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The Marks We Make

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“Remind me again why we thought a nine am class was a good idea?” Lance asks. Despite being awake for nearly two hours by this point, his voice is still rough with sleep and his words sound sluggish.

“Because it was the only time they were offering this class, and we both needed a sociology class for gen ed.” Pidge sounds a lot better than Lance does, but their voice is still heavy and disgruntled. They look about as bad as Lance feels: shoulders hunched, heavy bags under their eyes, brows furrowed, and lips forming a permanent scowl.

“Wasn’t it offered at another time, too?” Lance lifts a hand, with some extreme amount of effort, and scratches his head. Even though he knows his hair isn’t greasy, he still feels gross. He didn’t have time to take a shower this morning after sleeping through the first three of his alarms: the ‘full routine’ alarm, the ‘only shower but no proper skin care routine’ alarm, and the ‘no shower but face care routine’ alarm. It was his fourth and final ‘you have no time to do anything but put clothes on’ alarm that finally woke him.

Pidge yawns, wide and long, covering their face with a hand. Their eyes shut, and their foot hits a groove in the sidewalk, causing them to stumble a few steps. Lance manages to grab hold of their arm to keep them standing. Pidge grunts out a thanks, and Lance grunts a wordless sound in response. “They offered later ones, but the seniors all got there before we did.”

Lance’s shoulders hunch as he slouches, grumbling under his breath, “Stupid seniors.”

“It was either nine o’clock or eight. And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I don’t exist before eight o’clock, so I was not about to wake up around seven.”

“Yeah, I’m with you on that one.” Lance mumbles, running a hand over his face, dragging his cheeks down. “I don’t know how Hunk does it.”

“He’s a morning person.”

“Seven am isn’t morning. It’s still in that weird limbo time between night and morning, where only old people, babies, all nighters, and ghosts exist.”

Pidge grunts an affirmative, and lifts both hands to rub their eyes, pushing their glasses to the top of their head. They groan. “My eyes burn.” Their fingers dig into their skin, pulling down the bottom of their eyelids as they spread their fingers, gazing straight ahead. Lance yawns, lifting a hand to stifle it. Pidge glares up at him through their fingers. “Stop that.” They say flatly.

“You started it.” He says through his yawn, shoving his hands back into the pockets of his jeans as he smacks his lips. “I’m pretty sure I’m sleep walking.”

“I’m pretty sure I never woke up.” Pidge adjusts their glasses back on their nose and moves to rest their hands on the straps of their backpack, hopping a little to hike it up further on their back. They hunch over heavily and fix a steady glare ahead of them.

“This is a shitty dream then.”

“Tell me about it. You’re here.”

Lance tilts his head to the side, not even bothering to look down at his friend. “You know what? I’m too tired to be offended. I’ll leave you with a simple ‘rude’.”

Pidge snorts, but says nothing. They continue in silence. He’s not entirely sure he can feel his legs, but they keep moving anyway, despite how much he’s dragging his feet. They both yawn at nearly the same time, and glare at each other for a moment before both making wordless grunts. Campus is busy at this time. They had just gotten out of their nine o’clock class, and it’s still during the ten minutes where people are swarming the sidewalks in an attempt to get to ten am classes. They occasionally swerve to avoid people, Lance at some point just falling into place behind Pidge to avoid foot traffic coming the other way.

Despite their short stature, people seem to peel away from Pidge, clearing the way for them both. Lance has a feeling it has a lot to do with the look on their face. He, for one, wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that look. A tired Pidge is a scary Pidge. Almost as scary as a mischievous Pidge, but not quite as scary as a hungry Pidge.

Lance doesn’t think the look on his face is nearly as scary. He does, however, think it probably makes him look as dead as he feels. In fact, his face feels kind of numb, like he’s not able to express anything. He’s barely able to keep his eyes open as it is.

The traffic fades out as they leave the main streets of campus, and Lance is able to walk alongside Pidge again. From there, it’s only a ten minute walk to Local Lion. Normally, if walking as his usually long strides and natural gait, he could make it there in five minutes. But both him and Pidge are struggling this morning and hurrying is out of the question.

Hunk is waiting for them in the parking lot when they get there, leaning back against the decorative metal railing that frames the outdoor patio. He’s got one arm crossed over his chest and the other is holding his phone. He’s dressed simply, in a t-shirt and shorts with a yellow and black hoodie on, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, and a familiar headband across his forehead that’s been part of his aesthetic for years.

He looks up when they both approach, eyebrows rocketing upward. They both stop in front of him, and he slowly lowers his phone. “Uh, rough morning?” He asks, eyes darting between the two of them.

They both grunt in response, staring blankly at Hunk while he quietly takes in both of their appearances. As Lance watches, Hunk’s eyes roam from his neck, over his shoulder, and down his arm to where his hand is shoved in his pocket. Then he switches to Pidge, gaze traveling over both of their arms, where their long sleeved shirt is rolled up to their elbows.

His eyebrows are still raised high, but his look turns amused, a smirk spreading his lips. “Up all night with the soulmates again?”

Pidge shrugs, shifting as they straighten to adjust the weight of their backpack and half stretch as their back arches with another yawn. “They needed help with some schematics they’re working on.” They say, settling back down into a slump with shoulders hunched and a bored look on their face. They hold out an arm, displaying the sketches and calculations and words and small diagrams scratched out in faded black on their arm. Pidge’s marks are easy to spot: they look like pen, while their soulmate’s look more deeply ingrained into their pale skin.

It looks like… a lot of math, and angles, and stuff that Lance would expect to see on someone’s physics or calculus homework. Pidge holds both arms out, turning them slightly while Hunk takes a step forward, leaning over to examine them with a look of genuine curiosity on his face. “Fascinating. What’re they building?”

A small smirk tugs at the corner of Pidge’s lips, and a touch of pride enters their voice. It’s the only crack to their otherwise tired existence that Lance has seen all morning. “They’re working on a hover engine prototype.”

“Whoa! Neat!” Hunk gapes, looking a little closer at the markings as Pidge lifts their sleeves a little higher.

They shrug, but the smug look stays. “They’re still in the theoretical stage, but we made some real headway last night… this morning? I’m not even sure anymore.”

Lance looks politely at his friend’s markings, but they honestly just don’t make any sense to him. They look a lot like all of the other markings he’s seen Pidge get from their soulmate. It’s always math and long discussions and diagrams with them, written out in tiny black chicken scratch to be able to use up as much space as possible. Pidge usually ends up walking around looking like a text book half of the time.

One time they walked around with binary code covering every inch of their skin. Just zeros and ones. Wouldn’t tell anyone what it meant. Hunk wouldn’t tell him either.

“Okay, okay, but enough about all that nerd stuff.” Lance ways waving a hand at Pidge and Hunk. They both look up at him, eyebrows raised. They both look amused. Even Pidge, but it’s buried under the persistent layers of utter exhaustion. They were used to not getting a lot of sleep, so their soulmate must have kept them up a lot later than usual. “Check out what my soulmate did last night.”

He turns to put his left side to them, holding out his arm straight and rotating it back and forth so they can see the full effect of it.

Unlike Pidge’s nerd soulmate, Lance’s is an artist. It’s mostly with paints, Lance thinks, though he’s not entirely sure without actually watching them do it. All he gets to see is the brilliant colors and patterns appear on his skin like magic, bursting to life stroke by stroke and line by line. It’s never in the same place, and it’s never the same pattern. He’s gotten them all over his body throughout the years, and each one has been so unique. The one thing they’ve all had in common is the fact that they’ve all been beautiful.

The colors on his arm are yellows and oranges and reds, swirling together like fire and flames, licking up his arm from the knuckles and rising all the way to the junction of his shoulder, sending spits of yellow flames up the side of his neck. Nearly his entire arm is covered, each color swirling and blending in such a way that they looked cohesive together but still stood out individually. He could see the twists and turns of the flames, coiling and curling as they lit up his arm.

As usual whenever he gets a new temporary tattoo from his soulmate, Lance is wearing an outfit to show it off: simple tight tank top with thin straps. It puts his entire arm on display and doesn’t take away from the brilliant colors that, honestly, look amazing with his skin tone. He’s lucky it’s still the tail end of summer before fall really kicks in, and it’s warm enough for him to get away with it.

He might get a little cold in the buildings that are still running ac, but it’s nothing he can’t handle.

He grins, feeling his face brighten for the first time this morning as he watches Hunk and Pidge look over his arm. He’s proud of it, and he’s proud of his soulmate. He loves showing off their work, and he’s got the pictures decorating his wall to prove it. Not to mention the scrapbooks under his bed filled with pictures of all the drawings his soulmate has done throughout the years.

Pidge looks away first. They’ve had all morning to see Lance’s arm. They stifle a yawn before pushing up their glasses, and it causes Lance to yawn.

“Stop that, Pidge.” He tries to snap, but the words are muffled by his yawn. Hunk grabs hold of his wrist, lifting his arm this way and that to fully examine and appreciate his new sleeve.

“This is awesome…” He mutters, and Lance grins.

“I know.” He’s unable to keep the smugness out of his voice as he stands a little straighter.

“I don’t see why you’re so tired. You don’t even actually communicate with your soulmate.” Pidge says, adjusting their backpack again. They look like they might fall over at any moment now that they’re no longer moving. Lance feels himself bristle at Pidge’s words, but the edge is taken off when they lean against him, resting their head against his upper arm. “You could just sleep and see the finished product in the morning.”

Lance sniffs indignantly, lifting his chin as he looks away. “You know I like to watch them work.” He says, and he tries to sound offended, but even he can hear the fondness creeping into his tone.

It’s true he doesn’t really talk to his soulmate much. Not like Pidge and Hunk and Allura do. Even Coran talks to his soulmate more than Lance does, and they don’t even speak the same native language! And… he’s a little jealous of that. A lot jealous, truth be told.

As a kid, he always imagined having long, wonderful conversations with his soulmate in the years before he met them. And when the marks finally started appearing on his skin in his teenage years, he had tried to do just that. To his frustration, talking to them was like pulling teeth. Half the time he went ignored, and when they did reply, it was with short words. It didn’t take long for his soulmate to make it clear that they weren’t interested in conversation or getting to know each other.

He was, quite honestly and understandably, bummed about this. And he still felt a little pang of jealousy when he saw how the others had actual communication with their soulmates, even when they had never met.

But what his soulmate didn’t give him with words, they gave to him with art. They gave him beautiful markings that decorated his skin like a canvas. And while he never really got any words or explanations, Lance got to feel the emotions that came with those brush strokes.

So yeah, he could have slept through the whole thing and been bright eyed and bushy tailed for his morning class. But he didn’t. He liked staying up with his soulmate. He liked sitting on his bed, arm lit by only his phone screen so he didn’t wake up Hunk as the colors came to life on his skin. He liked feeling what his soulmate was feeling, good and bad. He liked to lay there, a silent audience as his soulmate worked through their emotions while painting their own skin, which, in turn, tattooed Lance’s.

lance feels what keith feels

It’s in those moments where Lance feels truly connected. He may not know all the details of his soulmate’s life, but he supposes he will eventually. For now, he’s perfectly content to simply watch them work, ride out their emotions with them, display their art proudly, and bathe in the calm serenity that comes with feeling the bond between soulmates.

He may not know his soulmates name or their favorite color or where they live. But he feels like he’s really gotten to know them over the years. He knows them deeply and intimately, and that’s a connection he wouldn’t give up for the world.

“Do you think they were excited last night?” Hunk asks, dropping Lance’s arm and taking a step back. “You know, all fired up and all that?” Hunk has always been genuinely interested in Lance’s soulmate’s art, and he’s always been down for talking through what they might mean. Lance isn’t sure if it’s just to humor him, or if he’s actually curious, but Lance appreciates it either way.

Pidge snorts, but Lance shakes his head, lifting his arm to gaze at the colors thoughtfully. “I think they were… anxious. Nervous, kind of. Like when you can’t sleep cause you’re all amped up on anticipation. But like… with more of a worried edge, you know?” And he knows he’s right.

He had felt that fluttering nervousness as he watched the flames swirl and coil, feeling the anxiety do the same in his heart. But beneath that anxiety was a sense of excitement. Nervousness, yes, but also… anticipation. With all that churning in his gut, foreign emotions that weren’t his but still familiar, he’s not sure he could have slept even if he had wanted to.

“Anxious about what?” Hunk asks, but Lance shrugs. He’s known Lance long enough to know that his soulmate never actually explains anything. “Well it is the start of the semester. Maybe they were anxious about classes starting.”

Lance lets his arm drop, brow furrowing slightly. “Maybe… but they’ve never been nervous like this around the start of the semester before.”

Pidge shrugs, pushing off of him and wobbling on their feet for a moment. “Maybe something big has happened.”

“Maybe…”

“Anyway, enough about soulmates.” Pidge says, already walking toward the doors to the coffeeshop. “I’m dying over here and I need some caffeine in my veins stat. So can we relocate inside and get some coffee before I pass out or murder someone?”

With the show and tell over, Lance feels his smug pride fade away, only to be quickly replaced by a bone deep weariness. “Yes, please.

They push through the doors, and the familiar bells rattled against the glass as they’re surrounded by the smell of coffee and baked goods. Coran looks up, straightening from where he had been bent over, putting fresh donuts in the display case. He stands up so fast that Lance is certain he saw his ginger mustache bounce. “Greetings!” He sings cheerfully, grinning as the three of them shuffled over to the counter. His smile doesn’t fade as he looked them over. “Sleep well?”

Lance and Pidge groan together, and Hunk chuckles. “Well, I did.” He says, crossing his arms over his chest. “How’re you doing, Coran?”

“Just dandy, Hunk! Thanks for asking.” He tilts his chin, a mischievous glint entering his eyes as he leans to the side, pointing the metal tongs in his hands at Hunk. “I’ve got some new recipes I want to try later today.”

“Oh geez, here we go.” Hunk laughs, deep and hearty, and Lance loves him, he really does, but he can’t for the life of him figure out how Hunk can be so cheerful when he woke up at seven this morning. “I’ll take a look at them when I come in for my shift.”

Coran straightens, sniffing indignantly and lifting his chin as he turns his head away. “Well, if you insist, but I think I’ve really hit the nail on the head with these ones!”

“We’ll see about that.” Hunk says with a soft chuckle.

Pidge walks forward until their toes are pressed up against the bottom of the counter and lean their whole body against the display case. It rises just a little above their head, rounding over the top. Pidge leans forward until their forehead and nose are pressed to the glass. “Please tell me you have maple donuts?”

Coran nods, one hand on his hip as he clanked the tongs in his other hand together a few times. “There’s some on the cooling rack in the back right now. They’ll be ready in just a tick!”

“Coran, you’re my hero.” Pidge mumbles without lifting their head.

Lance stops when he reaches the front counter, and bends in half, laying his entire torso across the countertop next to the register. With great effort, he lifts one arm and flops it down next to him. His hand lands on the bell, sending an annoying ring throughout the cafe. “Alluraaaaaaaa!” He whines loudly. “Alluraaaaaa! I’m dying over here! S-O-S. Call life alert. I’m too young and too beautiful to die.” As he whines, his hand lifts and falls on the ringer, over and over again.

“Lance, if you don’t cut that out, I’m going to make you spend the next week cleaning this place from top to bottom with a toothbrush.” Comes the sharp and annoyed reply. He likes to think there’s a fondness buried in there. Somewhere.

He tilts his head back far enough to see her come out of the backroom, tying an apron around her waist as she steps up to the register. She’s beautiful, as always. Tall, thick dyed white hair that’s a perfect contrast to her dark skin, amazingly sharp features and a no nonsense attitude existing alongside a generous compassion. What he wouldn’t give to have her be his soulmate. Sadly, they’re both destined for someone else.

Still, a little playful flirting between friends never hurt. Well… except for times that she actually hits him. But that’s beside the point.

“I must have already died and gone to heaven, because you’ve got the voice of an angel.”

He can practically hear her rolling her eyes, but it’s Pidge who groans loudly. “Lance, it’s too damn early to hear your gross attempts at flirting.”

Lance snorts. “It’s never too early to compliment a beautiful woman. Right, Allura?”

She crosses her arms over her chest and shakes her head. “No, I’m afraid I agree with Pidge. Not to mention I’m pretty sure you’ve given me that line at least a dozen times. Your attempts this morning are bordering on pitiful.”

“Ouch. Savage.” Lance mumbles, rolling his head so his face is pressed into the counter. “My poor heart can’t handle this kind of treatment. I think I’m dying.”

“We’re never that lucky.” Pidge grumbles.

“Rude.”

“Lance, please don’t drool on the counter.” Allura sighs, poking his head with two fingers.

“I don’t drool!”

“You do, Lance. I’ve shared a room with you for two years. You drool all over your pillow at night.”

“Hunk!”

“Come on, buddy.” Hunk says, stepping up beside him and rubbing a comforting hand on his back. If he keeps that up, Lance might actually fall asleep on the counter. But he won’t drool, because he doesn’t do that. “Don’t you want to order coffee?”

Lance groans, flipping his arm over so his wrist is facing upward. “I don’t think I have the strength to drink it. Just inject it straight into my veins.”

“I don’t think that’s safe, dude.”

“You’re not my doctor.”

“Lance, if we don’t order coffee in the next thirty seconds, you’re going up to number one on my hit list.” Pidge says, but the affect is lessened by the fact that they still haven’t moved.

“Oooo, is this a new painting from the infamous soulmate?” Coran asks, cooing with genuine interest as he leans over Allura to get a better look at Lance’s arm.

Pidge groans loudly. “Why did you have to bring that up?” They mumble.

At the mention of his markings, Lance perks right the fuck up. He shoots up straight, regretting the decision instantly as his vision blurs and everything spins. He leans forward again, putting his hands on the counter to steady himself. Hunk’s hand is on his shoulder, offering him support. He closes his eyes for a moment, but when everything stops spinning he lifts his head, grinning at Coran and Allura.

“Yup! Look at this one of a kind masterpiece.” He says, thrusting his arm out and twisting it as he shows them.

Coran leans forward, scratching his chin as his eyes roam the markings. “What an impeccable use of technique…”

Allura still has her arms crossed over her chest, but her eyebrows are raised as she looks his arm over. “It’s quiet beautiful.”

Lance’s grin widens. “It always is.”

“Is this why you’re so tired?”

Lance pulls his arm back, running his fingers over the color swirls and eyes tracing the patterns as he says sheepishly, “Maybe…”

“Hunk, you’re supposed to make sure he doesn’t exhaust himself like this.” Allura says. “He’s going to be useless on his shift tonight.”

Hunk throws up his arms, shaking his head. “Oh, no, no no, don’t put his on me. You know I can’t control him if his soulmate is drawing. Dude will stay up until he legitimately passes out if his SM is drawing. I’ve had to feed him before because he forgets to eat.”

“For the record, he tried.” Lance adds.

Hunk nods quickly, pointing to lance with both pointer fingers, hands still up in the air. “It’s true. I tried. He started right as I was going to bed, and I said ‘Lance, you know you have an early class tomorrow,’ right, Lance? I said that. I warned you that you’d be tired.”

Lance shrugs. “No regrets.”

“I regret your existence.” Pidge mumbles, voice muffled by the glass.

“Oh yeah? Well, I regret your— your face!”

“Lance, that doesn’t even make sense.”

“Neither does your mom.”

Pidge groans, but Hunk snorts a short laugh. “Good one, Lance.”

Lance holds up a fist, and Hunk taps it with the back of his. “What can I say? I’m on…” He pauses dramatically, crossing his right arm over his chest, he lifts his left to his face, cradling his chin in his forefinger and thumb. The position puts his left arm on display. He tilts his chin down and lifts his eyes, smirking at them all.

“Lance, don’t.” Pidge whines, but he doesn’t listen.

Fire

His smirk widens as everyone groans. Everyone except for Coran, who laughs heartily, throwing his head back.

“I hate you.”

“Oooo, gonna need some ice for that—“ He steps closer to them, grabbing their shoulders with both hands and pulling them off the display case. They flop backward, rolling back on their heels as Lance pulls them against his chest. Then he leans forward and waves his left arm in front of their face. “—Burn?

They groan, rolling their head to look at Allura, who’s smiling and shaking her head. “Can’t you threaten to fire him?” They plead.

Allura tilts her head to the side, several curls falling loose from her ponytail to frame her face. She gave Pidge and sympathetic smile. “I would, but then I’m afraid he would just—“

Lance snorts loudly. “Pfff, fired, nice one, Pidge.” He turns to grin at Hunk, who’s returning his smile, even thought he can see he’s conflicted about it. “You can’t fire me, I’m too hot!” He turns his head to grin at Hunk, waggling his eyebrows. He sighs but smiles good naturally as he responds.

“Hot damn.”

“—Do that.” Allura finishes, waving a hand at Lance.

“Call the police and the fireman!”

Pidge sighs loudly. “Why am I friends with you?”

“Because I’m irresistibly charming and handsome?”

They snort. “Sure.”

“Did you guys want to order?” Allura asks, hand hovering over the register.

“Yes, please,” Pidge pushes away from Lance to stand in front of the counter. “Hit me up with a large dark roast with two shots of espresso.”

Both of her eyebrows go up. “Isn’t that a little… much?”

Pidge gives her a flat stare that could peel paint. “I have two more classes after this. Allura, if you don’t give me that coffee, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. I will probably kill Lance, and then you’ll be down an employee.”

“What? Why me?”

“I already told you I put you at the top of my hit list.”

“Hunk will protect me!”

“Sorry, buddy, but I’m not getting in the middle of that.”

“Will that be all, Pidge?” Allura asks, cutting them all off.

“And two of Coran’s maple donuts.” They say, pulling their wallet out of their pocket.

“Coming right up!” Coran says, disappearing into the back room.

Allura swipes Pidge’s card, hands it back, and fixes their coffee quickly before taking the rest of their orders. Lance doesn’t complain too much. He would, too, if he were in her position. Pidge looks like they’re about to keel over at any moment.

Pidge takes the drink, cradling it in both hands as they mutter thanks and shuffle away to take a seat. They watch them go before Allura turns to the two of them. “And the usuals?”

Hunk nods. “Yeah, thanks, Allura.”

“An extra shot of espresso in mine.” Lance adds.

She raises an eyebrow, but nods. “You look like you could use it.”

Lance crosses his arms over his chest and leans a hip on the display case. “Hey! I take offense to that.”

Allura just rolls her eyes, taking payment from both of them, fingers flying expertly across the register. “I just meant you look tired.”

“She’s got a point, dude. You have bags under your eyes.” Hunk says.

Lance gasps, both hands flying to his face, fingers probing the skin under his eyes. “I do not!”

Allura nods and hands back his card. “You do.”

Lance’s hands drop, and he scowls down at his arm. “This is all your fault.” He grumbles.

Hunk snorts, putting his wallet back in his pocket. “Like you’d ever really be mad at your SM.”

He feels a soft smile tugging at his lips, melting his scowl. “Yeah, you right.”

Allura hands them their drinks and their donut bags, and they go to join Pidge at their usual spot in the corner. The corner has a couch that is flanked by two armchairs with a coffee table between the three of them. Pidge is curled up in one of the chairs, knees pulled up, sitting sideways, coffee cradled in their hands, and head leaning back against the cushion. Lance drops their donut bag down on the table, causing them to lift their head, sharp brown eyes immediately focusing on it.

“Oh, hell yes.” They mutter, sitting up to dig into the bag.

Lance and Hunk sit on the couch, digging out their own donuts. Lance had gotten his favorite: the chocolate espresso donut. It’s Hunk’s creation and an absolute blessing. He closed his eyes as he bites into it, letting out loud noises as he chews.

“Dude, do you have to do that?” Hunk asks.

Lance leans back, letting himself get absorbed into the cushions and resting one ankle on his knee. “It’s a compliment, man.” He says, taking another bite with significantly less sound effects.

They’re quite for several moments as they all sip their coffee and eat their donuts. Local Lion has the best donuts in town, in Lance’s opinion. They’re all homemade daily, sometimes by Coran and sometimes by Hunk, and sometimes by some of the other employees. The coffee is great, too, and the atmosphere of the place is even better. It’s decorated with a modern but earthy style, with plenty of indoor plants, art on the brick walls, and large windows for natural lighting. It’s located off campus, so there aren’t usually too many people flooding in, and overall it’s very cozy. At the moment there are only a few other customers scattered around the tables, and overhead Allura’s radio station plays softly.

“Club expo is in two days.” Hunk says, sipping his green tea latte.

“Ugh, don’t remind me.” Pidge says, curling deeper into the chair. One donut was down and they were on their second one. “I don’t have anything ready yet.”

Lance scoffs, resting his elbow on the arm of the couch and waving his hand in the air. “Pfff, what do you even need to get ready? We just gotta use the same posters as last year, wear our shirts, and then you just gotta answer questions when I reel ‘em in with the classic Lance McClain charm.” He sends Pidge a smoldering look with a confident smirk, but they just snort and roll their eyes.

“Do you have to come?”

“Of course! You need me!”

“No, we don’t.”

“Pidge, you know we need him. He’s the loudest person at the expo. He always draws in more people than we ever could on our own.”

“And then we end up with a lot of book nerds who don’t make it past the first practice.”

“Uh, Pidge,” Hunk says, raising a finger. “We are book nerds.”

Pidge rolls their eyes and waves their half eaten donut around in the air. “That’s beside the point!” They take a sip of their coffee and immediately make a face, lips curling and nose scrunching up.

“Pidge, how can you even drink that?” Lance asks, making a similar face as he eyes their cup.

“It’s better than the hot sugar water with syrup that you drink.”

Excuse,” He huffs, cradling his drink to his chest with both hands. “It’s not my fault you killed your tastebuds.”

“So anyway,” Hunk says, pulling his laptop out of his backpack and putting it on his lap. He sets his drink on the coffee table so he can open his computer. “I was thinking we could use the same flier design that we did last year, but maybe with a few adjustments? If we figure this thing out today, I can go get them printed at the library tomorrow and Lance can help me cut them down to size.”

“Goodie.” Lance says dryly, hunching his shoulders and sinking further into the couch.

“What’d you have in mind?” Pidge asks, and Hunk pulls up the flier design, turning his computer to show her.

Lance tunes them out a little bit. It’s not that he doesn’t care about his team, he just really doesn’t care about these kind of housekeeping details. He’ll let Pidge and Hunk deal with those. They are the club presidents after all. He’s just one of the star players. So instead he sips his coffee and holds up his left arm, letting his eyes roam the patterns and swirls that he already knows so well.

His soulmate worked hard on it, so the least he can do is fully appreciate their work. And he does. He always does. He thinks back to the feelings that had come across when the marks were appearing on his skin. The anxiousness, the nervous energy, the almost nauseating excitement that clenched hard in his gut. He doesn’t know what it was about, but he hopes his soulmate has a good day, and that whatever had them feeling so anxious turns out alright. He’s willing to bet it goes fine. It didn’t feel like bad nerves. More like… something was going to happen and they couldn’t sleep because of it. Like trying to sleep on Christmas eve, or the night before a road trip, or in his case, the night before the first day of classes.

After the painting had finished, the connection between them had faded quickly. Lance had waited, hoping for more, but by then it had been three in the morning, and the color took up his whole arm, and he had known his soulmate was done. He couldn’t sleep for another hour. He never could after feeling his soulmate. He was too amped up, to hung up on thoughts of ‘what if’, still feeling the echoes of emotions that weren’t his but which touched his heart all the same.

Someone out there, someone destined for him, had left their mark on him, had shared a piece of themselves with him.

Speaking of his soulmate, it occurs to him that he has yet to do his daily soulmate exchange.

“Hey, Hunk.” He says, looking up suddenly. His friend turns from where he’s been gesturing at his computer to look at him with a raised brow. “Got a pen?”

“Yeah,” He says, already digging in his book bag. He pulls one out and hands it over.

Lance brightens, sitting up and leaning forward to set his coffee cup on the table. “Thanks, man!” He bites the cap of the pen, pulling it out and keeping the cap in his mouth as he positions the pen over his left hand. Then he stops, pulls back, and taps his chin with the back of the pen. What should he say today? Definitely something fire related. That much is obvious.

“Oh god, are you going to do the thing again?” Pidge asks, sounding pained.

Lance shoots them a smirk and winks. “Of course,” He says, words warped by the cap between his teeth. “Everyday, Pidge. Every. Day.”

“Why are you like this?” Pidge groans, rubbing their eyes and shaking their head.

“I think it’s sweet.” Hunk says, turning his computer back around to type something.

Lance gestures to Hunk. “See? Hunk thinks it’s sweet! And he should know. Him and his soulmate are like, cavity inducing.”

Hunk snorts, but doesn’t look up.

“It’s not sweet. It’s gross and embarrassing.”

“Says you. But my soulmate loves it.”

“Have they ever said so?”

“Well, no… but they’ve never told me to stop, and it’s obvious they love it. They’re my soulmate, Pidge.”

They roll their eyes, taking another sip from their cup and wincing. “I feel bad for your soulmate.”

“Hey! You just don’t know the first thing about romance.” Lance grumbles, leaning back against the couch to hide his palm from both of them. They pick up their conversation again as Lance idly taps his nose with the pen, brows scrunched up in thought. He turns his hand over, waggling his fingers as he admires the way the yellow tips of the flames lick up the digits.

Then a slow grin spreads his lips. He’s got it! Yes. Perfect. His soulmate is going to love this.

He sets the pen to his palm and scribbles out the words, grinning wildly.

 


 


Keith is in class when he feels the tingling sensation dancing across his palm.

He knows exactly what it is. It happens every morning. Rarely at the same time but always before noon. He’s sitting back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest and legs stretched out beneath the table in front of him. He wants to ignore it. He really does. But no matter how much he tries, he never can. There’s just an irresistible pull, a pleading for attention, whenever his soulmate writes. It’s a wordless whisper in the back of his mind, a tug at his heart, and he feels himself on a deep level reaching out for it, even while he tells himself not to.

The loss of control is… uncomfortable.

He’s worked very hard to get his life under control, to be able to control himself. And the fact that there’s still this… this strange anomaly attached to him, something that he’s drawn toward inexplicably, a faceless person attached to him, with control over him, is a little terrifying.

Still… when the feels the tingling on his palm, like the pressure of a phantom pen gliding across his skin, he knows it’s better to just let the experience wash over him rather than fight it. He’s found this is the best way. Just accept it, let the strange foreign feelings fade, and let it go.

So he closes his eyes, breathing deep as emotions that aren’t his start to drift through his mind, filling his chest. They’re a little all over the place, and he passes the time by trying to identify them.

What sticks out the most is pride, though Keith gets the feeling that it’s more of a self directed pride than anything. Almost like a cockiness. He gets that feeling most mornings when his soulmate writes on his hand. But there’s also that familiar fondness that makes his heart clench and warmth bubble inside him, just as it also makes his gut clench and his stomach roll.

There’s also a softer pride, one that’s directed more outward. More towards him.

It’s the same feeling he received when the words, “Absolutely amazing, good luck tomorrow!” appeared on his wrist in a familiar messy handwriting last night when he had gotten in the shower to wash the paint off his arm.

Or maybe he should say this morning.

He hadn’t been able to sleep. It was the night before the first day of classes, and he was feeling… anxious. He had given up sleeping around midnight and instead had sat in the middle of the floor of his studio apartment and started painting. He hadn’t finished until nearly three in the morning. He hadn’t expected his soulmate to still be up, but…. he was. He always managed to be awake whenever Keith wanted to paint. No matter what the time. And every time, when Keith was done, he’d get some short message scribbled across his hand or wrist.

They were always compliments, and sometimes, if Keith had something heavier on his mind, there were also words of encouragement.

Like this morning.

His wrist itched just thinking about the words. He finds them oddly comforting, but also unnerving. He isn’t sure if it was a lucky guess, random words of encouragement, or if his soulmate had managed to read between the lines of the chaotic emotions that tended to shine through their connection.

He hates to admit it, but his soulmate has gotten fairly good at reading him throughout the years. In a way, it’s nice to have someone who knows him so well. But at the same time…

He huffs out an exhale, feeling the hair on his forehead shift, and pushes those thoughts aside. He lets himself bask for a moment in a trickling of emotions that aren’t his. They’re a subtle jumble, flitting around and gone before he can firmly grasp anything other than the more predominate emotions.

He’s not sure how his soulmate manages to read him so well. Everything except for the smug pride and overlaying affection slips through his fingers like sand.

And then the tingling stops and the foreign emotions slip away like they were never there. And if there weren’t marks on his skin to prove their passing, he could swear the moment never happened at all.

He opens his eyes, attention fixing once again on his professor. Like most first classes, she’s just going over the syllabus and what to expect from the class. To be honest, he stopped listening a while ago.

He stares at his professor. He stares at the syllabus laying open on his table, reading the same lines over and over again without absorbing them. He lets his eyes trail around the room, to his classmates, to the posters on the walls, to the cabinets of art supplies. He even tries to look at the old analogue clock on the wall, watching the second hand tick.

He lasts approximately one hundred and thirty seven seconds before he gives into curiosity.

He doesn’t know why he bothers, honestly. He may not know exactly what’s written on his palm, but he sure as hell knows the gist of it. It’s the same every day.

Still, his curiosity is a demon he has yet to tame. Sighing, he unfolds his arms and holds his left hand out in front of him. He tugs on the velcro strap of his glove and starts to slip it off his hand.

The first thing he sees is the words from this morning.

Absolutely amazing, good luck tomorrow!

The words are written in blue, imprinted into his skin. They’re already starting to fade. The words rarely last longer than a couple of days. And given the late hour, he doubted his soulmate was able to concentrate hard enough to get it to last more than twenty four hours.

He stares at the words for only a moment, feeling a familiar and irritating flutter in his chest before he shakes it off, pushing his glove further up his hand. The words start at the meat of his thumb, scribbled across the center of his palm and across diagonally. Being fresh, the black is deep and dark, a stark contrast on his pale skin.

I better get some ice, because my heart’s on fire.

Keith squeezes his eyes shut, sucking in a breath but pursing his lips tight to suppress his groan. He tugs his glove back down, covering up all the marks. He counts to five and lets his air out in a long exhale, opening his eyes.

Why does the universe think that an idiot is his perfect match?

He doesn’t respond. He never does. And yet the man never seems to give up hope. Every day, without fail, there’s a new terrible pick up line written on one of his hands.

Keith hates it, but he can’t bring himself to tell the man to fuck off. That just seems… cruel. And Keith isn’t that heartless. He doesn’t want to hurt the guy, he just… he doesn’t know what he wants, and that’s been a problem for years. A problem that he doesn’t think he’ll get a solution to anytime soon.

Better to focus on his present, and not some unknown future. Focus on what he can control. Focus on what he can do. Focus on himself.

His class ends thirty minutes early, and Keith grabs his backpack, throwing it over one shoulder as he trudges from the room. He pulls out his phone to check his schedule for the hundredth time that day. His next class is in the same building, but he still has forty minutes before it starts. Sighing, he goes to the vending machine at the end of the hall, gets a small bag of chips, and heads up the stairs to his next class. He settles down on the floor outside of his next class room, setting his bag next to him. Leaning against the wall, he pulls out his sketchbook and pulls up his knees, propping the book so no one can see as he opens it.

He puts his headphones on, starts up his music, and pulls out his colored pencils. His chips are done, and he’s idly recreating the flame pattern the had painted last night from memory when his phone vibrates.

He blinks, suddenly forced back into reality. The drawing is only halfway done, yellows, oranges, and reds swirling and crawling up the edge of the page. Propping the red pencil he’s been working with between his lips, he picks up his phone. He has several texts from Pidge and one from Shiro.

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Hey! Hope your first day of classes is going well! Dinner tonight? You can tell me all about it :)

Keith
> Shiro, are you aware that you’re twenty six years old?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> That’s what I’ve been lead to believe, yes.

Keith
> Then why the hell do you text like an old man?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> All I wanted to do was check in on my baby brother and make sure he’s having a good day, and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now.

Keith
> Dear god please stop

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> So is that a yes for dinner?

Keith
> Will you be taking me off campus for non cafeteria food?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Will that get you to agree to a good old fashioned brother interrogation?

Keith
> As long as you’re paying

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Deal :) I’ll pick you up at seven.

People are starting to gather in the hallway, and with a glance at the time, Keith realizes that it’s nearly time for his class. He shuffles his colored pencils back into his pencil pouch and stuffs them in his bag along with his sketch book. Pushing himself to his feet, he throws his back over his shoulder. With his music still blaring in his ears, blocking out much of the general hallway chatter, he leans a hip against the wall, checking his other messages.

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> I’m dead
> I think I can count the hours of sleep I got on one hand
> Probably more like three fingers
> Point is I’m in zombie mode right now
> Pretty sure I know why zombies do that shuffle walk thing
> It’s hard to walk when you’re dead
> Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I may be dead, but I’m still up for lunch

Keith
> We can cancel if you’d rather go sleep
> I don’t need you dying on the table
> I don’t want to explain why I’m talking to a corpse
> And I don’t want to deal with the body

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> First of all, I resent that
> Nearly thirteen years of friendship and you won’t even get rid of my dead body
> You insult me
> Second of all, I’m pretty sure my blood is 85% caffeine right now, I couldn’t sleep if I tried
> Blinking is getting hard, my hands are shaking, and I think I can see sounds
> Keith Kogane, we are going to lunch

Keith
> Sounds like I don’t have a choice

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> Damn straight you don’t
> Meet me outside the cafeteria at one

Keith
> Aye aye, captain

His next class passes just as quickly as the first. He’s honestly not even sure why he was so nervous last night. It might be his first day of classes at this university, but so far the classes followed the exact same pattern as those at his old community pattern. The first day is easy. Nothing. He’s feeling pretty good about it now that he’s got two classes out of the way. So far he hasn’t gotten lost. He hasn’t drawn attention to himself. He hasn’t forgotten anything. He can see the freshmen walking around, printed out schedules in their hands and looking like a strange mix of excited and terrified. He doesn’t think he looks like that.

So all in all, it’s not a bad day so far.

His fingers absently press against his left wrist as he makes his way out of the art building. Good luck tomorrow! His soulmate had sensed his anxiousness last night. Now he feels a little foolish for it. Now there’s someone out there, walking around with sleeve of flame tattoos that are the visual embodiment of his insecure nerves. And he’s not even nervous anymore.

He sighs, forcing himself to shove his hands in his pockets to keep from touching the words on his palm.

Oh well. It’s not like he asked to be connected to someone. It’s not like he asked for that person’s concern. He didn’t paint his arm for his soulmate, and he didn’t do it for sympathy. He had done it because it helped him clear his thoughts and calm himself. Painting on his body has always done that for him. It’s his favorite medium. He’s done it since he was a kid, and he didn’t really think about the consequences of it once he was connected to his soulmate.

He was a little nervous at first, but his soulmate has never complained about the drawings. Never complained that Keith made him walk around like a human painting several times a month. Sometimes a week. He never asked for praise or encouragement or validation for his chaotic emotions, but…

He can’t deny that they haven’t been appreciated over the years.

He was annoyed with him during their early years of being connected. He was talkative, and obnoxious, and asked way too many probing questions while offering up way too many mundane details of his life. Keith wasn’t ready to accept him. To an extent, he still isn’t. But when he was young, he really wasn’t ready for anything so serious and so committed as a soulmate is.

So he tried to brush him off. When that didn’t work, he started ignoring him. His soulmate never gave up though. He got quieter, resigning himself to the occasional message and the daily pick up line. Keith resumed his paintings, half expecting his soulmate to tell him to stop making him look like he got in a fight with a first grade arts and crafts center, but he didn’t. Always words of awe and encouragement.

As annoying and frustrating as his soulmate has been, and as terrifying as the concept of having a soulmate is, Keith can’t deny that his SM was a pivotal anchor for him after the car accident that took his parents and maimed Shiro. He was a grounding force when Keith thought he was drowning.

A grounding force that came in the form of simple encouraging words and the comforting warmth in his chest when they were being written. A grounding force that came in the form of a stupid pick up line that appeared on his palm every morning, the only thing that stayed constant and predictable when his life was changing so drastically. A grounding force that came in the form of hilariously terrible doodles of stick figure comics and tyrannic impressions of his soulmate’s teachers doodled across his arms. A grounding force that came in the form of tic-tac-toe and games of hangman placed on their legs whenever Keith was feeling particularly close to a breakdown.

All it took was a small doodle on his skin to get his mind off the deafening emotions that threatened to choke him, and his soulmate would be there. Ready to distract him.

His soulmate got him through a very tough time in his life, and he’ll forever be grateful, but… He still holds him at a distance. He just can’t bring himself to be dependent on a man he doesn’t know. Maybe one day, but for now… for now Keith will just focus on the present. He has to. The future fills him with enough anxiety to clench his heart and steal his breath, and the past hangs heavy on his shoulders, threatening to crush him.

But the present? The present he can handle. Day by day. Patience yields focus.

He spends the next hour sitting in the grassy area between the art building and the music building, back against a tree. There are a few other students sitting around between classes, some with friends and some alone. He has his headphones on again and his sketchbook out. He finishes the drawing, trying to recreate a two demential rendition of the flame sleeve he had painted early this morning.

When he’s done, he checks the time. He still has fifteen minutes, but he has nothing else to do. He packs up his things and heads to the main cafeteria on campus. He leans a shoulder against the outside brick wall, one hand in his pocket and the other holding up his phone as he dicks around on some of his game apps.

He ignores everyone around him, the pass and press of bodies coming in and out of the cafeteria. The main thing, he finds, that’s different from his community college and this university, is that it’s so crowded. With so many people living on and around campus, the foot traffic is ridiculous, and he’s not used to it.

He’s so absorbed into his phone that he jumps when a foot is suddenly kicking his leg. He looks up to glare, only to be faced with an extremely disheveled looking Pidge.

He blinks, eyes going wide and brows shooting up. Pidge wasn’t kidding. They look like death. There’s heavy bags under their eyes, and although their eyelids are hanging half lidded, he watches with increasing discomfort as Pidge doesn’t blink. Their shoulders are slumped, hands on the straps of their bag like it’s the only thing keeping them balanced enough to stand. Their sleeves are pushed up to their elbows, and Keith can see diagrams and equations and notes scribbled across their skin, up their arms and up their neck. It’s honestly not a new look for Pidge.

“You,” Keith says, lowering his headphones to let them rest around his neck and turning his music off before shoving his phone in his pocket. He doesn’t look away from Pidge. He’s a little afraid they might keel over if he turns away for even a second. “Look like hell.”

A small smirk lifts one corner of their mouth. It’s a lazy effort, but it’s there. “Good to see you, too.” They practically fall forward, pressing their forehead to Keith’s chest in what he thinks is an attempt at a hug. The don’t move their arms though, and Keith awkwardly wraps his arms around their shoulders. “Keith, carry me to the food.”

At that, he chuckles. “Do you really want me to carry you through a cafeteria full of people?”

“Do I look like I give a fuck what these people think of me?” They mumbled into his shirt. “Come on, piggy back ride.”

“Do you even have the energy to jump onto my back?”

They’re quiet for several long seconds before they sigh. “You have a point.” They lean back, stumbling a few steps before catching themselves, one foot in the air. They lean forward, letting their momentum carry them through several quick steps. “Come on, I’m starving. I’ve only eaten two donuts today.”

Keith follows Pidge into the cafeteria. Despite being small and dead on their feet, people seem to part for them. Keith just follows in their wake. If he’s being honest, he’s feeling pretty beat, too. He didn’t exactly get a lot of sleep last night. But he thinks it’s the adrenaline of his first day at this school that’s been carrying him through. He’ll no doubt crash later.

The cafeteria lobby is a long hallway with doors at either end, and it splits to the left and to the right, with two separate areas to get food. Pidge takes a right, going up the five steps to the upper half of the cafeteria, mumbling that this side has more choices and better pizza. They grab a tray, and Keith follows suit. He’s never been to the cafeteria before, and so he half listens to Pidge’s vague explanations while his eyes roam over the different options. Pidge chooses pizza while he gets a wrap, and Pidge leads him through the line, showing him how to pay with his campus ID, using his prepaid meal plan.

They choose seats at a mostly empty table off to the side, setting their bags down on the chairs next to them.

“Soooo…” Pidge says around a mouthful of pizza. They’re hunched over the table leaning on their elbows, like it’s the only thing keeping them from falling face first into their food. “How’s your fist day of classes been?”

Keith eyes them, eyebrow raised. “Really, Pidge?”

“What?”

“Don’t go all Shiro on me.”

Pidge snorts, taking another bite. “Well excuse me for being curious over how my best friend’s day has been at his brand new school.”

Keith rolls his eyes. “It’s been fine. I’ve only had two classes and my professors have only gone over the syllabuses… syllabi?”

Pidge shrugs. “Who knows. But man only two? I’ve had three classes. I’m surprised I made it through them. In the last one, I think I nearly fell asleep at the same time I couldn’t stop twitching. Probably looked like I was having a seizure.”

Keith snorts a short laugh. “Shouldn’t have let your SM keep you up all night.”

Pidge gives him a flat look. They haven’t exactly said they were up late because of their soulmate, but Keith thinks it’s pretty obvious. And they don’t deny it. “Some of us actually like to talk to those the universe has decided to stick us with.”

Keith ignores the dig. “You can at least do it at a more reasonable hour. When did you even get to sleep this morning?”

Pidge looks a little sheepish. “Um, around three?” He raises an eyebrow, and they sigh. “Okay, so it was probably closer to four, four-thirty.”

“What was it this time?”

Pidge holds out an arm, idly admiring a few diagrams drawn on the underside of their arm. A small smile plays across their lips. “They’re theorizing a hover engine prototype.”

Keith raises both eyebrows, nodding a little while letting out a low whistle. “You’ve both come a long way since calculating the proper force and angle it would take to hit your teacher with a spitball from the back of the room.”

Pidge scowls, but there’s an amused smirk there that ruins the affect. “Keith, we were thirteen.”

He nods. “You’ve come a long way.”

They talk about other things. Pidge asks is he’s settled into his apartment, and he says he has. They had helped him and Shiro move his things. Pidge asks if he’s actually unpacked everything, and Keith carefully avoids answering. He asks Pidge about their dorm. They live in the new honors dorm hall, and even managed to get a room to themselves. It’s a small room, they say, but worth it for the extra privacy. Keith hasn’t been by to see their place yet.

“Now that you’re here, I’m going to see you more often, right?” Pidge asks as they carry their trays to the drop off area. They give Keith a stern sideways glare. “No holing up in your apartment all the time. We’re actually going to the same school for the first time in years, and you’re going to hang out with me.”

Keith snorts, setting his tray next to Pidge’s on the conveyer belt that takes them back into the kitchen. “Sounds like I don’t have a choice.”

“You don’t. I’ll introduce you to my friends. You’ll like them. Well… you’ll like Hunk. Lance is… an acquired taste.”

“Can’t wait.” Keith says dryly.

“Speaking of my friends and hanging out with me like a best friend of thirteen years should, I believe you have a promise to fulfill.” Pidge says as they weave their way through the dining hall tables to get to the exit.

Keith meets their gaze when they look over their shoulder, one eyebrow raised. “I do?” He doesn’t remember making any promises. At least none that would make Pidge start a conversation like that.

They exit the dining hall, and Pidge is smirking as they step sideways to come up alongside him. “Saturday is our first quidditch practice of the year.”

Keith groans, shoulders slumping as he tilts his head back. Oh. That promise. “Pidge, really? You’re going to make me go through with this?”

They nod, smiling and looking a hell of a lot more awake than they had earlier. He’s not sure if it’s the food or the prospect of making him suffer that has them so lively. “You bet I am. You promised, Keith. You said when you made it Altea, you would give it a try.”

He sighs, loudly, letting it trail off into a groan. “Does it have to be the first practice?”

“No better time, honestly. At least there’ll be other people who have no idea what they’re doing.”

Keith’s shoulders slump. “I guess.” He grumbles.

“When’s your next class?”

Keith checks his phone. “In an hour.”

Pidge nods, grabbing ahold of his wrist to tow him toward the student union. “Good, then you can sit with me for a bit.” They pause in the main hallway, eyeing the coffee shop.

Keith shakes his head, dragging Pidge away. “Oh no, you’ve had way too much coffee for today.”

Pidge drags their feet but follows. “You’re not my mom.”

“I’m getting mixed signals, Pidge. Do you want me to care for your wellbeing or not?”

“I never told you to care for my wellbeing. I told you to take care of my dead body. There’s a difference.”

“Matt would kill me if I let you die.”

Pidge snorts. “You can take Matt in a fight. He weighs maybe 100 pounds while wet.”

“Yeah, but if I let you die and hurt Matt, then Shiro will kill me.”

“Fair point. You can tell them that I wouldn’t listen to you. They’ll believe that. I never listen to you.” They look over their shoulder, sighing wistfully. “Come on, Keith. It smells so good.”

“If you have a heart attack, I’m not going to your first quidditch meeting.”

Pidge sighs then. “Fiiiine. But only because the team could really use you.”

They find seats in one of the lounges, far away from most of the crowd. Pidge collapses into a plush seat, letting their bag drop to the ground as they tilt their head back, closing their eyes with a content sigh.

“I don’t see why you want me there. I’m not even a big fan of the whole Harry Potter thing. I only read the books and watched the movies because you made me.”

Pidge waves a hand at him without lifting their head. “And I’m proud of that. But it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to be. You just need to be athletic, which you are.”

“I don’t even know the rules.”

“That’s why we teach you.”

“And if I don’t like it, I don’t have to come back?”

“Yeah, yeah, but you’ll like it.”

He leans back in his chair, pulling out his phone and opening one of his apps. “Oh yeah? And what makes you so sure?”

“Other than the fact that I’m there?”

Keith snorts. “Don’t get your hopes up.”

“I’m going to ignore that.” Pidge counts off on their fingers. “One, I’m there and we haven’t hung out regularly in forever. Two, it’s an interesting spot and you like new things to challenge you. Three, it’s fun. Four, it gets you out of your apartment hidey-hole and forces you to be social, which will help get Shiro off your back.”

Keith makes a face. “You… have a good point.”

Pidge rolls their head to the side then, giving him a knowing smirk. “I know I do. So can I count on seeing you Saturday?”

Keith sighs, sinking lower into his chair and stretching his legs out in front of him. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Keith Kogane, if you don’t come, I will come to your place and drag you out by the ear, you hear me?”

Keith snorts. “Now who sounds like a mom?”

They hang around on their phones, talking idly about anything and everything. It’s been a while since he’s been with Pidge like this, and he misses it. He hasn’t seen them since he moved in a week ago, and before that, he hadn’t seen them in weeks. In high school he had seen them nearly every day. When they had gone off to Altea University and Keith had to stay home to attend community college, well, it had been hard on him.

If he’s being honest, he’s not going to protest too much if Pidge forces him to hang out. He only hopes their friends are decent people. They have to be, if Pidge has tolerated them for a couple years now.

When it’s fifteen minutes till his next class, in a building that’s five minutes away, Keith lets Pidge drag him to the smoothie place in the union. Pidge gets something that has ‘energy’ in the title, but he supposes it’s better than shooting up their system with more coffee. Plus it has fruit and shit in it. That’s healthy, right?

Keith gets one that’s something along the lines of ‘berrylicious’, which supposedly consists of a shit ton of different berries. It’s good, and he’s content as he sips his straw. Pidge gives him another hug, this time actually wrapping their arms around his waist.

“Send me your schedule so I know when it’s okay to bug you.” They say, pulling away from him.

Keith snorts a short laugh, shoving one hand in his pocket. “Like you would let something as trivial as classes stop you from bugging me.”

Pidge puts their free hand to their chest, gasping dramatically. “Keith! How dare you insinuate that I would ever disrupt your education!”

Keith just sips on his smoothie, giving Pidge a humorless, flat stare. “Do I have to remind you how many times you got me detention in school?”

Pidge scoffs, waving their hand at him, already walking backwards. “You gotta stop living in the past, Keith! I’m a responsible adult now. Have a little faith.”

“I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you.”

“I’m pretty light, and you lift. You can probably throw me pretty far.”

Keith rolls his eyes and turns on his heel, lifting a hand over his shoulder. “Bye, Pidge.”

“I better see your ass on Saturday!”

Keith makes a noncommittal noise that he’s not sure Pidge hears. The walk to his next building isn’t bad. There’s a steady stream of people that tends to increase in the ten minutes before the hour when everyone is either getting out of classes or walking to them, but he’s able to take some of the back pathways that are less crowded.

His last class of the day is his public speaking class. He didn’t want to take this class, but it’s part of the gen ed that he wasn’t able to get at his community college. He ends up getting there before most of the class. The room is set up with a podium and screen at the front corner, with three long curved, half-circle desk rows with chairs, each progressively getting wider and going up a step, so everyone could look down at the front of the room. Like a mini auditorium for roughly thirty people. Keith takes a seat at the end of the second row, close to the door. Easy in, easy out.

He has enough time, so he pulled out his sketchbook and his graphite pencil set, shoving his headphones away into the depths of his backpack. He opens it to a blank page, opens the pencil case, and selects one. Taking a sip of his smoothie, he sets it on the edge of the table in front of him before setting to work.

He’s not sure what he wants to draw. It’s just to pass the time anyway. He sets the pencil to the page and starts doodling patterns. He loves patterns and colors and shading and the aesthetic of it all. He doodles something with a lot of lines, geographic shapes and angles, that fit and flow together. He thinks he’s probably inspired by Pidge’s current soulmarks, but he doesn’t think too much about it. He just draws.

The room fills up around him, and he ignores everyone who comes through the door, letting himself zone out. When the room seems pretty full, he looks up at the clock on the wall, only to find that it’s three. Time for class to start, but the teacher isn’t there yet. He shrugs to himself and looks back down to his sketchbook, losing himself in the lines.

The door opens again, and he expects it to be the teacher, but when he glances up and to the side, it’s only a student. He pauses in the doorway, looking a little frazzled and out of breath. As he looks around, Keith sees the moment he realizes the professor isn’t there yet. A wide grin spreads his lips, revealing white teeth as he laughs. “I made it!”

A female voice from across the room snorts and says, “You’re still late.”

The guy’s grin never falters. Instead he looks up at the source of the voice and winks. “Before the professor doesn’t count as late.”

Keith rolls his eyes, already looking away. He can already tell he’s going to be one of those guys. The kind who’s loud and talkative and attention seeking. The complete opposite of Keith. It’s nothing new, though. There’s always a couple of them in every class. He can easily tune them out.

There’s movement at the corner of his vision, as the guy spies an empty seat across the room and starts to make his way there. He steps between the first and second rows, passing right in front of Keith. He keeps his eyes down, firmly ignoring him as he’s done with everyone else in the room.

Then there’s the sound of a foot catching on a bag. The guy in front of him makes an alarmed sound, and suddenly he’s falling to the side. His hand shoots out, intent on catching his balance on Keith’s desk. Instead he hits his smoothie, and as he looks up, time seems to slow. The smoothie falls toward him, toward his sketchbook. The guy might have let out a curse, but Keith doesn’t hear him. The guy fumbles, leaning against the table and reaching out with his other hand to try to grab the cup as it falls. He fumbles and misses. Without thinking, Keith swipes his sketchbook to the side, and it goes skittering off the table, onto the floor just as the smoothie crashes down where it had been. The lid pops off and purplish red smoothie goes splattering across the table and all over Keith’s shirt, dripping off the table to land in his lap.

The two of them are frozen in place. The guy is standing there, both hands on the desk in his mad attempt to stop the smoothie. Keith thinks he might be staring, but he doesn’t look up. He’s sitting there, hands up in the air, staring down at the mess in front of him. He thinks his mouth is hanging open in surprise. The room is deathly quiet. So quiet that he can hear the clock ticking on the wall.

He counts four seconds before the guy’s backpack slides off his shoulder, down his arm, to crash onto the table, hitting his pencil case and scattering his pencils across the table and rolling to the floor.

That snaps him out of his stupor.

Keith pushes back his chair, letting the spilled smoothie drip onto the floor instead of his lap. “Oh my god,” He mutters, still in disbelief.

“Oh my god,” The guy in front of him echoes, in a similar state of shock. And then he seems to get kicked into overdrive. “Oh my god, oh my god, I am so sorry, holy shit. ohmygod fuck.” He scrambles backwards, letting his backpack drop to the floor and stumbling into the seat behind him. The person there grunts, and he whips around. “Sorry!” Then he seems to spy something, because he’s leaning over the front row and grabbing the roll of paper towels that’s sitting on desk with all the teacher’s supplies and computer for the projector. He whips back around, ripping off several paper towels, immediately setting them on the mess.

Keith has already stood up the now empty cup and is picking up the pencils that are still on the desk and setting them back into their case.

“Hoy shit, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to— I tripped— holy fuck.”

“Just— stop.” Keith snaps, grabbing the paper towels from his hands. “You’ve done enough, just— go away. Go sit down.”

The guy holds his hands up defensively. “Hey, man, I’m just trying to help.”

Keith glares up at him, lips pursed together as his teeth clench. “I wouldn’t need help, if you had watched where you were going.”

For the first time, Keith takes a good look at him. He’s tall, but Keith doesn’t think he’s that much taller than himself. He’s tan, with short brown hair and nice angles to his face. Objectively, he’s not that bad to look at, but Keith really doesn’t want to be looking at him any longer than he has to. He’s wearing a yellow and black hoodie that looks to be about three sizes too big for him. It swallows what Keith think is a lanky frame, sleeves bunching around his fingers.

The guy’s face is currently twisting up into a frown, eyes narrowing. All traces of apology are gone. “Hey! It’s not my fault!”

Keith snorts, rolling his eyes as he tries to mop up some of the spilled drink from his shirt. “Oh yeah, it was someone else who knocked my smoothie over like an asshole.”

“I didn’t meant to! And I apologized!” He grabs for a few pencils, shoving them at the pencil case with a little more force than necessary. “Maybe you shouldn’t have put your drink so close to the edge!”

“Maybe you should watch where you’re going. Stop touching those!” Keith says, snatching some pencils out of his hand and putting them carefully in their case.

“I’m just trying to help!”

“I don’t need your help!”

“Well, too bad, you’re getting it, buddy!”

Keith grunts, rolling his eyes again as he drops to his knees, reaching out to grab for some of the pencils that had fallen. The other guy drops to his knees, too, facing him under the table. He’s reaching for some of the pencils that Keith can’t reach.

“Stop touching them! Just go sit down!” Keith snaps, glaring at him.

The guy meets his glare with one of his own. His mouth is set stubbornly. “I told you, I’m helping.”

“This wouldn’t have happened if you were just on time to class.”

“I’m not late!”

“Just because the professor isn’t here doesn’t mean you’re not late.”

“It’s not my fault! My last class was all the way across campus, and I got lost trying to find this room cause the numbers here are weird as fuck, and my beloved, caring roommate insisted on giving me his hoodie because it’s fucking frigid in this building and I’m wearing a tank top. But seriously, why is the ac cranked so high? Do they want us to get sick?”

Keith is shaking his head, picking up the last of his pencils and going up on his knees, setting them in their case. “God, you’re an idiot.” He mumbles.

The guy hears him, scowling as he goes up on his knees to glare at Keith over the table. He slams the other pencils he picked up on the table top. “Well excuuuse me, princess.”

Keith snatches the pencils and puts them away, closing his case. He raises an eyebrow as he eyes the other boy, incredulous. “The old zelda cartoon? Really?”

The guy blinks at them, then snorts a short laugh. “I’m surprised you got that reference.”

“I don’t live under a rock.”

“Coulda fooled me. I mean, seriously, the 1980’s called, they want their hairstyle back.”

Keith gives him a flat look and deadpans, “Funny.”

The guy smirks, tilting his head to the side. “Glad you’re finally seeing things my way.”

Keith sighs, shaking his head as he pushes himself to his feet. “Just go sit down before you fuck up anyone else’s day.”

The guy glares up at him, and looks like he’s about to stand, but then something else catches his eye. He turns, face going blank for a moment as he says, “You forgot something.” Keith eyes him curiously, but then the guy stands up with Keith’s sketchbook in his hands and he blanks. “What’s this? It’s yours, right?”

“Give that back!” Keith snaps loudly, lunching across the table and snatching for the black, hardcover sketchbook. The guy reacts instantly, leaning away from him and holding the book in the air, out of his reach. He stares at Keith with wide, surprised eyes. Then, seeing the look on Keith’s face, slowly smirks.

“Whoa, calm down, asshole. Touchy, are we?”

Keith puts both hands on the tabletop, leaning forward as he glares. “Give. That. Back.”

“Why? What is it?” He holds the book in front of him, turning it this way and that. “It doesn’t have a title or anything. Kinda fancy for a school notebook.”

“It’s personal.” Keith grits out, fingers curling into fists on the table. He really doesn’t like people looking at his sketchbooks. He doesn’t even let Shiro or Pidge look through them. They’re just… personal. He shows some of his art to people, but most are just for him.

Well… him and his soulmate, he guesses.

The guy’s lips curl into a devilish smirk, his eyes glinting. “Oh, ho ho ho. Personal, huh?” He holds the sketchbook in one hand, waving it in front of Keith as his other hand goes to his hip. “This is a diary, isn’t it?”

Keith doesn’t look away from his eyes, even as he sweeps the book back and forth in front of him. “What?” He deadpans.

“A diary! It’s totally your diary.”

“It is not.”

“Pfff, sure. Why else would you be so touchy about it?”

“It’s none of your business. Now give it back. It’s mine.” Keith says, trying his hardest to keep a cool head about this. He holds out a hand and waits. He’s pretty sure all of his patience stems from the fact that they’re in a classroom full of other students. If there weren’t so many eyes on him, he’s not sure he would be able to stop himself from lunging across the table and tackling the other boy to the ground.

Pidge isn’t the only reason he had detention a lot in high school.

The guy ignores him, turning to his side to lean a hip against Keith’s table. He shifts the book between both hands. “Hmmm, I wonder what’s inside. What secrets does your mullet hold?” He puts his hands on the front and back like he’s going to open it.

Don’t.” Keith lunches for it again, but the boy just pulls it out of his reach.

He turns to face Keith. “Then apologize.”

“For what?” Keith practically shouts. He’s seething. He can feel his face flushing with warmth. The hand resting against the table is curled in a fist so tight that his nails bite into the leather of his gloves.

The guy glares at him, smirk fading. He puts a hand on his hip, leaning forward slightly. His lips are pursed into a frown that Keith thinks is half a pout. “For not accepting my apology!”

“That doesn’t make any sense!”

“Your face doesn’t make any sense!”

“Oh, my god, you’re an idiot.”

The boy crosses his arms over his chest. “I did not help you just so you could insult me.”

You knocked all my shit over to begin with!”

“Well, maybe you should be more grateful I stopped to help at all! You’re being an ass about this!”

“I’d be grateful if I never have to look at you again!”

“Yeah, well same to you, buddy.”

Someone clears their throat. Loudly. And both of them jumped. Keith whipped around to see an older woman standing in the doorway, looking at them both with a raised brow. “Are you two done?” She asks dryly.

“Uh, yes!” The guy says, recovering first. He straightens and slaps Keith’s sketchbook on the table. “I was just returning this guy’s notebook! Now I’ll just, uh, go find a seat?” He’s already grabbing his backpack, voice trailing off in uncertainty as he steps a few steps back.

She looks at him. “And you are?”

“Name’s Lance.”

“Well then, please take your seat, Lance. And try not to disrupt the other students anymore.”

He laughs nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yes, professor.” And then his back is to them as he scuttles along the row to the empty seat in the back, head hung low and shoulders raised.

“And your name?”

Keith turns to find her looking at him. She still looks unamused, but there seems to be a more… sympathetic softness about her when she addresses Keith.

“Keith Kogane.”

“Well, Keith, why don’t you go to the bathroom to clean up while I take role?”

He nods, looking down at himself and the wet stains across his shirt and the front of his pants. He shuffles out of the room, face on fire, and does his best to do damage control in the bathroom. It’s going to be impossible to hide the wet marks. He just hopes it doesn’t stain. He’ll have to change before going to dinner with Shiro. Sighing, he goes back to the room.

He spends the rest of the class time staring at the professor and pointedly ignoring the Lance kid. The entire time, he can practically feel a gaze boring into the back of his head, and it makes the hair on his neck stand on end. As soon as the professor dismisses them, he’s packed up and the first one out the door.

He pulls out his phone, shoving his headphones over his ears before blasting his music and heading for the parking lot where he’d parked his bike. He texts Shiro while he walks.

Keith
> This is the worst first day ever
> The worst, Shiro

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> What happened?

Keith
> Some asshole spilled my smoothie all over me in class

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Aww, I’m sure it was an accident

Keith
> He was a dick about it

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Were you rude to him first?

Keith
> Why do you automatically assume it’s my fault??

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Because I’ve known you since you were eight years old
> Were you rude to him after he tried to apologize?

Keith
> I can’t believe this

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Are you still up for dinner?

Keith
> We’re stopping for smoothies after

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Alright, but you’re telling me all about it

Keith
> Ugh

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Big bro is here for you :)

Keith
> UGH

Chapter Text

“Lance, put your damn shoes back on.” Pidge says. They’re standing next to him, one hand on their hip and the other holding up their phone as they look through it.

“But Piiiidge!” Lance whines from his seat on the small grass hill that slopes up toward the student union. He throws himself backwards, sprawling out on his back with his arms splayed out above his head. With one foot digging into the ground, he lifts his hips up and points the toes of his other foot. He gets his leg as high into the air as he can and bends it as close to Pidge’s face as he can reach. Given the length of his legs and Pidge’s short stature, it’s not a bad attempt. “Pidge, look at it!”

Pidge makes a face and slaps his foot away without looking up from their phone. “Yes, I’ve seen your feet. We’ve all seen your feet. Now put your damn shoes on.”

He throws both feet up, legs straight and toes pointed, and throws his arms down, slamming his fists on the ground by his hips. “No!”

“Don’t be a child.”

“My feet are a masterpiece right now! It would be a crime to cover them up! A down right crime.”

And his feet are, in his opinion, a masterpiece. Though it has little to do with his feet and more to do with the soulmark paintings that decorate them. Rich browns that blend with his skin tone cover the bottoms of his feet and his toes, giving way to ropes and tangles of vines in several shades of green and yellow. They crawl up the tops of his feet to twine around his ankles, dotted with half bloomed flower buds of white and red and purple. On the outer bone of his right ankle is a single fully bloomed flower, petals unfurled and curling along his skin.

It had happened yesterday, around eight o’clock. He and Hunk had been having roomie movie night, which Pidge crashed, per usual, as their unofficial roommate. They live in the same dorm building, two floors up. It’s the brand new honors dorm, and although Lance isn’t an honors student, he got in as Hunk’s roommate.

Lance had been sitting on one of their large beanbag chairs, popcorn bowl nestled in his lap, when he had felt the tell tale tingling of a phantom brush across his skin. He had wasted no time stripping off his socks and propping his feet up so he could watch his soulmate work.

He wasn’t sure what emotions to be expecting, not after he had heard nothing but silence from his SM after the chaotic anxiousness of his fire sleeve. He had held his breath, waiting with tight anticipation as the beginnings of another’s emotions trickled through him. They had surprisingly been… peaceful.

Peaceful and content and oddly… serene. Not that his soulmate has never been happy or at ease before, but it was such a quick turn around from the previous feelings he had gotten from them. He guessed whatever had them anxious had gone well.

Lance had found himself unable to contain his grin as he sat there, wiggling his toes and his feet as the warm contentment slid through him, wrapping him up in a cocoon of tranquility.

“Uuuuh, what’s up, Lance?” Hunk had asked, eyeing him from his seat at his desk.

Lance had hummed, holding a foot in the air so Hunk could see the color spreading across his skin. “They’re happy.” He had said simply, and Hunk had given him a soft, knowing smile.

Even Pidge had leaned closer from their nest in the other beanbag to watch the design spread up his foot to wrap around his ankle. Lance had practically glowed with pride at the look of awe on his friends’ faces. It wasn’t often they got to witness his SM’s work in action.

God fuck, he’s so damn proud of his soulmate.

When they had finished painting and the foreign feelings had faded, slipping out of his chest and leaving an echo of his own happiness in their wake, he had reached for a pen and per his usual routine, he scribbled a few words across the inside of his wrist.

Looking at his feet now, in the afternoon light and seeing all the colors really come to life, he wonders if his soulmate has ticklish feet. If they do, then they suffered a lot for their art. If they don’t… well, that’s just not fair.

“Lance,” Hunk says from Pidge’s other side. He’s standing with his hands on his hips, surveying the quad. They’re all there early. About forty minutes before practice is set to start. But Pidge and Hunk want to make sure they have time to set up before everyone shows up. Something about making a good impression and making everyone think they’re on top of these things. “Your feet are beautiful. Your soulmate is an artistic genius. Their newest creation is amazing. Now would you please put your shoes on?”

Lance crosses his arms over his chest, sticking his lip out in an exaggerated pout, but Hunk isn’t looking at him. He watches as his best friend’s face lights up with a bright smile and he points. “There they are!”

Lance props himself up on his elbows to follow Hunk’s gaze, and his face instantly brightens. “Coran!” He can always count on Coran to earnestly praise his SM’s work.

“About time.” Pidge grumbles, shoving their phone back in their pocket. “We still need to make sure all the hoops are still functional, and the balls probably need to be inflated. I hope they remembered to wash the pinnies and the headbands—“

Lance stops listening to Pidge’s rambling as he leaps to his feet and starts off down the small hill and across the quad to where Coran and Allura are making their way toward him. “Coran! Allura!” He calls again. The two of them look up, grinning as they each lift a hand to wave. Allura’s carrying a collection of pvc pipes and hoops in her arms and a ball bag slung over her shoulder. Coran cradled an armful of plain, straight pvc pipes and with a large backpack behind him.

Their smiles falter when they realize Lance isn’t stopping. He sees the moment Coran realizes what’s about to happen. The man’s face drops and he hears him mutter a soft, “Oh, drat.” Before he unceremoniously drops his armload of pvc pipes. Lance doesn’t slow and, a a little ungracefully, leaps at Coran.

He catches him, just as Lance knew he would. He’s used to Lance’s antics. They all are. He stumbles a bit, having to adjust his balance and bend his knees a bit to accommodate Lance’s weight.

“Hello to you, too, Lance.” He says, a little surprised but no less cheerful. “I’d say I missed you, too, but we just saw you yesterday at work.”

“Lance, what’re you doing?” Allura says, a little bit of a sigh in her voice but she’s smiling. They’re both dressed for physical activity, and Allura’s ridiculous mane is pulled back into a thick ass bun. He’s not sure how she does that. Magic, probably. How else can she pull all that back with only one hair tie?

“Look what my soulmate did!” He announces without preamble, thrusting his foot out toward Allura. He’s still held in Coran’s arms, princess style, which is fine by him because no shame in being carried by a bro.

Coran and Allura both lean over, eyes drawn to the masterpiece tattooed across Lance’s feet. They make all the appropriate sounds of awe and interest, and he grins, preening under the attention. This is what he’s talking about. This is the kind of attention his SM deserves.

“It’s very beautiful, Lance.” Allura says.

“Impeccable work, as always. I’m particularly fond of the attention to detail in the shadows of the vines.”

Lance grins. “I know, right? And check out the flower!” He twists his leg so they can see the pedals unfurling on his ankle.

“Astounding.” Coran says in a way that isn’t the least bit condescending. He says it like he’s looking over a piece of art in a museum, taking it all in, appreciating it, analyzing it. And Lance is a damn proud canvas for his SM’s work. “It looks to be some sort of Asiatic lily. The cappuccino variety, if I’m not mistaken.”

Lance’s smile fades, and he eyes him with one eyebrow raised. “How do you even know that?”

Coran gives him a small, mysterious smile, eyes sparkling as they crinkle at the edges. “You know, just picking things up here and there.”

Lance’s eyes narrow slightly. “That sounds fake, but okay.”

Allura rolls her eyes, adjusting the poles in her arms. “Coran is basically a walking encyclopedia. I doubt he ever forgets any random fact he learns.”

“Nope!” Coran says brightly, lifting his chin. “I’m a damn fine addition to any trivia team.”

