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Hearts Don't Break Around Here

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“Shit.” Keith hisses as his hand twitches, causing the razor to skid down slightly and knick him near his chin. “Fuck.” He literally cuts himself every single time he attempts to shave his face. It’s not like he has much to shave anyway, but sometimes he can see his skin attempting to do something that remotely resembles hair and there's no way it’ll grow out to look decent, so he shaves it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen very often, so he’s a little out of practice. And if there’s one thing that Lance knows about him that nobody else does, it’s that he’s squeamish as fuck, and hates the sight of blood.

He sees a small stream start to trickle down his wet chin, mixing with the water and making it look like there is more than there actually is. The sight of it makes his stomach turn, creating a queasy, unsettled feeling in the pit of his gut. Ugh. “Lance?” He calls from the bathroom. No answer. Oh man, he’s not feeling too hot. “Lance?” He asks again, much more panicked. He sees a droplet of blood fall and hit the corner of the sink. Ew. ew ew ew. Oh man, is it hot in here? He presses a small piece of toilet paper onto the cut to try and stop the bleeding, but the blood soaks through and Keith feels it on his fingers. “Lance!”

“What do you want?” Lance calls lazily from the living room.

Keith swallows, covering his eyes with his free hand. “I’m bleeding.”

“Again?”

“Yes, again , you asshole.”

“Just do the toilet paper thing.”

“It’s not working!”

“You’re probably doing it wrong!”

The queasy feeling intensifies. Keith groans in frustration. “Lance, come on .”

A loud, exhausted sigh comes from the living room and Lance walks into the cramped bathroom, crossing his arms and looking down at Keith. He looks like he’s trying not to laugh. “Keith, seriously? That’s got to be the smallest cut yet.”

Keith scowls. “It won’t stop bleeding.”

“One sec.” Lance sighs, leaving the bathroom and coming back with a tube of chapstick. He knocks Keith’s hand out of the way with his fingers. “I knew you were doing it wrong. You’ve really gotta push it into the cut--”

Keith shuts his eyes, groaning. “Ew, stop. Please.”

Lance chuckles. “Alright, hold still.” He reaches forward and scraps the bloody piece of toilet paper. Keith can feel the blood near his chin collecting again, getting ready to drip down. Lance sighs. “Jeez, Keith. How do you always manage to do this to yourself?”

“Please just hurry up and cover it.” Keith mumbles, having a million rebuttal argument but letting them die on the tip of his tongue. Lance is helping him, after all. Lance blots his chin a few times with a paper towel and then puts some chapstick on the tip of his index finger. “My dad taught me this trick.” He says. “To stop the bleeding.” He presses his finger to the cut, covering it with chapstick. It stings but Keith refuses to let Lance know that. Lance holds his face by the chin and then tilts it to the side, leaning in and examining the small cut critically. His face melts into an easy smile.

“There. See? All better.” He says, a little condescendingly, sending Keith a smug grin. “Want me to kiss it too?”

Keith scowls further. “Go away.”

“You’re welcome!” Lance calls behind him as he saunters back into the living room. Keith sighs, wiping the counter down before following Lance, flopping down on the couch next to him and staring at the wall where a TV should be. They keep meaning to get one, but every time they look at them online, they end up finding something else they want more. Like an expensive rice cooker. Or a Soda Stream. Or some other useless junk that their kitchen doesn’t have any room for.

“It’s a Saturday.” Keith says bluntly. “And we have nothing to do.”

“Speak for yourself!” Lance says. “I’m going out with Nyma!”

Keith raises an eyebrow. “Really? Again?”

“Well don’t sound so surprised.” Lance says, smiling. “I know how to get a second date.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Keith rolls his eyes. “Maybe I’ll just go to Shiro's. He needs some help with wedding stuff anyway.”

“Sounds exhilarating.” Lance deadpans. “Remember when you used to be fun?” He pokes Keith’s cheek. Keith swats his hand away.

“I was never fun.” He defends in an emotionless voice.

“Hm.” Lance is still grinning. “Fair enough.” He says jokingly. “Well, tell Shiro I say hello.”

“I will. You gonna be out late tonight?”

Lance scoffs. “No, Keith. I’m going to a bar with a hot girl and I’ll be back at 7PM for supper.”

Keith’s lips twitch upwards despite himself. “Fuck off.”

 

xxx

 

5th Grade

 

“Hello, Lance. I know it’s time for recess, but I just wanted to make sure everything was okay.” Mrs. Farrell, Lance’s language arts teacher, places a kind hand on his shoulder. “You usually do really well on these. Was something more difficult about this one?”

Lance looks down at the large, red ‘F’ written in the corner of his language arts test. The letter is blurry through his tears but he can still see it. What happened? How could he do this? He even studied for two hours with his mom! He was so prepared for it! Stupid , Lance says to himself, lip quivering. This means you’re stupid. You should’ve worked harder. “No.” He says angrily, responding to her question. “It wasn’t difficult.”

Mrs. Farrell looks sad. “The reading part is the part you’re best at.” She hands him the paper. Lance crinkles the corner of it in his tiny hand. “But it seems like you left a whole page blank in the reading section this time. Did you not understand the story?”

Lance knows that Mrs. Farrell is being nice but for some reason he feels afraid. “I’m not stupid. I understood the story.”

