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Chocolate Crinkles

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As much as he didn't want to admit it, Lance still clearly remembered the day he had first met Keith. His memories of kindergarten were hazy, but for some reason that day was as vibrant and alive in his memory as the thriller he had watched with Hunk the day before. Although reverberant, perhaps the memories of that day were simply reconstructed from the countless photos his parents had enthusiastically taken, gleeful at him in his too big baseball jersey, little Lance's smile goofy with one of his front teeth missing. Lance had sworn many times in the past to simply discard those memories and forget them, but every time he did, they simply grew more deeply rooted into every fibre of his being.

The day had been exceptionally sunny. Lance vaguely remembered looking up into the sun, being blinded by the light and then having his mother huffily scold him for it. The next thing he remembered was a vague crowd of children all around him, some excited, some with tears in their eyes at having their parents leaving. None of the faces were at all recognisable in Lance's fuzzy memories. Even with the blurry photos from that time, he still couldn't recall any of the faces. Except for one. 

Keith had stood out from that crowd of vague faces the moment Lance had spotted him. He had worn a constant frown and drawn attention to himself by throwing around words Lance had never heard before. The louder Keith got, the more disturbed the adults seemed. Some went so far as to over-dramatically cover their children's ears. It was the first time Lance was hearing words so clearly meant to insult and hurt. Even when his parents told him not to listen, Lance couldn't turn away. Those yet unknown swear words rolled off this child's tongue like they were a common language to him. To Lance, who at the time felt like a criminal even just uttering the word "butt", it was earth-shattering. Were they truly the same age? Perhaps it was fascination or simply morbid curiosity, but Lance felt compelled to talk to him. He seemed different from everyone else, unique and interesting. Lance couldn't help but be intrigued. At first he watched him from afar, how he would glare at adults and refuse to let them approach him. He would fearlessly call them names and throw insults at them, seemingly unafraid of consequences. It was mystifying to Lance. 

Things after that were a bit of a blur yet again. The parents were eventually gone, so no photos of what happened after existed. Lance couldn't recall how it happened, but the next thing to come up in his memories was Keith in a corner arguing with one of the kindergarten teachers, two children in another corner crying miserably and being attended to by a different teacher. For some reason, Lance vividly remembered the pitiful sight of their tear and snot-stained faces. Lance also remembered that the adults were not happy with Keith's behaviour and were threatening him with punishment, trying to ease his anger by force. Perhaps to other people Keith looked rowdy and aggressive. By all accounts he was, but to Lance he didn't seem that way. Rather, Keith reminded him of the stray dog in Lance's neighbourhood that would sometimes show up to mooch food off of people. It never let anyone touch it, growling threateningly whenever anyone got too close. Parents would warn their children not to feed the downright feral dog, but someone in the neighbourhood always ended up caving and putting out food anyway. Despite the dog being called vicious and dangerous, all Lance saw was an animal that was used to being hurt. And instead of waiting to be hurt, it resorted to hurting others before it could be hurt itself.

After that, it hadn't taken long for Lance to clash with Keith for the first time. Lance's curiosity had quickly turned into an intense dislike when Keith had punched out one of his milk teeth for trying to play with a toy he had chosen for himself.

Lance's thoughts returned to the present when he felt Keith nuzzling deeper into his side. They were sitting together in the back seat of a van, the city dipped in darkness passing by outside. Shiro was in the front seat silently doing something on his phone. The driver didn't talk much either, although he did sometimes talk to Shiro in hushed tones, almost as though not wanting to disturb the two "lovebirds" in the back. Lance still couldn't process all the things that had happened in only a single day. Keith had bought him an expensive fancy suit, makeup artists had styled him, he had walked a red carpet and met reporters desperate to get even just a single word out of him. Even as a fellow journalist in the same industry, Lance couldn't relate to the hunger he had seen in everyone's eyes. There had been a kind of excitement and viciousness he had never felt when it came to his own articles. 

Once Lance had gotten used to the general chaos and noisiness of a red carpet event, and once his eyes had adjusted to the countless bright and too hot lights directed at him, he had slowly begun responding back on his own. He had felt Keith going a little tense next to him, but eventually relaxing again when Lance managed to have semi-professional conversations with the reporters. Being around journalists for so long had taught him how to avoid questions he didn't want to answer and instead respond with generic non-answers that didn't give away too much. Things after that went by in a bit of a blur. Lance remembered Keith at some point randomly starting to give the reporters a hard time and simply responding to all of their questions with a deadpan "No". Once Lance had picked up on the fact that Keith was very much over the constant barrage of the same three questions, he had stopped trying to be professional and begun answering with a pleasant smile and a friendly "Yes" to every single question. It had made Lance understand that there probably wasn't all that much harm in messing around a little after giving the exact same answer over and over again.

"What're you laughing about?" 

Pulled from his musings at Keith's sleepy voice, Lance realised he had been quietly laughing to himself at the memory. "Just thinking about earlier. Most of the reporters just kinda… gave up. I guess they're used to your shit. But that one guy was so pissed off. Did you see him?"

"Uh… oh, him." Keith pushed away from Lance a little to stretch and let out a small yawn. "He's just from some small online news thing. I've done an interview or two with him and it um… didn't go well."

Seeing Keith purposely avoiding his gaze, Lance could imagine what had happened. He had grown to appreciate that Keith was honest in that regard and didn't hide when he disliked or found someone annoying, but it frequently lead to him clashing with all types of people in the entertainment industry. Luckily, it seemed like he was actively making small efforts not to be such a massive dickhead. 

"We're there, Keith," Shiro suddenly announced, rousing the two in the back from their hushed conversation. "Want us to drive you home, Lance? I still know your address, so you can sleep on the way if you want."

"Oh, I–"

"He's staying with me tonight," Keith cut Lance off, already wrapping a hand around his wrist to pull him along as he stepped out of the car. "Thanks for driving us. Night."

Lance heard the driver whistle suggestively after them as Keith practically dragged him towards his house. Hearing the whistle cut through the silent night so sharply, Lance grew flustered enough to completely forget to say any kind of thanks or good-bye.

"Shut up, Curtis!" Keith yelled over his shoulder indignantly.

Lance could see the back of Keith's neck and the tips of his ears growing a little red when the whistling only continued. He had to suppress a laugh at seeing Keith so embarrassed. If Keith caught him so much as even just grinning, he would most likely end up sulking for quite a while. Once they got to the door, Keith finally let go of him to unlock the door. Lance momentarily felt tempted to lean forward to plant a small peck on Keith's neck, but ultimately decided to simply bury his face in his shoulder instead. The coat Keith was wearing over his suit was pillowy enough that Lance almost felt himself drifting off to sleep.


Feeling fingers lightly combing through his hair, Lance merely nodded. When the door beeped to indicate it unlocking, he didn't move away from his spot right away. Only when Keith roughly poked his forehead and pushed him off his shoulder did he actually move. They both slumped inside, haphazardly pushing off their shoes on the way. 

"Hold on, I'll get you a change of clothes," Keith mumbled in that half-asleep voice of his, before shuffling away on somewhat unsteady feet.

Lance briefly wondered if Keith would even make it to his closet and back without falling asleep along the way. He had slept over enough times to know that a tired Keith at home and in the vicinity of a soft enough surface was prone to falling asleep just about anywhere. Glancing around the entranceway as he waited, Lance found himself oddly at ease. It was the first time he was sleeping over after making things official with Keith, but so far it didn't feel different than any other time he had slept over. 

As Lance continued waiting and could hear the distant sound of Keith rummaging around, his mind began to wander. It had only been an hour or two since they had left the after party of the premiere, but it all felt incredibly surreal to Lance even now. He still couldn't believe Keith had simply dragged him along to an actual movie premiere and so boldly revealed to the world that he was dating a guy. He expected the news to be all over this for at least two weeks; Keith had, after all, undoubtedly changed the course of his entire career. Meanwhile, Lance was so concerned with Keith's career that he hadn't actually invested much thought into how all this would affect himself. At the very least, he had thought about his family. How would they would react? What would they say when they met Keith? Would they welcome their relationship with open arms? Unfortunately, Lance couldn't say with certainty that they would. He wanted to believe his parents would be accepting of it, but something told him it wouldn't be that easy.

Keith returned already out of his suit and in a worn out black T-shirt and neon red sweatpants. "Here." He pushed a change of clothes into Lance's arm, then proceeded to slump towards his living room couch and practically collapsed into it. "Hurry up or I'll fall asleep."  

