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God Help The Sharpshooter

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** Dear lovely readers, thank you so much for reading. This is my first fic, so I hope it's not too cringey! I will also post trigger warnings if I think there are any, so look for those up here. If you have questions, comments, concerns, please feel free to comment!! Enjoy and thanks again for reading!

Also, most of my chapter titles will probably be Sam Smith songs.

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It wasn’t easy being Lance McClain, but he tried his best to make the most of it. He slipped on his blue winter jacket that was starting to get ratty at the bottom and walked out the door of his apartment. It took him a few tries to get the key into the rusty lock, but he got it after jiggling it a bit. He stepped back from the door, marveled at the white paint that was peeling down it, and sighed. This apartment had been his home for the last two years and to say he was starting to struggle would be an understatement.

Lance began his daily walk to his college’s campus, and he reminded himself that the two mile walk was good exercise and that it was in his better interest to walk each day. He did his best to ignore the thin bottoms of his old tennis shoes and the ache in the souls of his feet because that’s what Lance McClain did. He grinned and beared it.

He looked down at his phone to see a text from Pidge and smiled. She was always texting him when she got to their meet-up location for the morning, even though they met up at the same place at the same time every day. He knew he could always count on Pidge to be there for him. And as he felt the muscles in his back spasming from the periodical nights he spent sleeping on the floor of his apartment, he started to wonder if it was time to start letting her in a bit more about his… situation.

Wiping the sweat that formed on his forehead away, he saw Pidge’s face light up as Lance neared the front of the campus center. He always loved the way her eyes were so open and honest, and the words he’d been needing to say to someone came that much closer to the surface.

“Good morning, Lance!” she said, her voice cheerful.

“Hey, Pidge,” he said, chuckling. “You know, you don’t have to text me every morning when you get here. We’ve been meeting up at the same time, same place every day for two years.”

“I know, I know, but I just get anxious about those things. Maybe it would just be easier to follow each other’s locations on our phones!”

Lance’s face paled and he immediately replied, “No!” But when Pidge looked at him quizzically, he rephrased, “No, um, no that’s okay. I like my own personal Pidge texts. Makes me feel special and tingly on the inside. Makes me feel loooooved.” He snuggled up next to her.

“Ah there’s the corny bisexual ass that I know. Come on, let’s go get a coffee.”

They walked together into the campus center cafe like every other morning, but the smell of coffee was making Lance feel more tired than usual. He hadn’t had anymore coffee at his apartment, and he wouldn’t get paid from his part time job until next week, so he had gone coffee-less that morning. While usually this would have been fine, Lance had been having a hard time sleeping since he had sold his bed to help pay this months rent. Usually he had money from his part time job to pay the rent, but baseball season was just around the corner and he had been having to give up shifts to spend time practicing and strategizing with the coach. Junior year was no joke. If he even wanted a shot at getting drafted by any kind of professional team, he had to start breathing, eating, and being baseball. And that meant extra one on one time with coach, even during off season.

He ordered his usual, a small black coffee, thankful for the free campus cash that the school gave them at the beginning of each semester. With the 30 free dollars, Lance could get around 24 rounds of coffee free, as long as he spaced them out throughout the semester. Since the semester only started two weeks ago, he didn’t even think about it as he handed the cashier his student ID and waited for the kid to wave him along. But instead, there were two dark black eyes staring blankly at him.

“You don’t have anymore campus cash left,” the kid behind the counter said to him. Lance opened his mouth in surprise, thinking over all of the times he’d gotten coffee this semester. But everything about the last few weeks had been fuzzy since he was practicing more, working less, and studying in between. Lance needed that coffee. So he did what Lance does best. Stall and bullshit.

“Well aren’t we just pleasant this morning! Mr. Cashier…” Lance looks at his name tag, “uh, Keith! I can most certainly assure you I have some cash left. Why don’t you swipe it again for me?”

The kid, Keith, looked at him with mild annoyance.

“I already tried it two times, dude. Do you have another form of payment?”

Lance looked across the cafe at Pidge who was waiting happily for her drink. He just didn’t feel comfortable asking her, or anyone, for money. He passed his wallet back and forth in his hands, willing it to have some kind of money inside it. But when he opened it, he slammed it shut just as quickly at the empty sight. His cheeks went pink and he started to slowly back away from the counter.

“I, uh, must have left all my money at home. Thanks anyway, uh, Keith.”

The kid behind the counter eyeballed him curiously, and said, “I’ll take care of this round. I just transferred, so I have plenty of campus cash.”
The guilt in Lance’s gut twisted. “You don’t have to do that,” he said quickly.

“It’s okay,” Keith said, eyeing him up and down. “You look like you need it.”

Lance tried to stay calm, but his mind started running, analyzing the implication of Keith’s words. Did he look overtired? Like he wasn’t keeping it together? Like the poor, lonely son of a bitch he was?

He felt his lungs start to constrict when a hand gently touched his forearm. Keith had been trying to get his attention.

“Here,” Keith said, handing him the cup of coffee with his other hand.

Even though Lance didn’t want to, he gingerly took the cup of coffee. When Keith finally took his hand away from Lance’s arm, he took in a much needed breath.

“Thank you,” Lance said to him through clenched teeth.

“Have a good day,” the kid said back to him.

Lance walked away without even thinking about Pidge, but he couldn’t stand being in the cafe another second. That cashier, Keith, was looking down on him; he could see that Lance was struggling and he wanted to help him, and Lance wasn’t having it. After what happened with his family, he never wanted to have to rely on another person again.

He went back outside to wait for Pidge in front of the campus center, shooting her a text that he was waiting outside.

Lance stared into his cup of coffee, hesitating to drink out of it, watching the steam rise up and dissipate. He chastised himself for even having to think about drinking the cup of coffee, but he couldn’t help it. The coffee was a crutch, a symbol of his inability to take care of himself, and a physical representation of all of the things he had never received as he grew up. The coffee was kindness, warmth, generosity, and consideration. He couldn’t accept those things from anyone, most certainly not from the weirdo cashier guy in the campus center. Because once you accept a favor, you keep expecting favors and then you become incapable of doing anything on your own. Lance couldn’t accept favors. He just couldn’t.

He started to make his way to the trash to throw it out when he heard Pidge running up behind him.

“Why are you about to throw out that perfectly good cup of coffee?” Pidge asked a little breathless.

“I’m just not in the mood for a coffee, I guess,” Lance responded.

Pidge eyed him curiously, and said, “Lance, is everything okay?”

Lance’s hand gripped tighter around the coffee.

“Of course everything’s fine Pidgey, widgey! Why do you ask?”

She frowned at his obvious attempt to lighten the stressful mood.

“Because,” she started, “the cashier in the cafe tracked me down and asked me to check on you. He said you seemed on the verge of a panic attack.”

Lance let out a breath and put on his most dazzling smile. “Who could be on the verge of a panic attack when they’re with their smart, awesome, amazing best friend?”

Pidge smiled and laughed, but she didn’t relent. “Are you sure you’re okay, Lance? You have been acting kind of weird lately.”

“Weird how?”

“Well, you’ve been a little more jumpy, a little more tired, not as focused on school…”

“And why do you think that may be my sweet little Pidgey?”

Lance eyed her up playfully, and she swatted his bicep.

“Don’t be stupid. I’m genuinely concerned for you,” she said.

“Thanks Pidge, but you don’t have to be. I’ve had extra practices with coach since the beginning of winter break, and I’ve been doing extra strength training to get ready for this season, so I guess I’m running myself a little thin now that the semester has started. You know how important it is for me to be seen this year by scouts and stuff.”

She looked at him thoughtfully. “Right, I forgot that even a buffoon like you can have genuine hopes and dreams.”

***

Lance was lucky to have Pidge in most of his classes. Majoring in Japanese was hard work, but it was easier having Pidge around to help him out with assignments, especially as baseball season inched closer and closer. While he tried not to outright rely on her, she was a good study buddy, and most likely the smartest person he’d ever met in his life. Sometimes he even wondered why she would waste her time being friends with someone dumb like Lance.

Not that Lance was dumb per say; learning Japanese and using Japanese wasn’t an easy task, but he was an idiot in so many other aspects. Never serious, never truly open or honest, always making other people laugh and never talking about anything real.

He recognized this as a problem, but seldom did anything about it. He had to focus on baseball, on supporting himself, on making something of himself.

After two classes together, Lance said his goodbyes to Pidge and made his way to the gym for his private workout with coach. He walked into the baseball locker room and breathed in the thick, moist air, feeling more at home than he felt all day. Here he had equipment, clothes, shoes, that were clean, well kept, and in good condition. He was supposed to be here; he was accepted here as Lance “the respected junior captain”, and Lance “the sharpshooter third basemen.” The Lance who struggled to make ends meet and support himself didn’t exist here. Here, Lance had a family that supported him and vice versa.

He started to take off his winter coat when he heard footsteps shuffle into the locker room.

“And here’s where you and all the guys will get… Oh awesome, Lance is here early!”

Lance turned around to see his coach standing in the doorway.

“What’s up, Coach Coran?” Lance said.

“Not much, my boy. Just showing our newest transfer around the gym before the season gets underway.” Coach Coran walked further into the locker room to give space for the new recruit to enter as well.

As Lance caught sight of his deep dark eyes and long, black hair, all the blood drained from his face.

“Lance, my boy, I’d like you to meet our new shortstop, Keith Kogane.”

Chapter Text

Lance couldn’t remember the last time he had to remind himself so much to just breathe. One look at Keith, and all of the feelings Lance had tried to squash since that morning came rushing back to the surface. But this was Lance’s turf. His team. His locker room. He was in control here. He wasn’t the helpless, alone college student that Keith saw earlier that morning. So he told himself to shake it off and stepped forward to shake the kid’s hand.

“Nice to me ya, the name’s Lance!” he said, way too jovially.

Keith’s handshake was firm, but not as firm as Lance would have thought someone quiet and brooding like Keith would be. Instead of feeling intimidated, Lance felt a strange sense of warmth.

“Keith,” the dark haired boy said. Lance was happy that Keith sounded normal, like they hadn’t met before. He didn’t want him to bring up his strange behavior this morning, especially not in front of the coach.

“What kind of arm does he got, Coach C? Certainly not one better than your good old sharpshooter here!” Lance bragged jokingly.

“If there’s one thing to know about Lance is that he is not very humble!” Coach C says to Keith chuckling. “But in all honesty, he is the leader of this team and a very serious player on the field. I feel like you two will find you have a lot in common.”

Looking at Keith’s “I’d rather be anywhere else than here” look, Lance seriously doubted that.

“Why don’t you get changed and come work out with Lance and I? I wanted Lance to get in some throwing today, and I’m sure you’d be a much better partner than me! The good old arm just ain’t what she used to be.”

Lance was trying to control how wide his eyes got at the suggestion, but Keith was looking at him with understanding.

“I don’t want to impose,” Keith said quietly. “Besides, I don’t have any workout gear with me.”

“Nonsense!” Coach Coran said, “Everything is supplied for you here. That’s what it means to be a Lion!”

Coach Coran began slowly making his way out of the locker room.

“Lance, you’ll show him where to grab all the gear, right? You should grab another pair of sneakers too, yours are looking a little worn out, my boy!”

***

After getting Keith some clothes, and begrudgingly getting some new sneakers for himself, they silently made their way down to the indoor track where they would be practicing. Keith trailed a few steps behind Lance, and Lance used those moments to try and leave everything that had happened to him that day behind. When he stepped on the field, that was where his mind stayed. He didn’t have time for his mind to stray to life outside of baseball. Nothing could stop him from focusing and working his hardest. Baseball was the only thing that really mattered. Neither school, money, his friends, or this new guy Keith, was going to get in the way of baseball.

When he walked into the gym, Lance immediately felt lighter, his feet bouncing comfortingly against the soft rubber of the indoor track. He made his way over to Coach Coran who was waiting for them in the middle of the track with some free weights, medicine balls, and two buckets of pearly white baseballs that Lance couldn’t wait to get his hands on.

“Alright you two, let’s start with a light warm up of dynamic stretches. Then you’ll move on to free weights and medicine ball exercises. From there, we’ll get to the good stuff. Throwing drills!”

Lance led Keith through the dynamic stretches with ease; the directions were ingrained his brain from giving them all last year to the team. He monitored Keith’s form, and was surprised when he didn’t have a lot to correct him on. Keith’s muscles were toned, and they stretched at all the right angles as Lance directed him. He was mainly focused on himself, but he couldn’t help but noticing that Keith was like… really good looking. Strikingly so.

But none of that mattered as they transferred to weights and medicine ball training. The way they were doing it was more cardio than anything. Coran gave them three circuits of four exercises each (20 reps for each exercise) and asked them to complete as many reps of the circuit as they could in 7 minutes. Both boys launched into the workout with intensity, but Lance had the upper hand as he’d been doing workouts like these for the last few weeks. As Keith’s body started to slow down towards the end of each set of 7 minutes, Lance pushed himself harder than ever before, speeding up his reps rather than slowing down. By the end of the workout, they were breathing hard, Lance’s entire body trembling. But it was the good kind of trembling, the kind that felt like progress and victory and strength.

At least that’s what Lance thought until they started throwing drills. He didn’t consider how his body would hold up once they got to throwing. He could feel his back muscles tightening from both the workout and from sleeping on the floor for the last couple of weeks, but Lance did what he always does and ignored the pain so he could keep pushing forward towards his goal.

“Alright,” Coran interrupted their throwing session. “I want you both to practice some long throws, so Keith, you go to one end of the track, and Lance you go to the other.”

“I don’t think he’s ready for the sharpshooter’s guns,” Lance said, raising his quivering bicep to his lips. Keith rolled his eyes.

“Let’s just do this,” Keith said.

“I agree. Move your ass, Lance!” Coran gestured for him to take a hike. So he did. He jogged over to one side of the gym, a beautiful bucket of fresh, white baseballs in tow. Reaching in and grabbing one out was like getting a birthday present, which is something he hadn’t gotten in many years. No, Lance said to himself in his head, clear your mind. Focus.

And he did. He whipped the ball across the field at lightning speed, making Keith’s glove shout out in agony when it hit his mark. While Keith didn’t say anything, Lance saw him take his hand out of his glove and shake his hand out. Lance smirked. This was the shit he lived for, the shit he worked so hard for.

Keith wound up and launched the ball back at Lance in almost a perfect straight line. The ball landed in the exact spot that Lance had held his glove up. He couldn’t help the way his mouth gaped open a bit at Keith’s stunning accuracy.

“And that’s why I recruited him!” Coran shouts to Lance from the other side of the gym. Keith says nothing, but readies his body to receive another throw from lance.
Coran directed them to throw the balls from side to side, to practice their foot work, their glove to hand transfers, and so on. By the time they were finished, Keith looked exhausted. But Lance, Lance looked like he was about to hit the floor.

Keith handed him his bottle of water without hesitation, and Lance cursed himself again for showing Keith weakness. He shook his head, unable to quite catch his breath to speak. Keith took a sip from the water bottle, his eye trained on Lance.

“You both worked yourselves hard today. It was good to see you live and in action, Keith!” Coran said, clopping him on the shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll be a great addition to the Lions.” Turning to Lance, Coran said, “You look like you need to go eat 15 burgers. Is it possible that you’ve gotten skinnier in the last few weeks of strength training we did? Maybe we should start thinking about protein supplements or shakes for you. I’ll talk to the trainers about it, yes I will!”

Lance nodded his head in agreement. Still a bit winded, he said, “I think that’s a good idea.”

“Awesome. Alright, you two, go hit the showers and get some dinner. Keith, feel free to come see me whenever you feel like it. If not, I’ll see you when preseason starts next week. I’ll see you tomorrow, Lance. Between your ten thirty and one o’clock class, right?”

“You got it, Coach C. See you then!” Lance said. He wanted to thank Coran, but that was all he could say without his lungs starting to burn.

They watched Coran walk away, and Keith started gathering the equipment up to take it back to the equipment closet. But he stopped when he noticed that Lance still hadn’t moved from where he was standing.

“You train a lot,” Keith said to Lance.

Lance looked up from the ground to bring his dazed eyes to Keith. He was having a hard time focusing on any one thing.

“Yeah,” Lance answered. “Everyday.”

“You must get tired.”

“Oh no, I’m fine,” Lance replied, moving his jelly arm back and forth to try and show Keith that it was no big deal. “Let’s put this stuff away.”

“Sure,” Keith said. Lance couldn’t help noticing that Keith was a man of few words and simple sentences.

When Lance walked forward, he felt darkness starting to coat the edges of his vision and he stopped in his tracks.

“Shit,” he said, bringing a hand to his forehead.

“What?” Keith said, alarm coating his usually monotone voice.

“Nothing, nothing, I’m fine,” Lance replied, pushing through the dizziness. He moved forward to grab a bucket and his entire body swayed to the right. And then he felt two hands on his shoulders, keeping him from falling.

“Okay, you are not fine,” Keith said to him. At this point, Lance was lucky that he hadn’t passed out yet. He couldn’t escape Keith’s hold, even if he wanted to.

Keith practically dragged him over to a bench on the outskirts of the track and leaned Lance up against the wall. His chest heaved, his eyes burned, and his head swam with fogginess. He gripped onto the bench with everything he had to keep him in the present.

“What’s wrong? What are you feeling right now?” Keith asked him. He leaned down in front of Lance, taking his wrist in his hand to feel his pulse. But Lance still had a smidge of dignity left in him, so he didn’t respond.

“Your blood pressure is really low right now. When’s the last time you’ve eaten?” He asked Lance matter-of-factly. If he didn’t feel so terrible, Lance would have marveled at the doctoral, professional tone of Keith’s voice. Lance had never been able to stay calm in times of crisis.

“Lance, if you can’t answer me, I’m going to call an ambulance.” Lance’s eyes flashed wide. He couldn’t afford an ambulance ride.

“I think,” he said, closing his eyes to concentrate, “I ate dinner last night.”

“You think?” Keith said, confused by the statement. “You mean you don’t know?”

“Can’t remember,” Lance replied. Keith studied him for a minute longer and then stood up.

“Okay, you stay here. Not that you could move on your own. I’ll be back.”

“Wait!” Lance said, using all of his energy to reach forward and grab onto the back of Keith’s shirt. Keith stopped, letting himself be pulled back. Lance couldn’t hold his head up anymore, and he leaned his head forward to rest on Keith’s lower back. “No coach,” he said to Keith.

Keith opened his eyes wide at Lance’s ridiculous request.

“Please.” Lance hated the pleading, weak sound of his voice.

