get his name from that

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

same honestly

 

Hunkules

but don’t actually do anything :|

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

pff...fine…….

ℓαиçә

(((add him to a bunch of emailing lists)))

dr4g0ns14y3r

dONE

 

Hunkules

omg you guys

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

hey it’s nothing terrible

compared to what he put the two of you through

ℓαиçә

maybe we should thank him for gettin them together

accidental wingman sennett dak

Hunkules

:\

I’m sure I would have asked Shay out another time

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

five years from now

ℓαиçә

aint got time for that shit

Hunkules

hhnngnrnrnngnrnrrrgg

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

:3c

ℓαиçә

:3c

dr4g0ns14y3r

oh lance

allura’s home and asking if you looked up the tours yet

ℓαиçә

OYA i got me n keith on the one she rec’d for the day after tomorro

im pumped to get wasted and chauffeured places

dr4g0ns14y3r

nice

dudebro

ℓαиçә

NOT A DUDEBRO

Hunkules

what’s this??

Pidge, give me fuel

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

lance and keith are bromantic and they don’t realize it yet

 

Hunkules

are you replacing me, Lance…….

ℓαиçә

I WOULD NEVER >:(((

Hunkules

okay :))

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

lance didn’t think they were friends for a little while

 

Hunkules

the heck??

ℓαиçә

sry i was havin a MOMENT

Hunkules

you hung out with him everywhere though??

I was almost envious

actually no I am envious, I want to go to Europe :\\

ℓαиçә

hunk buddy my main man

15 years from nw were gonna come back

and ill bring u right to the spot i danced against the eiffel tower y/y???

Hunkules

okay :))

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

ick

ℓαиçә

ur comin with pidge

dr4g0ns14y3r

well darn

ℓαиçә

dont even pretend

dr4g0ns14y3r

:3c

ℓαиçә

:3c

Hunkules

:3c

 

ℓαиçә

i think he just fell asleep on the couch

blackmail pics abound!!!

dr4g0ns14y3r

:3ccc

 


 

The following morning, Lance rolled out of bed to the sound of pigeons cooing outside his window. Waking up in a new flat every week was weird, for sure. Sometimes he would have to sort through every place he’d been to in the last month to figure out where he currently was. Once, in Paris, he convinced himself he was back in Dingle when the he heard the clatter of teenagers running down the street below, which was something he’d woken up to once before in Ireland. He’d carried the feeling with him across the water, apparently. Thankfully that morning he didn’t have to figure it out all over again. Lance could hear a moped buzzing by and someone half laughing, half yelling in Italian. Definitely Florence.

 

Lance stretched as he walked out towards the kitchen. There was one last meal Coran had made for him – a sandwich made from his favourite olive ciabatta. He put it on a small plate and sat down on the couch to enjoy it while sifting through some of the restaurant pamphlets. While reaching for one from the Hard Rock Café, Lance’s hazy morning gaze landed on the plaid bundle resting on the couch beside him. He almost didn’t notice it, as it had become something of a staple to have around for the past week.

 

Then there came a knock at his door. Still staring at the coat, Lance set his plate down on the coffee table and started towards the door. Blindly he felt for the door knob, failing to grab it in the time it took for another hesitant knock on the door. Lance turned with a mutter at himself, flicking the lock open and twisting the knob.

 

“Morning,” said Keith, eyes flicking down to Lance’s bare chest and up again, “I, uh, left my coat.”

 

Lance prayed to any deities listening that his neck wasn’t turning as red as it currently felt like it was. He was thankful he hadn’t managed to kick his sweatpants off in the middle of the night.

 

“I knew there was something off about the decor,” said Lance breezily, stepping aside to beckon Keith in with a flourish.

 

As Keith stepped past him, camera bag slung across his shoulder, Lance couldn’t help but notice how his haircut left the nape of his neck bare. Lance was beginning to think that – based on that detail alone – maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned getting a trim. Swallowing hard, and hoping those unwelcome feelings would just take the backseat, Lance swivelled on his heels to follow Keith back into the living room. He grabbed his half eaten sandwich from the plate and shoved it back into his mouth.

 

Keith reached over to pick up his coat. For a moment he just looked at it, pressing his fingers into the fabric. It seemed as though he wanted to say something, but Lance couldn’t see his face, couldn’t read his expression, so he didn’t know how to prompt him. Instead, Lance focused on finishing his breakfast in record time to at least feel busier than he was.

 

“What are you going to do first, now that you’re here?” asked Keith finally, turning his head to look at Lance.

 

With a quick swallow and a brush of his hand to dislodge any crumbs, Lance’s sandwich was no more. “Not sure, to be honest. Where are you headed off to?”

 

“Ah, someplace high for a panorama,” said Keith, looking down at his camera case.

 

Don’t think about it. Just ask.

 

“Hm, mind if I tag along?”

 

Keith’s gaze shot up to look at Lance. The pause was long enough that Lance began to wonder, again, if he was imposing. It was like a slow trickle down his spine that pooled, cold and unwelcoming, in the pit of his stomach.

 

“Sure,” said Keith. His mouth was curved in a small smile.

 

God. Lance forgot why he was unsure in the first place. How many times would he need reassurance he wasn’t a bother? It was getting ridiculous, and Lance couldn’t just stop it, but it was astounding how easily the negative feelings vanished with one word from Keith.

 

Don’t think too hard about it.

 


 

It had been barely an hour since they left the building, and Lance nearly suffered death by scooter three times. The third time would have ended with a surefire hospital trip if Keith hadn’t yanked him back from the curb in time. They watched the moped cut the corner, bouncing over the curb and streaking down the sidewalk until returning to the road once more.

 

“What the everloving fucknuggets,” breathed Lance, flattening his hand to his chest to feel his racing heartbeat.

 

“If you don’t die from getting run over,” said Keith casually, “I think I might die from a heart attack first.”

 

“Seriously, the fuck do they think they’re doing? Sidewalks aren’t for wheelies, ya dicks!”

 

“If you stay still, they’ll only hit you sooner,” said Keith as he looked up and down the street twice before walking across.

 

“Gotta stay on our toes,” agreed Lance, making a show of bouncing on the balls of his feet. That only left him open to tripping on the edge of a cobblestone. Keith smothered a laugh with his hand as Lance windmilled his arms to stay upright.

 

The crowd at the top of the hill on which Piazzale Michelangelo was located was something to behold, but weeks worth of milling about tourist mobs had numbed Lance to the worst of it. A replica statue of Michelangelo’s David was perched on a podium, its bronze eyes peering out over the sprawling city. Domes and towers peeked up from slanted rooftops. Keith pointed out a couple that he’d already visited the day before. While Keith went to find a gap in the crowd to take pictures of the view, Lance turned his attentions to the statue of David. He snapped a few pictures of his own of the green metal, and the other bronze casted sculptures at the base of the podium.

 

Like numerous other tourists, Lance chose to sit on the steps leading up to the sculpture. His backpack, empty but for his wallet and a thin sweater just in case, acted as a pillow. He leaned back on his elbows a couple steps up and turned his face to the sun. It was another hot day, forcing him into the loosest, thinnest clothes he’d brought along with him. Allura insisted he wash them before he left instead of waiting till he got to Florence. A good thing she did, because he’d worn nearly the exact same outfit for the majority of his stay in Venice. Italy was shaping up to be one toasty country.

 

He wasn’t sure how long he rested there, the back of his eyelids glowing hot from the sunlight, but it must have been for at least ten minutes. When he tilted his chin down and opened his eyes to see the world again, his gaze focused first on Keith, a dark smudge in a burgundy tee and loose coal grey pants. His camera was fixated on the statue, but by the awkward angle of his wrists, it didn’t seem like that was what he’d meant to aim it at. Maybe it was just the light playing tricks on him too, but Lance could’ve sworn Keith’s face was unnaturally red. His eyes were on the viewfinder, but they slid over to peek out at Lance, who found himself staring back.

 

Not now, heart. Don’t think about it.

 

“Got your picture?” asked Lance. He was getting really good at keeping his voice level.

 

“Uh, yeah,” said Keith, lowering his camera, “Are you going to get one?”

 

“Nah, I’m not invested enough to go touching that,” said Lance, flapping a hand at the press of bodies against the rail.

 

Keith grimaced. “They’re all sweaty, too.”

 

“Gross. The shit you do for a photo.”

 

Lance pushed himself up from the steps, patting at his pockets to make sure he still had his iPod. Then, with backpack hitched over his shoulders and Keith keeping stride beside him, Lance left the busy hilltop.

 

Later in the day, it was as they were leaving the Campanile di Giotto – speedwalking, because Keith finally got caught lifting a leg over a velvet rope – that Lance spotted the rentals. A line of Vespas occupied the parking lot outside one building. All were the same white model, gleaming but for the small dents and scratches that were the only evidence of wear. For all the hell the motorists had put him through – and for all the future hell – didn’t it make sense that he could maybe have a bit of terrorizing fun for himself?

 

Except he could just imagine becoming part of a fail compilation video, hitting the bumper of a car and being sent somersaulting over the roof. Maybe it was better if he just… didn’t.

 

“We should rent a couple.”

 

Lance rotated slowly on one heel to face Keith with a strained smile. “Really?

 

Keith cocked an eyebrow at him. “Unless you’re scared.”

 

That little shit.

 

“And I mean if you’re actually afraid of driving around here,” continued Keith quickly, “I get it. You don’t have to. I just thought it was a fun idea–”

 

“You’re on,” interrupted Lance, pivoting back around and striding towards the rental shop, “Let’s go high five Death via Vespa.”

 

“Not exactly what I had in mind, but okay.”

 

Within twenty minutes, the two were standing outside the shop, their pockets dozens of euros lighter but with a white moped each. Lance settled into the seat, slightly perturbed by how heavy the scooter actually was. It definitely didn’t look that hefty, but then again, it was a hunk of metal and rubber. Keith didn’t appear bothered at all as he sat down. He flexed his fingers around the handlebars, nodded to himself, and set his foot down on the brake.

 

“It occurs to me that this is slightly unfair,” mused Lance as he watched Keith, “You have a motorcycle back in Japan. I have a mountain bike.”

 

Keith raised his eyebrows as he settled the helmet on his head. His fringe was pressed down over his eyes, but a swipe of his fingers corrected that.

 

“This isn’t a competition,” said Keith, “There’s no fair or unfair.”

 

“I beg to differ,” sniffed Lance before putting on his own helmet. He looked down at his own scooter as Keith started his engine. Key in, turned on while his foot was on the brake – and the engine purred to life. Good start.

 

He pushed off from the curb, wobbling as he tried to keep the scooter balanced while giving the right handle a slow twist. The engine growled at him, urging him to slowly take his foot off the brake. Apparently his timing was off, as he shot forward with a jolt and came to a screeching halt a meter from where he started.

 

There was a snicker from behind, and Lance shot Keith a glower over his shoulder. Wiping the expression from his face, Keith smiled blandly at Lance, who grumbled once before making another attempt. This time was much smoother, and he cruised down a side street at an easy pace while he got used to balancing. It wasn’t really that difficult once he got going – but stopping and starting at signs and lights was going to be interesting.

 

Meanwhile, Keith was puttering along, slowly speeding up so he could pass Lance, drift across and then circle back around.

 

Jerk.

 

They’d rented the mopeds for an hour at a decent enough price. The rental shop was maybe a five minute walk from their apartment, which meant as long as they could find their way back to the bell tower or the apartment, they could find the rental place.

 

They coasted through the side streets, Keith leading the way since he could multitask looking at the signs and steering whereas Lance really had to focus. It would not have been a surprise if Lance swerved down a one-way in the wrong direction, roping them both into another ten hour hospital trip. One visit to the triage was enough.

 

Eventually they were forced out onto the busier roads. Keith kept checking over his shoulder at Lance, who was beginning to worry the other man would hit some litter and go flying if he didn’t pay more attention to the road; but simultaneous to his concern, Lance was glad Keith was keeping an eye on him. He was more likely to have a freak accident. Already he’d swerved too close to the curb twice and the wheels on the scooter really didn’t like that. Still, the longer he rode, the more confidence he could feel welling up. The other motorists were fast, sure, but as long as he wasn’t the first one waiting at a light, there wasn’t much to worry about when he had time to prepare for forward momentum.

 

The speed, the chill of the breeze and the warmth of the sun at his back – Lance was starting to feel a little drunk on it all. The feeling only continued to grow alongside his courage when they merged onto a street where everyone was going far faster than what the signs dictated. Keith was in front of him, maintaining their speed, but Lance could tell he was itching to accelerate.

 

Might as well give him a reason to.

 

When they next reached the yield sign of a roundabout, Lance snuck past Keith on the inside of the lane, the other man’s gaze fixed on oncoming traffic.

 

“See you back home,” said Lance over the engines of other cars, trucks and mopeds – and then, with the boldness of a local, Lance gunned the moped out into the next gap.

 

He thought he heard Keith squawk something, but that also could’ve been the blood roaring in his ears.

 

Lance could admit what he was doing – racing around a roundabout and flying back the way they came – was pretty reckless, a little stupid and a lot dangerous. All arguments were rendered moot the moment he glanced at the round mirror on the handlebars and saw another white Vespa practically screaming down the road behind him. Lance was pretty sure he could see the slash of a wild grin on Keith’s face – or maybe that was just himself projecting onto his friend.

 

Because Lance felt wild. He felt wild, and ferocious, and fast, with the wind whipping against his face and his heartbeat slamming against his ribcage. This wasn’t sneaking into prohibited areas, or jumping on top of a moving train; this was having his life depending on two wheels, no walls and the quickness of his hand on the gas and his foot on the brakes. This was speed as he couldn’t feel it inside a car, even with the windows down. Lance was bare and vulnerable to every other motorist on the road –

 

– And he fucking loved it.

 

But he still wasn’t fluid with his turns and the way he had to lean and turn his own body, which forced him to slow down and lose valuable seconds. Those seconds were not something Keith wouldn’t take advantage of, which became clear the instant Keith was unceremoniously ripping around Lance to take a turn so fast, it was a wonder he didn’t skid into the shop display on the corner. Lance gunned after him, leaning over the handlebars as he flexed his wrist on the gas. They were coming up on the side streets and one-ways – if Lance wanted to pull ahead, he had to do it before then.

 

The last set of stoplights ahead of them turned yellow as they approached. The car slightly ahead of Lance in the next lane over slowed as he did. Stopping at the light would give him his last opportunity, if he could just accelerate faster…

 

Except Keith, ahead of Lance, was not slowing down. In fact, he was speeding up – and Lance was pretty sure he wasn’t going to make it because the yellow was already red and someone was turning right onto the road –

 

The car trying to turn jerked to a stop and leaned on the horn as Keith blew through the lights on his Vespa. Lance came to a gentle stop, mouth agape, as Keith lifted a hand in the air to wave as he casually turned down a side street and disappeared from sight.

 

“What the fuck,” breathed Lance.

 

There was no point in speeding after that, so Lance advanced just under the speed limit as he wove through the one-ways back to the apartment. There was a buzzing in his head that was not unlike when he drank too much coffee in a short amount of time. Not to mention only now was he aware that his fingers were gripping the handlebars tightly to the point where straightening them actually hurt.

 

The Hard Rock Café was just ahead of him now, and when he took the last turn painfully slow, it was so he could really focus on the image of Keith: Vespa propped on its kickstand, the man himself leaning against the seat with the helmet under his arm and a hand running through ruffled hair.

 

“What the fuck,” breathed Lance again, with feeling.

 

“You finally made it,” noted Keith with a smirk as Lance parked the scooter beside his and shut the engine off.

 

Lance yanked his helmet off his head. “Finally? You blew through a red light! You– you jerk! Asshat! You– you–!”

 

“Idiot?” provided Keith.

 

Lance shook his head with a scowl. “Close!”

 

“Dick?”

 

“Starts with an i, I think.”

 

“...Im..Imbecile?”

 

YES!” cried Lance, flinging his arms up and consequently throwing the helmet over the side of the scooter. “God dammit.”

 

Keith bit his lip, but his grin was still apparent. “Sorry?”

 

“Damn right!” huffed Lance, marching around the side of the scooter to pick up the helmet. As he dusted it off, he fixed a stern glare on Keith. “That car could’ve destroyed you. Another trip to the hospital. Me, waiting for hours, again. You, a sad broken man.”

 

“I know what I’m doing,” said Keith with a shrug.

 

“What, dying?”

 

“Hey, you’re the one that wanted a race.” Keith twirled the Vespa’s keys around his finger. “And I won.”

 

“You little shit,” muttered Lance, adding slightly louder, “Don’t scare me like that.”

 

Keith blinked at him. Then his mouth twitched into a small smile and he looked down at his keys. “Right. My bad. Where do you draw the line on daredevilry?”

 

“Potential death,” said Lance immediately.

 

“So, not because it’s illegal?”

 

“I did make you jump on a train.”

 

“I was wondering whether you’d forgotten that.”

 

But, that was still safer than running a red.”

 

“...Arguable.”

 

Lance shook his head and crammed the helmet back on his head. “Let’s just bring these things back before one of us dies.”

 

The three minute ride back to the store was the tamest part of the day, in Lance’s opinion. It seemed as though Keith was being exaggerated about road safety, but Lance didn’t mention it. As they were strolling back towards the apartment, Lance kind of missed the wind against his face. It was a short-lived break to feel the way he had, as if the adrenaline was filling his heart instead of blood, and every shift of cloth against his skin was duly noted even as his brain focused on every single detail on the road, on the sidewalk, in the air. It had been awhile since Lance was last able to focus on an entire picture, and not just fixate on one aspect. It was almost a relief to know he still could.

 

“Sorry,” said Keith again as they reached the apartment door.

 

“Huh? Oh.” Lance blinked, then shrugged. “Yeah, you’re not dead, so I’m over it.”

 

Keith paused with his palm holding the door open, a foot in the foyer. He turned to look at Lance over his shoulder. “I don’t want to make you worry.”

 

And he turned back around, giving the door a shove open. It nearly closed right in Lance’s face, but his body moved ahead of his brain and he braced the door with his forearm as he walked inside. Keith was already starting up the stairs, hands shoved into the pockets of his loose pants. The piercings in his ears glittered in the fluorescent lighting. Lance watched him until the door slammed shut behind him.

 

No matter how many times he told himself not to think about it, the feeling wasn’t about to go away. The feeling was an amalgamation of so many built upon each other, pressing against Lance’s reason and his logic. It wanted attention – demanded it – even when Lance tried to shove it away within the deeper recesses of his mind.

 

But that wasn’t how feelings worked. They didn’t just go away.

 

And this – it wasn’t sudden, and it certainly wasn’t surprising, but inevitably Lance had to acknowledge it. The warmth in his chest, comforting and heavy, that occasionally sparked with excitement and concern and fear, had very little to do with being in a foreign city and pulling stupid stunts, and everything to do with being there with Keith.

 

Keith made him feel the thrill of nearly being caught, the calm of being safe, and the tense ache of holding back from reaching out to him.

 

The woman in Tenby had said he wouldn’t hear the click – he didn’t wonder if she was right. It seemed foolish now to worry about the cracks that peeled within him, were a part of him, when there was a balm in front of him – one hand on the railing, dark eyes blinking down curiously at Lance, who stood immobile in the foyer.

 

Lance figured it was possible to brush away those brittle flakes, expose everything he wanted to hide, if he trusted Keith to keep it all safe.

 

And he did trust Keith, far more than he ever wanted to in the first place.

 

Unfortunately, feelings never asked for permission.

Chapter Text

Keith realized he had a problem when he woke up and the only thing he could remember from his dream was actually a memory. Specifically the memory of looking down the stairs and seeing Lance gazing up at him. Not just looking. Gazing. Mouth slightly open, brow smooth, expression so open that it was obvious Lance had no idea he was well and truly staring.

 

What the shit.

 

Why was this a problem? Because Keith thought the oddly warm opinions he held towards Lance were ones of friendship. He knew now that was so far from the truth, and he kind of felt a little stupid. It was his own body and his own head and his own heart, how was it this convoluted getting to the truth of the matter – that Keith liked Lance?

 

Liked him as more than a friend.

 

A problem.

 

Especially because eventually they would leave Florence. Even if they ended up going to the next city together, and the next until finally one of them went home – home was the problem. Home for Keith was Japan. Home for Lance was the United States. Thousands of miles and hours of time difference separated them. It was as if the universe wanted him to fall steadily for the one person he could never feasibly be with.

 

The last thing Keith wanted to do was linger on thoughts like that, because at the end of the day he was having fun and he didn’t want to ruin the time they had left. He would just have to hope that these feelings for Lance wouldn’t deepen any further.

 

Groaning to himself, Keith threw on whatever clothes would be best for a day of drinking wine and walking under the sun. His piercings were abandoned on the nightstand. For once, he cursed himself for owning mostly dark garments. White was a neutral, why didn’t he have more white? Even just a pale grey. What was with all the blacks and coal greys and burgundies? Even the few patterns he had were dark.

 

“You’re going to die, Dracula,” commented Lance the minute he laid eyes on Keith, “Don’t you have anything with short sleeves?”

 

“It’s black, though,” said Keith as he stepped out into the hallway. The grey tee he wore now was long sleeved, but thin enough. Probably.

 

“Dark, but less fabric. You put on sunscreen, right?”

 

“Why are you suddenly mothering me?” grumbled Keith as he turned back into his apartment to switch shirts.

 

Lance tailed after him, collapsing onto the mound of blankets on the couch. “Weather forecast says we’re going to be dying of heat, which is a tragic bonus on top of all the walking and getting drunk we’re gonna be doing. Better be prepared. Maybe I’ll buy you one of those big straw hats.”

 

“I’d wear one only if you did, too,” said Keith as he returned from the bedroom, tugging the hem of the new shirt down. “Right, I’m ready.”

 

“Ohoho, it’s happening, mark my words.” Lance rolled off the mound and strode back out the door.

 

Keith hefted his camera bag over his shoulder as he followed, making sure to lock the door behind him. The tour buses were parked at the train station, which meant the walk was relatively short and shaded by the buildings on either side of the narrow one-way streets. It became apparent the moment Keith crossed the first pedestrian walkway and lost the cover of shade that it was a brilliant idea to switch shirts and wear sunscreen.

 

“It’s hot,” said Keith unnecessarily.

 

“We’re going to die,” said Lance cheerfully.

 

“Could you do me a favour?”

 

“Give me your brother’s number and I’ll text him when you kick the bucket.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“No problem, my man.”

 

Keith followed Lance, who knew which tour group they were tagging along with. They stopped at a bus that was bright blue and yellow, with a small crowd of maybe a dozen or so people already gathered. Most of them were past middle age, but there were a handful that seemed in their twenties at least. That made Keith feel a little less awkward. He could never gauge older people quite right, and couldn’t be sure whether something he said or didn’t say was offensive. Lance apparently didn’t have a problem, because as soon as they reached the group, he was grinning and greeting all the little old men and ladies with poofy white hair.

 

If he kept up with that, at least Keith wouldn’t be the only one with a crush on Lance by the end of the day.

 

Keith hovered awkwardly until Lance turned to him, smile blinding. The little shit had his charm turned on full blast. It was baking his face far better than the sun could.

 

“This is my buddy, Keith,” said Lance, reaching out with a wiggle of his fingers until he could grab Keith’s sleeve. Keith smiled politely at Lance’s new elderly friends. “I met him in Ireland a few weeks ago. Keith, this is Jim, Helen and Debra. They’re from Quebec!”

 

Jim smiled at Keith and extended a hand to shake. “Ireland? And you’ve been travelling together since?”

 

“How exciting,” cooed Debra with a slight French lilt.

 

“Not… exactly,” said Keith, running his fingers over the camera bag’s strap when his hand was freed, “We just happened to end up in the same place a few times.”

 

“And we became good friends,” added Lance, slinging an arm across Keith’s shoulders.

“The good is subjective,” said Keith dryly.

 

Debra slapped her small hands together, the multitude of silver rings clacking against each other. “How serendipitous.”

 

Keith mouthed the word, then shot Lance a blank look.

 

Helen got there first, saying, “Fortuitous. A happy coincidence.” She smiled at them warmly. “It’s always nice to find a friend in unlikely places.”

 

“Oh, yeah.” Keith couldn’t help but grin, risking a quick glance at Lance. “You’re not wrong there.”

 

I remember when I met Deb,” said Jim, beginning on a story that turned into something a few words short of an epic.

 

For most of it, Keith was frightfully aware of the weight of Lance’s arm on his shoulders. Every shift was accompanied by the slightest disappointment that Lance was going to put a gap between them, but he didn’t. Keith wished he wasn’t so pleased. It would’ve been easier had he found the proximity too stifling in the heat. Instead, he shamefully enjoyed it, and when he let his gaze flit up to Lance’s face, their eyes met for a split second. Then both were looking away. The arm didn’t move, however, and Keith’s face burned.

 

A pair of tour guides interrupted what was hopefully the tail end of Jim’s novel, asking everyone to sign in on their attendance sheet. Once that was finished, they filed onto the blue and yellow bus. A couple already laid claim to the first two seats that had an uninhibited view of the road ahead, so Lance shuffled to nab the window seat two rows down.

 

Keith watched as Lance whipped out his iPod and said dryly, “Please don’t tell me you’re going to be taking pictures while we’re moving.”

 

“I’m not going to be taking pictures while we’re moving,” parroted Lance as he took a picture of the line up of tour buses through the smudged window.

 

“Why.”

 

“You know why.”

 

“Do I?”

 

Lance grinned as he pocketed the iPod. Their attention was diverted by one of the guides standing at the front of the bus, his hands resting on the headrests of the front row.

 

“Alright, ladies and gents,” he began in barely accented English, “My name’s Darrell, this is Ginger, and we’re your guides for the trip. We’re going to be going through the Cinque Terre; five villages along the coastline, and we’ll be stopping at each. Wine tasting will occur in Vernazza, our second stop, so please be aware of how much alcohol you’ll be consuming.”

 

After a quick Q&A, the guide sat down and the driver began the treacherous journey peeling out of the cramped parking lot. Keith felt Lance nudge him with an elbow and then lean towards him.

 

“Want to have a redo of the pub crawl?” he asked in a hushed whisper.

 

Keith snorted. “You mean get drunk and drag you back to the apartment?”

 

No, I mean see who has the higher tolerance,” sniffed Lance.

 

“We both know that’s me,” said Keith, cocking an eyebrow.

 

“This time it’s wine,” insisted Lance, “Different alcohol, different rules.”

 

“Nah.”

 

Wow, coward.”

 

Not for the first time, Keith wished it was easier to say no and move on. Unfortunately, Lance had the powerful ability of goading him way too easily.

