Chapter 1: Pining
Words were, admittedly, not Keith’s greatest strength. Give him a paint palette and a blank canvas and he could talk for days using just colors alone, tell stories with brushstrokes. But a blank, college-ruled sheet of paper and a pencil? Useless to him. He could get by when writing research papers or an e-mail to a teacher, that wasn’t a big deal. It was anything that required the level of elegance necessary to make people want to read your writing that he struggled with.
So on a daily basis, he asked himself, Why the fuck did you sign up for a creative writing class?
It had seemed like a good idea at the time - two thirty in the morning when his procrastinating ass finally got around to enrolling - but now he was strongly considering withdrawing with what little dignity he had left.
Well, he would be, if it weren’t for that annoying smirk taunting him from his right. That stupid, obnoxious, gorgeous smirk that somehow ended up on every page of his sketchbook at least once. Keith was many things - stubborn, determined, impulsive - but the one thing he could almost definitively say he was, without question, was gay. And that had never even remotely seemed like an issue until now. No, him being gay had always felt like one of the best things about himself - hell yeah he liked boys - but at the moment? With Lance McClain and his stupid, pretty face sitting right next to him? It seemed like the biggest problem in the world.
They’d been ‘rivals’ since high school, though Keith couldn’t figure out why. It pissed him off to no end, and instead of maybe asking Lance why he hated him so much, or trying his best to apologize for whatever he might’ve done, Keith’s stubborn ass decided ‘fuck it, let’s play along’ and thus, their ridiculously drawn out rivalry had begun.
Keith knew Lance was an English major, just like he knew Lance’s favorite color was cerulean blue, he’d dreamt of being an astronaut, and that his birthday was July 28th. (He only knew these things because naturally, one tends to find these things out about their rivals. Don’t look at him like that.) He also could be fairly sure that since Lance was an English major, he’d be taking English classes. So, again, why had he thought creative writing was a good idea?
Because his two-thirty-in-the-morning brain found out from Pidge that that’s the class Lance was taking this semester and Keith, ever unable and/or unwilling to fight his impulses, didn’t think twice before signing the fuck up. Because that’s what you do when you’re someone’s rival, apparently - you put yourself in dumb situations just to see their dumb face.
And the best part was that Keith couldn’t even back out now! Because Lance had already taunted him and bragged about how he was going to get a better grade than Keith! Which, while definitely true, was a challenge in disguise and Keith would be damned if he was gonna turn that down and let Lance win by default. Did his ever increasingly gay thoughts have a part in his decision? Probably (absolutely) but that was besides the point. Keith couldn’t write for shit and unless a miracle happened, he’d set himself up to fail this class AND hand-deliver what pride he had left to his rival, all tied up with a bow. All to see his dumb face.
Once Pidge put two-and-two together, they were never gonna let him live this down.
Oh, and even better than all of that? Keith hadn’t even had to take the stupid class to see Lance. He found that out about two weeks into the semester in life drawing when Lance had walked through the door of the art studio and announced that he would be modeling in place of Allura - apparently his older cousin? - who was too busy with her job and thesis to do it this semester. And the smirk he had given Keith… How could someone be equal parts devilishly infuriating and devastatingly attractive like that? It wasn’t fair.
Keith had briefly considered talking to Coran after class, to implore him to find a different model, but he realized quickly that it wouldn’t work. Lance and Coran got along swimmingly. In fact, Coran said that he’d be pleased if Lance could come back and model next semester, too!
And though he’d never, ever say it out loud, Keith didn’t actually want another model. Once he’d finally sat down, swallowed his hesitation and pride, and started drawing Lance… Lord have mercy on his soul, there was no going back. Having no choice but to study Lance’s tan features, Keith found himself drowning in how overwhelmingly beautiful he was. The gentle curve of his lips, the upward turn of his nose, the soft brown curls brushing his freckle-splattered cheeks - he wanted to capture every minute detail perfectly. Lance was so easy to draw, the kind of easy that made you never want to stop.
It didn’t help that Keith had chosen an almost back-lit angle to work from. In the dim room, the bright light highlighted Lance’s sharp features and softened them, bathing him in a warm glow.
God, why did he choose that angle?
Now he was trapped in this stupid writing class he knew he wasn’t going to pass, drowning in too many colorful words and listening to Lance’s too-beautiful-blue voice humming quietly while they worked. How was he supposed to focus and write anything when the living embodiment of azure was sitting less than two feet away?
