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                The group decides it’s easiest to do things in Balmera Beans, which is where Keith finds himself pacing, up and down the rows between empty booths and tables as he waits for his mother to arrive.

                The rest of the group sits, scattered, around the same area closest to the counter, where Hunk hums to himself, whipping up coffees for the group to keep himself occupied. Shiro, Matt, and Allura have all taken a booth for themselves, and across the way, Pidge sits on top of a table where Shay and Lance sit across from each other, an empty seat next to each of them.

                Lance frowns at the one next to him, and watches Keith walk a rut into the floor.

                “Hey, man,” Lance calls to him, and his chair scrapes linoleum as he pushes back and stands up.

                The rest of the group is quiet as Lance starts toward Keith. They carefully look away, carefully give the two of them some space as Lance gently takes Keith’s wrist, and leads the two of them into the storeroom, where they’re guaranteed peace and quiet among the shelves.

                “She’s gonna be here any minute,” Keith says, as soon as Lance lets go of his wrist and pulls the door nearly-shut, leaving it open only a crack. “I’m...fuck, why did I think doing this this soon was a good idea?”

                His eyes are wide, his jaw clenched as soon as he finishes his statement. He spreads his palms in exasperation, chest rising and falling in the irregular pattern that Lance knows is a warning sign for a potential anxiety attack.

                Lance keeps a hesitantly small smile on his face as he approaches Keith. Keith doesn’t flinch away as Lance puts hands on his shoulders, settles a calming look on him.

                “Because it is a good idea,” he says, and squeezes lightly. “It’s gonna be okay. Better to get it over with now than keep waiting on it.”

                Keith freezes in his grip, head snapping toward the door. He’s heard something, evidently, and breaks away from Lance, throwing the door back out to the café open. Lance follows suit with a sigh—no matter Keith’s worries, it’s too late to back out now.

                Outside the café windows, the group can plainly see Krolia apprehensively walking down the sidewalk. Keith heads to the door and stops feet from it, wringing his hands, muscles tightening, while Lance slides back into his seat across from Shay.

                “He alright?” Shay whispers, while Hunk nudges the door to the counter open and brings out a tray of coffees and starts handing them out to the group—each one specially made. Shay and Lance mutter thank yous, while Lance keeps hard eyes on Keith.

                “Not really, but he’s doing the best he can,” Lance answers, as the door to the currently-closed café jingles open.

                The group falls into uncomfortable silence as the jingles stop, and Krolia looks around, before her gaze lands on Keith. Keith clears his throat, the sound uncomfortably loud in the empty space.

                “Mom,”  Keith starts, sweeping an arm out at the group, “these are my friends.” His voice is quiet and strained as he leads Krolia to the back of the café, to the counter, to the booth and table where the others sit. He stops at the booth first.

                “You already know Shiro,” Keith begins, pointing out his cousin, who sits alone on his side of the booth. Shiro nods to Krolia with a tight smile, who nods back to him, and flicks his gaze to Keith. Keith’s too busy shifting his attention to Matt and Allura to notice his concern.

                “You might remember Matt. He’s been Shiro’s best friend since they were kids,” Keith continues, and Matt extends a hand to shake Krolia’s. “And this is Allura. Uh, she’s...she’s Alfor Altea’s daughter, actually. These guys, they’re…”

                Keith trails off, looking between the three people sitting at the booth, as Allura finishes shaking Krolia’s hand. She, Matt, and Shiro turn toward each other, raising eyebrows and nodding to one another before she clears her throat.

                “We’re all together.”

                There’s another beat of silence in the café, and Shiro meets Keith’s gaze behind Krolia. Keith nods once, to confirm that he’ll back Shiro if this thing suddenly goes south, but that never happens.

                Instead, Krolia smiles.

                “Wonderful to meet all of you.”

                She turns back to Keith, and Keith finds her beaming, genuinely beaming, and something in Keith loosens, however slightly. Krolia hasn’t batted an eye at Shiro’s relationship. The rest of this should be a walk in the park.