Lance gasps and throws a hand up in the air. “Trivia Tuesdays! We should do it!”

“Not to break up the party, but we’ve got a practice to get ready for.” Pidge says as they finally make it to where Lance has stopped Coran and Allura’s progress across the quad.

“Right-o!” Coran says before proceeding to drop Lance without a second thought. He yelps, but manages to catch himself before falling onto the pile of pvc pipes at their feet. He glares at Coran, but the man just grins back, hands on his hips.

“Lance, now that you’ve shown everyone, can you please put your shoes back on?” Hunk says, coming up to stand next to him. “This really isn’t something you should do barefoot. Your feet could get stepped on, and half of us wear cleats, and I really don’t want to have to take you to the hospital. What if you break your foot and have to walk around with crutches and a boot? Man, this campus is really hilly and that would not be fun. What if—“

“Hunk, buddy!” Lance says, cutting him off and slinging an arm around his shoulder. He gives him a confident smirk, one hand on his hip. “It’s no problem. I’ve totally played barefoot before.”

Hunk gives him a flat look and raises one finger. “Yeah, but that was before we got more serious. When only like, seven people showed up and we couldn’t even play a real scrimmage.”

Lance snorts, grinning. “Remember our first quaffle? The Dora the Explorer dodgeball?”

“That one only lasted a semester,” Pidge says, crossing their arms over their chest as they grin. “After that we had the blue Go, Diego, Go ball.”

“And our bludgers were different colors.” Coran adds, stroking his mustache, an amused glint to his eyes. “And the yellow one was smaller than the others.”

“I liked the yellow one,” Pidge says, holding up a hand and clenching open air. “It fit my hands better.”

“Remember our old hoops?” Allura asks.

Lance throws back his head to laugh, leaning heavily on Hunk’s shoulder. “Oh, man, how can we ever forget those janky things? The brooms inside traffic cones with hula hoops duct taped on!”

“Hey, for beginners with nearly no money or idea what we were doing, that was genius engineering.” Hunk says, grinning as he crosses his arms over his chest.

“We save so much time now that we don’t have to use half a roll of tape to get the hoops set up every time.”

“Sometimes I miss the traffic cones.” Coran says wistfully, tilting his head.

Allura nods. “We were well known for them. It was very… unique.”

“Yeah, no one else thought of using traffic cones to hold the poles up.” Lance says, holding up a fist for Hunk to bump. He does, of course, cause Hunk is his bro.

“No one probably thought of it because traffic cones can be expensive.” Allura points out, giving Pidge a knowing look, lips quirking at the corners.

“Yeah, but not everyone has a Pidge.” Lance says, and they all turn their gazes to the smallest member of their group.

With one arm crossed over their chest, Pidge idly inspects the nails of one hand. They glance up, looking around to meet everyone’s amused stares. “What? It’s not like we got caught.”

“That’s because I,” Lance lifts his chin, putting a hand to his chest. “Am an amazing get away driver.”

“If I remember correctly, you were screaming the entire time.” Pidge says, leaning forward to look up at him over the top of their glasses. “Something about ‘PIDGE HURRY UP OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING TO GET CAUGHT OH MY GOD GET BACK IN THE CAR HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GRAB A TRAFFIC CONE ANYWAY’ and then a bunch of wordless screams as we drove away.”

Lance frowns, eyes narrowing as he points at them. “Hey! I don’t sound like that!”

“Sorry, dude, but you did.”

Lance turns his glare to Hunk. “Hunk, as my best friend and roommate, you’re supposed to keep these things secret.”

“Pidge was there, dude.”

“I wish we could have been.” Allura says, chuckling. “Sounds like a crazy night.”

“Indeed! The heist of a century!” Coran says, throwing up both hands and gesturing wildly as he continues in his best announcer voice, “Three freshman at Altea University wreak havoc in the night in their wild hit-and-run kidnapping of six helpless traffic cones! Coincidentally, Altea’s first quidditch club is started up within weeks of the incident with six quidditch hoops utilizing traffic cones of unknown origins.”

Lance sighs wistfully, crossing his arms over his chest and tilting his head to the side. “That was a fun night.”

“Lance’s driving was so crazy that Hunk nearly puked.” Pidge says, snickering at Lance’s glare.

“Hunk always gets carsick! Plus he was nervous! That’s not my fault! I think I did good seeing as my look-out was leaning out the passenger window the whole time.”

“But, in my defense,” Hunk says, holding up both hands, pointing both index fingers upward before pointing them at Lance and Pidge. “I didn’t actually end up puking that night. Crying, on the other hand? Crying, I did. But it was a very stressful situation and I had a lot of adrenaline and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Lance pats his arm. “No shame, buddy. We even got away with it! Despite someone taking forever to actually get each cone.”

Pidge shrugs, adjusting their glasses and waving a hand vaguely. “Those things are heavy and like, half my size. Besides, like you said, we didn’t get caught.”

“Do you still have the first cone you stole?” Allura asks, and Pidge grins.

“What? Rover? Of course, I do. He’s in my room right now. I can’t get rid of Rover.”

“Yeah, he’s family.” Hunk says.

“We’ve got too much history.” Lance adds.

“I’m surprised you didn’t bring him.” Coran says, looking to Pidge. “You usually do to events like this.”

Pidge only shrugs, scratching their cheek. “I thought it might be best to leave him in my dorm for now. You know, gotta make sure the new kids don’t think we’re too weird right off the bat.”

“Yeah, gotta keep some surprises for later.” Lance steps to the side to throw an arm over Pidge’s shoulders, pulling them to him and rubbing his knuckles in their hair. “All the weird in this tiny body is too much to unleash at once.”

Pidge grunts, slapping his hand away and pushing him off of them. Lance just laughs, letting them go. Pidge doesn’t do much to smooth down their hair. It’s usually in disarray anyway. They glare at him. “Speaking of weirdos, go put your damn shoes on.”

He crosses his arms over his chest, protesting more out of principle than anything else. “You can’t make me.”

“Lance,” Hunk sighs.

“I would highly recommend it, Lance.” Coran adds, but at least he has the decency to sound sympathetic.

“Why’re you all ganging up on me? They’re my feet!”

“Lance,” Allura says flatly, using her manager voice. When he looks at her, she’s giving him the most unamused look imaginable. It’s one she uses a lot around him, now that he’s thinking about it. “Go put your shoes on.”

“Ugh!” He throws his hands up in the air, turning on his heel and stomping back to where he had left his things. “Fine, mom!”

He sits on the hill and pulls his bag toward him, digging out his socks and cleats and shoving his normal shoes inside. Saying a silent farewell to the SM’s art, he pulls on his knee high, bright yellow socks. They’re a great match to his official snitch shorts and shirt, both of which are a matching shade of bright ass yellow. The shorts only go halfway down his thigh and under them he’s wearing black legging shorts that cut off a little lower, peeking out from beneath them.

He’s not ashamed of his legs, and he used to wear his snitch shorts without the leggings, despite Pidge’s loud groans and protests. Unfortunately, when the shorts are fairly loose, and people are constantly grabbing at the snitch hanging off the back of his waistband, sometimes they grab his shorts. And sometimes they pull those shorts down, or at least far enough that parts of him can be exposed. That once happened at a tournament, and after the team got an eyeful of Lance’s bare ass, no matter how great that ass is, he was forced to agree to wear secondary shorts under his snitch shorts.

Honestly, his outfit is obnoxiously loud as hell, but that’s how snitches are supposed to be. And as the team’s only official, certified snitch, he wants to make a good first impression.

On the flat part of the quad below, the others are starting to set up the hoops. It’s a much easier process than it used to be. They just have to slide the poles into the base, adjust to make sure it’s balanced, make sure the hoops aren’t bent, and done. Simple. Much easier than struggling with duct tape.

When he’s done tying his cleats, he jumps up and heads over to where the bags had been dropped in the middle of the field. He starts the process of pulling out the balls and making sure they were properly inflated, but still deflated just enough that they can get a grip on them.

They’ve upgraded since their days of using cheap, Dora the Explorer dodge balls. They now have proper red dodge balls for bludges and an actual volley ball for the quaffle. Just like they’re supposed to. They even have a spare set of snitch shorts for others who want to try out snitching.

Once he’s done, he stands, palming the quaffle in his hands.

The brooms are at his feet. And, yeah, okay, they’re not really brooms, but they serve the same function. Back when they started out, they all used actual brooms. It kind of added to the whole atmosphere. And some people still bring their own brooms. Everyone has preferences. But the team has upgraded to pvc pipes cut to the rulebook regulated length and capped at the ends. No bristles, no hassle. Easy, light weight, and just so much easier to work with than actual brooms.

He picks one up and pulls his arm back. “Hey, Hunk!” He calls, catching his roommate’s attention. He’s standing near the hoops on one end of the field, talking with Coran. They both turn to look at him, and he launches the broom towards them. He thinks that getting the thing halfway to them after practically lobbing a stick from half field is pretty good. Neither Hunk nor Coran look impressed though.

They look at the fallen broom, then back up to Lance, identical curious looks on their faces. Lance chooses to ignore that.

He holds up the quaffle, other hand resting on his hip as he cocks it to the side. “Let’s go, buddy. You and me! Let’s see how rusty you’ve gotten.”

Hunk laughs. “Oooh, you’re on!” He jogs forward a little to pick up the room and backtracks to stand in front of the hoops, broom held in his left hand between his legs and right hand up in the air. He smirks, game face on. He can always count on good old Hunk to goof off with him before practice starts.

And by goof off, he actually means warm up. This can totally count as warming up for practice. It’s legit.

“Toss me a broom, too, would you, Lance?” Coran calls, and Lance does just that, tossing him a bludger while he’s at it.

When the two of them are positioned in front of the hoops, Lance grabs a broom for himself and holds it between his legs with his left hand, quaffle held at his side with his right. He’s glad he has big enough hands that he can just palm the ball and keep a good grip on it. Poor Allura and Pidge have to resort to cradling it against them until they’re ready to throw.

Lance faces the two of them and smirks. “Ready or not, here I come.”

He takes off down the field, the familiar burst of energy sparking in his veins as he sprints on the balls of his feet. As awkward as running with a broom between his legs sounds, it’s surprisingly easy and not nearly as awkward as he had expected the first time he tried it. Now it’s become second nature and he barely feels it. It’s really not much more than something to keep his left hand occupied, forcing him to play one handed, and something to make him a bigger target to beaters.

He slows as he nears the hoops, facing off against Coran as the other man steps forward, brandishing his bludger. Lance doesn’t stop as Coran comes toward him, and they go through a series of stutter steps and feints before Coran actually throws his bludger. He does so with a loud ”Hyah!” and a lunge, throwing almost like he might throw a bowling ball and aiming low for Lance’s legs.

He jumps automatically, spreading his legs wide and thrusting the quaffle in his hand downward, deflecting the bludger between his legs to bounce harmlessly on the ground behind him.

“Blast it!” Coran snaps, and Lance flashes him a confident grin before turning his attention to Hunk.

Hunk is hunched over, free arm held up and out as he tries to make himself as big as possible. He watches Lance warily, eyes flickering between his face and the ball. Lance fakes left, then steps right. Hunk is right there with him. When his hand shoots out to block the edge hoop, Lance jumps, looping a shot at the taller, center hoop.

His face lights up and he let’s out a victorious, “Whoop!”

Then Hunk’s hand changes direction, and he easily snatches the ball right out of the air.

“Awww, come on!” Lance groans, shoulders slumping. “That was a perfect shot!”

Hunk laughs, straightening. “Sorry, man, but you go for that shot like, all the time. You’re going to need new moves if you want to get past me.”

“I am not that predictable!”

“With your first shot of every practice? Yeah, you are.”

“Just—! Give me the ball. Let’s go again.”

Hunk obligingly tosses him the quaffle and Lance jogs back to the center of the designated pitch.

They pass the time like that, warming up but mostly just having fun. Lance and Coran face off, each trying to psych the other out with a variety of dramatic poses, moves, and sounds. He manages to hit Lance half the time, but Lance manages to dodge or deflect the other half. He swears he’s mostly hit only because Coran cheats and makes him laugh. The times he doesn’t get hit, he continues on to face off against Hunk.

Now, Lance is a good chaser. A damn good chaser. Aside from Allura, he holds the record for the most points scored on the team. Yes, he’s been keeping track. And most of Allura’s points are earned through brilliant passes made by him anyway.

The problem is simple: Hunk knows him too well. Hunk can read him like a damn book. Which makes facing off against him like this very hard, but very entertaining. He tries to put Hunk with the same antics that work against Coran, but it has the same fifty-fifty result.

“Come on, Hunk! One-v-one me, bro!” Lance calls out after the fifth time in a row that Coran has tagged him out on his way to the hoops. He holds his arms out wide as he issues his challenge, quaffle held in one hand and legs crossed to hold the broom up between his thighs.

Hunk mirrors his stance, legs crossed and arms held out wide. “Come at me, bro!”

“Step aside, Coran!” Lance tries to wave him off.

Left hand on his broom and bludger wedged in the crook of his left arm against his body, Coran twists the edges of his mustache with his free hand. He tilts his chin down, grinning up and Lance. “No can do, my boy! A good defensive beater never leaves his keeper alone to defend the home soil!”

“Ugh!” Lance lets his head loll backwards dramatically as his arms sag to his sides. “Fine! But you asked for it! Get ready for the patented Lance McClain Charge!”

The Lance McClain Charge doesn’t work. He tries to run the ball straight into the hoop, but he’s tackled to the ground by Hunk.

“Oh god, dude, get off of me!” He says, but he’s laughing as he pushes on Hunk, who’s draped across his midsection.

“No can do, man. You tried to attack my hoops. This is my revenge.” Hunk doesn’t budge.

It’s then, while Hunk his fighting off Lance’s pushes with his own hands, that Lance notices the marks on his forearm. His lips curl into a wide grin. “Awww, did your soulmate wish you luck today? That’s so cute. Is that a doodle of you by quidditch hoops?” He coos, and Hunk’s face drops, a flush creeping through his dark complexion.

He slaps a hand over his forearm and sits up. “No! Maybe… yes. I told her it was our first practice today.”

Now freed, Lance sits up, leaning forward to lean into Hunk’s arm. “Adorable.”

Hunk shoves him, but he’s smiling. “Shut up, dude!”

“Is that a heart on your neck?” Lance reaches up to poke at the spot where the mark looks tattooed into his skin. It’s dark enough that it had to have been recent.

Hunk slaps his hand away and stands up, brushing off his legs. “I’m leaving.”

“Aw, come on, dude! Don’t tell me you’re embarrassed!”

“Leaving!” Hunk strides away, arms comically stiff at his sides. He refuses to look at Lance, but he knows he’s blushing.

Lance just grins after him. He thinks it’s adorable that Hunk and his soulmate are the epitome of nauseatingly sweet, and Hunk knows it, but the big guy gets incredibly flustered whenever his SM’s marks are pointed out. Usually it’s Lance pointing them out, seeing as most people find it impolite to just go around pointing out soulmarks, no matter how obvious they are. But they’re friends, and Lance is convinced that the main reason Hunk doesn’t mind is because he knows Lance isn’t actually making fun of him. Picking on him, yeah, but it’s all in good fun.

And he knows that beneath it all, Lance is just envious that he doesn’t have something like that with his own soulmate. If his soulmate is going to be stubbornly quiet until the day they meet, he’s just going to have to live out all his cute romantic fantasies vicariously through Hunk.

Once they do meet, however, Hunk is gonna see who the real cutest couple is!

Lance leans back on his hands and stretches his legs out in front of him, looking over the quad. People have started to gather, so he supposes it’s getting close to show time. The members from last year are hanging around, talking to each other and messing with the equipment like they had been doing. The new people are easy to spot. They’re just hovering by the edges of the pitch, looking about as awkward as humanly possible.

He’s looking them over, trying to determine which ones he thinks will stay and which ones will give up, when he sees a face that he wishes isn’t so familiar.

“Oh, great, what’s he doing here?” Lance says aloud, though it’s mostly to himself. He’s surprised when someone actually answers.

“Who are you speaking of?”

Lance jumps as Coran comes to stand next to him, broom in one hand and bludger in the other. “That guy! The one with the mullet!” Lance says, pointing.

Keith. Aka, the asshole from his public speaking class. Aka, Mr. Better Than Everyone. Aka, Sir Holier Than Thou. Aka, Dr. Too Good To Accept Help. Aka, Captain Outdated Hair. Aka, Admiral Forever Scowl. Aka, Sergeant Secret Notebook. Aka, He Who Really Needs a Punch To The Teeth.

Lance has spent a lot of time glaring at the back of his head and coming up with nicknames.

Coran follows his gesture, and his eyes narrow for a second before he brightens. He tries to snap his fingers, but it’s an awkward attempt when his hands are full. “Oh! That must be the old friend Pidge has been talking about.”

Lance straightens, head whipping around to look at him, mouth agape. “What?”

“Indeed! Look!”

And Lance follows his gesture, eyes finding Keith once again. Lance had been hoping that he would just pass by them entirely, just another student walking through the quad. But no, not only has he walked straight toward the quidditch pitch, but he’s bypassed the obligatory awkward newbie area in order to head straight for Pidge. He watches in growing horror as Pidge grins, jogging over to give his arch nemesis a hug. A hug!. Lance has never been more offended in his life.

“Pidge has been excited about him coming to this university for ages.” Coran is saying, but Lance can barely hear him over the sound of sirens that’re filling his head, leaving a ringing in his ears. “They told me the other day that they had convinced him to attend our first practice! I, for one, am excited to finally meet the lad. The more the merrier, I say! What’d you think, Lance?”

Lance opens his mouth, but the only thing that comes out is a strangled noise that sounds like a cross between a whine, a scream, and a groan.

 


 

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> Quidditch practice in an hour, you better be here
> Thirty minutes and counting
> My threat to drag you out of your apartment by your ear still stands
> Hunk can run the practice without me and I WILL come get you
> Don’t test me, Kogane
> Come make an ass out of yourself with us
> It’s fun I promise
> I thought you liked having a stick between your legs

Keith
> Wow
> Just… wow
> Calm down I just parked my bike and I’m on my way over
> It’s at the quad right? Between the student union and the cafeteria?

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> Yup, can’t miss us

Keith
> How did you even manage to reserve half of the quad? Can you even do that?

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> HA
> You think we reserved it
> We’ve just been doing this for three years now
> People clear out when they see us setting up
> It’s chill

Keith
> I’m almost there

Keith clicks off his phone and shoves it into the pocket of the jacket draped over his arm. Probably not a good idea to keep it in the loose pockets of his shorts when he’s running around. As he rounds the English building, the quad comes into view and his eyes immediately zero in on the quidditch team.

It’s… kind of hard to miss them. Half of the flat part of the quad is taken up by them. There’s three hoops of three different sizes set up on either side of the makeshift quidditch pitch, and the sidelines are marked loosely by short orange sport cones. Several people are gathered on the pitch, standing in small groups. Some of them are running around with balls in their hands and sticks between their legs. Others are standing awkwardly at the sidelines, and Keith can tell right away that they’re new.

His pace slows as he nears the field, eyes scanning the people there. The fingers of his right hand curl, absently stroking his palm through the somewhat sticky material of his sports gloves. He had gotten them recently. Pidge told him some players prefer gloves when they play to get a better grip on the balls. Keith thought they would be a good investment. Probably better than his normal gloves anyway.

And he just… he doesn’t want to go around without any gloves at all. It makes him feel exposed and vulnerable, and that’s not a feeling he enjoys. Some people don’t think twice about showing their soulmarks. Some people even go so far as to show them off. Keith would much rather keep them hidden, even to go so far as pretending they don’t exist.

He knows so little about him, and yet his soulmate is his biggest secret and his biggest weakness. He prefers to keep their interactions to himself.

And that usually means hiding his hands.

He realizes what he’s doing, stroking this morning’s pick up line, and shoves his hand into his pocket to stop himself. It’s a nervous tick he has, but it’s not one he’s proud of, and it’s one he’s been trying to kick for years.

Which is hard when he gets flirtatious words written across his palm every morning accompanied with the general warmth of uninhibited affection that trickles into his chest and fills all the cracks before fading. He can’t deny that it’s comforting, and he hates that. And somehow, even when those feelings aren’t present, he finds himself reaching out to the marks to help settle his nerves.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

It isn’t even a pick up line, strictly speaking, but his SM has gotten creative over years of doing this. “It isn’t even a rose…” He had muttered to himself, frowning as he had watched the words appear across his palm in a familiar messy handwriting. It’s only been a couple hours, and he knows if he removes his gloves, the words will still be there, sunken into his skin in blue ink. A slightly darker shade than the already fading words, I love it! Glad you’re feeling better that had appeared on his right wrist the night before when he had finished painting his feet.

It doesn’t take him long to spot Pidge. They’re standing on one end of the quidditch pitch, talking to a tall girl with dark skin and strikingly white hair. He changes course to start toward them, ignoring the curious looks he gets.

Pidge is looking around, hands on their hips, no doubt looking for him. They finally notice him just seconds after he steps through the crowd on the sidelines and onto the pitch. “Keith!” And suddenly they’re running.

He barely has time to brace himself before he has an arm full of Pidge and the air is being knocked out of his lungs. The hug is a lot more hug-like than the last couple times he’s seen them. They seem a lot more awake, too. There’s fewer soulmarks on their arms, and the bags under their eyes have receded to what he’s come to see as standard for Pidge.

“Hey.”

Pidge pulls out of the hug and smirks up at him, eyes practically dancing. “Hey, yourself.” They say before punching him in the arm. It’s not hard enough to hurt, but damn if their knuckles aren’t boney as hell. “You’re late.”

He rubs his arm, but he can’t bring himself to be mad. “I’m pretty sure I’m on time?”

“Actually, you’re five minutes early.” The woman with the white hair steps up to them, smiling brightly as she holds out a hand. “I’m Allura. Pidge has told me so much about you.”

Keith gives her a small smile and takes her hand. She has a firm but gentle handshake, and Keith can already tell he’s going to like her. “All terrible things, I’m sure.”

“Naturally,” She says, grinning as she releases his hand and they both look to Pidge.

They have their arms crossed over their chest as they tilt their head, smirking up at Keith. “I may have complained about you being late.”

He raises an eyebrow. “I thought we established that I was on time?”

“Early, even.” Allura adds.

Pidge shakes her head. “Nope, by quidditch time, you’re late.”

Allura crosses one arm over her chest, tapping her chin with one delicate finger as she tilts her head to the side. “Actually, by quidditch time, he’s very early.” She looks to Keith, a small smile casually in place on her lips. It looks so natural on her, and quite honestly, she’s beautiful. But there’s also something about her that just speaks of strength. He can see why Pidge is friends with her. “Quidditch is always notoriously late.” She explains. “I’m not sure how it’s such a wide occurring phenomenon, but you will never go to a quidditch practice or tournament anywhere and have it start on time. Even the World Cup always starts late.”

“Okay, then he’s late by Pidge time.” Pidge says, waving a hand to dismiss Allura’s argument.

“Pidge time is a cruel and unpredictable mistress.” Allura says solemnly, smile still in place.

Keith snorts. “You have no idea.”

“Okay, so now that you’ve met Allura, you need to meet the rest of the squad.” Pidge says, putting their hands on their hips as they turn around, looking over the field.

“Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, setting up for practice?”

Pidge waves him off. “We’re practically ready anyway. And besides, we would have had more time to do introductions if someone had gotten here earlier.”

“Careful, Pidge, your salt is showing.”

“You make it sound like I was trying to hide it.”

“Over there.” Allura says, pointing across the pitch. “Hunk’s making his way over here now. Coran and Lance are still by the other hoops.”

Frowning, they cup their hands around their mouth and breathes in deep before shouting, “CORAN! LANCE! COME OVER HERE!”

Keith follows their gazes, eyes settling on a big guy headed across the pitch toward them. He’s built like a tank, and Keith finds his eyebrows raising. A bright green headband that seems a little out of place is wrapped around his forehead. He’s smiling wide, eyes lit up as he makes eye contact with Keith, and his attention is warm and welcoming. He lifts a hand to wave, and Keith automatically lifts one in response, feeling incredibly awkward.

His gaze slips past him to the two Pidge was yelling at across the field. A man with bright orange hair and a matching impressive mustache is waving at them. Keith can see his grin from here. He only makes it two steps before he’s turning to look at someone sitting on the ground. He’s wearing an all yellow outfit that, quite honestly, hurts Keith’s eyes. They seem to be arguing, the guy on the ground sitting with his shoulders pulled high and arms crossed over his chest. Keith watches curiously. There’s something strangely familiar about—

“LANCE, I SWEAR TO GOD, GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE!” Pidge yells, jerking Keith out of his thoughts. He winces, leaning away from Pidge a fraction and lifting a hand to rub his ear.

Allura smiles at him sympathetically and whispers, “You get used to it.”

Keith returns her smile before his eyes trail back across the field. The guy in yellow is looking up now, and it’s hard to tell from across the field, but Keith is pretty sure he’s looking right at him. He looks away, however, when the man with a mustache helps him to his feet. They start across the field then, the man, Coran, a little more enthusiastically than the one Pidge had called Lance. He’s still got his arms crossed over his chest, and as they get closer, Keith can make out his face scrunched up in a scowl, and—

Oh, fuck, no. Pidge’s Lance is that Lance?

The same arrogant asshole who had spilled his smoothie all over him the first day of classes? The same asshole who wouldn’t take a goddamn hint and just go away? Why the ever living hell is Pidge friends with him?

Keith doesn’t have much time to dwell on it though, because the big guy is already standing in front of him, extending his hand and effectively blocking out the other two walking across the pitch. “Hey, you must be Keith. I’m Hunk. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Keith gives him small smile because he honestly seems nice enough. The guy is practically oozing friendliness. And for the moment, he forgets about the clench in his gut at seeing that Lance here. And the implications of what that means.

It means he’s going to have to play nice with him. Or, at least, nice enough by Pidge’s book. Ugh.

“Nice to meet you, too.” Keith hears himself say, but he’s barely paying attention to his own words.

Hunk crosses his arms over his chest, beaming. “We’re glad you could come out and join us. It’s a lot of fun, especially with friends. And any friend of Pidge’s is a friend of ours.” He says, nodding toward Pidge.

Keith looks to them, and they’re beaming as well. He can see that they’re happy to finally introduce him to their friends.

“And who do we have here?” The man with the mustache says cheerfully, a dodgeball tucked under his arm as he lays a hand on Pidge’s shoulder.

“Coran, this is Keith. Keith, Coran.” Pidge says, gesturing between them.

Coran leans forward, holding out a hand. “Nice to meet you, Keith. Welcome to the team.”

Keith takes his hand, and he feels strange shaking so many hands in such a small amount of time. It should be something that feels overly formal, but it doesn’t. They all put off such a warm, welcoming atmosphere that puts him at ease.

Well… except for Lance, who’s now standing between Hunk and Coran, hands behind his heck and elbows in the air as he’s half turned away, pointedly ignoring him.

“I, uh, I’m… not sure if I’m going to be joining the team.” He says a little hesitantly, eyes darting between all of them. None of their smiles falter.

Coran just chuckles, dropping his hand. “Well, you’re here today aren’t you? So today you’re part of the team. Welcome aboard.”

Keith’s lips quirk up at that. “Thanks.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Hunk elbow Lance, who stumbles a step before turning to glare at him. His hands go to his hips. “What?”

At this point, everyone’s turned toward them, so Keith doesn’t feel awkward in staring. Hunk’s eyes flicker to him before going back to Lance. “Introduce yourself, man.”

Lance huffs, crossing his arms over his chest and turns his head away. “We’ve already met.” He says offhandedly, and Keith feels his smile drop. Is his eye twitching? He definitely feels like his eye is twitching.

He can see the confused looks around the group, but Keith keeps his eyes on Lance as he tilts his head to the side. “Have we?” He asks in the most innocent, confused voice he can muster.

That gets Lance to finally look at him. His head whips around so fast that Keith wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a kink in it later. His eyes are wide as they search his face, and his mouth hangs open a little bit. It’s a completely unattractive look, and Keith revels in his shock.

Then he collects himself, rearranging his expression into something that’s two parts cocky, one part indignant, and three parts annoyed. “Uh, the name’s Lance?” Keith just stares at him. Lance blinks. Multiple times. His brows furrow. “Lance McClain?” Keith just keeps staring, watching as he cracks. “You’ve got to be— we have public speaking together? Mondays and Wednesdays?”

Keith furrows his brows a little, shaking his head slightly. “Sorry, I don’t—“

He throws his hands into the air. “For fuck’s sake— I spilled a smoothie all over you and didn’t apologize? Come on, I basically ruined your first day of classes!”

Out of their own volition, Keith’s lips quirk up at the corners into an amused smirk. He crosses his arms over his chest. “So you admit you owe me an apology?”

He has the extreme satisfaction of watching Lance’s mouth drop open, eyes widening and eyebrows shooting upward. “You— You do remember me!”

Keith rolls his eyes. “Of course I do. You were an asshole. You kind of made yourself memorable.”

Lance’s mouth opens and closes a lot then, and a variety of sounds escape, but none of them end up forming coherent words, let alone sentences. His hands are flailing around wildly, and he looks around between his friends for support. He doesn’t find any. His eyes eventually settle on Hunk, pleading silently as he makes these pathetic offended sounds and gestures to Keith helplessly.

Hunk just shakes his head. “Dude.”

“Honestly, I was expecting a bad first impression from you Lance, but this honestly just tops anything I could have thought of.” Pidge says, not sounding the least bit accusatory or sympathetic. Lance spins around to glare at them, but they ignore him, clapping their hands together loudly. “Well, now that that’s settled. We have a quidditch practice to start.”

True to what Allura had said, practice doesn’t start on time. In fact, it doesn’t start until nearly twenty minutes past the hour. During that time, Pidge somehow manages to scale up Hunk’s body to sit on his shoulders and has produced a megaphone from one of the numerous bags of quidditch equipment.

Keith watches from the sidelines as Hunk walks around with Pidge perched on him like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Their ankles are locked and hanging down on his chest, and he doesn’t even have to hold onto them. Keith knows from experience that Pidge is a master of climbing and balancing on friends. While Pidge and Hunk attempt to organize everyone and direct old players into helping set up equipment, Keith idly chats with Allura and Coran. They’re both older than him, but he’s not sure by how much. Still, they’re both friendly and talk to him like they’ve been friends for years. He finds out that they co-own a local coffee stop that they started after they graduated, and that they ran it for a couple years before deciding to return for grad school.

Keith tries to carry on conversation with them, but he’s not used to so much small talk. Still, they manage to somehow make it easy on him. They ask him direct questions instead of open ended ones, and direct the conversation themselves. And they always seem to notice when it gets to be too much because they redirect the topic to something more between themselves to give Keith a break. The entire time, his attention is split between them, Pidge and Hunk, and Lance.

As soon as Pidge and Hunk had left their little group to start organizing practice, Lance had left, too. Keith isn’t stupid enough to think it’s not entirely because he’s here. Trying to be subtle, he watches Lance flit around the quad, slipping from group to group, talking to old and new players alike with an easy going smile and confidence that obviously makes people comfortable around him.

Keith doesn’t get it. The guy just gets on his nerves.

Finally, Pidge and Hunk manage to round everyone up at the center of the designated quidditch pitch. Pidge has climbed down from Hunk’s shoulders, and everyone is standing in a wide circle. Keith stands across the circle from them, and nearly a third of the way around from Lance. Not that he’s looking. The old and new players seem to be scattered and mixed around. There has to be somewhere upwards of thirty people there. Maybe forty? He doesn’t know if this is a good or bad turn out.

Keith feels a prickling sensation at the back of his neck, and it’s very similar to the one he gets in class when he just knows Lance is staring at him. So he pointedly fixes his gaze on Pidge as they start to speak.

“Alright, welcome, everyone, to the first quidditch practice of the year!” They say, clasping their hands together loudly. They’ve, thankfully, abandoned the megaphone in favor of just projecting their voice around the circle. “How many of you have never played quidditch before?” They pause as nearly half of the people raise their hands, including Keith. They nod, grinning. “Awesome. Well, we’ll give you a quick overview. Don’t worry if you don’t get it, we’ll go over it in more depth later. Has anyone here not seen the Harry Potter movies or read the books?” No one raised their hands. “Alright, so it’s actually really similar to that quidditch, but with some… accommodations for the fact that we can’t fly and our balls aren’t magic.” There’s a round of snickers at this, and Pidge pauses like they were expecting it. They roll their eyes. “Anyway, I’m Pidge. They/them pronouns, please. And this is Hunk. We’re the team’s co-commissioners.”

Hunk raises a hand, grinning around the group. “Hey, guys.”

“Hunk’s gonna give you a run down of how this works before we get started.”

“Alright, so like Pidge said, it’s actually very similar to quidditch in the books and movies. We have four positions: chasers, beaters, keepers, and seekers.” He counts off the fingers of one hand, then lifts his other hand to count on those fingers. “And then we have three types of balls: the quaffle, bludgers, and the snitch. When the snitch is in play, there’s seven players from each team on the field, and each team is designated by… well, in games against other teams, we have our team shirts, but when we just play here we have pinnies to tell the teams apart.”

He pauses to gesture to Coran, who has a backpack at his feet. The man pulls out two sports pinnies, one red and one blue.

“And positions are designated by colored headbands.” Hunk continues, pointing to his own headband. “Keepers are green.” He points to Pidge, where they have a rolled up black bandana tied around their head like a headband. It makes their hair stick up even more than usual. “Beaters wear black.” He turns and points to Allura, who has a white rolled bandana tied around her head, keeping some of the fallen strands of equally white hair out of her face. She grins and waves as people turn to look at her. “Chasers wear white. And seekers wear yellow. Most of us who’ve played before have our own headbands. It’s easier to just have one to keep on rather than trade them off, but we have team headbands for people who don’t have their own. And don’t worry, we try to wash them after every practice, cause honestly, who wants to wear a headband that’s been passed from person to person when we’re all playing a sport, and they get sweaty, and—“

“Hunk,” Pidge says.

Hunk stops and looks at them, blinking. “Oh, right. Anyway, back on topic. This,” He points to the volley ball in Pidge’s hand. They hold it up high above their head to show everyone. “Is the quaffle. There are three chasers and one keeper on each side at all times, and only these two positions can touch the quaffle. Chasers use the quaffle to score points by throwing it through a hoop on the opponent’s side. Each goal is worth ten points.” Hunk goes through the information in a quick and organized way, words clipped and voice almost bored, like he’s done this a hundred times. And he probably has. “That position is pretty self explanatory. Keepers are the goalies who protect the hoops. Like a lot of sports, if the keeper has the quaffle within the keeper zone around the hoops, you can’t wrestle it from them. They also can’t be hit by a bludger while in the keeper zone. Immunity and all that. But if a keeper steps outside the keeper zone, they function as a normal chaser and have to abide by chaser rules.”

Allura leans closer to Keith, a smile playing across her lips as she keeps her eyes on Hunk. “Hunk is a great keeper.” She whispers. “He doesn’t do it often, because he’s not a big sprinter, but sometimes he charges down the field screaming.” She whispers, laughing under her breath as she glances at Keith. “It’s hilarious and usually scares the other team.”

Keith feels the corner of his lip twitch upward, pulled by the infectiousness of her smile. “I would be, too. He looks like a tank.”

“Just wait till you see him in action.”

Keith looks away from her, gaze trailing around the circle on it’s way back to Hunk. He doesn’t realize what he’s doing until his eyes land on Lance. He’s glaring at him, and immediately Keith feels his smile fade, pressing his lips together into a small frown as he turns back to Hunk. What’s the guy’s deal anyway?

This time, it’s Pidge who speaks up. “The dodgeballs,” They say, pointing to Coran, who holds up a dodgeball proudly. “Are our bludgers. Only beaters are allowed to handle the bludgers. We act as both offense and defense for our team, allowing our chasers to get through the opponent’s chasers and beaters to score points. If you get hit by a bludger, you’re temporarily out. You take your broom out from between your legs to indicate that you’re out of play, and while you’re out of play, you can’t interact with anything or anyone. If there’s a ball in your hands, you drop it. You have to run back to your own hoops, and once you touch them, you’re back in play. If a bludger hits another bludger or the quaffle, it doesn’t count. If a beater catches a bludger, the hit doesn’t count. Chasers can’t catch the bludger because it’s not their ball. There’s two beaters on each side at all times, but only three bludgers in play. This means, obviously, someone is going to be without a ball. Bludger control is very important, but we’ll get into details of that later.”

As if on cue, Hunk picks up right there, like the two of them have this whole thing memorized. “You’re probably all wondering how the snitch works.” He pauses for a moment to look around, getting nods of accent. “Well, in muggle quidditch, the snitch is a person. Well, no, that’s not entirely correct. The snitch isn’t a person. The snitch itself is actually a ball. In a sock. Well, it used to be a sock tucked into someone’s pants, but we’ve gotten a little more high tech since then. But when we say snitch, we’re usually referring to the person carrying the snitch—“

Hunk.” This time it’s Lance who speaks. Keith refuses to look at him. Hunk clears his throat before continuing.

“Right. Okay, so the snitch is a person, usually dressed in all yellow,” He gestures, and Keith already knows he’s gesturing to Lance. He doesn’t want to look. He honestly doesn’t, but he does anyway. It’s hard not to when Lance suddenly is doing a cartwheel into the center of the circle. He stops and puts one hand on his hip, flexing with his other arm before pointing finger guns around the circle. When his eyes hand on Keith’s, he winks, smirking in a way that’s infinitely infuriating. Keith stiffens, hands curling into fists as he crosses them over his chest. He glares at Lance, but he’s unfazed as he just keeps turning in a circle to grin at everyone.

Hunk sighs loudly, but he’s smiling. “This is Lance, and he’s our team’s only USQ certified snitch. But for the purpose of our practices, anyone is welcome to try snitching. Lance plays other positions, too. Anyway, he’s wearing official snitch pants, without the snitch though, Lance, where is—“

“Here we go!” Coran straightens from where he’s been digging in the bag at his feet and pulls out what looks like, honestly, a black sock with a ball inside. He tosses it toward Lance, who snatches it out of the air. One end of the sock is sewed shut and padded with velcro, and Lance attacks it to the velcro patch at the center of his back, on the waist band of his yellow shorts.

“Thanks, Coran.” He says, before spinning around, doing a little dance to make the snitch bounce on his ass. It looks ridiculous. Keith scowls at him.

“As I was saying,” Hunk says. “That’s the snitch. The snitch isn’t released into play until fifteen minutes into the game, or to whenever the head ref says. When the snitch is released, so are the seekers. The game ends when the snitch is caught, but unlike in Harry Potter, the snitch is only worth thirty points.”

“It would be a little ridiculous to have it be worth a hundred and fifty.” Pidge says. “Thirty is much more reasonable, and allows for much closer games. A snitch catch doesn’t always guarantee a win.”

Hunk nods. “Exactly. Seekers aren’t allowed to touch the snitch.” He starts ticking off on his fingers again. “So no tackling, no clothes grabbing, no arm or leg grabbing, no pushing, stuff like that.”

“But I,” Lance cuts in, hands on his hips as he crosses his legs to go in a smooth spin, turning in a small circle to grin at everyone. “Can do all of that to you.”

“Actually, Lance, you can only do that to the seekers.” Hunk adds, but Lance just waves him off.

“Yeah, yeah. Point is, I can do whatever I want to the seekers. As a snitch, I can do whatever I want within my power to keep you from grabbing the ball.”

“Within reason.”

Lance sighs. “Within reason.”

“And you’ll go easy on the new people because it’s only the start of the season.”

Lance sighs louder, letting his head loll backwards. “And I’ll go easy on everyone blah blah.”

“Now get back in the circle, Lance.” Pidge says. “It’s not about you anymore.”

Lance scoffs, but listens, reclaiming his spot.

“I think that’s about it.” Pidge turns to Hunk. “Are we missing anything?”

Hunk shrugs, “Just the brooms, I think.”

“Oh, right.” Pidge gestures to the pile of pvc pipes piled at the center of the circle. “And we do all of this on brooms.”

“They’re not actually brooms, though. We used to use brooms, but it’s not as practical.”

“These are what most teams are doing now. They’re cut to the smallest length required by the rulebook, and they’re lightweight.”

“And no bristles.” Hunk winces, rubbing his legs. “Those things can chaff.”

“We still call them brooms though. They serve the same purpose.”

“Without serving the actual purpose of a broom, which is to clean things, which they can’t do because they have no bristles.”

“It’s surprisingly easy to run with one between your legs, so don’t worry about it.”

“For the most part you just have to get used to playing with one hand.”

“And I think that’s it for the rundown of the rules.”

“Some of you are probably still really confused cause it’s like, a lot to take in. And it looks even crazier when you watch it cause there’s a bunch of stuff going on at once.”

“But you’ll pick up on it as we go. Experience is the best teacher. For now, though, we’re going to officially start our practice with a little ice breaker.” There are some groans around the circle from older members. Pidge scowls at them. “Come on, it’s tradition. And if we’re all going to play together, we might as well know each other’s names. We’re going to pass the quaffle around the circle until everyone’s had it once. When you catch it, tell us your name, your school year, if you’ve played quidditch before, and something about yourself that we can’t tell by looking at you.” Pidge turns then, sending a glare at Lance. “And you’re not allowed to say anything about soulmate, because honestly, that’s so boring by now.”

Lance throws his arms up in the air. “I didn’t say anything!”

“No, but you always say something about your soulmate. The point of this is to learn about us, not the people we’re connected to.”

Lance doesn’t say anything, but he huffs loudly and crosses his arms over his chest, lips sticking out in a pout.

Keith snorts, rolling his eyes. Lance’s glare flickers to him, and he meets it, unflinching. Lance sticks out his tongue, and Keith can feel his eye twitching again. He feels the fingers of his right hand pressing into the palm of his glove where he knows there are words marking his skin. He wishes he could feel some of that warm, calm, peacefulness that comes over him whenever his soulmate marks him. He could use it right about now.

“Alright, so I’m going to start this thing off.” Pidge says, bringing his attention back to them. He’s grateful for the excuse to look away from Lance. “As I said earlier, I’m Pidge. I’m a junior. I’ve obviously played quidditch before, and I can solve a rubik’s cube behind my back in under a minute.” Their grin turns into a knowing smirk when they meet Keith’s eyes. He scowls at them.

That was going to be his fun fact! Well, he can’t do it behind his back, but he can solve one. What the hell is he supposed to say now? He doesn’t have any interesting hidden talents. At least not any he can think up on the spot. He’s drawing a blank.

For a moment he thinks Pidge is going to pass him the ball, but he’s given a few more moments to think when they instead throw it to Coran.

“Name’s Coran.” He says, holding the quaffle in one hand and tugging at his collar with the other. He stands straight, closing his eyes briefly as he lifts his chin proudly. “Grad student, quidditch veteran, and I can speak six languages fluently.”

There are a few murmurs around the circle, and Keith raises his eyebrows. He’s impressed. Then again, he can’t really imagine anything less from the eccentric man.

He tosses the ball to Hunk, who scrambles to catch it when it goes too wide.

Pidge snorts. “Nice pass, Coran.”

The man just shrugs, smiling. “It’s my job to hit my targets, not to pass the ball.”

“Uh, hi, I’m Hunk. I’m a junior, and I’ve played quidditch before, obviously, since I’m a co-commissioner. And I, uh, I knit. A lot.” He smiles sheepishly and lops the ball across the circle towards Keith. He’s about to catch it when Allura suddenly snatches it out of the air. He looks at her, brow pinched in confusion. She just smiles and winks, sticking out her tongue before turning to face the circle.

“I’m Allura, grad student, quidditch veteran, and I can lick my elbow.”

That… isn’t what he expected her to say. It seems like a… goofy sort of fact compared to what everyone else has been saying. But she says it with such good natured confidence that it doesn’t sound out of place at all. She looks to him, still smiling, and she reminds him so much of Shiro in that moment that he finds himself saying, “Prove it.”

She laughs, bending her arm and lifting her elbow, leaning forward, and— yup, she can lick her elbow. She even crosses her eyes in concentration as she does it. Keith isn’t sure he doubted her, but it’s funny enough that he finds himself laughing.

And he’s surprised when she practically drops the ball into his hands. His laugh cuts off, smile dropping as he stares at it. He looks up at her, but she just smiles, arms crossed over her chest.

“Your turn.”

He looks around the circle, suddenly finding himself at a loss for words. He doesn’t really like everyone’s attention on him, but he supposes he should just get this over with. He looks to Pidge for reassurance, and they give him small thumbs up. “I’m Keith. I’m, uh, technically a junior? But it’s my first year here. I’ve never played quidditch, and I—“ He hesitates. He’s not sure what to say. Pidge stole his rubik’s cube idea, which is his usual go-to for questions like this. He thinks he should probably say something about his knife tricks or that he built his bike up from scratch, but he’s kind of still stuck on Allura’s goofy fun fact, and he finds himself saying something completely different than he planned. “I can tie a cherry stem into a knot with my mouth?”

Allura laughs, and there’s a few chuckles around the circle. Now that it’s over, he relief floods his system. He smiles. That is, until he hears Lance’s obnoxious voice speak up from across the circle.

“No way!”

He looks at him, and Lance is scowling at him.

“Uh, yes way?”

“No! No, no, no! That was going to be my secret talent!”

Keith rolls his eyes. “It can be yours, too.”

“No, no way, you already took it. I’m not copying you.” He crosses his arms over his chest, sticking his nose up into the air.

Keith frowns, holding the ball between his hands at his chest, elbows out. “Well, then you better think of something fast.” And he shoves the ball across the circle with all the force he can. It catches Lance off guard, and he yelps, leaping out of the way as the ball sails clips him and sails past.

He glares at Keith. “Not cool, man” Keith just shrugs, smirking as Lance turns and jogs over to pick up the ball before returning to the circle. He palm the quaffle, brows still furrowed. “So the name’s Lance, snitch extraordinaire, junior, obvious quidditch veteran, and, um…” He tilts his head back, tapping his chin.

“Oh my god, for the love of— Lance, just say something.” Pidge says, putting their forehead in their hand.

“I would have if someone hadn’t stole my idea!” He said, shooting Keith a look. He kept his smirk in place, raising one eyebrow. It seemed to just infuriate Lance more, which is exactly what he had been hoping for.

“Lance, just say that thing about your eye.” Hunk says. “That’s weird and unique enough for you.”

Lance blinks, looking away from Keith with a blank look on his face. Then he brightens. “Oh, right!” He puts one hand on his hip and spins the quaffle on one finger with his other hand. It wobbles almost immediately and nearly falls before he has to catch it. “I can move my right eye independently from my left, so I can do spot-the-difference puzzles really fast.”

Keith stares at him. That… isn’t what he had been expecting either. He had been expecting something much more obnoxious, and not… innocent, weird, and almost endearing? Maybe there’s more to Lance than—

“So take that, mullet!”

Nope. He’s still an asshole.

 


 

“So the name of the game is the Hunger Games, name and contraception courtesy of me.” Pidge announces, then gestures widely to the pile of balls at their feet. They’re stacked up as much as they can be, all the balls they have including the spares: five bludgers and two quaffles. “Behold! The cornucopia! This is our favorite warm up game, and we thought it would be a good way to get you all used to throwing and dodging. This game is basically dodgeball, but you’ll be working in pairs and there’s no boundaries. All the balls are gonna act like bludgers. Work with your partner to protect each other. You get hit? You’re out, and your partner is on their own. Only one ball per person and no camping bludgers. You catch it? You’re still in. We don’t have enough brooms for everyone, but this is a quidditch exercise, so we’re going to handicap everyone the old fashioned way: everyone has to keep one hand behind their backs at all times.”

There’s a lot of groans and giggles around the group. The rookies find the idea amusing, and he can see some of them putting their hands behind their backs to get a feel for it. The veterans aren’t too happy about it. It does keep them from using their hand, like a broom would, but it’s surprisingly more difficult to have it behind their backs rather than in front of them. It throws off balance in the weirdest ways. But Lance is used to it. He’s a damn fine snitch, and he’s proud of the fact that he usually ends up being handicapped, forced to put a hand behind his back and fight off seekers with only one hand. He’s even been double handicapped several times. That’s always fun.

“Alright, everyone pair up!” Pidge jogs to Keith, grabbing his arm. “Keith, you’re with me. Let’s kick their asses.”

He smirks, and Lance feels an itch under his skin. “You got it.”

“You two are going down!” Lance calls from across the pitch, hands cupping around his mouth as he leans forward. They both turn to look at him, Keith with annoyance and Pidge with amusement. “Right, Hunk?” He straightens and puts a hand on his hip, holding the other fist out.

Hunk bumps it. “Of course, dude.”

He and Hunk own this game. Well, he owns at this game. Hunk is average. But they still make a really good team, and he usually chooses Hunk as a partner because they’re bros for life. Of all the chasers, and beaters for that matter, on the team, Lance is known for his dodges. He’ll go so far as to drop to his knees or leaping out of the way if it means ducking a bludger throw. Sometimes he goes a little overboard, but hey, it’s all about showmanship. And it’s effective, so win-win.

Once everyone is paired up, they all position themselves in a wide circle around the pile of balls.

“Brooms down! On my whistle!” Pidge calls from across the circle. “Ready!”

Everyone takes a knee, hands on the ground like they would at the beginning of a quidditch match. Lance holds his weight like a runner’s start, preparing to throw himself forward.

“Are we gonna do the usual strategy?” Hunk whispers at his side. Lance tilts his head to look at him.

Seeing the uneasy expression there, Lance grins. “Yeah, man. Don’t worry, I got this.”

Hunk breathes a sigh of relief. Hunk isn’t one for sprinting. “Okay, good. I’ll be here, dude.”

“And I’ll be right back.”

Pidge waits, and a tense silence falls over the group. Everyone is tense, listening for the whistle, and Pidge milks it. Lance feels the familiar sense of excitement and anticipation flow through his veins, vibrating out through his limbs. He feels rigid, muscles coiled and ready to spring. He might be holding his breath.

He lifts his head and ends up making eye contact with Keith. A fire flares up inside him. Keith. He still can’t believe Pidge’s Keith is this Keith. The asshole Keith. Who’s proven that he’s an asshole by making a fool out of him twice! In less than an hour!

Lance narrows his eyes. He’s going to be the one to tag Keith out.

“Brooms up!” Pidge calls half a second before they blow the whistle.

Lance is already sprinting. He sees a flash of white hair somewhere to his right and knows Allura is diving for the pile, too. She’s going to make it there right after Lance, so he’s going to have to be quick. He sees Keith running for it, too, but he wasn’t as fast to get up.

Lance reaches the pile first. He immediately grabs the quaffle on top and throws it blindly over his shoulder before grabbing one of the bludgers. Then he’s backing up, hightailing it backwards, eyes locked on Allura, Keith, and a couple of the others as they reach the pile. He doesn’t look away until he’s a good distance away, and only when he sees Hunk come up to side side, ball in hand. They exchange grins.

Game on.

They travel around the pitch standing back to back to keep eyes out everywhere. Everyone is in similar positions, and everyone keeps moving. Some pairs, like them, have two balls, but some groups have none. Those groups are mostly rookies, and they look nervous. They’d be easy prey, but there’s no fun or honor in that. So he and Hunk hunt down the pairs with at least one ball, systematically weakening everyone by tagging one a member of their pairings.

When one of them loses their ball, the other takes the lead. Lance usually passes his ball to Hunk because he’s better at catching and more willing to dive out from Hunk’s safety to grab a spare ball on the ground before someone else can. They communicate constantly, calling out the positions of threats in hushed tones. Lance can see the inexperienced pairs separating, and some of the rookie’s flinching. He leaves those ones alone, preferring to give them a chance and going after the veteran players instead.

The exception to that is Keith, of course. As soon as they rotate closer to them, he’s going down.

He keeps an eye on Allura and Coran. Both of them paired up with rookies, but they’re still formidable on their own. It’s easy to tell where Coran is. He has a tendency to call out when he throws, whether it’s a word or just a shout of victory. It’s quirky, and Lance thinks it’s great. And in this case, it’s helpful, because he can always keep an ear out for Coran’s position. Allura, on the other hand, is silent and deadly, so he keeps her in his sights.

“Have you seen Pidge and Keith?” Lance says, keeping his back to Hunk. They’ve taken out five people so far, and dodged shots from several attacks. Not many pairs are still whole, but they are, and they have two balls. Now is the perfect time to strike.

“Dude, what’s your obsession with him?”

“It’s not an obsession! I just need to take him out.”

“Lance.”

“He deserves it!”

“Come on, man, play nice. He’s Pidge’s best friend.”

“Why don’t you tell him to play nice with me?”

“Lance, be the bigger— Oh—Oh! Over here!”

Lance reacts to the panic in his voice instantly, whipping around to look for the threat. There’s a pair coming at them from Hunk’s side. It’s an old player, Jackie, and some new guy that Lance doesn’t remember the name of. Jackie grins, rearing back and throwing at Hunk. He yelps, but manages to block the shot with his own ball. Unfortunately, it knocks the ball out of his grip. As he bends down to pick it up, Lance puts a hand on Hunk’s back, jumping up to chuck his ball over Hunk’s shoulder to peg Jackie in the arm.

“Ha, HA! You’re OUT!” Lance says, grinning.

Jackie groans, “Goddammit, Lance.”

“You should know better than to come after us!”

“Nice one, Lance!” Hunk says, straightening. Lance jog forward to pick up the ball Jackie had thrown. Her partner had already picked up Lance’s old ball and had run off while Jackie made her way to the sidelines, hands in the air to indicate she’s out.

“Thanks, buddy.” Lance picks up the ball, putting his free hand behind his back again as he turns to grin at Hunk. “We got this in the bag—“

Hunk’s eyes widen. “Lance! Look out—!”

Before he can say anything else, pain explodes on the back of his head. He jerks forward, stumbling a few steps. He can hear the ball bounce off the ground. Mouth screwed up in a frown, he whips around, searching for the source of—

boom, headshot

His eyes instantly lock onto Keith. He’s standing not too far away, grinning at him and still leaning forward after his throw. As he straightens, he high fives Pidge, who’s doubled over laughing. Lance just gapes at him, his grip loosening and the ball in his hands falling to the ground to bounce and roll harmlessly away. Keith tilts his head to the side, giving Lance a small, two finger salute before Pidge is darting off and he’s following.

The pain from the blow is already fading as he makes his way to the sidelines. It’s nothing compared to the sting of his pride.

 


 

Despite his apprehension over the whole thing, Keith finds that quidditch isn’t so bad. With the exception of Lance, the people are great. Pidge’s friends especially. The Hunger Games exercise was actually a lot of fun, and he and Pidge were the last group pair standing along with a hand full of single players. And he got to tag Lance out. He hadn’t meant to hit him in the head, but he can’t exactly bring himself to regret it. Not after seeing the priceless look on his face.

He ended up getting tagged out by Coran. The hit was a gentle tap on the back, the ball merely bouncing off him and back into Coran’s hands. He whipped around, mouth agape and at a loss for how the overly loud and excited man could possibly sneak up on him. His eyes had glinted as he winked before trotting off.

He had stood on the sidelines next to Lance, who had snickered at Keith’s defeat. He had ignored him in favor of watching Pidge and Allura face off as the last people standing. Allura won.

It was a relatively quick game, so they had played a couple times, each time with new partners. Lance had seemed to make it a point to tag out Keith, which only led him into trouble when he tunnel visioned so hard that he was an easy target for others.

Turns out the rest of quidditch isn’t so bad either. The exercise they’re doing now seems a lot more relevant to an actual game. They’re lined up in three lines at center field, facing one set of hoops. One line for beaters and two for chasers. There’s also two small lines by the side of the pitch for the keeper and the defensive beater. They go run after run where two chasers and a beater charge down the field to face off and try to score against a defensive beater and a keeper. Old and new players are mixed up in the lines, and Pidge and Hunk have encouraged everyone to try all the positions. The two of them are standing by the side, observing and encouraging. Pidge blows the whistle each time to signal the start of the exercise.

Keith thinks they just like to be in charge of the whistle.

Pidge also might’ve been onto something when they said that Keith would be good at this whole quidditch thing. So far, they haven’t been wrong. He was good at the first game, and he’s doing well on this one so far. He’s tried the beater position a couple times, but he doesn’t like it quite as much as he likes chasing. He hasn’t tried keeping, but he doesn’t really think he’s going to.

He’s standing in one of the chaser lines, arms loosely crossed over his chest as he watches Coran lead the charge. He shouts something that sounds suspiciously like, “Tally-ho!” And holds his bludger high above his head as he runs, leaving the chasers to follow in his wake. Keith smiles.

He barely has time to register someone leaning in before there’s suddenly a voice in his ear. “I bet I can score more goals than you.”

He stiffens, smile fading as he recognizes that voice. He turns his head, and sure enough, Lance is standing beside him in line. He’s watching Coran, a small smirk playing across his lips.

Keith’s eyes narrow a fraction. “You realize I’m three for three in goals, right?”

“Pffff, please, I’m four for four.” He tilts his head to the side, eyeing Keith sideways. His lips are still quirked in that frustrating smirk. “So you in?”

He really, really doesn’t want to rise to the bait. But when he opens his mouth to tell him to fuck off, he finds himself saying, “What’d I get when I win?”

Lance raises an eyebrow, smirk widening. “Cocky, huh? Must I remind you that you’re the rookie here?” Keith just stares at him, and Lance continues. “What’d you want then?”

He goes for the first thing he can think of that’ll annoy Lance. “If I win, you have to apologize for knocking my smoothie over.”

Lance stiffens, smirk dropping as he purses his lips together. He turns to face Keith more fully, opening and closing his mouth without saying a word. Keith raises an eyebrow, enjoying his struggle. “Fine! But when I win, you have to apologize for being rude when I tried to help!”

Keith narrows his eyes. “Fine.”

“Fine!”

“You’re on.”

“Bring it!”

Lance puts up a valiant effort, but he’s goaded Keith. Now that he’s taken the bait, he sure as hell isn’t about to let Lance win. Lance has this uncanny ability to annoy the ever living shit out of him, and Keith has a burning desire to wipe that smirk off his face. And seeing him struggle as he tries to apologize wouldn’t be so bad either. Shiro has always said he’s stubborn when he wants to be, and this is one of those situations. Luckily, his stubbornness usually helps him in the long run.

By the time Pidge and Hunk call an end to the exercise, Keith has scored eighteen goals, and Lance has only scored seventeen. As they regroup around Pidge and Hunk for the next set of instructions, Keith catches Lance’s eye. He smirks, and Lance pouts.

“You got lucky, mullet.”

“Say whatever you gotta say to make yourself feel better.”

 


 

Practice is a little slow, but that’s to be expected when it’s the first of the year and they’re accommodating new players. Still, Lance is having fun. He hasn’t played at all since the summer fantasy tournament, and he’s missed it. Good friends, a fun sport, what’s not to love? Even with Keith hanging around and throwing off his groove, he’s still managing to enjoy himself.

Especially now that it’s time for seeker practice. His time to shine.

“Remember to go easy on them.” Hunk says, clapping him on the shoulder as he walks by.

Lance gasps loudly, putting a hand to his chest in a show of offended innocence. “Hunk! What kind of guy do you think I am?”

“A show off.” He says, rolling his eyes, but his tone is good natured.

Lance smirks. “I can’t help it that I’m good.”

“Behave yourself, Lance!” Hunk calls over his shoulder as he makes his way to the hoops where all the keepers, and potential keepers, are gathered.

Lance laughs, putting his hands on his hips as he surveys the small group in front of him. He’s standing at the edge of the pitch, a little ways up the hill to make himself loom over them. There’s only four of them, and only one of them is an old player. To be fair, Greg isn’t even a seeker main. He’s mostly a chaser who can seek when they need him to, but Lance had asked him to join the seeker practice so he could demonstrate with someone who’s actually played the position before.

Their team doesn’t really have a main seeker. It’s been Lance for a couple years, with the occasional player who only comes for a couple months before never returning.

Lance thinks he’s a damn fine seeker. He’s a good snitch, after all. But… his team doesn’t always agree. So yeah, he doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to seeking, but he’s getting better!

“Alright,” Lance clasps his hands together, grinning at the four standing in front of him. “Welcome, you brave souls, to seeker practice.” He puts a hand to his hip and the other to his chest, lifting his chin. “I will be your glorious and handsome snitch and guide on this fine Saturday afternoon—“

“Lance,” Greg cuts in, giving him a flat look. “Just get on with it.”

Lance pouts. “You have no sense of showmanship.”

“And you have too much.”

“That’s just one of the many things that makes me a great snitch.” He says, face brightening as he winks.

Greg tilts his head to the side, eyebrows raised as he considers. “Well… you got me there.”

“As I was saying, welcome to seeker—“

“Keith!”

Lance looks up as Pidge jogs across the field, leaving a group of beater-lings under the care of Coran. Keith has been trailing after the group of chasers that are following Allura to the far end of the field, but at the sound of his name, he pauses mid step and turns. When Pidge reaches him, they speak in a lower voice that Lance can’t hear, but he watches the exchange through narrowed eyes.

Then suddenly Pidge is pointing to him, and Keith is looking up, a scowl on his face—

Greg clears his throat, whipping Lance’s attention back to him. “You were saying?”

“As I was saying!” He says, perhaps a little too loud. “Welcome to seeker practice!” Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Keith trudging toward them. He looks up, drawing attention to him. “Looks like we’ve got a straggler.” He says, grinning in the face of Keith’s scowl. “What’re you doing here?”

Keith steps up to the small semi-circle of potential seekers, arms cross over his chest. “Pidge told me to try out seeking.”

Lance snorts. “You think you can take me?”

Keith just shrugs and says nothing. Lance glares at him, and only looks away when Greg clears his throat again.

“Come on, Lance. We don’t have all day.”

“Right, as I was saying…”

Pointedly ignoring Keith, Lance goes over the rules of seeking and snitch play. Compared to the other positions, it’s relatively straight forward. After fifteen minutes, the snitch is released onto the field and into play. The seekers are then free to go after them. the seeker has to get a clean grab of the ball hanging off the back of the snitch’s pants. If the grab isn’t clean, the ball is put back and the play is reset. If they get hit by a bludger, they have to go back to their hoops. If their broom is taken out from between their legs, they have to go back to their hoops. If the snitch falls down, they have to give them a couple seconds to get back up.

They’re not allowed to touch the snitch, but the snitch damn well can touch them.

And that’s it. Simple. Easier said than done, but simple.

After he runs through the rules, he gets Greg to help him demonstrate what it looks like in real time, as well as some of the more common strategies. Despite the fact that Keith is there, Lance doesn’t let it ruin his mood. He’s in his element. He’s teaching something he’s good at, and he’s thriving in the attention given to him. Even if it’s only from five people.

After Greg gets tired of his shenanigans, because yeah, at this point he’s just showing off, he claps the guy on the shoulder and grins. “Alright, so how about we give poor Greg here a break. Who wants to try it first?”

Now that his part is over, Greg goes to join the chasers, leaving Lance alone with the new potential seekers. He runs through the exercises with the lot of them. And true to his word, he goes easy on them. They all take turns, running at him and attempting to grab the snitch. When he puts them out of commission, they pass the one broom they have to the next person in line.

At first, they’re obviously nervous and unsure of themselves. They all come at him with hesitant steps and tentative grabs that he easily sidesteps. He lets each of them make several grabs, gaining confidence with each one, and each time casually batting their arms away or stepping aside, before he pulls their broom out from them and forcing them back to the line.

Keith, on the other hand, he has fun with.

As soon as Keith steps up, Lance grins at him, raising both hand and twitching his fingers. “Come at me, bro.”

Keith just glares at him before darting forward, arm reaching out in a wide, obvious, and sloppy motion. Lance doesn’t give Keith a chance. He sidesteps Keith’s advance, grabbing the broom with both hands and pulling it out from between his legs. He’s too surprised and unprepared, and the broom comes out of his grip easily.

He gapes, staring as Lance grins at him, holding the broom up. “That’s… that’s cheating!’

Lance throws back his head, laughing. Oh man, the look on his face is priceless. Finally, Lance can have his time to shine, to make Keith look stupid. Oh man, he’s going to enjoy this. He should thank Pidge later. “Nothing’s cheating when you’re a snitch.” He says, cocking his head to the side, wide smile still in place. He gives Keith a small wink before he’s tossing the broom to the next person in line. What was her name again? Ugh, who knows. He’s barely been paying attention. If they come back again he’ll bother learning their names. “Back of the line, Keithy boy.”

He laughs again as Keith stomps away. Oh yeah, he’s going to enjoy this.

He goes easy on the other three, letting them get the feel of what it’s like to seek. He talks them through it, giving them advice on the fly as he’s backing away. He tells them how snitches usually counter certain grabs even as he does them. This is, after all, his specialty, and he likes being able to show his knowledge. Each of them gets better every time they try. Still not game worthy, but they’re getting the hang of it. He doesn’t, however, let any of them actually catch him. A snitch has to have some pride.

Keith, on the other hand, he doesn’t go easy on. The first couple times it’s Keith’s turn, Lance does his best to get him out as quickly as possible. He can’t believe how many times Keith lets him pull his broom out. It’s easy. It’s like the guy is so focused on trying to grab the snitch that he just neglects to take the rest of himself into account. Even when he learns to keep a firmer grip on his broom, all it takes is a well placed hand, a shove, and upward pull, and the broom is out.

During the others’ turns, Lance can feel Keith’s eyes on him. His gaze is hot on the back of his neck. So just to annoy him further, Lance takes extra care being helpful and patient with the others. He can’t help it. This is fun.

On Keith’s forth try, he catches Lance off guard. He lunges at him with a quickness that Lance hadn’t seen from him so far. He totally does not yelp as he scrambles backwards, hands shooting out to Keith’s shoulder’s to hold him back. When he looks up at Keith’s face, the asshole has the audacity to smirk at him! There’s a glint of something fiery in the depths of his eyes that has Lance’s gut tying itself in knots.

So that’s how they’re going to play it, huh? Fine. Lance can step it up.

He shoves Keith away, and they face off. Lance stands in the typical snitch stance: knees bent, ass out to keep the ball as far from Keith as possible, and arms held out to his sides, ready. Keith circles him slowly, eyes locked onto his. Lance turns with him, his own smile gone. Then Keith takes a step to the right, and Lance sees the moment his weight shifts and he lunges to the left. His hand on the broom switches, left hand reaching out and around him.

Lance has to admit, he’s impressed. That’s an advanced strategy that he isn’t expecting. But as he’s said before: he’s a damn good snitch. Reflexes kick in as he’s adjusting to defend and block Keith’s grab.

“Ambidextrous, huh? Not bad. Can’t say I was expecting it.” He says as he grabs Keith’s broom. Instead of pulling it out though, he uses it to spin Keith around, relishing the way his eyes widen in surprise. He then lifts a foot, plants it on Keith’s ass, and pushes him away. He goes stumbling, and Lance laughs. “You’re still sloppy though. I saw that coming a mile away.” Keith turns around to glare at him, and Lance takes up his defensive stance again, eyes glinting as he smirks and sways his hips from side to side to cause the snitch to sway tauntingly behind him. “Come on then, show me what you’ve got.”

Turns out, the only thing more fun than getting Keith out as quickly as possible is playing with him and taunting him.

Each time he fails a grab and Lance sends him reeling with a kick to the ass or a pat on the shoulder, Keith manages to look even more angry and even more frustrated. Lance wasn’t sure it was possible, but here he is, red faced and pinched scowl in all it’s constipated looking glory. And while he started out surprisingly good, he gets sloppier with every failed attempt and it gets easier and easier to make a fool out of him.

Lance is living.

In what has to be a last ditch effort, Keith charges him, reaching out and around to try to grab the snitch. Lance doesn’t have to think twice. He steps into it, catching Keith off guard as he wraps him up and uses his own momentum to flip him up and over. He lands on his back and stays there, staring up at the sky with his arms flopped out beside him. Lance leans over him, hands on his hips. Keith looks dazed.

“You have been weighed.” He says, feeling his lips curl into an amused smirk. “You have been measured.” Keith’s eyes flicker to his, brows pinching. “And you absolutely have been found wanting.”

Keith picks up his fallen broom and uses it swat at Lance. “Fuck off.”

Lance dances away, laughing.

 


 

“You’re going to catch him, right?”

Keith blinks, looking down to where Pidge has suddenly appeared at his elbow. “Uh, what?”

Pidge points a thumb over their shoulder. “That idiot. You’re gonna catch him, right? You’re gonna be the seeker on your team?”

Keith follows their gesture to where Lance is standing across the field talking to Hunk. Whatever their talking about, he’s gesturing wildly, face animated. Hunk says something and he doubles over laughing. Why is everything he does so… extra? Keith frowns and looks down, pulling the red pinnie over his head. “I don’t know, Pidge. I’m not sure I can.”

Pidge snorts, crossing their arms over their chest. “What’s this? Keith Kogane is turning down a challenge? What gives, man?”

He shrugs. “I’m not exactly good at the whole seeking thing. I think I’ll just stick to chasing.”

Pidge bumps his hip with their own. “Come ooooon, Keith. I saw you during seeker practice. You were good for someone who’s never played before.”

“He flipped me onto my back, Pidge.” He deadpans. “I didn’t get the snitch once.”

Pidge waves him off. “Yeah, yeah, but that’s just Lance. He’s a show off. Besides, in a game, he has to get caught. Otherwise the game won’t end. If it goes on for too long, we just handicap him and then it’ll be easy.”

“Why do you want me to do it? There were others who tried seeking. They did better than me.”

“Only because Lance let them do better. He actually had to try with you. He’s been insufferably cocky today, and he’s been an ass to you. So please, Keith. Put ‘em in the dirt.”

Keith raises an eyebrow, looking at them curiously. A small smirk tugs at his lips. “You’ve been bragging about me, haven’t you?”

“Uh, yeah, duh. I know you’d make a better seeker than anyone we have now. And you can prove it by catching Lance. He won’t go easy if it’s you because of his stupid vendetta or whatever.”

Keith hums, looking over their shoulder once again to where Lance is standing. He’s leaning on Hunk, gesturing wildly. He looks proud of himself, but Keith thinks that might just be his default setting.

“You can’t tell me you don’t want to wipe that smirk off his face.” Pidge says, glancing up at him with a knowing grin.

Keith lets his eyes roam over Lance’s face, all sharp lines and angles, softened by laugh lines and crinkled eyes. Objectively, he’s attractive. Extremely so. It’s a shame his personality is terribly obnoxious. Keith almost feels sorry for whoever gets stuck with him as a soulmate. He bets it would be exhausting.

“Yeah,” He says, eyes returning to Pidge. “Yeah, I do.”

“Good.” Pidge nods, handing him a broom.

“But how am I supposed to get past him? He’s actually good at this and I’ve never done it.”

Pidge pats him on the shoulder. “You’re creative and stubborn, and I have faith in you. Besides, like I said, he has to get caught. Just take advantage of his show off moments.”

As per what is apparently routine, they end the practice with a scrimmage. The experienced players played a short five minute game to show everyone how it looks before they split everyone into two teams. A lot of the veteran players are reffing the match to give the newer players a chance to try it. Allura and Coran are acting as team captains to give advice and keep their teams subbing out so everyone has a chance to play, and Lance, of course, is the snitch.

When he joins his team on their end of the sidelines, Allura hands him a white headband and offers him a smile. “I assume you’ll be playing chaser until the snitch is released?”

Keith nods, taking the headband and slipping it onto his head. “Yeah, thanks.”

“You’re also fast, so I’m having you start.”

“Wait, what?”

She gives him a shove. “To the hoops! Go!”

He looks back over his shoulder at her as she pushes him. “What’d I do?”

“When the whistle blows, just run as fast as you can, pick up the quaffle, and hopefully score before they have a chance to set up their defenses.”

She doesn’t really give him a change to argue. She just shoves him off toward the hoops and goes back to the rest of the team gathered on the sidelines. He takes up his place in the line of players at the hoops, putting his broom on the ground between his legs and kneeling over it. The four balls are lined up along the center line, and he can see the beaters lining themselves up with the bludgers. He positions himself at the center, directly in line for the quaffle.