Scoffing a little to himself, Lance quickly changed out of his clothes. Usually he may have been a little coy about just undressing when the person he was dating was so close, but Keith was on his way to passing out from exhaustion and at the moment Lance also couldn't quite muster up the energy to be bashful, let alone make his way to a different room to change. And so he changed out of his suit, trying not to wrinkle or ruin it somehow, then neatly folded and placed it on a random counter. Lastly, he changed into the loose blue long-sleeve and checkered pyjama pants Keith had handed him. He doubted Keith had even properly looked at the clothes when he picked them out of that horrendously messy pile of clothes he kept in his closet. 

"You already asleep?" Lance asked as he headed towards the couch.

"Mhm… no."

Chuckling a little at how Keith was clearly already some form of asleep, Lance shoved him aside a little to make room for himself. He ignored the annoyed little groan and began debating whether he should turn on the TV or not. He wasn't quite as tired as Keith and the guy would probably sleep through just about anything right now, so a little noise from the TV probably wouldn't bother him much. But as he was deep in thought, Lance's eyes began running along Keith's body next to him. He was sitting upright with his arms crossed but gradually sliding down the couch into a more comfortable position. Lance was about to tell him to just go to bed if he wanted to sleep, but then his wandering eyes stopped at where Keith's shirt was pushed up enough he could see his hip and a little sliver of his stomach. His gaze immediately stopped at the uneven little scars he found across Keith's hip bone. They were faded and a little difficult to really make out clearly. Old enough to be from Keith's childhood. It unwittingly brought Lance back to his earlier musings in the car.  



Lance hesitated, not wanting to disturb Keith, who seemed comfortable and at ease sitting and dozing off. But remembering their first day in kindergarten again, questions that he couldn't shake circled through his mind. "You grew up with foster parents, right?" There was no audible response from Keith, nothing but the sense that he had perked up slightly at the question. "How… was it?" Lance immediately regretted even asking. He had heard enough horror stories about the foster system to know that hardly anyone came out of it completely happy with the experience. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

After staying silent at first, Keith eventually shifted around so he was sitting more upright, his face slightly turned away from Lance; in the process his shirt slid back down and hid the scars from sight. His entire posture became closed off, the air around him a little frigid. "Some families were okay. Some weren't." His voice was uncharacteristically low. "I didn't really have any say over where I ended up. Or over how I was treated." He paused, his head lowering slightly. "It sucked being reminded daily that I was just a kid with no power over my own fate."

Lance gulped nervously. He had expected that kind of answer, but actually hearing it still made his stomach drop. He recalled how much Keith had disliked people touching him in kindergarten and suddenly a shudder ran down his spine. "Did they…"

Noticing his hesitation, Keith turned around to properly look at Lance. "You can ask."

Having a hard time meeting Keith's eyes, Lance worried his bottom lip. "Did some of them hit you?" He carefully watched Keith's face for any sign of him being annoyed at all these questions, but all Lance found was the usual neutral mask that Keith put on when he didn't want anyone to know what he was thinking. As much as Lance had learned to read his expressions, when Keith got like this it was difficult even for him to understand what was going on in his head. The moment stretched on with an undefinable tension building between the two, until Keith finally nodded weakly, expression still unreadable. 

"Not all social workers are super dedicated to their work," Keith went on. "Background checks and screenings of foster families aren't always completely water-tight. Even though you don't get that much for taking in a foster kid, some people still only do it for the money. If you're unlucky you can just randomly end up with a foster parent that has a criminal record and a dangerous mental disorder. It sounds horrible, but it happens."

Lance felt his heart sink the longer he looked at Keith and listened to him talk. The look in his eyes was cold and closed off, distant. In moments like this he seemed so incredibly unapproachable, it reminded Lance of kindergarten all over again.

"I'm considered lucky." Keith continued dryly. "I aged out of the system and graduated high school. I ended up with a job that makes me enough money to live comfortably. I have people that care about my well-being." As he said those words, he finally met Lance's eyes again and some life finally entered his frigid gaze. "I don't know if I have any right to complain when my life is like this."

"Keith…" Lance decided to choose his words carefully, especially seeing how Keith was visibly trying to not let him in on what he was really thinking. It was frustrating whenever he did this, but it was simply an aspect of Keith that Lance had learned to somehow deal with. "Just because other people have it worse that doesn't mean you can't feel bad about what happened. It happened to you, not them, so other people don't matter." Lance almost felt uncomfortable when Keith stared into his eyes like he was trying to telepathically dissect his brain.

All of a sudden, Keith grasped the hem of the black T-shirt he had changed into earlier and, after a moment of hesitation, pulled the shirt up over his head. While he slid the shirt off his arms, he turned around so his now bare back was facing Lance.

Watching what was unfolding in front of him with a strange fuzzy feeling bubbling deep in his gut, Lance simply sat stock-still, waiting for Keith to explain himself. But then, inevitably, his eyes wandered down the pale expanse of skin in front of him. He instantly found the many small scars scattered around Keith's back in haphazard patterns; some were faded with age, some still fresh from his most recent traffic accident. Unconsciously, Lance sat closer and closer, his gaze eventually falling to Keith's lower back, where he found a strange circular scar that he couldn't quite identify. "What…" Confused and intrigued, Lance carefully ran his thumb over the odd-looking scar, feeling its jagged edges and the way it seemed to dip in a little, as though part of the flesh was simply missing. 

"It's from a cigarette."

With a small gasp, Lance pulled his hand away as though it had been burned. "Sorry, I… I just…"

"I don't mind," Keith said quietly. "It's you, so…"

Feeling weirdly encouraged by the words, after some hesitation Lance began carefully tracing a few other scars with his fingertips. He steered clear of the newer ones that were still healing, focusing more on the old and barely visible ones that were so faded, he could only see them from this close. He had to suppress a laugh whenever he got to Keith's sides and Keith jumped a little in response. "Ticklish?"

"Shut up."  

Despite the smile on his face, Lance couldn't quite hold back the tears that continued to gather at the corners of his eyes. One slipped out when he finally allowed the scars and their stories to process in his mind. So many scenarios for the origins of these scars ran through his mind, each more gruesome than the last. When Lance finally tore his eyes away from the scars, he buried his face in Keith's shoulder and let out a defeated sigh. He felt a hand burying itself in his hair and gently stroking his head in a comforting manner. 

"You're not gonna ask?"

Lance almost let out a laugh again hearing how incredibly unbothered Keith sounded. It was frustrating and relieving at the same time how Keith could simply let anything negative and unpleasant pass by, seemingly without it affecting him at all. Whether it was real or a total act, Lance still wasn't quite sure. "I don't feel like I should." He felt some tension seeping out of his body when Keith continued somewhat clumsily stroking his head.

"When I was fourteen I was pushed into a window," he suddenly said, tone still neutral like he was simply recounting what he had eaten for breakfast. "A couple old scars are from that car accident in high school. Some I got from… people. And a couple are from… well… you."

Body going stiff with tension again, Lance suddenly remembered the countless times he had gotten into physical fights with Keith in school and the few times they had drawn blood. He also had a handful of scars from his many fights with Keith. "I told you about my fucked up pinky, right?" he eventually murmured into the nape of Keith's neck. He could feel him shudder a little at the contact. "We were playing soccer and I think you fouled me and scored a goal, so we got into a fight. I don't remember how it happened, but you ended up breaking two of my fingers somehow."

"Did I ever apologise for that?"

"No." A silence briefly stretched between them, causing Lance to raise his eyebrows a little. "You're not gonna apologise now?"

"Only if you apologise for the scar on my eyebrow. Do you know how often I've gotten asked about that in interviews?"

"You tell people it's from a hiking accident," Lance said with a small chuckle, pressing up further into Keith's back and wrapping his arms around his middle. "Like you've ever gone hiking, you couch potato."

"Not like I can say where it's actually from," Keith dead-panned, strangely making no move to get out of Lance's hold. "You chucked a golfball at my face, you lunatic. Where did you even get that from? We didn't have a golf club in school or anything."

Lance shrugged sleepily, happily taking in Keith's increasingly relaxed demeanour. "Just found it conveniently lying around somewhere." Somehow he could imagine Keith frowning at that without even having to see it. "Sorry. I guess. Even though I gave you a damn sexy scar."