Keith huffed, brow furrowing as he picked up his pencil. Fuck it, the sooner I get it done, the sooner I can do literally anything else. It doesn’t even have to be good. Just do it. And instead of anything that could even begin to be classified as worthy of being turned in, he scratched out a half-assed ‘poetic prose’ while trying not to think about anyone- any thing else. Keith’s fascination of the week was making itself out to be the constellation-like freckles dotting Lance’s cheeks, the way they dipped and shifted when he smiled or spoke. His dimples are so cute…
I hate him. Keith’s brows furrowed in frustration as he forced himself to accept that in reality, it was the other way around. Okay, so I don’t. I just wish I did. Lance was obnoxious, way too talkative, overconfident, impulsive, overdramatic, and too energetic.
But he was also funny, compassionate and passionate, determined, diligent, smarter than he acted, too cute for his own good, and pushed Keith to be better. He made Keith better, whether he realized it or not; and every time he found himself thinking about how much he’d changed because of Lance, a warmth would kick up in his chest and spread out to his fingers and toes, making his skin tingle with the want to hug him and hold his hand and say ‘thank you’ in all the ways his mouth couldn’t.
When they’d met, he’d been considering dropping out of high school. He’d get into fights every other week because of the testosterone, was failing classes because he was too absorbed in everything else in his life to care, and genuinely couldn’t find a scrap of motivation within himself to do much of anything other than argue. Then Lance had come along like the sun, like a bonfire in winter, burning through the mess in his mind and lighting him up for the first time in months. That stupid smirk had infuriated him at first, made him want to crush it into the ground, but the longer they’d argued and placed bets and challenged each other to stupid things, the more Keith realized it was… well, fun. He finally had an outlet for all of his aggression, and it was a positive one, at that. His grades shot back up as he raced against Lance to the top of the class, and he spent so much time studying to beat him that he no longer had time to worry, to fight, to argue. It was, in retrospect, the best distraction he could’ve asked for.
Lance would never know that, though. Keith had made a handful of passive attempts to shuck off the pretense of rivalry and bridge the gap to friendship, but Lance had always kept his distance and they’d always fall back into that same routine. Oh, how Keith fell. Through all the pain of rejection, through all the anxiety of life, through all the lows and the highs, Lance was the one constant in Keith’s life that didn’t demand anything more than he could give.
If Lance wanted, he could reach out and take Keith’s heart straight out of his chest and Keith would say ‘thank you’. Lance would never do that, and Keith knew that, but he’d lost track of how many times he’d laid awake at night pining for his rival. How many girlfriends had he had now? Did it matter? It was more than Keith cared to think about.
He couldn’t fathom what would ever make them break up with Lance, but almost all of them had been the ones to end it, and every time Lance would seek Keith out like a stress-relieving emotional punching bag and let out all of his frustrations and pain through a good old game of ‘I’m better at this than you’. It probably wasn’t the best way to process his feelings, but Keith could relate. He did it, too. Rare as it was for Keith to be the one to initiate a challenge, it happened none-the-less. Every time, Lance would give him that too-concerned look and Keith could see the questions burning at the tip of his tongue, nearly begged him to ask ‘what’s wrong?’ – but neither of them ever crossed that boundary. Instead, Lance would just push Keith as hard as he needed to for Keith to forget why he was upset in the first place.
Their rivalry was bordering on co-dependent, and Keith had a love hate relationship with it. On the one hand, he got all of his crush’s attention on a regular basis. On the other hand, said crush would never fall for him. Oh, that burns. Let’s not go there.
If he could just-
His train of thought screeched to a halt as he turned to where Lance was watching him, cheek in his palm, with questioning eyes. “Hmm?”
“You were real deep in thought. Had this grumpy look on your face.” Lance tried to mimic it, prompting a small smile from the shorter boy. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, just… thinking.”
“Aight, cool, ‘cause teach’ said we gotta trade assignments and peer evaluate.”
Oh fuck. “Uh…..” Lance started to reach for his page, and Keith self-consciously shuffled it further away. “Can’t you ask, like, someone else?”
Lance’s brow furrowed in irritation and he rolled his eyes. “Everyone else already has a partner. C’mon, dude, it’s just one assignment. You can put up with talking to me for, what, five minutes?” Keith didn’t like the sort of… sad twinge to Lance’s voice, but didn’t get a chance to ask about it before Lance was launching off again, rambling like usual. “Besides, it’s not like you’re not frickin’ perfect at everything you do. Your paper can’t be that bad.”
Keith’s dark eyes widened as a faint blush met his cheeks. Lance carefully averted his eyes, a soft pink tint to his own cheeks, and passed his paper across the space between them. “Let’s just get this over with, yeah?”
Just do it and deal with the consequences later. “Fine,” he grumbled, taking Lance’s paper and shoving his over without looking. How fucking embarrassing was it gonna be to have his literal rival-crush-thing read his awful attempt at love poetry? He could already hear Lance’s amused snorts and barely-repressed laughter echoing in his head.