Pidge stands at the edge of the pitch opposite from the teams. Lance bounces on his toes next to Pidge, looking over the pitch. “Blue team, are you ready?” There’s a cheer from the other team, led mostly by Coran. “Red team, are you ready?” The people around him let out half hearted cheers, and Allura practically screams from the sidelines. “Brooms down!” Everyone settles into an eery silence, waiting for the whistle. “Ready!” Keith puts his weight on the balls of his feet, one hand gripping his broom. He feels the tension in his muscles, coiled like a spring. “Brooms up!

The whistle blows and he’s sprinting, eyes locked on the quaffle at center field.

He gets there first, bending over to grab it as he sprints past. As soon as he’s picked it up, he has to leap over a chaser from the blue side who got there right after he did. The teams clash, beaters picking up what balls they can and immediately back tracking. He doesn’t take the time to see what team managed to get bludger control. He just sprints past the line of blue players, and before they have a chance to back track and recover, he’s one on one with the keeper.

He feels a little bad for him. He’s obviously new and wasn’t expecting to be face to face with a rampaging chaser less than a minute into the game. All it takes is an easy feint in one direction, a lunge to the other, a throw, and the quaffle sails through the shortest hoop. The goal ref throws up her hands, and Pidge’s whistle blows.

Keith skids to a stop with a couple hops and turns back to his team, grinning. Allura is letting out loud whoop’s from the other end of the pitch. He only makes it a few more steps toward his side of the pitch when he’s hit by a bludger. Right. In all the adrenaline, he kind of forgot about the beaters. And the fact that they can still tag him out after he scores a goal.

He lifts the broom out from his legs and holds up his hands before jogging back to his hoops.

The game is, admittedly, very fun and surprisingly fast paced. There’s a lot going on. Sometimes Keith will get so focused on weaving past the other chasers that he’ll forget about the beaters. Sometimes he’s so focused on avoiding the beaters and dodging the bludgers that an opposing chaser will just take the quaffle from him. There’s a lot to pay attention to, but he finds himself having fun. He’s also surprisingly good at it. Naturally so. He can see he’s picking it up faster than some of the other new players who still fumble with passes and throws, and who hesitate, unsure what to do.

He’s always been good at sports, but they’ve always bored him. Quidditch, he thinks, might be the exception. And he’ll never tell Pidge, but the fact that they play is a good incentive to stick around.

He’s so into the game, focused on watching and waiting for his next turn to go in, that he’s surprised with Allura is suddenly handing him a yellow headband.

He blinks at it. Then looks up at Allura. She’s grinning. “It’s show time.” She says, giving him a small wink and a laugh.

He glances past her to where Lance is jumping up and down across the pitch. He’s standing next to Hunk, who’s watching the gameplay intensely. As the head ref, Pidge has been on the field, moving with the quaffle play. Lance is stretching when he notices Keith looking. He grins, cocking his head to the side and flexing for a moment before shooting him finger guns.

Keith frowns, snatching the headband from Allura and handing her the white one he had been wearing. “He’s going down.”

Allura grins, clapping him on the shoulder. “That’s the spirit! Remember: take advantage of his ego.”

Keith gives her a wry smile. “Pidge said something similar. Is that just a well known Lance thing?”

Allura shrugs. “It’s just a well known snitch thing. They’re notorious show offs.”

Keith snorts. “I can see how Lance fits in then.”

Allura laughs at that, clapping him on the shoulder again. “Too true! But just so you know, he’s actually not that bad once you get to know him.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“So you’re going to stick around?”

“I didn’t— that’s not—“

“I’ll be nice to have you around, Keith.” She says, eyes glinting. “Now get ready, Hunk’s about to release Lance.”

Keith grabs a broom, puts it between his legs, and narrows his gaze in on Hunk. He’s looking down at a stopwatch in his hand, other hand held up in the air. “The snitch will be released in five… four… three…” He counts down with his fingers, voice carrying across the pitch. A few of the players stop the game to watch, letting the blue team slip past them to score. As far as Keith can tell, the score is pretty even. “Two… one… The snitch is loose!” He throws his hand down.

Lance skips forward a few steps, stopping with his arms held out wide as he glances between Keith and the blue team’s seeker. Both of them are running toward him, weaving through the players on the field. Keith lets the other seeker get ahead of him, and he dives straight for Lance, who easily holds him aside and pulls his broom out. The guy grunts, holding up his hands as he runs back to his hoops and Lance turns to face Keith.

“So we meet again.” He goes up on one foot, bringing up his other knee and holding his hands high in the air in what Keith thinks is supposed to be a mockery of some martial arts form. “Come at me, mullet!”

And Keith does. Only to be thrown to the side and tagged out by a bludger. He signs, jogging back to his hoops before he gets on his broom and tries again.

His next few tries are just as unsuccessful. He thinks it might work to take advantage of the other seeker capturing Lance’s attention to sneak in a grab from behind, but Lance is too experienced fighting off two seekers at once and Keith has no idea what he’s doing. He’s just winging it as he goes. He dives for openings he sees, he tries to figure out what seems right in the moment, but Lance is always there to stop him. He dances away with his ass held out too far for Keith to reach around him. His hands are on Keith’s shoulders, his arms, holding him off. At one point he even grabs Keith’s broom and starts to spin him around, forcing Keith to hold onto it with both hands to keep from losing it. He just ends up being tagged out by a bludger.

So as he finds out, seeking with another seeker in play and beaters there to stop him is an entirely new level of difficult. Add to that mix Lance’s uncanny ability to just know exactly where he and the other seeker are at all times, not to mention the beaters that help him, and Keith just can’t sneak up on him. He can’t surprise him. And Lance knows a surprising amount of defensive maneuvers and flips and other things that makes it impossible for Keith to simply bully into him.

And just to top it off, Lance does it all with that infuriating smirk and constant stream of taunting comments.

When he starts getting tired and frustrated, Allura calls him back, putting in another seeker to give him a break. He argues that he doesn’t need a rest, but Allura is firm and leaves no room for argument. So Keith stands on the sidelines, pouting as he watches Lance easily bat away any and all advances.

“Normally he’d be handicapped by now.” Allura says, suddenly at his side. “But I think Pidge and Hunk want the game to continue a little longer to give everyone a better feel for it.”

Keith hums, only half paying attention as he watches Lance, looking for any sign of weakness. His arms are crossed over his chest, fingers tapping at his arm. He leans on one leg, other foot tapping. He really wants to go back in. He really wants to be the one to catch the snitch.

He gets his chance when the other seeker starts dragging her feet, face twisted in frustration as she breathes heavily and jogs back to the hoops for what feels like the hundredth time.

“Cassy! Come back in!” Allura calls, waving the seeker to the sidelines. As she runs over, Allura puts a hand on Keith’s shoulder. “I’m gonna put you back in. I know how frustrating Lance can be, but he’s trying to goad you. He knows it’ll make you sloppy. Just try to be patient. The opportunity will present itself. Patience yields focus.”

Keith starts, jerking to look at her as Cassy hands him the yellow headband. He stares at her, brow pinched.

“What?” She asks, raising one delicate eyebrow.

“Where did you hear that?” He asks slowly, slipping the headband onto his head.

“Hear what?”

“Patience yields focus.”

Her confusion clears, and suddenly she’s smiling this soft, barely there smile. “A friend of mine says it a lot. I like it. It keeps me grounded.”

Keith nods. “Me, too. My brother tells me that sometimes.”

“It’s a good saying. More people should know it.”

“Yeah, I agree.” His eyes roam over her arms, but he doesn’t see any marks. Nothing overly obvious anyway. And he suddenly feels heat creeping up his neck. He’s invading her privacy by so obviously looking for her soulmarks, and he hopes she hadn’t noticed.

He wants to ask more questions. He’s never heard anyone besides Shiro say that, but that doesn’t mean people don’t. After all, Shiro had to have gotten it from somewhere. It’s probably just a coincidence. Besides, right now he has a snitch to catch.

His next few tries are about as successful as his first. Lance flips him onto his back. Lance spins him around so a beater can hit him. Lance takes his broom from him and tosses it a little ways away. All while he grins at him. Keith can feel an itch beneath his skin. His heart hammers in his chest, adrenaline pumping through his veins as his frustration threatens to choke him. He wants to think that he’d be this frustrated if it was any other snitch. But he can’t shake the feeling that it’s the fact that it’s Lance.

After he runs back to his hoops for the fifth time in a row, he stops to just close his eyes and breathe. Breathe and try to steady his heart rate, calm down the raging fire in his chest.

Patience yields focus.

The voice in his head that’s always sounded like Shiro now has the lighter, more feminine overtones of Allura’s voice mixed in.

He grips his right hand tight, letting his fingertips trail over his palm where his soulmate has marked him beneath his gloves. Just like he always marks him. Every day, no matter what. And it’s in those brief, daily moments, that Keith feels everything melt around him, his entire being paying attention to the feeling of those words melding into his flesh, foreign emotions fluttering through his chest, with a single minded focus unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

A strange calm settles over him, and he hates that he had to resort to thinking about his soulmate to calm him, but it always works. No matter what, it always works. He doesn’t want to dwell on that.

Instead, he opens his eyes and focuses on Lance. An odd sense of calm clarity tingles across his limbs as he watches him, watches for anything he can use, any opening, any opportunity. He sees Lance’s mannerisms, thinks about the way he defends, thinks about his reactions to surprises, his ways of dodging…

Lance’s eyes are on the other seeker, who’s currently running back to him. He takes up his usual pose: ass out and hands reaching out to hold the other seeker’s shoulders to keep him at bay.

And suddenly Keith is sprinting. The idea is only half formed, but he doesn’t even care. He’s rolling with it.

Lance sees him coming, glancing over his shoulder at his approach. Keith isn’t sure how he always seems to be aware of where the seekers are even with his back turned, but he doesn’t care. He sees the moment Lance’s smile drops, the moment he realizes that Keith is charging at his back at full speed. A quick glance around tells him that the enemy beaters aren’t in a position to stop him.

Lance turns back to the blue team seeker, all playfulness gone as he quickly rips their broom out from them and throws it aside. The seeker backs away, and Lance is spinning around to face Keith. But Keith is already there, and he’s not stopping. He doesn’t slow his momentum at all.

Before he hits him, Keith drops down stretching out a leg to go into a sloppy but effective slide. Lance has barely managed to turn around, already starting to take up his defensive snitch position when Keith drops. His eyes widen further, mouth dropping open as he reacts exactly how Keith had hoped he would: he jumps and he jumps high, legs splaying out to the sides as Keith passes harmlessly under him.

As he goes, he reaches up and grabs hold of the snitch, hearing the satisfying rip of velcro.

As his slide comes to a stop, Keith lays down on his back, holding the snitch up in the air. The whistle blows three times, and Keith can’t help the laugh that bubbles up his throat. He can’t believe that worked.

He can hear Lance sputtering somewhere nearby. “Wha— How the— Hunk! Was that even legal?”

“Looked like a clean grab to me, buddy.”

“But he slide tackled me!”

“I didn’t actually touch you though.” Keith says, tilting his head back to look up at Lance.

He whips around to glare down at him. “I bet you just think you’re so cool, don’t you, mullet?”

Keith can’t help it. The grumpy saltiness in Lance’s voice is too much. His lips quirk into a wide grin, and he can feel it crinkling his eyes. “I’d say so, yeah.”

He didn’t think it was possible, but Lance’s expression pinches even more. His back straightens, lips pursing together, nose crinkling as a flush starts to spread across his cheeks. It’s hilarious and oddly adorable, and Keith laughs, hand with the snitch falling to lay across his stomach.

He can hear his team cheering somewhere across the pitch, but above that he hears Lance’s mumbled. “Whatever.” And then Lance is there, standing near his feet. He has one hand on his hip and he’s scowling, but his other hand is held outstretched toward him.

Keith stares at it, smile dropping to make way for bewilderment as he looks from the hand to Lance’s face. He raises a questioning eyebrow.

Lance rolls his eyes, scoffing softly. “I guess that was a good catch.”

Keith feels the ghost of a smile curving his lips, and he reaches out to take his hand. Lance pulls him roughly to his feet. His hand is warm in his own. Very warm. Which Keith supposes is to be expected when they’ve both been running around like they have. But there’s a strange… spark, a weird minor tingling where Keith’s fingertips make contact with Lance’s skin. The palm of his right hand burns even through the material of his sports gloves, echoing fire radiating from his inner wrist.

But then Lance lets go, and the feeling is instantly gone, leaving him to question whether it had ever been there at all. It was so strange, but so brief, and it had to have been his imagination. There’s no other explanation.

Adrenaline does weird things.

“But you just caught me off guard. Now that I know you’re a crafty little shit, don’t expect me to go easy on you.” Lance is smirking again, but it’s more good natured than anything he’s seen so far. He feels the tug at his own lips in response.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

 


 

Lance isn’t upset because he got caught. It’s the snitches job to get caught. A snitch should make it as difficult as possible to get caught, but in the end, the game isn’t over until he is. It’s inevitable. It has to happen every game. Every time he’s snitched a game, he’s been caught eventually in one way or another. Fact of life. So that’s not why he’s upset.

He’s upset because Keith caught him.

Well… upset is a strong word. He’s not really upset. He can’t say he didn’t expect it. Despite his taunting, he could tell that Keith was the most impressive of the potential seekers. He kind of knew Keith would be the one to catch him, despite all his efforts to keep him at bay. Still… the guy could have at least waiting until he had been handicapped. Let him hold onto his pride a little bit.

And it doesn’t help that despite how much he wants to hate Keith for catching him, he can’t help but admit, if only to himself, that it was a good play. It was the exact kind of creative, sneaky, and reckless cheese play that he would have come up with himself. And he pulled it off probably better than Lance could have himself… Probably. He doesn’t want to be impressed, yet here he is. Impressed by none other than Keith. And it’s rude as fuck.

So no, he’s not really upset, per se. He’s just… salty.

And to rub more salt in that fresh wound, his friends invited Keith to eat dinner with them. Again, just another thing he should have expected. Keith is, after all, Pidge’s close friend. And all of his other friends seem to really like the guy. Even Hunk seems to like him. And Hunk is a great judge of character.

Still, Lance doesn’t have to concede to giving him a chance just yet. He’ll think about it… maybe.

And that’s how he finds himself in the dining hall with his closest friends. They’re sitting three on each side of the table, and he’s on the end. Unfortunately, across from Keith. He does his best to ignore him, refusing to make eye contact or talk to him unless he has to. Instead, he’s turned sideways, deep in conversation with Hunk about whether or not pineapple should be allowed on pizza.

That is, until Allura leans forward, elbows on the table to look around Pidge to where Keith is sitting. “So, Keith,” She starts, a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Since we just came from quidditch practice, I feel like we’re obligated to have the Hogwarts house conversation.”

Her sudden declaration has drawn Hunk’s attention, so Lance finds himself looking up, glancing sideways to Keith. The guy is sitting there, face blank, before turning to Pidge, one eyebrow raised.

Pidge shrugs. “The ‘what Hogwarts house are you in’ conversation.”

“You make it sound so serious.”

“Keith, it is serious.” Pidge deadpans, giving him a flat stare.

Keith just shrugs. “I haven’t really thought about it.”

“Well think about it now.”

Keith frowns, brow pinching and nose crinkling as he stares down at his food. Lance refuses to admit that it might be a little adorable. Okay, so maybe Keith can express something other than angry and grumpy. Who knew?

“I guess, if I had to choose… Gryffindor?”

Lance gasps maybe a little louder than he meant to, but he rolls with it, one hand clutched to his chest while the other grabs the table, holding him steady as he leans back.

Keith glares at him, a small put on his lips. “What?” He snaps, sounding wary and defensive.

Lance finds himself smirking. “I’m just surprised you have taste.”

Keith just looks confused.

Hunk sighs, patting Lance’s shoulder. “Lance is the only one of us who identifies as a Gryffindor.” He explains, sounding for all the world like an exasperated and disappointed mother. Rude.

Lance throws his hands up in the air. “That’s because Gryffindor is obviously the best house! I mean, hello, all the main characters of the series are Gryffindors!”

“Exactly,” Pidge says, adjusting their glasses as they grin at him. “Annoyingly reckless kids who decided to do everything themselves instead of asking for help when they’re up against the wizard equivalent of Hitler.”

“They did it tho!”

Pidge crosses their arms over their chest. “Everyone knows Gryffindors are just the loud, obnoxious jocks and frat boys of Hogwarts.”

“You’re just jealous cause we’re the brave ones!”

Pidge’s grin widens. “Thanks for proving my point.”

“Ugh!” He looks to Keith, gesturing to Pidge. “See what I have to deal with? Wait, you’ve dealt with them for longer. How the hell did you deal with that for so long?”

Keith shrugs, a small smile tugging at his lips as he leans back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. “Do you really think I had a choice?”

Lance looks away from him, eyes narrowing as he looks Pidge over. They’re still grinning. “You have a point.”

“So what houses are you guys in then?” Keith asks.

Hunk straightens, lifting two fingers in a peace sign as he smiles, tilting his head to the side. “Hufflepuff all the way.”

“Same here.” Allura says, and she and Hunk high five across the table.

“I’m a Ravenclaw.” Coran says, tugging on his collar with one hand while his other twirls the ends of his mustache. “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure, you know!”

“I’m a Ravenclaw, too.” Pidge says, and Lance snorts.

He leans forward, one hand flat on the table while the other points at them. He narrows his eyes. “I’m pretty sure you’re a Slytherin.”

Pidge just shrugs, grin turning mischievous. “It’s debatable. I’m fine with either, really.”

Keith snorts. “Nerds.”

At that, Lance starts, leaning back in his seat with his mouth hanging open. Keith looks at him, one eyebrow raised, and Lance can feel his face breaking out into a wide grin as he laughs. “Keith, my man! My dude!” He holds a fist out over the table.

Keith stares at it for a moment before looking up to meet his eyes. His face is mostly blank, but he can’t quite hide the small smile there. Lance can see it reflecting in his eyes. He lifts a hand and obligingly bumps their fists.

The conversation shifts, but Lance hasn’t forgotten or forgiven the slight on his honor and his house. He subtly shreds a napkin, rolling the pieces into tiny balls. He catches Keith’s eye and when the guy gives him a curious look, he just winks. He passes half of his stash across the table, and before Keith can question him, he’s started flicking the balls down the table. When he lands one in Coran’s cup, he throws up a hand. “Ten points to Gryffindor!”

A game starts then. They arrange three cups at both ends of their groups and improvise a ridiculous version of beer pong. Keith and Lance try to score on the cups on the other side of Allura and Coran, while they try to defend them while trying to score on the cups next to Keith and Lance. Hunk and Pidge referee and commentate in overly animated announcer voices. Every time they score, Lance and Keith high five, declaring points for their honor as Gryffindors.

Lance is surprised when he finds Keith smiling and laughing with him, at his jokes and his antics. Whenever he and Keith exchange looks, a mischievous glint in the other’s eyes and a smirk on his lips, Lance feels a weird clench in his chest. They argue and insult each other when they miss a throw or fail a block, but it lacks any real heat.

They end up winning the impromptu game, and as Lance watches Keith wrap an arm around Pidge’s neck, rubbing their hair with his knuckles and ignoring their screaming protests, Lance finds himself thinking that maybe, just maybe, Keith isn’t so bad after all.

Maybe.

It’s not until he’s back in his dorm and peeling off his snitch socks that he realizes that he hasn’t thought about his soulmarks all day. He blames Keith.

 


 

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> So how’d it go?

Keith
> Fine

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> ………

Keith
> What?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> That’s seriously all I get?

Keith
> What more do you want?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Tell me how it was. Did you have fun? Do you like Pidge’s friends?
> Give me something to go on or I’ll come over there and sit on you until you do

Keith
> Shiro I’m not ten anymore that shit doesn’t work

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Do you really want to risk that?

Keith
> I can lock the door

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> You gave me a key >:)

Keith
> ….
> Fair enough
> It was more fun than I thought it would be
> And most of Pidge’s friends are cool

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Most of them?

Keith
> Remember that one guy who spilled my smoothie on me on the first day of classes?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Oh no

Keith
> Yeah, he’s one of them

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Keith.
> Did you play nice?

Keith
> WHY DO YOU ALWAYS ASSUME I WON’T??

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Because I know you.
> How did it go?

Keith
> He’s just as insufferable as I thought he was

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Was he an ass to you?

Keith
> Yes?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Why is that a question?

Keith
> He was, but… I guess he’s not so bad
> Not totally anyway
> I guess I can give him a chance for Pidge’s sake

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Awwww :’) My baby bro is growing up and being mature

Keith
> Stop

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I’m proud of you :)

Keith
> STOP

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> So do you think you’ll keep going?

Keith
> …. Yeah I think I will
> You should join us at some point

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I think that can be arranged :)
> If anything, I can go to cheer on my baby bro
> Do you think they sell airhorns and pompoms at Walmart?

Keith
> Why are you like this?

Chapter Text

“Why in all that is sweet and holy, do you have butter free popcorn?” Pidge asks, leaning back from where they are rummaging in Keith’s cupboards to hold the offending box out with two fingers, like it might somehow rear back and bite them

Keith glances up from where he’s scrolling through Netflix and gives a half hearted shrug. “It’s Shiro’s. He likes it plain so he can add whatever the fuck to it. It’s different every time.”

“He needs to stop reading so many food blogs.” Pidge grumbles, putting the box back.

Keith grunts his agreement and says, “There’s real popcorn further towards the back.”

“Found it. Good old movie theater butter. You’re a lie. You don’t taste like movie theater butter, but you’re good nonetheless.” Keith can hear Pidge rummaging around in his small corner kitchen, ripping open the plastic and throwing the popcorn bag into the microwave before turning it on. He’s already turned back to the tv, ps4 controller in hand as he scrolls Netflix. “Speaking of lies, what’re we gonna watch tonight?”

“Terrible movies or conspiracies?”

Pidge flops over the back of the couch, putting their elbows on Keith’s shoulders and letting their arms flop straight out in front of him. They rest their chin atop his head. They hum in thought. “I’m thinking conspiracies. It’s been a while.”

“It has been a while, so there’re also a lot of new terrible movies.”

“Truuuuue, but I stand by my decision.”

“Fair enough. Aliens or other conspiracies?”

“Aliens.”

“Classics, favorites, or something new?”

“Hmmm…. favorites that we haven’t seen in a while.”

“Unsealed: Alien Files?”

“Only if we agree to binge watch them until we either finish or pass out.”

“What time is it now?”

Pidge removes an arm from his shoulders to pull out their phone. “Almost seven.”

“How long will it take to watch it all?”

They tilt their head, calculating silently. “Somewhere in the ballpark of eight hours?”

Keith snorts. “You’re not gonna fall asleep before three am anyway.”

Pidge shrugs. “But you probably will, cause you stupidly signed up for an eight am class on Fridays, so you’ve been up all day.”

Keith’s chin tilts downward a fraction, lips pursing. “Mistakes were made.” He says grimly.

Pidge chuckles, standing up straight and playfully patting his head. “I warned you.”

Keith swats their hand away. “Shiro said it wouldn’t be that bad.”

“And who’re you gonna believe? Me? Or that robotic, cheerful morning person you call a brother?”

“Good point. I don’t know how he does it. Did you know he sometimes goes for a run at five in the morning? Five, Pidge.”

Pidge heaves a bone deep sigh, like the mere thought of Shiro’s morning habits is enough to leave them physically exhausted. “He’s an anomaly.”

“Tell me about it.” Keith mumbles. The microwave dings, and Pidge returns to the small kitchen to take it out and put in another bag. They busy themselves trying to find a bowl to dump the popcorn into while Keith gets the show set up. He settles back, shifting his feet up onto the couch and pulling his knees to his chest. He leans back against the corner of the couch to watch Pidge. “So are we gonna get real food or just snack all night?”

Pidge rolls their eyes, shuffling over to shove a bowl of popcorn into his lap before going to get the second bag out of the microwave. “I’m thinking popcorn now, pizza later. Not from the cafeteria, cause that pizza is balls, especially from the late shift. We’re ordering delivery from off campus.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Pidge settles on the other side of the couch with their own popcorn bowl, tucking their feet under them and setting the bowl aside to pull their laptop into their lap. He hits play and settles back onto the couch, pulling his phone out to idly scroll through his apps. They pass most of the first episode like that, each of them settling into their own spots and wrapped up in their own devices. Keith plays sudoku on his phone with one hand, using the other to lift the bowl to his face to snatch popcorn with his tongue, eyes occasionally darting to the tv. Pidge’s fingers fly away on their keyboard, and the rhythmic tap-tap-tap is familiar and soothing. They look up occasionally, making a face or a comment on the documentary, which Keith either responds to with an agreeable grunt or a short remark.

It’s cozy and it’s familiar. They haven’t gotten to hang out like this in what feels like forever. They used to do it for days on end whenever Pidge came home on breaks, but the months between while they had been at college had been hard. He had missed this. More than he had realized.

Even now that he’s going to the same university and living close to campus, they haven’t really gotten a chance to hang out one on one. Not between them both settling into the semester and general groove of class life, quidditch practice three times a week, and other general friend activities. Not that he hasn’t seen Pidge. He sees Pidge a lot, actually. Their friend group adopted him pretty quickly and he’s found himself hanging out with all or parts of them more often than not. But they haven’t gotten a chance to do this. To hang out one on one, in the comfort of one of their own homes and not on campus, and to just relax in each other’s company.

Pidge is the only one he can do this with, and he cherishes these moments. They helped calm him a lot when he was younger, and especially after his parents died. They gave him a place of peace when everything else in his life was unknown and hectic. Pidge managed to do what even Shiro struggled to do: make Keith feel normal again.

Pidge isn’t the person he goes to when he wants someone strong to ground him. That’s Shiro. Pidge isn’t the person he goes to when he’s feeling inexplicably weak and vulnerable and needs someone to provide unconditional emotional support and a few playful distractions. That’s his soulmate. He hates having to resort to that, to rely on someone he doesn’t know when he’s at his most vulnerable, but it’s true. Pidge isn’t any of those things.

Pidge is the person Keith goes to when he wants to feel like himself, the person who will gladly pretend like nothing’s wrong and give him a much needed distraction when everything is chaos around him. Pidge is the eye of the storm, calm, steady, and reliable. An anchor when the waves are crashing around him, tugging and pulling and threatening to drag him under. Pidge is a keystone in his life, and he loves them for that.

Sometimes he thinks life might be easier if Pidge was his soulmate. And that might be true, if he had ever actually been romantically or physically attracted to them. He hasn’t though. Pidge is family, and he doesn’t have a lot of that left, so he treasures what he has.

And like a true family member, sometimes Pidge resorts to casual smalltalk.

“So how’re your classes going?” They ask somewhere in the middle of episode three. Keith is nearly done with his popcorn, having snacked on it consistently, but Pidge has barely touched theirs. It’s a bad habit they have. They get so hyper focused on too many things at once that essentials like food, water, and sleep get pushed to the back burner.

Keith groans, slouching further onto the couch. “You’re doing it again.” He complains, stretching out a foot to gently nudge Pidge’s popcorn bowl.

Without a word, almost as if they subconsciously take the hint, they reach for the bowl and shove a handful of popcorn into their mouth. “Doing what?” They say, mouth full.

“Sounding like Shiro.”

Pidge snorts, rolling their eyes, finally looking away from the keyboard to give Keith a flat look. “Okay, for one, Shiro isn’t the only one who cares about how you’re doing. I’m offended.” They’ve started counting off on their fingers. “For two, I’m your best friend and honorary sibling, so I’m expected to bug you about your life. For three, this is college, Keith. Everyone always asks how classes are going, all the time always. Get used to it. And for four, real talk, I do care about how you’re doing here because I’m excited that you’re finally in school with me again.” They point at him, giving him a stern expression. “So humor me: how are your classes?”

Keith snorts a short laugh to signal that he’ll play along, but before he says anything else, he leans forward, taking Pidge’s computer off their lap.

“Hey!”

Despite their protest, they don’t try to stop him as he moves it to the coffee table. He then puts their popcorn bowl in their lap and leans back again. “I’ll talk, but only if you eat.”

Pidge rolls their eyes. “Fiiiine, geez, you’re worst than Matt.” They grumble, slouching down against the couch cushions.

Keith smirks, raising an eyebrow. “Matt would insist you eat a well balanced meal. At least I’m just using popcorn.”

“You have a fair point.” They said, munching thoughtfully. “Now talk.”

Keith shrugs. “There’s not much to say. Classes are classes. They’re not that much different from community college. Actually, they’re kind of easier.”

Pidge looks skeptical. “Really?”

Keith shrugs with one shoulder and waves around a few popcorn pieces, gesturing vaguely. “Yeah, like the teachers there feel like they have something to prove so they make their classes harder. I dunno.” Pidge hums thoughtfully, shoving their face with popcorn. They may often forget to eat, but if it’s the only thing they’re doing, boy do they eat fast. “But I’ve also got most of my gen ed classes out of the way, so I’m able to focus on my major, so thats nice.”

Pidge snorts. “I bet. I’m so done with gen ed. But you still have a few gen ed classes to take that you didn’t at your community college, right?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Like your public speaking class.”

“Like that one.”

“The same one you have with Lance.”

“That… is a fact.”

“How’s he doing?”

“I don’t know. You saw him more recently than me.”

“Keeeeith,” Pidge says, drawing out his name in the way they always do when they’re tired of him. They stretch out a foot to nudge his leg with their toes. “You know what I mean, you fuck nut. How’re you and Lance getting along?”

Keith stares at them flatly. “Pidge. You hang out with us both every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between classes.”

Pidge rolls their eyes and nudges harder. “I know that, you tangled ball of yarn.” Keith raises both eyebrows questioningly, and Pidge waves him off. “I’ve been spending too much time with Hunk. He assures me tangled yarn is exceptionally annoying. Point is, I know the three of us hang out, and you guys seem fine, despite your stupid little competitions—“

“They’re not stupid.” Keith grumbles.

“—but I want to know how you guys get along when I’m not there.”

Keith shrugs. “The same as when you are there.”

“Keith.”

“I’m serious, Pidge. It’s fine. He’s fine.”

Pidge looks him over for several long moment, and Keith meets their gaze unflinchingly. It’s a battle of wills until Pidge finally sighs, running a hand through their hair and… biting their bottom lip? Pidge looks down and away, and both of Keith’s eyebrows instinctively raise, curious and confused. Pidge almost never looks… nervous? Is that what this is? Nervous? Anxious? Perhaps a little sheepish?

“Alright, if you say it’s fine, I’ll believe you…” They mumble, using the tv as an excuse not to look at Keith, though he had a feeling they’re not really watching the episode. “I just… I know he can be a handful. Especially if he feels like he has something to prove or whatever. A lot of times he comes across as an arrogant dick. I know this. Hunk knows this. We all do. But he’s not actually like that. I wouldn’t be friends with him if that’s all there was to him. It’s just… this weird defensive thing he does.” Pidge glances sidelong at him, and Keith just stares. “It’s just… I know you guys didn’t exactly get off to a great start, and I know he’s embarrassed and defensive, and he can be a pain in the ass when he’s like that, and you don’t exactly have a high tolerance for people who are a pain in the ass, and I know you guys bicker a lot, and—“

“Pidge.”

“—it’s not a weird thing to bicker with Lance, I mean, that’s basically how we interact all the time, but I can’t tell if it’s friendly bickering or an excuse to fight—“

Pidge!”

“—and I wish I could talk some sense into him, but he can be so dense sometimes, and I dunno why he feels like he needs to prove whatever to you, but I know how easily you can be goaded, so it’s probably annoying to have him do that to you twenty-four-seven—“

“PIDGE!” Keith practically has to shout to get their attention and yank them out of their ramble. He also drives his point home by shoving his foot against their shoulder, pushing them over against the arm of the couch. But they finally stop talking in order to glare at him.

“You know, it’s entirely unfair that you’re not ticklish, so I can’t punish you for this.” They grumble, swatting his foot away.

He smirks, pulling his knee back to his chest. “Look, when I said everything is fine, I meant that it’s fine.”

“So… Lance?”

“Is annoying, but not any more so than you.”

“I’m not sure whether to be offended or not.” They say, cocking a wry smile. Keith finds himself smiling, too. Pidge sighs, shaking their head. “Sorry, I just… you’re both really important to me, and I want you to get along.”

“We do,” Keith assures them, then smirks. “For the most part.”

“So… in class?”

“We sit next to each other, and he tries to talk to me and gets us both in trouble.”

Pidge’s lips curl into a small, knowing smile. “You talk to him, too, don’t you?”

Keith shrugs, idly biting into a couple pieces of popcorn as he looks at the tv. “He can be funny sometimes.”

Pidge laughs. “Don’t let him hear you say that. He’ll be insufferable.” Their grin is wide and bright, and all traces of the nervous Pidge from moments ago are gone. “I knew you guys would get along once you got past that stupid smoothie incident.”

“Uh, yeah. That’s… we moved past that.”

It had taken a couple weeks, but they had finally moved past it. Despite mostly getting along while they were in a group setting, they had all but ignored each other in their shared class. Neither of them wanted to bring up the embarrassing incident from the first day, and neither of them had really known how to act around each other without Pidge or the others as a buffer. Luckily, Keith has never been a patient one, and it only took two weeks of classes before he got fed up with the tension between them.

He had also realized, after calming down and looking at it in hindsight, that okay, so maaaaybe Lance had apologized after knocking over his smoothie. But he had been a dick after that with Keith’s sketchbook!… Still, Keith’s own behavior might have had something to do with that…

Yeah, okay, so he’s still not completely over the whole incident, but it’s more from personal embarrassment than actual anger at Lance. It took a long and stubborn talk with Shiro to get him to admit that he was just as much to blame for their terrible first meeting and for him to admit he should probably do something about it.

The method of apology had been Shiro’s idea.

He had asked Hunk what Lance’s favorite smoothie is and bought him one on the way to class. He had been fidgety and anxious, preparing to swallow his pride and apologize for being a dick. What he hadn’t been prepared for, however, was Lance bringing him a smoothie as well. They had stared at each other, smoothies in hand, both trying to talk over the other before stopping and then starting again at the same time, before they had both started laughing. Keith had been sure that his face was as red as Lance’s, and that the whole class was staring at them, but it didn’t matter. Lance sat next to him that day, and has been ever since.

Sometimes he has to admit that maybe Shiro knows what he’s talking about… Sometimes.

Since then, a lot of the tension between them has dissolved. They’re not best friends, and Keith would still be hesitant to hang out with him one on one, but that’s nothing new or shocking. He doesn’t make friends easily or often. He’d be hesitant to hang out with Hunk, and he’s the most genuine and kind person Keith knows. Still, while things aren’t perfect, they’re good enough that he can confidently say he doesn’t hate Lance, and that’s enough to satisfy Pidge.

They’re nearly done with episode four when Pidge sets their empty bowl aside and pulls their laptop back into their lap. It takes them no time at all to get back to typing. It’s quick and steady, only with pauses when Pidge glances up at the tv. Their eyes are hard focused, nose slightly scrunched, tip of their tongue pressed to their upper lip. He knows that look. Pidge only gets like this when they’re hyper focused and super excited about a project.

After Pidge angrily pushes their bangs out of their face with a soft growl for perhaps the tenth time in a row, Keith chuckles, earning him a small glare.

“Want a headband?”

The glare lessens into something akin to relief. “That would be great, actually.”

He nods and slides off the couch, scouring his small apartment for his wayward headbands. He finds one on his nightstand, and another tossed haphazardly onto his dresser. He hands one to Pidge, who takes it with a muttered thanks, before putting the other on himself, pushing his hair out of his face. Normally his hair doesn’t bother him, but there are just somedays when it bothers the ever living shit out of him to have it hanging in front of his eyes. Tonight is one of those nights. It’s a relaxation night. He can’t be assed to bother with his hair. And apparently neither can Pidge.

As soon as their hair is secured away from their forehead, Pidge is hunched over again, fingers flying. He doesn’t think they realize it, but when they get really focused, their keystrokes become like music, rhythmic and precise, rising and falling as it sets a tempo to some song that only they are privy to.

Keith eyes them for a moment before leaning over. “What’re you working on?”

It looks like they’re sending an email, but it’s filled with paragraphs and calculations and graphs and a shit ton of things that Keith doesn’t really want to read.

Pidge pauses at that, shifting slightly so their back is more to the arm of the couch and their laptop is turned a little away from them. Keith eyes them curiously, and Pidge looks away, lifting a finger to scratch at their cheek.

“I, uh, had an epiphany recently about my SM’s hover engine theories. I realized some of the mistakes we made in our late night calculations.”

Keith smirks. “Imagine that. Not being able to think properly at four in the morning.”

Pidge rolls their eyes, smiling slightly as they shove his shoulder. “Shut up. Anyway, I ran some of the numbers again and gathered some data, and I’m really not going to get into the meat of it with you cause you wouldn’t understand anyway.”

“I should probably be a little offended, but honestly, you’re probably right.” He leans back, gesturing to his own arm. “So why don’t you just… you know?”

And that’s when Pidge turns sheepish. They look down at their computer, at the tv, at the coffee table, across the room. They reach up to scratch the back of their neck. “Well, I, uh… It’s a lot to just, write out on my skin, you know? And I’m not very big, so I don’t now if I’d have enough room. It’s not like I can use my back or something. So I, uh… I asked for their email?”

Keith gapes at them, jaw gone slack and eyes wide. “You asked… for their email?”

“Yes! Okay, stop, before you get into it—“

“You said you weren’t going to ask for personal information until you either met naturally or you were older—“

“—I know that! I know! And I still stand by it! I still don’t know their name—“

“—You asked for their email but not their name—“

“—Yes! Okay! Keith, hear me out—“

“—oh my god—“

“Keith!” Pidge somehow manages to shift their laptop aside and launch themselves across the couch to slap a hand over Keith’s mouth. “Just listen to me, okay?” He stares at them through slightly narrowed eyes, but obligingly nods. They sigh and lean back. “Okay, look, I’ve just been thinking about it, and I know we talked about how neither of us were going to ask for personal information about our SMs and just wait for the universe to naturally bring us together—“

“We had a pact, Pidge.”

“A pact we made when we were kids! Don’t get me wrong, the thought of meeting my SM right now is still terrifying, and I’m not ready to be with my forever-partner just yet, but it can’t hurt to just… know a little bit more about them? I want to know more about them. And besides, it’s not like I asked for their name, number, and location. Hell, I don’t even know their pronouns. I just asked for their email so I could send them some information I dug up for their project, since it’s easier than writing all this on myself.” They gesture to their computer before their hands settle in their lap.

They look down at them, fingers idly fidgeting with each other. They both look and sound small, and Keith doesn’t like that one bit.

“It was meant to be a practical solution, but it feels good, Keith. I feel like I’m actually helping them. It’s just their email, but I feel closer to them. When you just communicate through soulmarks, it’s easy to forget that they’re real. There’s a real person out there, destined for me. And I may not be ready to meet them yet, but I don’t regret taking this step.” They look up, giving him a wry, lopsided smile. “Don’t expect me to go all lovey dovey like Hunk is with his SM, but I think he might be onto something with the whole getting to know them and getting closer thing.”

Keith sighs, setting aside his empty bowl in order to scoot across the couch. He wraps an arm around Pidge’s shoulders and pulls them into his side. They lean in willingly, but they still feel stiff.

“Are you mad at me?” They ask quietly, uncertain, and Keith decides he doesn’t like that tone coming from Pidge. It doesn’t suit them.

He sighs loudly, slouching further into the couch and squeezing them against him. “No.” He says truthfully. “How can I be mad at you for wanting to feel closer to your SM? It’s a normal feeling.”

“One that you actively ignore.”

Keith just shrugs. “That’s my decision. I’m not mad at you, Pidge.” Pidge finally relaxes into him, and they sit in silence for a while, content to simply let the show play. It’s Keith who finally breaks the silence. “You know… with your skills, you could easily find them now that you have their email.”

He can’t see Pidge’s face in their current position, but he can hear it in their voice. “I know, but I’m not going to. I still want to meet them naturally, whenever we’re destined to. I just… like feeling closer. Having some kind of proof that whoever they are, where ever they are, they exist.”

Keith nods, but doesn’t say anything. They settle back into comfortable silence, which is broken by the occasional discussion sparked by the show they’re watching. Pidge doesn’t move to take back their laptop just yet, and Keith doesn’t push it.

He’s often so focused on what Pidge is and means to him, that he sometimes forgets what he might mean to Pidge. He never wants Pidge to feel like he’ll be mad regarding their decisions about their SM. Those are Pidge’s decisions to make, even if they’re not ones he would make for himself. He wants Pidge to know he’ll always be there for them, no matter what. He doesn’t know how to say it, however, so he shows it by letting them snuggle close. And he takes comfort from the fact that he knows Pidge will understand his meaning. Even without words.

They’ve already started the sixth episode and just ordered pizza when Pidge says, “You know…” And Keith knows that voice.

“Whatever you’re going to say, the answer is no.”

Pidge continues on like he hadn’t spoken. “Maybe you should consider talking to your SM.”

Keith tenses. He should have known this is where that was going. “I change my answer to definitely no.”

Pidge sighs, rolling their eyes. “Come on, Keith. Do you ever talk to him?”

Keith looks away, fingers curling to touch the palm of his left hand where his SM’s most recent pick-up line is marking his skin. The leather of his gloves is warm against his fingertips. He crosses his arms over his chest to hide the action. “Sometimes…”

“Really? Because you haven’t really talked about him, and I haven’t seen you talk to him since high school.”

“We talk sometimes.” Keith says defensively, glaring at Pidge. He crumbles a bit under the weight of their stare, so he amends his statement. “He talks to me sometimes.”

“And do you ever write back?”

“…No?”

He doesn’t think his paintings count, and he doesn’t really want to tell Pidge about them. It’s… private. He doesn’t know why he’s so secretive about his body paintings, but he is. It’s… it’s how he works through his own emotional baggage, the stuff he doesn’t want to bother his friends with. His SM being able to see it and feel it is just a side effect. And it’s just… he likes having his SM as his sole audience. It’s just between them. Pidge has seen some of his artwork throughout the years, but he’s never shown them any of the things he’s done on his body, and he’s never shown them the drawings of his recreated soulmarks.

“Jesus, Keith. I knew you were a little constipated when it came to your SM, but this is ridiculous.” Keith just sinks lower on the couch, knees pulled up and arms crossed over his chest. “What do they even say to you?”

His hands itch. Yesterday’s pick up line is faded on his right palm. There’s no way in hell he’s going to tell Pidge that his soulmate sends him a pick up line every morning. God, no. “It’s private.” He grumbles.

Pidge sighs. “Fine, don’t tell me, but don’t you think you’re being a little rude?”

Keith looks at them then, a scowl on his face. “Um, no? It’s my decision whether or not I want to talk to them.”

“Yeah, and I get why you’re so skeptical of soulmates and why you’re scared and all that—“

“I’m not scared.”

“—but you’re this guy’s soulmate, too. You talked to him when you were younger, but then go years ignoring him and he still tries to talk to you. He probably thinks about you all the time, and you ignore his existence. He’s too good for you.”

Keith glares at them. “Pidge…”

They shrug. “I’m just saying, it seems a little mean. Maybe you should try talking to him a little? Learn something about him. Give him a little piece of yourself so he doesn’t feel so alone.”

“You don’t know he feels alone.”

“I know I would, if my SM was like that.” They say softly, not looking at Keith. And god dammit, how is he supposed to fight Pidge when they’re looking like that? God fuck dammit. Pidge doesn’t play fair.

“I… draw to them… sometimes…” Keith says awkwardly, not willing to give out the extent of his paintings, but trying to give Pidge something so they’ll stop making him feel like a terrible person.

It doesn’t work.

“It’s not enough. You should say something to him. With words. Doesn’t matter what it is. It’ll mean a lot to him. Promise.”

Keith sighs loud and long, trailing off into a groan as he sinks so low that he’s practically lying on the couch. He knows he’s not going to win this. Pidge will keep bugging him until he does it. And if he continues to protest, he knows they’re just going to pull out the big, sappy guns and guilt him into it.

Why does he surround himself with people who guilt him into doing nice things? It just isn’t fair.

Pidge hands him a pen, which he takes reluctantly, staring at it like it might burst into flames. “What do I write?”

“I don’t know, anything.”

“Piiiidge.”

“Come on, Keith, I can’t hold your hand through life.”

“You’re making me do this, so you have to help me think of something. I’m not good at this.”

“Well, have you guys ever talked about anything related to your interests?”

“…Not really.”

“Hmmm…” Pidge stares at the tv in thought, and Keith watches them. He sees the moment an idea light up their face. They snap their fingers, turning to him with a wide smile. “I got it! Ask him about Mothman!

Keith deadpans. ”Mothman?”

“Yeah!” Keith has sat up a little straight at this point, mostly to keep himself from falling onto the floor, and Pidge leans over to shake his shoulders. “Keith! Mothman!” They repeat, like that will somehow get him to understand. He just stares at them until they continue. “Think about it! It’s perfect! You love cryptids. We love them. It’s a crazy random ice breaker, and it’ll give him an incite to your interests while you get the same thing! He’ll be happy that you’re talking to him and sharing something about yourself. I’m a genius.”

“Pidge, I don’t know…”

“Keith, just do it.”

“Ugh…”

“I’ll pay for the pizza if you do it.”

“Deal.”

And with that, he bites the cap of the pen to pull it off and sets the tip to his forearm. Taking a deep breath and setting aside all his mixed feelings about this, promptly ignoring the ball of tight anxiety coiling in his gut, he takes the plunge and writes the first words he’s said to his SM in years.

Do you believe in Mothman?

 


 

“Hunk, don’t scratch!” Lance snaps, slapping Hunk’s hand away.

“But Laaance! It itches!” Hunk whines, holding his hand to his chest. He looks at him with big wide eyes and a pouty bottom lip, and it’s both hilarious and adorable while his hair is pushed straight upward by his headband and his face is covered in the green face mask.

Lance shakes a finger at him, fixing him with stern eyes. “That means it’s working. Now leave it alone and let it dry, dude.”

Hunk let’s his arms drop to his sides and falls over in the beanbag, flopping over the side of it while whining low in his throat and giving Lance a blank stare. At least he’s careful not to smear the mask everywhere. He lays there, boneless, and Lance settles back into his own beanbag, slouching down and wiggling until his nest is just right as he brings up his old Gameboy Color. He has to lie at just the right position in order to get the right light on the screen.

“How much longer?” Hunk asks after a moment.

“Like ten minutes, dude. I set a timer.” Hunk whines again, and lance reaches out to absently pat his hair. “You’ll be alright, buddy. It’s good for you.”

“I don’t know how you have the patience for this, Lance. It’s so itchy.” He scratches under his chin, like somehow scratching near the mask will alleviate some of it. Lance gives him a sideways glare to keep him from touching the mask itself.

“The cost of beauty, my friend. You get used to it.”

Hunk grunts and continues to stare at him for a few more moments. “Are you gonna play that game all night?” He asks, something cautiously neutral in his voice.

Lance looks up from his Gameboy, blinking for a moment before giving his roommate a small smile. “Just while we’re waiting on the masks. I promised to knit with you later, buddy. A deal’s a deal. I knit, you do the beauty routine.”

That brings a smile to his face, and damn, Hunk has the best smiles. “You also have to help me with the cookies later.”

“Pfff, like I would miss out on that.”

“Why’re you playing that old game anyway?”

“Uh, because it’s a classic?”

Hunk raises an eyebrow. “Dude, you bring that old thing to college every year, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you play it.”

Classic, Hunk. Classic.”

Hunk stares at him for a solid five seconds in silence, eyes narrowed just a fraction as he searches his face, and Lance tries his best not to fidget under that gaze. He fails miserably. “This has to do with Keith, doesn’t it?”

Lance sputters. “What?! No!

Hunk nods, a small smile playing across his lips. “Yeah, I thought so. Pidge mentioned something about you two having a Pokemon contest. I didn’t realize it was the old old games though.”

“They’re classics, Hunk!”

“So what’s the contest? And how’d you even get into it? Pidge wasn’t big on details when they told me.”

Lance shrugs, turning back to his game. “Not a big surprise. Pidge mostly tunes us out. But… I don’t really remember. We were just hanging out like we always do in our break between classes, and somehow we got on the topic of childhood games, and we started talking about Pokemon Blue and Red, and I said I was a champ because I am, and told him how I used to race my siblings through the game, and I think he was doubting me, so naturally I challenged him.”

“Naturally.”

“So I’ve got Blue version and he’s got Red version, and we started at the same time, and winner is first person to beat the Elite Four and get a full pokedex. No cheating allowed, including the missingno glitch. All catches, trades, and leveling have to be natural.”

Hunk hums and nods. “So are you winning?”

Lance chews on the inside of his cheek. “I… don’t know….” Hunk gives him an incredulous look that has Lance scrambling to defend himself. “We don’t tell each other how far we are! He says he’s got his pokedex up to seventy, but I don’t know if that’s a bluff or not. I mean, I told him that I have six badges, but I just got to the sixth gym.”

Hunk rolls his eyes, flopping back on his beanbag to stare at the ceiling, but there’s a small smile on his lips. “You guys are ridiculous.”

Lance nudges his thigh with a toe. “Don’t be jealous, buddy.”

Hunk chuckles, swatting Lance’s foot away. “Oh, I’m not. I’m glad you have someone else to focus on with your competitive streak. And honestly? I’m just glad you guys are getting along. I know Pidge was worried…”

Lance looks up, eyebrows shooting skyward. “They were?”

Hunk nods solemnly. “They said Keith doesn’t really have a lot of friends, and they really wanted him to join our group. After all the tension at the first quidditch practice, they were a little worried that… you know, you guys wouldn’t get along.”

Lance snorts, hunching his shoulders and looking down at his game. And NO, he’s totally not pouting. “We get along fine…” He mumbles, feeling the heat creep up his neck.

He chews on the inside of his lip. So yeah… he hadn’t exactly been nice to Keith, but Keith hadn’t exactly been nice to him either! At least in the beginning. Things are better now. After the whole mutual smoothie apology thing, which was awkward as hell, but also hilarious, and Keith’s blush and stammer had been endearing as all get out, so Lance decided… what the hell, right? Pidge has no tolerance for asshats, so if they kept Keith around for thirteen years, he must be somewhat decent, right?

Since then, they’ve been on good terms. There are still things about Keith that bother the hell out of him, like his attitude and stupid cocky smirk and stupid scowly face, but… they’re getting there. He’s not about to jump right into inviting the guy out for one on one bro bonding time, but they’re in a good place. A good friend making place.

He just… wishes they had gotten here sooner. If only for Pidge’s sake. He hadn’t meant to make them worry. Lance can be a nice guy when he wants to be! He’s nice as fuck! It was just… he and Keith got off to a rocky start, and Keith isn’t exactly a peach either, so they had butted heads for a while….

Who’s he kidding? They still butt heads, but at least now there’s no malice.

…Mostly, anyway.

His ass is suddenly vibrating with his alarm as the obnoxious preset xylophone ring blares. He jumps, Gameboy nearly falling out of his hands as he scrambles to get his phone.

“Finally!” Hunk jumps up, struggling only a little to get his balance after climbing up off a beanbag chair, and practically dashes for the dorm room door, towel in hand.

“Hunk! Wait up!” Lance practically falls on his face trying to get up and dashes out of the dorm after him, almost forgetting to grab his own towel. He has to double back for the moisturizer.

By the time he gets to the communal bathroom, Hunk is already bent over a sink and wiping off the mask. He sighs blissfully as he simultaneously uses the towel to scratch his face. When it’s all gone, he tosses his head back, sighing against. “Finally.”

“Alright, buddy, time to moisturize.” Lance says, setting the bottle down on the counter between them.

Hunk eyes it dubiously. “Do I have to?”

“Yes. You do.” Lance says firmly. “Get to it.”

Hunk is quick about it, and while he does that, Lance is a lot slower and systematic about wiping off the mask and rinsing his face. Hunk tells him that he’s going to go back and get the stuff ready for cookies, and Lance waves him off without a word. As far as he can tell, the bathroom is empty, and it’s kind of peaceful when it’s like this. It’s a pain in the ass to stand in here and do his full routine while there’s a bunch of dudes giving him funny looks. He’s taken to doing a lot of his routine in his room.

As it is though, he takes his time to wipe his face clean and apply moisturizer thoroughly, humming idly to himself. He examines his face closely in the mirror as he goes. He spies a few places where his skin is threatening to break out, but hopefully he’s getting to it before they can really form.

He’s wiping the last of the moisturizer down over his jaw and to his neck when he feels the first telltale prickling on his skin.

His breath hitches when he feels it, the strange yet familiar tingling of his soul connection. His left arm immediately shoots out, palm up as his eyes rake hungrily over his bare flesh. Excitement bubbles up inside him, and a smile is threatening the corners of his lips.

It’s been a little over a week since his soulmate has drawn anything. It’s not that he’s worried. His SM has gone longer periods of time without drawing anything before. And he knows that logically, they probably started school or something recently, and they were anxious about it, so it’s entirely possible that they’re just busy. Life gets in the way of things, sometimes.

So he’s not worried, exactly. He’s just… well, it gets lonely in the longer periods of silence. He never gets words from his soulmate. Hasn’t in years. So the paintings and drawings… they’re the only connection he has to the person he’s destined to be with. Without them… He just really likes it when they paint, okay? Even if he knows it’s not for him, he can’t help but feel like it’s a private moment between them, and he treasures that.

So as the singling starts up about halfway down his inner forearm, he finds himself holding his breath, eagerly awaiting the first stroke of color.

He ends up getting the last thing he’s expecting: words.

His breath hitches, stomach fluttering rapidly as his heart launches itself up his throat. Words. His soulmate is talking to him. And they’re the ones starting it! As the words appear, a fluttering of foreign anxiousness flutters through his chest, chased closely by doubt and the smallest trill of excitement.

But the feeling fades quickly, echoing away as if it never were there to begin with, and Lance is frozen, staring at the words on his arm. He reads them once… twice… several more times before they really start to sink in, and even then he has no idea what to think. He’s in shock, he’s confused, and he’s practically vibrating with the onslaught of adrenaline that pounds through his system.

So he does the only logical thing: he grabs his towel and moisturizer and sprints out of the bathroom.

“HUNK!” He practically screeches, voice echoing off the dorm halls. “Huuunk!” He rounds the corner too fast and slams into the wall. He pushes off it, feet scrambling for traction as he flings himself toward his dorm. He throws the door open with a bang and stands in the doorway, leaning against the frame for support and practically panting. “HUNK!”

Hunk jumps, dropping the cookie sheet he had been holding, along with the mixing bowl full of bagged ingredients. He winces at everything clatters to the ground, and then shoots Lance a tired glare. “Lance—“

“WHAT THE HELL IS A MOTHMAN?!”

Hunk completely blanks, face going slack as he blinks. “What?”

Lance throws out his arm, putting the words on display: Do you believe in Mothman?

“My soulmate just wrote to me— wrote to me, hunk— with actual WORDS! They wrote to me and asked me if I believe in Mothman, and I have no fucking clue who or what that is! How can I believe in something I’ve never heard of?! Is this a trick question? A joke? Is this a test? Oh god— Hunk, what if it’s a test? What if I fail and they never talk to me again? What’s the right answer, Hunk?!

Then Hunk is there, warm hands on Lance’s shoulders, steadying him and grounding him. “Alright, shhh, shhh, no— stop that. Breathe with me, Lance. That’s right. In— out— in— good, keep going.” He says, voice low, calm, and soothing. Lance latches onto it, wild eyes focusing on Hunk’s warm, brown gaze and using it as an anchor. He follows Hunk’s instructions, breathes, and…

“Okay, but what do I do, Hunk?” He whines, shoulders sagging.

Then Hunk grins. “You answer them, of course.”

“But what if I—“

“You’re not going to answer wrong, Lance. It’s just a question.”

“But what does it mean?”

He shrugs. “Who knows? Maybe they’re just trying to start conversation with you?”

“But after years of silence? And they start with this? Why not a simple, ‘hello, how ya doing’?”

“I have no idea why they chose this, but there has to be a reason. Maybe it’s something important to them? Maybe they’re curious? We can’t know context clues, but I do think you should reply.”

Lance snorts. “Well, of course I’m going to reply. I just don’t know what to say.”

“Just answer truthfully. If you don’t know what a Mothman is, just ask him. Then they’ll explain, and next thing you know, you’re having a conversation with your soulmate!” Hunk sounds just as excited as Lance knows he should be, and he finds it infectious.

His lips split into a wide grin, and he breathes, “Yeah, okay.”

“There you go! There’s the Lance I know and love!” Hunk says with a quick shake of his shoulders. Lance chuckles as Hunk steps away and grabs a pen from his desk, handing it to Lance. “Now go get your woman… man… person? Soul person.”

Lance snorts. “Eloquent, Hunk.”

“Shut up and write something.”

Lance pauses, pen tip hovering an inch above his skin. His brow furrows, and he bites his bottom lip, glancing up at Hunk through his lashes. “Hunk, what if I fuck this up?” He asks quietly. “They’re so… distant and cautious. I feel like I’m only going to get one shot at this. What if I fuck up?”

Hunk’s smile softens then, eyes warm and knowing. He lays a comforting hand on Lance’s shoulder and gives it a small squeeze. “They’re your soulmate, Lance. You’re not going to fuck this up. You’ll have as many chances as it takes. They’re connected to you for a reason.”

He lets out a long, shaky breathe and smiles. “Thanks, Hunk.”

Hunk pats his back, practically bouncing from foot to foot. “No problem, buddy, but hurry up! I’ve got goosebumps over here, and they’re not even my soulmate!”

Lance laughs. “Okay, but can we hurry to the kitchen and get those cookies started? I’m going to be a nervous wreck until they reply, if they reply, and I’m going to need some comfort food in the form of warm, gooey, chocolate chip.”

Hunk grins. “I gotcha, buddy.”

 


 

Keith would be lying if he said he wasn’t nervous. He regretted the question almost as soon as he had finished writing the words on his skin. Oh god, why did he let Pidge talk him into these things? This was a terrible idea. What a stupid, random question to ask after literal years of radio silence? What the hell is his SM going to think?

Fuck. He fucked up.

Yes, he thinks the subject of Mothman is a valid one and he’ll gladly discuss it with anyone. But as an opener? What the fuck was he thinking?

He blames Pidge.

He’s already hesitant about the whole soulmate thing, and he’s already more nervous about him than he wants to admit, and now he’s gone and made himself look like an idiot before they’ve even met.

What the hell is social edict anyway? He’s never been great in social situations, and talking with his soulmate is a hell of a lot more intimate and nerve wracking than making small talk with someone in a class that he’ll never see again. This actually matters. A hell of a lot more than he wishes it did.

Soulmates aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, contrary to what the media wants them to believe. It is possible to fuck up. That person doesn’t have to love you unconditionally if they don’t want to.

God fuck, he should have just stuck to paintings.

The episodes of their show are still playing, but even though he’s staring at the screen, he doesn’t really see it. It’s nothing more than background noise and a place to rest his eyes while his mind spirals ever downward.

Pidge pats his arm, giving him a light shake. “Keith, it’ll be fiiine.” They say, but he finds it hard to believe them. Not when he’s waiting on a response. How long has it been? Seconds? Minutes? Hours? It probably hasn’t been hours, but holy fuck, does it feel that way.

There’s a knock at the door, and he distantly realizes it’s probably the pizza guy, but he makes no move to get up. He’s not sure he can, to be honest. His stomach is twisted in a knot so tight he feels like he might puke. Has breathing always been this difficult?

“I’ll get it.” Pidge says, standing up. “I’m paying for it anyway.”

He nods, but doesn’t really respond. He can hear the door open and Pidge talking to whoever is delivering their pizza, but he’s not paying attention to their words. He’s rubbing his arm, wishing he could somehow erase what he had written.

What if—

There’s a tingling on his arm, a familiar telltale sensation of being connected to something beyond himself. It’s strange. Not like a twitch or an itch, but a light tingle that dances acutely across his skin. He keeps his hand on his arm, eyes closed as he tries to breathe and the sensation of a phantom pen press into his flesh.

His chest clenches, stomach fluttering with nervousness, excitement, doubt, and a strange sort of determined confidence— He realizes with a start that these aren’t his emotions. These are his soulmate’s. They’re so close to what he’s feeling that they dance through him like shadows of his own, twisting and writing together like mirror images. But there’s a sliver of excitement, a breath of hard confidence that definitely isn’t his.

And just like that, the feelings fade, leaving him with just his own thoughts. The tingling in his arm fades, leaving him feeling oddly empty. The familiar curiosity that always follows the making of a soulmark tugs at his mind, and he takes a deep breath, steeling himself and opening his eyes, and—

What’s a Mothman??

The words appear under his own in a familiar script, messy but legible. He gapes at it, the tension and anxiousness that had previously been coiling in his stomach relaxing, only to be replaced with a new sort of heat.

“Piiiidge,” He calls out slowly, voice rising a little at the end. He doesn’t look away from his arm, but he can hear Pidge saying goodbye to the delivery boy. “Piiiiidge!”

What?”

“Pidge, he wrote back!”

“Keith, holy fuck!” They promptly slam the door shut. “What’d he say?” They ask, already hurrying over to the couch. They don’t bother going around. Instead, they step over the back of it and lower themselves to the cushions, practically tossing the pizza onto the table.

“Pidge, look!” Keith snaps, shoving his arm toward Pidge. “Pidge, what the fuck?

Pidge grabs his arm and tugs it toward them, reading the words tattooed across Keith’s skin. They stare long and hard, and Keith alternates between watching them and rereading the words, heart rate spiking. He’s not sure what face he’s making, but he doesn’t even care because what the fuck?

Finally, Pidge looks up at him, fingers curled around his wrist and eyebrows furrowed into one of their more serious expressions. “Keith,” They say, voice calm and even, but deadly serious. Their lips press into a thin line. “Dump your soulmate.”

wtf is a mothman??

Keith scowls down at them. “Pidge, I can’t just dump my soulmate.”

“Keith, he doesn’t know who Mothman is.” Pidge deadpans.

“Plenty of people don’t know who Mothman is.” He knows. He’s had to tell plenty of people about it. He’s trying to be reasonable here, but it’s hard.

“But Keith, he’s your soulmate! And he doesn’t know who Mothman is.”

“I know, Pidge.” He says, gesturing helplessly to his arm and says the only thing he can think to say. “What the fuck?

Keith,” Pidge says, letting go of his arm to get up on their knees and face him. They put their hands on his shoulders and shake him. “Mothman is a huge part of who you are! Remember when you were thirteen—“

“I know, Pidge.”

“—You had a shrine and everything!”

“I know, Pidge!”

“You wished your soulmate would end up being Mothman!”

I know, Pidge!” Keith puts his hands over Pidge’s to stop them from shaking him. Lips pressed into a firm scowl, he meets Pidge’s eyes. “I’m going to educate him.”

“Good! He needs it if he’s going to be with you!

Keith grabs his laptop and turns it on, bouncing his leg restlessly while it boots up. Ugh. Has it always been this slow? Pidge goes to the kitchen to get plates and paper towels, plopping down on the couch and opening the pizza box. Keith takes the plate of food offered to him as he types in his password with one hand. It takes another full minute for his browser to actually cooperate with the shitty apartment internet, and that’s a minute too long.

Pidge leans against his arm as he types into google. “What’re you doing?” They ask around a mouthful of pizza.

“I’m educating him.” Keith says, pulling up several webpages in different tabs. He then sets to work writing the webpage links on his arm.

Pidge snorts when they see what he’s doing. “How’d you know he’ll actually look at those links?”

“He better,” Is all Keith says, chewing on his bottom lip in concentration.

“Alright, but don’t forget to eat. I paid for this pizza so you better eat it.”

“Pizza can wait, Pidge. This is important.”

 


 

“Lance, buddy, you’re dropping stitches.”

“What? I am not!”

“You are, dude.” Hunk says gently, nodding toward Lance’s work with his head. His own fingers never stop moving deftly with his needles and yarn. “Just look.”

“I’m totally not! I was counting—“ He holds up the square he’s been working on that might one day turn into a scarf, but probably not because it’s just his practice square and honestly ugly as fuck. Sure enough, there’s the telltale holes caused by him dropping stitches. “Goddammit.” Lance groans, flopping back on the beanbag, head tilted back and limbs sprawled all out.

Hunk reaches out and gently pats his arm. “It’s alright, buddy. You’ll get it eventually. You’re just distracted tonight.”

A small, gentle smile curves his lips. “I am. I really am.” He lifts an arm, not really reading the words that are smattered around every open space on his skin, but just kind of enjoying the sight of their handwriting side by side.

The first couple minutes after Lance had responded had been torture. What if he fucked up? What if he said the wrong thing? Hunk’s reassurances were helpful, and made sense, but since when does anxiety listen to logic? He had paced the dorm kitchen while Hunk worked. He had said he wanted Lance’s help baking cookies, but what that really means is he just wants Lance’s company while he works, because he can do it faster himself and it’s a secret family recipe anyway, but Lance is fine with that. He loves keeping Hunk company. It’s what BFFs are for.

Luckily, the dorm kitchen, located on the bottom floor, was empty and he was able to pace and ramble in peace. Hunk had listened to it all like the amazing person he is and responded when he needed to, keeping him calm for the most part.

He wasn’t sure what to expect from his soulmate, but he definitely hadn’t been expecting several webpage links to be scrawled out across his arm, followed by the words: Read them. Determined fire, shadowed by a subtle and chilling anxiety, had accompanied the words, dancing across his ribcage before fading.

He had laughed, mostly filled with relief, and had probably been insufferably excited after that, bouncing on his toes with word vomit just oozing out of his mouth. It’s a terrible habit when he’s worked up, and the worst part is he’s aware of it, but he can’t stop. Luckily, Hunk isn’t his best friend for nothing. He’s full of nothing but warmth, acceptance, and the pure essence of goodness, and he just laughed and offered distractions for him so he didn’t get too worked up while the cookies baked.

He even let Lance lick the bowl because he’s amazing like that. He did, however, have Lance do the dishes, but that was only fair.

Half an hour later they made it back to their dorm, plate of freshly baked cookies in hand. Lance had wasted no time throwing himself back down into his beanbag chair and pulling his laptop to him, opening up several tabs and typing in all the websites his SM had sent him with one hand.

Hunk, bless his soul, had been amazingly supportive and also dedicated to keeping their bro-roomie night on track.

They had ended up sitting in their designated beanbags, Lance’s laptop in Hunk’s lap so he could read the webpages aloud while he knitted. He’s good enough to multitask like that. Meanwhile, Lance slouched in his seat, eyes and hands focused on his knitting while he listened to Hunk. The whole time, Hunk occasionally shoved a warm cookie in Lance’s mouth.

Lance got a few more rows done, though he still couldn’t figure out how to keep it consistent and some rows ended up too tight while others were too loose, and the two of them learned a lot about this thing called Mothman from the sixties.

Hunk nudges his leg with his foot and says sternly, “Come on, Lance, back to work.”

“But Huuuunk…”

“No but’s, you’re never going to get any better if you don’t practice. You want to be able to make Christmas presents this year, don’t you?”

Lance sighs. That had been the goal. “Yeeees…”

“So get to it.” His voice is stern, leaving no room for argument, but it’s not unkind. He’s just used to keeping Lance on track, and Lance loves him for it. “I know this is a big deal and everything, but you can knit between messages from your SM.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” He picks up his knitting again and tries to get back to it. This time without dropping stitches.

They’ve got a rom com playing on the tv in the background, but it’s more there for noise and something to occasionally look at. They’ve seen it a million times before. They’ve got a whole stack of rom coms they watch whenever they have bro time without Pidge. They’re happy and mushy and cliche, but they’re great, okay? They’re comfort movies.

“I can’t believe your soulmate is into cryptids.” Hunk says after a while with a little snort of amusement.

Lance smiles, eyes on his yarn work. “I think it’s cute.” He says softly.

“They would probably get along with Pidge.”

Lance’s head snaps up at that, eyes going wide and mouth dropping open. “Oh god, you’re right. Oh nooooo.” Lance whines dramatically, slouching so far down that his beanbag shifts and he’s practically ass over head.

Hunk is chuckling. “It wouldn’t be that bad.”

“Yes, it wouuuld!” Hunk just laughs. With some (a lot of) struggle, Lance manages to prop himself up on his elbows and levels a glare at Hunk. “We cannot tell Pidge about this.”

Hunk is grinning. “Why not? You said it’s cute!”

“Pidge will never let me live it down. They’ll constantly send me cryptid stuff, I just know it. Please just let me have some peace before Pidge finds out my SM is into conspiracy shit.”

“When do you plan on telling them?”

“Never. They can find out when they meet them.”

“Aww, but Pidge—“

Please, Hunk!” Lance gives him his best puppy dog look, wide eyes, pinched brows, trembling lip, and everything. He holds the look for so long he even starts to feel his eyes water. To be honest, it’s not that big of a deal if Pidge knows. But he knows there will be a lot of teasing that he doesn’t really want to put up with. Not when the whole talking to his SM this is still new and he’s still struggling to believe it’s real. He’s suddenly extremely glad Pidge decided to hang out with Keith tonight instead of them.

Hunk finally sighs, but he’s smiling a little and his eyes are lit up with amusement. “Alright, fine. I won’t tell them.”

Thank you—“

“But you have to find a way to hide all those marks, or they’ll find out on their own.”

“Fuck!— no wait! Aren’t Pidge and Keith going to see Matt this weekend? With Keith’s brother or something?”

“Oh yeah, was that this weekend?”

“I think so.”

“Well, then it looks like you’re off the hook.”

“Thank god.”

“I know that look. Your soulmate is writing, aren’t they?”

Lance isn’t even aware he has a ‘my soulmate is writing to me’ look, but apparently he does, because Hunk is right. The telltale tingling starts up on his right arm, along with that passionate, determined fire that Lance is starting to get used to. The anxiousness has faded and been replaced with a defensive incredulousness that Lance finds incredibly adorable. He knows his SM is passionate. He’s always been able to feel that in their paintings. They feel things so strongly and deeply, and he admires that about them. But he never thought he’d feel that passion while they wrote about conspiracies, and it’s simultaneously adorable and hilarious.

He feels like he’s finally been given a new piece of the puzzle that makes up his SM, and he couldn’t be happier.

He loves his soulmate’s drawings. He loves and treasures them, and absolutely adores the closeness he feels when they’re working. But this… this is different. This is words and handwriting and undeniable proof that there’s a person at the other end of his connection. A real, breathing, living person with interests of their own. He hasn’t seen this person in years. They fell out of this kind of contact towards the end of high school, and he hasn’t gotten anything but drawings since.

He doesn’t know what’s changed to make them start using words again, but Lance isn’t going to question it.

His left arm is completely void of space, so it’s not much of a surprise that his SM starts writing on their right. What is surprising is that their handwriting is still just as neat and orderly and pretty as before. He really shouldn’t be surprised that his SM is ambidextrous, seeing as they’ve painted beautiful things on all parts of their body, clearly showing that they can use both hands, but a little thrill runs though Lance anyway. It’s a little thing, but it’s something they have in common.

What’s written on his arm, however, has him laughing.

What about Bigfoot?

Hunk doesn’t ask, but he’s leaning over so he can see. He’s naturally curious and nosey, but Lance doesn’t mind. He’s never malicious about it. Plus it’s nice to share his excitement with his best bro.

Lance grabs the pen he’s been keeping behind his ear, bites off the cap, and scribbles out under his SM’s words:

Sorry, dude, but Bigfoot is a hoax

At first, he had been a little nervous about blatantly disregarding his SM’s beliefs. He didn’t want to offend them in some irrevocable way. But he didn’t find any actual anger in the emotions that filtered through their connection, just an incredulousness and a desire to prove themselves right. It’s cute and fascinating, and Lance found himself answering honestly, purposefully provoking them a little just to get more of that response.

