Lance was four-years-old when his parents met Isabel McClain. He remembered very little of the actual meeting: he remembered his mother at the teetering podium at the front of a wood-worn lecture hall, and he remembered the colouring book his father handed him, and he remembered the wavering echo of his mother’s voice over the speakers. He remembered his mother presenting in Spanish, but that didn’t seem right when he reflected on it, and he remembered his father smoothing back his hair, but that didn’t seem right, either.
And he remembered Isabel, even if he didn’t have a name for her yet, standing up when his mother invited questions at the end of her presentation, and he remembered the dust in the light from the projector when he looked straight up at it.
Isabel had seemed so tall, and her voice so strong, and maybe that was why he remembered the shape of her back and the frizz of her ponytail and the way she spoke with her hands, even if he couldn’t remember what she asked or how his mother answered.
And after, when Lance’s father scooped him out of the cushy but still uncomfortable seat and they made their way to the front to say “hello” to Lance’s still-flustered mother, Lance remembered Isabel and the dark blue of her blazer and the quick way she had shaken his mother’s hand, and then the click of her heels when Isabel turned and left.
He had watched her go, with his arms tight around his father’s neck and his father’s arms tight around him, and he hadn’t thought much of her except that, yes, she was tall, and she walked with purpose, and that he liked the bounce of her hair as she left and the way the doors swung shut behind her with authority.
And then he had turned to smile at his mother and she had kissed his cheeks until Lance squirmed and laughed and then she had said: “Thank you for coming.”
And Lance had grinned and then he had had a lovely lunch with his parents—just him, just them, and the memory of his siblings and the thought of them at school buzzing around his head like fireflies.
Two days before they were due to fly out—fly home—and nine days before Rachel’s wedding, Lance woke with a sigh and a groan and flailed his hands into Keith’s empty spot before he even attempted to open his eyes.
“Lance?” came Hunk’s sleep-heavy voice.
“Ugh,” Lance replied and cracked his eyes open and dragged his palm against the spot where Keith was supposed to be. He scratched idly at the sheets, and then slipped—or slumped—out of bed.
Hunk rolled towards the wall and dragged the blankets over his head. “I can’t wait to have my own place,” he groaned, shuffling closer to the wall.
“Liar,” Lance said with all the affection he could muster. He leaned over and tucked the blankets tighter around Hunk’s back.
He went for a run.
It was hard.
His ears buzzed.
His muscles burned.
He came home to a note on the fridge from Hunk—“we need EGGS”—and he stretched in the empty bedroom and watched Red doze in her hovel for a bit and then he decided to take a shower.
Hunk had moved out of residence weeks ago. Classes had ended. Lance’s last paycheck for his dull house-painting work had been deposited and he wasn’t tutoring. Keith was at his last practice before the summer break. The result was a bustling apartment, full to the brim with noise and laughter and someone Lance could always reach for if he needed to. It made the moments like this—with the quiet, with the roar in Lance’s ears—seem loud.
He ran the water as hot as he could take it and clutched his shampoo bottle and frowned at the tiny lettering of the ingredients. His fingers squeaked against the plastic but he liked the give of the half-empty bottle and the heat of the water beating against the back of his head and his neck and the growing steam teasing his nostrils. It was easier to let go of thinking and just listen to the sound of the water falling and hitting and rushing. He could never quite get it right enough to explain: a swoosh, a kwoosh, a goosh.
He shook the bottle experimentally.
And maybe he had left the door open because he didn’t hear the squeaky handle or the squeaky hinges over the squeakiness of the bottle, which robbed him of any chance to be prepared for Keith dragging aside the shower curtain with drama and metallic clanking.
Lance squawked. Maybe shrieked.
He dropped his shampoo.
He and Keith looked down at it, and then back up at each other.
And Keith smiled.
“Go away!” Lance said, flicking water at him.
Keith seemed unaffected. “Did you wash your hair already?”
“Can I do it?”
Lance scowled. “Why are you like this?”
Keith shrugged and replied: “Hang on, I’m coming in.” He pulled the curtain shut again with a plastic crash.
Lance scrambled to scoop up his shampoo bottle and shuffled further back under the stream of water. His hair stuck to his forehead and his cheeks were already starting to heat. “I didn’t invite you!”
“You didn’t have to,” came Keith’s voice on the other side of the shower curtain.
“The water’s super hot!”
“I can take it.”
“What if I say no!”
“Then I’ll go away.” Keith paused. “Duh.”
Lance hid his grin behind the shampoo bottle and said nothing more until Keith tore the curtain back again with another round of his special Keith-brand of drama.
“You probably stink.”
“Good thing I’m about to shower, then,” Keith replied flatly.
Lance laughed and let Keith tug the shampoo bottle from his hands and let Keith crowd him against the wall of the shower. Keith let Lance run his wet hands through the tangle of his hair and let Lance hide his snickers against his cheeks.
“The wall’s cold,” Lance said.
“It probably isn’t. You just have the water stupid hot.”
“I thought you could take it?”
“Are you flirting with me?”
“Are you going to wash my hair?”
“Yes,” Keith said, in that firm and serious way he sometimes spoke that told Lance he was a step away from either laughing or pouncing. “In a minute.”
(They heard the door slam, a little later.
“You didn’t close the door,” Lance said, on the edge of a hysterical laugh or a sigh or both.
“Neither did you,” Keith grumbled and Lance felt that all the way up his spine, tingling over his neck and into his hair like stretching warmth.)
