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white violet (let's take a chance on happiness)

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Lance walked into the flower store exactly five minutes before he should be meeting his date. He knew he was pushing it, that he shouldn’t be late, but honestly, this was the third date. This was... special, and flowers were necessary for the occasion. His eyes darted among the brightly coloured petals, searching for some human presence. Nothing. He was alone in the store, except for a low murmur from the back room.

Impatiently, Lance rapped his knuckles on the counter loudly.

“Just a second!” Came a loud voice from the back room before it lowered again, clearly excusing itself from the conversation. Lance was still looking around in wonder at the bright little shop. It looked like a big greenhouse filled to bursting with different-coloured flowers. Light spun in delicate shapes from the rounded glass ceiling through the leaves, patterning everything inside the store with a delicate golden web of sunlight.

“Hello.” The voice from before. “What can I get you?”

Lance turned to the salesperson and his first instinct was to reply ‘your number’ but no, he was about to go on a third date with the most gorgeous girl in town and he was not going to fuck this up by flirting with a random flower boy. Even if he was gorgeous, with his fierce violet eyes and long, dark hair. The mess his hair was in and the leaves sticking out just made him cuter.

 “Uuuuh...” Lance mentally kicked himself. “I need, um... flowers?”

The cute flower boy snorted, quite arrogantly. “Yeah, I gathered that much.”

Lance scowled, immediately less enamoured. “Yeah, um, for a date. What d’you have?”

The cute flower boy shrugged, obviously disinterested. “Well, roses are usually the go-to.”

Lance pursed his lips. A third date was a big deal, sure, but not that big a deal. “Not roses.” He decided. Flower Boy shrugged again. “How about carnations? They’re red, and pretty.”

Lance shook his head again, leaning in closer to read the flower boy’s nametag. “Keith.” He ignored the heat rising to his cheeks as he just said the name. “Nothing red. She’s more of a... yellow?” He considered, “yellow kind of gal.”

Keith shrugged. “I can get you some yellow tulips.”

Lance put all his charm into his smile. “That would be perfect.” He said smoothly. “Oh, and...” He leaned in closer, noticing smugly that Keith suddenly went very pink. He reached out to pick the leaf from Keith’s dark hair, tossing it aside without leaning back to put distance between them. “You have a leaf in your hair.” He breathed.

Keith flushed darker and slammed his palms on the counter, moving away with an abrupt speed Lance couldn’t help but be proud of. “I’ll get your tulips.” He muttered.

Lance smiled. Even if nothing was to come from flirting, that blush was really, really cute.

 

Nyma was gorgeous, practically glowing, and also very, very pissed. Lance winced as he rounded the street corner and caught sight of her furiously tapping at her phone as if she could somehow claw past the glass if she tried hard enough.

Lance carefully made his way over, holding the tulips he had bought before his face as a kind of shield, making sure she would see them before she saw him. Sure, they had been more expensive than expected so the bouquet wasn’t quite as impressive as he had hoped, but it was the thought that counted, right?

Lance remembered Keith’s glower as he took the tulips back, and how he had looked strangely smug past his anger. It was an expression Lance didn’t like, not at all. It made him feel small, and pathetic, as if those eyes somehow managed to summon up all his inner demons at once.

He reached Nyma, instantly apologetic and maybe exaggerating his panting just slightly. His regret was real, though. “Nyma!” He cried out, thrusting the tulips at her. “I’m so sorry I kept you waiting! The flower boy took ridiculously long. But, I got you these!”

A flurry of emotions crossed Nyma’s face at once, anger, surprise, pleasure, contempt. “You’re twenty minutes late.” She said coldly. Lance was still gasping, trying to catch his breath. “And I am so sorry for that. I’ll make it up to you.” He flashed her a grin, trying to load it with promise. She seemed pacified, and at least took the flowers.

“You look lovely today.” He smiled at her and offered his arm. “Shall we go in?”

The bar they had decided to meet at was called Bakku Gardens. It was a pleasant place, painted a light blue with strings of shells and fairy lights about the place. It looked harmless enough during the day, but in the evening, Lance knew all too well how it transformed: Moody purple lighting, loud, thumping music and dark corners you didn’t want to look too closely into.

“My ex-girlfriend always took me here.” Nyma mentioned offhandedly as they headed through the doors. “Uuuh... we can always go somewhere else?” Lance didn’t quite know how to respond. Nyma shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I like the place.”

There was a short silence. “Soooo....” Lance hated silences. “Ex-girlfriend, huh? Guess that’s yet another thing we have in common.”

Nyma raised an eyebrow, staring at him coolly. Lance flushed. He was usually a smooth talker, but Nyma was so... perfect, untouchable, and somehow he was going out with her... he was understandably nervous. “Bisexuality.” He said hurriedly to answer the unasked question and bridge the awkward silence. “We’re both bisexual.”

“Ah.” Nyma didn’t say more, but her lips quirked upwards, so Lance counted it as a success.

“Shall we order?”

 

“Nyma...” He gasped her name between kisses, shuddering at the feeling of her hands running up and down his back. “Nyma... we’re in the middle of the hallway.”

She snorted impatiently and quickly turned the key in the lock without looking, letting Lance into her apartment. The moment he was through the door she pulled him close again, dragging his shirt up and kissing him deep. He kissed her back fervently, letting his tongue dart to meet hers as his hands roamed her body.

He gasped as her hands met the bare skin of his stomach. She smiled. “You’re more muscular than you look.”

Lance gasped, a blush high on his cheeks. He couldn’t get in a reply before she was kissing him again. He was sure at this point that her lipstick was all over his face, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Her lips were soft, her tongue warm and quick and her body moving against his impatiently.

“Bedroom.” He gasped out as her hands teased low, low... She grabbed him by the belt and dragged him through a door, almost collapsing on the bed. He teased his fingers up her sides gently, letting his lips glide to her neck as he pulled her shirt up.

“This okay?” He asked, just to be sure, and she gave a sigh of pleasure as his hands caressed her sides.

“Yeah.” She sighed.

 

“It’s late.” Nyma whispered as Lance lay next to her, reaching out to pull her into his arms. Lance smiled lazily. “So come here and sleep.”

No, Lance.” She moved away, and Lance sat up, suddenly feeling very lost in this strange bed in a strange apartment. “No?” His confusion was entirely pretend. He knew what was happening, but it was easier to pretend he didn’t. Better that than face that she was kicking him out.

But then again, better leave now than face the humiliation of her having to give it to him straight.

“No.” She repeated. “You can’t stay.”

Okay, that hurt. “But, Nyma...”

She sighed and scrubbed her hands over her face tiredly. “Go home, Lance.” She said quietly, and Lance did, he stood up and gathered his clothes, patted his pockets for his wallet, and left without closing the bedroom door. Behind him, Nyma calmly cleared her own clothes from the ground as if this was an ordinary night, an ordinary goodbye. As if he was just some one-night stand. She didn’t even look after him.

As Lance left, he caught a glimpse of yellow.

His tulips, peeking out from under the lid of the kitchen garbage.

Lance pursed his lips tightly, and, shrugging on his jacket, pulled shut the apartment door behind him.

 

“And then she just kicked me out. We went on three dates! I thought we had a thing! I bought her flowers.”

“That sucks, man. I’m sorry.” His best friend’s voice was muffled from under the hood of the car he was tinkering with, but they had had this exact conversation so often Lance knew the replies by heart anyway. The only thing that changed was the names of his unsuccessful flings.

Hunk emerged from under the hood of the car, face streaked with grease and sympathetic as always. “You’ll find someone soon.” He promised. Lance sighed and rolled his eyes. Yeah, he knew that line too.

“When? I’m 22, and starting to get really, really impatient.”

Hunk shrugged. “Then just stop going out with anyone you lay eyes on.”

Lance pouted. “Well, one of them is sure to be the right one.” He replied with infallible logic. Hunk just rolled his eyes. Lance’s mind had already flitted away and right back to Nyma. “I thought it was going so well! I mean, why would she agree to a third date if she wasn’t interested in me?”

“Lance, you’re overreacting. She might be into you, but just didn’t want you to stay the night.” Hunk pointed out. Lance hated to admit he was right. “Really? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Lance crossed his arms but Hunk knew he was conceding that he had a point.

“Wait for her to text you.” He said gently. “Or text her yourself. Then you’ll know.”

“I don’t know...” Lance didn’t often feel this defeated. “She threw away my flowers.” His shoulders dropped. The pain was sharp and sudden from where it had been drawn up, half-forgotten. “I really hoped that... for once...” Hunk detected the change in his friends mood instantly and wiped his hands as he moved closer. Lance continued, trying to blink away tears.” I thought we might end up together. Fall in love.”

Hunk reached out and pulled Lance into a hug. Lance’s voice was low and scared. “I guess I just expect too much. Fall too fast.”

Hunk smiled as he ran a hand up and down Lance’s back. “Text her before you start being all dramatic. Maybe she just doesn’t like flowers.”

 

Lance stared at the phone in his hands, ran a finger along the small notches and scratches from when he’d dropped it. His heart was pounding, and he felt dizzy. For a moment he thought he’d forgotten his passcode.

Hunk was right, he tried to reassure himself. Maybe it was a misunderstanding. He had to text her, try to clear it up.

Before he could think too much about it, he unlocked his phone and typed a quick Hey, still thinking about that night ;)

He waited with bated breath in front of Hunk’s workshop. A green circle popped up next to Nyma’s profile, and the message signed read. And then she was gone. “Shit.” Lance muttered emphatically, kicking at a pebble before shoving his phone into his pocket and turning to head home.

His phone buzzed against his thigh and Lance had it in his hands immediately. The letters glowing at him from the screen were unfamiliar at first.

Lance we should talk.

That made his heart plummet. Sure, he typed back. He was glad she couldn’t see his face, or hear how his voice would crack should he have to say it out loud. Give me a time and place.

The reply was almost instantaneous.

Voltron Café. Tomorrow at 11am.

 

Lance had never been to Voltron Café, but he realized as Google Maps led him to the front door that he had been here before, this street. It took him another moment to realize why the quiet street with the flowershop and the cozy café made him think of angry purple eyes.

Cute flower boy.

Lance turned to the shop with wide eyes. Who would’ve thought that fate would bring him here again? He looked at the shop more carefully than he had last time. Altea Flowers, the sign said in large, curly writing. The shop was small, bright and looked like a small, steel-and-glass greenhouse. In front of it, flowers and potted plants spilled onto the sidewalk like a miniature, barely contained jungle. There was a woman watering some of the plants, tall and dark with long white hair and so pretty that Lance started wondering if beauty was a job requirement.

Beside him, someone cleared their throat. Lance whipped around. “Nyma!” The sight of her drove some kind of small, sharp pain through his heart, and they hadn’t even talked yet. She was gorgeous, as usual, and with that beauty came the sharp realization that Lance, being the stupid mess he was, had blown it. Completely.

“You look...” Lance swallowed down his own words and felt their sharp corners scrape his throat on the way down. “Should we go in?” He said instead. Nyma nodded. Lance looked after her as she walked through the door and realized he already missed her smile.

The café was small and cozy, with bookshelves full to bursting, bean bags and lots of hidden corners. It was exactly the type of café Lance liked and he was almost angry it was soon going to be ruined for him by whatever happened next.

They sat down at one of the tables, right by a window that looked out upon bright city. The window was framed by plants as well, and there was a small pot hanging down from the ceiling. Lance wondered if the owners had gotten all the plants from Altea.

“I’ll get us coffee.” He offered with a smile. Nyma nodded disinterestedly, already focused on her phone.

He ordered two coffees from the insanely hot barista, wondering briefly if maybe beauty was a job requirement for the entire street, and if so, if he was qualified. Then he cursed Nyma again for picking out this café of all places. He would’ve loved to come back just for this barista’s smile again, bright, polite and made even more brilliant by the scar cutting across his nose.

He felt like he was in a dream, like he had lost grasp of his emotions. He felt like he knew what was coming but had locked it away deep in his mind, like he had pushed it away somewhere so he could care less, like he was watching from outside his own body, paying and walking to his table automatically. Nyma looked up at him, and he felt numb. Numb as she put away her phone, took her coffee and started speaking.

“Thank you.”

The words echoed in Lance’s ears, waiting to be processed. “You’re welcome.” His tongue moved heavily.

Nyma pursed her purple lips. Lance noticed she had gotten lipstick on the cup. “I wanted to apologize."

“Oh.” Lance couldn’t process anything, couldn’t see where this was going.

“You’ve treated me really, really well. I’ve enjoyed spending time with you and you...” She smiled, lost in thought. “You’re sweet, really. We just both wanted different things.”

“You just wanted to fuck me.” Lance replied, empty, calm, not quite caring what he was saying. “I thought you might just want to take it slow before, when you kicked me out, but you’re here to get rid of me. You realized what I wanted and you’re throwing me away for the next guy willing to sleep with you.” Nyma’s eyes widened. “No, Lance, that’s not it...”

“Well, that’s what you did, isn’t it? When did you realize I was emotionally invested? When did you realize you had to fuck me and get out? When I didn’t sleep with you on the second date? When I bought you flowers?”

Nyma’s lips thinned to an angry line. “I don’t have to listen to this.”

“You’re right.” Lance didn’t know where his heartbreak over her had gone. “You don’t. You can leave.”

She still seemed to have more to say. “I don’t want a relationship right now. That’s all.”

Lance crossed his arms, not even knowing himself if his anger was faked. “Well, clearly, I do.”

“We just don’t want the same thing now, but...”

“What, I didn’t want to pretend to be emotionally invested and then throw you aside? Unfortunate.”

Nyma’s lips thinned again. “I thought we could keep seeing each other. Casually.”

“No.” Lance didn’t want to be used like that again. He had asked her, right at the beginning, what this was to her, and she had lied to him. He had thought they had been on the same page. “You can leave if you want.”

“Don’t mind if I do.” She got up, eyes flashing, curls bouncing as she turned and left the café, leaving behind a cup with purple lipstick on the rim and the echo of the chimes above the door long after she slammed it behind her.

Lance didn’t know how long he sat quietly, but it can’t have been long before someone appeared in the corner of his vision and pushed a large mug of cocoa in his direction, complete with cream and sprinkles. Lance looked up as the mystery person sat opposite him.

It was the hot barista from before, looking at him with warmth in his eyes and a soft smile. “It’s on the house.” He indicated the mug. “Rough break-up?”

Lance sighed, shuddered and accepted the drink thankfully. “You could say that. Not exactly a break-up though. Just a disappointing date.”

The hot barista winced in sympathy, and Lance realized he had probably heard every word. He flushed in embarrassment. “I’m Lance, by the way.” He introduced himself in an attempt to distract from his red cheeks.

The barista smiled and stuck out a prosthetic hand. “Shiro.” He said. “Welcome to Voltron.”

Chapter Text

“And then she walked out on me.” Lance concluded. Hunk grimaced in sympathy, pushing another beer towards his friend in answer. Lance took a generous swig. “She just used me for sex, in the end.”

“I mean, you do have a reputation.” Hunk supplied helpfully. On the other side of them, Pidge nodded over her gin tonic. “She was probably expecting you to be way less emotionally involved.”

Lance glared at her. “What, just because I date around I’m not allowed to want love?”

Pidge shrugged. “You’re easy and desperate, and she took advantage of that.”

“Wow, thanks.” Lance sighed, rolling the base of his beer against the countertop. He sighed. “You’re right, though.”

Pidge looked up angrily. “Lance. I’m kidding. You’re too soft for your own good and she was a douchebag who lied to you to get what she wanted.”

“Yeah.” Hunk agreed. “None of it is your fault. She took advantage of you.”

Lance smiled wetly. “Doesn’t change the fact that I’m desperate.”

Pidge snorted. “Who isn’t? Cheer up, Lance. There’s music, and dancing and we’re paying for all your alcohol. You won’t remember Nyma next week.”

Lance pouted. “I won’t forget her, Pidge! It was true love!”

“Whatever.” Pidge turned her attention towards the dancefloor as Hunk patted Lance on the back. “You didn’t know each other that long, Lance.”

“I’ll remember her forever.” Lance maintained sulkily, although he was already forgetting the tilt of her smile. Her pale skin... long fingers... dark hair... smug smirk... Lance shook his head violently as his thoughts of Nyma turned quickly, violently towards Keith and his stupid mullet, the leaf stuck in his messy hair. Fuck. He let out a groan as he rubbed his temples and finished up his beer. The look of sympathy Hunk shot him would have been appropriate on Lance’s deathbed.

“Is it that bad?” He asked. Lance decided not to tell him he was thinking of a cute flower boy with no interest in him. Or maybe guys in general. “Let’s get shots.” He said instead.

 

He woke up the next day with only a slight headache that might also come from sleeping on Pidge’s tiny, Pidge-sized couch. For a long moment, he stared up at the ceiling, contemplating. His mind was running wild with thoughts of Nyma, of Shiro, of Keith. He scrubbed a hand over his face and got up to make breakfast.

His neck ached as he got up to scavenge for food in the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, all he found was instant coffee and toast that had probably been in the back of the cupboard longer than he had been alive. Sighing, Lance settled at the kitchen table, fully ready to starve to death, perhaps while contemplating his endless romantic suffering some more.

“So, should we go shopping or get breakfast at a café?” Hunk sat down next to Lance and let his friend lean into him. Lance sighed. “Hunk, this is why you’re the cleverest of us all.”

Hunk just laughed in his deep, rumbling way and ran his hand through Lance’s hair. “I still have no idea why we crash at Pidge’s place. She doesn’t even have a bed. It’s just a mattress on the floor. Her bedframe is filled with cables.”

“Hmmm.” Lance wrapped his hands around his mug of instant coffee. Hunk yawned as he stole it, grimacing as he took a sip. “What’s your plan for today?”

Lance shrugged. “Heading back to Voltron Café. I promised Shiro I’d come back at one point so he knows I’m doing alright. At this point it’s just nice seeing him.”

“Shiro?”

“The hot barista? The one who came up to me willing to talk about my broken heart?”

Hunk nodded wisely. “Ah , your next crush.”

Lance laughed. “I don’t think I really have a chance with him, but...”

He thought back to Shiro’s dimpled smile, muscular arms and the way even his stiff, dull apron clung to his chest. They had talked for a while, long enough for Lance to almost forget Nyma.  He definitely didn’t have a chance, even if Shiro was kind and sweet and funny and they had hit it off immediately. Shiro seemed perfect. And Lance? Well, he definitely wasn’t. Most damningly for Lance’s chances, however, had been when Shiro’s co-worker walked in. Lance had barely caught a glimpse of a mop of light hair before it vanished behind the counter, shouting at Shiro that he would be “in the back room, call if there’s a customer.”

Shiro had blushed just at those words, immediately tripping over his own sentence as he turned back to Lance. “My... uh, my co-worker, Matt... uh, Matthew... he, he works here.” Lance raised an eyebrow suggestively as Shiro went red all the way up to his ears. Shiro’s blush crept down his neck, and Lance knew at that moment that no matter how cute that was, Shiro was off limits.

 

When he walked into Voltron Café, Shiro was at the counter talking to his co-worker. Lance couldn’t see more than a mop of brown hair before Shiro turned towards him with a wide smile. “Lance!” He called out. “Good to see you again!”

“Hey, Shiro.” Lance smiled as he sank down on one of the chairs at the counter. Shiro looked at him concernedly. “You look exhausted.”

Lance shrugged. “Didn’t sleep much. Nothing a nap won’t fix.”

Shiro smiled again as he pushed a mug of steaming coffee towards him. “I’m glad to see you’re coping.”

“Kind of coping.” Lance corrected. “It still sucks.”

Shiro winced in sympathy as behind him, a mop of curls materialized over his shoulder. “Are you flirting?” It was Shiro’s co-worker from before. Lance’s eyes widened in surprise and he coughed, coffee dribbling down his chin. Shiro’s co-worker looked like a taller, grown-up version of Pidge, complete with the same huge glasses. Shiro was blushing as he looked between them.

“Lance, this is Matt. Matt, Lance.”

Matt leaned in conspiratorially, stage-whispering to make sure Shiro heard nevertheless. “Is he flirting on the job again?” Shiro went even redder, and Lance snickered into his coffee. Matt shook his head. “This is the only place he can get people to talk to him ‘cause he’s a loser with no social life.”

Shiro gave a gasp of mock outrage as Matt laughed, a good deal louder than his teasing actually warranted. Lance cleared his throat. “Sorry, you look so much like a friend of mine... D’you know Pidge Gunderson?”

Matt’s eyebrows rose in recognition. “She’s calling herself Pidge Gunderson now?”

“That’s not her real name?”

“She’s my sister.” Matt said instead of answering the question. Shiro blinked in surprise. “You know Kat... Pidge?”

Lance nodded as Matt looked at him in exaggerated approval. “Lance, huh? I’ve heard terrible things about you.” He cracked a smile. “I’m a big fan.”

“Why, thank you.” Lance grinned. Matt patted Shiro on the shoulder before turning away. “Don’t corrupt this naive beefcake here! Have fun!”

Lance was torn between sympathy and amusement at how red Shiro went at that.

 

“Matt?” Pidge didn’t even look up from her computer. “Yeah, he’s a nerd.”

Lance had intercepted her at the library, buying her attention and her time with a cup of dark coffee. All around them, students were leaning over books, the sound of pens scratching and hushed whispers filling the stuffy air. It smelled of books and comfort.

He’d been back at Voltron Café quite a few times since then but Matt had never shown up again. Some mixture of shifts not coinciding, illness and just him being lazy, Shiro had said. And so, Lance was forced to turn to someone else for information on Shiro’s mysterious crush. And who better than aforementioned crush’s sister?

“He seems chill.” Lance attempted.

“Never said he wasn’t.” She scrunched her eyes up as she peered between her laptop screen and the huge book opened beside her.

“Is he gay?” Lance chanced. If anyone would know, it’d be Pidge, she always had her nose in others’ business.

Pidge glared up at him. “Bi as shit and absolutely off limits.”

Lance felt himself flush and put up his hands as if to defend himself. “No, it’s not... I’m not into him. Shiro... I’m pretty sure Shiro is.”

Pidge seemed relieved as she looked back at her book, seeming distracted. “Oh yeah, obviously. Shiro has a huge crush on him.”

“So?” Lance shifted his chair closer to her. He waggled his eyebrows in the way that never failed to make her laugh. “Should we chance a little matchmaking?”

Pidge looked up, frowning slightly as she took a sip of coffee. “He’s taken.”

“Oh, shit.”

Lance sat back in his chair, a forlorn expression crossing his face. Poor Shiro. “By whom?”

“Allura.” She spoke her name with admiration and quite possibly a small amount of fear. “She’s amazing. No idea how a nerd like Matt got with her.”

Lance shrugged. “Good in bed?”

Pidge pulled a face, picking up a book to hit his arm. Hard. “Gross! And not what I want to consider about my brother.” She levelled him with a glare of disapproval that made Lance wither. “Anyway,” she turned back to her books. “Allura is the owner of this flower shop right across from the café. That’s how Matt met...”

“The flower shop???” Lance interjected, eyes wide. Fate just would not let him catch a break lately. “Altea flowers?”

“That’s the one. You been there?” Pidge looked up at him and noted his beet red face. “Oh god,” she groaned. “Don’t tell me you want something with Allura. She’s completely out of your...”

“No!” Lance interrupted, then thought back. “Wait. Tall? Dark skin, white hair? Gorgeous?”

Pidge nodded, opening her mouth again, but Lance interrupted her with a shake of his head. “No. You’d think so, but no.”

Pidge snapped her mouth shut. “What aren’t you telling me?” Her eyes glinted fiercely behind her big, round glasses. Lance rubbed his neck awkwardly. “Nothing! I was there, like, once.” And haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

“Lance...”

Purple eyes... the way his fingers moved...

“Lance, you can’t pretend there isn’t anything.”

Dark hair... what would it feel like under his fingers?

“Lance, I’m your best friend!” Pidge poked him in the side. “Spill!”

“There’s a cute guy!” Lance threw his hands up in the air in frustration, glaring right back at Pidge. She went very quiet. “There’s a cute guy, okay? I saw him when I was still going out with Nyma and I haven’t...” Lance stopped and buried his face in his crossed arms. “I haven’t stopped thinking about him since, okay?” His voice was muffled. He felt a small, warm hand between his shoulder blades in Pidge’s attempt to be comforting.

“Why is that such a bad thing?” She chanced quietly.

Lance looked up at her. “He probably doesn’t remember me. Or even like guys.”

Pidge raised her eyebrows. “I think you’d be surprised.”

“Wait!” Lance realized in a flash and sat up, pulling Pidge towards him. His heart was racing. “You know him, right? You know his boss, you must know him?”

Pidge stared at him, obviously startled, trying to very carefully move out of his grip. “Keith? Not really.”

“Yes!” Lance decided to ignore the last part. “Keith! You know him!”

“No!” Pidge freed herself and turned back to her book. “I don’t really know him. Just that he’s a loner. A moody loner.” Lance sighed, shoulders slumping and Pidge looked up, assessing him. “And you have no chance with him, to be honest.”

Lance sighed again, slumping on the table as he decided to move on to a topic less painful for him. “Poor Shiro. Crushing on a guy in a relationship.”

“Oh, Matt is definitely into him.” Pidge pushed her glasses up her nose. Lance looked up, instantly alert. “But what about Allura?”

“Oh, she’s also into Shiro.” Pidge watched the emotions play across Lance’s face as he visibly tried to process the information. “They just don’t know how to broach the subject.”

“Huh.” Lance gazed into the distance, considering. Pidge rolled her eyes. “Lance, no.”

Lance pouted. “Pidge, this is what I was put on earth to do.”

“NO, Lance.”

He ignored her, grabbing his bag. “See you later, Pigeon!” He said, shooting her finger-guns as he got his jacket. “I have some match-making to do. And step one is meeting the last remaining partner!” He walked out of the library with a spring in his step and a plan in his mind. “Allura!”

 

He was only two minutes away from the library by the time he was reconsidering. It wasn’t about the awkwardness of walking up to a complete stranger and telling her his plans to get involved in her love life. That wasn’t exactly the most embarrassing thing he’d ever done, and he knew both Shiro and Matt so it wasn’t as if he was some rando.

No, it was the possibility of seeing Keith again that was putting him off. Or maybe it was just more of an encouragement? Lance didn’t know anymore, but the thought of Keith made his stomach swoop and something in his gut hurt. He rubbed his temples. Shit. It had been more than a month. And still Keith hadn’t left his mind. He’d never actually gone back to Altea. He’d seen Keith sometimes when he was meeting Shiro, or picking him up from work. Keith had been beautiful every time, watering flowers, reorganizing the display, just having a cigarette in front of the store. It had made Lance’s stomach twist and plummet. His heart feel like it was being squeezed between his ribs. Much like the way he was feeling now.

This was insane. This was stupid, idiotic, brainless. How could just one guy make him this scared? This distracted? This confused? Lance was used to being obsessed, or being in love. He wasn’t someone to spend much time without pursuing someone, or at least being interested. But this... this was scary.

Lance needed something. What, he didn’t know. Did he want to date the guy? Kiss him gently under the stars? Fuck him roughly into the mattress? Did he just want to forget him? He needed something. Closure, at least.

Lance fished his phone out of his pocket.

Hunk, he wrote. I can’t fucking do this.

Do what? His phone buzzed almost instantly with Hunk’s reply.

I’m going to ask out the flower boy.

This time it took longer. You go! Hunk wrote. A pause. The bus pulled up, the bus Lance knew would take him straight to the café. The flower shop. His heart was pounding. His shoes felt glued to the sidewalk. His phone buzzed with another text from Hunk.

Good luck.

Chapter Text

   The chime above the door rang lightly as Lance pushed into the warm, crowded flowershop. It was just as he had remembered, humid and light-filled, shafts of gold falling between the colourful blossoms.

He looked around, somewhat disappointed that, just like last time, Keith was nowhere to be seen. He had spent a good ten minutes in front of the shop, taking deep breaths and trying to psych himself up for this moment. He wasn’t usually the person to freak before asking someone out, but then again, he didn’t usually ask out people like Keith. And now all that for nothing? God, he at least hoped Keith was working.

He had to forcibly remind himself that he was actually here for Allura. But how could he think of that when Keith might be here? Keith and his tangled hair, the way he moved... Lance couldn’t help but watch him at work sometimes from his favourite seat in Voltron Café. The way Keith moved, he commanded more physical space than he occupied. Every movement seemed careful, precise. Lance was glad, suddenly, that Keith wasn’t here. He didn’t think he could stand him in close quarters. Seeing Keith, talking to Keith, being on the receiving end of that smile again, might just steal the breath from Lance’s lips.

The shop was so crowded that it took Lance a little while to realize that not only was Keith not there- no one was. It was completely empty. Lance carefully made his way between yellow roses and French marigolds, feeling his palms slick with sweat. Slowly, he became aware of sounds, small, soft sounds, little huffs of physical exertion. They were coming from the back room.

Lance considered just knocking on the counter like he had before. But he wasn’t exactly here as a customer. It felt... wrong. Shuffling awkwardly between a row of cacti, Lance made his way around the counter and towards the plain door labelled Employees in faded letters. Realizing it might be a little creepy to just barge in, he raised his hand to knock, but the door swung open easily at the first touch.

If only he’d have waited a second longer, he might have turned around at the sound of a muffled moan.

The room was even more overwhelming than the shop itself. Smells mixed in the air in a confusing cloud. The first thing Lance noticed was how dark the back room was. All the blinds had been drawn, leaving it murky and grey, grainy like an old camera. The second thing was the mess of documents, files, papers and plants on every possible surface, every shelf and in piles on the floor. The third was the noises, definitely louder here, and definitely from physical exertion. And the fourth was Keith.

Keith, bent over a desk with his pants around his knees and a guy fucking him from behind, Keith moaning and writhing and blushing, Keith sucking eagerly and sloppily on the guys fingers.

For a long moment, Lance stood completely still, unable to think. His brain had short-circuited, his thinking ground to a halt. He was brought back to reality by the door banging against the wall as it swung completely open, and by Keith’s eyes snapping up at the sound, by all movement in the room stopping, all breathing stopping as Lance watched Keith’s eyes transition from glazed, pleasured, unfocused, to shock, and then fear and finally tighten in anger. And still Lance was mute.

It was only when Keith started moving again, pushing himself upright and shoving the stranger off him quickly, that Lance started, blushing furiously. Lance didn’t give Keith chance to make a sound, just whipped around, face burning and ran from the back room, carefully edging around the counter again, flushing all the way to his ears.

“Wait!” That was Keith’s voice behind him, and god he sounded so raw and hoarse, fucked out, Lance couldn’t stop, he couldn’t, he couldn’t. He pushed to the door frantically, unthinkingly, pushing over a pot of yellow chrysanthemums in his scramble, but he didn’t even care. “Wait!” Keith called again, and at the door, almost out of the shop, finally almost at his escape, Lance paused and turned.

Keith stood in the middle of the shop, panting, the golden light reflecting off the sweat coating his upper body. His chest was heaving, and Lance couldn’t help himself; his eyes tracked lower. Keith had managed to hurriedly pull his underwear up, but Lance didn’t know why he bothered- it was very obviously tented from his prominent erection.

Still trying to catch his breath, Keith obviously noticed Lance was willing to hear him out. “Please don’t tell my boss.” He begged, face flushed, voice wrecked and sweat dripping down his shoulders. Lance felt his heart threaten to beat out of his chest. He didn’t know what he was feeling. Was it jealousy? Heartbreak? How could it be? He didn’t even know Keith.

With shame-flushed cheeks and without another word, Lance wrenched open the door and finally escaped outside.

 

Lance wasn’t even angry. He would be, but he didn’t feel like that would be justified. Keith had made no promises. Lance hadn’t even indicated any interest. His obsession with Keith had been a secret- and obviously one-sided.

No, Lance wasn’t angry. He was jealous, and disappointed, and filled with regret, but he didn’t have it in himself to be angry. He felt irrationally slighted, as if he had some kind of claim to Keith.

“At least you know he likes guys now.” Hunk pointed out helpfully. Lance was cuddled into his side as the TV played in the background, more of an excuse for Lance to voice everything he was feeling to Hunk than because they were really interested in whatever show was running.

Lance snorted. “This is literally the worst possible way to find that out.” He pointed out, reaching for a beer. “It’s not even like that guy he was...” Lance hesitated, not knowing what language to use. He was talking about Keith here and part of him didn’t want to connect Keith to any vulgar language, no matter what he had witnessed. “That guy he was with,” Lance decided finally, “It wasn’t as if he had anything in common with me. He was all... tall, and gorgeous, and blonde...” Lance thought back to the man’s sharp face, his long lashes. Somehow Lance hadn’t noticed him at all, too focused on Keith’s flushed cheeks and hazy eyes, but also memorized every single detail of this man who was obviously good enough for Keith. And really, they had nothing in common. The man had been tall and strong and Lance knew instantly, bitterly, that he was way more than Lance could ever offer.

Hunk shrugged. “I mean, you’ve got to talk about it to him.”

Lance looked up at Hunk, scandalized at the mere suggestion.

“At least tell him you won’t rat him out.” Hunk pointed out. “Imagine the kind of anxiety he’s dealing with now. He might lose his job.”

“Good.” Lance folded his arms bitterly. “I hope he really panics.”

“Lance.” Hunk shot him a freezing glare. “Go back. Talk to him, no matter how awkward. Use the opportunity to ask about the guy you saw him with. At least find out if that’s his boyfriend, if you have a chance.”

Lance sank into the couch cushions and Hunk’s comforting bulk. “I don’t want to.” He said stubbornly. “It’s weird and he’s awful and I never want to see him again.”

Hunk shook his head fondly. “You’re an absolute child.”

 

As Lance walked into Voltron Café the next morning, his break-up playlist was blaring in his ears. He had been angry with himself when he had instinctively put it on that morning. How was Keith a break-up? But by now, he’d just learned to accept his fate.

Fate had apparently not learned to accept him, because Keith was at work today, outside rearranging the flower boxes. Lance flushed bright red when he saw him, and, as only Lance’s shit luck would allow it, it was at that exact moment that Keith glanced up too, catching sight of him. Even across the street, Lance saw his blush. He lifted a hand in a small, awkward wave, and Keith turned abruptly, rushing back into the store and letting the door slam behind him. Idiot, Lance cursed himself. What kind of person waved at you after they’d caught you having sex at work? Then again, to be fair to himself, Lance had never before actually caught someone having sex at work before. He didn’t really know the etiquette.

It was only by the time Lance was pushing open the door to Voltron Café that he realized this was the first time Keith had actually noticed him, paid attention to him. And didn’t that just make him feel a whole lot worse.

“Hi Shiro.” He didn’t bother pulling out his earbuds, just slumped dejectedly against the counter.

Shiro smiled at him and pushed over a warm mug before taking Lance’s cash. Besides the time they spent together outside of Voltron, Lance had made a habit of dropping by after university. Shiro always made him something special, off-menu. If the café wasn’t busy, which was rare enough, they’d spend the rest of the time chatting.

Unfortunately, today was not one of those slow days. Lance smiled at Shiro and went over to his favourite table in the corner, the one facing Altea Flowers. Lance pulled out his laptop, determined to get some work done, but really he was too busy wallowing in his own misery, and by the time Shiro started on his break, he still hadn’t got anything done.

“So, who’s got you so caught up in your own head?” Shiro asked, sliding in the seat next to Lance and pulling one of his earbuds out.

“No-one really.” Lance sighed, unwilling to admit the entire drama to Shiro. Shiro raised a sceptical eyebrow before being distracted by the loud music still coming out of Lance’s earbuds. “Is that Marmora?” He asked. Lance perked up immediately. “Yeah! They’re one of my favourite bands!” Especially after a break-up.

“Oh wow... Hey, do you know Arus as well? And Balmera?

Lance nodded enthusiastically. “Oh yeah, definitely. I love them both. I actually got to see Arus live once. Still hoping for those Balmera tickets.”

Arus live?” Shiro was positively glowing with excitement. “I am so jealous... I love them, especially when they do their more traditional stuff... that’s real music, you know, not like... I dunno, The Galra.”

“Oh god, I hate The Galra.” Lance groaned dramatically. “I praise god everyday that Marmora split from them.”

“I actually wanted to do music for a long time.” Shiro confided, tracing the stained circles on the table.

“Really? What happened?” Lance went soft, immediately sensing the change in mood. Shiro shrugged, and smiled a smile full of nostalgia and things that were far away. He lifted his arm, the smooth prosthetic glinting. “This.” He sighed. “It made playing guitar a bit difficult. And, to be honest, after a while in... in hospital, I just wanted to settle down. Have a normal life, not be out there for the world to see. I thought I couldn’t be normal anymore, not after the accident, and for a while that was all I was working towards. I thought it’d make me happy, and it has. And now I’m here. Studying physics and working part-time in a café. Normal.” He smiled, and the smile was somehow both genuine and still sad.

“Do you miss it?” Lance queried. Shiro had never spoken this much at once before, especially not about something this personal. Shiro looked up. “Music?”

Lance nodded. Shiro shrugged with a small glint of joy in his eyes. “Every day. But I don’t regret anything. This job, this uni... It’s what I’ve wanted for a long time.”