“Lance…” She says softly. “Of course you’re not stupid. I’m just trying to figure out how to help you.”

“I don’t...know.” Lance says, sounding small. “I was scared, I guess.”

“Why were you scared?”

Tears blur Lance’s vision again. He whimpers and shakes his head. If he says it, it will sound dumb. I’m so stupid. I’m so stupid. I was going to get them wrong anyway. I was running out of time. Stupid. Stupid.  

“Lance, we can’t get better unless we talk about it.” His teacher says gently. But Lance feels the tears streaking his cheeks now and he feels so silly for crying. She isn’t even being mean to him. He feels angry with himself anyway.

“I don’t want to.” He says, crossing his arms. “I wanna go play soccer now.”

Mrs. Farrell sighs, looking disappointed. “Okay, we can talk later. But don’t be afraid to come tell me anything, okay?”

Lance nods, wiping his nose angrily. He marches out of the room and towards the playground without looking back.

He finds Keith sitting on one of the swings, picking at the skin around his fingernails. Lance makes sure he wipes his face off before joining, sitting in the swing next to his. “Hey, Snickers.”

Keith looks up at him with big eyes. It’s weird to be able to see them, because usually Keith’s hair is long enough to cover them, but he got a new haircut yesterday and it’s so short that Lance can barely recognize him.

“What did Mrs. Farrell say? Are you in trouble?”

“Psshh, no way. She just wanted to ask me about an amazing essay I wrote.”

Keith just keeps looking at him, expression unchanging. “...okay.” He says.

“Wanna play soccer?”

Keith shrugs. “Okay.”

Lance lets Keith lead the way, falling behind slightly so he can wipe his nose with his sleeve again. He feels like he wants to cry more, but takes a deep breath. He doesn’t miss the way Keith glances back, just for a second, looking worried.

He can probably tell how much of a baby I am. Lance starts to say to himself. I bet Keith would never let himself cry in front of a teacher. He’s too cool. “So? Where’s the ball?” Lance says, surprised by how happy he sounds as he catches up to Keith. “Or are we just gonna pretend there is one? Because I can do that too.”

Keith doesn’t answer right way. He just hugs himself, suddenly looking even more grumpy than he usually does. “Look... jus’ wanted to say…” He mumbles, trailing off.

Lance raises an eyebrow. “What did you say?”

Keith scowls. “I just wanted to say,” he says, louder, “that I got a D on the test. The language arts one. So...”

Lance’s heart thumps loudly. “...Really?” He says, shocked.

“Yeah. So if that’s what...well, I thought the test was hard too.”

Lance swallows. Keith doesn’t really understand why Lance failed. To be honest, Lance doesn't really understand why he failed either. But Keith is actually...trying to make him feel better?

“Well…” He responds, not really knowing what else to say. “Okay.”

Keith nods. “Yeah.”

“So...soccer?”

A small smile appears on Keith’s face. “Yeah.”

 

xxx

 

Present Day

 

Nyma looks way too good tonight. Lance can’t even comprehend it. Everything about her is unique-- she just looks like someone who’s natural beauty stuns people into silence. At least, it stunned Lance into silence. She’s got almond shaped eyes and full lips high cheekbones. Her nose is thin and sloping, with a small hoop decorating her right nostril. Her cheeks are an adorable combination of freckles and a tiny bit of baby fat that never quite went away. Her hair is long and light brown, but she’s got the ends dyed a soft, red color. She’s got an edgy look that Lance’s little, romantic heart practically dies for. She rocks the ‘smudged eyeliner, black coffee’ aesthetic and Lance is truly, genuinely digging it.

When he left the apartment, Lance was convinced that he looked really damn attractive. He threw on a dark blue, slightly oversized t-shirt and some tight, light-wash jeans. It’s one of his favorite “I’m being really casual about this but also I’m really effortlessly hot” outfits. He’s got about four of them. This one makes him feel the best. Keith thinks he’s insane for putting so much thought into his clothes, because “Nobody thinks about what you’re wearing as much as you do, Lance”. And it doesn’t help that Keith literally wears the same thing every single day, and has since freshman year of high school. He is the epitome of not giving a shit. Lance is the complete opposite. Everything he does has to have a purpose.

But that’s completely besides the point. Lance usually feels pretty great about himself until he actually gets to the place that he’s going to. There's something about being in public that makes him feel so inherently average-looking. When he looks at himself in the mirror he can tell that he’s objectively an attractive guy, with some unique physical traits. But he can’t help but feel like he just kind of looks like everyone else. Except maybe not as good. Well, whatever. He came out to have fun anyway.

He spots Nyma among the crowd and she waves him over. She’s looking really sexy in a tight, black dress with her hair pulled back. Her nose ring is black tonight as well. Lance’s heart rate picks up as he walks over to her.

“Hey, McClain.” She says smoothly.

“Hey.” Lance responds, sounding equally as charming. He’s not really sure how he gets away with it, honestly. Especially since he’s slowly starting to feel like a potato sack in this shirt. He lets his false confidence take control, numbing all of his other senses. He wraps a hand around Nyma's thin wrist. “Drinks?” He asks in a low voice.

She hums. “Of course.”