“I’m happy for you, bro.” Hunk says suddenly, drawing Lance out of his thoughts. He glances at his roommate, who’s staring at him with this gentle, earnest expression. His voice had been so soft, that for a moment Lance questions whether he had heard it at all. “I know you’ve been waiting forever for your soulmate to talk to you. This isn’t exactly what we expected, but I’m happy for you.”

Then he smiles, small and honest. “Thanks, bro.”

His arm tingles and he looks down.

There’s proof! The words are written quickly, the spark barely having time to flash through Lance’s chest before fading.

Proof that can be easily faked

So yeah, he’s goading his SM a little bit, but hey, he’s being true to himself. Like Hunk said, this is his soulmate, after all. If they can’t put up with his goading, then why are they connected to him in the first place?

There has to be something you believe in

Lance is busy thinking about that, trying to figure out if there is something he believes in within this topic. He’s coming up with nothing when his SM starts to write again.

Aliens?

He smiles. Bingo.

Now that’s something I can get behind. I mean, space is so HUGE, there HAS to be something else out there. Being alone would be… kind of a drag, you know?

Yes! Exactly! We’ve barely even explored our own solar system. Who’s to say there isn’t intelligent life in the next galaxy over?

He feels a whisper of satisfaction flit through him, a strange sort of pride and happiness chasing at its heels. Oh god, he made his SM happy. He did. And he can feel it. Holy shit. He hasn’t felt this… relevant since they were both younger and Lance used to comfort them whenever he felt the dark emotions filter through their bond.

“Hunk.” He asks suddenly, staring at his arm. “How did you know when it was okay to ask your SM more… personal questions?”

Hunk hums in thought, lowering his knitting to his lap. He looks up at the ceiling, but then shrugs. “I’m not really sure. It just felt right, you know? I could feel it in her that she was ready, and she could probably feel it in me. We’d been talking for a while and just…” He shrugs again. “It was just right.”

Lance sighs. He was hoping for a more concrete answer.

“You’ll get there someday, buddy.” He says gently.

Lance gives him a small smile. “Yeah, I know.” He also knows he can’t rush these things. Not with his SM in particular. His SM isn’t like Hunk’s. They’re hesitant, reclusive, independent, and subtly scared of their bond. He knows. They’ve tried to hide that bit of information from him, but he’s felt it. Or at least enough that he’s been able to put two and two together. He needs to be patient with his soulmate, wait for them to be ready. Like approaching a spooked animal.

“How’s Shay doing, by the way?” Lance asks, because this is their bro night, and it’s only fair that he asks about Hunk’s SM, too. And it’s not just to be polite. From what he knows, Lance likes Hunk’s SM, and he likes to live vicariously through their relationship.

Hunk’s face immediately softens, and he looks back down at his knitting to hide the blush that Lance knows is creeping under his dark complexion. “She’s fine— good. She’s good.” God, he always gets so flustered when he talks about her. It’s adorable. Lance loves it. “Did I tell you that she joined her school’s quidditch team?” He asks, glancing up to peer at Lance sideways.

Lance sits up straight, which is difficult given the misshapen form of his chair. “What?! No! Hunk, that’s great!” He’s grinning, and Hunk must find it infectious, because he’s sitting up straighter and his smile is widening.

“I know, right? She thinks she’d make a good keeper, but not because of me! That’s just what she thinks she’d be good at. She used to be a soccer goalie, you know? So she should be pretty good!”

Lance gasps loudly, slapping his hands down on his beanbag to help him sit up straighter as he turns to his roommate. “Hunk! Do you think we’ll end up playing against her?”

Hunk hunches his shoulders a big, tilting his head sheepishly as he scratches his cheek. “That’s… kind of a hope, yeah.”

“Oh my goooood, that’s adorable.”

Hunk groans, but it’s good natured when he says, “Lance, stoooop.”

“Not a chance, buddy. Do you think she goes to a university nearby?”

“I don’t really know. We’ve never talked about it.”

“You could ask her, you know.”

“I know, but… we like keeping some of the mystery, you know? Like… we know a lot about each other, and we’ve exchanged names, but we agreed not to look each other up online or to give away our locations or arrange a meet up or anything cause we still want to keep the surprise alive, you know? We don’t know when we’re destined to meet, but we kinda wanna find out the old fashioned way.”

Lance feels all warm and fuzzy inside because that’s absolutely adorable and so incredibly Hunk, and he can respect that kind of decision. “Yeah, I gotchu, buddy. You two are just a couple of saps.”

Hunk laughs at that, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah, I guess we are.”

“I bet she’s beautiful.”

Hunk looks down at his knitting project with half lidded eyes and a small smile. “I know she is.”

Lance looks away when there’s a familiar tingling on his arm, and he glances at it as the words form—

What about the moon landing, real or fake?

Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up, are you insinuating that the moon landing was FAKED? Because I’m going to have to stop you right there, you doubting heathen. I’m drawing the line

And then, just to emphasize his point, he draws a line.

 


 

Keith unceremoniously stands, hooks his thumbs into the waistband of his sweat pants, and throws them to the floor.

“Keith, oh my fu— what the fuck are you doing?” Pidge nearly shrieks, clutching their laptop to them as they scramble as far back as they can against the arm of the couch.

Keith doesn’t even spare them a glance as he kicks off his pants and sits back down. He crosses his legs, takes his pen, and hunches over as he starts writing on the side of his calf. His leg hair gets in the way somewhat, but it’s fine enough that he can work with it. Besides, this pen was made to be able to easily write on skin. “It’s nothing you haven’t seen before.”

“Yeah, but— Keith, jesus, give a little warning next time you decide to randomly strip.” Pidge grumbles, settling back down and putting their laptop back on their crossed knees. “Just about gave me a heart attack.” They eye him curiously, and he can see them lean closer out of the corner of his eye. “What’re you doing anyway?”

“He’s defending the moon landing, Pidge.” Keith says gravely. “I’m going to change his mind.”

“Couldn’t you have just used your arm?”

“Not enough room.”

“Your SM is going to think you’re nuts.”

“I don’t care.”

And despite his earlier nerves, he can say this easily. Because he can feel his SM whenever he writes, and he knows that he’s not thinking Keith is crazy. Whenever he writes, this little fluttering of amusement and pure, uninhibited joy dances through his chest. There was doubt there, too, and some anxiousness and wariness, but that’s mostly faded now. Now it’s mostly amusement. And even though Keith can’t believe his soulmate is practically mocking him for believing the things he does, he can tell it’s not with malicious intent and… and the little sliver of pride and happiness that comes in the wake of feeling his SM’s joy is all his own.

Pidge has gone back to writing up their email to their SM while Keith sets to work scribbling everything he knows about the faking of the moon landing on his leg. He has to climb up to his thigh at one point, but he gets it all down. When he’s done, he makes a small sound of satisfaction and caps his pen, leaning back against the couch.

“Let’s see him argue against that.” Keith says, glancing over at Pidge with an easy smile.

Pidge’s lips quirk into a small smile of their own. “This is cute.”

Keith immediately scowls and deadpans, “What?”

Pidge shrugs, vaguely gesturing to him while they turn back to their computer. “Just… you finally talking to your SM, even if it’s about nothing important—“

“—It is important—“

“—I know, but not in the grand scheme of soulmate conversations. It’s just.. nice. Seeing you like this.”

“Like what?”

“Keith, you’ve been smiling.”

“I have not.”

“I almost never see you smile when your soulmate is the topic of conversation.”

“That’s not true.” He argues, but he knows it is. It’s been a… sensitive subject. One he doesn’t like to talk about. He doesn’t really like talking through his feelings, especially when he doesn’t really understand them himself.

“Keith…” Pidge’s voice is soft and… weirdly serious. He doesn’t hear that from them often. He looks at them, eyebrows raised. They’re not looking at him. Their eyes are on the tv screen, but they’re unfocused. “I know the whole soulmate thing is… complicated for you, especially after what happened with your mom, but… will you promise me something?”

He purses his lips, scowling but saying nothing. He’s not sure what to say. Something about Pidge’s voice is… it’s got his attention.

They look at him then, amber eyes intense and wide and framed by tight lids and pinched brows as they bore into him. If he didn’t know Pidge so well, he’d flinch away from that look. As it stands, he freezes under the weight of it. His heart is hammering and his breath is shallow.

“Keith, I’m not asking you to ask him about himself or to push the whole meeting thing, but… if the opportunity presents itself to learn more about him, to meet him… promise me you won’t run.” They hold up a hand when Keith opens his mouth to speak. He snaps it shut, glaring at them. “Just… promise me you’ll give him a chance, okay? The universe wants you two together for a reason, so don’t fight it if and when it happens. I don’t you to sabotage yourself because you’re scared of something that might never happen.”

Their voice is so small, so serious, and so earnest that Keith finds himself choked up and words dying in his throat when he opens his mouth. He finally sighs, looking away. “I promise, Pidge.”

“Thanks, Keith.” They said, reaching out and putting a hand on his arm. “I just want you to be happy, you know?”

He meets their gaze again, a small smile playing across his lips. “I know, Pidge.”

They nod, patting his arm. “Good, now how about some dessert?”

“We literally just finished dinner.” He says, gesturing to the empty pizza box on the coffee table.

“Do I really need to repeat myself? So how about dessert?”

Keith laughs, pushing himself to his feet and padding across the apartment in his boxers, socks, and hoodie. “I’ve got some cookie dough in the fridge.”

“Now we’re talking.”

“Raw?”

“Duh.”

It’s one of those packages of sugar cookie dough that’s already cut into circles with little designs on it depending on the season. A childhood favorite. He and Pidge used to see who could sneak more pieces before Shiro and Matt managed to put the rest in the oven. He grabs the package and heads back to the couch, settling down and tossing it to Pidge to open while he grabs a blanket off the back of the couch and pulling it over his legs.

Nearly a whole episode goes by and the cookies are nearly gone before he feels a tingle running across the flesh of his calf. It’s the opposite leg than the one he wrote on earlier. A strange sort of excitement bubbles up in him, and he’s not entirely sure if it’s his or his soulmate’s. But he pulls back the blanket to look, reading the words that are tattooing their way across his flesh in quick, messy handwriting, and—

“Pidge!” Keith says, sticking his leg out between Pidge and their laptop.

Pidge leans back, blinking in surprise before taking Keith’s leg and turning it so they can read the words working their way across his skin, sternly defending the government and media’s claims about the moon landing. They look up at him then, expression set into something serious. “He’s a sheep.” They deadpan.

“He’s a gullible, close minded sheep.”

The rest of the evening is spent finishing the tv series, arguing over the logistics of what’s explained, and occasionally broken up by Pidge scribbling on their arm to their SM and Keith arguing with his about the moon landing on nearly every available patch of skin he can reach.

Pidge is right, and Keith ends up falling asleep first, wrapped up in a blanket and curled up on the couch. He’s losing consciousness when he feels a soft tingle across the inside of his left wrist. The warmth of soft affection and a gentle happiness fill his chest, spreading out through his limbs before fading, and he falls asleep to the echoes of it without looking at the words.

goodnight, space cadet

__________________

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> How’re you holding up?

Keith
> I feel sick
> I might be sick
> why am I here?
> I’m leaving this is stupid

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Keith, don’t you dare >:(
> You’re not even meeting him, you’re just observing from afar
> It’ll be fine, I promise

Keith
> Shiro I’m not ready
> Why did I think getting coffee was a good idea?
> I’m already a wreck and now I have a caffeine high
> My hands won’t stop shaking
> Help

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Awwww, cute :’)

Keith
> THAT’S NOT HELPING

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I can’t believe my baby bro is going to find his soulmate

Keith
> Before you, how does that make you feel?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Proud

Keith
> UGH
> I can’t do this

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> So you’ve said several times now
> But have you actually left?

Keith
> … That’s not the point

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> You’ll be fine, Keith
> You’re not even at the same place as him
> You’ll just observe him from afar, see who he is
> He doesn’t know you’re there, so there’s no pressure to actually meet him yet
> You can take your time with this
> Soulmates are a big deal, and no one is rushing you into this
> But I am proud of you for taking this step on your own
> I know how difficult this is for you

Keith
> Thanks, Shiro

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Anytime, baby bro
> Tell me if he’s cute ;)

Keith
> STOP

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Knock ‘em dead ;)

Keith
> OH MY GOD

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Sweep him of his feet ;)

Keith
> WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS???

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Because I’m distracting you. Now it’s almost time for him to be there. You’re welcome.
> Look alive, space cadet ;)

Keith
> I regret telling you anything

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Goodluck!

Keith
> Thanks

Keith sighs, putting his phone face down on the table but keeping his hand on it, tapping at the case restlessly. His other elbow is on the table as he leans forward, chin resting in his palm. His eyes scan the street outside.

"If the opportunity presents itself to learn more about him, to meet him… promise me you won’t run."

When he made that promise almost two weeks ago, he had no idea that the opportunity would arise so quickly. He had been thinking that it wouldn’t happen for years. He didn’t think the universe would fit him together with his soulmate until much later in life. At least, he had hoped that would be the case.

He hadn’t expected the words “Los Arcoiris 6:30 Wednesday” to come scrawling across his arm in a familiar handwriting yesterday afternoon with barely a thought or emotion to tag along.

Had he not made that promise to Pidge, he probably would have thought nothing of it. It wasn’t uncommon for his SM to occasionally write reminders to himself, and for those reminders to transfer to Keith. He usually didn’t think about them beyond how to cover them up while they faded. But this time Pidge’s voice was in his mind, making him question whether or not he was missing opportunities, whether this was one of those opportunities they made him promise he wouldn’t ignore…

A quick google search told him that Los Arcoiris was a restaurant in town. He really shouldn’t have been surprised. It is his soulmate after all. He probably wouldn’t be his soulmate if he lived across the country. Odds were that he’s close. Still… that didn’t stop the confirmation from making him stare at his computer screen in frozen shock for a solid five minutes while his heart beat bruises into the underside of his ribs.

He very nearly did nothing about it. Nearly. But his promise to Pidge and his own sickeningly frustrating curiosity got to him. But he couldn’t… he couldn’t meet his soulmate. Not yet. He wasn’t ready. The idea of it very nearly sent him spiraling into a panic attack, and he’d had to call Shiro before his shallow, rapid breaths had gotten too bad.

The compromise had been Shiro’s idea: satisfy his nagging curiosity and his promise to Pidge by going there to see his SM, but staying safe and secret by not telling him he’d be there. It had seemed so simple, but while Keith had still be anxious about it, he’s impulsive by nature. It had seemed like a good solution. Then he’d know who his SM is, and would hopefully have a little more control over the whole thing. He won’t have to deal with the commitment until he’s ready. He could maybe try to get to know his SM before they find out who he is.

Maybe he could get his SM to love him for him and not because they’re bound by whatever the fuck….

But he’s getting ahead of himself. He hasn’t even seen the guy yet.

The coffeeshop he’s sitting in isn’t one he normally would have chosen. It’s a lot more mainstream and crowded than he usually likes. If anything, he would have grabbed his coffee and split, but right now he’s here for the location: the coffeeshop is right across the street from Los Arcoiris. And he’s chosen a seat in front of the wall length window that gives him a clear view of the restaurant’s front doors.

So far, he hasn’t seen his soulmate. He’s not really sure what to expect. Some people have said they just knew when they saw their SM for the first time. Those same people like to say they felt something explode with light and they saw fireworks or some shit. But he’s heard other people say they saw nothing, and they didn’t even know it was their SM until they saw familiar writing on their skin. So… he’s not really sure what to expect.

But he does know what to look for.

He hadn’t been able to sleep last night. Not after his near panic attack, talk with Shiro, and anticipation running hot in his veins. So he had spent the better part of the late hours painting. He used dark colors: blacks and dark blues, purples, pinks. He moved up to lighters shades, overlying them in a space and galaxy motif spreading across his shoulder and half of his chest, crawling up the side of his neck to end just below his jaw. He’d finished it off with speckles of white for stars.

He’d admired it for nearly an hour, staring at it in the mirror and committing it to memory before finally taking a shower to wash the paint off.

Now he just has to look for the boy with stars tattooed on his skin.

He flips his phone over, screen up, and checks the time incessantly. His heart gives a little lurch when the numbers read 6:30, and his eyes snap up to the street. Nothing. The steady trickle of students into the restaurant has slowed to nothing. He feels something sink in his stomach, hard and heavy. He tries to tell himself that he’s not disappointed. This is probably for the best. He isn’t ready to meet his SM anyway. It’s probably some other restaurant of the same name in another city. Or it could mean something completely different. Keith didn’t exactly ask his SM what the message had meant.

He sighs, lifting his coffee cup to his lips. It’s luke warm at best, and it’s just as unsatisfying as he feels. His lip curls as he swallows, but he does it anyway because he might as well. It can’t exactly ruin this moment. The jitters in his hands have leveled out a little, and now he’s pretty sure his foot is just bouncing from caffeine high and not anticipation.

He’s still holding the cup, tapping it idly with one finger and hovering in front of his face as he watches an elderly couple shuffle along the sidewalk, arm in arm. The man releases her in order to get the door to the restaurant, holding it open and giving her as much of a bow as he can. The look on his face is fond, loving, and makes Keith’s heart squeeze. The old woman smiles. She has a painting of a bouquet of flowers tattooed over her forearm.

He’s wrapped up in watching them when there’s a bob of copper hair in his peripheral vision. The movement catches his eye, and it takes him a moment to realize that he’s staring at Pidge. What’re they doing here? They’re hurrying down the sidewalk, dressed in baggy shorts and their favorite lime green and black hoodie. He’s so surprised that it takes him a moment to notice Lance right on their heels. His hands are in his pockets, hoodie open and sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He looks like he’s in significantly less of a hurry, but Keith has a suspicion that’s only because his legs and stride are longer. They’re talking, but Keith can’t hear them or read their lips. All he knows is that Pidge looks agitated and Lance is smiling easily.

Keith frowns as they reach the restaurant’s entrance. Lance jogs around Pidge, reaching for the door and holding it open for them much like the old man had done for his wife. Lance’s actions, are a lot more dramatic and have an edge of mockery when he half bows. Pidge just rolls their eyes and steps into the restaurant. Lance laughs, shoulders shaking as he follows after them. The door swings shut, and Keith can’t see them anymore.

It takes him approximately five seconds to realize that he’s dropped his coffee and that it hit the table before falling over. The lid stayed on, but it’s slowly leaking out, dripping off the edge and onto his lap.

He jumps, chair scooting back with a loud scrape. He fumbles for the napkin dispenser on the table, grabbing a few in a fist clenched way too tight and roughly rubbing his jeans. His gaze is flickering to the restaurant across the street. He can feel that his mouth is hanging open, eyes wide. His chest feels too tight, his breaths coming in rapid, shallow bursts. His mouth feels too dry, his throat like it’s clogged. Probably from where his heart has jumped up to choke him. It pulses in his neck, hard and dizzying.

When Lance had turned to open the door, Keith had seen the unmistakable colors of a galaxy crawling up his neck to drown him in starlight.

“No…” Keith finds himself whispering, his voice sounding shakey and foreign. “No, nonono…” He tosses the napkins aside, righting his coffeecup before forgetting about it to grab his phone. Maybe he had seen it wrong. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him. There’s no way that was Lance. Maybe that wasn’t even Pidge. His thumbs are trembling as he types out the message.

Keith
> Hey, are you in town right now? At some Mexican restaurant?

He hopes that sounds casual and normal enough. He clutches his phone with white knuckles as he waits, leg bouncing restlessly in time to his rapid heartbeat. He stares at the building across the street, like if he stares hard enough he might just able to see through it and the people inside and find out what the fuck is going on.

There’s no way. He had to have seen wrong. He’s known Lance for weeks now, and he’s never seen— He’s never talked about his— He’s never felt… it around Lance before, right? He doesn’t know what it he’s supposed to feel, but surely he would have noticed if he felt it around Lance? Infuriating, frustrating, cocky, smug— He frantically searches his memory, trying to remember all the paintings he’s done lately, and if he had any proof that they weren’t on Lance. He comes up with nothing. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck

“Fuck!” He says, perhaps a little too loudly, when his phone suddenly buzzes in his hand. He jumps and scrambles to unlock it and read the message. He feels his heart sink.

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> Yeah, Lance and I are at Los
> Why? How the hell do you know that?

Keith
> I just thought I saw you a minute ago

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> Oh, yeah, probably?
> Sorry I didn’t notice you, we were late because SOMEONE takes 84 YEARS to get ready

Keith
> What’re you guys doing there?

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> The Spanish department likes to host these “Spanish only” dinners for the students
> Something about trying to get us to practice Spanish in a different setting and forcing us to socialize or something
> It’s extra credit tho, so worth
> I wasn’t going to go, but Lance dragged me here
> Tho I wouldn’t have agreed if I had known he was going to MAKE US LATE

Keith
> … He’s reading over your shoulder, isn’t he?

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> He was
> Someone asked about his most recent soulmark tho, so he’s distracted for the moment
> I mean, the whole galaxy painting thing IS really cool, but don’t tell him I said so
> You would probably like it tho
> I’ve officially heard him gush about it in English AND Spanish and I don’t know how much more I can take
> …
> Keith??
> Don’t leave me hanging
> I’m bored already and I don’t know any of these people
> And those I DO know I don’t want to talk to
> Lance is no help, he knows and talks to everyone
> ….Keith?

Keith
> Sorry, I was distracted

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> … you alright?

Keith
> Gotta go, I’ll talk to you later

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> …
> Alright, I’ll let it go for now
> But I’ve go my eye on you, Kogane

Keith has to leave. He feels like if he doesn’t get up and move he’s going to… he doesn’t know what. He’ll pass out? Throw up? He definitely feels like throwing up. He stands up too quickly, and gray dots dance around the edges of his vision as he stumbles toward the door, barely remembering to throw out his coffeecup as he passes the trash.

The fresh air helps. It hits him straight on, a welcoming rush of sun warmed air with the underlying edge that promises autumn. He has to pause once he’s outside. His vision has cleared, but his knees are shaking. His legs feel like jelly. There’s a ringing in his ears, and everything else sounds muted. His vision is hazy, like everything is too bright and out of focus. His stomach is rolling, gut clenching, chest tight, but he’s pretty sure he’s out of vomit territory now.

He stumbles to the side and leans up against the outside wall of the coffeeshop. Using it to prop himself up, he leans his head back against the bricks, closing his eyes as he focus on his breathing.

In… out… In… out… You got this, Kogane. It’s no big deal. Its just… Lance. Oh god, it’s Lance. Fuck. Fuck— Shit— Cock— Damn— it’s okay, it’ll be okay— He’s part of your new friend group, you can’t avoid him— fuck I can’t avoid him— my soulmate is already in my life, I can’t avoid him— no, it’ll be okay. He doesn’t know. Pidge doesn’t know. Only you know. Only you…

His phone buzzes in his pocket, and he ignores it. That is, until it buzzes several more times. His eyes snap open in agitation and he digs it out. He’s ready to turn it off to ignore Pidge, but his breath hitches when it’s just Shiro.

He doesn’t want to tell anyone, but the knowledge is eating him up inside. He feels trapped. He had hoped finding out who his soulmate is would give him more control, but instead he feels like any control he had was an illusion that’s been cruelly and carelessly ripped away, leaving him raw and exposed and way, way too vulnerable to be standing out in public.

He’s a mess. He can’t— he can’t process this. He needs to tell someone, or else he fears he’ll just start screaming wordlessly here on the street, and that would draw way too much attention to him.

Or, god forbid, Lance’s attention.

Oh god, what’s he going to do when he sees him again?

He needs to get out of here. Out of here— he can’t go home. Home has his paints, his sketchbooks— If he’s alone, he’ll think about it— He doesn’t want to think about it. He can’t. He pushes off the wall, thumbs moving across the keyboard as he goes to where he parked his bike a couple of blocks over.

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> So???
> How’d it go???
> Keith???
> Keith, it’s 6:50. Surely you’ve seen him by now.
> Did you see him? Did you find your soulmate?

Keith
> Yes

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Aaaaaand?
> Is he cute?

Keith
> No

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> That’s… unfortunate?

Keith
> You don’t know the half of it

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I take it you’re not happy with your SM?

Keith
> Shiro, am I a bad person?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> No, you’re not, Keith. You know that. You’re a GOOD person. Why would you even question that?

Keith
> Because I’m trying to figure out what the FUCK I did to deserve LANCE as a SOULMATE

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> …
> Lance, as in…?

Keith
> Yes

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Pidge’s friend?

Keith
> Yes

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> The smoothie guy who’s kind of your friend now?

Keith
> “Friend” is a strong word

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Well… you know, so is “soulmate”

Keith
> When will life stop shitting on me?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Keith :/
> I’m sure it’s not that bad
> You’re just caught off guard because you already know him
> You just need time to adjust to the idea
> And you have time, he doesn’t know yet

Keith
> Don’t tell ANYONE
> NOT EVEN MATT

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I won’t, Keith. Don’t worry. It’s not my secret to tell.
> Have some faith in me

Keith
> I’m coming over

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I figured as much
> Will you be staying the night?

Keith
> Probably

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I’m hiding the ice cream

Keith
> That’s fine, I’ll make do

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> And the peanut butter

Keith
> Why can’t you let me suffer in peace?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> As your big brother, I can’t in good conscious, let you do that to yourself

Keith
> UGH

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Please drive safe, you tend to speed more than usual when you’re upset

Keith
> I promise nothing

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> If you don’t make it here in one peace, I’ll get Pidge to reanimate your corpse so I can kick your ass for eternity

Keith
> Even when dead you won’t let me rest in peace

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I’m your brother, it’s part of the job description

Keith
> …Thanks, Shiro

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Anytime, little bro
> Just make sure you get here alright

Keith
> Okay

Chapter Text

“And you’re sure you can’t call off work to join us?” Pidge asks, eyeing him through narrowed eyes over the top of the counter. It’s nearly taller than they are. Their arms are resting on top of it, folded so their chin can rest on their crossed forearms. They can barely reach. He’s pretty sure they’re standing on their toes, but he’s not about to point it out.

He swivels a little in his tall chair, one leg folded up under him, other foot pushing against the side of the desk as leverage. His arms are crossed over his chest as he meets his friend’s gaze unflinchingly. “It doesn’t work that way, Pidge.” He says flatly. “I can’t call out of work when I’m already at work.”

Pidge huffs, blowing a few strands of their bangs upwards. “You’re no fun.”

He just shrugs. “Work isn’t meant to be fun.”

“The employees here are always wandering around making sure no one’s breaking anything. And there’s no one stationed on the third floor. Can’t you like… convince someone to take your place while you watch us?” Pidge asks, lifting their hands for just a moment to supply emphasizing quotation marks.

The movement displays their forearms, and he sees hints of writing peeking out from where their hoodie sleeves are rolled up. A lot of writing. Like paragraphs. Made from a combination of Pidge’s tiny chicken scratch and their soulmate’s bigger, looping script.

His stomach clenches painfully, and he’s not really sure if he’s lucky or unfortunate that he missed lunch. Keith looks away, pretending like he’s reading something on the computer screen in front of him. His palms itch, but he knows it’s one that won’t go away no matter how much he scratches, so he does his best to ignore it.

“Nope. Sorry, Pidge.” He says, moving the mouse around and absently clicking on a couple of the programs open, just to make it sound like he’s actually doing something.

He’s lying. To be honest, he probably can find someone to cover the front desk, and he probably can convince his superior to let him watch the third floor while the quidditch team is up there. His work is usually pretty chill like that. He doesn’t know if he could get away with actually playing with them, but he knows Pidge just wants him there to hang out. Which is exactly what Keith doesn’t want to do. Specifically because that would mean spending an hour and a half staring at someone he definitely does not want to be staring at.

He can feel Pidge’s eyes on him, scrutinizing his face, so he does his best to keep his expression schooled into something bored and neutral. Luckily, they’ve never worked at the campus’s gyms, so they have no idea how it works or how chill his bosses are.

After what feels like forever, they finally sigh, and Keith tries not to visibly relax. “Fiiiine, but try not to make a habit of picking up shifts during practice times, okay?” They then slouch, resting their chin on the counter and splaying their arms out toward him. “I feel like I haven’t seen you all week.” They grumble, cheeks puffing out comically as they pout.

He’d laugh, if he didn’t feel so guilty.

“It’s just been a busy week.” He says by way of explanation, but nods. If only to put Pidge at ease. He already missed one quidditch practice on Saturday, claiming he was sick, and another on Tuesday, saying that he had work but actually binge watching Netflix and making an ass print on his couch. This time he had actually picked up a work shift when one of his co-workers had called out sick. It isn’t his fault that it’s right smack dab in the middle of their scheduled quidditch practice.

He ignores the look he knows Pidge is giving him. “Are you sure that you’re alright?” They ask after a few beats of silence.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” He asks, finally looking up from his computer to meet their eyes. He holds, grateful for his natural poker face, and raises an eyebrow.

Pidge’s eyes narrow. “You’ve been acting weird since this weekend.”

“I was sick.”

“Usually you complain to me the whole time you’re sick. In fact, you usually do so while denying that you’re sick in the first place.”

Well, shit. His eyes narrow slightly. “I’m not that predictable.”

“Yes, Keith. You are.” They glare at each other for a minute, several people trickling into the gym behind Pidge. The muffled sound of skidding shoes and shouts from the basket ball court behind them fills the silence. “Keith.” Pidge says finally, voice flat and even.

“Pidge.” He deadpans.

“I’m going to ask you something, and I want you to answer me honestly.” He doesn’t say anything, but holds their gaze, lips pursing into a thin line. Thank god he’s got practice keeping his face neutral because his heart is racing. How much does Pidge know? They’ve always been perceptive, especially when it comes to reading him. They’ve known each other for nearly thirteen years. Picking up on his subtle tells is like second nature to them.

He doesn’t quite trust his voice, so he just gives them a barely perceivable nod. They take that as his cue to continue.

“Do you hate quidditch?”

Keith blinks, lips going slack. His brows relax, only to pinch again. He opens his mouth, can’t find his voice, and promptly closes it. He blinks again, like that will somehow help him make sense of Pidge’s question. He finally comes up with a brilliant and eloquent: “What?”

Pidge’s frown deepens slightly as they repeat, “Do you hate quidditch?”

Alright, so he had heard them right, and it… certainly isn’t what he had been expecting. His brows furrow as his frown mirrors Pidge’s. “Uh, no?”

And he doesn’t. Really, he likes quidditch. He thinks it’s surprisingly fun and the people there are great. Most of them, anyway. Pidge must hear and see the sincerity of his confusion, because they sigh, posture and expression relaxing. It only lasts for a second before their face is scrunched up again in a similar confusion.

“Then why’re you avoiding quidditch?”

“I’m not!”

“You are! And I know you’re not avoiding me because you still hang out with me outside of quidditch, but you’ve missed three quidditch practices now, and that’s suspicious, Kogane.”

He rolls his eyes. “You’re looking too deep into this, Holt.”

“Is it the people?”

“No. I like your friends. I like the team.” He says honestly.

Unfortunately, Pidge’s just frowns. “Is it Lance?

Keith sighs, filling the sound with as much exasperation as he can. That much, at least, isn’t faked. “Why do you always assume it’s Lance?”

“Because he’s the only one on the team you’ve had a problem with.”

“And I told you that we’re cool now. We’re… sort of friends.”

They raise an eyebrow, frown still in place. “Sort of?”

Keith rolls his eyes, leaning back in his chair to cross his arms over his chest. “Well I’m not about to invite him out for drinks and go play pool in student union game room without you as a buffer.” He deadpans, then, a little softer, looking away and attempting to force his eyes to focus on the computer screen. “But… yeah, we’re sort of friends now. We’re getting there.”

Or at least they were.

Pidge is silent for a moment, and he can feel them searching his face. So he grabs the mouse again and clicks around, aimlessly scrolling the event schedule for the three campus gyms. “Then why’re you avoiding him?”

Keith looks back to them, startled. “I’m not?” He doesn’t mean for it to come out as a question, but it does more for his believability than a straight out denial, so he supposes it’s fine.

“You didn’t hang out with the two of us Monday and Wednesday between classes. And Friday you were there, but you looked… I don’t know. You were weird.”

“I wasn’t weird.”

“You were.”

Keith sighs, lifting a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose as he squeezes his eyes shut. “Pidge, this has nothing to do with Lance.” It does. “I’m not avoiding him.” He is. “We’re getting along.” Sort of. “I like your friends.” He does. “I like quidditch.” He does. He opens his eyes, meeting Pidge’s worried gaze and pointing at them with his hand. “I’m not avoiding you or your friends. As I said before, it’s just been a busy week.” Mostly true. “I’m not use to…” He waves his hand around vaguely. “All of this.”

They search his face for a moment longer before sighing, body slumping but much more relaxed. “Alright, I’ll believe you.”

Thank you.”

“I just… I just want you to have fun here, you know? It’d be great if all my friends could hang out, and you could get in on our game nights, though you’d probably get your ass kicked. Probably literally. Lance and I get kinda rough when we play. But you know—“

“Pidge.” Keith says, cutting them off, lips curling into a small smile at the edges.

Pidge smiles ruefully. “I just don’t want you to be alone anymore, Keith.”

His small smirk widens, head tilting to the side. “I’m not. You’re making sure of that.”

Pidge is beaming, but before they can say anything else, a loud shout cuts them off.

“PIDGE!” His voice echoes off the high walls and vaulted ceiling of the gym lobby, causing them both to turn toward the noise. Lance is bounding across the lobby, weaving his way through the tables set around, and mostly doing a good job of avoiding bumping into them. Mostly. He’s carrying one of the quidditch backpacks over one shoulder.

At the sight of him, Keith’s heart definitely does not lodge itself in his throat, and his breath definitely does not hitch. He’s definitely not nervous because he has no reason to be.

“Speak of the devil…” Pidge mumbles.

“And the devil shall appear.” Keith finishes for them, and they exchange small smiles.

Hunk and Allura are pushing through the doors behind him, followed by several other people that Keith vaguely recognized from the team. They’re all wearing hoodies or rain jackets. Some only showing signs of drizzling, but others are soaked. It’s been raining all day, so Pidge and Hunk had made the call to have quidditch practice in the gym instead of outside. Not that the rain is too much of a problem, but it had been raining for a couple days and the fields they use are soaked and muddy. They had decided that practice outside wouldn’t be too productive.

“Pidge!” Lance repeats, slightly less loud as he approached them. He stops at the turnstiles, and digs around in his pockets for his student ID, declaring a soft “Ah-ha!” When he finds it. He scans the ID, but it takes several tries for it to work, then he somehow manages to get his pants, hoodie, and bag caught on various parts of the machine as he walks through.

He and Pidge watch the struggle with mildly amused expressions and raised brows. God, this guy’s an idiot. There’s no possible way that he’s— he can’t be Keith’s— He doesn’t even want to think it. Because it’s not true. It can’t be. It’s not.

“Pidge!” He says for the third time as he gets past the turnstiles and walks up to them. “Agree with me that since we’re inside, we should totally play dodgeball.”

“Lance,” Pidge says, crossing their arms over their chest. “This is quidditch practice.”

“Yeah, and you know dodging and throwing are like, most of the game! Come on, it’s fun and useful practice!”

Pidge sighs, but there’s a fond smile there that they’re trying to hide. “We’ll see, Lance.”

“Yes!” He thrusts a fist in the air in victory, and Keith can’t help but stare at him.

His hair is damp, sticking to his temples and flattened at the top. His hoodie is rolled up to his elbows, and there’s the telltale signs of rain darkening the fabric on his shoulders and chest. His face is lit up with a grin that raises his cheeks and gives his eyes this little squinty, crinkly look. His smile itself is blinding, white teeth a stark but beautiful contrast with his completion, and damn, his face is damn near flawless, with no blemishes or scars or anything. What the fuck is up with that? His long straight nose turns up a little at the end, and Keith will be damned before he admits that might be cute.

Okay, so objectively, Lance is attractive. But he already knew that, didn’t he? He’d already admitted that much. He never questioned Lance’s looks, just his personality. He’s loud, obnoxious, attention seeking, cocky, and confident in a way that grates on Keith’s nerves. How the fuck is someone like that supposed to be his soulmate? He’s not Keith’s type at all.

Not that he really has a type. He’s never really dated or fooled around with anyone, and he’s never really noticed a pattern in the people he’s found attractive, but that’s not the point. If he had a type, it sure as hell isn’t Lance.

Besides, Lance is nothing like his soulmate. His soulmate who writes kind, encouraging words on his wrists whenever he paints. His soulmate who sends him emotions that are so soft and so fond. His soulmate is someone who was a calm and sturdy anchor in the chaos of his young life. There’s no possible way that person is Lance.

The universe must have made a mistake. Or maybe he made a mistake? He had seen the painting from across the street through a window. He could have been mistaken. Pidge did say it was a galaxy, but that could’ve been someone else, right? Doesn’t mean it was Keith’s space painting tattooed on Lance’s skin. Life is full of coincidences, even ridiculous ones, and this has to be one of them.

Life has a cruel sense of humor.

Then Lance is suddenly turning to look at him, and he finds himself pinned by those dangerously blue eyes. Has he ever noticed they’re blue? He can’t remember. Doesn’t matter anyway. They’re blue now and they’re looking at him, squinting slightly as he raises one eyebrow, cocking his head to the side.

“Uh, Keith? You’re supposed to be on this side of the desk.” He says, crossing his arms over his chest.

Keith just stares at him. “I’m working.” He deadpans.

“Again?!”

“That’s what I said.” Pidge grumbles.

“Keith, buddy, my dude, you work too much.”

“For once, Lance is right.”

“I know there’s an insult in there, but I’m going to be gracious and say thank you.”

“Your modesty knows no bounds.”

Anyway, back to Keith and why he’s not practicing with us.”

Keith eyed him, one eyebrow raised. “Didn’t know you cared.”

At that, Lance scowls, though it looks more like a pout as his shoulder’s hunch. “Uh, yeah, you’re part of the team, dude. Everyone likes you, and you’re good, and stuff, I guess.” He scratches the back of his neck, looking away as he puts his other hand on his hip. “Besides, you’re the only one who can catch me when I snitch, so it’s boring without you.”

“Aww, Lance.”

“Shut it, Pidge. I just like a challenge.”

“You even admitted Keith is good. I’m so proud of you.”

“I said shut it, Pidge.”

Keith just stares at him, blinking in surprise. He… doesn’t really know what to say to that. So instead he just shrugs awkwardly and looks to the computer. “Sorry, guys, I’ll try to make it next time.”

“You better!” Lance says, resting an elbow on the high counter between them and leaning on it. He’s grinning again, and Keith can’t quite bring himself to look at him.

“I’m holding you to that.” Pidge says, but their eyes are on the rest of the team filing through the turnstiles. Keith turns to watch as Hunk struggles with trying to walk through with an arm full of pvc pipe brooms. He ends up dropping most of them, and eventually settles on passing them over the machine to some of the other members before walking through himself.

Allura has several other bags hanging off her arms and shoulders, all of which Keith knows have various equipment things. She walks up to them, smiling widely as she shuffles the bags around. “Coran is parking the car, but he has the rest of the brooms.” She announces cheerfully, hair barely dampened by the rain.

They all gather around in front of the front desk and chat with Pidge and Lance, but Keith isn’t really listening. He’s looking back and forth between all the equipment bags, just sports bags and old backpacks. That, plus the brooms, makes it for an awkward experience to carry everything around, not to mention keeping track of it all.

“I probably have an old hockey bag you can use for all of that.” He says before he really thinks about it.

Everyone stops talking, turning to look at him. It doesn’t look like any of them really heard what he said. He probably mumbled. He squirms a little under all the attention. It’s Lance that speaks up, raising an eyebrow. “What was that, dude?”

Keith vaguely gestures to everyone holding bags. “I, uh, probably have an old hockey bag you guys can use for, you know, all that.”

A lot more blank stares. Pidge is the first to get what he’s saying. Their face lights up, and they grin, bouncing on the balls of their feet. “Oh my god, seriously? That would be awesome!” Everyone’s attention has shifted to Pidge, who turns to look at them in return. “A hockey bag would be perfect for carrying around everything. Those suckers are huge.”

Allura turns to Keith, smiling brilliantly. “That would be amazing, Keith!” She says, shrugging a shoulder a little with a small laugh. “Heaven knows I’d be fine with not having to carry around all these bags anymore.”

Keith finds himself smiling. It’s small, but definitely there. This group just brings it out in him. He shrugs. “I’ll look for it when I get home. Pretty sure I used one when I moved up here.”

Pidge gives him a blank stare. “Keith, your apartment is the size of a tin can. How can you not know if you have it?”

His smile fades, replaced by a small scowl. “Shiro helped me pack, and there was a lot going on that day. I don’t know what’s here and what’s back home.”

“Alright, well text me if and when you find it.” Pidge says before turning back to the group and taking a few steps away to address them. While they give a little speech to explain how indoor practices work, Lance leans a little further onto the counter, body half turned to he can look like he’s somewhat listening to Pidge.

“So, hockey?” He asks, eyeing Keith sidelong with a light tilt to his lips.

“Yeah,” He says with a shrug, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back in his chair. He idly rotates it back and forth with a nudge of his toe. “My parents signed me up as a kid cause they thought it’d be good for me. I liked it, so I stuck with it.”

“Not anymore though?” He sounds… honestly curious, and Keith isn’t really sure how to feel about that. This is what friends do, right? Learn about each other? Ask innocent questions about interests? Lance is actually making an effort, and it’s one that doesn’t seem forced.

A knot of guilt twists in his gut.

Keith shrugs again. “I aged out of the rec leagues.”

“Ah,” He says, nodding. Then he turns his head more, giving Keith that cocky smirk that he hates so much. “I was a soccer man myself.” He says, putting his free hand to his chest, puffing it out slightly with an air that is just so full of himself and so incredibly Lance.

“That explains the ego and dramatics.” He deadpans.

Lance’s eyes snap open, face scrunching up as he straightens and stares at Keith. His eyes search Keith’s face like he’s trying to solve a puzzle, lis curving down into a frown as his eyes narrow slightly. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He asks slowly.

Keith just smirks, a slight tilt to the corner of his lips, and shrugs noncommittally.

Lance’s shoulder slump as he turns to sag more over the counter, lips pursed into a pout even as he glares. He plants his elbow on the counter and points a finger at Keith. “Now you listen here—“

But then he’s jerked back and being dragged away, Pidge’s hand in a firm hold on the back of his hoodie. “Alright, Lance, let’s go.” They say with a short sigh.

“Pidge! I was in the middle of something!” He protests, walking backwards.

“You can bug Keith later. We have practice now.”

“Fiiiine!” He turns back around, lacing his fingers behind his head as he leans back while he walks. The whole gang starts up the stairs, and Keith turns so he doesn’t have to watch them go. He sighs loudly, slumping in his seat.

“They look like fun.”

He turns to see one of his co-workers plopping herself down into the seat beside him. She’s a year older than him, but she doesn’t really look it. Her hair is pulled back into the same ponytail it always is, she doesn’t wear makeup ever, and she’s nearly always dressed in simple jeans and their work t-shirt with “Student Recreation Center” printed across the back. Overall, her usual laid back look, coupled with the fact that she’s completely ridiculous, gives her a very youthful appearance. But he’s seen her stare down dudes in the weight room and shame people into obeying the rules. It’s… quite terrifying actually.

He shrugs. “They’re alright.”

She hums, half turned to watch them climb up the glass covered stairwell. “They’re going to the third floor?”

“Yup.” The third floor is nothing but an indoor soccer area, but it’s usually empty and it’s a wide open space perfect for an indoor quidditch practice.

“What’s all that equipment for?”

“Quidditch.”

Her eyebrows go up at that. “Like…”

“From Harry Potter, yeah.”

She lets out a low whistle, eyeing the stairs. “Wow, that’s cool. You on the team?”

“Yeah.”

“Why’d you pick up this shift then? If there’s practice.”

He shrugs. “Need the money.” He doesn’t, but she doesn’t need to know that.

She just nods. “Gotcha. Hey, since you’re here, mind settling a bet with me and my SM?” Then she’s leaning over the desk between them and shoving her forearm under his nose. Her arms are small, but there is clearly enough room for two dicks drawn in thick black marker. The more vibrant one is clearly drawn by herself, and the other has the slightly faded and tattooed look of a soulmark.

He raises both eyebrows, blinks, and slides his eyes to look at her. “Those are dicks.”

She grins, widely. “Why yes, they are. Thanks for noticing. Alright, so,” She points to hers. “This is mine. You’ll notice I went for a more natural look of an uncircumcised dick.”

“It’s very… large.”

“Thank you,” She points to the other one. “And this is my SM’s.”

“It’s, uh… very… hairy? And veiny?”

She snorts, rolling her eyes. “Yeah, he tries to go for more of a impressive realism that way, but I go for the girth.” When Keith stares at her, completely at a lack of what to say. She just gives him a dark look, but there’s a smile playing across her lips as she whispers. “You can’t ignore my girth, Keith.”

He snorts, feeling his lips twitch upward. “So did you have a question, or was this just to showcase your… art?”

“Oh, right! Okay, so which one is better?”

“Seriously?”

“Dead serious.”

“You guys are having a dick drawing contest.”

“Yes.”

“On your arms.”

“Yes.”

“Is this… normal? For you?”

At that, she laughs. “Yeah, it happens more often than you’d think. He usually starts it.”

He shakes his head. “Your soulmate is a piece of work, Ginny.”

She sighs, a soft smile on her face as she gazes at the horrendously detailed dicks on her arm. “Yeah, he is.”

And there’s that weird twist in Keith’s chest again, the same one that happens whenever he sees other people being so unfathomably happy with their soulmates. He doesn’t get it. It’s like they have no doubts, no hesitation, like they just trust their SMs without a second thought. He knows Ginny’s SM also goes to their school, even works in the gyms, too. They met at a young age, only fifteen, and they’d been growing up together every since. Sharing their daily lives. All the while knowing that they’re with their forever partner.

He doesn’t know how they don’t see that as terrifying.

He thinks of Lance, and that twist in his chest is back.

He doesn’t want to think about Lance.

There’s no way Lance can be his soulmate. A soulmate is supposed to be someone who has the potential to be your perfect match, your forever partner, and Keith is definitely not ready for that. The universe wouldn’t pair him with someone he’d meet so soon, right? Whatever mystical forces are at work within the human race, it has to know Keith better than that. It has to know that he’s not ready for this. He must have made a mistake. It’s not Lance. It can’t be Lance.

He pushes those thoughts aside and points to Ginny’s dick drawing. “This one is definitely better. Ten outta ten.”

“Ha! Suck it, Billy!” She says, reaching across the desk for a pen. He watches as she adds a tally mark under the ‘G’ written on her other arm. There’s also a ‘B’ with tallies under it. So far it looks like she’s winning.

He spends the rest of his shift discussing the technique of drawing realistic dicks with Ginny and actively avoiding pulling up the gym’s camera feed on his computer to watch the quidditch practice.

 


 

“Are the shorts really necessary?” Keith grumbles, knuckles of one hand digging into his cheek where his chin rests in his palm. He’s sitting on short hill on one side of the quad, overlooking the quidditch pitch. Both elbows are resting on his bent knees, free hand dangling between them.

“Hmm?” Allura hums from where she’s sitting next to him. Her long legs are stretched out in front of her, mostly bare and crossed at the ankles. She’s leaning back on her hands behind her, head tilted back and eyes closed against the sun, but at his words, she lifts her head to eye him, one delicate eyebrow raised.

He doesn’t look at her, and she follows his gaze to where he’s glaring holes into Lance’s back. Practice is set to start soon, and while all the equipment is out and the hoops are set up, he knows it’s still going to be a little bit longer before Pidge and Hunk manage to wrangle everyone up and start. Quidditch time and all that.

Meanwhile, Lance has decided to play some kind of game with Hunk and Coran down by one set of hoops, and despite everything, Keith finds himself unable to resist glaring at him. He’s just so loud and everything about him screams for attention. Keith hates having attention on him. How the fuck are they supposed to be soulmates?

“Oh, you mean Lance?” Allura asks, watching the three of them play. Coran pegs Lance with a bludger, causing him to yelp loudly and turn away from the hit. The bludger bounces off his lower back and back into Coran’s patiently waiting hand. Even at this distance, he can see the older man grinning and Lance’s pout.

“Yeah, Lance,” Keith says, unable to keep the scowl out of his voice or off of his face. “Are the— you know…” He waves his free hand around vaguely, lips twisting as he realizes he’s going to have to actually say the words. “Booty shorts really necessary?” He sounds pained, and he knows it, but he can’t help it. He is pained.

He’s forced to sit here, dealing with all of his own shit, watching his world get rearranged, meanwhile Lance is just prancing around in his fucking booty shorts and laughing like he’s having the time of his life, completely unaware that his soulmate is sitting right here.

He’ d probably be just as disappointed that his supposedly amazing SM is just Keith. He thinks about all the tender feelings that filter through his chest, all the kind messages, all the fond emotions… and all of those came from Lance? He’s still having a hard time putting those two things together. They just don’t fit. How is he supposed to act normal around him again? How is he supposed to fit into this friend group now? How is this fair?

It’s not fair. Every time Keith thinks he has something good in life, it’s taken away. He’s worked really hard to get where he is, fought tooth and nail to climb out of the pit life had put him in, and he thought that maybe he could finally just… live his life. But no. Now his goddamn soulmate is here.

Why can’t he just have this one thing for himself? Why can’t he just live? Why does he have to deal with this? Why him? What the fuck had he ever done to deserve this? Or was he just the universe’s favorite punching bag? He can’t even tell his best friend about his problems because they’re too close to the problem.

Nothing about this is fair.

Allura chuckles under her breath, leaning forward and pulling her knees up to wrap her arms around them. The movement draws him out of his thoughts, stopping his downward spiral from getting any worse. “Well, I suppose that’s my fault.”

Keith tears his eyes away from Lance to stare at her incredulously. “You got him those shorts?”

She laughs again, waving a hand at him. “Oh, no, those were a gift from Pidge. Though, I suppose I did help pick them out.” She says thoughtfully, tapping her chin with a finger. Then she shrugs, lowering her arms around her knees again and gently rocking in place. She looks peaceful, at ease, and thoughtful. A picture of content tranquility that is so completely opposite to how Keith is feeling. “The booty shorts in general are my fault though.” She continues as they both watch the three fuck around by the hoops. Lance is having to resort to being absolutely ridiculous in order to get past Coran and Hunk’s defenses.

“How?” He asks because she’s stopped talking and he doesn’t want silence. He doesn’t want to admit that he’s curious.

“Our first year playing quidditch, toward the end of the year, we went to play a tournament at a nearby school. Lance said if we made it to the finals, he would wear booty shorts. It was half a dare and half a joke, I think, but he called it his secret weapon. Supposedly the enemy team would be so distracted by his man legs that we’d have the upper hand. I encouraged him and let him borrow an old pair of shorts I had lying around. I never got them back.”

“Did it work?”

“Hmm?”

“The secret weapon?”

At that, Allura laughs, tossing her head back. The moment causes her to rock backwards, and she lets go of her legs to put her hands back behind her, leaning back on them. She grins at Keith, a sparkle in her eye. “Yeah, it surprisingly did. Afterwards we took a team picture with the trophy where we all pulled our shorts up as high as they could go in honor of Lance’s leg strategy.”

Keith can’t help the small, shadow of a smile that curves his lips. He can’t help it. Allura’s smile is infectious. He can vaguely remember Pidge telling him this story a couple years ago, and at the time he had found it funny. He had no idea at the time that the cause of that story would end up being his soulmate. It’s significantly less funny now.

Keith just hums his acknowledgement because he’s not sure what else to say. He’s trying not to let Allura see all his raging internal conflict. He thinks his poker face is helping him out a lot here, but his incessant staring might be a problem. Especially since he can’t just look away, and the longer he looks, the angrier he feels. It’s deep seeded and simmering and burning in his chest, and he can’t quite shake it

“To be fair, though,” Allura continues, oblivious to his internal struggles. Her eyes are on the quidditch pitch, looking over everyone gathered there. It’s a significantly smaller turn out from the first couple practices, but these ones seem to be willing to stick around. “The whole booty shorts thing is quite common among quidditch players.” She says, lifting up a leg and pointing her toe for emphasis. “It’s not just Lance. At least he wears the short leggings under them.”

Keith grunts in agreement. “And the knee high socks?” He asks, eyeing Lance’s socks. They’re blue and black striped, matching his blue booty shorts and the black legging shorts underneath. The white block letters stamped across his ass that read “JUICY” stand out in stark contrast. He… can fully believe Pidge bought them for him. Probably as a gag gift.

“Plenty of sports use knee high socks.” She says, humming thoughtfully. “Quidditch included. You should see some of the better teams that play at Worlds. They all have knee high socks as part of their uniform. We’ve been talking about getting some for our team as well…”

“Please, don’t.” Keith groans, and Allura laughs.

The two of them are dragged off the hill about five minutes later when Hunk calls the practice to order. They all gather in a loose circle at the center of the pitch, and Keith avoids looking at Lance in favor of staring at Pidge and Hunk. Unfortunately, Lance is directly across the circle from him, and it’s hard to avoid his gaze completely. Keith can see him staring out of the corner of his eye. He crosses his arms over his chest and stubbornly refuses to give him the attention.

It’s Saturday, which means it’s a scrimmage day. So instead of drills, they’ll play at least one full game of quidditch, possibly two depending on how long it runs. Coran and Allura are chosen as team captains and take turns choosing people. Allura picks Lance, tossing him a blue pinnie when he skips up to her side. They high five, exchanging grins, and they’re both so bright that Keith has to look away.

Coran ends up choosing Keith for his team, and he’s not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that he and Lance are on different teams. On one hand, he doesn’t have to work with Lance, on the other…

The end up facing off across the field, both lined up to get the quaffle in the first dash. He makes the mistake of making eye contact with Lance, only to have Lance shoot him a grin and a wink before kneeling above his broom. Keith internally groans, feeling the anger inside him stir as he lowers himself to the ground.

He lifts his head and meet’s Lance’s gaze again over the quaffle. Lance smirks, all cocky confidence, and Keith’s eyes narrow, lips tugging into a small frown. The simmering irritation and agitation that’s been boiling inside him all day rumbles, making his muscles tense as he sets up his runner’s stance.

Fuck Lance. Fuck soulmates. Fuck the universe. Why can’t he ever have any goddamn control over his own life? Fuck his pity party, Keith is mad. Inexplicably and overwhelmingly mad. He’s just so, so tired of everything, and he’s tired of not having a target to lash out at.

Fuck the universe for putting them together. Fuck the university for accepting his application. Fuck Pidge for making him promise to take an opportunity to learn more about his SM. Fuck Shiro for not letting him back out of his decision. Fuck Lance for giving him the opportunity to begin with, even if he had no idea that he had. Fuck himself for being this way.

Fuck the universe for taking his mom away and leaving him to deal with this alone.

And you know what? Fuck Lance and his cocky ass grin. Keith is tired of it. It pisses him off. He’s going to wipe that shit off his face.

“Brooms up!” Pidge blows the whistle, and Keith rockets off the starting line like a bullet. His broom is gripped hard in his left hand as he charges full speed ahead, toes of his cleats digging into the hard packed dirt. Across from him, Lance is doing the same. They’re sprinting straight for each other, for the ball, in some twisted game of chicken. It’s a challenge, Keith knows it is, and he’s not about to back down. And if they run into each other and he hits his head, hopefully he’ll pass out and won’t remember any of this SM business.

Lance is fast, but Keith is faster. With a flare of self satisfaction, he reaches the ball first. He’s already bent over in his effort to sprint, so he only needs to bend a little further to grab the ball, saying a silent thanks to the little bit of a sticky grip his sports gloves allow. He doesn’t slow, and Lance is right in front of him. Part of him wants to hit Lance. Give him an excuse to physically take out some of his frustration, even if it’s just mowing him down on the quidditch pitch.

He sees the moment Lance’s confident look turns to fear, realizing that Keith isn’t stopping. His eyes widen, mouth dropping open slightly, back straightening as he tries to slow. But Keith is right there. With a high pitched yelp, Lance instinctively drops to the ground. It’s a move that’s fluid and without hesitation, and if Keith had been in his right mind, he might have been impressed. Instead, he just seamlessly leaps over Lance’s fallen form and charges down the field to the hoops.

Hunk isn’t the keeper. It’s some new guy that stands frozen with wide eyes, obviously not expecting a chaser to come charging so quickly for a one v one. Keith easily scores, and the whistle blows to signal his goal.

When he turns to jog back down the field, Lance is still on the ground, scowling at him. Keith gives him a smirk, feeling smug satisfaction singing in his veins. He’s still pissed, but this is what he needed, a chance to physically get it all out and show up Lance in the process. Why had he been avoiding quidditch practice?

Unfortunately, the scrimmage only goes downhill from there.

The teams are relatively balanced with new and old players, but the blue team keeps pulling ahead. Keith wants to blame his fellow chasers for not carrying their weight. He wants to blame the beaters for not tagging Lance out when he skips down the field. He wants to blame the keeper for not blocking the shots. He wants to blame everyone else and ignore the fact that he’s not exactly playing at his best right now. He’s just charging down the field with a single minded intensity that’s easy to counter with everything else that happens in the game. If he’s not taken out by an enemy beater, he’s tackled by a chaser.

At one point, Hunk pulls him aside and suggests he tries passing the ball. He says it kindly, like a friendly suggestion and with no actual negativity. But Keith feels patronized anyway, and a little ashamed, which only fuels his anger. He does, however, try to make an effort to pass. It’s not his fault that his teammates suck at catching and they fall further behind.

Whenever Lance has the ball, that stupid, annoying, infuriating smirk graces his lips, complete with a playful intensity in his eyes that does things to Keith’s insides. He hates it. He wants it to stop. So whenever Lance has the ball, he charges him. Unlike the other new players, Keith isn’t afraid of tackling. It’s legal, as long as he doesn’t wrap, hit from behind, or go around the neck. Other than that, most things are okay. He takes this to heart as he does everything in his power to get the ball away from Lance.

Unfortunately, the guy is slippery and way too practiced at this game. He can easily slip and twist out and away from Keith, laughing as he does so and holding the ball far out of his reach. Keith grits his teeth, chasing him down the field in an attempt to keep him from scoring. But then he just passes to someone else and they score, and Keith doesn’t have a reason to fight Lance anymore, so he’s left scowling at Lance’s stupid cocky face.

Despite his default smugness, Keith can see some other looks overcome his face when he thinks no one is looking. He can see the anger sparking beneath his calm exterior when Keith hits him particularly hard or needlessly shoves his shoulder with his own. He sees it in the way his brows furrow and lips purse into a small frown when Keith charges him. He can feel it in the way he shoves back against him. Good. Keith wants him mad. If he’s mad, it better justifies his own anger. If they’re both mad, they’ll fight, and if they fight, there’s no way they can be soulmates, right?

He pointedly ignores the other looks he catches on Lance’s face. The worried glances, the way he bites his bottom lip, brows furrowing in a way that’s definitely not anger. He ignores these softer looks and the guilt that churns beneath his frustration.

At some point, Coran pulls him off the field to take a break. While he’s drinking from a water bottle, the older man hands him a yellow headband. Keith eyes it for a moment before quirking a silent eyebrow at him. Coran only smiles. “It’s nearly time for the snitch to be released!”

“Who’s snitching—“ Keith glances past him, movement catching his eye. Lance is standing near the blue team. He’s removed his pinnie and is busy stepping into his bright yellow snitch shorts, pulling them up over his others. Keith’s brow furrows. “It’s it a little biased if he snitches?” He doesn’t mean for his voice to sound hostile, but there it is.

Coran’s grin dials back a fraction before glancing over his shoulder. “Ah, well, I suppose under normal circumstances it might be. It certainly isn’t orthodox in a tournament setting. Here, however, it’s perfectly fine. We’re all part of the same team in the grand scheme of things.” He looks back to him, that smile back in place. “Besides, a snitch is never truly on any one team. A snitch’s number one priority is to not be caught by anyone! It’s a matter of pride, you see.”

Keith snorts, taking the headband from him and pushing it on, letting his push his bangs back out of his face. They were just adding to his irritation anyway. “Yeah, I can see that.”

Keith takes a broom that’s handed to him and prepares himself to chase down Lance, again, once Pidge officially releases the snitch. Lance is bouncing next to them on the other side of the field, a grin plastered on his face as he obnoxiously stretches for show, waving and flexing and shooting finger guns to the audience that’s gathered to watch them pay. Keith grits his teeth.

Then a hand is on his shoulder, and Keith looks up to see Coran leaning over him, eyeing Lance with his free hand on his hip. “I know you’re eager to prove your stuff again, but we must think strategy if we’re to bring home victory.”

Keith blinks at him. “What?”

Coran gives him a small, mischievous smile. “If you catch him right away, we’ll lose. We’re too far down in points at the moment, and the snitch is only worth thirty.”

“So you want me… to not… catch him?” He says slowly. It sounds ridiculous.

Coran gives a small nod, tilting his head to the side thoughtfully. “Well, in a manner of speaking, yes! At least not yet. We need you to guard the snitch.”

“Guard him?” He deadpans.

“Yes! Hold off the other seeker so they can’t catch the snitch and end the game. It’ll give us a chance to catch up in points. Then, when I give you the signal, you turn on Lance and catch the snitch!” Keith grunts his acknowledgement. Coran pats his shoulder, nearly knocking Keith off balance with his enthusiasm, and steps away. “Good luck!”

When Pidge announces the snitch’s release, the blue team seeker charges Lance across the field. Keith is a lot slower, not very happy about being on guard duty. By the time he gets there, Lance has already ripped the other seeker’s broom out and forced him to go back to his hoops. Keith slows as he nears Lance, face twisted into a small frown.

Lance automatically takes up a defensive stance, but eyes Keith curiously when he doesn’t do anything. He slowly relaxes, still wary, but standing straight with his hands on his hips. He smirks, tilting his head to the side. “What’s the matter, mullet? Not going to charge me this time?” He says it like he’s teasing, but there’s a hard, accusatory edge there that makes Keith flinch.

He looks away, lips pursing into a thin line. The blue seeker has touched his hoops and is jogging back to them. “Coran put me on guard duty.” He grumbles by way of an explanation.

“Ah,” Lance says, fully relaxing now. “The good ol’ stall tactic. Too bad you couldn’t score more points.”

Keith grits his teeth, ignoring the jab as he turns to face the other seeker. He crouches down, lowering his center of gravity as he puts himself between the seeker and Lance. Keith fights him off, keeping a hand on his shoulder, arm stiff to keep him from pushing forward. It doesn’t stop him from trying, but every time he tries to lunge around him, Keith is there to block him. Lance happily hides behind him, teasing the other seeker and making commentary to the audience.

It’s a lot tougher than Keith was hoping it would be, physically having to push off someone else and be fast enough to block him, but for the most part he only has to put his body between them and Lance will do half of the work. He even goes so far as to grab Keith by the shoulders and move him around, actively using him as a body block. Keith just clenches his jaw and tries to ignore it. Luckily, he only has to hold off the other seeker for as long as it takes for his own teams beater to tag him out.

His team has bludger control at the moment, so they can afford to keep someone stationed on the seeker play while the other tries to stop the enemy chasers from scoring. The blue team only has one bludger, which is currently dedicated to the quaffle play. Their free beater is hovering over his team’s second beater, but they haven’t managed to snatch the ball from them yet. For the most part, Keith doesn’t have to worry about being tagged out.

When he is tagged out, Lance playfully slaps him on the shoulder and calls out after him, “Hurry back, meat shield!”

Keith just sends him a glare before stomping back to his hoops.

Overall, it’s an annoying process of being forced into close proximity to Lance and having to deal with him, but being unable to actually deal with him.

Why did he think quidditch was a good idea again?

Thankfully, his team is slowly catching up in points. He keeps a close eye on the score, ready for this to be done already.

“Psst, hey…”

Keith ignores him, watching the other seeker walk back to his hoops. It’s obvious that he’s getting tired and frustrated, and Keith wonders if they’ll swap him out or just let him continue.

“Psssst, Keith… hey! Keith!

If he ignores him long enough, maybe he’ll stop talking. He wills the other seeker to hurry the fuck up and get back here so he has an excuse to keep quiet.

“Keith!” The voice is loud and right next to his ear.

Keith jumps, whirling around with a scowl on his face, slapping his hand over his ear. “What?” He snaps.

Lance takes a step back, hands up in an innocent, defensive gesture. “Whoa, dude, chill, I just—“

“We’re in the middle of a game, Lance.” He doesn’t mean to sound hostile, but there it is. He takes a deep breath and looks away, trying again and trying to keep his voice even. “What is it?” Pouty and grumpy, cause that’s better than angry. Great.

“Are you mad at me?” He can’t say he wasn’t expecting the question. What does catch him off guard, however, is just how small Lance sounds. It’s almost… shy, with layers of uncertainty and worry that is so vastly different from the typical Lance that he’s used to.

It’s such a one eighty from how he had been literally thirty seconds ago that Keith’s head whips around to face him, eye wide and brow pinched. Lance’s expression matches his voice and god dammit, that makes him feel like an ass. He feels his mouth open and close a couple times, unable to find words as Lance just continues to stare at him, chewing on his bottom lip. Fuck.

“Am I— What? No,” He finally manages to sputter, turning back around the increasingly uncomfortable eye contact. He focused on the other seeker approaching them, thankful for the distraction. “Why would I be mad at you?”

Unfortunately, the seeker is tagged out by his team’s beater before he can even get close. The guy groans, pulling his broom out and throwing up his hands in defeat as he turns around. Keith sighs, straightening. So much for that.

“I don’t know, man, you just… give off this feel, you know?”

Keith uses his free hand to pinch the bridge of his nose and briefly closes his eyes. “No, Lance, I don’t know. What the fuck feel are you talking about?” He really doesn’t want to have this conversation, especially not here and especially not now. But here he is, standing on the sidelines of the quidditch pitch, having it. He’s just grateful his team’s beater is too far away to hear them and currently distracted by the other beater wrestling them for the ball.

“The feel that you’ve been straight up avoiding me for days.” He says it like it’s no big deal, but Keith can hear the hurt beneath his words. It cuts straight through his frustration and aims straight for the guilt he’s been feeling beneath, twisting a knife in it.

“I haven’t been avoiding you.” He tries, but the lie feels heavy on his tongue.

“Do mullets do this to everyone?”

“What?” Keith turns to look at him then, incredulous.

“Block out your ability to hear because obviously you can’t hear the bullshit spewing from your mouth right now.” He says, brows pinching as he crosses his arms over his chest, leaning his weight to one leg.

“Lance…”

“”Listen, I don’t know why you’ve been avoiding me—“ He breaks eye contact, gaze sweeping around the pitch without really focusing on anything.

“Lance—“

“But I wanna figure this out cause I thought—“ He’s gesturing now with vague and wild motions of his hands.

Lance—” He snaps, louder this time, but Lance still doesn’t stop.

“We were like… you know, bonding or whatever. I thought were kinda getting into friendship territory and everything—“

“We ARE!” Keith nearly shouts, throwing up his free hand in his exasperation. He very nearly does the same with his other hand and drops his broom, but his fist is clenched too tight to really drop it.

“Then why have you been avoid—“

“I HAVEN’T BEEN AVOIDING YOU!” He doesn’t care who can overhear them now. He’s turned to face Lance. He doesn’t know where the other seeker is, or the enemy beaters for that matter, but he doesn’t care. Lance is looking at him with wide, skeptical eyes, searching his face as he chews on his goddamn lip again. He’s shoulders are hunched slightly, leaning away from Keith just a little. Keith groans loudly, the sound trailing off into a sigh as he runs his hand down his face. It flops down to his side, and he stares at Lance, forcing him to meet his gaze. “It’s just been a very busy week, okay?

Lance searches his face for a moment longer before he ventures, a little hesitant and cautious. “Soooo… you’re not mad at me?”

Keith clenches his jaw, resisting the urge to sigh again. “No,” He grits out. “I’m not mad at you. I have no reason to be mad at you. I’m just… frustrated in general, okay?”

And he realizes just how true that statement is. He’s not mad at Lance. Lance just happens to be the easiest target to take his frustration out on because he’s at the heart of Keith’s emotional chaos. But Lance doesn’t know that, and it’s unfair of Keith to lash out at him.

God dammit, now he feels like a huge ass. What would Shiro say if he saw him now? The thought of that disappointment is enough to put out the fire that’s been burning beneath his skin.The guilt cuts through his frustration, sending ice through his veins to cool his anger. What would… what would his mom think of him if she could see him now?

If Lance really is his soulmate, he deserves someone better.

“Okay,” Lance says after a moment, standing a little straighter. “Soooo… we’re friends?”

Keith sighs, shoulders slumping. “Yeah.”

A small, lopsided smile curves Lance’s lips, and his relief is almost palpable. “We’re cool?

“Yes.”

“We’re coolio?”

“Lance!”

“Okay! Okay! Geez, don’t get your panties in a twist, I just—“

From across the field, he suddenly hears a loud, piercing whistle. Not like Pidge’s whistle, but the kind that’s made from putting two fingers in your mouth and working some sort of magic to make a sound that carries. His head snaps up as the whistle fades to see Coran cupping his hands over his mouth to shout a loud, “CAW CAW.” And even though they never actually talked about the signal Coran mentioned, Keith thinks it’s pretty clear.

Lance has half turned to look across the field, hands on his hips and a small frown on his lips, brows pinched just slightly. “What the hell is he— HEY!

He sees Keith move at the last moment, but he’s not fast enough to stop him as Keith reaches around behind him and easily snatches the snitch, the velcro making a very satisfying rip as Keith yanks it off his shorts.

Lance jumps away, both hands going to his ass to cover up the velcro spot. He gapes at Keith, eyes wide as Pidge blows three long whistles to end the game. He sputters a few times before he can find his voice. “KEITH! That’s no FAIR! You BETRAYED ME!”

Keith just shrugs, tossing the snitch back to him, which he fumbles to catch.

“Life isn’t fair.” He says, and while there’s a smug smirk on his face, he feels his own words heavy in his chest.

 


 

“What’re you dooooing?” Lance asks, prodding Keith’s knee with his foot. Keith ignores him, which proves to be a mistake because Lance just nudges harder, making him sway back and forth. “Keeeeith!”

“Stop.” Keith grunts, pushing Lance’s foot away from him and scooting out of his reach. Lance scowls at him, and he scowls back. “Homework.”

Pidge snorts, but doesn’t look up from their own computer screen. “Yeah, like I believe that.” Keith turns his glare to them and stares until they finally lift their eyes to meet his gaze. They’re sitting crosslegged, laptop on their lap, hunched over the keyboard like some kind of gremlin. Their expression is unamused, complete with bags under their eyes and a blank stare. He can tell they’ve been up late again, which would explain the large dark roast with a double espresso shot sitting next to them. “Keith. You’re an art major. What homework do you have on the computer?”

He bristles. “I have an art history class, too.”

“Are you doing art history homework?”

“No.” They just raise an eyebrow, but they do it in such a way that it implies it takes far too much effort to do so. He hunches a little bit, looking down at his own screen. “I’m doing research for a speech we have to do in public speaking. Something Lance should be doing.” He added, tossing a glare Lance’s way to get the attention off himself.

“But that’s boooring.” Lance rolls his eyes, flopping onto his back with his knees bent and arms holding his Gameboy Color above his head.

Keith continues to stare at him. “You’re just going to wait until the last minute and wing it, aren’t you?”

Lance sends him a lopsided grin. “Maybe.”

Pidge rolls their eyes, hunching a little more as they turn back to their computer screen. “One of these days those habits are going to bite you in the ass.”

Lance tilts his head up to look at Pidge, smile widening. “We’ll see, but for now, my ass it bite free.”

Keith groans, partially because he can’t believe this guy is supposedly his soulmate and partially because biting Lance’s ass is really something he doesn’t want to think about. Fuck no.

He slumps further against the wall, pulling his knees up and resting his laptop more on his stomach so he can properly hide behind the screen. After a week of avoiding Lance, he figured he couldn’t keep doing it without drawing suspicion to himself. So he’s forcing himself to get back to the patterns he established in the first couple weeks of school. That includes hanging out with Pidge and Lance Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the student union coffeeshop between classes.