“I want to do music as well.” Lance smiled, leaning back. “I know, I know, it’s not a safe job prospect and I probably won’t ever really make it or anything, but it’s what I’ve wanted for so long. Even if I’m studying Marine Science, that’s still what I want to do, if I can.”

Shiro grinned. “Well, it’s got to work out for one of us, right?”

 

If anyone would have asked Lance that evening, and he really hoped no one ever did, how his train of thought while lying in bed had ground to a screeching halt at Keith, he wouldn’t know how to answer.

He couldn’t tell what had drawn his mind to him, his flush as he stood in front of the flower shop, his sweat-slicked shoulders, or the goddamn sounds he made, those muffled moans and whimpers... Lance felt his cock twitch in interest and groaned as he rolled over in bed, trying to push all of that out of his mind. But it was there, he had seen it and now he couldn’t stop thinking about it. The way Keith had looked, unfocused and flushed and panting, made his cock harden fully, and it was remembering his purple eyes wide and hazy with lust that finally made Lance murmur “fuck it” and grind into his own hand. He came that night with Keith’s name gritted out between his teeth, muffled into the pillows as he imagined being the guy behind Keith, thrusting deep and making Keith moan in pleasure.

 

He avoided Voltron Café for a while after that, not ready to risk being so close to Keith. Knowing himself, he’d do something stupid, like walk up and ask Keith out. Which would be creepy, Lance reminded himself. Very, very creepy.

But he couldn’t stay away from Shiro forever, and that was how Wednesday found him at the coffee shop at the time he knew it was practically empty. Luckily, he didn’t spot Keith in Altea Flowers, just the tall dark woman he assumed was Allura talking to a customer by the door. Lance was relieved. He didn’t know if he could handle seeing Keith now.

The bell above the door jingled as he entered Voltron. He’d missed the place, the smell of coffee and books, the plants hanging all around, the weird mismatched lighting in the puzzled-together café. He’d missed Shiro as well, the way he sang along to the music playing on the radio as he worked, his quick smile whenever Lance came in and even his faux customer-service-smile with his eyes screaming kill me now.

“You come in at really odd times, you know that?” Shiro  commented as he slid Lance his coffee. Lance smiled, feeling stretched out and pale. He hadn’t been sleeping well since that run-in with Keith, too much guilt and panic over a lost chance.

“You know...” Shiro edged a bit closer. “If you want to actually get paid for the time you spend here, they are hiring.”

“They are?” Lance noticed the bright yellow sign on the wall behind Shiro, reading HIRING in Matt’s large, childish script. Shiro grinned. “I’ll put in a good word for you. Pay’s quite good as well.”

“Shiro...” Lance tried to fight down a grin as he placed his hand over Shiro’s on the counter. “You are God’s best creation.” He hopped down from the high stool, grabbing his disposable coffee cup and messenger bag as he practically ran out the door. “When we next see each other, I’ll be working here!” He promised with enthusiasm, throwing the door wide open and rushing through, just to collide with something... someone, Lance realized, someone short and lean, and now with coffee all over them.

“Fuck, I’m so sorry...” Lance apologized, face as red as the guy’s shirt as his gaze travelled further up... shit. The universe really had it out for him. Standing right in front of him, shirt stained with coffee, eyes glinting with annoyance, hair in a messy ponytail and still stunningly gorgeous, was...

“Keith!”

Lance whipped around to see Shiro smile at the new arrival.

“You know him?”

Chapter Text

“You know this guy?” Lance shrieked at Shiro, pointing at a coffee-soaked Keith. Keith glared. Shiro put up his hands in a pacifying gesture. “Lance...”

Keith’s expression morphed into horror. “You know this creep?”

Lance turned back to him. “How am I the creep here?”

“Well, you’re obviously stalking me!” Keith crossed his arms. “First the shop, then when you watched me a few days ago, and now this? How is that not creepy?”

“For your information, Mullet, I’ve been coming here long before I caught you... uh, long before I saw you at the flower shop!”

“Oh, yeah?” Keith challenged. “When would that be? Shortly before you decided to burst into my workplace the first time?”

Lance was momentarily thrown off track, not quite knowing how to reply to that. Keith was right, he had first shown up here just after they’d briefly seen each other, but it wasn’t as if it was because of Keith. To the side, Shiro looked mildly sick and suddenly very confused.

“I am not stalking you! As if I’d even stalk someone with a goddamn mullet.” Lance caught himself.

“What does my hair have to do with it?” Keith demanded, hands going up to tug at the ends. “You keep showing up close to where I work, for over a month now! How is that not stalking?”

“You remember me? Dude, that is creepy, we met for, like, 10 seconds!” Still, Lance couldn’t help but feel kind of flattered. He’d obviously made an impression. At least enough that Keith noticed him later... holy shit, Keith had been noticing him all along.

Keith was blushing now. “You’re still the one stalking me.” His voice wavered, as if he was trying to rebuild his composure. Lance snorted. “I’m here because Shiro is my friend!”

Keith looked to Shiro for confirmation, and he nodded. “Lance is right... while we’re talking, could you two take this somewhere else? You’re kind of... uh, disturbing business...”

Indeed, almost everyone in the coffee shop was watching them with dumbstruck expressions. Lance didn’t really care. “How are you friends with this moron?” He asked instead, voice shrill with anger. Keith glared at Lance like he wanted to burn him to a crisp with just his stare.

“Lance, we’ve been friends for years and years. We grew up together. Now please, I don’t know how you two met, but can you please calm down?”

“Yeah,” Keith replied, “when he stops stalking me.”

“I never stalked you in the first place.” Lance stepped forward, poking Keith’s chest with a finger. “And don’t worry, I’m never going to set foot in that terrible flower shop again, but if you think I’ll stop coming here, you’re mistaken. I’m going to work here.”

Keith glared, leaning into the touch and bringing his face closer to Lance’s. His eyes crackled with anger. “Not if I get the job instead.”

“You already have a job.”

“I’d quit it to keep you away from me.”

“Good luck with that, mullet.” Lance replied coldly, side-stepping Keith to get to the door. “See you never, moron.” Keith replied equally icily before turning to Shiro. “Now, can I finally get my coffee?”

“I hope you choke on it!” Lance shouted as he stormed out the door. “Just like you were choking on that gu-“ the door closed on him before he could finish his sentence. He kicked the wall moodily. That stupid asshole had completely ruined his good mood. He wouldn’t be surprised if it was forever. Fucking Keith. Why couldn’t he just stay out of Lance’s life?

 

“What was that?” Shiro asked once the door had closed behind Lance. Keith sighed, approaching the counter. “His name is Lance?” He asked instead. Shiro nodded, visibly still confused.

“Huh.” Keith considered quietly instead of giving any reply.

Matt sidled up, knowing smile on his face, completely ignoring the customers still lined up. Of course. Matt loved nothing more than dramatics. “He’s cute, isn’t he?”

That earned him a glare from both Keith and Shiro, so cold that he shrank back instantly. “Ok, ok, I get it, he’s off limits.”

“Go make those frappucinos.” Shiro responded icily. Matt pouted as he headed back to his work station. Keith groaned. “What’s up?” Shiro patted him on the arm gently. “Come on, you can tell me anything. Is Matt right? Is this because he’s cute?”

Keith’s head shot up, pink colouring his cheeks. “No! He’s a creepy stalker, and I just never want to see him again.”

Shiro shrugged. “Good luck with that. He’s a regular. I’m surprised you haven’t bumped into each other by now. Besides,” he looked up at Keith gently. “Lance is my friend. And he is many things. He’s obnoxious, and loud, and often stupid, but he is definitely not a creep. And he definitely doesn’t have any bad intentions.”

He leaned forward as he slid Keith’s coffee over to him. “I’m on break in an hour. Why don’t you just tell me everything then?”

Keith looked up, smiling at Shiro. “There’s not much to tell. I’ve seen him, like, twice and never talked to him...”

“Wait a second, this was your first time talking to him? God fucking damn it, Keith. Matt!” Shiro shouted at his co-worker. “I’m taking my break early!”

“Now,” Shiro grabbed Keith by his arm and dragged him to the employee break room. “You better talk.”

The breakroom was small, but cozy and well-lit by a large window. What wasn’t covered by overflowing shelves was reserved for a small coffee table, four lockers for personal belongings and a large, overstuffed couch with a blanket covering it. Thanks to Keith and Allura, the small place was also full of small, potted plants they had brought over at one point or other. Keith gently reached out to brush against the leaves of a burdock he’d once given Shiro as a joke. Although they had to regularly bring new plants to replace the ones Shiro and Matt had let die, by some miracle Shiro managed to keep this one plant alive.

Keith flopped down on the couch in the breakroom, springs creaking, and put his head in his hands. Shiro sat beside him, effortlessly pulling him into his side and letting Keith wrap his arms around him tightly, burying his face in Shiro’s chest.

“I first saw him a month ago... he was buying flowers for some girl but he was still flirting with me, and then he kept showing up and I was kind of creeped out but also kind of glad... what kind of guy likes being stalked?” Keith looked up at Shiro with desperation.

“So, firstly.” Shiro started reasonably, rubbing circles up and down Keith’s back soothingly. “We both agreed you’re not being stalked. You have nothing to be afraid of. He’s my friend and he comes to see me. Secondly, we met because he broke up with a girl right here. So, I think that might have been the one he was buying flowers for.”

Shiro pretended not to notice the excited relief bleeding over Keith’s face at that. “It felt kind of nice,” Keith admitted, mumbling into Shiro’s shoulder again. “Seeing him, all the time. Whenever he came around I’d just be... hyperaware of him standing there, locking up his bike, going into the café... I... uggggh, I don’t know.”

“So you liked seeing him around.” Shiro concluded.

“Is that a bad thing?” Keith asked, voice small. Shiro shrugged. Keith continued before he could find his voice. “And I was always wondering if he’d come over and talk to me once or if he didn’t even notice me. But then he did, he came into the flower shop and it was awful and awkward and now he hates me and thinks I’m disgusting and I hate him for... for everything, he’s awful and gross...”

“So that’s why you started screaming at him and accusing him of being a stalker. Because you think he hates you.”

“He does hate me!” Keith shot up and glared at Shiro. Shiro just shook his head. “What the hell happened that’s so bad it makes you completely blow up at him?”

Keith went red and stared at the floor. Shiro nudged him in the side with his prosthetic. “Keeeith.” He sing-songed. “I’ve known you forever. You can tell me, even if it’s confusing and weird.”

Keith kept staring ahead. Shiro looked him over critically. “Did he catch you murdering someone?” Keith looked up, spluttering. “No!”

“Ok, then what was it? Come oooon.” Shiro whined, leaning heavily into Keith as he did. Keith buried his burning face in his hands. “He caught me having sex with some guy at work, okay? That’s... that’s it!”

Shiro shot up, sitting straight and looking at Keith with a mixture of horror and amusement. “You had sex? At work? And you got caught?”

Keith’s face was absolutely crimson even the little of it Shiro could see. “Yes! And it was awkward as shit!”

Shiro started giggling wildly. “God, I can imagine. But to be fair, you had it coming. Lance saw you? And that’s why you hate each other now?”

“Yes!” Keith practically screeched, throwing a pillow at Shiro’s face when he wouldn’t stop laughing. “Holy shit, Keith!” Shiro was positively gleeful. “Who were you even having sex with?”

“Uhhh... some guy? Rolo? Or something? I don’t know, it was a one-time thing... well, twice. But only once at work.”

“Oh my god.” Shiro breathed out deeply, resting his head in his hands. “You bet Lance hates you now, first he catches you with some guy and next thing he knows you’re screaming at him? You fucked up, Keith.”

“I know.” Keith traced the burdock with his finger gently, avoiding the scratchy thorns. “I know.”

 

“I got the job!” Lance burst into Voltron Café, excitement flushing his cheeks and a bright gleam in his eyes. “I got the job, Shiro! There’s no avoiding me from now on! I start next week and...” He trailed off as he saw Keith sitting at the counter, talking to Shiro as he worked.

Shiro slid the coffee cup over to a tired-looking customer and grinned at Lance widely. “I knew it! You’ll do...”

“What’s he doing here?” Lance interrupted, pointing at Keith with a scowl. Keith glared back. “Having my coffee, genius. Got a problem with that?”

“No, but I definitely have a problem with you.” Lance put his hands on his hips and ignored the way Shiro sighed and pointedly went back to making coffee.

“Why?” Keith challenged. “Jealous?”

“You wish, mullet. Don’t you have flowers to water or something? Maybe you have someone waiting for you again?”

“Hmmm.” Keith hummed as he set down his mug and pushed it over the counter towards Shiro. The way the aggression had gone out of his eyes, the sudden loss of a sharp edge in his voice put Lance instantly on guard. In an instant, Keith had gone from angry, prickly and sharp to somehow slow and content, like a lazy cat lounging in the sun, or perhaps like a supervillain who has just scented victory. Lance, taken aback by the sudden change, tried to reel himself in at the sudden loss of angry electricity crackling between them. “Perhaps you’re right.” Keith said, in a tone so low he was practically purring. Lance was internally freaking out. What the fuck was that voice? Who even talked like that? Hadn’t they just been arguing? So why was Keith now sauntering slowly over, watching him with dark eyes and brushing up far too close as he passed.

Lance jumped as Keith’s breath was suddenly hot on his ear and his chest pressed up against Lance’s naked arm. “Definitely jealous.” Keith breathed, so low Lance could feel the words shuddering through him. And then Keith was gone, pushing the door open as he tugged on a leather jacket that made his shoulders look stupidly broad. And Lance was left to look after him with a bright flush on his cheeks, wondering if he’d just imagined the entire scene, and if, maybe, he was indeed just a little bit jealous.

He pulled his gaze away from Keith’s retreating form and looked at Shiro with a mixture of horror and exasperation. “Tell me honestly, how often am I going to have to deal with that?”

Shiro shrugged, eyes twinkling with amusement. “He’s a regular here. As said, we’ve been friends forever.”

“Fucking hell.” Lance muttered as he approached the counter. Shiro laughed brightly and as if he knew too much. “You’ll get used to each other. Now tell me how you two met. Keith... didn’t tell me much.”

 

The days passed in a blur. Actually working at Voltron Café turned out to be a lot less enjoyable than Lance had expected. Expect for getting to spend time with Matt and Shiro, it was simply customer service, and it was exasperating. Especially when the customer was Keith. They weren’t getting along any better. Every time Keith entered the café it was the same; angry electricity, biting edges, the feeling that the words Lance was rolling around in his mouth were prickly somehow, all wrong, burning edges scratching his throat, and Keith’s responses were even worse. Lance always served Keith’s coffee with a sharp, and hopefully witty comment, and Keith responded in kind. After that one day Keith never seemed to be in that weird mood again, that dark, flirtatious mood that had left Lance with cold shudders running up his spine.

Shiro exasperated at them, but never intervened except for damage control when their bickering started to visibly make other customers uncomfortable. The worst part about the job might be that Lance didn’t just have to deal with Keith for a few minutes serving his coffee- no, Keith was Shiro’s friend, apparently even his very best friend and Keith would often spend almost an hour at the café chatting or just sitting there, watching Shiro work with the occasional offhand comment. He was just... there, a burning red presence on the edge of Lance’s vision, a sharp, prickly presence that stung and pricked him everywhere he turned like a burr under his clothing.

The best times where when business was slow and Lance had time to comfortably talk to either Matt or Shiro, keeping up comfortable chatter as they served the occasional customer. With Shiro, Lance would talk about music, dance along to the songs on the radio, sing off-key while they were closing up, and his conversations with Matt were just an endless stream of in-jokes and sarcastic comments. It was also during these long talks that he finally found out more- or more likely, actually remembered- the mysterious Allura. Of course, it had been hard to forget Shiro’s damn crush on Matt- it was in his face all the time, and Shiro was just so glaringly obvious, but after so much had happened, Lance had honestly forgotten about Matt’s girlfriend, their mutual interest in Shiro, and Lance’s devious, genius plan to get all three of them together.

It was obvious how much Matt loved her, just by the way he talked about her, by the way his eyes softened. But it was just as obvious that Matt was equally interested in Shiro. They had a permanent, very annoying flirtatious energy that drove Lance mad. But life at Voltron Café was good. It was fun. And, even with Keith there- especially with Keith there- it was happy. It felt like some kind of strange family.

 

Lance had barely hung up his coat before Shiro was calling out to him, sounding far too happy for someone on a morning shift. “What’s up?” He yawned, watching as Shiro prepared to open up the café. “So,” Shiro turned to him, tossing him his apron. It matched Shiro’s in design, with Voltron’s lion logo printed on the front, but in blue instead of Shiro’s black print. “Have you seen the posters? Marmora is going on tour. And they’re coming here!”

“I know!” Lance couldn’t contain his excitement, even in his tired state. “It’ll be so cool, even if I can’t afford the tickets!”

A small, smug smile spread over Shiro’s face at that. “You won’t need to.” Lance stared at him. Shiro laughed. “I know a guy who once played with Marmora in their early years but broke off from them because he wanted to stay closer to his family. Buuut... they’re still on good terms! And he got me tickets!”

Lance stared at him, mouth agape, not moving even as the first customer of the day entered and rapped on the counter impatiently. “You’re kidding.” He said finally.

“I’m really not.” Shiro grinned, reaching out to grip Lance’s arms tightly. Finally, the realization seemed to hit and Lance threw his arms around Shiro’s middle, laughing wildly. Shiro hugged back, and Lance was surprised at how warm and soft the embrace was, even with Shiro’s prosthetic resting against his back. The customer rapped on the counter again, and with a grin, they broke apart, Shiro moving over quickly to take care of the order while Lance filled up a small watering can and began his daily round. Ever since he had started at Voltron Café, the plants had actually began surviving more than a week. Shiro and Matt, no matter how much Lance appreciated them, wouldn’t even be able to keep a cactus alive.

“Hey, Lance!” Shiro called over. “Allura’s coming in today to replace some of our plants. Can you handle it?”

“Sure thing!” Lance called back, just as the door chimed with her entrance. She entered like she was walking into her own home, with a comfortable confidence that brought a sort of energetic calm to the entire shop. She was someone who knew exactly what she was doing, and doing it with full confidence.

Lance had seen her often, working in or in front of Altea Flowers, but this was the first time he’d seen her on close quarters. She was absolutely stunning, with dark, almost flawless skin except for two patches of pale skin across her cheekbones, bright eyes and hair so white it seemed to glow. Despite himself, Lance felt his heart jump a little as he approached her. “Hi! You’re Allura?”

Her guarded look reminded her strangely of Keith and he wondered vaguely if that was yet another requirement to work at Altea Flowers. “And you are?”

“The name’s Lance. I’m the newest employee. And designated plant parent.” Lance grinned brightly as he stuck out a hand. “I’m sure my talents don’t compare to yours in the slightest though.”

Allura seemed completely unperturbed by his flattery, probably far too used to it, but shook his hand with a smile. “I’m glad to hear I won’t have to come by every week anymore to teach those two idiots how to water a flower.”

She shot Shiro a teasing look, and he blushed instantly, ducking his head as Allura laughed.

It took Lance a grand total of ten minutes to conclude three things.

Firstly, not all Altea Flowers employees were grumpy assholes with bad haircuts.

Secondly, Allura was, in fact, amazing, hilarious, beautiful and charismatic, and carried herself with the confidence of royalty.

Thirdly, Shiro was obviously, embarrassingly, completely head over heels for her. Lance knew him far too well to ignore the signs, not that Shiro was much good at hiding them anyway.

“So,” Lance leaned over as soon as Allura had left with a cheerful wave and a promise to bring in some new flowers to fit the autumn theme. “Allura?”

Shiro blushed. Lance leaned in closer. “And Matt?”

“Shut up.” Shiro mumbled. Lance laughed loudly, and with a million cogs turning in his head already at just how to best execute his beautiful, brilliant plans.

Chapter Text

Explosions sounded loud and clear as next to Lance, a building exploded in a shower of rubble, glass and dust. “Damn it, Pidge!” Lance shouted, ignoring her mad giggling next to him. “You little gremlin, I’m not the one you should be shooting at.”

“I’m shooting wherever I want!” Pidge shouted in glee. “You’re just collateral damage!” She pressed a button on her controller, and another building went up in flames. Lance shouted out his frustration as he hammered the controller buttons, trying to get away from the rubble. “Ok, that’s it!” Lance’s character skidded a little, making a U-turn on the destroyed road. It took Lance no more than a second to take precise aim and send Pidge’s character falling with a single shot. The words Game Over blinked over Pidge’s quarter of the screen seconds before Lance’s quarter, too, flared with a red Game Over. Hunk quit the game and stared at the two in exasperation.

“Seriously?”

Lance dropped his controller dramatically, pointing to Pidge, who was still smirking with a small glint of insanity in her eyes. “It was all her!”

“Okay.” Hunk sighed. “Mario Kart. Then you two can let out all your stupid destructive urges without jeopardizing my own success.”

Lance grinned immediately, and Pidge’s eyes glinted with a new, evil spark.  “Let’s do this. Ready to eat dust, Lance?”

“Ready to get shelled into oblivion?”

“It won’t help you win the race.”

They waited as the numbers flashed on the screen, counting down the seconds. “Oh by the way, Lance.” Pidge asked casually as the race began. “Are you and Keith dating yet?”

Lance fell off rainbow road.

“Are me and Keith what?”

“Dating,” Pidge answered simply. “Me and Matt have a bet going. He says the two of you will sleep with each other first, then date.”

“And you?” Lance tapped the buttons furiously as if that could get him back on the track sooner. Pidge shrugged, grinning at him merrily. “I said you’d go on a date first. Told him you’re a romantic at heart.”

“Well, both of you are wrong.” Lance enunciated every word. “Because I hate Keith and Keith hates me and dating is never going to happen. No way. Nope. Nunca.” Lance bumped Pidge off the road with a triumphant laugh. “Suck it.”

“From what you’ve told me, he sounds like he’s an ass.” Hunk cut in. Lance nodded enthusiastically. “Thank you, Hunk. You are completely right. He’s an absolute asshole and I want nothing to do with him.”

“Didn’t he accuse you of stalking him?”

“Yeah, and then he went on to scream at me so the entire café could hear. I’ve been getting weird stares from all the regulars since I started.” Lance blasted Hunk off the road with a smirk. “He’s a complete dick. I don’t even know why Shiro likes him.”

Pidge nudged up her glasses with a grin. “Well, Matt says they grew up together. Keith is one of those ‘difficult kids’ and Shiro just sort of adopted him at one point.”

“Figures.” Lance muttered grimly. “No way they’re friends because of Keith’s non-existent charm. Have I told you he doesn’t even thank me when I make him coffee? He just glares.”

Pidge’s glasses glinted in the light of the screen. “Now that just sounds like you’re obsessed with him.” She turned her grin on Lance. “Date first, sex later. Don’t make me lose my bet.”

Lance felt himself flushing red. “I told you, I’m not interested.”

Pidge used his distraction to her advantage to overtake him and race over the finish line with a whoop. “I call bullshit.” She said, tossing her controller at him. “You are absolutely head over heels.”

Lance just scowled, not quite able to deny that.

 

“One soy latte with caramel for... uh, grumpy mullet man?” Lance turned to Keith with a smirk that only grew wider as Keith glared, snatching the cup from him. “Wow, you’re even grumpier than usual.”

“You’re even more of an ass than usual.” Keith snapped back, and yes, maybe Lance’s talk with Pidge had made him slightly more wary of Keith’s presence, of the way it prickled under his skin, red-hot. Next to him, Shiro sighed.  “Lance, doesn’t your break start in ten minutes? Go take it early.”

“Oh, but I just have to stay for this particular customer. It’s always such a pleasure to serve such an ungrateful little...”

“Alright!” Shiro cut him off, gently grabbing his shoulders to steer the two away from each other. “Have fun on your break, Lance!”

“Have fun with cactus boy!” Lance called back, slamming the break room door behind himself.

He could hear Shiro’s deep rumble from the other side of the door, but couldn’t identify what he was saying, or Keith’s quiet reply. He was still itching from the encounter, a kind of restlessness that was hard to identify. Keith just... got to him, in a way others didn’t. Lance wondered vaguely if he’d feel differently if he hadn’t seen Keith get railed across a desk. He concluded that yes, probably. Maybe he would have even asked Keith out. He’d really dodged a bullet there.

Lance paced for a while, still thrown off by just the brief encounter. He hated the way Keith could make his mind spin and orbit, circling him for hours like Keith was the fucking sun. Letting out a frustrated growl, Lance dropped onto the overstuffed breakroom couch, sitting on something rigid and flat. With a sigh, Lance pulled it out.

It was a small, leather bound notebook, and judging by the black and purple cover probably Shiro’s. Lance knew he shouldn’t, it was probably private even if Shiro had just left it lying around, but it was flipped open at a page covered in scribbles and words, crossed out and written over until the page was a mess. And if he wasn’t mistaken... were those chords?

Take your time

Love is something you can't rewind

Lance read, barely able to read the last word because it was crossed out so many times. But the format... and the chords scribbled above the words... This was definitely music.

When it's done

One more day

Is all that's left before you blow away

More than that, it could be good music. Lance read on, wide-eyed. He knew Shiro was musical, but he hadn’t know he still wrote. All this needed was a little more than mere chords, a bit of melody, and...

With the breeze

Why would you ever leave

 

Lance burst back into the café. “Where’s Keith?” He asked. Shiro turned, eyes widening slightly. “Gone? Are you going after him to fight some more?”

“No, it’s just good he isn’t here.” Lance rushed forward. Shiro sighed. “Lance, listen, just give him a chance. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding, just give him another go. He’s a good guy, and I’ve known him...”

“That doesn’t matter now.” Lance insisted, slamming the small notebook down on the counter. “You write music?”

Shiro blanched. “You went through my stuff?” His voice rose slightly in anger. Lance waved him off. “Of course not, you just left this lying around. It was even open to this page, you can’t really blame me.” Seeing Shiro’s still panicked face, Lance reached out gently. “Shiro. I never would go through your stuff. I wouldn’t even read this if you left it lying around, just that it was open at the page. I saw it had chords and... I was curious. I’m sorry.”

Shiro’s face went soft, the lines around his eyebrows smoothing out. Lance sensed his opportunity. “You write music?”

Shiro actually flushed slightly, just noticeable by the way his pale scar suddenly stood out more heavily, and nodded cautiously. “Yeah.” He shifted awkwardly. “I can’t play anymore, my arm doesn’t have the motor skills, but...”

“Dude, these lyrics are amazing!” Lance shoved into Shiro’s space, pointing out little details. “You’re missing a chord for this part, aren’t you? Do you have a melody in your head for this? What instruments were you imagining?”

Shiro was silent, his mouth moving silently. “What... Lance, why...”

“Shiro!” Lance’s eyes were shining, his hands twitching and flapping in excitement. “I can play this!”

Shiro stared as realization kicked in. “You could? You... You’d want to?”

“Of course I’d want to! I mean, if you’re cool with it. We can workshop this together, get the melody down, the instrumentals... Shiro, be my songwriter! For this song, at least. Or for more.”

Shiro kept staring. Lance pouted, pushing out his bottom lip. “Please?”

“Uhhh... I mean, yeah, why not?” Shiro raised his prosthetic and scratched the back of his neck. It moved smoothly but the fingers were just a bit too jerky, and Lance could imagine the strings of a guitar wearing under the smooth metal and plastic joints, snapping after a single song. For a moment, Shiro’s loss hit him deep and hard, settling somewhere between his lungs with its sharp hurt. Then Shiro smiled softly, hopefully, and it was forgotten. “I might as well get my songs out there somehow, right?” Shiro said, eyes crinkling as he looked at Lance. Lance beamed. “Your songs will get much farther than you think.” He promised.

 

Shiro’s apartment was much like the man himself; meticulously kept, warm, comforting and full of shit. Shelves and desks bowed and groaned under books, sheafs of paper, notepads, letters and brochures he’d been too lazy to throw away. But no matter how crowded it was, it was perfectly clean, the books stacked in neat piles according to subject, the letters kept in folders sorted by date with a pile on his desk still waiting for correspondence, the brochures stacked every so neatly right next to the garbage bin as if Shiro was just waiting for the burst of energy needed to push them in.

Lance had been here more than once for dinners, movie nights or just to lie around and complain, mainly about Keith. But this was the first time he noticed something new.

Next to the bookshelf leaned a guitar, old but lovingly polished with the visible marks of fingers punched through the wooden casing. Shiro followed Lance’s gaze. “I accidentally broke it... in anger, I guess, when I realized I couldn’t play anymore. But I couldn’t just throw it away.”

Lance understood why; it was painted beautifully, a night sky with stars dotting the surface and bright koi fish painted in swirling patterns. It felt untouchable, strangely, like if Lance picked it up he would be holding Shiro’s heart in his hands. It felt too fragile, tied too closely to the man standing beside him.

Swallowing down a lump in his throat, Lance let his own guitar case slide off his shoulder. “Alright, let’s workshop the hell out of this song.”

Shiro smiled softly. “I’ll get us something to drink.”

They worked far too late, late enough that Lance ended up sleeping on Shiro’s couch, but there was a feeling of peace in his chest, a small balloon of contentment billowing against his ribs and making breathing easier as Shiro sat on the floor beside the couch, cradling a mug of tea between his hands with Lance sipping his own.

“Shiro?” Lance questioned, feeling safe and warm and like no question could break the moment. “Why does Keith hate me?”

He hated himself for it immediately, how vulnerable he sounded, how small and scared and eager to please. But Shiro just sighed, and that warm, small cushion of safety found its way back between Lance’s ribs. “He doesn’t hate you, Lance.” Shiro said softly. “He’s a difficult person. He’s been through a lot, and he doesn’t really like many people or deal well with them.”

Lance huffed. “No kidding.”

“But he’s a good kid. Our parents were friends, and we always took care of each other. He and I, we both... we both had rough patches. He was always there for me, I was always there for him. I helped him after...” Shiro trailed off, took a deep breath. “But after the accident, he was there. Helped me when I was in hospital. I lived at his place for a while, until I could get my prosthetic, until the nightmares stopped... and then when I had to move away from home, get away from all the bad things that happened there, he came with me. Just... dropped everything and followed me here.”

Lance felt a small prickle in his chest, something sharp and warm, some kind of affection he couldn’t quite place. He felt like he’d gone too far, roughly elbowed his way into Shiro and Keith’s life, like he knew too much now. But then Shiro was smiling again, and those fears were gone. “I just wish you two would get along. He just... isn’t good with people.”

“Yeah...” Lance stared down at his steaming mug of tea. “I guess I’m just not good with him.”

 

Keith would not admit this to anyone, even Shiro, but by now, he had Lance’s usual shifts pretty much figured out. It wasn’t in a stalker way, he convinced himself, he was trying very hard to avoid that kind of behaviour after their first misunderstanding, but if Lance was at Voltron, everything was different. He had to brace himself for Lance. Brace himself for that stupid grin and the lilt of his voice and the sarcasm and the rudeness and the angry, rushing feeling every word from Lance’s lips caused, the frustration, the need to punch something and scream because there was something about Lance that made him want to punch something. He didn’t always have the energy to deal with Lance, like today.

And that’s why he stopped dead when he opened the door to Voltron Café, definitely after Lance’s usual shift, and Lance was still there. Lance was there, and Shiro was there, smiling softly as if Lance was all his dreams come true, as if he Lance himself was only Shiro’s work, work that Shiro was proud of. And there was Matt, catching Keith’s eye with a smirk and an evil glint in his eye.

The worst part was definitely Lance. Lance, in a casual white shirt and faded, ripped jeans, Lance with leather bracelets and messy hair and a guitar nestled in his lap. It was a warm picture, the way he sat framed by sunlight, touching the guitar as if he had to learn to feel the world again, as if every touch was new. The guitar was warm, golden wood, the strings glinting, Lance’s fingers tracing them with the reverence one would show a holy relic. He took a deep breath, a breath so soft and careful Keith felt the air could shatter from it.

And then he played.

He played, and Keith’s world settled, softened around the edges, like all his worries had been waiting for just this moment, just this sign that it would all be alright. Keith’s world calmed. His heart stilled. The guitar, the soft, honey-warm sounds of the strings, the cacophony of guests slowly fading to a stunned hush, the hissing and bubbling of the coffee machines, it all played together perfectly. Keith’s mind was silenced. For the first time since Shiro’s accident, it was completely and utterly silenced.

That was until Lance started singing, and suddenly it picked back up again, the soft comfort gone and replaced with utter, wonderful fascination because how was he so good?

Sweet alyssum, Lance sang, won’t you climb down for me?

Sweet alyssum, do you not want to be free?

He was entirely in his own world, his own world of music and thought of which Keith could only catch a small glimpse. Lance, Keith realized in that moment, was an enigma, and he was surprised he hadn’t noticed it before, past Lance’s loud and brash personality, past his dumb jokes, past his laughter at everything. Lance was an enigma, and he was one that had to be solved.

Oh do you think I’m not good enough

Not good enough for you,

Well, sweet alyssum,

Lance looked up and his eyes, bright and blue and shimmering like a stained glass window to the secrets of the world, met Keith’s. The world seemed to shimmer, to shift, to concentrate only on that moment before expanding again. For a long moment, the entire universe was breathless.

Won’t you stay?

Oh, won’t you stay with me.

Chapter Text

Allura of Altea Flowers walked into Voltron Café with the confidence of a queen, despite her messy bun, sweaty work clothes and dirt under her fingernails. She was chatting animatedly with Lance, who was just coming in for the last shift.

Shiro felt something small and uncomfortable in his chest, and it only grew in size as Allura caught sight of him and smiled brightly, jewelled earrings dangling and bright hair falling into her face. “Shiro!” She called. Shiro tried for a friendly smile but feared it came out a little too tight. Lance, of course, caught on immediately, and winked at Shiro, making him scowl.

Beside Shiro, Matt popped up like a particularly annoying, attractive Jack-in-the-Box. “Allura!” He called out in enthusiasm, practically vaulting over the counter to kiss his girlfriend on the cheek.

“Ready to go home?” She entwined their hands, and Shiro had to look away at the simple way their fingers wrapped around each other. Lance gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder as he moved into the breakroom to change.

“I’ll go change.” Matt promised and leaned towards Allura for a kiss that did funny things to Shiro’s stomach. He cleared his throat. “Actually, Matt’s shift isn’t over until...”

Allura levelled a cool look at him that would have made Shiro’s commanding officer stop in his tracks. “Actually, it ends right now.” Shiro corrected himself. “Lance is already here to take over anyway.”

“Thanks Shiro.” Allura’s face broke into a warm smile so quick it almost gave Shiro whiplash. Matt whooped as he ran over the breakroom. Allura sauntered over to the counter. This late in the evening, the coffee shop was almost empty. Shiro was about to go home himself, at the designated time as opposed to Matt, leaving Lance to handle the last two hours himself.

“You get off in half an hour yourself, don’t you?” Allura leaned in close, hip cocked, one strand of long hair dangling down and almost brushing the counter. Shiro had the strange urge to brush it behind her ear, and then maybe kiss her on the lips. Instead he just nodded, dumbstruck. “Twenty-one minutes, actually.”

Allura smiled brightly, even as Shiro flushed at his own awkwardness. “Why don’t you come join me and Matt for drinks?”

“Uhh...” Shiro’s mouth went dry. In fact, it felt like his entire body had gone dry. “I’d love to... but... uh, not on a weeknight, sorry.”

Allura pouted. “Just a beer or two, it’s not as if we’re going to get drunk.”

Matt sauntered out of the breakroom in his street clothes, looking so effortlessly, casually beautiful that Shiro’s breath caught. “Did I hear getting drunk? Because I’m down.”

Allura straightened up. “You heard not getting drunk. Ready, love?”

Matt leaned in as well, and Shiro tried to ignore the way Alluras arm casually settled around his shoulder. “You coming with us, Shiro?” Matt asked as he shrugged into his jacket. “Nah,” Allura answered for him, turning to Matt as she rolled her eyes humorously. “He’s no fun.”

“Boooo.” Matt called. “Not too late to change your mind. Bet you won’t even have to pay for your own drinks. The moment you walk into the bar you’ll have five offers just lining up.”

Shiro flushed, his prosthetic suddenly feeling like dead weight as he reached up to brush a hand through his hair. “No, really guys, I’m good. See you tomorrow!”

“Is there absolutely no way we can convince you to come with us?” Matt asked, chin on Alluras shoulder, eyes wide and pleading. Shiro smiled at the puppy dog expression. “I’m decided. See you tomorrow, Matt.”

“Looking forward to it.” Matt winked as he turned around and grabbed Alluras hand before wrapping his arm around her hips. The two left arm in arm as Shiro watched on feeling as if he’d missed some once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Lance appeared next to him, whistling loudly.

“Wow.” He said. “You blew that big-time.”

Shiro flushed and slammed both hands down on the counter, wincing as his heavy prosthetic made a heavy clunk. “Blew what?”

“They were very obviously flirting with you. Asking you out. Inviting you to be their third party.”

