Lance rolled over with every intention of snuggling closer to Keith (who was like a lovely, sometimes grumpy furnace in their cold apartment).
He smacked Hunk in the face.
He knew it was Hunk because Hunk said: “Lance.”
Between them, Keith grunted. Maybe swore.
Lance patted Hunk’s cheek sleepily, apologetically. “Sorry.”
Hunk swatted his hand away.
“When did you get here?”
“Early,” Hunk muttered and rolled over.
“Late,” Keith corrected, his face squished against the mattress.
Lance leaned up on one elbow and rubbed some of the sleep from his eyes. Keith was facedown, clutching the bedspread. His hair was sticking in the usual odd, early morning Keith directions. At the other edge of the bed, Hunk was rolled in a bright yellow fleece blanket Lance had found the week before and added to their growing blanket pile.
Lance considered this.
“I’m getting up now,” he announced.
Keith slapped a hand to Lance’s chest.
Lance managed not to laugh.
“We’re sleeping,” Keith said, still muffled. “We are all sleeping!”
Lance patted his hand and tossed his portion of their duvet over Keith. He stood and stretched. Behind him, Keith was muttering nonsense.
The clock on their dresser blinked 7:30.
Hunk rolled off the bed with a bang and a groan.
Keith swore some more.
Red poked her twitchy head out of her cave.
Lance left to start coffee.
The kitchen was cool and dark, still, but Lance could see snowflakes fluttering on the other side of their window. He leaned over the sink to watch for a moment then sighed and scooped up their already well-used hand grinder. He hoisted himself onto the counter, leaned back against the cupboards, and swung his legs idly. He waited.
The sounds of the beans crunch, crunch, crunching away was soothing.
He was half done when Hunk stumbled into the kitchen, still clutching the fleece blanket around his shoulders. He looked rough: all heavy eyes and messy hair.
“It’s nice, right?” Lance said and nodded, or tried to nod, towards the blanket.
Hunk took a seat at the table and pulled the blanket over his head. “It’s October. Is it always winter here? Are we in actual hell?”
“Rough night?” Lance tried, and that, too, was ignored.
“Does the sky know there’s a season between summer and winter? Does it know you’re supposed to be able to get through Halloween without snow?”
“It’ll melt,” Lance said, maybe hopefully. “Probably.”
“It won’t. We’re going to freeze. I’m going to die, frozen, in my best friend’s kitchen.”
Lance continued to grind away at the coffee and his elbow protested but that was nice, in its own way, like reminding him that his still sleepy body was really present. He watched Hunk lower his head and press his cheek to the table and glower at nothing, or maybe at the very concept of winter, and Lance tried to smile at him but Hunk didn’t seem to notice.
“Let’s go to that waffle place,” Hunk said, sounding muffled and a little silly with his face against the table. “I want to be filled with waffles.”
Lance paused in his grinding. He opened his mouth. Closed it. Continued grinding.
“I read there’s a waffle station,” Hunk continued. “Like. Make your own waffles. Fresh fruit. Whipped cream. Nice decorations. Clean tables.”
“Okay,” Lance said. “What waffle place?”
“The waffle place,” Hunk replied helpfully. “You know.”
Hunk groaned. “I don’t remember what it’s called.”
Keith joined them then, all but stumbling into the kitchen with his hair sticking in ridiculous directions. Like he had tried to tie it back but gave up and let it fly around his head like a monster trying to eat his brain. Lance loved him, just a little. Maybe a lot.
He smiled. Keith noticed. Keith smiled back. Keith was a keeper.
“It’s snowing,” Keith observed and he sounded vaguely pleased.
“Hunk wants waffles,” Lance said.
Keith blinked. “How—how do we make waffles?” He sounded—looked—bewildered, in the soft, unguarded Keith way that showed up when Lance least expected it. Lance thought he could see the wheels turning in Keith’s brain, thought he could see Keith counting eggs and then realizing waffle-making was probably some sort of baking and that was asking for trouble. Lance’s smile grew.
“No!” Hunk raised a single quivering finger but didn’t budge from his flattened position against the table. “No. Waffles are—waffles are a delicacy, Keith. You don’t just make waffles Keith. You enjoy waffles.”
“We don’t have a waffle maker,” Keith muttered.
“I think they’re called irons,” Lance offered.
“We’re going to the waffle place!” Hunk insisted.
“What waffle place?” Keith looked to Lance.
Lance shrugged and slid off the counter. “You guys figure it out,” he said, holding the grinder out. Keith took it with a grimace.
Hunk grunted from the table. “You are not going outside,” he said. “You are not going for a run. In the snow.”
”Routine is the backbone of a life,” Lance said loftily. “Or something.”
”Don’t slip and die,” Keith muttered and began grinding the coffee with significantly more force (urgency) than Lance.
