In the grand scheme of things, his problems were insignificant. Selfish and dumb compared to what others went through.
That didn’t stop Keith Kogane from being really fucking pissed.
“Why,” he growled. “Is there a pile of books on the floor?”
“I’m sensing some anger,” the man in front of him said slowly. “Take some deep breaths with me. In--”
“You’re damn right I’m angry, Lance.” Keith took a deep breath anyway, but he made sure to keep his glare strong. “It’s literally your job to take care of these.”
“Yes, but--” Lance paused, a frown slashing across his tan skin. “I don’t know how to argue with you about this.”
Keith closed his eyes briefly. “Then don’t, you idiot. Just put the books away.” It’d been a long day, and he wasn’t currently mentally equipped to deal with this.
Lance McClain was, without a doubt, one of the most infuriating people that Keith had ever met. They’d known each other for years, had somehow ended up working together, and were friends with the same group of people.
They also happened to be soulmates.
Despite all this, Keith found him exasperating at the best of times.
“This is not the best of times,” he informed Lance with a scowl, to which he received a confused look. “You still haven’t moved. Start moving.”
Lance huffed. “You aren’t in charge of me.”
Keith considered this. “Yeah, but I know things about you that Pidge would love to get her hands on. Like that one time when--”
“Okay, alright.” Lance crouched down to gather the books into his arms. “You big bully.”
Keith crossed his arms, fighting the instinct that told him to steady Lance as he wobbled slightly while standing back up. “It worked, didn’t it?”
“Whatever, grouchy. I’m going to go shelve these, and then we can leave. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Keith sighed. “Okay.”
“Great.” Lance was smiling now and Keith sighed again, reinforcing the mental wall between their minds. When Lance was happy, he had a tendency to broadcast it. That meant that, as a result, Keith received those feelings. If he wasn’t careful, he’d start smiling too, and then they’d be smiling together, and then the others would begin imagining a relationship between the two of them that they didn’t have, and it would just dissolve into a mess.
So Keith cut it off at the source.
They kept the wall up almost all the time, so Keith knew that his reinforcements didn’t register with Lance. He couldn’t prevent the slight guilt that twinged through his chest, however, and he turned away to hide his grimace.
“I’ll be right back,” Lance sang and darted off for the shelves, leaving Keith standing by himself.
The two of them were among the seven main librarians at the West Branch of the Altean public library. Altea, a city about an hour to the north of Seattle, was fairly small, but still large enough to have relatively well-staffed branches.
Keith loved his job--he really did. He usually left interacting with the patrons to the others and busied himself with shelving and bureaucratic work, but he wasn’t against talking to people who came to him for help (despite what Lance might say). He’d always had a fondness for losing himself in a good book, which meant that he’d all but jumped to accept when his brother, Shiro, had told him about the job opening.
“Ready to go?” Lance asked, walking back toward him and interrupting his thoughts.
Keith looked up, startled. “No way you shelved those books properly that quickly.”
Lance winked. “I’m magic.” He brushed past Keith to push open the door to the staff room, emerging a moment later with his jacket and bag in his hands. When he noticed Keith’s disapproving glare, he sighed. “Pidge can deal with it tomorrow, doll face. I want to go home.”
“Or you could just deal with it now, snookums .” Keith replied, scrubbing a hand through his hair in frustration.
Lance’s expression softened. “I’m just messing with you, man. Go grab your stuff and let’s go home.”
Keith sighed and did as he was told, locking the staff room door behind him when he walked back out into the main body of the library. They finished turning off the computers and the lights together, then stepped outside into the cool night air. Lance locked the doors and Keith stuffed his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, inhaling deeply. It was around 9:15 and their branch of the library was on a street with a coffee shop, a bakery, a thrift store, and a small park--which meant that there were still plenty of people bustling around.
Lance came to stand beside him and held out a hand. “Shall we, darling?”
Keith rolled his eyes but unearthed his right hand anyway, lacing his fingers through Lance’s.
The two of them weren’t romantically involved, and they never had been. They knew that they weren’t platonic soulmates--there had definitely been a spark of attraction between them when they’d first met. That being said, they hadn’t really connected in that way other than the unexplainable feelings that the magic urged them to have. All the same, having physical contact of whatever sort with the other calmed a need in both of them, so they had learned to just roll with it.
They started walking down the sidewalk, Lance lightly swinging their hands. Keith let him, pretending not to notice.
“Keith,” Lance said after they had been walking in silence for several minutes.
He didn’t continue, and Keith looked over at him. “What is it?”
Lance shook his head. “Never mind, it’s dumb.” Keith squeezed his hand in a gentle reprimand, and he exhaled. “I was wondering if you really are mad about the books.”
Keith smiled, then forced it back before Lance could look his way and see it. “No, Lance, I’m not mad. It’s been a long week for both of us, is all, and I’m sorry.”
Lance shook his head. “Nothing to be sorry for.” He smiled slightly, his head tipping toward Keith’s. “I should have left them out for Pidge to deal with.”
Keith snorted. "She would have murdered you."