(“I like the way your shampoo smells.”
“I know. You sap.”
“I wanted to wake you up, before I left.”
“You were sleeping well.”
Hunk was in the kitchen devouring an omelet when Lance had the presence of mind to muster up an apology. Hunk held up his fork, stabbed twice at the air, and then shook his head and returned to his breakfast.
“Sorry Hunk,” Lance said. And then: “It’s Keith’s fault.”
Hunk sighed and muttered to his plate: “I cleaned the bathroom yesterday.”
They watched a movie with Hunk settled between Keith and Lance. And then they watched another. And another.
Keith migrated to the floor and Hunk put a pillow on his head and they watched one of the bad Godzillas and then a little Captain America (more like all three) and then Hunk complained that his neck and his butt hurt and they needed to do something .
“No, we do not,” Keith said with a staccato rhythm making his voice sound vaguely sing-song. He flopped over on the floor, the pillow toppling off his head. “It’s relaxation time.”
Lance lounged back against the other side of the couch and poked his toes against Hunk’s side. Hunk swatted at his feet.
“Let’s go outside,” Hunk said to Keith.
“How are you so lazy? Aren’t you an athlete?”
Keith made a noise that was somewhere between drowsy and grumpy and Hunk sighed so huge it filled up the little living room, with all their books and photos and blankets and Hunk’s boxes, and Lance smiled. He pulled his legs back and hugged his knees to his chest, content to just listen for now.
“I need to rest,” Keith said, sounding squished with his face half-pressed against the floor. Hunk dropped another pillow on him. Keith ignored it. “Shiro and Adam are coming tomorrow and that’s going to be something, let me tell you.”
“Why are you like this?”
“Why do you two keep asking me that?”
“Because you’re confounding.”
Lance snorted. Keith tried to throw one of the pillows his way but got Hunk instead.
Hunk won, in the end, and he and Lance dragged Keith to his feet and Keith complained while he put on his shoes and complained while Lance locked the door and complained down the stairs until Hunk suggested they go for ice cream. Keith perked up at that, maybe even grew an inch, and Lance watched him hook his arm with Hunk’s and begin a rapid march down the sidewalk.
“This is supposed to be leisurely!” Hunk cried.
“Come on, Lance,” Keith called over his shoulder.
Summer, Lance was realizing, was one of the best times in this city, when the sun started to cool and a soft breeze started to pick up. The light carried on and on but there was something soothing about the way it grew more orange as the evening carried on, and the way dark blue started to seep out of the horizon—less to eat away at the sunlight and more to embrace the fiery continuity of the day. It made everything seem, simply, soft, like Lance could reach out at any moment and brush his fingers against the bark of the trees or the cooled pavement or Keith’s hand and he would feel nothing but warmth and light and the soft falling of summer.
It felt like home, he realized as he trailed after Hunk and Keith with his hands in his pockets and his tattoos blaring bright on his bare shoulders, creeping along his skin to dance against the back of his neck. Yes, home—he didn’t know what to do with that.
It was in little things.
Like the easy way Keith took his hand one moment and then could take Hunk’s the next—would they ask Lance to explain that?
Like the way he didn’t always sleep well—would Lance have to tell his mother, explain something he didn’t understand himself?
Like the comfort they had with each other, to the point that Keith could step, stark naked, into the shower and crowd close enough to make Lance bang his head back against the wall from the sheer surprise of it, the sheer pleasure of it, and then Keith could wash his hair and they could chat like there was nothing sexual about their bare skin—
Like the way he thought of Rachel’s wedding and looked at Keith and felt the flutter and furl of new butterflies, huge and daunting—would his family be able to hear that?
Adam and Shiro came early, of course. Hunk shrieked when he found Adam in the kitchen, eating what was left of their cereal and their milk, poking through their eggs.
Lance heard about this, later. He rolled over in the moment and went back to sleep, dozing back off to the sound of Keith tearing his way down the hall and then swearing at the top of his lungs. He heard later, too, that Shiro slept through most of these latest shenanigans as well, comfortable on their couch with all of their pillows.
“Oh,” Lance said when he got up and stumbled to the kitchen, scrubbing sleep from his eyes and leaning heavily against their table. Shiro yawned at him.
“You could’ve used the bed,” Keith grumbled, nose-deep in his coffee.
“Not all of us like to sleep in piles,” Shiro muttered.
Lance supposed that was fair. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if he woke up with Shiro snoring next to him. Yell, probably.
Adam ate four of their remaining eggs and then promised to buy them all lunch.
“Are you packed?” Shiro said, and it wasn’t clear immediately who he was talking to.
So Keith answered for all three of them: “No.”
It was barely nine o’clock and Lance hadn’t even had a chance to brush his teeth yet. He thought mournfully of their bed, with its warm sheets and the scuffling sound of Red in her home and eating her snacks.
Hunk twitched his way through the day, fluttering his way through first impressions and hanging back from the conversation until Keith dragged him their way. Adam seemed to thrive on his anxieties. Keith played interference. Shiro sighed a lot. Lance was a poor distraction.
But they all survived. They packed up Red and said their cooing goodbyes and Keith solemnly handed Shiro and Adam the Red-Care-Package he and Hunk had made while Lance tearfully watched (fresh shavings and some hard-boiled egg, crumbled just for her, and a picture of the three of them waving at her).
“We’ll take good care of her,” Adam promised.
“You better,” Keith said.
And then to Lance, Shiro asked: “We’ll see you in a couple of weeks?”