"You don't think I find your weird goblin-looking pinky sexy? Think again." Although there was a happy lilt to his voice, his posture soon grew a little tense again. "I'm sorry too, you know."

Smiling into Keith's shoulder, Lance squeezed him a little to signal that he accepted the apology, half-assed as it was. "Are you ever gonna head to your actual bed or do I have to drag you there?"

"Princess-carry me at least, you brute."

"Only if you won't mind me dropping you at least three times along the way."

"If you drop me, I'm breaking up with you."

As Lance finally let out the laughter that had been tickling at his throat, Keith finally pushed out of his hold and stood up from the couch. Keith's previously neatly styled hair already looked like a bird's nest and the look in his eyes was weary and tired. Lance watched him slump away, then stopping in his tracks to turn around and direct an inquisitive gaze at him.

"You coming?"

Stunned by the question, Lance at first only listlessly stared in surprise. "What? To your bed?" When Keith simply nodded, messy hair flopping around his face, Lance unconsciously tightened one hand into a loose fist. "Um… if you don't mind…"

"Then get going already," Keith called over his shoulder, already heading off again. "I'm only gonna be awake for another five minutes or so."

Lance knew Keith wasn't joking, so he quickly rushed after him and nearly stumbled over his own feet. He tried not to think about the usual implications of staying over and sleeping in a bed with someone you're dating. He knew that definitely wasn't what Keith was aiming for and yet he couldn't help the strange tingly knot coiling deep in his guts. But as much as his mind was quickly going down the gutter – especially when recalling how hot Keith looked in a suit –, one look at the guy messily crawling under a blanket and staring back at him was enough. Keith looked like a ruffled, pissed off cat as he waited for him to join and all Lance wanted to do was to burrow into that bed and fall asleep next to him. 

By the time Lance was getting comfortable on the bed, Keith was already drifting off to sleep next to him. Seeing any and all tension slowly draining out of him made Lance all the more sleepy. And so it didn't take long until he too was whisked away to a deep sleep.

When Lance opened his eyes, he wasn't confused about where he was. There was no brief moment of panic, no realisation that oh right, he wasn't home. After sleeping over more times than he could count, he had stopped being surprised at waking up in Keith's house long ago. What did surprise him was the smell of food. Not reheated pizza or takeout, but actual food. The warm smell easily coaxed him out of bed and sent him on a voyage towards the kitchen. Mind still hazy from sleep, it took him a while to actually navigate his way to the kitchen, but when he got there, he found Keith standing there handling a frying pan like he wasn't actually a huge slob who ate like a trash can.

"Since when do you cook?" Lance asked him in a tired drawl, lazily wiping a hand over his eyes.

"Sometimes I do," Keith shot back a little defensively, heaping whatever was in the pan onto a plate. Clearly, he didn't cook a lot, because some of the food landed on the counter instead of the plate. "Here, eat." 

Still not fully awake, Lance somewhat clumsily accepted the steaming plate Keith shoved at him. On it he found two pieces of slightly burnt toast and some scrambled eggs.

"The eggs might be too salty," Keith said quietly, like he was trying to hide the words.

Lance eyed the food suspiciously, mildly disconcerted over whether this was truly edible. "I won't be eating egg shells, right?" At Keith's telling silence, Lance's expression only grew more deadpan. "Well, if it tastes as good as it smells, it shouldn't be too bad." Seeing how Keith's eyes lit up at the words a tiny bit, Lance couldn't stop himself from breaking out into a fond smile that he quickly hid. He sat down at the counter with the food and, without hesitation, began shovelling the food into his mouth. Just as Keith had foreshadowed, the scrambled eggs were over-salted. The toast was so dry it sucked all the moisture from Lance's mouth, but together with the eggs it all tasted at least passable. And as hungry as he was, passable was more than enough for Lance. "Did you already eat?" he asked when he watched Keith putting away the frying pan.

"No, I'll eat something once I'm done taking care of some stuff."

The words instantly made all kinds of alarm bells go off in Lance's head. "What kind of stuff? How long will it take?"

Keith seemed to know where the conversation was going, since his eyebrows pulled together into an annoyed little frown. "Just… business-y stuff. Talking to lawyers and investors and stuff. Shiro's already busy just handling the media side and some of this stuff I gotta do myself." 

"Keith…" Lance's concern-filled voice seemed oh so ready for a mother-hen rant about Keith needing to eat proper meals, which he seemed to pick up on instantly.

"Hey, wanna see something cool?" Clearly trying to deflect whatever Lance was going to say before he could say it, Keith did something to his phone, then set it down on the counter in front of Lance.

Ready to spit a nasty remark at Keith for so obviously trying to change the subject, Lance's attention was then instead captured by the endless amount of notifications that began to pop up on the phone. It continued vibrating for so long, Lance was beginning to wonder if perhaps the phone was simply broken and going through some kind of loop. "Is that all from last night?" he asked incredulously, unable to tear his eyes away from how fast all those notifications were passing by.

"Nah, just the past hour or so," Keith replied nonchalantly. "I've been up for a while just… calling people."

Lance wondered if he should pry, but knew he wouldn't get a straight answer out of Keith. Even now that they were dating, Keith seemed hesitant to talk about certain aspects of his work. He would casually bring things up, but only on a surface level. Anything that went deeper he would keep absolutely silent about. Letting out a small sigh when he wondered how long it would take Keith to just open up to him, Lance finally decided against questioning Keith. "You have two phones?"

Eyes focused on his phone now, Keith only briefly met Lance's inquisitive gaze when he nodded. "Personal phone and work phone."

Letting the revelation sink in, Lance felt a little spark of confusion bubble up. "I don't think I've ever seen you with your work phone."

"Cause I usually keep it somewhere where I can't hear it go off every two seconds."

Typical, was all Lance could think. Sometimes he wondered how Keith had made it at all in this industry. Ninety-nine percent of the reason why had to be Shiro. "You should give Shiro a raise, you know." When Keith sent him a nasty little glare for the jab, Lance only chuckled. 

Their conversation died down somewhat from there. Lance quietly finished his breakfast while he watched Keith slowly pacing around his living room. He listened to Keith speaking to people on the phone, voice relatively neutral and composed the entire time. It was odd seeing him like this when Lance was so used to Keith being a sassy little shit in person and an arrogant, smug bastard in front of cameras. Even after a year since meeting him again, he still discovered new sides to Keith and it always made his chest feel a little too warm and tight. As he continued watching, he saw Keith grinding his teeth, something he had seen him do before but had never consciously registered in his mind. It happened so infrequently that Lance still wasn't quite sure why he did it. Keith occasionally grinding his teeth for seemingly no reason was simply one of the many things Lance didn't understand about him.

At some point Keith stopped pacing as he ended a call, then lowered the phone from his ear to look at Lance. "Aren't you bored?"

Shrugging, Lance shot a little smile at Keith. "It's fun to watch you."

Keith didn't know how to respond to that, giving Lance an incredibly bewildered and slightly flustered look. Not meeting his eyes, he returned to the counter Lance was still sitting at and took away the now empty plate. 

The smile that had formed on Lance's face slowly faded when he watched Keith add the plate to his other dirty dishes that were beginning to pile up. "This was a really bad move, wasn't it?" Even seeing Keith from behind Lance could tell he didn't want to talk about this. His shoulders sagged as though he was letting out a sigh, but he didn't turn around to face him. "What if the movie gets bad press over this? What about the studio? What if they sue you? You didn't clear things with them, so they could totally sue for damages, right?" When Keith still didn't turn around, Lance only grew more frantic. "What about your album? If you lose out on sales over this, is your label gonna sue you? You just signed a contract with them!" Still no response and Lance only continued to spiral. "And what about your sponsorships and brand deals? Some of those are gonna fall through now, right? I know you don't care about money, but…" Finally unable to hold his frustration any longer, Lance jumped out of his chair. "Keith! Don't you get that I don't want you to–"

"Lance!" Keith shouted, abruptly turning around to shoot a firm look at the other. "It's gonna be fine. Calm down." 

Heart racing a little with anxiety, Lance eyed Keith's expression to gauge whether he was only pretending to be okay. "Why are you so calm?"

"Cause I'm not as impulsive as you think I am." 

There was a lot of weight to those words. There clearly was something Keith wasn't telling Lance about all this. And as much as Keith wanted him to simply stay quiet and not question him, Lance wasn't going to take this sitting down. He needed answers and Keith seemed to finally realise that.