                But he’s been an adult for years, and she’s not his mother. Does she really have a reason to outwardly judge him? Plus, she’s surrounded on unfamiliar turf. What if—

                Shut up, Keith thinks back at the voice inside his head.

                Keith guides Krolia the short distance across the café, over to where Lance, Pidge, and Shay have been sitting, where Hunk now sits next to Shay, leaving the one empty seat next to Lance.

                “This is Hunk and Shay,” Keith says, gesturing to the two of them first. “Shay’s family owns the café, and Hunk’s one of the best guys we have around here.”

                Krolia shakes both of their hands, Hunk and Shay smiling at her. Hunk slides an arm around Shay’s shoulders, and Keith takes it as his go-ahead to quietly add, “And they’re dating.”

                Panic spikes through Keith, briefly, after the word leaves his mouth, and wills himself not to look at Lance, although he’s already been mentioned to Krolia before, when Keith broke and accidentally spilled his life’s story to her. Still, he was away then, and the sheer fact that he’s sitting not even five feet away now, and he’s staring at Keith with unbridled concern—

                “This is Pidge,” Keith goes on, forcing his thoughts elsewhere as he introduces the youngest of the group to his mom. “She’s Matt’s sister. She and I hang out a lot, and she’s the one I mentioned with the, um.” Don’t say the woods, don’t bring up the incident. “The cryptids.”

                His mother must understand anyway. Her handshake with Pidge is a little firmer than the ones with everyone else, and something a little more motherly flashes in her eyes when she looks at Pidge. Pidge’s smile deepens, just a little bit, and she’s still smiling slightly when Krolia lets go, and turns toward the last member of the group Keith has to introduce.

                The thing in the pit of Keith’s stomach, the thing that was loosening, tightens back up almost immediately.

                His mom can’t touch Shiro, can’t touch any of the others. Whatever their lifestyles, her opinion will never have as big an effect on them as her reaction right now will to Keith. She seemed fine before, when he was babbling and going on that first day he sat down with her, but now she’s had the time to let it sink in. Now she puts a face to the name Keith spoke about, sees the person supporting him through everything.

                Before Keith can open his mouth, Lance pushes up out of his chair, walks slowly to his side, and takes his hand, lacing their fingers together and squeezing.

                “And this is Lance,” Keith says, and his voice has dropped. “He’s…”

                My boyfriend. My best friend. My number one supporter. The reason I want to be better. The reason I’m getting better. The brightest star during the darkest nights. Also probably the reason I haven’t gone absolutely berserk in the last year.

                “He’s my person,” Keith finally decides, because it’s just what feels right, the only thing capable of summing up how important Lance is to him, other than using the word soulmate.

                Lance sticks out his hand with a warm smile to Krolia, while his grip on Keith’s hand tightens—not that anyone but Keith notices.

                Krolia takes Lance’s hand firmly and shakes it.

                “I’ve heard a decent amount about you,” Krolia says to Lance, and Keith’s cheeks burn. “I’ve also heard that you’re who he’s been running off to.”

                Lance, too, flushes, shooting a flustered smile, awkward and uncertain, at Keith, before returning his focus to Krolia.

                “Yeah, well,” he says, and laughs lightly, nervously, “we spend a lot of time together.”

                And more time with Lance—that’s exactly where Keith may or may not want to run off to now. Back to his house, and Red and Blue, who they left there for this morning’s early excursion. But he can’t. He’s gotta get through this, first.

                “I can tell,” Krolia says demurely. “I’m glad to finally meet you, Lance.”

                She releases Lance’s hand with a smile at Keith, and then joins the group of adults for a round of coffees. Keith, meanwhile, ignores the itch to head back into the storeroom, and joins Lance at the table with Hunk, Shay, and Pidge. They all lean in the moment Keith sits down, bracing themselves on their forearms, dropping their voices.

                “Well,” Keith mutters, “that happened.”

                He looses a shaking breath, stares down at the polished wood, where a slightly-distorted reflection of himself stares back.

                “Yeah, and you didn’t die,” Hunk says.

                Pidge pats Keith on the shoulder. “You did good, dude.”