Shiro’s flush deepened. “They most definitely weren’t.” He gritted out, refusing to think that he could be that oblivious. Lance shook his head. “Yeah they were, and you just blew them off. As if you weren’t interested at all. Which is...” He looked Shiro over. “Yeah, entirely impossible. You’re still head over heels, aren’t you?”

Shiro glared at him. “Go wash the mugs, Lance.”

 

Lance was pretty certain this night was cursed, at least for their collective love lives. Not ten minutes after Shiro was out of the door, still obviously bothered by his bungle with Allura and Matt earlier, that Keith strolled in, looking like death himself and with mud streaked across one cheek.

Lance didn’t even try for his customer-smile. “Hey, mullet.” He greeted. Keith just glared, as usual. Lance didn’t even know at this point if that was his default expression or if he was just grumpy all the time. Keith looked up at him like he was peering out of his own grave.

“Is Shiro here?”

“Sorry, he just left.” There was something about Keith’s vulnerable, tired expression and everything Shiro had told him that stopped Lance from saying anything else and even gave his words just the slightest tinge of genuine concern. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, just...” Keith sighed. “Long day.”

“I have tea.” Lance offered. “Or hot chocolate. Help you... you know.” Keith hoisted himself up to sit at the counter, and Lance tried not to imagine him bent over it instead.

“D’you have coffee?”

“Keith, you look on the verge of death. I’m not giving you caffeine. I’m getting you hot chocolate and sending you home.” Lance didn’t quite know where this sudden concern came from, but Keith suddenly looked a little warmer, his eyes softening around the edges.

“Home is like a half hour drive and I don’t trust myself on the motorcycle.” Keith protested. “I need caffeine first.”

Lance sighed. “How’s this.” He said. “I get you some hot chocolate, then I let you crash on the breakroom couch, and I’ll wake you up when my shift is over so you can go home.”

Keith’s smile was small, tired and left Lance breathless. “Thanks.”

Lance ignored the warmth spreading through all his limbs. “Well, can’t let Shiro’s best friend die in a motorcycle accident.” He turned around to busy himself behind the counter. Keith’s hard laughter followed him. “Wow, and here I thought you actually cared.”

“About you?” Lance said, as he dropped some extra marshmallows in the hot chocolate and made sure it was a little less sweet than usual. Keith didn’t seem the person to like ‘sweet’.

“Never.”

“Good to know.” Keith yawned. “’Cause I definitely don’t give a shit about you either.” The words had no bite behind them, and Lance fought down his smile as he slid Keith’s mug over to him.

“You definitely gave a shit when you started screaming at me about stalking you.”

Keith flushed bright red. “Past mistakes, okay? I know now that you’d never stalk anyone.”

“Thank you.” Lance replied graciously.

“You don’t stay stuck on one person you like long enough for that. You just flit from one to another in a matter of minutes.”

“Hey!”

Keith just raised a brow and took a sip of his hot chocolate. “Hmmm.” He swirled his spoon absentmindedly. “Could handle more sugar.”

“You’re a future diabetic.” Lance said in horror as he watched Keith upend two more sugar packets in his hot chocolate. Keith shrugged his leather-clad shoulders. “As if you care.”

Lance half wished another customer would come up so he could leave this conversation, but also weirdly hoped he and Keith could stay like this forever.

“So, you like flowers, your drinks sweet, and your sex at work. Anything else I should know?”

Keith flushed bright red, as if he had ever thought Lance would forget that incident. “Yes,” He answered dead seriously. “I carry a knife and people who talk too much about me usually end up with it pointing at them.”

“Okaaaay!” Lance pushed himself from the bar. “Good talk, man. Got the memo. No talkie. I’m silent as a grave.”

Keith snickered into his mug. “You couldn’t keep quiet if we bet on it.”

“Oh yeah?” Lance challenged, leaning in close and using the opportunity to wipe away the dirt from Keith’s cheek with his thumb. Keith’s skin was warm under his hand, and pinker than it usually was. “What are we betting?”

“Bragging rights.” Keith answered instantly. Lance held out a hand. “Good enough for me. I’m dead silent until you finish that hot chocolate and get that nap. Except for dealing with customers.”

“Sounds good to me.”

It was difficult, especially with some of Lance’s favourite songs blasting on the radio, but after all, it was only about ten minutes that he had to bear. And Lance used those ten minutes to just watch Keith silently, his dark hair that looked so soft, his tired, guarded violet eyes, his thin, pale hands. He was striking, definitely, but Lance had always thought that. What he hadn’t thought was that Keith was maybe not as much of an asshole as he’d first pegged him as.

It was a short while later that Lance led Keith to the breakroom in complete silence, getting out a warm blanket and a pillow he had stashed in his locker for when he had to force Shiro to take naps. He patted the couch and passed Keith the blanket, watching as he curled up on the couch and tugged the fleece blanket around himself. His eyes were soft and sleepy and Lance liked them a lot more like that than when they were tight with anger. “Thanks, Lance.” Keith murmured sleepily. “Wake me up in an hour? I’ll be able to drive then.”

Lance nodded, not about to fall for the ruse. Their bet was still on until Keith fell asleep, after all. But then Keith yawned, small and adorable and curled up into a ball of red blanket. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Lance replied. “Hah.” Keith’s voice was slow and slurred. “You lost the bet.”

“Shut up, Keith.” Lance couldn’t help the smile creeping onto his face as he turned off the light and shut the door behind him.

 

A little more than an hour later, Lance had shut shop and walked in to the breakroom to wake Keith. He looked adorable as he woke up, hair a mess and eyes wide with confusion.

“Hey.” Lance whispered, hand lingering on Keith’s shoulder. His skin was radiating heat, even through his shirt. “You up to drive?”

Keith considered, then nodded slowly, yawning. “Great.” Lance tore away the blanket and bundled it in his locker as Keith shrieked from the sudden cold. “Get out. We’re closed.”

“Still an ass, I see.” Keith responded, re-tying his ponytail and shrugging on his leather jacket as Lance gathered his things. “Still ungrateful, I see.” Lance replied, herding Keith out of Voltron Café and locking the door behind them. When he turned, Keith was still standing there.

“How are you getting home?”

“Bus. Couldn’t be bothered to bike today.” Lance replied, glad the dark hid his flush, the slight quickening of his heart at Keith's full focus. “The bus runs at weird times this late.” Keith answered, voice softer than Lance thought it could get. “You might have to wait for ages. Where do you live?”

“Uuuh... Blackthorn Street?” Lance ventured. Keith jerked a hand towards his red and black motorcycle standing at the corner of the road. “It’s on the way. Let me take you.”

“I... I don’t have a helmet.” Lance could feel his blush crawling down his neck. Keith shrugged. “I have a spare one. For Shiro, usually.”

“You really don’t have to...”

“You’ve been nice to me, Lance. Even if you’re usually an asshole. At least this way I don’t owe you anything.” Lance couldn’t quite tell, but Keith’s cheeks might be pinking.

“Just so you don’t owe me anything.” Lance finally agreed. After all, there were worse ways to spend the ride home than with his arms wrapped around Keith’s torso- which, if Lance remembered rightly, was pretty muscular.

Just a short while later, Lance found himself dismounting the motorcycle, reluctantly releasing Keith’s waist as they stopped in front of his apartment building. “Thanks.” He fumbled, awkwardly handing over the helmet and trying to appear more casual than he felt.

“Don’t mention it.” Keith replied. “Seriously,” he added darkly. “Don’t. Shiro will have a field day with this.”

Lance cracked a small smile. “I won’t.” He turned towards his door before hesitating. “I still hate you. Just so you know.”

Behind him, the motorcycle revved. “Don’t worry.” Keith replied. “So do I.”

 

“It’s no use.” Matt bemoaned. “He’s built like a brick shithouse and dense as one too.”

“Stop complaining.” Allura grumbled. “I’m the one who did all the hard work today. And it got me nowhere.”

“Uggggh.” Matt threw his head back against the couch. “How is he that oblivious? We’ve been flirting with him forever.”

“Are you sure he even likes us?” Allura played with the label on her beer bottle, peeling it off lazily. Matt stared at her incredulously. “’Llura, Takashi Shirogane is many things, but subtle he is not. He practically chokes on his own spit whenever one of us so much as touches his arm.”

“Maybe he thinks we’re just after sex? If I know anything about Shiro, it’s that he doesn’t like being used, or feeling used.”

Matt shook his head. “I think he really just is that oblivious.”

“Maybe one day he’ll get it.” Allura sighed. “It’s just... I like him, Matt. And he just... brushes me off.”

Matt pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head. “I know, ‘Lura. And I like him too, and I want to date him, but he doesn’t react to anything. I just see the way he looks at both of us, at us together. It’s like he’s scared of his own feelings.”

“Who even knows if he’d be up for the whole polyamory thing?” Allura frowned up at Matt, upset and slightly tipsy. Matt shrugged and entwined his hand with hers. “We won’t know until we try.”

“We have been trying.”

“Got to try harder, then. Make a move.”

Allura glanced up at Matt and smirked in that scary way of hers, like a lioness stalking her prey. “I think I have an idea.”

 

Keith shouldered his way through the door, precariously balancing a small flower pot on top of a stack of uni work. Shiro caught his eye and smirked knowingly even as Keith glared in annoyance, and quickly found an excuse to go clean some tables and leave Lance to deal with their irritable customer.

Keith slammed his books and the flower pot down on the counter. “I got you something.” He said, in a tone that sounded more threatening than in a gift giving mood. Lance raised an eyebrow. “Okaaaay?” He stretched the word uncertainly. “And what can I get you?”

Keith blinked slowly, uncomprehending, and Lance rolled his eyes. “Coffee, dumbass. What do you want.” Keith startled, flushing slightly as he scrambled over his own words. “Caramel... uh, caramel cappuccino.”

“Good job, mullet.” Lance turned to prepare the order. “Now, what’d you get me?”

Silently, Keith slid the small potted plant across the counter. “A small gift from Altea.” There was the barest hint of a smile curling the corners of his lips. It was a small pot with bright yellow, tiny blossoms peaking out between dark leaves. Clinging to the leaves like a wet fishing net was a sickly yellow tangle of thin, interwoven strands of some plant.

Lance’s eyes widened. “Keith! You... uh...” Keith giving him flowers? Lance’s head was spinning with the implications. Was this Keith’s weird way of extending the olive branch? “You didn’t have to do this. I mean, thank you, but-“

“It’s nothing special.” Keith cut him off. “We get them for everyone who works here. Why do you think the breakroom is filled with them?” A small, fond smile quirked his lips. “Shiro killed about twenty already.”

“Well, the one he has now is on the verge of death too. And if not that, it’ll probably kill itself out of misery.” Lance tried for a shaky laugh, avoiding Keith’s eyes and flirtatious gaze.

“Don’t you want to know what the flowers mean?” Keith’s voice was low, in that dark, flirtatious and incredibly hot way Lance had heard once before. His head shot up and he fought down a blush. “Uh... yeah, sure... They have a meaning?”

Keith laughed lowly, and his smile turned a bit cruel, too victorious, his eyes low. “Of course they do.” His pale fingers traced the small yellow petals. “These are buttercups, or kingcup. They stand for ingratitude and childishness.” He shot up a smirk at Lance, and every single shred of dislike Lance had for Keith flared up again, hot and burning. “But this particular plant is a reject.” Keith’s fingers moved onto the stringy, yellow material. “See, it’s been infested by another plant, a parasite. Cuscuta, it’s called. It stands for meanness.” Keith leaned into Lance’s space to breathe the last few words. Lance glared at him, but he was also strangely reassured by the way things had returned to normal this quickly. This was the way they were supposed to be, not hot chocolate and him clutching Keith’s waist on the back of his motorcycle, no matter how nice that had been.

Keith leaned back, shoving the potted plant over to Lance and stirring up a million conflicting feelings in him. “How’s the cappuccino coming?”

Lance distracted himself by finishing Keith’s drink and sliding it over to him. Keith smiled at him, no longer the victorious smirk from before as he gathered his books and his drink. “Thanks, by the way.” He flushed a little at the confession, voice barely a whisper. “For... uh, that evening.”

Lance felt something warm bloom up in him that, for once, definitely wasn’t dislike. “Don’t get used to it.”

Chapter Text

The problem with being friends with Pidge and Hunk, and quite possibly the only problem, was that their schedules almost never coincided. Both were double majoring, and constantly taking on more projects in their free time. They probably never saw the sun except on the walk between uni and their shared apartment. Even their rare free time was filled up with jobs, trying to scrape together enough money for rent and food.

And so, they had to make the most of their time together, and even though Lance’s work times conflicted with Pidge and Hunk’s few free hours, they managed to spend the time together. The two of them were sitting at the seats right by the counter, their masses of books and paper almost overflowing into Lance’s work space, and filling their hours with a mixture of chatter, teasing and serious studying.

“I’m just surprised you aren’t going for Shiro.” Pidge commented lazily as she crossed out and corrected one of the formulas spread haphazardly across the paper. Hunk looked up. “Yeah man, he seems like a person you’d positively throw yourself at. It’s not like he’s straight, or like you ever let that stop you.”

Lance made a noise of mock offense. “You think so lowly of me? I am actually capable of keeping it in my pants.” He shrugged casually. “I mean, I’d be lying if I never thought about it, but Shiro is crushing hard, and not on me.” He sniffed. “I’m not going to be some second choice... third, actually.”

“Third?” Hunk asked, even as he scribbled notes in the margin of his textbook, seemingly paying to attention at all.

“Yeah, he likes both Allura and Matt.” Lance whispered the words, glancing over at Shiro as he dealt with customers. Hunk looked up in surprise. Pidge kept writing, completely unbothered. “It’s pathetic.” She said.

“It’s adorable.” Lance corrected, just as Shiro looked up from the coffee machine. “Lance!” He called. “Quit slacking!”

“Duty calls!” Lance said cheerfully, throwing a dish towel and a wink at his friends over his shoulder. “Go get ‘em.” Pidge replied dryly, just as the bell above the door rang and a dark mullet appeared, one that never failed to get Lance’s heartbeat to speed up.

“Hey mullet.” He greeted, trying to put as much poison in his voice as possible. “Hi, stalker.” Keith replied with much less bite, and perhaps even a touch of fondness. “What do you want today, grumpy pants? Coffee black as your mood?”

Keith rolled his eyes. “You know what I’m getting, Lance.”

“Yeah, a whole lot of dick.” Lance muttered to Pidge and Hunk under his breath, and Keith, catching the tail end of his words managed to both blush and glare.

“One caramel cappuccino for our local emo?” Lance called out once he was done, and made a great show of trying to read the name scrawled on the to-go cup. “Ummm... Keef? Quiche?”

He looked up with mock apology. “I really don’t know what it says.”

“It says you’re an ass.” Keith replied. Lance whistled lowly as he took Keith’s money and got together the change. “Wow, that’s mature and witty.”

“I thought I’d meet you on your level.”

“Honey,” Lance passed the change back to Keith, “you could never even see my level in the distance.”

“Yeah,” Keith agreed, grabbing his coffee and heading for the door. “It’s too far behind.”

The door slammed behind him and Lance immediately turned to Pidge and Hunk, arms flailing wide as they always did when he was agitated. “Did you see that?”

Pidge sipped her own drink loudly through a straw, eyebrows raised. “I saw it alright.”

“Can you believe what a dick he is? He just hates me for no reason.” Lance crossed his arms and pouted. “Dude,” Hunk said, staring in disbelief. “That was not hate. That wasn’t even dislike. That was full-on flirting.”

“What? No.” Lance glared at Hunk. “That’s bullshit. We’re not flirting. Who even flirts like that?”

“You do.” Pidge pointed out. “And apparently, so does Keith.”

“We are not flirting.” Lance repeated. “I hate that guy. And he hates me. We were not, and are not, flirting.”

Pidge shrugged. “Keep telling yourself that.”

“Whatever you want to believe, man.” Hunk went back to his paper. Lance glared as he went back to his job. “What I wanted to believe is that you two are better friends that don’t spread blatant lies.”

 

Lance had agreed to come by Shiro’s flat before the Marmora concert, and to leave from there with Shiro’s friend who had procured the tickets. Lance could hardly contain his excitement as he climbed up the stairs to his flat, taking them two at a time. He pounded on Shiro’s door, practically jumping in place.

“Hey, Lance.” Shiro grinned as the door swung open. “All set?”

Lance smiled broadly as he nodded. Shiro opened the door wider. “Come on in a moment, I’ll be ready in ten minutes.”

Lance stopped in his tracks as he spotted familiar leather-clad shoulders over the top of Shiro’s couch and heavy boots resting on Shiro’s coffee table, dark hair and just a glimpse of pale neck... “Keith??”

Keith turned around, looking equally surprised before his expression changed to anger. “Shiro!” He called out. “I said you could bring a friend, not... not Lance.”

“Shiro!” Lance called as well. “Why is Keith here?”

“He got us the tickets!” Shiro shouted back from the bathroom. “And Keith, Lance happens to be a friend. Play nice.”

Lance huffed angrily and stalked over to the couch. “Move, then.” Keith stared up at him in confusion. “Shift,” Lance gestured. “Move your ass. I want to sit.”

Reluctantly, Keith shifted, and Lance dropped down beside him, trying to ignore how close they suddenly were. He had to admit that Keith looked good. He’d rarely seen him out of work attire, and all the leather, the ripped jeans and, god, was that eyeliner? Lance had never thought that would be a thing for him.

“How the hell did you get Marmora tickets?” Lance asked to bridge the awkward silence as he crossed his arms and tried to somehow put more distance between him and Keith. Keith just shrugged, face a careful, neutral, pretty mask. “I know a guy.” He just said. “Now I just regret asking for three tickets.”

“It’s not like I’m glad to see you here.”

“I thought Shiro would bring Matt or something.” Keith growled. “Not some pain in the ass with a huge crush on him.”

“Crush???” Lance’s voice went up a few octaves. “I definitely don’t have a crush on him.”

“Bullshit.” Keith glared, and suddenly Lance realized the reasoning behind the weird swings in their relationship, the way Keith hated him for no reason and tried to push him away at every opportunity. Protective. “You’re just out to use him, and hurt him.”

“He’s a friend.” Lance replied calmly. “That really is all I see him as. And I wouldn’t hurt him. I care for him.”

Keith whipped around, glare still on his face. “So it’s a coincidence that you were buying flowers for a date just a week before Shiro suddenly started talking about this guy he was ‘befriending’?” Keith mocked the befriending, using his fingers to express his distaste. Lance couldn’t help but laugh. “Dude, those were for a girl. A random girl, whom I’ve already forgotten.” I’m too busy thinking about you.

Keith still looked hesitant. Lance put out his hands in a placating gesture. “Look, Shiro will back me up on this. We met at Voltron. Besides, I’m not one to get in the way of true love.”

Keith looked up at him quizzically.

“Matt? And Allura? And Shiro?” Lance gestured with slim fingers, and there was an actual smile flickering around the corners of Keith’s lips. “I’ll get them together somehow.” Lance promised. “And...” he hesitated. “The girl dumped me, if it makes you feel any better.”

Now Keith really was smiling. “That really does cheer me up. Just a little.”

Lance laughed a little over previously painful memories. “Rude.”

Shiro came into the living room with his shirt only half on. “Ready to go?” He asked as he wiggled into it. Lance and Keith shared a small smile, a patch in their rocky relationship, a first step towards something that wasn’t distrust.

“Ready when you are.”

 

The concert was even better than Lance had hoped. It was loud, and crowded, and enthusiastic. Lights flashed and the crowd roared excitedly as Marmora prepared for their grand finale. The crowd pushed closer to the stage, squeezing everyone closer together, and Lance froze, blushing as Keith was pushed into him, side pressed fully along Lance’s torso.

“And now for our final song!” The lead singer announced, and the crowd went wild. The first chords sounded out and they pushed forward more, until Keith and Lance were pressed up against each other fully, until Lance could feel every ridge and bump of Keith’s leather jacket, the press of zippers and buttons, and underneath the warm press of his body.

It was hard to tell with the intense purple lighting, but Keith looked like he was blushing too as they separated quickly, going back to hardly touching as they fought against the crowd pushing them close.

"No thank you" is what I should've said

I should be in bed

But temptations of trouble on my tongue

Troubles yet to come

Lance glanced over at Keith as the crowd cheered around them. He was looking up at the stage, watching with a calm gleam in his eyes that looked strangely like longing. He wasn’t moving along to the music, or shouting, or jumping. He was just... watching, with a small smile on his face, with a slight flush to his cheeks and a fever in his eyes and his hair clinging to the back of his neck with sweat.

This calm, smiling, shaded by purple light, he was beautiful.

One sip, bad for me

One hit, bad for me

One kiss, bad for me

But I give in so easily

And "no thank you" is how it should've gone

I should stay strong

Keith looked over, catching Lance’s eye quickly and looking away just as hurriedly. On Keith’s other side, Shiro was smirking a bit, momentarily distracted from the concert, and Lance shot him a glare until he turned his attention back to the musicians. They were still pressed together, though not as tightly as before, and Lance was suddenly hyper aware that if his hand simply twitched lightly, their fingers would be brushing. He held his breath as electricity crackled in the space between them.

But I'm weak, and what's wrong with that?

Boy, oh boy I love it when I fall for that

I'm weak, and what's wrong with that?

Boy, oh boy I love it when I fall for that

I'm weak

A sudden, heavy shove from behind sent Lance flailing. He momentarily panicked as he lost balance and felt himself falling, tripping over his own feet. He fell forward against a body, a soft, warm and all too familiar body.

Lance looked up in horror to stare at Keith, watch as Keith’s eyes widened in surprise, feel as Keith’s arms tightened around him. They were pressed chest to chest, leaning against each other, neither daring to breath as their eyes met. Lance thought he could feel Keith’s breath on his cheeks. Behind them, Shiro choked on his own laughter.

But I'm weak, and what's wrong with that?

Boy, oh boy I love it when I fall for that

Boy, oh boy I love it when I fall for that

They still hadn’t moved an inch, leaning against each other, breathing into each other’s space, eyes roving over each other’s face. Keith’s arms were warm around him, and Lance felt like sinking into the embrace, sighing and melting into it. This close Lance could see Keith’s pink cheeks, pink lips, despite the purple lighting. He could feel Keith’s warmth underneath him, bleeding through two layers of cloth and warming him to his core.

Lance was suddenly hyper-aware of every quiver of Keith’s lips as he inhaled, and how he just had to lean up a little to catch them with his.

He hurriedly shoved himself away from Keith with a stuttered apology and patting down his own jacket as he tried to fight away his blush. Keith still didn’t move, staring at Lance like he was a comet hurtling to earth, streaking across the sky. Lance turned away, still red, and the static, the moment broke like delicate glass.

No thank you

They call me after dark, I don't want no part

My habits, they hold me like a grudge

I promise I won't budge

Keith moved across to lean into Shiro, putting distance between them. Lance felt a small twinge somewhere in his chest and turned towards the stage.

 

“Should we call an uber?” Lance yawned. “I’m too tired for public transport.”

“Sure.” Keith didn’t look up from scrolling through his phone as they walked. Shiro looked up with a small grimace. “Sorry guys, I’m heading someplace else.”

“Where?” Lance and Keith’s heads snapped up in unison. Shiro flushed suddenly, brightly, and brought a hand up to scratch at the back of his head. He looked away shyly, tucking his prosthetic hand into his jacket pocket. “Uuuh... Matt and Allura? They live near here and they offered that I could stay overnight.”

Lance gaped. “They made a move?”

Shiro flushed even more brightly. “No!” He held up his hands. “No, no, no. Definitely not a move. Just offering a place on the couch to a friend. Just friends. Friendly. Just friendly.”

Lance raised a sceptical eyebrow and Keith scoffed. “Friendly.” Keith said dryly, and Lance couldn’t remember that tone of voice ever being directed at someone other than him. “I’m sure their intentions are very friendly.”

Shiro scowled. “Yes.” He said primly. “They are. Now if you two want to call an uber, please go ahead. I will stay at my friends’ place. As friends.”

Lance crossed his arms. “If their intentions are ‘friendly’, why didn’t they invite the two of us? Me and Matt are friends. Keith and Matt are friends. Me and ‘Llura are friends.”

Keith pointed at Lance in a what-he-said-gesture. Shiro crossed his arms too, staring to the side, red-faced and pouting. For a long moment, he had nothing to say. Lance smiled. “Friendly or not, have fun.” He broke the tense silence. Shiro smiled back.

 “I’ll get going then.” He said finally, uncrossing his arms and pulling them into a hug. “See you two on Monday.”

He turned a corner and slowly vanished into the distance. Keith and Lance watched him go.

“You know,” Keith said, fishing out his phone to get an uber. “Those two definitely have something planned tonight.”

Lance shrugged. “If he’s limping Monday, we’ll know why.”

Keith snorted with laughter, and suddenly they were both collapsing into giggles. It felt nice, Lance realized, to hear Keith’s laughter. It felt nice to laugh with him. It made his chest lighter. Keith was adorable like this, eyes bright with humour, smile wide and open. It made Lance’s heart flutter and clench.

“I don’t hate you.” He blurted out. Keith stopped in an instant to stare. “What?” His eyes were wide and confused, and Lance felt like a gaping hole had opened beneath him, like he was falling. He shuffled awkwardly, reached up to tug at his hair. “I, uh, I don’t hate you. Like, at all. I mean, we fight, we bicker, but I don’t... I don’t think I hate you. Not really.”

“Not really.” Keith repeated, in the same tone of voice he’d just used on Shiro. Lance nodded frantically, feeling like a broken toy. “Yeah.” He babbled. “I don’t know if I ever hated you, I know it was awkward and we... but I don’t hate you now and maybe I never hated you and...”

“Lance.” Keith moved in closer and put a hand on his shoulder. Lance froze. Keith looked up at him darkly, seriously, like he was trying to figure him out. “I don’t hate you either.” Keith said quietly. “I haven’t hated you for a while. I just thought you were... I don’t know. But...” Lance pretended not to notice Keith’s hand sliding just a little lower. “I definitely don’t hate you.”

Lance’s breath caught. Keith was looking at him like he had when Lance had fallen into his arms, like when he was talking to Shiro too quietly for Lance to hear. Open and earnest and trusting.

Lance thought for the second time that night that Keith’s lips were very, very close. He moved even closer.

Behind him, a car honked, and they jumped apart like they’d been touched by electricity, everything suddenly falling out of place again but everything falling back to how it should be.

Silently, they stared at each other and the distance between them before turning to the street again. The distance hurt until the uber pulled up, the distance hurt as Lance watched Keith slam the car door and head up the stairs to his front door. And later, when Lance was laying in his bed smelling like the cigarette smoke and alcohol from the concert, and still feeling Keith’s hand just below his shoulder, the distance just hurt more.

Chapter Text

“Shiro!” Allura greeted him with a hug at the door. Matt showed up behind her in a large pyjama shirt and a larger grin. “Took you long enough.”

“Hi, Matt.” Shiro pulled him into a bone-cracking hug with a laugh. Allura closed the door and led the way into the living room. “We decided to have dinner late so you could still join us.”

Shiro stopped in his tracks. “’Llura, it’s like... 1 a.m.” At his side, Matt laughed, a warm presence pushing up against his arm. “It’s a midnight feast.”

Allura winked at him from the doorway. “Think of it as a dinner date.”

Shiro blushed furiously as Matt followed Allura into the living room, leaving him to take off his shoes and coats before following them as well.

He was not expecting the sight he was greeted with.

Matt and Allura, both still in pyjamas, were standing proudly at the other end of a dinner table, lit by candles, covered in a dark table cloth and steaming bowls of food. There was a bouquet in the middle of the table, definitely arranged by Allura and probably with a million meanings Shiro couldn’t even guess at.

“What... What’s this?” Shiro stuttered, hoping the dim lighting hid the way he was fidgeting. Matt and Allura exchanged a smile before Matt circled the table, coming towards him.

“It’s a dinner date.” He answered with a grin, before coming close enough to take Shiro’s hand in his. “Okay, I really hope we didn’t read this wrong, because if we did that would be the most embarrassing thing ever and you can stop me right now, but I don’t think we did and you’re so damn oblivious this is the only way we...”

“Matt.” Allura cut in firmly. Matt took a deep breath. “Takashi Shirogane?” He asked tentatively. “Go on a date with us? Here? Now?”

Shiro felt his breath stop in his throat. Matt looked faintly terrified. “I’m sorry.” He mumbled out. “I was positive that...”

Shiro took a deep breath. “Yeah.” He said, drinking in the look of relief on Matt’s face and the smug smile on Allura’s. “Alright. Let’s try this.” He offered Matt his arm. “Take me on a dinner date.”

Matt smiled. “With pleasure.”

“You know, this would all be much more impressive if the two of you weren’t in pyjamas.” A smile twitched at the corners of Shiro’s mouth as he sat down at the candle-lit table.

“Shut up, Shiro.” Matt was smiling too. “Do you even know how long it took to make this meal?”

 

“I don’t...” Shiro was gasping, already breathless as Allura kissed him gently, again and again until his head was spinning. “I don’t usually do this on first dates.”

“We aren’t doing anything yet.” Allura murmured. “Although you did just insinuate that you are willing to.”

“Besides.” Matt’s hands were on his shoulders, in his hair, and then, oh god, Matt was kissing him, this was some kind of heaven. “Considering how long we’ve been waiting, I’d say we’ve earned this.”

After the date, the two had coaxed him onto the couch with promises that Matt was going to go get him some sheets, and not to worry about the dishes, that would come tomorrow. As promised, Matt had left, and Allura had leant into him, comfortably, easily, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Shiro could hardly breathe. It felt... good. Nice.

“Were you serious?” Shiro couldn’t help but second guess the entire evening, even as he gently buried his face in Allura’s hair. She smelled sweet, and, unsurprisingly, of flowers. “About what?” Allura murmured back, and she took his hand in hers, entwined their fingers thoughtfully.

“Date.” Shiro couldn’t quite think, or form words. “Date. This. That this is a date.”

“We were.” Came Matt’s voice. He was leaning against the doorframe of the living room. “We want you, Takashi. Both of us. And we think you might want us too.”

“I...” Shiro felt out of balance, off pace, out of orbit. Allura smiled and leaned in. “Do you need proof?” She asked, lowly, earnestly. Shiro breathed out heavily and watched her eyelashes flutter. “Depends on the proof.”

She came closer, took his face in her hands so gently he felt like he was made of glass. “May I?” She asked. Shiro closed his eyes, let out a deep breath and let all his defences fall. “Please.” He whispered.

And then her lips were on his, just like he’d dreamed sometimes, and they were soft and full and her smell surrounded him, her hands were on his face, and Matt was coming closer now, too, leaning down and supporting one knee on the couch.

“We’re asking you, Shiro.” He said calmly. “Do you want this?”

Shiro looked up into the eyes he’d dreamt about for months, thought about how often he’d seen them together and wished he could be part of that, and his stomach swooped. “Yes.” He breathed out. “Yes.”

Which was how he ended up here, with Matt’s mouth on his, Matt’s hand in his hair and Allura whispering a “tell me if it’s too much” in his ear as her lips went to his throat, her hand gently curling around his waist.

Allura reclaimed his mouth at the same moment she slid a hand up his shirt, Matt adjusting to kiss a pattern across Alluras shoulders. Shiro gasped, letting her drink up the sound as she moved herhand higher, finally joined by Matt who slid his warm hand up the opposite side.

Shiro gasped again, arching up, completely overwhelmed by two sets of hands both making their way up his sides, both gently rucking up his shirt, overwhelmed by the way Allura gasped down his moans and the way Matt leaned down to kiss at every exposed piece of skin.

For a moment, it was all moving too fast. He had been entirely serious saying he didn’t usually do this on first dates; and, despite all the signs he wasn’t even sure if this was a date. Matt and Allura were together, and they had just been friends for too long. Could this really be a date? He wanted to slow it all down, wanted to cuddle and watch movies and sleep on the couch, not with them, not so soon.

But then he realized what that meant, what it meant if this wasn’t a date. If they didn’t mean all this. It meant he had one chance, on night, and probably one night only with the two people he’d been pining after for months.

And with that resolution, he finally began kissing back.

Allura gasped, leaning back as their lips separated, and in a joint effort, Matt and Allura both tugged his shirt over his head. Matt’s hands went to his shoulders immediately, tracing down his torso, reverently stroking every line, every scar. “Beautiful.” He whispered, and Shiro blushed as Allura followed Matt’s path with lips and tongue.

Matt leaned in. “Should we take this to the bedroom?”

Shiro’s first instinct was to refuse, to tell them he wanted to take it slow, that he was still felt too broken for something like this. But then it hit him, one night, just as Allura nipped at his hipbone, and he arched in pleasure. “Yes.” He whispered. “Yes, please.”

It was only later, when they lay in bed with Allura nestled under his arm and Matt curled up on his chest like an overly large cat that Shiro had a sudden suspicion. “Matt?”

“Hmmm.”

“Did you ever even get me bedsheets for the couch?”

Matt nuzzled into Shiro’s chest with a self-satisfied smirk and leaned up to kiss at the stump of Shiro’s arm just below his shoulder. “Nope.” He popped the ‘p’ with a smug smile. Shiro chuckled. “You  planned this, you bastards.”

Matt hummed noncommittally and tucked his face back into Shiro’s shoulder. “Matt?” Shiro asked again, quieter, more serious. Matt didn’t look up, just hummed. “What if I had said no?”

Matt shot up suddenly, eyes wide before he scrunched them together, trying to make out Shiro in the blur without his glasses. “Did you...” He faltered. “Not want to?”

“No!” Shiro wished he had an arm free so he could reach out, hold Matt reassuringly, tug him back down, but he could just raise his stump uselessly. “No, Matt.” He breathed deeply. “I just... I don’t know. It seemed so planned.”

“Shiro.” Matt leaned in to kiss him gently. “None of our plans are more important than your comfort.”

Shiro fell asleep with Matt and Allura to either side of him and the reassuring knowledge that they would still be there when he woke up.

 

“Lance!” Shiro grabbed at Lance’s arm the moment he came in and dragged him behind the counter hurriedly. “Lance, we need to talk.”

“Oooh, is this about your “sleepover”?” Lance’s eyes glint deviously. “Because I was expecting to have to drag the details out of you, not for you to come to me.”

Shiro sighed deeply, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Yes, it’s about the sleepover.”

“YES!” Lance punched the air, almost jumping from joy. “Okay, tell me everything.”

Shiro reddened. “Okay, so Matt and Allura invited me on a date.”

“Obviously.”

“And came onto me.”

“Obviously.” Lance was still nodding along.

“And we kissed.” Shiro scrubbed a hand through his short hair. Lance rolled his eyes. “Obviously. Now tell me something new.”

“We slept together.” Shiro’s words came out in a rush, all jumbled together, and Lance’s eyes widened. “Oh, shit! Shiro! I did not pin you down as that type of guy at all.”

“Yeah.” Shiro looked down at his own feet with a touch of shame and one of regret. “Neither did I.”

Lance immediately caught on, eyes filling with concern. “Is everything okay? Do I have to punch Matt? Do I have to destroy Allura?” His hand was warm and comforting on Shiro’s arm, and Shiro pulled him into a warm, shuddering hug.

“No, no. It’s alright. They didn’t do anything I didn’t want. I just...” Shiro could feel tears forming in his eyes, and Lance just held him closer and quickly manoeuvred them into a private corner of the café. “I think I might have said yes out of the wrong reasons.”

“Hey.” Lance pushed Shiro away from him a little and wiped at his eyes. “Hey. You can talk to them about it. You can tell them and it’ll never happen again. You don’t have to feel guilty for refusing or...”

“No!” Shiro’s arms tightened around Lance. “I just... what if it’s my only chance. What if they only want me once?”

“Oh.” Lance’s eyes softened. “Oh, Shiro. Shiro. That’s... I mean, I guess that isn’t a wrong reason. But it isn’t a one-time thing. They like you. They’ve been trying to ask you out for months.”

“Yeah, and now they did.” Shiro bit his lip. “What if that’s all they want?”

Lance leaned in and held him closer. “Then you can live with it. You’ve gone through worse. But that isn’t what’s happening here. You have a second time, and a third, and as many as you want. Just...” Lance leaned back and looked up at Shiro seriously. “Promise me that you’ll talk to them honestly. Talk to them as if you had forever.”

Shiro’s eyes were glistening wetly. “Okay. “ He promised. “Okay.”

 

“Hey, Shiro.” The voice was soft, and instantly recognizable. Shiro looked up, wide-eyed and surprised. “Matt? You, uh... you don’t have a shift today. What are you doing here?”

“I know.” Matt smiled, but his hands stuck firmly in his jacket pockets gave away his nervosity. “Allura said I should come on both our behalfs.”

Behind Shiro, Lance appeared like a vaguely threatening cloud following him around. Matt’s smile towards him was a little less self-assured as Lance gave him a death glare over Shiro’s shoulder.

“We wanted to ask you out. On a second date.” Matt said hurriedly, words piling on top of each other. “Both of us.”

“Oh.” Shiro’s eyes were wide. His breath caught in his throat. Something in his stomach swooped. “Ye... I mean, wh... where?”

