“Good morning, ex-boyfriend,” said Keith.
Lance smiled and kissed him.
They fell into a slow, soft, quiet, easy, lazy morning kind of loving. They were at peace and deeply in love.
Then Lance’s phone rang.
“Don’t answer it, they can call back later,” said Keith.
“I can’t, it’s my mother,” said Lance. He cuddled Keith close, pretty much spooning him, before answering the phone. “Morning, Mamá.”
“Lance Charles Valdez McClain, why did I find out my youngest son was engaged at the same time or after the rest of the world knew?” Mrs. McClain scolded.
“It was a surprise public proposal, Mamá, I couldn’t tell you as it was happening.”
“You could have let me know beforehand,” said Mrs. McClain.
“Then it wouldn’t have been a surprise,” said Lance. “If I told anyone it could have been leaked to the internet or gotten back to Keith.”
“I personally loved it, Mrs. McClain,” said Keith. Lance pressed a kiss to his hair.
“That’s Mamá to you, mijo,” said Mrs. McClain kindly but firmly. “You’re a part of the family now. And we’re very proud and happy for you and Lance.”
“Thank you, Mamá, it means a lot to us,” said Lance.
“I saw a video of the proposal on Facebook,” said Mrs. McClain. “You did well, Lance. It was muy romántico.”
“Yeah, Lance really swept me off my feet,” said Keith.
They could hear the smile in Mrs. McClain's voice. “He did. I’m sure I’m not the first person to contact you about it.”
“You’re the first one we’ve acknowledged. We haven’t been awake long, haven’t looked at our phones yet or even gotten out of bed,” said Lance.
Mrs. McClain laughed. “Right back to the honeymoon phase, aren’t you, mijos? I’ll let you go. I’m sure you’ll be busy today, and you have your flight home later.”
“Thank you Mamá, Buenos Dias, te amo,” said Lance.
“I love you both so much,” said Mrs. McClain before hanging up.
Keith picked up his phone and saw he had missed calls in the double digits, missed texts in the triple digits, and frankly, he and the phone were both still processing the amount of social media notifications. He groaned. “Sunshine, I loved the proposal, I don’t love this reaction to it."
“Starlight, it’ll be okay,” said Lance. “We’ll get through it with our friends and family, and in a day or two some politician is going to get into a scandal he won’t actually get in trouble for or some awkward celebrity photo is going to be released and we’ll be old news.”
Keith relaxed a bit. “You’re right.”
“Of course I’m right. I’m always right,” said Lance.
Keith scoffed. “Now we both know that’s not true.”
“You wound me, my love,” said Lance theatrically.
“Then I’ll kiss it better,” said Keith, and twisted around to kiss Lance.
After the kiss broke, they stared at each other for a second before Lance said, “I’m not sure it worked, wanna try again?”
“You’re a dork,” said Keith, bright red.
“As if you aren’t,” said Lance.
They fell into a silence, but then Keith sighed. “We should probably get up. Our friends are probably pulling straws right now to see who knocks on our door, and I should probably talk to my mom too.”
“You can have the first shower,” said Lance.
“Or we can conserve water,” Keith offered.
They did not conserve water.
After their long shower, Keith dressed in his favorite red crop hoodie (not to be confused with his favorite red crop leather jacket) and black skinny jeans, and Lance wore blue jeans and one of Keith’s classic black v-necks. Lance was combing Keith’s hair when Pidge burst into the room. “Get up, you thirsty lovebir- oh, you’re out of bed. Good. You’re more put together than we thought you were going to be.”
“Good morning to you too, Pidge,” said Lance. “How did you even get in here?”
“Lance’s mom - sorry, Mamá - called us this morning,” Keith told Pidge, explaining.
“I hacked in, of course,” said Pidge. “Have you talked to anyone else? People are going wild.”
“I saw my notification count and was too scared to look at them,” said Keith.