“Yes,” Lance said, his cheeks stretching with the weight of his smile.
Shiro smiled back and then they were gone, driving away in the orange evening light and taking Lance’s hamster with them.
“I’m going to miss her,” he sighed.
Keith rubbed his back.
“I survived that,” Hunk muttered, sounding surprised, and led the way back up to the apartment.
“You did great,” Keith said to this back. “Adam and Shiro love you.”
“I might throw up.”
They started packing.
Keith agonized over his three dress shirts for almost an hour, laying them out on the bed and all but falling to his knees while he considered them. “Blue?” he said. “Red? Purple?” And then: “Why don’t I just have white ?”
“I’ll buy you a white dress shirt,” Lance said. “Just make a decision. Please.”
Hunk refused to get involved.
“Do I need a tie?” Keith said, half-panicked, three hours after they’d finally gone to bed.
“Oh my god,” Hunk said.
They covered Keith in blankets and pillows.
Keith was sweet like that, sometimes: agonizing over dress shirts, making up a colourful list of Lance’s family members, making sure they took a photo just for Red so she wouldn’t forget them. These were some of the things that Lance kept tucked at the back of his mind, like a bouquet of precious memories or the logic behind the burst of warmth in his chest when he spent long enough just studying Keith’s nose or listening to his voice. These were the things he wished he could pluck from his brain and present in an array to his family.
He could trust Keith, though. He could trust Keith to put his best face forward and to be his most honest self and to put on display all the things that made him the human that Lance wanted to—
Well, that made him spectacular and special in Lance’s eyes.
Their flight was at ten.
It felt early.
Keith drank two cups of coffee and then the three of them dragged their bags out into the hall. Keith whirled around to do one last check of the apartment: lights off, stove off, cupboards closed, things unplugged. Lance watched him go, for a moment, and then puttered after him so they could check the bedroom, at least, together. Lance wasn’t as focused: he dragged his fingers against the plaster-esque paint of their walls, touched the closed window delicately, sighed sadly at the empty spot where Red usually was. He sat on their tidied bed and wiggled his toes against their carpet and he surveyed what he could of their home.
Keith, finally satisfied, came to stand in front of Lance with his hands on his hips and something partway between a smile and a frown on his lips. They studied each other for a moment and then Keith held out a hand and said: “Ready?”
“Ready,” Lance said, and found that he was, and he took Keith’s hand and off they went.
Two buses, an hour, and a lot of complaining later, they arrived at the airport and sent their bags away and Lance clutched his boarding passes and smiled.
The day Lance had left for school, for the first time, everyone had come.
It had been awful. And wonderful. Lance had been hugged, and re-hugged, so many times he had almost been late for his first flight. The twins kept trying to sneak sweets into his backpack and his mother kissed his cheek so many times Lance’s own face had been wet from her tears. He hadn’t cried, not there. He had waved at them for as long as he could, shuffling through security, and he had grinned and he had bounced on his feet and he had made sure they could see how excited he was, how eager he was to embark on this newest adventure, on this first step to adulthood.
And then he had found his gate and sat at a bench and stretched out his legs and wished, for a time, that he and Hunk had flown out together; and he had wished, for a time, that he had let his father come with him.
He didn’t cry until he had boarded the plane and settled against the window. That had been his first real bout of homesickness.
Off they went.
It was barely an hour, just going south and on a mostly empty plane. Hunk sat across the aisle from them, pressed up against the window and marveling at the mountains below and the stretch of the prairies. Keith and Lance switched seats so Lance could have the window and no one seemed bothered. Keith leaned against his shoulder, over their shared armrest and close enough that his cheek could rub, sometimes, against the exposed juncture of Lance’s neck and shoulder. Lance caught Hunk watching them twice, over that barely-an-hour, and Hunk always smiled wide enough that Lance couldn’t miss it. The plane was chilly and Keith’s hand was warm and the sky was amazing.
When they landed they shuffled off the plane and shuffled some more to their next gate and stayed close together, an affectionate bundle of three. Keith bought an expensive coffee and peed twice and scowled when Hunk suggested he might be burning a hole in his stomach. They set up camp by the gate, in a corner with an outlet. Lance and Keith played chess on Lance’s phone while Hunk fed them bad moves and laughed whenever one of them listened to him. The little seating area filled, slowly, until it was crowded enough that Keith slid closer from his place on the floor and set his chin on Lance’s knee. Lance set aside his phone and their game and leaned forward to tug Keith’s hair free of its stubby ponytail, so he could brush his fingers through it and watch, thoughtfully, Keith frown but close his eyes like he was willing—for now—to suffer Lance’s affections.
Lance grinned. Keith leaned heavily against his leg in retaliation. Hunk pressed up against Lance’s side and took an idle photo of the gate and the boarding time.
“I can’t wait to be home,” Hunk muttered.
“Yeah,” Lance said.
Keith opened his eyes and blinked up at him.
Lance thought: home. He smiled. Keith closed his eyes again.
They boarded and sat with Keith comfortably in the middle and Hunk leaning to look either way up and down the aisle and Lance crowded against the window. He had to lean forward to get a good look out at the tarmac and then the shrinking city and airport and the growing, impossible clouds. Keith touched his wrist, gentle and warm, and Lance glanced back at him with a smile. Keith smiled, too, and opened his mouth like he wanted to say something, and then stopped and shook his head and pressed two of his fingers to Lance’s pulse.
