Lance has been watching Keith sleep for the last two hours or so.
The rude customer at Balmera Beans earlier in the day had been the last straw; Keith stripped his apron and spent the remaining fifteen minutes—just fifteen minutes that the asshole couldn’t have waited to come into the café—of his shift in the back room, keeping it together. He held it together all the way back to Lance’s house, all the way up the stairs, until his body hit the mattress and the sobs broke free.
He was adamant about not being touched, and that was how Lance knew it was bad. So he hovered near Keith’s side, just enough space between them, and let Keith cry himself dry, until he gave out and crashed.
Since then, Keith’s been curled into the fetal position. Lance had pulled a blanket over him, and Keith hasn’t moved.
With a sigh, Lance turns back to the textbooks spread out over his desk, eyes flicking to the clock and defeat crashing down on his shoulders. It’s only nine, and he’s already sick of studying for his Physics exam tomorrow—
A sharp gasp from behind Lance has him immediately spinning back around. His eyes land on Keith, quick, assessing. Keith shifts underneath the blankets, drawing them up closer to his chin, eyes barely open. Even with most of Keith’s body hidden from sight, underneath his black-and-blue bedding, Lance can see the harsh rise and fall of his frame.
“Keith?” Lance asks, and rises from his desk, approaching slowly, forcing his hands to remain by his side.
There’s a pause, a moment where everything stops. Lance tunes out the sounds of the air conditioning blowing through the vents, tunes out the distant rumble of cars from around the neighborhood beyond his open window, tunes out the hum of his laptop’s fan. There is just him and Keith, but then the bed squeaks as Keith sits up, drawing in ragged breaths, and the moment fractures.
Lance eases himself onto the edge of the bed and waits. Keith lets the blankets fall, pooling at his waist, and hugs himself, digging fingernails into his biceps hard enough to tear through skin.
Lance haltingly reaches a hand for one of Keith’s. Keith’s eyes cut to Lance’s, and Lance pauses. Keith’s eyes are wet and dark and rimmed with red and underlined with purple, and Lance’s heart breaks, and then breaks again when they drop away from his, and Keith’s face flushes in shame.
His fingers dig harder.
Lance can’t take it.
He holds back from letting his hand just shoot out and wrap around Keith’s wrist, even though that’s exactly what he wants to do. Instead, he reaches forward gently, and manages to get his fingers between Keith’s palm and bicep. He stops there and gives one light squeeze.
Keith inches closer, ever-so-slightly, and it’s enough.
Lance reaches out with his other hand and does the same with Keith’s other arm, and peels Keith’s hands away. Keith doesn’t fight, doesn’t jerk away. He lets Lance guide him, and when Lance tugs him closer—softly, nothing harsh or demanding about it—he follows.
Lance pulls his own body up onto the bed and turns, and places a leg on either side of Keith as Keith finally relaxes into his arms, against his chest.
For a long time, neither one of them speaks. Lance rubs circles into Keith’s back, runs fingers through his hair, plants light kisses against his dark tresses and forehead and temple. Keith, whether out of habit or on purpose, syncs up his breaths with Lance’s, fingers clutching at the fabric of Lance’s shirt.
Finally, it’s Keith who breaks the silence.
And he stops.
The unspoken sorry hangs between them. Lance isn’t completely certain why Keith won’t say it—whether because Keith knows Lance would tell him there’s nothing to be sorry for, or because Lance’s arms tightening around him makes him lose his train of thought, or because he’s decided to abandon the apology altogether, because he knows Lance knows the word that’s going to follow.
“I had a nightmare,” Keith continues, instead. “You died, and...and I-I couldn’t—you—”
“It’s okay,” Lance murmurs. “Everything’s okay. I’m right here.”
They both quiet after that, and sit in the ensuing silence—Keith tucked underneath Lance’s chin, wrapped in his arms—for twelve minutes straight, according to the clock still blinking on Lance’s desk. Lance doesn’t move again until Keith does, slowly sitting upright. He drags an arm across his splotchy face, silent tears cut off midway through their procession down his cheeks.