At first hesitant, it took Keith a moment before he finally began to talk. "I didn't just impulsively rush into this. I thought about it a lot, okay." Keith's voice was oddly soft, like he didn't even want Lance to hear him. "The movie stars an openly gay actor and the director has donated to LGBTQ causes, so I doubt anyone from the movie side is gonna sue. Showing up with a guy as a date to the premiere is probably the best publicity I could've given to the movie. They're definitely not losing money over this." The words seemed to leave his mouth only reluctantly. "I could lose album sales over this, but I was already prepared to lose sales the moment I decided to take over the production and creative direction myself. You should know that."

"Then what about your label?" Lance immediately poked. Keith physically backed away, taking a step away from the counter in an unconscious attempt to run away. He broke eye contact, gaze lowering to the floor instead, which only prompted Lance to surge forward over the counter a little. "Keith…" 

"They can try and sue me over this, but nowhere in my contract does it say I can't date a guy. Besides, I make them too much money for them to want to ruin that in any way. You should know by now that I can get away with a lot." Growing a little more relaxed seeing the beginnings of something like awe in Lance's eyes, Keith closed the distance a little again. "And any brand or company that drops me over this is just gonna get called bigoted. It would hurt their business more than not dropping me, but some of them are still gonna do it. Which is fine by me. If something like this is reason enough to drop me, I don't wanna work with them anyway." When he was only met with an unwavering look of befuddlement, Keith's smirk slowly faded. "What?"

As if woken from a trance, Lance's eyes lit up a little. "I'm suddenly really horny, dude," he blurted out without shame. "I've never heard you sound so smart and… and… like you actually thought about all of this."

Keith only responded with an almost poisonous look. "You're ridiculous."

"I'm serious, don't ever go to college. I'll just nut instantly." When that finally made Keith laugh out loud, Lance couldn't help but laugh along. Sometimes it took a while to crack Keith's solemn moods, but whenever he succeeded, Lance felt that much more fond of hearing his laugh.

Once Keith regained his bearings, he turned somewhat concerned eyes on Lance, albeit still with a small smile remaining on his face. "Have you checked your phone yet?"

His previous happiness slowly draining away, Lance slowly shook his head. "I'm… kinda scared." He didn't have a particular thing he was fearful of. There was simply a certain dread bubbling in the back of his mind, one that flared up whenever he so much as looked at his phone.

"It's still early." As he said this, Keith was absent-mindedly tapping a rhythm on the counter. "Most people won't be finding out about us for a bit longer."

Nodding hesitantly, Lance picked up his phone and stared at its blacked out screen. Letting out a sharp breath, he finally turned it on. Like he had expected, there already were a few messages from people. Most of them college friends being surprised but also happy for him, but most of them from Hunk. He had called and texted him countless times, even left a few voice messages. "Hunk is really excited but also really worried." 

"Figured," Keith replied quietly, mustering up a little smile. "What'd he say?"

"Half his texts are screaming at me in all caps to call him back already." Seeing the sheer amount of messages, Lance felt a little bad for silencing his phone overnight. He probably should have told Hunk that he was going to sleep over. Lance had also promised to keep him updated while he was at the premiere, but the moment he had stepped onto that red carpet, he had completely forgotten about everything other than staying close to Keith so he wouldn't drown in the chaos. "He also said I should check your social media ASAP." When he briefly looked up from his phone to see Keith's reaction, what he found was him clearly trying to hide something. "What did you do?" Receiving no answers other than a highly suspicious shifty gaze, Lance wasted no time seeking out Keith's social media. The moment he saw the newest post, he knew why Hunk was so insistent he check it and especially why Keith was being so dodgy about it.

The post consisted of three photos taken at the premiere. One was of them walking out of the car holding hands. The next one was mostly of Lance speaking to reporters with a bright smile. The last one was of the two of them locking eyes and looking like the rest of the world didn't even exist. Lance didn't remember that particular moment, to be frank. Whoever had taken that photo was incredibly talented because it looked so romantic, it almost seemed fake. Meanwhile, the caption didn't make things any better.

"Nothing but a purple heart emoji?" Lanced mocked. "What are you? Eleven?" 

"Shut up."

Lance delighted in seeing Keith so embarrassed. "And isn't this usually the part where you write this long sappy essay about how much you adore me and how much I significantly improve your life?" Lance broke out into loud barks of laughter the moment he saw the way Keith's face distorted in revulsion. "Hey, don't look so disgusted!" Once he calmed himself, Lance made to scroll through the comments, but suddenly found a hand covering his phone and nearly tearing it out of his hand. "What?"

Keith was looking at him with such a serious look in his dark eyes, it made the mood in the room shift completely. And not in a good way. "Lance… can you do me a favour?"

Suddenly worried at how unbelievably serious Keith seemed, Lance didn't even try to lighten the mood with a joke this time. "What is it?"

Letting out a small sigh, Keith slowly released Lance's phone again, but still seemed wary of him so much as having it in his hand. "Don't… look at my social media for a while. The comments, I mean. Don't read any articles about us and don't…" Another sigh left him, this one much more frenzied. "Just stay away from all that, okay?"

Lance took in the words and eventually shook his head in disbelief. "You don't think I can handle it?"

"That's not what I meant!" Keith immediately objected. "I just… I've been dealing with this stuff for years. I learned to just ignore it and not get affected by it. But I don't want you to even have to get used to this stuff in the first place."

"You're probably right," was Lance's immediate reply. "But, Keith… I'm not planning on going anywhere. I've made my decision, so I'll have to get a thick skin sooner or later. Might as well start now."


Watching how Keith struggled to even find words to argue any further, Lance merely smiled. "I'll be fine, don't worry. It's not like would be the first time." He immediately regretted his words when he saw the guilt briefly flashing over Keith's face. Granted, Lance's old rant articles about Keith had been entirely his own fault, but it was undeniable that the people that had made Lance's life a living hell for several weeks over them had been Keith's fans. 

Lance suddenly hated that the counter was separating them, which prompted him to get off his chair and make his way around it until he stood in front of Keith, who gave him a somewhat quizzical look. Lance still felt awkward initiating anything physical with Keith, despite the fact that they were dating. Keith wasn't the cuddly type, that much Lance had always known. And now more than ever he felt like he understood why and it made hesitation take its roots in every action he took. Most of their few moments of physical intimacy had been initiated by Keith, fuelled by both of them needing some kind of comfort, some kind of point of connection to be able to ground themselves. Kissing had always happened in the heat of the moment, so kissing for the sake of kissing was simply not part of how they interacted. Lance knew Keith wanted him; he knew that for sure. Keith had been the one to come on to him first, after all. But faced with him now, in a relatively calm situation yet with a burning need to have him close sizzling in his gut, Lance almost felt dizzy with wanting to touch Keith but feeling like he shouldn't.

"What is it?" Keith finally asked with a small frown already planted on his face.

Worrying his lip for a moment, Lance considered just leaving to escape this uncertainty. "Can we… hug?" 

Keith's frown deepened a little, confusion entering his eyes. "Why're you being weird about it?"

"I dunno, I just…" 

Seeing Lance fumble like that, Keith seemed to take pity, a small sigh leaving him as his shoulders slumped in defeat. The frown melted off of his face, even though a hint of exasperation still remained. Wordlessly, he stepped forward and somewhat stiffly wrapped his arms around Lance's middle. Meanwhile, Lance didn't dare move. He felt like he was being hugged by a moody cat that would get angry and leave if he disturbed it even just a tiny bit. Suddenly, he could hear the low hum of the nearby refrigerator and smell the remnant fragrance of burnt toast, as though the world outside of this house didn't exist anymore and the only people left were him and Keith. After a while, when some of the tension finally left Keith, Lance finally let his arms slide around his shoulders and pulled him even closer. It was beyond gratifying that Keith could at all feel relaxed being in his arms like this. Lance couldn't even put a name to what he was feeling, he just knew this was something very special.

Keith eventually parted from him a little, loosening the embrace to give Lance a small peck on the lips. "Call me or Shiro if someone starts bothering you," he suddenly murmured.

Making himself comfortable by looping his arms around Keith's neck, Lance tilted his head at him in a puzzled manner. "Like who?"

"You know… reporters, fans, people in general. People know your face now."

Not missing the regretful tone of Keith's voice, Lance unconsciously pulled him a little closer again. He hesitated to speak again, but knew he needed to ask. "Will you tell me when something's on your mind?"