Home was family, and the warmth of his mother’s laughter and the sturdiness of his father’s hugs.
Home was their bed, and their bedroom, in their little apartment, too. Home was waking slowly when Keith slipped from the bed and home was breakfast together and good morning and good night kisses. Home was summer evenings and winter mornings and the desperate ache to see Keith that sometimes struck in the middle of the day.
Lance watched movies and Keith read his book and Hunk dozed through his motion sickness and then they were landing. Lance turned on his phone too early, maybe, and frowned at a dozen notifications from his sisters and his parents and his brothers. More pictures than he had the brain power to look at it, and one looming message from his mother: WHEN DO YOU LAND?
Lance squinted at his phone. Keith leaned against him and blinked. “What does that mean?”
“They might be coming to get us.”
And if Lance didn’t know better he’d say there was a hint of panic in Keith’s voice.
“My mom and step-mom at least,” he replied, tapping out a quick response.
“At least,” Hunk agreed and patted Keith’s arm.
“That’s fine,” Keith said. “That’s great. That’s very nice of them.”
“Don’t throw up,” Hunk said.
“I’m not going to throw up!”
Hunk patted Keith’s knee again and Lance grabbed hold of his hand.
“I’m fine! It’s fine!”
mama: OK WE ARE WAITING FOR YOU
mama: I’LL STOP USING CAPS LOCK WHEN I DIE
mama: TELL KEITH THAT I AM A HUGGER
Isabel: don’t mind your mother.
“But why the caps lock,” Keith muttered while they waited to shuffle off the plane, while he squinted at Lance’s texts.
Lance shrugged. “She says she likes the way the letters look,” he said. “But I think she just likes to feel loud.”
Keith looked him. Lance shrugged again.
“Yes,” Hunk said, dragging Keith into the aisle. “That’s Lance’s mother. She’s very nice.”
“I’ve talked to her,” Keith grumbled. “I’ve heard her voice.”
“Come on, panic-Keith.”
“I’m not panicking!”
He was, just a little. Lance could see it in the twitch of his fingers and the way he chewed his lips and kept glancing over his shoulder to make sure Lance was close. It was in the way he tugged at Hunk’s sleeve and stared up at the signs in the terminal when they were finally free of the stuffy plane, and it was in the way his palm felt kind of clammy when Lance took his hand.
“My sweet, sweet mother,” Lance muttered by Keith’s ear. Keith swatted at him. Lance ignored him. “Of all the things that could possibly make you nervous—”
“It’s a normal thing to be nervous about!”
“Don’t taunt him,” Hunk said. “He’ll go on about his dress shirts again.”
“Your dress shirts are wonderful,” Lance said quickly before Keith started to spiral.
“Don’t laugh at me,” Keith grumbled. “I’m doing my best.”
He always did.
“I’m not laughing,” Lance promised and squeezed Keith’s hand, once and tight. All the mirth was gone from his voice, now, and had seeped from his bones and in its wake was that bubbly warm feeling that came when he least expected it: that bubbly warm feeling that seemed to chant Keith’s name and call out for Keith’s soul and—
other nonsense like that, the stuff that kept Lance upright most days and drove him, sometimes, to taste the dip of Keith’s collarbone.
And what to do with it? With the way Keith breathed in and out, in and out, as they made their slow way to baggage claim? With the too-serious way Keith had contemplated his dress shirts, his shoes, the need for a tie? With the way Keith woke him, sometimes, with a smile and a touch to his cheek and a soft good morning, sweetheart ?
What to do?
“Are you okay?” Keith asked.
“Yes,” Lance replied, nodding his head vigorously. “I’m great.”
(What to do?)
Keith and Hunk wrestled the bags free at the carousel while Lance tried and failed to call his mother (“Reception is really bad!” he yelled; “What?” his mother yelled back; “Reception! Is bad!” he yelled). They figured it out eventually, after several quiet “goodness”es from Isabel in the background and one strained “oh my god” from Keith. Lance swatted Keith’s hands away until he surrendered their suitcase and Keith rubbed his palms against his shirt and Hunk kept him from trying (and failing) to fix his hair.
“Lance’s family is really nice,” Hunk kept telling him.
“I’m fine,” Keith kept insisting.
“Yes,” Lance told him. “You’re perfect.”
Keith looked at him and seemed to consider this: Lance thought he could see the slow shift of Keith’s thoughts behind his eyes, could maybe even see the way Keith straightened, a little, and finally smiled and said: “Okay.”
( “I’m nervous, too. I want them to like me, too .”
“That’s not what I said .”
“It’s okay. I’m quiet and moody and have bad hair—”
“I like your hair.”
“I don’t want you to be nervous.” )
It was sunny when they joined the shuffling crowd outside the terminal, dragging their suitcases behind them and peering over the heads of a chattering group of fellow arrivals. They stuck close together, elbows knocking, and then Lance realized he didn’t know what his mother and step-mother were driving, and that he hadn’t seen them in ages, and that they were flying blind—and then there they were.
He saw Isabel first, her curly hair tied loosely back and her smile wide enough to show her teeth. She was wearing an unfamiliar pair of glasses that made her seem both older and younger than Lance had ever known her. She raised an arm when she saw him, her favourite bangles flashing in the sunlight.
Just in front of her was his mother, her hair cut short and her smile just as wide. She waved, too, and seemed to stand on her toes to reach beyond Isabel’s shoulder.