Lance hummed and said, with complete confidence, “You would protect me.”
If Keith’s cheeks were suddenly hot, it was only because the exertion of walking was catching up to him. “Don't be so sure.”
“Don’t be so mean,” Lance shot back, and Keith let a thread of his amusement trickle through to brush against Lance’s mind.
Lance grinned. “So you are actually capable of appreciating a joke?”
“Sure,” Keith shrugged. “You just don’t tell any good ones.”
Lance tugged him to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk, his mouth falling open. “Remind me again why we’re still friends?”
Keith’s eyes darted to their joined hands, then away. “Hunk wanted you to find somebody new to pester.” He began walking again, towing Lance along after him.
The other man hurried to catch up, his long legs eating up the distance between them. “That is not true , Kogane. You came up to me at the beginning of seventh grade and asked if I believed in aliens.”
Keith smiled at the memory. He’d heard Lance and another boy--who he later learned was Hunk--talking about a book that Lance had apparently finished reading the week before. Keith, who had only just moved to Washington from Texas, overheard them and thought that he might be able to join the conversation, as he’d recently finished reading the same book. He’d really meant to start off with something that made him seem smart and funny, but first contact with Lance’s mismatched blue eyes had left him scrambling for literally anything to say.
His brain had decided on aliens.
Lance still hadn’t let him live it down (this had happened eleven years ago), but Hunk had been nice enough to welcome the awkward new kid into the warm embrace of his friendship, and that was that.
Privately, Keith didn’t think it was a coincidence that he had happened to simply stumble across his soulmate, but Lance insisted that it was just a happy accident of fate.
Sounds fake, Keith had said in response the first time Lance had busted out the “fate” line. But okay.
You believe in aliens, Lance had replied. Leave me alone.
“Any big plans for the weekend?” Lance asked, bringing Keith back to the present. “It’s Friday night, man. You’ve got to start ingesting those end-of-the-week vibes now.”
“Same as you, I imagine.” Keith said dryly. “Sleep all day tomorrow, go to work on Sunday.”
Lance pulled a face. “Nope. We’re going on a plate.”
Keith turned his head to stare at him. “But sleep.”
“Plate,” Lance said firmly.
“Plate” was a term coined by Lance--of course--and he was ridiculously proud of it. It was short for “platonic date”, a concept that Lance was absolutely in love with despite Keith insisting (numerous times) that just asking to hang out would get him the same results.
“Lance,” Keith said on a sigh. “Can’t we just stay home and watch a movie, or something?”
Lance’s mouth twisted to the side while he considered it. “Fine. But I get to choose where we get dinner from.”
“Or,” Keith hedged. “We could bribe Hunk into coming over and cooking for us.”
Lance shook his head. “I’m ordering chinese from that one place that gives us twelve packets of soy sauce.”
Keith exhaled through his nose. “Fine.”
The two of them leased an apartment together, because it made them look good. Their landlord was a sucker for anything romantic, and two Settled soulmates of the romantic variety fit that bill pretty well. They hammed up the couple act whenever they saw him, and he held them in slightly higher esteem.
For reasons unknown, soul-bond markings established themselves in the eyes. Every person born with a soulmate, whether platonic or romantic, was also born with two different eye colors--like magical heterochromia. There was no way to predict which would be which, but one eye would be the baby’s natural eye color, and the other would be the natural eye color of their soulmate. In Keith’s case, his left eye had been his own indigo-gray, and his right had been Lance’s piercing blue.
Once the two of them had met, their eyes had completely reverted back to their natural colors--a process known as the Settling that took about a week to complete.
Lance and Keith had decided that they were better off friends by the time the Settling had ended. Hunk still insisted that they had been too young and hadn’t given each other a proper chance, but Keith and Lance had gotten pretty good at tuning him out.
“It’s cold,” Lance said now, tugging his hand out of Keith’s to wrap his arms around himself.
Keith sighed. “You’re wearing a down jacket, Lance. If anything, I should be the one complaining about the cold.” Despite his words, he tugged open his messenger bag to pull out the scarf that he had started carrying with him as soon as the first day of October had passed. Lance, born in and a frequent visitor of Cuba, thrived in warm weather and started to complain about frostbite if the temperature dropped below 55℉.
Keith passed the scarf to Lance, who eagerly wound it around his neck. “Here, you wimp.”
Lance beamed at him. “Thanks, gorgeous.”
Keith flushed and didn’t answer.
They walked the rest of the way in near silence, Lance occasionally breaking into an upbeat hum or whistle before quieting down again. As they entered the lobby of their apartment building, he looked over at Keith with a smile. “So, honey, are we sharing your bed or mine tonight?”
Keith raised an eyebrow, unphased. “Yours has more space, so I guess it depends on what you have planned.”
The clearing of a throat from their left made them turn, pasting expressions of surprise on their faces as they went. “Boys!” Ed Lostner, their landlord, cried with his “affectionate” smile firmly in place. “I’m as game for a little hanky-panky as the next guy and you know that I love you two, but can we maybe keep it PG down here?” He subtly gestured a few feet to his right, where three small children were huddled together and talking.