 

“We’ll match, glass for glass,” relented Keith, trying to word it in a way that didn’t sound like he was giving in to Lance’s demands (even though he definitely was). “And nobody’s chugging anything.”

 

“Deal,” agreed Lance with a beaming smile.

 

The ride to Monterosso al Mare took just over two hours, but it didn’t feel like a long ride in the least. Lance, given to spontaneity, ended up leading a singalong that began with some campfire song that apparently everyone but Keith recognized, and finished with an impassioned duet of We Are The Champions between two sides of the bus. Even the tour guides got involved, Ginger nudging the driver to raise his voice. Despite catching on to a few songs thanks to no lack of repetitive lyrics, Keith chose to keep his involvement to quips and laughter.

 

By the time they reached their first destination, the bus wasn’t filled with strangers, but fast friends bonded by Queen.

 

“Just a heads up,” said Darrell over the chatter of the group standing outside the bus, “Monterosso isn’t a big place, but you will get lost if you’re not careful. We’ll be meeting back here in an hour, but if you’re not confident in your navigational skills, Ginger and I are headed to the Giant. You’re welcome to come along. Alright? Be free!”

 

“Think we’ll get lost?” asked Lance idly as most of the group peeled off to follow the guides.

 

I won’t,” said Keith, “So as long as you don’t wander off–”

 

Me? Wander?” Lance flung his hands out as he scoffed. “I follow the signs. I stay behind the rope. I am–”

 

“Getting left behind,” said Keith as he strode up an uneven cobbled path, leaving Lance to indignantly bound after him.

 

Together they strolled up, down and around the buildings that were built in a cluster on top and beside each other. Some were connected by little bridges with windows set into them, bright teal or green shutters thrown open to let the warm breeze in. The colour of the shutters was the only thing that seemed to be coordinated between the homes and businesses; some were the colour of peaches, others a ruddy pink or minty blue. Ropes of vines crawled up the rough stucco walls. Keith stopped Lance with a hand more than once to get a picture of the buildings. They weren’t the cleanest or most extravagant structures, but they were quaint in their own way, and it was obvious they were well-loved.

 

Lance took to some of the little shops, their wares spilling out onto the road on racks, tables and narrow vintage cabinets. Much of the inventory was similar to whatever they could get in the city, but other things, like the carefully crafted jewelry and woven hats, seemed to be unique to the little coastal village.

 

At one particular boutique, Keith lowered his camera to see Lance holding up two wide brimmed hats, an impish smile on his face. Keith shook his head, but reached for the money in his camera nonetheless. Before he could, Lance was in front of him, dropping one of the hats onto his head.

 

“Already bought it,” said Lance as he put his own hat on and tugged on the brim. “It’s a gift.”

 

Keith touched his fingertips to the edge, the straw woven tightly to maintain its smoothness. A gift. He could feel the flush as it crept up his neck and over his cheeks, close to aching from the giddy smile he couldn’t fight. In one smooth motion, Keith reached over to yank the brim of Lance’s hat over his eyes.

 

“Thank you,” said Keith, warm and fond, as Lance huffed and straightened the hat.

 

Then, before Lance could see the full extent of his expression, Keith turned and continued down the narrow road towards water. They passed the tour group along the way, calling greetings as the party continued to the church, and Lance and Keith to the Giant.

 

The Monterosso Giant was actually a sculpture of Neptune, the Roman sea god, chiseled from the rock. The figure was bowing slightly under the apparent weight of rock above it, but much of it had been damaged by bombings from previous wars. Keith, standing below it on the beach, was instantly enamored. Beside him, Lance whistled appreciatively and lifted his iPod to take a picture.

 

“Don’t, you’ll ruin it,” said Keith, raising his own camera.

 

Lance snorted. “It’s just proof to my friends I’ve been here. It doesn’t need to be pretty.”

 

“I’ll send you an actually good photo,” said Keith as he peered through the viewfinder, “You can show them that.”

 

Ooh, you’re going to send me a picture? For me? To show off? How sweet, but if you’re going to do that, shouldn’t I be in it?”

 

Keith lowered his camera to cock an eyebrow at Lance. “Why?”

 

“Proof,” said Lance with a grin, suddenly slinging an arm across Keith’s shoulders and turning him so his back faced the sculpture. “Ready?”

 

“What–?” began Keith in confusion, then Lance was extending his arm out with the iPod in hand.

 

“A selfie, of course!”

 

What?” repeated Keith as he stared at his own face on the screen.

 

Beside him, Lance was beaming, eyebrows reaching towards his hairline in an exaggerated expression of glee. His arm tightened around Keith’s shoulders, and the straw fringes of their hats bumped into a peak between them. Keith couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out of him, and missing out on the fact that Lance’s thumb was holding down the capture button on the screen. The iPod shuttered repeatedly until Keith realized Lance was taking a burst shot. Spluttering in protest, Keith ducked out from under Lance’s arm, losing his hat in the process. Lance just laughed at him, proudly flicking through the photos as Keith lunged for his hat before it rolled out into the sea.

 

“These are all beautiful, Keith!” declared Lance brightly, “Our hats are kind of blocking Neptune over there, but whatever. First selfie of the trip, captured.”

 

“You mean first thousand,” said Keith, cramming his hat back on his head and receiving a dusting of sand in his mouth. Between spits, he continued, “I don’t need selfies. Monuments are better. People just get in the way.”

 

He paused then. Sure, the majority of his albums were filled with shots of cathedrals and sculptures and scenery, but there was a handful he’d taken primarily of people, on purpose, with the intent of showing them to Lance – who picked up on the hesitation and was on him like a vulture.

 

“Is that so? Are you sure? You haven’t broken that rule? At all?” Lance leaned into his space. Their brims bent against each other again. Lance’s eyes were dancing, his mouth curved in a teasing grin.

 

Keith grimaced, but relented all the same. “There was… something I wanted to show you, when I was in Rome.”

 

“Oho?”

 

“Kind of like an I Spy.”

 

“I Spy?” Lance leaned back and readjusted the hat.

 

“I’ll show you when we get back,” said Keith, turning on his heel in the sand and starting back towards the patio decks.

 

Lance caught up to him with a bounce in his step. “Promise me you’ll show me all your pictures!”

 

Keith tried not to visibly flinch at the suggestion. Most of the pictures were harmless – probably boring by Lance’s standards – but since there were a few of a certain someone lounging on the steps in front of a David statue…

 

“There’s too many for that,” said Keith with a casual wave of his hand, “I’ll show you some.”

 

Lance wrinkled his nose but agreed in the end. Shortly after, they rejoined the tour group to return to the bus. The short excursion was an appetizer; it eased the party into the atmosphere of the coastal villages. They were especially excited for the wine tasting as the bus carried them towards a villa overlooking the sea between Monterosso and Vernazza – although maybe it also had something to do with the thought of alcohol before noon, if Debra’s commentary was anything to go by.

 

Steep pathways wove like a staircase up the cliff, covered in shrubs and berry bushes. Locals wearing hats similar to Lance and Keith’s milled about with baskets under their arms. The tour guides let them take pictures of the view before they were being herded into the villa; Keith figured that had something to do with the fact they’d all be hammered within the next hour. The villa itself was brightly lit, mostly by ambient lighting unimpeded by glass walls. A dome-like skylight took up much of the central roof. Several long tables were laid out in the main room. Theirs was not the only tour group, with a few other parties already present and seated.

 

Once everyone had a chair, the food was set out. Platters of meats and cheese and fresh bread were laid out on the white tablecloths. Keith instantly went for the spiciest looking genoa, folding it onto a slice of fluffy bread. The wine flowed soon after, the bottles left on the tables for those who were interested in eyeing the labels. The guides were at either end of the table, giving a brief background to the wine currently swirling around the bottom of Keith’s glass. The colour was deep, and the legs clung to the spotless glass when the liquid settled. Keith wasn’t sure how to go about appreciating the taste of wine, and Lance – seated beside him – dropped any pretense of searching for the aftertaste of bergamot or whatever.

 

Following his lead, Keith settled for enjoying what he had in front of him and not thinking too hard about it.

 

By the second glass, a white the colour of pale amber, old Jim was already using his arms in grand gestures as he told a story about a revolution (Keith couldn’t remember which) while Debra cooed about whatever grandchild the lady across from her was boasting. Several women in their twenties who Keith remembered were especially fond of Queen took up the seats in front of Keith and Lance. One of them was deep in conversation with their guide, Darrell, but the other two were in a heated debate about the healing properties of wine.

 

“It’s as healing as morphine was in cough syrup,” muttered Helen from beside Keith, who snorted into his glass of wine unattractively.

 

Lance leaned forward to address the old woman. “If you can’t feel the hurt, it can’t exist right? Cheers.”

 

He extended his wine glass and, after a hearty chuckle, Helen did the same to clink them together.

 

“Aren’t you too young to think like that?” she asked.

 

“Not at all,” said Lance cheerfully, “Our generation yearns for the void.”

 

“Personally, I want to be launched into the sun,” said Keith into his glass, finishing the last few sips as one.

 

Helen burst out laughing, slapping her hand jovially against Keith’s shoulder. “Oh, things haven’t changed! I used to joke with my friends that I wanted to sleep in a casket and hope someone remembered to bury me.”

 

Helen,” choked Lance, “That’s dark.”

 

The elderly woman giggled and reached over to pour the last of a bottle into her glass. “Now I just print them documents requesting them to smother me with a pillow if I end up in a nursing home.”

 

“Oh, me and Paige have a pact,” cut in one of the women across from them. Apparently they’d finished discussing wine as a healing potion. “If I’m put in a nursing home, she has to off me.”

 

“And Lynn has to pull the plug if my family refuses to,” added Paige, “I ain’t lying around for longer than a month, if it comes to that.”

 

Dark,” repeated Lance.

 

“My foster mother made a promise like that to her mom,” said Keith, eyeing the light that danced within the liquid in his glass, “Except when it came down to it, she couldn’t.”

 

A beat of silence – long enough that Keith looked up from the wine to see several pairs of eyes watching him. Keith realized maybe he’d shared a bit too much, and then wondered if the alcoholic content in wine was somehow stronger than beer and hard liquor, loosening his tongue like that. Then Helen broke through the silence with a thoughtful hum.

 

“Maybe I should start offering a cash reward then,” she said, and Keith spluttered a surprised laugh.

 

A hand, warm and heavy, rested on Keith’s shoulder, and he turned to look into Lance’s bright eyes. The other man simply smiled, gave Keith’s shoulder a squeeze, and turned back to the wine glass in front of him.

 

To Keith, it was the most straightforward reassurance he’d ever received. Coming from Lance, it was not so much a surprise as a relief – that he didn’t make a show of it, that he didn’t say anything. The quiet acknowledgement was enough to sweep those dull, gloomy feelings away.

 

The wine was a heady sway in Keith’s head and his hands, but the pleasant buzz in his chest was all Lance’s.

 

By the time the third bottle of wine was served, it became clear to all involved that they weren’t supposed to have as much as they were actively consuming; however, the food kept coming out to match the palate introduced by the wine. There was seemingly no end, and Keith was far from denying any of it.

 

Helen gave Keith a nudge with a plump elbow, stage whispering as she did so, “A few on the other end aren’t having anymore wine, which leaves us to finish off the rest. You up for more?”

 

The way in which the elderly woman said it sounded more like a challenge than anything else. There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes that tickled Keith’s competitive nature in the same way Lance always managed to.

 

“Ship it over, then,” said Keith before emptying his glass.

 

They were polishing off whatever was left in the bottles abandoned at their table when the final round came up. Baskets of biscotti were paired up with thin bottles of icewine.

 

Jesus,” swooned Lance, nearly pouring the chilled wine into his larger glass before Keith switched it out with the dessert glass.

 

Lynn had her elbows on the table, her chin cradled in her hands. She eyed the new wine forlornly. “I’m too drunk for this.”

 

“That’s okay, babe,” said Paige, giving her a hearty smack between the shoulder blades, “I’ll have what you can’t.”

 

“My hero,” whispered Lynn.

 

“I’ll have whatever you kids can’t,” said Helen blithely.

 

“I’m good,” declared Lance, swirling the wine around in his glass with comical exaggeration.

 

Keith eyed the motion cautiously, hands ready to catch it should it fall. “I think we’ve figured out who has the higher tolerance, Lance. For certain, this time.”

 

What?” Lance frowned at him, ceasing his twirling and losing a drop of precious icewine to the tablecloth. “That’s boring.”

 

Keith snorted. “Is it? Sorry.”

“You can’t tell me you’re not drunk right now.”

 

Two glasses in Lance’s hand melded back into one when Keith blinked hard enough. “There’s a buzz.”

 

“He’s hammered!” crowed Helen out of nowhere.

 

“Am not!” protested Keith.

 

Lance started cackling, Helen not far behind, and Keith held it together until Lance snorted into his icewine.

 

Needless to say, theirs was the loudest table. Neither guide seemed perturbed by it in the least. They grinned and shipped everyone who was swaying on their feet – Keith included – to wait on the bus while those less impaired went to purchase whatever wines and treats caught their fancy. Inside the bus, while Helen was perfectly content to sit and giggle, Lance was much too worked up to sit still. By the time the others returned, Lance had convinced Lynn and Paige to pack themselves up on the luggage racks. The guides were getting everyone ready for the walk down to Vernazza and nearly left just like that, but Debra squawked in shock when she went to grab toothpicks from her purse and found a couple college-age girls perched there instead. It became clear that some of them weren’t going to enjoy the sights as much as others; Helen was snoring in the back of the bus.

 

“Buddy system!” reminded Ginger, “I’m staying here if anyone wants to… rest.”

 

Helen snuffled loudly.

 

“The rest of you, follow me,” said Darrell, beckoning as he started down the path that zigzagged down the hill.

 

A few other folks stayed behind to nap; Lynn came close to it but her desire to not miss out kept her on her feet, clinging to Paige’s arm. Halfway down the hill, Keith and Lance wordlessly decided it was in both their best interests to use each other as a crutch. With arms linked, they toddled their way down the rest of the path. At the bottom, the group split up, Keith and Lance making a beeline for the water.

 

Cafés and restaurants bordered the main square, brightly coloured patio umbrellas overlapping each other like feathers to a backdrop of chipped pastel stucco. Kayaks for rent bobbed in the shallows of the port. The church’s belltower, creamy gold and glinting in the sun, was visible to the north. Despite his obvious intoxication, Keith raised his camera and snapped picture after picture. Going through, judging himself and deleting most of them was, as Lance would say, a problem for future Keith.

 

“Stop taking pictures!” said Lance, while also taking selfies, angled in a way that would capture Keith in the background.

 

You stop taking pictures,” retorted Keith, turning his camera on Lance and getting a series of shots in which Lance was spinning with arms extended.

 

Lance’s response was to aim his iPod at Keith and hold his finger down on the capture button. Keith rushed him while dozens of pictures filled up the device’s memory. With a startled laugh, Lance dodged past Keith’s lunge and stumbled on unsteady feet. Camera bouncing against his chest, Keith whipped around to try again, promptly slipping on the sand-dusted cobblestones and landing on his backside. Lance practically squealed with glee as Keith pushed himself back onto his feet. Any other attempts at grabbing the iPod were failures.

 

Keith was doubled over, panting from exertion, when Lance swatted at his arm to get his attention.

 

“Keith, Keith, Keeeeeeeith, Keef,” whined Lance with each smack.

 

What?” huffed Keith as he straightened.

 

Gelato.”

 

Keith followed Lance’s excitedly pointing finger to the line of people outside a pink building with a white and purple awning. Some of the others in their tour group were already there. Lynn and Paige seemed to be attempting a cheerleading routine in anticipation, Debra and Jim quietly judging them with politely amused smiles.

 

“Gelato,” echoed Keith.

 

“Gelato,” repeated Lance, grabbing Keith by his arm and pulling him over to join the line.

 

The line was long, but joining in on Lynn and Paige’s routine helped pass the time.

 

With cones in hand and pants rolled up past their knees, Keith and Lance took to the water. Debra and Jim kindly looked after their more valuable items, including their sun hats; Lynn and Paige were off playing tag in the damp sand.

 

Keith dug his toes into the rough sand. He watched Lance prance about the water, gaze focused on something beneath the surface, gelato disappearing steadily into his mouth. Keith ate more slowly, but that was mostly due to his preoccupation with Lance. The sun lit up the red undertones in his hair, glinting gold on the highlights. Despite the space between them, Keith could see the same care being given to his eyelashes. The reflection of light glittered off the water’s surface and the droplets that Lance kicked up as he moved.

 

He almost seemed like a different person compared to the one Keith saw back in London. The sun was bright and hot in Italy, and it was obvious how Lance thrived in it. Keith had never seen Lance unhappy, but he could already tell he was still happier with the sun on the nape of his neck – a neck that Keith wanted to nuzzle into and plant a kiss on the freckle there. He wanted to feel the warmth of sun kissed skin beneath his lips and –

 

Without fully realizing it, Keith had started moving towards Lance. He shook himself out of whatever trance that was, a bit embarrassed and a lot perturbed. There wasn’t much he could do to stifle his feelings – they weren’t something he could ignore away so quickly – but the least he could do was keep it under wraps.

 

Unfortunately, Lance noticed that the distance between them had shrunk from several meters to half that, and he looked at Keith all expectant.

 

As any normal young adult would do, Keith kicked his leg out, splashing Lance in the process.

 

“...Tag,” said Keith as Lance stared at him, betrayed and in shock, “You’re it.”

 

They didn’t stop running until Debra used her family matriarch voice on them.

 


 

“I’m dying,” murmured Lance into Keith’s shoulder.

 

There was a damp spot forming on the fabric, but Keith couldn’t care less. The bus hit a bump, jostling Lance and drawing a half-hearted groan out of him – but he didn’t move.

 

“You’re fine,” said Keith. His eyelids bobbed heavily; his mouth was parched. He let his head slowly fall so his cheek pressed against Lance’s sun-warmed hair.

 

“Mmmmreh.”

 

“Mmhm.”

 

The bus bounced again. Keith’s teeth clacked together, but he couldn’t be bothered to shift into a better position. Compared to the ride to the coast, the trip back to the city was a quiet one. Everyone was exhausted after a day spent overdrinking expensive wines and scouring the villages on foot in the aftermath. The only singing came from Paige half-mumbling, half-snoring the first half of Smash Mouth’s All Star on repeat.

 

“I’ve never been so tired,” drawled Lance. He seemed to grow heavier against Keith.  

 

“You drank a lot,” said Keith, his words trailing off in a yawn.

 

Lance grunted. “You drank just as much.”

 

We drank a lot,” amended Keith.

 

Another grunt. Another shudder of the bus. Debra was having a hushed discussion with Lynn about the icewine. The murmur of their voices was like a lullaby. Keith’s eyelids sank lower and lower until all he saw was warm light filtered dimly through them. Lance’s breath was hot on his collar. Helen snoring softly. Paige sighing. A camera lens extending.

 

The bus ride was two hours, but it felt like only ten minutes later Ginger was calling from the front of the bus. There was a definite kink in Keith’s neck as he slowly lifted it. Lance swore in slurred Spanish as he made to sit upright. They turned to each other with twin groggy expressions.

 

Lance grinned first. “You’ve got a bit of something there,” he said, gesturing at Keith’s mouth.

 

Keith brought the back of his hand up to wipe away the drool. When Lance snickered, Keith raised his eyebrows and nodded at the unseemly bird nest that was Lance’s hair. “And what do you call that?”

 

No amount of finger combing was going to save that, which Lance proved while they filed off the bus. In the end, he settled for cramming his sunhat over the mess.

 

Darrell and Ginger stood in front of the group, grinning brightly at them and the barely stifled chorus of yawns.

 

“We had a great time today,” said Ginger, “And I hope you all did too. Make sure you have everything with you before you go, and enjoy the rest of your time in Florence!”

 

Debra and Jim immediately engaged the guides as Keith and Lance performed an inventory check. There were many heartfelt goodbyes, promises of Facebook requests and email exchanges. Lynn hugged Keith tightly before assuring him she would send him the picture she took. He had no idea what she was talking about, but smiled and nodded anyway.

 

By the time Keith and Lance departed from the group, Keith was feeling a little disappointed. They’d become rather close, bonding over bus singalongs and an abundance of wine, and the honesty drawn from too much alcohol in a judgeless atmosphere. Now that he was sober, Keith also missed the hazy confidence that allowed him to cuddle up to Lance without inhibitions. He couldn’t help but wish he’d taken advantage of the situation, to let their shoulders brush more often, to lean in further when he made a comment, and maybe… maybe even let his fingers card through hair he wouldn’t dare touch otherwise.

 

But he had to pay attention now, and maintain his distance before something happened. Keith could yearn for Lance’s company, he could pursue it selfishly, but no more.

 


 

Lance woke from his nap to the sound of rain. He’d thrown the windows open to let in some fresh air earlier in the day in a bid to liven himself. While no sudden energy had jolted through his body, it did help relax him. Between the winetasting and the lack of good sleep, Lance didn’t have much enthusiasm to join Keith on his escapades around the city that morning. He regretted not spending more time with him, but the nap was probably the best idea he’d had in awhile.

 

Stretching languidly, Lance rose from his sprawling position on the bed to cross to the window. The music from the café was muted as the rain fell heavy. Fat drops splattered the windowsill, dusting Lance’s bare arms with a cold mist. A few umbrellas passed in the street below. Above, the sky was a rolling mass of grey, like the underside of a wave in the ocean. As Lance watched, there was a flicker of lightning in his periphery. He counted like he did back home with the kids, until there was a rumble of thunder in the distance. It sounded close.

 

He’d always enjoyed the rain – especially after consecutive days of stifling heat. It broke the humidity, and washed away the cloying smells of the city. It meant soft clouds reflected in puddles and running outside to splash around with the kids in the family. While the heat and sun of Italy was gratifying, sometimes Lance wished for a good Irish drizzle to coat everything in a chilly dew.

 

Through the rushing sound of rainfall, Lance heard an exasperated curse. It drew his gaze to a soaked Keith, hair plastered to his face and t-shirt clinging to hiked shoulders, standing outside the door. He was digging around in his camera bag, angled to avoid water spilling into it. He cursed several more times, in Japanese and English, and maybe Spanish, if Lance heard correctly.

 

After a moment of watching him struggle, Lance called down to Keith, “Got a problem, buddy?”

 

His friend looked up, squinting as rain fell in a sheet on his face. “Lance? I can’t find my keys!”

 

Lance snickered under his breath, the sound completely muted by the rain, before shouting, “Is it locked?”

 

“Yes! Who does that! Why!”

 

“Hold on, hold on, I’ll buzz it open!”

 

Lance shoved himself back from the window, trotting over to the front door. It took him a moment to figure out which button to press, but it buzzed and he figured it worked. He opened the apartment door and stuck his head out. Sure enough, Keith came lumbering up the stairs, leaving a trail of water behind him. Lance couldn’t help but snort.

 

“You lost your keys?” asked Lance as Keith approached.

 

The other man tossed his head back, whipping Lance in the face with droplets. “I misplaced them. Somewhere. Let me in?”

 

Lance stepped back from the door to let Keith pass. Beads of water grew at the tips of his hair, dropping to the floor, or falling down the line of his jaw to gather in the hollow of his throat. Lance couldn’t help but follow the path of one as it rolled past his collarbone to disappear beneath his shirt.

 

Suddenly Lance’s mouth felt a little dry. “You – uh – look like a drowned rat.”

 

“Thanks, it’s a new style in Florence,” drawled Keith, unfazed, “Tons of people out there with the whole dank, plastered hair thing.”

 

“I’ll grab you a towel,” said Lance with a laugh, closing the front door and bounding off to grab one of the fluffy towels in the closet.

 

When he returned, Keith was just flopping himself down on the couch. No doubt there’d be a semipermanent wet spot there by the time they left. Without thinking, Lance walked over to drop the towel over Keith’s head from behind.

 

“Didn’t you check the forecast?” asked Lance as he started drying Keith’s hair.

 

For a brief moment, Keith’s hands hung in the air as if to take the towel out of Lance’s grip, but then he was dropping them into his lap. It was then that Lance remembered this was Keith, not one of his siblings or a niece or nephew. Swallowing, as if that would dim the sound of his heartbeat, Lance continued to rub the towel over Keith’s head, patting his neck dry as well. Might as well go for broke.

 

Keith cleared his throat – a small sound, barely audible – before replying, “I was a little unprepared.”

 

“A little,” echoed Lance, his eyes fixed on the soaked fabric of Keith’s shirt. “Your, ah… your shirt. It’s soaked.”

 

Smooth. Smooth.

 

Keith blinked down at his shirt, plucking at the sodden hem, and then began to turn his head to look at Lance, who dropped the towel over his face before he could. He tried to ignore the small sound of confusion and strode quickly into the bedroom. With no way to tell Keith’s size, Lance chose a shirt at random and returned to the living room, where Keith was peeling off his tee.

 

Lance nearly pulled a heel face turn then and there, but planted his feet firmly. Friends did not make other friends feel awkward.

 

“Trade,” said Lance, tossing the dry shirt at Keith’s face. He made another sound, this time of surprise, when the fabric hit him in the face. While he was distracted, Lance snatched up the soaked rag he held loosely and whisked away. He most definitely was not thinking of the half second view he got of Keith’s chest. Definitely.

 

He took his time finding a spot to hang up the shirt. Don’t make it any worse, he reminded himself once, twice, until he was chanting the words inside his head. There were some things with which he couldn’t indulge himself, and flirting with Keith was definitely one of them.

 

First off, because he didn’t want to make things awkward between them.

 

And secondly, even if something did happen, their imminent return to lives on opposite sides of the globe would only make Lance feel like shit.

 

He liked Keith. He didn’t want to stoke the flames and spend months desperately trying to smother them.

 

Once he gathered himself, and actually put the shirt down, Lance returned to the living room. Keith had a hand on either knee, fingertips tapping an irregular beat. The towel was still around his neck; the shirt Lance had given him was a little looser around the shoulders than it was on himself. The black hair at the nape of his neck was curling slightly, and the rest was a damp mess only restless hands could create. Outside, the sky rumbled impatiently.

 

Don’t make it any worse.

 

Lance exhaled loudly, pretending he didn’t see the way Keith twitched. He snatched up the television remote, turning it on to whatever channel played last – a subtitle-less drama, of course.

 

“Hungry?” asked Lance as he wheeled around to enter the kitchen.

 

“...I could eat.”

 

Lance bobbed his head. “Awesome. Pesto fine?”

 

“Did you make it yourself?”