                Keith’s attention shifts over to Krolia, Shiro, Matt, and Allura. They’re all grinning, talking easily, like Krolia’s known them for years—and, in a way, she sort of has known Shiro and Matt for years. It’s equal measures unnerving and reassuring, to see her fall in with them this way, when it should wipe any lasting doubt Keith has about revealing his friend group to his mom.

                “I hope so,” Keith says.

                “I just hope they clear out soon,” Shay responds, in an effort to change the subject that Keith appreciates to no end. “We’re gonna have to open soon. Who else is on this morning besides Hunk?”

                “Are you telling me you don’t have your own café’s schedules memorized?” Lance teases, leaning back. As he does, he drapes a casual arm around Keith’s shoulders, and pretends like he doesn’t notice the way Keith relaxes under his touch.

                Shay rolls her eyes. “I don’t, thanks for the callout. Is everyone on this morning?”

                “Except for Lance, I think,” Pidge answers. “Y’know, considering we thought he would still be gone this week.”

                Lance winks and shoots a finger-gun in Pidge’s direction. “Always the master of surprise, Pidgeotto.”

                Pidge sticks her tongue out, before looking back at Shay. “Anyway.”

                Lance sticks his tongue out back, and mutters a mimicking anyway under his breath.

                “They should be leaving soon,” Pidge says. “I know Matt’s got an earlier shift at Target, and Shiro’s probably on with him. I dunno if Allura will leave or stick around, but, y’know, it’s Allura, so it’s okay.”

                The group gets their answer fifteen minutes later, when Shiro and Matt each stand up, prompting Allura and Krolia to also stand to let them out of the booth.

                “Welp,” Matt says, “it’s been fun, but ya boys have to go head to work. Try not to miss us too much.”

                “Won’t be hard!” Pidge calls to him, with a cheeky grin and wave.

                Matt and Pidge flip each other the bird, like Keith’s mom isn’t standing right there, before Matt spins on his heel and heads for the door with another salute to the group. Shiro takes a moment more, bidding goodbye to Krolia, to Allura, to Hunk, Shay, Pidge, and Lance. He stops to hug Keith.

                “Everything’s gonna be fine,” he whispers. “Good job, kiddo.”

                Keith nods into his shoulder, and the two of them appear much cooler on the outside when they break apart, and Shiro high-fives him. Then Shiro turns away from the group with a final wave, calling for Matt to wait up.

                “I hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but I’m afraid I’ve got things to do, so I’ll have to be heading out, as well,” Allura says. “Krolia, it was lovely meeting you.”

                Allura has the guts to go in for a quick hug, one which Krolia returns, and then spins toward the group of teens at the table.  “As for the rest of you, have good days and don’t do anything ridiculous!”

                And then she heads out of the café, leaving Krolia alone with the group.

                “Well,” Shay begins, standing up, “Krolia, you’re free to stay as long as you want. The rest of us actually have shifts we’ve got to get ready for.”

                Hunk and Pidge follow suit with their murmured agreements, as Hunk rises from his own chair, and Pidge hops down from the tabletop.

                Next to Keith, Lance straightens out a little bit. “Actually, I’m not on. I can keep you company, if you want.”

                So maybe Keith is bad at keeping the wild concern out of his expression as he turns to look at Lance. Lance moves in sync, turning his head so he can look at Keith, and leans in and kisses Keith’s forehead, before patting his arm.

                “You go get ready for work and don’t worry about a thing, Mulletman,” Lance says, grinning. Keith’s expression changes as his eyebrows narrow, and he pouts at Lance, and for a moment, it’s just the two of them looking at each other.

                That is, until Lance leans in again, and kisses the tip of Keith’s nose, sending a fresh burn across his face. Lance laughs at him, tucking a stray hair behind Keith’s ear. Flustered, Keith swats his hand away, and Lance only laughs harder.

                “You’re so lucky you’re cute,” Keith hisses, shrugging Lance’s arm off and standing up.

                “And you’re the cutest,” Lance responds.