“Observatory?” Matt fiddled with his cuffs nervously. Shiro smiled softly, and behind him, Lance gave a slow, approving nod. “That sounds nice, Matt.” Shiro’s voice was just a bit breathy. “Tell Allura I said yes.”

Matt’s grin could brighten the entire coffee shop. “Great! Does Thursday sound good?”

“Sounds perfect.” Relief dropped from every syllable Shiro uttered. For a long while, both of them just stood, staring at each other softly. Then Matt stepped forward, reaching out carefully to run a knuckle along Shiro’s cheek. “See you then.” He whispered, before leaning in for a quick, chaste kiss that had them both blushing. Still red, Shiro straightened up. “It’s your day off, Matt.” He smiled. “Get out of here.”

“Wait!” Lance called out. “Shiro, you go, I still gotta talk to Matt.”

Matt watched warily as Lance approached and grabbed him by the front of his shirt, pulling him close. “Look.” He said. “I love you both, but..”

“Hurt him and you’ll hunt me down?” Matt suggested with false bravado. Lance’s eyes glinted. “Worse. I’ll send Pidge.” Matt shuddered. “That’s cruel.”

Lance’s face melted into a smile. “Thanks for finally making a move.” He said honestly. “Shiro needed that.”

 Matt smiled too. “We all needed a little push.” He shuffled nervously. “I really want this to work out, Lance.”

“I know.” Lance’s voice softened. “I know.” Matt nodded, turned, and, still blushing faintly, left.

As the door closed behind Matt, Lance turned to Shiro with the widest possible grin. “Shiro?” He announced. “I think you three are going to be just fine.”

“Allura!” Lance swung open the door to Altea Flowers with a bang that rattled the glass panes. “You finally scored!”

She grinned at him brightly from beyond the counter. “Matt told you?”

“Okay, you are not going to believe this, but...” Lance leant over the counter. “Shiro told me.”

“Holy shit.” Allura whispered to herself. “Anyway,” Lance continued. “You did it! You  got Shiro to agree to a date.”

Allura huffed. “More like realize we’re asking him out. Once he knew it was a date, it wasn’t that hard.”

“I bet there were some other hard things that night, huh?” Lance winked. Allura stared at him, completely deadpan. “I will throw you out of this establishment myself.”

“Whoa, I just came to offer friendly congratulations!” Lance was quick to defend himself. “Also is there a flower that specifically says “congrats on finally getting laid you dense idiot”? I want to give it to both Shiro and Matt.”

Allura pulled a face and shook her head. “If there was, I would’ve already gotten both of them full bouquets.”

Lance pounded his fist on the counter. “Damn.” He said. “Da...”

He was cut short by Keith suddenly appearing from behind a stack of overly tall cacti. Allura leaned in close. “You can still finish that ‘damn’ verbally Lance, everyone can read it from your face anyway.”

“Shut up.” Lance whispered back, focused on Keith’s rolled up sleeves, messy ponytail,  and what was very clearly hickeys on his neck.

“Hey, Lance.” Keith seemed a bit fidgety, a little nervous. Lance tried for a smile, eyes tracking the purple marks on his neck with every one leaving a little stab somewhere in his chest.

“Hi, Keith.” Just seeing him this close was a thrill, especially remembering the touch of his hand, the shade of his lips, the way his eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks. But those marks running just above the collar of his shirt weren’t Lance’s. That weekend, that night, hadn’t been Lance’s.

He had completely misread every moment, and he didn’t know if anything had ever hurt so much, which was stupid, because he had never even staked a claim. If anything, he had missed his chance to be the one who had left those marks, he had missed his chance to thread his fingers through Keith’s messy hair, circle a hand around his slim waist, pull him close.

His chest clenched in bitterness.

“It was nice to see you.” His smile was tight, and Keith’s look of confusion almost made him feel sorry as he left the shop. But he couldn’t let himself feel sorry, Lance decided as he took a deep breath and headed towards home. He needed to get back in the game and to finally give up on his dreams of Keith. He needed to move on.

Chapter Text

“A round table,” Matt announced proudly, indicating the set table in front of them. “No room for third wheels.”

Shiro smiled fondly at him. “How original.” Allura said dryly, but even her eyes held that hint of softness. “Now, who’s paying for our coffees?”

Matt’s face fell. “Holy shit, this whole polyamory thing is difficult.”

Polyamory. Shiro could feel himself flush with excitement or anticipation of some sort. It wasn’t a confirmation, but it set his heart pounding. It meant a possibility. “I’ll pay.” It came out in a rush. Allura and Matt both looked at him. “Are you sure? We were the ones who asked you out.”

“I’m sure.” Shiro smiled. He needed the time at the counter to think. “What do you want?”

 

“So.” Once they had settled down at the table with their coffees in front of them. “What do you want?” Shiro echoed his question from before. “From this, I mean. Asking me out.”

“What do you mean, what do we want?” Matt’s brows furrowed.

“I thought we had made it perfectly clear.” Allura’s warm voice and crisp accent made him want to melt into her. Made him want something softer and sweeter than they had. At the same time he couldn’t help but feel disappointed. They’d made it perfectly clear.

So it was just about sex after all.

Matt reached out a hand across the table, towards Shiro. Shiro stared at him in confusion. Matt laughed softly. “We want to date you, you giant idiot.”

“Wh...” Shiro’s voice was weak, his eyes wide. Matt’s smile was small and soft and exasperated. Next to him, Allura glowed with warmth, the sunlight catching in her bright hair. Both equally gorgeous. “Both... both of you?”

“Both of us.” Allura confirmed, reaching out to put  hand on Shiro’s elbow. Hesitantly, Shiro let himself reach out to take Matt’s hand. They sat like that for a while as Shiro tried to find the words.

“I thought this was just about sex.” He finally said weakly.

“What the hell made you think that?” Allura snorted with laughter. Matt couldn’t help but smirk. “Was it the candlelit dinner? Us asking you out? The second date?”

Shiro flushed. “The whole... having sex immediately?” He said slowly, hesitantly. Allura and Matt’s faces fell in unison, practically before the words were out of his mouth.

“You... you thought that was what it was?”

“Is that why you said yes?” Matt asked hesitantly. Shamefaced, curled in on himself, Shiro nodded. Allura took a deep, sharp breath.

“I’m so sorry, Shiro.” She said, sounding close to tears. “We... we should’ve communicated this more clearly, we thought you knew it wasn’t... we didn’t consider you might think it was a one time thing.”

“It’s okay.” Shiro replied weakly.

“No!” Matt spoke loudly enough that the people at the next table looked over in surprise. “It’s not okay.” He continued at a normal volume. “We pushed you out of your comfort zone, obviously, from how you’re acting, and that’s our fault for not communicating like adults. No more miscommunications. We want this. We both want to date you. You’re not just a third in this relationship. You’re not some kind of kinky threesome fantasy. We care for you. We want you to be part of this.”

The table next to them was still staring. Matt turned and glared. “You mind your own business.” He snapped. “We’re trying to have a private date, for fuck’s sake.”

Shiro couldn’t help but laugh at the way the other customers immediately turned to their own coffees like children caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Matt could be... surprisingly intimidating.

Allura smiled and traced a thumb gently over his elbow. He could feel her touch even through his shirt. “We’re sorry.” She said. Shiro smiled back. “It’s alright. We’ve cleared it up now. Just...”

Matt and Allura perked up like eager puppies, leaning forward immediately to catch his next words. Shiro laughed at their faces, ran a hand through his long forelock. “Could we... take it slow from here on?”

Matt’s lovestruck smile made Shiro’s heart flutter. “As slow as you want, Shiro.”

Allura’s expression was just as soft as she took Shiro’s flesh hand in hers. “Of course.” She said. “We’ve wanted this for a while. We won’t push you.”

“A while?”

Allura laughed. “You haven’t noticed?”

“We haven’t exactly been subtle.” Matt added. Allura snorted loudly. “You’re just thick as a brick.”

“Rude.” Shiro replied, but entwined his fingers with Allura’s anyway, and quietly sipped at his latté to calm the butterflies in his stomach.

 

Lance tried to calm the butterflies in his stomach as Keith walked in. He wasn’t interested anymore. Nothing had happened between them, obviously something had happened between Keith and someone else, and Lance was getting over him.

That was all there was to it.

But for some reason, he still felt like his insides were writhing in anticipation as Keith approached. “No Shiro or Matt today?” He questioned.

“They’re on a date.” Lance grinned broadly, leaning over the counter. “Finally.”

Keith sighed. “Thank god. The gay tension was getting ridiculous.”

“Pot.” Pidge suddenly chimed in from where she was hidden behind a pile of textbooks. “Kettle.”

“Hi, Pidge.” Keith leaned back to catch her eye and wave before he turned back to Lance, confusion in his eyes as he pointed towards the stack of books with a mop of chestnut hair and mouthed a ‘what was that about?’

Lance just shrugged. “The usual?”

“Ah, you know me too well.”

Lance ignored the flirtatious undertone in those words, forced himself not to reply. He heard Pidge’s pile of books snicker.

“So, uh, when is Shiro coming back to take over?” Keith asked shyly as Lance slid the coffee across the counter. Lance shrugged. “Maybe not at all, if you know what I mean.” Lance waggled his eyebrows in an exaggerated gesture.

“Wait, so you’re closing store today?” Lance tried to ignore how disappointed Keith sounded.

“Nah, a new part timer is taking over.” Lance flashed a grin. “I’m too busy to close. I have a date.”

“Oh.” Keith sounded as if he was drawing every word out with a fishhook. “That’s nice.”

“Looks like I’m not the only one.” Lance winked, trying to fake bravado as he indicated Keith’s neck, the base still sporting faded purple marks. Keith blushed furiously. “Yeah, that... uh. Just some... guy. Some guy off Tind... some guy I met at a bar.” He took a deep breath as if to give himself time. “Gave me a fake phone number, the bastard.”

Lance grinned broadly, and couldn’t stop himself leaning into a flirtatious stance. “Even the prettiest among us get turned down sometimes.”

“Yeah.” Keith went even redder, grabbing his coffee in such a hurry that some sloshed over the top. “Yeah, uh... See you later, Lance.”

“Yeah.” Lance watched Keith leave in hurried steps, almost slamming the door on the way out in his hurry.

Behind her stack of books, Pidge poked her head out. “Seriously?” She asked.

 

“You want me to come to you movie night?” Keith stared at Lance sceptically. “Me?”

“Yeah.” Lance shrugged, awkwardly stuffing his hands in his pockets. “I mean, everyone’s coming. The whole gang. Pidge and Hunk, Shiro, Allura, Matt... why would I leave you out?”

“Just because...” Keith stuttered for a moment. “Thank you.” He said finally. “I’ll be there.”

Lance smiled, maybe a little too softly. “Don’t be late.”

“I won’t.”

“And bring popcorn.” Lance added.

“Shouldn’t you have your own popcorn if you’re hosting?” Keith lifted a sceptical eyebrow.

“Bring popcorn or you’re uninvited.”

Keith laughed and gave a mock bow as he walked through the door backwards. “As you command.”

Lance stared after him until Shiro sidled close. “A shame you couldn’t check out his butt when he left, huh?”

Lance flushed furiously and stomped down on Shiro’s foot. Of course, Shiro hardly even flinched. Lance supposed the pain resistance came with the size. “I have not checked out Keith’s ass.” Lance said firmly, frowning up at Shiro with his arms crossed. “Not even once.”

Shiro shrugged. “Sure, your eyes are just glued to the way he walks out the door because you like the colour of his jeans.”

Lance sputtered. “I don’t look at him! Not like that! Not at all.”

Shiro grinned widely as if he had just won some kind of secret victory. “I notice he brought you some new flowers yesterday. And that you kept the first pot alive.”

Lance flushed. “Keith and Allura bring everyone flowers.”

“They don’t bring everyone peach blossoms.” Shiro pointed to the small jar of flowering twigs Lance had carefully placed on the shelf behind the bar. “Peach Blossom- I am your captive.” His smile was somehow devious and sweet at the same time. “I asked Allura.”

Lance blushed. “She’s probably messing with you. Or Keith didn’t know what they mean.”

Shiro patted Lance on the shoulder. “I’ll let you believe that.”

 

Pidge and Hunk had already shown up early, Hunk to prepare dinner and Pidge to steal food under the guise of helping. Lance had insisted that ordering pizza was good enough, to which Hunk had proposed making their own pizza, and who could say no to that?

Next to ring the doorbell was Keith, standing there awkwardly in his leather jacket with a few packets of microwave popcorn in his arms. Lance tried to fight down Shiro’s voice inside him telling him that Keith didn’t give everyone peach blossoms and focused on fixing a grin on his face. “Keith! I would’ve pinned you down to as the type to always be late.”

“I’ve never been late in my life.” Keith answered flatly. “How’d your date go?”

It took Lance a while to realize what Keith meant, and even longer to realize that was the last time they had seen each other- how had it been a week?

And how had Keith gotten prettier in that time?

“It went pretty well.” Lance grinned broadly. “We’re meeting again tomorrow.”

It was a lie, and Lance felt just a little guilty as he let Keith into the apartment and showed him where to put his shoes and jacket. The date had been terrible, but he didn’t want Keith and his obviously successful love life to know that.

Lance stayed for a while to watch Keith’s jeans stretch over his hips as he bent to untie his shoes, his shirt riding up a little to expose pale hips. Lance sucked in his breath harshly at the sight and finally tore himself away to race back to the kitchen.

“Is Keith here?” Pidge stole a slice of mozzarella from Hunk as he shoved the pizza in the oven. Lance glared at her, daring her to say something else. “How did you know?”

“You’re blushing. Completely red. Flushed up to your ears.”

Lance glared and covered his ears and cheeks with his hands. “Am not!”

“Lance?” Keith’s tentative voice came from the kitchen door as he peeked in. Lance had never heard him sound so small, so... cute. Keith straightened easily as he spotted Hunk and Pidge, some confidence coming back into his stance. “Hey, guys.”

“Keith! Buddy!” Hunk rushed to embrace Keith, dusting his tight dark shirt with flour. “Glad you could make it!”

Pidge dangled her legs gleefully from where she sat on the counter. “Yeah, me too.” Her Cheshire grin made Lance give her a warning glare. She just returned a wink. “Lance was really glad you’re coming.”

“Really?” Keith sounded so relieved, so hopeful, that Lance couldn’t lie. “Yeah.” He shuffled awkwardly. “It... makes you part of the group? Officially, I mean.”

Keith smiled, widely, softly, like that evening Lance had confessed he didn’t hate him at all. Like suddenly everything in the world had shifted to the right place. “I’m glad.”

 

Matt, Shiro and Allura showed up just a little later, Shiro’s hand clutched tightly in Matt’s. “The lovebirds!” Lance announced loudly. “We’re complete! Keith, prep the popcorn! Pidge, get the movie! We are ready to go!”

They settled in front of Lance’s couch, Allura, Matt and Shiro squeezed impossibly close on a beanbag on the floor in front of the couch, arms around each other happily, while Lance leaned against Hunk on the couch with his head on his friend’s shoulder. Pidge perched on the other end of the couch and Keith was draped across an armchair Lance had brought in from the bedroom in an elegant, almost distracting way, his long limbs dangling, his pale, long-fingered hands reaching for the popcorn and distracting Lance every time. He wondered what Keith would look like sitting in his bedroom just like that, listening as Lance told him about his day, reaching out to twine his fingers in Lance’s hair, a soft smile on his face as he just listened in the way Keith was so good at.

It was distracting, and Lance was just glad he had already watched Black Panther, or he would have lost the plot instantly. He couldn’t even appreciate M’Baku in his throne, too busy watching Keith watching with rapt attention, eyes flickering to follow the action on the screen, twining a strand of hair around his finger in concentration.

It was a distracting evening, so distracting Lance could hardly bring himself to tease Matt, Allura and Shiro or enjoy Hunk’s perfect pizza. Instead, every time he saw the three of them cuddled into each other, the way Shiro hunched his shoulders with laughter when Matt whispered something in his ear, the way Allura kissed Matt’s hair, the way her fingers entwined with Shiro’s and slowly caressed his stomach, every time Lance would feel a small twinge somewhere in his stomach. Why couldn’t that be him?

Ever since he’d been little love had been all that he wanted. As a child, he had watched Disney movies with glowing eyes, pretended to be Snow White and Mulan, dreamed of finding his love, his one, dreamt of love that could conquer anything. And here he was, twenty-two, and somehow love evaded him. Love like the one his friends now had, the love in the way Shiro, Matt and Allura curled up against each other in comfort, the love in the way they laughed at a sleeping Matt and giggled as Allura pulled off his glasses, and put them on as she paraded around the living room in a Matt impression so spot-on, Pidge herself said she could be fooled.

Somehow, the only love he seemed to be able to find was temporary.

 

Everyone had left, with just Pidge and Lance left cleaning up the last remnants of the movie night. She had promised to help with the cleanup in exchange for sleeping at Lance’s place, which was closer to university than hers.

She was unusually quiet as they cleared away the dishes, wiped the table and set up a bed for her on the couch. “Pidge?” Lance finally asked, testing the waters. “Are you alright?”

She looked up at him in surprise from her place on the couch. “I... yeah, I’m fine.” Her eyes seemed to waver, a fleeting glimmer of something heavy settling across before she was smiling again. “Thanks for asking.”

Without asking, Lance sat down next to her and pulled her into a hug. “What’s up?”

For a moment, Pidge seemed frozen, before she finally melted into him, wrapping her thin arms around him, hands practically clawing at his back as she shook softly in his arms. “Lance?” She asked finally, obviously fighting down tears. “I’m part of the group, right?”

“What?” Lance frowned, confused. “Of course you are! You’re part of the original group! We’re the Garrison University trio! Everyone here was just... I dunno, Team Altea? Team Voltron.”

“Do I belong in it, though? In Team Voltron?” Pidge sniffled, burrowing deeper into Lance’s sweatshirt. He rubbed a hand up and down her back. “Of course you do. Why wouldn’t you?”

“I dunno, it’s just... you and Hunk, you have each other. Matt, Shiro and Allura, they’re all paired up, and Keith, he has Shiro but he also just has himself and that’s enough for him. But I’m not like him, I can’t just be by myself. And I don’t really know where I fit in.”

Lance clutched her tighter. “You fit in everywhere, Pidgey. With all of us. You’re part of our group and we’re not going to leave you behind. Keith may be a loner weirdo, but you don’t have to be. We’re here for you, okay?”

Pidge sniffled again, pulling him tight. “Okay.” She whispered, already sounding calmer. And then, finally. “Thank you, Lance.”

Lance smiled and shifted to hug her closer, warmer. “You’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

“Have you seen Shiro?”

Keith’s voice was small and fragile and bewildered, like a little boy who couldn’t quite grasp the fact that his Papa was gone. “Uuuuh...” Lance shrugged on his jacket, a little distracted by Keith pretty in his uncertainty, somehow adorable despite the leather jacket and his oil and grease-stained fingers.

“He’s not here, buddy. Sorry.”

“Oh.” Keith’s face fell instantly, into his usual grumpy expression with just a hint of hurt Lance might have missed on anyone else. Missed or ignored. “What’s up?” He asked instead. Keith shook his head as if trying to wipe the hurt from his face. “Nah, Shiro just promised to spend his lunch break with me, that’s all.” He sounded casual about it, but Lance knew it to be a lie. Keith was never casual. He was intense, burning, and nothing he did or planned was ever casual.

“Dude, Shiro’s shift doesn’t even start until in two hours.” Lance felt a little sorry for Keith. “He must have forgotten.”

“Uh-huh. Okay. Thanks for... bye.” Keith stuttered awkwardly, clearly frustrated by the entire situation, turning to the door. “Wait!” Lance leapt after him. “I’m just taking my break. I can spend it with you.”

Keith turned to him sceptically. “Why?”

Lance grinned broadly. “We’re friends. And I’m already on break, it’ll be nice to spend it with you.” He tried to keep the smile from being too soft and didn’t quite know if he succeeded, but Keith’s lips quirked up at the corners. “Yeah, alright.”

 

They strolled through the park together with fries they had bought from a fast food cart. It was only late February and their breaths puffed in front of them, but the shining sun was sparkling off the remainders of snow under the trees and lighting a small spark of warmth in Lance’s heart at the thought of the oncoming spring.

Keith was quiet and awkward, picking at his food with disinterest, looking at his feet with the occasional quick glance towards Lance strolling beside him. Lance seemed too busy to notice his awkwardness, enchanted with everything around them, eyes glowing at everything he took in. Occasionally he would point out something particularly interesting with excitement and glee, face flushed and glowing in the cold. Keith didn’t really know what he wanted to do. He wanted to hold Lance’s hand, maybe, maybe kiss him. But this felt too close to a date for comfort. Like they were almost there, like there was a glass wall between them with a crack in it’s surface, like Keith was watching Lance from the other side, scared of reaching out and shattering that glass surface like he had always wanted to.

When Keith glanced over again, Lance was staring at him openly with a smirk dancing at the corner of his mouth. Keith flushed brightly. “What?” He demanded. Lance’s smile just grew. “Nothing. You just really aren’t a conversationalist, are you?”

Keith burrowed his face in his coat, his shoulders hunched over his ears as he scuffled moodily. “You got a problem with it?”

“Nah.” Lance said simply. “It’s nice just... watchi- walking with you.”

Keith smiled. “Gives you more time to run off at the mouth.”

Lance gasped in mock offense. “Excuse me, I hardly talk at all! If you weren’t such a grump, and talked like a normal human being maybe I wouldn’t have to fill all the silences! And maybe you’d realize how much normal people actually talk. Which is more than you do.” Lance popped a fry into his mouth with a smug grin.

Keith just huffed a laugh and kept walking, Lance quickly jumping into a light jog to catch up. “You don’t mind, do you?” Lance tossed the paper his fries had been wrapped in into a nearby trash can and wiped his hands and mouth off. “I know I talk a lot.” He looked genuinely worried. “It... bothers some people. I can stop, you know. If it bothers you.”

Keith looked up and enjoyed Lance’s widened eyes, admired how blue they were... “I don’t mind.” He said softly. “I like listening to you.”

Lance returned the smile before turning away, flushing slightly. “I’m sorry, by the way... for how I acted towards you at first.”

Keith chuckled. “Didn’t you already do that at the concert?” Lance’s head whipped up. “No!” He almost yelled the word. “That’s the point! I never told you I’m sorry! I was mean and awful and I never apologized and..”

“Lance.” Keith put a hand on his shoulder, shutting him up. “It’s alright. And I’m sorry too. For, you know, calling you a stalker and shit.”

Lance’s grin turned evil. “And I’m sorry I walked in on you getting fucked at wo-“

“Okay, moment’s over.” Keith felt himself heat up impossibly. “I hate you.”

“I hate you too, mullet.”

 

Allura absolutely loved parties. She loved organizing them, and participating, and more than anything, she loved surprise parties. And so it was perfect that she was now dating a leap year baby whose birthday was fast approaching, because she was hell-bent on organizing two parties.

And obviously, they both had to be surprise parties. One for all of Shiro’s friends, and one that was more... private, just Matt, her, and Shiro, and the details of which had Lance blushing and Keith yelling at Allura to stop.

She had wanted to go full out, complete with a darkened room and everyone jumping out yelling “Surprise!” until Keith had forcefully reminded her what a bad idea it was to jump out announced at a man suffering from severe PTSD.

Lance felt something warm blossom in his chest as he looked around Shiro’s brightly lit apartment, at Keith and Pidge deep in conversation, at Matt spiking all the drinks while Allura’s back was turned, at Hunk and Allura fretting over birthday candles that kept going out. These were his friends. His group.

The key in the lock sounded at exactly the time Shiro had promised his partners it would, and Lance tensed as all the focus shifted to the door of the living room. There was shuffling, a door snapping shut, and then a call of “Matt? Allura?”

The two in question giggled, and Allura hurriedly left the cake to Hunk, leaving the room with an exaggerated wink. Lance and Pidge fought down their laughter.

It was only two seconds later that Shiro was dragged into the doorway by Allura. He took in the scene, eyes wide and smile even wider. “Happy Birthday!” Everyone chorused in a loud mess of voices as Allura leaned up to kiss him. Lance’s heart hurt.

He wished he could have what Shiro had. Someone he could come home to at the end of the day, someone whose presence in the apartment was unquestioned. Friends who would throw him a party. Someone he could kiss with his whole heart.

There was a shriek as Matt launched himself at Shiro, all gangly legs and arms hanging off Shiro’s broader frame. But their kiss was gentle, and sweet, and Lance caught himself staring at Keith, a smiling, quiet presence, and wondering what he would kiss like.

 

 Keith hadn’t intended on getting that drunk. He honestly hadn’t had that much, but Matt had probably made all the drinks a lot stronger than they had any right to be, and Keith was a lightweight. He watched Lance from across the room, rolling a beer bottle back and forth across the counter (he figured beer at least should be safe from Matt’s tampering) and wishing the fizzy feeling in his gut would go away. It had been like this all evening, that fizzy, sparkly feeling in his guts whenever he saw Lance, and Keith downing the nearest drink trying to drown it out.

Lance was smiling, a bit tipsily, and talking to Hunk animatedly, his wide gestures and slurred speech strangely charming to Keith. There was a blush high on his cheeks and a bright spark in his eyes and Keith wished he could be closer to him, wished he could run his hands through his hair, trace the blush on his face, wished he could hold him and...

Keith took another long gulp of beer as his mind ran amok with visions of everything he wished he could do.

With a low chuckle, Shiro slid beside him. “You’re staring.”

“I’m not.” Keith mumbled, still staring.

“It’ll get creepy in a moment.”

“He isn’t looking at me anyway. It’s not like he pays attention to me. He never does.”

Shiro couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “Are you kidding me? You’re all he looks at. You have no idea how many orders he’s messed up cause he was too busy ogling you.”

Keith’s head whipped around so fast Shiro winced. “You’re lying.”

“I’m not. It’s hilarious, really. Or sad. I can’t decide. You’re both pining after each other so hard, and you’re so completely oblivious-“

“First of all, you have no right to call me oblivious. You of all people.”

Shiro grinned broadly, watching Allura and Matt whispering in a corner. “Yeah, well, it worked out for me, didn’t it?” He turned to Keith, his face suddenly soft and sympathetic. “Don’t fuck this up. Lance and you... you’d be good with each other.”

Keith leaned into Shiro, the fizzy feeling in his gut spreading into something warm and calming. “You’re really not a good fit for the wise old mentor role.” He said fondly.

 

“Lance?”

Lance looked up, world already pleasantly hazy and slow, and focused on Keith approaching him, swaying slightly as he walked.

“Hey, Keith.” He slurred, patting the seat next to him on the couch. “C’mon, sit!”

Keith immediately flopped down, a half-finished bottle of beer dangling from his fingers, and pressed himself along Lance’s side, leaning his head against Lance’s shoulder. Lance blushed fiercely and couldn’t stop a warm feeling blossoming somewhere deep down. It felt familiar, comfortable. Keith curled up against him, warm and calm and heavy with doziness, felt like something he wanted.

“What’s up?” Lance murmured, and he wished he could kiss the top of Keith’s head as it rested against his shoulder so invitingly. Keith just mumbled something into his shoulder, curling even closer, hand tightening in the front of his shirt.

Lance smiled. “An affectionate drunk, huh? You’re not usually this cuddly.” Despite himself, he put an arm around Keith, revelling in the warmth radiating off him.

“Shut up.”

“Aah, there’s the Keith I know and love.” Lance froze as he realized the words that had just come out of his mouth but Keith seemed too far gone to even notice. They watched Allura, Matt and Shiro just opposite them, all tangled up in each other.

“Are you jealous of them?” Keith asked quietly, looking up at Lance with eyes hazy and unfocussed with alcohol. Lance shrugged, a tired, lazy movement. “Yeah.” He admitted, the alcohol in his bloodstream making his mouth lose and his heart open. “Yeah, a lot.”

“You don’t have to be.” Keith took his hand, and Lance jerked as if he’d been electrocuted. “You’re pretty awesome. You deserve love. You deserve...” He waved his hands around vaguely. “Everything.” He finished with the kind of satisfaction only drunk people can bring up.

Lance smiled fondly and tried to ignore how close Keith was, how tightly they were pressed together, tried to ignore all the fond, sparking undertones in Keith’s voice. “Thanks, Keith.” He whispered. He tried to pull his hand back, knowing that he had to remove himself before he did something he would regret. Keith held on, tangling their fingers tight and tugging Lance closer instead.

Lance looked up and instantly regretted it. Keith had lifted his head from Lance’s shoulder, and he was close enough Lance could make out every detail. Keith’s warm breath was fanning across Lance’s lips, Keith’s own lips glossy with beer. His eyes were wide and relaxed, unable to focus on Lance completely. His iris swirled dark blue and purple, glinting in the lamplight in a hundred shades. Lance could count the faint freckles dotted across his nose, see the slight gap between his front teeth, watch his thick, dark lashes flutter over flushed cheeks.

“Lance?” Keith’s lips moved slowly, and Lance couldn’t look away.

“Yeah?” He breathed.

“You like me, right?”

Electricity sparked down Lance’s back, a mixture of apprehension and terror at being found out, of excitement, of confusion. “Yeah!” He blurt out, trying to move back but held in place by Keith’s firm grip and wide eyes. “Yeah, you’re my frie-“

With that, Keith leaned forward just a bit, and then his lips met Lance’s, pressing firmly. His lips were soft, and Lance’s eyes fluttered shut despite himself as Keith’s lips started moving against his, slow and gentle and so persuasive. Lance’s free hand rose up, tracing up Keith’s back feather light before cupping the back of his head, tangling in his dark hair, and finally, finally he kissed Keith back and Lance swore to god, there were fucking fireworks.

Keith pulled away with a soft sound, sighing out deeply. His breath, smelling of alcohol and fruity drinks, fanned across Lance’s lips as he moved no more than an inch from Lance’s lips.

“Bathroom.” Keith demanded, eyes dark and wild with drunken eagerness. “Now.”

And Lance was just a little too drunk to say no to that.

 

“Fuck, Lance!” Keith’s head flew back as Lance’s lips traced down his neck, just the slightest hint of tongue and teeth as his hands gripped Keith’s hips firmly. Lance rested his forehead against Keith’s collarbone, wet with spit, and breathed out warm puffs of air against his chest, feeling it heave with heavy breaths. “Laaaance.” Keith demanded needily, tugging on his hair to pull him upright and meeting his lips again, tongue dipping into his mouth immediately, hands on either side of his face caressing his jaw. Lance met him eagerly, happily, chased Keith’s tongue with his, threw one arm around Keith’s waist to pull him close until their bodies were pressed together, every line melding into one.

One of Keith’s hands traced down Lance’s body, making him shudder as pale fingers danced across his cheek, his throat, his chest, just barely brushed his nipples and traced down his side, until Keith finally grasped Lance’s hand still gripping his hip, and firmly pushed it down and back until Lance had his hand firmly on Keith’s ass.

Lance groaned into Keith’s mouth and pulled him closer, loving how Keith wound his legs around him, loving Keith’s moans and gasps and breathless little noises.

They separated with spit still connecting them, eyes dark and fingers trembling, breathing heavy. Keith leaned forward just slightly, ground his hips against Lance just so. “I want to feel you.” He whispered.

“Not here.” Lance said, looking around as if someone might appear from a corner, pushing at Keith’s chest to get him away. Keith pouted. “We’re lucky no one has caught us yet.” Lance continued. “We can’t do this.”

Keith whined, arms wrapping around Lance and leaning in close again. Lance held him back. “Not here. My place?”

Keith smiled widely, lazily, his eyes tracking Lance’s lips seductively. “Your place.” He agreed, leaning in to brush his lips and tongue against Lance’s one more time.

 

“Holy shiiii-“ Lance broke off into a high pitched whine as Keith slammed him against the door the instant they were inside the apartment, kisses trailing down his jaw and neck, getting filthier and filthier by the second as Keith drunkenly sucked and bit at Lance’s neck, dragging down his shirt for better access.

“Keith!” Lance’s head dropped back with a heavy thunk, his hands going to Keith’s hair and tugging, listening to the groan that follows. “Keith, please.” He wasn’t above begging, not in this situation.

Keith looked up at him, dark and evil. “Please?”

“Please!” Lance wailed. “Please, touch me, please, more, I... I want...”

“You want this?” And god, Keith’s fingers were teasing at his waistband and Lance couldn’t do much more than melt, babbling. “Yes, god, yes.”

Keith leaned in to kiss him again, slow and filthy, and flicking the button to his jeans, drawing down the zipper so slowly Lance could hear it scraping past every tooth. He whined high in his throat, kissing Keith dipper and letting him swallow his groan as Keith’s pale hand finally went to his bulge, a gentle, firm touch, fingers lingering as Lance’s hips twitched forward desperately.

“Bedroom.” Keith demanded against Lance’s lips, half command and half question, and Lance grabbed his hand without a word and dragged him into his bedroom, wrapping arms and legs around him and kissing him as if his life depended upon it as they fell back onto the bed together.

Finally they were in a position to grind their hips together, and Lance moaned loudly, already a flushed mess, as he felt Keith rub against him, as he heard the quiet ‘fuck’ tumble from Keith’s lips. His hands slid down quickly to Keith’s skintight jeans, undoing the buttons and pulling them off with far less patience than Keith had shown before kicking off his own trousers.

Keith practically jumped him, lips firmly attached to that spot behind Lance’s jaw that made him want to melt. Cool fingers trailed along the bottom of Lance’s shirt, pushing up until it was bunched underneath his armpits. Keith leaned back, sat up, ignoring Lance’s whine of displeasure as he tugged the shirt off and tossed it behind him. Lance was breathless and flushed, his arms high above his head, legs spreading easily, bulge straining against his black briefs, and Keith was struck dumb.

“Keith..” Lance whispered in such a broken whisper that it jarred Keith back into action, into pulling off his own shirt before running his hands up and down Lance’s sides, brushing against his nipples before ducking down to take one between his lips, listening to Lance’s moans as he clawed at the bedsheets.

“Keith, please... fuck me.” Lance gasped as Keith gently took the nipple between his teeth, tugged, his hands going to Lance’s briefs. Keith immediately pulled back, enjoying the sight of Lance’s chest red and puffy, and dove back up to claim his lips. “Not today.” He whispered. “I don’t have the patience to prep you.”

“Keeeeeiiith.” Lance wrapped his arms around Keith’s shoulders, eyes wide and begging. Keith looked up at the gorgeous man gasping his name, the haze of pleasure clouding his judgement more and more. “Can I blow you?” He asked. Lance nodded, tears shining in the corners of his eyes. “Please.” He whispered.

After all this time, all those months longing after another, Keith was too impatient for much foreplay, and he leaned down immediately, stopping just long enough to suck and bite Lance’s other nipple as red as the first before leaning down, shuffling backwards until his breath fanned across Lance’s clothed erection, making it twitch under the cotton.

Without hesitation, Keith pulled the briefs down Lance’s long legs and tossed them away, barely giving himself a moment to admire the erection before him. He took it in his hand, pumping once, briefly, listening to Lance whimper and moan, before he leaned down and took the head in his mouth.

It tasted bitter and salty and musky all at once, and Keith groaned at the smell and the taste of Lance’s arousal, groaned at the knowledge that this was all because of him. He didn’t tease long, immediately circling the head with his tongue before sucking, going down deeper, bobbing his head up and down while keeping up steady suction and looking up at Lance falling apart above him.

Lance was a groaning, whimpering mess, blush spreading down to his chest, looking so undone Keith’s cock twitched in his briefs and he brought a hand down to reach into his briefs and stroke his erection.

Lance didn’t last long, not in the state he was already in, moaning beautifully as he approached the edge, one hand fisting in Keith’s hair and one in his own. “I’m coming,” Lance whispered, trying to pull Keith off his cock, and wailing as Keith just gave a firmer suck. He groaned loudly as he came down Keith’s throat, back arching off the bed. Keith grinned as he swallowed the load, sitting up and stripping off his own boxers as he watched Lance, blissed out and dazed. Lance seemed to notice his actions, making to get up, but Keith waved him off.

“Stay.” He whispered, hand moving up and down his dick frantically. Lance leaned back again, all long, tangled, relaxed limbs and a bright flush on his cheeks. His legs were spread, a bit of semen Keith hadn’t been able to catch smeared around his groin. Keith had never seen anything more beautiful, and with a last gasp, his back arched and he came over Lance’s stomach, staining his dark skin white.

Exhausted, he reached behind himself for Lance’s boxers, briefly wiping both of them down while Lance groaned in protest.

Finally, he crawled up, kissing Lance’s lips gently before lying down to face him. “Good?” He asked softly, tugging up the blankets over both of them. Lance smiled softly. “Good.” He confirmed, cuddling close to Keith, breaths slow and calm, smile still on his face.

Keith nosed into Lance’s hair and felt his eyes close involuntarily, and he too fell asleep with arms wrapped around Lance and a smile on his face.

 

Chapter Text

Keith woke up underneath unfamiliar stars, in an unfamiliar bedroom and a strange bed. For a long time, he stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars above him, the shadow where the blu-tack kept them fixed to the ceiling.