 

Sticking his head around the open door of the fridge, Lance spied Keith twisted around in his seat. The soap opera was utterly ignored behind him. Lance chewed on the inside of his cheek to stop himself from smiling too broadly.

 

“Nah, it’s from a jar,” he admitted, ducking back down to grab the pesto, “But it came highly recommended. Made in Italy and all that.”

 

“Ooh, so fancy.” Keith was resting his head on his arms now, folded on the back of the couch. His attention was focused on Lance, who continued his internal chant.

 

“Just call me Chef,” said Lance, opening a cupboard with a broad flourish. Theatrics came easier when he needed them to hide something.

 

He set to work boiling water for the pasta noodles. The entire time, he was acutely aware of Keith’s gaze, pinning him down with nowhere to hide – and how Lance wished there was nothing for him to hide. Silence wouldn’t protect him, but a distraction might.

 

“What’s your favourite pasta noodle?” asked Lance.

 

Keith tilted his head in the cradle of his arms. “Spaghetti. Or maybe those tubes.”

 

“Penne?”

 

“Sure. I guess. What’s yours?”

 

“Fusilli,” said Lance, pouring half a bag of the stuff into the waiting pot.

 

“...What, sorry?”

 

Fusilli,” he repeated, grinning through the steam, “The curly-cues, y’know?”

 

Oh, the spirals.” Keith jutted out his chin thoughtfully. “Different sizes have different names though, don’t they?”

 

“I… maybe? I kind of just assumed it was like, large fusilli versus small fusilli.”

 

Lance stepped around the stove to lean in the doorway between the two rooms. With iPod in hand, he brought up the internet and searched for a comprehensive list of pasta noodles.

 

“Well?” prompted Keith when Lance took too long to say anything.

 

“There’s… a lot.” Lance stared, brow furrowing, at the rather obscene number of noodles. “I’m just gonna read it out: pennette rigate, tortiglioni, maccheroni – oh that might be macaroni – uh, sedanini rigati… you know what, fuck it. There’s like, one, two, three – there’s twelve with penne in the name.”

 

Keith snickered through a growing grin. “How many different types of spaghetti?”

 

“God, do I want to know?” muttered Lance, glowering at the never ending list, “There’s five kinds of bowties. What is the point? Oh, here’s the spaghe– Why?

 

“How many?” asked Keith before biting down on his bottom lip, mouth tugging into an insistent smile.

 

Lance tossed his iPod carelessly onto the counter and threw his hands up, shoulders hitched to his ears. “Who cares? Life is meaningless. We’re all dying. Everything is a social construct. Nothing is real.”

 

“So… a lot?”

 

“I stopped at ten.” Lance groaned loudly, slumping against the fridge. He heard Keith snicker and pointed a strict index finger at the other man. “This has been a serious blow.”

 

“It’s just pasta, Lance,” attempted Keith before he was pressing his giggles into his folded arms.

 

“Why are there so fucking many? Is that necessary? Italy, why?”

 

Keith adopted a nasally voice, though his glee hitched it in his throat, “Wo–ow, you’re so intolerant.”

 

“You be quiet!” snapped Lance with no real heat, “I– You know what? I’m going to invent a noodle. And name it after myself. Fuckin’ lancini fusilli or something. God.”

 

“Oh, sweetie, would you like a plate of fuckin’ lancini fusilli?” mocked Keith.

 

“You’re no help.”

 

“It’s gourmet,” beamed Keith, and his smile was so ridiculously bright that Lance was forced to try and turn a laugh into a huff of exasperation. It didn’t work – Keith found it hilarious and guffawed loud enough that Lance had no way of covering up his own laughter.

 

As the noodles finished boiling, Lance heated up the pesto in a pan. Allura had mentioned adding in chopped onions at some point but he had no onions and he was sure the sauce would do just fine without them. After the noodles were strained and coated in pesto, Lance heaped enough parmesan on top of his to hide any trace of green. Keith was a little more light handed with the cheese.

 

They sat together on the couch, running a commentary on the drama playing out on screen; the rain was heavy, the air chilled where it came in through the open window. There was good food and snide remarks on Lance’s tongue. Keith sat beside him, chuckling between bites and sometimes around them. They were comfortable and safe.

 

Lance’s focus slid from the television screen. His attention moved on, back to imaginary lifetimes where he and Keith knew each other before Europe – before cliffs and taxis and long hospital waits. Lifetimes where they grew up together, where Keith was a shield Lance always wanted but never thought to ask for. What about the ones where they met in middle school, awkward and self conscious and excited to make new friends; or how about high school, seated beside each other for the first time in a freshman science lab, sharing textbooks and snarking about the teacher’s periodic table t-shirts.

 

There was no wishing time went on forever in those fantasies. There was no end. Instead of the prickle of anxiety, the apprehension of the inevitable, there was always another day. Here, in this room, the curtains of rain were falling on their time together.

 

How much longer would he be able to see the sun glint off piercings? How much longer until he couldn’t remember the feel of that black hair between his fingers? The curve of that nose? The bow of those lips? The colour of those eyes, dark and unlike anything he’s seen before –

 

looking at him.

 

An indigo gaze, flicking between Lance’s eyes, searching. Their faces were near enough that Lance could see the shadow where Keith’s nose piercing would be. Lance wondered if they’d always been sitting that close.

 

The drama was still playing in the background, but the audio was smothered by the thudding of Lance’s heart and the rush of blood in his ears. He could count the eyelashes framing Keith’s eyes – which ones were straight and which ones curled slightly. There was a freckle near his hairline that was usually hidden by soft hair. Dark eyes grew darker, heavy-lidded.

 

The sky outside cracked, rent apart by a peal of thunder that shook the windows. Lance yelped, Keith swore. The television flickered and the screen went black. The rumble continued for a long moment after that until the only evidence of the storm was the rain falling once more.

 

Heart racing, Lance huffed a breathless laugh. It tapered off too soon. He licked his lips briefly, willed his mouth not to betray him as he cast a quick glance at Keith. The other man was looking at the black television screen, lips pursed. Lance swallowed hard. He turned aside, rubbed his palms down his thighs, tapped his fingertips against his knees. He’d nearly made a terrible mistake – but by god had he been tempted. His heart was still hammering away, insistent.

 

Just do it, it seemed to say with each beat against his ribs.

 

He looked up again, and once more his gaze was met by another. It was impossible to look away. There was a pull between them – or maybe it was just Lance, weak and reduced to a mess of conflicting feelings. He didn’t want to turn away.

 

Just do it, thumped his heart.

 

There was something he’d been repeating to himself for the past hour – for the past week but couldn’t for the life of him remember what it was.

 

Keith was looking at him like he was something terrifying and beautiful – Lance knew because that’s exactly what he thought of Keith. He was either a terrible or wonderful mistake, and Lance’s heart was begging him to find out.

 

Keith leaned in first.

 

 

Chapter Text

Ireland smelled like wet grass and damp soil and the air after a hard rainfall, cool and light. Wales smelled like growth; the heady scent of manure and the salty tang of the ocean. London was cool breezes, car exhaust and the lingering traces of beer on the inside of glasses. Paris was similar, except the breezes were warm and the beer was replaced with bakeries and sweets. Venice was dirty canal water running between walkways, cobblestones baked hot under the relentless sun, and the last vestiges of morning bread in the air. Florence was hot pavement, gelato running over fingers into cool water, dark wine clinging to the sides of a glass; it was a musty tour bus with smudged windows, the air heavy with wine-scented breath; it was a room in the middle of the city that smelled of basil and bread – and it was the taste of lips only dreamt of, the muffled sound of upbeat music from the café across the road, rain and the rumble of thunder, and the feel of soft hair against fingertips and a wistful sigh against skin.

 

It was Keith, eyelids nodding open when the space between their lips went from nothing to an inch. Pupils set in dark indigo rings shrank and dilated to focus on Lance, who wasn’t sure what he was feeling anymore – but whatever it was, he thought he could live forever with it. He swallowed hard. Keith wasn’t moving back, and his lips were still parted slightly, rosy and a little bitten. Lance wanted to kiss them smooth.

 

He inhaled a shuddering breath, put another inch of space between them. There was a reason he couldn’t do this – it was a struggle to recall but it was important, he knew that much – but a sound escaped Keith, barely audible over the patter of rain. It was almost a sigh, almost a huff, and it was such a sad, disappointed breath that Lance’s throat closed around a frustrated whine.

 

Whatever the reason, it definitely wasn’t as important as making sure Keith never made a sound like that again.

 

Lance lifted his hands to brush his fingertips against Keith’s ears, sliding them down to his jaw. Those dark eyes appraised him, pupils wide. Lance hesitated – a brief moment, barely worthy of note, but it was there – before closing the two inch gap.

 

There was no hesitation from Keith. Lance could feel tension melt away with every press of their lips. A hand brushed up Lance’s arm, bunching the sleeve. Damp hair slid between Lance’s fingers. Keith was shifting to better face Lance, raising his knee over the couch cushion. Their mouths moved together more insistently, the pressure increasing, feeding off each other’s mounting enthusiasm. Lance was the first to pass the tip of his tongue against the edge of Keith’s lip. The noise Keith made in the back of his throat – the hitch of his breath, the faint hum – caused a wave of pleasant prickles that started in Lance’s stomach and went straight to his head. It prompted him to swing his leg over both of Keith’s, settling in his lap like he was meant to be there.

 

That drew a shuddering breath from Keith that Lance cut short with a clash of mouths and tongues. Muscles flexed under every drag of Keith’s fingers, from their wandering around Lance’s waist, to the grip of one hand on his thigh. Lance was brushing his hands eagerly through Keith’s damp hair, tugging at the trimmed locks and nearly groaning when Keith answered with half a gasp.

 

Then the thunder crashed like a hundred drumsets collapsing, sending a bolt of startled panic through Lance’s chest. With a yelp, he nearly went toppling ass over tea kettle into the coffee table, but Keith’s hands were at his waist to steady him, pulling him back into the safety of his lap.

 

They stared at each other for a long moment, chests heaving. Despite how flustered Lance was at the interruption, he couldn’t look away from Keith’s face; eyes wide, pupils blown, cheeks flushed dark and lips wet and red. He was beautiful, and Lance couldn’t get enough of him.

 

Lance rubbed the pad of his thumb across Keith’s bottom lip, relishing in the way the man beneath him couldn’t seem to control the manner in which his breath stuttered.

 

An impish grin worked its way across Lance’s face as he said, “You taste like pesto.”

 

Keith blinked. His blush darkened a shade, but the corner of his kiss-swollen lips quirked up. “You taste like parmesan.”

 

“Oh, gross,” grimaced Lance, immediately regretting bringing it up. “I taste like fuckin’ cheese.”

 

Keith huffed a laugh. “Do I look like I care?”

 

And he didn’t, not at all. He was eyeing Lance fondly, gaze soft, but the way his canine pinned the side of his lip was hungry. Lance licked his own lips and watched Keith’s eyes follow the motion.

 

God, he really wanted to kiss him again.

 

“You should stop me,” murmured Lance, even as his index finger traced from Keith’s lip down his chin, to graze his throat.

 

“No.” Keith pulled him closer in his lap. “Kiss me. Please.”

 

Lance obeyed, fisting one hand in Keith’s shirt while the other slid into his hair. Keith’s hands were hot iron on Lance’s legs, sliding them up and down with a slow roughness that had Lance nearly bucking up against the pressure. The sky rumbled again but didn’t crack. Lance wasn’t sure whether he’d react again anyway – he was hyperaware of everything, from the rain and muffled music outside, to the brush of their clothes against the couch, even the sound of a door closing downstairs. It was common for Lance to fixate on singular things, but this was everything surrounding them, occurring in the same moment as their breath mixing and tongues pressing and hands gripping – and while he knew all that was happening, nothing was as important as Keith.

 

Keith, whose palms were hot as they slid under Lance’s shirt.

 

Keith, teeth pulling at Lance’s lip and eliciting a breathy moan.

 

Keith, once just another stranger on a continent full of them, now holding him up as he rose to his feet, Lance’s legs wrapped around his hips.

 

Lance sighed wordlessly against Keith’s mouth and took to leaving marks on the flushed skin of his neck. He curled his fingers into Keith’s hair, tugging slightly until Keith tipped his chin back. They were moving – Keith was carrying Lance across the room. Lance focused his attentions closer to his collar, but he couldn’t help but leave a purple bruise center stage on Keith’s throat. The stuttered sigh that slid from Keith’s lips heated Lance’s belly. He was reaching boiling point with every sound, every caress, every kiss traded between them. Keith didn’t get very far from the couch; he pressed Lance against the wall, their chests nearly flush. Hands grappled at clothes and skin, lips left bruising kisses, and the air was stifling in the gaps between them.

 

Lance could barely pause for breath, but it was worth it. All of it was worth it just for this.

 


 

The rain had stopped and its drizzle reduced to the odd drip from gutters and window sills. Cool moonlight fell from the open bedroom window, giving all it touched a brushed silver glow. Lance traced the luminescence along Keith’s skin with his fingertips, over the line of his jaw and the slope of his nose. He could see his own face bleached by the moonlight, reflected in Keith’s eyes. Warm fingers pressed against Lance’s cheek.

 

Lance wasn’t sure how long they laid there – silent but for their even breathing and the ambient noise outside – but he was far from growing bored or restless. There were freckles and scars to map out on Keith’s bare skin, from the birthmark on his hip to the silver spot on his collarbone. The healing yellow of taxi-induced bruises mottled his side still. Lance smiled slightly at the memory – had it happened now, he would have probably stressed himself into a stupor worrying over Keith.

 

The other man seemed to share Lance’s fascination with the open canvas of their bodies. His fingertips traced the shape of muscle from Lance’s arms to his chest. They were warm, discarded sheets tangled at their feet, and comfortable in each other’s presence. Just looking at Keith, expression open and honest and gazing upon him in silent wonder, was a balm on the rawness that tried to prickle against his wishes. Lance felt as though anything he said or did would be accepted by Keith, any explanation met with understanding and a warm embrace. He felt he needn’t make excuses in Keith’s presence, and that he didn’t have to worry, about himself or the fickleness of his brain, about anything at all.

 

“Y’know,” began Lance in a murmur, forced to clear his throat when it came out coarse with disuse, “I kind of understand the hype about your big fancy camera.”

 

Keith hummed as he ran his fingertip over the bow of Lance’s lips. “What tipped you off?”

 

Lance regarded short eyelashes tipped silver in moonlight, the half of his face shrouded where the glow couldn’t touch, the tenderness of his lips and voice.

 

“The fact I really wish I could take a picture of you right now,” said Lance softly, “Exactly how I see you.”

 

Keith contemplated him in silence, fingers suspended in midair, barely grazing Lance’s jaw. Then he sighed, laughed quietly, smiled like Lance was someone to be adored.

 

“Can I kiss you?” asked Keith.

 

Lance inhaled a long, slow breath. “You can kiss me all you want, to be honest. Wherever, whenever.”

 

“Thank fuck, I wasn’t sure how I’d deal otherwise.”

 

Lance’s startled laugh was cut off by Keith’s lips against his own. The kiss was easy, languid; a slow thing that made quick work of Lance and turned him into a pliable mess. He appreciated it in a way he never knew he could. Keith shifted to rest half on his chest, a cozy weight combing fingers through Lance’s hair. When they parted, it wasn’t without a buffer of grazing lips and brushing noses. The fingers continued carding slowly through Lance’s hair.

 

“Originally I was really excited to go to all these places,” said Lance, eyelids sliding shut as he focused on the soothing repetition of Keith combing his hair, “But now I don’t really want to go anywhere else.”

 

“You don’t want to travel anymore?”

 

“It’s not that. I just… I want to go wherever you go.”

 

The fingers didn’t stop. “Where are you going next?”

 

“Berlin.” A pause in the motion. Lance cracked open his eyes. “You?”

 

Keith blinked slowly. “Vienna.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Oh.

 

Keith kissed him again, and this time there was a little more force behind it, as if Keith was willing away the negativity that threatened to plague Lance – to plague both of them. The inevitable was there, but that didn’t mean they had to let it dampen the moment.

 

When they pulled apart, Lance took his turn draped over Keith. The roaming, petting hands returned, incapable of staying away for too long.

 

Lance closed his eyes as Keith’s voice vibrated through his chest. “What do you want to do tomorrow?”

 

“Mm, I’ll have a look at my bucket list,” said Lance, “But maybe we could finally go to that damn café.”

 

There was a pause as they both listened to the music thumping outside, no longer muffled by rainfall. Lance could hear Baba O’Riley playing, guitar rifts the only distinguishable sound aside from the snares. He wondered if it was as loud inside as he suspected it was.

 

“Sounds good,” said Keith, running his fingers up and down Lance’s spine leisurely.

 

“Did you have anything in mind?”

 

“Not really. Maybe we could look up views and go for a walk.”

 

Ooh, how romantic,” crooned Lance, barely pausing before adding, “Our first date, going for a walk, the sun setting on some historic site.”

 

Keith huffed fondly. “We’ve already done all the other date ideas. Wine tasting, museums, eating out –”

 

“I see your point. Personally, my favourite was the hospital trip.”

 

Keith’s chest shook under Lance as he laughed. Lance’s smiled, cheek pushing against bare skin.

 

When Keith’s laughter subsided, he sighed, “I never did thank you for that, did I?”

 

“For what?”

 

“Hitting me.”

 

“You know I wasn’t the one driving, right?”

 

“You know what I mean.”

 

“Do I?”

 

Keith snorted and pinched Lance’s hip, eliciting a twitch and a lazy grumble of protest. “I mean if that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

 

Lance blinked his eyes open, lashes tickling Keith’s chest. “Oh. You’re right. You’re welcome, I guess. Or maybe I should be thanking you for stepping out onto the road.”

 

“In that case, let’s thank London’s one-way roads.”

 

“True. Thank you, one-ways and speeding taxis, for bringing us together violently enough that we ended up making out in Italy.”

 

Keith burst out laughing, jostling Lance, who stubbornly remained stuck to him.

 

“I shouldn’t like you this much,” sighed Keith, voice shaking with mirth.

 

“You really shouldn’t,” mumbled Lance, the words coming out darker than he intended. Keith stilled beneath him. Uh oh. Hastily, he spoke up before Keith could ask. “It’s– I– Right. Okay, I… kind of… felt as though I was forcing myself on you? Like, I was forcing friendship on you, y’know? Chasing after you all the time, even when it was obvious you didn’t really want to hang out. I was just, really enthusiastic, being in a new place and seeing you everywhere was bizarre–”

 

“Lance?”

 

He went silent with a self deprecating laugh. “Sorry.”

 

“Lance,” repeated Keith, urging Lance to lift his head and look at him.

 

With eyes that dark, that fond, looking directly at him, Lance forgot why he’d even questioned anything. Keith ran his hand up Lance’s back to card through his hair once again.

 

“I’m glad you did,” said Keith, voice barely above a murmur, “I’m really fucking glad.”

 

Heat gathered behind Lance’s eyes. Not trusting himself to speak, he just nodded. Pushing his hands into the mattress, he slid himself forward until he could nuzzle into Keith’s neck, curling one arm between them and slinging the other across Keith’s chest. The warm safety of Keith’s arms encircled Lance.

 

“At first, I didn’t want to talk,” said Keith, “To anyone. It’s… scary. I haven’t spoken to anyone in English, really, besides Shiro. Until you. You forced me to, and at first, yeah, I was still nervous – but you’re really easy to talk to. It’s like… it’s as if my words come out better, sound better, when I’m saying them to you.”

 

He shifted, almost imperceptibly, neck moving against Lance’s nose.

 

“So, thanks for that,” he finished.

 

Lance, warm from head to toe and full of fluffy feelings, burrowed in closer to Keith. “Hey.”

 

“...Hey.”

 

“I like you a lot.”

 

A quiet laugh. “I like you a lot, too.”

 

A pause.

 

“Dibs on big spoon, though.”

 

“Keith, you ass.”

 

Despite an abundance of light-hearted protesting, they ended up on their sides for better sleeping, Keith’s chest flush against Lance’s back. He’d taken to nuzzling the nape of Lance’s neck, pressing featherlight kisses whenever the fancy struck him. Lance’s iPod buzzed from where it sat on the nightstand. He lazily reached over to pick it up, unlocking the screen with a slide of his thumb. There were a few notifications – mostly accepted friend requests but for one.

 

“Keith,” said Lance, reaching back to nudge him with an elbow, “Keeeith.

 

“Mmph?”

 

“That tickles – hey – just look at this – ack!” Lance flinched and writhed until Keith ceased his disturbances at Lance’s neck, turning his gaze on the iPod.

 

He squinted, lifting his hand to adjust the iPod. He’d removed his contacts some hours before.

 

“That’s… us?” Keith blinked. His mouth fought against a flustered smile. “On the bus.”

 

“Lynn took it,” grinned Lance, tilting the screen back to himself to look adoringly at the picture. It was simple, taken at a tall angle where Lynn had been standing. Lance’s head lay tucked beneath Keith’s, resting on his shoulder. Their hair was a combined mess, the sun was in mottled spots blurring across their faces, and they looked utterly at peace. It was perfect. “I’m changing it to my background.”

 

“Actually? It’s so– hold on. What–what was that? Your background, you moved off it too fast–”

 

“Nothing,” said Lance quickly, taking a shortcut to replace the previous image.

 

“If nothing looks suspiciously like me and you–”

 

“Don’t know what you’re talking about!”

 

“Are you seriously being this shy? After everything that just happened. Just admit it. You put a selfie of us as your background.”

 

Lance turned his face into the pillow. “Ahpufazelpiasmahbagrown.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

Timid beyond reason, Lance freed his mouth from the pillow. “Um. I… put a selfie of us as my background. On my iPod – and tablet.”

 

“You’re really cheesy, Lance,” said Keith, planting a trail of kisses along his shoulder to his neck. “And I’m really into that.”

 

Jesus,” whined Lance, “Why are you like this all of a sudden?”

 

“I don’t need a filter anymore,” replied Keith easily between kisses.

 

“You suck. My tum is full of butterflies. How dare you?”

 

“You’re adorable.”

 

Ugh. Says you, with your fluffy hair and cute nose and –”

 

Keith shoved his face against Lance’s neck. “Hrrrnngghh.

 

“Oh, so it’s your turn to be shy?” snorted Lance, “Unbelievable. Do you want me to start on when you scrunch your nose–”

 

Stop,” spluttered Keith, “Go to sleep!”

 

“But sleeping means waking up and not having this.”

 

Lance felt himself shift an inch as Keith tightened an arm around him. “For me, sleeping means waking up and seeing you beside me, remembering everything, and realizing it was real, not a dream.”

 

It was a miracle Lance didn’t spontaneously combust on the spot.

 

“Okay,” conceded Lance, “That does sound pretty nice.”

 


 

Before Keith’s eyes were even open, he felt a burst of joy that started in his chest and spread to his fingers and toes. When he did peek, he saw the snoring man beside him and was overcome by how beautiful Lance truly was. Sure, he was sprawled out like a starfish and drooling with every open mouthed snore muffled by the pillow – but he was sporting dark bruises from where Keith worshipped him, and the sunlight kissed him so gently that Keith was envious.

 

Another ten minutes passed where Keith simply gazed at Lance before the hollow grumble of his stomach prompted him to rise. He pulled on his discarded pants, glad the rain-dampened fabric had dried overnight, and walked into the kitchen to scavenge for food.

 

There was definitely an abundance of pasta, a heel of bread, and half a jar of peanut butter that looked like Lance had taken a spoon to it several times. Keith settled for smearing butter onto a few thin slices of the bread. He figured peanut butter probably wouldn’t match with the olive-studded loaf.

 

As he was considering just devouring the rest of the bread, Keith heard the shuffle of feet from the direction of the bedroom. Just as he was turning to say a good morning, Keith received an open-handed slap straight to one ass cheek, courtesy of a beaming Lance.

 

“Good morning,” said Lance, adding a flick to a shocked Keith’s nose before stealing one of the slices of bread.

 

After his initial surprise, Keith stared hard at Lance. “Are you going to make that a thing?”

 

Hah, yes.” He shoved the bread into his mouth, crumbs flying as he added, “Unless you don’t like it.”

 

“Nah,” said Keith, fighting off Lance’s grabby hands for the last of his breakfast, “It’s fine if you kiss it better.”

 

Jesus,” hacked Lance, losing half his bread to the floor.

 

“What a waste,” mourned Keith as the other man coughed away, “Maybe we should go out for breakfast – and find my keys, shit.”

 

Massaging his chest, Lance blinked at Keith with watering eyes. “I forgot you lost your keys. Any idea where they are?”

 

“I dropped by a café before running back, so maybe around there.”

 

“Perfect, we can grab something to eat while we’re at it.” Lance flounced out of the kitchen, leaving Keith to dispose of the fallen scraps.

 

Keith didn’t feel too bothered wearing the same outfit as the day previous. After all, he’d done it numerous times since he started this trip, and wasn’t about to stop. Nobody but himself – and now Lance – was going to notice what he was wearing.

 

They left the building, Keith pulling the hefty door shut behind him. The air outside was fresh and warm, but definitely not as hot as the previous days. Puddles mottled the ground, using the gaps between cobblestones like pathways between them for the water to run. Waiting several paces away was Lance, his gaze on Keith. He seemed to consider him, brows heavy over his eyes, until coming to a decision. With a shy smile, Lance held out a hand.

 

Keith looked from the hand, to Lance’s face, back down to the hand. Then, with a happy fizzing sensation in his stomach, he took the offered hand and laced their fingers together.

 

It was different, walking the same streets yet with the feel of a palm in his – a palm that had become familiar over the course of the night. It was… pleasant. Keith liked holding Lance’s hand, liked walking beside him and trading quips and observations and, well, he just really liked Lance.

 

But how much longer would he be able to enjoy his company?

 

When there came a lapse in their conversation, Keith took it upon himself to broach the topic.

 

“Lance?”

 

“Mm?”

 

Both of them were glancing over the pavement in front of them, looking for the glint of forgotten keys.

 

“After Berlin, where are you going?”

 

“Oh. Um.” Lance’s hand tightened around Keith’s. “I’m spending a couple more days back in London, then I, uh, I’m going home.”

 

Keith’s heart started to pick up its pace, uncomfortably restricted.

 

“How about you?” prompted Lance. His voice was bordering on hopeful. Keith’s heart ached.

 

“After Vienna, I’m going to Madrid.”

 

“...Ah.”

 

“But I can–” burst out Keith, biting down on the rest of his words before taking a calming breath, trying again, “I can switch my flight. I’ll stop in London first.”