Keith became very still. His shoulders became a little tense again and he didn't meet Lance's inquisitive gaze. "I probably won't."

Lance had expected that kind of answer but it still stung to hear. "I wish you would."

Shoulders sagging a little, Keith almost visibly deflated; like he was admitting defeat to something. "I wish I could."

Letting out a small smile, Lance kissed the bridge of Keith's nose and broke out into a smile. "Guess I'll just have to learn to read your mind."

"Please don't," Keith shot back dryly.

The deadpan answer tickled a little laugh out Lance, who finally let go of Keith. His heart sank a little the moment he remembered that time was running away from them. This moment wasn't eternal. "I need to leave for work soon. My shift starts in an hour and a half."

At first motionless as he processed the words, Keith eventually dropped his gaze to the floor. "Yeah… I have three interviews for the movie and a photoshoot scheduled today. Shiro's probably gonna come pick me up soon."

Even though they both knew it was high time to part ways, neither quite had it in them to make that first step. This would be the last time they could be together like this for a while after all. They wanted this time to last longer, yet it was slipping through their fingers all too easily.

Lance eventually was the one to break the silence, his voice uncharacteristically soft. "I guess I'll see you in a couple weeks." When Keith immediately looked up at him with that apologetic look in his eyes, Lance forced his smile a little wider. "Be prepared for a lot of sappy good morning and good night texts."

"Why do you have to make it so cheesy?" Keith bit back with a hint of disgust, although he was unable to hide the amused quirk in his lips. Even that soon melted away though, making way for eyes that cast over with regret. "I wish I could say I'll make time for you, but…"

"I get it," Lance cut in, desperately trying to stop Keith from spiralling into some kind of remorse-filled hole. "I'm used to it." Seeing Keith's expression only darken, Lance felt disappointment bubble up at his own inability to somehow easy Keith's worries. In fact, it felt like he was only making thing worse. "If I get real desperate, you'll just have to send me a nude or something."

Keith stared at him owlishly for a moment, before suddenly breaking out into laughter. "You sure you want that?"

Scrunching up his face a little at the thought, Lance shrugged. "On second thought… probably not. Dicks still freak me out. Maybe censor yours before you send me anything."

"Sure, if you censor your face in your nudes."

Jaw dropping in mock offence, Lance theatrically placed a hand over his chest. "So you only want me for my body? Pervert!"

Keith simply narrowed his eyes in thought, expression contemplative. "Maybe censor your body too."

"Then there'll be nothing left, you asshole!"


Despite his offended scowl, Lance couldn't hide the fact that he was desperately holding back laughter while he turned to leave. "Do your fans know you're an insufferable douchebag?"


Lance had been in the process of heading to the bedroom to change but almost lost his balance hearing the deadpan answer. Instead of rewarding Keith with a reaction, he simply power-walked away to hide the fact that he was grinning like an idiot, barely able to contain his laughter. As he headed upstairs, he realised that he had managed to have a somewhat serious conversation with Keith. Being the avoidant type when it came to this type of thing, Keith tended to masterfully evade questions about his own thoughts and feelings. But he had somewhat opened up to Lance. That simple knowledge put an extra little spring in Lance's step, filling him up with the kind of energy he hadn't felt in quite a while.

Lance quickly noticed that something was off the moment he got to work. At first, the aquarium was as crowded as it usually was around this time. No one even looked at him twice. His supervisors and co-workers did absolutely lose their marbles the moment they saw him, instantly bombarding him with questions about the news, which he answered only very selectively. With the promise of getting more answers out of him during break or after work, they eventually left him alone. Things took a turn when it was time for Lance to do a tour. It was the usual school class that greeted him, but among the group were several people that definitely weren't there to look at clownfish and manta rays. Lance tried to ignore them, but once they got to the jellyfish tanks, someone sneakily pulled a camera, thinking he wouldn't notice. If a handful of these guys had figured out his workplace in just a manner of hours, Lance didn't want to imagine what would happen once these guys released any articles divulging that information to the rest of the world. His supervisor had told him to let security know if he ever felt unsafe and he hadn't planned on going that far, but realising that this could potentially cost him his internship, he secretly motioned for the security guard that had been assigned to keep an eye on him for the day. He had found the whole thing excessive at first, but was now thankful for the help. 

Without directly involving Lance, the security guard warned the people in question not to take photos of anything but the creatures in the tanks. Some of them protested, arguing that they had paid money to be there, but when faced with the threat of potentially being thrown out, they eventually caved. Lance could only breathe a small sigh of relief. As much as he wanted them gone, he didn't exactly want to anger people that could ruin his life if they wanted to. This entire situation honestly felt like he was trying to travel along a tight rope, where the slightest mess up could result in him dropping into a dark abyss. He had planned on high-tailing it back to a staff room the second he ended his tour, but two girls hesitantly walked up to him and seeing the looks on their faces, he could already imagine what they wanted.

"I wanted to ask you something," one of them asked in a hush, like they were discussing some kind of secret. "Are you that guy that's dating Keith?"

Lance refrained from letting out an incredibly exasperated sigh and instead put on a smile that he hoped was convincing. "Well… uh…" Before he could even talk his way out of the situation, the second girl cut her friend off.

"Stop, you're making him uncomfortable," she scolded her, already trying to push her away from Lance. "Sorry for bothering you."

Infinitely thankful for the more sensible friend, Lance managed a slightly less stiff smile as he watched the girls leave. The moment they turned their backs to him, he finally rushed away before the camera-wielding vultures could take even more secret snapshots of him. He had a sinking feeling it was already too late to completely stop those photos from getting out. He was in his work uniform, so the moment any photos of him were published, the whole world would know where he worked. On his way to the break room, he was spiralling into the beginnings of panic over what could happen in only a few hours. He had experienced being mobbed by the media once already and knew exactly how quickly things could go downhill.

Lance was so deep in thought that he almost didn't notice his supervisor already standing in the break room when he got there.

"Lance…" Her tone made it obvious she wasn't there for small talk. "I was about to look for you."

Gulping nervously, Lance awkwardly stood in the door, suddenly too anxious to actually enter the room. "Is something wrong?"

"Well… not yet," his supervisor answered vaguely. "It's just… we've never experienced anything like this, so we don't really know what to do or what to even expect. We'll keep an eye on things for now, but if your… situation starts affecting your work, we'll have to pull you out of doing anything on the exhibit floors. You'll just have to clean in the back and do kitchen duty until things calm down." 

As much as his supervisor was phrasing it like a hypothetical, Lance knew this was inevitable. The worst case scenario in his mind had been getting completely kicked for causing disturbances just by being there. In comparison, this outcome made him breathe a small sigh of relief. "I don't mind staying in the back for a while." He could see in the woman's eyes that she didn't want to punish him when he hadn't done anything wrong, but eventually she gave in and a defeated sigh came out of her.

"Fine. I'll see if maybe we can tighten up security a little, but I doubt it'll help. It's not like we can just ban people from entering." She gave Lance a sympathetic look tinged with a hint of pity. "Take your break early today. You look tired."

Lance could only nod lifelessly and watch blankly as his supervisor turned and left. He had told Keith that everything would be fine. He had told him that they would get through this together, that he was fine with Keith wanting to go public. But now the reality was hitting. Lance didn't regret his decision, but he was beginning to understand what being a public figure actually meant. He was already exhausted after a single morning of trying to avoid nosy reporters and very forward fangirls. He couldn't even begin to imagine the amount of stress that came with the constant attention that was on Keith. Lance usually loved attention, loved being the life of the party, but this was different. Excessive. Inevitable. Restrictive.

Suddenly, the urge to hear Keith's voice became so powerful, it almost made Lance stagger where he stood. All this still felt surreal. He still found it difficult to truly believe that anything in the past twenty-fours had actually happened. Even when he dialled Keith's number, he wasn't completely sure if his call would even go through. He was perhaps a little too well acquainted with the sound of the ringing going on and on until eventually he gave up and ended the call himself. 


"Oh, shit, hi," Lance babbled, caught off guard by the sound of Keith's voice. "I… uh… hi."

"Um… hi."

Noticing the weirdly stiff tone, Lance cocked his head in a puzzled manner. "Why do you sound weird? Are you filming something?" 