Luckily, their version of hanging out doesn’t always consist of or require a lot of conversation. Usually Lance is the most talkative, but he’s currently too absorbed in his game. The couches in the corners of the coffee shop were taken, so instead of sitting at a table, they claimed the small stage on the far wall. It’s not usually used during the day, but sometimes they have open mic nights and other events. Keith carefully chose a position with his back to the wall and let the other two sit further out onto the stage until they formed a loose triangle. At this angle, neither of them can see his computer screen.

He stares at his browser for a moment, the one that actually has tabs up for his speech research, the same one that’s a complete cover right now, before swiping over to his secondary desktop. Here he has a browser up with so many tabs that he can’t really read the titles on them anymore. They all have to do with soulmates. Soulmate history, soulmate theories, soulmate psychology, soulmate superstitions. Anything and everything he can find about soulmates and soulbonds.

To be honest, most of it is stuff he already knows. It’s stuff that everyone knows. He’s shuffled through the surface level things that everyone learns when they’re young and has started diving deep into stories of anomalies and legends and theories. Anything that he can find that might give him a clue to whether or not he can, like… get a new soulmate?

Not that there’s anything wrong with Lance, it’s just… he’s not for him. He doesn’t really get how they can be a perfect match. They butt heads far too often, and the dude grates on his nerves way more than he ever thinks a soulmate should. Sure, they occasionally get along, and yeah, he can be a fun guy sometimes, but… there’s just so much… uncertainty surrounding their dynamic. It’s unstable, unreliable, spontaneities. How long would it take for them to crash and burn?

Soulmates have the potential to be a perfect match, but that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to be, and his relationship with Lance is… rocky, to say the least.

He still thinks that maybe he made a mistake. He’s clinging to that hope like it’s the last breath of air before he’s pulled under. He would give anything to just… be wrong. For once in his life, he hopes he’s wrong. Maybe if he like, started calling his grandparents more? Did more for Shiro? Really showed Pidge how much he cares about them? Community service? Volunteer work? Maybe if he just… becomes a better person, he won’t have to deal with this?

Or maybe he can find a way to force amnesia so he doesn’t have to remember the day he saw his galaxy tattooed across Lance’s skin.

He’d give anything to just… forget, and continue to live in a blissful state of just not knowing.

It’s just too soon. He never wanted to meet his soulmate this early in life. He was kind of hoping for them to meet later in life, like in their thirties when they were both older and more mature. He doesn’t have any of his shit together yet. He’s still trying to get his life back on track. How the fuck is he supposed to balance a soulmate on top of that? He just wants to go back to when he didn’t know, when Lance was just one of Pidge’s friends, when he was learning to get along with him for Pidge’s sake, when he thought that yeah maybe they can be friends with time, when he was eager to fit into this new friend group, when he was starting to think that life might be fun and easy for him for once.

Now that friend group has the one person in life he was hoping to avoid for years to come.

Fuck. He’d give anything to just… forget that little detail. He’d give anything to have it just go away. Sever his connection to Lance and just be normal friends.

Hell, it’s not the first time he’s considered ways to sever his soulmate connection. He just has more motivation to do it now. Who the fuck did the universe think it is anyway? Thinking it knows what’s best for him, and that now and here and Lance are all good ideas? He’s just… so tired of all of the curveballs life likes to throw at him.

At least Lance doesn’t know, and he sure as fuck isn’t going to tell him anytime soon, so he still has time to figure things out. He’s just… not really sure what he needs to figure out. His head is a mess. Thoughts and emotions just kind of flying around without really sticking. He’s a mess, and he knows it, and he’s honestly surprised that no one has really noticed yet.

And just like that, his phone vibrates next to him, lighting up with Shiro’s name. He sighs. Speak of the fucking devil.

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> How’s it going?

Keith
> Fine

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> … Really?

Keith
> Uh, yeah?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> You’ve been ignoring my messages for a week

Keith
> And now I’m not

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Are you ready to talk about it?

Keith
> About what

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> You know what

Keith
> Nope, sorry

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> The SM Incident

Keith
> We already talked about that

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> No, we didn’t
> You came over, ate half a pizza, and created a blanket nest on the floor that you didn’t leave for the rest of the night

Keith
> Your point?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Every time I tried to talk to you about it, you groaned loudly and buried your face in a pillow

Keith
> I talked

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Shouting and groaning about how “this isn’t fair” and “why him, why now” and “I want to punch him in the face, Shiro” doesn’t count

Keith
> I don’t see the problem here

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Keith.
> You’re going to need to face it eventually.

Keith
> Nope
> So I have a completely unrelated question
> Have you ever heard of an instance where someone like… broke their soul connection?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> No, not without… you know… one of them dying

Keith
> I was afraid you’d say that

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Keith, please don’t kill Lance

Keith
> No promises

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Come on, he can’t be that bad. The universe DID pair you guys up, after all. Surely there’s something there
> Even if it’s buried deep, deep down

Keith
> You don’t know him, Shiro

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Yeah, you’re right
> You should introduce us

Keith
> Oh fuck no

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I promise I won’t tell him, Keith. That’s for you to do, not me

Keith
> He’s probably not even my sm
> I probably saw it wrong and jumped to conclusions
> False alarm

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Have you tested it?

Keith
> …No

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Keith.

Keith looks up from his phone, eyeing Lance over the top of his laptop. He’s still lying on the stage, tip of his tongue poking out as he stares at his gameboy. His eyes drift to his forearms, holding the game up above his head. It would be so easy to just… take a pen and subtly write something, even just a line, and see if it appeared on him. It would be so easy, and then he would know for sure.

His fingers tighten on his phone, throat constricting as his breaths suddenly become shallow. His palms itch with this deep burn that he knows is entirely in his head. He has his SM’s daily pick up lines there, but soulmarks haven’t been known to burn just by being close to a soulmate. Yet here he is, skin burning like a brand as he stares at Lance. None of it’s real, but it doesn’t stop him from wanting to scratch, to rub his palms until the feeling fades. He ignores it though. Maybe if he just ignores it, it’ll go away. Maybe if he ignores his bond to Lance entirely, it’ll eventually go away.

His mind is whirling, and his chest feels tight, and he suddenly feels a little too light headed. His vision dots at the edges, and the skin of his arms and legs prickle, feeling distant and not quite attached. He recognizes what’s happening, and that just makes it worse because this is not the place to have a break down, not in public, not in front of—

Then Lance’s grip on the gameboy loosens enough for it come crashing down onto his face. It happens suddenly, but Keith is staring, so he watches it all happen: the loosening grip. the fall, the panic and realization spreading across his features before he lets out a strangled yelp, hands scrambling. He turns his head at the last second, and the gameboy hits him square on the cheek, cutting off his yelp and making a loud smack before clattering to the stage.

He’s frozen, hands up in the air, face tilted to the side and eyes wide. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Pidge is staring, too. Lance makes slow eye contact with both of them.

And then all at once, the moment is shattered and he and Pidge are laughing. It bubbles up out of his throat unbidden, shaking his frame so much that he has to grab his laptop to keep it from sliding off. He throws a hand over his face, eyes squeezed shut as he feels moisture gathering there. He laughs until his stomach hurts, and he can hear Pidge echoing him throughout it all.

By the time their laughter dies down, Lance has rolled onto his stomach, pouting as he grumbles under his breath and tilting his gameboy just right to catch the light. He refuses to look at either of them. He and Pidge share amused looks and wide grins, and it takes him a moment to realize that the tight feeling in his chest is gone and he feels solidly back in his own body and his right mind.

When Pidge looks back to their computer, he turns back to his phone, smile fading as he looks at his conversation with Shiro. He slouches further down against the wall.

Keith
> I’m just…
> I’m not ready, Shiro
> Don’t push me to do it

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Alright, alright, I get it, you need time
> But at least let me meet him
> I promise I’ll be on my best behavior

Keith
> Jfc you sound like a dad trying to meet his kid’s sm
> Can you not?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Well I AM family
> It’s my duty and my right
> Sooo

Keith
> Shiro, no, that would be way too obvious
> Wtf

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Just invite him over sometime when I’m there

Keith
> Did you hit your head recently?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I can pick you up from your class with him?

Keith
> Fuck no

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> …..

Keith
> …..

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I could come to quidditch practice?
> I DID promise to come with pompoms and airhorns

Keith
> So you can embarrass me? Let me repeat: fuck no

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> What if I just come to play?

Keith
> As hilarious as that would be to watch, no, I’m not introducing you to Lance

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Fine, I won’t meddle

Keith
> Thank god

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Too much

Keith
> I hate you

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> <3

Keith
> Don’t

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> :*

Keith
> Stop

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I love you, baby bro

Keith
> Why are you like this?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Seriously though, Keith, I still don’t see the problem here

Keith
> I’m not explaining it again

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> You didn’t really explain it a first time

Keith
> Question

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Shoot

Keith
> If I change my personality and interests enough, would it make a difference? If I become a completely new person, there’s not way we can be “chosen for each other” right?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way

Keith
> What if I move out to the desert and never write on my skin again?
> Problem solved

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Keith.

Keith
> Too drastic?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> A little

Keith
> I’ll think of something

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> How about you take a breather and come over for a movie night?
> Brotherly bonding and all that
> Like old times

Keith
> So you can trap me and grill me with questions?
> Thanks, but no thanks

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> :(
> Keith, I would never take advantage of you like that

Keith
> Yeah, sure
> Besides, I told Pidge I’d go with them to this coffeeshop later after classes

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Coffeeshop?

Keith
> Yeah, it’s called Local Lion or something
> Apparently it’s co-owned by two of the quidditch members
> Hunk and Lance work there too
> Pidge said we can get discounts and Hunk wants me to try his donuts

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Lance works there?

Keith
> Uhh yeah?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> At a public coffeeshop where people go to casually sit and drink coffee?
> A place where it would be totally normal for you to take your older brother without suspicion?

Keith
> … no

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> :)

Keith
> Don’t

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> :)))))

Keith
> Disowned

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> You can’t disown me

Keith
> I just did

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Keith look… I really don’t believe he can be that bad of a guy. You were even getting along with him before you learned about the whole SM thing, right?

Keith
> I guess

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> So there’s been progress, right? Look, I don’t have to meet him yet, but maybe I could help you find some peace with all of this? Like maybe if someone else knew him AND knew he’s your SM it would help take some of the weight off your shoulders? Give you someone to talk or rant to when you need it?

Keith
> …
> Fine
> But not yet

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I can live with that
> Just try to calm down and not stress yourself too much about this, okay?

Keith
> Okay

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Remember, patience…?

Keith
> …
> You’re seriously going to make me do this over text?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> :)
> Come on, Keith. Patience…?

Keith
> Yields focus

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Thank you
> Now take that to heart, yeah?

Keith
> Yeah

 


 

He’s about halfway through season seven of the X-Files and attempting to make scrambled eggs when he feels the telltale tingle on his arm.

Keith squeezes his eyes shut, letting out a stuttering breath as he puts the spatula down with shaking hands. He turns then, sinking down to the floor and resting his back against the cupboards while he pulls his knees to his chest. Arms hanging loose at his sides, head tilted back against the cupboard door, and eyes shut, he lets the feeling of his soul connection wash over him.

The emotions he gets from his soulmate are exactly what he was expecting, but that doesn’t make it any easier. He’s not great at putting names to the emotions that come through his soul connection, but if he had to, he’d say that worry is the most prominent thing he’s feeling. A thin chaos of sickeningly worried emotions with an underlying fondness and helplessness come filtering through his chest, wrapping around his heart and constricting, making his lungs feel heavy. His limbs feel like lead. There’s nothing pleasant about the emotions that slither through his chest, leaving a cold train behind them, but they do mirror his own so closely that it’s hard to tell the two apart. He’s not sure what’s his and what’s his soulmate’s. Together they combine into something far more powerful and far harder to ignore than when he had just been on his own.

They mix and churn and ooze through him, leaving him short of breath and feeling nauseous. All the while, the tingle in his arm traces whatever words his soulmate is writing, a touch that’s not quite painful and not quite ticklish, just something that’s foreign and strange, but at at this point so familiar. A phantom pen scrawling across his skin.

It couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but it feels like hours. Then the tingling fades and the foreign emotions slip from him, leaving him feeling oddly empty.

The overwhelming guilt that remains, twisting and coiling in his gut and constricting his throat? Yeah, that’s all his.

He spends several more minutes on the floor, eyes closed, trying to regulate his breathing and heart beat into something that might be considered normal. He can’t fight off his curiosity for long, though. It gnaws at his mind, even as the dread claws up up his spine. He knows he has to look. He always has to look. It’s some kind of primal instinct to look at soulmarks, and it’s one he’s never been able to fight. He might as well get it over with. Like ripping off a band-aid.

He lifts his left arm, holding it in front of him while he takes a deep breath. Then he opens his eyes, gaze instantly fixing on the words tattooed there in a familiar handwriting.

Lance’s handwriting.

You okay, space cadet?

Yup. There’s that guilt again. Solidifying into something tangible that settles heavily in his stomach. He had known it would only be a matter of time before his soulmate, before Lance realized something was wrong. He had been hoping that if he just ignored the problem, it would go away. He should have known. On some level, he did know. His sm has always been the one to question whenever he had been silent for too long.

Lance has always noticed when he’s been quiet for too long.

He’s still trying to wrap his head around that. Around the fact that the guy he’s been connected to for years is Lance. The guy with a cocky smile and self assured attitude just doesn’t click well with the guy with the soft, fond emotions who’s given him years of encouragement and support. He just can’t… force them to be one person in his mind. There’s a disconnect there, between the images he has of the two, and he can’t quite get them to line up properly.

Which makes this so much harder to accept. Part of him is still hoping beyond hope that this has all been some sort of crazy misunderstanding. He knows deep in his gut that it isn’t true, but that doesn’t stop the ember of hope from burning.

And it’s not that he has anything against Lance. Lance is fine. He just… There have been so many things he hasn’t had control over in his life, and being connected to his soulmate is a huge factor in his life that he never asked for. He always took solace in the fact that he didn’t have to pursue his soulmate if he didn’t want to. He could hang back, wait for them to meet naturally, not rush into things. He was ready to wait. He wanted to wait. He wanted to wait until he had a firm grasp on his life, until he felt like he actually had his shit together. And he had kind of been banking on the fact that the universe would know this about him, grant him this one thing, and give him a soulmate he wouldn’t meet until later in life.

And yeah, he had made the decision to see the guy, to discover who he is. And he still blames Pidge and Shiro for that. But he had thought that by doing so in secret, he would have the upper hand. He had thought that if he knew who his soulmate is, he could take the whole thing at his own pace. He could avoid him when he needed to, and maybe slowly learn more about him, see what kind of guy he was before he ever knew who Keith is.

The easiness of that plan had been shattered the moment he realized his soulmate is Lance McClain.

He can’t run from his soulmate, he can’t hide when he needs space, if his soulmate is part of his new group of friends. A group of friends that he’s really started to like. A group of friends that he really wants to call his own. He had thought learning about his soulmate would give him the upper hand. Instead, he feels like he’s had more control ripped from his grasp, leaving him staggering and unbalanced, perched on an edge and ready to fall.

His only saving grace is that Lance doesn’t know. He knows he technically still does have the upper hand. He knows this, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it. He’s going to be forced to hang out with his soulmate and pretend like nothing is wrong, like nothing is bothering him, like he doesn’t know that the universe decided he and Lance would be a good match.

It doesn’t help that he doesn’t… feel anything for Lance. He knows that not all soulmates experience love at first sight. In fact, he’s always believed the whole idea is a myth. Something that people think they experience because they love the idea of it. He’s never thought he’d feel it. He always assumed he wouldn’t. But… that doesn’t stop the disappointment he feels that he hadn’t.

He barely gets a warning before the tingle is back and more words start to scrawl out beneath the previous ones. He tenses, eyes wide as he stares at his arm, bracing himself for the same swirling cocktail of worried emotions that hit him, swelling in his chest with renewed vigor and enhancing his own.

You haven’t painted in a while, and I’m just worried

There’s a pause, and Keith thinks he has time to breathe. But the feelings have barely fled before they swell once more, briefly, as a few more words appear.

I’m here if you need me

Keith groans loudly, dropping his arms to his knees and forehead dropping to bury his face on them. He squeezes his eyes shut, willing the chaos inside him to just settle. He never asked for this. He never wanted it to be this way. It would be so much easier if he was just different. If he just felt differently. He’s making such a big problem out of nothing. But the fact remains that he is like this, and he does feel like this, and that just makes him feel guiltier.

Life isn’t fair. Life has never been fair to him. But life isn’t fair to Lance either. Because if Lance really is his soulmate, the kind, caring, patient person Keith’s been connected to since he was thirteen, then well… Lance McClain deserves someone better. Someone to appreciate him in a way Keith isn’t sure he can.

God fuck, why is he like this?

He stays like that, wallowing in self pity and hatred, until he smells burning.

Leaping to his feet, he quickly grabs the handle of the pan and pulls his burning eggs off the burner. He stares down at them for a moment, decides he’s not really hungry anyway, and tosses the pan into the sink. He’ll eat later. Maybe. If the knot in his stomach ever loosens. He turns off the burner as he leaves the kitchen. He grabs a hoodie and pulls it on, if only to hide his arm and the worried words that are tattooed there, before flopping face first onto the couch.

He’s somewhere in season eight when he hears a knock at the door. He ignores it, but it doesn’t go away. It only gets louder and more incessant. Keith turns his head so his face is buried in the couch cushion and groans loudly.

“Keith?” Shiro’s voice comes muffled through the door. Keith groans again. Of course it’s Shiro. He’s been ignoring his texts and calls for the past couple of days. Even now, his phone is somewhere on his bed where he had tossed it after Shiro’s third call since he woke up. “Keith, I know you’re in there.”

“No, I’m not.” He says, loud enough to be heard despite being muffled by the couch.

“Keith.”

“Go away, Shiro.”

“No. Open the door.”

Maybe if he just… continues to lay here, face down on the couch, he’ll eventually be absorbed by it. If he’s one with the couch, he can’t be expected to do things, like hang out with his friends, or talk to his brother, or have a soulmate.

It doesn’t take long after that for him to hear the telltale rattle of a key being inserted into the lock. Why did he ever think it was a good idea to give Shiro a key to his apartment? The door swings open, but Keith doesn’t lift his head. Instead he rolls it to the side so he can stare at the TV again. The door closes, there’s shuffling, and soon Shiro is blocking his view of the TV, standing in front of it with his arms over his chest. Keith doesn’t look up at him. He just stares blankly, like maybe if he tries hard enough he can see right through his abdomen and continue to watch his show.

“It doesn’t matter how much you ignore me. I’m not going to disappear.”

“Here’s to hoping…” He mumbles.

He sighs again, shoulders slumping. “Why aren’t you wearing pants?”

Keith just shrugs.

“You haven’t even gotten dressed today.” It’s not a question.

Keith folds his arms under his head, all the better to bury his face in the folds of his sleeves. “I put on a hoodie.” He mumbles.

“That doesn’t count when you’re not wearing pants.”

“I don’t need pants if I don’t plan on going out.”

“That’s kind of what I’m here about—“

“No.”

“When was the last time you left your apartment?”

He has to think about that one. “Two days ago.”

Shiro raises an eyebrow in that surprised and gently judging way, and Keith scowls. “You haven’t been to class in two days?”

“Maybe…”

“Keith.”

“Don’t—“

“You worked really hard to get here. Don’t throw it away by missing classes.”

He groans loudly because he knows, and he knows he’s being ridiculous, but goddammit sometimes he just needs some time to himself. It’s not like he’s been able to work through his shit like he normally does. Just the thought of seeing Lance with his paintings… well it’s the root of his problems so painting doesn’t really seem like a good outlet. He’s shoved his paints and markers away for the time being. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Too bad he can’t get his thoughts and emotions in order because he can’t paint. “Leave me alone, Shiro.” He grumbles, burying his face in his arms.

He hears Shiro moving, and then suddenly he’s sitting on him. He lets out a grunt of annoyance, but doesn’t move otherwise.

“You’re fat.” He grumbles into his sleeves. Shiro’s heavy, and it’s uncomfortable, but he can’t quite bring himself to care.

Shiro hums, but doesn’t reply right away. Keith can practically feel him looking around his apartment, taking in the mess that’s built up over the past couple of weeks. He hasn’t done the dishes in a while, or taken out the trash, or done laundry, or really picked up after himself at all.

“When was the last time you made food?”

“An hour or two ago.”

“Why does it smell burn in here?”

“…Because I burned it.”

“…Did you eat it?”

“No?”

Another sigh. “When was the last time you ate something that wasn’t junk food?”

“Yesterday?”

“When yesterday?”

“Morning…”

“Goddammit, Keith.” There’s movement, and he’s willing to bed Shiro is pinching the bridge of his nose the way he does when he’s tired of his shit. It’s a gesture he’s seen a lot over the years. “Last time you showered?”

“Last night,” He grunts. “I’m not completely hopeless, you know.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

“I don’t need your sass, Shiro.”

“Look, you know I don’t like to tell you what to do—“

“Could’ve fooled me.”

Shiro snorts. “Now who’s the sassy one? My point is, the sooner you stop moping around, the better.”

“‘M not moping…”

“After years of knowing you, I’m pretty sure I can tell when you’re moping.”

“It’s cause you’re nosey.”

“It’s because I care.”

“Can you go care somewhere else?”

“Nope.” He says, popping the ‘P’. Then there’s sudden movement, and Shiro shifts off of him, wedging his ass in the space between Keith and the back of the couch. Then he starts shoving. When he realizes what he’s doing, he tries to fight back, but Shiro is stronger and has the upper hand. He manages to get his feet on Keith’s side and promptly shoves him off the couch and onto the floor.

“Shiro,” He whines, lying on his back on the floor, staring at the ceiling.

Shiro sits cross legged on the couch, arms crossed over his chest, and leans over the edge into Keith’s vision. He glares at him, but Shiro only smiles in his small victory. “Up you go. I’m getting you out of your apartment.”

“No.”

“Yes, now go shower and put some pants on.”

“Why’re you doing this?” He groans, sitting up and running a hand through his hair. He had said he had taken a shower last night, but it might have been a little longer than that. Like… maybe a couple of days. But his hair isn’t that bad. He can probably wait till tonight or tomorrow.

“You weren’t responding to me, so I had to go to Pidge.” Keith sighs loudly, but Shiro continues. “They told me you haven’t been to your classes in a few days—“

“Just two!”

“And honestly, I’m tired of you moping around— No, you are moping around. This isn’t the end of the world, Keith.” Keith makes a loud whine, but Shiro ignores him. “Plenty of people would love to know who their soulmate is, and I know you’re not ready to tell him, but the beauty of it is that you don’t need to. You can keep this secret as long as you feel you need to, but I’m not going to let you mope about it anymore. You’re going to have to learn to live with it.” Shiro puts a foot to his shoulder and nudges him. When he speaks again, his voice is a lot softer and kinder. “Now get up, go take a shower, and put pants on. We’re going out.”

“I don’t need a shower.” Keith grumbles, but gets to his feet anyway, Shiro watches him as he shuffles across the room to where his clothes are piled up and starts digging through them, looking for a decently clean pair of pants. Maybe Shiro is right. He wouldn’t mind getting some fresh air. He doesn’t think it’ll help all that much, but he’s willing to give it a try. He just wants to feel like himself again. “Where’re we going?”

“We’re going to that coffeeshop Lance works at.”

Keith freezes, heart suddenly in his throat as he whips around so fast he nearly looses his balance when his foot slips on the pile of laundry. His hand shoots out to catch himself on the bed. He stares at Shiro, eyes wide. “What?!”

Shiro holds his gaze steadily, a small, innocent smile on his face. “We’re going to the coffeeshop, and I’m going to meet Lance.”

Keith’s brows pinch, lips pursing into a small frown as he straightens. “Go by yourself.”

“You’re coming with me. You need to get out of your apartment and learn how to be normal around him anyway. The sooner you face it and accept it, the sooner you can move on.”

Keith glares at him. He knows Shiro well enough to know he’s fighting a losing battle. Still, he can’t help but try. “You said you wouldn’t push me.”

“I know, but I think you need a little push right about now.”

“He might not even be working.”

Shiro shrugs, sitting back on the couch and making a show of getting comfortable. “If he’s not, then you’ll have nothing to worry about.”

Keith glares at him, but Shiro just stares back steadily. “I’m not getting out of this, am I?”

“Nope,” He says, sounding way too happy about it. “I’ll drag you there kicking and screaming if I have to.”

Keith sighs and shuffles over to his dresser to dig out a pair of clean black jeans and a clean shirt.

Shiro watches him with a raised eyebrow as he heads across the room. “Where’re you going?”

“To take a shower…”

Shiro snickers, and Keith slaps the back of his head as he passes. “Shut up.”

 


 

“Lance,” Hunk says, sounding reproachful. “I know I just like, cleaned the floors and everything, but I really don’t think you should be lying on them.”

Lance’s only reply is a wordless grunt.

“Come, now, Hunk. Think of it as an obstacle course!” Coran says, making a show of stepping over Lance’s sprawling limbs. “Step over a leg here, a noodle arm there—“

“I do not have noodle arms!”

“And voilà!” He says, sliding a pan of donuts into the oven and closing the door with a bang. “No problem.” He says, stroking his mustache.

“Ooooh, but what if I step on him? Oh man, oh, Lance, I’m sorry if I step on you, dude.” Hunk says, skirting along the edges of the kitchen to avoid stepping on him. To be fair, Lance is lying in the middle of the floor. It’s pretty hard to avoid him.

He lifts his head, shooting Hunk twin finger guns and a wink. “You can step on me any day, big guy.”

“Uh, I’d really rather not. Besides, weren’t you wallowing?”

“Oh, right.” And then he flops back down with a long, drawn out groan.

“Lance!” Allura calls from the front. She doesn’t sound upset. If anything, the reprimand is only half-hearted and distracted. He supposes that’s fair. She does it a lot. “Stop disrupting Hunk and Coran!”

“I’m wallowing, Allura!”

“Come wallow while you clean the lobby!”

“Why don’t you clean the lobby!”

“I’m manning the register.”

“We have no customers!”

“I’m your boss.”

Lance snorts, but rolls onto his stomach anyway, pushing himself to his feet. “Oh, suuuure, use the boss card.” He grumbles loud enough to be heard as he trudges out from the kitchen. Sure enough, they have no customers. There are a few people sitting out on the patio, but the inside of the shop is dead. And sure enough, Allura is sitting at a stool she’s pulled up behind the register, idly working on a crossword puzzle on the back of the local newspaper. She doesn’t look up as he passes behind her. “I hope you know I’m only doing this because I love you.”

She snorts a short laugh. “And it has nothing to do with the fact that I pay you.”

“None at all.”

He drags his feet around the stop, picking up stray napkins and other garbage, tossing them in the trash. He sets to work wiping the tables and straightening chairs. He’s working at half speed, and he knows it. He also doesn’t care. He gets to the donut display case, and starts wiping the outside down, ridding the glass of all the fingerprints from customers leaning against it and pointing at their choices.

“What was the name of Aladdin’s prince persona?” Allura asks without looking up.

“Ali.” He says without hesitation, and she nods before scribbling it down. He manages to hum a few bars of the Prince Ali song before he’s just not feeling it anymore. With a heavy sigh, he flops forward, resting his whole body against the display case, face pressed against the curved top, arms hanging loosely at his sides.

Allura sighs. Resting an elbow on the counter and propping her chin up with her knuckles, she looks up at him. “Alright, I’ll bite. What’s wrong?”

That’s all the opening he needs. “Having a soulmate is haaaard.”

Her face immediately softens. “What happened? I thought you two were finally starting to talk more?”

“We did that once, and I thought maybe it was going to be a regular thing, but…”

She tilts her head slightly, and her smile is soft and pitying, but not the kind that makes him feel looked down on. It’s the kind of pity he gets when his friends honestly care about him, but aren’t sure how to help. “It’ll be alright, Lance. You just can’t rush these sorts of things. I’m sure they’ll come around.”

“I hope so…” He mumbles, eyes drifting down to look through the glass into the display case. If he’s extra pitiful, maybe Allura will let him have a donut.

“It’s more than that, isn’t it?”

“Hmm?” He glances back at her.

She nods toward him. “I saw you writing on your arm earlier. They’re not responding to your more… direct messages?”

“Yeah, but what else is new.” He grumbles, brow pinching.

Her smile widens just a fraction. “Well, I think it’s understandable that they don’t respond to your daily pick up lines. I’m sure after a couple years, that gets old.”

Lance gasps, pushing himself off the display case. “Excuse! For your information, my pick up lines are the best, and I know my soulmate appreciates them! Besides, I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s just part of our thing, Allura. It’s our thing!

“Mm-hmm…” She hums, still smiling. It dials down a fraction after a moment. “What’d you say to them? If you don’t mind me asking.”

He sighs, turning around to lean his back against the display case, right hand going to idly rub his left arm where the words are. He stares at the tiles of the floor, eyes idly tracing the patterns between them. “I, uh… I just asked if they were alright. And… let them know I was here. You know… if they need me.”

“That sounds really sweet of you, Lance.” Allura says, voice all soft and kind, which simultaneously makes him feet better and worse.

All of his friends know about his soulmate situation. He talks about them too much for them not to. But… that doesn’t stop him from feeling a little self conscious about the whole thing. Yeah, he loves his soulmate’s paintings, and he’ll show them off to anyone who’ll listen, but… when it comes right down to it, he’s not as close to his SM as the others are to theirs. And he can’t help but feel a little… jealous? And that just makes him feel worse because he loves his SM, he really does. They’re perfect for him. But… yeah, it can be a little hard sometimes.

“I’m sure they appreciate it.” She continues, “Even if they don’t say anything.”

“I hope so…” He continues to rub his arm, like he can somehow reach through their connection if he touches it enough. He knows he can’t, but, you know, doesn’t stop him from trying. The longer he goes without a reply, the more he starts to worry that maybe, just maybe, he crossed a line. He’s given his SM space for years, and even when he’s gone a while without receiving any marks, he just… silently stewed in his worry. He just thought that now that they’ve had their bonding moment that maybe that wall was starting to break down. That maybe it’s okay for him to ask him more direct questions. Like maybe it’s okay for him to start reaching out.

Now he’s starting to worry that he had been wrong. The last thing he wants to do is scare his SM away.

“I’m just… I’m worried about them.” He says, forcing his hand away from the words on his arm and running his fingers through his hair.

“Have they given you reason to worry?” She asks, sounding surprised and curious.

“They haven’t painted or drawn anything in two weeks, Allura!”

“Haven’t they gone a while without drawing before?”

“Well, yeah, but never this long, and, I dunno… this feels different.” He hasn’t gotten anything from his soulmate since the space painting on his shoulder and neck. It’s unusual. He usually at least gets some sort of doodle. He’s been thinking back to that galaxy painting, trying to remember and analyze the emotions that had filtered through then, looking for some sort of clue as to what might be wrong. He remembers feeling anxiousness squeeze at his heart, nervousness gnaw at his gut, but also excitement buzzing through his veins. Nothing about that was particularly bad. He just wants to know what happened. And while he knows that, logically, it can’t have anything to do with him because he didn’t do anything, he can’t help but wonder if it’s somehow his fault. “I just… I want to know they’re okay.”

“I’m sure they are, Lance. No use getting yourself worked up over nothing. They’ll come around in their own time.”

He looks at her then, a small smile on his lips. “Thanks, Allura.”

“Any time, Lance.”

He then throws himself toward the counter and laying his torso across it, arms stretched out to dangle off the other side. “Now tell me about your soulmaaate!”

His head is tilted up to look at her, so he sees the moment her soft smile drops, her eyes widen, and her cheeks start to darken. She blinks, clearing her throat and tugging the newspaper out from under him. “What about him?” She says, trying to fake nonchalance, but Lance can practically see her heartbeat speed up like it always does when her SM is brought up.

Honestly, if Hunk is the front runner for cutest blush when his soulmate is brought up, Allura is a close second. Lance grins. “Alluraaaaaa!” He draws out her name, lifting his head and flopping his hands at her, lightly slapping at her arm. She leans away from him, setting the newspaper on the other side of the register and smoothing it out. “Come oooon, I’m sad, tell me about your soulmate to cheer me up! Let me live vicariously through you!”

She huffs, brows pinched slightly and lips tugging downward. It doesn’t do much to hide her blush tho. “I don’t know why hearing about him would cheer you up.” She grumbles.

“Because you guys are the sweetest.”

She rolls her eyes. “Lance, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think?”

“Uh, no,” He says, resting an elbow on the counter and propping his cheek up against his hand. He’s still bent over the counter, stretched out and waggling his eyebrows at her. “Allura, you’re left handed.”

“And?”

“You taught yourself how to write with your right hand for him!”

She stiffens a little. “So? Anyone would have done the same.”

Lance chuckles. “Yeah, but I’ve seen you write with your right hand. Your handwriting is terrible, but he still sends you patient words and little hearts.”

She’s definitely blushing now, lips pursed lightly as she keeps her eyes fixed on the crossword puzzle in front of her.

Lance hadn’t known Allura when the accident had happened. He’d still been in high school. But he’s heard about it. He asked a couple years ago when he noticed she was writing on her left arm in a barely legible handwriting instead of just using her dominate hand. She had been twenty at the time her soulmate lost his right arm in a car accident. Even at that time, they were close. She spent weeks trying to figure out why he wasn’t responding to her messages, and when he did, he was acting strangely reserved. It took him a while to tell her about the accident and admit that he had lost his right arm. She said he was ashamed and embarrassed about it, as if it might make her change her mind about him. She scolded him for that, for keeping it a secret and making her believe there was something wrong with their connection when her marks didn’t go through. She immediately started teaching herself to write with her right hand.

It’s been five years since then, and she’s gotten a lot faster with it, but her handwriting is still terrible. Her SM never seems to care though, and Lance’s heart aches just thinking about it.

“He doesn’t always send me hearts.” She mumbles, tapping her pen on the counter.

“He looooves you!” He sings, and he gets the pleasure of seeing a wonderful mix of mortification and embarrassment on her beautiful features.

“Lance!”

“Come on, Allura, you guys are like, goals.”

“I don’t know why you’d think that.”

Lance props himself up on both elbows so he can count off on his fingers. “One, you guys support each other all the time. Two, you’re super sweet. Three, you send each other recipes to try every weekend, like you’re making dinner together or something, it’s adorable. Four, he writes good morning to you every day. Five, he calls you princess. Six—“

“Alright! I get it!” She says, swatting at his hands, lips pursed and brows pinched in adorable embarrassment.

Lance laughs, straightening off the counter so she can’t reach him. “Six, you both agreed to meet each other naturally because it’s romantic, but you have that adorable little agreement.” His lips curve into a wicked grin as her blush reaches her ears. “What is it again?” He coos. “Every time he comes into a coffeeshop, he orders your recommended drink of the month, like an adorable little codeword so you’ll know it’s him. What’s it this month, princess?”

She rolls up her newspaper, stands up, and reaches across the counter to swat at him. He laughs, dancing away from her reach. “It’s none of your business!” She snaps, face flaming.

“It’s a marble mocha macchiato, I believe!” Coran says, pushing through the kitchen doors with his back and a tray full of fresh donuts in his hands. “Brilliant alliteration on my part, if I do say so myself.”

“Coran!” Allura shouts, spinning on her heel and glaring at the man, though he notes it looks a little more like a pout.

Coran stops mid step, blinking at her before his gaze slides to Lance, then back again. “Was I not supposed to say that? You asked me to help you come up with something for this month.”

“It’s private!” She tries again, but it sounds like a defeated whine.

“I’d like to point out that when it comes to your secret soulmate special orders, they’re not really a secret.” Hunk says, poking his head out of the kitchen doors. “You always tell us to keep an eye out for those specific orders.”

Allura just groans, sits back down, and puts her head to the counter. “Don’t you all have jobs to do?”

“As your friends, it’s our job to make sure you’re properly embarrassed when we tease you about your soulmate.” Lance says, grinning widely as he crosses his arms over his chest.

Coran hums thoughtfully as he bends down to restock the display case. “He has a point.”

“It’s alright, Allura.” Hunk says stepping up behind her to put a hand on her shoulder. “He teases me all the time about mine.”

She tilts her head to look up at him, a small smile on her face. “Thanks, Hunk.”

He nods. “Anytime,” And then he smiles. “By the way, Lance forgot to mention how he does your eyeliner for you most days. Which is, might I add, incredible and adorable.”

Lance snaps his fingers. “Oh, right! That shit is always on point!”

Allura groans again, rolling her forehead back and forth on the countertop, which is only drowned out by their laughter.

They’re interrupted, however, by a jingling of the chimes as the door opens. They all turn together, Allura lifting her head off the counter and Coran popping up from behind the display case.

Keith is standing in the doorway to the coffeeshop, wearing a hoodie that swallows him despite the fact that it’s pretty warm outside today. His hair looks like it’s wet, and it’s pulled back into a loose ponytail. He’s not looking at any of them. His lips are pursed into small frown, brows pinched, and eyes on the floor across the room. It’s… oddly adorable and strangely endearing.

Something briefly flutters in Lance’s chest, and he blames it on the fact that he hasn’t seen Keith in a few days. If he’s being honest, he’s been a little worried about the guy. He’s been… off for a few days. Or, more accurately, a little over a week. Lance noticed it, but he didn’t think it was any of his business. Until his worries got the better of him and it seemed like Keith was avoiding him. His confrontation with Keith eased his mind, but he was still worried about him. He’s Pidge’s best friend, after all. And, Lance likes to think, his new friend.

But despite looking like a cat that was just dragged out of a nap, Keith looks good.

For a moment, Lance is too overwhelmed with Keith to notice the guy standing next to him. But then he does, and he kinda wonders how the fuck he didn’t see him to begin with. Yeah, Keith might be endearing with the whole disgruntled puppy look, but this guy is fucking gorgeous. And the scar across his face and white stock of hair at the front of his head do nothing to detract from it. If anything, they give him this handsome, rugged look. And he’s built, practical dwarfing Keith next to him.

And to top it all off, he has the brightest, warmest smile on his face Lance thinks he’s ever seen.

“Hey, Keith!” Hunk says, breaking the brief silence. He lifts a hand in greeting as Keith looks up.

His frown eases a little bit into a small smile. “Hey, Hunk.”

“Keith! How are you today?” Coran says, grinning from ear to ear as he slides the donut case door shut.

“Uh, fine. Good.” The guy next to Keith nudges him lightly with an elbow, and Keith shoves back at him. “Thanks for asking.”

The two of them step into the shop, and the door swings shut behind them.

“Hey, Keith,” Lance says, grinning brightly as he leans back against the counter, arms crossed over his chest. “Good to see you’re okay.”

Keith glances at him, but his gaze flits away quickly before he mutters. “Hey, Lance…” And he glances up in time for him and the other guy to share a look, and yeah, okay, that’s weird. But whatever. When he looks back at Lance, his brows are pinched, a small smile on his lips. He looks incredibly confused and just a little wary. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?” They come to a stop in front of Lance and in front of the register.

Lance shrugs, smile never faltering. “You haven’t been around for a couple days, so I assumed you were sick or something. Good to see you’re feeling better.”

“Uh, yeah, thanks,” He mumbles, looking away. Lance tries not to let that get to him. He and Keith are fine. New friends just get awkward sometimes. It’s nothing to be worried about. But speaking of fine…

“So who’s this?” He asks, looking to the new guy and giving him a winning smile.

Keith glances up at his companion, and something silent is exchanged between them before Keith’s gaze glances between the rest of them. “Um, guys, this is my brother, Takashi.”

The man’s smile disappears for a second as he sends a small scowl at Keith before putting a hand on his head and roughly ruffling his hair. Keith ducks his head and steps away, glaring at him as he attempts to smooth his hair back down. “Please, call me Shiro.” He says, smiling again as he looks between them all. “Keith’s told me a lot about you guys and quidditch.”

“Has he?” Allura says, sitting up straight on her stool and brightening. Her eyes shift between the two of them, smiling brightly. “I’ll take that as a sign that he’s having fun.” She says, and Keith crosses his arms over his chest, pouting.

“He’s a brilliant addition to the team!” Coran says, holding the empty tray behind him as he reaches over the counter with his other hand. “Name’s Coran.”

Shiro wastes no time taking his hand, and in the process, Lance notices the gleam of metal from the guy’s prosthetic arm. Huh, he hadn’t even noticed. He had assumed it was some sort of soulmark painting.

“I’m Hunk,” He says, lifting a hand in greeting.

“Allura,” She says, smiling.

Then it’s Lance’s turn. He slides forward a step, holding out a hand. “Name’s Lance.” He says, holding Shiro’s hand a little longer than necessary as he looks up at him, tilts his head, and gives him his best charming smile. “But you can call me anytime.” He adds with a wink.

Everyone groans. Keith looks mortified before he slaps a hand over his face, and Lance lets go of Shiro’s hand, throwing back his head and laughing.

“Please, ignore him. He does this far too often.” Allura says, sounding exasperated and far too tired.

He spins on his heel, shooting her an innocent smile. “Only to pretty people.”

She gives him a flat stare, one eyebrow raising slowly. “Lance.”

“Yeah?”

“Go clean the bathrooms.”

“But, Allura—!”

“Now.”

He throws up his hands and stomps away, ignoring the unreadable look on Keith’s face when he catches him watching. He doesn’t go far though, instead stopping at the station where customers can add things to their coffee. He takes a moment to clean and organize everything, checking the milk levels, swiping up spilled sugar, organizing the straws, restocking napkins. He really doesn’t want to go clean the bathrooms, and he’s kind of hoping if he puts it off long enough, Allura will forget she asked him to.

Coran and Hunk disappear back into the kitchen, and Allura sighs again before turning back to the two of them. “So what can we get for the two of you?”

Keith shifts from foot to foot, glancing up at the menu, frowning, then gives a one shouldered shrug. “Just a medium drip coffee.”

Allura taps the screen and pulls out a cup that she pushes across the counter to him. “And will this be together or…?”

“I’ll be paying for us both.” Shiro says, patting Keith’s shoulder.

Keith mutters what Lance thinks might have been a thanks, and takes his cup before ducking out of his brother’s reach. He trudges over to where the coffee urns are, which is right next to where Lance is procrastinating. He leans a hip against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest, grinning at him.

“I can’t believe you hit on my brother.” Keith grumbles as he looks over the coffee options.

Lance shrugs. “It’s all in good fun. Everyone knows I don’t mean it.” Keith still looks disgruntled though, and still won’t look at him. So Lance leans over, nudging Keith’s shoulder with his own. “What’s the matter, Keith? Want me to hit on you instead?”

Keith’s head whips around to gape at him, eyes wide and a little panicked. It’s cute. Lance’s grin just widens, eyebrows waggling. “W-what?” He sputters, and Lance feels a sense of pride. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Mr. Stoic and Broody this undone. “No.

Lance laughs, nudging him again and not at all deterred by Keith’s scowl. “Keith, buddy, chill. I’m messing with you.” He chuckles and reaches out a hand, tapping the middle urn. “By the way, I recommend this one. It’s the most popular one we have.”

Keith blinks, following his gesture and reading the name of the coffee. He looks a little thrown by the sudden topic change. “Uh, thanks.”

Lance shrugs, “No problem.” And finds a little satisfaction when Keith takes his suggestion.

“‘I’ll have a…” Shiro trails off, and Lance looks up curiously to see his face scrunched up in thought. “Hold on, I have it written down somewhere…” He pulls out his phone, taps the screen a few times, and then reads off of it. “A marbled mocha macchiato.”

Lance freezes, breath hitching in his throat. He thinks his mouth might have dropped open, but he’s not entirely sure. His eyes snap to Allura. She’s staring at Shiro, back straight, eyes wide, lips parted. She looks as completely shell shocked as he feels, but he knows it has to be ten times stronger for her. If she wasn’t already sitting down, he would have rushed behind the counter in fear of her falling over. Instead, he just freezes, watching everything from a distance.

He can barely breathe, anticipation threatening to strangle him as he silently urges Allura to pull herself together and say the next part of the planned exchange. She’s told him about it before. She gives her soulmate a new drink to order every month at whatever coffeeshops he goes to on the playful offhanded chance that he’ll walk into hers. If she hears the drink order, she’s supposed to say—

“Would…” Her voice is so soft he can barely hear her, and he ends up leaning forward a little bit subconsciously. She clears her throat, sits up straighter, tucks a stray strand of hair behind her hair in the way she does when she’s nervous, looks up at him through her lashes in a shy way that Lance is not used to seeing on her— “Would you like some juniberries with that?”

He can hear her voice shaking just slightly, a hesitance that she tries to cover up. She’s done this before when people order her chosen drink of the month, and she’s always been disappointed.

But Shiro is gawking at her now, his head having shot up far too quickly. His eyes are wide and his mouth is definitely hanging open, and Lance would have to be blind to miss the bright red that’s coloring his cheeks, making his scar stand out.

“Oh, man…” Lance breaths. “Ooooh man, oh manohmanohman.” He grabs Keith’s sleeve, tugging at it in his excitement.

Keith glares at his hand, setting down his coffee cup before he spills it everywhere. “Lance, what are you—“ He cuts himself off when he gets a look at Lance’s face.

Lance wastes no time, grabbing his shoulder and spinning him around. “Dude, look.” He leans forward to hiss in Keith’s ear, barely able to keep his voice down in his excitement. Oooh man, he’s never witnessed a first meeting before, let alone one of his friends, let alone literally the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen meeting her soulmate, who is the most beautiful man he’s ever seen.

Shiro blinks once, twice. His mouth opens and closes, and a strangled whine comes out like he’s trying to talk but nothing is working properly. Then his phone slips from his grip and he has to break his gaze away as he fumbles to catch it. When he straightens, he clears his throat and— “Aren’t those flowers?”

Lance is bouncing on the balls of his feet, chest fluttering with excitement as he watches as they stare at each other. Slowly, so slowly that it’s like watching the sun rise or fog dissipate, they smile at each other. Small, shy smiles that reach their eyes, and—

The door to the kitchen slams open, bounces off the doorstop and slams back into Coran, who was in the middle of stepping through the doorway. There’s a muffled curse as he stumbles back into the kitchen, but the suddenness of it is enough to catch everyone’s attention. They all turn to stare at the door as it slams open again, Coran strides out, and— “ALLURA, HOLY QUIZNAK!”

“Coran, that’s not a word!” He can hear Hunk shout from the kitchen.

“It was when we made it up at the tender age of twelve, and it’s applicable now!” Coran shouts, then points over the counter at Shiro. “Allura! Did I hear correctly? Is this—?”

Allura giggles, and she looks startled by it because she slaps a hand over her mouth to hide her smile. Her cheeks are stained dark pink. “I, uh… I think he might be— yes…” She looks back at Shiro, shyness taking over again, and it’s such a strange yet endearing look on her, and god he’s so happy for her.

Shiro smiles then, a slow, small smile that radiates warmth. He stares at her like they’re the only ones in the room, and when he speaks, his voice is low, soft, and filled with such tender fondness that Lance feels like he’s intruding on a private moment. “It’s nice to finally meet you, princess.”

“Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” Lance asks, leaning forward to whisper into Keith’s ear. He jumps and turns, staring at Lance with wide, surprised eyes. Lance spares him an amused smile before turning his attention back to the others. He nods toward them. “Seeing a first meeting like this? Kinda awesome, right?”

Keith turns away, shuffling a few inches away from him and crossing his arms over his chest. “I… kinda feel like I’m intruding…” He mumbles.

Lance chuckles softly. “Yeah, me, too. But… it’s kinda a magical moment, and I’m glad I got to see it.” There’s a familiar warm feeling in his chest. It’s the same feeling he gets when he hears his parents talk about how they met, the same feeling he got when his siblings met their soulmates. It’s an overwhelming fondness for his friends, his family, for his soulmate, for love. It’s tinged with a bitter sadness, a desire to have that for himself. He wants it, desperately so, but he knows he has to wait. And he knows his soulmate will be worth the wait. He’s happy for them, he really is. He feels giddy right down to his bones. But there’s an ache there, too. An ache and a need to have what they have, to meet his own special person and have his own fairytale. “I hope when I meet my soulmate, they’ll look at me the way your brother is looking at Allura.” He says softly, wistful, and mostly to himself.

There’s suddenly movement as Keith turns to grab his coffee cup, shoves a lid on it, and steps away. His face is scrunched up and scowling, but it’s less disgruntled than it was earlier and more… just more. Like there’s a war going on behind the scenes that Lance can’t quite figure out. He’s also turning his face away to hide his conflicted expression from Lance.

Without thinking, his hand shots out and he grabs Keith’s arm. “Hey, where’re you going?” Keith freezes for a moment, then glances over his shoulder at Lance. His face is carefully blank, but there’s something in his eyes and a small frown on his lips. Lance’s brows furrow, lips pursing into a thin line. “Seriously, dude, you alright?”

“Yeah, I just—“ He cuts himself off, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “I’m fine. I just need to… work on somethings.” He opens his eyes, and when he does, it’s like he’s a completely different person. His eyes are clearer, sharper, his face more relaxed, lips set into a determined line. “When Shiro snaps out of his trance, tell him I went to work in the studio, okay?”

And before Lance can respond, Keith has pulled out of his grip and slipped out the front door. Lance watches him walk away through the windows, brows pinched in confusion and worry.

He doesn’t really have time to dwell on it, however, because Coran is currently in the process of excitedly interviewing Shiro, and Lance needs to run interference. He manages to push Coran back to the kitchen with Hunk’s help, and convinces Allura to take a break to talk with Shiro while he covers the register. It doesn’t take much to convince her. She looks starstruck, dazed, and it just takes a gentle nudge and reassurances that he’ll be fine.

She ends up taking off the rest of her shift, and Lance can’t say that he blames her. Besides, he’s got everything covered. It’s a weekday, so they’re not particularly busy, and Coran helps him when they have a brief rush later that evening. It’s not a bad day, but he’s still feeling drained by the time his shift is over.

He and Hunk walk back to their dorm together, excited and animately talking about Allura and Shiro. When they get back, Hunk gathers up his things before ducking out to go meet Pidge at the library. He asks Lance if he wants to come, but he declines. Hunk gives him a look and tells him to make sure he does his homework, but Lance just smiles and waves him off.

Once he’s alone, he collapses on his bed, one leg hanging off it and one arm thrown over his stomach while the other lies on the pillow above his head. He stares at the ceiling and heaves a heavy sigh. With all the happiness and excitement surrounded Allura’s first meeting, he had nearly forgotten his current struggle with his own soulmate. Now it just weighs heavier on his heart. They had never responded to him, and he still has no idea if they’re okay. They probably are. He’s probably just overreacting, but… He wishes they were closer. He wishes they had secret codewords for their first meeting and little inside jokes.

He turns his head, eyes roaming over the pictures taped to his wall. There’s dozens of them, covering up all the available space on the wall next to his bed. They’re of all different sizes, some of them with smudges in the glossy finish from where he’d touched them too often. Each one is a different picture of one of his soulmate’s paintings. He takes pictures of all of them, and prints all of them out, but his favorites make it to his wall. His walls back home were a lot more covered, but he has limited space here in his dorm, so he had to make some cuts. The rest of his pictures are in photo albums, stacked in a tub and shoved under his bed.

He reaches a hand up, touching the closest ones. He has pictures here spanning over several years. The most recent addition is the galaxy painting on his neck. It’s the last thing he’s gotten from them. The last time he heard from them. He really hopes they’re alright.

He closes his eyes, letting his arm fall over his face as he takes several deep breaths. He doesn’t like being jealous of other people’s soulmates. He knows his soulmate is perfect for him. He loves his soulmate, it’s just… it’s just hard when he can’t express it. And it’s hard when he sees what other people have. He knows he’ll get there eventually, it’s just… hard.

But he’ll get through this. He always does. He tilts his arm back, peering out at his wall of paintings again. His eyes immediately find the most recent galaxy, and a small smile finds its way to his lips.

“One day, space cadet. One day…”

He’s not sure how long he’s been dozing for when he feels it, but he’s deep enough into sleep that at first, he thinks it’s a dream. But the tingling continues, foreign emotions filtering and flitting through his chest, slowly drawing him back to consciousness. He blinks back sleep, feeling drowsy and disoriented, trying to figure out what the hell is going on and why he feels so strange—

Then the realization hits him all at once and he sits up straight, making himself dizzy in the process. Eyes wide, lips parted, he lifts up his arm. There are colors there, spreading out across his skin in smooth strokes from an invisible brush. His lips curve then, forming a smile so wide his cheeks ache. But he doesn’t care. His soulmate is painting again!

His flash of excitement is immediately dampened by the somber feelings swelling in his chest. They’re not strong or passionate in their negativity, nor can he really call it sorrow. They’re just… somber, hollow, sad and distressed in such a way that almost feels numb. There’s no sharpness, no heat. It feels… thoughtful, introspective, which is oddly solemn when he doesn’t know the thoughts that are there to cause the emotions.

It sobers him up real quick, and he lays back on his bed, holding his arm above his head to watch his soulmate work. At first he thinks that maybe the painting is fire again, but no, it’s not. If he’s learned anything, it’s that his soulmate usually paints something that mirrors their state of mind, and fire definitely doesn’t fit them right now. No, the colors are the same: yellows and oranges, but it’s not fire.

As he watches, he tries to sort through the emotions filling his chest, but despite their lack of intensity, they’re still chaotic. They swirl and clash, feeling heavy and choking, but when he reaches for them, they shy away, slipping through his fingers like smoke. A chaos, but a calm chaos where nothing sticks and nothing makes sense. And beneath it all, a constant that Lance can’t quite shake, so subtle that at first he hadn’t noticed it at all, is a self hatred. It’s so familiar, but he hasn’t felt that from his soulmate in years.

It twists his heart in a bone deep ache as a frown finds it’s way to his lips. He wants to hold them. He wants to tell them it’ll be okay. He wants them to know that he’s here. But right now, all he can do is sit and watch and witness, a silent support that his SM will know is there. He’s always been here. He always will be

The colors spread, bright yellows, brilliant oranges, fading to shades of reds and purples. There’s no defining shapes, but the center is yellow and the colors spread out from it. There’s undefinable blurs that obscure and reflect, catching the colors spread around his arm. When his arm is nearly completely covered, he knows it’s coming to an end. He doesn’t want it to end. He doesn’t want their connection to fade. He wants to cling to it and treasure it, but he knows it’ll come again. It always fades, and it always comes again. His soulmate will always continue to paint. As long as they’re both alive, they’ll be connected.

Then something shifts in the foreign feelings in his chest. It’s subtle at first, but grows stronger, a balm spreading out and soothing the negativity buzzing in his limbs. Where it touches, the storm quells, the shifting storm clouds dissipating and calming. It’s slow, oozing out and leaving a tired, wary, somber contentment in it’s wake. And from that stillness rises a strength, a determination that he knows and loves. It’s not as strong or loud as it usually is, but it’s there. It’s a desire to persevere, something he’s felt many times before through their soul connection, and one that he admires.

Lance struggles to find a name for the calming feeling, but when he does, he can’t quite shake it: acceptance.

The tingling stops and their connection fades, the foreign emotions slipping from him until he’s left feeling oddly empty and hollow.

He sits up, looking down at his arm to admire their work. He hasn’t noticed the shifting in lighting in his room, but it seems oddly familiar. He lifts his head, eyes going to the window. Feeling like he’s being tugged forward, he gets to his feet and shuffles across the room, reaching out to pull the blinds. Outside his dorm window, he has a fantastic view of the sunset.

He stares at it a moment, then lifts his arm. The colors match almost exactly, and his breath catches. He sees it now: a sunset, clouds catching and shifting the coloring, the sun bright at the center. A small, ghost of a smile tugs at the corners of his lips as he looks out the window.

He wonders if his soulmate is looking at the same sunset, and a familiar warmth fills his chest.

“One day, space cadet...”

my sunset


 

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Hey, sorry about ditching you like that
> I wasn’t… that was unexpected
> But
> God, Keith, she’s perfect, she’s amazing, I can’t believe
> I can’t believe she’s mine???
> I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that
> Anyway, how’re you doing? Are you okay?

Keith
> No, but I’m getting there

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I’m glad
> I’m here if you need me, little bro

Keith
> Thanks, and Shiro?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Yeah?

Keith
> I’m happy for you, really. Allura’s great

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Thanks, Keith
> She is
> But I’ve known that for years

Chapter Text

Keith has always been good at blocking everything out.

When his hands are busy, he finds it really easy to simply ignore his surroundings and let his mind process the things that he doesn’t really want to think about. It’s how he comes to terms with things, how he finds peace with the things he can’t control, and how he calms down when it feels like everything is falling apart around him. Sometimes it’s working on one of his bikes, something physical and labor intensive. Sometimes it’s puzzle games, the hands-on ones with wood and string and rings, and more recently, rubix cubes. Sometimes it’s a long, scenic drive on his bike. Sometimes it’s the gym or a hard run. And more often than not, it’s his art.

So while he’s sitting on the floor of the hallway, leaning up against the wall near his public speaking classroom, headphones on and music drowning out the shuffle of footsteps and muted conversations around him, hunched over his sketchbook and hand scribbling fiercely with a fever that borders on desperate, it’s no real surprise that he doesn’t notice anyone approach him.

That is, until his headphones are suddenly being pulled away from one ear and a voice startles him out of his thoughts.

“If you keep glaring like that, you’re gonna burn a hole through the paper.”

Keith jumps, and a surprised, strangled yelp escapes him before he can stop it. The voice is close and way, way too familiar. He slams his sketchbook closed with far more force than necessary, his pencil slipping out of his grasp as he does so and clattering to the floor. He leans away, whipping his head up to gaze up at a stunningly bright grin.

“Lance!” He gapes, internally cringing a bit at how high his voice sounds. What is wrong with him? He lowers his headphones until they’re resting around his neck.

Lance’s eyes are alight with amusement, and that’s enough to get him to snap his mouth shut, pursing into a small frown. “That’s my name, don’t wear it out.” He says easily, stopping Keith’s runaway pencil with the toe of his shoe and pushing it back towards him. Keith takes it and shoves it back into his pencil pouch, zipping it up. While he does so, Lance slides down the wall, sitting next to him with one leg outstretched and one knee pulled up. “I don’t know why you’re so surprised. You know I have this next class with you.” He says, voice teasingly light.

Keith busies himself with putting his pencil pouch away. “I know, I just… wasn’t expecting you so early.” And it is early. At least for Lance. There’s still twenty-five minutes before their class starts, which is a whole ten before the previous class even lets out. Usually on these days, they have lunch with Pidge before hanging out in the campus coffeeshop. Lance usually doesn’t let them leave for class until the last possible second. So Keith really hadn’t expected him for another twenty-three minutes at least.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Lance shrug. “Pidge had to leave for class early, and I didn’t want to hang out at the coffeeshop by myself, soooo here I am.” He holds out an extra cup Keith hadn’t noticed he was carrying, bumping his arm against Keith’s to get his attention. “Speaking of which, I brought you some of that devil juice you like to drink.”

Keith just stares at it for a moment before his gaze slides up to Lance’s. He blinks. “What?”

Lance rolls his eyes, pushing the cup into his hands. “Just take it.”

take the devil juice keith

Keith does, and hesitantly lifts it to his face, sniffing it for a moment before taking a small, cautionary sip. His brows furrow, lips pursing as he looks back to Lance. “This is just coffee?” Just plain, black coffee from what he can tell.

Lance grins, eyes crinkling at the edges with the effort of holding back a laugh. “Yeah,” He says, voice almost even but his laugh is definitely there. “Like I said: devil juice.”

Keith breathes out a sharp, short amused laugh. “Not all of us like drinks that are eighty-five percent sugar and syrup.” He says dryly.

Lance gasps loudly, leaning away as he puts his free hand to his chest. “Keith! What kind of heathen do you think I am?” He lifts his own coffee cup into view. “This is clearly ninety-five percent sugar and syrup.”

Keith can’t help the way his lips twitch at the corners, but he manages to hold his voice at an even deadpan. “Clearly.”

Lance just shrugs, easy smile in place as he leans back against the wall. “It’s called flavor, Keith.”

“Whatever you say, Lance.”

They’re silent for several moments. Keith idly sips his drink, relaxing against the wall. His fingers idly trace the spine of his sketchbook while his eyes follow several people as they leave the nearby stairwell.

“So why weren’t you there today?” Lance says after a moment. His voice is casual, but there’s an odd note there that Keith can’t quite place. He glances sideways at him, but he’s not looking at him.

“Huh?”

“At lunch and stuff. Pidge just said you were busy.” He asks, turning his head to smirk at him, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “You ditching us again?”

Guilt rolls hard and heavy in his stomach as he looks down at the cup in his hand. “Uh, no, I…” He clears his throat and tries again with more conviction. He has nothing to feel guilty about. Not this time, anyway. “I’ve been in the studio. Since I skipped two days, I’ve had some work to catch up on.” He scratches his cheek. “I think I finished it all though, so… yeah.”

He’s not sure how to explain it, but Lance seems to visibly relax at his side. “Well, that’s good at least. I’m glad you’re back.”

Keith eyes him, one eyebrow raised in his surprise. “You are?”

Lance looks away, shrugging. “Well, yeah. Classes are boring without you, dude.”

“Lance, we only have one class together.”

“Uh, yeah, and that one class is boring without you. My point still stands.”

Keith rolls his eyes, but there’s a small smile he can’t quite help. He hides it behind his coffee cup. That is, until Lance absently gestures to the sketchbook resting in his lap. “So what were you doing?”

“Nothing,” He says a little too quickly, spreading his free hand across the cover, like that might somehow hide the book from view. It doesn’t.

Lance eyes him, one eyebrow raised, then his gaze lowers to the book. His face lights up. “Oh! Is that the journal you were writing in before?” He asks, sitting up a little straighter. Keith knows what he’s referring to. He’s referring to the first day they met. The first day he met his soulmate, and they were both assholes. He bristles a little at the memory.

It’s not exactly the First Meeting they write about in romance novels, nor is it the First Meeting Lance has no doubt been dreaming of.

“Uh, yeah…”

“You never did show me what’s in it.” He’s already reaching for the sketchbook, long, dark fingers brushing over the plain black cover. Keith tenses. “Can I see—“

“No!” He snaps, pulling the book away abruptly and half twisting away from him. He scowls, everything about his posture defensive.

Lance just freezes, eyes wide as he blinks, mouth hanging open in shock. Then, as Keith watches, something terrible happens: hurt flashes in the depths of those blue eyes, his lips pursing as his entire expression hardens. His fingers curl into a loose fist as he pulls his hand back. “Oh,” He says, voice sounded way too cold and oddly empty. “Okay. Sorry.”

Keith sighs, forcing himself to relax. That knot of guilt is back. He can’t tell if he feels it because this is his soulmate or if it’s because that look does not suit Lance in the slightest. “Look, Lance—“

“No, it’s okay, dude.” He says in a way that makes Keith feel like it’s really not fine at all. “I mean, I know I was an ass back when I teased you about it, and I’m sorry about that, okay?”

“Lance—“

“I just, I don’t know…” He’s fidgeting now, scratching the back of his neck and refusing to look at Keith. “I thought maybe we were past that?”

“Lance—“

“Never mind, it’s stupid, just forget about it—“

Lance,” Keith says, loud and exasperated. He sighs, running a hand down his face. “It’s not you, alright?” He doesn’t know why Lance always jumps to the conclusion that it is him, and he feels like normally he would brush it off and move on. But he just… doesn’t like the idea of Lance stewing in the idea that he’s somehow done something wrong. Or that Keith doesn’t trust him. Despite how annoying he can be, Lance is a good guy. Maybe not someone Keith wants as a soulmate, but he is a good person.

Lance remains quiet, and Keith huffs, realizing that he’s going to have to keep talking. He traces his fingers along the edge of the sketchbook, feeling the texture of the pages. “It’s not just you, okay?” He repeats, softer this time. “I don’t… I don’t usually like showing people my art. Even Pidge and Shiro, and I’m closer to them than anyone. And especially this one.” He taps the cover of the sketchbook, feeling his insides twist. “This one is… private.”

It’s his soulmark sketchbook, where he recreates all the designs he paints on himself. He could just take pictures, sure, but he just… he likes drawing them out. He paints in the moment, with little thought about what he’s doing other than just going with the feeling. And then he recreates it from memory later. It’s just always how he’s done things, and he finds comfort in it. It’s always been his private sketchbook. He’s never shown anyone besides his mother, and she’s been gone for several years now.

And he especially can’t show Lance. There’s too much of a risk that Lance would recognize the drawings, even if they were just on a page instead of twisting along his body. And if Lance realized their connection…

Keith has to suppress the shiver of dread that wracks down his spine. He may have come to accept that Lance is his soulmate, but he’s really not ready to face that reality just yet. He’d rather just… ignore it for now. Put it in a box and save it for another day. Let that be future Keith’s problem, cause present Keith isn’t fucking ready for that.

“Soooo I was right.”

Keith glances up, confusion coloring his features. Lance’s lips quirk into a small, wry smile. The hurt has faded from his expression.

“What?”

Lance’s smile widens. “It is like your diary.”

Keith rolls his eyes, shoving Lance’s arm hard enough to make him tip over. He laughs as he goes down, holding his coffee cup up at an angle so it doesn’t spill. When he rocks back up, he’s grinning, and Keith ignores him as he puts his sketchbook away.

Then movement catches his eye.

He tilts his head in time to see Lance pushing his sleeves to his elbows, revealing the colors of a sunset imprinted onto the skin of his left forearm. Keith freezes, and he’s pretty sure he makes a sound as his breath hitches when his heart lodges itself firmly in his throat. The sound seems to catch Lance’s attention, and he must have noticed where Keith was staring, cause suddenly he’s smiling, holding up his arm for Keith to see better, slowly twisting it to give him a well rounded view.

But Keith already knows what it looks like. He witnessed that sunset from the wall length window in the studio. He captured that sunset onto his arm with paint. And he’s been trying to feverishly recreate that sunset in his sketchbook with colored pencils. And now here it is, a little faded but colors still bright as they appear deeply ingrained onto Lance’s arm.

He’s… never seen one of his own soulmarks this close before. He’d only seen the galaxy tattooed on lance’s neck from afar, and only for a moment. Here, now, he can see his work up close, mesmerizingly beautiful and yet horrifically taunting. Here it is. His marks. On Lance’s skin. He did that. Lance is carrying his marks. He already knew he would. He already came to terms with that. But it was one thing to know it, and an entirely different matter to see the proof shoved so clearly into his face. Any small hope in his chest that he was wrong, any small defiant spark of denial buried in his heart dies.

His mouth feels dry. There’s a strange buzzing in his ears. His heart sounds way too loud, and he’s not entirely certain that he’s breathing. His eyes are fixed on Lance’s arm, fascinated by the way his muscles and tendons roll beneath the colored skin. It’s like a train wreck inside his chest, mind blaring alarms, but he can’t look away. He’s stuck, frozen—

“—an artist!”

It takes him a moment to realize Lance is speaking to him, and that’s enough to tear him out of his daze. He shakes his head, forcing his eyes up to Lance’s face. “What?” He croaks, voice on the verge of cracking. Luckily, Lance doesn’t seem to notice.

He’s grinning, eyes staring down at his own arm as he twists it under the florescent hallway lights. “I said, my soulmate is an artist.” The fondness in his voice and the soft look in his eyes is too much. Keith’s gut clenches, hard and nauseating. He tastes bile on his tongue. “They’re amazingly talented—“ Stop. “And I always get these really cool painting tattoos—“ Stopstopstop. “I mean, not to brag, but I’m pretty sure I won the fucking lottery when it comes to—“

“That’s great,” Keith snaps, unable to keep the hardness from his voice. He stands abruptly, grabbing his backpack and throwing the strap over his shoulder. He walks away, leaving Lance gaping at him, a frown on his lips and a furrow to his brows. He ignores him, going to stand by the classroom door as the previous class filters out. His heart is hammering in his chest, and it’s all he can do to keep the nauseous guilt at bay. Lance comes up behind him, but neither of them say anything, and as soon as the wave of students is clear, Keith ducks into the room, taking his usual seat at the end of the row.

Lance sits next to him, and Keith tries to ignore him, but he’s all too aware of the slouch in his shoulders, of the way he crosses his arms over his chest, of the way he pouts and refuses to look at Keith. Keith really knows he fucked up when he realizes that Lance isn’t talking to him. Lance always talks to him before class. The guy is a fucking chatterbox, even if Keith rarely gives him anything to go off of. But right now he’s pointedly not talking to him, and that just makes the guilt solidify a little more.

That, and the fact that that Lance has pushed his sleeves back down to his wrists.

Keith tries not to let it get to him. It’s for the best, after all. He doesn’t want Lance to think it’s okay to just ramble about his soulmate in front of him. That’s not what Keith wants. That would just make it harder to ignore the whole situation. So he forces himself to breathe, to let his muscles relax, and slowly, that ball of tension eases.

Unfortunately, his plan of ignoring Lance for the rest of the class doesn’t really go over well when their teacher announces that they’re going to be doing impromptu speeches. That, in and of itself, isn’t too strange. They’ve done a couple of exercises so far where they’ve had ten minutes to come up with a short speech about themselves or some other given topic. What’s different about this one is that they’re apparently doing it pairs.

“This speech is going to be more of a sales pitch.” Their teacher says, “You’re going to get into pairs, find a random item you have with you, and you’ll have ten minutes to outline a two to five minute speech, in which you and your partner will attempt to sell the item to the class. None of this has to be too serious. It’s just an exercise on creativity, working under pressure, and working with a partner.”

When she dismisses them to find partners, he’s not all that surprised to hear the loud, dramatic sigh from his side. “Guess that makes us partners.” Lance says, turning his head to glance at Keith. There’s a small smile tugging at his lips, and Keith knows that his rudeness earlier has been mostly forgiven.

He humors Lance with a wry smile. “Do I have much of a choice?”

Lance’s smile widens at that. “That you do not, mullet.”

Unfortunately, working with Lance is a lot harder than Keith anticipated. He would rather work with Lance than someone he doesn’t know, but damn does Lance make it hard for him to stick to that mentality. He’s there to rebuff Keith every time he makes a suggestion, but then only proceeds to make an even more ridiculous suggestion instead. They spend the entire ten minutes of prep time arguing over what item to sell, and absolutely none of it on actually outlining a sales pitch.

“We are not going to use my hair tie, Lance.” He says for what feels like the hundredth time.

“Why not?” He says, already reaching for his ponytail to make a grab for it. Keith leans away, and Lance pouts. “It’s perfect.”

Keith resists the urge to roll his eyes. “It’s too simple. Besides, what can we say about a hair tie? It ties your hair. That’s it. That’s the only use.”

Lance clicks his tongue. “Ye of little faith and even littler creativity. We can come up with a bunch of uses! She said it doesn’t have to be serious! Think outside the box, Keith.”

“There’s a difference between thinking outside the box and being stupid.”

You’re being stupid!”

“Just pick something else!’

“Your sketch book—“

“No.” He says quickly, and thankfully Lance drops it. “What about our coffee cups?”

Lance waves him off. “Boring.”

“A pencil—“

“Next!”

“Your shoe,” Keith says, sarcasm leaking into his voice.

Lance straightens, eyebrows raising. “Now there’s an idea…” Keith rolls his eyes. “But I can think of something better.” He reaches out, lightning fast, and his fingers curl around Keith’s wrist, dragging his arm between them. He’s grinning brightly as he holds up Keith’s hand. “Your gloves!”

Keith scowls. “No.”

Lance’s face drops. “Why not?” He shakes Keith’s wrist a little, and Keith curls his hand into a fist to keep it from flopping around. “This is perfect! Let’s do your stupid emo gloves!”

“No,” Keith repeats, feeling a familiar itch act up. The words tattooed onto his palms, pick up lines new and faded, the words I’m glad you’re okay, I missed you etched into the thin skin on his inner wrist, just barely covered by the leather of his gloves. They burn. And he knows it’s irrational, and that they’re not actually burning, but damn if it doesn’t feel that way. He tries to tug his hand away, but Lance latches on tight. “Let go.”