 

Keith wasn’t even looking for the keys anymore. The hand in his tugged gently, and he realized Lance was slowing to a halt. Trying not to sigh, Keith stopped and turned to meet Lance’s eyes.

 

“You can’t,” said Lance, then winced and added, “I mean, you shouldn’t. London is basically the same distance from Vienna as Madrid, isn’t it? You’re just doubling up your travel time, and not to mention the money–”

 

“I don’t care,” interrupted Keith, “I’ve got the money, it’s not like I bought a lot of souvenirs anyway. Time isn’t an issue–”

 

“Keith, don’t go out of your way just for me–”

 

Just for you?”

 

“I’m only going to be there for a couple days–”

 

Keith’s voice was getting shriller, but there was nothing he could do about it. “What do you mean just for you? Lance, if you don’t want to see me just say so.”

 

And he straightened his fingers and yanked his hand out of Lance’s.

 

The action took half a moment to sink in, but when it did, Keith regretted it immediately. Lance’s face crumpled – and it wasn’t just his face. His shoulders drooped, hand hovering in the air between them like his arm couldn’t be bothered to fall. Keith’s heart went into hyperdrive.

 

“I don’t believe that,” said Keith hastily, his own hands paralyzed in space, “Lance, I don’t believe you think that, I’m sorry–”

 

“Thank fuck,” gasped Lance, looking for all the world as though Keith had just yanked him back from the edge of a cliff, “Jesus, Keith. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

 

“I’m sorry,” repeated Keith miserably. What kind of shit was he to even say that? After an entire night affirming their mutual affection and he thought to say that maybe Lance didn’t feel the same?

 

“No, I’m sorry,” said Lance, jerking forward as movement came back to his body. He leaned into Keith, nuzzling into his neck until Keith’s arms enveloped him. His voice was muffled as he murmured, “I just don’t want you to – I don’t know – get stressed out trying to plan a side trip.”

 

“Well, too bad.” Keith squeezed Lance until he squeaked. “I’m taking advantage of the time we have while I can. Got it?”

 

“Okay. Okay, but can you not strangle me to death, you damn anaconda?”

 

“Oops, sorry.”

 

When the hug warmed them sufficiently enough, they rejoined their hands and continued down the road. The little bakery and café that Keith visited the other day wasn’t far from the station. Keith led them down the route he took, hoping the keys would be sitting, untouched, at the edge of a curb or something. Unfortunately, they caught no sight of them. They stepped into the shop, the bell dinging pleasantly above their heads. The young woman at the counter was different from the day previous, but she had the same polite smile as she greeted them in both Italian and English.

 

“You wouldn’t happen to have a set of keys someone dropped yesterday, would you?” asked Keith after he ordered a sugared bun with jam and Lance a sandwich.

 

“I can have a look,” said the cashier pleasantly, “Can you describe the key ring?”

 

“Plain,” said Keith with a shrug, “Just two keys on it.”

 

Hah, mine came with a fob,” gloated Lance.

 

Keith shot him an unimpressed look. “It doesn’t even have anything on it.”

 

“Still.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Hey, man, I have to take my victories where I find them.”

 

Keith snorted just as the cashier drew out a green basket from under the register. She plucked out the keychain, turned it in her fingers and looked at Keith.

 

“These them?”

 

“Yes,” said Keith, huffing a relieved breath as he accepted them.

 

Lance beamed. “Now you can show me those pictures.”

 

Eh…”

 

“Don’t start with me, you promised.”

 

“Did I though?”

 

“I can’t remember exact words, Keith, but the thought is there.”

 

Amidst their banter, two plates were slid across the counter towards them. They relocated their chatter to the tables outside. The curling iron filigree was painted white on both the table and the chairs, scuffed by hundreds of other people who came to sit in that very spot. Keith angled his chair so that he could cast out his gaze on the people moving from place to place, but it was difficult when all he wanted to do was look at Lance.

 

Tomorrow, they would go their separate ways again, but after that would be the last couple days spent in each other’s company. While Keith was already excited for the end of his Vienna trip – if someone had told him that three weeks ago, he would have thought them unhinged – he also dreaded it.

 

Because it was the conclusion to their story.

 


 

10:32 PM

ℓαиçә

my friends

Hunkules

you’re alive!!

ℓαиçә

ah yes

i shouldve told u guys that i was…..

distracted???

Hunkules

I’m only joking!!

you should be out there enjoying the Florentine night life!!

 

ℓαиçә

well i guess

i kinda did??¿

keith n i went to the hard rock cafe across the road

dr4g0ns14y3r

my man

i was wondering if you would

it’s like RIGHT THERE

ℓαиçә

i kno!!!!!!!

Hunkules

so what have you been up to??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

allura’s going to want to hear about everything i s2g

ℓαиçә

tell allura that the wine tour was aMAZING

we got hammered

dr4g0ns14y3r

ofc

 

Hunkules

please tell me you didn’t embarrass the locals….

ℓαиçә

consider the locals

extremely embarrassed

Hunkules

noooooooooooo

ℓαиçә

anywho

we got matchin hats bcos its cute af

made friends w some old ppl again bcos why tf not

drank a lot of wine

ate a lot of gelato

played tag in the water

had an old lady friend yell at us

oya queen bus singalong was a thing

massive storm yesterday

keith lost his keys

turns out this cafe had them

also we made out and stuff all night

and im falling for him

and we went to another church today

nearly got cuaght sneakin into the catacomssb

Hunkules

wait wht

what

ℓαиçә

got some sweet ass pisc of na anceiient cakset tho

dr4g0ns14y3r

….hold on

ℓαиçә

hrda rokck cafe was rlly fun lmfao

Hunkules

um

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

rewind

ℓαиçә

the psata wa s graet

Hunkules

Lance, buddy, it’s okay

please talk to us

ℓαиçә

…………

dr4g0ns14y3r

i’m confused?

ℓαиçә

so

i

kind of??

like keith

dr4g0ns14y3r

oh

ℓαиçә

alot

Hunkules

“and im falling for him”

ℓαиçә

yea

a lot

dr4g0ns14y3r

oh fuck

ℓαиçә

ye

Hunkules

that’s…..

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

amazing?

ℓαиçә

awful

he lives in japan

JAPAN

OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD

Hunkules

I’m so sorry Lance :((

ℓαиçә

we held hands all day today like

im fkin spoild im ruined

dr4g0ns14y3r

i honestly did not see that coming

that

really fucking sucks bro

ℓαиçә

yeeeaaaaaaah

it does

hunk i hope ur prepared for

me, sobbing

u, hugging

Hunkules

I’m always here for you

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

where’s keith now?

ℓαиçә

sittin across from me on his laptop

he has his feet tucked under me im

so fukked hes

so cute

f u c k

dr4g0ns14y3r

it’ll... be okay?

 

ℓαиçә

nah

dr4g0ns14y3r

sorry

 

Hunkules

:(((

 

ℓαиçә

w/e ill deal w it

by

currently not cryin while hes sittin right there

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

well

that’s a start?

 


 

10:32 PM

Keith Kogane

shiro

Takashi Shirogane

?

Not going to Skype today?

Keith Kogane

i have a major problem

Takashi Shirogane

Uh

Did you get caught?

Are you in jail?

Are you in the hospital?

Oh my god what’s happened?

Keith Kogane

im fine jesus

Takashi Shirogane

You just said you have a major problem.

Keith Kogane

right

so the thing is

wait have i told you im gay yet?

Takashi Shirogane

I think so?

I mean, I know, but I can’t remember if you actually told me.

Keith Kogane

right i think i just assumed you knew everything

Takashi Shirogane

You wouldn’t be wrong.

So this problem has something to do with your being gay?

Keith Kogane

right yeah

so i like lance and he likes me and a mutual confession sort of happened and before i couldnt keep him out of my head but now its worse because weve been holding hands all day and hes been trying to pinch my leg with his toes for the past ten minutes but the point is that i dont know how im going to deal very well when i go back home because even though hes leaving first weve only got a couple days left together and im really fucking sad about it

so

yeah

bit of a problem

Takashi Shirogane

Oh

Why did it have to be him?

Keith Kogane

shiro

you massive shitwad

Takashi Shirogane

It occurs to me that sounded really stupid

What I mean is, your heart is a bit of a jerk.

Keith Kogane

id say

Takashi Shirogane

And I’ll prepare a dubbed Pokémon marathon for when you get back

I’ll stockpile all the good sweets

Maybe even some actual daifuku from that shop by the station

Keith Kogane

that doesnt help me currently

Takashi Shirogane

Honestly, there’s nothing you or I can do about it

You’re going to feel like total shit

Keith Kogane

gee thanks

Takashi Shirogane

But I’m here for you, you can talk about it all you want

I love you baby bro

Keith Kogane

id love you more if you could fix this

Takashi Shirogane

I’m sorry

Keith Kogane

its fine

 


 

“You alright?”

 

Keith looked up from the laptop propped against his legs. His feet were wormed between Lance’s legs and the couch, while the other man’s feet stretched out until Keith’s hip.

 

“Yeah,” said Keith, blinking a couple times. No tears. Cool.

 

Lance looked like he wanted to prod more, but he didn’t. Instead, he slid his tablet onto the coffee table and made grabby hands at the computer.

 

“Show me those pictures,” he said, jutting out his lower lip.

 

Keith shook his head slowly. “I still don’t remember promising.”

 

“Don’t be such a shitnugget. Show me.”

 

Heaving a sigh while he sent his conversation with Shiro into the ethers, Keith succumbed with a woeful nod. Lance gleefully sat up and dove forward, sandwiching Keith against the back of the couch in a warm mess of limbs. It took them awhile to get reasonably comfortable, but eventually, with Lance’s bicep propping up Keith’s head, they could view the pictures in relative peace.

 

Relative, because Keith forgot to hide the pictures he’d taken of Lance sitting by the statue of David.

 

Not that he minded in the end, when the laptop lay forgotten on the table and Lance was kissing Keith into oblivion.

 

 

Chapter Text

Keith woke up to the sprawl of warm limbs across his body and a complicated mix of emotions duking it out for dominance. In that moment, the soft blanket of fondness was winning, but dread wasn’t far behind. It hung like a cloud in the periphery of his mind, waiting for a catalyst. Keith could only ignore it for so long. The soft puff of Lance’s breath against his shoulder helped, but they both had transports to catch.

 

There wasn’t enough time to linger in each other’s company, no matter how strongly Keith wished for more. He gave Lance’s shoulder a squeeze and heard his soft snores break off. It was with a gentle massage over his side that Keith lured Lance into the wakeful world once more. Despite the growing ache in his chest, Keith allowed himself to enjoy the sight of Lance waking. The line of his brow was all soft confusion, uncertain yet whether he was perceiving reality or a dream, while dark eyes bobbed open to meet Keith’s fond gaze.

 

“Good morning,” said Keith softly, using a finger to trace the line of Lance’s jaw.

 

“Mm,” was the response, followed by a sleepy, “S’the time?”

 

“Nearly seven, your alarm is about to go off.”

 

“Nng.”

 

Keith reached over the warm body trying to burrow into him to grab the iPod. He turned off the alarm before it could ruin the delicate peace of their morning.

 

“Dun wanna go,” mumbled Lance into Keith’s throat.

 

The dread trickled in, cold and prickly. It was a stronger feeling than it had any right to be. The pressure of it was like a wet towel wrapped around his spine and weighing down his stomach. Keith said nothing of it, simply combing his fingers through Lance’s hair as if he was paying attention to the bedhead. He focused on the texture of the fluffy locks against his fingertips and how the morning light changed the colour from a ruddy brown to amber to gold. Eventually they had to rise; Lance had a suitcase to pack and a train to catch. He’d be leaving Keith alone in Florence for several hours before his plane to Vienna took off. The entire time he packed, Lance was very vocal with what he thought about the distance they were about to put between them.

 

“Venice was bad enough, I thought,” griped Lance, throwing a t-shirt into his suitcase without folding it. “But that was before all of this,” he added with a gesture between the two of them. He paused there, wringing out a pair of jeans like it had personally offended him.

 

Seated on the edge of the bed, Keith rubbed back the cuticles of his thumbs. “Yeah.”

 

“I mean, it isn’t that I don’t want to see Berlin,” continued Lance, slam dunking his jeans on top of the shirt, “But sometimes I think about what Ireland would’ve been like if I’d known you back then, y’know? And I start to regret things – which is stupid, I know, but I can’t help it. Imagine! Luanne would’ve gotten a kick out of you. We could’ve done a pub crawl in Dingle, the little town I stayed. It was tiny, but there were at least six or seven pubs, I’m not kidding you. And Wales! That would’ve been cool. I didn’t get to do a lot there but–”

 

Keith blinked and interrupted, “Wait, you were in Wales?”

 

Lance attempted folding the next shirt, but gave up and flung it haphazardly onto the pile. “Yeah, Tenby. The beach there was really cool. On low tide, you could walk up to this fort on top of this cliff.”

 

“Yeah, I was there.” A grin stole over Keith’s face, encouraged by Lance’s slowly morphing expression. “I was staying in Cardiff, but I spent a day in Tenby.”

 

No shitting way,” breathed Lance, “I–I totally saw you! I fucking knew it! Pidge and Hunk are going to lose their fucking minds.”

 

“You saw me?” Keith shook his head in disbelief – yet it wasn’t actually that farfetched. They’d come this far, hadn’t they?

 

“There’s no way I’d mistake that red plaid,” declared Lance haughtily.

 

Keith cocked an eyebrow. “Wow, Lance, I didn’t think you had a crush on me that early on.”

 

A blush rose like the morning sun on Lance’s face. “I did not–!”

 

The rest of his protest was drowned out by Keith’s laughter. Lance huffed and crouched by his suitcase, muttering and trying to cram as much as he could without properly folding anything. From his perch, Keith rubbed the heels of his palms into his eyes as he regained his breath.

 

“My bad,” said Keith, biting the inside of his cheek, both of which hurt from how wide he was smiling. “I should have specified. It wasn’t me you liked, it was my coat. Which you stole from me, you little shit disturber.”

 

“I gave it back,” sniffed Lance.

 

“It was a close call.”

 

“I admit, it’s a pretty nice coat.”

 

Keith shifted his teeth from pinching his cheek to pinning his lip. Lance rocked back on his heels, chin pressed against his shoulder as he looked up at Keith with a mischievous quirk to his mouth.

 

“Maybe,” said Keith slowly, “I’ll let you take it with you.”

 

Lance didn’t hesitate, eyes wide as he replied immediately with, “I would probably cry.”

 

It was with herculean effort that Keith didn’t dip his face into his palms. Instead, he extended both his hands out to Lance, a shy smile teasing the corners of his mouth. Lance didn’t require words. He rose, knees popping, and slid his fingers between Keith’s. The gentle pressure of palms meeting was a mutual effort. They said nothing; Keith studied the smooth crest of Lance’s fingernails, while Lance brushed over the minute lines of Keith’s palms.

 

A sigh slid from Keith’s lips, uncalled for. Instead of putting words to the tumult in his head, he lifted Lance’s hands to his face so he could brush his lips reverently against them. Each knuckle received attention before he was burying his face between their joined hands like they were a shield against the negativity. Lance’s digits twitched before they were curving up to frame Keith’s jaw. He didn’t force him to look up, but the pads of his thumbs dusted affection against Keith’s cheekbones.

 

“Hey Keith?”

 

“Mm?”

 

“...Can I for real take your coat with me?”

 

Keith huffed a laugh and drew his face away from warm hands. “Yeah, I won’t be needing it.”

 

“Thanks,” said Lance, looking bashfully off to one side in such a way that squeezed at Keith’s heart.

 

He desperately wished to wrap himself up in Lance – in the smell and feel of him, the sound of his heartbeat and the rasp of his laugh – but they simply didn’t have the time. So Keith swallowed another sigh and rose from the bed.

 

“Fold your things properly,” he said, nodding at the mess bursting out of the suitcase, “Or else you won’t be able to fit my coat.”

 

Lance moaned and griped about it, but when it did prove difficult cramming the coat in, he was forced to rearrange things. It didn’t take long to get everything together, neaten up the apartment and check for things left behind. It was with far too much finality that they descended down to the street together. For Keith, it reminded him of the time he moved out of his mother’s apartment. It seemed too barren, with everything that had made it a home stuffed into boxes. Leaving meant never coming back. When Keith returned to the apartment in Florence, Lance wouldn’t be with him.

 

Despite the cloud persistently hanging over Keith’s head, Lance was chipper. Even when Keith didn’t respond much, he filled the silence with commentary. It occurred to Keith that perhaps he was forcing it, but he couldn’t bring himself to mind. Listening to Lance talk was cathartic, in a way; he could pay attention to the words tumbling out of Lance’s mouth instead of his own dreary thoughts.

 

Eventually, however, they were inside the train station amidst a crowd of people trying to get places, greeting friends and family, asking for spare change. Lance patted at his pockets and his backpack, a half-assed onceover that did nothing to slow time down.

 

“Well,” said Keith first, “I’ll see you back in London?”

 

The intonation accidentally came out as a question. He internally winced at the slip.

 

“Yeah,” said Lance, “Of course. Um, have fun in Vienna.”

 

“Yeah,” echoed Keith, “Enjoy Berlin.”

 

Neither of them made to go. Keith watched Lance lick his lips, nervous, gaze flitting down to their feet and drifting across the tiles.

 

“Uh. Can I…?” Lance grimaced and lifted his head. “Can I kiss you?”

 

Keith couldn’t help but glance at the meandering bodies around them. All strangers, none of them paying any attention to the two young men dawdling in the middle of the station. Keith had grown up keeping any form of PDA beyond hand holding to a bare minimum, which wasn’t hard when he wasn’t the most physically affectionate person – until Lance, anyway. But he wasn’t in Japan, there were at least three couples sucking face in the station as it was, and Lance was leaving.

 

So Keith stepped into Lance’s space and tilted his face up to press his lips against Lance’s. It was brief, but by no means delicate; a simple press that turned words into motion and feeling. When Lance’s eyes opened, Keith had put just enough space between them so as not to be tempted to latch on. They traded grins – maybe both a little bitter, a little disappointed – and Lance was off.

 

It wasn’t until Keith was halfway back to the apartment that he acknowledged the odd atmosphere around him. Florence was still the same as it had been for the past several days, but there was something different about it. It seemed… emptier, as if something essential had been drained from it. The city was desaturated despite the laughter from the family passing by, and the two mopeds beeping incessantly at each other, and the pandemonium of pigeons exploding from a nearby square. Keith felt it in the heaviness of his fingertips pointed at the ground. He huffed a breath, and the air was cooler entering his lungs.

 

If Keith could put a name to the feeling, he thought the most accurate might be lonely.

 

With keys jingling forlornly in his palm, Keith entered his apartment and surveyed the slight mess he’d created during his stay. It wouldn’t take long to clean up, but when he stooped to grab a blanket off the floor, it took more effort than it was worth. He tossed the blanket onto the couch and turned towards the bedroom.

 

Completely unrelated to the state of the room, Keith said to the air, “I’m in trouble.”

 


 

11:25 PM

 

Lance Rivera

just got in

rly fukin tired

Keith Kogane

hah

ive been in for hours

Lance Rivera

fuck u and ur airplane

Keith Kogane

sorry some of us decided to make use of their day

Lance Rivera

fuck uuuuuuuuuu

Keith Kogane

go to bed you massive baby

Lance Rivera

blep

soon

talk to u tomorrow?¿

Keith Kogane

yeah for sure

 

 


 

Lance settled back on the paisley couch, plush cushions trying to suck him into the void between them. After a brief battle, he regained control and leaned forward to avoid a rematch. With elbows braced on his knees, tablet cradled in his hands, Lance flicked open his parents’ contact information and called them. The ringing of the app was loud in the empty foyer of the hostel. The couch on which Lance sat was one of three surrounding a low, narrow coffee table decorated with doilies and dried flowers. The sconces on the walls were at least thirty years old, but the light they gave off was cozy in the way that his grandparents’ house usually was. Cars sped up and down the narrow lanes outside, headlights cutting through the darkness.

 

“–ance? Can you hear us? Can he hear us, Markos?”

 

The picture that came up on the tablet screen was heavily pixelated, but slowly it sharpened to take the form of an older man and woman with deep laugh lines and kind, crinkled eyes. Lance felt a rush of warmth seeing the smiles of his parents, instantly forming one of his own to match.

 

“I can hear you,” said Lance, lapsing into Spanish.

 

“God, what is that accent?” admonished his mother, a teasing lilt to her voice.

 

Lance snorted, but paid more attention to his drawl. “Sorry. How is everyone?”

 

“Oh, they’re all fine,” said his mother with a careless flap of her hand, “We want to hear about you! Is that a new coat?”

 

Lance glanced down at the red plaid he had wrapped around his shoulders. “Sort of. I’m borrowing it.” He cleared his throat and switched trains of thought, “Well, I’m in Berlin?”

 

“And?”

 

“And… it’s kind of chilly? Okay, it’s something like fifty degrees outside and it was in the seventies in Florence. It felt hotter though.”

 

“Do you have enough layers?”

 

“Yes, mamá.”

 

“How was your visit with your friend in Venice?” asked his father, reaching offscreen for a glass of water.

 

“Also really hot,” said Lance as he drew his legs up to tuck his feet beneath him. “It was great, really. That city is a maze. There’s always something interesting wherever you turn. I’d definitely go back.”

 

“And your favourite place so far?”

 

“I’d say…hmm.” Lance scratched at his chin, more in thought than to rid himself of an itch. His favourite place? There was too much to look back on. He pictured the rose garden in Ireland lit by the rare sun, and the vast open beach and cramped bookshop in Tenby. The intricate interior of the dome in St Paul’s Cathedral, an emporium filled with M&M’s merchandise, and too many pubs to count. They were all interesting, from the narrow canals of Venice to the zigzagging pathways in the Cinque Terre – but his favourite? His mind drifted away from art and scenery to the smell of rain and the gloss of indigo eyes.

 

“Is it that hard to come up with one?” asked his mother.

 

Lance shook his head. “Nah, I just haven’t really thought about it. I’d have to say though, the apartment in Florence might be my favourite.”

 

“What, you mean favourite rental?”

 

“Place,” shrugged Lance, “In general.”

 

“Well aren’t you easy to please,” sniped his mother, drawing a laugh out of her son. The sound didn’t echo, but it seemed louder in the late night emptiness of the foyer.

 

“We saw you made a friend,” said his father with a gesture towards the screen, as if Lance could see whatever was on there. “Did you meet on a tour?”

 

The smile plastered across his face was probably a bit too wide, but it was impossible to reign in with how much joy Lance took from explaining how he met Keith. The reactions were always incredibly satisfying.

 

“Actually, I first met him on a tour in Ireland,” said Lance, sitting up further from the engulfing cushions, “But I didn’t get his name until London.”

 

Lance bit his lip to stop the giggle that threatened to bubble out of him at the predicted silence. His mother’s brow was furrowed while his father mouthed the words over again.

 

“And – these pictures,” began his mother, still frowning as she mulled it over, “They were taken in Italy, though?”

 

“Yep,” chirped Lance.

 

“So, you met a boy and you’ve been travelling with him since the start?”

 

“Kind of, yeah.”

 

Another pause.

 

Then his father started laughing, leaning away from the screen as he tipped his head back. The guffaws triggered the same reaction from his mother, and soon enough Lance was giggling too as he watched his parents swamp their incredulity with laughter.

 

His mother was the first to calm down, shaking her head. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You’re always making friends in unlikely places.”

 

“I have an entire friend group over the age of sixty, mamá,” grinned Lance, “I’ve learned so much about your generation.”

 

“I’m not that old yet, you little troublemaker.”

 

“So about this boy,” cut in Lance’s father when his laughter petered out, “Did he come to Berlin with you?”

 

“Ah, no.” Inhaling deeply didn’t bring his stomach back from the pits. Lance maintained his nonchalance in spite of it. “He went to Vienna. We’re going to see each other one last time in London before I come home.”

 

“Oh, that’s a pity. Does he live in the States?”

 

“No, Japan.”

 

Japan,” repeated his mother, “Now that is far away. I hope you’ll keep in contact, though. An unlikely friendship like that is something to hang onto.”

 

“I know,” said Lance with a small smile, “I don’t intend to let it break off that easily.”

 

“Good.” His mother nodded sharply with her approval. Then both of Lance’s parents were looking off screen as several new voices joined the mix. “Ah, your sister is back. Beth, did you want to speak to Lance?”

 

Lance could hear his niece chirping her excitement as Beth said, “Yes. I definitely have some questions for the brat.”

 

“Not a brat,” sighed Lance, but it was lost in the midst of his parents giving him their love as they passed their seats off to Beth and Liza. “Well if it isn’t my favourite fashionista!”

 

Liza beamed. “Hi!”

 

“Hi to you, too, Lance,” said Beth, and gave her daughter a poke to the cheek, “This one needs to go to bed soon, but you need to tell us about your adventures so far.”

 

“And adventures they were!” assured Lance before launching into a regaling tale of – nearly – everything he’d gotten up to in the past few weeks.

 

He was halfway through describing the scavenger hunt in Venice when he noticed Liza’s eyelids bobbing in their struggle to stay open. He paused in his story to raise his eyebrows, grinning teasingly at his niece when she realized.

 

“I’m not tired!” she said immediately, but Beth was having none of it.

 

“You’re going to bed,” said Beth sternly, “I’ll tell you the good bits tomorrow, or you can wait until your uncle comes home next week. Now off you go. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”

 

Liza stuck out her lower lip, but with all the elegance of a queen, she rose from the seat. “Fine.

 

“Good night, Liza,” said Lance, wiggling his fingers in a wave.

 

“Good night, uncle Lance!”

 

Beth watched her daughter leave with raised eyebrows, and once she was gone, Lance was pinned by a piercing stare. “So, this Keith boy.”

 

Lance pursed his lips to stop from laughing. “Mhm?”

 

“I just want you to clarify,” said Beth, leaning towards the screen and lowering her voice, “Because I might be reading this wrong, which I mean, I do rarely if ever – but still, I have to ask. Some of the pictures you posted make you look like you’re cozying up to him a little bit. Tell me: is he just a friend or possibly something more?”

 

That selfie definitely gave him away. Lance shifted the window with his sister’s imploring face in it to get a look at the background of his tablet. It never failed to ignite a spark inside him that pricked his heart and clenched his stomach.

 

“Lance?”

 

“Sorry,” said Lance as he swiped the window back into position, “He’s something more.”

 

Oh my God,” began his sister in a muted shriek, her mouth splitting into an excited smile that threatened to burst her cheeks.