Keith turned around and placed his hands on Lance’s shoulders, moving him back into place leaning against the wall.

“I’ll be right back, you idiot. Don’t move.”

Lance didn’t have anymore energy to argue, but he found himself wanting to trust the look in Keith’s eyes.

Keith came back with a red sports drink and seven different bags of chips from the vending machine in the gym. He sat next to Lance, who was still fighting dizziness, and opened the red drink.

“Can you drink this on your own?” Keith asked, handing him the bottle. Lance reached up with a shaky hand and brought the drink to his lips. The calories, the sugar, the electrolytes immediately made love to his mouth, and he started gulping the drink down like he was never going to get another chance to drink again.

“Woah,” Keith said, gently pulling the drink away from Lance. “You’re going to make yourself sick if you keep chugging it like that.” Lance used his shaky hand to wipe out his mouth and nodded.

They sat in silence for a bit, as Lance waited to feel the effects of the drink. He felt his mind clearing as he realized that his blood sugar had probably been really low. When was the last time he’d eaten? Today? Yesterday? The day before?

He chastised himself for his irresponsibility to himself as a person and an athlete. He had to start doing something help himself during baseball season. Maybe it was time to get another job, preferably one at night. Preferably one that gave a free meal.

Keith silently opened a bag of funions and handed them to Lance, giving him a look that felt like “eat or I will kill you.” So Lance did as the look told him. Also, Lance would never turn down a bag of his favorite snacks.

“How’d you know I love funions?” Lance asked Keith as he finished off the bag.

“You kind of look like a funion, with those skinny arms,” Keith said to him.

“Did I just hear Mr. Solemn make a joke? A momentous occasion,” Lance retorted.

“I see you’re feeling better,” Keith noted as Lance handed the empty bag back to Keith, grabbing potato chips.

“Yeah, I guess it’s not good to workout that hard on an empty stomach,” Lance said.

“It’s not good to go that long, no matter what you’re doing, without eating. Especially if you’re an athlete,” Keith said pointedly.

Lance sighed. “You seem like you know a lot about this stuff. What are you studying?”

“Exercise and sports sciences,” Keith replied, reopening the red drink and handing it to Lance.

“Well that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is how you stayed so calm during that situation! I thought I was gonna pass out for sure! I was freaking out!”

Keith didn’t say anything as Lance sipped more of the red drink. He handed it back to Keith and finished off the potato chips. Keith made a move to hand Lance another bag of chips, but shame was creeping up on him as he started to get more of his bearings, and he shook his head at the offer.

He felt his cheeks flush at the image of him sitting there helpless as Keith tried to help him. Twice in one day, he had needed to have someone help him, one time during baseball no less. This was his place, this is where he was in control. He couldn’t let anything or anyone get in the way of baseball, and right now both Keith and Lance’s own circumstances were becoming a big brick wall that seemed impossible to climb over.

“Thanks for your help, Keith, but I think I’m feeling good enough to go home. Sorry for scaring ya. Us McClain's are usually strong like bulls!” Lance said, pushing himself up onto his wobbly legs.

“It’s no problem,” Keith said, rising as well. “I’ll put the equipment away real quick. Just wait a second and I’ll pull my car around to the doors and I’ll drive you back to your dorm.”

Lance watched Keith’s back as he began to drag the workout equipment to the storage closet and tried to think of every excuse in the book to keep Keith from driving him home. No one from school had ever scene his place before, and with good reason. It was in a shitty, unsafe section of the city, and it was bare and empty. He couldn’t host a guest even if he wanted to. There was no way Keith was driving him home. No way.

As Keith walked back over to Lance, he said, “Don’t try to weasel your way out of this. If you don’t let me drive you home, I’m going to tell coach that something is going on with you.”

For a soft spoken, terse person, Keith spoke with a quiet fire in his voice that showed Lance that he wasn’t joking. Without saying a word, Lance followed the Keith to the door and waited for him to bring around his car. He’d tell Keith to drop him off at the dorm closest to his apartment and then he’d walk to the rest of the way. It was a good plan. He was proud of himself for forming that plan.

They drove in silence for a bit, the only noise was Lance directing him to the dorm that wasn’t his. But it was fine. He’d only have a mile to walk now. And it was only 7:30 pm. Nothing bad happened on the streets at dusk.

“It’s cool that you have your car on campus. They let you do that as a first year?” Lance asked him.

“I’m a junior transfer,” Keith replied. Lance lifted his eyes in surprise.

“I knew a first year couldn’t have that good of an arm…” Lance murmured under his breath.

“I’m sorry, did I hear you compliment me?” Keith said, smirking.

“No, must have been the wind, or the shitty grunge metal coming from your speakers.”

“Don’t diss the music. Haven’t you ever heard that the driver picks the music and shotgun shuts his pie hole?”

Lance laughed loudly. “I can’t believe you are quoting Supernatural right now.”

Keith looked away murmuring, “It’s a good show.”

As they pulled up to the dorm, Lance turned to Keith to thank him. But before he could speak, Keith was twisting the key and turning off his car.

“Um, what do you think you’re doing?” Lance asked incredulously.

“Walking you to your door.”

Chapter Text

Lance took a few seconds to really think about this Keith guy, as he contemplated how to get himself out of the mess he was about to be in if Keith insisted on trying to bring him to his door. Yes, Keith was fantastically good looking and he had the arm of an up and coming baseball god, but he was also incredibly nosy. Maybe not so much in words, but Lance could almost feel Keith begging him to explain the various behaviors he’d seen from Lance that day. But Lance didn’t owe him any explanations. He barely knew the guy! It didn’t matter if they were going to be teammates. Lance was the captain, and no one was going to see him drowning.

“Keith, I appreciate the concern, but it’s really not necessary. I’m all good now, thanks to those funions!” Lance cackled to himself, but stopped when Keith’s expression remained somber.

“Are you going to eat tonight?” Keith asked, bluntly.

“What are you saying? Of course I will!” Lance said with a lot of false confidence.

Keith continued to eye him in disbelief.

“Are you going to be able to eat tonight?” Keith asked, a little quieter.

Lance recoiled, like Keith had almost slapped him.

“Do you always butt this much into the lives of people you just met?” Lance asked, more anger seeping out of his voice than he intended.

“Only when I think someone needs help,” Keith replied, nonchalantly. If only Keith had known Lance better. He would have known that that was the absolute wrong thing to say.

“I do not need your help, or anyone else’s,” Lance replied defiantly. “And you’d best do yourself a favor and get some perspective on your place here. If you’re not careful, I’ll get so good at baseball I’ll be playing third and shortstop at the same time, and you’ll be out of a position!”

“That’s a little preposterous. Don’t you think?”

“Preposterous? Lance McClain? Never,” Lance said, starting to get out of the car. “As your captain, I want to say it’s been nice meeting you, but it’s been hectic and weird, and I am ready to go to sleep for the next 12 hours. So if you don’t mind,” Lance continued, gesturing to the dormitory that was not his, “I am going to go inside now.”

“At least take my number,” Keith said quickly, before Lance could shut the door.

“And why would I do that?” Lance leaned forward, back into the car, one hand on the door and one on the roof of Keith’s tiny black car.

“Just in case, you know, you need anything.”

Lance stared at him with daggers in his eyes.

“Or if I need something. You’re the captain, aren’t you?”

This damn new kid was clever. He knew Lance had to give him his number as the captain. Lance would have to keep an eye on him.

When Keith held out his hand for Lance’s phone, Lance surprised himself by placing it in Keith’s hand. He watched Keith add his contact info and then call himself so he would have Lance’s number, too.

“All right mom, now that you can call me on your own free will, can I please go to bed now?” Lance joked.

“Are you always this sarcastic?” Keith asked, smiling a little.

“Only to newbie transfers who’ve got a lot to learn.” Lance sing-songed as he shut the door to Keith’s car.

Keith rolled down the window and shouted, “We’ll see who’s got a lot to learn!” and he watched Lance saunter into the building, swinging his hips from side to side sassily, the big glass doors of the dorm shutting behind him.

The walk back to his apartment didn’t seem as long as usual, and Lance couldn’t help the warmth that had settled in his stomach since his interactions with Keith. He couldn’t believe he had given Keith his number, and it was a small part of him that felt the warmth of knowing someone besides himself was looking out for himself. While the warmth felt good, Lance was also anxious about the feeling. It reminded him of feelings he hadn’t felt in a long time; feelings that were a sign of weakness. He reminded himself that he needed to be strong and independent in order to prove himself to the world. To his family. To himself. And that meant no meddling Keith with offers of help that he knew were probably only too good to be true.

Lance settled into his blankets on the floor and tried to push the pang of hunger he felt out of his mind. He knew him and Coach C were going to have lunch together tomorrow. They always did on Tuesdays, on the Lion’s dime, of course. So if he could just hold out until then, everything would be fine. He didn't need anyone's help. Everything was going to be fine.

***

“Lance, oh my goodness,” Pidge said as he walked up to their meeting spot ten minutes later than usual. “You look positively awful.”

Lance had another rough night of sleep, as he kept tossing and turning with thoughts of a kid with stupid black hair and annoying dark eyes.

“Good to see you too, Pidge,” Lance said with a yawn.

“I didn’t know eye bags could be so dark,” she said in awe.

“Yes, I get it, I look like a troll monster. Can we go to class, please?” Lance practically begged. His legs burned from the workout yesterday and the long walk to school that morning.

“I was going to grab a coffee. You don’t want one?” Pidge asked him, gesturing to the café.

Lance looked through the windows of the café, spotting the ugly black mullet that most definitely belonged to Keith. He shook his head vehemently at Pidge. Not that he had money to buy a coffee anyway.

“That’s alright, Pidge. I prefer to drown in my sorrows, if you don’t mind.”

She laughed at his dark humor. “Okay, Mr. dark and gloomy. I’ll be right back.”

While he waited for Pidge, he turned off the data on his phone and connected to the school WIFI. He only had so much data a month and he tried to save as much as he could. Lance quickly scrolled through his schedule for the day, happy to see that he had sanctioned off three hours of study time this afternoon. He had some papers coming up in his Lit classes that he hadn’t even gotten around to starting yet. But Lance wasn’t particularly worried. His middle name was Bull Shit for a reason.

When Pidge walked out of the café, she had a huge smile on her face as she held two coffees in her hands. She held one out to Lance, and he took it with a confused look on his face.

“Um, why do you look like you just won the lottery?”

“That guy Keith, he is so freaking nice!” She started, gushing in a way only fangirls do. “He’s mysterious, but open at the same time. What a weird and intriguing combination of characteristics. He introduced himself after seeing us together yesterday and told me that he’s on the baseball team with you! He gave me this coffee to give to you, too. You’re lucky to have a new teammate like him.”

Lance couldn’t help the way his body cringed at… everything that Pidge said.

“What?” she asked him. “Do you not like this guy or something?” she asked, eyeing him curiously.

“No, no it’s not that!!” Lance falsely assured her. “He’s just really good at baseball. He’s definitely going to be my rival this year.”

“Ah, male rivalry, the purest form of art if I’ve ever seen it.”

“And we’re moving on!” Lance said, starting their trek to class. When he looked back to see if Pidge was following, he couldn’t help the way his eyes lingered on the glass windows of the café.

***

Later after their morning class ended, Lance and Pidge were walking towards the gym. Pidge liked to study in the library that was close by, and Lance was going to meet Coach C for lunch. Lance had his hand clutched tightly against his stomach to try and stop the cramping from the emptiness.

“Do you think Keith has a girlfriend?” Pidge asked Lance out of the blue.

“I only met him yesterday. How am I supposed to know anything about him?” He said exasperated.

“Are you telling me Lance McClain doesn’t have a personal opinion about a person right after meeting them?”

She wasn’t wrong.

“I’m getting gay vibes,” Lance said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Lance, you think everyone is gay,” Pidge retorted.

“Everyone’s a little gay, Pidge,” he said, leaning forward and bopping her on the nose. “Even you.”

“You are insufferable,” she said, swatting his hand away and laughing.

Lance was laughing too, but then he felt a sharp pain in his stomach and inhaled suddenly, hand grasping the affected area.

“Hey,” Pidge said, stopping their forward movement. “Are you alright?” she asked, touching his arm gently.

“Oh yeah, all is good,” he said, waving her off. “I just worked out extra hard yesterday. My stomach muscles are really sore.”

“I’m going to have to have some choice words with Coach Coran. You have been pushing yourself to the limit everyday!”

“That’s the only way to get to the top, Pidgey!”

“Or to launch yourself into early retirement…”

“Lance McClain is invincible. You know this,” he said, gesturing for him and Pidge to keep walking.

“Well I worry about Lance McClain, especially when he talks in the third person,” she said.

“Lance McClain is invincible!” he started shouting loudly, making people turn their hands. Pidge buried her head in her hands, snorting laughter as Lance’s cheers got louder and louder.

When he got to Coach Coran’s office, he barely had time to think before he was shoving sandwiches, pizza, potato salad, and more into his mouth. He felt the satisfying drop of each food item as it when down his throat and filled his empty stomach.

“If I had known I had six mouths to feed, I would have brought more food. Oh wait, it’s just you Lance!” Coach C said, eyes wide as he watched Lance shovel the food into his mouth.

“Sorry Coach,” Lance says, leaning away from the food, forcing himself to slow down. “I forgot to eat breakfast this morning.”

“Lance, you know that it’s important for athletes to eat at least three meals a day.” Coach C said, looking at him pointedly. But he saw Lance’s face starting to burn with shame, and he said, “Well now, just don’t do it again. You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

Lance nodded his head emphatically, but felt dread on the inside, knowing how hard keeping up appearances was going to be. “I will do my best, sir.”

“I’ve never known you to not try your hardest. But sometimes college and life gets hard to manage, even I know that,” Coran said, watching something like fear grow in Lance’s eyes, and he began to realize that he couldn’t remember the last time he had given Lance any type of slack. He looked at Lance’s gaunt face, the dark circles under his eyes, and his ravenous need for food. Coran was definitely starting to worry, but Lance hadn’t ever gave him a reason to worry before. He hoped that this behavior would subside as the season got started. That was when Lance really started to thrive. “If you ever need anything, you know who to come to, don’t you lad?” Coran assured him with a small smile.

Lance could feel his eyes getting soft as tears threatened to surface. “Thank you, Coach,” he said, shoving another bite of a turkey sandwich into his mouth, which made Coran laugh. He couldn’t believe he was letting everything get to him to the point that even Coach C was starting to make comments. Lance really had to get it together.

“So tell me,” Coran started, “what do you think about our newest addition to the team?”

Lance gave him the evil eye. “Can’t I play third and shortstop at the same time?”

“Oh Lance, you are a riot. I won't be surprised when you and him become really close friends and teammates.”

“I don’t think there’s any part of him that is similar to me, Coach C! He’s solemn, and quiet, and barely speaks more than a sentence at a time. Besides, have you looked at that mullet?” Lance could ramble about how annoying this kid was for days.

“Sounds like you’ve observed quite a bit about him,” Coran said through a tight smile, trying not to laugh as Lance face flushed pink.

“Is it not my job as captain to monitor my teammates?” Lance said with a huff.

“It is, but it’s not your job to scrutinize them on first sight.”

Lance rolled his eyes. “What would you like me to do then, Coach?”

Coran rubbed his orange beard and adjusted his hat as he thought of a truthful answer.

“Why don’t you have a get together with all the guys before the season starts? Introduce Keith to the guys, have a few… non alcoholic beers, get him to be part of the team.”

Lance audibly groaned.

“I may even know of a location you all can hang out at. A certain red haired old man is going away for the weekend.”

Lance deflated at Coran’s hopeful and mischievous grin.

“This is my job as captain?” Lance asked defeated. He couldn’t say no to Coach Coran, even if spending more time with Keith was the last thing he wanted to do during his last free weekend before the season.

“I would say so!” Coran said smiling. “Besides, when has Lance McClain ever turned down a chance to party?”

Coach’s comment sat deep inside Lance, as he was reminded of the version of himself that everyone knew. He was strong, and steady, and a leader in all aspects of life, including the party scene. Coach C was really chill when it came to all the party stuff, maybe even too chill, Lance thought. But he knew why Coach C was so suggestive about the parties. In an informal way, Lance could bring everyone together. Make their team bond stronger. Create the positive momentum for the season ahead of them. This was Lance’s job as captain. So if he was being ordered to throw a party, a damn party he was going to throw. There was no room for darkness or shadows to drag him or hold him down. Lance needed to be the light.

Chapter Text

This wasn’t the first time he’d been to Coach C’s house. The team always had team dinner, meetings, and end of year get-togethers at his house. But as captain, Lance had gotten more familiar with the place since Coach C often had him over to re-watch games and strategize. He recognized that finding a Coach that invested in you so much was rare, and he was eternally grateful for Coach Coran and all of the teaching and passion he put into Lance’s ball game. Additionally, he showed Lance signs of unconditional trust, like trusting him with his house… and his credit card.

Lance placed the extra set of keys Coach had given him on the countertop and picked up a note that Coran had left him.

Lance, my boy! Be good to my house, treat her with respect and love. Aka, CLEAN UP EVERYTHING BEFORE I GET HOME. I know you won’t let me down!! I stocked the fridge with as much stuff as I thought you boys would need. But I left my card here for you to order pizza and any other things you think you might need as well. Enjoy!

Lance chuckled at Coran’s antics and generosity. He was glad to accept his graciousness for the betterment of the team. As Lance thought of all the guys, his mind got stuck on the dark eyes of their newest member. Keith’s unreadable expressions lingered in Lance’s mind as he walked to Coach’s room to get a few more hours of shut eye.

He woke up to his phone buzzing, and rolled over to shut off his alarm. But when the alarm didn’t stop, he opened his eyes and saw that he was getting a call from an unknown number. For a second he thought it was Keith and his heart caught in his throat. But Keith had put his number in Lance’s phone. He clicked accept, his heart slowing down a bit.

“This is Lance,” he said, sleep still heavy in his voice.

He was met with silence.

“I swear if this is some kind of scam, I’m gonna be…”

A quiet voice interrupted Lance. “Lance? Is it really you?”

Lance pulled back the phone and looked back at the number. He had no idea who’s number it was.

“Yes, I already said this was Lance. Who is this?”

“You don’t recognize your own mother’s voice?”

Lance pulled the phone back again to look at it like somehow it would make him understand the situation he was in. But he couldn’t think. He couldn’t breathe. He brought the phone back to his ear, hand shaking.