“Come on, Keith! No one else here has gloves. It’s perfect!”

Keith groans, letting his shoulder droop as he rolls his whole head along with his eyes. “Fine,” He says, making damn certain that his exasperation is clear. “But I’m not taking them off.”

At that, Lance frowns, brows furrowing and eyes looking over Keith’s hand like it was somehow diseased without him knowing. His gaze then slides up to meet Keith’s, curious but baffled. “Why not?”

“I don’t like taking them off.” He says, trying to sound casual over the sound of his heart racing. He is not about to take them off in front of Lance. No fucking way. He finally manages to pull his wrist out of Lance’s grip, and puts it in his lap, trying to subtly rub away the feeling of Lance’s touch.

Lance’s frown deepens. “Keith, they’re just gloves.”

“Yeah, and I don’t like taking them off.” He repeats, voice hard.

“Like, ever? Do you shower with them on?”

He knows Lance is teasing him, but he bristles anyway. “Drop it, Lance.”

He puts up his hands in surrender. One thing Keith has come to appreciate about Lance is his ability to recognize a sensitive subject when he stumbles across it, and then promptly drop it when the situation calls for it. Despite his avid curiosity, and despite his remarkable ability to stick his foot in his mouth, Lance is actually pretty good at judging when he shouldn’t push someone, and he very rarely ever wants to make someone uncomfortable.

It’s times like that when Keith can actually see how he’s managed to make friends with such amazing and chill people like Hunk and Pidge, and why they appreciate his friendship.

Unfortunately, he can’t drop subjects without just a little more needling. At least when Keith is involved.

“Fine, fine, you can keep your gloves on and the truth behind your hands will remain a mystery to the ages.” Keith glares at him, but Lance just smiles. “We can work with it anyway.”

Keith sighs, pushing the notecard their teacher had given them for outlining their speech between them. “Whatever, so now we just have to—“

The sound of an iphone xylophone cuts him off. He looks up as his teacher turns off her alarm, smiling around the room. “And that’s time. Who wants to go first?”

Keith stifles a groan, and Lance nudges him to get his attention. He scowls at him, but it doesn’t affect Lance’s good natured ease in the slightest as he leans into him and whispers. “Guess we’re winging it, right, buddy?”

They don’t go first, nor do they go second or third, forth or fifth. They have plenty of time to scribble down a brief outline of what they’re going to talk about, but Lance just sits there, leaning back in his seat with his arms crossed over his chest. He gives no indication of being worried about the whole winging it plan, and if he’s not going to make an outline, neither is Keith. So the notecard just sits glaringly empty between them, a reminder that once they’re in front of the room, they’re on their own.

He’s not necessarily nervous about public speaking. Not like some people. That, however, doesn’t mean he’s good at it. He’s not a huge face of all the attention on him, but he can deal with it. He’s just not very good at speeches. Still, as much as it sucks, he’s gotten pretty good at just… accepting his fate and dealing with it whenever he’s had to give presentations.

That, unfortunately, doesn’t stop his stomach from rolling with nerves when he and Lance are called to the front of the room for their turn.

Lance, on the other hand, doesn’t seem nervous at all. He grins, standing and leaning close to Keith to whisper in his ear as he passes, “Just follow my lead. We got this.”

And so he begrudgingly follows Lance to the front of the room and stands awkwardly beside him as Lance leans his elbows and forearms on the podium. He leans over it, clasping his hands loosely together as he surveys the room, waiting for them to settle down with an easy grin on his lips. Keith crosses his arms over his chest, leaning his weight to one leg and doing his damnedest not to fidget.

Despite the teacher’s nod to go ahead, Lance doesn’t start until there’s absolute silence in the room. When he’s certain he has everyone’s attention, he straightens, slapping his hands down on the podium suddenly enough to make Keith, and several other students, jump.

“Hey, Keith!” He says, boisterous and loud, with an odd inflection to his voice that makes Keith think of an infomercial. He supposes that’s the point. Before he can dwell on how easily Lance adapted to his role, he’s looking at him, and Keith is left grasping for straws. Lance raises an eyebrow, giving Keith a subtle nod of encouragement.

“Hey, Lance?” He says, cautious and a little wary. He doesn’t know where Lance is going with this.

“Have you ever found yourself wanting to be the best damn emo you can be?” He’s still using that voice that is so over the top and specifically geared to sound like something terribly scripted.

Keith gives him a flat look, but Lance just looks patient and encouraging. He internally sighs, deciding to humor Lance, if only for the sake of his grade. Besides, he has no better ideas. “Boy, have I.” He deadpans, earning a few snickers from the class.

This only seems to encourage Lance as he leans over the podium, putting one elbow on it while he gestures with his other hand, one finger extended toward the ceiling as he turns back to face the class. “Then have I got the solution for you!”

Lance is getting so into character, so into the show, the Keith finds a smile struggling to curve his lips. He fights to keep it down and his voice even and bland. “What’s that, Lance?”

As if on cue, he straightens, flaring out his hands to the side, fingers spread as he shakes them like jazz hands. “Fingerless gloves!”

A beat. A pause.

“But Lance…” Keith says, drawing out the silence as he turns to stare blankly out at the class while he deadpans. “I already have those.” He lifts up both hands for emphasis in a mimicry of Lance’s own jazz hand gesture.

Lance turns to him, putting his hands to his mouth as he gasps loudly and far too drastically to be real. He then turns back to their audience, gesturing to Keith. “It’s like magic!” He says in a voice that somehow manages to be both dry and awed. Keith really has to struggle to hold back his smile. He can feel it twitching at the edges of his lips. And with that amusement bubbling warm inside him, he doesn’t even hesitate when Lance says, “Model for us, Keith.”

Without missing a beat, like this had been a planned thing all along, Keith starts to model his gloves. He holds out his hands, flipping them to all angles, holding them high before bringing them low. And then, just for the hell of it, he starts to frame his face, voguing with vague gestures that he vaguely remembers seeing models do. The whole time he keeps his face as blank as possible and made unflinching eye contact around the room.

Meanwhile, Lance is beside him, gesturing to him and addressing the class. “Now as you can see, gloves such as these really pull together the modern, college aged emo look. The color, as you can see, is a rich midnight black, which pairs well with nearly anything from an aspiring emo’s wardrobe. Here, the black matches that of Keith’s jeans, tying together the lower half with the upper half. The black also goes well with the subtle, dark colors of his gray hoodie and maroon t-shirt. Without the gloves, seen from the waist up, he might look like just an ordinary boy with a bad hair cut. But we don’t want that, do we, Keith?”

“No, we do not.” He says, striking another pose, letting the dryness seep into his voice.

“Exactly! And the gloves bring to everyone’s attention that, hey, you are an emo, but you’re subtle about it!”

“My wildest dreams come true.”

“The material of these gloves is a soft leather,” Lance says, grabbing one of Keith’s wrists and holding it in front of him for the class to see. Keith freezes for a moment, having a split second of panic with Lance so close to his soulmarks. But no, Lance can’t see them. They’re hidden. And he forces himself to relax. Lance uses his freehand to gesture to Keith’s glove. “This allows the emo on the go to still be able to engage in all necessary activities without hampering movement. Stylish and practical! How do they feel, Keith?”

“I don’t know, Lance.” Keith says, fixing one girl in the front row with a blank stare as he pushes his hand out of Lance’s grip and slaps his hand to the side of his face. “You tell me.” The girl has to hold a hand in front of her mouth to hide her smile.

“It’s like a dark emo cloud is caressing my face.” He says, voice muffled as Keith pushes against his cheek, his nose, the edges of his mouth. He has to twist away, pulling at Keith’s wrist to get him to stop. His own smile is breaking through the mask. Still holding Keith’s wrist, he uses his free hand to pinch the tips of Keith’s fingers, perhaps a little harder than necessary. “Not to mention, the lack of fingers on these gloves tells people, hey! I don’t care about weather! These gloves are for fashion! So everyone can see your chosen nail polish color of choice.” He holds Keith’s hand back a fraction, eyes focusing in on Keith’s nails, which are clear of any nail polish whatsoever. One eyebrow quirks. “Or bad cuticles. Whatever floats your emo boat! And here,” He says, turning the back of Keith’s hand to the audience and pointing to the small area of bared skin. “You will find these bad boys have a window to show people that, yes, you do have skin and a heart beneath that toughened, dark exterior, but it also doubles as a convenient window to allow air flow for when you’re wearing them in the middle of summer. Do you wear them in the dead of summer, Keith?”

“All the time, Lance. I don’t think I even take them off to shower.”

“That’s dedication right there!” He finally lets go of Keith’s hand to lean both forearms on the podium, clasping his hands together and leaning forward like he’s having a personal chat with the class. “So, Keith, how much would you expect to pay for such essentials as these?”

“Money has no value when we’re all doomed to die.” He says, laying it on thick. He’s rewarded when the edges of Lance’s lips quirk just a little higher, and he chuckles softly.

“That is true, my dear fellow, but while we’re living, it sure does help pay the rent. Now you may be thinking that this sort of priceless addition to your modern emo wardrobe is just that: priceless, but what would you say if I told you that you can get a pair of these fine dark beauties for one easy payment of nineteen, ninety-nine?”

“I would say,” He pauses, letting his gaze sweep slowly and unblinkingly across the class. “Wow.”

“Wow, indeed! And if you call now, we’ll add in a second pair of red leather gloves for free. Just for those nights when you’re feeling feisty.”

“Or you want to match the blood of your enemies.”

“Whoa, there, Keith.” Lance says with a dramatic chuckle. “Those gloves are really helping you reach maximum emo-ness!”

“A worthy purchase.”

“And wait, there’s more. If you call now and give the promo code Keith’s Mullet, you’ll get five dollars off your purchase!”

“Five dollars?”

“Five dollars!”

“But Lance, what number do they call?”

“Good question, Keith. If you’re feeling life in that cold, dead heart, and you need these gloves to bring your emo potential together, please call 1-800-EMO-LORD. That number again is 1-800-EMO-LORD. Thank you.”

He takes Keith’s hand again and holds it high before pulling Keith down into a dramatic sweep of a bow as the class claps loudly, laughter mixed in there. Lance slides him a look, lips curled into a cocky grin. Keith can’t help but smirk back.

They end up getting full credit for that assignment.

 


 

 

Lance isn’t about to admit he was worried, but he’d have been lying if he said he wasn’t. His friendship with Keith has always been rocky at best, and it always feels like it’s two steps forward and one step back. One moment they’re fine, the next they’re fighting. One moment it’s all friendly conversation, the next Keith is closing up and walking away. One moment it’s all competition, and the next it’s a heated rivalry. They get along for the most part, but Keith just has these buttons that always manage to get pressed, and the problem is that Lance doesn’t know what those buttons are. Though he supposes he’s not much better. Keith has this incredible knack for pressing his buttons as well.

He’s not stupid, contrary to what he knows a lot of people think about him. They think he’s not very observant, but he is. He likes to think he’s pretty damn good at reading people and situations. How the hell else is he supposed to be able to blend into all kinds of social situations? Unfortunately, Keith seems to be one of the rare people he has a hard time reading. It just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get Keith.

But he’s willing to try. He really is. For Pidge’s sake. He’s their best friend, and he knows that it’s very important to them that all their friends get a long. He also gets the impression that they’re worried about him. He doesn’t blame them. Keith definitely seems like the kind to lock himself away from others if given the chance, and Pidge doesn’t give him that chance.

But it’s also more than that. Lance likes Keith. He really does. Despite everything, he does seem like a pretty cool guy. Maybe not cool like him, or kind and welcoming like Hunk, or smart and fierce like Pidge. But he has his own fire. This weirdly distant and mysterious, but shy and awkward fire that just fits so seamlessly into their group of friends. Like he was always meant to be there. He supposes it makes sense. He’s been friends with Pidge for years, so odds of Lance liking him too is pretty high. So he thinks, given the chance, they have the potential to really get along. He just wishes he could get along with him a hundred percent of the time instead of a rocky seventy-five.

After the last week or so, when Keith was being especially distant, Lance was starting to wonder if he had something to fuck up their budding friendship for good. Despite Keith’s assurances that it wasn’t him, Lance isn’t stupid. He can’t really explain it other than it was just this feeling. This intuition that told him that Keith wasn’t telling the whole truth, that there was more to it. The problem was, he wasn’t sure if it was just Keith being Keith, or if he had actually done something. Pidge had assured him numerous times that it was just Keith and that he gets into these funks sometimes, but… well, paranoia and anxiety is a hard thing to just ignore.

It didn’t help that Lance had his own problems with the whole soulmate thing weighing heavily on his mind.

But once his soulmate started painting again, and Lance felt reassured that they were okay at least for the moment, he was feeling motivated to start finding out ways to reconnect with Keith.

But… turns out he didn’t need to. Keith’s mood took a turn for the better. He started hanging out with them more, started coming to practice again, and stopped looking like he had a major stick up his ass. He was back to just having the regular old tiny stick up his ass instead. Things are still strained and awkward at times, but more in the we’re new friends kinda way and less in the… whatever had been happening before.

This is good. This is fine. Lance can deal with this. He’s great at making friends, and it’s only a matter of time before Keith realizes that he’s the best friend he could ever want. Hell, he might even replace Pidge’s position. He’s a damn good friend when he wants to be, and right now, he wants to be. Keith won’t know what hit him.

It’s at this time that Keith slaps down his Gameboy Color and slides it across the table. It doesn’t slide very well, however, and only stops about halfway, sitting in the center of their small round table in the coffeeshop while he and Pidge just kind of stare. Lance blinks in surprise, eyes lifting to Keith. He’s sitting in his chair, leaning back with his arms crossed over his chest. One foot is propped up on his other knee, and there’s a cocky smirk on his lips that does things to his insides. Like irritation. Definitely irritation.

Lance frowns. “What’s with the smug look, mullet?”

Keith nods toward his Gameboy. “I just won.”

Lance gapes, and it takes him a moment for that to register, and a moment longer to find his voice. “What?” He barely registers Keith’s widening smile as he launches himself forward, dropping his own Gameboy on the table in favor of scrambling to pick up Keith’s. Tilting it to catch the light better, he looks over the game. Sure enough, he has a full pokedex and has beaten the Elite Four. He looks up, gaping. “Wha— how?”

Keith shrugs, but his smirk remains in place. “Guess I’m just a better pokemon master.”

He changes his mind. He does not want to be friends with Keith!

Lance’s face twists as he frowns. “Bullshit!”

Pidge snorts from their seat. They’ve already lost interest and looked back to their computer screen, but it’s clear that they’re still listening. “Wrecked.”

“Pidge, you stay out of this!”

“Nope, you deemed me the referee of this challenge, remember?” They hold out their hand, making grabby motions with their fingers. “Hand it over.” Lance does, and he pouts while Pidge looks over the game. The table is in terse silence until— “Everything seems to check out. Keith is the winner.”

“He cheated!”

“I did not!”

Pidge is already shaking their head, sliding the Gameboy back to Keith. “Nah, you guys agreed on no cheats, and Keith takes challenges like that very seriously. He wouldn’t cheat.”

“I don’t take them that seriously…” Keith mumbles, glaring at them.

Pidge gives him a flat look. “You do.”

He grumbles something else and looks away, sinking a little lower in his chair.

“I can’t believe this!” Lance says, throwing his hands up in the air before falling back into his chair, hunching his shoulders and crossing his arms over his chest. “I was so close! I’m fighting the Elite Four right now!

Keith shrugs again. “Snooze, you lose.”

Lance narrows his eyes. “You. Are the worst.”

Keith’s smug smirk is still fixed firmly in place. Lance wants to smack it right off of him. “Looks like you’re gonna be buying me another coffee.” He says, voice teasing and light. And Lance is torn between enjoying the fact that Keith apparently still likes him enough to tease him, but hating it all the same.

He slaps his hands on the table and stands, wishing the coffeeshop had tile floors cause a dramatic scraping of his chair is really what he was going for and the silent movement on carpet really isn’t cutting it. “Fine,” He says, pointing a finger at Keith from across the table. “But I regret buying you a coffee last week.”

“You bought him a coffee?” Pidge asks, and when Lance looks at them, their head is up, tilted a little in their curiosity, eyes owlishly wide as they examine his face. He feels bare and exposed under that gaze and he doesn’t like it.

He waves them off. “Yeah, that day Keith didn’t come here cause he was catching up on work or whatever.” He says, proud of how nonchalant he sounds. But Pidge just keeps staring at him, lips pursing into a small frown. “What?” He says, because even though they’re not saying anything, he knows them well enough to know what that look means. “I can buy coffee for my friends.” And yup, there goes his nonchalance as it slides down the steep slope to defensiveness.

“You never buy me coffee.” Pidge says with a very clear pout.

Lance rolls his eyes. “I used to buy you coffee all the time when we first met.”

“That was Hunk.”

He waves them off. “Details.” He risks a glance toward Keith, a little surprised to see that his smirk has finally fallen into his signature scowl, directed at Pidge. “Devil juice, right?”

Keith looks at him, scowl relaxing for a moment before he nods. “With a shot of espresso.”

Lance’s lip curls. “You’re just as much of an abomination as Pidge. No wonder you two get along.” He turns then and walks away from their table, towards the counter.

“And a muffin!” He hears called out behind him.

He just flips him off over his shoulder and smiles when he hears Pidge snicker.

He gets a drink for himself, too, because he has to wallow in self pity somehow. He heads back to the table with everything balanced in his arms and manages to set it all down without dropping anything. Score a point for Lance. When he sets the muffin down in front of Keith, he barely looks at it before sliding it over to Pidge. Who happily picks it up before taking a big bite.

Lance’s eyes narrow on them, then slides to Keith. “You’re evil.”

He shrugs, lifting his coffee. “It’s my victory prize. I can do with it what I want.”

“I didn’t even have to buy you a muffin. I did that out of the kindness of my heart and because I’m such a benevolent loser.”

“Well from the bottom of my stomach, I thank the kindness of your heart.” Pidge says around a mouthful of muffin.

Keith snickers and lifts the cup to his lips, only to jerk it away and make a face, clearly rubbing his tongue on the roof of his mouth as his lip and rose crinkles. He glares at the offending coffee cup, and Lance laughs. “Serves you right!”

Keith glares at him, thought there’s an edge of a pout to it that kind of ruins the effect. “You did that on purpose.”

“Did what on purpose? Make your coffee hot? Hate to break it to ya, Keith, but coffee is gonna be hot when you order it. Not my fault you burnt yourself with it.”

Keith just grumbles and puts his Gameboy back in his bag.

“I want a rematch, by the way.”

Keith looks up, eyebrow raised. “What?”

“A rematch! I was so close to winning, and this was obviously a fluke.”

“Obviously.” Keith deadpans, but Lance likes to think there’s some amusement in his eyes. “What did you have in mind.”

“Do you have a gen two game?”

“I have gold.”

“Great! I have silver.”

Pidge snorts, closing their laptop and giving the muffin their full attention. “Are you guys just gonna end up going through all the generations like this?”

“Yes,” Lance says, at the same time Keith says, “Probably.”

Pidge rolls their eyes, but the tilt to their lips is that of a smile. “At least this time you’re playing the superior generation.”

Lance’s eyes narrow. “What the hell you talkin’ about, Pidge.”

Pidge gives him a look, peeling paper back from their muffin. “Gold and Silver? Obviously the best pokemon generation.”

Lance scoffs, leaning back in his chair. “Um, no? Red and Blue are obviously the best.”

“In what universe?”

“They were the first, Pidge! Classics!

“Doesn’t mean they’re the best.”

“Keith!” Lance says, and the boy jumps at the sudden attention. Lance just plows right on. “Which generation is better? One or two?”

Keith looks down at the table, at his coffee cup, at the far wall. He shifts in his seat, and when he speaks, his voice is oddly quiet. “Actually, I kinda liked the third generation.” Pidge and Lance look at him like he’s grown a second head. Silence drops, hard and heavy over the table. Keith looks between them, expression hardening. “What?”

“Ruby and Sapphire?” Pidge says, incredulous.

“What is wrong with you?” Lance asks.

Keith visible bristles. “It’s the first generation with running shoes! It made gameplay more enjoyable!”

Lance considers that. “Okay, you have a point, but you’re still wrong.”

Lance loses track of how long they argue about it, but it gets heated enough that they’re starting to draw looks from those around them, ranging from amused to annoyed. They even ask a few people who pass by, and a few others offer their opinion when they realize what they’re arguing about. So far, Lance and Pidge are tied, and Keith is way far behind because third gen? Really, Keith? And he refuses to pick a side between them to break the tie breaker.

“Keith, buddy, pal, come on. We’ve bonded, right?” He tries, putting on his best smile and the voice he knows gets to Hunk. It doesn’t seem to be working. Keith just gives him this deadpan stare, one eyebrow raised.

“Keith, I swear to god, if you don’t pick my side, I’m going to—“

“You can’t threaten him into choosing your side!” Lance says, voice rising in pitch.

“I can and I will.”

“Keith, don’t listen to them. Whatever they threaten you with, I’ll protect you. Scout’s honor.”

“You were the worst boy scout.”

“Boy scouts don’t even have cookies!”

“You know what? Screw this.” Pidge says, immediately bending over to rummage around in their bag.

Lance eyes them warily. “What’re you doing?”

“I’m just— looking— aha! There it is.” They say, sitting back up and holding up a pen triumphantly. It’s one of the pens specifically designed to write well on skin.

Lance’s eyes narrow. “Pidge, that’s not fair.”

They shrug, already pushing up a sleeve to expose their forearm. “All’s fair in love and war. And this,” They say, lifting their gaze to meet his through their eyelashes. This lips curve into a self confident smirk. “Is most definitely war.”

Lance tries to make a grab for the pen, but Pidge twists away. “That’s not—! Pidge! They’re you’re soulmate!” He has both hands into it, leaning across the table to get to them, but they lean far away, putting a foot on his chair to hold him off as they arch over the back of their chair, writing on their arm above their face. “Of course they’re going to agree with you!”

Pidge snorts a short laugh. “They better.”

“It’s not fair! It doesn’t count!”

“You can ask your soulmate.” Pidge points out, and there’s a sharp pain in Lance’s gut as it twists.

His lips press into a tight frown as he scowls. “Pidge, you know my SM doesn’t like to talk to me!”

“Then I guess I’m going to win.” They say it triumphantly, holding the pen out to Lance. He glares at it, and then glares at Pidge. If it had been literally anyone else, he would have been mad. He’s still a little mad. But he knows that Pidge doesn’t mean it, and that they have a tendency of being insensitive sometimes without realizing it. He loves them anyway.

“You are a cruel, cruel little gremlin.” He hisses, giving them the sternest glare he can muster.

Pidge’s smirk softens, and they wiggle the pen in front of his face. “Think of this as incentive to actually try talking to your soulmate again.” Ah, and there’s the mischievous glint in her eyes that he knows so well.

He sighs, rolling his eyes and getting his whole upper body into it, flopping down onto the table as he continues to scowl up at her. “I’ve already tried! They don’t want to talk to me right now, and I don’t want to annoy them!”

Pidge leans forward, gently prodding his cheek with the butt of the pen. Their voice softens. “Come on, Lance. You told me you guys had an actual conversation a few weeks ago.”

There’s a strange sound from across the table, something like a sharp intake of breath. He looks up to see Keith, sitting far too straight in his seat, coffee cup poised near his mouth, and face contorted into something akin to… terror? Fear? His face is really pale, eyes wide as he stares at Pidge. Lance has no idea why he’d be making that face, but he thinks the coffee cup is pretty telling.

“Burn yourself again, mullet?” He asks, eyebrow raising.

Keith’s gaze snaps to him, wide eyes narrowing as he hunches deep in his seat, putting the cup back to his lips as he turns his head away and mumbles, “No…”

Lance eyes him curiously, but his attention is brought back to Pidge when they speak again. “Are you ever going to tell me what you guys talked about?”

Keith seems to stiffen, and Lance is starting to wonder if he got him the wrong coffee? He’s certainly acting like he doesn’t like the taste of it. Maybe it’s already room temp? That’s the worst.

“Nope, never.” Lance says, turning back to Pidge. He sits up, slapping his hands against the table in finality.

“Oh, come on! Hunk knows!”

Lance nods. “And that is between me, Hunk, and my SM.”

Pidge rolls their eyes, but drops it. Instead, they poke his arm with the pen. “Come on, Lance. It doesn’t hurt to try again.”

“I already have, Pidge. It’s fine. They’ll talk to me again when they want to.” He mumbles, fingers tracing the scratches and mars on the table’s surface.

“Just… try.” They say, voice so low and soft and encouraging that Lance gives in. But not without a loud, exasperated sigh.

Fine,” He grumbles, grabbing the pen from them. “But when they don’t respond, I get to say I told you so.”

“Deal.”

He lays his forearm on the table, palm up, and hovers the pen tip above his skin. He hesitates, and has to close his eyes, breathing in deep, holding it, and letting it go in a long, slow exhale. He can do this. It’s just an innocent question. His soulmate asked him about Mothman for fucks sake. He can ask them randomly about Pokemon. It’s only fair. And Pidge is right. He can’t give up hope. They’re his soulmate. They’ll come around eventually. They’re probably just shy, and the more he tries to talk to them, the odds of them reciprocating will be high, right? Right.

Besides, they were the ones that opened up that whole communication thing again after years of silence.

He… doesn’t want to admit the real reason why he’s afraid to reach out to his soulmate is that he’s afraid they won’t answer.

He opens his eyes, and puts the pen to his skin. Out of the corner of his eyes, he can see Pidge’s fingers tapping the table, practically bouncing in excited agitation, and Keith rolls the sleeves of his sweater down and crosses his arms over his chest to ward off the chill of the coffeeshop’s AC.

He scribbles quickly, before he loses his nerve. Which Pokemon generation is the best? first or second?

He slaps the pen down with some flair. “There! Done.”

“And now we wait.” Pidge says with a grin. They lean back, crossing their arms over their chest. They turn their self satisfied grin on Keith. “What about you, Keith? Wanna get your SM to weigh in?”

“No.” Keith snaps. his glare is instant, and full of a lot more heat than Lance was expecting. Even Pidge falters, which is something new.

Their brows furrow, lips pursing into a concerned frown. “Keith—“

“I said no, Pidge. Drop it.” He says, words sharp and tone harsh. He stands abruptly, throwing the strap of his bag over his shoulder and grabbing his coffee. “I have something to do before class.” He says, and sweeps out of the coffeeshop without another word.

Lance and Pidge are left in stunned silence, staring after him.

See? See? This is why Lance is having a hard time getting a read on Keith! One moment they’re fine, he’s smug and happy, they’re having a friendly debate, and then the next, bam! He’s pissy and storming off for no reason!

“What the hell was that about?” Lance says when he finds his voice. He’s trying really hard not to be too angry, but god damn does Keith make it hard! That was rude as fuck. And most of it was directed at Pidge this time.

He looks at them, and his stomach instantly drops. They’re looking down at the table, fingers idly playing with their pen. Their brows are furrowed, lips twisted into a half frown, half pout. They look hurt, but they also look guilty. It’s an odd combination, and it’s one he’s definitely not used to seeing on Pidge of all people.

They sigh, sinking lower in their seat. “It’s nothing.”

Lance levels a look at them. “Pidge, that definitely didn’t look like nothing.”

They pick at the skin around their fingernails. “It’s my fault… I shouldn’t have pushed him like that. Not in public.”

Lance’s frown deepens. “You pushed me, and you know my soulmate is a sensitive subject. And I didn’t get all mad and storm out of the damn coffeeshop.”

“Keith is… he’s different, Lance.” Pidge says, shifting in their seat. “I can’t tell you everything, cause that’s his business, but just… soulmates are a really sensitive subject for him. He doesn’t like to talk about it, at all.”

Lance blinks, turning to look at the doorway where Keith disappeared. “You know…” He says slowly. “That… actually makes a lot of sense. I brought up my soulmate last week, and he kinda… did the same thing?”

Pidge just nods. “I know how he feels about soulmates, and he’s usually okay with it when others talk about theirs, and I know he hates talking about his, but I still brought it up because I’m worried about him and I just want him to be happy but he’s stubborn and I should have known better and—” He can see the guilt swirling in their eyes, and he hates the sight of it.

He leans over, putting a hand on their arm. Their rambling cuts off instantly, and they blink owlishly at his hand on their arm before looking up to meet his eyes. He gives them a small smile. “Hey, calm down, you didn’t mean to, right?” They nod. “And I’m sure Keith will be fine. He just needs some space. We all get carried away sometimes. I would know.”

Pidge snorts at that, a smile finally starting to break through. “Yeah, you would.”

He pats her arm, nodding. “And I’m ignoring that jab because I’m trying to comfort you.”

“Such a gentleman.”

“You know it.”

Keith doesn’t come back, but by the time Lance sees him in class, he seems to have calmed down and asks about Pidge in a shy, sheepish way that lets Lance know that he’s feeling just as guilty about blowing up as Pidge is about pushing his buttons. He knows they’ll be just fine. Then, in the awkward silence that follows before class starts, he hesitantly asks Lance what the outcome of their argument was. Lance tells him with a bright grin that Pidge’s soulmate agreed with him, thus breaking their tie in his favor.

He leaves out the part where his own soulmate never ended up writing back to him.

 


 

Blues, light and dark, shades of the storm, colors of the ocean, swirling, chaotic, clashing and melding, separating and coming together, crashing together, breathing apart, frozen in a dance of passion, of high emotion, of confusion, lines of sky and sea melting together to form one turbulent scene scape. Blacks and charcoal, shadows creeping along his mind, fears and anxieties, ghosts of the past rising to haunt him, to taunt him, darkness creeping, always there, always waiting. Whites and grays, highlighting the happiness, the contentment, the flutter of hope that sings of the future, that lightens his present, the faint sparks that are always there, unable to be snuffed out, chasing the shadows and hiding the ghosts.

Blues.

Blues, blues, blues.

Blues of a the sky. Blues of the sea. Blues of the calm before the storm. Blues of the depths of the ocean. Blues of a sunny day. Blues of a starry night. Blues of the shallows. Blues of the waves. Blues of ice. Blues of rain.

Blues of faded jeans. Blues of a well worn hoodie. Blues of a knitted sweater. Blues of eyes, light and laughing. Blues of eyes, dark and angry. Blues of eyes, hard and calculating. Blues of eyes, sharp and mischievous.

Blues, and blacks, and whites, and grays.

Blues of sky and storm and sea.

His fingers are covered in paint, something about painting without a brush, by really feeling the mix of colors, is more soothing in his erratic state of mind. He feels like his state of mind is always erratic nowadays. One moment he’s fine, the next he feels anxiety clawing up his throat, threatening to choke him. All he wanted was a quiet college life. Instead he finds his soulmate and everything goes to shit. That isn’t how things are supposed to be, yet here he is.

His neck aches a little from where it’s craned down to see his stomach. His stomach and chest, which are currently covered in paint that has yet to fully dry. He probably could have been done with the painting a while ago, but he can’t seem to get himself to stop. He just keeps creating more waves, more storm clouds, keeps mixing and combining them in swirls of color, shadows, and highlights. It’s soothing, at least. Which, he supposes, is the whole reason he’s doing this.

He had come to the studio in an attempt to get himself to work on his projects for class. He hadn’t exactly been on top of things lately, and there were still a lot of things he needed to catch up on. He had hoped that being in the studio instead of his apartment would help him focus. Which might have worked, if anything he had been trying to do managed to come out right. Instead, nothing seemed to be working. It was frustrating, and frustration didn’t exactly help his problem.

So sitting alone in one of the many studio rooms, he eyed the array of paints strew along the shelves.

And that’s how he ended up sitting on the floor of the studio, back against the wall as he slouches low, shirt wedged in his teeth to hold it up and away from his chest, hands and torso covered in paint. His arms would have been a much easier canvas, but these aren’t his paints, which were slightly more expensive but designed to peel off skin easily without a trace. These are paints that could possibly stain and leave evidence.

Besides, seeing his paintings on Lance’s skin isn’t exactly something he wants to see again so soon. He had known his sunset painting would be on Lance’s arm, and yet it had still shaken him far more than he had anticipated. He isn’t quite ready for that. He’s not sure he’ll ever be. So better to paint on parts of his body that will be covered up, like his stomach and chest. It’s safer this way. He’s safer this way.

Because he knows that he can’t just stop. Painting on himself has been apart of him for as long as he can remember. It started with his mom. They had done it together, and at the time, he hadn’t really understood why. As a kid, it had just been fun. As he got older, it became habit. Once he lost her, it became a coping mechanism. Now it’s a way for him to calm himself, to focus himself, to feel at peace.

To be at the eye of the storm.

The weeks where he had refrained from painting at all in and effort to avoid imagining his colors on Lance had been hard. It had chipped away at him, felt like bile in his throat. His fingers had itched with the need, and his stomach had rolled at the thought of doing it. Even painting on a canvas had been hard, giving him that overwhelming desire to feel the paint on his skin.

He’s past that now. He’s accepted this is the way things are. But he’s not happy about it, nor is he completely okay with it. But… he’s working on it.

What had started out as an just a few wavy lines on his stomach eventually creeped up his chest, blown out to his sides, covering his pale skin in blues and grays.

He wonders what it would look like against Lance’s darker complexion. He wonders how Lance’s muscles would feel coiling and twitching beneath his fingertips, rolling beneath the colors—

He shakes his head, clenching his teeth tighter on the fabric of his shirt. Nope. Not the thoughts he wants to have. That’s a dangerous road to go down, and one hell of a slippery slope. Best to avoid that hill altogether, lest he trip and fall.

A flash catches his eye, and he looks to the side in time to see his phone screen light up. It’s a text from Pidge. He frowns at it, then eyes his torso and the paint that has yet to really dry, then to his hands, coated in a mix of blues and grays. He looks back at the phone and sighs. Leaning over, after several failed attempts, he manages to swipe it open using his elbow, only to be faced with the keypad for his password. Fuck.

It takes him several more very careful tries to get his passcode typed in using just the tip of his elbow.

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> Hey I’m almost to the studio, ready to head out?
> What room do you like to work in again?
> Nvm I’ll just find you

Footsteps sound in the hallway outside the door, and his head snaps up, wide eyed as he stares at it, then his gaze whips down to his hands. Fuck. He had completely forgotten Shiro had invited him and Pidge over for dinner. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He’s on his feet in seconds, darting across the room to the sink. Hitting the faucet with an elbow, he shoves his hands under the warming spray. He scrubs frantically, pleased to find that despite being a pain in the ass to peel off, the paint doesn’t stain his skin. That’s something at least. Too bad it’s not coming off. God fuck, he misses his own paints. They’re specifically designed to wash right off. This is what he gets for using canvas paints on his skin.

He manages to get most of it off by the time he hears the door opening, but he doesn’t have nearly enough time to clean off his chest. With a silent groan of frustration, he loosens his jaw and lets his t-shirt fall back down, covering his work.

“Oh, thank god.” Pidge says as they step into the room, and he glances over his shoulder at them in time to see their shoulders slump with relief. “I cannot tell you how many occupied studios I just busted in on. You really need to learn to answer your phone.”

He twists his lips into a small frown in an attempt to hide his cringe as the tacky paint starts to cling to his shirt. Great. Just great. “I was busy.” He says, turning back around and scrubbing at the remaining paint with his nails.

“You lost track of time again, didn’t you?”

“Maybe…”

They don’t even try to hide their amusement as they plop down in a seat and lean over a table, pulling out their phone. “Yeah, well hurry up, I’m starving.”

“Do you know what he’s making?” He asks, arching his back a little over the sink to get his shirt to hang away from his skin.

“No idea. He told me, but I don’t remember. Something that sounded complicated and is probably good as hell. Allura’s helping him make it.”

Keith stiffens. “Oh,” He says, wincing a little at how his voice comes out.

Pidge pauses, and he purposefully avoids looking at them because he knows the look they’re giving him. “You… knew that, right? That Allura would be over, too?”

He had, but he had forgotten. “Yeah, I knew that.”

“Are you… okay with it?” Pidge hedges carefully.

Keith shrugs. “I don’t really have much of a choice.”

“Keith—“

“Pidge, it’s fine. Really.” He says, grabbing a few paper towels to dry off his hands. He got most of it off, thank god. He uses the paper towels to obscure his hands as he walks back to where he left his gloves and slips them on, breathing a small sigh of relief when his soulmarks are once again covered.

His soulmarks that consist of mostly pick up lines, because of course Lance would send him pick up lines. Of all the craziness and disjointed emotions about Lance being his soulmate, that, at least, makes sense.

“I’ve heard Shiro talk about his soulmate for years.” He says when Pidge just keeps staring at him. He avoids looking at them by shuffling his things back into his bag and putting away all the materials he used. He hopes they don’t notice that he has all this paint out but no painting on any of the canvasses. “His soulmate— Allura— helped him through a really rough part of our lives when I— when I couldn’t do anything…” He says, feeling the lump forming. He clears his throat. “I’m grateful to her for that. And besides, they’ve been disgustingly cute since day one. I’m used to it by now.”

Pidge lets out a small snort of amusement. “You’ve got that right. Remember after their First Connection, how Shiro used to just sing things around the house? Like some kind of demented fairy tale princess?”

Keith groans, but there’s a laugh in there. “Good god, don’t remind me. At least you could go home to escape it.”

“If I remember correctly, you ended up sleeping over at my place for like a week.”

He smiles, pausing in his clean up at the memory. “Yeah, I refused to go home until Matt threatened to gag Shiro next time he started singing.”

When he risks a glance at Pidge, they’re grinning, mischief plain on their features. “Let’s bring this up at dinner tonight.”

And he finds their grin to be infectious. “Fuck yes.”

When he’s finished cleaning up, he pulls his hoodie on, zipping it up in hopes of hiding any evidence of the paint on his torso leaking through his shit. Fuck it’s uncomfortable, and he hunches his shoulders as much as he can to keep his shirt away from his skin, but it’s just not working.

“Can we stop by my place?” He asks as they walk out of the studio and into the hallway. “I need a shower.”

Pidge eyes him curiously, but shrugs. “Yeah, sure. You’re the one driving anyway. Just know that every second you keep me away from food, the more likely I am to eat you.”

“Noted.”

“So you sure this is okay?” They ask after a moment, voice suddenly hesitant, cautious, like they’re approaching a wild animal.

He sighs. “Yes, Pidge. It is.”

“I just mean, you’ve been really touchy around the subject of soulmates lately. I thought you were getting better after the whole Mothman convo you had with him, but then you seemed to take several steps back and I was worried that maybe I had pushed you too far. And then the other day in the coffeeshop with the whole pokemon thing—“

“That was different.” He says, defensive.

Pidge raises an eyebrow, curiosity sparked. “Different, how?”

He shrugs, shoving his hands into his pockets. “It just… it just was. I wasn’t really having a great day, and I’ve had a lot on my mind, and I took it out on you. I’m sorry…” He mumbles.

Pidge smiles, small and comforting as they bump their hip against Keith’s. “I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have pushed you. Especially not in public, and especially not around Lance. Dude is like, the complete opposite of you when it comes to soulmates.”

Keith manages to croak out a short, dry laugh. “Yeah… yeah, he is…”

“So you ready to go suffer while Shiro and Allura be disgustingly cute?”

“Nope.”

“Well, then let’s hope the food is worth it.”

“As a poor college student, I can tell you that it usually is.”

As they leave the studio and walk toward the parking lot where Keith has parking his bike, Pidge tries one last time, voice quiet and serious. “So really, Keith… you’re okay? You know you can talk to me about these things.”

“Yeah,” He says, giving them a small reassuring smile and putting more confidence into it than he feels. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

He’s not. But he’s getting there.

 


 

“Lance, you can’t be serious.” Hunk says, sounding infinitely tired. He leans over the back of his desk chair, one arm slung over the back as he twists to give Lance a flat stare.

Lance just grins. “Sorry, buddy. I can’t hear you over the sound of how awesome I look. Oh, that and Shakira’s sick beats.” He says, slipping one earbud into his ear and letting the other dangle for now.

“I thought you’d given this up?”

Lance scoffs, bending over to dig in his bag and swap out the text books and notebooks with those he’ll need for his afternoon classes. “What makes you think that?”

“Well, you kinda gave up about halfway through last semester, and you haven’t done it yet this semester, so I just kinda assumed…”

Lance waves him off, straightening as he throws one of the straps of his bag over his shoulder. “That was last semester, Hunk. This is a new semester with new possibilities. Besides, I’ve only gotten a few soul paintings since the semester started. This is my first real opportunity. Plus, it gives me a reason to actually wear this.” He says, striking and pose with his arms up in the air and one leg straight out, toe pointed. It clearly puts his midriff on display, and he makes a dramatic duck face to top it off.

Hunk scratches the stubble on his chin, tilting his head to the side as he eyes Lance’s outfit. “Yeaaaaah, about that…”

Lance’s duck face turns into more of a pout, his hands lowering to land on his hips. “What? You don’t think it looks good?” He has to resist the urge to pick at the high hem of his shirt.

“No! No, no, that’s not it.” Hunk says, scrambling a little bit and putting up his hands defensively. Lance relaxes a little bit. “I was just wondering where you even got it? I’ve never seen you wear it before.”

He shrugs, smile returning. “I stole it from my sister before I left.”

His lips drop open into a small O. “Oh, she is not gonna like that. You know she hates it when you steal her clothes.”

He makes a vague waving gesture, making a dismissive sound. “It’ll be fine. She never wears it anyway. I’m sure she hasn’t even realized it’s missing.”

“Whatever you say, buddy.” Hunk doesn’t sound convinced.

“But… you think it looks alright?” He asks, a little hesitant.

Hunk’s smile softens. “Yeah, man. You know you look good in pretty much everything.”

He puts a hand to his chest. “Aww, bro.”

“I mean, it’s not something I see a lot of dudes wear? Not that it’s a bad thing. And you definitely pull it off.”

“Startin’ fashion trends all up in here.” Lance says, grinning. “Honestly, more dudes should wear them. They make me feel powerful.”

“I dunno, man.” Hunk leans back, putting both hands on his stomach. “I’m not sure I’d be able to pull it off.”

“Nonsense!” He says, taking a few steps forward to pat Hunk’s shoulder. “You would look awesome in a crop top, dude. Don’t let the media put you down.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” He says, but he’s smiling this fond amused smile that Lance is used to seeing from his best friend and roommate. He then waves Lance’s off, shoving him playfully with his foot. “Now get out of here and let me finish my homework before class.”

Lance laughs, stumbling toward the door. “Alright, alright. I’ll see you later.”

“Later, Lance. And good luck!”

“Thanks, Hunk!” He says as he steps out the door, leaving Hunk alone for his last minute homework session. Lance doesn’t have class for another few hours, but he does have places to be.

The weather outside is perfect. He takes a moment to simply breathe, sliding his sunglasses down from their perch atop his head to his nose.

The sun is bright, with just a few clouds dotting the sky but not enough to block out the rays. It’s warm, but the gentle breeze that drifts through campus had a chilled edge that speaks promises of fall. It feels good, and it lifts his spirits as he walks through campus, head held high and easy smile on his lips. He can see people looking at him and trying to be subtle about it. Good. He wants them to stare. Let them get a good eyeful of his soulmate’s talent and let them be envious of him.

The walk is usually only about ten minutes, but he stops to chat with a couple classmates on the way. It’s nothing but small talk, but he’s in a good mood, so he doesn’t mind. They also take the time to compliment his soulmarks, and he preens under the praise. He excuses himself when he realizes the time and picks up his pace across campus.

When he reaches his destination, he’s in high spirits, and he has a few extra minutes to spare, so he takes his time finding a place to sit. There are people everywhere, sitting around on the grassy hill between buildings, lounging in hammocks strung up between trees, and sitting on the benches and half-walls that line the area. He eventually chooses to sit on one of the several large rocks that are line one of the main walking paths. This particular rock is his favorite. It has a good vantage point, right out in the open, and it’s relatively flat.

He drops his backpack on the ground next to him and takes a seat. He stretches his legs out in front of him, crossing them at the knees and letting them dangle off the edge of the rock. His dark blue button down is open, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. HIs pants are dark and tight, rolled up to show his ankles. But his crop top is the real star of the show. Or rather, what the crop top reveals. The shirt itself isn’t too tight, nor is it too loose. It’s plain black with white print of a cat face. He thinks it’s cute, which is exactly why he had stolen from his sister to begin with.

What’s even better though, is the painting tattooed on his torso. The blues and grays, shadows and highlights, of a storm. Or a sea? He’s not really sure. The colors mix and swirl, clashing without really combining, dancing together and frozen in a twisted embrace. It’s beautiful in its chaos, and it’s even more beautiful because it was his soulmate who made it. And he knows they made it with their own hands, because the same colors stain his hands, smudging all the way past his wrist in places.

There’s something strangely intimate about that, of watching and feeling his soulmate paint like that. Like the paint is the only thing between them.

Well… that and the distance.

Nope. Stop right there. No negative thoughts. Not today.

He leans back on his hands, letting his shirt fall open wider and really stretching out his torso to showcase the tattoos that cover his exposed midriff. His headphones are in. He has his pumped playlist playing. And now?

Now the waiting game.

Ten minutes to the hour, the paths start flooding with students. Both students going to their next classes, and the students pouring out of the buildings. His perch is halfway between the music and art building, strategically located on the main path to and from the art building. There are other directions students come and go, but here he has a large majority.

And here is where he waits, his tattoos on display. Like some kind of preening peacock. That’s what Pidge has called him anyway. He doesn’t even bother denying it anymore.

peacock lance is canon

While he waits, he watches. His sunglasses make it less obvious who he’s looking at, allow him to look like he’s just chilling and not analyzing everyone’s faces for any sign of recognition when they see him. If they even look at him. Most give him only a curious glance, if anything. And a few give him second looks when they notice his soulmarks. Most look away quickly, either from the awkwardness of being caught staring at a stranger or from not wanting to seem impolite by staring at someone’s soulmarks.

Luckily, Lance doesn’t have that problem. His shades cover his eyes enough to let him stare. He eyes people who pass, zoning in a little too hard on people he finds attractive. He wouldn’t have a soulmate he doesn’t find attractive, right? He idly searches people for soulmarks, the little tell tale marking on their arms and legs, some of them faded and others fresh. A couple have markings on their face and neck, and he tries not to snicker at those ones.

He tries to quell the familiar twist in his gut, the sour taste on his tongue that speaks of jealousy. He has nothing to be jealous of. He obviously has the best soulmark of anyone here. He arches his back just a little more, letting his shirt fall open just so… Yeah, he’s the lucky one here. Now if only his soulmate would find him…

He’s dragged out of his thoughts when one of his earbuds is suddenly pulled from his ear.

“What’re you doing?”

The voice is surprisingly close, and he totally does not make a startled yelping sound as he sits up straight and whips around.

Keith is standing beside the rock, hair tied back in a loose ponytail, several dark strands falling free to frame his face and curl by his neck. He’s wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt that reads They Truth Is Out There in white letters, which is hilarious and totally not cute. There’s a red flannel tied around his waist, and those stupid fucking gloves that he always wears and Lance hates to admit suits his look.

“What’re you doing here?” He snaps back more out of reflex and habit than anything. He was caught off guard, and what’s he supposed to do? Answer honestly?

Keith’s brows furrow as he straightens, dropping Lance’s earbud to let it dangle by his chest. He shrugs one shoulder, gesturing to and bringing Lance’s attention to the large as fuck thin, rectangular bag hanging at his side. “I just got out of class.”

“You have art classes?” He asks without really thinking, and then cringing a little in the aftermath. Of course he has art classes. There’s really no other reason for him to have that bag.

Keith only raises one eyebrow, face exceptionally blank as he blinks in what Lance thinks might be confusion. He tilts his head just a little to the side, and it gives him this little lost puppy look that Lance refuses to admit is cute. “I’m an art major.” He says blankly, and Lance gaps at him, jaw slack and everything. Keith’s confusion only seems to increase tenfold as his brows furrow more. “You… didn’t know that?”

“No!” He says, incredulous as he throws his arms up in the air for emphasis. He’s seen Keith drawing before. He’s admitted as much when he said he doesn’t like to show others his drawings, but with how secretive he is about his sketchbook, Lance had thought it was a similar situation to how he is with music: a hobby. One that he’s really good at, but a hobby nonetheless. Not something he’d major in. He eyes Keith curiously, eyes narrowing as his lips twist into a small, thoughtful frown. “I don’t… really know much about you, actually.”

And he’s surprised about how sad this revelation makes him.

He’s watching Keith closely, so he sees the change in expression, but he’s not entirely sure how to interpret it. His brows pinch, lips pressing into a thin line, “I don’t know much about you either.” He says, a little defensive but mostly unreadable. It’s definitely softer than Lance anticipated. He then gestures to the rock, changing the subject with a simple repetition of, “So what’re you doing here?”

He blinks, then looks away, scratching the back of his neck. “I was, uh…” He doesn’t know why he’s so nervous all of a sudden. He’s usually not shy about his SM, nor does he hesitate to talk about them. But this just feels different. This isn’t him gushing about his SM. This is him explaining himself, his own actions, and this is… not something he usually explains to people. Just his friends. People might see him as desperate. Maybe even pathetic. But his friends know him, and if anything, they see it as endearing.

But… Keith is a friend, right? Granted, a friend he doesn’t know all that well, but still a friend. It’s not like he’s ashamed of himself either, so he doesn’t know what the big deal is. He’s making something out of nothing.

He blames it on Pidge’s words, still ringing heavy with him.

If Keith is that sensitive to soulmate things, he wouldn’t want to hear it, right? Still… he did ask. Lance can’t be blamed for that.

“I’m, uh…” He sighs, resisting the urge to close his hoodie, to hide the evidence. His fingers twitch with the need, and that’s an odd feeling. Despite the sunglasses hiding his eyes, he can’t bring himself to look directly at Keith. He breaths in deeply through his nose, and let’s it out, bracing himself. “Okay, I’ll tell you.” He turns then, pointing a threatening finger at Keith. His lips form a hard, straight line. “But you have to promise not to make fun of me, okay?”

Keith looks from his finger to his face, clearly surprised, but nods anyway. Good enough.

“My soulmate paints.” He says it in a rush, like he’s admitting to something that he’s been keeping bottled up, which he hasn’t, so it’s weird. It feels weird. It shouldn’t feel weird. But it feels good to talk about his SM, like it always does, so he feels the weirdness melting, being replaced by a fluttering in his stomach and a familiar warmth in his chest. “They paint a lot, and they did this.” He says, moving back his open shirt so Keith can see his exposed midriff. He twists on the rock to face him, to really give him a good view. He holds up his hands, palms up, to show more of the marks his soulmate has given him.

He tries to read Keith’s face, tries to judge how he’s feeling about the topic, but Keith is… he’s hard to read. Mostly, he just looks constipated. Eyes hard but wide as they lock onto the colors swirling on his stomach, and Lance has to resist the urge not to squirm under that gaze. He feels more exposed than he thought he would. Especially since Keith isn’t saying anything. He laughs awkwardly into the silence, running his hands through his hair to scratch the back of his neck. “Heh, and this is gonna sound stupid, but I, uh… back during my freshman year, I started hanging out here whenever I got a soulmark painting. They’re clearly an artist, so… I guess I’ve just been hoping that maybe they’ll see me, you know?”

Keith’s mouth twists, lips pursing and brows pinching. He tries a couple times to say something, but no words come out, which only seems to frustrate him more. Lance waits, trying not to fidget. “How do you know they’re an art major?” He finally manages to ask, voice just bordering on harsh. “Or that they even go to this school?”

Lance winces a little, leaning away from him just a fraction, hangs tugging at the fabric of his shirt. “I, uh, don’t… It’s just… wishful thinking on my part, I guess.” He hates how vulnerable he sounds. He hates how this is something he’s usually proud of, and yet here Keith is, making him feel stupid by doing nothing but just staring. He hates how his high spirits just took a fucking nose dive.

The silence between them is thick and heavy, and he feels like he’s choking. He clears his throat, forcing out a laugh that sounds awkward even to his own ears. He can’t bring himself to look at Keith. “Sorry, Pidge told me that soulmate things make you uncomfortable.” He’s infinitely curious as to why, but he knows it’s not his place to ask. He knows they’re not that close yet. Maybe someday, but until then… he’ll just have to wait.

“It’s fine.” Keith says, a little too quickly, voice sounding strained. He takes a step backward, putting space between them. He’s turned away, eyes on the thinning crowd of students passing by as he idly scratches at his wrist, fingers digging under the leather of his gloves. His other fingers clench into fists, pressing against his palm like it’s some kind of nervous tick. He clears his throat, loudly, and when he speaks, his voice is still oddly strained. “It’s… nice— what you’re doing— I think…”

Lance perks up a little at that. “Really?”

Keith nods, still not looking at him. “Yeah, it’s… sweet…” He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans, rocking back on his heels with his eyes still turned away. “So, uh… do you wanna… go grab lunch? Or something?” He asks, risking a glance at Lance before quickly looking away.

Lance turns away, gaze sweeping out over the milling students on the path. He bites at his bottom lip. He had meant to stay out here until his class later, just to maximize the possibility of meeting his soulmate. But… Keith is clearly extending an olive branch here, and after all the odd strain their budding friendship has gone through…

“Sure,” He says, turning back to Keith with a winning smile and sending a silent apology to his soulmate.

There’s no guarantee his SM even goes to this school, let alone will be here, on this path, in time to see him posing on a rock. It’s just wishful thinking, right? Wishful thinking that might get him no where. And as much as that thought makes his stomach sink and the bitter taste of bile burn at the back of his throat, it’s relieved somewhat by Keith. Keith his new friend. Keith who is asking to hang out with him. Keith who clearly wants to be friends with him, just as much as Lance does.

His soulmate can wait for now.

He hops off the rock, stretching his hands high over his head and arching his back until it pops. He doesn’t miss the way Keith stares at the soulmark painting decorating his bare stomach, but the way he stares makes him feel less self conscious, and instead gives him that proud, preening feeling he’s used to when people admire him. Or, uh, his soulmarks.

“I could always go for more caff food.” He says teasingly as he puts his hands on his hips, grinning at him.

His gaze flickers up, and he catches Lance’s eye. Lance raises an amused eyebrow, and Keith looks away quickly. He spins on one heel, walking away stiffly with his hands shoved into his pockets and his back straight. He doesn’t turn around fast enough, however, and Lance clearly caught sight of the flush reddening his cheeks.

“Actually, I was gonna go off campus.” Keith says, sounding more casual than Lance would have thought possible with that blush creeping up his complexion.

Lance’s smile dims a fraction. “Oh, I, uh, I have class in a couple hours?”

He sees Keith’s shoulders rise and fall. “It’s fine.” He says, still walking away but raising his voice so Lance can still hear. “We can take my bike.”

Lance freezes. “Wait… A bike or a bike?” Instead of answering, Keith just glances over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised and a small smirk playing across his lips. That look is devious. “Keith?” Lance says, voice rising. ”Keith? Do you drive a bike?” Keith just turns away, but his shoulders are shaking with silent laugher. Lance grins, bending down to scoop up his bag and rush after him. “Keith! Wait up! Keith!

 


 

“Please don’t tell me that bag has what I think it has.” Keith says as he watches Shiro pull one of those draw string sports bags from the backseat of his car and sling it over his shoulder.

He meets Shiro’s eyes over the top of the car, giving him a flat look. Shiro just smiles. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He says far too innocently, closing the door and locking it up.

Keith rolls his eyes as they start up the hill toward center campus, shifting a little to adjust the strap of his hockey bag on his shoulder. “Shiro, I swear to god—“

“It’s amazing what you can find at your local walmart.” He says, cheerful as ever but with this mischievous edge that Keith has come to know and fear throughout the years.

Keith groans, shoving his hands in his pockets and hunching a little. “Why are you like this?

“It’s my duty as your older brother.”

“I think it’s time you retired.”

“It’s a job for life.”

“I hate you.”

“Love you, too.”

The walk through campus is a short one. Shiro had managed to find a parking spot in one of the closest parking lots. Keith gets a few strange looks, but it’s nothing too curious. A guy walking around campus with a giant, empty hockey bag is, in the grand scheme of things, pretty uninteresting considering some of the things he’s seen around campus. Just the other day, there was a guy in one of his classes wearing a hotdog suit.

“You realized Allura is probably going to make you play, right?” He says as the quad comes into view, and with it, the sight of hoops being set up and people running around, gathered with brooms. Keith hates how quickly his focus zeros in on Lance. He’s standing near Hunk as the big guy sets up some hoops on one side of the pitch. Even from this distance, Keith can see how bright his smile is. He frowns before he really realizes he’s doing it, but his attention is torn away when Shiro speaks.

“I know,” He says, voice oddly quiet and losing that teasing lightness it had earlier. When Keith looks at him, he’s looking down, prosthetic hand held up and metal pieces glinting in the sunlight. “I just… don’t know if I should. I don’t know how well that would work.”

Something painful sinks in his gut. He doesn’t like that voice. He rarely hears that voice from Shiro anymore, but he heard it a lot in the years that followed the accident. It’s full of a vulnerable self consciousness, and the weak attempt to laugh it off. He hates it.

“Is your left hand a fully functional dominant hand now?” He asks, even though he already knows the answer. He had been there when Shiro had struggled to learn how to use his left hand after he had lost the right. He had helped him through it, ignored all the mistakes and broken classes, all the frustrated sounds and silent tears.

“Well, yes, but—“

“Then it’s no problem. Just hold your broom with your prosthetic. Your broom hand doesn’t really do anything anyway. It’s just there to hold it there. Then just play with your left hand. You’ll be fine, unless your hand eye coordination with your left hand sucks.”

Shiro’s lips tilt upward into a small smile, the shadows in his eyes recede to make way for amusement. “I guess we’ll find out.”

“No matter how bad you are, I promise I’ve seen worse.”

“Thanks, Keith,” He says, voice soft, but laughter there evident.

Lance spots them first, because of course he does. Keith sees the moment Lance perks up, head whipping around to face them. He sees the moment he says something, causing Hunk to turn as well. He sees the big, bright grin that spreads across his lips and the big, boisterous wave as he practically shouts, “Keith!

It causes a lot of the others to turn and look, and he does his best to ignore the sudden attention as he hesitantly lifts a hand to wave back.

“Don’t be nervous.” Shiro says, voice pitched low as he bumps Keith’s hip with his own.

Keith stumbles a few steps and turns to glare at him. “I’m not nervous.” He grumbles.

“Mhmm… Sure, you’re not.”

Shiro!” Allura’s voice calls out across the quad, and Shiro instantly straightens, head whipping around to look at her as she waves at them from Lance’s side. Keith’s lips curl into a smirk as he watches his brother’s face adopt a lovely shade of red.

“Don’t be nervous.” He says, nudging Shiro with his elbow.

“Shut up.” Shiro grumbles, putting a hand on his shoulder and shoving him. Keith stumbles away, snickering the whole time.

Allura is the first to break away from the ground as they get close to the pitch. She jogs up to them, a bounce in her step and face lit with excitement, like she physically couldn’t keep still any longer. Her hair is pulled back into a pony tail, and it sways behind her as she comes to a stop in front of them. She clasps her hands behind her back, but not before Keith sees the subtle shake in them.

She smiles up at Shiro, and Keith can see how everything else melts away for her. He can see it in the way she smiles, in the way her focus is so wholesome and complete, in the way her eyes soften, in how gentle her voice is when she mumbles a quiet, “Hi.”

He can see his brother is in much the same state, a subtle flush bringing color to his cheeks as he grins that goofy grin that Keith remembers from the months that followed their First Connection. “Hi.”

Keith watches them, hands curled into fists in his pockets. His chest feels full, even as his stomach is sinking. He’s happy for his brother. He really is. Shiro has been through so much in his lifetime, and his soulmate—Allura— has helped him through it in ways that Keith never could. And it’s hard not to be happy for them when they’re both gazing at each other with these stupid lovestruck gazes. He could probably slip a bug into Shiro’s pocket like he used to, and he wouldn’t even notice.

Still… he can’t help the clench in his gut, the twisting of his stomach, the vague taste of bile on his tongue. It tastes of guilt, of fear, the sourness of uncertainty. He stares at them because he can’t look away, words repeating in his mind like a mantra— don’t think of Lance, don’t think of Lance, don’t think of Lance

The sound of a camera shutter pulls him out of his thoughts, and he turns his head to see, of course, Lance. The guy is standing next to him, holding his phone up and trained on the oblivious couple. When Lance realizes he’s staring, he turns to look at him, a small smile playing across his lips. “They’re gross, aren’t they? It’s adorable.”

Keith gives him a flat, unimpressed look, one eyebrow raised. “What are you doing?”

Lance gives him a wink, and Keith doesn’t know how to feel. He’s going to go with annoyed, but he know that’s not entirely true. “Never miss an opportunity to get photographic evidence to embarrass your friends, Keith.”

Keith’s eyes narrow just a fraction. “I can tell you’ve spent a lot of time with Pidge.”

At that, Lance throws back his head and laughs, and there’s an odd fluttering in Keith’s gut. He hates it. He tries to turn his attention away from Lance, turning it back to Shiro and Allura, but they’re just as painful to watch for entirely different reasons. Shiro is scratching the back of his neck. Allura is rocking on her heels. Both of them can barely make eye contact, and yet they can’t look away. Keith is trying his best not to cringe, but it’s hard not to. They’re both just so goddamn embarrassing.

“Hey, what’s this?” Lance says, bringing his attention back. He’s already stepping closer to him, hands reaching for the bag on his back. He grabs it, stretching out the material, and Keith lets him. He turns to look over his shoulder, seeing the moment Lance’s eyes blow wide. “Oh, dude! Is this the hockey bag you were talking about?”

Keith frowns. It’s been weeks since he first brought it up. “You remember that?”

Lance scoffs, hands still grabbing and pulling at the bag as he moves behind Keith. “Uh, yeah. Pidge hasn’t shut up about it. They’ll be so excited— Hey, Pidge!” He calls out, and Keith winces at the sudden raise in volume. “Come over here! Keith brought the bag!

Keith looks up in time to see Pidge jogging across the pitch toward them. “Keith!” They say as they near. “You found it!”

“Yeah,” He says, shrugging it off his shoulder as Pidge makes grabby hands. The whole thing dwarfs her, but at least it’s empty so it doesn’t weigh much. “Turns out it was in Shiro’s apartment. He said I didn’t have room in mine when we were unpacking.” He purposefully leaves out the part where it took them nearly an hour of tearing apart his and Shiro’s apartment to find it.

“Lemme see,” Lance says, already trying to manhandle it out of Pidge’s grasp.

They twist away from him, pushing him away with their foot. “Fuck off and wait your turn.” They lay it on the ground, pulling up the material up so it forms almost it’s full shape. It ends up revealing the decorations Keith had impulsively decided to add to it.

“Whoa,” Pidge breathes.

Lance squats beside the bag, letting out a low whistle as he reaches out, fingers brushing reverently over the paintings. Fingers, Keith is pleased to note, that no longer have blues tattooed across them. He was a little worried that not enough time would have passed for his soulmarks to fade. After all, he doesn’t really know how long his paintings stay on Lance. But luckily, the stormy blues have faded from his fingers, and though his stomach and chest are covered, he’s willing to bet it’s gone from there, too.

Thank fucking god. Keith is pretty sure he would have had an aneurism if he had been forced to watch Lance run around playing quidditch in shorts and a fucking crop top.

He shakes his head, purposefully expelling that particular thought from his mine. That is not something he wants to think about. Nope. He’d already dealt with it enough in person. He doesn’t need his mind coming up with more scenarios, recalling the way Lance’s toned stomach had twisted and moved as he walked, as he laughed. Keith hadn’t really realized until then just how much Lance uses his entire body to talk. He hadn’t wanted to stare, but it was hard not to. It was like the same kind of compelling force that urged him to look at the soulmarks that appeared on his own body. Only this time, it was keeping him transfixed on how Lance’s muscles moved beneath the beautiful blue hues.

“—do this?”

Keith blinks, eyes drawn down to where Lance is looking up at him. “What?”

“I said, did you do this?” He says, gesturing to the paintings on the side of the bag.

“Oh, uh, yeah… I— I did.”

“Wow,” Lance says, voice soft in his awe. It does something to Keith’s insides. “I didn’t realize you were this talented.”

And there’s the spark of annoyance. “Uh, thanks?” He says dryly.

“Keith, it’s awesome!” PIdge says, moving around the bag to get a view of all sides.

Keith shrugs, shifting his weight and idly scratching the toe of his cleat against the grass. “It’s nothing.”

“Keith, that’s amazing!” Suddenly Allura is there, having broken away from Shiro. She squats down next to Lance to admire his work. She grins up at him. “You’re really quite talented!”

It had been an impulse. After they had found the bag, Keith had asked Shiro to take him to the store to buy appropriate paints. He had spent the night with Nexflix as background noise as he worked. He painted a landscape along the sides, mountains in blues, like they were seen from a distance. Each side had a set of gold hoops, with small silhouettes of people flying on brooms. Somewhere on it was a small, golden snitch, and on one side he had written “Altea University Quidditch” in big looping script.

He scratches the back of his neck, where several shorter strands of hair have escaped from his messy bun and curl against his nape. “Thanks…” He mumbles, glancing at Shiro, who’s only beaming at him with pride. Keith clears his throat, turning and taking a few awkward steps toward the pitch. “I hope it, uh, works, and stuff…” He mumbles. “I’m just gonna…”

“So Shiro, what was Keith like when he played hockey?” Lance asks.

Keith, who had been taking a few awkward steps toward the pitch, immediately spins around, fixing Shiro with a wide eyed, panicked stare.

Shiro is grinning at him, then looks down to where Lance and Allura are gazing up at him. “Oh, he was adorable.” He says easily, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Shiro, don’t.” Keith hisses, glaring at his brother.

Shiro ignores him. “He was the smallest on his team until he was… what was it, Keith? Seventeen?”

Keith just groans, and Pidge laughs. “It was seventeen, cause that’s when he suddenly hit his growth spurt and we were no longer the same height.”

Lance is grinning from ear to ear. “That is amazing.” He says, clearly trying to hold back his laughter. “Tell me more.”

Shiro.”

“Well he was so small, about this tall,” He says, holding out a hand, then raising it a few feet higher. “And everyone else was around here when they got old enough to start checking.”

“Checking?” Allura questions, looking up at him.

“Like… tackling?” Pidge supplies. “Hockey tackling. There were several times when Keith just bounced off people.”

Keith groans loudly, running a hand down his face.

“That never stopped him though,” Shiro says, his smile turning fond as that familiar older brother voice kicks in. “He was never afraid to check people twice his size, and he would bully people up against the boards to keep them off the puck.”

“They were always so surprised to see him coming at them full speed and ramming right into him!” Pidge says, laughing. “I swear, half the time they didn’t react cause they were so shocked.”

“He was fast, too,” Shiro continues. “Fastest player in the league. Small and quick. He used to skate circles around everyone.”

“Weaving little circles between their legs. He was a vicious little ankle biter.” Keith shoves Pidge hard enough to make them stumble. They just laugh. “Tiny, angry Keith was hilarious. Always picking fights.”

“Even when fighting wasn’t allowed in the league.” Shiro says with a pointed stare.

Keith just shrugs, shoving his hands deeper into his pockets and hunching his shoulders. He kept his glare on him as he mumbles, “They deserved it.”

“And then,” Pidge says, eyes going bright with the memory. “He finally hit his growth spurt, and he was still super fast, but wasn’t used to his bigger momentum, so he would fucking lay people out.”

“He got a few cards for that,” Shiro says, trying to sound disappointed, but it’s ruined by his laugh.

“Incredible,” Lance says, eyes bright with laughter as he turns that grin on Keith. There’s amusement there, but also something softer, something almost fond. It’s too much, and Keith looks away, crossing his arms over his chest and pursing his lips together to keep his face blank.

“I’m pretty sure I can find his team pictures.” Pidge says, wearing a mischievous grin.

His glare snaps to them. “Pidge, don’t you dare.”

Their eyes spark with challenge. “Oh, I dare.”

He takes a sudden, threatening step towards them, and they instantly yelp, diving behind Allura, who’s trying to politely hide her smile behind her hand.

“There was this one time—“ Shiro starts, and Keith knows that tone of voice.

“I’m leaving,” He says, turning on his heel and stalking toward the pitch, the sounds of their snickering fading behind him.

It’s the most eventful quidditch practice Keith has ever experienced, if only because Shiro’s presence presents an unknown but curious variable. Despite some prodding, he waves everyone attempt to get him to join them off and takes a seat on the hillside next to the pitch while Coran runs everyone through warm ups.

While they’re running a few warm up laps, which are supposed to be nothing more strenuous than jogging, Lance comes up next to Keith and winks once he makes eye contact, then he sprints ahead. The challenge is clear, the bait has been danged, and Keith hates how much it works, how quickly that annoyed fire lights inside him, how he feels himself speed up automatically, determined to wipe that smug grin off Lance’s face. They end up finishing the three required laps neck and neck, though Lance insists that he was just a hair ahead.

Pidge and Hunk run them through some drills. They start out with the hunger games drill, which is probably the most fun and easily Keith’s favorite. He tries to default to Pidge as a partner only to find she’s already paired up with Coran. It’s then that he feels a tap on his shoulder, and he turns to see Lance smiling sheepishly at him. He spies Hunk over his shoulder, paired up and chatting with one of the freshmen. So he teams up with Lance, and they’re surprised to find they… actually make a really good team.

As soon as the whistle blows, Keith darts toward the ball pile while Lance stays behind. He gets there first, unsurprisingly, and immediately tosses a ball over his shoulder for Lance to catch. He grabs another and then they’re both running off. Without really having to speak, they have good synergy. Lance, as it turns out, is a really good shot, especially from a long distance, and Keith is better at catching or blocking balls thrown at them. So they stalk the field, Lance picking off targets while Keith defends them.

At one point Keith is facing off against Pidge, but they’re at a standstill, neither quite wanting to be the first to throw. Then Lance puts a hand on Keith’s shoulder, jumping in the air behind him and throwing the ball over his shoulder. Pidge is so surprised that the ball pegs them in the knees with no resistance.

Keith and Lance end up winning that first round after a merciless slaughter. Everyone agrees that they’re not allowed to team up in that drill anymore.

They do a few more drills where Pidge and Coran take the beats to one side of the field, and Hunk and Allura take the chasers and keepers to the other. Lance tries to sweep up the seekers, but Pidge shuts him down pretty quickly, saying that seekers need to have a secondary role anyway, so no snitch practice for the day. This must happen often because Lance doesn’t fight it too much. Instead, he just crosses his arms over his chest and trudges after the chasers, pouting the whole way.

It’s about halfway through these drills, where they’re taking turns trying to score against the keeper and defending chasers, that Allura finally manages to convince Shiro to join them. It takes some pestering from all of them, teasing from Keith, goading from Lance, encouraging words from Hunk, and puppy dog eyes from Allura, but he finally gives in. Allura takes him by the hand and practically drags him down the hill to the pitch, and Keith grins at the flush darkening his cheeks. When Shiro notices, he glares at Keith and points at him threateningly, which only makes Keith’s grin widen.

After some hesitation, getting used to the broom, and figuring out the best way to hold it with his prosthetic, it turns out Shiro is good. Like, really good. Keith really shouldn’t be surprised. His brother has always been the star of whatever sport he decided to pick up. He just excelled at physical disciplines, and team sports is where he excels the most. He’s just never really cared enough about one to stick with it, despite being good. The longest sport he played was in a dodgeball league with Matt when they were in undergrad. The pattern seems to be that he’s only interested in playing with his friends.

Keith has a feeling Shiro might get attached to quidditch.

They end the practice with a scrimmage. They don’t have nearly as many people as they did the first day. Several of them have dropped out since then, and half the time, practices conflict with people schedules. So it’s never guaranteed how many people will show. They do, however, have enough people for two teams and a few subs.

Allura naturally convinces Shiro to play. He looks a little overwhelmed while she goes over the rules, and when she wanders away, he Keith a desperate and confused look. Keith just smirks and pats his shoulder, telling him he’ll get the hang of it.