They push through the crowd and make it to the bar, which is crowded with people. Lance manages to wedge himself between a few sweaty bodies to order a couple of drinks. This bar isn’t his favorite. He wasn’t really sure how to tell Nyma that, because she seemed really into it. But he honestly would prefer the one across the street. It’s less crowded, the A/C actually works, and the alcohol tastes much better. The bartender who works there on Friday nights went on a couple dates with Keith, once upon a time. But it didn’t end up working out because according to Keith, he was a “little bitch”, whatever that means. But who cares! Because now Nyma pressing closer to him in a way that’s making him feel dizzy. Her hand tangles into his hair. She leans in the speak into his ear. “You look good tonight.”

No I don’t . Lance hums. “So do you.” He wraps his arms around her waist. Her dress leaves nothing to the imagination. “So good.”

Nyma’s breath smells like tequila. She was drinking before he got here. He wonders exactly how drunk she is. “Wanna meet some of my friends?” She asks.

No. Absolutely not. “Of course, lead the way m’lady.”

She smiles and bites her lip in an attractive way, taking Lance’s hand and leading him across the dance floor to the other side of the bar. They weave through people until they reach the far back corner, where there is a group of people sitting on a couch smoking hookah. They've all got the same vibes as Nyma; edgy, smudged liner, cigarette smoke. Lance feels like a dork--his face still smells like the Clinique face mask and toner he used after his shower and his shirt is soft from his fabric softener that has the little teddy bear on the bottle. Wow, he’s uncool. He’s a genuinely uncool guy.

“Guy, this is Lance.” Nyma says. “Lance this is Jen, April, Ryan, and Andy.”

They all wave lazily at him, clearly uninterested. “Hey guys.” He tries, frowning slightly when he doesn’t get a response.

Nyma, seemingly oblivious to the rudeness that is happening, sits down on the couch and pats the space next to her. Lance squeezes in.

He watches Nyma take a hit, eyes closing and lashes curling against her cheekbones. Wow, shes hot. Her lips look delicious on the mouthpiece and Lance really wants to bite at them. She lets the smoke out slowly tilting her head back, and then offers Lance the mouthpiece.

Lance stares at it, panic flooding his mind. “Oh, I--uh…” No, Lance. Don’t. You know how this ends. Don’t do it. “I uh… don’t do that...anymore.”

She raises a perfectly shaped eyebrow at him. “What?”

“I did that a lot in college. But I’m...not a big fan. Anymore.”

Nyma looks utterly confused and a little pissed off. “Okay. Well, whatever.” She takes another hit. Lance can feel everyone’s eyes on him. He’s way too old now to give into peer pressure. He knows that. Logically...he knows that.

Their eyes bore into him--these people are so disinterested in his existence but seemingly very interested in his drug and alcohol use. He looks at the mouthpiece, starting to feel that choking, suffocating sensation that always creeps up on him when he can feel people disapproving of him. I’m ruining the whole night. Nobody is having fun anymore because I’m here. He can hear the voice in his head, saying “ Hey, who brought this asshole? He won’t even take a goddamn hit!” Except it doesn’t sound like his voice. It sounds like somebody else's. It sounds like all of the people around him, yelling at him, angry at him for severely cramping their style. He looks around. Everyone still looks disinterested in him. But what if they’re not? What if they are interested? What if they are very, very interested and he’s actually pissing them off?

“But, um.” His voice cracks out before he can stop it. “Old habits die hard, I guess?” He holds out his hand for the pipe. Nyma grins wickedly at him.

“That’s more like it.” She says, handing it over. Like a switch going off, the weight lifts off Lance’s chest. Okay, good. She’s not mad at him. Her friends...are a normal level of disinterested again. Everything is right in the world.

He brings the mouthpiece to his lips, already regretting it.

The taste takes him back. It takes him back to long, painful nights and waking up in strange places. It takes him back to vomiting in public restrooms and passing out on park benches. It takes him back to Keith’s face--hurt and angry as he says, “Where the fuck were you last night?”

It’s all behind him now, of course. It really was only a few months that were particularly bad, in his sophomore year. A lot...had happened that year.

He blows the smoke out through his nose and it burns his eyes, making them tear a little. Before he knows what’s happening, Nyma is closing in, pressing their lips together.

She tastes like cigarette smoke and vodka. Lance wrinkles his nose. But he should totally feel lucky. This girl is really, really hot.

 

xxx

 

“Keith! Oh thank god you’re here. Allura is going insane.” Shiro says gratefully after he opens the door. He waves Keith in and they pad into the living room. There is a candle on the coffee table and Keith breathes it in, smelling the sweet citrus. He loves visiting Shiro and Allura’s tiny house. It’s one of the purest places left on planet earth. It’s small, and always warm. It smells like freshly baked cookies even though Allura can’t cook to save her life. It’s one of Keith’s safe places. He always tries to appreciate all the time he can with Shiro, because it was only based on pure luck that they ended up in the same city and he knows it’s one of the best things that could happen for him. His parents are still a few states away, where Keith went to college, but Shiro being here makes him feel comfortable, and Shiro’s house feels like another slice of home. Keith is really happy for them; Shiro and Allura have both come a long way since they started dating. Buying their first house together, although very tiny, was one of the biggest accomplishments for them. They were both promoted at their respective jobs and were able to afford it. Lance threw a “small get-together” for them at the time, to celebrate. Which, because it’s Lance, wasn’t very small at all.