                Krolia blinks at the two of them, before she smiles at Lance.

                “Good to know. I actually wanted to talk to you, Lance,” she says, and Keith and Lance both pause at that.

                “Me? Like alone?” Lance asks, even though that’s just the very thing he’s offered to do, while the others prepare to open the café to the public.

                Krolia nods in answer, and Lance doesn’t really have much of a choice now, so he just stammers out an, “Oh, o-okay,” takes up his cup of coffee, and follows Krolia as she motions him to the back of the café, to a booth in the corner, closest to the bay windows that flank the entry door.

                Lance shoots one confused look over his shoulder at Keith. Keith shrugs, eyes wide, and Lance’s eyes dart to Krolia once before he shrugs back, and turns around again. For a minute, Keith watches them walk away, watches them slide into a booth across from each other, until Lance disappears from view.

                “C’mon, Keith. Let them be.”

                Hunk comes up behind Keith and guides him toward the storeroom with his hands on Keith’s shoulders, the same storeroom where Pidge and Shay are already getting ready for the day, tying on aprons and putting on caps emblazoned with the Balmera Beans logo.

                Keith waits until the door is shut to speak.

                “Why does she wanna talk to him?!” he whisper-shouts at the group. “I didn’t think this was gonna be a boyfriend meets the parents scenario! Not this soon!”

                He was planning on another week or two for that to happen, for Lance to formally sit down and be introduced to his mother outside of the group, for them to sit down and talk to each other maybe in the living room or kitchen of Shiro’s house, maybe have Mrs. McClain there, too.

                “Well, it’s happening,” Pidge says, and leans back against one of the shelves. “And Shay’s suggested we stay back here for a little bit and give them some time before we head back out.”

                “Don’t we need to open soon?” Keith tries, but Shay shakes her head.

                “Hunk already broke out half the equipment when he made us coffee this morning,” she replies, and Keith whirls on Hunk with a glare.

                “Hunk, screw you for being a nice person.”

                “Sorry man, how awful of me. Remind me never to do it again,” Hunk responds sarcastically. “By the way, you all left your coffees out on that table. Keith, how about you go out and get them?”

                “Hunk, you ass—”

                “Thank you, Hunk,” Keith interrupts Pidge.

                Pidge scowls. “At least put on your apron and hat first so you look like you did something besides complain when you walked in here.”

                Shay and Hunk voice their agreements. Keith sighs as he takes his apron from Shay’s outstretched hand and ties it around his waist, and winces as Hunk slaps the hat down on his head. He readjusts it carefully, narrowing his eyes at the trio in front of him.

                “Bullied by my own friends,” he says. “Unbelievable. If Lance was here, he would never stand for this.”

                “We get it, he’s your knight in shining armor,” Pidge retorts.

                “Actually,” Keith replies, pointing a finger in her direction, “I’m the knight, thank you. He’s just my prince and my partner in everything. The partner I’m now going to attempt to eavesdrop on as he deals with known assassin Krolia.”

                “Someone please get a DnD game going before those two completely snap,” Shay mutters as Keith turns his back and heads out the door.

                He swipes a tray from underneath the counter before he nudges the door out to the café open with his hip, and sets it down quietly at the table where he and the other teens were sitting. He loads up his coffee, Shay’s, and Pidge’s at a snail’s pace, straining to hear even the tiniest snippet of Lance’s conversation with Krolia, but he can hear nothing.

                He supposes that’s what he gets for having an ex-spy for a mother.

                Bitterly, Keith picks up the tray of coffees and heads back behind the counter, back to the storeroom, after another moment of futile hesitation. When he opens the door again, Pidge, Hunk, and Shay all look up expectantly, but Keith shakes his head.

                “Couldn’t hear a thing.”

                “Tragic,” Pidge says.

                “You are an absolute demon in the mornings,” Keith responds, and glances at Shay and Hunk. “No more death coffees for her. That’s it. We’re cutting her off.”

                Keith makes his point by handing Shay her coffee, and then placing Pidge’s on a shelf far above her reach. Then again, Keith’s not the tallest, either, so it’s not as high as it could be, but it gets the job done. Pidge crosses her arms and glances up at the coffee, and then at Keith.