‘Eyes like the night sky
Yet fire within breath
The sound of crimson dances upon
I find myself drifting up toward
That turning sky
Found within the gaze and air
Of a rivaled breath
I wonder within the midst of nearly ending day
Do I appear within your thoughts as well?
Torturous, fiery warmth
The coldness of touch melts within the cracks
Of unknowing gazes’
His eyes drifted down the page, gaze dragging over each word, transfixed. Lance… was a surprisingly good writer? Well, not surprising since he was an English major, but this… was way more romantic and beautiful than anything Keith could have prepared himself for. He felt himself falling in love just reading it.
Whoever this was about… a jealous pang shot through his heart and he felt tears prick at his eyes.
There was no way in hell he’d ever have a chance with Lance. Not with how deeply in love with this person he clearly was. She’s probably everything he could ever want. Keith’s heart constricted painfully and he found himself gripped with the sudden urge to run, to get as far from this stupid, unnecessary class as he could. His eyes stung and his vision grew blurry before he wrenched himself from his thoughts and passed the sheet back to Lance, barely looking at him.
His own paper was returned to him and he made the mistake of glancing up in surprise. Lance’s bright eyes were filled with smug amusement and Keith felt his blood begin to boil, pain melting over into anger. Anger was so much easier to process. “Why are you laughing?”
“Why are you in a writing class?”
Keith grimaced, embarrassment flooding his thoughts and scrambling his nerves. His hands trembled as he quickly shoved his things into his backpack. “Whatever. Your poem was fantastic, Lance,” he bit out harshly, standing and throwing his bag over his shoulder. “Have a great fucking day.”
He felt the other students’ eyes on him as he headed for the door, knew he was causing a scene but he couldn’t help himself. He’d be damned if he was coming back to that stupid class. Maybe it wasn’t too late for a refund.
“Keith, wait!” Lance’s voice called out to him but he brushed it off, letting the door slam behind him as he shoved his hands into his pockets and made his way down the halls and out to his bike. And of course, the weather couldn’t cater to the dreadful feeling in his gut and instead of the rain he’d hoped for, a dreary ambience to suit his mood, the sun was shining brightly and the air was dry. So bitter was he, he almost imagined the world was mocking him.
The engine of his bike revved and he shot out of the parking lot with a furious growl. Cars flew by and he pushed the legal limits of speed and the wind dragged against his helmet, flowing under and around his jacket and shirt and providing some relief from the uncomfortable heat in his chest. His eyes burned, his skin burned, it felt like his heart was even burning - an inferno raging forth from scalding rejection.
Stoplights came and went, city corners shifted with every turn, and buildings dwindled in size and frequency as he headed for the outskirts of town.
As patiently as he could, he waited until he made it out to an old abandoned lot to run angry donuts into the ground. Dirt kicked up around him in clouds, the wind whipping around him as the rest of the world faded behind the thrum of the engine beneath him and vibrating through his bones.
Out here, he could almost imagine nothing else existed. He could pretend he wasn’t painfully aware of how much he wanted Lance to like him back, could pretend they didn’t have some stupid rivalry built on a platform of petty challenges and teasing smirks. His knuckles turned white with the force of his grip and he slowed to a stop, yanking his helmet off and killing the engine.
A thin sheen of sweat lined the back of his neck, cooling as it was exposed to the breeze and helping bring his temper down. His hands shook as he propped the kickstand out. His knees felt like jello as he took the necessary steps to get to a small, shaded patch of grass. His chest ached as he finally dropped to the ground, brought his knees up to his chest, and let himself tear up. He distracted himself from crying by ripping grass out of the ground, taking deep breaths of the fresh air and half-listening to the birds tweeting around him. The ground felt real and rough under his palms, helping to center him, focus his thoughts, process the important bits.
He liked Lance.
He really liked Lance.
Lance didn’t like him like that, barely liked him as a friend.
Lance was in love with someone, and they sounded amazing.
Lance was not in love with Keith.
He bit his lip and curled in on himself, letting the thickness in his throat win and feeling the tears finally begin to fall.
When he finally got home, his irritation had deflated and crumbled into an annoying feeling of self-hatred and Keith begged Shiro for a distraction, going so far as to ask his brother about how his law studies were going.
“Something must really be bothering you,” Shiro commented with a furrowed brow.
“Look, as great as it is that you care, I really don’t wanna talk about it.” Keith waved him off, shoving himself off the couch and crossing into the kitchen in the hopes that something in there would help get rid of the bitter taste in his mouth. He found a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream that could only be Shiro’s and smuggled it into his room, carefully avoiding the disapproving look he’d no doubt receive for 1.) stealing Shiro’s ice cream (he’d buy him more) and 2.) eating ice cream even though he was lactose intolerant. It’s not like it’s gonna kill me. In fact, the self-destructive part of himself hoped the pain and nausea that would possibly plague him would provide the distraction he craved.