Allura is sitting at the kitchen table in sweats, which still manage to look classy on her. Her hair is tied up in a messy bun and she’s elbows-deep in a bin filled with envelopes. Shiro sighs.

“Allura had the brilliant idea of stamping all of the wedding invitations herself. She’s got this...stamp thing in the mail that she--”

“Shiro, stop making it sound so unreasonable!” Allura defends, turning to Keith. “I got this very adorable custom stamp ordered! I just thought it’d be nice to have it on all of the invitations. See?” She hold the stamp very close to Keith’s face. “Tell me this isn’t cute!”

On the stamp is a small, organic design with the word “Shallura” written in ornate, detailed cursive.

“Um.”

Shiro crosses his arms. “Hah! Go on, Keith. Tell her the truth.”

“It’s just...your name.” Keith says bluntly to Allura. “With an ‘Sh’ in front of it.”

“Wha--no!” Allura huffs. “It’s our couple name! It’s our names combined together!”

“It’s...really not.” Keith says.

Shiro can’t contain his smile. “See?”

“Well too bad! It’s going on every single invitation! And every single one of your dearest family and friends will see it!” She exclaims, jabbing Shiro in the chest with her finger. “Keith? Are you going to sit there and be useless or help me stamp these?”

Shiro muffles a laugh into his hand. “I’m going to go change. Have fun, Keith.”

Keith sighs. “Thanks, Shiro.”

He sits at the table, across from Allura, and presses the stamp into the dark purple ink. Allura huffs again, as if she physically needed to get some more frustration out, before grabbing the second stamp and doing the same. They find a routine, sitting in content silence for a few minutes.

“How many of these are there?” Keith finally asks.

Allura clears her throat. “Numbers are...funny things. Aren’t they?”

“Allura.”

“Um. Well, less than 350.”

“Okay...and?”

“And...more than 300.” She says defeatedly.

“Oh my god.”

“Don’t tell Shiro! He’ll never stop laughing at me.”

“Oh my god, I’m not going home tonight am I?”

Allura laughs. “Well we did just get a new inflatable mattress. Maybe you can be our tester!”

“Oh boy, sounds riveting but, I’d rather not.” Keith says dryly, but there's a smile on his face regardless.  

 

xxx

 

When Lance gets home, Keith isn’t there.

It’s fine, really. He wasn’t even expecting to get home this early. It’s only midnight. He’s only a little bit buzzed. Sighing, he strips his clothes off and tosses them onto the floor next to his bed. He needs to shower. He feels disgustingly filthy. Like the smoke in the air somehow made it’s way underneath his skin and left dirt he’d never be able to scrub clean. Nyma had pulled him into the bathroom and sucked him off, and yeah, that was technically what he wanted to happen but it still isn’t sitting right in his stomach. It wasn’t even that good. She wasn’t very into it. Neither was he. Apparently he had been in love her a week ago but Keith was right...he does tend to say that every time he meets someone new.

Lance scrubs his skin viciously in the shower, trying and failing to get rid of the dirty feeling. He really thought he was past this. Past the whole “taking a hit of something to quell the anxiety” phase of his life. But apparently not. He’s a little disappointed in himself for giving in so easily. He also feels emotionally exhausted. Smiling for so long when you really don’t want to can actually take a lot out of you.

He wonders where Keith is. Is he still at Shiro’s? What could he possibly be doing there?

As if the universe is reading his mind, he hears the front door open and shut, the sound of Keith’s obnoxiously heavy car keys clanking on the counter. Lance dries his hair with his towel and throws on some sweats, walking into the living room. He feels a little relieved at the sight of Keith, especially after the night he’s had.

“Hey man, wanna--”

“Ah!” Keith jumps, turning around with wide eyes. “What the-- you’re home? Jesus you scared the shit out of me.”

Lance raises an eyebrow. “My keys are right there, Snickers. Also, the shower was running.”

“Whatever.” Keith huffs. “How was your date? I’m assuming it sucked.”

Lance, for some reason, smiles at that. Keith doesn’t even realize that what he said sounds mean. He literally just says exactly what he’s thinking. It blows Lance’s mind. “Why do you say that?” He asks.

“Because you’re here. With me.” He says, slipping off his black jacket. “Instead of getting laid.”

“Hm. Very interesting deduction.” Lance says, walking into the kitchen to get something to eat. “Super interesting, actually.”

“What happened?” Keith asks, cold tone beginning to thaw. He follows Lance into the kitchen. “You don’t look okay.”

Lance snorts. “Thanks a bunch.”

“No, I’m serious.” Keith frowns. “What happened? Did she do something?” The ‘ I’ll kill her’ is kind of implied in his tone.

Lance sighs. “I...just didn’t have a good time.” He says. “But I’m home now. It’s okay. Want something to eat?”

Keith looks at him skeptically. It’s a look Lance knows by heart, because Keith can see through his lies like nobody else. But Keith also knows not to push it. He sighs defeatedly. “Sure. Wanna make something?”

“How about cereal? I just got some more Cinnamon Toast Crunch today.”

Keith smiles. “Wait, really?”

“Yeah.”

“Like, seriously? You’re not joking this time?”

“Oh my god Keith, I literally tricked you one time. You gotta start to rebuild that trust, man!”

“Is it that shitty off-brand kind?”

No , it’s the real kind. Don’t eat the whole box in two days this time, you animal.” Lance says back, a small smile already returning to his face.