 

But,” interrupted Lance before she could go off, “It’s not going to go anywhere.”

 

“What the fuck?” snapped Beth, pulling a total 180, “Why?”

 

Lance struggled not to roll his eyes, failed, and fixed her with an unimpressed look. “He lives in Japan.”

 

“Well, yeah, so?”

 

“Beth. Seriously?”

 

“Long distance relationships are a thing, Lance.” His sister was the one pinning him with an unimpressed stare now, one curved eyebrow arched high.

 

“I don’t want to do that forever!” snapped Lance before remembering where he was. He huffed a sigh and lowered his volume. “Honestly, I don’t think I could manage that.”

 

“Ah, so you don’t like him enough.”

 

Enough?”

 

“Well, yeah. You aren’t willing to make the attempt, right? Which means your feelings aren’t that strong.” Beth shrugged. “It’s understandable. You only knew each other for, what, a few weeks?”

 

It took a lot not to snap again. As it stood, Lance could feel his blood pressure rising with the effort. Having someone question his feelings for Keith was like receiving a kick to the groin and not being able to do anything as the merciless act was repeated. Only he knew how he felt, and it wasn’t like he could justify the strength of those feelings to someone who just didn’t know. However, Lance also knew his sister, and he knew that she was trying to get a rise out of him, as if that would prove the worth of a relationship separated by so much time and space.

 

“Beth,” said Lance when he was no longer in danger of an outburst, “I like him a lot, which is why I can’t do that. I can’t – I just can’t imagine being that far away, unable to touch him when I want to, unable to talk when I want to. It just… makes sense not to.”

 

His sister leaned back from the screen. Even though her expression was void, Lance could still read her like a book.

 

So before she could argue any further, Lance added, “I’d rather try dating someone back home. For my benefit, and his, too. Please don’t try to push it.”

 

After a moment of silence, Beth exhaled through her nose. “Fine. I’m disappointed but fine, I get it. It’s just – you look so happy.”

 

“Yeah,” muttered Lance wryly, “It’s rough.”

 

“I’m sorry I pushed.”

 

“Don’t worry about it.”

 

“Lance?”

 

“What?”

 

“I love you, little bro.”

 

“Ah, sentimental Beth strikes again–”

 

“You little brat.”

 

“Love you, too.”

 

“Hmph.”

 


 

Mon 9:04 PM

Lynn Fitzpatrick

[IMAGE SENT]

 

11:57 PM

Keith Kogane

ah you had to send it to lance

Lynn Fitzpatrick

Of course!!

Wait, was that not okay??? Omg

I’m so sorry are you guys not dating???

Fuck i thought you were

Keith Kogane

shit i didnt mean it like that

he just got over excited about it

a bit

Lynn Fitzpatrick

OH

Phew

I thought ijust made things really awkward haha yikes

Keith Kogane

nah now its his background for everything

Lynn Fitzpatrick

That’s cute af

Wait, what about you then???

Keith Kogane

what about me

oh the backgrounds

well

Lynn Fitzpatrick

You don’t have to answer, I’ll just assume

The outcome is the same :)))

Keith Kogane

…………

thats fine

Lynn Fitzpatrick

Omg I’m sorry i’m like this

Keith Kogane

its fine seriously

i should probably add though

lance and i arent dating

Lynn Fitzpatrick

Shut the fuck up WHAT???

Keith Kogane

yyeeeeeah

Lynn Fitzpatrick

Why the hell not??

Is this some stupid slow burn bullshit? I swear to god

One of you is gonna need to figure his shit out

Keith Kogane

uh

okay its a little complicated

Lynn Fitzpatrick

BEEEEEEE

ESSSSSSS

Keith Kogane

i live in japan and he lives in the usa

Lynn Fitzpatrick

Oh

OH

Wait I thought you guys were like best friends???

Keith Kogane

we just met at the beginning of our trips

It kind of just

happened

Lynn Fitzpatrick

That’s crazy holy shit!!!!!!

Wait

Ah

Long distance???

Keith Kogane

we havent exactly talked about that

its kind of this unspoken thing

we both know it isnt going to happen

Lynn Fitzpatrick

First off: unspoken is bullshit

You better talk to that boy, okay?? Don’t let miscommunication be the thing that separates you

And second: you don’t know

It could work out!!

Keith Kogane

i wish i had your optimism lynn

but i dont see it working out as a relationship

i want to stay friends

at least

Lynn Fitzpatrick

This physically hurts me you don’t even understand

But I get that the ocean is really big and there’s a time difference

I hope whatever happens, you two are happy

Keith Kogane

thanks

really

Lynn Fitzpatrick

On another note
The wine tour was really fun :))) so I want to thank you guys for that, too

Keith Kogane

i really regret not getting a picture of you and paige in the

luggage rack

Lynn Fitzpatrick

It’s probably for the best

I would’ve peed myself every time I saw it

Who am i kidding, I’m always in danger just thinking about it

Keith Kogane

remember debras face

and the sound she made

Lynn Fitzpatrick

Farewell bladder control

 


 

The first day, Keith woke up confused by the chill on his knees, the lack of blankets, and the wide spread of the bed, empty but for himself and too many pillows. It took him a moment to remember where he was, and despite the numerous things on his list to do that day, he couldn’t bring himself to be excited. By the end of the day, the only thing he was looking forward to was a good meal and asking Lance about his day.

 

In the morning of the second day, he managed not to kick the blankets to the floor, and he wasn’t perplexed as to why he was occupying a queen size bed all to himself. With the acceptance, Keith was able to more thoroughly enjoy the city – and Vienna truly was gorgeous.

 

Standing beneath the dome at the entrance to Hofburg Palace, with horse drawn carriages rattling to and fro over pockmarked stone, Keith could let himself become absorbed once more by the objective beauty of the place. Creamy stone, glinting glass panels, intricate wrought iron gates – it had an oppressive sort of regality to it that had Keith walking straighter than he normally would. The church on the other side of the cobbled roundabout wasn’t much better. Intimidatingly beautiful and so full of intricacies, Keith kept forgetting he was trying to sneak pictures.

 

A Starbucks on the same block as the church provided Keith with a place to relax in the afternoon with a coffee. It would be late in Tokyo, but Keith knew his brother never went to bed until midnight regardless. Staying up late and waking up early was a super power Keith wasn’t sure he should be envious of his brother for.

 

When the call connected, Keith had his headphones plugged in and was seated so his brother had a view of the palace wall and the horses that trotted past. Shiro’s face appeared, lit by the warm light of his desk lamp while the rest of the room was in shadows. Keith tilted his laptop screen to minimize the reflection of light.

 

“You’re outside?” asked Shiro in lieu of a greeting.

 

“Hofburg Palace,” said Keith with a smug grin, “I’m moving up in the world, Shiro.”

 

His brother snorted. “So I see. Is there enough space in there for a simple man such as I?”

 

“Mm, not sure. Most of the rooms are filled with, you know, gold and jewels and stuff.”

 

“Ah, of course, pardon me for being presumptuous.”

 

“I may forgive you in time.”

 

Shiro chuckled and gestured vaguely. “So, how’s it going?”

 

“Fine, good,” said Keith, mimicking the gesture with added exaggeration, “Did you get the pictures from the other day?”

 

“I did. I noticed a curious thing, actually.”

 

“...What’s that?” asked Keith as he hurried to see what photos were accessible to Shiro – and might’ve been questionable.

 

“Well,” began Shiro before pausing. His mouth twisted ruefully, then he chortled to himself. “You, ah, you’ve been including people in your pictures?”

 

Keith stopped digging through his albums at mach speed. “What?”

 

“People?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“In your pictures.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Shiro’s eyebrows soared. “Next you’ll be telling me the historical significance of the Hofburg Palace.”

 

“Mm, not quite there yet,” grinned Keith.

 

“I hoped.” Shiro’s gaze flicked around his own screen. “I also noticed this picture of you.”

 

Me,” said Keith in an impersonation of his brother’s incredulity.

 

“You never post selfies.”

 

“Lance took it, obviously.”

 

“Ah, obviously.”

 

Keith picked at the shift key on his laptop. Behind him, three carriages clattered past, one after the other. His coffee was losing heat, so he put the plastic lid back on.

 

“So…”

 

He tried to ignore the weight behind the single word, and what Shiro expected from him. Of course it was impossible. He knew it was coming.

 

“About the situation with Lance–”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” interjected Keith, punctuated with a carefree wave of his hand, “I’m cool with being friends. It’s easier to deal with over distance, anyway.”

 

Shiro looked skeptical. “You sure?”

 

No. No, he wasn’t sure, but what else was he supposed to say?

 

Keith nodded. “Yeah.”

 

“Well, I still wanted to talk to you about school.”

 

His stomach disappearing somewhere around his toes, Keith ground his teeth together to stop from groaning out loud. The flex of his jaw was obvious, however, and Shiro caught on immediately.

 

“Keith,” he began, his voice adopting the tone of parental caution, “You have an offer of admission to an American school, with scholarship, this is a chance–”

 

I know,” forced out Keith, reaching for something – anything – to grip. In the end, he settled for a salt shaker, wrapping it in his fist and throttling it. It wasn’t satisfying in the least.

 

“Have you thought about it?”

 

“Yeah.” For about five minutes the night previous – before feeling ashamed of his own reasoning. He took to rolling the octagonal salt shaker between his palms as he said, “It’s a stupid idea, going to school for a guy.”

 

“Keith,” said Shiro again, always using his name as if that would make him any more receptive, “The school is already a great opportunity. The only reason you didn’t want to go was because you’d be alone. That isn’t the case anymore, is it?”

 

“The US is a little bigger than Japan,” said Keith bitterly, “I don’t know if he even lives near Chicago.”

 

“It’s closer than across the ocean.”

 

“He probably lives in like, Alaska,” mumbled Keith.

 

Shiro made a sound suspiciously like an exasperated groan, but he shifted in his seat and leaned forward. “He seems more like a Miami kind of guy, but maybe you could just check his Facebook profile.”

 

“Ah.”

 

Ah,” parroted Shiro.

 

Ditching the salt shaker, Keith made no comment as he navigated to Lance’s profile. It was a wonder he hadn’t noticed it before, but then again, he was usually enraptured by all the photos rather than the text. There it was, though – Lives in New York, New York.

 

Saying nothing to Shiro, Keith immediately switched to Google Maps. He switched from car to bus to airplane, eyes fixated on the time – and the price.

 

“Sixteen thousand yen.”

 

“What was that?”

 

Keith picked up his coffee and took a sip. Still a little hotter than lukewarm. “A flight from Chicago to New York, round trip, is sixteen thousand. A train is half that but takes twenty hours.”

 

“Ah.” Yet Shiro still looked thoughtful.

 

To Keith, it was hopeless. Despite the scholarship offered to him, he didn’t have that kind of money to throw around, not when he would be paying for room and board and textbooks, and not if he wanted to go home to Tokyo during the long breaks. The more he thought about it, staring at those price tags, the more uncomfortable Keith was with the idea of moving to America on a whim.

 

“It’s fine,” said Keith again, “I’ll just break it off and go to school in Japan. It’s better.”

 

Shiro raised an eyebrow. “So you’re not going to talk to him in London?”

 

An unwelcome warmth grew behind Keith’s eyes. “I’m too much of a masochist to deny myself that. I just mean… I’m okay if we’re friends.”

 

He wasn’t okay.

 

The thought grated on him. It would’ve been better if he hadn’t leaned in. The thunder had given him an opportunity to save himself, but he’d ignored it, and now he was suffering for it. There would be no future where he and Lance could lace their fingers together or whisper sweet things against skin or lean into a warm embrace. Instead, there would be text and lagging Skype calls and I miss you’s and Keith’s heart breaking in a way he didn’t think was possible.

 

Until, eventually, all he would have left were pictures.

 

“Besides, if I went to the US,” said Keith, willing the unnecessary moisture to go away, “I’d be leaving you behind. Any reasons I have to go are cheap compared to that.”

 

The moment he said it, Keith felt a kind of mental nausea churn within his head. Shiro, too, was unimpressed if the twist of his mouth was anything to go by.

 

“Are you saying you think your relationship with Lance is less than our’s?” Shiro was definitely disappointed by Keith’s choice of words. “You’re not leaving me behind. You’re going forward with your own life. I’m still around, it’s not like you’ll never see me again. This is an opportunity you may not have again, and I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, you should take it. Regardless of whether you now have incentive, or because that incentive is still not close enough for you, I believe accepting the scholarship would be the best decision you could make at this point in your life.”

 

It made sense – Shiro always made sense. Yet Keith couldn’t help but think of everything as it pertained to Lance. His head was so filled with the other man that Keith was disappointed in himself, in his lack of foresight and autonomy. The thing was, if he couldn’t be right beside Lance, what was the point in going at all? And despite knowing every single reason why he should take the scholarship, it still didn’t sit right.

 

He needed to give himself space to think. He needed to fill his head with something else, and come back to it later. He needed to dry the tears that were spilling from his eyes unheeded.

 

“Keith–” began Shiro, his own eyes wide. It had been years since Keith last cried in front of him. He wouldn’t know what to do – not that there was anything to be done.

 

So before Shiro could say anything more, Keith slapped the laptop shut. He’d apologize later, when he had his head on straight. Hopefully. For now, he was hyper aware of the wet heat on his face and it needed to disappear, stat.

 

“Um, are you...okay?” asked someone from the next table over.

 

The question only mortified Keith even further, reminding him he was crying publicly. He jerked his head in a sharp nod, using a napkin to scrape his cheeks of the salty tears. He packed away his laptop, grabbed his coffee, and hopped over the railing in the wake of another horse and buggy.

 

Luckily the Ephesos Museum was down the road. Keith lost himself in the blue-veined marble interior, drifting from room to room, eyes sliding from one bust to the next. Headless warriors in chariots raised their fistless arms at the behest of robed goddesses; horses rode down unarmed men; officials with bland expressions held their hands out in offering and quiet demand. Keith lifted his camera out of habit, but he wasn’t paying attention. Eventually he stopped trying, letting the camera dangle from his neck, and strolled through the museum with his hands shoved into his pockets. With every marble pillar he passed, Keith considered his choices.

 

He had offers from three universities in Japan, all of which had an astrophysics program. One was in Tokyo, the other two several hours away by train. They were close to home, close to his family and whatever few friends he had. Two offered him full ride, and the third a partial scholarship. Everything he learned would be in the comfort of his native language. If he graduated in the top of his class, he would be practically guaranteed a job – or, he could continue on like Shiro and aim for his doctorate.

 

If he chose Japan, everything was known, expected and comfortable. He could ask his brother for advice, he wouldn’t have to worry about a language barrier, and he knew the city and the country. It was home.

 

On the other hand, if Keith chose America, he was pitching himself into the unknown. The schooling system, housing – even speaking was different. His tuition would be paid for, and he would graduate with a degree from a prestigious American university, but Keith couldn’t picture what to expect like he could if he were to stay in Japan. The one image that never failed to evaporate was one of a crooked grin and warm brown skin and shining blue eyes.

 

Lance was the one constant, and it frustrated Keith to no end that he was willing to throw away all the comfort of home to be that much closer to him. He wanted to want to go, not because of Lance, but because it was a good idea for himself.

 

You’re going forward with your own life.

 

Shiro’s voice was clear, echoing between Keith’s ears. He reached out with a hand to touch cool marble, then the smooth metal of a railing as he started up the staircase to the next floor. A bronze statue stood guard at the top, gazing solemnly into the ether. Keith paused to look at the finely crafted detail of its face, but his mind was already drifting.

 

Everything was unknown, but he would adapt. Quickly. He was always good at that, taking a situation and running with it. It wouldn’t be hard. His language skills would only improve, the hesitations shortening until he could snap out remarks the same speed with which he did in Japanese. Less second guessing the translations running through his head, and a growing confidence that had already started with his conversations with Lance.

 

Japan was familiar, but wasn’t the reason he was trekking across Europe because he wanted something new? Going to America – that was an adventure. The only difference was he’d be going not as a tourist, but as a student. He would always have a home in Japan, but maybe he could make a niche for himself across the ocean as well.

 

Before he knew it, Keith was grinning. A funny little sensation was growing in his stomach, like he was in a plane at take off. It took him a moment to name the feeling for what it was – anticipation.

 

Keith imagined unfamiliar cities full of people he’d never seen the likes of, late night runs to get junk food he’d never tasted before, studying books he didn’t want to read in English at three in the morning, hearing snippets of conversations in languages he’d never heard of. He pictured the good and the bad, the exciting and terrifying.

 

A thrill ran through him, goosebumps rising on his skin and his hair standing at attention. His belly swooped. The opportunity was right in front of him, and he could take it.

 

And Keith was excited.

 


 

4:46 PM

Keith Kogane

sorry about earlier

i didnt mean to lose it like that

but i thought about it

going to the us i mean

and i think it wouldnt be so bad

actually i

kind of really want to go

and not just for lance but because like you said its a great opportunity

Takashi Shirogane

You thought I wouldn’t be awake?

Keith Kogane

fuck

Takashi Shirogane

But I’m proud of you, Keith

Really

For thinking things through and finding the positives where before it looked daunting

I’d be proud of you no matter what you chose, as long as it was a decision that you could fully support yourself going forward

Keith Kogane

….thanks

Takashi Shirogane

Also I love you a lot, little bro

Keith Kogane

ugh

Takashi Shirogane

And? :)

Keith Kogane

i tolerate you

Takashi Shirogane

You’re so sweet

Keith Kogane

go to bed old man

Takashi Shirogane

Hell no

Keith Kogane

ill tell auntie youre pulling allnighters again

Takashi Shirogane

I don’t quite understand what I’ve done to earn such vehemence but fine

Keith Kogane

you were way too logical

made too much sense

stop that

Takashi Shirogane

So petty

Do you want to accept the offer or think it through a bit longer?

Keith Kogane

ill keep thinking on it and send off my acceptance when i get back

Takashi Shirogane

Sounds good, buddy

I’ll make an attempt at sleep now

Good night!

Keith Kogane

night shiro

 


 

11:07 PM

 

Keith Kogane

so whats on your bucket list for berlin?

Lance Rivera

uuuh

hm

good question

Keith Kogane

when was the last time you looked at it...

Lance Rivera

well like

i missed a ton of shit bcos i was too busy w u

a lot ended up being moot yknow

Keith Kogane

…...oops?

Lance Rivera

altho now im curious to see what i did miss

dont even pretend like u mind

Keith Kogane

i wont lie

im glad you spent more time with me than grinding on statues or something

Lance Rivera

i def peaked in paris

that will forever be iconic

Keith Kogane

whats that thing you say when you wish something could be removed from your memory

Lance Rivera

brain bleach

floss your brain

pass the steel wool was one i think

uuuuuhhh

Keith Kogane

right i think i got it unfortunately

Lance Rivera

its a great memory dont even deny

Keith Kogane

it was interesting, sure

Lance Rivera

u were laughin in it

A Lot

Keith Kogane

hmm cant say i remember

Lance Rivera

why must u be like this

ok i have the list up

o hell yea ride a mopeds on here

CHEKCED OFF

Keith Kogane

you could edit that to race mopeds

Lance Rivera

that def sounds more interestin

ok i didnt get “get mobbed by pigeons” or “get serenaded”

idk how i expected that second one to happen

Keith Kogane

im sure it would have involved alcohol

Lance Rivera

probs

o i didnt get to kiss the first person to buy me a drink

dang

Keith Kogane

……

you did though? maybe

Lance Rivera

what?

Keith Kogane

i bought you a drink in paris

and we kissed in florence

Lance Rivera

…………..

……………………….

…………………………………………

oh

Keith Kogane

so yeah cross that one off

Lance Rivera

wasnt it me buying all the rounds?¿

Keith Kogane

,....i think i bought a round once?

Lance Rivera

ok w/e im counting it :)))))))))

hey

Keith Kogane

hey?

Lance Rivera

i miss u

Keith Kogane

same

i’d miss me a lot too

Lance Rivera

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUk u

Keith Kogane

:DDDDDDDD

Lance Rivera

stOP ITS SO WEIRD IF U DO IT

Keith Kogane

:’\\\\\\

Lance Rivera

im gettin goosebumps

not the good kind

Keith Kogane

>:33333

Lance Rivera

RIGHT THATS IT IM GOING TO BED

GOODNIGHT U LIL SHITNUGGET

Keith Kogane

night

also

i miss you too

Lance Rivera

u sneaky lil twatwaffle

 

 


 

Lance stood outside the Berlin Cathedral Church and couldn’t help but try to emulate the kind of picture that Keith might take. When he stepped inside, passed between two sparkling black pillars, and tilted his head back to see the dome arching high above him, Lance was overcome with a sudden feeling of loss. It was unwelcome, and irrational, but such feelings never listened to his input before tracing their hollow fingers up his spine.

 

The dome reminded him of St Paul’s. Lance wondered if there was a whisper gallery up there, too, or a clock mechanism in some roped off tower. He wondered a lot of things, but no matter how unrelated they were, they always seemed to return to Keith. For once, Lance wished he could think of something else other than the piercings in the shell of Keith’s ear, or the soft ends of his hair, or the way his eyebrows shot upwards when he laughed unexpectedly. Unfortunately, Lance’s mind wasn’t an obedient one, and it ran rampant with the highlight reel that was just Keith, Keith, Keith. Frustrated with himself, Lance sat down at one of the pews. He tried to fixate on the stained glass windows behind the altar, but even those didn’t hold his attention for long. His brain was having none of it. His leg started to bounce. Fingers tapped restlessly against his wooden seat, his nails drumsticks to the bench’s snare.

 

Then Keith returned to the forefront of his mind, and Lance felt the tension seep out of him. It was a trade: his restlessness for an ache in his chest. He wasn’t wholly sure which he preferred.

 

Eventually, Lance came to the conclusion he wouldn’t be doing himself any favours sticking around the church, so he left with the intention of finding better thought fodder. A shadow seemed to follow him. It dragged at the hem of his pants and crept into his bones, and when it reached his ears it began to whisper–

 

Ugh!” Lance dragged his hands roughly through his hair, setting it on end and scraping his scalp. Several people glanced in his direction, but he ignored them as he said out loud, “Been there, done that, not doing it again.”

 

He strode with forced vigour, inhaling long and deep and exhaling the same. Tour busses lined up and down the road surrounding the green that sat between the church and museum. People with bikes relaxed on the grass, others tossed coins into the fountain as it shot a jet of water into the sky. Lance eventually sat himself down at the top most step of the pillared museum, allowing himself a view to people-watch.

 

With each person that walked by, Lance thought up a life for them; what they might do for a living, their hobbies, if they had a crush on the girl they just spun around to talk to, if they knew how to drive standard. It wasn’t nearly as fun doing it by himself as it was when he was with Hunk or Pidge. Or Keith.

 

Before he really thought it through, Lance was lifting his iPod up and taking pictures, not of the intimidatingly beautiful church across the green, but of the people. He recalled Keith showing him pictures from Rome – legs tangled, pressed against each other – that he had taken with the intent of playing I Spy. It’s what Lance did then, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth as he counted the number of fanny packs making their appearance on middle-aged tourists.

 


9:12 PM

Lance Rivera

hey luanne!! ive got a few pictures you might want

[IMAGE SENT]

[IMAGE SENT]

[IMAGE SENT]

i forgt i had them to be honest

Luanne Stewart

of course Henry is wearing that smirk of his

although that second one of me is really flattering for my bum

Lance Rivera

omg luanne!!!

Luanne Stewart

what, you don’t agree?

I’m hurt

Lance Rivera

so snippy

your backside looks great

Luanne Stewart

thank you

my niece’s daughter wears jeans with padding in them

is that normal nowadays?

Lance Rivera

i….dont actually know??

i kinda want to figure out now

hold on im googling it

Luanne Stewart

I await the answer eagerly

Lance Rivera

results are inconclusive

i think its a returning 80s style or smth

something

Luanne Stewart

you can use all the chatspeak you want, kid

I can figure it out

Lance Rivera

o thank god i was strugglin tryna keep things coherent

while maintaing my Aeasthetic

Aesshtetic

Easethic

Aesthetic

Luanne Stewart

beautiful attempts

how was the rest of your trip?

Lance Rivera

great!!

actually i got rly close to someone u kno

Luanne Stewart

is that so? who?

Lance Rivera

have u been keepin up w my pics?¿

Luanne Stewart

I’ve seen them here and there

Italy looked amazing

I’m a little envious

if Henry wasn’t such a rickety twink I would have liked to go to Venice as well

Lance Rivera

omg luanne did u just call henry a twink

Luanne Stewart

affectionately

honestly it isn’t a secret he’s gay

a massive homosexual, like me

Lance Rivera

sometimes i forget old ppl can be gay

i thought u and henry were married

Luanne Stewart

well, you’re not wrong

it comes with benefits

enough about me though, you were telling me about your friend?

Lance Rivera

O YEA ok u remember that guy that was climbin the cliff??¿¿

Luanne Stewart

I can’t say I remember a face

Lance Rivera

he wore red plaid

Luanne Stewart

oh yes I think I recall

Lance Rivera

yea!! so

were friends now??

like actually rly good friends????

[IMAGE SENT]

and ive got a massive crush on him so

Luanne Stewart

is

oh!

oh my god

Lance Rivera

ye

Luanne Stewart

that’s so sweet

but also, how in the hell did that happen?

Lance Rivera

its a long story

but ill summarize

i was in a taxi in london which hit him while he was takin a pic, took him to the hospital, he dipped, i saw him again in a cathedral, and we went to a museum, and the eye, and the aquarium. then i went to paris and he was there too SURPRISE and we went to the eiffel tower and the louvre and went trainsurfing and did a bar crawl. and bonding!!! but then i went to venice and he went to rome, but we met up again in florence and turned out our rooms were across the hall from each other and we raced on mopeds and did a wine tour and shit and then uh

yea so like our feelings are mutual???

but rn hes in vienna and im in berlin

and well see each other for like 2 days in london

before i go back to the states

and at some point hes goin back to japan

Luanne Stewart

my heart isn’t fit enough for this

Lance Rivera

lkjdfhglsdfjhg;akdjf

Luanne Stewart

what are you going to do?

at this point, I’m invested in your wellbeing and I want you to get your man

Lance Rivera

that would be ideal ye

i dont think i can do long distance???

but i also dont want to just stop talkin

i like him waaaay too much lol

Luanne Stewart

plane tickets are quite expensive

but if you budget, you could make it happen

Lance Rivera

its lit the only thing ive been able to think about for the past few days

im fuckd

Luanne Stewart

whatever happens, know that you will grow from it

you have a lot to look forward to, so don’t let this take away from the time you have left

okay?