“I feel like shit,” he mumbles. “I need a shower.”
Keith runs a hand through the mussed hair at the back of his neck, frowning. He doesn’t rise right away, even as his eyes drift toward the door to Lance’s room, the one that will lead to the hallway, and then the bathroom two doors down to the right.
“Y’wanna shower together?” Lance offers, after a heartbeat of waiting.
He almost regrets asking, the longer the silence following the question drags out. Keith hasn’t stilled, exactly, but his movements are much slower, much more deliberate as he lowers his hand back into his lap and stares at the blankets, contemplating.
The whole time, Lance is hyper-aware of the hand that’s slipped down to the small of Keith’s back, of the fingertips underneath the hem of Keith’s shirt. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked, not with Keith still as fragile as he is—
“Yeah,” Keith finally answers, and meets Lance’s eyes. He exhales a breath that’s been sitting in his chest. “Yeah, I—I’d like that.”
“Okay.” Lance starts nodding, and he’s the one who rises from the bed first, offering a hand that Keith takes without hesitation. When Lance squeezes, Keith squeezes back harder, and doesn’t let up as he and Lance start for the bathroom.
It won’t be the first time they’ve showered together. The first time happened in a rush—they were both running late for school, and it was just easier to do things together than to wait and take turns. Since then, it became...not occasional, but not common, either. Something casual.
When they get to the bathroom, they finally let go of each other. Lance preps their towels for afterward, nearly setting them on the laundry hampers closest to the shower, and then strips. By the time he’s ready, Keith is already in the shower and adjusting the water. Lance steps in slowly—and gets smacked in the face with a jet of water.
Keith turns slightly, and for the first time in what seems like several days—and probably has been several days—a grin spreads over his face.
“Whoops,” Keith says, far too innocently.
Lance can’t be mad at him.
He takes Keith’s face in his hands, leans down, and kisses his nose. Keith’s face flushes for the second time since he’s awakened, but this flush makes Lance smile, instead of taking a sledgehammer to the heart.
He brings Keith in for a hug before Keith can glimpse the tears that suddenly spring to his eyes.
The chill of the house, the chill of seeing Keith breaking down and refusing comfort—they both melt away, between the hot water and his body pressed against Keith’s. Lance presses his face into Keith’s hair and inhales sharply, while Keith finally understands what’s happening and hugs him back tightly.
They don’t stand like that for long, as much as they both would love to. The water will get cold soon; they break apart after some hesitation. Keith reaches for the bottle of fruity soap, but Lance gets there first, fixing Keith with a soft look.
“You relax,” Lance says. “Let me take care of you.”
So Keith does.
This isn’t one of their time-saving showers. Lance spends most of it tending to Keith—rubbing his back, massaging his shoulder and neck, meticulously working shampoo and conditioner through his hair—and finally gives in halfway through, and lets Keith do the same to him, when Keith gets bored of letting Lance do all the work.
Eventually, when the water starts turning cold, Lance turns off the shower. He lets Keith step out and grab a towel first, and follows suit when Keith’s towel is secured around his waist. Keith waits for Lance to go back to Lance’s room; Lance takes his sweet old time gathering up products for his after-shower beauty routine.
“Alright, come on,” Lance says, and leads the way out. “Prepare to get comfy as hell.”
Keith follows Lance back to his room, where Lance shunts his laptop off to the side of his desk to make room for his products. While Lance does that, Keith yanks open drawers on Lance’s dresser and starts rifling through his clothes.
One perk of dating, for both of them, is that other than pants (where Lance’s legs are just slightly skinnier and longer than Keith’s), their clothing sizes are fairly the same, and neither has qualms about sharing with the other. That’s why Lance doesn’t bat an eye at Keith’s actions, but merely asks him to toss a shirt and some boxers in his direction.
Keith pulls one a pair of boxers on, followed by one of Lance’s older t-shirts, soft from multiple washes, smelling like a mix of Lance’s favorite cologne and his mother’s laundry detergent. He shakes out his hair afterward, raking fingers through it. Just the fact that the grease of three days without showering is gone eases some tension out of him as he turns back to Lance, who watches him, one hand braced on the wall.