“Come on,” Lance said and tugged Keith forward by the shirt, his other hand clutching their suitcase tightly. Hunk followed, bellowing a cheery hello that Lance’s mother returned.
And just like that, there they all were.
He let go of Keith and their suitcase and pulled his mother into a hug so tight she laughed, clinging to him and letting loose a litany of “hello”s and “you need a haircut”s and “I’ve missed you”s against his shoulder. She pulled herself free and pulled Hunk in for a hug that he returned with gusto and Isabel pulled Lance in for a greeting of her own: a squeeze with one arm and then pushing him back just enough that she could look at his face and smile at his smile.
And then Isabel was looking behind Lance and Lance swore he heard Keith’s spine straighten.
“Hello Keith,” Isabel said. “It’s wonderful to meet you.”
“Hello,” Keith said.
“Keith,” Lance’s mother said, or cheered, and grabbed him by the shoulders for a hug. “Finally! We meet in the flesh!”
“Goodness,” said Isabel.
“Don’t choke him,” said Lance.
Lance introduced his boyfriend to his mother and step-mother the summer that Rachel married. He was nineteen-years-old to Keith and Hunk’s twenty. He would remember the sun and the noise at the terminal, and the way his mother had ushered all of them to get moving so other cars in the queue could take their spot. He would remember settling between Hunk and Keith in the back seat and the dazzling jangle of Isabel’s favourite—her lucky—bangles as she drove. He would remember the growing confidence in Keith’s voice as they went and as he became more comfortable saying “Regina” and “Isabel.” Lance would remember Keith’s one nervous slip and his flush after the words “Dr. McClain” left his mouth, and the sound of everyone’s warm giggles and Keith’s helpless shrug.
He would remember. He would remember the day for many things.
What to do.
What to do?
“My brother’s getting married,” Keith said, and then paused. “Eventually.”
“Eventually?” Lance’s mother echoed with a laugh.
“I’m happy it’s happening at all.”
“Lance has told us a lot about Shiro.”
“And about you.”
“Mom,” Lance grumbled.
“He hasn’t complained about your hair in...hm, a year and a half, maybe?”
“Oh my god,” Lance said.
“He likes my hair,” Keith sighed. “He just doesn’t like to say it.”
“Oh my god!”
Hunk, because he was Hunk, recorded more of this than he should have.
(There he was: Keith. Handsome and awkward and polite and smiling. Talking easily with Lance’s mother and step-mother.
He’d make them fall in love with him, Lance was sure of it. He did that to people, made them wonder where their feet went and how their heart had leapt into their throat.
At least, he did that to Lance.)
Lance grew up in a noisy house on a quiet street, at least in part. His father hadn’t lived there in years but still called it home, still complained when flowers didn’t bloom or Marco didn’t ice the walk.
Rachel and Nick had their own apartment and a creepy cat. Luis and Lisa had bought a house a year ago that they were starting to feel was their own. These days, Marco and Veronica bickered over who was really in charge of the house and kept things manageable and halfway decorated for when their mother and Isabel came home.
Because it was still home. The previous summer Lance had screamed when Marco and Veronica had said it was their house now, and he had screamed some more when Marco and Veronica had suggested he didn’t get a say in things anymore because he lived “out on the prairies with the buffalo.”
“What buffalo!” Lance had shrieked while Marco had snickered.
Hunk grew up not so far away. They dropped him off first. Keith scrambled out to help him with his suitcase and ignored Hunk when he said he was perfectly fine all on his own, thank you very much. Lance leaned out the open door in Keith’s wake and watched them with a smile, Hunk batting away Keith’s only half-helpful hands.
“Just give me a hug,” Hunk said with a roll of his eyes.
“See you soon,” Keith said, sounding only half-pouty.
“Say hi to your parents for me!” Lance called.
Lance leaned back when Keith flopped back into the car but he didn’t move from the middle seat. Keith squirmed to buckle up and then lifted his head and they were almost nose-to-nose, blinking at each other.
“What?” Lance said.
“Huh?” Keith said.
Lance’s mother leaned back and peered around at them. She looked Lance up and down once, frowned, and asked: “Are you going to shift over?”
Lance slapped a hand to Keith’s knee. Keith sighed. “I’m happy right here,” Lance said.
His mother shook her head and turned away.
Keith squirmed an arm behind Lance and tugged him just that little bit closer. He settled his hand, heavy and steadying, on Lance’s hip and pressed his cheek to Lance’s shoulder. Lance squeezed his knee. Feeling huge and awkward in the middle of the backseat of a rental, with his mother and step-mother pulling Keith into easy conversation, Lance smiled.
And they left Hunk’s spot empty and warm.
Rachel tore open the back door the moment Isabel parked. Lance barely had a moment to feel a little bit of warranted nostalgia, to even feel some of that latent homesickness start to ebb away, before Rachel had grabbed hold of Keith’s shirt and hauled him out of the car.
Isabel and Lance’s mother sighed together.
Keith made a grunting, squawking noise that was delightfully unfamiliar. Rachel slapped her hands to his shoulders, looked him up and down once, and then nodded.
“Keith,” she said.
“Uh,” Keith said.
She whirled away and leaned into the car. Lance smiled.
“Little brother,” Rachel said.
“I have a name.”
She reached for him and Lance scrambled back, shoving his way out the other side.
“You’re so annoying,” Rachel shrieked while they scowled at each other over the roof of the car. “Just let me hug you!”
“Man-handling people is not hugging!”
“Just get over here, you booger!”