Lance Rivera

thanks grandma zen

ill do my best

tell henry i say hi btw!!

Luanne Stewart

of course

I’m heading out now but I’ll keep an eye out for your pictures

Lance Rivera

excellent :))) good night!!

 


9:44 PM

 

ℓαиçә

HUUUUNK

HUNK

HUUUUUUUUUUUUNKYDORY

Hunkules

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT

ℓαиçә

u havent told us abt ur date w shay :3c

Hunkules

oh

well

we’ve been on three

ℓαиçә

ur fkn shittin me

and u didnt tell us W H Y???

Hunkules

I didn’t want to

um

jinx it??

ℓαиçә

srsly????¿¿¿¿

dr4g0ns14y3r

how is telling us going to jinx anything?

ℓαиçә

where tf is pidge

OHEY

dr4g0ns14y3r

word

 

Hunkules

I don’t know!! I was just a little paranoid, okay??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

so?

how’d it go?

ℓαиçә

ya hunk howd it go???

Hunkules

well

good

great, actually

:))))

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

i ship it

ℓαиçә

same

whered u go whatd u eat did u kiss her yet TELL US EVERYTHING

Hunkules

all you need to know is that Shay is as wonderful as I first thought

usually people downgrade from their first impression

but not Shay

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

are you saying that you thought better of me when we first met?

ℓαиçә

not me

i thought u were a loser gremlin when i first met u

now i know ur a ferocious gremlin

dr4g0ns14y3r

upgraded from loser to ferocious

i’ll take it

 

Hunkules

I mean you start to learn not all is as it seems!!

but Shay is

kinder

ℓαиçә

if u think shes kind compared to urself

she must be a literal saint

dr4g0ns14y3r

i need to meet her asap

ooor as soon as i come back from italy

ℓαиçә

ill meet her in ur stead

get all the dirt

Hunkules

I’m afraid you’ll intimidate her…

ℓαиçә

i would never do anythign to scare off ur soulmate bud

i love u man srsly

Hunkules

you’re right, sorry

Wait

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

hehehehe

ℓαиçә

HNUK TIHNKS SHAY AS HIS SOULATNEMATE

Hunkules

:///

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

jfc how did you manage to butcher it that badly

 

Hunkules

I just like her a lot!!!

it’s not that intense, though!!

ℓαиçә

yep ok

new betting pool: how long till they become grossly domestic

dr4g0ns14y3r

2 weeks

ℓαиçә

i say 3

Hunkules

:|

you guys didn’t actually bet on when we would start dating, did you..??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

i owe lance ten bucks

 

Hunkules

omg

ℓαиçә

ya boi lance mAKIN BANK

Hunkules

well then

new betting pool

percentage of Lance’s new flames that resemble Keith

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

OH S H I T

ℓαиçә

:OOOOO

LOW BLOW HUNK!!!!

LOW

BLOW

Hunkules

>:|

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

i’m going 60%

 

ℓαиçә

PIDGE

Hunkules

I’m going to say 40%

ℓαиçә

me, betrayed

….

70%

dr4g0ns14y3r

it’s cheating if your the one in control!

you’re**

ℓαиçә

ill forget in like a week its fine

Hunkules

that’s true

I’ll write down the bets

ℓαиçә

ty

Hunkules

also that’s a pretty high percentage, Lance

ℓαиçә

ye im like in love or smth

Hunkules

:(((

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

the way you casually say that makes me laugh and also affects what few feelings i have

 

Hunkules

I’m sorry I brought it up Lance, that was uncool

ℓαиçә

omg dont worry about it

u dragged me rly fkin good

Hunkules

I’m really sorry

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

you okay?

ℓαиçә

yeeeea im a little less emo about it than i ws

then

than??

dr4g0ns14y3r

than

if you’re sure

 

Hunkules

well, you have time

make the most of it and when you come home

we can marathon Ghost Hunters

ℓαиçә

FUKYA

excited

dr4g0ns14y3r

how the fuck does that cheer you up?

ℓαиçә

im a simple man pidge

give me good food, ghosthunters and hunks hugs and im HEALED

dr4g0ns14y3r

right yeah obviously

 

Hunkules

not everyone feels better by staring at screens all night!!

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

touché

ℓαиçә

or by consuming four sleeves of saltines

how tf do u do it

dr4g0ns14y3r

hey

sad food is sad food, there is no rhyme or reason

 

Hunkules

just let me feed you :|

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

shove my facehole full of that dry brittle salty cracker goodness

 

ℓαиçә

gross

alright

im gonna go to bed

Hunkules

isn’t it a bit early??

ℓαиçә

ye

dr4g0ns14y3r

he wants to sleep earlier so tomorrow comes faster

 

Hunkules

oh yeah, you’re going to London, aren’t you?? :)))

ℓαиçә

yep

last chance to ask for anything

dr4g0ns14y3r

you never asked us if we wanted anything in the first place, you dink

 

ℓαиçә

nothing???????

v well if u insist

Hunkules

any British sweets you think I would like, please!!

ℓαиçә

anything for u buddy ;)

dr4g0ns14y3r

i’ll bring back some good cooking wine

just remind me

 

Hunkules

I’m so excited!!!

ℓαиçә

thats like

6 months away?¿

dr4g0ns14y3r

sshhhhhh

it’ll get there eventually

ℓαиçә

right w/e

OK IM GONNA SLEEP

GOODNIGHT FRICKFRACKS

Hunkules

guten nacht!!

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

g’night

bet he’ll dream about a certain boy

 

Hunkules

can we bet if we both expect the same outcome??

 

ℓαиçә

y’all….

 

 


 

Chapter Text

The airport was crowded. A voice overhead droning in perfectly articulated English was the backdrop to a cacophony of cheers, shouts, laughter and the checkerboard of conversations. Amongst the constant jostling of bodies and suitcases and backpacks, Keith wove between it all like an otter through water. His belongings strained against their confines, bouncing against his back as he practically flew from the terminal. His giddiness was a rush of golden warmth in his chest, mixing stubbornly with the trepidation clinging to the ends of his nerves. It was impossible to tell what was good and what was bad, but his reaction was the same: a pounding heart, sweaty palms, swooping belly and a wildness that saw Keith launching himself over the edge of the escalator. He touched ground to the sound of alarm from the dozens of people he’d just skipped ahead of, grinning like a tempest in human form.

 

He ducked into the first empty taxi he saw, nearly popping out the other side with his momentum. The driver gave him an unnerved stare through the rearview mirror, but listened to the address Keith gave him. The entire ride was spent alternating between jogging his leg due to anticipation, and jogging his leg due to apprehension.

 

It wouldn’t be long until he was face to face with Lance again, within range to wrap himself up in the hazy summer warmth of the other man. The thought evoked giddy bubbles in Keith’s stomach. They tried to escape in giggles, but he stifled those for the most part. Then he remembered the list of offers and scholarships his brother had emailed to him to mull over further, and he was chewing at the chapped skin of his lips.

 

At times, with a wave of excitement at his back, Keith was tempted to send off his acceptance immediately, and tell Lance he was going to school in America. Then the thrill would give way to unease, and slide steadily into a sick nervousness that didn’t pair well with whatever he’d recently eaten. The two sides were dueling it out in equal measure, and Keith was feeling the whiplash. It was definitely a leg up from outright denying the idea of a foreign institution, but it was turning his stomach and making his head ache. It was due to this that Keith didn’t want to tell Lance, lest he try to sell the idea. The one thing Keith wanted was to be able to make the decision himself, free of outside pressures like his extreme attachment to Lance. He also didn’t want to prematurely go through the facial journey that was Lance getting excited, then remembering that whatever they would have at the end of the trip would be long distance no matter what Keith chose.

 

The taxi pulled up to the hotel. Keith thanked the driver, stumbling over Italian and French equivalents before the English popped out of him. He hitched his backpack over his shoulder, readjusted the camera case he clutched like a baby, and strode into the hotel lobby. The ceiling was high and decorated with dangling chandeliers, giving the space a far more expensive feel. Cream leather couches and dark plush armchairs circled glass coffee tables. A granite half circle desk held the receptionist, who appeared to be forming a collection of origami animals using the hotel stationery.

 

A quick once over of the open space yielded nothing. For once, Lance was first to arrive, but Keith wanted to be the first to see him. He set his bags down on the couches in the lobby and began digging inside his backpack for his laptop and sole means of communication. His fingertips had just grazed the indent of a USB port when he felt a hand descend heavily onto his shoulder.

 

Keith spun around, the hand buried in his pack keeping a grip on clothes and laptop. His opposite arm froze, elbow ready to knock aside whoever had grabbed him, but all he saw was a brilliant smile and blue eyes narrowed from the size of it.

 

With a huff, Keith lowered his arm and allowed his fingers to loosen their vice grip. “I could’ve knocked you out, Lance.”

 

“But you didn’t,” said Lance cheerfully. His smile adopted a mischievous edge. “Remember in the cathedral, when I scared you and you screamed?”

 

“I definitely didn’t scream,” denied Keith as he zipped his bag up, “I remember you shrieking.”

 

“Never happened,” sniffed Lance.

 

“You sure?” Keith turned back around to face Lance. Seeing those gleaming eyes fixated upon him, Keith found himself giving the lobby a cursory glance before he leaned in to kiss the other man’s cheek. “It’s good to see you.”

 

For a moment, Keith recalled the inevitable departure ahead of them – but he quickly and mercilessly smothered it. Perhaps giving in to physical temptation around Lance was a terrible idea, but he knew that in his presence, Keith was a weak man, and unless Lance was the one distancing himself, Keith didn’t stand a chance. If the giddy smile and rosy blush growing in tandem on Lance’s face was anything to go by, Keith was unequivocally doomed.

 

“Yeah, you, too,” said Lance. He eyed Keith’s luggage for a moment, biting his lip, before asking, “You haven’t booked a room yet?”

 

“Ah, no.”

 

“Then – do you want to stay with me?”

 

Lance’s gaze was a hopeful one. Keith couldn’t believe he’d ever considered trying to distance himself to save his feelings.

 

“Ye-yes,” said Keith, inwardly cringing at himself.

 

Lance nearly sank against him as he sighed in obvious relief. “Nice. Okay, let’s bring this shit upstairs. We’re on the fifth floor.”

 

He leaned around Keith to take hold of the backpack, hefting it onto his shoulder before Keith could protest.

 

“C’mon,” he beamed, and spun around to march towards the elevators, leaving Keith to grab his camera bag and jog after him.

 

The room, when they reached it, was far more luxurious than what Keith was prepared for after weeks of jumping from mediocre hostels to satisfactory rentals. The queen size bed – Lance’s possessions already strewn over it – was stacked with an unnecessary number of plump pillows, set to a black backboard stamped with brass studs. The heavy curtains were already thrown open to allow the early evening light to flood in, alighting on fresh cut hydrangeas sitting in a glass vase on the desk.

 

“Nice, right?” said Lance, propping Keith’s backpack against the wall.

 

“I’d say,” said Keith, “How did you manage to afford this?”

 

“My parents helped me find all the deals,” explained Lance as he flung his arms out and twirled on the spot, “Since I had some leftover money I thought, why the fuck not? Time to splurge.”

 

“Splurge,” repeated Keith, grimacing at the word.

 

“Yeah, like, spoil.”

 

“What the hell kind of word is splurge?

 

“A hideous one, for certain,” said Lance solemnly, “Well, now that you’re here, I’m starving.”

 

“Same,” sighed Keith.

 

“Any ideas?”

 

“I saw a pub down the road,” suggested Keith as Lance bent down to his open suitcase.

 

“Sounds–” Lance grunted, pulling on something within, “–great. Come on–hah!”

 

With a victorious shout, Lance freed the red plaid coat from beneath a mound of his own clothes, now scattered over the carpet. With a smug look at Keith, Lance donned the coat with a flourish. Keith didn’t mind at all; in fact, he rather would have enjoyed tugging the other man close and kissing the look off his face, but he held back.

 

They left the hotel to follow the road down by the edge of the Thames. A nondescript pub sat on the water, its balcony extending over the gently churning surface. The interior was all rough wood and worn cushions, but it was clean and polished and clearly loved if the sound of laughter coming from the bar was anything to go by. It wasn’t quite busy yet, but with the sinking of the sun, Keith and Lance were only two of a slow and steady flow of patrons. Lance pulled Keith out onto the patio despite the October chill, bundled as he was in the coat. A bare wire of light bulbs lit the outdoor dining area in a warm glow. With pints of beer to warm their bellies, they took the table with the best view of the city across the water, slowly stirring in the coolly burning wake of the sun.

 

“Did you have anything left on your bucket list for London?” asked Keith as he mulled over the menu.

 

“A few things,” said Lance. One finger tapped at the laminated surface of the menu; one beat for every item he wasn’t interested in, two for a maybe, and three for those that grabbed his interested. Keith’s mouth twitched into a grin.

 

“We could cross those off,” suggested Keith, “Unless you had other ideas?”

 

“I did have one thing, actually,” said Lance, looking up from the list of meals with a thoughtful expression.

 

Half of his face was lit by the dimming sky, a cool blue off the water, while the other was warm from the bare bulbs above them. Keith reminded himself not to stare. The reminder was ultimately ignored as Lance continued.

 

“I didn’t pack for it, but it doesn’t really matter. For one thing, it’s just one scrap of clothing…” Lance trailed off and tilted his head first towards the inside of the pub, then towards the river. “Did you hear that?”

 

“Hear what?” asked Keith, glancing out over the water.

 

But he caught it before Lance could respond. A muffled yell, travelling over the surface of the Thames. At first, he thought it was someone having a shouting match, but when he twisted in his seat, Keith recognized that a singular voice’s chant was being repeated by many more.

 

“Is that… a ship?” whispered Lance in disbelief.

 

Keith leaned over the wooden railing. Several boats were tethered on the water’s edge, but none were tall enough to block the mast that was drifting down the river. The sail was drawn, allowing the bow to cleave through the water at a leisurely pace. That wasn’t what was bizarre, even though Keith had never seen a craft like it that wasn’t a pirate ship on display. No, what was strange was that there were a dozen people clinging to the tied sails, some of them with grips in the rigging – and all of them parroting what someone in the crow's nest was shouting. Keith couldn’t figure out what they were singing, exactly, but it didn’t really matter. It was a photo opportunity, but he’d left his camera in the hotel room like a fool, although perhaps Lance had his iPod – it would have to do.

 

“Nope,” said Lance as soon as Keith tore his gaze away from the ship to look at him.

 

“I didn’t even say anything,” said Keith, miffed. The unspoken yet hung between them.

 

“Okay, see, that face you make,” drawled Lance with a lazy swirl of his finger, “The one that precedes unlawful activities?”

 

“You mean the one I don’t have?”

 

“I’ll get a picture of it, just you wait.” Lance cleared his throat and gestured dramatically towards the shouting ship. “You were probably planning on hopping the railing, diving into the river and paddling over to get just the right angle.” He uttered the last part in a parody of Keith, who really wished he didn’t find it endearingly awful.

 

“I would have stopped at the end of the dock,” said Keith, “Seeing as I can’t swim.”

 

“Oh.” Lance frowned. “Right.” Then his expression turned into the facial equivalent of the sunrise. Keith tried to focus on the ship passing by the pub, but it was like attempting to ignore a sunburn. “I have an idea.”

 

Keith tried to figure out what the people on the masts were singing. It was impossible. “What’s that?”

 

The menu scraped against the table as Lance moved it aside, steepling his fingers in front of his face. “I teach you how to swim.”

 

Oh, what the shit. Keith allowed his eyes to roll right around until they landed on Lance. “What.”

 

“Swim. Teach you. Me.”

 

“Got that bit,” sighed Keith, “I’m not going to dive into the Thames. I don’t have a… swimsuit? Yeah. Don’t have one of those.”

 

“That’s fine,” beamed Lance behind his fingers.

 

“Um…”

 

“I was going to mention earlier, but there’s a pool at the hotel, and swimming in your underwear is fine.” A pause. “Or naked, I mean, that’s fine, too.”

 

Keith felt his face turn the approximate colour of a ripe tomato. “What.”

 

“So, you in?” Lance was watching him, that wide smile going nowhere, those fingers hiding too much of it.

 

To give himself a moment to regroup, Keith grabbed his beer and took a long swig. The thud of the glass against the coaster wasn’t quite loud enough to be satisfying, but Keith accepted it for what it was.

 

“Yeah, sure,” he said, inhaled, then added, “There’s no way I’m swimming naked in the hotel pool, though.”

 

Lance laughed and finally smoothed his fingers against the tabletop. “It was just a suggestion!”

 

At that moment, the waiter approached their table with a grin and a glance at the ship. “Ready to order?”

 

“Oh, yep,” said Lance, gaze dropping to the menu once more. “Uh. Perogies?”

 

“Yes?” mocked the waiter with a chuckle, “Sounds great. And for yourself?”

 

The waiter’s attention shifted to Keith, who had no idea what he wanted, since his focus had been mostly on Lance since they’d entered the pub. He glanced over the menu in a rush and picked the item least likely to make his stomach churn when mixed with beer.

 

“Chicken strips, please.”

 

“Perfect, the food will be out in a bit,” assured the waiter, and then he was gone.

 

Keith propped his elbow up on the railing to point towards the ship leaving their sight. “Lance, take a picture.”

 

“What?” Lance followed his pointing finger, cocking an eyebrow even as he drew out his iPod. “You don’t mind that it’s going to be shitty?”

 

“It won’t be pretty,” agreed Keith grimly, “But a picture is a picture.”

 

“Have I ever told you that you’re a little petty?”

 

“Probably, I can’t recall.”

 

With a sniff, Lance twisted in his seat to snap a picture. Keith watched the angle change from bad to outright terrible, and he clutched his hands together to stop himself from reaching out to do it himself, and bit on his lip to halt the backseat photographer in him. A picture was a picture; a memory was a memory. He could probably deal with whatever subpar quality Lance settled for.

 

As if reading the distress in Keith’s mind, Lance said without turning around, “Pop a filter on it, maybe a bit of extra Photoshop, and bam. HD photo. You can even leave the tag on it.”

 

With that, he shot an unimpressed glance over his shoulder at Keith, who shrugged nonchalantly. “Why the hell would I keep a Medusa sculpture on my profile?”

 

“It’s proof you have friends.

 

“I honestly have no problem with that.”

 

“I’m going to keep tagging you in it.”

 

“I’ll report it,” droned Keith.

 

Lance gasped. “You wouldn’t.”

 

Watch me.

 

It wasn’t long until their first beers were drained, only a froth dragging its fingers down the interior of their glasses. The waiter traded glasses for food, and they had barely picked up their forks when freshly topped pints were placed on the coasters. The ship disappeared to serenade further down the river, two empty pints became three, chicken strips and perogies were polished off plates to be replaced with deep fried bananas.

 

By the time they paid, the Big Dipper was on display in the light-polluted sky, the pub was packed with people, and the roads were dim, shifty, but empty enough that a drunk pair of tourists could stagger in zigzags without concern. Keith had his arm looped around Lance’s waist beneath his own coat, unzipped to let the brisk night air pass under it. The arm Lance had around Keith’s neck kept tightening every time he had something to say, bringing their faces close together until Keith was familiar with the smell of beer on Lance’s breath.

 

It was with maximum effort that they straightened their backs and strode into the hotel as if they weren’t intoxicated. As soon as they made it into the elevator, they dissolved into meaningless giggles. It was an excuse to grip arms and lean against each other, to bring their faces maybe a bit too close together. Keith couldn’t tell whether the sensation over his cheek was a breath or lips, but it didn’t matter – his face felt like it was slowly toasting in front of a bonfire. It was a pleasant heat, if perhaps proving irresistible.

 

When they were inside the hotel room, they dropped the extra layers they had on – a sweater and a red plaid coat forming a pile on the bed – and the nonessentials they had the sense to leave behind. Then they were sneaking off back downstairs – or rather, Lance was stooped and tiptoeing while Keith snapped a towel at his backside. They chose to take the stairwell instead of the elevator, whipping down every flight with reckless abandon. Lance lost his towel twice and only caught up because Keith couldn’t get ahead while laughing that hard.

 

Creeping across the lobby unseen wasn’t difficult. The receptionist was preoccupied with making two dinosaur origami figures duke it out, complete with sound effects. At the door to the pool, Keith looked at Lance expectantly.

 

Lance matched his gaze. “I don’t suppose you’d confess to being able to lockpick?”

 

“...No,” said Keith flatly.

 

“Well, that’s unfortunate.”

 

Lance.”

 

The other man shot the doorknob a frown, then reached out and twisted it. It turned, and kept turning, and the latch bolt slid back. Both young men stared in disbelief as Lance slowly pulled open the door.

 

“That’s convenient,” whispered Lance, and then he was slipping through the door without preamble, Keith darting in behind him.

 

Half the lights were off; it was obvious the pool was, in fact, closed to the public by the hour. It smelled heavily of chlorine, which was familiar to Keith even though he hadn’t visited a pool very often in his lifetime to warrant nostalgia. As they were passing the locker rooms, there was a clatter in the men’s. Keith had Lance hooked and hauled him into the women’s just as a janitor swaggered out of the opposing locker room. He had headphones on, bobbing his head to the muted beat as he rolled his trolley down the hall and out the entrance. There was a faint click, the door locked behind him, and then Keith and Lance were alone.

 

“I couldn’t have planned this better if I tried,” said Lance, keeping his voice low as they hesitantly shuffled out of the locker room. When it became obvious they were in the clear, Lance’s face split into a wide grin and he was dragging Keith off towards the pool.

 

The water was a shadowy lake in the dim lighting. Lance split off, disappearing behind a corner. As Keith looked on, globes of light came to life within the pool. The water glowed with the new luminescence, and as the surface moved slightly, despite there being nothing to disturb it, the refraction of light turned into a shimmering painting on the ceiling.

 

Lance returned wearing a self-satisfied smile. “Bam.

 

Keith just shrugged, as if he didn’t think the scene was at all interesting – even if he did.

 

“Ready for swimming lessons?”

 

With the heat in his veins and the buzz in his head and an unfortunate confidence throbbing alongside his heart, Keith nodded. “I’ll be swimming laps in no time.”

 

“Maybe not,” laughed Lance, and then he was pulling his shirt up and over his head.

 

To say Keith was enamoured would be an understatement. His gaze wandered over the shift and tug of muscle beneath warm brown skin, the plains of a deceptively broad chest and the dip of obliques into the waistband of pants currently being discarded. All that was left was a pair of navy boxer briefs. Keith swallowed with some difficulty. Maybe it was the alcohol, but everything about Lance was in sharp relief, the pool and the tiles of the walls fading into nondescript blurs. He caught sight of a smug, knowing smile, and then Lance was launching himself into the water in a smooth arc.

 

The ripples of light on the ceiling went wild. Lance turned in the water, the liquid flowing around him like a formless robe as he cleaved through it. Then he was resting his forearms on the edge of the pool and grinning up at Keith.

 

“You ready?” he asked, droplets shining like pearls on his eyelashes and tiny rivulets trailing down the line of his nose.

 

Keith took a deep breath. The water never scared him before – he’d avoided anything deeper than his waist – but never had he been excited to enter. With Lance gazing at him from the glowing water, and a frankly dangerous amount of alcohol lending him courage, Keith’s only source of agitation was stripping in front of Lance – which he did quickly, until all that was left was fitted black cloth and skin prickling with goosebumps.

 

When he was done, he stood at the edge of the pool, fully prepared to toss himself in. Lance slid before him, lifting a hand to ward him off.

 

“Not here,” he said, and then switched to pointing towards the other end of the pool, “We’ll start in the shallows, ‘kay?”

 

“Oh, yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

 

“Probably.”

 

There was a ladder on the shallow side, which Keith promptly ignored in favour of jumping neatly into the hip-high water. He shuddered at the change in temperature, but it evened out quickly.

 

“Alright, fishboy,” said Keith, hands hovering over the surface, “Turn me into a swimmer.”

 

Lance snorted as he languidly circled Keith, refusing to stand up in the shallows. “I’m a fantastic teacher, you’ll soon learn.”

 

“I’m starting to think you’re all talk.”

 

“Have some faith.”

 

“In you? Unlikely.”

 

“Honestly, Keith,” sniffed Lance, flipping lazily onto his back, “Babies are born knowing how to swim. It’s instinct. Now come on.”

 

Heaving a sigh, Keith followed as Lance floated into deeper water. His body was overheating from the booze, but the pass of cool water over his warm skin was a relief. He found his body relaxing almost too much when his knees felt like buckling beneath him. It was too tempting to float away, but the problem remained that he didn’t know how to float. When the water was lapping at Keith’s neck, he stopped walking forward.

 

Lance let his legs fall vertical and began to tread water. “Now just moves your hands like this, pushing and pulling the water from the sides. Close your fingers– Yeah, like that. You should be able to feel the water holding your arms up. Now lift your feet up and pretend you’re a frog.”

 

“A frog.” Keith shot him a skeptical look, but his mouth twitched anyway.

 

“Yep,” said Lance cheerfully, “Give it a go.”

 

On his first try, water splashed against Keith’s ear and his legs snapped straight, stubbing his toes against the bottom of the pool. “Shit, ow!”

 

Lance snorted a laugh. “You panicked. Your head won’t go under, I swear. You have to like– okay, wait, you lift your legs up, and kick them outwards, and as you’re bringing them down, you close your legs together. It forces the water down between them and like, propels you up. So – okay, don’t look at me like that – give it another try.”

 

Keith didn’t stop scrunching his nose at Lance even as he made a second attempt, then a third, until finally, on his fourth, he felt the water beneath him and his shoulders met air for a moment.

 

Oh,” he said in surprise, and then promptly kicked the tile again.

 

“You did it!” cooed Lance once he was done giggling, “My student is so smart, such a quick learner, what a good–”

 

The rest turned into a splutter when he received a faceful of chlorinated water.

 

“Ungrateful brat,” huffed Lance, “I impart my knowledge upon you–”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” interrupted Keith as he hiked his feet up to try again. He managed to stay afloat this time and grinned at his success.

 

Lance watched him for a moment, and then said, “Want to try swimming forward?”

 

“Maybe...not?” Keith was just impressed at himself for being able to stay up in one place. The thought of doggy paddling desperately while Lance looped around him like a mermaid was embarrassing.

 

“Come on,” insisted Lance, drifting closer until their toes knocked, “You can use me as a paddleboard.”

 

“A what?”

 

“Just hang onto me,” said Lance.