At some point, the woman started to speak, but the words were empty buzzing in his ears. He couldn’t even begin to compute what she was saying. But each word started to sound more and more familiar. More and more like a person he used to love and admire. Eventually her words came into focus. “Lance, I’m sorry it’s been so long, the family has just been…”

“What do you want?” he asked, interrupting the woman’s rambling, voice entirely icy and unwarm.

“It’s your father,” she said, voice quivering.

“My father,” he said, laughing mirthlessly.

“I know you two didn’t leave off on the right foot, but he…”

“Leave off on the right foot?” he repeats, voice rising. “I’ve been alone and taking care of myself for the last 3 years because of him. He kicked me out of the house and told me never to show my face again.” Lance paused to try and catch his quickening breath. “And you let him.”

“Honey, your father is a complicated man, you know this,” she said, sighing in resignation.

“Don’t call me honey. I am not your honey,” Lance seethed into the phone. “Why are you calling me about my father? How did you even get this number?”

His mother whimpered deeply into the phone.

“He’s been looking for you, Lance.”

His face paled.

“We’ve been looking for you.”

“Well if you’re all of a sudden in the mood to accept me and reconcile, that’s for sure not happening.” Lance said automatically. There was no way he was going to go back to people who loved him his entire life until they learned he was bisexual. Kiss one boy under their roof, and all of a sudden you are an unrecognizable, walking sin, getting pushed out the door in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on your back.

“Lance, your father. He isn’t doing well,” his mother started.

“Get to the goddamn point,” Lance said. He didn’t how much more he could take of this conversation; he could feel each of his limbs starting to tremble as he began to fold in on himself in Coran’s bed.

“He’s been, repenting, you see, because he hasn’t much time left,” she paused. “He wants to see you, Lance.”

“Well I’ve been on this earth for the last three years and he never tried to reach out then,” Lance said, picturing his father as he got sicker and sicker over the years. “Just because he ate himself into type two diabetes and heart failure doesn’t mean he needs to see me, Mama.” He hated the way her name came so easily to his lips.

“Don’t speak about your father that way, please,” she begged him through the phone. “Will you at least try and consider coming to see us, Lance? I wouldn’t ask this of you if the circumstances…”

“If the circumstances were different?” Lance finished, his heart clenching tightly in his chest. “Neither of you would want to see me if he wasn’t dying?”

“Lance, no! That’s not what I meant,” his mother shouts, panicking into the phone. “Please. He really wants to see you. We… we both do. Please think about it.”

The entire conversation had made Lance numb. He knew he would think about this conversation for many nights to come, even if he didn’t want to.

“Okay. I have to go,” he said, voice small, chest hurting.

“Thank you, Lance. Thank you for hearing me.” His mother said breathlessly, like a huge relief had been lifted off her chest. Well that was good for her, Lance thought. He hadn’t had a single day since he was left locked out of the house where he’d been able to properly breathe. Everything, money, school, family, love, life, sat on his chest, weighing him down every damn day. Fuck his mother for getting relief. Fuck her for not admitting that she was sorry. Fuck his father for being stupid enough to die. Fuck him. Fuck.

Lance hung up the phone without saying goodbye.

He sat on the bed, for… he didn’t know how long. His mind was entirely blank, white noise buzzing around in his brain, making him feel light headed and high. And the numbness kept eating at him as he sat there and tried to think about what had just occurred, but he all he could feel was the bone-crushing sadness of being truly alone wash over him like huge, rough waves.

So he did what any person would do in the face of trauma. He started drinking. With a few chugs of Coran’s finest vodka, Lance’s mind started to loosen up a bit. He took all of the thoughts of today and stashed them in a tiny box in the back of his mind. Hopefully, as the night went on, the box would get so small he wouldn’t be able to find it again.

He looked at the clock and realized it was almost 5:00, and the guys were going to be there at six. Lance quickly ordered twenty pizzas, using Coran’s credit card, and he pulled out bags of chips, cases of beer, and soda to make mixed drinks. A party was to be had, and Lance had to keep it together during it. So that meant. Alcohol. Lots of it.

When the doorbell rang a couple of minutes later, Lance was spooked. While he did everything he could to keep his mind at ease, his body couldn’t quite catch up. He was still trembling, his leg muscles weren’t working correctly, and he felt like he was waddling around like a robot. But he didn’t have time to fret. He went to answer the door.

And Lance’s day continued to fuck him over as his eyes washed over a lonesome Keith Kogane.

“You’re early,” Lance said, not moving from the doorframe.

“Uh, yeah.” Keith replied, looking down at his feet. “I thought there’d be more traffic.”
Lance just looked at him. Well, more like looked through him.

“Um, are you going to let me in?” Keith asked, readjusting the overnight bag on his shoulder.

“Oh, sorry, yeah.” Lance said, chastising himself and moving out of the way. “Come on in.”

He led Keith to the kitchen area, telling him to leave his stuff in the foyer. Lance repositioned himself back in the same spot he was before, his hand gripped tightly around the neck of the opened vodka bottle.

“Coran’s got a nice place,” Keith commented, looking around. There was a beautiful marble island counter smack in the middle of the kitchen, Dark black cabinets lining the walls and framing a beautiful chrome refrigerator.

Lance took a long swig from the bottle and didn’t miss the way Keith’s eyebrows furrowed as he watched.

“You want some?” Lance said, holding out the bottle. Keith’s eyebrows furrowed even more.

“I think I’m good for now,” Keith said. “Have you been going at this for a while? You’re looking kind of toasted, dude.”

Lance waved him off, vodka bottle in hand. “Please,” he started, words slurring just a little. “I’m going to drink all of you under the table tonight.”

“Why don’t I take that from you?” Keith said, easily grabbing it from Lance’s grip.

“Mr. Keith is a bully,” Lance said, jutting his bottom lip out.

“Mr. Keith thinks you should eat something,” Keith retorted, running his hands through his long, dark locks. Did Keith know how nice his hair was? Aside from the ugly way it shaped into a mullet at the bottom, the texture, the shine, the color, it was gorgeous. Lance reached out and touched it, running his fingers through it slowly. Keith stilled.

“Um, what are you doing?” Keith asked, definitely weirded out, but not moving away.

“Just wondering how you get your hair to be this long and soft,” Lance answered honestly. Keith chuckled at his bluntness.

“I think you’re nicer when you’re a little drunk,” Keith said, moving away from Lance’s hold on him to walk towards the refrigerator. Lance was surprised when he felt a sudden ache of loneliness without Keith right next to him. “There’s a huge turkey sub in here. You want some of that?” Keith asked him.

“Turkey is my faaaaaaavorite,” Lance affirmed.

“I thought funions were your favorite,” Keith said, taking the sub out of the fridge. Lance blushed a little, celebrating somewhere in a corner of his mind that Keith had consciously remembered something about him.

“Funions and turkey, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g!” Lance replied before he could stop the stupid words from coming out of his mouth. Stupid vodka.

“Where do you grow up loving turkey and funions?” Keith remarked, cutting the sandwich and putting a piece in front of where Lance was sitting at the kitchen island. And it all seemed innocent, except Lance couldn’t tell Keith where he grew up. He couldn’t possibly tell him about the place where he became who he was, just to have everything ripped away.

“Lance?” Keith said, walking around the table to get closer to him. The tiny box he had stashed away in the back of his mind cracked open all at once with Keith’s words. Lance was already entering another world, one of flashbacks and screaming matches, and cold nights spent looking for anywhere warm. One of warm hugs, and forehead kisses, and sweet lullabies sung before bed, all crumbling to blackness right before his eyes.

He returned slightly from his reverie as he felt Keith’s warm hand on his. Lance was clutching the edge of the island with both hands, his knuckles completely white. When he realized he didn’t know how long he’d been silent, he quickly moved away from Keith.

“Oh god, sorry,” he said, finding it a little hard to breath. “I just, uh, got dizzy for a second.” And Lance was surprised when his bit about dizziness wasn’t a lie. Everything in front of him started to swim, and he couldn’t tell if it was from the vodka or from everything that had already happened today.

“How much did you drink, Lance?” Keith asked, moving closer again, but not close enough. Something in Lance was snapping, and he couldn’t hold it together. God, he fucking hated himself. Why couldn’t he be stronger? Why couldn’t he be more stable? Why couldn’t his family just fucking love him?

“Not… a lot,” Lance replied, finding it harder and harder to speak.

“Are you gonna hurl?” Keith asked, stepping back. But that’s not what Lance needed. He needed Keith to come closer, needed him to ground him back into the present. He needed something, anything to help root him here. He hated that he needed at all.

“No,” Lance started. “Please,” was all he could get out, his hand clutching his chest. Something clicked in Keith’s mind when he saw Lance grab the collar of his shirt as if it was choking him. He didn’t know what exactly was happening, but he knew something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

“Lance, what’s going on?” Keith asked gently, stepping closer to him again, but not touching him in case he didn’t want to be touched. But Keith was wrong. He would learn how very wrong he would be about Lance not wanting to be touched.

As soon as Keith was remotely close to Lance, Lance reached out a hand and grabbed Keith’s forearm with a death grip that would have hurt him if Keith’s adrenaline wasn’t running so high.

“Keith,” Lance said between bated breaths, “I can’t breathe.”

Chapter Text

“What do you mean you can’t breathe?” Keith asked Lance. And if Lance was able to speak, he would have told Keith that that was the stupidest question of all time. Lance couldn’t breathe and he didn’t know why, even though he felt air going in and out of his lungs. It was all happening quickly, too quickly for Lance to control. And he was fading, faster than his lungs could keep up.

Lance felt his hand loosen from the grip he had on Keith’s arm, and then he felt nothing.

There was darkness. That’s all Lance could see. Until he started seeing faces and hearing voices, all telling him he was wrong. That everything that made him into the person he was, was worthless, and meaningless, and disgusting, and wrong. His mother’s voice, his sisters horrified face, his father’s hand raising higher and higher until it came down and grabbed Lance’s throat, pinning him to a wall. His father’s eyes bored into his with hatred, disgust, and pity. Pity for the person that Lance had turned out to be. The abomination Lance had turned out to be. As Lance tried to talk, his father’s hand tightened further around his throat. Squeezing tighter and tighter until he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t know if he would ever really breathe again.

But then there was another voice, Keith’s voice, saying his name with urgency and a warmth that he hadn’t felt in a long time. He didn’t deserve it, the warmth. But his body craved it, pinned for it, and it was right in front of him. He tried calling out to him, but his windpipes weren’t working. But he started to feel the outlines of hands on his biceps, his shoulders, his face, and Lance just knew all the touches had come from Keith. But he couldn’t see him; everything was out of focus, his mind fighting between reality and his subconscious. God, help me , Lance begged in his mind, Please, help me.

Lance felt an intense pain radiate across his cheek, and he was sucked back into Coran’s kitchen, Keith standing there, red faced and panicked, right in front of Lance. Lance’s chest was heaving, his lungs burning, but Keith had brought him back to reality.

“Lance? Lance. Are you with me?” Keith said, grabbing Lance’s shoulders and shaking them gently. Lance blinked up at him, watching everything slowly come back into focus. He was in Coran’s house. He wasn’t getting hated by his family. He was safe. He was safe with Keith.

“Did you just slap me?” Lance mumbled, still out of breath. Keith’s hands softened their hold on Lance’s shoulders, but he didn’t let go.

“I’m sorry,” Keith said, his face in a grimace. “You were completely out of it, and that was the only thing I could think of.”

“That’s okay. It worked. Obviously,” Lance whispered, voice tired and weak. He could feel his heavy eyelids wanting to close, and his body felt like he had just ran ten miles, so he leaned into Keith, all inhibitions lost in the haze he was in. Keith didn’t hesitate to let Lance lean against him.

“I don’t think I can sit up anymore,” Lance mumbled, forehead resting on Keith’s chest.

“Okay,” Keith said, using both hands to hold Lance up. “Do you want to move to the couch? Or maybe the bedroom? The guys are going to be here soon…” Keith rambled on, but Lance couldn’t care about anything that was happening. He was just so tired.

“Bedroom,” Lance replied. “My phones in there. I need to text the guys, tell them to come later.”

Keith looked nervously at the clock.

“Lance, I hate to break it to you, but it’s almost six. The guys will be here any minute.”

Lance used a lot of his energy to sit up and look Keith in the eye.

“I tell everyone six because if I tell them six, they’ll get here by seven thirty. If I tell them a later time, we wouldn’t start partying until eleven, and then we’d be up all night long,” Lance explained. “I’ll text Hunk and Shiro, they’ll take care of everything.”

“Okay,” Keith said again, his eyes looking everywhere but Lance. “Do you want me to help you, uh, you know, get to the bed?” If Lance had been more coherent, he definitely would have blushed at Keith’s nervousness.

“No, no,” Lance said, leaning away from him a bit more. “I can make it.”

“Okay,” Keith said for the third time, and Lance started to realize the weight of everything that had just occurred. Lance had completely freaked out in front of Keith, which was something he did in front of no one. Ever. He had royally fucked up, and he was going to pay for it somehow. He just knew it.

He pushed back from Keith, his touch suddenly too hot against Lance’s arms, and stood up. When he took a step forward, his legs were trembling too violently for him to move and he stumbled. But Keith was there. Ever since he came into Lance’s life less than a week ago, he always seemed to be there.

And Lance couldn’t have that. He didn’t deserve to have someone save him. He shouldn’t have to depend on anyone else. It made him angry and sad, and as Keith grabbed Lance around the waste and draped Lance’s arm around his shoulders, Lance started to cry, silent tears of frustration, embarrassment, and self-loathing.

All the while, Keith kept murmuring, “You’re okay. I’ve got you. You’re going to be okay.”

When they got to Coran’s bedroom, Keith laid Lance gently down on the bed like he was fragile enough to break.

“Where’s your phone?” Keith asked, not letting go of Lance. The contact felt good to Lance. Too good. He wasn’t worth Keith’s worrying. But he was here, and Lance was selfish. He was always too fucking selfish, and that’s why he ended up where he did. Alone.

“Bedside table,” Lance answered, turning his head into the pillow to hide another fresh wave of tears.

Keith quickly hopped around the bed and retrieved Lance’s phone, moving onto the bed next to him. He reached out and touched Lance’s forehead, moving his short hair off of the side of his face that was visible, Lance still crying silent tears.

“Do you want me to call the guys for you?” Keith asked quietly. No, Lance didn’t want him to. But Lance couldn’t do it right now. He couldn’t do anything, so he nodded his head.

“I’m going to go into the hall and talk to them,” Keith said, still gently brushing his hand back and forth along Lance’s face. “Are you going to be okay for a few minutes?”

Lance did everything he could not to start begging Keith to stay. His selfish brain told him he didn’t want to be alone. But he could handle a few minutes. He would handle a few fucking minutes.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, voice small.

“Okay,” Keith said, moving away from Lance to walk towards the door. He could hear Keith mumbling quietly into the phone, and he realized that this was the first time that Keith was talking to these guys. What were they going to think of Keith, a rando newbie on the team, calling them up to tell them the party is postponed? And what was Keith’s impression of this team, now that he had seen a side to Lance, his captain, that no one was ever supposed to see? Lance had fucked everything up.

He felt his breathing starting to escalate again, and this time he just prayed for the darkness to take him faster so he didn’t have to go through the pain of not being able to breathe. Keith had been gone for so long, maybe he left. It would be better if he left. He wouldn’t have to lay witness to Lance’s worthless bull shit.

“Woah, woah, woah,” Keith said, rushing back into the room at the sound of Lance’s labored breathing. Lance’s vision had already started to dim, and he wasn’t fighting it at all, but when Keith was in his line of sight, something inside Lance exploded, and he was ravenous for human touch.

“Keith,” Lance said urgently, his limbs starting to tremble again. “I don’t know what’s happening to me right now, but I need you to stay close to me. I’m sorry, I know this is probably weird. But please, I can’t control the shakes, I can’t…”

Before Lance could start hyperventilating again, Keith was next to him in bed, his arms wrapped tightly around Lance’s trembling frame.

“Shhhh,” Keith said, running his hand up and down Lance’s back soothingly. “Whatever this is, we will figure it out.”

If this were any other day, Lance would be celebrating the fact that he got Keith into bed. But Keith’s presence was a double edged sword. It was killing him to have Keith doting on him like this, to be there to see Lance’s shameful weakness. His worthlessness. But Lance didn’t know if he could survive whatever he was going through without Keith’s warm hands, his gentle touch, and his ability to keep Lance grounded.

There’s so much that Keith doesn’t know about Lance, and vice versa, but for some reason, it felt like Keith was supposed to be there with Lance, soothing him, helping him, saving him. And at the same time, everything that Lance had tried to build over the last three years was starting to crumble. Every lie, every sacrifice, every night spent without food all suddenly meant nothing. Maybe Lance just meant nothing.

In Keith’s arms, head curling into the crook of his neck, Lance let the feeling of nothingness wash over him and help him drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Dreams were confusing for Lance because most of the time, he knew he was dreaming. But he still experienced everything and witnessed everything like it was real. Each feeling, each touch, each person he saw felt both real and fake to Lance, but he liked knowing that none of it was actually permanent.

But when Lance dreamed that night in Keith’s arms, he was completely incapable of discerning between dream and reality.

It started out as a dream that he had often, one that kept coming back to the surface even as he distanced himself from his family. Lance was walking into his family’s house in the suburbs of New York City. It wasn’t an AWFUL neighborhood, but it wasn’t great either. Safe enough to walk around alone during the day, but definitely not at night. But it was just about dusk when Lance entered home, hand in hand with his “best friend” Matt. It was the night that Lance’s parents volunteered at the church each week, so he knew they wouldn’t be home. Usually, in this dream, when Lance walks into the house, his father is there with a baseball bat, ready to chase him and Matt down the street with it. But this time, when he walks into the house, his mother is at the sink, washing dishes and humming to herself. And his sister is flipping through channels on the couch, completely engrossed in what she’s doing. Lance freezes in his dream, but no one even gives them a second glance, even though he is still hand in hand with Matt. So Lance pulls Matt down and the hall and into his room and starts to kiss Matt passionately, the way a 17 year old boy kisses another boy when he finally gets a taste of bisexuality. But then the house starts to shake. Short bursts of vibration that have Lance pulling back from Matt’s lips sharply to listen closely to the source of the shaking. Then the shakes get louder and faster and Lance hears and feels them getting closer and closer to them, and when he looks back at Matt, he realizes it is no longer Matt’s big blue eyes, but Keith’s dark black ones. And they look scared. Like he knows that something is about to destroy both of them. Then the door opens, a big light comes in, and Lance sees his father’s silhouette outlined by the light, and instead of the usual baseball bat, in his hand, he has a gun.