Lance heard Keith say “uh” one more time and then his mother was taking Keith by the arm and tugging him toward the front door. “Don’t mind them,” she said. “Siblings. You know how it is.”
“I don’t know if I do.”
Rachel slapped the roof of the car. “Look what you’ve done,” she said. “Now Keith thinks we’re weird.”
“We are weird,” Lance grumbles. “Is this going to be a thing? Is everyone just going to drag my boyfriend places?”
“I was trying to get him out of the way!”
Isabel pushed Lance between his shoulder blades, clucking her tongue behind him. “Go say hello to your sister,” she said. “She’s getting married, you know.”
“I’ve heard that.”
“I’m getting married!” Rachel crowed. “Come hug me! And then you can go rescue your poor Keith.”
His poor Keith. Lance rolled his eyes and came around the car with slow steps. Rachel met him part way, tossing her arms around his shoulders and dragging him down and in for a hug so tight he choked.
“Don’t break my neck!”
“Yeah, yeah, ‘cause you’re so tall.”
“‘cause I’m human!”
“Welcome home, Lance,” she said with a squeeze, quiet against his cheek.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
“Come on,” Isabel said gently and they pulled apart. “Let’s go rescue Keith.”
And he needed a little rescuing. Lance’s mother had pulled him into the house and deposited him on the couch in the living room. He already had a sweet in one hand and a deer-in-the-headlights look on face, with Lance’s mother on one side and Marco frowning at his face on the other.
Keith nibbled at his sweet.
“Stop staring at him,” Rachel snapped, striding into the living room to wave her hands at Marco.
“It’s fine,” Keith said.
“You’re very polite,” Lance’s mother told him, patting his knee.
“Hello Lance,” Marco said, finally looking up. “I’ve met your boyfriend.”
“Harassing him doesn’t count as meeting him,” Lance grumbled.
“You could start with ‘hello.’”
“ You could start by giving him some space.”
“I’m fine,” Keith said. Lance’s mother patted his knee again.
Lance rolled his eyes and grabbed a fistful of Keith’s shirt and hauled him off the couch. Keith came with a willing stumble, cramming the rest of his snack in his mouth. Maybe so he’d have an excuse not to talk. Likely so he’d have an excuse not to talk.
“You’re not subtle,” Lance said, letting go.
With another roll of his eyes, Lance whirled back to the assembled members of his family and made a sweeping gesture with one arm. “Everyone,” he said, maybe louder than he should have. “This is Keith. Keith—everyone.”
“Yes,” Rachel said. “We’ve met him.”
“ You dragged him out of the car!”
“He’s seen my face and I’ve seen his.”
“Do you want him to think we’re crazy?”
“Oh no! Let’s not embarrass Lance in front of his boyfriend!”
“It’s nice to meet you all,” Keith piped up and was ignored.
“What’s he do?” Marco asked.
Lance squinted at him. “What’s he—do?”
“I’m a student,” Keith said. “Like Lance.”
“Yeah,” Marco continued. “What’s he do ?”
“He makes me very happy,” Lance snapped.
“That’s nice,” Marco said drily. “What does your student-boyfriend study ?”
“You could try asking Keith,” Lance’s mother said with a whack to Marco’s knee. She stood. “I think we have some lemonade in the fridge, Keith. Would you like some?”
“Yes,” said Isabel. “I think he would.”
“Oh,” Keith said. “Yeah.”
And that was how Keith met—half of Lance’s siblings.
More or less.
He very politely drank four glasses of lemonade while Lance’s mother and step-mother smiled at him, and he grew increasingly frustrated answering Marco’s indirect questions, and then hunched his shoulders a bit when Rachel crowded close at the kitchen table and began peppering him with questions (“What do you want to be when you grow up, Keith? Is there a reason you’re growing out your hair like that? Are you shy?”).
Lance knew—just knew —that they were all doing this on purpose, in that unfortunate familial hazing ritual that involved thrusting as much weird in the faces of a newcomer as possible as—inoculation or whatever. Poor Keith was probably half-sugarlemonwater by the end of it and Lance wished over and over that he had thought to bring Hunk, who was used to everyone’s nonsense and who knew how to guide Keith through nonsense situations.
And then Marco slapped a hand to the table and said to Keith’s face: “What’re your intentions with my little brother?”
And everyone had been very quiet for a moment, and then the room erupted into a chorus of “Marco shut up ” and Keith went very pink and that was when Lance decided it was time to get the suitcase from the car.
His bedroom was down the hall from the kitchen, dusty and untouched.
He slammed the door shut and wished he had thought, as a younger and less experienced Lance, to put a lock on his door. He huffed against it and then whirled around to look at Keith.
Keith had abandoned their suitcase in the middle of the little bedroom and was looking around like he had just walked into a museum, or a new library, or a large room with many windows and too much sunlight. The sort of place that grabbed Keith’s attention and made him stop and tap his chin and rock on his feet and consider his surroundings.
The familiar scrutiny made Lance blush, from the tips of his toes to the crown of his head.
“Stop that,” he said, or tried to say. It came out mostly as a panicked squeak.
Keith looked back at him. He crossed his arms. He shrugged. He smiled.
Lance hunched against the closed door.
“Why’re you nervous?” Keith said.
“Says the guy who was panicking in the airport.”
“I wasn’t panicking.”
Lance frowned. Keith kept on smiling at him.