"Well… yeah," Keith replied hesitantly, tone still painfully rigid. Clearly, he didn't like whatever was happening on his end. "I'm being filmed for an interview so I wasn't gonna pick up, but these guys wanted to ask you something too, so…"

"Me?" Now even more floored than before, Lance felt an odd mix of panic and exhilaration. "What did they want to ask? Put me on speaker!" He was no stranger to press interviews, especially after the premiere last night. He had seen the movie, even talked to a few crew members. No matter what question they threw at him, he had a feeling he could come up with a good answer. 

"I'm not putting you on speaker, you lunatic."

"Awwww, you don't trust me?"

"I really don't."

Before Lance could bicker back, he heard the conversation briefly going on without him, before he heard the female interviewer addressing him directly.

"Hi, Lance! I'm Nadia from Atlas TV. Can you maybe tell us something about Keith that no one else knows about? Surely, you have some dirt on him."

Lance had to suppress a chuckle. Even with all his earlier protests, Keith had put him on speaker after all. "Something no one else knows… Hmm…" Still grinning, he let the question run through is mind for a moment, trying to come up with an answer embarrassing enough it would annoy Keith, but one endearing enough it wouldn't actually harm him in any way. As he sat down in a creaky folding chair, the perfect thing came to mind and his grin grew sly and down-right villainous. "Keith looooooves dog videos. I once found him watching a 50 minute compilation of huskies being overdramatic divas."

"Lance, you fuck!" came Keith's enraged yell, followed by what was probably the sound of Keith furiously turning off speaker mode. 

Just imagining the scene sent Lance into a fit of laughter that made him almost fall off his chair. He could just imagine the interviewer being both amused and stunned, meanwhile Shiro in the background somewhere facepalming as Keith raged on. 

"The internet's gonna have a field day with that one, you ass-hat."

Slowly regaining control of his breathing, Lance tried answering through the laughter that still tried to bubble up. "I can't wait to see the memes."

"Did I do something? Are you taking revenge? What did I ever do to you?"

"Your mistake was naively putting me on speaker thinking I wouldn't try to fuck you over."

"I don't know what I was thinking."

Hearing Keith's usual snark, Lance now was sure he wasn't on set surrounding by cameras anymore. As blunt as Keith was, his way of speaking and holding himself changed noticeably in front of cameras.

"Did you just call to embarrass me or was there another reason?"

I wanted to hear your voice. 

Today was kinda tough.

I miss you. 

Lance felt like he couldn't say any of those things. 

"Lance, I need to go back soon, so–"

"I'm still waiting on those nudes, dude. Don't leave your beloved boyfriend hanging like this!" 

"I'm hanging up."

"Wait–!" Cut off by the telltale beep of the call ending, Lance couldn't help but break out into more badly suppressed laughter. Teasing and bantering with Keith was honestly one of his favourite pastimes. They could fall into a rhythm so easily and so quickly, it was comforting and reassuring all on its own. He didn't want to burden Keith with his own worries when he was so busy; simply hearing his annoyed and slightly tired comebacks was enough to lighten Lance's mood. 

As he was musing like this, a message popped up on his phone and upon opening it, Lance found that Keith had sent a photo after all. "Middle finger. Classy." Perhaps it was a little odd that he was giggling like a schoolgirl over his boyfriend flipping him off via text, but to Lance it was precious. As strange as their relationship was, Lance had a feeling it would turn out just fine. 

Little did he knew that he had barely scratched the surface of what it was like to date a celebrity. 

Chapter Text

Going to work through the backdoor still felt odd to Lance. He liked arriving in the morning and greeting the security guards as he stepped through the front entrance. When he was early enough and no guests were around yet, he would exchange little pleasantries with them, have some small talk, enjoy their little inside jokes. It was a nice start to his work day. But now he had to sneak in through secret entrances like some kind of criminal, hiding himself so he wouldn't bring unwanted attention and cause a disturbance. As Lance had feared, articles about him and where he worked had been published and within a mere day or two, more and more scoop-hungry vultures stormed the aquarium. By the third day of this commotion, entire teams were trying to get in with cameras and audio equipment, but were luckily not allowed inside. Lance dutifully stayed in back rooms and away from any exhibit floors, spending most of his time doing food prep and cleaning work. The only time he got to say hi to his beloved lady manatee Livia in peace was in the early morning; his shift tended to end way before closing time, which would have been the only other opportunity. Overall, Lance actually didn't mind the attention itself too much. He had no problem speaking to reporters, even if all they wanted was for him to give them a scoop. The problem was that he didn't want any of this to affect other people, namely his co-workers. Lance had prepared himself for this. His co-workers, on the other hand, had not. Lance was grateful he hadn't gotten kicked out over this, which only exacerbated how guilty he felt.

Mindlessly gutting and cutting up fish all day, Lance could feel himself gradually going a little stir-crazy. The persistent fish smell had by now soaked into every fibre of his being so deeply, he was sure it would never disappear again for the rest of his life. He was used to his hands smelling a little fishy, but not to being absolutely drenched in the smell.

The door to the kitchen suddenly swung open and in walked one of the other two interns, Ryan, his stupidly handsome face as expressionless as ever. "Still hiding in here, huh?"

"Yup," Lance replied lifelessly, hacking off the head of a fish with perhaps a little more power than was necessary. 

Some pity entering his eyes, Ryan patted Lance's back comfortingly. "I'll take over for a bit. Go get some fresh air."

Sighing to himself a little, Lance stilled, unsure whether he really should be taking a break when he hadn't even been working for that long. Eventually, he decided he really did need to breathe actual air instead of the slightly rank odour of fish feed. He nodded silently and pulled off his rubber gloves, before throwing them in a bin and giving Ryan a small pat on the shoulder in return. "Thanks." Ryan  responded simply with a curt nod, already in the middle of neatly cutting up fish. To Lance's mild dismay, Ryan's work was much neater than anything he could ever achieve.

The moment he stepped out of the kitchen, Lance's mind felt a little less muddled. He didn't do well with monotonous and repetitive tasks; it made him lose his sense of awareness, his mind drifting off to somewhere that definitely wasn't work-related. Rubbing over his exhausted eyes, Lance checked his phone and realised it was around the time Keith had mentioned would be good for a quick call. As he debated whether to go outside or to the break room, Lance dialled Keith's number. He half-expected him to be busy after all, but was pleasantly surprised to hear him pick up almost right away.


Feeling some of his stress melt away already, a small smile curled Lance's lips. "Hi." He let the greeting hang in the air for a moment, briefly content simply knowing he was connected to Keith somehow. "What're you up to? Still filming that interview where you play with puppies?"

"No, we wrapped on time," Keith replied in his usual near robotic drawl that meant he was either bored or tired. Over the phone he sounded extra mechanical. "You know your little stunt a couple days ago is still haunting me, right? Shiro just posted a photo of me on this dumb floor with all these puppies climbing over me and it's already the most popular thing he's ever posted. I fucking hate the internet."

"Bless that man. Shiro knows exactly what we all want." 

"Me covered in puppies?"  

"No, you being humiliated." Lance finally decided not to head to the break room, but to go outside just for the sake of getting proper air in him. On his way there he got to listen to Keith going off about Lance's "little stunt". Without Keith knowing, the video of his recent interview had gone online, including Lance's phone call in the middle. Unfortunately for him, Shiro hadn't at all veto-ed the part of that fateful interview where Lance had revealed his oh so shameful secret to the world. 

"I watched one dog video! One! You caught me that one time and now the internet is all over it!"

Lance stretched a little, his smile only broadening hearing how genuinely annoyed Keith was. "Don't lie. I know you watch those videos religiously every night before going to sleep. You think I'm deaf? You think I can't hear those little shits barking through your headphones?"

"I hate you so much."

Hearing the resignation in Keith's voice only made Lance laugh. He finally made it to the door that lead out to the staff parking lot and continued laughing while pushing it open. 

"How's work been?" Keith asked with a little sigh.

"Fine," Lance replied dryly. "I'm still working in the back. They'll leave after a while, right? The reporters."

"They should." Keith sounded so nonchalant, it almost seemed sarcastic. "They'll probably lose interest after about a week. By then something else more juicy than some regular dude in an aquarium should pop up."

Lance was about to tell Keith that there was nothing more juicy than himself – and how dare he even suggest otherwise –, when he saw people rushing towards him. "Oh no."

"What is it?"

Gulping nervously, Lance considered going back the way he had come, but then he saw the camera already pointed at him. "I went outside to the parking lot to get some fresh air, but a couple reporters spotted me. They have a camera and everything."