“What’s that? Sorry, couldn’t hear you.” Keith says giddily, pushing past Lance and opening the pantry.

“I swear you’ll have to pay for the next five boxes!” Lance shouts to Keith’s back as he retreats into the living room with the cereal box.

“Whatever you say!” Keith shouts back, and Lance hears the futon creak as Keith flops down onto it.

“Don’t you want milk, you savage?”

“I’m fine just like this! Also, we’re out of milk.”

Lance groans. “Are you kidding me?”

Keith laughs from the living room. “You’re the one who went grocery shopping this week. This is on you.”

Lance grabs a box of Honey Nut Cheerios and joins Keith on the futon. They sit in the barely-lit room, hands buried in their respective cereal boxes, munching quietly. Lance makes the executive decision that he likes this. He likes being freshly showered and eating Honey Nut Cheerios right out of the box. He likes being able to breathe. It’s nice.

“So did she make the first move again?” Keith mumbles through a mouthful of cereal.

“I mean, she sucked my dick.”

“I think that counts.”

Lance chuckles. “Then yeah.”

“Cool.”  

Knowing when to stop talking, Keith flicks a piece of cereal off of his hand and it hits the wall across from them, before falling to the floor. Lance flicks a piece afterwards. It hits slightly higher.

 

An hour later they fall asleep on the futon, cereal covering the entire carpet.

 

xxx

 

6th Grade

 

“Oh my god, Snickers! You have a date ?” Lance asks, a little teasingly. They are ankle deep in the creek below Rossway Cliff, kicking water around and looking for frogs. It has only taken them a few weeks of getting lost repeatedly to find out how to get here. Now, it’s one of Keith’s favorite places. He likes how cold the water is, even in the summer. Finding cool bugs and little frogs is pretty cool too.

“It’s not a date.” Keith frowns. “Stop that.”

“Uhh she’s coming over your house , isn’t she?”

“Yes, but just to work on our history project.” Keith mumbles. Lance leans over and tries to grab at something in the water. He has to crouch over a lot more than Keith does--he’s gotten a lot taller in the past year and Keith has stayed almost exactly the same. Lance pushes his shaggy hair out of his eyes with a wet hand. It may not be curly anymore, but there’s still a lot of it. Keith’s is still really short. His parents say it suits him. He doesn’t really care either way.

“She’s having dinner in your house, isn’t she?” Lance asks suggestively.

Keith feels himself blush. “That doesn’t matter, Lance.”

“It’s a date !”

“Nuh uh!”

“It totally is!”

Keith kicks water at him. Lance screeches. “Shut up, Lance. Or I swear--”

“You swear what?” Lance asks tauntingly.

Keith kicks him with water again. Lance just giggles this time.

“Can we please talk about something else?” Keith asks, voice cracking. It’s been doing that a lot lately.

“Why, are you nervous?” Lance asks, this time sounding less teasing.

Keith swallows. “No.”

“Yes you are. You’re blushing!”

“No I’m not!”

“It’s okay to admit it, you know.” Lance says, voice getting gentler with every word. “I’m not going to judge you.”

Keith sighs. “Okay, fine. Yes...I’m a little nervous.”

“Well, lucky for you , you have me !” Lance says, throwing his arms up in dramatic presentation.

Keith scoffs. “You haven’t even been on a date before.”

“True. But my sister has! And she tells me everything about them!”

Keith’s expression softens a little. “Oh.” He says. “So...what do I do?”

“You gotta make her something sweet! Girls love sweet things, I think.”

“What?”

“Like, bake something!”

Keith crosses his arms, frowning slightly. “I don’t know how to bake.”

“Hmmm…” Lance taps his chin and looks around at the water, as if that will give him an answer. Then he snaps his fingers. “Ah-ha! I’ve got it. Let’s go to my house.” He starts waddling towards land again, waving his hands with excitement.

“But we didn’t even find any frogs yet?” Keith pouts.

“Frogs can wait! Duty calls, Snickers!”

 

x

 

Lance stumbles into his kitchen excitedly and Keith follows behind him, feeling nervous. Lance’s older sister, Elena, is sitting at the kitchen table with a book in her hand. When she sees Lance, she raises an eyebrow. “Why do you look like you’re about to make a mess?” She asks, rolling her eyes. Her gaze falls on Keith. “Wow, you look especially grumpy today.”

Keith hums in reply.

“Quiet, Elena! I’m teaching Keith how to bake.”

“That sounds...like a horrible idea.” She says, getting up and walking over to the counter, where Lance in taking a mug out of the cabinet. “You should really ask mom before you do that.”

“Calm down , jeez.” Lance says, rolling his eyes dramatically. “I’m just using the microwave. It’s that thing you taught me. Remember?”

Elena actually smiles at this. Then she sighs in defeat. “Okay. Alright, fine.” She turns to Keith. “Please make sure he doesn’t make a mess.”

Lance scowls, but Keith just nods solemnly. Elena picks up her book. “I’ll be in my room. Not witnessing this.” The stairs creak as she climbs onto them.

Keith’s house, although only a neighborhood away, is drastically different from Lance’s. He’d never say it out loud, but there’s something about Lance’s that just feels more...homey to him. He loves his own house, and his room, but Lance’s house reminds him a little more of what his home in Texas used to be like. It’s all dark wood and ridiculously floral wallpaper. The cabinets feel used and the floors creak when you walk on them. It always smells like some kind of flower. Keith thinks it’s lilac. It’s probably lilac.