It was unnerving and Keith knew it. Just—knew it. He was in full Keith-mode now; proper Keith-level of weirdness and small smiles and that knowing tilt of his head; proper Keith-level of just looking and looking and looking right at Lance, looking in a way that made Lance sure he knew what Keith was thinking—
(They hadn’t been alone together in a while.
Not properly, anyways.
Showers, sometimes. Quiet, late night rendezvous in the living room while Hunk dozed in the bedroom. Mornings, or afternoons, when Keith would press his lips to Lance’s neck and hold him tight and say nothing at all.
Did they still know how? Would they still want this, them, crowded close? The familiarity of it? The normalcy of it? The comfort of it?
Maybe Lance hadn’t thought of it, yet: the changes, the shifts, the tilting and growing and evolving balances of their relationship and their developing trifecta. Maybe Keith would love him differently, just as he now loved Hunk differently. Maybe Lance loved him differently.
What to do? What to do? What to—?)
—“Lance,” Keith said.
Lance jerked against the door. “What?”
“ You come here .”
“Okay,” Keith said, because it was still so easy for him. He crossed back across Lance’s little bedroom in barely a full stride, bearing down on Lance so quickly and so warmly Lance thought he would melt back into the old wood of his old door.
And then he really did melt and into Keith, with Keith’s fingers on his cheeks and Keith’s lips soft against his in a kiss that ushered away the anxious flush on Lance’s skin. His eyelids fluttered (his heart, maybe, fluttered) and his breath caught and then, just like that, he felt alright.
“I’m having some serious deja vu,” Lance muttered when Keith pulled back. He nudged his nose against Keith’s and smiled through the soothing waves of the kiss.
“Me too.” Keith hummed, his hands falling to Lance’s shoulders and then sliding down his arms to settle at his wrists. He held on gently, steadily Lance, and Lance wondered if Keith could feel the thrum of his blood under his skin and in his veins.
He wondered if he could say I think I’m alive for you but that seemed like much—too much, too loud, and what to do—
“Do you remember our room?” Keith mumbled, pressing a soft kiss to the corner of Lance’s mouth.
“Vividly.” Lance laughed and felt himself shake against the door. There it was again: a rush of I have been here before and I have missed something here, missed it with everything in me .
“I’m remembering,” Keith said.
“You, I guess. Our old door. The first time I kissed you.”
“That seems like a lot of stuff.”
“There’s a lot of stuff to remember.”
“Maybe,” Lance allowed. Somewhere along the way his voice had dropped into a whisper that danced over his lips, tickling and nervous and not quite his own. It was good enough, though. It was good enough for now. He knew it, deep in his bones, and he knew it as he said: “But there’s a lot of stuff here. Now. You and me, right now.”
“Yeah,” Keith breathed. Lance felt it.
Maybe he had a soul.
Maybe his tattoos were burning, and waiting to leap off his skin.
“I am feeling a lot of feelings,” he said before he could think better of it. He pushed back against the door, felt his hair rub against the wood. “And you—should—go to the other side of the room.”
Keith—damn him, damn him and his kisses and his voice and the intoxicating familiarity of his skin—Keith laughed, quick and rumbly, and pulled away.
He left Lance cold, a little. But grounded. But sure.
Keith pushed a hand through his hair and stepped around their suitcase, back to surveying the room like nothing at all had happened. But Lance could see it, now, like he couldn’t see it then: the shake of his shoulders while he shivered the moment away, the twitch of his fingers like he wanted to come back to Lance and press his thumbs to Lance’s hips and kiss under Lance’s eyes and make the room smell like them, like nothing had ever been here but them.
But many things had.
Lance pushed away from the door. He swallowed.
Keith meandered his way to the old desk and dragged his fingers over the battered stickers Lance had stuck on its surface, year after year. Whales and dolphins and mechas and dogs and guinea pigs and one faded Sailor Mars because she had always been his favourite— Keith turned away, his hands falling from the back of Lance’s old desk chair and his head tilting as he studied Lance’s old, light curtains and the peeling posters on his walls (Spider-Man and Roger Federer from his tennis phase and prints of the moon and an anonymous sea that had seemed so incredible, so profound, when Lance had been twelve, had been fourteen). Keith nodded once, like he had discovered something important, and stepped across the still lush and familiar carpet and dropped onto Lance’s bed, dragging his palms over the unfamiliar sheets and then leaning back on his hands to look up at the ceiling and the glow-in-the-dark stars Lance had had stuck overhead since he was very young, with their would-be constellations that were so different than the stars he and Keith had on their own ceiling, looking down at them.
He looked alien in Lance’s childhood bedroom. He was a piece from Lance’s new life, from his bumbling steps into adulthood, and now here he was, looking out over all the evidence that Lance had lived a life without him, once.
It didn’t seem right.
But Keith, here and sitting on Lance’s old bed and looking around Lance’s old bedroom and then smiling right at Lance’s own warm, tired face—he was perfect, just like this.
The multiplicity of Keith.
Lance pushed away from the door and took stuttered, determined steps towards Keith and his waiting smile.
“So,” Keith said. “Your bedroom.”
“And your family.”
Lance flinched. He shook his head and dropped onto the bed next to Keith, flopping back with a groan. Keith twisted to look down at him, his fingers tapping against the sheets.
“Yeah,” Lance sighed. “Some of them, anyways.” He paused. “Just so you know, we are always like this.”
“I like your family.”
“I do,” Keith said, insistent and serious. “And I want them to like me too.”
Lance squirmed against the bed until he had a steady view of Keith, frowning now and leaning properly over Lance. “They will,” he said. And then: “They do .”