It was cold.
“It could be colder,” Lance said, burying his face in his scarf. He nudged Hunk.
“Ugh,” Hunk said.
Keith walked just ahead of them, his shoulders hunched and his oversized collar making his hair bunch. He had one hand in his pocket and the other held his phone close to his face. Navigator Keith.
“Is it really called Buttermilk?” Lance asked.
“Let’s just keep calling it the waffle place,” Keith muttered. Google Maps chirped at him and he turned abruptly, Lance and Hunk following.
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Hunk said, which Lance thought was brave.
“I have no idea where we’re going,” Keith grumbled. “Fake Siri is in charge.”
“I’m sure the Google Maps woman has a name, too,” Lance offered.
Keith and Hunk ignored him. Lance huffed.
“I can’t believe you went for a run,” Hunk muttered. Lance patted his elbow. “It’s cold. It’s horrible. It’s slippery.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“I think we took a wrong turn,” Keith said.
“Waffles,” Hunk moaned, sounding pathetic.
Lance patted his elbow again.
There was no waffle station.
But it was a nice restaurant. All bright and with tidy, square tables and little silk flowers.
It was packed.
They huddled close together, Hunk on Lance’s left and Keith on Lance’s right. A group of girls had crowded onto the one bench and were eyeing them over their scarves and under their hats. Lance had the distinct, familiar sensation of being out of place.
Lance looked down at his feet instead of at the flushed Sunday Brunch faces filling the restaurant. He could smell waffles. Or maybe that was just a general breakfast-y smell. When he put his head on Keith’s shoulder, he could smell their coffee. And a hint of their detergent. And Keith’s shampoo.
Keith rested his head against Lance’s.
“How was your run?” Keith asked.
“Cold,” Lance admitted.
“I knew it,” Hunk muttered.
Keith laughed one of his soft, bubbly laughs that he was always reluctant to admit to. It was less sound and more vibration and if Lance was close enough he could sometimes feel it in Keith’s chest like another, stuttered, temporary heartbeat. Hunk knew it by the quiver of Keith’s shoulders and the twitch of his lips but Hunk was observant like that. Hunk knew things about everyone, really. It was his superpower.
“You’re lucky you didn’t twist something,” Hunk continued. He paused. “Like an ankle.”
“Like an ankle,” Lance echoed in a sigh.
Keith kissed the top of his head then and Lance felt the warmth of it all the way down to his toes. There was so much affection lately, or maybe there always had been and it was just easier to see and share when they woke most mornings snuggled close together. In their own space, it was easy to just—bury himself in Keith. Snuggle close. Steal and gift hugs whenever he could. Just take his hand because they were sitting on their couch together.
“You’re so domestic,” Hunk sighed, and Lance couldn’t tell if he was hearing criticism or admiration.
“We do our best.”
“Hunk had a rough night,” Keith said into his hair.
Lance pulled a hand from his pocket and made a sweeping gesture towards Hunk. “Go on.”
“Not until I’ve eaten waffles.”
“That bad, huh?”
“You’re lucky you’re out of res.”
“Yes,” Keith agreed.
Lance smiled and ignored the glances the trio of girls kept sending their way. Keith leaned against him. Lance hooked their arms together. That was what mattered. That, and Hunk hovering nearby like the comforting bumblebee Lance sometimes thought he was.
“Domestic,” Hunk said again.
“Stop complaining,” Keith yawned.
“You’re the one who was in our bed this morning,” Lance sniffed.
“It’s a big bed. You’ve got the room.”
A table cleared and the girls scurried towards it. Hunk immediately seized a spot on the bench.
“Do we seem out of place?” Keith said.
“Probably,” Hunk replied, leaning back and snuggling deeper into his coat.
Lance lifted his head and cast another surveying glance over the restaurant: small, bustling. Lots of men with beards. Beard-dudes. Lance counted three babies and four stylish hats.
And maybe he wondered if he should stop leaning on Keith.
Irritation bubbled in his stomach alongside his growing hunger. “Who cares,” he muttered and dropped his head back to Keith’s shoulder.
“I can’t wait for waffles,” Hunk said. “They do one with arugula and goat cheese and it sounds wonderful.”
“It does?” Keith said and Lance hid a laugh against his shoulder. “Waffles are...sweet?”
“Waffles can be sweet, Keith.”
Keith hummed. “I guess there’s chicken and waffles.”
“Gross,” Lance offered cheerfully.
“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”
“Please don’t fight,” Hunk sighed with an exaggerated slump of his shoulders. “You’ll ruin our brunch.”
A server passed them holding two pastel plates of waffles, both covered in a proper mountain of whipped cream and fruit. Berries.
Lance watched the plates disappear around the corner.
“I want that,” he said.
“Yeah,” Keith said. “I figured.”