Pidge shrugged. “Anyway, everyone’s packing up and we’re eating breakfast downstairs. Also, Shiro says you should call your mom before we fly out, and Coran says he’ll need to meet with you two and Agent and the social media and PR team.”
“Thanks, Pidge,” said Lance.
Pidge threw up the Paladin salute and waltzed out of the room.
“I’ll finish packing if you wanna call your mom,” Lance offered.
Keith kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Sunshine.” Keith was about to walk out onto the balcony, but after seeing how busy the street was just from the window, Keith decided just to sit on the bed and call. “Mom?”
“Hi, Keith,” said Krolia. “I heard the news.”
“I’m engaged, Mom,” said Keith. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier.”
“Oh, it’s alright, I’m sure you’re enjoying Lance making you see stars at every opportunity,” said Krolia.
“Mom!” said Keith in mortification.
Lance laughed from across the room.
“Can Lance hear us?” Krolia asked.
“Yeah,” said Keith.
“Lance McClain, I still have the right to approve or disapprove your marriage via honorable trial by combat under Galran traditions,” Krolia threatened. Keith couldn’t tell whether she was joking or not.
Neither could Lance. “Uh, yes ma’am, please don’t?”
Krolia laughed. “I’ll see you both when you land. Love you both.”
“Love you too, Mom.”
“Love you too, Krolia.”
Still chuckling, Krolia hung up.
Keith helped Lance finish packing, but there wasn't too much left to do. They were done by the time there was a knock on the door.
Keith opened the door. “Hey, Shiro.”
“Hey, Keith. We’re heading down to breakfast,” said Shiro.
“We’re ready,” said Keith, and Lance and Keith followed Shiro lout of the room and they went down with their luggage and the others.
They ate breakfast tucked away from prying eyes in the reserve event room of the hotel’s restaurant. Afterward, they all went to the airport, waited for their flight, and eventually got on the plane to go home, and only then did Lance and Keith think they had enough time to look at their notifications.
The texts and calls were easy. The only people who had Lance’s number and/or Keith’s number were people they knew personally - family, friends, coworkers, people in other bands. They were simple to address, thanking for their congratulations and, if need be, apologizing for the delayed response and/or not telling them directly.
Social media was a different story.
Of course, there were multiple aspects of what made social media more complex to deal with.
The obvious part was just a multitude of responses. There were responses all across the major social media platforms, with both new users and the same users posting same or different content. There was just no way they could respond to everything, not in one day. And they had to prioritize.
In addition, content came from people they knew, people they didn’t know, and from people they wanted to know, namely more legendary musicians than them and other famous celebrities.
And another aspect was the quality of the content. Most posts/tweets were overall positive:
@knightedpaladin: omg @LancelotMcClain just proposed to @keithykogane! Best concert ever!
@iwishiwasapaladin: THIS IS NOT A DRILL! OUR SHIP HAS SAILED! #paladins #klance proposal #StoriesInTheDarkTour #lance mcclain #keithkogane #imsohappyforthem #imcrying
@littlesummer: Lance is so romantic, that proposal was adorable, congratulations to @LancelotMcClain and @keithykogane!
But, there were some negative comments and some trolling, which is pretty normal for the internet:
@KrazyKay: Lance McClain did stop a show to propose in front of thousands of fans (who paid a lot of money to be there). Egotistical much?
@epicbro: I didn’t sign up for gay shit guess I’m deleting all my Paladins music
@loverboylancelover: Keith doesn’t deserve Lance, why did Lance settle?
Some of the negative comments were just dumb and easy to ignore (seriously, Shiro got married to a guy and this is the “gay shit” that turned you away from Paladins?), but others were more hurtful and required some sort of direct intervention.
However, their supporters were also stepping up to defend Keith and Lance from negative comments. Several famous rock legends that Keith and Lance were honored to know had even heard of them had stepped up to rebuke a few commenters who claimed that being gay had no place in rock and roll. There was even more positivity from the larger general music industry (including many musicians, artists, and/or producers jokingly or not jokingly asking for an invitation to the wedding). In the end, the majority of reactions were congratulatory and celebratory.