His house, on the other hand, is newly refurbished. His parents had the entire lower level renovated and it looks a lot more modern now, compared to the houses around it. Keith thinks it looks really nice, and Lance loves it, but very deep down, there is always something about this creaky wood that Keith likes just a little bit more.

“Okay, Snickers. Ready for this? I’m gonna blow your mind. And then you’re gonna blow your date’s mind. And it’ll be great.”

Keith blinks. “Okay.” He says, not able to be as enthusiastic as Lance is about...anything, really.

“We’re going to make an entire cake,” Lance pauses, for dramatic effect, “in this mug !” He shoves the gray mug in Keith’s face. “Ta-daa!”

“That’s impossible.” Keith says, unphased.

“Nope! My sister taught me! We can cook it in the microwave!” Lance scrambles to the pantry to get more ingredients. “It’s so easy, you don’t even have to know anything about baking.”

“I don’t see how this is...dating advice.” Keith responds, feeling even more nervous because of Lance’s spectacle. He really didn’t think that Amy coming over would be such a big deal. He doesn’t even...like her like that. But Lance seems to think that he does? And...well, does he? Should he? How would he know?

“You gotta woo her with food!” Lance pauses, considering. “ Foo her!”

Keith feels the smile on his face, snorting a laugh before he can stop himself. “That was bad.”  

“Rule number one to foo-ing? Start with something sweet. I’m tellin’ ya!”

“Alright, alright, fine .” Keith says, still grinning. “I’ll... foo her.”

“Sweet! This is going to be the best first date ever!”

 

x

 

Keith has failed Elena, because he promised to make sure that Lance didn’t make a mess. But now they’re both sprawled out on the kitchen floor with badly-drawn chocolate moustaches on their faces and batter covering the entire countertop. Lance is saying the word “chocolate” over and over and over again, with weird accents and super wrong pronunciation. It shouldn't even be funny because it doesn’t make any sense, but Keith doesn’t think he’s ever laughed this hard in his life.

 

Present Day

 

Lance’s car is always burning hot. He cranks the heat no matter what the temperature is outside. It’s madness. Keith can’t stand it. Lance has always liked hot weather but he should know by now that if Keith is in the car too, he isn’t going to get away with turning the heat on in the middle of spring. Keith reaches forward and dials it down about six notches. Lance huffs.

“Why do you hate my toasty car?” He asks, sounding offended.

“It’s not toasty, it’s hell.” Keith says crassly. “One of these days you’re going to pass out at the wheel and die.”

“I’ll die a toasty, toasty man.”

“You’ll still die.”

“I think you’re missing the point.”

Keith gapes at him. “ I’m the one missing the point?”

Lance laughs. “Will you stop complaining? We’re about to go eat some of the fanciest food in this city for free . You should be jumping out of your seat!”

“I’m ecstatic.” Keith deadpans, clearly not ecstatic.

“You better be! This restaurant is the best in this entire area, especially for catering. And usually they don’t let me bring a guest! But these guys were particularly nice.”  

As part of his ‘event planning’ agenda, Lance often goes to cake tastings, catering check-ups, and food-runs, etc. For the couple who have him planning their wedding, he apparently promised to check out the catering company they were considering to see if it was worth the money. This is something that the event planner sometimes has to do, but Keith doesn’t think Lance minds too much. About a month ago, Lance came back home with about a pound of leftover wedding cake from one of his cake tastings where the amount was “a little overestimated.” They ate like kings for a week.

This time around, Lance is checking up on a new restaurant/caterer in the area who gave him permission to bring a guest. Keith was actually really excited when Lance invited him, but he didn’t know how to say it. Lance got the idea, though. He usually does.

“I heard he makes this mushroom sauce that is to die for.” Lance says happily. “That’s the first thing on the menu.”

“What’s this guy’s name again?”

“Hunk Garrett. He apparently just graduated culinary school but he climbed to the top of the food chain--hah, get it? Food chain? Anyway, he made it to the top really fast.” Keith tries to scowl at the pun, but can’t keep the laugh from blowing out of his nose. Lance continues. “I really hope we can actually score them as a caterer, my reputation would explode. Like, in a good way.”

Keith smiles. “Well then let’s make a good impression.”

“That’s right, Keith! Try not to do anything too disagreeable. Like, you know. Being yourself and stuff.”

Lance cackles as Keith flicks his cheek, hard.

xxx



The restaurant is surprisingly casual. Apparently Lance had managed to convince this chef, somehow, to see him after closing; which means the place is completely empty when Lance and Keith walk in. It has a very underrated vibe. The brick walls are covered in art from various local artists. The lighting is dim and there is soft music playing from somewhere near the bar. Keith sits on one of the barstools and watches Lance scurry around the place, taking notes into his phone and snapping pictures of the ambiance.

“Wow this place is great! This couple really nailed their wedding aesthetic when picking a restaurant. Props to them.”

Keith is clearly lacking context to whatever Lance is talking about, but nods anyway. He can always tell that Lance is super excited about a project when he starts to use the word “aesthetic” in his sentences.