“Mr Lostner!” Lance replied, practically oozing confidence and charm. “It’s such a nice surprise to see you down here, and we’re so sorry to bother you. We’re just planning a good ol’ session of Netflix and cuddling.”
Lostner winked, and Keith took a small step closer to Lance. “Of course, kiddos. I’ll leave you to it, then. Have a good night!”
“You too, Ed.” Keith said with a small smile. Lance snorted quietly and grabbed Keith’s hand, towing him toward the elevators.
“What, no stairs tonight?” Keith teased as they waited for the doors to open, and Lance shrugged.
“I didn’t feel like getting angry over Lostner watching your butt as we went up them.”
Keith tried to ignore the heat that rose in his cheeks. “I think he has better things to do than watch my ass move away from him.”
“I certainly don’t,” Lance replied, causing Keith to bite his lip to keep from smiling.
Nobody was really sure what to make of Ed Lostner. He had a habit of calling Keith and Lance “kiddos” despite being thirty to Keith’s twenty-five and Lance’s twenty-four, but he was kind--if a bit weird.
Lance was also convinced that he had a thing for Keith.
Keith ignored that theory, mostly because he already had a man in his life--and making sure that Lance didn’t do stupid shit was a full time job.
Once they’d made their way to their apartment and Lance had collapsed on the sofa, his sock-clad feet hanging over the edge, Keith sat down on the floor with a sigh.
“Hey, Kogane,” Lance said. “Did you just break?”
“Leave me alone,” Keith grumbled. “I’m tired.”
“So go to bed,” Lance replied, not unreasonably.
Keith shook his head. “If I do that, I have to brush my teeth and shit. That’s a lot of work.”
“I think you’ll survive.” Lance said.
“I don’t know about that.” With another sigh, Keith heaved himself back to his feet and shuffled over to the couch. After shoving Lance’s ankles out of the way, he sat down with a small huff of air.
“Wow,” Lance said, watching him. “What a superhuman amount of effort that must have took.”
“You joke, but you’re completely right.” Keith leaned back, letting his eyes slide closed.
“Keeeith,” Lance whined. “You can’t steal my spot and then go to sleep.”
“I didn’t steal your spot,” Keith mumbled. “You’re still sitting in it.”
“My legs need space too,” Lance grumbled back.
“Your legs can deal with it,” Keith said, even as he placed Lance’s feet in his lap.
“This is cozy,” Lance said mildly after no more than a minute of silence had passed.
“Yeah, it is. Stop ruining it by talking.” Keith tried to say. His words slurred, ruining the effect.
“Well, if you’re going to be an ass about it…” Lance’s words weren’t all that clear either. “Give me a foot massage, Keith.”
“No,” Keith said, reaching for Lance’s right foot. He’d only just dug his fingers into the sock-covered flesh when the gravity tugging at his eyelids overwhelmed him and he drifted off to sleep.
He woke to the smell of coffee and something burning.
At the other end of the couch, Lance groaned. “Keith, stop destroying our food.”
“RIght here, Lance.” Keith grunted. “Besides, you live for my muffins.”
Lance cracked his eyes open, shifting his head to look over at Keith. “If it’s not you, then who the hell--”
“Good morning, children.” A familiar voice sang. Keith groaned and closed his eyes again. “Time to get up.”
“No to the nope.” Lance mumbled. Keith opened his eyes to watch him. “If you’re here, then you’re here before work, which means that it’s six in the morning. Please leave.”
Shiro appeared in front of them, a mug in his hand and a shit-eating grin on his face. “Sorry, I didn’t actually want to disturb you two, not when you looked so comfortable.” He eyed the way that Keith’s arms rested protectively across Lance’s ankles. “My coffee machine broke, and I was jonesing for a fix.”
“There are a dozen other places you could’ve gone, you absolute human disaster.” Keith lifted a hand to rub his face. “What are you even failing to cook?”
Shiro’s gaze moved over the back of the couch, toward their small kitchen. “I think they started as eggs.”
Lance sighed long and loud, then pushed himself up and slouched into the kitchen. There was a clattering sound, then the splash of running water. “I’ll make you breakfast, Shiro, if you want to stay.”
Keith’s eyes opened wide at that. Even the warm, gravelly tone of Lance’s morning voice couldn’t distract him from the horrifying words. “No, it’s too early to deal with him for an extended period of time.”
Shiro smirked, slurping from his mug.
“Lance,” Keith begged.
Lance hummed. “Well, now I think that he should stay just to spite you.”
Shiro gave Keith a look of fake distress. “What happened to brotherly love, Keith?”
“It walked out the door when you walked in at six a.m. ” Keith rolled his eyes. “I’m going to bed. Lance, please make him leave soon.” He shoved himself up off the couch and plodded toward the door that led to his bedroom.
“No promises,” Lance sang, sounding much more awake now that he had someone to tease.
“I hate you both,” Keith muttered.
Just before he shut his door, he heard Shiro laugh. “It’s always nice to know how much he cares.”