Lance smiled and shuffled just a little closer.
They got a table in the far corner and under colourful photos of—waffle irons.
Hunk took the bench with their coats piled next to him. Keith immediately toyed with their table’s flower (a fake daisy, maybe).
“Fake flowers are so sad,” Hunk sighed and opened the paper menu.
“Dead flowers are sad,” Keith replied.
Lance scanned the menu once, failed to find the strawberry pile waffle, and scanned it again. Keith leaned over and tapped under the SWEET WAFFLES column.
“Strawberry Youth,” Lance read and immediately felt foolish.
“Pretentious,” Keith said, pleased.
Hunk peered at them over his menu. “Are you guys sharing?”
Lance glanced at Keith. Keith shrugged.
“Domestic,” Hunk muttered. “Normal nineteen-year-olds eat, like, three waffles.”
“You’re getting three waffles?”
“I’m not a monster, Keith.”
“I can’t tell if that’s a yes or a no.”
Lance leaned back in his seat and smiled, warm in his coat and with good company.
Hunk ordered the arugula and goat cheese waffle (which was just called “Arugula;” Keith laughed when Hunk said it out loud) and a peppermint tea. Lance ordered their waffle, a breakfast tea, and more coffee for Keith.
“More?” Hunk muttered.
“More,” Lance sighed.
“Don’t make a problem where there isn’t one,” Keith huffed.
While they waited, Keith and Hunk judged other people’s food.
“Ugh, bananas,” Hunk said.
“Mushy,” Keith agreed.
Lance ignored them.
“A pub crawl,” Hunk finally explained, leaning over his tea. “Like, eight different guys in my wing went. And came back. Loud.”
“Annoying,” Keith said.
Lance toyed with his tea bag and thought that that couldn’t be all to that story. He frowned. He leaned against the table. “Okay,” he said finally. “So they woke you up stupidly early—“
“Late,” Keith corrected.
“— early, and you thought you’d trek across campus and through our semi-sketchy neighbourhood and sneak into our apartment?”
“Yeah,” Hunk said. He shrugged. “Keith was still up.”
“Keith doesn’t sleep.”
“I sleep,” Keith murmured and reached for his coffee.
“Keith doesn’t sleep enough.” Lance snapped his fingers, a thought coming to him. “You should move in with us.”
“No,” Hunk said with a greater solemnity than Lance thought strictly necessary.
“What! It’s a good idea.”
“You’re already at our place all the time.”
“That’s different. I’m visiting!”
“You have a key!”
“Of course I have a key.” Hunk shook his head. “That doesn’t mean I want to live with you guys.”
“We’re better than the trash boys you live around now.”
“Lance,” Keith said hoarsely. “Stop.”
Lance eyed the bags under Hunk’s eyes and the soft flop of his hair and something twisted in his stomach.
“I’m fine,” Hunk said, like he could read Lance’s mind and maybe he kind of could. “Really. I just—“ He broke off and squirmed in his seat.
Keith seized a napkin and wiped at his face, muttering curses.
Lance looked down at his tea. “It’s a good thing we got a big bed,” he said.
Hunk snorted and Lance had a sudden, intense memory of Hunk helping him pull crayons out of his nose.
Hunk nudged a foot against Lance’s under the table. Lance glanced up. “I’m fine,” Hunk said.
“Everyone’s fine,” Keith said, still sounding a little choked as he wiped coffee from his nose. “We’re eating waffles.”
“Soon,” Hunk sighed.
Keith squeezed Lance’s knee and Lance decided to let it drop.
Their waffles arrived with Lance-provided fanfare but Hunk and Keith didn’t make fun of him so he counted that as a win. Their server topped up Keith’s coffee and Lance sliced their waffle in two, right through the mountain of whipped cream and pile of strawberries.
Hunk waved a forkful of his waffle at Keith, the arugula dancing. “Just try it.”
“Arugula’s a weird name for a vegetable,” Lance said. He paused. “It’s a vegetable, right?”
“I don’t know,” Keith said and shoved a portion of strawberry slices onto Lance’s side of the plate.
Lance frowned. “What are you doing?”
“You guys are disgusting,” Hunk grumbled and shoved the waffle-arugula-goat-cheese combo into his mouth.
“You’re eating cake stuffed with cheese and leaves,” Keith retorted.
Hunk rolled his eyes.
Keith shoved more strawberries Lance’s way.
Keith ignored him.
“I won’t eat those,” Lance decided. “They’ll just go to waste.”
“They won’t,” Keith replied, the smug jerk.
Lance took a bite of waffle-y goodness and glared.
“Did you make any big plans for next weekend?” Hunk asked, piling more arugula onto his fork.
“No,” Lance said.
“Yes,” Keith said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Keith muttered and smeared some whipped cream on a slice of waffle. “Eat your berries.”