                “Really?”

                “Yes, really.”

                “Shay, Hunk, please, one of you be my friend for two seconds—”

                “Shay, Hunk, don’t cave to the gremlin—”

                “I’ll climb those shelves myself if I have to!”

                The argument goes back and forth for a few more minutes, a welcome reprieve that keeps Keith from thinking on Lance and his mother, until the door to the room creaks open, and Lance pokes his head inside.

                “Uh, am I interrupting something? I can leave and come back,” Lance says, and Keith almost trips over his own feet, running to pull the door open all the way.

                He grabs Lance by the wrist and yanks him into the room, and Lance kicks the door shut.

                “What did my mom want?” Keith asks, while Pidge, Shay, and Hunk peer at the two of them curiously.

                “Uh, just to talk to me, y’know? Know a little bit more about me. Obviously she asked what my intentions with you were, uhh...actually, she wants to talk to you. Us. At the same time. That’s kinda why I came back here,” Lance answers.

                Fuck.

                “Us. Together,” Keith repeats.

                Lance nods. “Yeah.”

                Keith swallows thickly, and then nods back at him. “Yeah, yeah—that works. Talking to my mom about my relationship. With my boyfriend. Like I’m entirely prepared for this.”

                Lance laces his fingers with Keith’s and opens the door back up, leading Keith back out into the café, and Keith can’t bring himself to protest. Lance already had to sit through an impromptu interrogation of sorts. Besides...at least the two of them will be doing this together.

                They come back to the booth Krolia’s picked out, her face carefully neutral. Keith slides in first, and Lance slides in after him. Keith isn’t trapped, exactly, but he’s still uncomfortable. Stuck between booth and table, boyfriend and wall. Then again, it’s better than having Lance stuck in his spot. He’d rather Lance have the easier way out.

                “So, Keith,” Krolia says, and levels eyes at her son. “I spoke to Lance.”

                Under the table, out of Krolia’s view, Lance squeezes his their still-intertwined hands, as Keith nods with a quiet mhmm.

                “He told me a lot of what he thinks about you.”

                Keith’s eyes flick to Lance, and his eyebrows rise questioningly.

                “All good things, I promise,” Lance says.

                “And now I want to hear from you,” Krolia goes on. “Does he make you happy, Keith?”

                There aren’t enough words to describe how Lance makes him feel, how his racing pulse every time he saw Lance transformed from a discomfort to a thrill, how his heart flutters every time Lance says his name or looks his way, how he has the ability to calm Keith down and excite him all at once.

                “More than happy,” Keith answers.

                Lance blushes, and ducks his head.

                “And you feel safe with him?”

                Yes. Lance is the anchor keeping his boat from drifting away, the map of his constellations, the trajectory of his rocket. Things are a lot less terrifying, knowing that whatever he does, he’s got Lance backing him up. He’s got Lance to run to, with warm arms and soothing words, the most comfortable place in the world.

                Being with Lance is like coming home—easy and secure, and his favorite part of the day.

                “Yeah,” Keith breathes out.

                “And you’ve known each other for…”

                Keith’s dimly aware of his mom making a circle with her hand, motioning for them to go on. Keith has to think on that one. He must have ended up in the same school as Lance in middle school—six years then, at least.

                Lance confirms it when he utters the number quietly, thumb rubbing slowly along the back of Keith’s hand.

                “And you’ve been together for...two years, I believe you’ve told me?”

                “Yeah,” Keith answers, and doesn’t bother stopping himself from adding, “the best two years of my life.”

                Lance finally lifts his head, and turns to the side, meeting Keith’s eyes.

                And the first two of many more to come.

                And neither one notices the small smile Krolia allows herself, because they get caught up in staring at each other, practically forgetting, however briefly, that Keith’s mother’s sitting right there. Or maybe, for now, they don’t care.

                Krolia doesn’t interrupt their moment. She waits until Keith suddenly remembers where they are, and glances in her direction again. He clears his throat, and then suddenly drops his gaze to the table, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand.