 

Long fingers slid around Keith’s wrists, disrupting his steady churning. He would have surely panicked and slid under the water if not for the fact that Lance was pulling him forward with a strength that Keith was only familiar with on dry land. It was somehow different, somehow more. Then Keith’s hands were gripping strong shoulders and Lance was propelling them towards deeper water with slow, powerful sweeps of his arms. Keith automatically started kicking his legs and he was surprised when he nearly shot forward faster than Lance was dragging them. The movement startled a laugh out of both of them.

 

“Try not to break my teeth, please,” said Lance, running his tongue over the edge of his incisors.

 

Keith’s eyes followed the motion for one brief distracted moment. “I hope you know how to dodge.”

 

Keith!” spluttered Lance, “I’ll drop you, I swear to God.”

 

“You wouldn’t,” said Keith dismissively.

 

Lance’s amused smile fell into something warmer. “Nah, you’re right. I wouldn’t.”

 

As if the warm poison loosening his reasoning wasn’t enough, Keith had to bare the full brunt of that expression from up close; their faces were near enough that Keith could see the glimmer of the water reflecting in the deep blue of Lance’s eyes. If there were any words that Keith meant to say, they were lost now. He felt the buffet of water against his legs as his kicks slackened but Lance’s kept them moving – but all of the other man’s focus was on Keith.

 

Keith’s heart was beating in his ears. It was a rerun of that moment in Florence – the sky rumbling, rain drilling against the cobblestones, atmosphere as tense as an elastic band reaching breaking point.

 

Now it was water lit from within, the swish of hands brushing through it, and two young men yearning.

 

“Keith,” breathed Lance, “We haven’t talked about it, both of us realize it, and we’ve been holding back because of it – but I don’t want to leave regretting the time we’ve spent together. If you– if you think it would be… easier if I didn’t– if we didn’t–”

 

“I want to hold you,” cut in Keith, interrupting the progression of Lance’s expression into something low and sad, “I want to touch you, kiss you, hold your stupid hand. Even if nothing comes of this in the future, I want it all now.” He quirked a rueful grin. “I don’t have the self-control to hold back if you don’t want me to.”

 

“And I definitely don’t want you to,” murmured Lance, barely audible over the movement of water, but Keith heard it all the same.

 

He replied by drawing himself in by Lance’s shoulders and pressing a gentle kiss to his lips. One turned into two, then three, and Keith wasn’t even pretending to paddle anymore, but he didn’t notice the flow of water had changed direction until his back was up against the side of the pool. Lance’s arms caged him in and held him up. The lack of solid footing didn’t perturb Keith in the least – Lance himself was firm enough – so instead of worrying about it, Keith slid his hands into Lance’s wet hair and his tongue against his lips.

 

The taste of chlorine was ever present, but the sliver of Keith’s brain that was bothered by it was shut down promptly the moment Lance’s chest pressed against his. Despite the cool water, his skin was hot, and Keith’s seared wherever he touched. He didn’t know if it was because he was still intoxicated – or even if the intoxication was the result of alcohol or Lance, licking and groaning into his mouth – but Keith was burning. The heat was in his chest and spreading with every thump of his heart, turning his brain into a hazy mess that was focused solely on the sensation of Lance on every part of him.

 

Keith’s fingers went from combing Lance’s wet hair to gripping it. Lance’s breath hiccuped into a soft moan and Keith’s grip tightened. Lance’s arms were starting to shake from the effort of holding him up. Despite that he was undeniably enjoying their current position, Keith decided to alleviate the stress of holding him up. He took his hands from Lance’s hair, planting them on the pool’s edge. The hardest part was separating from Lance, especially when the other man chased his lips when distance was put between them. Keith laughed at that and the pout on Lance’s face, which quickly turned into surprise when Keith lifted himself from the water to sit on the edge.

 

“You coming up or what?” asked Keith, his voice a little more breathy than he wanted, but it seemed to work for Lance if the hungry expression he wore was anything to go by.

 

The swimmer followed suit, flattening his palms against the tile and rising up between Keith’s legs. It was something akin to a religious experience, Keith’s foggy mind decided, having the lithe body of a distractingly attractive man bearing down on him. Water dripped off him like liquid silver, catching the light in their tiny worlds. Keith simply gazed at him, awestruck. Then there was an amused huff and Keith found himself with a lapful of Lance, hands tangling in his hair and lips brushing the water from his cheeks.

 

Keith wasn’t sure how long they stayed there for, mouths wandering and hands drifting, but eventually they agreed continuing on the tiles of the hotel pool floor would not be ideal. Sliding dry clothes over his damp body was unpleasant to say the least. As they casually unlocked the door and slipped out, every stride felt like it was chaffing his thighs. Luckily for them, the receptionist was still not paying any attention, dinosaur army having doubled in size, and so they reached their room on the fifth floor without hassle.

 

They took turns scrubbing the remnants of chlorine from their bodies. Keith was first to go, and as he waited for Lance to stop lamenting about the quality of the hotel’s shampoo and just take his damn shower, Keith pulled out his laptop and opened up the tabs he’d been scrutinizing repeatedly for the past couple days.

 

He wished clicking through university websites made deciding any easier. Unfortunately, it did the exact opposite. They all chose the prettiest pictures of their campuses, the quotes on the sidebars were always upbeat and hopeful; the one thing they all had in common was that navigating was a convoluted hassle. When Keith took to hunting for actual reviews of the schools, he was met with long lists depicting exactly how amazing the school was and why anyone would be lucky to attend, and short one-sentence pleas of “if you have the opportunity, take it”. Keith wished at least one of the schools had a bad rep so he could cut down the list. He didn’t know anyone but Shiro who had gone to any of them, and Shiro, ever the devil’s advocate, was insistent on maintaining neutral ground when it came to the reputation of his university, its sister schools and their competitors. Unhelpful.

 

The water turned off in the bathroom. Keith flicked between the internet tabs of two schools that had the exact same welcoming sentence. Steam billowed from the open door as Lance appeared, skin rosy and a content look of drowsiness in his hooded eyes. He joined Keith on the bed, mercilessly kicking his own belongings onto the floor in the process.

 

“I need to ask them what showerhead they use,” sighed Lance as he stretched out like a cat, bare-chested and tempting, “That water pressure was the best I’ve ever had.”

 

“Don’t let your own shower hear you say that,” said Keith, now half distracted by Lance beside him, and the other half trying to figure out whether the school banner was off center.

 

“If it wasn’t ancient, it wouldn’t have anything to worry about.” Lance inched sideways until his arm was pressed up against Keith’s leg and Keith could see him staring up at him from his periphery. “But it’s on its way out as it is.”

 

“Tragic,” said Keith distractedly.

 

“Whatcha lookin’ at?”

 

“Schools,” mumbled Keith. The banner was definitely off-center. Maybe.

 

“Like, universities?”

 

“Yeah, I–” Keith froze. Ah. Shit.

 

He looked down and saw Lance in the process of propping himself up on his elbows, squinting at the screen. Unfortunately for him, it was just a wall of Japanese script with the occasional number thrown in.

 

“Are you applying now?” asked Lance, gaze flicking curiously over the unfamiliar characters. “What major?”

 

Keith hesitated, then shook his head. “No, I’ve already applied. For um, astrophysics. I got my acceptance letters and everything. I’m just… trying to decide where to go.”

 

“Astrophysics? Holy shit. Nice!” Lance grinned up at him again. “The hard part is out of the way then. Waiting to see whether I was accepted into the schools I actually liked was shitty. Anxiety abound, y’know?”

 

“Yeah,” said Keith automatically, even though he hadn’t worried at all, because he’d never had a preference in the first place. He looked back at the screen. “Actually, I kind of wanted to mention it.”

 

“What, the schools?”

 

“Yeah. The thing is, one of the schools is American.” He paused. He wished he didn’t pause. His mouth was suddenly tasted stale, so he took a precious moment to summon moisture for the paper dry surface of his tongue.

 

“Ah,” said Lance, in a voice so unfazed that it drew Keith’s gaze. He looked a little rueful. “America is a big place.”

 

Keith felt his chest deflate. “It is.”

 

“But it’s smaller than the ocean.”

 

“It is.” Keith ran his fingertip over the spacebar. “Even if I did decide to go, the distance would still be…”

 

“Far?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Too far?”

 

“...Yeah.”

 

“So, what you’re saying is,” began Lance, moving from elbows to his hands, “The only difference would be that we’d be in closer timezones, and we’d see each other once every two years instead of once every five.”

 

“I’m… not sure about your math, but… that’s the uh, gist of it?” Keith blinked at him.

 

“I mean, I don’t see my family in Cuba very often at all,” said Lance as a frown started growing on his brow, “I haven’t seen my great-aunt in seven years – but I don’t want to see them any less, y’know?” When he next opened his mouth, his lip shook oddly, but then he added calmly, “Once I’ve got more money, maybe I’ll come visit Tokyo and you could show me around or something.”

 

“Oh,” repeated Keith.

 

He spared half a glance at the laptop before closing it and sliding it off his legs. Lance was eyeing him nervously, as if he expected Keith to reject his friendship or something, which was downright laughable. Sure, Keith had his doubts about long distance relationships, friendship or otherwise, but the idea of being able to greet Lance at the airport and take him on a whirlwind tour of the sprawling city he’d grown up in? That warmed him right down to his toes.

 

Keith leaned forward to press a gentle kiss to the furrow on Lance’s brow until it hesitantly smoothed over.

 

“Tokyo is a big place,” said Keith when he pulled back.

 

A small smile curved Lance’s mouth. “Then I’ll book off a month or something. Then maybe I can show you around New York.”

 

“That would be ideal,” agreed Keith, and then he was leaning in once more until their smiles met.

 


 

It was the afternoon by the time the two left the hotel, making the most out of the continental breakfast and a fluffy bed. They wandered the streets of London with no destination in mind. With fingers linked, they lost themselves in the spontaneity of the city. They drifted through Trafalgar Square, took selfies with the lions and videos of the street performers, and Lance even tried his hand at composition and lighting using Keith’s DSLR. Their roaming took them down streets where one or the other had been before, pointing out things they saw, the café that had good tea and the shop with the tacky souvenirs. Other roads were ones neither of them had been, with stores that drew their gazes and tempted their hollow wallets. It was as the sky was beginning to change colour in the wake of a descending sun that Keith recognized one particular walkway between two buildings.

 

“In here,” prompted Keith, pulling Lance by the hand, “Do you remember?”

 

Lance raised his eyebrows, then realization dawned. “Oh, yeah! Ah, the nook.”

 

“Nook?”

 

“It was on my bucket list,” said Lance, “Find a nook. This definitely counts.”

 

The narrow alley opened up into the small square. The rival coffee shops faced off against each other, both with a fair number of patrons despite the setting sun and the growing chill. The flower ship was still an overflowing mess of vibrant blossoms. A powder blue bicycle leaned against the outside of the antique shop. Keith looked to the tree towering over boldly coloured umbrellas, recalling his bewilderment when a chunk of biscotti had landed on his coffee lid.

 

“That was some good biscotti,” sighed Lance.

 

Keith gave a start and shot him a confused look. “What?”

 

“The biscotti I threw at you that time,” said Lance with a lazy gesture at the tree, “You remember?”

 

“Oh, yeah,” said Keith in disbelief, “I was actually just thinking about that.”

 

Lance tapped his temple with a devious smile. “I know all.”

 

“Is that right? Then what do I usually think about when we’re not talking?”

 

“Ravaging me,” said Lance at once with a beaming smile.

 

“Wow, you really are a mindreader.”

 

“...Wait, what?”

 

Keith presented Lance with a sly smile of his own, then spun around and started towards the antique shop. “Anyway, last time I didn’t get the chance to look in here.”

 

Keith,” whined Lance.

 

Grabby hands slid around Keith’s waist, but he didn’t stop as he pulled open the shop’s door and dragged Lance inside. The interior was the closest Keith had ever come to organized chaos. Shelves, tables and dressers were covered in items big and small; some fit a theme, but more often than not they were anachronistic with their neighbours. Stacks of books served as pillars for knickknacks like salt and pepper shakers, puppy figurines, tiny glass perfume bottles. The place smelled like old books and wood. A fine coating of dust clung to velvet table runners, some specks floating in the air, languidly churning with the movement of the few bodies exploring the narrow aisles. Someone hidden by a cluster of umbrellas by a cash register greeted them sleepily, and Keith felt Lance’s hands slip away as the man wandered deeper into the shop. Keith followed behind him, clutching his camera bag close to him to avoid knocking things over.

 

Keith was hunching over carefully to get a look at a couple porcelain figurines of early century fighter pilots – something Shiro would probably have an interest in – when Lance’s hushed voice carried over to him.

 

“Keith. Keeeith.” When he looked up, Lance beckoned for him. “C’mere for a sec.”

 

After squeezing between two bookshelves – a dubiously legitimate path, but it was hard to tell when every route was so narrow – Keith approached where Lance was pointing at a high shelf. Sitting on display was a number of old cameras: a polaroid with fake wood applique, a boxy device with two lenses, another with a hand crank for advancing film – and then a paragon of photographic beauty, of which Keith could hardly believe his eyes.

 

Twin lenses, a hand crank, pebbled black accents and rimmed in chrome – “Yashica Mat one-twenty-four,” whispered Keith, his heart rate erupting into a sprint.

 

“What was that?” asked Lance, looking slightly concerned, but mostly perplexed, when Keith tore his gaze from the camera sitting pretty on the shelf.

 

“It’s uh, a camera,” said Keith unnecessarily.

 

“Uh, yeah, I got that much.” Lance’s gaze flicked from Keith to the camera and back. “Is it… good?”

 

Keith cast a look over his shoulder, to where the cash register was now blocked by a number of rolled up rugs. Lance followed his gaze, confusion evolving into excited anticipation as he was drawn in by Keith’s secrecy once again.

 

“It’s worth something like– like three to four hundred dollars,” hissed Keith under his breath, leaning in closer. It didn’t sound like much after doing the mental conversion, but the fact remained that there was a camera worth a lot of money sitting on that shelf collecting dust, and Lance’s face was paling in record time at the number.

 

“How much are they selling it for?” he asked, feigning nonchalance in a way that Keith envied.

 

They both swivelled to face the shelf fully. Keith reached up to delicately take the camera down, his fingers rubbing over the slightly dusty surface reverently. He swallowed, hard. A tiny tag dangled from it on a white thread. Keith pinched the paper between thumb and forefinger and flipped it over.

 

All the blood in Keith’s body seemed to vanish, to be replaced with pure adrenaline. He felt as though he was buzzing from it, his feet about to lift off the ground and propel him into the ceiling.

 

Thirty,” wheezed Lance, blasé attitude flying out the window at the speed of light.

 

“I’m gonna hurl,” croaked Keith. He held onto it for a moment longer, just staring at the familiar casing and the feel of it under his fingertips; then, slowly, carefully, he raised his arms to slide the camera back into its spot.

 

Lance watched him do it, eyes bulging. “What the hell are you doing?”

 

“I don’t have the cash for it,” replied Keith, trying to will his body to calm the hell down and losing pathetically.

 

“You’re shitting me.”

 

“Unfortunately, I am not.”

 

Keith,” rasped Lance desperately, “Please tell me you’re fucking with me right now.”

 

Keith was beginning to feel a little light-headed. “I wish I was. I’m just going to… step outside now. Excuse me for a moment.”

 

It felt as though his feet were encased in cement bricks, but at the same time as light as air. Keith felt high as a kite as he strode carelessly through the store, somehow managing to leave everything in perfect order as he thrust open the front door and inhaled brisk London air. His heart was still pounding furiously. The few crumpled bills of British currency left in his wallet somehow felt heavy. He took another deep breath, exhaled through his nose slowly, and then he was pacing. He tried to convince himself that every step was calming him, but the regret and disappointment was heavy. It was more than just the money, the massive gap between what it was worth and the price tag, because it was something precious to –

 

“Keith.”

 

Once more, he turned at the sound of his name; Lance was grinning at him sheepishly, for cradled in his arms, just visible within a mound of crumpled brown paper and a plastic bag, was the Yashica.

 

“I haggled him down to twenty-five for it,” said Lance proudly, holding it out for Keith to take.

 

Except all Keith could do was stare down at it as Lance came to a stop in front of him. His fingers rested hesitantly on the edges of the wrapping paper, feeling it yield beneath them. Slowly, Keith dragged his gaze up to meet Lance’s, the beautiful fool still with that satisfied expression lighting up his face.

 

“You actually bought it?” asked Keith, hushed and uncertain despite the physical evidence right in front of him.

 

“Hell yeah I did,” said Lance with a lift of his eyebrows, “There was no way I wasn’t after seeing your face.”

 

“My face?”

 

“You were staring at it like it was important, or something worth more than gold, y’know?” Lance adjusted the camera in his arms as if it were a child, fragile and unpredictable.

 

“Oh.” Only then did Keith reach out to accept the half wrapped camera, suddenly terrified he was going to somehow drop it. “Thank you.”

 

“‘Course,” sniffed Lance like it was nothing.

 

“No, really,” persisted Keith, now feeling his mouth pull into a broad smile, “Thank you. This was the same camera my mother had.”

 

Lance blinked. “Oh.

 

A giggle worked its way out of Keith. It almost sounded like a sob, though his eyes managed to stay remarkably dry. “She was always taking pictures – of anything and everything. There were stacks of them in the bookcase, and she kept all the rolls of film in shoeboxes in the closet. I always asked her why she didn’t get a new camera, one that worked better, and she’d get all offended because this thing took amazing shots, but at the time I thought anything brand new was better. She said she’d give it to me when I got older, but it got trashed at some reunion party so she sold the pieces that still worked.” Keith beamed at Lance. “So, yeah, thanks.”

 

Lance was looking at him, wide-eyed, as a flush crept up his neck and spread blotchy over his cheeks. “No problem. At all. Um.”

 

Keith laughed as he bundled the camera up into the bag. “Come here, you,” he said, grasping Lance by the shirt with his newly freed hand and tugging him close. Their lips met with a bump and a chuckle, and softened into the motion of gratitude and appreciation. When they parted, and Keith was gazing at the slow, content bob of Lance’s eyelids as they opened, he felt a wash of affection for the other man. It wasn’t anything new, but it was a beautiful feeling that he couldn’t get enough of. It was always followed with a muted disappointment. The bitter knowledge of departure; the sweet time spent together in the moment.

 

“Hold onto this for me,” said Keith, slipping the handles of the bag over Lance’s wrist.

 

“Oh God,” said Lance, staring down at it, “What if I drop it?”

 

“You’ve done well so far,” snorted Keith, “It’s only for a minute. I want to get something.”

 

“But–”

 

“Shush, go sit.”

 

Only when Lance reluctantly edged over to a patio chair did Keith turn and march purposefully into the flower shop.

 


 

The small bouquet of purple flowers, kept in a bundle by a bow made of twine, did things to Lance’s heart that it had no right to be doing. He cupped them gingerly between his hands, for unlike the camera, they truly were fragile. The petals were like smooth velvet beneath his fingertips. So caught up was he that Lance didn’t realize Keith had taken out his DSLR until he heard the shutter.

 

“Hey!” protested Lance.

 

Keith simply grinned at him. “With a face like that, I couldn’t resist.”

 

“Yeah, well, I’ve never been given flowers before,” mumbled Lance, resuming his exploration of the bouquet.

 

“Never?”

 

“Never.”

 

Keith hummed thoughtfully. “Then I’m glad I’m the first.”

 

Lance felt the flush inching its way back onto his face. His capillaries were definitely getting a workout from the constant ebb and flow.

 

“So, do they have a meaning?” asked Lance in an attempt to distract his face from overheating. Thus far, utter failure.

 

“Mm, maybe,” shrugged Keith leisurely. There definitely was a meaning, then.

 

Lance narrowed his eyes at him. “What kind of flowers are they, anyway?”

 

“Dunno,” said Keith, with another hitch of his shoulders.

 

“Why are you like this?”

 

“Just ‘cause.”

 

“So difficult.”

 

Keith grinned. “But you like them, right?”

 

“Love ‘em,” said Lance instantly. Keith could have given him a bouquet of thistles and he would’ve secretly swooned over them.

 

“I’m glad,” said Keith, and snuck another shot of Lance the moment his gaze fell to the violet petals once again.

 


 

5:05 PM

 

ℓαиçә

my friends

i have a small favor to ask

friends?

freinds??????

friends???????????

f R IenD S??¿¿¿¿???

dr4g0ns14y3r

i’m in the middle of class

but shoot

ℓαиçә

[IMAGE SENT]

i need help figuring out wtf this is

dr4g0ns14y3r

a flower?

ℓαиçә

keith gave it to me

dr4g0ns14y3r

well that’s cute as fuck

ℓαиçә

ikr

ok but he def got it w a meaning in mind

bcos he was bein all sneaky and wouldnt tell me wtf it was

dr4g0ns14y3r

i’m not exactly an expert in horticulture

but you could just look up an id key?

ℓαиçә

right

ok let me find one

dr4g0ns14y3r

aight

ℓαиçә

right

none of these words make sense

tf is a terminate tendril??¿?

dr4g0ns14y3r

ah

where is keith that you can’t just bug him till he lets up?

ℓαиçә

oya i bought him a camera and hes cleaning it rn

needed hand sani to wipe shutter blades or smth??

dr4g0ns14y3r

doesn’t that guy have a camera already?

why did you buy him another one..

ℓαиçә

RIGHT OK SO LIKE

THIS THING IS APPARENTLY WORTH A FEW HUNDRED

BUT I GOT IT OFF THE GUY FOR 25

BCOS THE GUY DIDNT REALIZE ITS WORTH FOR WHATEVER REASON

dr4g0ns14y3r

hOLY SHIT

ℓαиçә

AND THOUGHT IT WAS BROKEN!!!!!!

BCOS THE SHUTTER DIDNT WORK AND THE INSIDE WAS RATTLING

LO AND BEHOLD KEITH IS LIKE A CAMERA GENIUS OBVS

THE THING JUST NEEDS A CLEANING HE SAYS AND BAM

dr4g0ns14y3r

oh my god what a STEAL

ℓαиçә

I KNOW i thought my fukkin heart was gonna pop

i was that excited

like it lit felt like we were stealing the mona lisa or smth

dr4g0ns14y3r

i need to go to antique stores more often

ℓαиçә

foreal what are we missin out on???

pontentila RICHES

potential

dr4g0ns14y3r

so you steal him a camera and he buys you flowers but doesn’t tell you what they are?

ℓαиçә

ya what a dick

jk

i would buy him a car if it meant hed keep lookin at me like he does

dr4g0ns14y3r

keep that sentimental crap away from me

ℓαиçә

my fav is his face right after we kiss

dr4g0ns14y3r

i am not equipped for this

ℓαиçә

and his eyes slowly open

n he looks at me

dr4g0ns14y3r

LA LA LA LA LA LA LA

LAAA ALALALLALALLA ALALALA

ℓαиçә

his eyes are fkin gorgeous have i mentioned that

dr4g0ns14y3r

LALALALALALALALALALLALALALAA

LALALALAL

ALALALALLALALLALA

LAAAAAAALALALALA

ℓαиçә

:3c

Hunkules

what is going on???

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

oh thank gOD

ℓαиçә

HHUUNNNKK!!!!!!

Hunkules

WHAAAT???

ℓαиçә

scroll up

i need help iding a flower

IDing

Hunkules

oh yeah sure!!

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

man i’m so glad we have hunk

ℓαиçә

ikr so helpful

Hunkules

it’s sweetpea

ℓαиçә

u sure??

Hunkules

yep it’s a really common flower

Mendel did his work on genetics with them

ℓαиçә

HRRRRRRRRRK

thats the sound i made

Hunkules

or maybe that was just regular peas
yep

ℓαиçә

bcos genetics

Hunkules

yes, yes

ℓαиçә

is the single worst subject

Hunkules

sigh

ℓαиçә

in the entire universe

even physics

dr4g0ns14y3r

are you going to look up sweetpea meanings or not?

ℓαиçә

SPEAKING OF

o right

hold the phone

dr4g0ns14y3r

phone, held

ℓαиçә

“The language of flowers associates the following meanings with sweet peas: blissful pleasure, delicate pleasure, good-bye, departure, adieu and thank you for a lovely time”

im gonna fucking cry

Hunkules

oh

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

why would he not want you to know that?

ℓαиçә

idk maybe bcos id just start bawlin in public??

f me up

he probs thought id just forget about checkin too

LITTLE DOES HE KNOW

dr4g0ns14y3r

you nearly did forget

ℓαиçә

tru

still

Hunkules

that’s… really bittersweet

ℓαиçә

yea

idek what to say to him??

dr4g0ns14y3r

nothing? i guess?

 

Hunkules

or

hm

okay, I’ve got nothing

I would just cry

ℓαиçә

already on it

Hunkules

Lance!!! D:

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

shit boi

ℓαиçә

dilemma:

wiping my face w my shirt and making it obvs ive been cryin

or bein forced to go get the tissues from the bathroom bcos the lil shit took the box in w him

theres fukkin tp right there!!!!!!

Hunkules

inner sleeve works for me

ℓαиçә

USE THAT INSTEAD!!!!!!

GOD!!!!!!!!!!

o thats a good idea

hey wait

dr4g0ns14y3r

do you do that...often?

 

Hunkules

rarely

sometimes tears must fall :’))

ℓαиçә

o fair

altho this is less fallin and more

torrential downpour

dr4g0ns14y3r

how the hell are you spelling anything right?

ℓαиçә

i am hyperfocused

my nose is runnin

i cant be bothered to wipe it

dr4g0ns14y3r

god i can’t even pick on you for it

ℓαиçә

HAH

new pidge defense system: just weep

dr4g0ns14y3r

>:(

 

Hunkules

Lance, would it be better if we called you??

ℓαиçә

nah

im cool

actually its kind of worse bcos like

he told me yesterday that he got accepted into a US uni

but even if he did go wed still be too far apart???

and im like

this fukkin sucks???alot???

Hunkules

at least there wouldn’t be the timezone issue, right??

ℓαиçә

yea thats a plus

and basically i could visit him like

once every couple years instead of like 5

bcos were gonna be dirt poor during school n weve both got family to visit

god

fuck

Hunkules

I’m sorry buddy :((

ℓαиçә

ah well

dr4g0ns14y3r

what school is he going to?

ℓαиçә

dunno

smth for astrophysics

dr4g0ns14y3r

wait what

ℓαиçә

yea apparently hes also like a genius or smth

hot and smart w h y is he like this

dr4g0ns14y3r

okay but do me a solid

ℓαиçә

FC UJK HES HE RE FSUFIJOSR

dr4g0ns14y3r

and ask him what school

he got accepted into

……

lance?