They let two of the new players be team captains, and by complete happenstance, or maybe good planning on the freshman’s part, Keith and Lance end up on the same team. Due to the lack of people, and the fact that they hadn’t had seeker practice that day, Pidge makes the executive decision that they won’t be playing with a snitch. First team to seventy points wins. Lance predictably pouts at this, but Keith doesn’t mind. Playing solely as chaser is a nice change of pace, and it means he can spend more time watching Shiro struggle. And kicking his ass. Because they ended up on different teams.

The game starts with Lance betting he can get more goals than Keith, but after Shiro starts to steadily pull the other team ahead, he and Lance begrudgingly agree to work together. Shiro is a formidable opponent. Not only is his physically fit and able to easily score goals, his presence has an incredible affect on making that team work together, pulling them together with encouragement and communication. Their only saving grace is the fact that he’s still not used to having to pay attention to multiple things at once, and Coran can usually easily tag him out with a bludger.

After a few mishaps (“Catch the ball, mullet!” “I can’t catch it if you don’t throw it toward me.” “I did!” “That pass was no where near me!”), he and Lance finally develop some form of synergy. It’s faulty, and they aren’t always on the same page, but they find a rhythm that wins them the game. It’s close though, and they nearly lose when the teams are tied sixty-sixty and Allura gets a break away with the quaffle. Keith is able to block her shot and passes to Lance, and he manages to score a long shot from mid field.

Keith hates to admit that he’s impressed, but Lance’s grin is far too bright and proud for him to resist.

“Nice, shot.” He says, clasping Lance on the shoulder as he comes up beside him.

Lance smirks, slanting him a cocky leer. “Now you know why they call me the sharpshooter of the team.”

Keith just rolls his eyes. “Literally no one calls you that.” He says as he walks away.

“Doesn’t stop it from being true!” Lance calls after him. “Keith? Keith! Don’t ignore me when I’m bragging! Keith, get back here.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.” He says, turning around to walk backwards as he holds up a hand to his ear and shrugs.

“Keith!” He takes a step like he’s about to chase him down, but then Coran is there, sweeping him up into a tight hug and spinning him around. Keith can’t hear what the guy is saying, but judging from the preening look on Lance’s face, he’s willing to bet it’s praises. Keith just turns back around, chuckling silently as he goes to find Shiro.

Turns out, all the equipment, including the brooms but only part of the hoops, fits in Keith’s old hockey bag. Pidge is practically vibrating with energy at the discovery, and is determined to pick it up. As soon as they get it off the ground and the strap over their shoulder, they fall over backwards, landing on the bag. They’re determined to try again, but after a few hilarious attempts where they got several feet while walking hunched over, Coran finally relieves them of the burden. They pout, but he says the bag will no doubt be kept in his apartment anyway.

When Allura invites the two of them to eat dinner with them in the dining hall, Shiro doesn’t hesitate before saying yes. And, being Keith’s ride, he can’t really say no. Well, he could walk home, but he doesn’t really see a need to. He’s in a good mood for once, and he likes these people. Even despite the whole soulmate thing with Lance. Besides, Lance hasn’t really gotten on his nerves yet today, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to spend more time with all of them.

“Sooooo…” Pidge says once they’ve all gotten food and claimed a spot on one of the long tables that line the dining hall. They plant their elbows on the table, interlacing their fingers and leaning forward to peer around Keith at Shiro. “How’d you like quidditch so far?”

Shiro raises an eyebrow, but smiles. “It’s… not quite what I expected.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Allura asks, smiling at his other side.

“Definitely a good thing.” He says softly.

Keith turns to Pidge and makes a silent gagging motion. They snicker, and the sound is echoed across the table. He glances up to see Lance grinning at him, eyes crinkled with amusement.

“Alright, lads,” Coran says, loud like he’s about to make an announcement. It draws in everyone’s attention immediately. He’s sitting in his seat across from Allura, one arm crossed over his chest and the other twirling his mustache. There’s a twinkle in his eyes and a tilt to his smile. “If Shiro is going to be apart of our little family, I believe it’s time we had The Talk.”

Keith glances at Shiro and snickers when the man blanches immediately, complexion going pale and eyes wide as he gapes at Coran. “The, um… what?” He says, clearly trying to be polite but hilariously confused.

Everyone is staring at Coran with their own levels of confusion. He tilts his head to look at Hunk next to him, and then Lance on Hunk’s other side. Lance is the first to get it. Either that, or he plays along. Either is likely.

“Ah, yes! The Talk.” He says, leaning forward to put both elbows on the table, tiling his head down to gaze up at Shiro and waggle his eyebrows.

“What talk?” Hunk says, eyeing them both with equal parts confusion and curiosity.

“You know, Hunk.” Lance says, waving a hand in the air. “The Talk. The same one we had with Keith the first time he ate with us.”

“Oh!” Hunk says a beat later, eyes lighting up. “That talk.”

Pidge is snickering, and Keith is doing nothing to hide his amusement as he sits back, arms crossed over his chest. Shiro looks helplessly at Allura, but she just grins, holding up her hands defensively. “It’s out of my hands.”

“Alright, Shrio,” Hunk says, sitting up straight and slapping his hands together, flat and palm-to-palm. He makes eye contact with Shiro, who raises an eyebrow, lips pursed into a small frown, but says nothing. “What…” He pauses for dramatic effect, and Keith can’t help but wonder if it’s a trait everyone gets after spending time with Lance. He then points his hands at Shiro. “Hogwarts house are you in?”

There’s silence as everyone holds their breath, grins wide.

Shiro blinks. frown deepening and brows pinching as he fully digests what was just asked of him. He looks around between the six of them. “That’s… that’s it?”

They all start laughing so simultaneously that Keith isn’t able to pin point who starts it. “It’s a very serious question.” Pidge says as they start to calm down.

“Very.” Hunk agrees.

Shiro looks sheepish as he scratches the back of his neck, not quite making eye contact with anyone. “Well… back when Matt and I used to talk about it all the time, he was very insistent that I’m a Hufflepuff.”

“Really?” Allura says, straightening as she leans forward on her elbows, giving him a mega watt smile.

“Yeah, are.. you a Hufflepuff, too?” He asks, almost shyly. This time Keith can hear Pidge making gagging noises beside him.

“Yup,” She says, then nods at Hunk. “So is Hunk.”

“Right on, dude.” Hunk says, offering a fist across the table that Shiro bumps.

“Boooo!” Lance says, cutting though the moment. “Hufflepuffs suck! Gryffindor rules!” He immediately sticks out a fist toward Keith, who just stares at it and then him, one eyebrow raise. Lance’s posture slouches, lips pursing into a pout. “Oh, come on, Keith! Don’t leave me hangin’!”

Keith rolls his eyes and lightly bumps his fist to Lance’s, who pulls his back with a flair and explosion sounds.

“So now the Hufflepuffs officially have the lead.” Hunk says, grinning.

Lance frowns. “That’s not fair! Shiro is Allura’s soulmate! Of course he’s in the same house as her!”

“Now that’s an interesting idea.” Coran says with half a mouth full, pointing his fork at Lance. He swallows before elaborating. “Do you think it’s possible that all soulmate pairing identify with the same Hogwarts houses?”

“That’s an fascinating thought,” Allura says, then sneaks a sideways glance at Shiro. “Obviously it holds true for us.”

“Not for me.” Pidge says, shoveling pasta into their mouth and not even mothering to chew first. “I asked my SM once, and they’re a Ravenclaw.”

Keith eyes them, one eyebrow raised. “I thought you said you were a Ravenclaw.”

They shrug. “After some deliberation and soul searching, I’ve come to embrace my snake like qualities.”

Keith snorts, but turns back to his burrito.

“My soulmate and I had an intensive discussion about this very subject.” Coran says. “Turns out they are also a Ravenclaw.”

“So that’s two to one.” Allura says.

“Hold on, does anyone have a pen?”

“Right-o!” Coran says, pulling a pen from the backpack he still carried, having come right from the library to practice. He presents it to Hunk, who takes it from him and clicks it before pressing it to his arm.

“Thanks, I’m gonna ask Shay. I think we had this conversation once? But I don’t remember…”

Lance leans over him, watching Hunk write. “Hey, Hunk, can I borrow that when you’re done?”

Keith’s stomach drops as his heart lodges itself in his throat. His breath hitches, and out of the corner of his eye, he can see Shiro is glancing sideways at him. He glances at Shiro, eyes widening. Shiro’s brows are pinched in worry.

“No problem, dude. Here.”

No…

“Thanks, man.”

No, no, no…

He watches in horror as time seems to slow down. Lance takes the pen from Hunk. He’s smiling. He puts an arm on the table, pen aimed right for it.

Adrenaline floods Keith’s system, making his face heat and his hands shake. His ears are ringing, and everything around him sounds muted. Everything except for his own heartbeat and the sound of his own ragged breaths, which are way too loud.

“I have to go.” He hears the words before he’s even aware that his mouth is moving. They sound automated and rushed, but he doesn’t care. Panic is flooding his system, fight or flight instincts kicking in and right now, it’s time to run. Go. Get out. Escape. Can’t let them know. Can’t let HIM know. Not yet. Too soon. Run.

He’s suddenly standing and turning, already walking away from their table with stiff, hurried steps. The last thing he sees before he turns away completely is the vague expressions on his friends’ faces, all sorts of combinations of shocked and confused. He sees worry creasing Pidge’s brow and in the lines around Lance’s mouth and wrinkling Shiro’s forehead. He sees it in Allura’s small frown and in the way Hunk gapes at him. He sees it in the calculating and sympathetic look Coran gives him.

He can’t worry about that right now. He can’t. He just has to get away. He knows Shiro will make up an excuse for him. For now, he just has to move.

The cafeteria is suddenly too crowded, too loud, too warm. Everything is too much, and the faces and colors around him seem to blur into something otherworldly, movement slowing and speeding up at odd intervals. It’s a surreal experience, but he focuses on one thing: getting out.

Even as he feels the telltale prickle on his skin.

Even as he feels the phantom pen start to drag across his skin.

Even as he feels the letters forming.

He bursts through the doors and out into the open air. He manages to make it several more steps before putting his back to the brick wall, clinging to the rough texture at his back as he slides down into a crouch. He rests his elbows on his knees, head resting in one palm as his fingers curl into his hair. His other arm is held out in front of him, watching the words take shape.

Foreign feelings flood into his chest, starting small and swelling until they wrap him in warmth, tingling out to his fingertips and toes.

He feels the fondness, the softness, the excitement, the honest curiosity. That’s not the part that worries him. Those are all familiar emotions he gets from his soulmate. The happiness and warmth that seeps through their connection is all familiar to him.

It’s what he feels beneath it that worries him.

The hesitancy, the worry, the tense feeling, like approaching a wild animal, like reaching for someone but not quite trusting, like you’re expecting to fall at any moment to you hold back, grounding yourself where you are.

And beneath all that, covering it all and wrapping it in a sobering cocoon, is what feels almost like an apology.

Guilt hits him hard as the connection fades, swirling in his gut and making him nauseous. It solidifies into something heavy and leaden, sinking low. His heart aches, clenching painfully in his chest. He thinks about all the things Shiro and Pidge have said to him over the years. He thinks about the talk he had with Pidge before the Mothman incident. He thinks about Lance poised out on a rock by the art building, proudly putting his art on display in hopes of meeting him.

The guilt is normally something he can deal with, but the silent apology that is still echoing despite their closed connection hits him hard. No one should have to apologize for reaching out to their soulmate, especially with something so innocent and filled with almost a childlike wonder.

On an impulse decision, he stands and stops the closest person to him on their way to the dining hall to ask to borrow a pen. They look at him like he’s crazy, but he insists that it’ll just be for a moment. It’s clear what he wants to do. There’s no other reason for him to as a strange he’s passing for a pen. So they’re not even surprised when Keith takes it and immediately sets it to his arm.

Hey, space cadet, what Hogwarts house are you in?

Gryffindor

He wonders what Lance’s face will look like when he reads it. He’s not sure he wants to know.

 


 

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Hey, you doing alright?

Keith
> Kill me

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I’ll take that as a no
> Will you be coming back? Everyone is worried about you

Keith
> No
> I can’t
> I can’t face him right now and I don’t have anything to hide the marks

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I understand
> What’d you want me to tell them?

Keith
> I don’t care

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Alright, I’ll think of something
> Pidge is going to think it’s because soulmates were brought up

Keith
> I know
> Can you wrap up the rest of my burrito when you leave?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Yeah, no problem

Keith
> Thanks, Shiro

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Anytime
> Meet me by the car?

Keith
> Okay
> Btw you forgot to use your pompoms and the airhorns

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Uh, yeah
> Another time perhaps

Keith
> Let me guess
> You didn’t want to embarrass yourself in front of Allura?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> …. Perhaps
> And Keith?

Keith
> Yeah?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Lance looks really happy

Keith
> ……..
> Fuck

Chapter Text

It’s a bit like watching the titanic sink, if he’s being honest. Fascinating and terrible all at once.

Shiro has always been far better at this whole soulmate thing than Keith. Always been confident in it. Never had a doubt or worry. From the moment his First Connection came through, he’s been a lovesick fool. Things have calmed somewhat as he’s grown older, grown patient, grown quieter, steadier. Circumstances shaped him. He’s no less caring, but he pulled it into private instead of wearing it on his sleeve.

He went through life knowing one day he would meet the woman of his dreams, and he would be happy.

Keith wishes he had grown up with that kind of certainty, that kind of conviction. Sometimes he envied Shiro for it, but other times, like now, he’s glad that he’s different.

Because he’s always known that Shiro would be gross after meeting his soulmate, but he hadn’t really grasped the reality of it until it’s staring him in the face.

He watches from across the room, perched crosslegged on the couch with a textbook open in his lap, as Shiro leans over the counter of the cozy little coffeeshop, weight on his elbows. Allura sits behind the register, mirroring his posture, putting them face to face. He can’t hear what they’re saying, and he’s pretty damn grateful for it. Every once in a while, however, they giggle, and he sure as hell can hear that.

Both of them giggle. Giggle. Shiro giggles. He doesn’t think he’s heard his brother giggle since he had his wisdom teeth removed and was still delirious from the anesthesia. And even then, his giggles had been muffled by the wads of cotton in his mouth.

While they talk, heads bowed close together, Allura idly plays with the fingers of his hand, tracing the knuckles, running her fingertips over his palm. It’s close and intimate, but the big fucking goofy smile on Shiro’s face is enough to turn the situation almost comical.

Almost.

As he watches, Shiro leans back, lifting his coffee cup to his lips. But as he goes to drink, Allura says something and Shiro laughs, causing the coffee to dribble down his chin and onto his shirt. He slaps his hand to his face, but the damage is already done. He lights up like a beacon that Keith can see from across the room, eyes wide in horror.

Sure. Now he’s embarrassed.

But Allura only laughs, eyes crinkling as she reaches for napkins and stands, leaning over the counter to help him clean up the mess.

He can feel his lip curling and his eye twitching. He wants to look away. He really does. But what else is there to look at? An empty parking lot through the window? The walls? His art history notes? Lance?

Yeah, he’d rather keep staring at his train wreck of a brother.

Shiro catches Allura’s hand and just holds it. They’re smiling and staring, but neither of them is saying anything. It’s soft and sweet and... actually kind of creepy.

He really hopes he never gets like that with—

A coffee cup comes down on the table in front of him with probably more force than necessary. It does the trick, however, snapping him out of his thoughts.

His eyes shoot down to the table, staring at the coffee cup. It’s branded with the simple lion design of their establishment, and his name is scribbled across it in permanent marker, accented by a winking face.

When he looks up, Lance is standing next to the couch, staring down at him with a smug smile and mischief in his eyes, arms crossed loosely and hip cocked out to the side. There’s a smattering of flour on his apron and a small smear of syrup on his cheek.

He has the ridiculous urge to wipe it off.

He looks back at the coffee cup before that thought goes too far, brows pinching. “I didn’t... order anything?”

He glances back up in time to see Lance roll his eyes. “Yeah, I know. It’s on the house.”

Something odd bubbles in Keith’s chest, and he quickly stamps it out. Instead he raises a brow, small frown pursing his lips. “Did Allura agree to this?” She has a friends and family discount, but from his experience, she very rarely gives drinks out for free. He can’t blame her for that. Their business is thriving but small.

Lance’s grin widens. “She didn’t even notice.” He says, a laugh in his voice as he steps over and plops down onto the couch next to him. It jostles Keith, and he puts a hand down to his book to keep it from falling out of his lap. He’s far too aware of the fact that his knee brushes against Lances thigh, but Lance doesn’t seem to notice at all. “Besides, she owes you after subjecting you to...” He gestures to Shiro and Allura across the room. “This.”

Glancing back to where the others are standing, he bites back a grimace as Shiro gestures with his prosthetic while leaning against the counter with his hip, elegantly knocking over several things in the process and scrambling to righten them.

Yeah, he can’t really argue with Lance’s logic.

He reaches for the coffee cup, cradling it in his hands and enjoying the warmth as it seeps through his gloves. The entire time, he can feel Lance’s eyes on him. It’s uncomfortable, and he’s about two seconds away from snapping at him when he gets a whiff of his drink. And then he understands why he’s staring.

Keith slides his gaze to Lance’s slowly, taking in Lance’s attempt at nonchalance and the faults in it: the playful gleam in his eyes, the slight tilt to his lips, the bounce in his leg, the tap of his fingers on biceps where his arms cross over his chest.

Keith’s eyes narrow. “What is this?”

He shrugs, and the attempt at casual is lost as he smiles. “Keith, it’s coffee.”

“This isn’t coffee.”

Keith.”

“It smells like caramel.”

“Just drink it.”

“I’m lactose—“

“Oh my god, I know. There’s no milk in it.” Keith just continues to glare, and Lance rolls his eyes. “Or whipped cream. Jesus, give a guy a little credit, will you?”

Keith just stares at him, lips pursing, before turning his eyes back to the cup. He holds it a little further away from him, head pulled back slightly. He can smell the caramel clear as day, and while he’s not opposed to caramel in and of itself, he’s not really sure he trusts it in a drink. Let alone a drink made by Lance, who’s notorious for his disgustingly sweet creations.

“It’s not poisoned.” He says with a sigh, edge of amusement fraying slightly.

“I don’t like sweet coffee...” He mumbles to the cup in his hands. He’s knows that he’s going to try it eventually. He knows he is. Because Lance made it, and Lance wants him to try it. And when Lance’s playful poking and prodding starts to fade into disappointment and worry... well, Keith’s resolve crumbles.

“I know you don’t. Just trust me and try it?”

Keith just huffs, feeling the pout starting to form on his face and refusing to look at Lance because of it.

“Dude, it’s free coffee.”

Well. He has a point.

Keith finally brings the cup to his lips, taking a sip—

And recoils quickly, lip curled. He hears a choked laugh, and turns to glare at Lance. He has a hand pressed to his mouth, eyes crinkled and dancing. “Dude, why do you burn yourself every time?

Keith rolls his eyes, rubbing his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “It doesn’t happen every time...” He grumbles.

Lance exhales a short laugh. “Often enough. Try it again, but slower. Actually try to taste it this time.”

Shooting him another quick glare, Keith tries again, taking a moment to blow through the tiny opening in his cup. He’s not sure if it does anything, but it makes him feel better. He sips tentatively, and he’s... pleasantly surprised. He blinks, staring at the cup for a second like it might be a trick. Then goes for another sip.

“Well?” Lance asks, expectant and eager.

Keith hates to admit it, but— “It’s... not that bad?”

“Really?” His smile is far too bright. Keith can hear it in his voice.

He keeps his eyes turned away, shrugging lightly. “What is it?”

“Caramel Americano.” He says it with pride, like there’s actually an accomplishment in finding something other than drip coffee that Keith likes and not some ridiculous self-proclaimed challenge that he started a couple weeks ago.

Keith lets him have his victory, silently sipping his free drink. They both win this round.

Allura’s loud laugh draws both of their attention, followed almost immediately by a sudden snort. Her laughter trails off instantly, muffled by her hand as she stares at Shiro with wide, panicked eyes. Shiro, on the other hand, is just smiling like he’s won the lottery.

“How long do you think until that wears off?” He asks, aiming for casual and landing firmly in grumpy territory. It’s not that he’s not happy for Shiro. He is. Both he and Allura have been through a lot more than their twenty-some years warrant, and they both deserve some unbridled happiness, but...

Watching them is bitter sweet. He’s happy for his brother. He’s happy for his new friend. He’s happy that some soulmates actually do seem genuinely happy together. But it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. Leaves a small, dark knot twisted up in his gut. He’s never wanted what they have, but... Shiro makes him wish that he did.

Lance, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have the same dilemma. He just watches them, lounging into the couch, a small smile playing across his lips like he’s not fully aware that it’s there. “Hmmm?” He hums, turning to Keith with one eyebrow raised. “What wears off?”

“You know...” Keith frowns, waving a hand vaguely at the two across the room. “That.”

It’s not a clear explanation, but Lance seems to get what he means anyway. He tilts his head to the side, gaze thoughtful. “I think it’s kinda cute.”

“It’s painful to watch.” He says flatly.

Lance laughs at that, light and airy. “Honestly, the longer it goes on, the more blackmail I have.” Keith grunts, displeased but understanding. Shiro’s definitely not going to hear the end of this anytime soon. “But if they’re anything like my parents, it’ll never stop. Not really.”

Keith feels himself tense, ice trickling into his veins as his stomach coils itself into a tight knot. Lance’s voice is soft and fond when he speaks of his parents. It’s an affection that runs deep, an admiration that goes down to his core. Light and airy, dreamy and distant.

Keith glances sideways at him, breath catching in his throat at the soft expression he finds there, at the far away look in his eyes.

The sweet taste of caramel sours on his tongue, the heat from the cup burning through the leather of his gloves.

It was such an offhanded statement, something that was nearly made more for himself than for Keith. And Keith knows he can just ignore it. There was nothing fishing in Lance’s tone. Nothing to indicate that Keith should inquire further. Nothing to say he’s supposed to ask. But... he feels like he should. Feels it like a knot of lead in his stomach, tastes it in the bile that threatens to rise up his throat.

He should ask. He knows he should. Social conventions deem it so. And even though Lance leaves the comment loose enough that Keith can easily let it go, ignore it with no harm no foul. He... kind of wants to ask? And that’s what makes it worse. That’s what really twists him up.

He wants to know. Curiosity is a powerful thing. And not even the dread that rises, threatening to choke him, can keep it at bay.

This is... his soulmate. His soulmate’s parents. And while he’s been avoiding thinking of them together at all, he knows that somewhere, in the future, he’ll probably meet Lance’s family. They’ll... they might be his family.

Oh god, that’s a terrifying thought.

He clears his throat, holding his coffee cup on top of the book in his lap. He stares at the words, but they all blur together. Art history is dull anyway, and he’s not absorbing any of it when his heartbeat is in overtime and his nerves are standing on end. “What’re they like?” He asks, quiet and hesitant.

“Hmmm?” Lance hums, turning to look at him, eyebrow raised. He looks like the picture of ease, arms crossed loosely, legs crossed, foot bouncing idly, lounging back against the couch.

Keith’s mouth feels dry. He glances sideways for only a moment before it becomes too much and returns his eyes to the book in his lap. His hair falls, blocking Lance from view, and he doesn’t move to fix it. “Your parents...” He tries again, voice stronger this time. “What’re they like?”

“They’re...” Lance pauses, and the silence feels soft and thoughtful. When he continues, his voice is incredibly fond. That unbridle admiration clear as day. “They’re in love.” He says it so simply, so matter-of-factly, like he would say the sky is blue and water is wet. It’s not a question and never has been. “Even before their First Connection, they were best friends, back when mom still lived in Cuba.” He pauses, chuckling to himself. “They even did the same thing those two did. Well... sorta.”

“What’d you mean?” Keith risks a glance sideways, catching his small smile as he cocks his head to the side, still watching Shiro and Allura.

Lance lets one shoulder rise and fall in a small shrug. “They had a word. They were best friends as kids, and when mom moved away, they promised each other that they’d write a word on their hand after they had their First Connections. Just to see if it was each other, you know?” His smile widens, chuckle low and soft. It makes Keith’s heartbeat erratic. “It was a one in a million chance, really. But... it worked out. They’re soulmates, and they love each other, and they’ve never stopped showing it.”

Keith can deal with the fondness in his voice, with the soft adoration for his family. What makes his chest tight and his stomach nauseous with guilt is the clear note of longing that rings out beneath it all. The clear want of that. Of what his parents have. Of what Shiro and Allura have.

What Keith isn’t sure he’s capable of giving him.

What is so completely opposite of what his own parents were like.

“Oh...” He says, soft and uncertain, simply because he feels like he has to fill the silence. “That... sounds nice.”

And it does. Nice, if not unrealistic. Nice in the way that fairy tales and happily ever afters are nice. Nice in the way that storybooks depict soulmates. Nice in the way that romance novels and movies are nice.

But just because everyone is guaranteed a soulmate doesn’t mean that their stories are guaranteed to be nice.

Nice is one in a million.

“Yeah,” Lance says, a small sigh in his voice. The longing there, the resignation, the hope. It’s like a thousand pin prick stabs to his heart, makes his bones heavy and leaden with guilt. “It is.”

They’re quiet then. He’s run out of things to say, and he’s afraid of what his voice might sound like if he tries. Across the room, he can still hear Allura and Shiro’s hushes voices, but his eyes are on the book in his lap.

Lance is quiet at his side, thankfully letting the subject go. He doesn’t push it, and he doesn’t keep talking, for which Keith is glad. But instead they’re left in this silence that stretches, every second adding a brick to the wall between them.

He’s read the same paragraph about fifteen times before Lance finally speaks. “What’re you working on anyway?”

He sighs, letting his relief at the subject change come out in a rush. “Art history.”

“Oh, really?” He leans over, getting into Keith’s personal space to look at the book in his lap. Keith ignores the brush of their shoulders, of Lance’s thigh pressing into his knee. “You any good at it?”

He turns his head then, glaring at Lance with lips pursed. He just blinks back, meeting his eyes, unperturbed by their proximity.

Then, finally, he leans back, eyebrow cocked. “What?

“I’m an art major.”

“Yeah? So? Doesn’t mean you’re good at the history side of things.” He has a fair point, but that doesn’t mean Keith is willing to give it to him. He just stares, lips pursing into a deeper frown. Lance puts his hands up in a defensive gesture. “Hey, I was just asking! I’m actually in an art history class right now and it’s killing me.”

Keith’s expression relaxes a fraction, eyebrow raising. “Why’re you in an art history class?”

He shrugs, arms going back across his chest. “Needed some humanities courses for gen ed. Thought it would be easy, but I was wrong.”

“Clearly.” Keith says flatly, amusement playing with the edges of his tone, easing away his frown.

Lance glares at him, letting it go with a small huff. “Anyway, I was just going to ask if you’re good at it, maybe you could help me sometime?”

“Like... tutor you?”

Lance shrugs, eyes across the room. “Tutor me. Help me study. Kick my ass when I inevitably give up. Whatever works.” His voice is light and hopeful, playful but serious.

Keith finds the corners of his lips tilting into the ghost of a smile. “You’re giving me permission to kick your ass?”

He shrugs again, eyes sliding to Keith’s, smirk playing at his lips. “You do what you gotta for the grades, man.”

“I suppose I can help.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool.”

His smile is so genuine that it eases the tension in Keith’s chest, and he looks away, lifting the coffee cup to his lips to hide his own smile.

 


 

Keith’s apartment is small and simple.

Just one room, a bathroom, and a kitchen nook off to the side. His bed occupies one corner, just a double wide mattress on the ground without a frame. A couch occupies the center of the room, old and faded and found for cheap at their local thrift store. It faces the wall, where Keith’s decent sized tv sits upon a stand. It isn’t something he thinks he needs, and it isn’t something that he necessarily wanted, but it was Shiro’s old tv, and his brother had practically pushed it on him.

The rest of the space has other bits of furniture, hand-me-downs and things found at thrift stores. Dressers, a desk, a few shelves, a nightstand, plastic drawers for his art supplies. Together, they essentially cover all the walls, blocking in his space effectively, leaving no open spaces that would make his apartment feel empty.

His walls, however, are effectively bare. Shiro says it’s odd for an artist, but Keith’s never really thought about it. All his art is in his sketchbooks. He doesn’t need to put it on his walls. Besides, something about putting his own work on display in his own home feels... odd. Egotistical? Weird. His room back home at his grandparents’ place is covered in posters he’s collected throughout the years, but he didn’t really feel the need to bring any of them with him.

The only thing hanging on his walls is a large canvas depicting and painted scene of rugged desert mountains. Oranges, reds, and browns. A sunset to cast the lighting in purples and pinks. Landscape dotted with green shrubs and scattered trees, flowers the color of lilac and blue.

Keith’s apartment is small and simple, neatly cluttered and obviously lived in, but he’s never considered it cozy.

Not until he has three friends scattered around his space.

“Pidge, look!” Lance says, waving the rubix cube around in front of them, between their face and their laptop screen.

Pidge blinks, pulling their head back a bit to focus on what’s being presented to them. “What am I looking at?”

Lance scoffs, rolling his eyes as he points to one of the cube’s sides. “Look! I did it! I got a whole side the same color.” He says, beaming with pride. Pidge is sitting crosslegged on the couch, and Lance sits so he’s leaning up against their side, legs propped up on the arm of the couch. Keith expected them to push him away, but it’s been nearly an hour and he’s still using them like a prop.

They reach up, adjusting their glasses as they finally seem to focus on the cube. “Did you get all the centers lined up? All the corners in the right places?”

“Yup, check it out.”

They take the cube from him, turning it around and nodding. “Good job, Lance. That didn’t take as long as I expected.”

He’s beaming, practically preening at the praise. “Ye of little faith— Pidge, what the fuck?” His screeches, sitting up straight and gaping in horror as Pidge quickly and easily mixes up the cube, erasing all his hard work.

They just smirk, holding it up, eyes already back on their screen. “Do it again.”

“Why would you do that?” He whines, taking the cube back, shoulders slumping as he frowns at it.

They shrug. “You learn by doing it again and again. If you do it once and put it away, you don’t learn anything. I’m helping you.”

“You’re evil is what you are.” He mutters, slouching back against their side and fiddling with the cube once more.

Keith snorts from across the room, and Lance glances up to catch his eye. “What’s so funny over there, Keith?” He says, frown deepening.

“Nothing,” He says simply, giving a small shrug before slouching a little further against the wall, propping his sketchbook up a little higher on his bent knees to hide his small smirk.

“He’s probably just enjoying your pain,” Pidge says matter-of-factly. “I did the same thing to him when he learned.”

“You were merciless.” Keith says flatly.

Pidge’s smirk is small, eyes glinting as they glance over the top of their laptop to where Keith is lounging on his bed. “You learned, didn’t you?”

Evil,” Lance says in a loud hiss, and Keith’s smirk widens.

They lapse back into a comfortable silence, his small apartment filled with the sound of the cube turning and both Pidge and Hunk typing. Pidge’s is more intermittent, while Hunk’s is a near constant. He pauses occasionally, eyes lifting from the screen of his laptop to stare blankly at the wall before going back to it. He had said he needed to finish an essay before their quidditch tournament this weekend, and from the sound of it, he’s doing it faster than Keith has ever been able to write a paper.

Either he knows what he’s talking about or he’s just spewing out bullshit.

“Okay,” Pidge says, drawing all of their attention. They sit up straighter, crackling their knuckles as they stare at their screen. “We haaaave... seventeen people going to the tournament.”

Hunk nods, scratching his chin. “Not bad. Gives everyone plenty of subs.”

“That means I can snitch other games, right?” Lance asks, bright and hopeful, twisting around and swinging his feet to the floor to sit up.

Pidge fixes him with a firm look, pointing a threatening finger at his nose. He goes cross-eyed trying to look at it. “Yes, but I want you back whenever we play.”

His smile falls into a little pout, brows pinching. “I’m not going to abandon the team, Pidge.”

“Not on purpose, you won’t. But you get really caught up with the snitching thing and lose track of time. No snitching for games that might overlap our playtime.”

He huffs, sinking a little lower on the couch and going back to fiddling with the cube. “Fiiiiine.”

“It’s for the best, buddy.” Hunk says from where he’s sitting on the floor, back to the couch. He reaches over Pidge to pat Lance on the leg. “We need you, dude. You’re like... our best long shot.”

“I knooow, but snitching is the best part.”

“I thought winning was the best part.” Keith says, glancing up to see Lance’s thoughtful smile.

“You have a point.”

Anyway,” Pidge says, pushing their glasses higher up their nose as they check their phone. “We have seventeen people, including the four of us. Hunk has a car that’ll fit five. Shiro and Allura offered to drive, so that’s nine more spots. And Coran said we can call him in for another car if we need it, which we do, since most of our players going don’t have cars on campus or don’t want to drive. Not that I can blame them. So, that’s plenty of spots for everyone.” They finish tapping out a message before putting their phone away, turning back to their computer. “So it’s a four and a half hour drive. We’ll meet up tomorrow around seven, when everyone’s out of class as has time to pack, drive to my parents house, sleep there, go to the tournament at ten in the morning, it ends around five or six, we have dinner, stay the night at my place again, and drive back Sunday. Am I missing anything?”

Hunk shrugs, turning back to his laptop, fingers moving as soon as they settle over the keys. “Nope. Sounds about right to me.”

Pidge nods, looking over whatever’s on their screen. “Cool, great. I’m still waiting to hear back from them about whether or not they want us to bring our own hoops.”

“What about uniforms?”

“The shirts should be ready for pick up tomorrow morning. I can go after my morning classes.”

“Awesome.”

Their conversation falls more into the administrative side of thing, and Keith starts to tune them out. As exciting as it is to listen in on who has and who hasn’t paid for their quidditch shirts, it’s... really not. Unfortunately, neither is his art assignment. It’s on the previous page of his big sketchbook, hidden away and half finished. The page in front of him is filled with hundred of small lines, creating a stain glass like grid made up of small pieces. He’s not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be yet, or if it’s supposed to be anything at all, but he’ll figure it out eventually.

Piiiidge,” Lance whines, and Keith’s gaze lifts over his knees and back to the couch. “I forgot what to do next.”

“I gave you the algorithms for a reason.”

“I know that. Those are easy. I just... don’t know when to use them, or how to hold the cube? Or what to look for...” He trails off, brows pinching in his confusion as he turns the cube over in his hands. “Run it by me again.”

“No, I’m busy.”

Piiiidge!

“Ask Keith to help you.”

“What? Him?” He asks, incredulous as he glances quickly to Keith before turning back to Pidge, lip curling slightly.

Pidge gives him a flat look. “I taught him years before I taught you. Keith knows it as well as I do.”

“Doubtful.”

“When we race, it’s usually a fifty-fifty for who wins.” That makes his mouth drop open, and his wide eyes slide to Keith, who just smirks at him silently while tapping his pencil on his sketchbook. “Think of it this way,” Pidge continues, turning a bright grin from Lance to Keith, fluttering their eyes innocently. “Who do you have a better chance of cracking? Me or Keith?”

“You...” Lance says, giving them a thoughtful look. “Have a very good point. Keith!

“What?” Keith says, voice rising in volume and pitch as Lance jumps up from the couch, takes a few steps around the coffee table, and launches himself onto Keith’s bed. It bounces, just slightly, and Keith pulls his knees a little closer to his chest. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He demands, glaring between them.

Pidge just smirks from their place on the couch. Lance lies on his stomach on the bed, propping himself up on his elbows and shrugging. “Sorry, buddy, but when Pidge gets like this, they’re a tiny but immovable rock. I have a much better chance of getting you to help me.” From the smile on his face, he doesn’t seem very sorry at all.

“I’m not helping you.”

“Please!”

“No.”

Keith.”

“No.”

Keeeeith.”

He ignores him, turning his eyes back to the sketchbook and adding a few more haphazard lines—

“Keeeith!” Lance reaches out to grab Keith’s knee, rocking it back and forth. “Please? Pretty please? Pretty please with sugar on top? Please, please, please, please, plea—

“Oh my god, fine! Just stop shaking me, Jesus fucking Christ.” Keith snaps, swatting his hand away. He gives him a heavy glare, lips pursed into a frown, but Lance just beams. He sighs, setting his sketchbook on the floor and stretching his legs out in front of him and reaching towards him. “Hand it over.”

Lance scrambles to his hands and knees, crawling over to situate himself on the bed next to Keith and handing over the cube. He takes it, hating the way their fingers brush simply because he notices that their fingers brush. It’s such a simple touch, and it shouldn’t mean anything. He shouldn’t even have realized it happened, and he sure as hell shouldn’t be dwelling on it now.

He turns the cube over in his hands. Lance has solved the blue side, lined up all the middle pieces and the corners right. “So, uh, next is the second row.”

He feels Lance’s movement when their shoulders bump, which leaves him wondering when they got so close, and hears the roll of Lance’s eyes in his voice. “Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. I just... don’t remember how to set up for it.” His tone gets a little most pinched with frustration. “Or what algorithm to use...”

Keith feels his lips tilt into a small frown. “To be honest, I don’t really remember the algorithm that Pidge taught me...”

“Wow,” Lance deadpans. “You are so much help.”

Keith shoots him a glare, which Lance returns with an unamused frown, before turning back to the cube and mixing it up again.

“Hey!” Lance snaps, reaching for it.

Keith twists, holding it out to the side and out of his reach. He stares hard at the colors, eyes searching for the red pieces and firmly ignoring the heat of Lance’s body against his own and the way he can feel his pulse quickening. “Just— I don’t remember their algorithm cause I do it differently. Just let me show you.”

“Fine,” He says, wary as he leans back against the wall, giving Keith his space back.

He feels like he can breathe again.

Bringing the cube back to his lap, he gets the red side middle pieces in place quickly before holding it up. “So, I— uh— I usually solve the red side first, so it might look a little weird to you, but... Okay. So when Pidge teaches this, they give us algorithms for each step. One row, then the second, then the third. But when I was doing it, I figured out a way to solve the first and second together.”

“Sounds... complicated.” Lance says, sounding doubtful.

“It’s easy.”

“Sure thing, Kogane. Whatever you say.”

“Even you can figure it out.”

Wow.”

Keith gives him a sideways glance, a small smirk curving his lips. His heart does this stupid fluttering number when Lance returns it.

He takes his time trying to explain his process. It’s difficult, and he keeps tripping over his words, having to go back and try to explain it again when Lance doesn’t get it right away.

His way isn’t like Pidge’s. While the method they teach people is straight forward, with an algorithm to guide, his is... not. He doesn’t have an algorithm. He just sees the patterns. He knows where he needs to put a piece, and he’s figured out the pattern of movements to get it there. It’s all visual and muscle memory at this point.

And surprisingly... Lance gets it. When he realizes that Keith is going to show him a pattern instead of telling him a pattern, he leans a little closer, pays close attention. He tells Keith to do it again, and again, and Keith obliges until Lance is snatching it out of his hands saying it’s his turn.

Keith watches him then, gaze intense as he stares at the cube, teeth nibbling lightly at his bottom lip, brows furrowed just slightly, long fingers hesitant as he turns the cube. It’s quiet in the apartment. He hadn’t realized Pidge and Hunk had stopped talking, but apparently they were back to working silently. He knows he should probably pick his sketchbook back up, knows he should probably get some work done.

But... instead he just watches Lance.

Every once in a while, when Lance falters, he reaches over to point something out, show him what to look for, tell him what turns to make. Then Lance is swatting his hand away, and Keith pulls back, smiling.

“I did it!” He declares, holding the cube up for inspection, grinning proudly.

“You did,” Keith says with a small nod, a slight tilt to his lips.

“You’re actually a better teacher than our resident nerd over there.”

“Thanks,” He says, reaching over and plucking the cube from Lance’s grip. He turns it over slowly, nodding a little as he makes a show of inspecting the cube. Then he mixes it up with several quick, rapid succession movements. Lance gasps next to him, trailing off into several creative strangled sounds. Keith’s smirk is wide as he turns to him, offering the mixed-up cube. “Now do it again.”

Lance glares, snatching it out of his hand and turning away from him, hunching his shoulder a little as if to shield the cube from his view. “I change my mind. You’re both terrible and cruel.”

Keith chuckles, turning to catch Pidge’s gaze across the room. “You’re right. It is fun to do that.”

Their smirk mirrors his, lopsided and crinkling their eyes. “I know. It’s the only reason I like teaching people.”

When Hunk finishes his essay, they launch into a twenty minute debate about dinner. They can use their meal plans at the cafeteria, but they’re tired of the food. Fast food is easier, greasy, and delicious, but has a tendency of being more expensive. Hunk finally convinces them to let him cook. Keith tries to warn him that his kitchen accommodations are severely lacking, but Hunk just waves him off, telling him that if he can cook in a dorm, he can cook anywhere.

They all trudge out to the grocery store a couple blocks away and follow Hunk around while he picks through the aisles, occasionally tossing things at one of them to carry. Lance occasionally bumps into Keith, which only leads to him lightly shoving back. It turns into a playful push fest that only breaks up when Hunk gives them each a task of finding something on opposite sides of the store. They decide to race. Lance ends up winning, but it’s just slightly off from what Hunk asked for. They decide to call it a tie.

They split everything up at the register, pay, and trudge back to Keith’s apartment. The kitchen is far too small for any of them to help Hunk with dinner, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

They’ve finished dinner, dirty dishes piled on the coffee table and halfway through a movie when Hunk’s soul connection opens up.

Lance is the first to notice. Maybe because they’ve been friends for so long, maybe because they’re roommates, or maybe he’s just weird attuned to the subtle differences in those around him.

Either way, Lance leans up from where he’s laid out across their laps, eyes fixed on Hunk. “You alright, there, buddy?” He says, catching Keith’s attention.

When he looks to the other end of the couch, he sees that Hunk has stiffened, sitting ramrod straight, eyes dazed and unfocused, lips gone slack. Keith eyes him curiously, one eyebrow raised.

Keith’s couch is only big enough for three of them to sit comfortably, and as such, Lance had taken it upon himself to stretch out over top them. He had started with his head on Hunk’s end of the couch, poking and prodding Keith with his feet while digging his ass into Pidge’s lap. That quickly changed when Keith learned that Lance is actually very ticklish, and it was all too easy to enact revenge. So he settled with his head on the arm rest on Keith’s side, feet propped up by Hunk.

As such, the three of them are able to lean close and whisper loudly, all eyes on Hunk.

“Is he okay?” Keith asks as Hunk lets out a sound that sounds like a cross between a low whine and a sigh.

Pidge leans into his side, lip curling slightly as she shakes her head, eyes on Hunk. “Yeah, he’s fine. He gets like this whenever his SM writes to him.”

“Looks... like it’s overwhelming...” He says, uncertain.

Pidge shrugs. “Maybe it is. I think he’s just a big softy.”

“I think it’s cute.” Lance says, giving them each a half-hearted disapproving glare before turning back to Hunk and smiling. “He looks dreamy when the connection is open because he loves her.”

Keith eyes him warily, one eyebrow raised. “He’s never met her though... right?”

Lance’s brows furrow, head turning as he leans a little off Keith’s lap to look at him fully. His lips are pursed into a little frown. “So?”

Keith just raises his eyebrows in silent question. He feels like his point is pretty obvious, but he’s getting the feeling that pushing his point is a bad move.

Lance cracks first. “They’re soulmates.” He huffs, crossing his arms and lounging back against the armrest as he turns his eyes back to Hunk. Then, softer, mostly to himself, “They’re soulmates, and he loves her.”

Keith feels an unpleasant knot forming in his stomach, and he distantly realizes he’s staring. With a jerk of his head, he turns back to Hunk, surprised to find marks appearing on his face. Hunk giggle, voice soft and breathy, eyes squinting shut as it tapers off into a sigh.

It’s... odd to watch. Keith has never really seen someone’s soulmarks appear before. He’s always seen it as something deeply personal, and in most cases, it is. Combined with the fact that he doesn’t really like thinking about it leaves him looking away whenever Shiro or Pidge would start with their soulmates. But everyone else is watching like it’s normal, and it’s not like he can really go anywhere... so he watches, too.

They know it’s done when Hunk blinks rapidly, focus coming back to him and pulling into himself like he’s awakening from a dream. When he turns to look at them, his grin is wide. There’s simple warpaint like tattoos on his face in classic black and highlighted with green, and Keith isn’t sure why green is the color of choice until Hunk holds up his arm to show the words you’re a keeper! ;) Good luck at the tournament! scrawled out in a looping script.

Keeper. Green. She gave him face paint for the tournament. And because they were soulmarks, they’d be sure to last through the weekend.

That’s... kind of cute. He supposes.

“Dude!” Lance says, sitting up quickly and putting all of his weight onto Pidge, who makes a pained noise and huffs their annoyance. Lance ignores them, instead reaching for Hunk and grabbing his face, tilting it for inspection. “This is awesome! Holy crow.”

“Really? Move, I wanna see!” He shoves Lance’s legs off of him and stands, hurrying to the bathroom.

Lance is left solely on Pidge’s lap and makes no effort to move until they dig their fingers into his side. He yelps, jumps, and they push, shoving him down to the floor. “Rude!”

“Your ass is boney as fuck.”

“Guys! This is so cool! She has some games this weekend, too. Do you think I should do the same for her?” Hunk says from the bathroom, and when Keith looks over his shoulder, he can see Hunk poking at his cheeks from the open doorway.

“I think Keith has some soulmark markers.”

Keith whips around fast enough that he feels the muscle being pulled in his neck. He rubs it, frowning at Pidge. “What?”

They raise an eyebrow. “Didn’t Shiro buy you soulmark markers a while ago? The kind that wash off easily?”

“Uh, yeah, he did...” He mutters, glancing away. The movie is still playing, but none of them pay attention.

“Why do they call them soulmark markers?” Lance says from where he’s sitting on the floor. He props his arms up on the spot that Hunk vacated. “They should call them soulmarkers.”

“That’s what I’ve always thought!” Hunk calls from the bathroom.

“Same wavelength!”

Pidge shoves Lance off the couch with their foot. “Anyway,” They say, turning back to Keith. “Do you have them here? Then Hunk can make his SM similar marks without ruining what she did for him.”

“Oh! That would be awesome!” Hunk says, coming out of the bathroom and putting his hands on the back of the couch.

“Uh, yeah,” Keith says, pushing himself to his feet and shuffling across the room to his drawers of art supplies. “Shiro made me pack them.”

He hopes his voice stays level and bored and doesn’t betray the rapid beating in his chest. He’d made sure to put away all his soulmark paints and supplies before they all came over. All of them know that Lance’s soulmate paints, and Keith really doesn’t want them asking questions.

“Man, this is so sweet.” He hears Lance say as he digs around in the drawers. He knows exactly where the markers are, but he makes a show of searching anyway. “I wish my soulmate would do that for me. I would have killer warpaint.”

Keith snorts lightly, opening up the drawer where he knows the markers are and digging through them for black and green. Hunk had said his SM is a keeper, too, right? “Have you ever tried asking them?”

The words are out of his mouth before he really realizes it, and he doesn’t realize it might be an awkward thing to say until he realizes the apartment has gone quiet. Nothing but the movie plays, and the hair on the back of his neck stands on end.

He turns slightly, glancing over his shoulder, and sure enough, they’re all staring. He blinks, brow pinching as he frowns. “What?”

Pidge and Hunk exchange a look before their eyes slide to Lance, who’s made his way onto the couch. He’s staring at Keith, lips pursed and brows furrowed. Not angry, and not really confused. Surprised, maybe? Thoughtful? Considering?

“What’d you mean?” He asks slowly, like he’s testing out each of the words on his tongue.

Keith feels heat rising up his neck, and turns back to the drawer, grabbing for a couple markers and pushing the drawer closed. “I’m just saying, if you want soulmark warpaint or whatever, maybe you should just ask your soulmate.”

He turns, holding the markers out to Hunk, who takes them with a grateful smile and a muttered thanks. His grin widens as he hurries to the bathroom, and Keith plops back down in his seat.

Both Pidge and Lance are still staring at him, and he schools his face into a flat expression as he stares back. “What? It’s not like they can read your mind.” He raises an eyebrow when they exchange an odd look. “Have you never asked for a soulmark before?” He aims for nonchalance, with a dash of curiosity and mild disbelief. He thinks he hits it pretty spot on.

The question, however, is entirely for formality’s sake. He knows Lance has never asked anything of him. Even the games they used to play, every conversation they’ve ever had, it was all suggestions, a poke and a prod, an open ended request for him to join in.

And every drawing Keith has ever done has been because he felt like it. They’ve all been for himself, and Lance has just been an unintended side effect. He’s... never even considered the possibility of Lance asking him for a painting. It’s never crossed his mind. It just hasn’t been how they work. Had it happened several months ago, he probably wouldn’t have done it. If his SM had just randomly wrote to him and asked for a specific painting, he no doubt would have felt irritated, bothered, hidden the request until it faded.

But that was several months ago, and this is now.

Then, his soulmate was just a faceless person that he dreaded meeting, feared seeing, wanted to pretend didn’t exist. He tried not to imagine how his paintings looked on anyone other than himself.

Now he knows what his art looks like on Lance’s skin.

Now his soulmate has Lance’s face, Lance’s voice, Lance’s smile.

If Lance asked, he doesn’t think he could say no. Wouldn’t want to deal with the guilt of seeing his disappointment in person...

Maybe suggesting this hadn’t been a good idea.

“You... might be onto something, mullet...” Lance says, voice soft and thoughtful, gaze fixed on the tv screen but eyes distant. There’s a soft smile playing at the edges of his lips, and even as dread trickles ice through his veins, a shiver of excitement runs hot down his spine.

He ends up going to the bathroom to help Hunk come up with face paint ideas, and he sits on the toilet while Hunk stands in front of the sink, gazing into the mirror while they talk. He ends up doing something similar to the ones on his own face, but with a dramatic flare that Keith suggests and walks him through. Hunk doesn’t have nearly as steady of a hand as his SM, but Keith thinks it’ll look fine nonetheless.

They end up leaving close to midnight, which is probably far too late when they all have early morning classes. But he knows they’ll all probably stay up later once they get back to their dorms. Hunk ends up leaving the leftovers, which Keith appreciates, and they all shuffle out the door with awkward but genuine waves and fist bumps.

It’s thirty minutes later, when he’s in his pajamas, nestled under his blankets, slouched down on his bed with his laptop propped up on his knees, scrolling through wikipedia articles, when he feels it.

He feels the connection open like a soft breeze through a window he hadn’t realized was open, a light draft to announce his presence. He stiffens, feeling the breath leave him in a rush.

He feels the tingling on the inside of his forearm, feels the breeze of emotion stem from it, crawling up his arm and settling in his chest. Feels the question, light and hesitant. Feels the doubt, the instant regret souring, sinking low. Feels the solid determination, the carefree bravado attempting to cover it up, feels it lifting everything else, as if he can somehow hide the faint taste of bile and creeping shadows from Keith.

It’s gone almost as soon as it starts, and the words on his arm are scribbled quick, as if to get them done before he can stop himself.

As if to get them over with before Keith can feel too deeply through their connection.

It’s too late, though. Lance has always felt deeply and openly, and whenever their connection opens, it’s like a rush and a flood, filling Keith and drowning before rushing away, leaving him reeling and unable to grasp more than vague impressions.

So this is random and out of the blue, but I play quidditch. Like from Harry Potter? And we have a tournament this weekend, and I also snitch for other teams, and I thought it would be cool to have snitch like marks?

Keith gives a little exhale of a laugh, corners of his lips quirking despite himself. Now that he knows it’s Lance, he can practically read the words in his voice, can practically hear the awkward rambling. What a fucking dork.

Keith is already out of bed, padding across his room when he feels it again.

This time it’s quick and airy, a breath instead of a breeze. Emotions oddly muted and dull, but lingering and creeping up his spine, curling into his chest as if trying to hide. Even after the connection closes, they’re slow to fade, giving him time to pick them apart.

Self conscious doubt. Irritation, but not at Keith. It’s turned inward. At himself. A sigh that feels real enough that a similar one escapes Keith’s lungs. A rumble that feels like amusement, but it’s tinged with a quiver of bitterness that doesn’t belong there.

Keith frowns, pausing as he looks down at his arm. The new words are scribbled beneath the first, smaller and messier.

Never mind, don’t worry about it, you’re probably busy and this is stupid, lol

Keith’s frown deepens, an odd heat rising his his chest, chasing away the feelings that Lance had left there.

He strides across the room with more purpose, practically ripping open the drawers and pulling out the paint that he needs, ideas already forming.

He’s never painted like this for anyone except himself, but he thinks this is a good place to start.

 


 

Lance stands near the center line of the field. It’s his usual position. Better to stand in the middle, or else be accused of favoring one team over the other. Fuck that. He’s an equal opportunity snitch.

Both hands on his hips, weight cocked to the side, the looks like the picture of ease. Not a care in the world as the game unfolds in front of him, chaos with everyone running around, balls being thrown, teams shouting, referee whistles. It all fades to the background. The game is there, but he only pays attention to it enough to avoid hitting anyone.

His attention is reserved solely for the two seekers. Always aware of them. Always calculating where on the field they are. Always figuring out who’s going to get to him first. Watching them for signs of how they’ll attack next. These two are easy. Their faces broadcast every move they’re about to make, which makes it incredibly easy for him to counter.

They’re nothing like Keith, who has that spark of challenge in his eyes, that fire that burns bright, the way he stalks Lance around the field, body rippling and rolling fluidly, waiting for an opening, striking fast before Lance can figure out what he’ll do.

Yeah, Keith is a good seeker. These two are mediocre.

Both of the seekers are slow as they approach, mouths open slightly and chests heaving. They’re getting tired, but they haven’t been subbed yet, and Lance is starting to think that these teams don’t really have seeker subs. A shame really. There’s no challenge in this.

One charges first, followed quickly by the other. Lance is in motion just as quickly.

He moves toward the first one, grabbing them around their upper arms to keep them from swiping at him and sticking his ass out to get the snitch as far from them as possible. The seeker pushes against his hold, no doubt trying to bulldoze out of it. It’s not going to work. Instead, Lance uses their momentum to swing the two of them around, putting the seeker’s back to the other one, effectively using them as a shield.

They spin around like that for several long moments, one seeker trying to get out of his hold and the other one trying to get around the first. Lance keeps in motion, constantly moving them so his shield is always in place. He can see them gritting their teeth, sees their frustration. Good. He feeds off of it.

It doesn’t take too long before a beat tags out the second seeker, which just makes the one in his arms struggle a little more.

They pull back, and Lance lets them go, keeping up his defensive position as the seeker attempt to circle him. He keeps one eye on the seeker going back to their hoops.

The seeker in front of him looks like they’re bordering on desperate. He smirks, exuding that cocky confidence that snitches are known for and honestly isn’t that hard to conjure up.

“Beater to your left.” He says, and the seeker flinches, turning automatically to look over their left shoulder just as a bludger hits their right side. They gape, turning to frown at the ball as they pull the broom from between their legs. Lance straightens, smirk widening as he feigns innocence. “Did I say your left? I meant my left.”

They send Lance a dirty look before jogging back towards their hoops, and Lance just chuckles.

It’s not much longer before the snitch ref approaches him and says the head ref as decided to handicap him. Lance grins brightly, putting a hand behind him to rest at his lower back. As the seekers approach again, he feels his grin curl into something more cocky, something more determined, eyes glinting dangerously.

The snitch is designed to be caught. A snitch has to be caught for the game to end. It’s their purpose. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to make it easy for them. The snitch is considered a winner if they hold out long enough to be double handicapped, but even being handicapped once is a victory in and of itself.

So Lance is going to milk it.

He lasts quite a while. The seekers are winded and predictable, and when they switch out, it’s with chasers who don’t seem to know what they’re doing any better than the designated seekers. He does get caught eventually, but he’s not too upset about it. It was bound to happen eventually, especially when he can only use one hand.

When the ref blows the whistle to end the game, he shakes hands with the seekers, patting them on the back.

“Nice catch, dude.” He says, friendly and smiling and breathing a little heavy himself as he shakes the winner’s hand.

“Thanks,” The guy huffs, a proud smile of his own despite the weariness around it. He hands Lance the ball back, which he automatically moves to reattach to the velcro on the back of his waistband. “Nice marks, by the way.” He says, then pauses, nose scrunching up. “Is that weird to say? Sorry if it is, but they look really awesome.”

Lance just grins, waving him off. “Not at all, man! Thanks!” He holds out his arms, twisting them to show off the marks. He can feel his face softening as he gazes down at them.

Instead of his usual snitch t-shirt, he went for a loose, sleeveless, yellow muscle tank to show off as much of his arms as possible.

The soulmarks are gold and yellow, two distinct shades, and they stand out against his skin in beautiful contrast. Slightly faded with time, making it look apart of him, but still vibrant. The strands coil down from his shoulders, weaving around his arms, curling off in places, running down the length of his limbs, swirling and weaving together in beautifully elegant patterns to coil playfully around his wrists before stretching out on the back of his hands, breaking apart to bend down the length of each finger, stopping at his nails.

The marks run high, too, moving over his shoulders, dipping under his collarbones before climbing up his neck, weaving up to and swirl over the edge of his jaw, curl at his cheek bones in a way that’s both fancy yet fierce, framing beneath his eyes.

They run low, as well. Yellow and gold lines weaving flawlessly down his sides to make similar patterns on his legs, which can be seen on the patch of skin between where his shorts end and his tall socks begin.

He never did get a response to the question he had asked Thursday night. It had taken a long talk with Hunk and a lot of internal debate to even put a pen to his arm, and he had regretted it almost instantly. After scribbling a sloppy apology, he had curled beneath his blankets and groaned loudly enough that Hunk pulled out the ice cream they had in their mini fridge.

He had just taken a bowl from Hunk when the marks started appearing, and he nearly dropped it all over his bed in his surprise.

He hadn’t gotten a written response, but he had gotten a painting.

But it was the emotions that filtered through their connection that really took his breath away. He’s never felt his soulmate be so... soft before. They’ve been soft, but it’s always been this introspective stillness, a calmness, tranquil and at peace. He’s never felt them be soft towards him before. Not openly, and not like that.

And he knows it was toward him. He could feel it. Could feel the spark and fire of determination that chased away his own fears and doubts, warming his chest from the inside out. Could feel it with ever stroke of their paint brush, every inch of yellow and gold that appeared on his skin. It’s hard to explain how he knows, but... he does. He’s spent long enough listening to his soulmate’s emotions to know it.

This was the first time his soulmate has ever made something for him, something that wasn’t just done for the sake of it, and it was... intense.

Having all of that directed at him. Feeling the single minded focus. Feeling a softness as the initial fire faded. Feeling a mild amusement tingling along his fingertips. Feeling a dash of pride as swirls came to life. Feeling a foreign feeling that was warm in his chest, tingling at his heart, and feeling so oddly fond in a way that was so light and playful...

There were several times when Hunk had to remind him to breathe.

He’s never felt anything like that before, and it was amazing.

That’s not to say it was entirely without faults. There were shadows of doubt there, too, once the first fire faded. Uncertainty hanging in the wings. A hesitance sometimes that reared its ugly head. And overall, there was that odd distance he always seems to feel with his soulmate. A distance and reserved feeling.

They reached out to him, granted his ridiculous request, and while they seemed happy to do it, there was still an uncertainty and unreadable shadows he could feel lurking beneath it all.

But it’s enough that it gives him a spark of hope.

He hadn’t known what words to conjure up after the painting was done and their connection closed. So he had settled for something simple, throwing as much gratitude as he could into his heart as he wrote Thanks <3 across the inside of his wrist.

“Your soulmate is crazy talented.” The seeker says, drawing him out of his thoughts.

“Yeah,” Lance says, hands dropping to his sides, head cocked to the side and a small smile on his lips. “They are.”

Lance!” He whips his head around, eyes scanning the fields until he sees Pidge. They’re on the opposite side of the pitch, waving him over. “Let’s go! We have a game!”

He waves goodbye to the seekers, stops by to thank the refs, and hurries over to where Pidge is waiting. As soon as he nears, they turn on their heel, jogging off across the fields to where the team is gathered a couple pitches over. He jogs after them, easily keeping pace.

“Who’re we against now?”

“Balmera University. From what I’ve seen, they’re pretty good. They have a lot of bigger players, and they hit hard.”

“So keep fast and light and avoid being tackled. Got it.”

Pidge quirks him a lopsided smirk, mischief sparkling in their eyes. “From what Allura tells me, they don’t let people get close to the hoops, so we’re going to need your throwing arm.”

He cracks a grin, giving them a little mock salute. “The sharpshooter is on the case.”

“If you win us this game, I might actually start calling you that.”

He laughs. “I’m holding you to that, Pidgeon.”

The tournament is a big one. The biggest one so far into the school year. The school hosting it is pretty big, too, and they have quidditch pitches set up all along a field. Schools from all over the state, and a few in the neighboring states, are attending, and Lance can’t even begin to imagine the administrative headache, but they’re doing a great job keeping it organized.

So far, they’ve been winning most of their games, but it’s only halfway through the day, and there’s still a lot that can go wrong.

They slow as they reach the pitch, and Pidge shoves him toward the sidelines where their stuff is gathered. “Hurry up and get changed so you can warm up with the team.”

“I’m already warmed up! I just snitched a game.” He says, giving them a pout.

It’s completely ineffective. They just give him a flat look and a pointed finger. “I don’t care. You’re warming up with the team. Now go!”

“Fiiine!” He says before jogging away. As he sifts through the pile for his bag, he glances up at his team. They’re gathered on their end of the pitch, standing around in a circle while they stretch together, following Coran as he leads them through the routine.

He’s been in and out of games and snitching all day, and that doesn’t really leave time for him to fully change. So he’s gotten in the habit of just wearing his snitch things over his uniform. Slipping out of his snitch shorts is easy, leaving him in his regular athletic shorts. He reaches behind him, grabbing the back of his tank and pulling it over his head before stuffing it into his bag.

As he stands, Altean Quidditch shirt in hand, he looks up and catches Keith’s eye from across the pitch. He has his arm pulled over his chest almost lazily as he follows the group stretch. Lance knows he’s looking at him, but he might not have realized that Keith was staring at his chest had the snap back to his face not been so clean cut. It gives him away in a heartbeat.

He smirks wide, shooting Keith finger guns and chuckling when he looks away, shoulders rising to his ears and lips pursed into a frown.

He doesn’t know what Keith has to be embarrassed about or jealous of. Yeah, Lance is pretty damn proud of his body, but he saw Keith change last night at Pidge’s parent’s place and damn.

He pulls his shirt over his head, grabs his white bandana, and ties it across his forehead as he starts across the field, slipping seamlessly into the circle.

Keith avoids eye contact with him across the circle, but Lance manages to to catch his eye a couple times, making faces until Keith looks away with that little frown he does when Lance knows he’s trying to hide a smile. He can see the slight crinkle in his eyes.

They go through warm ups, a few practice drills, and then Pidge is calling them over to the sideline.

“Alright,” They say when the team huddles close. “This team looks intimidating, but they’re only been around about as long as we have. We’re pretty evenly matched, as far as I can tell. Pass quick, move quick, score and reset, yadda yadda, the usual. You guys got this. Lance,” They say, pointing at him. He straightens automatically. “You feeling fresh?”

He grins, giving them a little salute and a wink. “As a daisy, coach.”

They give a little huff and a roll of their eyes, but they’re smiling. “Good. Our usual starting line up, then. You know the drill.”

“Aye, aye, capitan!”

He feels a tap on his arm as the team starts to disperse, and he glances over to find Keith holding out one of the pvc pipe brooms. He grins, taking it. “Thanks, dude.”

Keith just gives him a small shadow of a smile before turning toward the hoops, and Lance follows him out.

Their beginning strategy is simple, but highly effective. Keith is easily the fastest sprinter they have, and definitely the fastest from a stand still. He positions himself at the centered, lined up perfectly with the quaffle in the middle of the pitch. Meanwhile, Allura and Lance line up on the far ends, one on each side. When the whistle blows, they’ll all run forward: Keith for the quaffle and Lance and Allura past the center line and onto the other side of the pitch to set up for a pass.

Usually they can manage to get the first point before either team really has a chance to set up defenses.

And this time is no different.

The whistle blows, and Keith smirks that proud little smirk that used to make him write with irritation. It doesn’t anymore. Now it just makes him feel oddly warm.

“Nice shot,” Lance says, jogging up past him as the head back to their side of the field to reset.

He holds up a fist, and Keith bumps it. “Nice pass.”

Lance wants to say more. Want to keep the banter going. But the game is on. “Heads up, they’re coming back.” He says instead, turning around and facing the on coming chasers.

As Pidge had predicted, their teams are closely matched. They sub out constantly and quickly to keep everyone fresh, and there’s not much room for conversation. Lance quickly falls into the game, giving it his complete focus. He’s proud of his team. They’ve come so far in just a couple of months.

Shiro and Allura, as it turns out, are an incredible team. They’re fantastic defensive chasers, just as Keith and Lance make a great offensive team. Pidge and Coran make an insanely unstoppable beater team, to the point where they’ve started calling them the Weasley twins. There are a few older players with them that fit into the line ups easily, quickly adjusting to each team they play, and there are a few new players who are still rough around the edges.

But it’s fine, because when it comes down to it, they’re having fun.

“How’s the arm doing?” Lance says, holding out a water bottle to Keith as he comes off the field.

He takes it gratefully, drinking it quickly and spilling some down his chin. “My arm?” He asks, one brow raised as he lifts the hem of his shirt to wipe off his mouth. Lance tries his best not to stare, but god damn, how are those abs even legal?

He doesn’t trust his voice at the moment, so he just gestures to Keith’s arm, where the compression sleeve rests along the length of his forearm, from elbow to wrist. There’s barely a strip of skin showing between that and Keith’s athletic gloves.

Keith drops his shirt, blinks in confusion, and then looks at his arm like he had completely forgotten it was there. “Oh,” He says, something oddly blank in his voice. “Right. That. Uh, yeah, it’s fine.”

It’s a little weird, but before Lance can question further, Pidge is shoving a broom into his hands and pushing him out onto the field.

Now Lance loves Hunk with all his heart, but he knows the guy isn’t a good runner. It’s half the reason he’s their keeper. It turns out he’s a damn good beater as well, with a heavy hitting arm that can peg people across the field, but he loses the advantage when he has to run after the ball. It’s not that he can’t run. It’s just that he gets winded easily and quickly. Not a lot of endurance.

But he doesn’t need that to be a good keeper. And he’s a damn good keeper. He’s tall and has a wide reach, and while he’s not a good runner, he’s quick to move around the hoops, guarding each one as needed. His hands a huge, allowing him to easily palm the ball, snatch it out of the air, or just whack it away when someone takes a shot.

Not to mention his size makes him incredibly intimidating.

Lance has seen chasers actually hesitate when they charge toward the hoops just from having Hunk drop down into a defensive stance, holding his arm out wide. It’s that moment of hesitance that allows him to swat away the ball, or for a chaser to swoop in and pluck it away.

But just because Hunk doesn’t like to run, doesn’t mean he can’t. And just because he gets winded quickly, doesn’t mean he’s not fast.

Because as it turns out, Hunk is a surprisingly good sprinter.

And when he does it, it’s usually very surprising.

For the other team.

There’s a reason they call Hunk their tank.

The other team charges their side of the field, putting them on defense. Bludgers fly, beaters scrambling to claim them. The chasers shoot, but its a long shot. Hunk easily jumps, snatch it out of the air before it makes it to the center hoop. Lance sees the glint in Hunk’s eyes before his feet even hit the ground, and he grins wide, knowing exactly what’s coming.

Hunk lands, digs his cleats into the dirt, and takes off.

The thing about Hunk sprinting is this: he runs straight, fast, unyielding and unstopping, and if you’re in the way, it’s terrifying.

A laugh bubbles out of his throat as Hunk shoves through the mass of people, whoops a loud “Go, Hunk, go!” as he breaks out of the chaos. Neither team has had time to reset or to really even process it before it happens. All the chasers turn to gape, an opposing chaser yelps in surprise as Hunk charges past them while they head back to their hoops after being tagged out.

He’s on a break away. Just him, the opposing keeper, and the hoops. The enemy beaters are charging after him, but Lance knows they won’t make it in time. The only thing that can stop him is the opposing keeper, and usually, typically, that doesn’t happen. Not when they have the full force of Hunk charging down the field at them.

This keeper, however, isn’t moving. They brace themselves, planting their feet and bending their knees, arm held out and alert. It’s only then that Lance realizes that their keeper is just as big as Hunk is, and they’re standing unafraid, unflinching, solid.

An immovable object in the face of an unstoppable force.

And as Lance watches, they collide.

He knows it’s not entirely logical for there to be sound, but Lance swears he can hear the moment they hit. The opposing keeper steps forward, catching Hunk and stopping his forward momentum. There’s a moment where it seems like time slows, a moment frozen, then Hunk’s momentum shifts, and he’s falling backwards.

He falls hard, no doubt caught completely off guard. It’s understandable. The entire field is in shock. Lance distantly realizes that the whole pitch, both teams, are completely silent and still, simply staring. No one had ever seen someone completely fucking lay Hunk out like that.

Lance isn’t even entirely sure what happened. It was so fast. One moment Hunk was running, then they met, and Hunk was suddenly laid out on his back, arms spread wide as the quaffle rolls innocently away from his hand.

The moment stretches, the pitch feeling muted and unmoving, movement happening on the field around them, sounds from other games trickling in, but their own game frozen in time.

And then all at once it snaps.

There’s a flurry of sound, shouts, a collective groan of ouch, worried whispers. Lance is already darting across the field to where his best friend is still lying on the ground. The opposing keeper is leaning over him, holding out their hand. Hunk takes it, and they heave him to his feet. He staggers, and they put their other hand on his arm to steady him.

And then they just... stare?

Lance slows as he nears them, frowning a little in his confusion. They’re not talking, just staring at each other, neither of them moving, and neither of them dropping their hands.

“Hunk!” He calls out, putting a hand on Hunk’s shoulder. When he turns to look at him, his mouth is hanging open, eyes wide with shock but the look in them looking distance and dazed.

Oh man, he really hopes he didn’t crack his head on the ground. Concussions are no fun.

With a little firmer of a hold, he turns Hunk to face him. He moves easily enough, hand dropping away from the other keeper. “Hey, buddy, you okay? Hit your head?”

He looks out of breath, eyes darting around Lance’s face, like he’s trying desperately to come back to reality but it’s hard for him. He can’t seem to focus. His mouth moves, but nothing besides strangled sounds come out. His eyes look a little glassy, but Lance is willing to bet that’s just from the body’s reaction to physical shock rather than actual pain.

“Hunk? Come on, buddy. Speak to me?” He says, putting both hands on his shoulders, giving him a little squeeze.

“Shay!” The other team’s captain calls out, waving their keeper to the side lines. Lance doesn’t pay much attention to it, even as something nags at the edges of his memory. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the keeper hesitate before turning and jogging away.

“Lance,” Hunk finally says, mouth forming words slowly and voice sounding just as dazed as he looks.

“Yeah, buddy?”

His lips curl then, this slow progress upward, upward, upward, until it’s the biggest fucking grin he thinks he’s ever seen. His eyes, however, remain distant, even as they crinkle at the edges. “I think I’m in love.”

Lance quirks an eyebrow, a frown pursing his lips. “Come again?”

All at once, Hunk’s eyes snap back to focus, sharp and excited. He grabs Lance, wraps him up in a hug and pins his arms to his sides as he picks him up, twisting back and forth and making his legs dangle beneath him. The air rushes out of him as he’s squeezed.

“Dude! It’s her!”

“Her?” Lance manages to squeak out, sounding breathless and strained.

Her, dude! Her! My soulma— Holy shit— Lance! My soulmate! My soulmate. It’s happening! It’s actually happening.”

Realization sets in, and Lance looks over Hunk’s shoulder. The keeper is standing by her team, but she’s half turned, eyes looking just as dazed, glistening in the afternoon sun, lips lax and parted as she gazes at Hunk.