"Just go back inside."

Lance was speechless for a moment. He knew he was totally in his right to simply avoid these people, but something about that felt off. "I don't want to run away though. It's not like I'm ashamed or anything."

"I still don't think you should let them talk to you."

Lance couldn't help but sigh. He knew Keith was only worried about him, but sometimes it felt like he had zero faith in him. "Look, we met these guys at the premiere. I know they're fine to talk to."

"If you say so…"

"I'll keep you on the call so you can listen, happy?"

"No, but it's not like I can stop you anyway."

"True." As much as Lance was trying to put up a confident and upbeat front, his heart rate was growing faster with every step those reporters got closer. He could feel the hand his phone was in beginning to tremble, so he quickly hid it in his pocket, careful not to accidentally end the call with Keith. 

The reporters had broken out into a little jog now, already waving at him with friendly smiles. 

"Lance!" a microphone-wielding woman greeted him when she reached him. "Good to see you again!"

Putting on his friendliest business smile, Lance politely waved back. "Likewise. Plaxum, right?" 

"Oh, you remember!" Plaxum exclaimed with a gleeful smile. "I'm surprised."

"I would never forget the name of such a pretty lady," Lance shot back. "Besides, I've written a couple articles for Luxia Magazine and there wasn't a single conference call where Florona didn't eventually end up gushing over you. You two know each other from college, right?"

Caught off guard, Plaxum absent-mindedly lowered the microphone in her hand a little. "Yes, we do!" She was beaming, but her smile soon faltered a little. "We haven't been in touch though."

A suggestive grin instantly bloomed on Lance's face. "You should probably call her. I'm sure she'd appreciate it a lot." 

Plaxum sheepishly averted her gaze and let out an equally flustered little laugh. "Maybe I will." She seemed to finally remember why she had even approached Lance, the cameraman and audio technician behind her briefly glancing at each other with knowing looks. "So, Lance! I just wanted to catch up with you. Things have been pretty hectic the past couple days, haven't they?"

"Oh, for sure," Lance immediately replied, his friendly smile never wavering. "I've been getting hoarded left and right. It would be okay if it was just me that was affected, but it's starting to cause disturbances at work too and that's not great, obviously." 

"Are you surprised at all by the response from people?"

It was odd to be asked these questions when Lance had been taught to ask similar things. Granted, he had never actually gotten the opportunity to professionally interview celebrities before. Interviewing celebrities in an official setting was an entire minefield of laws and regulations, especially when it came to union actors. It usually wasn't something a mere college student could take on. "I kind of expected the media buzz and the articles and everything, but it's still overwhelming being in the middle of it."

"I see. So how is Keith supporting you through all this?"

Lance had to school his expression to not show how much Plaxum intimidated him with her bluntness. He hadn't been lying when he said that he had heard a lot about her. Plaxum wasn't quite up there with more well known reporters, but within the industry at least she was infamous for being approachable and able to quickly make people warm up to her, but not hesitant in getting straight to the point. "We talk a lot on the phone. We're both busy people, but we still manage to find time to chat." He could already tell that the conversation was being steered more towards Keith and his thoughts. Lance was relatively unimportant in all this; everything there was to really know about him, people already knew. What people truly wanted to know about was Keith.

"I'm really curious how you two ended up together," Plaxum continued. "You were both pretty coy about it when we asked you during the premiere a couple days ago."

"That's just cause there isn't much of a story." Lance shrugged, feeling the reassuring weight of his phone in his pocket. The knowledge that Keith was there, even if it was only through the phone, was immensely comforting. "We've known each other since kindergarten, lost touch for a while, then we met again by chance and things kind of developed from there."

Plaxum was nodding along, but the look in her eyes made it clear she was already thinking up the next question to fire off. "You don't happen to have any interesting anecdotes to tell from your shared childhoods, do you?"

Remembering his earlier conversation with Keith, Lance couldn't quite fight off his amused grin. "I have some, but I think I've embarrassed Keith enough for one week. Maybe ask me again some other time." 

"I definitely will then," Plaxum replied cheekily. "One more question: you have been very open about your opinion on Keith in the past. What exactly made you change your mind about him?"

Lance had expected and dreaded this question. A part of him had hoped it wouldn't come up, but with how Keith and him had outright ignored this question during the premiere, there now was less leeway for him to get out of this. There were no other reporters with easier questions he could turn his attention to, no Keith to simply shut down anyone that got too eager to pry. To not make things worse, he had to answer. "I… wouldn't say anything in particular changed my mind," he began carefully. He hadn't actually talked to Keith about this, so he was relieved that he could hear it straight from his mouth now. "I just realised that I was unhappy with myself and taking it out on someone else. It's not a fun way to spent your time. Sometimes all it takes is talking to a person to let go of a lot of your assumptions about them."  

Plaxum's expression remained neutral, a pleasant smile on her face at all times. "That's a nice answer."

Lance managed a half-way genuine smile, heart still racing over that last question. Based on how the gleam in Plaxum's eyes only seemed to intensify with whatever question she was cooking up next, Lance got the feeling he should probably eject himself out of this situation. Fast. And based on what he had seen the last few days, he knew there were probably quite a few reporters just waiting at the front entrance. He knew he needed to do something to stop this parking lot from becoming the next hot stakeout location. "Just a warning, this parking lot is meant for staff only. You guys should probably get going before someone sees."

"Oh, we didn't notice!" Plaxum exclaimed, eyes widening in shock. "Sorry about that."

As good as Plaxum was at maintaining her expressions, Lance could tell she was lying through her teeth. These guys had clearly trespassed onto this parking lot knowing they weren't allowed to be there. "I'll keep this a secret this one time, but I can't save you if security catches you some other time. Make sure to let the guys out front know that too." 

"Thanks, we will," the reporter said in response, a somewhat knowing gleam in her eyes. Clearly, she was hesitant to leave, but had no way to justify staying any longer. "Appreciate the warning. And thank you for taking the time to talk to us. See you again, Lance."

"No problem. See you." As he watched Plaxum and her little team leave, Lance allowed himself to finally heave a small sigh of relief. Once they were out of sight, he wasted no time pulling his phone out of his pocket and going right back to talking to Keith. "Did you hear all of that?" 

There was no response at first, despite the call still being active. But after a short silence in which Lance impatiently kicked at the asphalt, Keith finally spoke up. "Yeah. I heard." His tone was incomprehensibly neutral, no noticeable emotion ringing in his voice. "You know, I'm starting to think you might be better at being a celebrity than me."

"Well, you don't really set the bar all that high." Lance heard an indignant grumble and had to suppress a laugh. Keith would actually hang up on him if he did. "Are you done with today's round of interviews yet?"

Keith let out a frustrated sigh that sounded a little distorted through the phone. "One more and then we need to get on that flight for the late night talk show appearance later. I won't be getting back to the hotel till way past midnight."

"They're really whoring you out for this movie, huh?"

"Oh yeah."

Lance could hear how tired Keith was. It hurt to not be able to be near him when he was having such a hard time. Shoulders sagging a little, he began to make his way back into the aquarium. "Make sure to sleep on the plane."

"It's just a two hour flight. I'd rather work on songs in that time."

"Keith…" Lance immediately rumbled in a warning tone. 

"I don't–"

"I'll tell Shiro to confiscate your laptop." He could hear Keith grumbling again, eliciting an amused smile from Lance.

"Fine, whatever. If anyone asks why my next album is so late, I'll blame you."

Reaching the door, Lance broke out into a satisfied grin. "Good boy."

"I'm drop-kicking you the next time I see you, scrub." With that, Keith abruptly hung up.

"Asshole," Lance mumbled as he pushed open the door, although there was absolutely no malice to it. In fact, he was still smiling. But now that his connection to Keith was gone, reality set back in and seemed to instantly cave in over his head.

On his way back to the kitchen, Lance felt a sense of anxiety brewing in his gut when he imagined how his words were going to go out to the world for all to hear. He felt like he had done fairly well in that impromptu interview, especially considering it had snuck up on him like that. He was sure he hadn't provided anything that could be grossly misconstrued and used against him, but you could never be fully certain about that kind of thing. Someone somewhere would for sure find a way to somehow cast him in a bad light over his words. Lance hadn't even looked at any social media since the news about Keith and him had broken. Even though he had told Keith he would simply grow a thick skin and go on this journey with him, he was still scared of what people would say. He knew himself enough to know that having any kind of hate comment directed at him, let alone an entire barrage of them, would probably crush him. The fact that he was incredibly insecure had been made obvious to him long ago. He didn't need strangers bringing him down even more.