He took a few long moments trying to piece together where he was, how he had gotten here. The sheets under him smelled unfamiliar, but there was a tinge he recognized. Keith closed his eyes, scrubbed a hand over his face, and wondered if he was ashamed of the position he was in or not. He’d been in a situation like this far too often to really be ashamed anymore. He just felt... empty.

With a sigh, he sat up in the unfamiliar bed. Better get this over with, leave as soon as possible, go home and wash it all down the drain in a cold shower.

He froze. Cold rushed through him all at once, shivering down his spine as he took in the room with wide eyes. He recognized far too many of the clothes lying around, and with that he realized whose home this smelt like, whose smell was here but magnified.

Lance.

No, was Keith’s first thought, it wasn’t possible. He’d hooked up with Lance. All these stupid senseless rebounds, all these one-night stands to try and get over him and now he had gone and fucked it all up by sleeping with the one person he was trying to get over.

He likes you back, whispered a small, traitorous voice inside of him and he clubbed it down immediately, violently. He agreed to have sex with you. That’s all.

Well, there went all his plans of just booking it and forgetting the entire morning-after procedure in the shower. This was Lance, his friend, or frenemy, or whatever, but someone he was going to see again, someone he wouldn’t be able to avoid once he was out of the door.

With a sinking feeling and bile rising up in his throat, Keith stumbled upright and pulled on his clothes from before, tried to flatten or disentangle his hair by running his fingers through it. Bitterness was sharp on his tongue, and he just hoped he wasn’t going to vomit, because that was pretty much the last thing he needed right now.

He didn’t know if it was fear or shame or even disgust clogging up his throat as he moved to the door, trying to get his bearings and find Lance. Keith considered calling out but that just felt... weird.

Keith found Lance in the kitchen, sitting despondently at a small table by the window, gazing at the street outside with a bowl of cereal standing in front of him growing slowly soggier and soggier. Sunlight filtered through the window, giving Lance’s skin a warm glow and  outlining his form against the clean, white kitchen.

Keith felt a pang in his chest thinking about what it would feel like to wake up to this every morning before fighting down the thought. Instead he cleared his throat.

Lance jumped, and turned towards Keith, plastering on a forced smile. “Hey.” He said, so forcibly casual it was more awkward than anything else. “Uh, d’you want some breakfast?” He hurriedly stood up and turned his back to Keith, obviously shaky as he grabbed ingredients from shelves haphazardly.

“We need to talk.” Keith said bluntly. Lance stiffened, not even breathing, before he carefully let out a sigh and stared at the cereal and milk in his hands like they had been the ones that had just spoken. “Yeah.” He said slowly, putting down the food and finally turning around. “I guess we do.”

“What happened yesterday night.” Keith started, stuffing his hands in his pockets, trying desperately to hide his blush.

“It was a one time thing.” Lance interrupted hurriedly, and Keith felt his heart sink, tears pricking his eyes. He should have known. “Yeah.” He said trying not to let his voice shake. “It was... we were drunk.”

“Very drunk.” Lance agreed far too quickly, and Keith just wanted to die on the spot. Lance didn’t even want him for a one night stand. He had just been too drunk to know what he was doing.

“Not that it...” Lance blushed fiercely and cleared his throat. “Not that it wasn’t nice. It was...” He trailed off. Keith felt his cheeks heat up and a small smile twitch at his lips. “It was fun, to uh, to say the least.”

Keith could practically feel Lance’s confidence bolster. He finally turned to look Keith in the eye, a playful smirk at his lips. “I mean, I think it could be fun again.” He waggled his eyebrows, and had Keith not known just where to look, he would have failed to see exactly where the facade of flirty confidence was carefully fitted together.

“Oh?” Keith tried to mimic Lance’s casual ease, leaning against the counter and smirking as Lance’s eyes followed him. “At least take me on a date first.”

He immediately knew he’d said something wrong. Lance went stiff, dropping his flirtatious stance immediately, eyes wide, mouth already open to utter some kind of protest when Keith let out a hurried laugh that sounded fake even to him. “I’m kidding.” He said, trying to say it easily past the barbs in his throat. Lance’s laugh was dry and had a hysterical quality to it, but Keith was counting himself lucky he wasn’t being kicked out of the apartment.

“So...” Keith moved forward just a bit, feeling the shift in tension as Lance watched his every move. “Do I need to get you drunk again, or do you think you can impress me sober?”

“Is that a challenge?”

Keith smirked as he stepped in close enough to drape his arms over Lance’s shoulders and suppressed a small, happy shiver as Lance’s hands went to his hips. “You can definitely take it as one.” He whispered.

 

“Lance?” Hunk was knocking on Lance’s apartment door loudly, and Lance groaned, trying to hide his head under his pillow. Keith had left about an hour ago, and he had curled up in bed ready to sleep for the rest of weekend, but apparently his best friend had other plans.

“Lance? You home?”

Instead of an answer, Lance gave a strangled wail as he rolled out of bed, falling to the floor with a thump and righting himself to gather his blanket around his shoulders and open the door for Hunk.

“What are you doing here?” He asked groggily, hoping his messed up hair could be attributed to bedhead and the blanket covered up the marks on his neck. Hunk smiled brightly as he barged past into Lance’s apartment. “I saw how much you drank yesterday, and personally witnessed Matt spiking the drinks so I thought you might want someone to help you with that hangover.”

“Oh.” Lance actually hadn’t paid his own body much mind, more focussed on exploring Keith’s that morning, but his head and joints were aching, his eyes burning whenever he pushed a curtain aside, and he was certainly appreciative of Hunk’s gesture in this moment. “Hunk.” He said as his best friend pushed a glass of water into his hand and started the stove. “You are a saint.”

“I know, I know.” Hunk grinned broadly, unpacking his bags and rifling through Lance’s fridge. “So, I saw you and Keith leaving together.”

Lance coughed as his water went down the wrong way. “What... No! I mean, yes... I mean, what do you mean?” He wheezed, interrupted by his coughing fit. “We were just headed out at the same time!”

“You were making out before you left.” Hunk pointed out, not fooled for a second. “We were?” Lance honestly could not remember that much about the evening. Hunk snorted. “Yeah, pretty publicly. I think Shiro deleted the pictures of Matt’s phone.”

“Oh shit.” Lance groaned, burying his face in his arms. “FUCK.” He winced at his own volume.

Hunk grinned. “We’re all happy for you too, man.” His grin turned softer as he lay a hand on Lance’s shoulder. “We all saw past that stupid rivalry stuff ages ago. We’re just glad you two finally got past your own bullshit. I think Shiro wants to kick your ass before congratulating you, though. You might have wanted to take Keith on a date first.”

Lance looked up at his best friend with warm eyes. “Thanks.” He said softly. Hunk laughed pulled him into a hug. “So, is Keith still here?” His tone was teasing, and Lance rolled his eyes. “He left earlier.”

“He stayed the night?” Hunk’s eyes gleamed happily. Lance nodded happily, letting out a small huff of a laugh. “Yeah.”

“Oh shit,” Hunk looked at him with wide eyes, “You’ve got it bad.”

“Bullshit.” Lance pushed at Hunk’s large shoulder. “I don’t have feelings for him or anything.”

“Sure.” The word dripped with sarcasm. “Have you had the relationship talk yet?”

Lance flushed at that and couldn’t explain why. “We’re not dating, Hunk.” He said testily.

“What?”

“We’re not dating.” Lance’s headache was getting worse. “We talked about it and it was just... he said he was drunk. And, uh... and that’s why.”

“That’s bullshit.” Hunk shook his head. Lance shrugged. “I knew it was going to happen. I wasn’t really expecting him to ask me out.”

Hunk took a deep breath and let it whistle out between his teeth. “Huh.” Was all he said.

“We’re, uh...” Lance went furiously red. “Friends with benefits I guess?”

“You’re WHAT?”

Lance avoided Hunk’s stare. “Ugggh god, don’t make me say it again. We’re-“

“Wait, let me get this straight.” Hunk sat down opposite Hunk. “So you have feelings for each other-“

“We don’t-“

“Yes you do. But whatever it is, you’re going to keep sleeping with each other? No strings attached?”

“That’s the plan.” Lance traced the coffee rings on his table. Hunk shook his head slowly. “Lance, that is the dumbest thing I have ever heard and I’ve been your friend forever.” Lance looked up, mock insulted. “It’s not going to work.” Hunk continued.

Lance let out a snort. “It’s going to work fine. I’m not going to start developing feelings for someone as closed off and fucking constipated as Keith.” He said the name with as much incredulity as he could master.

Hunk shook his head slowly. “I’ll be the first one to say ‘I told you so.’”

“If it actually happens, please, go ahead.”

 

“Morning, Shiro.” Lance yawned. God, he hated morning shifts.

“Lance.”

Lance spun around. Shiro sounded deadly serious. He sounded like he was about to tell Lance someone had died. “Shiro?”

“I heard about you and Keith.” Shiro crossed his arms, and Lance was struck by how muscular his arms were, and how easily Shiro could snap his neck. “Yep.” He squeaked. “We, uh... yeah.”

Shiro sighed, suddenly looking immensely weary and ten years older. “I care about him a lot, Lance.” He said seriously, voice quiet as he leaned heavily against the counter. “I care about both of you. And I know you’ll be good for each other.”

“Uh...”

“But not like... this.” He waved his hand nondescriptly. Lance frowned. “No offence, but I don’t really get what you mean.”

“This whole fucking around thing isn’t going to be good for either of you.” Shiro replied tiredly. Lance crossed his arms, glaring back at him. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m a better judge of that than you are.”

Shiro rubbed his eyes wearily. “I guess so. I’m not going to tell you what to do, just... I have to be honest.”

Lance nodded.

“I’ve known Keith forever.” Shiro’s face creased with worry. “He’s been through a lot, Lance. He’s gone through heartbreak before. I just... I don’t want you to hurt each other.”

“I won’t hurt him, Shiro.” Lance promised. “I know you don’t approve of the way we’re going about this, but... it’s what we’re doing. And no strings attached doesn’t mean I don’t care about him.”

“That isn’t going to be enough, Lance.” Shiro sighed. “I can’t tell you about Keith’s past without him agreeing, but... he’s not as tough as he pretends to be. He’s softer than he lets on. I know he’s... difficult, and moody, but there’s a whole different person hidden underneath that. Just because he pretends not to know an emotion when it smacks him across the face doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Lance gave a small smile and hoped it came over as somewhat truthful. “We’ll be fine, Shiro.” He said, while around him the implications just began crashing down. Will we be?

He knew already that he wouldn’t be able to keep his feelings out of the whole affair. How could he? But Keith? Keith would be fine. This was what he wanted, Lance had gathered that much. Lance’s smile tasted bitter on his lips. “We’ve talked it through. This is what works for us.” This is what Keith wants. And Lance? He was just taking what he could get.

Shiro’s worried look didn’t fade. “I hope so, Lance. I really hope so.”

 

Lance’s bed felt foreign. Keith’s scent was like thorns pricking into Lance wherever he lay. Lance curled up as small as he could and considered crying. He had promised Keith no strings attached. They had both agreed that there was nothing emotional between them. It was what Keith had wanted, wasn’t it? Lance still remembered how he had walked into the kitchen, as if he wanted to be anywhere but there. His dark frown as he watched Lance. We were drunk, he had said.

With a frustrated yell, Lance leapt off the bed, tearing off the sheets with a snarl. This was pathetic. He wasn’t some lovesick idiot. He stuffed the sheets into his washing machine with a frown. He knew Keith had no feelings for him. This whole arrangement was just for fun, until they both found someone better.

Found someone else.

Once Lance had changed his sheets, he sat back against his bedroom wall and unlocked his phone with a sigh. Plaxum, read the contact name. Lance pushed aside all thoughts of Keith. He could do emotionally uninvolved, he resolved as he opened the chat box. If Keith didn’t want any more from him, that was how Lance would treat it. He’d always had his heart too open, always let his emotions get out of hand. Maybe this, this thing with Keith would be good for him. Maybe he needed to be unattached until...

His phone pinged with a message. Lance grinned when he saw the message.

Until he found someone else.

 

Chapter Text

Lance awoke to the bed dipping beside him, and turned over to see Keith sitting up at his side, already dragging his shirt back on, the pale expanse of his back shifting with the movement. He sat for a while, breathing deeply, staring out before him, and Lance reached out as if to touch, fingers straining just inches from his lower back.

He let his hands fall.

He wasn’t allowed to touch Keith like that. That was the rhythm they’d settled into, somehow comfortable and terrible at the same time. They would spend time together before, have dinner, watch a movie at Lance’s apartment. It felt frighteningly close to dating, even when they invited others along to remind themselves that it wasn’t, that they were no more than friends and maybe not even that. And sometimes, they would kiss; and, more often, they would have sex. And after, one of them would have to leave. No more touching. No more kissing. Often they were even wary of talking. And it was an unquestioned fact that neither would ever stay the night.

On evenings like this, when Keith’s eyes had shone silvery purple in the moonlight and he had kissed Lance tenderly as a breath of spring air, Lance wished he would. Wished he could see Keith in the morning, messy-haired and sleepy-eyed. Wished they could fall asleep curled in each other’s arms.

Impossible, he warned himself.

Keith stood up, finally, slowly, and turned to Lance with a small tight smile. He was pale and tall in the moonlight, untouchable, and Lance suddenly wished for his touch to be burnt permanently on Keith’s skin, some kind of proof that however irrelevant, he was in Keith’s life.

‘Stay’, he wanted to say, and “See you Monday,” was what he said instead.

 

The rest of their small friend group had thankfully stopped giving the both of them long, droning lectures and had moved on to only light-hearted teasing. Although Hunk was treating Keith to his famously passive-aggressive icy silences and sharp jibes, and shot Lance looks of disapproval whenever Keith left the room, even he and Shiro had stopped openly reprimanding Lance.

 Sometimes it seemed to Lance as if the only reason they had stopped was their belief that Keith and Lance’s relationship had spiralled into something more, but Lance tended to ignore that thought...

“You’re not ignoring me, are you?”

Lance whipped his head up and shook himself out of his thoughts. Shiro shook his head fondly from the kitchen where he was cleaning mugs. “Did you hear a word that I just said?”

“Nope.” Lance gave a small, apologetic smile. “Sorry?” He shrieked as Shiro sprayed him with dirty dishwater.

“I was saying you can leave early today, but it’s not too late to retract the offer.”

“I am halfway out the door already, boss.” Lance promised.

“I’m glad to see you taking work so seriously.” Shiro said dryly, raising a sceptical eyebrow. “Allura’s staying late today so I’ll wait for her to get done. Your boyfriend can pick you up early too if he wants to.”

Lance glared. “Not my boyfriend.”

Shiro shrugged with an unreadable smile as Lance scoffed in annoyance and went to get his jacket. “Of course he isn’t.” Shiro replied, lightly, annoyingly. “You don’t go on dates, you don’t kiss, he’s never picked you up from work... oooh!” Shiro interrupted himself gleefully as the door chimed open. “Guess who’s here to pick you up!”

Lance bit out a curse as he turned to see Keith standing at the counter, staring at Shiro in confusion. Shiro was practically dancing in glee, unperturbed even by Lance’s glare. Keith’s face lit up when he saw Lance, and that was just a bit too painful so Lance just ignored him instead.

“Ready to go?” Keith asked, motorcycle helmet under his arm. Lance glared at Shiro. “Are you done?”

Shiro stopped and rested his chin on his hands, fluttering his eyelashes as he leaned on the counter. “Have fuuun!” He  called as Lance huffed and grabbed Keith’s arm to drag him out of the café.

“What was that all about?” Keith stared at him in confusion. Lance felt like a mess inside, too confused by Shiro’s teasing and Keith picking him up without question, by Keith’s fond eyes and how he’d wordlessly watched Lance leave in the middle of the night just days before. Instead of an answer, he dragged Keith into a bruising kiss by the lapels of his jacket, swallowing Keith’s surprised sound and breaking away panting.

“Let’s go.”

 

It was a few days later that Lance was cooking while Keith read a book curled up in the living room. He knew full well how disgustingly domestic the scene was, but for some reason all he felt at the thought was some kind of warmth deep in his belly.

They had an unconventional relationship, sure. They were not in the slightest exclusive, and every time they spent time alone together, they both knew it was just leading to sex. But, as loathe as Lance would be to admit it to Shiro, they weren’t just some kind of ‘friends’ with benefits arrangement. And if he was honest, Lance was glad about it. Their relationship wasn’t what they had agreed on. But it was what they both wanted. For the time being.

 “Keith!” He shouted, and the noncommittal grunt he received in return was a familiar part of home by now, as if Keith belonged in his apartment already. “Get your ass in here and help with the cooking.”

Keith appeared in the entrance to the kitchen, visibly annoyed, and softer than Lance had thought he’d ever see him in a red wool sweater. Lance’s lips quirked up at the corners. “You could at least help me, you lazy ass.”

“If you didn’t want to cook for two you could’ve just told me to come over after dinner.”

“Like some cheap booty call? Have a bit of respect for yourself.” Lance watched as Keith chopped vegetables, trying not to enjoy the comfortable bickering.

“Is that not what I am?”

“Oh please, you may be a booty call but don’t put yourself down by calling yourself cheap.”

“I’m flattered.”

“Don’t read too much into it.”

They finished dinner in easy, comfortable conversation, and Lance almost forgot the warm feeling settled in the pit of his belly until Keith curled up on the couch like he belonged there, and Lance was almost sure he did. It might not be love, but Keith in his life felt natural, as if there was no other way this could go. Lance felt an itch under his skin as if he wanted to drag Keith closer, feel his warmth without consequence, wanted desperately to forget that all this was essentially foreplay.

This was what he had wanted, wasn’t it? He had what he had asked for, he had Keith in his bed, and he had what he had never dared to ask for, Keith in his arms. Why did he still want for things he didn’t have?

“Wanna play Mario Kart?” Lance asked, already tossing the controller at Keith. Keith winced and glared at Lance as it struck him square in the chest. “No.” He grumbled, and Lance pouted at him.

“Winner gets a blowjob?” He offered. Keith kept glaring.

“You know I’m bad at these games.”

Lance just grinned sharply. “You love blowing me anyway.” He smirked, still half expecting Keith to refuse and maybe instead drag him into the bedroom to give him a blowjob anyway (it did, after all, always end up that way). But Keith grinned up at him, all teeth and a sharp competitive glint in his eye.

“I’ve got nothing to lose.” Keith shrugged, snatching up the controller, and immediately ending up in a dust cloud while Lance already sped away. Lance smiled widely. “Suck my dick, Keith.”

 

“Oooooh shit.” Lance moaned lowly as Keith’s lips traced a burning path along his jaw, his hands already working at his shirt. Lance reached down to pull of his own shirt before pulling up Keith’s too and lying back to look up at the man looming over him. Keith was beautiful, dangerous and completely transformed with hunger above him. His dark hair was curling softly around his shoulders in a way it never usually seemed to, his eyes dark, lips parted.

Lance had already caught on that this was one of those nights they weren’t going to kiss, but god did he want to when Keith’s lips were pink and bitten at and looked so goddamn kissable. Instead he settled his hands on Keith’s hips, dragging them up his back and side and looking up at Keith through his lashes. “Make me scream.” He whispered, and something dark flashed through Keith’s gaze as his hands went to Lance’s thighs, hiking them up around his waist before burying his face in Lance’s chest, making Lance moan his name aloud as he gripped chunks of dark hair.

The warmth in Lance’s stomach was gone, replaced by burning embers, and Lance sighed and relaxed into the bed as his world slipped back into what it should be, not full of confusing warmth and emotion he didn’t fully know how to deal with. This? Keith’s mouth desperate and hot as his fingers slid over hips and thighs and pulled down his boxers? This, he knew how to deal with.

“KEITH!” Lance yelped, back arching as Keith bit and sucked at his collar bone. He slapped at Keith’s shoulder, just harshly enough to get his attention. “Don’t you dare leave a hickey, I have a date on Friday.”

“You have... a date?” Keith looked up at him, eyes wide and blown, confused. Lance scoffed. “Don’t look so surprised, d’you really think you’re the only one who wants a piece of me?”

Keith flushed even more. “No! You’re very... dateable.”

Lance grinned and stretched out, luxuriously tugging at the sheets. “I know.” He smirked. Keith’s expression changed to a dark glare before he darted down again. “Keith!” Lance shrieked, embarrassingly high pitched as Keith’s mouth moved along his hip.

He was rougher after that, quick and almost jealous, if Lance hadn’t known better than to think that. Like he was trying to prematurely burn every memory of someone else from Lance’s mind. “Oh fuck,” he whimpered, and Keith smirked against him.

Maybe it was the way that the fire had burned out all remainders of nervous butterflies by the time they were done. Maybe it was the soft sound of spring rain outside while they lay underneath the blankets in sweaty bliss. Maybe it was the way Keith had looked all day, tired and strained. Maybe Lance was just really, really stupid. But when Keith made to sit up, Lance pulled him back down again. “Stay.” He whispered. “If you want.”

Keith relaxed back into the sheets. “Don’t you have a date on Friday?”

Lance snorted. “Are you suggesting we sleep until Friday, dumbass?” He replied. “I can kick you out tomorrow. You can stay tonight.”

Keith hesitated and then breathed out slowly, hands coming up to wrap around Lance’s waist. “You better kick me out first thing tomorrow.” He whispered, moving closer to Lance’s warmth. Lance cracked open one eye and tried his best to glare at him. “I’ll kick you out right now if you don’t move your cold-ass feet away from me.”

 

“Shiroooo.” Lance kicked his feet against the couch, scrolling through his phone lazily as he lounged on the couch. “Get out here, the movie starts in half an hour!”

Keith was sitting opposite him, similarly slouched and typing away on his phone. “Hey Keith,” he asked. “What’s a good opening line on tinder?”

Keith raised a dark eyebrow. “You’re asking me?” He asked.

“True, you’d never know.”

“I meant in the sense that we have a... thing going on and you’re just going through tinder while we’re in the same room as if that’s normal, you insatiable terror.”

“Why not?” Lance shrugged. “Don’t tell me you’re quitting Grindr of whatever you use for me?” Lance put a hand to his chest and fluttered his eyelashes. “Keith, I’m flattered.”

“Shut up.” Keith grumbled, colour high in his cheeks. “Of course I’m still dating.”

“I call bullshit, you’re blushing like a virgin.”

“Maybe I just don’t feel comfortable discussing my romantic and sexual life with you.” Keith snapped back, crossing his arms.

“You felt comfortable enough with my dick in your mouth yester-“

“GUYS!” Shiro shrieked from the next room, sending Lance and Keith into fits of laughter.

“You are still dating though, right?” Lance looked up briefly. Keith hesitated. “I haven’t really found the time. I’m not good with people.”

Lance shrugged. “Your loss.”

Keith was quiet for a while. “So you’re seeing someone?” He sounded a bit nervous about it.

“Not someone, really, more like a bunch of someones.” Lance admitted. “It isn’t really working out. There’s this one girl, Plaxum, she’s gorgeous and it’s going well, but... yeah.” Lance didn’t know how to name the cold that stayed in his chest with everyone not-Keith. Instead he just shrugged. “I’m not about to tie myself down.”

“Yeah.” Keith muttered to himself. “Don’t tie yourself down.”

 

The music was loud, thumping in his chest with a rhythm that replaced thought, and Keith was surrounded by his friends. It was a good night, even with Lance’s annoying, warm presence at his elbow.

Allura and Matt were busy trying to drag Shiro onto the dance floor despite his protests, and Hunk and Pidge were talking at such a fast pace about things Keith didn’t understand that he’d given up altogether. Obviously Lance had given up too, because he leaned over to Keith.

“I bet it’ll take Matt and Allura about two minutes to turn him into a blushing mess.”

Keith smirked around the rim of his glass. “Shiro can more than hold his own, trust me. Actually, I’ll bet that he makes Matt blush.”

“Matt?” Lance snorted. “I doubt it.”

Keith shrugged. “What are we betting?”

Lance smirked at him. Keith already knew what was coming. Lance was insanely fond of bets, or anything resembling a competition, anything he could win. And his favourite kind of wins, or really the only bets he made, were sexual.

“Loser bottoms?” He suggested. Keith snorted, fighting down a blush at him talking about it so casually in public.

“Please, as if you aren’t glad to be on your back for me.”

“Pot, meet kettle.” Lance teased back with a friendly glint in his eye that Keith had never thought at the rocky beginning of their friendship that he’d see.

“Aaaand Matt’s blushing.” Keith pointed out. Lance’s head whipped around towards the trio on the dance floor. “Holy shit.” He breathed softly. “I definitely should’ve asked Shiro out when I had the chance.”

Keith squashed the burning ember of jealousy deep in his stomach, eating at him from the inside. “What do I win?” He asked instead. Lance rolled his eyes and turned to the bartender. “One more of whatever pretty boy’s drinking, please.”

“Pretty boy, huh?” Keith raised his eyebrow with a pleased grin as he took his glass. Lance leaned on one elbow. “You heard me.” He purred. “I happen to have excellent taste, and I don’t settle. Ever.”

“Well, I’m flattered.” Keith murmured back, getting in Lance’s space. Lance’s hand inched towards his, fingertips soft and warm against Keith’s bony wrist. Lance’s lashes fluttered, eyelids drifting closed, blue sparking and glittering in the dim twisting lights. Keith’s breath caught. They’d never kissed publicly, as if Lance was ashamed to be seen with him, and maybe he was, because after all, what was Keith? Just someone to fuck on lonely nights. But a lot had changed. And maybe...

Lance drew in a sharp breath suddenly, pulling back quickly, eyes wide and diluted. “This is a bad idea.” He said quietly. Something sharp and painful buried in Keith’s chest. He’d waited too long. He’d hesitated.

“Yeah.” Keith said, shaking his head loose from thoughts of blue eyes narrowed to slivers, of flushed cheeks and soft lips. “Yeah,” he agreed. Lance nodded, taking in a breath that was almost rattling. Keith tipped back his drink. “I’m gonna go dance.” He said hurriedly, ignoring the Hunk’s sharp, pointed gaze and Pidge’s less judgemental but equally intense stare.

His head was swimming as he made his way to the middle of the dance floor, maybe from alcohol, maybe simply the dizziness of breathing in Lance’s smell, of Lance’s fingers on his wrist.

He couldn’t think in that floaty mist, couldn’t feel time passing or see much around him, until suddenly someone tall and broad stepped into his space, pulling his thoughts to a screeching halt. Keith looked up slightly, slowly smirking. It was someone broad with muscle, but still lanky, tan and with hair so light it was almost white. With a grin, Keith pushed closer.

It took only another song, a few breathless words between them, and Keith found himself pinned against the stranger’s body, kissed limp and breathless. This man kissed nothing like Lance. It was rough, sloppy, with nothing but lust and clicking teeth between them. Keith was glad for it.

 

Lance really wished he could ignore Keith in that moment. He wanted to look anywhere else, he wished he could turn and talk to Hunk or Pidge, wished he could move to the dancefloor himself and find some distraction in someone’s arm, a distraction from Keith kissing someone who wasn’t him deep and passionate, arms winding around a stranger’s shoulders. Lance watched bitterly as Keith was backed into a wall, not a moment’s interruption in the rhythm of his lips, and now his hips were moving as well and Lance could finally turn away, no, he could do nothing but turn away.

It hadn’t made sense to Lance before, Keith’s strange unreadable look whenever Lance brought up he was meeting up with someone else, the unsatisfied bitter twist to Keith’s lips. Lance bit his lip, suddenly understanding what it was that he wanted, and what Keith wouldn’t give him. It had been fine, the theory of this, the theory of Keith with someone else, but seeing it happen before his eyes was unlike anything he’d expected. He’d been an absolute dick.

Something dark and painfully prickling sat just under his ribcage, and Lance tried to swallow past it reaching up his throat. He couldn’t stand it suddenly, not as Keith pulled away to whisper something in the stranger’s ear, the way the stranger’s hands rested on Keith’s exposed sides.

“See you tomorrow, bud.” He said to Hunk, already standing up and patting down his pants. With that he stalked out of the bar, music thumping behind him, and Hunk and Pdige’s gaze burning into his back.

Chapter Text

Keith avoided Lance. Or maybe it was Lance avoiding him, or both avoiding each other.

He hadn’t talked to the man from the bar again, although his number sat heavy in Keith’s trouser pocket, numbers washing steadily away underneath water and dirt that came with Keith’s work. He felt guilty, somehow, although he had done nothing wrong, and nothing that Lance hadn’t done. But it was hard to shake, guilt as dark and firm and sharp as the numbers in dark black pen burning a hole in his pocket.

He didn’t think he could do this anymore.

He had realized it staring at the hemlock Allura kept in her back office as a kind of personal curiosity. Whatever the hell they were doing, it wasn’t healthy, it wasn’t sane, and it was meant to fall apart. They had both stopped their life in its tracks to pretend to be with each other, to play at love. Time was tugging at them both. They couldn’t just ignore its passing. They had taken a moment out of their day to pretend to be in love and stop moving on to find someone they could really spend their lives with.

He just couldn’t do it anymore.

And so he avoided Lance, didn’t pick him up, didn’t go to see Shiro at the café, didn’t text him or call him. Lance hadn’t texted him either, or called him. As if he didn’t even notice.

Keith would prefer being a cheap booty call to this.

“You have to face him at one point, Keith.” Shiro had said, and Allura had nodded from behind some pink carnations. Keith had scowled back.

“You can’t run away again.” Matt had told him as they sat smoking on the balcony of Shiro, Matt and Allura’s flat. Keith had taken a drag and blown the smoke in his face.

“You’re hurting yourself and hoping it hurts him more.” Allura had pointed out. Keith had snipped the prettiest bloom off the rosebush he was pruning, and shrunk away from Allura’s resulting glare.

It had been more than a month. Lance had probably already found someone new, someone pretty. Someone who wasn’t moody all the time and didn’t smell too much of cigarette smoke.

“Keith?”

He startled, almost knocking over a dog rose. He knew that voice, but vaguely, in a way that he associated feelings with it more than a face.

“Hunk?”

Hunk stood in the flower shop, looking large and out of place among all the small pots and blooms. He was twisting his hands nervously, fidgeting and not looking at Keith. “What’s up? Is...” Keith’s heart sunk right to the pit of his stomach. “Is Lance okay?”

“Huh? Yeah, Lance’s fine.” Hunk seemed distracted, eyes darting quickly up to Keith’s face and away again. “He’s... I...” He took a deep breath, still distractedly picking it at the skin around his fingernails. “Look, Keith, I know I haven’t been awfully nice to you. I know that I’ve been... suspicious.”

Keith shrugged. He didn’t want to admit that he cared, even if this was Lance’s best friend.

“It’s just, you know, the way you suddenly popped up in Lance’s life and...”

“Hunk.” Keith interrupted. He honestly wasn’t interested why Hunk had been suspicious of him. He just had been, and now he was... apologizing? Keith didn’t quite know. “Why are you here?”

“Uhhh... I... I care about Lance.”

Keith nodded. “We both do.” He said, watching suspicion flare up on the tip of Hunk’s tongue before he bit it back. “Right. Well, you know the way you suddenly appeared, and now you’re suddenly vanishing.” Keith caught the accusation in Hunk’s eyes, but not his voice. “He isn’t saying it, but I think he’s hurt by it.”

“Oh.” Keith was suddenly swallowing down dust and thorns. Lance was hurt? By him? That was bad; even worse was that Keith hadn’t even thought about the possibility. Somewhere, Keith was also just a bit pleased. He gives a shit after all.

“Look, break the whole thing off if that’s what you need to do.” Hunk brushed aside a dangling flower pot to step closer to Keith and look him in the eye. “But at least make it a clean break, at least tell him. He’s just... moping. He’s trying to move on with one half of his heart and still clinging to you with his other.”

“...Heart?” Keith croaked.

Hunk gave him a considering look. “Lance doesn’t do things by halves. And I’ve never know him to just want...” Hunk went a little red at the thought of what Lance might want from Keith. “Listen, this whole friends with benefits thing isn’t like Lance. I’ve known him all my life, and he’s never wanted anything more than to be loved. He doesn’t live up to his own act.” Hunk’s lips twitched at the corners. “When we were kids, he had a new crush every few weeks. He always gave his heart away too easily to the wrong people. I just hope you’re not one of them.”

“Oh.” Keith breathed, head reeling. “I... I’ll text him. I’ll talk to him. I promise.”

A faint smile stretched over Hunk’s friendly face before he pulled Keith into a sudden hug so strong a dust cloud flew up from Keith’s florist’s apron pressed up against Hunk’s broad form.

“Thanks.” Hunk said, putting down a winded Keith and carefully making his way between the piles of pots and flowers to the exit. “Hey, Keith.” He called back from the door. Keith looked up, cheeks flushed, already having reached for his phone. “Huh?”

“I guess maybe you care about him after all.” Hunk was gone before Keith could think of a reply, chimes still ringing softly above the door.

Keith pulled out his phone instead and opened up his chat with Lance (saved, of course, as Really Hot Stalker at Lance’s request). It almost hurt to see that the last text had been almost two months ago.

Hey

Keith wrote.

Lance’s answer came back so fast, he might have been sitting beside his phone waiting for the text.

Hi :DDDDD

Keith smiled despite himself.

Wanna go to the cinema tomorrow?

 

Keith jumped as his phone pinged with a message. He got them rarely enough that he jumped half out of his skin when he did. His phone pinged again. Keith stared at it before going back to pulling stray clovers from the pots around the store.

His phone pinged again, somehow louder and more insistent than before, and Keith glared as he snatched it up. Three messages from Lance. Keith didn’t know if what he was feeling was annoyance or excitement.

Keith!

Keeeeeith

Keith I know you’re there

Keith smiled and wiped his muddy hands on his apron.

I’m working, stop texting me

No. Lance wrote back. Come to the cafe NOW.

Allura will have my head, Keith replied.

Alluras right here

Keith frowned. That didn’t make any sense. Why would Allura be encouraging him to leave the shop? He shrugged to himself and put his phone in his pocket. He preferred not to think overly long about people’s reasons for doing things. Instead he loosened the ponytail he put his hair in during work, put up the We’re in the back! sign, hoping it was close enough to the truth as he slipped out the door to cross the street to Voltron Café.

When he got there, the air was charged with excitement and anticipation. Lance was sitting on a table, long legs dangling while the others watched him with rapt attention, like there was something he wasn’t telling them. Lance’s eyes were shining, his hair ruffled and his smile broad. In the golden light spilling in from the large windows, he looked straight off the cover of a magazine.

“I’m here.” Keith said flatly, even though Lance’s attention had already snapped to him the moment the door clicked open. “What happened?”

Allura leaned forward, chin on her hands, looking like an excited schoolgirl in her loose, dirt-covered overalls. “Keith’s here, now tell us, Lance!”

Lance preened and smirked, enjoying the spotlight of someone with well-kept news. Keith crossed his arms and leaned against the bar. Lance’s coy preening reminded him weirdly of how he was in bed. Keith smirked. He wondered if Lance was aware.

“What’s the big news?” He asked calmly, and it was as if his question finally broke the joy Lance found in an enraptured audience.

“I,” he began calmly, with a pause for dramatic effect. “Just got a record deal.”

Allura squealed, and Shiro yelled. Pidge, who had taken to doing her schoolwork at the Café, mainly because Matt offered her a “freeloader discount”, let out the least tired whoop Keith had ever heard her utter.

Keith felt betrayed. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t happy for Lance; this had been his dream for so long, the secret thing he whispered to Keith in between warm breaths, the secret dream so unattainable it couldn’t be talked about in more than whispers, the sweet future they only talked about with the stars in the sky, their hands entwined and all the monsters of the world locked out of their little blanket fort.

No, Keith felt betrayed because Lance had never let slip that it was any closer to being achieved than wishing for a hazy dream to come true. Keith felt betrayed because Shiro closed Lance into his arms and Lance thanked him for his help, he felt betrayed because Allura teased Lance about his lyrics.

He had never even known he wasn’t a part of this. He had been told this was a dream world, while others were trusted to make it into a reality.

Lance and his bright grin didn’t even notice.

“So, who’s paying for drinks tonight?”

 

In the end, it didn’t matter who paid for drinks, and Lance wouldn’t be able to tell. He and Keith left early, and in a state much too hot and bothered, half-undone and only barely fully-dressed to care who paid.

They practically broke down the door to Keith’s apartment, Lance’s hands attached to his slim hips. He let his hands roam as Keith pushed the door shut and without hesitation tugged Lance towards the bedroom. Lance stumbled backwards over a pile of clothing and fell to the bed with all the air pushed out of him, and Keith was on top of him so fast Lance doubted he had even noticed.

Keith’s lips trailed to Lance’s neck, and he let out a high whimper as Keith’s lips worked a hickey just above his collarbone. Lance reached down to twist out of his own shirt before he reached for Keith’s, moving closer to kiss him, letting his hands roam along the length of Keith’s back. He could feel Keith’s length against him, and he ground down, relishing in the moan Keith let out.

Lance worked his fingers into Keith’s thick, dark hair and tugged him back, biting along his jawline to his ear. He breathed hot and heavy against Keith’s ear, one hand trailing up his chest. He tweaked a nipple between his finger and smirked when Keith moaned.