And god, was it worth it.
A knock sounded on his door. “Keith? I’m heading out to get Coney Island. You want anything?”
He swallowed the ice cream in his mouth and rested the spoon against his bottom lip. “Chili cheese fries?”
“…Do chili cheese fries go well with mint chocolate chip ice cream?” Keith flinched, watching the door with wide eyes. “We’ll talk when I get home, okay?” He phrased it like a question, but his ‘big bro voice’ said he wasn’t asking.
Footsteps made it halfway down the hall before they were back at his door, the handle turning as Shiro pushed it open. “And gimme the ice cream back. Cheese is gonna be more than enough dairy and I’m not driving you to the hospital again if you start throwing up.” Rolling his eyes, Keith pressed the lid back onto the ice cream and tossed it and the spoon across his room to where Shiro caught them deftly. With a satisfied grin, he said, “I’ll be back in a bit,” and pulled the door shut behind him.
And from then until Shiro returned Keith buried himself in his blankets and wallowed, anger running out and leaving an empty sort of misery behind. He played with his fingers, fidgeting as anxiety pulsed in his gut and clawed at his chest. Despite how hard he fought it, those dark blue eyes lingered in the forefront of his mind, the sound of his laugh and the brilliance of his smile sending a complex tangle of emotions straight through Keith’s heart and lighting him up with a fire that singed his edges. He curled himself around his pillow and swallowed the embarrassment that stubbornly refused to let go of him.
There was no way in hell he was going back to that class. Not in a million years.
If Keith thought seeing Lance on the regular and having to suppress his pining was awful, not seeing him was so much worse. Only two weeks had passed and he knew he’d have to go back eventually, but he couldn’t bring himself to go. Not yet. He just… needed more time.
Feeling more zombie-like than usual and running on far less sleep than was preferable, Keith pushed through the door of his portrait drawing class at the last minute. Professor Coran had just started taking attendance and shot Keith a borderline-reproachful look that was ruined by the quirk of a smile under his mustache. “Just in time, Mr. Kogane.” Keith half-smiled as he took his seat on the far side of the room, pulling out his sketchbook to doodle until class started.
He let himself get lost in his scribbles, only stirring from his thoughts when Coran called the class to grab their easels and start setting up. His sketchbook closed with a hushed thump and he grabbed his charcoal and chamois, pushing himself to stand and reacquainting himself with his surroundings.
Keith tried his hardest to keep moving towards his easel, to not trip over his own, as he made a half-second of eye contact with a smiling Lance who was chatting amiably with a small group of students by the front of the room. His dark blue eyes glanced away quickly and a heavy weight dropped into Keith’s stomach. Oh, fuck me, why is he here? We weren’t supposed to be doing portraitures again until two weeks from now.
Focus, focus, focus. This isn’t that bad. You don’t know why he’s here, he’s probably just flirting with Ceresa before class really starts and then he’ll leave, right? Yeah. Good. That’ll give me two more weeks to… work something else out.
Lance didn’t leave. In fact, he took a seat in the chair up on the raised platform in the center of the room, dead in the spotlight, and made himself comfortable. Well, as comfortable as he could get. There was a certain amount of stiffness and hesitation in how he held himself. Either way… Oh no.
“Class! Attention, please!” Coran called excitedly, stepping up beside Lance. Keith’s stomach was half in his throat and half through the floor. “Unfortunately, it was brought to my attention that the original plan I’d had for us these next two weeks is actually illegal. In light of this, I called in Lance once more so that we might practice alternate angles and really get a feel for his features!” He motioned to the Cuban boy behind him, who shot finger guns at the girls in the class and pointedly avoided looking at Keith, which left a sour taste in his mouth. He could feel himself glaring already, blood starting to burn. “Now, get your easels set up when you find the new angle you want and get to work using the principles I’ve taught you! Remember, luminescence in the shading! Chiaroscuro!”
Keith’s brow furrowed as the rest of the class began to move around him. Now wasn’t the time to focus on some petty rivalry and hurtful words, he had an assignment to get done and the sooner it was done, the sooner he could turn it in and leave. Finally, he folded up his easel and began to move, walking slowly around the other students and analyzing Lance’s features from every angle he passed.