Lance joins Keith at the bar. There are already two menus laid out, as if, whoever this Hunk guy is, was very prepared for their arrival. Keith looks around questioningly. “Uh. Where is everybody?”

Lance frowns. “Hello?” He calls out to nobody.

Suddenly there is a young girl squeezing behind the bar and jogging towards them. She’s got short, light brown hair pulled up in the world's smallest bun, with half of her head shaved. Her large, trendy glasses cover half of her face and she’s swimming in a baggy, gray hoodie and loose jeans. “Sorry, sorry! I spilled beer all over the kitchen and it was a bitch to clean up. Are you Lance McClain?”

Keith glances at Lance, who is blinking owlishly with a confused expression on his face. Probably because of the foul language, surprising him.

“Are you...Hunk?” Lance asks, sounding confused.

The girl scoffs. “God, no.” She says, adjusting her glasses on her nose. “I’m Pidge. Bartender slash hostess slash sometimes busboy.” She extends her hand in greeting. Lance takes it.

“Are you really old enough to be bartending?” He asks, instead of saying hello. Pidge shrugs.

“Ehhh. I’m nineteen. I technically have my servers permit.”

“Technically?”

Pidge shrugs. “You know how it is.”

Keith can tell by the way Lance glances down at the bar that he truly doesn’t know how it is, but he also knows that Lance always stops himself after asking two questions about something, for fear of looking like an idiot. “Cool, cool.” Lance nods. “Oh, this is my buddy Keith.” He says, jabbing a thumb in Keith’s direction. “He’s going to be a lot meaner about the food than I am.”

Keith rolls his eyes. “Not true.” He says. Pidge shakes his hand. “Nice to meet you, Keith. So, Hunk should be out in a couple of minutes. He’s getting everything together. Today was killer, for real. Do you guys want anything to drink?”

“I’ll have a diet coke.” Keith says.

“Just some water.” Lance says. “Please.” He adds.  Pidge nods and walks towards the kitchen. The door swings open and then shut. Lance immediately turns to Keith. “Okay, how old does one have to be to get a server's permit? Also, how can someone only ‘technically’ have one? Also , why does she have three jobs? Is she the only person who works here?” All of the questions that Lance had wanted to ask earlier spill out of his mouth. He usually does this-- waits until he’s alone with Keith to ask questions he thinks sound stupid. Keith wonders why Lance cares so much about what strangers think about him. It annoys him to no end, that Lance works so hard to please people and then gets left in the dark more than half the time.

“Eighteen for a server's permit.” Keith answers. “By ‘technically’ she means that she has one but it needs to be renewed. And according to the portrait at the front of the restaurant, there is only one other person that works here besides Hunk and Pidge. Except I don’t know which one is Hunk and which one is the other guy.”

Lance breathes a collective sigh of relief. “Jesus. Thank you, Snickers.”

“Why don’t you just ask?” Keith pushes, which he tries not to do, usually. But he threw it out there, just for fun.

Lance’s brows furrow. “It’s...just stupid. You know it is.”

“Lance--”

“Hi, Lance! Is that you? Jeez, you’re a lot younger than I thought you’d be.” A deep voice comes from the kitchen as the door swings open. The guy who walks out of the kitchen is tall and stocky, with thick arms and a square jaw. His skin is dark, a bit darker than Lance’s and he has short brown hair sticking out from under his chef hat. His white smock is stained with various different things, which Keith always thinks is the mark of a good chef.

Lance is staring at him, shocked. “You are younger than I thought, too.” He says. “ You’re Hunk?”

“That’s me!” Hunk says proudly.

“You own this place?”

“Well, the manager is technically Coran, but he went home early today. Anyway, welcome! Glad you could make it. I’ve never catered a wedding, this is so exciting.”

“Excited to be doing business with you!” Lance says happily. “This is Keith. He’s my built-in food critic.”

“Hi.” Keith says, unamused.

“Pleasure, Keith. Glad you could make it. Any critic is a good critic. The more the merrier!”

Wow, Lance is going to love this guy. Keith can already tell. His eyes shine in the same way Lance’s do-- alight with passion and love for what he does. He can see all of the pieces clicking into place before they actually do. Lance looks absolutely overjoyed.

“Well, thanks so much for doing this for us.” He says.

Hunk wipes his forehead with the edge of dirty sleeve. “Of course! I’m not going to make anyone buy me out for an entire night without knowing what they’re getting first.” He says, gesturing around to the restaurant. “It is a new place after all. And I love getting opinions on my cooking anyway!”

Keith was expecting this to be much more... formal than what it is turning out to be. His heart feels… pleasantly surprised by Hunk and Pidge.

“Bring out the first plate, let’s do this!” Lance’s loud voice breaks into his thoughts.  

“Alright, down to business! I like it.” Hunk says, ducking back into the kitchen to get the first plate. He returns in record time. “Pidge?” He shouts over his shoulder. “Why do these nice young men not have their drinks yet?”

Keith hears Pidge groan from another room. “I’m coming, jeez.”

Keith, on the other hand, is probably going to get along very well with Pidge.

Pidge comes through with their drinks, mumbling a “sorry I was busy” and letting them clatter onto the table. Hunk sighs.