Lance’s eyes snapped open, just as his father was about to pull the trigger.

Wiping the sweat from his eyes, he was disoriented and strangely hot, like the room had been set at 105 degrees. But when he tried to sit up, he realized he was cradled into a tight, warm body. Keith’s arm was wrapped around his middle as he spooned Lance on Coran’s bed. This was real. Not his dream. Not his dream.

Lance tried not to panic, because this situation was weird. It was weird, right? But even as his heart rate was accelerated from his dream, he felt it ease back down as he realized that he was safe. Keith hadn’t left his side.

Lance didn’t know how to feel about that.

But apparently, Keith was the lightest sleeper in the world, because Keith’s eyes fluttered open from Lance’s minimal movements since waking. Unfortunately, he removed his arm from around Lance’s middle and sat up. Lance felt the loss immediately and tried not to overanalyze why.

“Hey,” Keith said, rubbing his eyes. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m, um,” Lance said, genuinely taking inventory on his mental state. “I’m okay,” he replied, feeling neither sad or scared. Just tired and a little numb.

“That’s good,” Keith said, giving Lance a small smile that he’d wish would never leave Keith’s face. When had Lance started to wish to see Keith’s smile?

“I’m sorry about what happened,” Lance started. He could feel himself starting to ramble. “I didn’t want you to see me like that. It doesn’t happen often and I don’t want you to think that…”

“Okay, woah,” Keith said, interrupting Lance. “I don’t think anything. I don’t know what you think I saw, but all I saw was a person who got a little too overwhelmed about something. And I helped. That’s all.”

Lance looked at him curiously. “That’s all?”

“I think you should talk about whatever it was,” Keith speaking softly, looking sincerely into Lance’s eyes. The genuine concern in his voice and in his look made Lance become strangely interested at the nice design of the bedding. “Because,” Keith continued, grabbing Lance’s chin so he would look at him. “I think that something is wrong, and that I can help you.”

Lance’s teeth clenched.

“You don’t know anything about me,” Lance said, with a kind of awe in his voice.

“I know,” Keith replied, voice even, “But I want to.”

Lance’s eyes grew wide.

“We’re teammates right?”

Teammates. Right.

Even if they were just teammates, Lance couldn’t help the feeling of relief that was starting to wash over him as Keith offered him the only thing that Lance never let himself have. An outlet. And he’d been looking for one. Well, thinking about possibly looking for someone to confide in maybe if he really needed to. And he was starting to think he needed it.

But at the same time. Lance’s heart clenched at the idea of letting someone in on the way he’d been living his life. No furniture in his dorm. Late night jobs, even during baseball season. Less meals eaten than he definitely should have. Especially as an athlete. It dawned on Lance that while he was doing everything in his power to keep it together, he was falling. Faster than he ever thought he would be. He’d been trying so fucking hard to make it on his own. To never let anyone get close enough to hurt him again. But there he was, wanting to let Keith close to him. Wanting to have someone help share his burden. And without Lance’s consent, he knew in his heart that Keith had already started to fill that role. To take on his burden. To just be there for him.

Shame washed over him as he looked deeper into Keith’s eyes.

“What are you afraid of, Lance?” Keith said, obviously reading the emotions coming through Lance’s blue eyes.

Everything. Lance wanted to answer. I’m afraid of everything.

“What about the guys? Aren’t they going to be here soon?” Lance asked quietly, expertly avoiding all the questions that mattered. Keith sighed.

“I told them that we were going to party tomorrow night, since practice doesn’t start until Tuesday,” Keith replied, nonchalantly. But Lance’s eyes grew wide at his statement.

“You do realize that you just canceled what may have been one of the biggest parties of the year? Before you even met all of your teammates?” Lance asked, voice rising a few octaves in small hysteria.

Keith laughed softly at Lance’s antics. “I called Hunk and Shiro, the two guys you talked about before. I told them that you were having a family emergency and couldn’t host the party tonight. I hope that’s alright,” Keith said. Lance’s face paled at Keith’s accuracy when it came to the situation.

“Uh yeah, that’s fine. Uh, thank you, for uh, doing that,” Lance said, ashamed of his weakness.

“Lance, it’s really fine,” Keith started, patting him on the shoulder. “Hunk and Shiro took care of everything. They even texted me to tell me everyone hoped you were okay.” Keith took out his phone and showed Lance the texts.

“You guys exchanged numbers?” Lance asked, looking at Keith like he was some kind of wizard. He could not believe how well Keith kept everything together.

“Well we will be teammates after all,” Keith said, smirking. “Unless it makes you jealous that now you’re not the only one with my number.” Lance’s cheeks turned bright pink.

“No, I’m just shocked you had enough social skills to maneuver this whole situation,” Lance replied, his sass lacking all the vigor it usually had.

“I did what I had to do,” Keith said, shrugging his shoulders.

“I’m sorry I dragged you into it,” Lance said, looking away from Keith. But Keith wasn’t having that. He moved closer into Lance, their knees touching as they both sat pretzel style on the bed. He leaned into Lance, close enough that Lance could smell the warm vanilla scent of Keith’s hair. Lance had no choice but to look at him.

“Lance,” Keith started, “I want to be clear with you about something. You are not dragging me into anything. I see that it’s hard for you to accept help, and I don’t know why that is, but I respect how you’re feeling. We haven’t known each other long, but sometimes it’s easier to open up to people you don’t know. So if you want to, you can talk to me about whatever’s going on.”

“Nothing’s going on,” was Lance’s immediate response, but he heard every word that Keith said, each word seeping into his bones.

“Something is going on, Lance,” Keith said gently. “I want to help you.”

Keith reached over and took one of Lance’s bony hands in his. He brushed his thumb back and forth across Lance’s knuckles, leaving a trace of seared skin behind because each one of Keith’s touches burned more than the last. He couldn’t tell if he was attracted to Keith or just completely overcome by Keith’s kindness and compassion to someone pitiful like Lance. He didn’t deserve it. Lance knew he didn’t deserve it. But he wanted it. He wanted Keith to help him, to keep him from drowning anymore than he already had.

And Lance even surprised himself when he gripped Keith’s hand tight and swallowed hard.

“Okay,” he said to a wide eyed, but smiling Keith. “I need,” he paused, “I think I need help.” Lance’s throat felt like it was closing, but he let the words come out.

“Okay,” Keith said, holding Lance’s hand back just as tight, so he could tell Lance that he was there, and he wasn’t going away. He could tell from Lance’s movements, from his behaviors, that something was extremely amiss. Someone hurt Lance or abandoned him, or something, because people weren’t normally so opposed to others helping them. It looked like it physically hurt Lance to admit that he needed someone. And it hurt Keith to watch, but he knew it would be better for Lance. Something had to get better for this guy. Someone had to be better for him. And for some reason, that person was going to be Keith.

“It’s not easy for me,” Lance said, pulling back his hand and cradling it into his chest. “I’ve never talked about it before. I never told anyone that I needed… help.” He felt his tongue growing heavy in his mouth as he had to keep repeating the word, but he pushed himself to keep talking. “So if I tell you, you can’t tell the guys. Or Coach C, especially not Coach C. This is my burden to bear alone.”

Keith narrowed his eyes at Lance. “No one should have to bear their burdens alone,” he said.

Lance looked into his lap and said, “Well, I do.”

Keith turned his head to the side, like he was confused at Lance’s statement. But Lance wasn’t confused. He had never been more certain of something he’d said in his entire life.

“Why do you have to bear it alone, Lance?” Keith asked, trying to pull answers out of Lance.

And this was it. Lance’s inert reaction was to run away, full speed ahead without looking back. But he forced himself to sit there, weakness and all, before Keith, and spill out the words that he’d only said in his head but never to anyone out loud.

“Because,” he said, spitting the words out like they tasted bad. “I’m worthless, Keith. I’ve always been worthless.”

Lance’s stomach dropped at his admission, and he couldn’t look Keith in the eye. He couldn’t even open his eyes.

“Lance,” Keith said, his voice soft but commanding. “Lance, look at me.”

“I can’t,” Lance replied, voice strained, heart racing. He had done so much he by admitting to someone that he was struggling. He didn’t think he could face anymore than he already had.

“If you can’t look at me, then listen to me. Can you do that?”

Lance nodded his head, pulling his lips tightly together to keep tears that had started to sprout at bay.

“Lance McClain, you are not worthless,” Keith started. “Whoever has made you feel that way is wrong. Dead wrong about you. Even just knowing you for a few days, I can see that you are anything but worthless.”

He wanted to believe Keith, but the words of his father were haunting him, over and over again.

“You’re wrong,” he said to Keith, voice empty. “He’s right about me. I am worthless”
“Who?” Keith asked quietly.

And pictures of the man who had raised Lance danced through his head, each one getting more difficult to see than the next as the man grew older and sicklier in Lance’s vision. He saw him sitting in a hospital bed, belly swollen and eyes dark and vicious, as he looked on at Lance. The man saw Lance for who he was. He always had.

“My father,” Lance said. “Oh god, my fucking father.

Keith had no idea what Lance was saying, but a big wave of pain was washing over Lance, and Keith vowed to stop whatever or whoever was coming after Lance.

But Lance knew no one could stop his father. Once the man wanted something, he was going to get it. Even with death knocking on his door, Lance knew that man wouldn't die until he could see Lance. And as Lanced realized this, every effort Lance had put up so far to resist suddenly meant nothing. No one could stop him, anyway. Certainly not Lance. And definitely not Keith.

Chapter Text

Keith knew he couldn’t get anymore information out of Lance as they sat there in bed. Not with Lance trembling and obviously terrified of something. Or someone.

“Okay,” Keith started.“Maybe we should have a change of scenery. Want to go grab something to eat?”

Lance looked up at Keith, another pang in his heart aching at how Keith knew when to stop pushing Lance. He had done all he could do in that moment. Anymore talking would have caused him to fall deeper into his shell.

“I could eat something,” Lance said, shrugging his shoulders. He felt weird in front of Keith as the mood started to settle. He was embarrassed of his weakness, but he had already opened up to him, so what’s done was done. Yet, Lance didn’t know how to function in his vulnerability. Keith was the only one who had ever witnessed Lance having a breakdown, and he didn’t know how to act.

“It’s pretty late,” Keith said, pulling out his phone and showing Lance the clock. 11:30 pm meant that most restaurants were closed. But Taco Bell wasn’t.

“There’s a Taco Bell a few miles down the road,” Lance said, his voice feeling small in his throat. Keith smiled at Lance’s suggestion.

“Good thing I like questionable taco meat and Doritos Locos Tacos.”

They both stood up, Lance wobbly on his feet, and Keith reached out to steady him.

“Do you want to get changed, Lance? You’ve been sweating in those clothes from all the… everything that’s happened,” Keith said, trying to play it cool.

Lance forced himself to take note of his body and how he felt, and Keith was right, because he felt downright grotesque. His shirt was sticking to him in all the wrong places, and he could feel his skin itching for something dry and fresh.

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” Lance said to Keith. “Let me grab something from Coran’s closet.”

“You don’t have anything of your own?” Keith asked gently.

Lance wanted to lie, but Keith already knew too much to believe it. So he told the truth.

“No,” he said. He hated that it felt good to be honest.

Keith nodded his head at Lance’s admittance, careful to keep his countenance neutral. He sat Lance down on the bed, not trusting him to hold himself up on his own, and leaned down to unzip his bag that was on the floor. Lance was already feeling humiliated.

“I can’t wear your clothes,” he said, eyeing up Keith’s bag with disdain.

“Are you insinuating I have a bad sense of style?” Keith asked in an attempt to keep the mood light.

“No, that’s not it. You have a good sense of style, I just…”

“Wait, did you just give me a sober compliment?” Keith asked, mouth open in mock surprise. Lance blushed a little and laughed. But his face became somber again quickly.

“Lance, listen to me,” Keith said, dropping the bag next to the bed. He walked up to Lance and grabbed his shoulders. Lance involuntarily grabbed onto Keith’s forearms.

“We are just two dudes hanging out, wearing each other’s clothes, and going to eat Taco Bell. Don’t think more into it than that.”

“Sounds a little gay to me, Keith,” Lance said, smiling at Keith’s kindness. He didn’t know how he could stop Lance from spiraling with just a few words.

“Yeah well, everything is a little gay if you asked me,” Keith responded, never breaking his gaze from Lance’s.

“Hold up. You’re gay?” Lance asked, his voice sounding more incredulous than he intended it to. He had his suspicions, but he didn’t think he was actually right.

“You have a problem with that?” Keith asked, his grip tightening on Lance’s shoulders.

“Hell no,” Lance said, a feeling of excitement rising in him. He couldn’t control the giddy feeling pooling in his gut at Keith’s admission of his sexuality. He could feel himself smiling but started coughing to cover it up. “No, it’s cool. That you like dudes. I mean I like dudes too. And girls. I like girls too. But I also like dudes. You know.”

Lance wanted to punch himself in the face.

“You like boys and girls. Noted,” Keith said with a laugh, causing Lance’s face to turn more red than it already was. “Let’s get you changed, and then we can go get some grub.”

Lance let Keith pull him off the bed, and Keith handed him a shirt and sweats. Keith went to leave the room, but Lance felt his breath catch in his throat. And before he knew what he was doing, he grabbed Keith by the arm. Keith turned around and blinked in surprise, and Lance started sputtering.

“I don’t think… I just can’t… I dont…”

“Okay, slow down,” Keith said, rubbing his hands up and down Lance’s arms. Lance leaned into his touch as a feeling of comfort began to wash over him again. He leaned his head onto Keith’s shoulder and sighed, too tired to fight the feelings of needing comfort, of needing someone there.

“I won’t leave you,” Keith said, knowing what Lance needed before he even asked for it. Lance let out the air he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

“I’m sorry,” Lance started to say, but Keith interrupted him.

“It’s okay. Get changed, I’m here.”

As Lance started to realize that he was about the get changed right in front of Keith, he blurted, “Don’t look!”

Keith laughed, but complied and turned around. Lance’s behavior was childish for a 21 year old, but his body was one thing he wasn’t ready to let anyone see. A picture of himself from the last time he’d stood naked in front of a mirror showed in his mind, and he could count a few ribs. He was ashamed of the way he’d let his body become.

Once Lance was sure Keith was turned around, he started getting changed. Peeling off his clothes felt good, and he was glad to get into something fresh, something that he hadn’t wore for a few days at a time. Despite Lance’s height, Keith’s clothes somehow were big and baggy. But they would do.

“Okay, you can turn around now,” Lance said to Keith.

Keith smiled at Lance, noting in his mind that the clothes that should have been tight on someone with Lances frame were strangely big. But now wasn’t the time to say anything about that to Lance. It was time for food.

They got into Keith’s car, and Lance felt another pang of guilt as they drove, already knowing that Keith was going to have to pay for their entire bill, whether he wanted to or not.

“What are you worrying about over there?” Keith asked Lance, reaching over and touching his arm.

Lance could feel the tight way his brow furrowed.

“I don’t have any money to pay for this,” Lance said surprising himself with his honesty. Keith squeezed his arm a little, but played it cool.

“That’s alright, man. Just get me next time.”

Lance grimaced but didn’t respond.

“What is it?” Keith asked, his eyes darting back and forth from Lance to the road.

“I won’t be able to get you next time,” Lance said, his throat constricting.

Keith contemplated how to respond. He could tell Lance was trying his best to open up and be honest, and he didn’t want to mess it up.

“So are you saying we’re never going to hang out again?” Keith asked jokingly. But his giggles faltered at the serious look on Lance’s face.

“I don’t have money to spare,” Lance said vaguely.

“Is there something going on with your family?” Keith asked, and Lance took a sharp breath in and shut his eyes.

“You could say that,” Lance whispered. Keith wanted to reach over and grabbed Lance’s hand, smooth back the wrinkles in his brow, but that wasn’t what Lance needed right then. He could see in the way Lance’s lips trembled that he was on the verge of speaking openly with Keith, and he didn’t want to mess it up.

“Did someone lose their job in your family or something?” Keith asked gently. Lance laughed mirthlessly.

“No,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I wish it would have been that.”

They mimicked each other’s bated breath, neither of them entirely breathing freely in the confines of the car. Lance didn’t know if he would ever be able to breathe normally after talking about this. Keith didn’t want to say anything more, as not to push him. And Lance was thankful because the words were there, poison stuck behind his lips. The fear of Keith leaving him after hearing about his truth had been stopping him, but he was tired of feeling poisoned. Lance needed to do something to start changing his life's course. Fear or no fear, telling Keith was one of the first steps of figuring it all out.

“My family disowned me after they found out I was bisexual,” Lance said, matter of factly and with little emotion. “So I have no money. For almost anything.”

Chapter Text

Keith took a minute to process without judging. He worked hard to quiet all of the red flags and alarms going off in his head. How long had Lance been without his family’s support? How long had he been on his own? Did anyone even know about Lance’s struggles? Did anyone care enough about Lance McClain? His mind was moving too fast for him to monitor how long he’d been silent, and when he finally was ready to respond to Lance, Keith could see him hugging his midsection with tears in his eyes.

“I know my life is a mess, Keith. I know how bad it looks, how bad I look. I understand if it’s too much. I’ve been fine on my own, just bring me back to Corans,” Lance started to blabber because of Keith’s silence.

“Lance,” Keith tried to cut in, but Lance kept on going.

“I know I’m worthless and not worth the trouble. My parents knew that, and usually everyone knows that, but you’ve stuck around longer than most, and I know you probably want to go…”

Keith pulled over the car abruptly, and grabbed Lance’s hands and pulled them to him, forcing Lance to turn towards that cars console and look at Keith. Lance’s eyes were big and round as he looked at Keith with a mixture of shock, sadness, and need.

“Lance, everything you are saying is wrong,” Keith said, forcefully and passionately. Lance just closed his eyes and started to shake his head. “Your family might have decided to take themselves out of your life, but that wasn’t your fault. You can’t help the way you are, Lance. It’s their decision to believe what they believe, and if being attracted to men is that big of a deal to them, then it’s their problem, not yours.”

“Keith, please,” Lance said, as tears started rolling down his face. His voice was miserable and pained.

“Please, what?” Keith asked, gently.

“Please stop,” he whispered. “I used to believe it was their fault. But I was alone, abandoned, and poor. I had lost everything because I was selfish, because I exposed myself to them. I don’t deny it’s a part of who I am, but if I had just kept it a secret until I was on my own two feet, I could have taken care of myself. I could have kept my relationship with my family. So it is my fault Keith, and it hurts knowing that I can never take it back.”