He’d never admit it, but he’d drawn Lance many different ways, from many different perspectives. His favorite angle was his profile. His sharp nose, soft lips, and long eyelashes were accented, and in this instance, it meant Lance couldn’t so obviously ignore him through the whole class. It’d be more subtle like that. But Keith had chosen a backlit profile view last time, and thus left himself having to find other options. So Keith considered the many ways he could draw Lance’s face, and determined that the well-illuminated side at a ¾ view was more interesting to look at than anything else. His skin all but glowed and the contrast was surprisingly pleasing, the reflected light more obvious where the core shadow faded, and the light was cast sharply on the slight upward curve of his nose and his bottom lip. Keith felt compelled to capture it as accurately as he could.
Coran made a comment about how interesting Keith’s choice of angle was as he passed, but Keith was already way too focused to respond. When his right brain turned on, his mouth turned off, and that was always a good thing.
God, up close like this with the light cast on Lance’s face, Keith could really take in and admire every inch of Lance’s complexion. Not only was he a sucker for skin, he was a sucker for details and Lance’s face was nothing but. Every inch of it had something of note to look at, from his freckles to his ocean blue eyes to the expressive quirk of his eyebrows.
The sharp lines of his jaw caught the light bouncing up off the floor perfectly, tinting it a light blue that made Keith wish they were working with pastels instead of charcoal. Blue looked so good against Lance’s skin tone…
When he finally got to his hair, Keith used a gentle touch to blend his strokes, giving it the proper appearance of silk, making it look as soft as he was sure it felt.
He stepped back to double check his work against Lance’s actual face and felt half tempted to turn it in early and get the hell out. But Coran knew how much effort Keith was capable of putting into it and Keith knew he’d disappoint his favorite teacher if he dipped without giving his assignment the attention it was due.
Not to mention, the stray hairs dancing on Lance’s neck were calling his gaze.
Keith ended up still being the first to leave, finally wrapping up and turning in his page before gathering all of his supplies into his bag and leaving without a sound. The dim room was quiet and while he loved the atmosphere, it felt tense and Keith was NOT about that.
And yet his hands were itching to start another portrait of Lance. Frustrated, he clenched and unclenched his fists in an attempt to relax himself. Pining hopelessly for someone who didn’t give him a second thought wasn’t productive, and if he gave in and let himself keep drawing Lance he was afraid he’d never stop. Not that he was even sure he could at this point.
Shiro greeted him with a smile when he got back, sitting cross-legged on the floor with a cup of coffee and his tablet. “How was school?”
“Hell.” Keith sighed, dropping his bag on the floor and toeing his shoes off. “Why are you on the floor?” He motioned to the couch pressed against the wall. “The couch is right there.”
After taking a small sip from his coffee and swiping something away on his tablet, Shiro said, “Sometimes you just gotta sit on the floor, Keith.”
And, with a shrug, Keith decided to join him. Except Keith laid face first in the carpet, half-curling up on himself as a wave of exhaustion hit him. He hadn’t been sleeping well as of late and it was taking its toll on him. Not to mention, he had an early shift the next day and he needed to conserve energy if he so much as wanted a prayer of surviving it.
Shiro took another sip of his coffee before Keith sat up and snagged the mug from him, taking a sip of his own. The slightly bitter taste hit his tongue in a rush of warmth and sent a chill down his spine. “That was mine,” Shiro complained, giving Keith a look.
“Still is. I just wanted the sip,” Keith said with a smirk, handing the mug back.
Shiro eyed it warily, glanced at Keith, then back at his coffee. Half-shrugging, he downed the rest and set the empty mug on the table behind him.
They sat in companionable silence for a long while. When Shiro finally decided to get up and stretch his legs, he noticed Keith had fallen asleep and ruffled the smaller boy’s hair with a soft smile.
Lance knew he fucked up as soon as the words left his mouth. It hurt to say, he could only imagine how it felt to hear. “Wait, Keith!” But Keith was already gone, as was completely fair. If he were Keith, he wouldn’t wanna be around Lance any longer, either.
His thoughts spiraled from there, jumping from worry to worry and settling at last on the ‘realization’ that the reason Keith had been so quiet after reading his poem was that he’d seen right through the subtlety and known who it had been written about.
A thick feeling swelled in Lance’s throat and he frantically texted Hunk to meet him at the nearest café, then packed his things and left in the opposite direction that Keith had gone. He fidgeted with the loose threads in his pocket while he walked, eyes downcast as he repeated what he’d said over and over in his head, saw Keith’s eyes widen in hurt and then narrow defensively on a loop. What the fuck. Why did I say that? Why do I always do this?! He already didn’t like me, now I wouldn’t be surprised if he never wanted to see me again.
He wanted to scream. He wanted to throw up. He wanted…
He wanted Keith.
Their relationship, rivalry, whatever wasn’t exactly healthy but god was it therapeutic when he needed it. Words were easy on paper, but some things were far too abstract for that. And right now, he really needed that distraction.