“I want to fuck you.” He whispered, nosing against Keith’s jaw. Keith moaned out a response. “Yes,” he whispered. “Yes, do it, fuck me.”

Lance grinned and kissed down his chest, smirking as Keith sighed and spread his legs, looking like pure sin with the blankets around his waist and a flush high on his cheeks. Lance used his distraction to flip him onto his stomach, ignored Keith’s groan of aroused protest and instead kissed down his back, groping with his free hand for the lube he knew was stashed in the bedside table. Keith noticed what he was after even before that and passed it back to him. Lance smirked and bit down at the back of Keith’s neck the same time he clicked open the bottle.

“Eager?”

Keith glared. “Fuck you.”

Instead of a response, Lance sunk in one finger to the knuckle and watched in awe as Keith’s back bowed, his hands clawing at the mattress as a long, soundless moan left his lips. Lance worked his finger in and out so slowly that Keith positively wailed.

“Please,” he begged. “Please, I need more, stop teasing goddamnit!”

Lance obliged, stretching him quick and fast on first one, then two, then three fingers listening to Keith’s crescendo of moans. Keith already looked wrecked under Lance’s hands, shoulders flushing, thighs quivering in overstimulation and anticipation, his fingers clenching sporadically in the sheets and his hole around Lance’s fingers.

“Faster,” he whispered, voice hoarse and wrecked. “Faster, harder, anything!”

Lance couldn’t wait any longer, and he removed his fingers, reaching instead to pull one cheek to the side. Keith groaned and moved to his elbows, legs spreading just that little bit further that they could manage. Lance bit his lip at the sight and, lining himself up, drove in with one long, slow thrust.

They let out a twin sigh of contentment, of relief, and before Keith’s begging could resume, Lance pulled back, pulled out before thrusting back in, groaning at the heat around his cock. Under him, Keith’s moans reached a frenzy, soft sounds punched out with each thrust. His back arched, and Lance reached up to trace along his spine, following the trail with his lips. “You look so good for me,” he whispered against the back of Keith’s neck. Keith whimpered at Lance’s thrusts, and turned his head to the side, finally letting Lance see his flushed wrecked face, his pinched eyebrows and wide-open mouth.

Lance tilted Keith’s hips up just a little for a better angle, basking in the punched-out moans Keith let out at that. Keith’s hands slunk underneath his own hips, desperate, and Lance smirked. “Look at you, touching yourself for me.” He whispered into Keith’s ear, nipping at the side of his neck at the resulting moan. “Go on, come for me.” He bit harder and sucked a hickey high on Keith’s throat, knowing just how irritated Keith would be about it later. With a shout, Keith came, back arching higher, head thrown back, a long groan falling from his lips as he clenched down tight. Lance came with a stuttered breath, bending low over Keith. They collapsed in a boneless heap on the bed.

“Wow.” Lance whispered to the still air of the bedroom. Keith chuckled, slightly breathless, and wrapped his limbs around Lance, burying his face in Lance’s neck. “Can I stay?” Lance asked shyly, running a hand up and down Keith’s back.

“Okay.” Keith muttered back, and they fell asleep holding each other.

 

Keith woke up early. Lance lay peacefully on the pillow next to him, relaxed and open with the warm sunlight playing across his cheekbones. Keith watched him, resisting the urge to touch, to trace his fingers along the warm, soft skin.

It hurt, seeing him so beautiful, and just waiting for someone else to snatch him up.

With a hard, twisting resolve in his belly, Keith got up and went to the kitchen.

Lance awoke a while later, with the sun tickling the tip of his nose. He sighed, stretched. “Keith?” He asked into the silence of the room. No reply. Lance huffed, dragging the blanket around himself like some sort of toga before stumbling out of the bedroom into the kitchen.

“Morning.” He grunted at Keith as he looked up when Lance entered. Lance pulled up the kettle and the teabags, not even momentarily concerned with how easily the motions were, how familiar this strange apartment was to him.

“Shit, Keith.” Lance groaned, pulling down the collar of his blanket toga as he caught sight of himself in the mirror, hickeys and all. “You really didn’t hold back, did you?”

Keith grunted noncommittally, and Lance turned around to him. He was glaring at Lance darkly, shoulders tense, gaze narrowed and dreadfully, awfully shrewd, seeing everything that Lance wanted to hide. “Keith?” He felt like a trapped animal trying to edge its way out of a predator’s view. “Buddy?”

Something in Keith seemed to snap, something small and sharp that had held back an avalanche.

“We need to talk.” He said bluntly, flatly, like someone speaking a verdict. Lance chuckled nervously. “Can I at least have my tea first? Maybe some cereal?”

Keith stared at him as if he hadn’t even heard him talk. “We need to break up.” He said, fingers gently entwined on top of the tabletop, poised and calm as if this whole issue had nothing to do with him. Lance blanched. Keith didn’t seem to notice.

“What? Why? I thought we were good, I... we can’t break up, we aren’t even together, I don’t know how to call ending this... I... Keith, why...?” Lance trailed off, wide-eyed and confused. Keith looked up, with shadows under his eyes and a tired twist to his mouth. He looked like it was taking him a massive effort to say what he meant to say, and suddenly Lance understood his eerie stillness. If he moved, he would break.

“Keith?” He tried tentatively instead, watching Keith’s face fall, the tension drain to sadness.

“We aren’t good for each other, Lance.” Keith tried softly. “I mean, we are as friends, but... not like this.”

“Excuse you?” Lance crossed his arms, already mentally berating himself for fleeing behind humour and anger, but he was powerless against it, he could feel it bubbling up in front of all the hurt. “What the hell do you mean? You haven’t said you’re anything but happy so far! Where the fuck is this coming from, Keith?”

It was the wrong tone to take with Keith, ever-confrontational, ever-prickly and so damn closed off Lance couldn’t even see his walls. “As if you’d want to listen to my emotions!” Keith stood up, hands planted on the table in front of him. “You’re always just trying to get in my pants, and you think I’m going to cry on your shoulder?” He stepped around the table to get closer to Lance, to get in his face, spitting rage and hurt. “You’ve always been crystal clear about what this is!”

“I have! And it seems you’re the one who’s messing it up!” Lance threw his hands up, his blanket toga falling to the ground. Fuck it, I’m wearing boxers anyway. There would be nothing less dignified than to go scrambling to save his dignity right now. “You’re the one who can’t keep all this separate!” He circled a finger in the air to indicate everything Keith was doing wrong. “I spelled it out on day one, everything I wanted, and you agreed! And now you want me to be your sensitive, nice boyfriend?”

“I’d like you to be less of a dick, for a start!”

“Hey, we’re friends with benefits, manners were never on the table!” Lance was so angry that all he knew was that he would relish being more of a dick in this moment, thank you very much.

“Friends? You don’t even talk to me like a friend anymore! ‘Hey Keith, how’s your day? Let me shove my hand down your pants real quick!’ Is that friends?” Keith looked up at him, and Lance’s entire brain jarred to a halt when he saw tears sparkling in the corners of his eyes, real tears. “I know what we are, and what we aren’t, believe me!”

“You want... you want a relationship, don’t you.” Lance couldn’t believe it had taken him this long. “You like me.”

Keith glared, tears coming harder. “Yes! Fine, yes! That’s what I want, and can you fucking blame me? You march in, saying it’s just about sex, and then it’s about cuddles as well, and dinner dates, and listening to your dumb jokes and your dumb voice and your dumb music! And you’re just such an oblivious dick, always flirting around with someone else and going on all these dates! Do you have any idea how hard it is? Waiting around for someone better to pluck you up? Waiting around to be a second choice again? Watching you as every passing man and woman makes your head spin? I hate you, Lance. I hate you and I wish you hadn’t made yourself so at home in my life.”

“Wait, are you jealous? Is that what this is? You’re jealous because of everything I have, jealous that I got my dream while you were sitting in your crappy, stuffed apartment not working for your own, you’re jealous because I go out and look for someone better for me, you’re jealous because I get to be free and you’re stuck here too fucking sad to go out and try to meet someone who is less of a dick, and who you hate less!”

Keith stood still, quivering, hands balled into fists at his side, angry tears barely held back. He didn’t know if he was angrier at the bare scraps of truth Lance had uncovered or the huge pile of lies he’d heaped over it.

“Get out.” He said, voice a hoarse whisper, and he watched Lance flinch and was glad for it. “Get out of my apartment.”

Lance glared back haughtily, turned on a heel and strode out of sight, almost completely naked with a blanket still trailing around his feet. Keith stared at the ground in front of him, clean and white and blessedly empty, until the door closed with a bang, and he felt the tears come. He walked over to the window, propped himself up against the sill and watched Lance storm out of the building and cross the road, hood pulled over his head and hands buried in his pockets.

“Well.” Keith whispered to himself. “Let’s hope I’m better off alone.”

Just opposite him, on the windowsill, his gloxinia had withered and died.

Chapter Text

Lance couldn’t breathe properly as he left Keith’s apartment, chest tight with a toxic mix of anxiety and regret, tears threatening in the hitch of every breath. He strode with a kind of anger, just wanting to get home, somewhere he could be alone. With every striding step, Lance berated himself again, finding some new reason, some new wording to his self-hatred.

He’d been so stupid. So, so stupid. He couldn’t even explain the panic swirling inside of himself, the panic that had crested at Keith’s confession and now seemed intent on destroying everything in its path.

How could he have said all those ugly things to Keith? He’d ruined it all, at the very moment he had finally been able to reach all he ever wanted. He’d lost everything just as it came into reach, and it was all his own damn fault.

He’d thought they’d finally reached some kind of peace between them, some kind of beautiful balance just for themselves. He could feel everything he wanted just out of sight, and when it all came crashing into him, when Keith had confessed his feelings with a look in his eyes like the words were being forced out, Lance had been overwhelmed by everything he had denied himself.

If only he hadn’t hidden behind his own anger, behind insults and barbs and things he didn’t mean that felt so good to say because they were all too hurtful.

Lance groaned. He really had messed up, worse than he ever had before. It wasn’t as if what Keith had said hadn’t hurt him, he tried to reason with himself, of course he’d been hurt by all of it. Hurt was what had driven him behind anger in the first place, and when Keith had said he hated him... Lance had just snapped. He’d gone too far, Lance had known that as the words were still spilling out of his mouth, too far to ever come back from, but he hadn’t seen another option, another way to react, not in that moment.

Nothing could justify that kind of response. Lance didn’t know if he could even apologize after all that.

Around him, the tarmac flecked with black as warm spring rain burst from the heavens, gently at first before pattering down, turning the world black and grey. Lance buried himself inside his hoodie, angry and upset, and walked home through the spring torrent.

 

Keith walked to work the next morning tired, grey and smelling of cigarette smoke. He knew he looked like shit, and he knew that he certainly felt like it, but he hadn’t gotten any sleep last night, after turning Lance’s words over in his head all day, trying to find the truth in them and trying to cut out the lies that were steadily burying themselves deeper in his mind.

It was still raining, incessantly, an unreal, endless rain transforming the world into a misty, unsure dream world. Keith welcomed it, the cold water weighing down his jacket, his hair, his heart. It felt fitting, this rain that didn’t want to end until it had drowned out all colour from the world.

Altea Flowers was a haven, a splash of colour in a grey world, as if it was drawing strength from the draining, bleaching quality of the storm. Even the green of the walls stood out, the brightly coloured flowers and bushes spilling from the entrance, mud overflowing from the flooded flowerpots and pouring onto the street. Keith imagined the rain never ending, imagined an endless spring rain that washed out all the dirt from the pots until even the flowers became part of the brown, silent city.

“Morning, Keith!” Allura greeted him as he walked through the doors, cheerfully as ever but with just a slight strain in her voice. Her hair seemed as fraught as she was, springing loose from her bun like a wild creature springing its trap. Shiro stood next to her, leaning over a large book they used to log the shop’s profits. His eyes were dark, frown lines deep in his face.

Keith ignored their frazzled looks. He looked like crap, too. Why shouldn’t the rest of the world?

“Keith, I need you to change the flower display outside, put out the flowers that can handle a lot of rain. There doesn’t seem to be a stop to this deluge. There’s a rain jacket in the office.”

Keith nodded, pulled out his apron, ignored the rain jacket and began hauling the flowerpots, grateful for the distraction.

 

The rain continued the entire morning, steadily pounding on the glass roof of the shop. Keith worked on the outdoor display longer than he needed to, liking the steady drip of water and his hair plastered to the back of his neck. Shiro left at one point, nodding a weary goodbye. Keith was both confused and glad that he didn’t ask any questions about Keith’s own state.

Allura, for her part, stayed inside, poring over the large ledger and then even more books, letters and folders. For a few hours, Altea seemed more like a bookshop than a florist’s.

Lance came out only once, standing on the doorstep of Voltron Café, staring across the street with an unreadable, pale expression and a cigarette in hand. He seemed to shiver, even from across the street, although he was dressed warmly enough. Keith ignored him as best he could, busying himself with nonsensical tasks and not quite understanding himself why the hell he didn’t find work inside instead.

He couldn’t remove himself that suddenly, not from every trace of Lance’s presence.

Lance’s steady eyes on him, the drawn look to his slim figure standing still in the rain for a good ten minutes, brought up something small and regretful that had nestled deep in Keith’s stomach even when he kicked Lance out.

But everything Lance had said, Keith reasoned, and so much Lance had done, was unforgiveable.

Lance went back inside before it became weird, long before Keith would have to conclude he’d come out because of him, and Keith was glad for it. The last thing he needed was for Lance to stay hung up on him, now that he’d made it so abundantly clear he didn’t see Keith as anything but a pretty face.

He didn’t think he would have been able to stand that conflict.

He might have walked across the street to punch Lance in the face.

 

Keith was almost done for the day, and Allura was still leaning over her ledgers, face tight with tension as if she was reading and re-reading a truth she didn’t like.

He hung up his apron in the dim back room, quickly watering the plants in the office, those that Allura and Keith kept as personal curiosities, mainly those too poisonous or thorny for sale.

He was about to leave, leather jacket around his shoulders and helmet under his arm when Allura finally looked up. “Keith!” She called. “Could you wait just a minute?”

Keith arched a curious eyebrow and stepped back towards the counter. “What is it?”

Allura sighed heavily and looked up at him, sighed again and turned back to her books, finally having given up on a bun and letting her hair spill wild around her shoulders.

“Altea hasn’t been doing well. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we just aren’t making any profits.”

Keith didn’t want to admit he hadn’t been paying attention at all to things like customers and profits, as long as his paycheck came in on time and the world left him well enough alone. “Are you going to lay me off, then?”

Allura looked at him like he was mad. “Lay you off? Keith, you’re doing the work of more than one person as it is, I can’t afford for you to leave as well, I’ll never get everything done on my own! It’s a miracle I’m managing with you here.” She groaned and rubbed her eyes, obviously tired from spending a whole day poring over ledgers and documents. “It’s insane that you never noticed how much we’re struggling.”

Keith shrugged. “I’m just glad we don’t get many people in here. I wouldn’t be here if there were a lot of people stepping through those doors.”

Allura sighed. “You’d be losing me so much money if we were a remotely successful business.”

“Always a pleasure.” Keith grinned. He wasn’t lying, just maybe exaggerating a little. He’d looked for an odd job for months, being turned down or fired from job after job for his unfriendliness and shyness. He’d had to ask Shiro for money- truly humiliating in his mid-twenties- until he had finally gotten the position at Altea. He loved plants, and he was good with them, and there were always more plants here than people. Allura had been just desperate enough to hire him, and not enough people had shown up to fire him in the first few months, after which the two of them had just gotten too close, too used to working together. Keith’s grumpy manner didn’t seem to matter at Altea. He couldn’t imagine going back out there, finding somewhere new.

And, neither, he knew, could Allura.

Altea Flowers had been her father’s until he had died. The curiosities in the office had been his. The green supports had been painted by his hand. The counter had been painted, scuffed and stained and repainted by him and Allura’s mother.

“What are you going to do, then?” He asked carefully, scared to broach the question. She shrugged, resigned. “I don’t know, Keith. I really don’t.”

She sighed, rearranging the tiny cacti perching on the counter. “I might have to close down the shop.”

Keith was stunned into silence. The evening sun fell golden into the shop, painting Allura’s white hair with fire. Around him, the leaves stirred in apprehensive murmurs, fearfully whispering among each other.

“You can’t.” Keith croaked out. “This was your father’s place.”

“I know.” Allura brushed her fingers along the leaves of a sweet pea growing up the counter like a creature desperate for touch and sunlight. “I don’t think I can do it. Altea... it’s my home.” She looked up with a deep sadness. “But I can’t think of anything else to do.”

“We’ll think of something.” Keith promised. The flowers leaned in, nodding their heads as if in resolute approval. “We have to think of something.”

 

Shiro was coming for dinner, as he did every week, but Keith was too distraught to prepare anything. It didn’t matter really. Shiro was used to it.

He rang at precisely seven, as usual. He was nothing if not a man of habit. When Keith opened the door for him, he was already holding a steaming pot. “Hey,” he greeted, with a look in his eyes as tired as both Keith and Allura.

“Hey.” Keith parroted. It hadn’t been a good day for anyone, apparently. Shiro held up the steaming pot. “I figured you wouldn’t have the energy or motivation to cook after today’s day of hell.”

Keith broke into a small smile. “Thanks, Shiro.” He stepped aside to let him in.

After dinner they were curled up on the couch together, watching the shittiest horror movie they could find and digging into a bowl of popcorn.

“So,” Shiro decided to break the comfortable silence. “How are you handling today?”

“You mean Allura telling me that Altea might close?”

“That,” Shiro gave him a knowing, deeply sad and calm look. “And that you broke up with Lance.”

“How did you know?” Keith didn’t even feel violated in his privacy. Shiro knew things about him without Keith having to talk. It was how they worked.

“Lance told me.” Shiro paused. “He’s pretty upset.”

Keith huffed and dug around in the bowl for more popcorn. Shiro caught his glare and leapt to continue. “Of course, if you feel this is what’s right, that’s great! You shouldn’t stay in a relationship that doesn’t make you feel good.”

Keith drew his knees up to his chin. “He did.”

“What?”

“He made me feel good. He made me feel great. Like I was safe. And loved.”

“Then why...?” Shiro trailed off. Who knew why Keith did anything?”

Keith looked up with tears in his eyes. “I don’t know! Okay? I don’t know why I broke up with him! Maybe I just don’t like being happy or maybe my imagination just wasn’t enough for me anymore and I hoped I could make him tell me what he feels, what he wants. Well, turns out I could and he did, and he feels nothing for me and I’m an awful human being who can’t read the most basic of fucking signs!”

Shiro sighed and put the popcorn bowl on the floor between them, shuffling closer to put an arm around Keith. “I don’t think that’s true, Keith.” He said gently, but Keith wasn’t done.

“And I know I was right, but I’d rather play make-believe than this, and now everything with Altea is happening and it feels like the world is crashing down around me and I don’t even have Lance to...”

To what? Keith knew Lance wouldn’t listen to him, or comfort him, or anything like that. Lance wasn’t some kind of boyfriend Keith could talk to about his fears and about what made his heart race and head hurt.

“I don’t...” Keith couldn’t finish, didn’t know how to finish. Didn’t know how to explain.

“Keith, hey.” Shiro’s voice was deep and slow and gentle and had helped him through so many rough patches. Keith remembered times long ago, when he’d crashed on Shiro’s couch and cried into his arms about another arrogant douche.

“I’m here.” Shiro said, pulling him into his arms, letting Keith cry like he had as a kid with a dead mother, a kid with a dead father, like he had as a teenager with all the fears of the world in his heart, like a young man with a broken heart.

“I’m here.” Shiro said, and Keith cried, cried long and deeply and with heaving breaths, and behind them the shitty horror movie dragged on regardless.

Chapter Text

Keith spent the rest of spring hiding away from the world as best he could, throwing himself into work and otherwise trying not to leave either his or Shiro’s apartment. Shiro had been talking about moving out, and moving in with Allura and Matt, as if he wanted to make Keith think it was merely considering, but with a tone of voice that betrayed that it was already settled and he was just buttering Keith up to the idea. Allura and Matt’s place was far away. Shiro wouldn’t be a five minute walk away anymore, always ready to check up on Keith, always there to comfort him and drag him out of his room.

When Shiro loudly considered this, talking as if it was a serious obstacle, Keith didn’t even look up from his phone. “I don’t need you to hold my hand anymore, Shiro.” He said, barely registering the brief look of hurt crossing Shiro’s face and immediately regretting it.

“You’ve gotten me through a lot.” He clarified. “And I’ll always need you. But I’m an adult, and I think I can do this on my own.”

Shiro nodded with a small, proud smile on his face, and not a week later came back with the news that the move was official. “I was thinking, maybe you would want my apartment, instead of this... whatever you call this cave.” Shiro gestured around Keith’s apartment, small, dark and shabby. “It’s bigger than this place, and lighter. You can afford it now.”

The apartment came from Keith’s first year in the city, back when he’d still lived off minimum wage and his foster parents’ kindness. He didn’t exactly have any sentimental attachment to it. But still, he shook his head. “Your place is too big.”

“Well, soon someone else might come along, and then you’ll be glad to have an apartment that can fit two.”

Keith looked up with a glare. It was too soon to be talking about relationships, and he had hoped Shiro knew it.

Shiro held his glare and didn’t look very repentant, but Keith didn’t back down. He preferred to stay locked in his own apartment, small, dark and shabby though it was. Shiro let him be, until the week Pidge graduated and announced that everybody had to go out with her to celebrate.

“You’ve become a hermit!” He argued. “Just come with us, start going out again. You need to stop being hung up about him.”

“I’m not hung up.” Keith growled. “I just don’t want to see him.”

“Of course you don’t want to see him! Even I didn’t want to see him for a while after you told me, but not seeing him means not seeing me, or Matt and Allura and Pidge.”

Him of course being Lance. Lance, the all-encompassing him still on Keith’s mind at all times.

Him, him, him, swirling around Keith’s head with its insistent tapping, him being what he thought of in the evenings curled up alone, in the night under cold empty sheets, in the early hours of morning touching himself.

Lance was a never-ending him that Keith could not seem to get rid of, avoid him though he might.

“Fine.” He grumbled, ignoring the way Shiro’s face lit up. “I’ll come.”

 

“What if Keith’s there?” Lance asked for the hundredth time. Hunk rolled his eyes. “Keith won’t be there, Lance.”

“He won’t.” Hunk pushed open the door to the bar. “And if he is I tell you what you’ll do: You’ll either ignore him or be polite, and then you’ll say hi to Pidge, because she’s our friend, and we won’t just leave you alone and we won’t let Keith ruin your night or ours, okay?”

“Fine.” Lance said, but he said it with a smile and followed Hunk to the bar. “Pidge!” He yelled, swooping her up in a hug. She hugged him back, her laughter spilling out high and tinkling, bell-like and enthusiastic in a way it wasn’t usually.

“Hey.” She greeted him, warmly. Hunk had already moved on to say hi to Shay, so Pidge pulled Hunk onto the seat next to her. “Lance.” She looked at him, glowing with happiness, and Lance realized he hadn’t seen her this happy and relaxed in a year. Actually, he had hardly seen her at all in the past months. “I have to say thank you.”

Lance’s heart lurched at that, a pure happiness in those few words.

“Thanks for being there this past year.” Pidge continued. “For making me feel welcome... and for everything. You’re a...” Her words seemed to stick in her throat. “You’re a good friend.”

“Thank you.” Lance replied, staring at his white knuckles on the bar counter. He wasn’t sure Pidge had heard him.

“Even if you can be an ass, and you’re involved in more drama than the rest of my friend group combined, and you get dumped more often than I go on dates and come crying every time and...”

“This is my moment!” Lance yelled, quickly moving to cover her mouth. “Stop ruining my moment!”

Pidge spat in his hand to get her mouth free and as Lance was complaining loudly and wiping his hand on her own shirt, she looked up at him with a smirk. “Keith is coming, by the way.”

“Keith?!” Lance yelped. “Pidge, what the fuck?!”

Confusion crossed her face. “Wait, I thought you guys made up again? You were together, like, a month ago?”

Lance buried his face in his arms. “That was then. We fought again. Like, really badly. I don’t think he ever wants to see me again, I mean, the things he said to me... even Shiro is mad.”

Pidge winced, genuine regret in her voice. “Oh shit. I’m so sorry, I thought you two were fine.”

“We are.” Lance waved a hand as if waving a white flag. “We’ll be adults about this, I don’t want to ruin this night.”

“Too late.” Pidge muttered with a lowered voice. “They’re here.”

Lance groaned. “I’ll move so you don’t have to talk to them right away. You’ve got to tell me the whole messy story later, okay?”

She slipped off the chair and disappeared. Lance breathed out slowly, bedding his head deeper in his arms.

“Hi.”

Lance jerked his head up, blood running cold. Keith was standing right there, looking as beautiful as he always did, if a little pale and worse for wear. “H-hi.” Lance had never been this nervous in his presence. Keith just stared him down, eyes large and violet and beautiful. Lance noted the slight flush across his cheeks, beautiful on his pale cheeks. “I wanted to avoid you, but Shiro wouldn’t let me.”

“T-that’s...” Lance cleared his throat. “That’s fair.”

“Yeah.” Keith looked peaceful enough, happy enough, but Lance could read the tight paleness in the corners of his eyes and see the hurt just below the surface.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t make this any harder, Lance.” Keith glared. “I want to handle this well, and I want to be able to talk to you without smashing your teeth out.”

“That would be... preferable.” Lance replied. Keith fought down the smallest of smiles, and Lance counted it as a victory. An opening. Maybe he could at least apologize. By now, that was all he wanted. “So, does Shiro still hate me then?”

Keith looked up at him. “Don’t be stupid. Why are you always obsessed with people hating you?”

Lance felt his words stick in his throat, his palms sweaty on the bar counter.

“Nobody hates you Lance. Absolutely nobody but me.” With a quirk of his lips, Keith turned, walking away with two beers clutched tight, probably going to find Shiro and leaving Lance feeling as if he’d swallowed his own heart.

 

“You smoke more now, you know.” Lance said quietly, leaning in the doorway. Keith was just outside the bar, impatiently blowing smoke into the night. Lance couldn’t look away.

“How would you know? Have you been watching me? Returned to your stalker ways?”

“Shiro told me, calm down.” Lance stepped out to lean on the railing next to Keith.

“I thought you said he hates you.”

“I think he was trying to make me feel guilty.” Lance smiled. It was nice to be this close to Keith, if he could just forget that last time they’d been this close. All those things he’d said.

“Why are you here, Lance?” Keith sighed. Lance flinched. “I thought... we could talk? I miss talking to you.”

Lance watched Keith smile in the soft glow of the streetlights, gold painted across his cheekbones, and watching him huff out a small breath. “I’ll punch you if you say something truly awful.”

“I’ll watch my mouth.” Lance promised, still watching Keith, and then, buoyed by alcohol and head rushing with emotion: “I miss you.”

Keith was quiet, refusing to even look at Lance. “Fuck.” He breathed out, pushing it out, exhaling it like smoke. “Don’t say that.”

“Why not?” Lance sensed an opening. “I do. I miss you. And... I’m sorry.”

“Don’t!” Keith turned on him, anger flaring. “I miss you too, but you can’t just... say that.” He sagged, all the fire in him seeming extinguished. “I haven’t forgiven you.”

“I think I deserve it.” Lance replied quietly. “I just want you to know that I shouldn’t have said that, and that I didn’t mean it. I let my anger get the best of me and... I wanted to hurt you because, well, I guess you leaving hurt me.”

Keith sucked in a breath, and Lance saw his face turn towards him, the glitter of his eyes out of the corner of his eye. “It did?” Lance could hear a bare flicker of hope in Keith’s voice and he hated it, resented it. What if he hurt Keith again? That flicker of hope could so quickly turn into hurt.

“What we had... it was good. It felt good. I didn’t want to lose it, and I guess the fear of that happening made me say things I never should have.”

Keith stared at him, his face unreadable.

“I just... I’m sorry. I’m glad you let me apologize, at least.”

“No, you were...” Keith’s words sounded strained. “You were right. You were right to remind me that we had agreed on no strings attached, no feelings. You were right to remind me what we are.”

“Keith.” Lance got up the courage to reach for Keith’s hand, expecting him to pull back. But he didn’t. Instead, he let out a sharp gasp, stared down at their joined hands. Looked up at Lance, and tightened his grip. “I wasn’t right to hurt you. And I wasn’t right to throw away what we have.”

Keith looked up at him, expression still unreadable, oddly shifting under the streetlights. Lance let go of his hand slowly, reluctantly, missing the warmth as soon as he did. “I’m sorry.” He said. “I should... I should have left you alone. I’m sure you don’t want to see me and now I’ve made it worse and...”

Lance never finished his sentence, because Keith surged forward and kissed him. It was sudden and inevitable, unexpected and right, as if time had slowed down and at the same time leapt forward.

Lance couldn’t do anything other than wrap his arms tight around Keith’s waist, refuse to let go, and return the kiss.

 

They slept together, in Lance’s apartment with the moon and stars shining through the window and barely a breath between them. It was so close and so tender Lance almost dared mistake it for making love, release cresting so sweetly it was merely an afterthought in each other’s arms.

They lay together afterwards, Lance’s fingers skimming up and down Keith’s pale arms as he watched Keith blink. The motion was soothing, Keith’s eyes large and almost black in the dark of the room.

“I should go.” Keith whispered, more to the still air than to Lance, and Lance’s fingers stopped, resting in the crook of Keith’s elbow.

“Why?” He asked, a note of desperation bleeding through. “I thought we were back to normal.”

“We are.” Lance could see a hidden pain creased in the corner of Keith’s eye and he wanted to smooth it away, kiss it into oblivion. Keith leaned down and kissed him instead, and with a smile that looked like it had been shattered and put together again, he brushed a hand over Lance’s cheek.

“First lesson we learn in fuckbuddy school is not to stay the night. I think I’m done breaking the rules.”

Lance swallowed down the taste of dust that came with those words. Done breaking the rules. And they had broken so many of those rules.

In a gesture laced with too much fondness, Keith patted Lance on the cheek gently and retrieved his shirt. “We can do this again.” He said.

Lance pushed up to his elbows, deciding in an instant to play along. Anything not to hurt Keith again. “Does that mean you forgive me?” He smirked, winking as Keith sighed.

“Not quite yet,” he replied, and Lance could see whatever he was hiding lurk just behind the stubborn set of his jaw for a mere instant before it was gone. “You’ll have to do better than that.” Keith continued, dragging on his jeans.

“Keith.” Lance layered in all the softness he could, and he could see it worked from the way Keith tensed, paused. “Why can’t things go back to normal?”

“Aren’t they already?” The flirtatiousness was gone, instead Keith was huffing angrily, brows drawn low.

“No!” Lance looked up at him, eyes as wide and pleading as he could make them. “Stay the night.” He begged. “We’ll have breakfast in the morning. We can go to the movies, or to the zoo, or the planetarium. Like we used to. Please.”

“Are you asking me out on a date?” Keith’s eyebrow lifted, his voice sharp with suspicion and a glinting edge of anger, so slight it felt like a trap. Lance fell right for it.

“No!” He hurried to exclaim, hoping to save himself, hoping to explain how much he wanted Keith in his life, but Keith’s face closed off and he turned for the door.

“See you at work, Lance.” He said, and left the apartment without even slamming the door.

Chapter Text

“So I heard you and Keith made up.” Shiro greeted Lance before he had even fully entered the café.

“’Hi, Lance.’” Lance mocked, going to hang up his jacket and bag. “’How are you? Do you have any other character traits and do things happen in your life except for Keith?’”

“Well, do they?” Shiro’s eyes sparkled with mirth. Lance scoffed. “Yeah, occasionally. Like the contract I signed today.”

Shiro looked up at that. Lance looked away, stuffed his hands in his jeans. “I’m, uh... I’m leaving Voltron.”

“Hey, that’s good for you.” Shiro said mildly. “Leaving the sinking ship.”

“I really didn’t want to, but I just really don’t have the time if I’m going to be working on my own album, but I’ll still come over to chat and... wait, what?” Lance tore himself out of his rambling as Shiro’s words registered. “Sinking ship? What sinking ship? Is Voltron sinking?”

For the first time, he noticed the letter Shiro held tight in his metal hand, the paper crinkling in his grip. Shiro fished his reading glasses out of his pocket, read the letter again, as if to confirm the news before he passed it on. As if there could be no chance of mistake before he said the words. Lance waited, leaning over his shoulder but not attempting to read the letter. His stomach twisted.

“Voltron is being shut down.” Shiro said with finality, and Lance’s heart dropped to the acid of his stomach. “Apparently, Mr. Zarkon thinks the space could be better used.”

“He can’t shut us down!” Lance protested. “We bring in more than enough!” His mouth opened and closed uselessly, his stomach bubbling with indignation, and it was boiling up and out. Shiro rubbed his forehead tiredly. “Apparently, he thinks he can bring in more.” Shiro looked over at Lance. “Don’t make a big deal out of it. You probably shouldn’t even know this.”

Lance threw out his hand dramatically. “You know it!”

“I’m the manager.”

“You’re already paid like shit for too much work, and now he’s just going to shut us down without a warning?”

“Lance, calm down.”

“I am not going to calm down! What the hell is he doing? This is bullshit!”

“Lance.” Shiro’s voice was stern, the tone he used when he would brook no argument. “Go back to work and don’t worry about it.”

Lance did, still stewing and pouting, watching Shiro out of the corner of his eye. Nothing seemed wrong, but Lance could see the furrow between his brows, the heaviness in his movements.

Matt walked in an hour later, ready to take over for Shiro, and Lance saw the briefest glimpse of light pass over Shiro’s face, like a cloud lifting briefly before it obscured the sun again. Matt didn’t even seem to notice, leaning over the counter with a smile as he pecked Shiro on the lips. When Lance came out of the back room just a few minutes later, however, they were locked deep in discussion, Matt’s brow furrowed as he read and re-read the letter Shiro had said Lance had no business knowing about.

They looked worried, talking among themselves in muttered tones. Lance’s heart sank. He hadn’t even thought about how much more it meant for them. Neither of them had a way out, a contract already signed. This job was how they were financing their studies, especially Shiro. And with Allura’s shop struggling, the three of them would have to find some way to stay afloat. They had a while to find a new job, but Zarkon was probably moving impossibly fast, and who knew if they would find something on time? They were already earning for three.

“Are you seeing this?” He asked Matt. His worrying was bubbling up indignation again, fear, and a horrifying feeling of inability. “It’s completely idiotic, and...”

“Lance, stop.” Matt interrupted him tiredly. Lance’s mouth flapped open and closed, speechless, outraged that his worry for his friends should be treated this way. He didn’t know how else to express it. Matt continued, eyes still glued on the letter in his hand. “It’s not as if you’re affected. Go tell your new job you can come work with them early.”

Hurt stabbed deep through Lance’s chest, not at Matt’s words but his tone. “Matt, stop.” Shiro frowned at his boyfriend, but Lance knew that Matt was just saying what Shiro wouldn’t.

“Alright.” He kept his voice clear of the emotions threatening to overwhelm him, kept it light. “Just tell me once you know when we’re shutting down.”

 

“So, are you telling her or am I?” Matt’s keys jingled in his hand as they approached the apartment. Shiro sighed heavily. “I don’t know.” He said slowly. “I wish I didn’t have to, but... I feel like I should.”

“We can tell her together.” Matt leaned in to kiss Shiro, fumbling for the lock. Shiro took the keys from him and shouldered the door open with a smile. It fell once they’d entered the apartment building, a shadow falling over his face again. “Telling her will make it real.”

Matt looked up at him and reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear, to gently touch his cheekbone. “It’s already real, Takashi. Now we need to plan for it.”

Shiro leaned down for a kiss with a smile. “Matt?” He confessed, leaning his forehead against his boyfriend’s. “I’m worried.”

“Of course you are.” Matt took his hand. “Worrywart. Come on, Allura will have an idea.”

Shiro doubted it, but he wanted to believe Matt in that moment, wanted to believe in the safety Matt’s hand in his promised. He wanted to believe that they’d go up, to their bed, and Allura would greet them with her smile and a kiss and everything would be alright.

That wasn’t how the world worked, Shiro knew it. But he wished, in that moment, that it did.

“We’re home!” Matt yelled, throwing the door open and Shiro out of his wishful thinking. Allura was in the kitchen, tossing a bunch of raw vegetables in a pot and probably just hoping for the best. It was a miracle she hadn’t poisoned them yet. “How was your day?” She called out, seemingly unbothered by the smoking pot. Her hair was in a messy bun, sweaty strands clinging to her glowing face.

Shiro turned down the stove with a smile and leaned down to kiss his girlfriend. “I’ve got it under control, you huge idiot.” She complained, slapping his arm lightly and leaning over to kiss Matt as well.

“Is that why it was about to start burning?” Shiro teased. She rolled her eyes, attacking the food with a large cooking spoon. “It was completely fine.” She replied. “So, how was your day?”