Tears started to come down Lance’s face harder, so Keith pulled him into his shoulder, letting Lance barrel his face in the crook of his neck. He held Lance for a while as he cried, each hiccup of Lance’s breath jolting Keith’s chest. Lance’s pain was so palpable, he could almost feel it himself.

“I’m sorry,” Keith kept whispering into Lance’s hair. “I’m sorry.”

When Lance pulled back, his face red and splotchy, he gave Keith a small smile.

“You know,” Lance started. “Despite who’s fault it is, I wouldn’t have any money either way. So unfortunately, my family problems aren’t even necessarily at the top of my problems list. I hate that I have a problems list.”

“Everybody has a problems list,” Keith said, putting the car back into drive. Once he was pulling back onto the main road, he reached over and grabbed Lance’s hand. Lance let him hold it. “Your problems are just a little bit bigger and harder to handle.”

Lance laughed at the understatement.

“Does Coach C know about all of this, Lance?” Keith eyed him curiously. Lance tightened his hold on Keith’s hand.

“No,” Lance said quietly. “No one knows but you.”

“Well I’m glad you told me,” Keith said. He cautioned forward with his next words. “I feel like it might be a good idea to tell Coach C about your family situation, Lance.”

Lance was shaking his head before Keith even got all the words out. “No.”

“Lance…” Keith admonished, but Lance persevered.

“I’m not ready,” Lance said, feeling his throat constrict at the idea of having to admit his weakness to more people. “Just give me some time. I haven’t even told you all of it yet.”

Keith squeezed his hand, and looked at him quickly as he made the right turn into Taco Bell. Lance’s head may have been foggy, but Lance couldn’t help the flutter of his heart as Keith held tightly onto his hand, like he wasn’t going to let go anytime soon.

And at the same time, Lance felt his stomach grumble so much that it hurt.

“Oh my god, I’m starving,” he said, the words coming out of his mouth before he could filter them. Keith laughed gently, and Lance could have sworn it was just as beautiful as a symphony.

“You can get anything you want,” Keith said, looking him in the eye to ensure Lance that it was really okay.

“Just one thing is fine,” Lance replied automatically, his mouth watering at the sight of the menu.

Keith looked at him like he was crazy. “You don’t come to Taco Bell and order just one thing.”

And then Keith proceeded to order half of the menu. Lance tried to protest, but Keith was already pulling forward towards the window, credit card miraculously in hand.

The bag that the drive through guy handed to them was hot and beginning to get soggy at the bottom, and Lance couldn’t wait to dig through the bag to start eating something. So as Keith was pulling the rest of the way out of the drive through, Lance grabbed whatever was on top, ripped it open, and started devouring it. As soon as Keith pulled over, he began to do the same.

The boys ate together in silence, just the sounds of their crunching keeping them in the same space. Lance, well, Lance was in heaven. He could feel his mind clearing, his body getting more energy, and his mood stabilizing. He always forgot how important it was to eat until he started eating again.

“You look better already,” Keith said, crumbling up his leftovers and tossing them into their self-made garbage bag. Lance couldn’t help his small blush.

“I feel better,” he said, grabbing a drink of soda. “Thanks to you,” he added quietly.

“Don’t thank me,” Keith said, his own cheeks flushing a bit. “Remember, just two dudes, hanging out, eating taco bell.”

“Being gay,” Lance added, smirking at Keith. Keith rolled his eyes.

“We’re gay no matter what we do, Lance,” Keith said. “Didn’t think I had to add it to the list.”

“You ALWAYS have to add it to the list,” Lance said, wagging his finger, admonishing him. “It’s basic being gay 101.”

“Well I guess I’m not very educated in the basics of being gay,” Keith laughed. Lance looked at him curiously.

“Mr. kind, dark, and sexy doesn’t know the first thing about being gay? I find that hard to believe,” Lance said with a wave of his hand.

“While I’ll ignore the part where you called me sexy, no. I don’t have a lot of experience with guys.”

Lance coughed to try to cover his embarrassment at his blatant honesty, but he was also very confused about Keith. Had he just come out? Was he unsure about his sexuality still? Did he have erectile dysfunction? Because those were the only reasons why Lance could think he had not a lot of experience with guys. The way Keith’s long black tendrils framed his face, and the way his smile didn’t come out a lot, but when it did, it was always genuine, and not to mention his completely rocking body. Keith was a total catch. He was kind, caring, compassionate, talented, etc. And as Lance was making this list in his head, he couldn’t help thinking that Keith would be the perfect boyfriend, not just for anyone, but for him.

But Lance couldn’t have a boyfriend. He could barely keep it together emotionally. How could he even think about having someone to kiss, to love, and to love him back, when he wasn’t even ready to love himself? Lance hated that this was his reality, but he wasn’t about to drag Keith so far into it that he would run away. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Lance needed Keith. He had so quickly become his life line, the only person that he could start admitting his entire reality to. So he vowed to himself to keep things platonic between him and Keith. Despite the innate attraction, the mindless flirting, and the obvious need he had for him, Lance would do everything in his power to keep Keith safe from him. And to keep Lance safe from himself.

“We’ll have to fix your guy problem then,” Lance said, laughing awkwardly and looking through the window. “Luckily, I’m the best matchmaker in town. You’ll be falling for some big macho dude before you’re even hitting your first home run this season!”

Keith laughed, and Lance had to consciously tell himself how not cute Keith’s laugh was.

“That’s not really my type,” Keith said.

“Ooh, he has a type. Do tell matchmaker Lance.”

Keith looked at him nervously.

“Well. I, uh…” he mumbled trying to get the words out. “I kind of like skinny guys. Bigger than me, but not like muscle heads. They have to be athletic, and funny, and kind, hopefully have a more outgoing personality than I do. You know.”

Keith put the car back into drive and started driving back to Coran’s house, and Lance did everything not to picture himself as the perfect guy for Keith, even though that’s exactly what he described.

“If I didn’t know any better, it sounded like I am the perfect guy for you,” Lance said, jokingly. “But you forgot, emotionally unstable, poor as fuck, and painfully sarcastic in your description.”

Lance looked at Keith with humor in his eyes, but Keith looked anything but humorous. His eyes were dark, mouth drawn into a thin line.

“Don’t joke about yourself like that,” Keith said, gripping the steering wheel tight. “You’re doing the best you can. Someone is going to come along and love you the way you deserve, Lance.”

He could feel himself heating up at Keith’s words, because the guy just didn’t stop thinking about Lance. Everything he said, everything he’d done in the last few days had been all for Lance’s benefit.

“Someone is going to love you too, Keith,” Lance said, just as emphatically. And he was happy to feel a warm feeling deep down inside of him, that showed Lance that he truly did have feelings of empathy and kindness. He was capable of caring about other people deeply, too. And he was starting to care deeply about Keith. Really deeply.

Keith nodded his head noncommittally at Lance, but didn’t say anything more on the subject. As they were approaching Coach Coran’s driveway, Keith turned to Lance with something akin to fear in his eyes.

“Why are you looking at me like you just killed my puppy?” Lance asked Keith, fear starting to Lace his voice.

Keith reached over and grabbed Lance’s hand, as he put the car into park.

“I’m going to tell you something, but I don’t want you to freakout,” Keith said, calmly, his tone smooth and monotone.

“The fact that you’re telling me not to freak out is freaking me out,” Lance said, the million of possibilities of what was about to happen running through his head. Keith had already called Coach C, his parents had found where they were, Keith was going to leave him. Oh god. Keith was going to leave him.

“Lance, I’m not going to leave you,” Keith said, grabbing Lance’s face, and forcing his chaotic eyes to focus on Keith. Lance must have said that thought out loud. “I’m not going to leave you,” he said again. “Take a deep breath.”

He did.

“Tell me what’s going on,” Lance said to Keith, his voice small.

“Some of your friends are here,” Keith said slowly, gauging Lance’s reaction. “Pidge, Hunk, and Shiro texted me and told me they were coming over to see you. I know it’s late, but they seemed really worried about you so I told them it was okay. I thought maybe it would be good for you… I’m sorry I set it up without asking.”

Lance let out a big breath and one small chuckle. And then his small chuckle turned into full blown laughter. “Oh god, Keith, you really had me going. I thought you were setting me up to talk to Coach C or my parents or something. My friends are no worries.”

Keith’s eyebrows furrowed deeply, but they both got out of the car and started walking towards the door. Lance was happy to see Pidge and the guys, he always felt better when he was around them. He was about to turn and thank Keith for setting it up until he walked into the door.

Pidge, Hunk, and Shiro sat on the couch, all of them with looks of distress on their faces. When they noticed Keith and Lance walk into the living room, they all perked up out of their stupors, but their facial expressions didn’t change. Lance began to feel panic bubble up inside of him, like he was about to be trapped. But Keith grabbed his elbow and led him to sit in the lounge chair across from the couch. Keith sat on the arm next to Lance, letting his arm rest across Lance’s shoulders.

“What is everybody so somber for?” Lance asked, laughing mirthlessly. “Who died?”

“No one died, Lance,” Pidge said, her hands tightening in her lap. “But we’re afraid if we don’t do something, you will.”

Chapter Text

As Lance sat there and looked at his friends’ somber faces, he was affronted with a feeling of being suspended in time. They were here to find out what had happened to Lance and why he was struggling in all aspects of his life, and from the looks on their faces, he could tell that time was up. He couldn’t run from this any longer, but he really fucking wanted to. He was stuck; fighting between the feeling of wanting, no needing, to run away from everyone and everything, and the feeling of surrendering. Surrendering to his friends, to the life he no longer could control on his own. But it was all happening too fast for Lance. He wanted everything to be revealed on his own terms, to keep his life from turning upside down the way it had, but Lance didn’t know what would happen if he had kept on living his life the way he did before. The way he did before Keith had noticed something was off and never left his side.

“We are afraid for you, Lance,” Pidge said, breaking Lance from his thoughts. His legs were bouncing in the chair he was in in Coran’s living room. His hands gripped the arms of the chair so tight his knuckles were white. Lance had to keep his anchored to the chair, or else he feared he would get up and run for the hills. He also didn’t miss the heavy weight of Keith’s arms across his shoulders, not holding him down, but trying to steady him as they sat before his friends.

“Keith told you it was a family emergency, didn’t he?” He looked at Keith with questioning eyes.

“I did,” Keith said, letting his arm rest a little heavier against Lance’s shoulders.

“He did,” repeated Hunk, who was seated next to Shiro on a loveseat. He looked jolly, and very much like the teddy bear that he is, but his eyes were deep seated with worry, and even though he was smiling, it was sad and concerned. “So me, Pidge, and Shiro got together to see if there was anything you needed, and we decided to go to your dorm to grab you some extra clothes because we knew you were staying at Coach C’s…”

All the color flushed from Lance’s face.

“Oh god,” he said, doubling over.

“And when we asked the doorman for your room number, he said that he had no record of you living there,” Shiro completed Hunks thought through tight lips.

Keith’s hand, which had been rubbing absent circles back and forth on Lance’s back, stilled.

“When I dropped you off that day…” Keith said, his brain not yet fully registering Shiro’s statement. “Jesus. Lance, where have you been living?”

Lance shook his head. He couldn’t speak, even if he wanted to. Which he didn’t. Besides, looking at Pidge, Hunk, and Shiro, he could tell there was more to be said.

“We called Coach C,” Hunk started, and Lance audibly groaned in protest. “I’m sorry buddy, but we were freaked out. How many times had we dropped you off there and watched you walk through the doors?”

“He pulled out your paperwork and gave us the address that you had put on it. He never even thought twice about questioning it. He was upset, saying that he was coming back to town immediately, but we convinced him we would investigate and call him back tomorrow. So you don’t have to worry about him right now,” Shiro added, trying to help soothe Lance, even though it was looking impossible, judging by the way he held his head in his hands.

“Lance,” Pidge said, sitting forward in her seat, her voice rising to an angry level. “How could you be living in that place? It’s so far from school and its in the worst neighborhood in the city where the university practically tells us not to live. We’ve all been trying not to jump to farfetched conclusions, but we all agree that something is going on that is bigger than what you can handle.”

“We’re not trying to overwhelm you,” Hunk added gently, shooting Pidge a look that said, control your tone. He reached across the coffee table that separated them to touch Lance on the shoulder, but he jumped back from the touch.

“I’m sorry,” Lance said, lifting his head and giving Hunk what he hoped was a sincere look. “I know all of this looks bad and sounds even worse, but I just… I, um…”

“What Lance is trying to say,” Keith jumped in, putting his arm tightly around Lance’s shoulder and pulling him into his side. “Is that there’s a lot of things going on in his life right now that he’s having trouble managing.”

Pidge looked up at Keith with annoyance. “Are you Lance’s spokesperson now?”

“Pidge,” Hunk admonished, but she didn’t back down.

“No! Lance, you are my best friend. And to hear that you’ve been lying to me? That you can’t trust me with whatever is going on? It’s like I don’t even know who you are. And I want to help you, I do, but something has got to give, Lance,” she said, in what felt like all one breath.

Everyone was silent, waiting to see what Lance would do. Keith held onto him tightly, almost as if he was afraid Lance would run. But Pidge’s words had seeped into his bones, and he felt so out of touch with himself, he was starting to see and hear this entire conversation like he was out of his body. As if he were one of his friends, watching himself fall apart right before his eyes.

“You’re right, Pidge,” Lance said, breaking the silence that had settled over the room. “I have been lying and struggling, but not for the reasons that you think. Not because I don’t trust you, or any of you.” He looked each of them earnestly in the eye. “Everything that’s going on has an explanation, but it’s not easy to talk about and I’ve always tried to deal with things on my own, you know that Pidge.”

“But not to this extent, Lance! If all of this has you lying and struggling to the point where you are losing significant amounts of weight, you have to reach out. You have to,” Pidge said, her voice getting small and watery at the end.

If there was one thing Lance couldn’t handle, it was seeing his friend cry at his expense. Everything that he’d been doing the last few months had all been selfish and fearful, and knowing that he’d hurt others by hurting himself, well that was the worst guilt Lance could feel. His selfish streak struck again, and he didn’t know how to fix this for Pidge. For any of them.

“I know,” Lance said, doing the only thing he could do and getting up and wrapping his arms around Pidge. “I’m sorry. Please don’t cry.”

They were all hushed as Lance comforted Pidge, and he tried so hard to let her feel that they were safe. That Lance was safe. He couldn’t imagine being on the other end of all of his lies. He had created a shadow of a life that he let everyone believe. He could feel the anger towards himself rushing to the surface, but he tried to swallow it down and face his friends head on.

“Don’t be mad at Keith,” Lance said, pulling back from Pidge to look her in the eye. “Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know all that well. I didn’t keep this from you on purpose, I swear.” He looked her earnestly in the eye, and she nodded in concession.

“We’re just glad to see that you have been in Keith’s capable hands,” Hunk said, getting up and clopping Keith on the shoulder. “Thank you for taking care of him.”

Lance looked at Keith’s face with adoration and so much thanks, but Keith shrugged away from Hunk’s touch and looked at the floor.

“Don’t thank me,” Keith said. “I’m just doing what any of you would have done for Lance.”

“And that means a lot,” Shiro said, giving Keith a grateful look. Keith stuck his hands in his pockets and nodded his head, avoiding all of their eyes.

“I think it’s late, and everyone could use some sleep,” Shiro continued, looking around at everyone in the room. Lance couldn’t agree more. He could feel his body fighting just to stand up straight. Everything that had happened in the last 24 hours had completely drained him.

“But we’re not done here, Lance,” Pidge said, pulling away from his embrace. “We are going to talk about this more in the morning, because we have to talk to Coach Coran. We have to figure something out.”

“I know,” Lance said, feeling anxiety build in his belly. He felt his cheeks start to get flush, picturing himself admitting to Coach C all of the lies he told him. How would the man ever trust him again?

And just as Lance’s feelings started to drown him, Keith was there, hand on his lower back, sending calming energy to his body.

“Come back tomorrow. We can all have breakfast and we can talk,” Keith said to Pidge.

“Is that what you want to do, Lance?” Pidge said, blatantly not looking Keith in the eye. She couldn’t help feeling hurt by the new guy’s presence in Lance’s life, and from the looks of their body language and the way Lance relaxed when he was near, they had gotten close. Quickly.

Lance looked from Keith to Pidge and sighed. “That sounds fine,” he said tiredly.

“And you’re going to stay here with him?” She said to Lance, trying to keep her voice level.

“I’m not going to leave him,” Keith said, before Lance could respond. “Um, if that’s what you want Lance,” he added in quickly after.

Lance couldn’t help but give a small smile to Keith.

“I’ll be okay, Pidge,” Lance said. “I’ll stay here with Keith.”

“Well you’re sure as hell not going back to that shithole apartment,” she said through gritted teeth.

Hunk came up and clasped Pidge on the shoulders. “And on that note, we bid you two gentlemen good night,” Hunk said in a sing song voice, making both of the guys laugh.

“Lance,” Hunk said over his shoulder as he ushered Pidge towards the front door. “I’m glad you’re okay. We’re going to figure all of this out, so try not to worry. You’re not alone anymore.”

Lance felt his heart swell in his chest.

“Thanks, Hunk.”

The three of them left, and Lance couldn’t help but sag against Keith, who was still standing next to him. Keith’s arm wrapped around Lance’s waist tightly.

“I am so sorry,” Keith said, rushedly, like he couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “I didn’t think they were going to do that. I didn’t know I was setting you up for an intervention. If I had known, I never would have…”

“Keith,” Lance said breathily, like he was already drifting off to sleep. “It’s okay. Really. It’s okay.”

Lance pushed back from Keith's hold and looked him in the eye.

“If it hadn’t been for you, who knows what I would have done. Or what would have happened to me tonight,” Lance said, shuddering at all of the horrible outcomes tonight could have had. “But you were there, Keith. And I’m okay. That’s all thanks to you.”

Keith tried to look away from Lance, but Lance wasn’t having it. He grabbed Keith’s chin and made him look at him. “Thank you for helping me,” he said, quietly, just for the two of them. Keith’s eyes were dark and shining, and Lance could feel warmth pooling in his belly, but he pushed it away. This couldn’t get romantic. He wouldn’t let it.

He begrudgingly let Keith’s chin go and he backed away from him. Not a lot, just enough to let both of them breathe.

Keith finally looked him in the eye. “Do you want to go to bed?” he asked gently.