Hunk waved him down from a table in the corner of the small campus café, already set up with his laptop and two drinks. He was the picture of calm and Lance latched onto his energy like a damn leech, not caring in the slightest how clingy he may seem. The café was tiny and yet still too far to walk and he slumped down onto the bench, immediately falling into his best friend and whining pitifully. “What’d you do this time?”
“I shoved my entire fucking foot down my throat is what I did.”
Hunk snorted, typing out the next line on his essay and giving Lance a sideways look. “Yeah, but I mean how?” Lance turned and buried his face further into Hunk’s shirt, fiddling with the seams. “Lance.”
With a sigh, he pulled away to grab the white chocolate mocha sitting untouched beside Hunk’s caramel-hazelnut latte and took a cautious sip, smiling slightly when it didn’t singe his tongue. “Okay, so… my anxiety’s been pretty bad since I woke up. Which means I’ve been in a weird mood. On edge. Testy, you could say-.”
Hunk chuckled. “Stop stalling.”
Lance shot Hunk a pout and sipped his mocha again. “Let me tell my story.” Hunk pulled his drink up to his lips, using the lid to hide his smirk, and nodded for Lance to continue. “As I was saying, I’ve been weird all day. And so I get to class, and Keith- he- his hair was in a ponytail, Hunk. A fuckin’ ponytail. What am I supposed to do with that?” He huffed and smacked his hands over his warm cheeks in frustration. “So then the teacher’s all like ‘Today, I want you all to take most of the class period to write about what’s on your mind!’ And half way through writing, she stops us to tell us she wants us to do a peer review.” Hunk’s all but grinning at his impersonation of his English teacher. “Peer review, Hunk! Because she hates me and wants me to suffer!”
“I doubt that’s why.”
“So you know what my dumb ass did?”
While sympathetic of his best friend’s plight, Hunk’s on the verge of laughing at Lance’s animated antics. “What did your dumb ass do?” he asks, bemused.
“I wrote my entire poem about Keith. And Keith’s the only person who sits next to me in the back of the room. And if you think I’m gonna cross the classroom and be painfully obvious that I don’t want Keith to read it then you’re out of your mind. So I hand the poem to Keith - who was totally zoning out with the cutest look on his face by the way – and he hands me his paper, and the entire time I’m praying to every god I’ve ever heard of that he won’t know it’s about him.”
“Did he know?”
Lance sighed, took a moment to chug about a quarter of his mocha, then pressed a hand over his mouth. “I don’t know. I don’t know, Hunk, but I read his paper, and it was actually pretty good, and I panicked when he was dead silent after reading mine – he had this weird look on his face, I don’t know – so I started laughing really nervously.”
Realization slowly starts creeping across Hunk’s face and the humor fades. “Please tell me you didn’t…”
“He asked me why I was laughing! And my dumb ass asks him, ‘Why are you in a creative writing class?’” Hunk gives him the most shocked, borderline scandalized look and Lance feels the embarrassment and horror wash over him all over again. “I did that! I don’t even know why! I knew he was nervous about having me read it, I mean he’s literally told me he hates writing and thinks he sucks at it. And then I said that of all things. And the look on his face… Fuck…” Lance’s head is in his hands, mocha pushed to the side, and the downward tilt of his lips, just barely visible, pulls at Hunk’s heart. He quietly closes his laptop and sets a gentle hand on Lance’s back, rubbing softly over the cotton texture of his shirt. “What do I do?” he asked sadly, moving his hands away from his face and looking at Hunk with wide, sad eyes. “I’m really scared he hates me now.”
Hunk sighed, glancing around the café while he tried to gather his best advice. Shay, the main barista behind the counter, shot him a small, shy smile and he gave her one in return, reflecting on their steadily growing relationship and trying to find some sort of guidance. “Communication is always the biggest thing,” he starts, turning back to Lance resolutely. “Making sure you’re both on the same page, whether that be in a relationship, a friendship, what have you. And sucking it up and apologizing is part of communicating. I’m gonna be honest, dude. You fucked up. I’d be pretty pissed if I was in Keith’s place. But we’ve both known him for years, and while your rose-tinted glasses don’t always see him clearly, I’ve been blessed to not have that problem, and I can tell you confidently that while Keith has a temper, he’s also one of the more forgiving people I’ve met in my life. Remember that one time in gym, senior year, when you accidentally nailed him the face with a basketball and gave him the worst bloody nose? He was pissed, genuinely so, and I thought he was gonna hold a grudge until graduation. But the very next day he showed up to class with a smirk, promised to get you back for it, and you guys got right back into your routine.” Hunk frowned. “Admittedly, emotional matters hurt quite a bit more and grudges over things like that hold for longer, but I think I have a pretty decent grasp of Keith’s personality, and I’m almost positive you’ll be back to where you were by the end of the month. You just have to actually talk to him and apologize.”