LANCE

FUCKING ASK HIM

WHAT SCHOOL ACCEPTED HIM

 

Hunkules

????

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

you’ve got to be shitting me

 

Hunkules

what????

wait

astrophysics

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

yEAH

fucking! astrophysics!

 

Hunkules

isn’t that what GIT is like, famous for???

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

Y E P

 

Hunkules

which means…

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

the likelihood that keith got accepted into the garrison?

really fucking high

 

Hunkules

oh my god

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

LANCE I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD

IF YOU DONT ASK THIS BOY

IF HE GOT INTO

YOUR

OWN

SCHOOL

IM GONNA SMACK YOU SO HARD

 

Hunkules

I’m sure it’ll be fine!!!

how long can that stay hidden for??

also didn’t he say they were too far away???

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

lance hasn’t updated his location so it still says new york

 

Hunkules

how would Keith know if not because Lance told him???

oh

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

also lance is ridiculous so the chances of him just being like OH OKAY are also high

high as a kite

high as that time he greened out because he got the munchies and kept eating the brownies

 

Hunkules

…….

I’m worried

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

they’re probably making out right now

crying

not realizing

 

Hunkules

my stomach hurts thinking about this

can we call the hotel line??

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

he’ll have to look at this god damn conversation at some point

let this be the first thing he sees

LANCE

GARRISON TECH IS FAMOUS FOR ITS ASTROPHYSICS PROGRAM

 

Hunkules

oh boy

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

LANCE

LAAAAAAANCE

LA A A AN C E

 


 

Lance spent the last precious few seconds before Keith rounded the corner locking and tossing his tablet across the bed, where it slid off the corner and landed with a thump on the carpet. Then it was a face-off between himself, face drenched in an unholy marriage of tears and mucus, and Keith, clutching his precious camera and gaping with alarmed wide eyes. There was a beat of silence that stretched into two, broken then by a long overdue sniff from Lance. The noise seemed to shake Keith out of his own paralysis, and he jumped into action. In one smooth motion, the camera was set aside on the dresser and Keith was kneeling before Lance on the bed.

 

“What’s wrong?” murmured Keith, cautious hands coming up to frame Lance’s face.

 

Despite feeling a little pathetic for being caught so easily, Lance felt the humiliation dissolve beneath the contact of Keith’s hands. He couldn’t help but laugh, a low chuckle that rung with a self-deprecation he couldn’t reign in.

 

“Sorry,” said Lance, voice coming out more congested than he’d feared, “I just need to um, wipe my face.”

 

“Right.” Keith didn’t even question it. He looked sharply at either nightstand, found no tissues, and then appeared to recall confiscating them for the camera. He practically leapt from the bed to fetch the box, much to Lance’s amusement.

 

When he returned, he set the box in front of Lance and sat beside him, the warmth of his body just barely perceptible, not close enough at all. Lance was worn too thin to care about using words. As he grabbed a handful of tissue to dab his face dry, he allowed his body to slump sideways into the lenient curve of Keith’s. The other man accepted him at once, an arm encircling his shoulders and allowing Lance to nestle right in as they leaned back against the pillows.

 

“Sorry,” repeated Lance, tossing the spent tissues like basketballs to collect on the floor.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Lance considered saying nothing, pretending he’d never looked up the flowers, and the words he’d read on the screen were raindrops sliding off vinyl – inconsequential, trivial in the grander scheme of things. Yet the rawness, that open wound that threatened to fester, refused to let him lie and avoid in good conscience. It was a simple thing, admitting the message behind the flowers throbbed like a bone deep bruise, but it was the bottom step in a difficult conversation.

 

“I figured out it was sweetpea,” began Lance with a quick glance at the little bouquet sitting in a mug of water beside the hydrangeas, “And the meaning behind it. The tears kind of just… didn’t stop after that.” Another small laugh. “Sorry for freaking you out.”

 

Keith made a small, pained sound – regretful. “I should be the one apologizing,” he said softly as his other arm curved around to hold Lance close, “I should have chosen something else. I thought it made sense at the time, but it was inconsiderate. I’m sorry.”

 

“No, it did make sense. It does. I think–” Lance broke off to summon moisture back into a bone dry mouth. “I think we should probably talk about… tomorrow.”

 

“Tomorrow,” echoed Keith.

 

“I’m leaving.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“And we won’t see each other… often.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“So, when we leave…” The conversation was taking a familiar route, as if they'd already said everything that could be said, but it wasn't just about maintaining a friendship. God, why was this so hard? “When we leave, this… thing we have, will end?”

 

Quiet. Keith’s breathing. The neighbours’ television. Cars speeding on the streets below. Lance imagined stepping out of some unfamiliar airport in Tokyo, greeting Keith with a friendly hug and a vicious pain in his heart, because he couldn’t hold his hand, murmur sweet things just for his ears, know they were together in more ways than just in company. Then Keith was shifting as he pressed his face into Lance’s hair.

 

“If that’s what you want,” he said, voice unnaturally even.

 

A flicker of irritation. “It’s not what I want, but it’s– it’s logical.”

 

“Right.”

 

“Keith.”

 

Silence.

 

Keith.” Lance frowned, lifting a hand to feel for Keith face. His fingertips grazed the soft skin of his cheek, sweeping over until they touched dampness. Lance froze. “Keith? Are you… are you crying?”

 

Keith huffed a laugh. “Sorry.”

 

“No, oh no, no, no,” breathed Lance as he twisted in Keith’s embrace to take his turn cupping his lover’s face.

 

Immediately it was as if a hand made of cold iron gripped his heart. Thin strands of hair clung to the wetness on Keith’s cheeks, a dark contrast against pale skin flushed a splotchy red. His eyes were rimmed pink and downcast, unwilling to meet Lance’s gaze. Somehow that ached more than the tears that silently gathered.

 

“Please look at me,” murmured Lance, thumbs brushing through the path Keith’s tears insisted on taking. “Please.”

 

Slowly, eyes the colour of twilight lifted to meet Lance’s. He attempted a smile, but he could feel it waver alongside Keith’s wry responding grin.

 

“Here I thought I could handle it,” muttered Keith.

 

“I definitely knew I couldn’t,” said Lance bluntly as an unfortunately familiar warmth gathered once more behind his eyes. “I totally thought I’d last longer, but then you had to go and start the waterworks.”

 

“Fuck you,” said Keith without heat.

 

“Shitnugget.”

 

“Asshat.”

 

Lance laughed even as his tears spilled over again. He sobered too quickly, a bitter ache growing in the back of his throat.

 

“It’s not going to work, is it?” he said softly. Then, because he’d been vague for so long already, he clarified, “Dating, I mean.”

 

Keith tried, and failed, to smile. “I don’t think so.”

 

“This is really shitty.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Another moment of silence that stretched between them, the air itself taut and aching. Then they were drawing each other in, salty tears mingling in the heat of their mouths. They clung to each other desperately, tugging at hair and clothes, pressing fingers through fabric and across bare skin. When they parted to roll onto their backs, it was in two halves of a gasping, dishevelled mess.

 

Lance felt like someone had stuffed a pillow inside his skull. A headache was beginning to form behind his eyes, and his eyelids were sore. When he turned his head to get a look at Keith, it seemed as though the other man was suffering the same. While Lance watched, Keith raised a hand to delicately poke at his puffy eyes with a groan.

 

“You look like shit,” said Lance with faux cheer.

 

“Feel like it,” griped Keith, cracking open an eye to peer at Lance, “Although I’ll bet you look worse.”

 

“I had a head start on the sobfest,” sniffed Lance.

 

“Done in by flowers.”

 

“Your fault.”

 

“I received my punishment,” said Keith with a sigh, “Now I’m just starving.”

 

“God, yeah, nothing like stuffing our faceholes to ward off impending depression.”

 

“Face...holes?”

 

“Faceholes.”

 

“Right. Are you craving anything?”

 

Lance inhaled long and deep, summoning the desire behind his hunger. “I could go for some deep-dish pizza, honestly.”

 

Keith made a curious noise through his nose. “What’s deep-dish?”

 

“It’s pizza, except made in a deep pan.” Lance lifted his hands above him, gesturing as he spoke. “It’s just a whole lot of cheese, with a layer of dough and sauce on top. It’s amazing, trust me. Chicago is famous for it. It’s probably going to be the only thing I eat for my entire first semester, honestly.”

 

“Chicago?”

 

Lance let his hands drop back down onto his stomach. “Yeah. I’m going to school there.”

 

“What about New York?” Keith’s voice sounded a little funny, but Lance’s also felt a little raw from the abundance of crying.

 

“Well, yeah, that’s where my family is,” said Lance, using his finger to trace the path from New York to Illinois on the fabric of his shirt. “But I decided to go to school in Chicago as an undecided human science major. My best friends go there, too, actually. Well, Pidge is on exchange right now, technically. Apparently the Garrison has sister schools all over the place.”

 

The silence that followed confused Lance, prompting him to turn his head to try and get a look at the other man. Keith’s expression was difficult to see, tilted slightly away as it was to focus on the far wall.

 

“Keith–?”

 

“There’s a sister school in Japan,” said Keith suddenly.

 

“Oh.” Lance blinked and looked back at the ceiling. “Cool.”

 

“My brother went there.”

 

“Huh.”

 

“I got accepted into it.”

 

“Really?”

 

“I also got accepted into the Garrison.”

 

“Nice– What?”

 

Lance shot upwards, head protesting with a vengeance that he shunned valiantly. He settled for leaning on one elbow, keeping his balance by planting his other hand flat on the crumpled sheets. Keith was still staring at the ceiling.

 

“You what, Keith?” asked Lance, voice wavering.

 

“Garrison,” said Keith in a strangled voice, “Astrophysics. Accepted.”

 

“The Garrison Institute of Technology sent you an offer of admission into their astrophysics program?”

 

“Yeah,” said Keith, still stunned. Slowly, he turned his head to stare at Lance instead of the ceiling. “They did.”

 

“Fuck me in the ass with a burning cactus,” deadpanned Lance, “You’re fucking with me right now.”

 

Keith steadily shook his head. “It’s the same school I’ve been talking about.”

 

“Fuck me up,” whispered Lance, shoving himself into a seated position, “Keith. Keith. Buddy. Babe. Let me tell you about the Garrison, okay? Let me learn you a thing. The food on campus is amazing. I should know. I went there on a tour with Hunk and Pidge. We stuffed ourselves. The deep-dish pizza? The cheapest shit is still gourmet. The library? Massive. Do you like books? Whatever, you can take pictures of it. There’s an art school down the road. They’ve got photography expos going on all the time. There are greenhouses. There’s...trees. Fuckin’ trees. What do they call that? An arboretum. There’s one of those on campus. It’s massive, too. You can take pictures of the light coming through leaves or something.”

 

Halfway through Lance’s tirade, Keith had lifted himself up onto his elbows, mouth slightly agape as he watched Lance and his wild gesticulating. In Lance’s defence, he was desperate. It was easy explaining why he chose the Garrison to his family and friends, but suddenly he had to sell the idea to someone else, to persuade that someone that the Garrison was the best place to be. He scrambled for more ammo, but it was impossible to describe the feeling of the place in any sort of coherence. He tried anyway.

 

“Just walking across the campus makes you feel smarter,” he blathered on, “Some of the buildings are super old, brick, covered in ivy, and others are like all steel and glass. The sun is killer when it hits those ones, I’m telling you. There’s this one huge lecture hall that most of the big first year courses happen, and the desks are so wide. There’s actually space for your elbows and shit, and the chairs are cushioned – plus there’s actual outlets on the desks themselves. Right there. Also, they’ve got a huge selection of clubs and shit.” Keith was still staring at him, the corners of his mouth twitching. Lance plowed on, “I didn’t actually look at the list that well, but it was long, trust me. The residences look really fuckin’ rad, too? Okay maybe the singles in the south res are kind of tiny, but the doubles in north are ridiculous. Fuck, what else is there… The city is rad? I haven’t spent much time there but Hunk is always telling me about the cool shit–”

 

Okay,” interrupted Keith before he burst out laughing. It took him a moment, his entire body shuddering as he gasped for breath, to get out, “Okay – I believe you. You don’t have to sell it, Lance!”

 

But Lance was practically vibrating with energy that had nowhere to go. “Are you sure? I can keep going. There’s a–”

 

I’m sure,” wheezed Keith, rocking forward until he was upright, “You’re worse than an infomercial.”

 

“Now that’s just rude.”

 

“Sorry,” said Keith unapologetically, “But you know, there was definitely something missing from that… impressive list you just gave me.”

 

“What?” Lance frantically tried to remember if he’d forgotten anything important, but it was frankly a lost cause, since he could barely recall what he’d even said in the first place. “Fuck. Give me a second, I swear I’ve got this.”

 

Keith huffed and reached for Lance’s hands, which he gave without a second thought. Then Lance found himself being tugged into Keith’s lap. He blinked down at Keith as soon as he settled, knees on either side of Keith’s hips, and the calm draping over him immediately. Keith was warm and safe – a healing balm. The restless energy seemed to fizzle out.

 

“I meant you,” said Keith, grinning up at him, “You didn’t once mention ‘oh, and I’ll be there’ between the trees and desk outlets.”

 

Lance moved his hands up to twist his quivering fingers gently in Keith’s hair. “Is that a selling point?”

 

“A bonus.” Keith craned his neck to kiss the corner of Lance’s mouth. “A huge bonus.”

 

“Is it enough that you’ll…?”

 

“Take the offer?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Keith’s lips pursed, one corner going rogue and quirking into a smirk. “I’d say so – which means the sweetpeas are gonna have to go.”

 

“Oh, thank fuck,” swore Lance as he practically melted against Keith, “I’d be sobbing if I had any tears lef– Oh, wait, there they are. Fuuuuck.”

 

Keith started to shake with laughter as Lance openly wept into his shoulder, but there were hands clinging to Lance, and they were trembling with much more than just humour. When Lance finally peeled his face off Keith’s newly dampened shoulder, he was greeted with Keith screwing up his face, as if that would keep the wetness in his eyes at bay. Then it was Lance’s turn to lapse into hysterics, toppling backwards away from Keith as his giggles turned into outright guffaws. Keith swatted at him, but even he couldn’t hide the affection in his expression.

 

Eventually Lance calmed down, chest still heaving from exertion, and said, “I’m still really hungry, though.”

 

“Deep-dish pizza?”

 

“Deep-dish pizza.”

 


 

9:19 PM

 

ℓαиçә

ohhhh shit hey guys

so like

he is in fact planning on going to the garrison

fancy that??

dr4g0ns14y3r

HOLY FUCKING SHIT

 

Hunkules

:DDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD

I’m so happy it worked out

what are the chances?

 

dr4g0ns14y3r

i can’t tell whether i’m happy or angry that it took this fucking long

isn’t it basic small talk procedure to ask “oh yeah what are you studying? where?”

ℓαиçә

yea well im not basic!!!

dr4g0ns14y3r

HA

ℓαиçә

also

we did in fact make out cryingbefore figurin that out

dr4g0ns14y3r

i knew it

hunk owes me a fiver

 

Hunkules

shoot

ℓαиçә

i cant even get mad about yall makin bets

 


 

9:19 PM

Keith Kogane

right so im accepting the offer from GIT

Takashi Shirogane

Yeah? For sure?

Keith Kogane

for sure

Takashi Shirogane

You don’t want to wait until you get back?

Keith Kogane

apparently the deep-dish pizza is really good in chicago

also theres an arboretum

and the south residence is cramped but the north is really nice

and theres a lecture hall with outlets for every desk

Takashi Shirogane

I’m missing something here, aren’t I?

Keith Kogane

turns out lance goes there

also deep-dish pizza is amazing

Takashi Shirogane

no fucking way holy fuck

Keith Kogane

shIRO

 


 

When Lance woke up, he was confused. Maybe it had something to do with a lingering sense of euphoria from his dream, trickling away like sand through his fingers. Every attempt at trying to recall the dream only made the tendrils of memory slip away faster. Confusion gave way to a weak sort of frustration, tainted with grogginess that muffled his thoughts like cotton. He blinked open sore eyes, squinting against an overwhelming shroud of light. When he rolled over to escape the sun’s bright fingers, his hand met with rumpled sheets and a broad expanse of skin.

 

Ah, Keith. Lance smiled as he shifted to drape himself over the other man’s back. There was a small sound muffled by pillows. Lance traced meaningless patterns down Keith’s spine while his eyelashes grazed skin with every lazy blink. Another low huff, endearing in its quality, accompanied by the slow drop of Keith’s back as he exhaled. Lance pressed a kiss to Keith’s skin with a murmured “good morning”.

 

Then, in an abrupt and stunning revelation, Lance was jolting upright – “It wasn’t a dream.” – while his heart jackhammered him into wakefulness.

 

A grunt was all he got from Keith, followed by a slightly more coherent, “Wha’ wasn’?”

 

“You,” said Lance as a laugh bubbled its way up his throat, “You. The Garrison. You’re coming to the Garrison and– Hey, Keith?”

 

“Mm?”

 

“Do you wanna go out with me?”

 

“Mm. Where?”

 

Lance grabbed a fistful of sheets and started flailing them wildly until Keith lifted his head to squint at him. His bedhead was something legendary, several locks trapped in the random piercing he'd forgotten to take out, Lance noted, before he was hiding the monstrosity with the sheets.

 

“Why,” sighed Keith as he slid the sheet off his head.

 

“I meant go out as in date,” rephrased Lance, “As in boyfriends.”

 

Keith froze halfway through the motion of sitting up. After a beat, he completed the movement and clapped his hands onto the knees of his crossed legs. “Oh. Definitely.”

 

Lance beamed, giddy with the same excitement he hadn’t been able to place from his dream. “Great. Really great.” He glanced at the time displayed on the alarm clock. “We’ve got like six hours before I need to get on the plane. Ideas?”

 

“Breakfast,” said Keith, his mouth widening into a smile, “Zoo. Cathedral. Makeout.”

 

“Ah, yes, we need to get in as much smooching as possible,” said Lance wisely.

 

Keith nodded. “Six months’ worth.”

 

“I say we forego all that other stuff–”

 

“We’re in London, Lance,” laughed Keith with a light-hearted swat at his leg, “There’s a few things we still need to see.”

 

“Fine,” sniffed Lance, “But I demand only the fluffiest of scones for breakfast.”

 

“Café down the road?”

 

“Ideal.”

 

In a flurry of clothes flung from across the room, breathless laughter and amused quips, Keith and Lance were dressed and out the door. Their hands came together naturally, gravitating to the other’s palm like a magnet. With the gaps between their fingers filled, there was a feeling of comfort that Lance felt in the softening of Keith’s edges and the soothing of his. Seasons would still separate them until they saw each other again, but when Keith caught Lance looking at him and smiled, Lance thought it wasn’t a steep price to pay at all.

 




 

Six Months Later

 

In a room with clothes strewn over an unmade bed, the spring air coming in brisk through the open window, and the wafting scent of baking cookies from downstairs, Lance sat at his desk with a stack of photos. On the open laptop in front of him, Pidge took up most of the screen. They were scribbling on something off screen, occasionally glancing up when they spoke.

 

“Coran keeps talking about you,” Pidge was saying. They squinted at an unseen paper and crumpled it up. “I think he misses you still. Probably because you were the only one who listens to his stories.”

 

Lance jut out his lower lip as he sifted through pictures. “Aw, c’mon, Pidge, they’re fun.”

 

“Not after the tenth time hearing them.”

 

“Nonsense,” scoffed Lance, “Tell that gloriously moustachioed man that I miss him, too.”

 

“Maybe we should switch places,” said Pidge with a sigh.

 

“You’ve got a week left till your flight, calm down.” Lance plucked out a photograph that caught his eye and set it aside. “Besides, I have a man to woo.”

 

“He’s already wooed,” snorted Pidge, “Anyway, I’m gonna visit them next year.”

 

“Already booked it?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Take me with you,” whined Lance, selecting another picture.

 

“You need to save your money for Tokyo,” rebuked Pidge, their sharp eyes watching Lance as he added three more pictures in quick succession to the growing pile. “I think you’ve got enough there, pal.”

 

Lance frowned. There was still a hefty stack of images to get through. “Nah.”

 

“It’s a scrapbook,” Pidge reminded him, “You’ve got limited space.”

 

They hushed him as he let out a drawn out whine. He picked up his chosen pictures and went through them again in an attempt to narrow down his selection.

 

“Okay, this one is a definite,” muttered Lance, making a third pile that began with the selfie he’d taken with Keith, blocking the statue of Neptune. “And this one –” The picture of himself against the Eiffel tower. “– definitely this one –” Keith reaching for a bouquet of sweet peas. “– can’t forget that –” The group shot in the bar.

 

“You’re not getting rid of any,” deadpanned Pidge.

 

“I can’t help it,” groaned Lance melodramatically, dropping his head to the desk. “I need them all. I can’t say no to this one!” And he held up one particular photograph in the general direction of the webcam.

 

“Oh, okay well, that one’s my favourite.”

 

“You like all the ones that are incriminating,” grumbled Lance as he pushed himself back up to study the picture: taken at the zoo, it showed Keith making an attempt to climb into the giraffe enclosure. Much of it was out of focus, since not two seconds later Lance had to go put a stop to it.

 

“Those are the real worthwhile memories,” said Pidge with a shrug.

 

“So you say.” Lance added the zoo picture to the definitive pile. “Zoos and Keiths don’t mix. I’m keeping that off the bucket list.”

 

“You’re making another one? Like the one you never finished in Europe?”

 

“You know what,” began Lance haughtily, “I had limited time!”

 

“Time spent sucking face, I bet,” muttered Pidge.

 

Hey! Although…”

 

“Don’t even start, I don’t want to hear it.”

 

“That’s fine, I’ve got some really cute pictures of Keith–”

 

Do not.

 

Lance’s laugh was cut off by a deep voice, carrying up after the scent of freshly baked cookies. “Lance!”

 

“Hunk!” shouted Pidge, “Tell Lance t–”

 

Muted,” said Lance cheerfully as he cut Pidge off. He swivelled in his chair to face his open door, calling back, “Yeah buddy?”

 

“Aren’t you going to be late?”

 

Lance slammed his hand down on his phone. It lit up to a picture of himself and Keith sleeping on each other on a bus, and the time that indicated he was, in fact, going to be late.

 

“Oh, fuck me,” croaked Lance. On the screen, Pidge was laughing in silence; Lance flipped them the bird. “Later, Pidge.” And then he closed the laptop and leapt from his chair.

 

Lance?” called Hunk again, more insistent.

 

“I’m coming!”

 

Lance flew down the stairs, nearly missing a step and feeling his stomach join his heart in his throat.

 

“Careful, buddy,” said Hunk offhandedly from the kitchen, used to the undignified squawks Lance usually released when he nearly ate shit.

 

“Right, yep, can I grab a cookie?” gasped Lance as he slid over the tiled floor joining kitchen and hallway.

 

“They’re still hot–” began Hunk, breaking off when he saw Lance shoving one straight into his mouth. “But no, go ahead, it’s fine,” he finished with an exasperated wave of his hand.

 

Lance beamed at him, crumbs flying as he crowed, “Love you, buddy!”

 

“Yeah, yeah, you’re so gross.”

 

One hand planted on the doorframe, Lance froze mid step to stare at his roommate. “I said, love you buddy.”

 

Hunk forcefully jammed on the oven mitts as he met Lance’s stare. “Love you, too, buddy.”

 

“Better.” And then Lance was whisking his keys off the hall table and fighting to get his shoes on each foot correctly.

 

“Wait, wait, wait,” said Hunk, sticking his head out into the hallway, “Please don’t tell me you’re taking the moped.”

 

Lance stood successfully and brushed crumbs from his mouth. “Obviously.”

 

“Why did you buy that thing?” groaned Hunk, “It’s dangerous!”

 

“Quiet, heathen, I love Blue.” Lance sniffed. “Besides, Shiro said Keith already misses his motorcycle, so this is the next best thing to welcome him.”

 

“A tiny death machine–”

 

“Exactly, see ya!”

 

And Lance bounced out the front door to the powder blue moped sitting in the driveway. He practically hopped onto the seat, the feeling of it still unfamiliar enough that half of his excitement riding was usually apprehension. However in that moment, all the tension pulling his muscles taut and driving his heart to hammer louder, faster, harder – all of it was anticipation.

 

O’Hare international airport was packed, as it always seemed to be. Lance found a niche in the car park to leave his moped and strode off towards the international arrival gates. It took an amount of self-restraint that Lance didn’t realize he had to stop himself from breaking out into a sprint. He sorely wished to race the businessmen trotting along with their briefcases, harried expressions on their faces, but he had no briefcase, no suit, and just realized he was still wearing his helmet. Embarrassed – despite nobody looking in his direction – Lance took the helmet off and looped his fingers through the straps.

 

There was already a heavy stream of people spilling out of the gate. Everyone was hugging everyone, there were tears here and there, signs waving excitedly in the air and then crumpling against equally enthusiastic embraces. Lance bobbed between clusters of families and friends, switching between searching the crowd and watching those leaving the bag pick-up. Every so often he wiped his clammy palms against his pant legs, tried to distract the restless energy thrumming in his veins by humming a tune. It wasn’t working much, and his anticipation was reaching a point that was nearly painful, until he thought he heard his name being called –

 

“Lance! Lance! Turn around– For the love of–”

 

Lance spun immediately, nearly clocking a small child in the face. Apologizing distractedly, Lance dodged around a group of college athletes until he was reaching out to grab a familiar sleeve attached to a familiar person with a familiar face flushed with excitement.

 

“Hey,” said Keith.

 

“Hey,” echoed Lance, his voice a breathy mess muted by the cacophony of the airport.

 

Then their arms were flinging around each other, excitement and relief and joy exhaling in giddy laughter, the sound tickling Lance from his ears to his toes. He breathed in deep when he could and nearly wept on the spot.

 

Even inside, the air smelled like exhaust from the abundance of taxis, rubber burnt against tarmac, cigarette smoke and buttered pretzels. Conversations rose and fell out of sync, excited and tired, punctuated by the impatient lean on a car horn. There was no fresh baked bread, no cobblestones, no cool mist or the pop of a cork and the waft of wine; instead there was the throng of individuals with barely shared backgrounds, voices with a dozen different accents, and Lance’s arms enveloping Keith – his lover, his boyfriend – and hands gripping red plaid, the world spinning and his stomach swooping like he was in an airplane at lift-off, on top of a train rushing through a city at night, racing on two wheels across cobblestones.

“Welcome to Chicago,” said Lance, breathless, euphoric.

Keith’s lips parted in a smile, brighter than the sun.