Lance tried not to let his cheeks flare red as he nodded. There was nothing more he wanted than to actually go to bed with Keith. But he had to keep reminding himself that Keith was only here to help him through this night. And it surprised Lance that he was even comfortable thinking about Keith as his go to person for help. But in just a few days, he had come to realize he needed Keith, and the fear of coming dependent on him still weighed in the back of his mind. But Lance was exhausted and his body, which had been unnoticeably trembling for a while, desperately needed sleep.

“Okay, let’s get you to bed,” Keith said, watching the way Lance took a shaky step towards the bedroom. He grabbed Lance by the upper arm and draped it over Keith’s shoulders so he could help him get to the room. Lance’s brain was too tired to fight the irresistible safe feeling that washed through him.

Keith laid him down softly on the bed, helping Lance swing his feet up and over. Lance couldn’t even believe the total exhaustion that had come over him. He thought that he should be worried, considering all the emotional trauma he knew was going to come next, but as he looked up at Keith, who was looking down at him with kindness and concern, any anxious thoughts floated away.

“Do you want me to go sleep on the couch?” Keith asked, standing up and taking a step back from the bed.

Lance knew Keith probably needed some space, that he probably needed to get away from Lance a little. But every fiber in his being needed to be near Keith. He wasn’t ready to let go of him yet, because he knew the minute Keith left him, Lance would be on his own again, facing all of the things that had caused him to breakdown in the first place.

“Just one night,” Lance said, mumbling through half lidded eyes.

“Huh?” Keith said, leaning closer to hear him.

“Stay,” Lance said, forcing the words to come clearly out of his tired lips. “Just for one night. I’ll be fine tomorrow. But just for tonight…”

Keith nodded his head, walked around to the other side of the bed, and gingerly got on, as not to disturb Lance in the slightest. He couldn’t believe that Keith just dropped everything to help him. Lance rolled over and looked at him, mist in his eyes at the thought of how much kindness he made Keith give him.

“I’m sorry,” Lance said, as Keith turned over to the bedside lamp and turned off the light.

Keith laid down next to him, and Lance could see clear strips of moonlight coming through the blinds, decorating Keith’s face with golden lines. He wanted to reach out and touch them, but he kept his hands curled up against his chest.

“Don’t be sorry,” Keith said, settling into the pillows. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be.”

“I’m still sorry.”

Keith sighed.

“Let’s go to sleep,” he said, his voice dropping to a whisper. “You can be sorry all you want, but I’ll still be here. And I am not sorry to be.”

Lance couldn’t help the grin that appeared on his face. He tried to let go of all the things that had happened tonight, but it was hard, as his mind made him re-watch each horrifying moment of weakness and shame. It was hard to recount on those moments, but he was grateful Keith was there. So grateful. And as sleep inevitably made him close his eyes, he tried with all of his might to hold on to the image of Keith laying across from him and looking at him through the darkness. He feared of everything that was going to come next for him; everything he’d have to face. But maybe if he could remember Keith’s face, just like that, he would be okay. Maybe everything would be okay.

Chapter Text

When Lance woke up the next morning, Keith was still there next to him. Just like he’d promised.

Lance wanted to feel elated, and he could feel the joy rising from his stomach and longing to spread to his entire body, but he held it back. As he looked on at Keith’s sleeping form, he didn’t want to get his hopes up. Who knew what Keith was thinking? Maybe he’d wake up and realize that none of this was worth it, that Lance wasn’t worth it. But he’s still here , Lance told himself. And that means something.

He was surprised that he was feeling pretty okay as he sat up slowly and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. His chest ached a little, probably from all the hyperventilating and crying he did yesterday, but other than that, he was feeling energized and full, for the first time in a long time.

Lance didn’t want to wake Keith, so he slipped out of bed as silently as he could and tiptoed quietly into the kitchen. He was shocked to see that it was 11 a.m., but they did go to sleep late last night because of the little intervention his friends had with him. Lance tried not to let the shame of that moment ruin the first bit of stableness he found in a while.

Since there was an entire fridge filled with food and two athletic boys in their twenties, Lance decided that it would be in their best interests to eat a ginormous breakfast. Lance had always enjoyed cooking. Albeit he wasn’t very good at it - that was Hunk’s forte. But Lance could whip up some eggs and pancakes just as good as the next guy. So off to work he went.

He’d gotten lost in cooking, remembering all of the times he’d cooked breakfast with his Mama, and all the times he’d gathered around the table with his siblings and his father and said Grace. They were good memories, all before everything had gone to shit. And he tried not to let that get to him as he cooked and fried and whisked. He was so into what he was doing, but didn’t even notice Keith run into the room until Keith’s hands were on him.

“God, you scared the shit out of me,” Keith said, turning Lance away from the stove and running his hands all over him like he was checking that he was real.

“I’m sorry, how did I scare you? I’ve just been in here cooking. Breakfast. For YOU,” Lance said and squinted his eyes at Keith.

Keith let out a long sigh.

“I woke up and you weren’t there...” he said, leaving the rest of his sentence to be inferred. Keith thought Lance had left, or disappeared, or tried to hurt himself, or something. Guilt came over Lance so suddenly that he had to grab onto Keith.

“I wouldn’t just leave, Keith,” he said, his voice quiet against the sizzling of the eggs on the stove.

“Even knowing that there’s a butt ton of shit we’re going to have to deal with today?” Keith said, raising his eyebrows. “We’ve got to talk to Coach C, talk with Hunk, Pidge, and Shiro, and THEN have a party with the entire baseball team…”

Lance whacked Keith’s forearm.

“Don’t remind me. Maybe I should have left…” Lance said, smirking as he saw Keith’s eyebrows draw together. “Just kidding, if I had left I wouldn’t have been able to eat all this!”

Even though Lance had meant to make a joke, the truth of that statement made both of them swallow uncomfortably.

“Well now,” Lance said, turning back to the stove and finishing up what he was doing, “Why don’t you sit right there at the island and let me show you what you’ve got coming up for course 1?”

Keith sat down, showing Lance that tiny smile that made his insides want to melt.

“Are you always this chipper after a day of pure angst?” Keith said. Lance rolled his eyes.

“Keep up the sass, Mullet, and you will be making your own food!” Lance said.

“Well who’s going to eat all of that then?” Keith said, pointing to the mountain of pancakes and eggs Lance had prepared.

“You and I both know I could eat all of this food without even breaking a sweat,” Lance said, his eyes mischievous.

“Is that a challenge?” Keith asked, something like fire showing in his eyes.

“No, dummy. It’s a threat. Now,” Lance said, putting a plate in front of Keith filled with food, “Be a good little Mullet and eat your breakfast.”

“I do not have a mullet…” Keith grumbled as he picked up his fork and started eating.

The boys sat there enjoying the silence while they munched on their breakfast. Lance was feeling relatively happy, and even though he knew his day was going to be filled with explanations and apologies and problem solving, he was just glad that he could have this moment alone with Keith where he could pretend like everything was normal. Like maybe they had slept together last night for real and he had cooked Keith breakfast just because he wanted to. Not because Keith had been there to help him through a crisis.

Lance shook his head at the thought, chastising himself for even thinking about Keith that way. Keith was here as a friend and Lance couldn’t even start to think about giving Keith the kind of relationship he deserved. But it was all so frustrating.

“What are you shaking your head about?” Keith asked, quietly munching on a piece of toast.

Lance stilled and contemplated whether he should tell Keith the truth or not. Would it make things awkward? If Keith was going to help him, didn’t he have to be 100% honest with Keith about everything?

“I just feel bad,” Lance decided to say, leaving his statement open to interpretation.

“Feel bad about what?” Keith asked, looking at him with surprisingly open and curious eyes.

“I just…” Lance paused, unsure of what to say next. What did he feel bad about? Wanting to bone Keith? Or wanting to bone Keith and knowing that it would 100% ruin Keith’s entire world if he let that happen?

“Lance,” Keith said, reaching up and grabbing his chin so they were looking at each other. Keith’s eyes showed an honest man. A man that Lance didn’t deserve.

“I feel bad about getting everyone involved, I guess,” Lance decided to say. Keith looked at him questioningly, and Lance added, “Especially you.”

“Lance I told you last night I don’t…”

“I know,” Lance said, interrupting him. “I know you said you don’t mind being here. But I’m a lot and I’m nervous that today might be a lot as we talk to Coach C and my friends and I just don’t want you to feel overwhelmed or resent me and I definitely don’t want you to feel obligated to stay through all of this. I’m feeling better now and stronger and I think I can handle--”

Keith hand put his entire hand over Lance’s mouth to stop him from talking.

“You really talk a lot when you’re nervous,” Keith said, smirking at Lance’s wide eyes. “I’m not going anywhere and it’s my choice whether to stay or go. I’m choosing to stay. You are not making me to do anything I don’t want to do, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Nod if you understand me.”

Lance nodded.

“I’m going to take my hand off your mouth now. Think you can handle it?” Keith asked, laughing a little.

Lance nodded again and Keith released him.

“Jeez, you are handsy Kogane,” Lance said, rubbing the skin around his mouth. But he was smiling and so was Keith. Maybe, just maybe, Lance could make it through today without having a meltdown.

Then Lance’s phone started ringing.

He had brought it in from the bedroom and he stared at it where it lied on the countertop next to the stove. He made no move to pick it up.

“Are you going to get that?” Keith asked him through a mouthful of toast.

Lance wanted to pick up the phone, but he was paralyzed. The thoughts of his phone call with his mom came rushing back to him and he was frozen in place.

“Keith,” Lance said, as his lips seemed to be the only thing on his body that worked. “Can you…”

“I’m on it,” Keith said, rising from his seat and swiftly grabbing the phone. “It’s Coach Coran.”

Lance wanted to be relieved that it was just Coach C, but his body was already on high alert and he couldn’t get it to come down. He’d never remembered having any types of reactions like these before in his life. Lance had always been strong and independent and had no time for all the bull shit emotions that were coursing through his veins. But he couldn’t control it, and it made him angry and scared that this panicked state was going to become permanent for him.

“Do you want me to answer?” Keith said, raising his eyebrows at him.

Lance managed to nod his head.

He heard Keith answer the phone, but everything they talked about was muddled, like he was hearing it while he had headphones in. Lance tried to focus on something, anything to help him get grounded back into the present, but his entire body was tight and his breath was stuck in his lungs refusing to come out. It wasn’t until he felt Keith’s hand on his shoulder that he was able to exhale.

“Hold on, Coach C,” Keith said, putting the phone down on the counter and grabbing both of Lance’s shoulders.

“Lance,” Keith said, his voice low and calm. “Everything is fine. Just breathe, okay?” He demonstrated a deep inhale and exhale and made Lance follow him. After a few rounds, Lane nodded his head at Keith to let him know he was with him.

“Coach C just wants to talk to you, Lance,” Keith promised. “He’s not going to drop any bombs on you or accuse you of anything.”

Lance could feel the panic coming back up his throat.

“Hey hey hey,” Keith said, grabbing Lance’s hand and pulling it away from where he had begun to scratch at his throat. “You can do this. He just wants to know how you’re doing. And you are safe right here with me.”

Keith picked up the phone and put it into Lance’s hand. Lance looked at it, took a deep breath, and prayed to the Gods that Coach C would forgive him for all of the lies he’s told him. He trusted Keith, he knew Keith wouldn’t lead him wrong. So he brought the phone to his ear.

“Hi Coach C,” he managed to say.

“Lance,” he said, Lance’s chest hurting at the heartbroken tone of his voice. “How are you? You’re okay? At my place? The other’s called me last night and I was just in a panic about everything.”

“I’m sorry, Coach,” Lance said, voice small. Keith squeezed his shoulder tightly. Lance searched for Keith’s hand, and he found it.

“Lance, I don’t want you to be sorry,” he said, sounding sincere. But he had no idea how sorry Lance was. He had pushed away anyone who wanted to help him. He’d held everyone who possibly cared about him at arm's length because he didn’t want to give them the chance to leave him, just like his family had left him. But he should have trusted Coach C. He should have trusted someone before it had gotten to this point.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you,” Lance said, his throat constricting at the admission.

“Oh no, my boy, don’t apologize,” Coran said, his eyes tearing at the broken sound of Lance’s voice. “I should have known that there was something going on with you. I had my suspicions, but you’ve always been so strong and independent I thought you could handle it on your own. So do not apologize to me. I am so sorry for failing you, as both your coach and someone who cares deeply about you, Lance.”

Lance couldn’t help but let out a little sob. Keith tightened his grip on Lance’s hand.

“Things are going to be different from now on, Lance,” Coach C started, his voice thick with emotion. “We don’t have to figure everything out right this second, but when I come back from my weekend away, we are going to make some big changes in how you are living your life both inside and outside of sports.”
Lance could feel his hands start to sweat.

“But Coach, I don’t have any money to make any kind of changes right now,” Lance said, honestly. “And I don’t want you doing me any favors. I won’t take your money.” Lance was firm on that. He wasn’t taking any charity from anyone. He would rather live in a box on the street.

“It won’t be my money, my boy! It will be the school’s money. There’s some leftover scholarship money that I think has your name on it…” Coach C said, laughing.

“Coach C, I can’t ask you to do that,” Lance said, his voice firm.

“You’re not asking, Lance. The school is giving. I’m calling it ‘The Captain’s Grant’. What do you think of that?”

Lance couldn’t help but smile at Coran’s jubilation.

“I think it sounds like it will make my life 6,000 times easier than it is right now,” Lance said, a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding releasing from his lungs.

“And that’s what it’s for,” Coach C said. “And Lance,” he started, and then paused for a minute. Lance could hear the emotion Coach C was fighting through. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on in your personal life, but whatever it is, we are going to figure it out. I will do whatever you need to make sure you are well and happy. Baseball be damned.”

Lance couldn’t help the tears that came to his eyes.

“Thank you, Coach C. Thank you.”

They both paused to take some sniffly breaths.

“Well now, when I get back, we can get more into that. But in the meantime, I want you and Keith to stay at my place until I get back. You are not to go back to that god forsaken apartment of yours in the middle of the worst part of the city. Is that understood?” Coach Coran asked sternly.

Lance wanted to argue, but he didn’t have the heart to go against this man who wanted to give him everything.

“I understand,” he said, a small smile on his face.

“Good, good,” Coach C said, his usual chipper tone returning. “I will figure out housing for you, so don’t worry about that. Now, let me talk to Keith before we hang up. There’s a few things I want to talk to him about.”

“Okay,” Lance said, nodding his head in acquiescence. Coach C was going to do everything in his power to make sure Lance was safe, and he didn’t have a choice about it if he wanted to keep playing baseball. So he let Coach C give him this kindness. It felt nice to accept some form of kindness. “Thank you again, Coach. Really.”

“It’s my pleasure, my boy. You are so deserving of all of it.”

Lance wanted to feel like that was true.

He handed over the phone to Keith, who took it without hesitation. He watched Keith listen to a few things Coach C had to say, and he nodded his head every few seconds. When Keith finally hung up, he lowered the phone onto the table and looked at Lance.

“That didn’t seem like such a bad conversation,” Keith noted.

“No it was good,” Lance said, sounding surprised. “I thought he was going to be angry at me.”

“No one is angry at you, Lance,” Keith said, reaching out and moving a piece of hair from his face. “Everyone on the team, me included, cares about you. They need you to be safe and protected and well. And you need that for yourself. All the other stuff, we will figure out. Your family stuff can wait for now. But you, you cannot wait. You are our number one priority.”

Lance opened his mouth in astonishment at Keith’s admittance.

“Coach C must have bribed you to say all of that nice stuff. I think that’s the most I’ve heard you talk since we’ve met, Mullet,” Lance said, trying to take the seriousness out of the moment. It was too much for Lance to hear Keith say all of those things. He didn’t know if he could keep holding back if Keith kept saying such nice things to him. But Keith wasn’t having Lance’s avoidance. He was going to make Lance see that he was deserving of some much more than he was letting himself get.

“No one bribed me, Lance. All I’m saying is what I’m thinking. And what I’m thinking is that there is a person in front of me who has been wronged by too many people, and he doesn’t need to be wronged anymore.” Keith’s words were passionate and fiery and so honest, Lance could feel them breaking down a wall that had formed around his heart. And he felt such a sudden burst of freedom that his body moved without thinking. His hands moved to Keith’s hair, and his chest brushed up against Keith’s so quickly that it made him gasp. Lance could feel Keith’s surprised breath on his lips as he moved closer and closer until he covered Keith’s mouth with his own.

Chapter Text

Kissing Keith was the equivalent to finding peace. What should have been a kiss that was fire and forbidden and dangerous, was calm, serene, and everything Lance needed but never received in his lifetime. Lance may have surprised Keith, but Keith didn’t push him away. He kissed Lance back with soft, gentle lips that went beyond friends, beyond lovers, beyond relationships. This kiss was one soul transferring light to another.

When Lance reluctantly pulled away, his eyelids fluttered open, and he could have sworn Keith was wrapped up in a beautiful white light.

But when he really looked at Keith’s face, he felt his stomach sink.

Keith was looking at him, but it was with a countenance that Lance hadn’t seen from him yet. He’d seen angry, he’d seen passionate, he’d seen bashful and sarcastic and sincere, but he hadn’t see anything like the blank, passive look Keith was giving him. Lance couldn’t understand how something that felt so good could make Keith look like that.

“I’m sorry,” Lance said, stepping back, moving away from Keith.

Keith’s eyes opened wide like he realized what his reaction meant to Lance. It meant pain, and suffering, and another person saying “I don’t want you”.

“Lance,” Keith started, but Lance shook his head vehemently.

“No, Keith, please don’t say anything. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have kissed you. I was just so caught up in the moment and you were being so nice to me and I know I shouldn’t have kissed you, but my body moved on it’s own and I’m…” Lance knew he was spiraling, but he couldn’t stop the move of his mouth, and he was backing up with every word, farther away from Keith, from the world, from everything.

When Lance’s back hit the wall next to Coran’s bedroom door, he quickly turned into the room and tried to shut the door. He’d do anything to get away from Keith, the inevitability that he had messed up yet another good thing in his life by being selfish.

But Keith was there, his hand holding open the door, a determined look on his face. Lance didn’t know what that meant.

“Lance,” Keith said harshly, loudly, making Lance stop his incessant babbling. Lance backed away from the door and sat on the bed, hesitating to meet Keith’s eyes.

“Lance,” Keith said again, but this time his voice was softer, gentler, more like the Keith he’d begun to see.

“I’m sorry,” Lance said again. “I know I crossed a line.”