                “Uh. Yeah. Two years,” he repeats.

                Two years, two months, and nine days. A period of time filled with drama and turmoil and obscene amounts of chaos. A period of time full of change, full of challenges. A period of time where Keith truly fell in with his friend group, learned who he could rely on, learned how much he meant to the people around him. To the person next to him.

                “I see,” Krolia says. “You two...love each other deeply, I can tell. Your bond runs deep.”

                Is it that obvious? Keith almost jokes nervously, but doesn’t. Instead, he squeezes Lance’s hand again.

                “Lance,” Krolia says, turning attention to him, and he meets her eyes. “From what I’ve seen and heard, even from today alone, I can tell: you’re a good man. I’m glad you and Keith have found each other. Cherish what you have. Don’t let that go.”

                She pauses, long enough for Keith and Lance to exchange another glance, for Lance to smile thinly at Keith, for them to squeeze each others’ hands again. Then: “And now, if you don’t mind...I’d like a word with my son alone, and then I’ll be heading out. Please tell the others it was wonderful to meet them.”

                Lance looks at Krolia again, and nods. “Yeah, sure. Uh—good to meet you, too, Kr—um...Miss...Missus…”

                Krolia shifts her eyes to Keith. “Mrs. Kogane?”

                Keith stops. Blinks. Recalls every interaction he’s had with his mom up to now, every time his father’s come up in a conversation between them. The way she appeared like she’d taken a punch to the gut when Keith explained that his father was dead, and mentioned the word fire and saw her expression shatter, however briefly. Thinks on the conversation that happened just now.

                And then he nods.

                “Mrs. Kogane. Or Krolia, if that’s more comfortable,” Krolia answers, returning her gaze to Lance.

                “Alright,” Lance says, and stands, and shakes Krolia’s hand again. “Great to meet you, Mrs. Kogane.”

                He shuffles out of the booth with one last smile at Keith, and heads off to the storeroom to give Keith and his mother the privacy they need.

                “So,” Krolia says, and folds her hands on the table in front of her.

Keith’s face still burns, and he uses his hands to cover it, propping his elbows on the table as he groans.

                “Your friends seem lovely,” Krolia remarks. “And Lance seemed like a gentleman. He treats you well?”

                “Mom…”

                “I’m just trying to know a little bit more about my son’s support network,” Krolia says.

                Keith peers at her between his fingers. “Support network?”

                Krolia shrugs, leans back in her seat. “I talked to Shiro. He said your friends are reliable people. They helped you to open up, I understand?”

                “I’m going to kill Shiro,” Keith decides aloud, and then sighs. “Yeah, they’re my support network. But—they’re not just a support network. They’re...they’re my best friends. We survived high school together and somehow didn’t come out of it hating each other.”

                And here he is, about to babble again.

                “I saw,” Krolia says. “You seemed at home with them.”

                There’s that word again, home, and Krolia notes the way Keith’s demeanor shifts at that, the way he perks up just the slightest.

                “And speaking of home...back to my original question. Lance treats you well?”

                Freaking ex-spy.

                “Wouldn’t be with him if he didn’t,” Keith answers.

                “Keith.”

                Keith sighs, and nods. “Fine, yeah. He...he makes me feel important. He’s my happy place, and…”

                My future husband. The father of my future children. The man I’m going to wake up next to every single day. The man I’m going to grow old with. The person who’s gonna help me terrorize the nursing homes. The sun to my moon, day to my night…

                “My soulmate,” Keith finally whispers, the world wrestling its way out from deep inside of his heart.

                “Hefty word,” Krolia says.

                “He deserves it,” Keith replies.

                He would be doing Lance dirty by speaking of him like he were any less. He’s not just one part of Keith’s high school romance. Not just any old boy. Not just some kid with a big heart, who’s cleared a space in there for Keith to reside.

                He’s Keith’s better half. Half of his heart, of his soul, of his world.

                “Well,” Krolia says, “I mean it, Keith. I’m truly happy for the two of you. And I’m glad you’ve been able to find someone like him. I wish you the best with him. Don’t do what I did, do you understand?”