Many of their friends had posted as well, and Lance and Keith each made a point of responding to them.
@TheRealAtlas: We of Atlas would like to congratulate our brother band, Paladins, on their successful tour, and we’d like to congratulate Keith and Lance for becoming engaged and breaking the internet - KEITH BABY BRO I LOVE YOU - Shiro you’re drunk go home.
@MFEOfficial: MFE loved the chance to open for @OfficialPaladinsMusic on their #StoriesInTheDarkTour! Congrats to @LancelotMcClain and @keithykogane on their engagement!
@TheOneAndOnlyVeronicaMcClain: EVERYONE MY BABY BROTHER PROPOSED TO THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE AND THEY’RE GETTING MARRIED I’M SO EXCITED AND PROUD AAAAAAAA! #klance proposal
@TheTrueKingAndGeneral: Much love and congratulations to @keithykogane and @LancelotMcClain on their betrothal! #wlw supporting mlm #our bis support bi lance #acxa’s brother-in-law is marrying her childhood friend #small world
Of course, there were so many more messages and links. A couple of reaction YouTubers had already found a video of the proposal and had gone to work making reaction videos. Even a few businesses and freelancers had reached out to them, offering various products or services. Their fellow bandmates were pretty much the only ones who hadn’t left anything, but they had good reasons. There was one, however, that made them laugh: it was a photo of that morning’s breakfast. Pidge appeared to be the one taking the photo, selfie style, at an angle long enough to include the whole table. All seven of them were aware of if not looking at the camera, except for Keith and Lance, who, at the far side of the table, were completely absorbed in each other. Pidge, who had taken the photo, looked unimpressed. Her caption read: Are they aware there are other people in existence? #klance #laith #sickeningly sweet #ugh
“When did you take this?” Lance asked.
“How did we not notice?” Keith wondered at the same time.
“You weren’t paying attention, obviously,” said Pidge, and everyone laughed.
When they landed, everyone was excited to see their families waiting for them at the airport. Pidge flew into the arms of Matt and her parents. Hunk and Shay hugged the life out of each other. Allura and Coran were greeted by Coran’s niece and nephew, Romelle and Bandor. Shiro and Curtis were kissing in the middle of it all like it was their wedding all over again.
Lance and Keith, meanwhile, were mobbed by Lance's family. Nadia and Sylvio each clamped on to one of Lance’s legs while Marco and his wife laughed. Rachel demanded Lance pay up for losing the bet on which twin would get married first. Veronica hugged both Lance and Keith and told them how proud she was. Luis rattled off various stats about the media reaction to the proposal. Lance’s parents hugged them both warmly and congratulated them. Lance’s mother cupped Keith’s face in her hands and said, “Welcome to the family, mijo.”
Keith was eventually able to extract himself from Lance’s family upon seeing his mother. Keith and Krolia embraced for a long time. When they both pulled back, they had tears in their eyes.
“I’m so proud of you,” Krolia whispered. “And I know your dad would be too.”
Keith swallowed. “Thanks, Mom,” Keith whispered back.
Lance made his way over to them. “I’m sorry I didn’t ask your permission to ask Keith to marry me, I was trying to keep the surprise, well, a surprise,” Lance said to Krolia.
“You never needed to ask me, it’s an outdated tradition anyway. If you had, Keith probably would have killed you if he found out. Keith could decide for himself. ” said Krolia. “Besides, it’s not me you should’ve been worried about, it’s Shiro.”
Shiro took that precise moment to pretend-glare at Lance.
The three of them laughed, both at the verity of Krolia’s statement and at Shiro’s timing, which meant he had to be eavesdropping.
Coran interrupted everyone. “Everyone, there’s news! I just received a message! Tonight’s guest had to be rescheduled, so the band has been offered the spot on The Evening Show With Luxia Queen!”
“The whole band or just Lance and Keith?” Pidge asked.
“The whole band!” Coran clarified.