He expected Lance to whine, to complain about how hard talking was and how much he didn’t want to, but a veil of determination settled over his eyes and he gave Hunk a sharp nod. “You’re right. I will.”
Huh. “You really like him, don’t you?”
A bright blush washed over Lance’s cheeks as he yanked his mocha back up to his lips and pointedly avoided Hunk’s searching gaze. “Shut up.”
Keith didn’t show up to the next class, or the one after, or the one after that, and boy was Lance feeling worse by the day. He was thankful, because he still wasn’t quite sure what he was going to say to Keith or if Keith would even accept his apology, but going almost two weeks without seeing him was far worse than he’d ever anticipated it could be.
He couldn’t focus anymore (not that he really could in the first place). All he could think about during class time was Keith’s dark eyes, his soft black hair, the pull of his cheeks when he’d smile, how he’d casually stretch out in his seat in just the most attractive way, pulling his gloved hands behind his head and letting his long, dark eyelashes flutter against his pale cheeks in stark contrast. Keith liked to ‘rest his eyes’ in class a lot, and it gave Lance an excessive amount of chances to admire his features.
Lance, stop being uselessly gay and get your writing done.
So he wrote about Keith. Started filling pages with all the reasons he liked him, all the things he liked about him. From his eyes to his laugh to his resolute determination to his quietness, Lance wrote about it all and slowly began to realize just how bad he had it.
And every time he’d glance up to his left to gaze at Keith fondly, his chest squeezed painfully at the absence – the absence he’d caused.
Coran called about halfway into the second week, and Lance momentarily felt like there was a God and he’d heard his prayers. “Of course I’ll model for your class again! You’re my main man, Coran!” Not to mention Keith looked so damn cute last time I modeled and he had to draw me. Lance lost himself in thinking about how Keith’s little tongue poked out when he focused enough, just barely being mentally aware enough to say goodbye and hang up like a normal person.
Those two class periods had been the best of his college life so far. The artsy girls were cute and all, and he loved flirting with them, but the little sly smiles Keith would give him whenever he noticed Lance staring in his direction, the way he’d look away quickly and just barely bite his lip when Lance jokingly winked… Hell yeah he’d model again.
Shit, I still don’t know what to say to Keith. This is fine. No, yeah, this is fine. I’ve still got, what, four days? That’s plenty of time.
It was not, in fact, ‘plenty of time’. Come the morning of the class Lance would return to modeling in, he stared himself down in the bathroom mirror and tried desperately to think of words to save his ass. C’mon, Lance, you’re an English major, for fucks’ sake. This is your thing! Work your magic!
He arrived to the classroom five minutes late with a hammering heart and a whole lot of nothing in terms of apologies. And you might be thinking, ‘just say sorry, it’s not that hard, right?’ Wrong. Very wrong. Well, okay, no, not wrong. It is that simple. But this is Lance we’re talking about, and his sense of pride and awkward inability to admit when he’s wrong were very much stopping him from just resolving the situation.
And, oh, when Keith was hunched over a sketchbook, long black bangs falling over his face and hair pulled back into a short ponytail, that look of intense concentration pulling at his eyebrows and lips… Lance had always leaned more towards girls on the ‘bisexual’ spectrum - not denying his attraction to guys or anything, chicks were just a general preference - but he leaned more towards Keith than he ever had anyone else. And, you know, he really did wanna be Keith’s friend. It was just increasingly difficult when he kept doing such attractive stuff! Pulling his hair back, wearing those damn fingerless gloves, the tight jeans, the stretched ears – all of it made Lance weak. How was he supposed to just be a friend when all he wanted to do was draw Keith in by his beautiful hips and kiss his beautiful face and tangle his hands in his beautiful hair?
The memory of the pained look on his face shook him from his daydream.
You can do this, Lance. Just say you’re sorry.
“Hi! Lance, right?” Lance found himself almost blatantly ignoring the girl who’d tried to strike up a conversation with him, but when he realized Keith was focused solely on his sketchbook and likely wouldn’t want to be interrupted, he figured he could spare some time to chat with a pretty girl.
You’re stalling, the voice in his head, which sounded peculiarly like Hunk, informed him.
So what if he was stalling? They had an entire class period to try and talk. Well, he had an entire class period to try and apologize. Speaking of, he let his gaze flicker over to where Keith was getting up and moving to his easel and nearly stumbled over his sentence when he locked eyes with a dark, tired gaze. Is he sleeping okay? He looks exhausted…
Keith glanced away quickly, and a sharp pain stung deep in Lance’s chest. I can’t do this. He totally hates me.