                Keith’s brow furrows.

                Krolia sighs.

                “Hold onto him tight,” Krolia explains. “If he means as much to you as you say, never let that go. Don’t do anything you might regret, even if you think it’s for the best.”

                Her eyes become unfocused, expression wistful, and Keith’s heart twists as it dawns on him what she means. What—who—she’s thinking about.

                And then Keith thinks back on his own relationship. Every time he’s spent even a second entertaining the idea of breaking up with Lance, if only to give him a nicer life. A life with someone Keith thought Lance deserved far more than Keith, someone better for him.

                “I won’t,” Keith responds.

                “Good,” Krolia says, waits, and then adds: “Now, is there anything else I should know before I head out?”

                Keith thinks for a minute, then shrugs. “I mean, squad sleepovers are a thing. Whose house it’s at changes, but we get loud. If we host, it’s probably a good idea to be somewhere else if you want sleep. And, uh…”

                Krolia leans forward, eyebrows raised.

                “Lance and I sleep with each other. A lot. N-Not! Not like…it’s just, we’re at each others’ houses. A lot. Sleeping. In the same bed. We don’t, we—”

                Krolia holds a hand up. “I get it. You don’t need to go on.”

                Keith runs a hand through his hair and looses another breath. “Alright. But. I thought you should know. I-I haven’t really had him over yet because, well...he’s been away, number one, but, uh...I didn’t know how you’d react to him. Us. Which was stupid to think because obviously you’re fine with it, but...I just needed you to meet him first. Before he just started showing up.”

                Okay, so it’s not the whole truth. More honestly, he did it for Lance’s sake, so he wasn’t blindsided by questions on an innocent visit to Keith’s house for rest and relaxation, or wasn’t somehow thrown out, even though Krolia didn’t have—still doesn’t have—authority at the Brogane residence.

                “I understand,” Krolia says.

                She stands up from her seat, starts out of the booth, and Keith follows suit.

                “I’m glad you’ve finally introduced me to everyone,” Krolia says. “Keith, I know it wasn’t easy, and all of this still isn’t easy. I know you’re still nervous. And I’m sorry that—”

                Keith doesn’t know what comes over him. Maybe relief, that his mother approves of his friends, approves of the love of his life. Maybe the ache of this piece of his life suddenly falling into place, after having been convinced for so long it was never coming back. But Keith surges forward, and hugs his mother tightly, cutting her off mid-sentence.

                “Thank you,” he whispers.

                Krolia doesn’t waste a moment. She throws her arms around her son without hesitation, cradling the back of his head.

                “I love you,” she whispers.

                This time, Keith doesn’t stiffen. He forces back the tears stinging his eyes, swallows back the sob building in his throat.

                “I love you, too,” he croaks out.

                When they break apart, Krolia bids him another goodbye, and the café door jingles again as she leaves. Keith, meanwhile, turns back toward the other side of the café. He stops when he finds Lance, Shay, Hunk, and Pidge all gathered behind the counter.

                “You good, buddy?” Hunk calls across the way.

                “Were you all eavesdropping?!” Keith asks, crossing his arms.

                “Like you weren’t trying to eavesdrop on Lance,” Pidge responds, before Shay pats her head.

                “Actually, we’re trying to prep for opening. You guys were speaking too quietly for us to hear,” she answers a little more honestly, while Keith scowls.

                “Fake friends!”

                “Keep tellin’ yourself that, Mothman,” Pidge says. “Now get your butt over here. You’re not getting paid to stand around.”

                Keith rolls his eyes and suppresses his smile as he walks back to the rest of the group. On his way behind the counter, though, Lance stops him, grabbing him around the waist until Keith spins to face him.

                Before Keith can question anything, Lance’s mouth is on his, soft and gentle, and too quick.

                “Love you,” Lance murmurs, and releases him with a light shove. “Now, get to work, Kogane.”

                “Oh, you hush, McClain,” Keith shoots back, grinning. “Love you, too.”