The Evening Show With Luxia Queen was set up much like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart with Luxia Queen (@queenluxia) being the hostess and, accompanied by a small team of writers - Plaxum (@plaxtic), Florona (@gowiththeflorona), Blumfump (@bluminbloom), and Swirn (@swimmingwithswirn), delivered news stories and current events and interviewed guests. What made Luxia Queen’s show different was focusing on positivity, compassion, warmth, love, and empathy, rather than political satire. Although critics denounced the show as “fluff pieces”, it was also hailed as a show that filled a sorely needed gap as a feel-good show and didn’t tolerate bigotry.
With the band’s enthusiasm, Coran accepted the offer, but of course, with accepting the offer, no one really had time to do a lengthy celebration. Coran and the Paladins had to go quickly to their homes and change before meeting at the band’s rehearsal space and getting into a limo and driving across the metropolis of Plaht City to get to the studio where Luxia’s show was broadcast.
Coran (and everyone else) was snapping photos of the six band members as soon as they got out of the limo because despite being in formal wear, they were all dressed so characteristically them. Lance was wearing black slacks and a blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and the top buttons undone, showing a bit of cleavage. Keith was wearing a black leather jacket over a red jumpsuit/pantsuit. Pidge was wearing a black pencil skirt, a white dress shirt, and a green blazer. Allura was wearing a white floor-length dress with big pink flowers. Shiro was wearing black slacks with a black vest and blazer and a white dress shirt with the top buttons undone, showing a bit of cleavage.
Luxia and her team greeted them happily, cooing over the newly engaged couple, and went over the basics of the interview and what the band was comfortable and not comfortable with covering.
After that, the band chilled in the green room as everyone with the show set up and allowed in the live studio audience. As far as the Paladins knew, none of the audience members or the rest of the public knew the switch-up of guests happened.
“It’s The Evening Show With Luxia Queen!” Blumfump the master of ceremonies (formerly a solo comedian) announced as he did every night, and Luxia danced on stage and gave her opening monologue, as she usually did. Then she went and sat at her desk, which had been moved to the center so a sofa could be placed on either side of the desk to fit all of the Paladins in earshot and in the frame. Then Florona (formerly a bigshot reporter/photographer) gave her bit discussing current event news stories, Plaxum (a grown-up child star) did her piece on entertainment news, and Swirn (an Olympic-level professional swimmer who just did this as his day job) updated on the latest in sports.
Then, the show was turned over to Luxia Queen after a break. “And we’re back, everyone! Now, unfortunately, Hira Commander couldn’t be here tonight, as she went into labor, and it’s so exciting, but she couldn’t be here tonight! Don’t worry, we’ll catch up with her and her baby as soon as they’re feeling up to it. But don’t panic, because instead, I got us someone - or, rather, someones - very special tonight. Why is my desk in the center, you ask? Because I have to make room for some very brilliant, gorgeous, and talented people tonight. Do you wanna know who I brought you?”
The audience applauded and whistled.
“I can hear you, but they can’t! Do you wanna know who I have here for you tonight?” Luxia amped up the crowd.
The audience applauded, whistled, and cheered.
Luxia grinned. “Alright, that's what I’m talking about! But I want you to get even louder when they come in, okay? We want them to feel welcome like they were scheduled to be here. So give it up for all six members of Paladins!”
The audience went wild and Blumfump yelled their names as they entered. “ALLURA DE LEON! LANCE MCCLAIN! KEITH KOGANE! TAKASHI SHIROGANE! KATIE HOLT! HUNK GARRETT!”
Luxia hugged each of them as they crossed the stage, in that order, and sat down. Allura, Lance, and Keith ended up on the left couch, and Shiro, Pidge, and Hunk ended up on the right couch.
Luxia sat back down as the audience (eventually) calmed down. “Welcome to the show everyone, and thank you for coming out tonight.”
“Thank you for having us,” said Shiro.
“We’re always glad for an opportunity like this,” said Allura.