Keith didn’t say anything, but Lance could hear his footsteps as he approached the bed, and Lance could feel the calming essence of Keith’s presence as he got closer and closer, until he was sitting on the bed next to Lance, trying to get into Lance’s line of sight. But Lance’s eyes were glued to the floor.

“You crossed a line,” Keith said, and Lance’s stomach dropped at the confirmation that he’d done another thing wrong. But as Lance was about to push up off the bed and go anywhere but there, Keith grabbed his wrist, gently bringing him back to their small space.

“You crossed a line,” Keith said again, but he continued. “But maybe… it was a line I wanted you to cross.”

At that, Lance looked up mouth gaping, eyes wide, like he couldn’t believe the words that came out of Keith’s mouth.

“Now I’m not saying we’re jumping into a relationship here,” Keith said, grabbing Lance’s chin and pulling it closer to Keith’s gaze. “But there’s something here, Lance. Neither you or I can deny this connection we have. And it’s not because of all the shit you’re going through right now. I like you Lance. You’re funny, and do everything you can to be independent and strong. I want to help you, and I think I can. But I don’t want you to think that this,” Keith made a motion between them, “this chemistry, is just because you need a little bit of saving. It’s more than that.”

Lance was speechless.

“Well, now you’re making me nervous,” Keith said, laughing a little. “I had yet to see you not have something to say.”

But there were so many things Lance wanted to say. Like how could Keith possibly think of Lance that way, like there was anything Lance could possibly give to Keith that was positive. Keith was being too generous, too kind, too everything, and Lance wasn’t in a place to give that back to him.

But Lance was melting under Keith’s words and the true sincerity of them. Lance knew, deep in his soul, that there was something between them beyond his current situation. Yet, he didn’t know if this was the way all of this should start. Lance wanted to be good for Keith, better for Keith, not a source of stress. How could Keith possibly be okay with Lance kissing him when he was in this state of mind?

“Stop thinking,” Keith said, moving their foreheads together, like he could connect their minds and calm Lance’s unending stream of negative thoughts. “This is a good thing, Lance. What we have is good.”

“Is it good for me, or for you?” Lance asked, his voice small, breathless, his eyes drifting to Keith’s lips.

“It will be good for both of us,” Keith said, his breath hitting Lance’s mouth. “I want to help you. Be there for you. In anyway that I can.”

Lance leaned forward and brushed his lips tentatively over Keith’s before pulling back.

“Even in this way?” Lance asked, his voice quivering with both nervousness and need.

Keith pulled Lance’s forehead back to his, looking deep into his eyes.

“Especially, in this way.”

Keith pressed his lips to Lance’s again, and this time neither of them pulled away.

When they finally broke apart from their makeout session, they lied in Coran’s bed, Lance buried into Keith’s neck and Keith stroking the tousled brown hair on the nape of Lance’s neck.

Lance couldn’t help thinking that after one makeout session that he was entirely, and gloriously fucked when it came to Keith Kogane.

“Are you even real?” Lance asked in his comfortable Keith-filled bliss.

Lance could hear the rumble of Keith’s laughter in his chest.

“I am very real,” Keith said, continuing the stroke of his hand in Lance’s hair.

“What are we going to say to the guys? About my… situation? About us?” Lance asked, his voice tiny and nervous. Lance was sounding really tiny and nervous lately, and he didn't like it.

“Well,” Keith started, sitting up so he could face Lance. “It depends on what you want to do. I don’t know any of the guys on the team, so it’s up to you how you want to proceed, Captain.” Keith winked at him and Lance swooned.

“I never want to leave this bed,” Lance answered, his voice serious. “We never have to deal with other people if we just stay here and I just keep kissing you.”

Keith smiled, but his face grew serious again.

“We do have to face other people,” Keith said, checking the clock on the nightstand. “Your friends are going to be here soon to talk about everything more, and then we have all of the team coming over to party. So.. it is important that we have this conversation. I have a feeling a team relationship isn’t going to go over very well.”

Lance pondered that for a minute.

“It’s happened before, where some of the guys hooked up. It was never a big deal as long as it didn’t affect practice or games. But it hasn’t happened where it was the captain and someone else. It seems almost like abuse of power.”

Keith nodded his head thoughtfully.

“But” Keith jumped in, “We’re not jumping into a relationship. Just two dudes. Hanging out. Helping each other out.”

“Making out,” Lance added. Keith laughed, and Lance smiled. Keith’s laugh was like medicine for his soul.

“You’re not going to take advantage of me or put me above the rest of the team just because you like to kiss me sometimes,” Keith said, bringing the moment back to seriousness. “Right?”

“I could never,” Lance confirmed. He couldn’t even dream about putting Keith, or ANYONE on the team, above another team member. Team is family. Everyone gets treated the same.

“Then everything will be okay,” Keith said, smoothing the hair down on Lance’s head. Lance couldn’t help the way he leaned into Keith’s touch. “Let’s keep it to ourselves for now, until we get you back on your feet and we get our feet wet again with baseball.”

With Keith’s words, Lance felt a woosh of stress leave his lungs. That was one out of 6,000 problems Lance didn’t have to worry about. For now, he just had to keep breathing and everything else would unfold.

Chapter Text

When Pidge, Hunk, and Shiro came over later that morning, Lance was feeling better than he had felt in weeks. His belly felt full, and his eyes felt clear, like he could finally see some kind of light on the horizon, feel some kind of hope filling his lungs. He didn’t want to bring himself down, so they talked just briefly about his situation with his family, him giving them a short gist of how he was outcasted by them because of his sexuality, but because he wanted to avoid their sympathetic gazes, most of what they discussed was about what they were going to do moving forward regarding Lance’s living situation. Coach Coran had made it seem like everything was going to be okay. And because of his friends support, Lance actually felt like that would be true. So they hung out for a bit and started to get ready for the party. Hunk, Shiro, and Keith left to go get food, and Lance and Pidge stayed behind to set the place up and get ready for a party with 25 college baseball players.

“Isn’t it weird that you’re the only girl that’s going to be at this party, Pidge?”

“Lance, I’m always the only girl at this party, since you know, I am the team’s manager.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know you like flexing your manager muscles.”

“Someone has to be sensible and keep an eye on you clowns,” she said, giving Lance the stink eye.

“I feel like you’re thinking of someone in particular when you say ‘you clowns.’”

“And what would make you think that?” She pondered sarcastically, narrowing her eyes even more.

“All right all right sheesh I get it, I know I am a clown!” he said, throwing up his hands laughing.

Pidge laughed too, but her eyes got this far away look before she looks back at Lance.

“Are you going to be okay tonight? You’re not going to drink too much are you?” she asked gently, her voice small and caring. Lance felt bad that she even had to ask him that.

“Pidge,” Lance chided, going over to drape his arm around her shoulder. “I am going to be fine, you don’t have to worry about me.”

She scoffed quietly at his words and moved out of his grasp to look at him.

“But don’t I?” she asked, her voice rising an octave. “You have been suffering this whole time and I had no idea. I mean I had an idea but I didn’t think it was this bad. And then you didn't even confide in me, Lance. You tried to carry the burden all on your own and look what happened to you!” She waves her hands up and down, gesturing to his thin body and dark circles under his eyes. “You obviously need me to worry about you, so why won’t you let me?”

Lance winced at the way her voice choked up at the end of her speech.

He knew it was more than just him saying “don’t worry about me”. It’s been the weeks of “no I’m fine”s, the endless brush offs, the “I don’t know”s, and the fact that he hid his family situation from Pidge. She was his best friend, and he desperately wanted her to know that, but he had wanted to spare her from that specific disparaging detail of his life. He had wanted to spare everybody. No one needed to know that he was rejected by the people who were supposed to love him. Well at least that’s how he felt before. He was starting to see that he couldn’t do this on his own, but it was still hard to let her, and everyone else, in, since he had practiced bearing the burden on his lonesome for so long.

“I’m sorry, Pidge,” Lance started to say, eyes downcast. “I’m sorry for making you worry so much. It’s hard for me to open up about all of this because I… because I’m…”

“Ashamed?” she filled in the sentence for him quietly.

“I never wanted anyone to know about any of this, Pidge,” Lance said, still unable to bring his eyes up to meet his friend’s.

“I know you didn’t, Lance. But you have nothing, and I mean nothing, to be ashamed of. Your family…”

“No, you don’t get it,” he interrupted her abruptly, shaking his head back and forth. “You don’t know the entire story, so you don’t know the part I played in it. It’s just… I can’t… Can we please not do this now?” He finally looked up at her, eyes begging.

“Lance, I don’t understand…”

“You don’t have to understand now,” he said, “but I promise I will tell you everything at some point. Right now, we have a party to finish setting up for and then a team of baseballers to entertain. And I’m happy right now because you, Hunk, Shiro, and Keith are here with me. Let’s just focus on the party, okay?”

Pidge looked him up and down, but nodded her head in agreement.

“I’m still not sure about that Keith guy…” she said warily.

“Just a few days ago, you were saying how nice he was!”

“And I’m sure he is,” she said, moving to continue setting up snacks and drinks. “But there’s just something about you and him being together like… I can’t put my finger on it, but you’re different with him and I’m trying to figure out why.”

God dammit, Pidge, always so perceptive.

“There’s nothing going on between us,” Lance said a little too defensively.

“Well that tone of voice just confirms that there is something going on,” she said, eyes sliding into slits as she glared at me.

“Pidge, I don’t know what’s going on between me and Keith,” Lance said, defeated. He didn’t want to hide Keith from her, but he didn’t know what to tell her. That Keith had swooped in and saved him from drowning? That he had always been at the right place at the right time ever since their paths crossed? Or that he thinks that Keith might be his soulmate and he couldn’t push him aside even if he tried?

“By the look in your eye, I can tell that it’s something serious,” she said. “I know you’re having a hard time, but I wanted to make sure that you’re not getting in over your head. There’s already a lot going on that you need to get in order, and building a relationship with Keith right now might not be the best thing…”

“That’s not what’s happening, Pidge. He’s just been there for me and is easy to talk to. I don’t really even know much about him, but he gets me and how my brain works. For now, I need him by my side, just so I can get through all of this. So can you put away your suspicion and just accept that I need him and that that doesn’t mean that I don’t need you?”

Pidge recoiled a bit, like my words had struck her. And his heart started hammering because he couldn’t believe he said that to her.

“I never said that you didn’t need me,” she responded, her voice quiet.

“I know,” he said, his throat threatening to close as he tried to repair his mistake. “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that. I just… I don’t know. I don’t want you to be suspicious of him. I really need him right now, and I’m sorry if that makes you upset.”

“It’s okay,” she said, her voice wavering the tiniest bit. “I will do my best to support you in whatever way you need, so if you need me to like him, then I will do my best to get there.”

“Thank you, Pidge, and I’m sorry again I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.”

“I know you don’t,” she said walking over and putting her hand on my shoulder. “Trust me, by the end of the night, Keith and I are going to the best of friends.”

“Why don’t I like the sound of that??” he said, noting the mischievous look on her face.

“Because he’s going to get the good old Pidge welcome.”

The party was in full swing and Lance was surprised that he was not yet falling apart. He could feel his hands shaking a little bit, but Keith stayed close to him as he went around introducing him to all of the guys. And he wasn’t saying no to the drinks that he was being handed as he went from group to group with Keith. He could feel Keith’s gaze on him, but Lance ignored it for now. Well not ignored it. He liked knowing that Keith was watching him. He wanted Keith to watch him. A tiny part of his brain was nudging at him, saying that he wished Keith was watching him for the right reasons. And maybe he was. But for now, he didn’t care. Vodka and his tipsiness probably had a lot to do with that.

And despite everything, Lance couldn’t help but notice how adorably and socially awkward Keith was. He didn’t speak unless Lance prompted him, and he kept his eyes trained on the floor or on Lance, but seldom met the gazes of the other guys. Lance knew that this is how Keith was when they first met, but he wanted Keith to be a part of this, a part of the guys, a part of his life. And the perfect way to get him to feel comfortable real fast was to get him to drink right along with him.

Lance grabbed two shots from one of the guys and turned to Keith. “Bottoms up!” Lance said, feeling the heat of the alcohol he’d dranken rise to his cheeks.

“Lance, I’m not sure I should be drinking right now. I’m also not sure you should be drinking right now,” Keith said, the worry apparent in his eyes.

“Keith,” Lance said, a twinge of regret pinging in his chest. He didn’t want Keith to worry about him. He wanted him to want him. To enjoy him. To have fun with him. “We can let go tonight. If there’s one thing that Lance McClain does well, it’s being the life of the party.”

“Well if you didn’t notice by my many awkward interactions tonight, it’s not something I do well,” Keith said, pulling Lance close, whispering through gritted teeth.

“Keith, there’s only one thing that will make tonight easier for both of us,” Lance said, holding the two shots up in Keith’s face. Keith looked at the shots, then at Lance, then back at the shots.

“You’re going to be a really bad influence on me, Lance,” Keith said, begrudgingly grabbing one of the shots.

“The only influence I want to have on you is a sexual one,” Lance said, linking his arm through Keith’s and downing his shot. Keith followed suit, a blush lighting up his face. He immediately started coughing, a look of pure disgust on his face.

“Jesus Christ, Lance. What was in that!”

“I’m not sure, I got it from Hunk!” Lance turned around to wave at Hunk who was talking animatedly with Pidge. As they walked through the crowd to join them, Keith leaned into Lance.

“Don’t think I forgot about that sexual comment. We will be returning to that later,” he whispered in Lance’s ear.

“Oh, I hope we do,” Lance whispered back, batting his eyelashes. He couldn’t believe how easily a blush came to Keith’s cheeks. He seemed so strong and solemn in front of Lance the past few days. Taking care of him was a hard job, and Keith had to have a strong backbone to do that for him. This softer, more awkward side of Keith was adorable and Lance was having a hard time resisting him, especially in his drunk state.

“How’s our guest of honor tonight?” Pidge said. Hunk, Keith, and Lance weren’t sure who she was referring to, but she was staring blatantly at Keith.

“Who? Me?” Keith asked, eyes wide.

“Yes, you!” She said, saddling up to him. Lance grimaced at Keith as Pidge put her arm around him. Keith knew that she was wary of him, and Pidge wasn’t being subtle about her attempt at playing nice. “You’re the new man on campus, the fresh meat on the team! Tonight really is all about you.”

“Oh, um,” Keith said, looking down at his feet. “Cool.” Lance gave her the evil eye.

“So, Keith,” Pidge began, “What’s the most important thing we need to know about you? Where are you from? Do you have a significant other? Do you do drugs?”

“Jesus,” Lance said, shaking his head, eyes wide in apology to Keith. He knew Pidge was going to give him her best welcome, but he should have warned Keith. “You don’t need to answer any of that.”

“Oh no, um, it’s okay,” Keith said, giving Lance a small smile. “Um I’m originally from Seattle, but moved to the suburbs of Chicago when my dad’s job got transferred when I was 10. I used to go to Altea University on the other side of the city, but transferred here for the spring season. I do not currently have a significant other.” Keith looked down as he mentioned the significant other. Lance thought it was because he didn’t want her to catch drift of his and Keith’s budding… whatever it was. But there was something in Keith’s eye that was off. Something he wasn’t saying. Lance made a mental note to ask Keith about it at some point. “Oh, I definitely don’t do drugs. Did I forget anything?” Keith said looking up at Pidge, a small smile on his face.

“No,” she said, a big fake smile plastered on her face. Hunk slapped his hand to his forehead.

“It’s good to have you here, Keith,” Hunk said, reaching up and clapping Keith on the shoulder, getting in the way of him and Pidge. “We sure as hell needed a class A shortstop after Adam got hurt.”

“I hope I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes,” Keith said, and Lance smiled because Keith was just so fucking nice and humble. He couldn’t believe someone like him had come into his life. He felt unworthy, but he didn’t harp on it. He pushed it down because tonight wasn’t about that. It was about everyone in this room. About his domain. His team.

“You are definitely not stepping on anyone’s toes,” Pidge said, and Lance was surprised at the sincere sound of her comment. He hoped she was changing her tune, or starting to at least. He knew she was only grilling him because she cared about Lance, but there was nothing to worry about with Keith. He hoped to hell she was starting to see that. “Why don’t I go introduce you properly to Adam so you can clear the air before it even gets stuffy? Come on, he's over by Shiro.”

Keith looked at Lance, who nodded at him to go, and he smiled. “Okay, that sounds good,” Keith said to Pidge. He walked up to Lance and whispered in his ear, “I’ll be right back, okay?” Lance nodded, and pushed him along.

“Go my child! Go be free in the land of baseballers!” Lance shouted as they walked away. Pidge and Keith laughed as they walked into the crowd, shaking their heads as he lost sight of them.

“Well it’s just you and me!” Hunk said turning to him, bottle of vodka in hand. He was about to pour him and Lance another shot, but then he stopped himself.

“Are you good to drink, Lance? You’ve had a few already, haven’t you?” Hunk asked carefully, his voice steady and level trying to keep the worry out of it. Lance audibly sighed.

“Hunk, please don’t tell me you’re going to start monitoring me too,” Lance said. “I’ve already gotten enough from Pidge and Keith to last me a lifetime. Everything is looking up and we are at a party for Christ’s sake. I want to PARTY!” Lance did this little twirl that had Hunk laughing.

“Alright man,” Hunk said, looking at him skeptically but starting to pour the shots. “If you are getting too drunk you will tell me right?”

Lance’s eyes lit up. “Of course, buddy. Of course.”

7 shots later, and Lance couldn’t remember the last time he saw Keith or Pidge. All he could focus on was Hunk who was going around spraying whipped cream into the waiting mouths of all the freshman. Jesus Hunk was hilarious. When did Hunk get so hilarious?

Lance brought a chair over and placed in front of the group of freshman lined up to receive Hunk’s whipped cream. On wobbly legs, he stood on top of the chair and began shushing the crowd.

“Everyone quiet!” He yelled until heads finally started turning his way. Someone had lowered the music, and he could see, through his bleary eyes, the faces of his teammates, his family, his people.

“All of us are here tonight to welcome not only the freshman to their first season of college baseball, but also to welcome our newest recruit, our newest shortstop to Garrison University. And the only way to get inducted into this team of great, luxuriously beautiful and talented men, is to take a face full of WHIPPED CREAM!” Lance closed his eyes and revelled at the shouts and cheers from his teammates.

“Keith Kogane! I call you to the stand!” Lance shouted, spinning around on the chair, searching the crowd for his face. But Lance couldn’t find him until he felt him, grabbing his leg. Lance spun around and shouted in glee.