Shiro’s words got stuck in his throat. He had imagined this, prepared for it, looked forward to it. He wanted to tell Allura, tell her everything he’d been worrying about all day. And now he couldn’t, his words sticking in his throat like they were too large for him.

Matt reached out a hand and rested it on Shiro’s arm, looking up at him with understanding, communicating with a glance. Shiro looked back at him with a nod and with thanks shining in his eyes.

Matt could make it quick and painless. “They’re shutting down Voltron.”

“They’re what?

“Zarkon is having it taken off the register.” Shiro finally found the words in him, in legalities that didn’t affect him. “He’s already applied to strike it off.”

Allura leaned against the counter, face pale. They all knew what this meant. Altea Flowers couldn’t keep them alive, they were struggling as it was. Matt would be able to find another job, but Shiro?

“How long do we have?” Her voice was shaky. Shiro shrugged. “Legally? Should be two months at least, but Zarkon is probably going to close it this month.”

She looked up at him, eyes wide with shock. “What are we going to do?” She whispered. Shiro shrugged. “I can get some money, some kind of disability benefit.”

“That’s not going to be enough.” Allura shook her head. “It’s never going to be enough, I need to... I can sell the plot the shop is on, I can...”

“Allura.” He took her hand, Matt hovering at his shoulder. “I’m not letting you sell Altea. You love the place.”

“That doesn’t matter!” Allura replied fiercely. “I’m not going to sit here and let you two take care of me, or earn for me, especially now!” Her eyes glinted fiercely, not brooking any argument.

“We’ll find a way.” Matt calmed her, pulling her into a hug. “You don’t need to sell Altea, I promise, and Shiro, you won’t have to live off disability benefits. We’ll figure this out.”

“How?” All of Shiro’s hope had gone out of him. “Who would hire a one-armed man?”

“If it’s you?” Matt smiled at him, but the creases of his face spoke of something else. “Anybody with sense.”

 

Meanwhile, Lance and Keith were curled up on the couch, eating pizza and talking about the exact same thing.

“It just makes no sense to me.” Lance complained. “Why shut it down?”

Keith shrugged. “Zarkon’s a dick. What else is new?” He grabbed another slice of pizza. “I don’t get why you care, anyway. You have your new job.”

The word was scalding, acid dripping from Keith’s lips. Lance glared at him. “Maybe I care about other people? Have you considered that?” Keith looked away, slightly shame-faced. Lance continued, unable to stop now. “I’m worried about Matt and Shiro... especially Shiro. Aren’t you?”

“Of course I am.” Keith snapped, arms crossed, and Lance could see it eating away at him, that care and worry for Shiro. Those two had been worrying about each other since they had met. He hated seeing that pinched, tense expression. Lance leaned into Keith and tugged one arm around his own shoulder. “Besides, this means I won’t work close to you anymore. Where will you accidentally and inexplicably just happen to run across me?”

Keith gave a small chuckle and leaned down. “Where indeed? Maybe I’ll just have to come visit you here.”

Lance pulled him down for a kiss and felt the curve of Keith’s smile against his lips. “I think regular visits would be appropriate.”

“Not too regular, I hope, or my ass will not survive.”

Later, when they were lying in bed and Keith was just moving to leave, Lance pulled him back down. “Stay?” He asked, a moment of weakness. Keith sighed, shoulders tensing. “You shouldn’t have said that. You know it doesn’t end well.”

Lance leaned over to kiss his exposed hip bone and looked up at him, searching his face in the dark. “Maybe it will this time.”

“No, Lance.”

Lance was just sleepy enough, just exhausted enough and filled with a kind of soft tenderness that he felt could go on forever. He ran his hands up and down Keith’s spine, feather light. “Why can’t you let anyone in, Keith?” He asked, so softly Keith could choose to ignore it. Immediately, he tensed under Lance’s hands, like he was scared into flight, and for a moment, Lance thought he would run.

He didn’t.

“You feel just like him.”

“Him?”

“I dated someone, a few years ago.” Keith was looking at his hands, even if Lance couldn’t see his expression anyway. “He was like you. Charming, sweet, flirtatious. He knew how to get under my skin.”

“What happened?”

“He didn’t stay.” Keith said slowly, and Lance knew there was more to it than that. Silence filled the room. “He hurt me. He hit me, sometimes. We fought, constantly. He always knew what to say to hurt me. Kind of like you.” Lance flinched, remembering his own words not so long ago.

“Keith...” I would never do something like that was what Lance wanted to say, I think I love you. But he couldn’t bring out the words.

“He told me when we broke up that I’d never find someone to stay with me. Then he almost broke my arm and threw me out of the house. I was terrified that I would still have to see him. We worked together and had the same friends. But Shiro took care of me. He helped me file a restraining order and he helped get me out of that damn city.”

Keith finally looked up and huffed out a dry laugh. “It’s funny. I was scared of how our friends would react. That they would turn against me. We both played for the Galra, and in the end, that’s why Marmora split from them. They stuck up for me.”

“You played for the Galra?” Lance asked incredulously. Keith pulled a face. “It’s not a good memory. But I’m still friends with the Marmora members. I had to leave town in the end. It felt... dangerous. Too close. It reminded me too much of him. Lotor.”

It was the first time Keith had actually said his name, and he hissed it out as if with regret, all the pain in the world laced into the words.

“I guess he was right, though. No one will stay. Especially not me.”

Lance reached out for Keith’s hand and interlaced their fingers, tugging until Keith looked at him in the near-darkness.  His eyes glittered in the dim light, wary. I think I love you tugged at Lance’s throat, as if urging him to say it, as if the words were trying to drag themselves out.

“I’ll stay.”

Chapter Text

Keith didn’t stay the night. Instead, Lance was left alone, tossing and turning with Keith’s words digging like thorns into him. “You’re just like him,” he had said. Lance hated it. He didn’t want to be like Lotor. He refused to accept even the possibility that he might hurt Keith like that.

But you already did, a small, evil voice whispered inside his head. You wanted to hurt him and you knew exactly how to do it and you did.

Keith made him happy. He wanted to do the same.  

Lance tossed and turned and still hadn’t come up with an answer by the next morning when Keith walked into the café. Keith shot him a smile as he walked in, and the smile made Lance feel rotten to the core. He felt like he had been lying to Keith this whole time, too scared of the truth.

He had put together one hundred responses and beginnings in the hours since Keith had left. They all fled at the sight of his face. “I’m sorry.” He blurted out when Keith finally stood in front of him. Keith looked taken aback. “What for? Are you out of caramel?”

Lance bit his lip. For everything, he wanted to say, and it felt too cheap, an easy way out of confessing exactly what he had done wrong. “For how I’ve treated you.” He admitted, eyes downcast. “I haven’t... respected your feelings enough. I shouldn’t have tried to talk you into more when you’d made it clear what you wanted.”

The surprise evident on Keith’s face grew. He laughed nervously. “This is sweet and all, but could I just get my coffee?”

“Yeah!” Lance almost tripped over himself, flushing. “Of course! Can I...” he hesitated. “Can I talk to you after?”

For the first time, a soft smile etched itself onto Keith’s face instead of sceptical surprise. “I’ll be right here.”

 

“Here you go.” Lance pushed the takeaway cup across to Keith. He picked it up slowly, examined it, read the words Lance had scrawled across. Stared up at Lance in disbelief. You mean a lot to me, Lance had written. He rubbed the back off his neck.

“I know I haven’t treated you like it. And I’m really sorry. But you mean a lot to me, and I... I need to respect your boundaries. I need to start being honest with you, and treat you as an equal. I was wrong in a lot of ways. Just... let me make it right somehow?” Lance begged.

Keith gave a small, secret smile that went inwards. “Anything else?”

“I’m not going to hurt you, or manipulate you. Our, well, our relationship can’t be on my terms alone. All I can do is try to change. I mean, I promise. I promise to do that.” Lance stumbled over his own words, cheeks red.

Keith’s smile this time went outwards. “Wow. That’s a big apology. Was it so urgent you needed to do it in front of all these people?” His tone was teasing, without bite. Lance grinned, small and relieved. “I live for public drama, you should know.”

“I know.” Keith stood up and leaned forward. His cheeks were flushed, too. “Let me think on it.” He said softly. Then, just as softly, a leaned forward a little more and dropped a kiss on Lance’s lips. “But, uh... thank you.”

With that, he grabbed his coffee and, cheeks still flaming, practically ran.

 

“I don’t know what I did wrong!” Lance exclaimed to Hunk, sitting on the counter of the garage while Hunk worked on the inside of a car. “I mean, I apologized and promised to do better! And he just ran away?”

“From what I’m hearing, he said a lot of words before he ran away.” Hunk replied reasonably. “You’re blowing this out of proportion. At least give him some proof you’ll keep your word before you expect him to fall into your arms.”

Lance pouted. Hunk was right, of course, but he wanted Keith in his arms now, he wanted to be forgiven and he wanted to apologize and be reassured until all the weight of the world was lifted from his shoulders.

“He’s probably taken your apology to heart.” Hunk continued as if he could read Lance’s mind. “Just give him time. And pass me that really greasy part next to you.”

Lance handed it over, and Hunk finished with a few quick movements, emerging from the car and slamming the hood down. “Listen.” He leaned on the hood, holding Lance’s gaze. “You came on pretty suddenly. You probably just overwhelmed him. Give him time and as long as he doesn’t show he’s uncomfortable with it, make sure he knows you’re serious. That you actually want the best for him.”

“The best...” Lance murmured, tugging at the sleeves of his jacket. “I want to be happy with him, Hunk. I want to date him.”

“So tell him.” Hunk’s voice went soft, urging like someone teaching a child its first steps. “Be gentle about it. Give him time to respond. Make sure he knows this isn’t just another dumb mood of yours. Be serious about it.”

Lance smiled. “I would go for a hug right now, but you’re really greasy.”

“Oh yeah, that is not a good idea.” Hunk looked down at himself helplessly.

“How come you always give the best advice?” Lance asked fondly. Hunk snorted. “I give the most obvious advice, you just didn’t think of it.”

 

The bell above the door of Altea jingled so brightly, it felt like it was eager to finally announce a customer. By the way Keith’s head jerked up in surprise at the sound, Lance guessed he was the first customer in a while. It had been about a week since Lance had apologized, and Keith had been nothing but smiles. Their friendship felt like it had gone back to normal.

Keith’s eyes went wide when he saw who it actually was, and then a smile passed over his face. “Hey, Lance.”

“Hey, Keith.” Lance couldn’t help but grin back brightly. He felt giddy, newly in love with the way Keith didn’t regard him with suspicion but with something like hope.

“What are you doing here?” Keith frowned, pushing aside plants to get to Lance.

“I’m, uh... here to buy flowers?”

Keith’s face fell.

“For you!” Lance had meant it to be a surprise but he couldn’t stand to see that look on Keith’s face. The disappointment. He said he was going to change and look at him now.

Immediately, the cloud fell from Keith’s face, leaving only confusion. “Why would you...?”

Lance flushed. Why would he, actually? “I just... thought it would be nice?”

Keith gave one of his overwhelmed smiles, the confusion still evident on his face. “Alright. What do you want?”

“Yellow roses.” Lance had looked up the meaning before, and he knew Keith knew what they meant. Forgive and forget. What he hoped he and Keith could have, if he could get his act together. Still, at least Keith looked pleasantly surprised and not angry as Lance had feared.

“Alright.” Keith said, the word brimming over with amusement. He fetched some flowers, and when he brought them back to the counter, Lance saw that not all the roses in it were yellow. Keith pointed them out. “Peach roses. Appreciation.” He looked up at Lance with a blush and a small scowl, as if he was fighting not to say something on his mind. “And these are called hundred-leaved roses. They stand for...” He deftly cut the stems and wrapped up the roses in paper. “Pride.”

Lance gulped. Keith looked up at him, gaze piercing. “I have a certain bit of pride, Lance. As sweet as this is, I’m not going to be your toy because you apologized once. I’m glad you did, but don’t forget what you wanted this to be. Now,” Keith continued, holding up the roses. “How are we going to do this? Am I going to hold onto them or do you just want to hand them right back to me?”

“O shit, I didn’t think of that.” Lance admitted. Keith fought down a laugh. “Just pay for them now and give them to me when you see me next, okay?”

“Sounds good.” Lance smiled, relieved that Keith was taking it in good humour. When he had paid he stood there just a moment longer. Keith quirked an eyebrow, shyly pushing a strand of hair behind his ear. “What? More apologies?”

“What I wanted from this has changed.” Lance confessed in a rush of breath.

“What?”

“I...” Lance felt the urge to backpedal, and didn’t. “You said I shouldn’t forget what I wanted this to be. And I haven’t forgotten, but I regret it, every day. And now that I know what you want... wanted, it makes it so much harder.”

Keith gazed at him, inscrutable, the lines of his face hard and collected.

“I’m sorry I could never be honest with you. But, Keith... I want to be with you. Or, if not, I... I don’t want something in-between. I want to tell you the truth. So, could I...” Lance gulped, watched Keith’s eyes, dark and hidden in their own depths. “Could I take you on a date? An honest, serious date? Every single string attached?”

In a store full of flowers, Lance awkwardly held out the bouquet he was still holding, and the flower boy with purple eyes who had never fit comfortably into Lance’s life reached out pale fingers and, with a smile for only the roses to see, took them.

He held them close as if they were a treasure, cradled them as if they could ease his hurt. Lance’s heart fell. He had gone too fast.

Keith looked up. “Maybe later.” He said, and with a smile, “I’ll let you know.”

It was more than Lance could have hoped for, and he wished in that moment he could lean over the counter and kiss Keith breathless until they were both gasping for the dizzying, flower-scented air. Instead, Keith’s eyes widened in alarm, his whole body going stiff.

“Keith?” Panic welled up in the back of Lance’s throat. With stiff movements, Keith put down the flowers. “It’s Lotor.” He whispered, croaked, as if the words were bloody shards picked from his throat. “Get Shiro.”

Lance whipped around, not even knowing who he was looking for through the glass walls of Altea. “I’m not leaving you!” He insisted, scrabbling for his phone. “Look, I’ll call him, but I’m not leaving you alone.”

“Too late.” The door jingled, and Lance barely managed to push the call button on Shiro’s contact. Hopefully Shiro would pick up and realize what was happening.

Lotor stepped into the small shop.

He was tall, and blond, and gorgeous, and Lance wondered briefly if that was just Keith’s type before he refocused on the thought that this was the absolute asshole who had hurt Keith so badly.

“Why, hello, Keith.” The bastard’s voice was smooth and without concern, and Lance hated the thought of being compared to him. Keith’s voice was sharp when he replied, but Lance could hear the bare tremor of hatred laced underneath the words. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Lotor shrugged and turned to casually brush long fingers against the flowers. “The Galra are playing in town. I thought I’d visit. Nice place you’ve got here.”

“Leave.” Keith responded through gritted teeth. Lotor smiled, a greasy, toothy affair. “I thought we could catch up.”

Lance finally swallowed down his nerves and stepped forward. “Get out of here.” He hissed, voice like icicles, fist balled at his sides. He wanted to punch Lotor in the smug face.

“Lance, stop.” Keith’s hand clawed into his shoulder, pulling him back. “This isn’t any of your business.”

Lance opened his mouth, closed it again, and stood back while Lotor surveyed them both with surprise in his eyes. “Is this your new plaything?” He asked with mild surprise. “He’s rather... skinny.”

Keith didn’t respond to the jibe. “I have a restraining order against you, and I am ready to call the police if you do not leave right now.” He bit out. He and Lance caught movement out of the corner of their eye at their same moment. Opposite, Voltron’s door had just slammed. “Me and Shiro are also ready to break every bone in your body.”

Lotor tutted and sighed. “I really hoped we would have been able to handle this like adults, Keith.” He put such remorse in his voice, even Lance almost believed it was real. He thought Lotor would stay longer, that they would actually have to call the police, but Lotor simply turned around and finally, finally left.

Keith sagged, crouched to the floor in the same second Shiro came bursting through the door. He was breathing heavily, but not as heavily as Keith, who was positively hyperventilating at this point, letting out dry gasps as he shuddered. Lance reached out a hand. He had never felt so useless.

Shiro crouched down next to Keith. “Keith?” His voice was deliberately calm, and when Keith reached out, he sank to meet him, pulling him into a hug. “Keith, it’s alright. You did good. He isn’t coming back.”

“How did you know?” Keith mumbled into Shiro’s shoulder, looking for all the world like a child after a nightmare. “Lance called me.” Shiro replied, shooting a grateful look at Lance. For a while, Keith kept breathing heavily, clinging to Shiro but never crying. Lance knelt, put his hand on Keith’s shoulder. Keith shuddered once, but the touch seemed to calm him. He finally extracted himself.

“I’ll call Allura, tell her you’re going home early.” Shiro helped Keith get up and Keith nodded, heading to the break-room. Shiro turned to Lance. “I’ll stay with him.” He said. “Thank you for calling me, and for staying here.” He looked at the door Keith had disappeared through. “I think you’d best leave now.”

Lance nodded, still numb. “Don’t forget the flowers.” He whispered. And left.

 

He didn’t go home. His sheets smelled of Keith, and Lance didn’t need home right now. He went to a bar instead, ordered a beer and sat down determined not to get drunk and equally determined not to think of Keith, how he had held onto his strength by his fingertips, how shattered he had looked the moment Lotor had left.

Lance was halfway through his third beer, staring at the wall and wondering if Hunk would chastise him when he noticed a presence at his table.

“Can I buy such a beauty a drink?” Someone drawled above him, smooth and slightly slurred in a way that simply made his speech softer. Lance was about to refuse, no, I have someone and I’m going to stay loyal to him, when he looked up.

Lotor.

What bad luck had brought them to the same bar that night, Lance didn’t want to know. Lotor looked much the same as he had in the shop, well-put together and gorgeous, hair tied back now with a few strands escaping. Lance glared at him.

“Can I sit?” Lotor asked.

“No.” Lance snarled back, but Lotor shrugged and sat anyway. “You’re Keith’s new boy-toy.” He continued, gesturing with his glass, and Lance had to fight the urge to hit him. That would be a Keith thing to do, he reminded himself. Reckless. Impulsive.

“I’m his...” Lance tried to argue against Lotor but came up blank with what he and Keith were. We might start dating? He falls asleep in my arms and I think he might feel safe?

Lotor smirked at him, as if knew just what Lance was thinking, as if he could sense that sinking feeling in Lance’s chest when he couldn’t put a finger on what he and Keith were. Punching him would be a Keith thing to do. Lance reminded himself.

“He’s going to leave you in the end.” Lotor said, casually, bored. “He’s an ungrateful little bitch.”

Lance bristled in anger. “Leave.” He said coldly. Lotor didn’t budge. “You’ll see, he’s tiring to keep. Always whining about something. The ass really isn’t worth it.”

Don’t punch him. Ran in circles through Lance’s head. That would be a Keith thing to do. In rushing waves, the thought spun higher, the anger spinning the alcohol into whirling circles until all Lance saw was red. Keith would punch him. Don’t punch him. Don’t punch him, that would be a Keith thing to do.

Then do it for Keith.

The thought stuck out with jarring clarity, a clear mirror shard in a mess of anger and alcohol. Lance stood up. Lotor followed suit.

Lance could have sworn the bar fell silent a second before. It definitely fell silent a second after. The moment he punched Lotor in the sharp, perfect jaw hard enough to draw blood and send him sprawling was a crystal clear, silent, endless moment in time against the sprawl of alcohol, pain and bad decisions that that night would turn out to be.

The bar held its breath before it erupted into noise, shouts of horror, the thunk of Lotor hitting the floor heavily, chairs being pushed aside, an uproar that felt like applause. Lance had what felt like seconds to enjoy it before he was grabbed roughly by someone with a name tag and escorted outside, shouts at his back, at him. The noise behind him went on. Lance wanted to stay, wanted to see Lotor’s face. He was pushed outside.

Instead of seeing Lotor’s face after the blow, Lance had to settle for a cigarette outside the bar, in a dark alley, his knuckles smarting and his head spinning.

He had just punched Lotor.

Did he tell Shiro? God, did he tell Keith? If he did, would he have to tell him all the terrible things Lotor had said? Would he need to justify it?

His thoughts were interrupted by the door to the bar opening again, loud chatter splashing onto the streets beyond. The noise seemed to have died down.

“It’s fine.” He heard a voice, stickily congested. “Thank you so much for everything.”

The door closed, and there was nothing but footsteps.

In retrospect, Lance realized he should have moved immediately, just gone home and slept. But he’d stayed, as if there was no other place he could be in the world but right there in time for four shadows to fall across him.

“Look who it is.” Lotor said archly, as if his already swelling jaw was no impediment to either his speech or his pride. Behind him stood three women, sporting frowns and one, terrifyingly, a knife. One of the others probably wouldn’t need one- Lance didn’t doubt she could beat even Shiro into pulp.

Somehow, he had forgotten to be scared. “I don’t take kindly to people talking like that about the man I love.”

“The man you love?” Lotor laughed. “As if he could ever love you back.”

The first punch Lotor threw hardly hurt more than that. Lance tried to block it, but Lotor slipped by his defences easily. Lance’s head cracked back against the tile wall, and he didn’t even see Lotor going for his stomach. He doubled over, gasping in pain, but finally recollected himself. His head swam, but he leapt forward, slamming Lotor against the opposite wall before heavy arms encircled him and wrenched him back. Lotor’s friends.

Lance was thrown against the wall, heard the crack of bone and felt the searing pain in his right shoulder and his head and slumped on the floor. It was four against one, and he had no chance of getting up again. All he could hope for was that someone heard him scream as kicks rained down on him, his thighs, his ribs, his chest, his back. It was agony, bursting pain so intense he couldn’t even hope to fight back, boots reconnecting again and again. A boot rested on his exposed arm, and he screamed as it pressed down. Another joined further down, against his hand.

“No!” Lance yelled, finally. “No, no NO!” The boot came down, mercilessly, his fingers crushed, his entire body screaming in pain. He swore he could hear the pop and the break, and he screamed in agony as his fingers were slowly, steadily ground down on until a boot struck his face and everything went finally, blessedly black.

Chapter Text

Lance was floating. Pain was a distant sensation, a low constant thrum.

Far away, he heard voices. “I think he’s waking up.” Said one.

“Lance?” Came another.

“Shhh. Let him sleep.”

Yes. Sleep sounded good right now. Lance wanted to sleep, he wanted to sleep forever, he wanted this floating sensation, the pain the only thing tethering him, holding him together.

“Lance?”

It was the quietest of the voices, a murmur, a hushed question, but it jarred Lance to the core, to hear that voice. It was so familiar, and Lance vaguely remembered the way it broke through his nights sometimes, and sleep was the last thing on his mind. Keith.

With a low groan, Lance came awake, eyes fluttering.

“Lance!” Hunk was the first to notice. The others turned to him, letting out relieved and startled gasps. Lance saw Shiro tearing up. Keith stood at his side, pale and drawn. A brief smile of relief passed over his face as his eyes met Lance’s. “Hey.” Lance said weakly, and Keith’s face almost seemed to split with sudden happiness and relief. He threw himself forward suddenly, so unexpected that Lance let out an ‘oof’ before throwing his arms around the other.

Keith had flung himself at the bed and now sat hugging Lance so tightly to him that Lance winced with pain. “Hey.” He said again, lifting a hand to card through Keith’s hair. “Hey.” Keith replied, voice muffled by Lance’s chest. “Missed me?” Lance smiled, and the small part of Keith’s face that wasn’t hidden flushed bright red. “Not for a moment.”

He looked up at his friends, and they smiled back at him. “We’re glad you’re okay, Lance.” Shiro said. Lance laughed, ignoring the way his torso twinged with pain. “So am I.”

“Do you remember what happened?” Hunk shuffled closer. Lance sighed, closed his eyes to better visualize it. “Uhhh, I punched someone, didn’t I? I punched Lotor.”

Shiro’s smile was proud, but Keith leaned away from him in disapproval. “Yeah.” Shiro answered, voice sparkling with mirth. “Yeah, you bet you did.”

“And then, uh...” This next part was more difficult to remember, perhaps because it was less of a triumphant moment. “He came after me?”

“Yeah, him and three friends.” Keith huffed. He had moved away from Lance, embarrassed by his public display of affection and was standing at the end of Lance’s bed, arms crossed. Shiro put a hand on Keith’s arm. Keith didn’t shrug it off but welcomed the calming gesture and it was that more than anything that made Lance realize just how worried he must have been.

“They beat you up, but luckily someone from the bar called the police.” Hunk continued. “You’ve been out for less than a day.” He looked down at his large hands, unwilling to pass on the news. “You should be fine, but you have a broken rib, and your fingers...”

Lance froze. Hunk looked as if he would rather be anywhere else, and Lance knew before he said a word. “It was a complicated break.” Hunk finished lamely, and Lance knew there was more to it. “Hunk?”

Everyone around the bed looked away, except Keith. Keith kept staring at him, eyes dark and hard with something not too far from pity. Keith looked at him as if curious to see how Lance would take the news, as if testing Lance’s strength, probing his walls for cracks, but also with a kind of care that told Lance he was doing it to hold him up and not pull him down.

“There were multiple breaks.” Keith finally said when it became clear no one else was going to do it. His voice was level, with softness just below the surface, the softness Lance usually felt in bed when Keith was forgetting not to be fond. “You’re going to need surgery. We’ll have to hope there’s no complications.”

Silence fell. Lance felt sick to the stomach, and it must have shown on his face because Keith reached out a hand, and when he remembered the bandage around Lance’s arm and his crushed fingers he rested a hand on his knee instead. There was a glitter in his eyes that Lance had only ever seen when he was hurt. That glitter was Keith clenching his jaw, locking down his gates and deciding that this, too, had to be survived.

“What happens if there are complications?” Lance asked faintly, and not even Keith and the glitter in his eye would answer that.

 

Lance drifted off into an uneasy sleep soon after that, and when he awoke again, his friends were gone and his room was empty. He tried to sit up, awkwardly shuffling around on his bed with a groan. A flash of black caught his eye.

Keith was sitting in a chair by the door, shifting as he woke up as well.

Violet eyes drifted open. Lance smiled.

“Hey.” He said softly on a wheezy breath, pain lancing through him. Keith smiled back, soft and just woken up. “Hey.” He whispered, the word spinning lazily on the air between them, and for a while they both sat and smiled like fools.

“You stayed.” Lance finally noted, and Keith looked like he wanted to roll his eyes but was too full of affection to muster the movement. “Yeah.” He said instead. “I did.”

Lance sank back down, acquiescing to his aching ribs. “Aren’t you going to come closer?” He asked, reaching out a bandaged arm with a vaguely finger-shaped lump. Shyly, slowly, Keith got up. “Do you want me to?” He asked full of uncertainty. Lance kept his hand outstretched. “Yeah.” He said. “I meant what I said at the flower shop.”

“Well, this is quite a way to start dating.” Keith smiled, finally moving closer and sinking down onto the chair next to Lance’s bed. He didn’t take Lance’s injured hand, but let him rest it on his outstretched palm. Lance smiled lazily, a ghost of his usual charm.

“Are you saying this is my promised date?”

“Not yet.” Keith echoed his words from earlier, and shot Lance a warm smile. “I’ll let you know.”

“Keith.” Lance’s tone of voice led the conversation immediately towards something more serious. “I’m sorry I went after Lotor like that. I... I shouldn’t have intruded.”

Keith smiled faintly. “It’s alright. Knowing the bastard, he provoked you first.” He pulled his hand back and awkwardly stared at his fingers twisting and pulling in his lap. “Not gonna lie, I wanted to be the one to punch him... but I’m kind of glad that at least you did. Even if you shouldn’t have.”

Keith looked up at Lance, long, searching. “Can we forget about him?” He tried shyly. “I want... I don’t want him in my future with you.”

Lance’s voice broke mid-sentence. “We have a future?” He almost didn’t want to say the words. They tasted like candyfloss on his tongue, sweet and melting and gone if he focussed too hard. Keith looked up at him, hardly daring to look him in the eye. The moment was poised to break. Keith looked at him, eyes soft with affection but no less piercing.

“I would definitely like one,” he said in a voice just slightly above a whisper, and he reached out a hand to Lance as if afraid of being rejected once again. Instead, Lance, clumsy with bandages, leaned forward slightly and kissed Keith, a mere brush of lips like a stray breath, leaving Keith’s lips tingling with the aftershocks. He reached out a hand to brush Lance’s jaw and kissed him, too, firmly but not any less gently, lips brushing, eyes fluttering closed, breath catching as they pulled back from one another.

Lance’s eyes fluttered open in time to see Keith following suit, eyes hazy. A dopey smile he would die denying spread over his face. Keith smiled back, and gently rested his hand on Lance’s thigh. “This can’t be real.” He whispered, voice hoarse in a way Lance had only ever heard during sex. “You can’t be real.” He hesitated. “I feel like you’re about to push me away again.”

Lance leaned forward and bumped his forehead against Keith’s. “Never again.” He promised. Keith looked up. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

Lance didn’t want to think about what Keith meant, didn’t want to start that fight again, and he figured that Keith deserved to hold on to grudges a bit. Heaven knows Lance had given him enough to hold on to. Instead he read the droop in Keith’s shoulders, the slight drag in his voice, and lifted up the sheets clumsily.

“Come on.” He said, grinning broadly at Keith’s raised eyebrows and slack-jawed surprise. “You seem tired.”

“I can’t just sleep in your hospital bed.” Keith shook his head, smiling. Lance pouted and shook the bedsheet meaningfully. “Why not?” He asked, pleading. Keith opened his mouth as if that could make a response show up in his mind and came up blank. He stood up, resting a hand on the bed next to Lance’s hip. Lance could feel the heat radiating off him and wanted to curl up in it.

“Take off your shoes first, you damn heathen.” He scolded, and Keith toed off his shoes with a chuckle and slid up against Lance on the narrow hospital bed, Lance’s head resting against his collarbone. Lance curled up against him, pressing close for warmth with a smile on his face. Keith’s hand rested around his waist. Lance’s hands were tight fists against Keith’s chest.

Lance breathed in the scent of Keith, remembered the way he would bury into sheets that smelled just like that, no matter how fleeting. This wasn’t fleeting. This would stay until he woke up.

With that comforting thought on his mind, Lance slept.

 

The day of Lance’s surgery came and went quietly. Keith came to visit him in the time before it, bringing a bunch of flowers with a blush and a smile. Lance said thank you and held his hand gladly, practically sinking into the warm, comforting feeling Keith’s eyes on him sent shivering down his spine.

Keith was there until the doctors shooed him out and wheeled Lance out, and the last thing he saw was Keith standing to the side with worry in his eyes and a stubborn smile on his face.

When Lance awoke, he was alone, and there was a chorus of new pains in his bandaged hand, but Keith’s flowers stood beside his bed in a pretty vase and with a note dangling off them.

Get better soon, dumbass, Keith had written in his best florist’s handwriting, and Lance smiled at the bright flowers and fell asleep until Hunk came to bring him some post-surgery brownies.

He was discharged almost immediately afterwards, and Keith came to pick him up.

“I’m not sure the doctors will agree to me riding a motorcycle when I just got out of surgery.” Lance greeted him with a smile. Keith rolled his eyes and jingled the keys between his fingers. “Don’t be stupid.” He replied. “I borrowed Allura’s car. I’m taking you home.”

Something warm and bubbly swelled in Lance’s chest at that, and he would have leaned forward to kiss him if Keith hadn’t been peculiarly hesitant when it came to physical affection in the past days. So instead, Lance twisted his hands in the sheets and mumbled out a “thank you” with a blush.

Keith grinned. “What was that?”

Lance glared up at him. “Count yourself lucky I said it once.” He teased. He half-expected Keith to respond in kind, to snark back or at least glare at Lance disapprovingly. Instead, Keith smiled and helped Lance sit up, draping a jacket around his shoulders.

“Let’s get you home.” He said gently. Lance suddenly felt very, very tired and at the touch of Keith’s hand he wanted nothing more than to curl up in his arms and sleep for an extraordinary amount of time. “I need to wait for the doctor to give me the all clear.” He remembered suddenly, regretfully. Keith sank down easily next to him on the hospital bed. “I’ll wait with you.” He said simply.

He was warm and solid next to Lance, and, chancing a brief look up, Lance decided to risk it. Keith was sitting stiff and ramrod-straight, nostrils flared and jaw clenched, as if scared what might happen if he relaxed. With a sigh, Lance leaned into him, resting his head on his shoulder. If possible, Keith stiffened even more.

“Relax.” Lance sighed, making sure his breath feathered over Keith’s exposed collarbone. Keith shuddered, and mechanically lifted an arm to lay it over Lance’s shoulders with bated breath. His hand hovered a good inch above Lance’s clothed shoulders. It was both sweet and frustrating.

“Fuck’s sake.” Lance had decided it was mainly frustrating. “You’ve had your dick in my ass and now you’re scared to touch me?” He cuddled closer, and smiled in satisfaction as Keith slowly, and with a shuddering breath that sounded like memories being fought down in an inappropriate environment, laid his hand on Lance’s shoulder and began to draw smooth circles.

He didn’t know when the doctor came, but Keith sat up suddenly, shifting Lance from his perch on Keith’s shoulder. Lance blinked fully awake, catching the doctor’s distracted smile as he pulled up a chair.

“All ready to go?” The man said, in a reedy, nervous voice that did nothing to inspire confidence in patients. Lance smiled broadly. “More than ready.” He said, leaning against Keith again.

The doctor coughed awkwardly and kept his gaze resolutely on the clipboard. “I’m glad to hear it. About the surgery...”

Keith’s hand crept around Lance’s shoulder again, now a touch more comforting as Lance’s breath caught in his chest, every muscle tense.

“It was more complicated than we anticipated. You see, your fingers were broken with a kind of... crushing force, and we could only do so much.”

“What do you mean?” Despite himself, Lance’s voice was shaking. Keith pulled him closer, face pale. The doctor cleared his throat. “You will experience a... lack, I dare say, of fine motor skills. With intense physical therapy you might regain most functions over time, but unfortunately you cannot expect... well, your fingers will be clumsy at best.”

Lance’s heart sunk to the pit of his stomach.

“I understand you’re a musician.” The doctor continued, rushing through the words. Keith’s hand tightened as he understood, and his second hand went to Lance’s thigh. “I fear that might be difficult. You might not play again, for a few years at least.”

Lance felt like breathing was too much effort. Ice sank into his veins, cold horror seeping through him, Keith’s hands on him becoming burning points of heat in the sudden realm of icy shock he had sunk into. His head spun. He didn’t know up from down. He hardly even noticed the doctor standing, giving him the all clear and excusing himself. He hardly noticed Keith giving a polite reply, but he definitely noticed him pulling Lance closer. Keith’s body was near-painful heat against him, steadying, a kind of anchor to reality.

Lance didn’t know what to do.

So what he did was take Keith by the hand and forcibly drag himself back to the hospital bed, to Keith’s searching gaze, to reality. He fought down the sharp shards of tears pricking at his eyes and wrestled down the shaky shudder in his voice.

“Let’s go home.” He said thinly.

Chapter Text

Lance was quiet on the ride home, and spaced out. He didn’t even notice where they were going until they pulled up to a stop. Keith shut off the engine and sat back, breathing heavily, eyes fixed in front of him. Lance looked up.

“Keith?” He said in a thin voice. “This is your place.”

“I know.” There was something unknown in Keith’s voice. It sounded like worry, a faint edge of it hiding behind Keith’s moody snapping.

“What are we doing here?”

Keith rested his hands on the steering wheel, seeming entirely casual except for his white-knuckled grip. “I’m going to go get some of my stuff.” He said softly, a suggestion. “And then we’ll go to your place. And...” He shot a quick glance at Lance, shy but determined. “I’m staying with you.”

“Why?” Lance could have said a million other things, but that was the only thing he could think of. Keith shut his eyes and tilted his head back.

“Look.” He said. “The news was obviously a blow to you. Life’s going to be hard and painful enough as it is with your broken fingers, and I’m... I’m scared, I suppose. What you’ll do, all alone.”

Lance looked up at Keith, warmth spreading out from his chest, but there was a shred of annoyance digging through it. “You don’t have to protect me.”

Keith looked at Lance thoughtfully. “I want to.” He said finally. “If you’ll let me.”

Lance crossed his arms. “What about your refusal to stay the night? All the bad things that would happen if you stayed?”

“I think the situation is rather different now, don’t you?” Keith replied testily, and Lance deflated. Of course it was. He knew that. But lashing out was easier right now. “What if I’m really shitty to you?” He asked finally, small and scared.

“I’ll deal with that.” Keith said. “As long as you let me come with you and make sure you’re fine.”

Lance looked up at Keith with a small, thin smile. “Alright.” He said. “Thank you.”

Then, as Keith opened the door, he leaned back in his chair and smirked. “What if one of us catches feelings?” He teased. Keith rolled his eyes. “I think it’s a little late for that.

 

Keith returned just a short while later with a bag of clothes slung around his shoulder and his phone in hand. “I texted Shiro that I’m staying with you for a while.” He said as he slid into the driver’s seat. “He tends to show up randomly.”

Keith’s phone pinged, and he rolled his eyes. “Shiro is wishing us lots of fun and sending a bunch of winky faces.”