“We are honored to host you tonight, and as you can tell, our audience is happy you’re here,” said Luxia. “So, the tour for your newest album, Stories In The Dark, has just ended. How many albums do you have now?”
“Stories In The Dark is our ninth album,” said Hunk.
“And I wanna say we’ve got like at least a dozen singles too,” said Shiro.
“And how long have you been a band together?” Luxia asked.
“God, it’s been years. We were just teenagers when the boys and I started Paladins - well, Shiro may have been 20 - and Allura joined us for the third album and onward,” said Pidge, shrugging.
“So did you all have a good time on the tour? Was it successful?”
“Oh yeah, this was a great tour,” said Pidge. “Although a tour can be very hard work, there are also times when we try to make a vacation out of it. We went to amusement parks, museums, national monuments, beaches, musicals, movies. It can annoy our staff, but when on tour, we also like to be tourists and make memories.”
“We had a lot of fun, and I think our supporters did too,” said Hunk. “Like Pidge said, we like traveling and seeing new places, and although sometimes we just need to not be overwhelmed by fans or we need to be close to the venue, when we go out on tour we try to eat, shop and stay where the locals do, have some genuine and authentic experiences.”
“I think this album was well-received, and it’s always great to see the fans excited and singing along. We met a lot of fans, having a great time no matter how much of the music they knew. Some claimed to be newly converted Pals, others claimed to be Pals from the very beginning,” Allura said, using the nickname the Paladins fanbase gave themselves.
“And it’s really rewarding to work with other bands, especially more local bands who could get a lot of help and recognition just by being promoted by us and by opening for us,” said Shiro. “Hopefully, we can continue to build those relationships.”
“It’s really important to us and to musicians in general to both be in touch with our fans and supporters and be connected to the music community. Some artists want to be competitive most of all, or labels will try to be a dominant force in the culture, but everyone benefits most when we put sharing and enjoying the music first,” said Keith.
“And touring is amazing because yes it’s a lot of sitting in vehicles and sleeping in beds that aren’t your own, but I’m with my other family, and you get to eat all kinds of food and meet all kinds of people and it’s amazing to see how the music brings together people from all over the world with very different lifestyles. You get exposed to so much out there, good and bad,” said Lance.
“That’s so interesting,” said Luxia. “What would you say is the funniest thing that happened on the tour?”
“Probably that time we were trying to get a ride from the airport to the hotel but no one could read the signs and then Keith got us a taxi using Galran and that’s how we found out both that Keith low-key got Krolia to teach him to be fluent in Galran and that it makes Lance blush red as a cherry,” said Allura.
“No, it was definitely the time Shiro couldn’t find his contacts so he wore his glasses and then no one recognized him,” said Keith. “It was like some Superman and Clark Kent situation.”
“Or maybe it was the time we pranked Keith by making the face mask Lance gave him turn his face purple,” said Shiro.
Keith gasped. “You said you wouldn’t make that public!”
“You started it by bringing up the glasses, little brother,” said Shiro.
“I think it was the time we went to that amusement park and Katie was too short for the wildest rollercoaster,” Lance interrupted.
“You’re dead to me,” said Pidge as everyone laughed. “Anyway, it was obviously the time Lance and Keith got asked by that journalist when they were planning on having children.”
“No, guys, you’re forgetting The Airport Incident,” said Hunk.
The Paladins went entirely silent for a moment before howling in laughter.
“Dare I ask what ‘The Airport Incident’ is?” Luxia asked.
“It was a series of unfortunate events that unfortunately isn’t for minors’ ears,” said Shiro.
“Alright, I’ll have to ask you in private,” said Luxia. “Now, you all are household names on a normal day, but you’ve been trending all day today, mostly due to last night’s proposal.” The crowd cheered, and Luxia smiled. “Exactly. I gotta ask - last night, you all claimed ignorance when Keith asked if you knew about it. Was that the truth?”
“Yeah, we were all surprised,” said Hunk. “This was all Lance’s doing. Didn’t even ask me or Shiro’s opinion on the ring.”