“On your knees Kogane!” he demanded and everyone cheered. Keith’s cheeks became impossibly red, but he did what Lance said and got to his knees before him. Everyone started chanting as Lance reached his hand out to Hunk to get the whipped cream can.

“You are one of us now, Kogane, Brogane. With this whipped cream shot, I dub you thee prince of shortstop!” Everyone laughed loudly at Lance's lame joke.

“Prince? Not a king?” Keith said, looking up at him in challenge.

“There’s only one king here, Keith,” Lance leaned down and whispered to him, so close he could have kissed him. But instead, he poured an obscene amount of whipped cream in Keith’s gaping mouth. “Who’s the king around here?!” Lance yelled to the crowd.

The team shouted, “You are, Cap!”

And even though Lance knew he was drunk, he was happy and confidant and he knew he was the king of these people. He was the piece that connected all of them, and god he forgot how good it felt to be needed and necessary.

And that’s when Lance slipped off the chair right on to Keith.

Lance definitely hit his head, but he wasn’t feeling any pain. He was laughing hysterically, as was the rest of the crowd. He must have been blacking out a bit because the next thing he knew, Pidge was in his face and Lance felt himself being pulled into a standing position.

“Lance, how drunk are you?” Pidge said, her voice too angry. When Lance shrugged his shoulders, not wanting to draw attention to his level of intoxication, she turned to Hunk whose hands were somehow on his shoulders. “How many drinks did he have?”

“Um, hello. I am right here, you can ask me!” Lance said to Pidge, waving her hands in her face. But she slapped his hands away and turned to Hunk, waiting for his answer.

“Well he had a few as he was walking introducing Keith to the guys, and we took a few while you guys were gone ,” Hunk said, being blatantly honest and not clever in anyway. Didn’t he know that he had to lie to Pidge by now in order to keep her happy? Wait, did Lance really just think that? Lying to Pidge was the last thing he wanted to do, especially after how she reacted to finding out all the things he’d deliberately kept from her. But right now, he just wanted to be the happy, fierce, and strong team captain he was supposed to be. Lance looked out at the some odd 30 people that were in Coach C’s living room. He was surrounded by his people. Partying with his people. He wasn’t going to let Pidge ruin this for him because of her worrying.

“Pidge, please. We’re here to have fun. Can’t we just have some fun tonight?” He said, looking at her pointedly.

“Judging by how you fell off that chair and hit your head, I don’t think you’re having that much fun. Don’t you realize that you need to take care of yourself, Lance?”

Lance recoiled a little bit, not really prepared for her reprimand. Hadn’t they talked about this? That tonight was going to be fun?

“Pidge, I’m not sure that’s the right approach for this moment,” Hunk said, trying to reel her in.

“I’m not sure drinking in excess is the right approach for Lance in this moment,” she shot back, giving both Hunk and Keith accusing looks. Wait, when had Keith gotten there?

“I’m pretty sure I can make decisions for myself,” Lance said pointedly at Pidge. She scoffed out loud.

“Because you’ve done such a good job of that recently,” she said. In that moment, Lance felt everything around him turn to static. He couldn’t hear or see above the truth of her words. And just like that, everything came crashing down on Lance. He went from being high, alive, and feeling… to nothing.

He was walking away before any of them could respond to Pidge.

Lance was outside, walking down a dark street. Or driveway. It must have been Coran’s driveway. But he didn’t care. He knew he just needed to get away from Pidge. From everyone. From everything.

He knew he was drunk, but drinking just brought everything to the surface. This is who he is. The person who ruins everything. The person who can’t take care of himself. He’s no leader. He’s no captain. He’s no king. He’s unlovable. He’s worthless. He’s not worth it. Pidge knows it. They all know it deep down. So, Lance chooses to walk away.

Well he tried to walk away, but there was a voice. He heard a voice calling his name. Why would anyone come after him?

He heard footsteps trailing behind him.

“Lance, slow down. Wait!”

Keith. Of course it’s fucking Keith.

“Leave me alone,” Lance said, without slowing his pace or looking back at Keith.

He picks up into a run.

Since there was only a few cars, it must have been the middle of the night. And the darkness was so great around him. He felt the night swallowing him up, and he lost consciousness. When his consciousness came back, he was standing in front of a bridge. How did he get in front of a bridge? But he was heaving. He must have been sprinting all out. His hands were gripping the fence surrounding the bridge, and he felt the rusty metal cutting into his hands.

And then he heard footsteps again, running this time.

“Lance,” Keith said, breathing heavily. “Lance, come away from there. Come here, please.”

His grip tightened on the railing.

“Please. Leave me, Keith.” Lance was surprised at the thick sound of his voice. And then he felt the tears on his cheeks and he realized that he’s crying. God, he’s so embarrassing.

“Lance, you know I’m not going to do that. Please just come away from the edge,” he begged. And deep down, Lance knew that he was just hurting Keith more. And he didn't want to hurt him. He’s done nothing but be there for him. But what Keith didn't realize is that the only thing Lance is ever going to do is let him down. That’s all he does. He lets down the people he loves.

God he could come to really love Keith, too. But no one can ever love him. He's unlovable.

He heard Keith getting closer to him.

“Stay back,” Lance said sharply. Keith stopped moving. “Please, Keith. Go back. You don’t need to be here.”

“Lance,” Keith said, his voice shaking. His voice was closer then. Lance knew if he just turned around, he could run into Keith’s arms, and Keith would accept him and tell him everything was okay. But that just wasn’t true.

“I’m going to hurt you, Keith,” Lance whispered.

“What?” Keith asked. “What did you say?”

Lance shook his head and yelled, “I’m going to hurt you, Keith! Don’t you fucking see that?”

“How are you going to hurt me, Lance?” Lance could hear Keith shuffling closer, and he leaned his whole body into the fence. When Lance didn't answer, he asked again, “Lance, how are you going to hurt me?”

“Are you a fucking idiot?” Lance said, whipping around. His anger came up and out of his mouth all at once. “Do you not see that I am a piece of shit? That all I do is ruin the things around me? You’ve put yourself in the line of fire, Keith. You’ve set yourself up to be let down. And I don’t blame you because it’s easy to get sucked into my trap. But I’m not worth it, Keith. It’s not worth the pain and the suffering to get close to me. I will let you down. I will hurt you, and God I don’t want to hurt you.” Keith’s eyes were compassionate and understanding. They are the light. Keith is light, but Lance is darkness. Darkness Keith doesn’t need. He turned back towards the fence and the river below.

He heard more footsteps running up to them.

“God, don’t you people know when to give up?” Lance yelled into the distance. He heard huffing and puffing behind him.

“Lance, what are you doing?” he heard Pidge’s voice, tiny, frightened, scared. All because of him.

“What do you care?” Lance said, his voice harsh. “I’m doing a poor job of making decisions lately, so why stop now?”

“Jesus, Lance. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have said that. Please come away from there, please.” He could hear the tears in her voice. The regret. And it’s his fault. All of it.

“Lance,” Hunk’s voice permeated through Pidge’s crying. “Everything’s okay, buddy. No one is upset with you. Just take a step back and we will work it all out.”

“I can’t,” Lance said, shaking his head, gripping the railing even tighter. He brought his forehead down to the railing, the coolness of it calming him a bit. He’s thinking clearly, he told himself. This is the right thing. It’s the right thing.

“This is the right thing to do,” Lance said simply, and in that moment they were all speechless, the silence deafening.

“What are you talking about, Lance?” Pidge’s voice broke through the silence, clearly panicking. “You don’t need to hurt yourself over all of this. We are here for you, Lance. You just have to let us be!”

“It won’t matter,” Lance said, an eerie sense of calm coming over him. “It won’t matter if you’re there.” Lance realized that he’s had his eyes closed for a long time. He opened them, but all he saw was that the fence was green in the moonlight. And the world around him was spinning.

“I’m tired,” Lance said. “The world is spinning, and I’m tired.”

“You’re drunk,” Keith said, his voice gentle. “You’re just drunk, Lance. Not all of this is as bad as it seems.”

“Maybe,” Lance replied, not backing away from the ledge. But he couldn't stand up anymore, so he sat down. He heard all of them let out a collective breath.

“Keith?” Lance said, shifting his body jerkily so he’s facing him. Keith was hesitant to move, but Lance drunkenly waved him over. And then Keith’s hand was cupping Lance’s cheek and he’s brought his forehead to Lance’s.

“I’m here,” Keith whispered. “I’m here.”

“I’m sorry,” Lance said, closing his eyes. The warmth of Keith’s skin was seeping into his, making him impossibly, even more tired than he already was. “I’m sleepy.”

“I know,” Keith whispered, nodding his head against Lance. “I know you are. I’m going to take you back now, okay baby?”

Lance wished that he could feel the warmth that would have bloomed in his chest at the term of endearment, but Lance knew that as soon as he woke up in the morning that he was going to run as far away from Keith, Pidge, Hunk and this life he’s built. Everything he touched became tainted and this life was no longer salvageable. No matter what anyone did for him, he was going to keep ruining everything, just like he always did. He wished something, anything could save him, but even the light in Keith’s eyes didn't seem like enough to bring Lance out of the darkness. As his eyes closed, or he blacked out, he couldn't tell which was happening, he thought to himself that he didn't think anything ever would.

Chapter Text

Keith POV:

Keith couldn’t believe that his legs wouldn’t carry him faster than this. How could a drunk, spindly Lance outrun him? He watched Lance turn a corner, and cursed under his heaving breath. He willed his legs beyond their limits, and it still wasn’t enough to catch Lance before he put himself at the edge of the bridge connecting the two sides of the road.

It’s not like this was Keith’s first time in a situation like this. Okay, he hasn’t ever had to talk anyone literally off the ledge before, but he’s felt the darkness, the emptiness that Lance was feeling in this moment. He just said to Lance what he would have wanted someone to say to him back when his life wasn’t at its most stable. But it wasn’t working. Nothing he said was getting through to Lance. And even though he wanted to stay calm and strong for him, this moment had gotten Keith lost in his own mind, and everything went by so quickly, that next thing he knew, Lance was in his arms, back against the bridge’s fence, passed the fuck out.

“Jesus,” Keith said, his words muffled against the softness of Lance’s hair.

“Oh my God,” Pidge said from behind Keith.

“At least he’s asleep,” Hunk started, moving closer to Keith. He put his hand on Keith’s shoulder. Keith looked up at him, grateful that Hunk seemed to be in a problem solving mindset. When he looked at Pidge, her arms were wrapped around her stomach and she was on her knees about ten feet behind him. Her face looked white as a ghost in the pale moonlight.

“What did I do?” Pidge kept saying to herself rhythmically. Keith stood, with Lance in his arms, and both him and Hunk walked over to Pidge.

“Pidge,” Hunk started, leaning down to get on her level. “Lance is going to be okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. He’s going through a hard time. It’s impossible to know what will set him off. We just have to keep being careful around him, and keep doing everything we can to take care of him.”

Keith would have been a little harsher than that, considering it was her words that set Lance off in the first place. But he looked down into her face, and let Hunk do the talking. It was obvious she was feeling remorseful.

“Keith, I am so sorry,” Pidge said, looking up into his face. “I didn’t mean for this to happen, and Lance is just my best friend, and I care about him so much, and I’m so…”

“Pidge,” he said quickly, interrupting her rambling. “We are going to figure this out. Let’s go back to the house.”

She nodded, tears filling her eyes. But she got up, and she started following Keith and Hunk back to Coach Coran’s house.

By the time they got back, the party had mostly died down. There were a few stragglers, but everyone had mostly left.

“Hunk, can you…”

“Already on it, Keith,” he replied, walking toward the group of people still lingering to tell them it was time to hit the road. Keith left Pidge at front door and walked Lance straight into Coach C’s bedroom and laid him on the bed. He had not woken up the entire time, and Keith could feel the steady breaths Lance was making against his neck as he walked him home.

Keith reached out to smooth Lance’s hair, and Lance started mumbling in his sleep.

“No, Papa, please. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

And if Keith could bring himself to cry, that surely would have been the moment that caused it. Lance deserved to live, just as much as any of the rest of them. Probably even more so. But this man, whoever he was, had broken Lance to the point where he… where he doesn’t want to live anymore. Keith was going to fix this for Lance. He didn’t know how yet, but he was going to do something. He had to.

Lance POV:

Lance woke up, and he entirely wished he hadn’t. Not because he wanted to die. But because he knew that death might be better than waking up to his friends after what happened the night before. When Lance managed to open his eyes and focus, he realized that he was exactly where he knew he would be. In Coran’s bed. Wrapped in blankets, and surrounded by pillows that were perfectly fluffed. His heart hurt, knowing that Keith had done that for him. But it hurt even more knowing that Keith, and Hunk and Pidge, had witnessed him in darkness. And even if that darkness was alcohol induced, it made Lance feel too vulnerable. It was all too much for him. For anyone. And he had to get away.

Lance rolled out of bed, surprised that he was alone in Coach C’s room. But he could hear the murmur of voices coming from beneath the bedroom door. Lance stumbled a bit as he walked to the bathroom connected to Coach C’s room. He splashed some water on his face, and couldn’t help the tears that came to his eyes when he looked back at his reflection. He was gaunt, pale, and pathetic. All he did was cause trouble for himself, for his friends, and for his family. He turned away sharply, too sickened by himself to look anymore.

He tiptoed towards the door, and put his ear up against it. He thought the voices were in the living room, around the corner from the bedroom. If Lance was quiet enough, he would be able to tiptoe out of there and out the front door without anyone noticing.

Nervousness started to rattle him as he turned back into the bedroom to grab his things. But then he realized that the only thing that he had really brought with him was his cellphone. Mostly because that was really all he had to his name besides his sport equipment. He looked all over the room for his phone, but all of the alcohol he drank the night before hit him like a wave. He grabbed his stomach and groaned, louder than he meant to, at the nausea rolling over him. But it didn’t outweigh the need to escape, to run from all of the people he had let down. So he mentally said goodbye to his phone and made his way back towards the door. He still heard murmuring voices in the living room and gingerly opened the door, pausing each time the door made even a little squeak. When he opened it just wide enough, he slipped his thin body through the gap. He looked both ways, and let out a small breath when he heard no one starting to move from the living room.

When he reached the kitchen, it was empty, so Lance slowly continued through the room and to the front door to make his escape. He didn’t know where he was going to go or what he was going to do, but in the end, anything was better than facing his failure.

Just as he was about to reach for the handle of the door, he heard a voice. The voice of the one person he couldn’t handle listening to.

“Where are you going?” Keith said quietly, as not to alert anyone else in the house. Lance’s entire body froze. He couldn’t turn around and face Keith. He didn’t know what facial expression he would be wearing, but Lance knew he couldn’t handle looking into his eyes, knowing that Lance was the cause of whatever he would find swimming in his gaze.

“Lance,” Keith said gently, moving slowly towards him. “Step back from the door.”

Lance’s hand tightened into a fist, contemplating whether to just reach up, open the door, and sprint away, or to take a step back into arms he knew were waiting to catch him. But he didn’t deserve it. He couldn’t put Keith, or anyone, through this.

“Keith…” Lance said, his voice barely escaping the confines of his throat. He didn’t know what to do or what to say, and the unknown was gathering in his chest, filling his lungs, making it hard to breathe. Lance reached up to rub at this chest, but the tightness kept growing, and he wanted to run but he couldn’t get his legs to move. He couldn’t get any part of his body to listen to him.

And that’s when he felt arms rest on the small of his back, then on his waist, turning him away from the door, placing his head against the neck of a warm, welcoming body. There was murmuring, someone talking, and even though he couldn’t make out what the person was saying, the even, soft tone of the voice began to settle him.

“You’re okay, Lance. You’re okay,” Keith was saying to him over and over again. He was in Keith’s arms. Of course he was in Keith’s arms. His brain, which was slowly coming back online, was telling him to get out of his grip, but Lance couldn’t muster up the strength to move away.

“I’m sorry,” Lance said against Keith’s neck. Keith pulled him tighter against his body.

“I know you’re sorry,” Keith said, brushing his hand over the back of Lance’s hair. “But I need you to stop trying to run away. I can only do so much to help you, Lance. You have to want to help yourself, too.”

“I do want to,” Lance said, pulling back to look at Keith in the eye. “I’m just so embarrassed about last night…”

Keith stepped forward and put his forehead against Lance’s.

“We will talk about last night, Lance, but don’t put all of it on your shoulders. We all played a role in what happened, and we will figure it out and get you the help you need,” Keith said gently.

Lance couldn’t help going rigid in his arms.

“I’m not crazy, Keith. Please don’t send me away, I couldn’t take it. I can’t go to one of those places. I’ll be good. I won’t drink, I won’t say anything, I won’t do anything, just please…”

Keith pulled Lance into his chest, holding him so tightly that Lance couldn’t breathe.

“You are not going anywhere,” Keith said vehemently. “The last thing you need is to be abandoned by your family, Lance. We are not leaving you.”

“Family?” Lance said, pulling back slightly. “What family?”

Keith laughed a little and shook his head.

“One day, Lance, you’re going to realize that family can be more than your biological parents and siblings. That family is all around you, waiting to love you and be there for you. You just have to let them in,” Keith said, gently.

Deep down, Lance knew all of this. He knew that Hunk, Pidge, and Coach C were his family. But he was his own barrier that kept him from being a part of it. Lance felt like he didn’t deserve to be a part of it. God, he needed someone to help him change this way of thinking. He didn’t know how much longer he could keep thinking about himself this way without fading from the world entirely.

“I think I need some help, Keith,” Lance whispered, putting his face into Keith’s neck. God, they were so comfortable with each other already. It was scary and lovely all at once. Lance hoped Keith felt the same. Maybe one day, someday soon, Keith could see Lance for who he really was. And maybe, just maybe, he could love Lance. The real, confident, driven, loving, Lance.

“We’re going to figure it all out,” Keith said, rubbing his hands up and down Lance’s back. “Just promise me you’ll let me help you figure it out. And no more running away, okay?”

Lance nodded his head against Keith’s neck, making him laugh.

“That tickles, stop it,” he said, gently swatting at Lance’s backside.

Lance started laughing too, and for the first time in a long time, it felt like a real, genuine, laugh. He looked up into Keith’s face and saw him smiling, and Lance smiled back at him.

No more running. No more letting fear, negativity, and self-hate win. Lance thought to himself. Everything coming was going to be hard, but he had to do this. He couldn’t keep being self destructive, because one day, if he kept going down this path, he was going to succeed in destroying himself. And he didn’t want that. He wanted his life back. He wanted to live.