Lance blinked. “What are you doing next weekend?”
“Uh,” Hunk started. He tapped his fork against his plate. “It’s Halloween.”
Keith piled some strawberries onto the waffle slice and slid it towards Lance. “Don’t worry about it,” he said again.
“Is there a party?” Lance twisted to look at Keith. “Are you going to a party?” And then: “Are we going to a party?”
Hunk put down his fork. “I think I’ll go to the bathroom.”
“I said not to worry about it!”
Lance opened his mouth. He closed it. His brain whirred.
“Just eat your waffle,” Keith sighed.
“Ugh,” Hunk said.
“I didn’t forget,” Lance said, or maybe yelled. “And stop giving me your strawberries!”
“I can’t believe this,” Hunk groaned. “I can’t believe I’m witnessing this.”
“You’ll enjoy them more than I would,” Keith said.
Lance went hot. Just—all over, hot. He skipped warm and blushing and went right to—to—flustered. Heart-pounding, skin sweating, face flushed flustered . Like they were back on the floor in their little room with Red and Keith had just kissed him for the first time. Last year. A week from a full year ago.
“Oh,” he said.
“Yeah,” Hunk huffed. “I’ll be back.” He shoved aside their coats and shuffled out of the corner, shaking his head.
Lance blinked at Keith. “I didn’t forget,” he managed.
“I forgot,” Lance said.
“I know.” Keith shrugged. “I didn’t.”
Lance swallowed. “You have plans.”
Something shifted over Keith’s expression and Lance’s heart stuttered. “Yeah,” Keith said, so softly Lance almost couldn’t hear him over the noise of the restaurant. “Lots of plans.”
“It’s always you,” Lance said. He could feel himself drifting into babbling territory but his heart was hot and full and aching in his chest. A little out of control. “You always—“
“I’m not mad,” Keith said and brushed his fingers against Lance’s cheek—hesitant but comforting. “I’m serious: don’t worry.”
“I am worried,” Lance blurted out. He squeezed his fork, feeling ridiculous and exposed. “I love you.”
“I know,” Keith replied, smiling still, and Lance’s relief was instantaneous and intense.
“I think I’m going to die,” he muttered.
“You’re not,” Keith promised and kissed him, soft and lingering. Like it didn’t matter if someone saw. Or, like they were the only ones in the whole world. Or, like it mattered very much that everyone saw and everyone knew that they were—them.
“I’m back,” Hunk announced and patted Lance’s head.
Lance swatted his hand away.
Keith ate a forkful of whipped cream.
“I worry about you,” Hunk said as he dropped back into his spot. He gestured at his plate. “Please eat a vegetable.”
“Just because someone put leaves on your waffle doesn’t make it healthy,” Keith replied.
“Stop calling them leaves,” Lance pleaded.
Hunk rounded on him. He pointed at Lance once with his fork and shook his head. “How did you forget your own anniversary?”
Keith took a long sip of his coffee. Lance blushed all over again.
That night, Lance stared up at their bedroom ceiling and tried to imagine sinking into the mattress. He held his breath. Let it out. The blinds weren’t closed all the way and the moonlight left dappled, dizzying patterns against the ceiling. He tried to close his eyes but that didn’t last.
Keith pulled the duvet over their shoulders. “I can hear you thinking,” he said against Lance’s shoulder.
Lance could feel his heart beating: ba-dump, against his chest; ba-dump, under the duvet; ba-dump, as Keith wrapped an arm around him and snuggled closer.
“Worried,” Lance murmured.
Keith huffed a short laugh. “He’s worried about you, too.”
Under the duvet, Lance squeezed Keith’s wrist. “Why?”
Quiet, and then: “Why are you worried about Hunk?”
Ba-dump, like a reverberation through his skeleton. “He’s alone,” Lance said eventually, and voicing it surprised him. Ba-dump, with something like guilt. Like self-conscious scratching at his insides.
“He’s not,” Keith said. “He’s got us.”
Keith’s confidence was comforting. His certainty, like his confidence earlier: I know you love me . Lance closed his eyes and tried to bask in it, soak it all in and remember it like Keith could share that confidence with him. And maybe he could.
“Yeah,” he breathed.
Maybe they weren’t on the same floor anymore, and maybe they weren’t down the hall from each other anymore, and maybe Lance had Keith—
“I told Hunk that, too,” Keith continued.
Lance opened his eyes. “Huh?”
Keith’s arm tightened around him. “You’ve got us. Me and Hunk.”
Keith hummed. “Yup.”
Lance digested this and, finally, felt himself sag back against the bed. He sighed. “You’ve got us, too.”
“I know,” Keith grumbled.
Lance grinned. “What are we doing next weekend?”
“Having an anniversary.”
“What does that mean?”
“Go to sleep, Lance.”
(“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”)