“I’m sorry, guys, but I couldn’t risk Keith finding out,” said Lance. “You can help with the wedding rings.”
“Can I see the engagement ring?” Luxia asked.
Keith passed over his hand. “I’m never taking it off,” said Keith.
“I can see why; this is gorgeous,” said Luxia as one of the cameras zoomed in on the obsidian and ruby ring.
“Thank you,” said Lance. “I knew when I saw it it was perfect for him. It’s manly, rock and roll, his favorite colors, and still a gorgeous ring.”
Letting go of Keith’s hand, Luxia asked, “Did you decide to propose before or after you bought the ring?”
“Before. I actually decided I was going to marry Keith in a really mundane moment. It just didn't hit me that I made the decision until I was doing some wordplay during brainstorming, wrote the lyrics for ‘Last Ex-Boyfriend’, and then it hit me,” said Lance.
Luxia smiled. “Keith, when did you know you wanted to marry Lance?”
Keith leaned into Lance. “It had been one of those things that just slowly builds up in you, but I finally admitted it to myself when I heard Lance’s demo for ‘Last Ex-Boyfriend’. I just couldn’t picture anyone else loving me like he does, and I didn’t want to imagine him singing love songs with anyone else in mind, at least not romantic love songs.”
“Keith, every single romantic love song that I wasn’t asked to write or help write for someone else was written with you in mind. Even when I was dating someone else, even when we weren’t together; I can go back and I see all the details I subconsciously wrote in that point to you. All my love songs are for you, and they always will be,” said Lance.
Everyone in the room cooed.
Keith blushed. “And mine, too. I always knew my few were for you, but I was always not ready to admit it.”
Lance kissed Keith chastely, and the crowd wolf-whistled and applauded.
Luxia got everyone’s attention again. “So, what’s next for you all? Are you working on a new album?”
“The next album won't be out for a little while,” said Hunk.
“I think all of us are going to appreciate being with our families and loved ones for a while,” said Shiro.
“And the cats,” Pidge added.
“Oh yes, we can’t forget about the cats,” said Shiro. “I’ll probably be spending a lot of time catching up with my husband. I offered for him to come with us, but Atlas is working on an album, which no doubt I’ll be having to work on my parts for, so we haven’t been able to just be a married couple in quite some time.”
“That sounds like a wonderful break from all the hustle and bustle of a tour,” said Luxia.
“Being back with my woman is the highlight for me, too,” said Hunk. “She’s my biggest supporter, and it’s because of her I’m brave enough to chase these dreams. I’ve really missed her, and it’ll be great to just relax,” said Hunk.
“You’re in a fairly serious relationship too, so I understand. Maybe there are wedding bells in your future too? Are you thinking about getting engaged?” Luxia asked.
“I mean, I’m not not thinking about it, you know, two of my best friends got engaged, but we haven’t discussed it and I don’t know if I’m actively thinking about it, it’s a big step,” said Hunk, blushing.
Allura interjected, saving Hunk. “We’ll probably release a couple of singles, like how we dropped ‘Wish’ and ‘No Chains’ between two of our earlier albums, and we might do some collabs, like “My Worst, My Best’, but expecting our next album any time soon is not a reasonable expectation.”
“Most of us will probably be returning to our everyday lives,” said Pidge. “Of course, our normal can be a lot different than the average person’s normal, but it’s nice to be in our own homes with our families, friends, and lovers. We won’t be completely inactive. We all have our own hobbies, and keeping up with our charities, and you’ll see us in the news and social media, especially closer to the wedding. But I don’t think any of us would say no to being cast in a movie.”
“Oh god, we have to plan a wedding,” said Keith, horrified.
The crowd laughed.
Lance wrapped his arm around Keith. “Yeah, we’ll be doing that. But we’ll probably also be with our people and with each other. Maybe we’ll vacation or stay-cation. And then we’ll be married, and it’ll be awesome.”
“Yeah, it will,” said Keith.