The damn-near crippling sense of rejection followed the sting in his chest with a punch to the gut and he fought the instincts in him telling him to lash out or cry or go home and never leave his bed again. This is your fault. Own up.
Lance knew he was beating himself up uselessly. He knew it was ADHD giving him difficulties with processing his emotions, making him feel so awful, but he couldn’t change it for now. All he could do was sit on the chair in the middle of the class, bright lights bearing down on him, and carefully avoid looking in Keith’s general direction lest he feel even more rejected.
It was awful. He was twitchy, his limbs couldn’t relax. All he wanted was to fidget with something or bounce his legs or laugh, but he was being paid to do exactly the opposite of those things. Lance just had to sit completely still… with nothing to do… and feel Keith’s eyes on him the whole time.
Which, surprisingly, went pretty quickly once he lost himself in daydreams about Star Wars that span on a multitude of tangents as he let his brain do its thing. His fingers tapped out a muted rhythm on his pants and he had about twenty trains of thought going, but he still managed to snap out of it just long enough to watch Keith turn in his assignment and all but rush out of the room.
Oh… Shit. Well. There goes that plan.
Not that Lance genuinely believed he was going to go through with it that day. He had an inkling from the moment he woke up that he was too chicken to do it; too ashamed and embarrassed and terrified to get confirmation that Keith never wanted to speak to him again.
He sighed, feeling his body relax ever so slightly now that his rival-crush-whatever was gone. It was officially a problem for another day, right? Just another hour of sitting still for the rest of the students to finish, then he’d meet Hunk and Pidge at the arcade and they’d spend the rest of the night messing around like kids and spending way more money than they should.
Except about half an hour before the end of class, Hunk texted him and let him know that his tutoring session was going to run over by about half an hour, and that Pidge was in the library with him still finishing up an essay.
L: Aight, that’s fine. I’ll come meet you guys
H: Uh, would you mind waiting? Pidge looks like she’ll kill the next person who interrupts her and if I get any distractions this is gonna take even longer.
L: I’m not a distraction!
Lance huffed, then relented and agreed to just wait.
Rain pattered against the windows and the hallways were loud and overwhelming with all of the squeaking shoes and chatter. “Coran, can I stay after class a bit?”
“Of course, my boy!” Coran was gathering the remaining assignments and waving students off as they filed out of the room, and Lance winked and shot finger guns at a couple of the cute girls who waved at him as they left, but he could tell they knew he just wasn’t feeling it.
Once the last stragglers had gone, Coran took a seat at his desk and Lance leaned against it, the two engaging in a simple conversation about the cost of classes and how teachers are just not paid enough, something they both agreed on. Lance was strongly considering teaching English with his degree, but it was so hard to fathom making as little as most of his professors seemed to. He loved the thought of inspiring kids to love reading like Hunk’s mom had for him, but he also quite liked the thought of being able to afford the things he needed and wanted.
He was in the middle of a sentence about how the rising costs of education were increasingly discouraging when one of the pieces Coran was grading caught his eye. He’d been casually admiring most of them, the small sense of vanity he held enjoying seeing himself copied onto paper from multiple flattering angles, but the drawing that captured his attention… it was beautiful. Stunning, even. He could tell that whoever had drawn it had taken excessive care to capture Lance as true to reality as possible, and then some.
Lance looked… well… gorgeous. The soft lighting, the gentle touch of the strokes, the delicacy of the way his eyelashes framed his eyes and the smoothness of his hair… He felt speechless. There was almost a painful amount of admiration poured into each mark on the page that he felt tears prick the corners of his eyes.
“Holy shit, Coran,” he breathed, twisting to lean over the desk more and study the picture closely. “Who… Who drew this?”
Lance barely even noticed the small smile on Coran’s lips, eyes still taking in every detail.
“Why, this would be the work of Mr. Keith Kogane.”
And just like that, Lance’s heart was lodged in his throat. He couldn’t believe… After what he’d said, the fact that Keith could still portray him so softly... I gotta fix this. Fuck it. I can’t lose his presence in my life over something so stupid. If he hated me, he wouldn’t have drawn me like the most beautiful masterpiece I’ve ever seen. Determination flared in him like a fire, licking at the lump in his throat and burning away any inhibitions he might’ve felt. He whipped out his phone and immediately started typing up a plan, a rough outline of all that he wanted to say so that he wouldn’t get brain fog in the middle of it all and mess it up. He had to do this right, had to make sure Keith knew he wasn’t a shit writer, that Lance was just a dumb ass and that he cared and that he was sorry for anything he may have ever said to make Keith think otherwise.
Because Lance was starting to realize that he… he might…
Thanks to all the reviews so far! I love you guys!
I edited the first chapter a SMIDGE to help with the pacing so if you reread you'll notice it but I didn't add anything important.