“You’re a good boyfriend,” Keith said after a moment, serious and firm. “Do you know that?”
Lance blinked. He opened his mouth. He closed it.
“You are,” Keith said again. “I’m lucky to have you.”
“I’m lucky to have you,” Lance mumbled, reaching up to press a palm against Keith’s shoulder, just the feel the solid weight of him. He held on tight. “We’re lucky to have each other.”
“Yes,” Keith said. “And I’m not scared of your brothers.”
Lance’s mouth twitched. “Maybe you should be,” he teased.
“I have four older siblings, you know. And almost three moms. And a dad.” Lance hummed, wiggling his toes. “You should be very afraid. That’s how this works, you know.”
“ Hilarious ,” Keith repeated in a drawl. “I love this joke.”
“You love me,” Lance said. It came out in a quiver, wavering in the air with an uncertainty he didn’t feel, more sharp-turn serious than he had meant. He glanced away and then made himself look back. “And I love you.”
“Yes,” Keith said after a moment. “Thank you for bringing me home with you, Lance.”
“Thank you for coming.”
“I mean it,” Keith insisted. Lance squeezed his shoulder, the fluttering returning to his chest and the corner of his eyes. “It means a lot to me.”
“I want forever,” Lance said and caught his breath. “Do you remember that?”
“Vividly,” Keith murmured and leaned down to kiss him, searing him against the bed he’d grown up with.
“Weird question,” Keith said, digging through Lance’s empty desk drawers with a dissatisfied pout. “But I’m going to ask it anyways.”
“Huh?” Lance said, looking up from their spread open suitcase.
They had already set one of their polaroids of Red by the window.
So she could see everything, of course.
Keith glanced back at him, drumming his fingers against Lance’s desk. “Did you lose your virginity in this room?”
He shut his mouth with a click.
And then, fighting through the blush on his cheeks and through the shriek that was threatening to spill out of his mouth, he replied: “I didn’t lose it, you weirdo!”
Keith shrugged. “You don’t have to tell me.” He paused. “Just curious.”
Too casually. Fake casually.
Keith was useless at casual. Too serious, with his dark hair and his extreme emotions and that social awkwardness that made it impossible for him to turn down four lemonades .
Lance frowned. He rubbed at his cheeks, trying to quell the blush. “Do you really want to know?”
He huffed a breath and then resumed digging through their suitcase, their folded clothes and their weirdly similar dress clothes. “Yes,” he said. “I had sex for the first time here.”
Keith didn’t reply immediately.
Lance glanced back up, clutching two pairs of his own socks and feeling foolish and regretful. “Keith?” he said slowly. “Are you going to freak out?”
Keith turned fully away from the desk and leaned back against it. He drummed his fingers again. And then he said: “No, I don’t think so.”
“It was before you.”
“I know.” Another drum of his fingers. “I’m not going to freak out.”
“Why did you ask?” Lance said, putting the socks down.
“I told you: I was curious.”
“Feeling masochistic, huh.”
“No,” Keith said sharply. He frowned. “I just—want to know you, Lance.”
“You do know me,” Lance said. “You know me better than anyone.”
“You’re a different you every day,” Keith replied with a shrug. He pushed away from the desk and came to sit cross-legged on the other side of the suitcase. “I get to know you every day. It’s one of the privileges of being your boyfriend.”
“Uh huh,” Lance said, leaning back on his hands. “It doesn’t freak you out. At all.”
“That was then,” Keith said instead of “no.” “This is now. And we choose each other every day that we’re together.”
“I guess we do,” Lance said.
He knew Lance better than anyone. He knew Lance better than anyone ever had.
He knew Keith. He knew Keith in the morning. He knew Keith in the middle of the night. He knew Keith when he was irritated or angry or uncertain. He knew Keith when he was excited and joyful and loving. He knew Keith before he brushed his teeth and he knew Keith when he didn’t have the strength of will to shower for three days in a row.
He knew Keith then, and he knew Keith now, and he wanted Keith to know every piece of him.
Every memory. Every daydream. Every embarrassing pimple and unfortunate childhood decisions. Every moment Lance had ever thought of kissing him, and just him.
And every piece to come.
But what to do ?
He couldn’t put his finger on it. He couldn’t put the words to it. It was a bubbling frustration he wasn’t sure he’d ever have control over.
Veronica came home with burgers and hot dogs and, generally, too much food but so it went with a big family. Lance and Keith knew she had arrived because she burst through the door and yelled “ Where is he ?”
And then she burst through Lance’s bedroom door and said to Lance, instead of hello, “Introduce us.”
And then she dragged Keith into a hug and said: “Welcome to the family.”
And Keith said, very seriously: “Thank you.”
And Lance wondered if he was going to survive the fourteen days.
(“He makes me very happy,” Lance had snapped and Keith had looked at him so quickly he had felt something crackle and crumble in his neck.
And he had smiled, almost embarrassingly wide, and he had tried and failed to hide it. Lance hadn’t seen, not that time, but Keith had hoped he felt it all the same.)
They called Hunk before dinner. Keith updated him on—everything.
“That’s just how Marco is,” Hunk said. “I told him not to do that.”
“Why would he listen to you?” Lance grumbled.
“You can take him, Keith,” Hunk insisted. “Don’t let him bully you!”
“Am I really going to be bullied by Lance’s brothers?” Keith mumbled.
“Probably just the one.”
“Oh my god,” Lance groaned.