The soulmarks on her cheeks match those on Hunk’s.

Shay. Hunk’s soulmate. Their First Meeting.

His heart flutters, excitement bubbling up in his chest as Hunk babbles. His breath catches, a smile on his lips, just as the happiness in his veins sours. Bile on the back of his tongue. His smile stays fixed firmly in place, but he knows it doesn’t reach his eyes. His gut twists uncomfortably, a wave of nausea rolling through him. His limbs buzz, feeling numb and detached.

He feels like his own soulmarks are burning away at his flesh.

Another First Meeting. Another friend meeting their soulmate. Another happy couple. Just like his parents. Just like his siblings.

And he can’t help the sinking feeling racing through him, dragging him down into a pit of despair that he’s tried so hard to stay out of, feels the shadows tugging at his skin, nipping at his ankles.

Because he has this terrifyingly numb feeling that his own First Meeting is still far, far away.

His own soulmate is far, far out of his reach.

He’s happy for Hunk, he really is. He’s ecstatic, and his best friend deserves the world.

But happiness for Hunk doesn’t entirely ease the loneliness that tugs at his heart.

 


 

He’s happy for Hunk. He really is. But that doesn’t stop the jealousy.

It’s not an ugly kind of jealousy. The kind that rots and festers and leads to anger and resentment. It’s a quieter kind. The kind that aches bone deep, making him wish he had what Hunk has and feeling emptier because he doesn’t.

He sits on the little hill that borders the wide field, leading up to the parking lot. His knees are bent, arms crossed overtop them, leaning forward to rest his chin on them. their team has finished all their scheduled games, and they’re just waiting for everyone else to finish up so the bracket can be completed and posted. Only two of the pitches are occupied with games, and the rest of the field is just quidditch players milling around, waiting. His own team is scattered around, but it’s pretty easy to spot them with their Altean Quidditch shirts.

His eyes are on Hunk, sitting with Shay on the sidelines of one of the active pitches. Neither of them are actually watching the game. They’re turned toward each other, neither of them touching but close enough that they don’t need to. He can’t see the details of his friend’s face at this distance, but that doesn’t stop his smile from being a beacon of happiness.

It warms his chest even as it stings.

They won their game against Balmera University, but it hadn’t been by much. Needless to say, both teams had been shaken by the First Meeting that had taken place on the pitch. The game carried on once they were certain that Hunk was okay after his fall, but news of the soulmates spread like a wildfire of whispers.

It became very clear, very quickly that neither Hunk nor Shay were going to be able to focus much on the game. Even after Pidge gave Hunk a pep talk, dragged him down to their level, and went so far as to slap him across the face. So both teams ended up using their keeper subs. The difference was that their keeper sub was still a rookie, and the Balmerian’s keeper sub knew what he was doing.

So the chasers had their work cut out for them trying to keep the opposing chasers from scoring and scoring enough points in return to keep them in the game.

Keith ended up having to play defense for a while, keeping the other seeker from getting near the snitch. He kept a close eye on the game though, and he switched gears as soon as Lance called out to him, giving him the signal to catch the snitch. It didn’t take too long, and Lance made a hard effort to keep the other team from scoring to give Keith time.

It was a close game, a good game, and everyone was more focused on grinning at Hunk and Shay anyway. The Balmerian players patted Hunk on the shoulder and congratulated him as they passed, and Lance was the first to bound across the field and officially introduce himself to Shay as Hunk’s best friend. The others had followed, and Hunk had chastised them for being too overwhelming.

Lance had been the loudest, smiled the brightest, shown the most interest in Shay, wrapped his best friend up in hugs, talked him up, laughed the longest and loudest.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had known he was overdoing it. He had known, could see himself doing it, but he couldn’t stop it. It was like word vomit, and his volume control was broken. He knew why he had done it, too. It was overcompensation for the ugly feelings he was trying to keep buried deep down inside.

So he showed his excitement, amped it up, and hoped no one could see the shadows in his eyes.

It had worked. No one had questioned him. No one had given him strange looks. No one thought anything of it. Despite how embarrassingly overboard he was being.

And now, alone and off to the side, away from his team and his friends, he’s finally able to let himself stop smiling. To loosen that vice-like grip on his heart, let those feelings bleed out a little before they choke him.

He allows himself to watch Hunk and Shay from across the field, allows himself to stretch his arms out in front of him, eyes locked on his yellow and gold soulmarks, and allows himself to wish that it had been him.

That is, until something cold and wet presses to the back of his neck.

He yelps, lurching forward, one hand flying to his neck as he half turns to stares, eyes narrowed and lips parted in surprise.

Keith stands above him, lips quirked into a small, lopsided smirk, a gatorade bottle held out to him. “We just got back from the nearby gas station.” He says when Lance continues to glare. He gives the bottle a little encouraging shake. “Allura said the red kind is your favorite, so...”

And hey, free drinks? How can he stay mad? “Thanks,” He mumbles, taking the offered bottle with enough huff to let Keith know he doesn’t appreciate the rude awakening, even if he is forgiven.

Keith sits next to him on the hill, and they both crack open their drinks, taking a sip and simply enjoying the silence. It’s not awkward, nor is it uncomfortable. Lance has always been someone who enjoys the noise and din, who thrives on conversation, but he’s quickly finding out that he can enjoy Keith’s company without it. That with Keith, he can appreciate the silence without feeling a needling pressure to fill it.

But right now, silence means thinking about things he’d rather not think about.

“What flavor did you get?” He asks, glancing over as Keith twists the cap back on.

He pauses mid-twist, glancing down at the bottle before looking to Lance. “Blue.”

Lance snorts, feeling his eyes crinkle as he fights down a smile. “Yeah, no shit. What flavor, Keith. Not what color.”

Keith glances back at his bottle, lifting it a little as he turns it over in his hands. His brows pinch, lips pressing together into this small frown. It’s an expression Lance is becoming increasingly familiar with, and one he’s becoming increasingly more fond of. He holds out the bottle for Lance to see. “It just says Cool Blue.”

“What does that even mean?” He muses, then leans over to nudge Keith’s shoulder with his own. He hadn’t realized until they made contact just how close they’ve been sitting. “What does it taste like, dude?”

Keith shrugs at that, pulling up his knees and resting his arms on them, letting the bottle dangle between them, held loosely in his fingertips. “Tastes like blue.”

“Enlightening.” He deadpans, but the smile on his lips ruins the affect.

Keith just hums his acknowledgement, and they lapse back into silence. His eyes drift over the field, but they inevitably drift back to Hunk. It’s hard to tell from this distance, but it looks like he and Shay have started holding hands. The kind of shy way of holding hands when both people want it but neither acknowledges it, leaving their touches hesitant and innocent and exhilarating.

He feels his sigh more than hears it. Feels it leave his lungs. Feels the droop in his shoulders. Feels the longing in his heart. Feels the burn of his soulmarks. What he’d been so proud of just earlier that day, what had filled him with excitement and hope, now just acts as a grim reminder that this is all he has. His soulmate is a person of few words, and the words they do share are rarely personal.

Hunk and Shay, even Allura and Shiro. They had been close even before their First Meeting. They had been loving and fond and talked. Lance is coming to the conclusion that even if he and his soulmate do meet soon, it’ll be nothing like what his friends have. Nothing like that close, personal bond that sparks and ignites. Nothing like the sweet young love that they have. Like his parents have. Like his sibling have.

It’s a notion that festers. Shadows that nibble at his heart, eating away at the fraying edges of his hope.

He’s not stupid. He knows that not all soulmates have fairy tale stories. But... he had always assumed he would.

The realization that he might not makes his heart sink into his stomach like a stone, feeling like the weight of a hundred bricks are pressing in on his chest, making his blood feel cold.

He hates it. He hates feeling this way. He hates losing hope in his soulmate, in them, together, as a pair. Makes him feel like he’s somehow betraying them already before they’ve even met.

He wants to be happy for his friends. Wants their happiness to somehow ignite his own hope. Wants to remain firm and strong. His soulmate deserves that, at least.

But... who’s going to stay strong for him?

“You okay?”

The question catches him off guard. Breaks through his mental lament like a stone dropped into a still pond. Spoken in a voice that’s soft and low, soothing in pitch and bordering on indifferent in tone, but the simple act of it alone speaks of worry. He’s familiar with that tone. Has heard it from others and used it himself. It’s just not often he hears that particular tone from Keith, and that’s more concerning than anything.

Has he been that obvious?

So, naturally, he plasters a smile on his face, hoping it chases the shadows from his eyes, squishes down those writhing negative emotions and shrugs it off. “Of course,” He says, nonchalant and the picture of ease. It’s familiar, like slipping on an old and worn pair of jeans. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

When Keith doesn’t say anything right away, he risks a glance. He’s staring at him, brows furrowed and lips quirked downward. His eyes search Lance’s face in a way that makes him feel far too exposed, yet unable to look away, left on display for Keith to examine.

Whatever he finds just makes that frown deepen a little further.

Keith looks away first, turning his gaze back to the field stretched out before them. He looks calm, at ease, but Lance is wary.

“I saw you earlier.” He says simply, matter-of-fact. It wouldn’t be so concerning if his voice wasn’t pitched low, like he were breathing a secret between them.

“Earlier?” He asks, wary.

Keith glances sideways at him before his eyes flicker away. “After the thing with Hunk... when you thought no one was looking.” He squirms a little, scratching the back of his neck and refusing to look at Lance. “You didn’t look... happy.”

“I’m happy for him.” He says, voice rising a little, feeling his back straighten a little. Keith gives him an unimpressed look, raising one eyebrow. Lance frowns. “I am!”

Keith hums, monotone and blank, looking away across the field.

Lance feels himself deflate. He could keep fighting it. He knows he could. He could keep insisting he’s fine. But... Keith has noticed something that he tried so hard to hide. Something that he barely wanted to acknowledge to himself. He doesn’t know if Keith’s the only one who noticed, but he’s the only one who’s approached him about it.

And there’s something about Keith. Something about the way he doesn’t push. About how matter-of-fact he is. About how calm he is. About how he doesn’t seem to blame Lance at all for what he’s feeling. Doesn’t try to shame him or fix it. Just content to let Lance feel whatever he’s feeling. All Keith does is acknowledge it, and then leave it alone. Like he’s opening the door, but he’s not pushing Lance through. He’s waiting patiently, letting Lance make his own decision.

And there’s something about it that makes Lance want to open up to him. If only a little.

He sighs, defeat deflating the last of his bravado. “I really am happy for him. I just...” He leans forward, crossing his arms over his knees and resting his chin on them. “I just kinda wish that were me, you know?”

Keith hums, thoughtful and distant. “I don’t,” He says after a long moment. “But... I think it’s understandable to feel that way.”

He says nothing more, and neither does Lance. He doesn’t feel like he needs to say anything more. Without really saying much at all, Keith gives him the impression that he understands. That Lance doesn’t need to explain himself or to ramble. Keith just... gets it. Even if he doesn’t feel the same way. And there’s no sense of judgement or disappointment.

Just... companionable silence.

“What about you?” He asks, quiet and tentative. If Keith has gone through the extra effort to check on him, the least he can do it return the favor.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Keith glance at him. “What about me?” He asks slowly, cautious and confused.

Lance tilts his head, resting his cheek on his arms and fixing his eyes on Keith. On the way his yellow headband pushes his hair up at odd angles. On how his pony tail is a mess, loose hairs curling around his nape. On how his cheeks and nose are just a little pink from the beginnings of a sunburn.

“Pidge told me you don’t like talking about soulmates.” He says softly.

He watches as Keith visible bristles before looking away, eyes on the ground and lips pursed. “I don’t.”

“Then why did you come to talk to me about it?”

“Because you looked like you needed it.” He says simply, with a careless shrug of his shoulders.

And that, in and of itself, makes Lance’s chest feel warm, makes his stomach flutter with a feeling of surprised contentment. It’s a feeling he’s familiar with. A feeling he gets a lot around Hunk and Pidge, Allura and Coran. The feeling of being cared about by someone he holds dear.

When had Keith managed to worm his way into Lance’s life like this? It had happened so slowly, so subtly, that Lance hadn’t realized how much he cares until it’s a warmth that’s spreading through his veins like wildfire, tingling his fingertips and curling his toes.

He doesn’t know what to say, so he props his chin up and gazes out over the fields, mindlessly settling his eyes on one of the games without really watching it, letting the warm bubbling feeling in his chest chase away his doubts and his fears.

The game that Hunk and Shay have been watching ends, and the teams disperse from the field, but neither of them move. A few others have joined them. A few from Balmera U, as well as Pidge and Allura. They all look happy, smiling and laughing, talking with their hands and playfully shoving one another.

It’s an odd feeling to realize that he doesn’t actually mind that he’s not apart of it. That he doesn’t mind sitting on this hill next to Keith, enjoying the warmth of the fall sun warming his skin.

“So...” Keith starts, poking at the silence before trailing off. Lance turns to look at him, one eyebrow raised. Keith mirrors his look, expression and voice deadpan. “Are the booty shorts really necessary?”

Lance blinks, confusion quickly giving way to indignation. He sits up straighter, turning to more fully face Keith, frown on his face. “What’s wrong with my shorts?”

Keith shrugs, the shadow of a shirk tugging at the corner of his lips. “Aren’t they a little...” He glances down at the shorts in question before lifting his gaze again, cocking an eyebrow. “Much?”

Lance huffs, leaning back to cross his arms over his chest. “I’ll have you know that this is a tradition.”

He’s definitely smirking now, amusement sparkling in his eyes. His voice, however, remains incredibly blank. Though Lance is certain he can hear a small waver there. “I know. Allura told me.”

“So you know it’s expected of me!”

His smile starts to crinkle the edges of his eyes. “Is it though?”

“It is!” Lance rolls backward, turning onto his side as he lays down, propping himself up on an elbow. He stretches one leg up in the air, putting it clearly on display. He’s not wearing his snitch shorts, just his usual ones, revealing plenty of smooth thigh and the marks the twist around it. “These beauties are our secret weapon, Keith!”

He rests an elbow on his knees, lifting a hand to rest his chin in it, effectively using his hand to hide his smile. But Lance can see it in his eyes. “If you do it every time, is it really a secret?”

“What’d you have against my legs, Keith?” He says, doing his best to sound indignant and outraged.

“Nothing.”

“Appreciate them!” He says, sticking his leg out in front of Keith, nearly hitting him in the face.

“Oh my god—“

Appreciate them!” He repeats, louder, laughter finally breaking through.

Keith laughs, too, spewing out half formed curses as he swats Lance’s legs away. He’s not one to be detoured, however, and keeps at it, enjoying the sound of Keith’s laughter breaking through his frustration.

And just like that, he feels lighter. The heaviness that had been pressing in on his chest is gone. It’s still there, lurking in the back of his mind, but it’s not haunting him, not dragging him down. In this moment, he feels like he can actually go hang out with Hunk and get to know Shay without feeling like he’s forcing his smile.

For one brief, fleeting moment, Lance thinks that life would be a lot simpler if Keith were his soulmate.

And that thought is like a punch to his gut, making him feel far too many things to decipher, so when Keith shoves him hard, he lets himself roll down the hill away from him.

Keith laughs from his spot on the hill as Lance comes to a stop at the bottom, limbs spread wide and feeling dazed as he stares at the sky.

Only one thought keeps repeating in his mind. One solid and resounding what the fuck?

 


 

“Guys, we really don’t have to do this...” Hunk says, pushing his index fingers together as he shifts his weight from foot to foot.

“Too late,” Pidge says offhandedly, helping unbag all the bottles and spread them out over the counter. “We’re doing this.”

“But... your parents—“

“They won’t be back until tomorrow. We’ll have this place cleaned up and be out by then anyway.”

“But we’re all pretty tired—“

“Hunk, buddy ol’ pal, homio bromio, my dude,” Lance says, throwing an arm over Hunk’s shoulders and leaning heavily into his side. “How often do you have a First Meeting?”

“Well, technically only once—“

“Exactly!” He says, slapping his free hand on Hunk’s chest. “And so we’re going to celebrate!”

“We could have just waited until we got back—“

“No time like the present!” Coran says, dropping the last of the bags on the counter with a loud clank.

“Aren’t you supposed to be like... older and more mature?” Hunk says, lip pressing out in a small pout.

Coran just grins, stroking his mustache and leaning back against the counter while Allura helps Pidge unbag everything. “Oh yes, quite true. And I am maturely enabling you all to have a fun time in celebration of your First Meeting.”

“Come on, buddy, live a little!” Lance says, then leans in close to loudly whisper. “How often do we get free booze? And fancy booze at that.”

Hunk eyes the bottles warily before his eyes flicker to Coran. “At least let us help pay for it all.” He says, ignoring Lance’s squeak of indignant protest.

But Coran just waves him off. “Nonsense. Consider this my congratulations to you as well as a celebration to our team for our first tournament. Besides, I’ve been meaning to stock up my personal collection, so anything we don’t drink will be coming home with me.”

Hunk’s shoulders droop, his resolve crumbling with a loud sigh. “Fine.”

“Yes!” Lance jumps off him, fist shooting into the air as he dances around in a circle. “Shots! Shots! Shots!

“Hey team! Get in here! Team meeting in the kitchen!” Pidge calls out, standing on their toes to reach the shot glasses from one of the cabinets, pulling them all down. After watching them struggle for a moment, Allura helps, chuckling at Pidge’s sullen glare. They then sigh, letting Allura get the rest.

“Your parents have one hell of a shot glass collection.” She mumbles.

Pidge shrugs, leaning back against the counter and crossing their arms over their chest. “They like souvenirs.”

“Clearly.”

The team slowly filters into the kitchen, sticking and crowding to the outside of the room, pressed up against the counters to create a wide circle. Lance hovers close to Pidge, Allura, and the booze, leaned up against Hunk’s side.

“Alright, so if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it right. House rules. Watch yourself. We wanna have fun, not get black out drunk. You make a mess, you clean it up. If you feel puke coming on, you get your ass to the bathroom or the backyard. Don’t break shit. Drink water. We’re all hella dehydrated after playing all day, and hang overs are a bitch. And you can snack on whatever food you find in the house.” They clap their hands together, pushing off the counter and gesturing to where Allura is neatly lining up the shot glasses. “Coran provided us with everything, so make sure you thank him.”

Collectively, as if on cue, the entire team does a chorus of a very monotoned thanks Coran.

He grins, waving off the thanks. “Thank you, everyone, for your hard work today. There are many things here, and I have quite a few recipes up my sleeve, so I will gladly make any of you whatever drinks you desire. And perhaps surprise you with some you’ve never had!”

“Ready!” Allura says, stepping back and making a sweeping gesture to the counter.

“Alright, so we’re gonna start off with a group shot to toast to Hunk and his First Connection.” There’s a few whoops and scattered applause, to which Hunk just smiles, scratching the back of his neck, cheeks reddening. “So everyone come up and pick your poison. If you don’t wanna drink, you don’t have to. No shame, no judgement. But let’s get this show on the road.”

Lance steps up to an edge, swiping a few shot glasses and the bottle of tequilla. He pours one for himself and one for Hunk, handing it to him before calling out. “Tequilla over here! Come and get it!”

He glances over the crowd in the kitchen, eyes flicking over Keith before snapping back. Keith is staring at him, arms crossed loosely over his chest while he waits for others to get their shots. Lance cocks an eyebrow, smiling as he lifts the bottle in silence question. Keith’s smirk is small but definitely there as he nods.

Lance pours, and holds it out to him as Keith steps up. Before he can take it, however, Shiro swoops in. He slides in with far more grace and fluidity than a man his size has any right to have and snatches the shot right out of Lance’s hand, holding it above his head. “Ooooh, no you don’t.”

Keith stands there, hand poised in the air to take a shot glass that’s no longer there. He blinks, then narrows his eyes at Shiro, frown forming a small pout.

Shiro just shakes his head, chuckling as he steps back, carefully lowering the shot glass back to a reasonable height. “Glare at me all you want. We’re not having another Tila Tekeithla incident.”

Lance quirks an eyebrow. “Tila Te-what-now?”

Shiro gives him a flat look that’s somewhat ruined by the ghost of a smile threatening the corners of his lips. “Let’s just say Keith doesn’t handle tequila very well.”

“I handle it just fine.” He huffs, crossing his arms over his chest.

Shiro raises an eyebrow, shrugging with one shoulder. “You keep telling yourself that. But you’re not drinking tequila tonight.”

Keith huffs a sigh, looking away and muttering, “Fine,” Before turning to where Pidge is pouring out rum.

Once he’s gone, Lance turns to Shiro. “So...” He says, slowly, conversationally. “Tila Tekeithla, huh?”

Shiro shakes his head, small smile on his face. “My lips are sealed.”

Lance’s smile drops, lips pursing into a small pout. “You are no fun.”

Shiro just laughs, patting him on the shoulder before walking away.

They had ended up staying until the end of the tournament. They made it through most of the bracket but lost in the semi finals. Balmera U made it to the last game. They stayed to watch the final. Sun lowering in the late afternoon sky, casting the field in warmer tones. They weren’t the only team that had stayed. The final pitched was lined with people. Their team crowded together.

Lance sat with Hunk as close to the sidelines as they dared, nudging him and talking to him about Shay. With just the two of them, he felt lighter, less like he had to pretend. He wasn’t sure if it was because they were more or less alone or if it had to do with his talk with Keith. He didn’t dwell on it too much. The fact remained that he could gush with his best friend about his soulmate without his own heart breaking.

Keith sat with Pidge further back in the crowd, huddled under the blanket that Pidge always brought to every quidditch event. They spoke in hushed tones, watching something on Pidge’s phone. Both of their hair was a mess, stuck up at odd angles from dried sweat and their headbands. Lance hadn’t he was staring until Keith met his gaze, surprise in his eyes at whatever expression was adorning Lance’s face.

He had turned back around quickly and made a point not to look at them again until the game was over.

Balmera U had lost in the finals, but they had come out of it in good spirits. After some messy organizing, they managed to find a pizza place to accommodate both teams for dinner. It was a mess. It was loud. It was crowded. But it was in good company, cozy, and they tipped their servers well for putting up with them.

Lance had ended up on the opposite side of the table from Keith, who was pressed between Pidge and Shiro, and he tried not to dwell on the odd sense of disappointment that nagged at his chest. Instead, he focused on the Bamerian players around him, getting to know them and Shay in a tag team socialization that he and Hunk had perfected over the years.

Afterwards, they had all headed back to Pidge’s parent’s house to celebrate.

“To Hunk!” Pidge says once everyone who wants to drink has a shot in hand. They raise their glass, using the voice they’ve cultivated to gather and demand attention.

Everyone lifts their glasses at once, shouting out a chorus of To Hunk!.

They all down their shots with various degrees of success, and after the coughing and laughter has subsided, Lance slams his glass onto the counter to get their attention. “Alright, so who’s up for some Circle of Death?”

 


 

It takes them a lot longer than expected to get everyone gathered in the living room, sitting in a large, loose circle.

That, mostly, has to do with the fact that Coran has insisted on mixing everyone’s first drink of the evening himself. Add to that the fact that organizing any group of people larger than five easily turns into chaos.

So, nearly forty-five minutes later, they’re finally ready, everyone sitting around while Pidge rambles through the rules, fancy mixed drinks in their hands. Lance’s is already halfway gone.

Circle of Death is and always has been a quidditch party tradition at Altea University. Mostly because they’re the ones who started the team, and it’s always been a favorite among them, so they’ve spread the influence. In his opinion, it’s a good game to get parties started, get the buzzes going, and get everyone together. They’ve done it so often that it feels odd to have a quidditch party without it.

Their main rule is simple: you don’t have to drink, but it’s highly encouraged you play. Even if it’s just with water or soda or juice.

Lance sits on the crowded floor, pressed tight between Hunk and Keith, ignoring the fact that he’s far more aware of one side than the other. But this is fine. It’s only because he’s not as used to Keith and being close to Keith as he is with Hunk. And if his hair stands on end every time Keith’s arm brushes against his?

Yeah, that’s... totally normal.

Totally. Normal.

When they’re done with the rule spiel, something Lance has heard a thousand and one times, to the point where he can’t even think about them without hearing them in Pidge’s voice, Pidge leans forward to the circle of face down cards in the center of the room and flips one.

It’s a four.

There’s half a second while everyone absorbs that information before the room is a flurry of movement and filled with dull thunks as everyone slaps a hand to the floor.

Everyone except for Keith.

Lance turns to grin at him, eyes crinkling as he takes in Keith’s obvious confusion: the raised brows, lips parted and slack, blinking as he takes in everyone’s current position, back straight from where he had jumped. There’s a chorus of his name as everyone calls him out, and he turns to Lance for clarification.

“Four is floor.” He says, grin fixed in place as he leans to the side to nudge him with his shoulder. “Last one to touch the floor has to drink. So bottom’s up, dude.”

He makes that face that he no doubt thinks is a scowl, but comes across as a pout, and takes a drink.

And the game goes on.

After that, Keith picks it up pretty quickly. He’s never the last when four or seven is drawn, but Lance is once or twice when he’s caught up in conversation. What can he say? Keith is distracting.

Cards are drawn. People are chosen to drink. Sometimes they drink simply because there’s a glass in their hands and doing so is almost an subconscious gesture.

Pidge pulls a king and declares the little man rule, which Lance hates and they know it. And he knows they know it because they give him this little amused smirk and salute him with their glass. Mostly, Lance just hates the little man rule because he always fucking forgets, which just leads him to getting called out and forced to drink again. This time is no exception.

A group waterfall has him and several others emptying their drinks. He wordlessly takes Keith’s empty glass, and he’s a little surprised when Keith lets him without complaint, instead just giving him a small, shy smile. And if it’s cute and does weird things to Lance’s heart? Well... he doesn’t have to think about that.

The game is paused while people get refills, and Lance stumbles back, glasses held high as he picks his way through the people on the floor. He sits heavily, still pressed close to Keith despite the fact that Hunk is gone and he has no reason to. He leans in close to talk to Keith in muted whispers, not entirely sure what he’s saying, just knowing that he wants to talk to him.

When Hunk comes back and fills his space again, pressed up to Lance’s other side, he feels a little better.

Coran draws a king and abolishes the little man rule, thank fuck, and declares his favorite and go-to rule: accents. Everyone has to speak in an accent that isn’t their own. It’s usually hilarious and chaotic. This time is no exception. Coran declares the rule in a thick Russian accent, and Allura responds in a thick cockney.

Lance immediately slips into a terribly over dramatized Spanish accent. It’s not from any particular place, and he knows it, and it would no doubt make all of his ancestors cringe. Hell, it even makes him cringe a little bit. But it gets laughs out of his friends, so he calls it a win. His use of choppy and random Spanish words and phrases completes the charade.

He’s not sure what to expect from Keith, but when he turns to him, sees that cocky little smirk and hears a low, southern drawl roll off his tongue, Lance feels his own voice die in his throat.

That should not be as attractive as it is, and it should not affect him like it does.

The point of this game is to sound ridiculous and go overboard! Not do... whatever it is that Keith is doing!

Eventually the game ends, the last card being a jack and putting them in a game of never-have-I-ever. And when that’s said and done, they keep going. People start to trickle away, for refills and grouping up to talk or play other games around the house. Lance stays. They have new people, after all, and never-have-I-ever is always more fun with new people.

And maybe he’s a little curious about Keith.

He learns some interesting things.

He learns that one of their freshman beaters has broken her collar bone and now it can makes a weird squeaking sound. He learns that one of their chasers has never left the state. He learns that their new keeper was born in Canada. He learns that Pidge can’t spread their toes, and he learns that Coran is surprisingly flexible.

He learns that Shiro and Allura have masturbated while their soul connection was open, which they both drink to sheepishly, cheeks darkening as they refuse to make eye contact with anyone. He learns that Coran is not a virgin. He learns that Pidge has never touched themselves. He learns that Keith has never kissed anyone.

While they play, Lance stretches his legs out in front of him, leaning back on his free hand. He’s surprised when he finds Keith’s hand there, when their fingers brush. He hadn’t realized it was there at all, let alone that they were that close. But he doesn’t pull away, and neither does Keith.

And if they lean in a little closer, shoulders bumping to hide the fact that their fingers overlap a little...

Well, no one has to know.

Lance just enjoys playing the game, learning about his friends, new and old, in a home that’s filled with the voices and laughter of his team.

 


 

He’s well passed buzzed and chilling happily in the land of deeply tipsy. He doesn’t know what Coran puts in these drinks, but they’re good. Like top notch at a bar, paying out your ass good. Can barely taste the alcohol in them. Just enough so you know it’s there but not enough to make it gross. Sweet. Pleasant. Delicious. He’s had a few by now. How many? Probably... Two? Three? Three and a haaaalf?

Who knows. Point is, he’s feeling good.

His limbs are all tingly in that way they get, skin feeling alive and numb at the same time, but not entirely detached. His face feels warm but distant. The room takes a second to catch up to him, and his focus is all over the place. He thinks he might be a little too loud, but it’s not something he thinks he can help.

He sits at the dining room table next to Pidge, their laptop open in front of them and a vine compilation playing on youtube. Pidge is leaning back in their chair, sitting crosslegged with their knees propped up on the table. Lance stretches his legs out, elbow on the table and leaning heavily into it. There are others around them, but he’s lost track of who. The party has gotten to full swing, and everyone just kind of roams from room to room and from group to group.

He’s in the middle of quoting vines with Pidge when someone kicks his foot.

He turns his head, focus settling on the feet next to his. Cat socks. Cute. His eyes slide up loose black track pants. Nice hips. Up higher, a slim chest, broad shoulders. Nice arms. Keith’s face.

“Heeeey, Keith,” He drawls, head lolling to the side as his lips curve into a lopsided smile.

He’s pouting. Looking for the world like a disgruntled cat. All fluffy and everything. Where does he get off looking that cute? Not fair. Not fair at all. “You’re in my seat.” He says, poking at Lance’s foot with his own, a little more insistently.

Now that he thinks about it, he does vaguely remember slipping into this seat when Keith had stood up. He hums thoughtfully, shrugging. “You leave, you lose, dude. I don’t make the rules.”

“I was sitting there.” He insists, crossing his arms over his chest. His cheeks are pink and so is his nose. His eyes have this little distant, glassy look to them that lets Lance know that he’s feeling the effects of the alcohol, too. His glare isn’t nearly as intensive when he’s drunk, and Lance giggles, which only makes his pout more prominent.

Lance sits up straight, patting his thighs twice before holding his arms out. Keith just stares at him, eyes flickering to his lap to his face. He bites at his bottom lip, just a little, just a little tiny bit being sucked between his teeth.

Lance pats his thighs again. “You want your seat? Here it is.” He’s grinning now, voice teasing. He’s baiting Keith. He knows he is. And to be honest, he doesn’t think he’ll actually bite.

But then Keith’s nose is crinkling, brows furrowing, and he huffs a muttered, “Fine,” Before turning and sitting on Lance’s lap.

And... wow. Okay. He wasn’t expecting that to work, but now he has a lap full of Keith, and he’s not really sure what to do about it.

Keith turns to Pidge’s computer, and Lance is distantly aware of the fact that they’re talking, but their words are lost on him as his brain continues to short circuit.

He’s not sure how long he sits there, arms hovering awkwardly beside him. It could have been minutes and it could have been seconds. Time is strange and fuzzy and blurred. But eventually, he does manage to restart his brain. Or maybe his brain just shuts down altogether and he runs on instinct alone.

Either way, his arms wrap around Keith’s middle, shifting so he can see Pidge’s computer and leaning forward to hook his chin over Keith’s shoulder.

Keith stiffens, and Lance can feel how he holds his breath. He starts to worry that maybe he’s gone too far, but before he can pull away, Keith relaxes. Lets his hair out in a huff and relaxes back against him. Lance smiles, hiding it in Keith’s shoulder. He’s warm and solid and despite running around all day, he smells good. Smells like Keith. Or maybe he just smells bad and Lance just likes it. He’s not sure.

All he knows is that this is comfortable. He relaxes into it. Revels in it. Tries to memorize it. Keith and Pidge are still talking. He can feel Keith’s voice where he’s pressed into his back. Can feel his laugh where his arms wrap around his stomach. There are other voices, but he doesn’t pay attention to any of them. They drift away into a background hum, surrounding him in a comforting cocoon of noise.

It’s not long before his legs start to go numb, and he knows it’s not because of the alcohol, but he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t want Keith to move. He’s comfortable like this.

He’s not his soulmate, but it’s nice nonetheless.

And deep down, beneath the muted fuzziness of his tipsy state, in a part of him that’s reserved for deal when when sober, that’s a thought that terrifies him.

 


 

He’s not feeling sick exactly. Not physically anyway. His heart just feels heavy. He really just wants to let it all go and just relax, have fun with his friends, but dwelling on things seems to be what his mind loves focusing on at the moment.

As such, he’s spent the last five minutes in the bathroom. Maybe ten minutes? Who’s counting. Just... splashing cold water on his face and letting himself breathe for a moment.

He walks past the kitchen on his way back to the living room, only to stumble back to the doorway.

“Hey, Coran,” He says, leaning against the wall. Coran’s the only one in the kitchen at the moment, and while the counters are a mess, his own station has some sort of organized chaos to it.

He glances up when Lance speaks, a smile brightening his face. “Hello, Lance!” He greets, turning back to his word. His hands haven’t even stopped moving. Lance is memorized by it. “Need a drink?”

“Nah,” He says, pushing off the doorway and stepping into the kitchen. “I have a drink… I think…” He waves a hand around vaguely, gesturing to the general direction of the living room. “Somewhere, probably.” He finds a dry spot of counter, pushes bottles out of the way, and pushes himself up onto it, feet swinging as he watches Coran. “Whatcha doing?”

“Just making a few drinks,” He says cheerfully, setting a filled glass of something pink up on the bar in front of the sink that opens up to a window archway that faces the living room. He taps his hands down on a little bell sitting there, chiming out that the order was read. When and where the fuck did they even get that?

He slips back into the spot he occupied before, hands already reaching for more bottles, glasses, shakers, and instruments that Lance hasn’t ever seen before, let alone knows what they’re for. “Were you ever a bartender?”

Coran laughs at that, eyes crinkling as he puts the lid on the shaker and shakes it heartily. “Not officially. Just somewhat of a home study.” He says with a wink, pouring out the drink and serving it up with the ring of the bell.

Lance watches him work, heels lightly tapping against the cabinets beneath him, hands fiddling with each other, picking at nails and crackling his knuckles.

“Something on your mind?” Coran asks, voice softer. It’s lighthearted and casual, but there are notes of concern that don’t go unnoticed.

He’s not in the mindset to keep things in. Alcohol has always loosened his tongue and fizzled out his filter. And Coran has always been someone he feels he can confide in. So when he opens his mouth, he finds himself saying exactly what’s been on his mind. “You haven’t met your soulmate yet, right?”

Coran stills, eyeing him curiously, and Lance bites his lip, worrying that perhaps he had overstepped a boundary. But then Coran is smiling, mustache swaying as he shakes his head. “Nope!”

“And you’re…” Lance pushes, waving a hand around in the air. “Like… twenty—“

“Twenty-eight!”

“Right.” Lance picks at a hangnail, biting the inside of his cheek as he pulls at the skin and it cuts a little too deep. “Right… And does that ever, I don’t know, bother you? Or something?”

He can see Coran looking at him out of the corner of his eye, but he keeps his head down, gaze on his hands, blood welling up at the edge of his nail bed. Damn.

Coran has been holding a glass, but he slowly sets it down, pushing it aside. “Is this about Hunk?” He asks softly, not unkindly. There’s something understanding in his voice, something that isn’t judgmental or guilting.

“No, not… not really? Just thinking about soulmates and stuff…” He trails off, slipping his finger into his mouth to lick the bit of blood away before wiping it on his pants. It stings, but the small sharp pain keeps him grounded. Gives him something besides this conversation to focus on. Something physical and real.

Coran hums thoughtfully, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back against the counter so they’re side-by-side. He gazes idly across the kitchen, and Lance feels lighter already knowing it’s not on him. “Truth be told, it doesn’t bother me at all.” He says after a moment.

It startles Lance. The matter-of-factness of it. The simplicity of it. “At all?” Lance echoes, like the words don’t quite fit right on his tongue because he can’t quite comprehend them.

“Nope,” He says, bits of his usual cheer returning. He gives a small, offhanded shrug. “I know most soulmates have met by now, but that doesn’t mean I’m broken. It merely means I have to be little more patient for the perfect person.”

“Does it ever get, I don’t know… lonely?”

He risks a glance at Coran, and finds that his smile is small and understanding. He shrugs again. “Sometimes, but I have my now hobbies, and my education, and the coffeeshop, and my friends. Loneliness is only created when we think we should have something that isn’t there.”

He starts picking at another hangnail and shoves his hands under his thighs to save himself from causing more damage. He swings his legs a little more. “During never-have-I-ever, you said you weren’t a, uh…” Coran glances sideways at him, quirking an eyebrow. Fuck. He’s actually going to make him say it, isn’t he? Jesus fucking Christ… “A—“ He feels like choking on the word. Fuck, this is awkward. Like talking to his dad or some shit. “—Virgin?”

Coran’s eyes widen as he blinks in surprise, mouth forming a small oh. He blinks once, twice, and then throws back his head and laughs. Lance feels his face heating up. Great. “Oh, no. No, my boy, I most certainly am not.”

“But it wasn’t with… your soulmate?”

Coran’s expression softens, and he heaves a heavy sigh. “I realized long ago that there was a high possibility that I wouldn’t meet my soulmate for some time. And I’m not of a mindset to let myself miss out on experiences while I wait for them. Nor do I expect my soulmate to wait for me. Life is full of experiences, and it seems a shame to waste time waiting for something that isn’t certain.”

“But soulmates are certain.” He protests, brows pinching and lips pursing. He distantly realizes he might sound like a child, but it can’t be helped. It’s what he’s been raised to believe, and to think that his soulmate isn’t certain is just… heart breaking.

“The only thing we know to be guaranteed is that we will meet our perfect match. For how long or what happens after that is completely unknown.” Coran says, all logic and matter-of-fact in the way he tends to be, but not unkind in his delivery. “I look forward to the day we meet, sure enough, but I won’t sit idly by, twiddling my thumbs while I wait.”

“Have you ever thought of organizing a meeting?”

“Of course,” He says, turning back around and grabbing for one of the shakers, rinsing it out in the sink before grabbing for several bottles. “Most people have. But we decided to let it happen naturally and without our forward influence. The old fashioned way, if you will. Keeps the mystery alive.”

“Do you love them?” He blurts out, regretting the question as soon as it leaves his lips but unable to take it back.

Thankfully, Coran doesn’t seem phased or offended. “Of course, I do.” He says, firm and solid in his conviction, grounding Lance with his tone. “they understand me like no one else does, and they occupy a very special place in my heart.” He pauses in his work, lifting his head and gazing thoughtfully at the wall, eyes distant, crinkling at the edges as he smiles. “I imagine when we do met, we’ll both have many stories to tell, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He grins then, spell broken as he turns toward Lance. “It’s like they say, isn’t it? You only live once.”

Lance’s grin is slow and genuine. “Coran,” He says, struggling to deadpan his voice like Keith does but laughter threatening to bubble up despite his efforts. “Did you just encourage me to yolo?”

There’s a gleam of mischief in his eyes. “Only if it turns out well. If things go sour, then I most certainly did not.” Lance laughs, and Coran chuckles, lining up several empty shot glasses on the counter. “Does that help calm whatever storm you have brewing in there?” He asks once the laughter subsides.

“I— yeah… Yeah, I think it does.” He says, already feeling lighter. “Thanks, Coran.”

“Anytime, lad.” He says, picking up the shaker and pouring it across the glasses. Lance’s jaw drops as a rainbow emerges across the line. “Now then,” Coran says, setting the shaker aside. “How about some shots?”

“Oh, hell yeah,” Lance says, grinning as he hops off the counter. He moves to the sink and leans over the open bar area to peer out into the living room. “Hey, Hunk! Get in here and take some gay ass shots with me!”

 


 

He finds Keith outside.

He hadn’t even been aware of the fact that he’d been looking for Keith until he found himself wandering through the Holt household, searching for a familiar mop of dark hair, slipping into conversations at random until the question have you seen, Keith? drops from his lips. No one had. Not recently anyway. Not until he stumbled across Shiro and Allura sitting on the front porch, and Shiro directed him to the backyard.

And that’s how he finds himself stepping out in the cool, autumn night, sliding the backdoor shut as quietly as he can.

Keith is in the center of the yard, arms lying loosely over his middle as he stares up at the night sky.

The breeze is heaven against Lance’s heated skin, and he finds it clearing his foggy mind, calming his nerves, even if his heartbeat is still rapid and erratic. He steps into the yard and almost immediately falls to his hands and knees, idly enjoying the cool touch of the grass as he crawls over to where Keith is.

He flops down next to him, stretching out on his stomach and crossing his arms in front of him, resting his cheek on them. Keith doesn’t look at him. Just keeps his eyes on the stars. It leaves Lance free to enjoy the sight of his profile, the shape of his nose, the curve of his jaw, the dip of his neck. Those dark eyes reflecting the night sky itself.

He’s beautiful.

It’s a fact that drifts through his mind unbidden, sinking into his chest with the airiness of acceptance. There’s nothing debatable about it. Keith is beautiful. Especially when he’s like this. Calm and relaxed. At ease with the world and without the familiar pinch to his brows.

The only acknowledgement of Lance’s presence is this little tilt to his lips, the barest of smiles that he might have missed altogether if he hadn’t been watching so closely.

And that, too, is beautiful.

“Watcha doin’ out here by yourself, edge lord?” He mumbles, words slurring a little and muffled where his face is pressed onto his arms. He kicks out a leg, nudging Keith’s calf with his foot.

Keith hums, nudging back. They both give up the struggle before it really starts, leaving their legs touching, feet overlapping. “Got too loud. Wanted a break.” He says, voice soft, lips barely moving. They look soft. Even from this angle.

Lance hums his understanding, and Keith turns to look at him. He hadn’t realized just how close they were until they’re facing each other, faces just inches apart. This seems to be happening a lot lately. Keith doesn’t flinch away, though, and neither does he. He just lays there, melting into the grass, smell of dirt and the night fresh in his nose. Feels light hearted and at ease, worried buried and locked deep inside, key thrown away to find another day. Feels the alcohol like a pleasant, warm hum in his veins, weighing him down while simultaneously lifting him up. Small smile curving his lips as Keith’s eyes look over his face.

“What’re you doing out there?” He asks, voice lazy and slurred with as much exhaustion as alcohol.

Lance shrugs, shoulders brushing his ears. “Came to find you.”

Ah, there’s that familiar pinch in his thick brows. Lance wants to reach out to put his thumb to them, smooth them out. But he doesn’t. Keeps his hands beneath him, fingers curling into the grass.

“Why?”

Lance shrugs again because really, he doesn’t have an answer. Doesn’t want to think about it. Just knows he noticed Keith was missing and wanted to find him. And now that he’s here, he doesn’t want to leave.

Keith lets it go. Takes his answer at face value and turns his eyes back to the stars. Normally, Lance would, too. He likes the stars. Loves them. Is mildly obsessed with them. Knows a ton of constellations. Spent years and years going out at night and stargazing with his family. Feels at peace when he stares at them. Feels everything clicks into perspective. Like all his problems aren’t actually that big of a deal.

When he looks at the stars, he feels comforted knowing there’s someone out there, his perfect match, his soulmate, who can see them, too.

But right now, he doesn’t feel compelled to look at the stars. Doesn’t feel the urge to roll over and see what constellations are gracing the sky this evening. Feels completely content to just keep staring at Keith. He wonders if Keith has freckles, and if he does, what kind of constellations they’d make.

“You’ve never kissed anyone.”

He doesn’t know why he says it. Maybe it’s because he’s been thinking about it since they played never-have-I-ever. Maybe it’s because he keeps thinking about what Coran had said. Maybe it’s because his eyes keep drifting back to Keith’s lips and he idly wonders what they’d feel like.

Doesn’t know why he says it, but it’s said. Drifts out of his mouth and into the open air between them. Dissipates into the night. A statement. A fact. Light and indifferent. Opening a door for conversation that Keith can step through if he chooses, but also offhanded enough to close the door, too.

Keith hums, low and thoughtful. “Nope.”

“Me neither,” He says, offering up the information even though he knows that Keith probably knows. He played never-have-I-ever, too, after all. There are probably a lot of random things Keith knows about him now. “Are you waiting for your soulmate?”

There’s a strange twist to those soft looking lips that Lance doesn’t know how to interpret, nose crinkling. “Not... exactly...” He turns his head then, and Lance’s breath catches at the intensity of his gaze. No longer distant and dreamy, now with an edge of sharp clarity. The pinch in his brows is back, along with a slight purse to his lips. When he speaks, however, his voice is soft and hesitant, drifting like a breath through the space between them. “What about you?”

He wants to say yes. Because truthfully, he always has been. But when he opens his mouth, that’s not what comes out. “I don’t know.” It’s a whisper, surprised more than confused or uncertain.

Keith turns onto his side, fully facing Lance, giving him his full attention. One hand rests on the grass between them, and Lance idly watches as he picks at it. “What’d you mean?” He asks, all breathless and hesitant.

Lance doesn’t know why that sets off his erratic heartbeat.

He shrugs. “I used to think I was, but... I don’t know anymore.” It’s a lot easier to admit than he thought it would be. And maybe it’s the alcohol in his system making it easy, and maybe it’s how Keith looks in the moonlight, highlighted by shadows. Who’s to say for sure?

When he meets Keith’s face again, his expression is relaxed and open, lips loosely parted and eyes lidded. He turns onto his side without really thinking about it, facing Keith, hand reaching out to idly play with the fingers of his hand.

“What do you know, then?” Keith asks, and it’s so soft that at first, Lance isn’t sure he said it at all. But then the words sink in, bounce around in his mind until they gather a meaning.

And really... what does he know?

He knows he wants his soulmate. That much is a given. But he also knows he can’t have that. Not right now. Now right here in this moment, lying in Pidge’s back yard beneath the night sky. He can’t have that right now, and he knows that, so what does he want?

He wants Keith’s warmth. Wants how sturdy he feels. Wants his certainty and his stability. Wants his smile and the little crinkle in his eyes. Doesn’t want this moment to end.

He lifts his gaze from their hands, settles on Keith’s face, look down to his lips. “I know I want to kiss you.” He says, and is surprised by how much he means it. Surprised by how the intensity of it grows as soon as he says it aloud. Surprised by how strong the urge is now that he’s acknowledged it.

He’s leaning in before he really realizes it, eyes drifting shut as he closes the distance between them.

Keith’s lips are chapped but warm. Their noses bump together, and he smells like fruit and rum. Keith stiffens, breath catching audibly. Lance leans into him, pressing firm but unsure what to do now that he’s here, now that Keith is frozen against him. He pulls back almost instantly, breaks the contact but stays close enough that he can feel Keith’s shallow breaths against his skin.

His heartbeat is in his ears, bruising the inside of his ribs.

Then Keith leans forward, tilts his head, and slots their lips together again, and Lance melts into him. His fingers find their way into Keith’s hair without remembering moving them. Their teeth clack, and he pulls away in surprise, only to have Keith chase after him, claiming his lips again.

When they finally pull apart and he opens his eyes, their gazes meet, and he feels like he’s falling into the stars.

 


 

The panic comes the next day as he wake up groggy, head pounding, eyes heavy and crusted, curled up in a blanket among everyone else in the odd nest they’ve created on the living room floor.

In the sobering light of day, he stares at Keith lying next to him, curled in his own blanket cocoon, mouth hidden in the blanket, hair a mess across his pillow, face relaxed in sleep. He stares at the spot where their fingers are tangled between them, Keith’s glove soft against this palm. He sees the yellow and gold soulmarks curling innocently around his forearm, weaving down the fingers that are intertwined with Keith’s, and tastes bile on his tongue.

Biting his tongue, he manages to shove his way out of his nest and tip toe around the bodies on the floor before rushing to the bathroom, body breaking out in a cold sweat. He makes it in time, falling to his knees and emptying his stomach.

It’s quick and relatively painless, all things considered, but he groans when it’s done, rinsing his mouth out before collapsing to the floor. He stares at the marks on his arms, stomach rolling, head pounding, heart sinking.

He kissed Keith. He kissed Keith. He kissed Keith.

And the worst part is that he had liked it.

He learns pretty quickly that guilt and hangovers don’t mix well. Thankfully, he can hide one behind the other.

Doesn’t seem to fool Keith, however, if the worried looks he sends him is anything to go on.

Lance can’t help it though. He can’t deal with this right now. Can’t even begin to process it, let along sort through the emotional tangle he’s got brewing in his chest. Not when his body feels wrecked, both from the hangover and from the tournament yesterday. Now isn’t the time. He doesn’t know if there ever will be a time to address it, but it definitely isn’t now.

Actually, he’d be pretty happy if they never addressed this.

Let it fade into forgotten memories. Kisses exchanged beneath the stars, wrapped in the shadows of the night. Let it drift away and forget about it.

He wants it to go away so he doesn’t have to deal about it, but the thought of forgetting makes his chest hurt, makes him nauseous all over again.

Oh god, he’s a wreck.

He just wants to go home, curl up in his bed, and sleep forever.

And he wants to do all of this without thinking about Keith or his soulmate, because he can’t do either without guilt curling hard in his gut, making his blood run cold and his throat close up.

So when they start to pile into cars to head back to Altea, he makes sure to climb into Hunk’s car, claiming the last spot and ensuring that he’ll go the entire four and half hours without being in an enclosed space with Keith.

He keeps his head down so he doesn’t have to see the hurt look on Keith’s face as he passes by the car.

 


 

At this point, Keith is used to avoiding Lance.

What he isn’t used to, though, is Lance avoiding him.

And he’s quickly coming to the conclusion that he doesn’t like it.

It’s been nearly a week since the quidditch tournament. Since the party. Since their kiss. Since the awkward morning after.

Keith had woken up with mild panic twisting his stomach, but an oddly pleasant feeling fluttering in his chest. That had faded once he found his hand cold and Lance missing. It had completely tanked once he realized Lance could barely look him in the eye without grimacing.

So... yeah. So much for that pleasantness.

Nearly a week, and Lance is still avoiding him. And he’s not subtle about it. He tries. Keith knows he’s trying. But his excuses are weak, laughter disjointed, shoulders hunched up to his ears as he walks away from him. The others notice, too. Hunk watches Lance with pity in his eyes, lips pressed into an understanding frown. Pidge just narrows their eyes, curiosity piqued as the gears turn in their mind. Allura watches him with worried frowns and smiles that are a hair too bright. Coran speaks to him with soft voices and half hearted jokes.

Everyone can tell Lance is feeling off, and everyone can tell that he’s avoiding Keith, but Keith doesn’t know how much they know.

He hopes they don’t know, but one shared look with Hunk tells him that at least Lance’s roommates knows.

Keith looks away quickly, guilt and shame rolling in his gut.

Even when Lance does talk to him, it’s oddly stiff and rambling. There’s a tenseness in his body that never really fades. Keith hasn’t realized just how used to the relaxed atmosphere that’s grown between them until it’s gone. And he wants it back.

They were finally friends, and he fucked it up. Lance fucked it up? They both fucked it up. Honestly, he can’t even remember who kissed who first. One moment it wasn’t happening, and the next it was. But he does know that they both kept it going.

So they both fucked up.

The difference is that Keith should have known better.

He knows how Lance feels about his soulmate. He’s heard it from Pidge. He’s seen it. He’s felt it. He knows how Lance feels, and he knows he’s not ready to face that head on. But he went ahead and let himself kiss him anyway. Because he was soft and beautiful and he’d had far too many drinks that were making him feel all warm and open.

Mistake. Mistake. Mistake.

And now he’s caught between wanting to hang out with his new friends to regain normalcy and wait for Lance to come around, and hiding away in his apartment to avoid the awkwardness altogether.

Ugh. He never wanted this. He just... wants things to be easy. But things are never easy.

He knows what the easy way would be. The easiest thing to do, perhaps the best thing to do, would be to just tell Lance. To come clean. Claim to be his soulmate and get it over with. Get it out in the open.

That would be the reasonable thing to do, he thinks, but... he can’t.

Because it’s not easy. Not like everyone thinks it is.

He’s not ready for that. Soulmates are a big commitment. Soulmates are a huge step. And it’s not like he has distance between them as an excuse to have some space. Lance is here, at his university, friends with his friends. And Lance is... a lot. He’s a lot, especially when it comes to the whole soulmates thing. They just started getting close as friends, and Keith doesn’t want to ruin that.

He’s afraid.

He’s scared. He’s scared that telling Lance will change everything. Lance will no doubt be mad that Keith didn’t say anything sooner, but it’s more than that. Their whole relationship will change. Lance will start to see him as his soulmate and stop seeing him as just... Keith. Their rocky friendship will get rockier as they try to figure out how soulmates fits into it, too. Then Lance will no doubt expect them to be in a relationship, and Keith has no idea how to balance boyfriend on top of that. Not just boyfriend, but forever boyfriend. Soulmate. A life long commitment. A lifetime of possibilities to fuck up.

He knows how Lance is with the whole soulmate thing, and he knows Lance will want to skip straight to their happily ever after.

But... Keith has seen first hand what happens when the leap is made too fast, what happens after the storybook ends, what happens when the movie’s credits roll.

Violent delights meet violent ends.

And... he also knows what happens when things go slow. He knows what happens, what can happen, when relationships are left to grow naturally. He’s seen it, from the outside, and it looks incredibly more stable and lasting than marks that appear on your skin.

So, when it comes down to it, he doesn’t know what to do.

He knows he doesn’t want to, he can’t, tell Lance. He’s not ready. That kind of knowledge would warp whatever rocky relationship they already have. It would put pressure on both of them, and he doesn’t think they’re strong enough not to buckle under that weight. He’s not a huge fan of the concept of soulmates, but he also doesn’t want to ruin the chance they have. And he knows, he knows, that in this moment, telling Lance would ruin things. Make their future incredibly unstable and uncertain.

He doesn’t want that for himself. Doesn’t want to go through what his parents did. But more than that, he doesn’t want to ruin it for Lance.

Lance, who sees his soulmate as perfect. Lance, who idolizes the mere concept. Lance, who’s so stupidly, ignorantly innocent, but in a way that’s as endearing as it is obnoxious.

He doesn’t deserve that, so Keith won’t ruin it for him.

He doesn’t know what to do, but he knows he needs to do something.

Sitting around idle is slowly driving him insane. Too many thoughts. Too many emotions. Too many things that he didn’t fucking sign up for but has to deal with anyway. He doesn’t paint on himself because he feels like that would somehow be counterproductive, but his sketchbooks and canvases aren’t doing shit for him.

His friends all tell him that Lance will come around, even though they don’t know why he’s avoiding Keith in the first place.

They all tell him to just wait it out, that Lance gets like this sometimes.

They all give him kind smiles and pat his shoulder, telling him everything will be okay.

But Keith is restless. He’s restless and feels his irritation growing with each passing day. He hates this. Hates the shame and guilt that threatens to choke him every time he sees the droop in Lance’s shoulders, the forced smile, the conflicted shadows in his eyes.

He hates that Lance has stopped writing pick-up lines on his palms every morning.

It’s been years since he’s been completely soulmark free. He doesn’t realize just how strange it is to see his hands completely blank and bare until he’s faced with it.

And he hates it more than he thought he would.

He doesn’t know what to do, but he knows he has to do something.

 


 

He finds Lance exactly where Hunk told him he’d be.

Their local humane society is located off a side road, nestled up on a hill, far away from the main highways and the town itself. It gives them plenty of room, but Keith had gotten lost several times trying to find it, missing turns and having to backtrack. It isn’t exactly easy using google maps while riding his bike.

He’s never really been to a place like this before, but the woman at the front desk was helpful and friendly as she pointed him in the right direction.

And that’s how he finds himself standing outside the large glass wall that looks into the cat room, hands in his pockets, a small smile on his face as he watches Lance.

He’s sitting up against one of the walls, and the cats are flocking to him. There are a few other people in the room, scattered about, with their own little groups of cats curiously circling them. His eyes, however, are solely on Lance. There are several cats curled up and stepping over his lap, a few pawing at his shoes, and one rubbing up along his side.

His smile is soft and genuine, and it’s the most relaxed and at peace Keith has seen him in a week. He dangles a toy in the air and laughs as one of the cats dives for his hand. Keith’s heart squeezes.

He doesn’t know how long he’s standing there before Lance notices him, but he has a feeling it’s bordering on creepy.

When Lance does notice him, he has to do a double take. He freezes, eyes widening and mouth dropping open. He looks like he’s on the verge of panic before one of the cats leaps at his hand again, wrapping up his arm and playfully gnawing on his knuckles. He yelps in surprise, turning his attention to disentangling the cat before looking back at Keith, shier this time.

Keith does his best to smile, lifting a hand from his pocket to wave awkwardly.

They stay like that for a moment, awkward and stiff. Lance not sure where to put his attention and Keith shifting uncomfortably on the other side of the glass.

Finally, Keith bites the bullet. Huffs a sigh and heads toward the door. Washes his hands and slips into the cat room, making a beeline for where Lance is.

Some of the cats scatter as he approaches, but some of them stay, eyeing him curiously and warily. He ignores them for the most part and slides down the wall to sit next to Lance, close enough to keep their conversation private but far enough away that they’re not touching.

He crosses his legs, hands in his lap, fiddling with the hem of his gloves, eyes downcast even though he can feel Lance’s gaze on him. He clears his throat. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Lance echoes, sounding much like a wary cat himself. “How did you, uh... find me?”

Keith shrugs. “Hunk told me where you were.”

“Ah...” He says, like he expected as much but is displeased nonetheless. “I, uh... come here to think sometimes.”

Keith quirks a small smirk, risking a sideways glance at him as he gestures to the pile surrounding him. “They like you.”

Lance’s smile is small and soft as he gazes down at them, reaching out to pet as many as he can reach. “Yeah... I just wish I could take them all back with me.”

“I don’t think you’re allowed to have cats in the dorms.”

Lance huffs a small, dry laugh. “We’re not, but Hunk and I have already devised the perfect system for keeping it a secret. Pidge is in on it, too.”

Keith feels his smile widen. “Of course you have.” He says flatly, poorly hiding his amusement.

They lapse into silence, and Keith is feeling increasingly awkward. Fiddling with his fingers. Cracking his knuckles. Now that he’s here and Lance is here, he’s not sure what to do. He wasn’t sure what to do to begin with. Just assumed he’d wing it. Now winging it seems like a bad plan.

An orange tabby with a white muzzle struts over to him, past the line of curious feline eyes that have just been watching him. She takes a moment to sniff his knee before stepping right into his lap, curling up and plopping herself down like she owns it, stretches out like it’s her throne.

He stares down at her, hands hovering uncertain in the air, and he hears Lance snicker beside him. “I think she likes you, dude.”

“I don’t know what I did.” He says, finally reaching down to scratch beneath her chin, her ears, her back. She purrs, eyes drooping as she nuzzles into the touch.

“Cats have good judgement in people.” Lance says, voice soft, but when Keith glances at him, he keeps his eyes down.

After the orange tabby’s declaration, a few of the other cats approach Keith. Some of them skitter away from his touch, but others stay. It’s... a lot more peaceful than he expected it to be. Despite the nausea gnawing at his nerves, he feels light, relaxed. He’s always been fond of cats, and he doesn’t know why he never thought to come here before. He can understand why Lance likes to.

“Why’re you here?”

He knew the question was coming, has been waiting for it, but that doesn’t stop the spike in his heart rate when it’s finally asked. Doesn’t stop his palms from sweating and his lips from pursing. He manages a weak shrug and mumbles, “I came to find you.”

“I got that much,” Lance says, and Keith is certain he’s rolling his eyes. “I meant why.”

Another shrug, eyes on the tabby in his lap. “You’ve been avoiding me, so obviously I had to come find you.”

“I haven’t been—“

“Lance,” Keith says sharply, cutting him off. He lifts his eyes, meeting Lance’s. He looks surprised, but snaps his mouth shut anyway, pursing his lips as his expression sours into a pout. Keith sighs, running his fingers through his hair as he looks away. “Look, I know you’re avoiding me, and I know it’s because of what happened last weekend.” Lance stays silent, and it’s all the confirmation Keith needs. “Can we just... talk?”

Lance sighs. His whole body goes into it. Slumping forward, expression twisting into something wry and unamused. He sounds defeated when he speaks. Maybe he had been expecting this, too. Maybe they had both known it would only be a matter of time before they had this conversation. And that makes Keith feel a little braver.

“Yeah, okay... but not here.” He glances around, frowning a little as his gaze settles on the people across the room.

Keith nods, gently pushing the cat out of his lap so he can stand. She protests, loudly and pathetically. He silently promises to come visit her again. He turns to Lance, holding his hand out to help pull him up. “I drove my bike here, so...”

So he can take them somewhere private.

So they can get this over with quickly.

So they don’t have to talk while they travel.

Lance eyes him for a moment, then sighs, gently pushing the cats off of him and taking Keith’s hand.

 


 

He’s had a lot of passengers on his bike throughout the years. His grandparents. Shiro. Pidge. A couple of classmates. Even Matt once when Shiro had goaded him into trying it.

It’s never felt as intimate to have a passenger as it does with Lance. And Keith knows it has nothing to do with them being soulmates, and everything to do with the fact that he’s just so goddamn aware of him twenty-four-seven.

He’s aware of where Lance leans into his back. Aware of the firmness of his chest. Aware of how solid he feels. Aware of his warmth bleeding through his jacket. Aware of his thighs pressed to Keith’s. Aware of the arms locked around his waist.

Aware of the fact that the faster he goes, the tighter Lance holds on.

When they left the humane society, Keith hadn’t really thought about where he was going. He had only known they needed somewhere private. His apartment wouldn’t cut it, and neither would Lance’s dorm. Too intimate. To much of an enclosed space. He had turned his bike down the road and just drove.

It takes him about ten minutes to realize where he’s going, and when he does, he speeds up a little more.

The humane society is already out of town, so it doesn’t take long to get to the back roads, to find the parkway, to ride up the hills, to let the buildings fade away and be replaced by trees. He slows, obeying the speed limit for once. Gives him time to think, time to figure out what the hell he’s going to say.

Unfortunately, when he pulls off onto the overlook, stops his bike right at the curb and uses his heel to put the kickstand down, he still has no idea what he’s going to say.

Lance is already leaning away from him, pulling off his helmet. Keith does the same, picks a leg up over his bike and sets both feet on the ground, hangs his helmet on the handlebars and half sits, half leans against the bike. Lance’s knee presses against his thigh, and it’s as much a comfort as it is an uncomfortable reminder.

He crosses his arms over his chest, eyes staring straight ahead rather than at the boy next to him. The overlook drops steeply, swooping down and out to rolling mountain scenery. The trees are starting to change color, a world in colors of autumn. The sun hangs low in the sky, not quite sunset, but casting the sky in dim sepia shades nonetheless.

“This is my favorite overlook.” He says softly, an offering into the silence, mouth feeling dry and throat feeling thick. He clears his throat, shifting his weight.

“It’s pretty,” Lance mumbles, and while Keith is sure he means it, he sounds distracted. He hasn’t moved, still straddling his bike next to him, helmet cradled on his lap, fingertips tapping at the hard surface.

Keith just hums, mind already whirling. He doesn’t know what to say, but whatever it’s going to be, it should probably be now. He should probably start with an apology. That’s how these things go, right? Tell Lance he’s sorry, that he doesn’t expect anything from him, that their friendship doesn’t have to change.

He opens his mouth, words on the tip of his tongue—

“I’m sorry.”

—His mouth snaps shut, brows furrowing as he turns to look at Lance. His head is bowed, eyes on the helmet in his lap. Keith isn’t sure what’s happening, mind going blank, so he responds with a very intelligible, “What?”

Lance heaves a heavy sigh. One that makes his whole frame rise and fall. He looks up, lips pursed into a sad little frown and eyes way too expressive. He looks away quickly, out over the edge of the overlook. “I’m sorry,” He repeats, voice soft. “I’m sorry I kissed you. I know you said you weren’t waiting for your soulmate, but... you still have one, and I disrespected that. I shouldn’t have— That isn’t what— Not without at least asking—“

“I’m sorry, too.”

Lance’s ramble cuts off abruptly. All the frustration that had been building seeps out of him instantly, and he visibly deflates. When Keith glances at him, he looks utterly bewildered. Like Keith apologizing is the last thing he expected. His mouth opens and closes a couple times, brows furrowing as he frowns. “Why are you sorry?”

Keith can’t help the wry smirk that tugs at the corner of his lips. “I kissed you, too.”

Lance’s face goes through a variety of expressions in a short amount of time. Keith manages to catch a few of them. Surprise. Confusion. Understanding. Embarrassment. Amusement. Guilt. “Oh...” He finally says, light and airy, like the thought honestly hadn’t occurred to him.

What an idiot. What a fucking innocent idiot. This isn’t his burden to bear. Not alone. He’s not the only one that should feel guilty about this whole thing. Keith has his fair share, too.

His smile fades, and he turns to stare at his boots, roaming over the scuff marks on the old leather. “Look, I...” He huffs a sigh, running his fingers through his hair. “I know I shouldn’t have kissed you. I know how you feel about your soulmate, and it wasn’t my place to—“

“I didn’t mind.” It comes out fast and rushed, interrupting him before he can really get going.

Keith cuts off, mouth snapping shut hard enough to hurt and throat feeling tight as he turns slowly. Lance is staring at him, hands clasped over his mouth, eyes wide over top them, gazing at Keith with just as much panic as surprise.

That... isn’t what he expected to hear.

He blinks, licking his lips. When he manages to find his voice, it sounds rough, hoarse, and a little too breathy in his disbelief. “What?”

Lance lowers his hands, resting them on the helmet as he straightens, closing his eyes. He takes in a deep breath, holds it, and lets it out in a long, shuddering exhale, shoulders relaxing somewhat. When he opens his eyes again, there’s a spark there, a determination and strength that he’s been lacking for a week. It’s as familiar as it is exhilarating, and Keith hadn’t realized just how much he missed it.

It sends a shiver down his spine, warmth coiling in his gut, blood pulsing in his ears.

“I didn’t mind.” He repeats, voice stronger, barely wavering at the edges as he holds Keith’s gaze. “I... I kinda... liked it? And if you’re— if you’re not mad, then I definitely don’t regret it. So...”

He’s running out of steam fast, slouching inch by inch, eyes flickering away from Keith’s. So he decides to give him a lifeline. “I didn’t mind it either.” He says, voice soft and genuine, raw in his honesty.

Lance perks up a little at that, breathless as he says, “Really?”

Keith shrugs, gaze moving out to the overlook because it’s safer than staring into those startling blue eyes, sparkling with awe and hope and something deeper. He feels heat crawling up his neck, creeping to his face. He hopes it’s not visible, but he knows it probably is.

“So...” This time when Lance speaks into the silence, it’s hesitant but strong, a sly edge to it that Keith is both knows and is surprised by. It’s similar to the voice he uses when he’s about to suggest something, but there’s an uncertain edge to it, making it softer, calmer, tentative. “I’ve been thinking...” He continues, fingers restlessly tapping on the helmet to a pattern that Keith doesn’t recognize. “Neither of us have met our soulmates yet, and who knows how long that will take. So like... if we’re both okay with it, I don’t see any reason why we can’t just like... do stuff, like that, sometimes?”

He’s trying desperately to sound casual and indifferent, confident and smooth. Keith knows he is. But Lance can’t completely hide his uncertainty, his worry, his hesitancy, his fear of what Keith might say. Honestly, he shouldn’t have worried so much because Keith is currently having a hard time processing any of it.

It takes longer than he’d like to admit for his brain to restart, properly take it all in, process it, and come up with an intelligible reply. Long enough that Lance has started squirming in his seat, shifting restlessly, finger tapping more insistent.

“Like... no strings attached?” He manages to say, pleased when his voice comes out a lot calmer than he feels.

Without the immediate rejection, Lance looks stronger, sits a little taller, a smirk actually managing to make it’s way to the surface as he shrugs. “Yeah, I mean... we both liked it, right? And it seems a shame to lose out on experiences just because we haven’t met our soulmates yet.”

He falters then. It’s so subtle and so quick that Keith might not have noticed if he hadn’t been watching him carefully. A flicker in his eyes, a pinch to his brows, a drooping of his smirk. But then it’s gone, and Lance is back. Cocky, confident, and far too unaware of the things he does to Keith.

“Just... friends enjoying each other’s company until we find our soulmates, yeah? Doesn’t have to be anything more.” He shrugs again, and Keith starts to see minor cracks in his facade. But despite the cracks, despite the shadows, there’s something more. A fire in his eyes. A longing in his voice. And it’s all directed at him. “People do it all the time, right? It’s not that weird.”

Keith regards him carefully. This isn’t anything like what he expected, but he’s not... opposed to it. And Lance seems to be honest in his proposal. It isn’t a trick. It isn’t him brushing this aside. He’s... he’s rolling with it. In a way that surprises him and sends a thrill of excitement through his entire body.

“And you’d... be okay with that?” He asks, one eyebrow raised, careful. Careful because he knows Lance. Knows how he feels about his soulmate. Has known for years. But this Lance, looking at him right now, is a Lance that has no doubts about what he’s saying. Some reservations, yes, but no doubts.

Lance’s shrug is half hearted, smirk falling into a soft smile, eyes lidded. There’s a fondness there that has his breath catching in his throat. It’s the same look he had giving him a week ago, bathed in the light spilling out from Pidge’s house and into the yard, a look that had twisted Keith’s heart and melted his insides.

It’s a look he’s finding himself increasingly weak for.

He quirks a brow, smile twitching at the edges. “Yolo?”

Keith’s face falls into a blank mask as he deadpans, “Did you just use yolo on me?”

Lance’s smile widens to a full on grin, crinkling his eyes. “I can keep saying it until you shut me—“

Keith reaches out, fingers wrapping around his neck and pulling him forward, leaning in until their lips meet. It’s rough and rushed, and they both stiffen at the contact. A second ticks by. Then two.

mmMMMmMMmm kiss the boy

Before panic has a chance to set in, Lance is relaxing into it, and Keith is only a second behind. Heads tilting for a better angle. Sighing heavily through their noses. Keith’s fingers thread through Lance’s hair, and Lance reaches out to grip the collar of his jacket, pulling him closer.

The kiss is soft and hesitant, cautious but eager.

One leads to another. Which leads to another. Another. Again and again.

Part of him is worried he’s making a mistake. Part of him whispers that this is a bad idea. But that part is pushed to the wayside, forgotten as he loses himself in the feeling of Lance’s lips, warm against his own. Of his face and neck, smooth and soft beneath his fingertips.

All reservations. All worried and doubts. They were all tossed aside, shoved away to deal with later. Because Lance had asked. Looked at him with those blue eyes, dark with longing. Bit at his lip like he was scared of rejection, of overstepping boundaries. Looked at him. Looked at Keith. Not as his soulmate but just as Keith.

And really, how can he say no?

 


 

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Are you dead?
> Pidge says they haven’t heard from you all day
> And you said you’d be over for dinner tonight

Keith
> Oh, yeah
> I forgot
> Raincheck?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Sure, but what’s up? Where’ve you been?
> Please tell me you’re actually going to eat and you’re not going to mope around your apartment
> You know the rules
> You can mope but you can’t starve

Keith
> I actually already ate

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Oh?

Keith
> Yeah, I’m out with Lance

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> ....

Keith
> Shiro, don’t make this weird

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I’m just surprised
> Did you actually go and make up without me having to push you?

Keith
> I can be mature sometimes

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> That’s still up for debate

Keith
> Fuck off

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> So does this mean everything is okay between you two?

Keith
> Yeah
> Yeah, I think it is

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I’m glad

Keith
> Me too

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> So when are you going to tell him?

Keith
> ....

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> I’m not pushing you
> You know that

Keith
> I don’t know

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> That’s fine
> One step at a time

Keith
> Yeah
> One step at a time