“Keith, I love you, but your hair looks ridiculous,” Lance says. “C’mere.”
Keith tugs on another strand. “Ridiculous?”
Lance shakes his head with a smile and sits down on the edge of the bed, and pats the open spot between his legs with one hand, while he uses the other to reach back for a comb. Keith sits, and for a moment, Lance doesn’t do anything, but then a hand comes down on Keith’s shoulder.
Then another hand on his other shoulder.
“Just me,” Lance murmurs. “I promise.”
Lance starts messaging Keith’s shoulders again, while Keith shuts his eyes and does his best to relax, even while water from his hair drips down his face, splatters onto his shoulders and Lance’s hands.
Lance takes his time massaging Keith. He knows, deep down, that Keith’s tension is perpetual—there will always be some left behind, or at least, it’ll be a long time before it all goes away. But there’s nothing wrong in trying to get rid of what he can.
“You were shot,” Keith whispers out of nowhere, and Lance pauses.
“In my nightmare.”
Keep going. Lance pretends like he hadn’t stopped and keeps working at Keith’s shoulders, while Keith draws in a deep breath.
“We were at school.”
Keith speaks slowly. Lance recognizes the pattern: Keith, trying his best to hold it together, to not break down and devolve into tears and shaking. Not again.
“There was...we were...we were in the halls, after lunch, and it...it was too crowded for us to run.”
Keith’s shoulders bunch again, and Lance’s hands stop moving, until Keith mutters keep going, please, under his breath. Lance does, frowning, itching to tell Keith he can stop if he wants— but Keith seems insistent upon continuing, and it’s probably better this way, for it to be out in the open, rather than bottled up and tormenting him.
“Someone...someone opened fire, and kids…”
Keith’s breath hitches, and Lance keeps rubbing his shoulders, wishing more than anything that he could take Keith’s pain away, spill light all over his dark thoughts until they disappear, protect him and keep him safe until the end of time. He doesn’t deserve any of this, not after the things he’s been through, and things he’ll have to deal with in the coming months.
“The bodies...someone went down...a-and then I...you…”
Lance’s voice is barely audible, but Keith hears him. Nods. Runs a hand through the wet hair in his face.
“You...you shoved me down and...you…you took the bullet. For me. A-and died. And...I couldn’t...it happened too fast…”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Lance repeats, and leans forward to kiss the back of Keith’s head, lightly. “It’s just a nightmare. I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere.”
“I-I know,” Keith says. “I just...I needed to get it out. You know. Instead of letting it fester.”
“And that’s good,” Lance replies. “You know what else are good? Face masks. After we comb your hair, we’re gonna put on some face masks, and we’re gonna put on a space movie, and we’re gonna watch it. When it’s all done, we clean up, and we go to sleep, and we’ll see where we’re at in the morning. And when we wake up, we’re both still gonna be here, and I’m gonna kiss your face and tell you how cute you are while you decide how the day is looking.”
Lance picks up the comb again, and begins running it through the hair at the back of Keith’s neck.
“Thanks, Lance,” Keith says quietly. “I...um, thanks...shit, okay. I just wanna say thanks, alright? You don’t have to be doing this, and...there are a lot of people out there who wouldn’t. Boyfriend or not. A lot of people...they would’ve run by now. Like, I know...I know you’re always telling me you’re not leaving and I trust you but there’s...a part of me that’s...always scared. I’m trying to get better, and this...this helps. A lot.”
Lance discovers, in that moment, that it’s possible to both soften and burn with an anger hotter than the sun.
He keeps steady as he continues running the comb through Keith’s hair, even as his mind races, briefly, with rage. There are people out there on this planet, living their lives, unbothered, who have left nothing but pure pain in their wake. Who have left the beautiful boy in front of him to suffer, beaten down by his own demons every day. People who let Keith Kogane—Keith fucking Kogane, one of the most talented and capable people he knows—think so lowly of himself. People who let him believe he’s not worthy of love, of people staying.