“You say that as if you’re going to spend multiple days at my place and we’ll never do anything that warrants a winky face.” Lance teased, leaning over to rest his chin on Keith’s shoulder.

“I’m not having sex with you before our first date.” Keith replied, deadpan, and, unable to resist, turned to kiss the top of Lance’s head.

“What a shame.” Lance sighed, nuzzling into Keith’s shoulder and inhaling deeply. Keith let him for a moment before pushing him off. “I do actually need to drive, Lance.”

Lance whined. “Why can’t we just stay at your place?”

“Because my place is small, dark and depressing.” Keith started the car.

“I always quite liked it.” Lance smiled, leaning back against his seat as Keith started driving. Keith snorted. “Which part? How dark it is? The smell in the hallways? The cramped kitchen?”

“Your presence.” Lance replied, voice small and shy. Keith looked over at him. He was curled up in the seat, looking like he was about to fall asleep, carefully avoiding Keith’s stare with a blush on his cheeks.

Keith smiled, and chose not to answer. They drove the rest of the way in silence, and when Keith looked over at Lance next, he was fast asleep.

 

Keith was ready to settle down on the couch until Lance snorted as if he couldn’t believe it and dragged him to the bedroom. He must have seen Keith’s face, because as he stood in front of the bed, he suddenly went still.

“I didn’t mean...” Lance broke off. “We won’t do anything you don’t want. Even if I could, with all these stupid broken bones. I just meant... well, it’s more comfy.”

Keith must have still looked uncertain, because Lance stepped forward to take Keith’s hand in his. “Look, I promise not to push you. I just... I don’t want to put distance between us again. I’m scared you might not come back next time.”

“I won’t.” Keith promised, moving closer, half-expecting Lance to step away. Lance took a step towards him, so close their noses almost brushed. “Then I’d better not let you go.” He leaned in, slowly. Keith felt dizzy with want. He leaned in. Lance’s lips were soft against his.

“Does this warrant a winky face?” He asked as they drew apart. Lance giggled. “As innocent as Shiro is? It definitely does.”

 

 Living with Lance hadn’t turned out to be as easy as Keith had been expecting. Lance didn’t eat, didn’t leave the house, slept all day and tossed all night. Keith wanted to help, but it wasn’t easy, and Lance didn’t like letting him in.

 He hadn’t left the house since Keith had come to stay with him, instead becoming an increasingly disshelved pile in the living room. He went there in the morning and stayed there until Keith came home, not even getting up to turn on the lights when dark crept through the windows.

Keith knew that would be where Lance was today, too. A pile of blanket and self-pity.

“Hey.” He sank down near the lump that was Lance. It whined and stirred, but Lance didn’t emerge.

“You should eat.” Keith said softly. “Did you eat at all today?”

Finally, Lance emerged, owlishly, eyes wide and hair disshelved. He shook his head wordlessly. Keith sighed. “I’ll order take-out.”

“I’m not hungry.” Lance tried to burrow back into the blankets, but Keith caught him by his shoulder. “You need to eat.”

“Let go.” Lance snarled. Keith sighed. “Look, I know it’s difficult. But you have to give me a chance to...”

“You don’t understand shit.” Lance finally sat up, pushing the blanket aside, voice rising. “You don’t know what any of this is like. Do you expect me to just go on, to just keep acting like everything’s the same?”

Keith knew he shouldn’t let his anger get the better of him. He heard Shiro at the back of his head- patience yields focus. “Of course I don’t! That’s why I’m here!”

Lance didn’t even seem to hear him. “You have no idea how this feels.” He glared at Keith. “I didn’t ask for you to be here. Just... leave me alone.”

Keith was shaking with rage. “I know exactly what this is like.” He said with a voice so cold it could freeze a river. “You think I could so much as touch an instrument after everything that happened?”

Lance froze, eyes wide. Of course. Keith sighed, sank down next to him. “I know, Lance.” He said softly, all the rage melting out of his voice like snow under the spring sun. “I know what this feels like. And that’s why I’m not leaving you alone. Okay? You don’t have to do this on your own. I’m here.”

“I’m sorry.” Lance whispered. Keith sighed again, and pulled Lance towards him, rearranging both of them on the couch until Lance could rest his head on Keith’s lap. “It’s not easy, is it?” Keith murmured. Lance hesitated, then nodded shakily.

“It feels like I have nothing left.” Lance whispered, as if speaking louder could make it real. Keith hummed, threading his fingers through Lance’s hair. “You have me.”

“But I don’t have me.” Lance gritted his teeth. “I think I’m going to lose myself. I feel like I’m unravelling.” His shoulders began to shake, sobs building up steadily in the back of his throat. He tried to start speaking again, but couldn’t find the words, or the strength. Keith pulled him up, gently, cuddled close, pulled the blanket tighter, and held him as he cried.

 

Lance awoke from his nap to knocking at the door. “Keith?” He slurred, sitting up. Who else should it be? No one had visited Lance since he had gotten back. But why would Keith knock? Lance had given him a spare key on the first day.

He got to his feet, shuddering at the cold floor that greeted him. He hadn’t left his blanket cocoon all day, taking naps to the point it was exhausting, and otherwise mindlessly watching television.

He opened the door, expecting an apologetic Keith (a breathless, “I left the keys”, and maybe Lance could steal a kiss as he came in), but instead a was met by a veritable wall of muscle.

“Shiro?”

Shiro looked at Lance nervously, scrubbing a hand through his hair. Lance noticed the white at the front was spreading. He could only imagine what kind of stress Shiro must be going through.

“Uhhh, Keith’s not here yet.” Lance couldn’t think of anything else to say. He hadn’t seen Shiro since he’d first awoken in hospital. Shiro scoffed. “I’m here to see you, Lance.”

“Why?” Lance startled himself into silence. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean...”

“No, no.” Shiro waved him off. “I should have come earlier. I’m sorry.”

“No need to be sorry, man.” Lance stood aside, watching dumbly as Shiro strolled inside. He had spent so long in the apartment he had almost forgotten about the outside world. With shame welling up inside him, he realized he had forgotten about everyone. He hadn’t even told anyone he had been discharged.

“I’m glad you’re okay.” Shiro said, turning to Lance and following him into the living room. Lance shrugged. “Yeah, Keith is making sure of that.” A faint smile played around his lips. “I don’t know where I’d be without him.”

“It’s doing him good, too.” Shiro settled down on the couch, but Lance remained standing. “I told you you’d be good for each other.”

Lance couldn’t help but let a flicker of hurt chase over his face, betraying him. Shiro leaned forward. “Lance?”

“Yeah, well, we’d be better for each other if he actually let us be together.” Lance said bitterly. “He’s keeping me at a distance. Says he won’t ‘take advantage’ when I’m like this.”

Shiro shrugged. “That seems smart.”

Lance glared. “I’m not in a state I’d be taken advantage of! I’m fine, all I want is for Keith to stop stalling! We’ve fallen apart so often, and I just want to finally be together!” When Lance stopped, there were tears shining in his eyes, and Shiro dragged him down onto the couch forcefully.

“Lance, listen.” He started. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh god, I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

Lance’s interest was roused. “What?”

“Do you know why Keith decided to stay with you?”

“Uuh, he wanted to stay close while I get better?”

Shiro looked at him for a long time. “He said you reminded him of himself, back when he broke up with Lotor.”

“Back when...? Lotor?” Lance spluttered. Shiro leaned back in the cushions. “He said you looked like someone had stripped you of everything you’d ever known. Like you were only just realizing how empty the world is. You looked like he felt back then.”

“Oh.” Lance said, voice small. He guessed it made sense. Losing his music had shaken him even more than he thought it would. “But then why would he keep at a distance?”

Shiro worried his lip, as if considering if he should say it. “Back then, Keith didn’t quite know what he was feeling. He mistook some of those feelings for... well, feelings for me.”

Lance looked up at Shiro, at the way he had turned inward to the memories. He wasn’t surprised. He’d always known Keith had had a crush on Shiro at one point, had at least entertained the idea. It was impossible not to. “I’m pretty sure any crush on you is genuine.” He tried, hoping to get a smile out of Shiro. Shiro didn’t even seem to hear.

“He approached me. I knew it wouldn’t be right, not the way he was. I told him... well, I told him pretty much what he’s telling you now.” Shiro flashed a faint smile. “He thanked me, afterwards. I think that might be why he’s hesitant now. You remind him of how vulnerable he was back then.”

Shiro leaned forward, placed a hand on Lance’s thigh. “Give him time.” He said softly. “Just keep him close. You two will be just fine.”

 

When Keith came home, Lance was out of his pyjamas for the first time in weeks. He was sitting at the kitchen table, his laptop in front of him, chewing on a pencil distractedly.

“Hi.” Keith leaned against the doorway and wished he could come home to this every day.

“Hey.” Lance seemed distracted, didn’t even look up. Instead, he squinted at his laptop screen, and, with both trepidation and excitement, said, “I have an idea.”

Chapter Text

Lance had told Pidge Voltron was closing almost the moment he knew, and she hadn’t stopped complaining since.

“I mean, where do I study now?” She had said as she and Lance sat at one of Voltron’s tables. Lance stared out at the flower shop opposite the café, watched Keith move around the display, utterly transfixed.

“Hey.” Pidge snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Earth to Lance? We have a problem here and that problem is Voltron closing, so stop your pining and let’s make this right.”

“Huh?” Lance looked up, hardly hearing her words.

“There’s no other good cafés in the area! Just a shitty Starbucks.” Pidge complained, as if she didn’t even notice Lance being distant. “Everyone comes here! The university library is just a few minutes away! Where is everyone going to go now? Especially me!”

Lance shrugged. “I don’t know.” He said. “I’m understandably more worried about my income than where I’ll get my caffeine fix.”

“Well, some of us don’t have that privilege.” Pidge shot back, wryly, fighting down a grin. “At least try to see the real problem here.”

Lance flicked some milkfoam at her face and she shrieked, giggling as she threw up a folder like a shield.

“Missed.” Pidge stuck out her tongue, and their laughter echoed through the coffee shop.

 

“No one’s going to take a one-armed barista.” Shiro sighed as he sat next to Lance, scrolling through his e-mails as Lance worked.

“They’re idiots.” Lance tried to comfort him. “You’re good at what you do.”

“That doesn’t matter if all they see... well, all they don’t see is my arm.” Shiro flexed his artificial fingers thoughtfully. “I guess I could do something else? But being a barista is what I learned and I’m good at it.”

“D’you think you’re good enough to teach others?” Lance asked absently, clicking around on his computer, a pencil behind his ear. Shiro looked up with a wry smile. “I taught you, didn’t I?”

 

“There’s just no way we can stay open.” Allura sighed. “I could sell the shop, I suppose, but it’s my father’s legacy. I can’t give up Altea, or the land it stands on.”

Lance sat at the counter, resting his chin on his better hand as he looked around at the bright blossoms. Behind him, Keith finished up carrying out the flowers from outside, the setting sun playing in bright patterns over his hair.

“I’d do anything to see Altea survive.” Allura continued. She leaned forward, sighing heavily. “I don’t want to lose what my father started.” She said, voice small. “I can’t fail.”

 

Lance looked around the room at his friends, gathered around a small cluster of tables in Voltron. His heart warmed at seeing them all there, together, looking up at him. This kind of friendship, it was one he had thought would be confined to wishful thinking. Lance caught Keith’s eye, and his heart stuttered in his chest. Keith was smiling, his usual small, hidden smile but with no trace of sarcasm, not a hint of smugness. His eyes shone with pride.

Lance smiled back.

“I have gathered you here today-” Lance started grandly.

“After opening hours.” Shiro added, slumping half-asleep in his chair. Lance waved him off. “This is worth it, trust me, Shiro.”

“Well, then, what’s the idea?” Allura leaned forward curiously.

“How nice of you to ask, Allura.” Lance smirked smugly. “Seeing as you are the central character, yes, indeed, the main player in this grand scheme of mine.”

Allura rolled her eyes at him. “I appreciate your flair for the dramatic, but you could also just get to the point.”

“I don’t see much fun in that.” Lance replied primly.

Beside him, Keith huffed a laugh and rolled his eyes. “You’re ridiculous.” He said softly.

“Thank you.” Lance replied, inclining his head towards him. “Now please, can I have a drum-roll before I present my great idea?”

Silence reigned in the small shop. Lance sighed. “No fun, any of you.” He muttered. “My plan- my beautiful, fantastic plan- is that you, Allura...” He stretched the silence out until he was sure he had everyone’s attention. “You are going to open a coffee shop.”

“A what?” Allura stared at him. “Why would I do that? I have no experience...”

“But he does!” Lance pointed triumphantly at Shiro, sitting beside Allura with an expression as if someone had just brought his favourite pet back from the dead. “I do?” Shiro said dumbly.

“It’ll be great!” Lance promised. “Allura, you said so yourself, this is a great neighbourhood for small businesses.”

“It is.” She acknowledged, though scepticism still coloured her tone.

“With Voltron closing, we’ll draw the entire crowd just across the street!” Lance insisted excitedly. “The other coffee shops in this area are all absolute crap. And we... we have Voltron’s secret to success.” He pointed to Shiro again. “Shiro was the one who ran the entire thing. Voltron is nothing but the people leading it.”

Allura bit her lip. “I mean, I do have the property.” She said slowly. “If we could get the equipment...”

“I know what we need.” Shiro spoke up, a smile playing around his lips. His eyes glinted in challenge, and Lance grinned brightly. If Shiro was on board, they could do anything.

“But how are you guys going to stand out among the other coffee shops?” Hunk asked, twisting his fingers on the tabletop. “I mean, it’s a university area. There’s a bunch of cafés.”

“You.” Lance said with a bright smile.

“Me?”

Lance brought his hands together. “We’re going to be the best out of all of them, not only because we have the best coffee,” –Shiro smirked at that- “but because we have the best food.”

“You’re going to let me cook?” Hunk stared at Lance. “Me?”

“Didn’t you always say you want to?”

“Yeah! Hell yeah, I want to!” Hunk’s eyes shone, clearly already lost in plans and menus.

“But...” Allura hesitated, eyes downcast. “It’s a flower shop. That’s... that’s what my father wanted. I can’t just throw out his legacy like that.”

“Allura.” Lance leaned towards her. “My beautiful, wonderful Allura. That’s the genius part. The kicker. The part where this plan gets the McClain trademark.”

Allura raised an eyebrow.

“We aren’t getting rid of any of the plants. It’ll be a... a garden café! The plants are our vibe! And if someone wants to take one home? There you are, ready with a price tag and a smile.”

“You mean it’ll be both?” Allura frowned. “I don’t think we’ll have the space.”

Lance grinned. “We’ll make the space.”

He looked around at his friends again, everybody that meant so much to him. He was met by shining faces.

“This could work.” Shiro said slowly, in his thoughtful-and-smart-adult voice. Lance grinned. “It will.” He promised.

“You’ve got it all planned out.” Shiro looked up at him with a smile. “Do you have a name as well?”

“Of course I do.” Lance replied easily. “Atlas.”

“Atlas.” Shiro repeated, considering, smiling. “I like it.”

 

“So, where are you taking me?” Lance grinned at Keith, waggling his eyebrows. “Somewhere romantic, I hope.”

Keith had cornered him in the apartment, settling little kisses all over Lance’s face as he took his hand. “I have a surprise for you.” Keith had smiled up at him. Lance had leaned into Keith excitedly. “A surprise?”

Keith had smiled quietly. “I think it’s time we went on that promised date.”

Now Keith was looking over at him, suddenly worried. “Not really.” He said heavily, turning his eyes back to the road.

“Keith?” Lance questioned. Keith took his hand. “Do you trust me?”

“Yeah.” Lance replied, stunned. “Yeah. Why?”

“This might seem bad at first.” Keith warned. “But I think it’ll do you good.”

Now Lance was really worried. “Keith, maybe you should just tell me...”

“Too late.” Keith stopped the motorcycle and swung a leg over the side, helping Lance dismount.

He took off his helmet, shaking out his hair. It was mesmerizing, and Lance couldn’t help but lean forward. “We’re here.” Keith said before Lance could reach out and kiss him, immediately jolting Lance’s attention into another direction.

Lance stared up at the building in front of them, high and glittering, all glass and steel. “This is the... it’s the recording studio.” He said softly, stunned. “This is where... before the accident...”

Keith reached out and took Lance’s hand. Lance looked over at him, and squeezed his hand. Keith’s grip was grounding. “Why here?” Lance asked faintly. Keith sighed, a long breath hissed out between his teeth. “I think it’ll be good for you. To, you know, make your peace. I remember...” Keith cleared his throat. “I remember having to go back to Lotor’s apartment. I hated doing it, but afterwards I realized I had needed it. I needed to realize what I had lost.”

Lance swallowed down tears. “Come on.” Keith said gently. “I called ahead, they’re expecting us.”

 

Lance had brought his guitar ahead of time, and forgotten to get it back after the accident.

Now it stood on the floor in the abandoned room. The building was silent. Lance could feel tears well up. Seeing what he had been so close to... it hurt more than he had thought it would.

Keith drew him closer, and Lance couldn’t hold his sobs back anymore.

They were far too loud in that small room in that big, quiet building. Lance sobbed like he had wanted to for a while, ugly and loud and hiccupping, the kind that can’t be stopped, that bubbles up in your chest and that hurts to let out almost as much as it hurts to keep it in.

Keith pulled him close and let Lance cry into his chest. Lance grasped at Keith’s shirt and cried harder as Keith’s arms wound around him, comforting, shushing gently.

Lance cried and cried until he felt worn out, finally empty of all the turmoil that had been in his for so long. “Why?” He sobbed finally. “Why would you take me here?”

He wiped his eyes on his sleeve, looking up at Keith with tearful accusation. “You knew how much this would hurt.”

Keith held him close. “You need the closure.” He said softly. “I know it’s hard. And you’ve been pushing it down. You’ve been ignoring it.”

He pushed Lance away slightly and looked him in the eye. “Let it hurt, Lance.” He said softly. “You don’t have to be happy. It’s allowed to hurt.”

Lance clutched at Keith, his breathing slowing. Keith was right. He had needed this. He had needed him.

“Lance.” Keith said softly. “I have to tell you something.”

Lance drew closer, and Keith took a deep breath. “I know we’ve been together and fallen apart for so long. I... I know I haven’t always been the best person to you. But I can’t manage to regret it.” He smiled slightly. “I’d let you break my heart again and again if you wanted to, you know.”

Lance laughed wetly past tears that still clung to the back of his throat. “So would I.” He said. “As often as you want to. I’ll come crawling back.”

Keith smiled and looped an arm around Lance’s waist. “Want to finally put a label on things?” He asked softly, and Lance realized with a thrill that there wasn’t a hint of doubt in his voice. Their relationship had been many things, and above all it had always been filled with doubt.

“Yeah.” He whispered hoarsely, drawing even closer. “Yeah, I do.”

And with that, he leaned forward, closing the gap between them, and pressed his lips to Keith’s. They had kissed before, passionately and softly and angrily, but it had never felt like this. It felt like a conclusion, like the start of a new chapter and the end of an old one.

“Does that mean I get to be your boyfriend?”

Keith hummed and brought him in for another kiss. Lance could feel Keith smile against his lips. “Yeah.” Keith hummed. “If you want to.”

Lance huffed and drew Keith closer, unable to stop kissing him, again and again and again like it was his last chance. “About time.”

Chapter Text

Keith didn’t leave once Lance was feeling better, or once Lance had his old routine back. Lance was worried for a while that Keith would simply up and vanish once Lance was feeling better, doing better, but Keith never did, not when Lance started leaving the house and not when Lance greeted him with a smile and a home-cooked meal when he came home from work.

“I think I’ve recovered pretty well.” Lance said offhandedly one evening, as they sat on the couch, curled up with each other. He didn’t want Keith to leave, not by any means, but he was feeling antsy, the possibility of Keith simply not being there one morning burrowed deep in his mind and making a home for itself with every day. He simply couldn’t bear not to bring it up any more.

Keith hummed noncommittally. “You have.” He agreed, flicking through the Netflix selection before settling on a movie Lance had mentioned he wanted to watch. Lance smiled, burrowing closer, bringing Keith’s hand over his hips to clasp his fingers tight.

“What happened to staying with me until I’m better?” Lance teased, confidence rising with the way Keith’s legs tangled with his.

“Let’s not risk anything.” Keith murmured, lips finding Lance’s neck. Lance shivered happily as Keith’s lips trailed along his jawline. “Wouldn’t want your health to get worse again.”

“Well, it’d definitely get worse if you left.” Lance murmured back. Keith smiled. “I guess I’d better stay, then.”

“I’d like that.” Lance shifted, rolling over to look Keith in the eyes. Keith’s arms wound around him, hands stroking up and down his back. Lance looked up at him fondly and reached up to trace along his jawline. “I’d miss you if you went.” He murmured softly. Keith gasped, pulled him closer.

“You would?”

“Of course.” Lance strained up slightly, and Keith leaned down, and their lips met in the middle, soft and chaste. Lance leaned in again, and Keith kissed him with his hands on his waist, thumbs stroking up and down his back, until Lance was breathless.

Lance looked up at him, one hand still on his cheek. Keith’s eyes were half-lidded as he looked back, but there was such adoration shining in them that it sent a shiver down Lance’s spine. “Don’t go.” Lance whispered. “Not yet.”

“Not until you’re better.” Keith promised.

 

The day the cast came off, Keith had not excuse any more, and Lance couldn’t think of one either. He watched in silence as Keith packed his belongings, ignoring the sinking feeling in his chest, ignoring the feeling of loneliness already creeping up from the corners of the room.

They were both silent as Keith packed, both unsure how to say what was on their mind, what they wanted.

Finally, Keith stood. Lance watched the long lines of him unfold, watched him put his hands in his pocket, look out the window and sigh. Lance watched him, realizing all of a sudden that he couldn’t imagine the apartment without Keith in it anymore. He had somehow made a Keith-shaped space in the apartment nothing else would fill.

Keith turned, and Lance realized with a small, sad smile that he would miss him if he left, and that he had one chance right now to make it all right.

How often had he had a chance like this? Often enough, and he had never managed, always somehow taken the wrong path.

Not this time, he thought as Keith held out his spare keys with a jingle. He couldn’t run anymore. He couldn’t deny it anymore. And most of all, he couldn’t lose Keith anymore.

“It’s been...” Keith hesitated as he held out the keys. “Thank you.”

Lance reached out a hand, slowly, curling it around Keith’s. How many times had he messed this up?

Slowly, deliberately, Lance curled his hand around Keith’s, firm enough that the teeth must be digging into his palm. Keith didn’t react, just stared up at Lance with wide eyes and bated breath, his lips pink and parted.

“Keep it.” Lance said. “You’ll need it to move the rest of your stuff here.”

“What?” Keith asked hoarsely, faintly as if he couldn’t quite catch his breath. Lance smiled. He wasn’t letting go of Keith again. “Move in with me?” He asked, barely above a whisper.

Keith stared. Lance could feel himself sinking in his violet eyes, trying to make out all the lighter and all the darker specks and lines, trying to memorize the weight of Keith’s gaze. “Please?” He asked.

“Yeah.” Keith whispered back. “Yes.” Lance memorized the way his lips curled around the word. “Yes.” Keith repeated, and in a heartbeat he was pressed up against Lance, his hands in Lance’s hair, tugging, his mouth against Lance’s, questing, and his tongue was pushing up against Lance’s lips. Lance kissed him back.

“I almost thought you wouldn’t ask.” Keith laughed when they broke apart again. Lance kept him close, arms tight around him. “I almost didn’t.” He confessed.

“Oooh.” Keith teased. “What changed your mind?”

He was only teasing, Lance knew, not even expecting an answer, but Lance knew what changed his mind, knew it with sudden, startling clarity, knew it and couldn’t see how he hadn’t known it before.

“I love you.” He whispered, voice shaking just a bit. He loved him. Of course he did, he had for so long. He loved him, and now that the words were out, Lance didn’t know how he had gone without saying them for so long. “I love you.” He said again, and Keith leaned in with a smile, their foreheads bumping, their noses bumping, their lips meeting.

“I love you too.” Keith whispered.

 

That night, for the first time since the accident, Keith took him to bed.

He kissed Lance deep, leading him into the bedroom as their hands quested over each others’ bodies. Keith’s body was hot against Lance’s, every touch leaving him tingling. Keith went down easily when they reached the bed, lying back and spreading his legs, never uncurling his hands from where they were fisted in Lance’s shirt.

“I love you.” Keith whispered as he looked up at Lance, all adoration, all devotion. “I love you too.” Lance whispered back, following Keith onto the bed and kissing him hard. Keith gasped, arching up into Lance, beautifully responsive in every way. Lance’s hands circled Keith’s waist, pushing him down into the bed. The motions felt achingly familiar yet so strange. Lance could neither say how often they had done this before nor how long it had been that they had.

But none of those past times mattered anymore, not when Keith pulled away with his eyes half-lidded, lips pink and bruised and slick with spit. As often as they had done this, it had never been like this. Lance slid in closer, tracing up and down Keith’s thighs. Keith’s hand came up to grip the back of his neck, and he pulled Lance in again, harsher this time, kissing him with bruising force.

Lance gasped as Keith tugged him forward, and Keith shoved his tongue deeper in Lance’s mouth until they were both gasping. Lance’s hands circled up and down Keith’s sides, teasing fingers at the hem of his shirt. Keith pulled away. His eyes were dark when he looked at Lance, dangerous in a way that sent pleasurable shivers up his spine.

“Get a move on.” Keith panted out before diving back in. That was all the encouragement Lance needed. He tugged at the shirt, lifting it up and off, separating from Keith for only a moment. He spread his hands over Keith’s chest possessively, all that warm, pale skin on display for him. Keith sighed and gasped happily into his mouth as he caressed him, letting out a sharp moan as Lance thumbed over a nipple.

“Lance!” Keith gasped out as Lance immediately followed the path with his mouth, kissing and sucking and biting until Keith was a whimpering mess. Once he had gone boneless at the treatment, Lance let him down gently, laying him on his back on the bed.

“You’re so beautiful.” Lance whispered reverently, shuffling between Keith’s legs and resting a hand against his jaw. Keith smiled softly, lazily, turning his head to press a kiss into Lance’s palm. He was a goddamn vision, legs spread, chest flushed, laying back against the pillows with a smug smirk, biting his kiss-swollen lips. Lance couldn’t stop looking.

Apparently that wasn’t enough for Keith, because he tugged Lance towards him with an impatient sound and their lips fitted together again, Keith letting out a happy sigh as he let his hands roam across Lance’s back, pulling up his shirt. Lance arched into the warm hands, tugging his shirt off himself.

Keith immediately sat up, hands curling tightly around Lance’s hips as he pulled him into his lap, mouthing at his neck and sucking dark bruises against his collarbone. Lance sighed and gasped, uninhibited, petting Keith’s hair lazily. “So good, babe.” He whispered, and Keith hummed against his neck.

“I want you inside of me.” Keith whispered softly, looking up at Lance shyly through his lashes. Lance smiled softly, taking Keith’s face between his hands. “Yeah?” He asked softly. Keith nodded, eyes wide and trusting. He rested his forehead against Lance’s, giggling as Lance used the opportunity to place a kiss on his nose. Keith’s arms wound around him and he leaned back, looking him in the eye.

“Make love to me.” Keith whispered softly. Lance smiled and leaned in closer, fingers tracing over cheekbones, trying to memorize every part of Keith’s face, the flutter of his lashes, the softness of his lips, the starlight in his eyes. “Of course, mi amor.” He whispered. He guided Keith down gently, kissing him all the while, trying to pour everything into his touches, all his devotion and love.

Lance helped Keith out of his trousers, stripping down as well before climbing over him again. Keith looked up at him as if he had hung the stars in the sky. “I love you.” He whispered, as if afraid saying the words too loud might be dangerous. “I love you too.” Lance whispered, moving his hand down and relishing the gasp that left Keith’s lips as he finally touched his cock. “Look at you.” He whispered. “Falling apart already.”

Keith moaned. “Only for you, baby.”

Lance bent down to kiss him again, fumbling for lube. He slicked up his fingers quickly and eased them down to Keith’s hole, watching Keith’s expression as he rubbed against the tight furl. Keith was whimpering, writhing against the shits, and so beautiful in the way his eyebrows drew together, mouth dropping open as Lance finally pushed in. He yielded easily, their bodies meeting in a way that was so familiar and yet so new.

Lance bent down to kiss and nip at Keith’s chest as he worked his finger in and out of him steadily. Keith gripped Lance’s hair, stroked his shoulders, drew his nails up his back, anything to be touching him.

Lance worked another finger into him gently, spreading and scissoring them and drinking the sounds from Keith’s lips until he could add a third. Finally he pulled back, drawing a small gasp from Keith as he removed his fingers.

“Please.” Keith tugged at his shoulders. Lance leaned down again, kissing him deeply until Keith moaned, feeling the hitch in his breath and tracing the shudders down his body as Lance sank in. Lance sighed, eyes fluttering shut at the feeling of Keith around him. For a long moment, they both lay motionless except for hands moving, slowly caressing, breathing each other in. “Lance.” Keith finally broke the silence. “I love you, but if you don’t move right now, I will leave.”

Lance chuckled breathily, easily able to tell the empty threat, and finally, slowly began moving. Keith let out a punched out moan, leaving his lips soft and breathy. Lance just grunted and pulled out before thrusting back in, teasingly slow, enjoying the drag of his cock against Keith’s insides.

Keith pulled him in again, kissing him slow and languid, letting out sighs and gasps and moans. He smiled against Lance’s lips. “I love you.” He whispered. “You idiot.”

“I love you too.” Lance gasped out, feeling a smile stretch across his face. Keith tipped back his head on a moan, and Lance bent down to suck marks in his neck, and with a last stuttered moan, Keith came, Lance following just after with his head resting against Keith’s chest, a crest so slow and sweet he had barely noticed until he tipped over.

After, they lay in each other’s arms, sharing lazy kisses and holding each other close. “Stay the night?” Lance asked, grinning. “I promise this time ends well.”

Keith smiled back and leaned in to press a kiss against Lance’s mouth. “I’m holding you to that.” He replied.

He was still there the next morning, and Lance just pulled him tighter, buried his face in his hair and realized just how lucky he was.

 

“Everyone!” Allura stood on a chair, raising a steaming mug of hot chocolate, Hunk and Shiro’s special recipe and good enough to make angels weep. “We made it. Tomorrow, we finally open.”

Keith, with Lance’s arm around his shoulders, looked around the room with a broad smile. Lance could only look at him, the glow in his eyes. Keith raised his steaming mug. “To Atlas!”

Around the table, they all lifted their mugs, Pidge and Hunk, Lance, Keith, Shiro, Allura and Matt. “To Atlas!” They echoed.

Lance watched his friends with a warmth in his belly that had nothing to do with the hot chocolate, watched them with a pride and a deep sense of content he could never have imagined.

His arm tightened around Keith, briefly remembering running into him for the first time so long ago, in this very shop. He had never thought back then that the grumpy flower boy with the intense eyes would ever be his, and here he was, here they were, after so long falling apart and coming together again.

He would never have to let him go again, and that thought was dizzying.

Lance turned, pulling Keith closer, brushing their lips together gently to the whoops and cheers of their friends. “I love you.” He whispered. Keith smiled, blushing at the attention, but he leaned in anyway. Shiro wolf-whistled, and Keith rolled his eyes, lifting the vase of flowers on the table in front of their faces.

“I love you too.” Keith whispered behind the cover of the forget-me-nots and the lilies, the petals brushing against his face in their bright, multi-coloured beauty against his violet eyes. And as Lance drew in closer and let Keith kiss him, he forgot how he could ever have thought this would end any other way.

Chapter Text

Keith tied the last knot and stepped back to admire his work. The lattice he had put up just that spring and the vines he had planted at the bottom were a good effect; flowers and fruits alike hung heavy and colourful, shielding a corner of the café for more private moments. The team of Atlas liked to call it their ‘lovers nook’ and had teased Keith for setting it up only so he could cuddle his boyfriend during his breaks.

Well, if Keith and Lance had a favourite place in the café, who could blame them?

Now, with the vines tied neatly to the lattice instead of drooping messily, Keith turned towards the counter, satisfied. “How’s it look?” He called over. Lance looked up from where he was quickly drawing a skilful pattern in a coffee cup and smiled, dazzling.

“It looks great, babe.” He said softly as Keith came up to rest against the counter. “Now, this order is for table 5.” He shoved the tray towards Keith, who took it with a pout. “No kiss?”

“You get a kiss once you’ve delivered that coffee, mullet.” Lance replied with a playful smirk.

Keith hummed happily to himself as he grabbed the tray, winding between tables steadily.

Life was good. The café had been open for three years, and Lance and Keith had been happily in love for all of it. They had an apartment, two cats and a ring rested heavily at the bottom of Keith’s pocket. Yes, Keith reflected with a smile as he turned back to the bar, watching his boyfriend laugh raucously at one of Shiro’s jokes. Life was good.

 

Keith and Lance both finished their shifts at six that evening, just as the sun was tinging the sky with gold, making the whole world glow. It was Keith’s favourite time of the day, and not just because of how it made Lance glow golden, making his eyes look impossibly blue.

“I have a surprise for you.” Keith announced outside the café. Lance raised an eyebrow. “What kind of surprise?”

“Come on.” Keith replied with a grin, grabbing Lance’s wrist and tucking him behind himself on the motorcycle. It revved under him, trembling and growling deeply, sending vibrations up through them both. Lance tucked his arms around Keith’s waist, drawing closer and burying his face in Keith’s shoulder.

They drove out of the city, drove for almost an hour, until Keith’s face was numb from the cold wind, his hair tousled from the wind and the helmet. Finally he stopped. Behind him, Lance got off with slightly shaky legs, lifting his own helmet from his head. They were standing on a clifftop, the cold autumn wind whipping their hair and scarves into a frenzy, the sea frothing dark and wild below them.

“What brought this on?” Lance turned to Keith with a laugh on his lips. Keith shrugged bashfully. “It’s a surprise.” He replied, taking Lance’s hand in his. Lance laughed brightly. “Well, aren’t you mysterious.” He tugged Keith forward until he could kiss him. “I love it already.”

“This isn’t even the surprise yet.” Keith murmured against Lance’s lips, tugging at his hand. Lance laughed again, the sound bright and unworried, and followed as Keith tugged him to a small path leading down the cliff. When they reached the beach, it was empty, an expanse of smooth rocks and pebbles with a lone, abandoned basket standing solemnly in the middle of the stretch of stone. Keith dragged Lance right towards it.

“What’s this?” Lance asked, a slight note of nervousness creeping into his voice. “It’s a picnic.” Keith mumbled, red-cheeked. “I had Shiro bring it.”

“You involved Shiro in this?” Lance raised an eyebrow. “Wow, this must be important.”

“I just wanted to give you something nice.” Keith mumbled defensively, withdrawing into himself slightly. “Hey!” Lance immediately turned Keith towards him and kissed away the furrow between his brows. “I love it! I promise.” He kept kissing Keith until he broke, giggling. With a final peck to his lips, Lance pulled back and launched himself on the picnic basket, letting out small sounds of delight with each new find. He spread out the blanket he found, and let out excited ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ at the cheeses, the strawberries, the wine wrapped securely in a clean dishcloth, the warm bread, the small boxes of salads and spreads. Keith sat next to him with a small smile, happy to watch him in his digging.

Once they had eaten, once there was nothing left but crumbs and the wine that they sipped slowly, once Keith had dug out the warm fleece blanket from the bottom of the basket and draped it both around them, he spoke. Lance was cuddled up to him, watching the sun play on the water in gold and reds and pinks. “Lance?” Keith asked. Lance hummed a reply.

“We’ve been together more than three years now.” Keith began. Lance hummed happily, snuggling closer. “And they’ve been the best three years of my life.” Keith continued. “Every day I realize how lucky I am to have you, and that... well, that this is what I want from the rest of my life.”

Realization finally dawned on Lance. A bit late, maybe, but from their long road to dating, Keith knew to expect slow realizations. Lance pulled back, staring at Keith, eyes wide, legs crossed neatly under him, the picture of anticipation. Keith decided that the rest of his speech didn’t matter quite as much anymore, not in the face of Lance’s quivering, delirious excitement. He had had it all planned out this time. The picnic, the speech. The ring in his pocket, a band of wrought silver flowers with painted, dim petals. And now, at this moment, Lance had once again changed everything. It was what Keith loved about him, he realized. In the face of Lance, no plan could stay intact. He was unpredictable and beautiful, and Keith was so damn in love.

So he pulled out the ring from his pocket, opened the little box, watched as Lance went slack-jawed, watched the tears spring up.

“Marry me?” He asked faintly, and Lance was already nodding, crying. It wasn’t pretty, it was a rather wet and snotty sight, and Keith wouldn’t have it any other way when Lance launched himself at him, clutching him tight with a laugh.

“Yes!” He half-yelled, half-sobbed, ecstatic and almost delirious, and Keith laughed too, until the sound filled the beach, bouncing off the cliff walls. “Yes!”