Lance had asked not to work at the Valentine’s Day Dance, but every SGA member had to be part of either the setup or the chaperoning, and Lance had a shift at the coffee house through the setup time, so he was stuck here taking pictures of mostly-drunk students.
He’d been serving punch before, but they’d received a few complaints about him handling food and drink with the bitch of a cold he was battling, so he’d been moved to the most annoying and tiresome job of the whole party.
However, he was trying to stay upbeat–or at least look it. He had a reputation to uphold as the inexhaustible VP of Garrison State University, and he wasn’t going to let a tiny cold rob him of that title.
“Lance!” an excited voice called from behind him, “Hey! We were wondering where you were.”
When he turned around, Pidge was running toward him wearing her usual green sweater and jeans, but sporting also a bright pink hat to comply with the “Pink Out” theme of the dance. She was followed by Shiro dressed in a salmon undershirt, Hunk who was, of course, dressed in an entirely pink suit (how did he look so damn good in a bright red bowtie??), and Keith.
“Where’s your pink?” Lance asked, pointing at Keith, who was wearing just his normal street clothes and jacket.
“Red is just dark pink,” he shrugged. “These guys dragged me here. I wasn’t going to come.”
“Big surprise there,” Lance shook his head disapprovingly, sounding congested, “no school spirit.”
He paused, waiting for them to step in front of the cutesy photo background, and rolled his eyes when they didn’t.
“Well, are you just going to stand here, or are you going to let me take your picture?”
Hunk and Shiro scooped up Pidge and Keith before they could run away and forcibly held them in front of the background. To top it off, Lance handed each of them some kind of stupid prop.
“Ready? Say ‘Valentine,’” Lance instructed. Hunk and Shiro opened their mouths to comply, but Lance suddenly turned his head away and held up his pointer finger. “Sorry, hang on,” he apologized before stifling three sneezes into the crook of his elbow. “Sorry about that,” he apologized, sounding equal parts embarrassed and pitiful. Shiro’s eyebrows furrowed in concern.
“You still sound awful,” he informed, remembering the previous day when he’d passed Lance in the hallway and tried to have a conversation but could barely even hear the younger man because his voice was so shot. “Why did they even let you come to this thing?”
Lance actually laughed out loud. “I was less ‘invited’ and more ‘forced to work,’ but it’s fine, Shiro. Picture time. Say ‘Valentine!’” He snapped the picture. “Oh, come on, Keith; the cardboard heart isn’t in the shot. You’re holding it lower than your algebra grade,” he teased.
Lance couldn’t have known, of course not, otherwise he wouldn’t have said it, but Keith had failed an algebra test earlier that same day, and so Lance’s usual teasing didn’t come off as good-naturedly as it normally would.
Keith slammed the heart down, stepping away from the picture.
“I’m done here,” he informed, but Lance stepped in front of him.
“I was just teasing,” Lance smiled.
“You’re always ‘just teasing,’” Keith spat, “but it doesn’t mean that it’s funny.” Keith shoved Lance’s shoulders aggressively and watched his face darken.
“Hey,” he bit back in a low, dangerous tone, “I’m sorry for what I said, but don’t,” he pushed Keith’s shoulders, “fucking shove me.”
Keith bristled at the contact. “I’ll do whatever I like,” he argued petulantly, shoving Lance twice in succession.
“Keith, Lance, cut it out,” Shiro scolded, but they didn’t break eye contact.
“You won’t,” Lance fought. “Don’t touch me.”
Keith shoved him one more time, and Lance swung at his face. Keith caught his fist and turned his arm around, pinning it to his back and sending them both toppling to the floor, Lance coughing deeply from the impact.
“Hey!” a voice shouted, “What the hell is going on here?”
Lance looked up and paled. “We’re just messing around,” he lied to the SGA President. She didn’t look amused.
“We’ll discuss this later, Lance,” she snarled, “but you’re not off the hook. You’re staying to clean up after the dance, and that’s just the start.” Keith smirked. “What are you smiling at, Kogane?” she asked. “I meant both of you.”
Keith’s mirth died immediately. Stuck cleaning up after a dance he didn’t even want to attend in the first place with the last person he wanted to even talk to right now. Fantastic.
Even as angry as Keith was, he noticed that Lance looked pretty worse for wear by the end of the party. He’d been working through a pretty bad cold for the past two days, though it wasn’t bad enough for him to take off work or skip class (but then again, in Lance’s eyes, what constituted bad enough to take off work and school was… different from where other people might draw that line.)
Keith started to tear down streamers angrily while Lance stood dumbly in the center of the room, blinking slowly and holding his ear.
“You going to start helping me?” Keith prompted. Lance shook himself a bit and focused sluggishly.
“Right,” he agreed, balling up a soiled paper tablecloth and tossing it into his trash bag.
Keith was trying not to be annoyed at Lance for coughing and sneezing. He couldn’t help it, Keith knew, but at the same time, he had class early tomorrow and he really wanted to be done with this, and Lance’s snail’s pace wasn’t helping. The fact that he had to turn away every few minutes to cough into his elbow or stifle a few sneezes was starting to irritate him. However, he didn’t say anything about it until Lance dropped the plastic punch bowl on the ground, spilling its contents onto the floor.
“What the hell, Lance?” he shouted, “Are you trying to be as annoying as possible, or does it just come naturally to you?”