“Always,” Lance promises.
He works through the rest of Keith’s hair as the room falls silent around them. Keith’s breathing slows again, back to normal, and something inside of Lance settles at that. He’s okay—he’s going to be okay. He’ll make it through tonight.
“Bangs,” Lance says, and Keith slowly turns around, propping a leg on top of either of Lance’s, effectively straddling him.
Lance sticks his tongue out slightly as he combs through Keith’s bangs. Keith doesn’t drop his gaze down to the bed, as Lance expects. Instead, he studies Lance’s face, and then lifts his eyes. Lance meets them, and leans in when Keith does. Their kiss is brief—nothing more than a press of their lips before they both part so Lance can finish combing, and they can get down to masks.
Lance hands Keith a headband and a hair tie when he finishes up combing, and then turns attention to his own head. Keith watches him, leisurely tying his mullet back, and then pushing his bangs back with the headband, until his hair is a mess of dark, wet spikes.
“Pick a face mask,” Lance says.
He flicks his gaze at Keith in the mirror he stands in front of, running the comb through his hair carefully. Some strands curl up at the ends, and Lance and Keith both know that by tomorrow night, probably, Lance will have to straighten it out again, because for one reason or another, he can’t tolerate the curls the rest of his family has no issue with.
A shame, because Keith loves his curls.
“Alright,” Keith says, and approaches the side of the desk where Lance has laid out his products. His jaw falls open at the sight. He always knew Lance possessed more face masks than was probably reasonable, but this...this takes it to new levels.
“How many do you have?”
There have to be at least twenty here, and Keith squeaks when Lance replies, “A lot, and like, twice that still sitting in the bathroom.”
“What, do you just go extreme couponing at Sephora?”
“Ulta, actually. Sephora doesn’t carry that brand. Keep up, Keith,” Lance replies teasingly, and winks.
“What am I gonna do with you?” Keith mutters, and picks up one of the face masks, inspecting it, and then glances back down at the other about-twenty like it. Too many different scents to go with, so Keith sticks with the one he picked up: avocado.
He waits until Lance is done with his hair; he snorts when Lance turns around and is donning a headband of his own, orange and dotted with cactuses.
“It’s high fashion,” Lance says simply, and makes a point of strutting by like he’s on the runway, all the way to the edge of the desk where Keith stands. Lance wastes no time in selecting a face mask in a blue package: seaweed.
The two of them rip open the packaging at the same time and put on their masks, Keith taking longer to adjust it. He doesn’t do masks often—Lance does them practically every night, because I have an image to maintain, Keith. While Keith continues shifting the white sheet ever-so-slightly over his face, Lance grabs his laptop from his desk.
“Any movie in particular you wanna watch?” Lance asks, and climbs on his bed, and then props the computer up on his lap.. “I know I said space, but it doesn’t have to be space. It’s entirely up to you.”
Keith climbs on the bed next to him, nudging Lance’s arms. Lance lifts them, along with the laptop, so Keith can pull the blanket up to their chests. Once that’s done, he settles against the pillows.
“Treasure Planet,” Keith answers.
Lance isn’t surprised. The first time he watched the movie was sophomore year, at Keith’s insistent recommendation. Rewatching it more than a year later, once he and Keith were dating, and Keith started to tell him more and more details about his home life, opened his eyes wider.
“Alright,” Lance says, “lemme dig into my folder of illegally downloaded movies. Heathen.”
Keith rolls his eyes and grins, while Lance pulls up a few new tabs. Within a few minutes, the company logos flash across the screen. Lance stretches his arm out and turns out the lamp on his nightside table, and then settles back into the bed. He inches the laptop over, until it’s balanced on one of his thighs and one of Keith’s. He slings an arm around Keith’s shoulders, and brings Keith in closer.
“I love you,” Lance murmurs. “Even when you look like the freaking Phantom of the Opera.”
Keith smiles. “So do you, nerd. I love you, too.”
The second part is quieter than the first as Keith’s head falls onto Lance’s shoulder, and the movie begins.