“Thanks, Pidge.” He turns back to Lance and Keith, placing the plates in front of them. “She’s taking more than the recommended credit hours for someone her age. So, she’s kind of a mess.” Hunk says, smiling kindly the whole time. He claps his hands together. “Anyway! This would be the appetizer. Yes, that it a crostini and yes, that is melted cheese on the tippy top. The sauce here is perfect for dipping, but I highly recommend pouring it right here where the bread is showing through. It soaks it all up and makes it really soft and full of flavor.” Keith blinks at Lance, who is looking at him with an excited, shocked expression. His eyes say, “ please say something because if I do then I’ll end up squeaking”.

“This smells great.” Keith says happily, giving Lance a moment to breathe. “It smells like it might be spicy. Is it spicy?”

Hunk nods. “Good guess! Yeah, there’s a little bit of ground-up red pepper flakes in the sauce. I like adding it for a kick.”

Lance already has the whole crostini in his mouth. “Holy shit.” He says, voice muffled around it. Hunk bursts out laughing.

“You might be my new favorite client.”

“Oh, trust me.” Keith says, smiling a little. “He’s just getting started.”

 

xxx

 

This food is so good. Lance is actually going to die. He might be dying right now. This may be what heaven is. Holy shit how did he manage to score this guy as a caterer and then eat this amazing meal for absolutely no charge? He takes a million pictures for his clients, They will come later, of course, to try the food for themselves; but he was appointed as the “first round decision maker”. He knows they won’t be disappointed.

He’s practically licking his plate after dessert and he feels like his stomach might burst. It wasn’t a lot of food, but it was rich, and hearty, and holy crap this Hunk guy knows what he’s doing. No wonder this place is crazy popular. Keith has bees silent as well--which is something very foreign to Lance, especially because Keith will never miss an opportunity to tell someone what they are doing wrong. But Keith hasn’t said anything about the food. Which can only mean one thing. He fucking adores it.

And if Keith adores it, then it passes every single test.

Keith clears his throat. “This was really good.” He says. And Lance doesn’t think he has ever, in the eighteen years that they have been friends, heard him say those words in a sentence like that.

“Oh really? You think so? That’s so great. I was super nervous about cooking for a new client. I mean, I know that the food is good but like, it’s all subjective, you know?” Hunk rambles nervously. “Cause like, it doesn’t really matter if I like it, you know? It’s all about how other people like it--”

“Hunk.” Lance says, cutting him off. “ Hunk . You are amazing. Can I live here?”

Hunk grins broadly, blushing. “Ah, you think so? Wow, thanks so much. Really! I’m so glad you liked it. So those would be the three courses at the wedding. And then you’ll have to get the actual wedding cake from somewhere else because unfortunately...I don’t do that.” Hunk chuckles nervously.  

“Great! Sounds so great. I should be able to bring Alexa and James over within a week or so. They want to try the food for themselves. But I’ll tell them it’s a yes from me.”

“Sure thing! Cool!” Hunk says.

Pidge comes out of wherever she was hiding and sits in the barstool next to Keith. Hunk smiles sympathetically at her.

“Finished?” He asks.

“No. I still have seven pages left of this chapter. Please put me out of my misery.”

“I can’t kill you.” Hunk says sadly. “But do you want a beer?”

Pidge nods. “Yeah, just one. That’d be great.”

“Do you guys want anything to drink?” Hunk asks. “You can hang here for a bit longer if you want.”

Lance jumps a little in his seat. “Oh, sure! Is that alright, Snickers?” He asks, poking Keith’s arm. Keith looks down at where Lance’s finger jabbed him, then his gaze drifts back to Lance’s face. His dark, grumpy eyes look much softer, and there is a satisfied flush on his cheeks from the spicy food. He smiles. “Okay, sure.”

“Snickers?” Hunk asks, sounding lost.

“Oh boy! Wait until you hear this story--”

Lance .”

“-- it has got to be one of my favorite Keith stories, ever.” He looks at Keith, who is ducking his head to hide his probably blushing face. His hair is so long that it covers his eyes when he looks down. Lance wonders when it got that long. Has it always been that long?

Hunk is looking back and forth between them, raising an eyebrow. “Oh, oh --wait. Sorry. Are you two--?”

“No.” Keith says tiredly. Lance chuckles. Keith always gets so annoyed when people think they’re dating. It’s hilarious.

“No, but everyone thinks we are. We’ve just known each other for for ever.” Lance says, rolling his eyes and dismissing it. “Anyway, we were in sixth grade and Keith bought a Snickers bar on a field trip, and he put it in his back pocket--”

“It was completely wrapped!” Keith snaps, sounding as irritated as he gets every time Lance tells this story.

“--and then in the bus, he completely forgot about it and it melted all over his ass.”

“There was no way the chocolate could have gotten out! I don’t know how it happened!”

“And nobody noticed until we were all in the cafeteria and I was the first one to see it. I almost choked on my pepsi. It was hilarious.”

“Okay fine, it was funny. Funny- ish .” Keith mumbles. “But it’s been like ten years! He hasn’t stopped calling me that!”

“I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.” Pidge says, still chuckling. Hunk places a few cans of beer on the bar.

“That’s gotta be a record for the longest someone can be embarrassed about something.” He says, grinning widely. “I love it.”

Wow , you all suck as much as Lance. I didn’t think it was possible.” Keith says, in his typical dry, teasing voice. But Lance recognizes it as happiness; and he swears the he sees Keith’s face almost , just barely , crack into a small smile.