He looked to the boy to gauge his response and saw that he hadn’t really reacted at all. He was simply staring blankly at the mess and holding his hands around his arms tightly in an attempt to stop shivering. That was probably why he couldn’t hold the damn bowl, Keith thought. He was shaking like a leaf.
“I’m sorry,” Lance finally managed to say through chattering teeth. “M'not feeling so hot.”
“Yeah, you look it,” Keith grumbled. “Just–here.” He shrugged off his jacket and tossed it overhand at Lance, who fumbled it for a moment, then stared at him, holding it in his trembling hands. “Put it on; sit down and warm up for a minute. Come back when you’ve figured out how to not get on my nerves.” Lance thread his arms into the jacket and weaved over to a chair, plopping down heavily into it.
Five minutes went by, then ten. Keith had finished taking down all the decorations, and all that was left was to clean up the punch on the floor–and Keith was not going to mop it up. That was Lance’s mess. He glanced over at the still-silent student and felt anger rise up inside him once more when he saw that Lance had fallen asleep in his chair, his head pressed against the back of it. His face was pinched in obvious discomfort that might even border pain, and normally Keith would be worried about that, but right now, he was far too irritated to pity Lance for a stupid cold.
“Lance!” he barked close to his ear, startling the boy from sleep, “get up.” Lance stood fast, looking panicked.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to sleep,” he apologized. Keith raised an eyebrow. Did Lance always wake up this stupid, but Keith just never noticed?
“Don’t worry about it,” Keith found himself grumbling. Lance was rushing to grab the mop that Keith was holding. Fuck. Maybe yelling at a sleeping sick friend with whom you’d just gotten into a fist fight wasn’t a great idea. Go figure. “You can slow down a little; I didn’t mean to scare you,” Keith informed. “It’s fine.”
“Don’t be mad,” Lance whimpered, not even making eye contact with Keith. At that, Keith’s face fell.
“I’m not,” he said slowly, taking a step toward his friend. “Are you feeling okay?”
Lance rubbed his face with his hands and shrugged, then nodded, then coughed harshly. His eyes were glassy and unfocused and were sluggish in looking up at Keith.
“I can clean up the punch,” he informed, taking in the bright flush of his friend’s cheeks, “why don’t you just go back to our dorm? You don’t look so good.”
“I’m sorry for what I said earlier,” Lance rambled.
“Did you hear anything I just told you?”
“I didn’t think you’d be so upset,” he continued.
Keith hesitated. “I overreacted,” he admitted, “because I failed an algebra exam today. Another one. I guess I was feeling self-conscious. It was just bad timing.”
“I’m sorry,” Lance apologized.
“It’s okay; Lance, you really need to sit down.”
Lance nodded, staggering forward into a chair and letting himself sit with his elbows resting on his knees and his face pointing downward.
“I just–I thought I was the only one with insecurities like that.”
“What do you mean?” Keith asked. There was a good chance Lance didn’t even know he was still talking, but Keith was curious. “Just–You guys all have such strong identities. Pidge is a child prodigy here on her tech scholarship. Shiro’s got his Young Government Leaders thing. Hunk’s the best mechanic in his class, and you’re captain of the fencing team, always winning trophies and medals and cool junk like that. And I just–don’t have a thing. I didn’t think that the algebra comment would bother you because I didn’t think it was possible for someone like you to be insecure.”
Yeah, Lance was definitely not aware of what he was saying. He was rambling like he was drunk, slurring a bit and looking exhausted. Keith sighed and reached out to touch Lance’s forehead. He expected a fever, but he was still a bit surprised at the magnitude–how had Lance gotten this bad without someone stepping in? How had Lance been this sick this whole time and he’d done nothing but yell at him?
“You’ve got a pretty crazy fever,” Keith informed. Lance shrugged.
“Prob’ly an ear infection. Hurts. M’Dizzy.” Keith nodded.
“Sit tight, okay? We’ll go back to the dorm after I clean up the punch.”
Lance nodded. He returned his head to his hands, a testament to how sick he really was, Keith thought. In his right mind, Lance would never let Keith clean up a mess he’d made, and he would never ever touch his face with his hands after a night of partying; his strict skincare routine forbade it.
When Keith finally finished cleaning up the punch and corralled Lance into a standing position, his gut tied itself in a knot of worry in the way Lance wavered when he stood.
“Tomorrow you’re going to Health Services for some antibiotics for your ear,” Keith decided aloud. Lance nodded. “And you’re taking a day off.”
This time, Lance didn’t agree. “Keith, I can’t–”
“Lance, you’re definitely going to be down for the count tomorrow, maybe even the day after that. You’ve got to give yourself time to heal.”
“My shift at the cafe–”“Someone else can take it. You’ve covered for most of them, anyway, and never taken a sick day. They owe you.”
“Get notes from someone in the class; Jesus Christ, you’re impossible. Can’t you just rest when you’re not feeling well like a normal person?”
Lance looked troubled. “I’m just–trying real hard,” he muttered under a shaking breath.
Keith’s heart broke. “You’re doing fine,” he smiled. “Really. Stop worrying.”
Lance allowed himself to be maneuvered into bed and fell asleep quickly, but not before stubbornly setting his alarm for 8:00 a.m. Before turning his own light off, Keith shut off Lance’s alarm and rolled his eyes, looking worriedly at his friend who would clearly travel to the ends of the universe to help someone out.
“Doesn’t have a thing” his ass.