Suddenly, Lance wished he could have Keith there in person to vent to him about this. Even when he entered the kitchen and took Ryan's place cutting up fish, he could almost feel a void opening up in his gut. The need to have Keith close paired with the knowledge that he wouldn't see him for at least another two weeks was almost unbearable. It continuously ate away at him, fraying his nerves and sapping all his energy. Unbeknownst to him, the knife in Lance's hand stopped moving.

"Keith…" Lance murmured, the void growing with every second that he pictured just how far apart they were.

How much further could he possibly fall from here? 

"Is the cap really necessary?"

Suddenly self-conscious, Lance pulled the dark-blue baseball cap down further into his face. "I do get recognised a lot lately, you know. I just wanna eat in peace."

Pidge continued shooting him that scrutinising look, but eventually shrugged. "I guess it hasn't sunk in for me that you're dating an actual celebrity. I haven't even met Keith yet, so to me he still seems like this surreal and abstract concept of a person."

Quietly thanking Hunk for holding the door to the diner open for him, Lance had to suppress a little sigh. He would have loved to properly introduce his boyfriend to his friends, but seeing how Lance himself barely got to see him, that seemed like an incredible impossibility. Even just going out with his friends to eat like this was difficult with how busy they all were with college or work. He couldn't even imagine a reality where his friends and his boyfriend somehow crossed paths. That one time where Keith had been in his apartment and had met Hunk by chance felt like a distant and hazy dream now.

"Hey, Lance," Hunk suddenly spoke up hesitantly. He waited until he had Lance's attention before continuing. "Isn't that… your ex?"

"What?" When Lance glanced to where Hunk was pointing, his breath got stuck in his throat and his stomach dropped hard enough it almost made him dizzy. Not too far away, in one of the window booths of the diner, sat a mesmerisingly gorgeous blonde. Her long, flowing hair was pulled up into messy pigtails, sunlight shining in from outside and shimmering across the golden strands. The cropped burgundy turtleneck she was wearing accentuated her slim figure and showed off her toned midriff.

Lance gulped when he realised that oh yes, that was definitely his ex Nyma and oh no, she had somehow gotten even hotter since the last time he had seen her. 

"That guy doesn't seem like her new boyfriend though," Pidge soon added.

Finally tearing his eyes away from Nyma, Lance actually took in the situation at hand. Some guy was uncomfortably close to Nyma's table, talking down to her in an agitated tone while she sat there with a scowl that only deepened by the second. From the little sentence fragments that reached Lance, he knew right away what was going on. "Come on," he suddenly murmured to his friends, his body moving before he could even think about it. His heart began racing a little, especially when the guy grew louder and more upset, his body growing tense with frustration.

"I told you, I'm waiting for someone!" Nyma insisted, fists balled on top of the table. "Just fucking leave–"

"You've been sitting here a while though," the guy cut her off, making to sit down in the seat across from her. "I'll just–"

"Hey, Nyma!" Lance called out, smiling and making his way over like nothing was going on. "Sorry, we're late. We got stuck in traffic for a while." Coming to a stop next to the now visibly pissed off guy, Lance sent him a friendly smile. "Can you move? We wanna sit, you know." 

The guy stood there staring Lance down for a moment, before clicking his tongue and roughly pushing past him to sit elsewhere. Releasing a collective sigh of relief, Lance, Hunk and Pidge filed into the little booth silently, Nyma pointedly keeping her gaze down. 

Once everyone was settled in – with Lance across from Nyma – and after taking a little sip from her drink, Nyma finally met Lance's eyes. "Thanks," she said quietly, holding his gaze for a moment before looking away again.

Lance managed a half smile, but couldn't quite reply back. His jaw felt fixed in place, as though he wouldn't be able to utter a single sound even if he tried. It took him mentally willing his body to obey his commands again, but eventually he didn't feel like his voice was stuck somewhere in his gut anymore. "That was really fucking scary," he said with a nervous little laugh. "For a second there I thought he was gonna beat me up."

Taking another sip from her drink, Nyma intently stared at Lance for a few seconds. "You didn't have to do that. What if I was actually waiting for someone?"

Chin propped up in his hand, Lance pushed the cap out of his face a little. "You go out to eat by yourself whenever something's on your mind. I figured today was just one of those days."

Nyma's eyes widened in surprise for a only a moment, before she pouted with a frown. "Why would you remember that of all things?"

When the following silence stretched on uncomfortably long, Hunk began squirming where he sat next to Lance. "We could uh… you know… leave you two alone if you guys wanna talk or something."

After a brief moment of consideration, Nyma simply shrugged. "I don't care. It's not like we have much to talk about. Right?" 

With Nyma's pointed look directed at him, Lance could only shrug as well. Luckily for him, a waiter came by to ask their orders, saving him from having to give an actual response. Him and Nyma hadn't exactly parted on good terms. They had been friends for a while before ever dating, but once they had started, their romantic relationship had not lasted long. It shouldn't have come as a surprise, considering they had decided to date on a mere whim. Lance's playful and jokey flirting had at some point worn Nyma down to the point she had ended up asking him on a date of her own accord. Things after that had gone well… until they hadn't.

"I saw your boyfriend on TV last week," Nyma suddenly spoke up. Her drink was empty by now, so to busy herself she was drawing little patterns onto the table with her finger. "One of those late shows. Don't remember which one."

"Yeah…" Lance's throat felt unbelievably dry. "He mentioned flying to that."

Nyma suddenly smiled when she met Lance's eyes. "You guys look cute together."

Surprised by how genuine the words were, Lance couldn't help the embarrassed smile trying to break out on his face. "Thanks." When the food arrived soon after that, Lance finally noticed how Nyma's eyes kept shifting to her phone. "You dating anyone right now?"

A little caught off guard by the question, Nyma didn't answer right away. "Well… yeah. I guess." When Lance sent her a look, she rolled her eyes with a hesitant smile. "He works night shifts at a hospital so we don't really have a lot of chances to see each other."

"I feel you," Lance replied before he could stop himself. Looking at Nyma, he could tell they were both a little shocked at how easily they were falling back into the friendship they had lost after dating. "I haven't talked to Keith in two days. He's pretty much spending all his downtime working on songs."

"That's pretty shitty of him."

Hearing the blunt words, Lance's eyebrows crinkled a little in thought. He had gotten so used to Keith barely having time for anything but work that not being his top priority was something Lance had expected when they had started dating. Still, there had to be a limit to how much Keith could prioritise his work over him, right? "It… is. Isn't it?"

The silence that settled between them wasn't awkward or tense this time. They all simply ate their food in peace, Hunk and Pidge quietly chatting with each other. But not before long, Nyma's eyes met Lance's and they both knew they had to address the elephant in the room. Hunk and Pidge seemed to sense the thickening tension, so the moment they both finished their food, they excused themselves and walked off towards the little arcade machine in a corner of the diner. They pointedly kept their attention on the game instead of glancing back towards the two left in the booth.

Being the more forward one out of the two, it was Nyma who spoke up first. Her eyes met Lance's and this time she firmly held his gaze. "Listen… I know we probably can't go back to the way we were before we dated, but… I miss you as a friend, you know. It's not like I regret us dating but… had I known I would lose you as a friend over it, I wouldn't have asked you out."

Lance had expected to feel heartbroken all over again if he ever met Nyma. Throughout their relationship he had developed genuine feelings for her, but then it had all ended up in a huge flaming mess that had left him hesitant to give relationships another try. At least for a while. But talking to her now that his wounds had healed, it was surprisingly easy. After all, he had often mulled over what he would say to Nyma should they ever meet again. "It wasn't all your fault," he began carefully, absent-mindedly nibbling on a fry as he stared out of the window. "I was really insecure and couldn't trust you. I was so convinced you would leave me if someone better ever came along and it just… paralysed me. I was terrified all the time."

Eyes wandering to what was happening outside, joining Lance in listlessly staring outside, Nyma managed a dry smile. "I don't blame you, to be honest. I never told you how I felt. I never made you feel secure. Whenever something bothers me I just… go out by myself and stress eat to try and somehow bottle up my feelings. I know I shouldn't. I know it's important to talk in a relationship, but…"

Finally tearing his eyes away from the little fountain outside the diner, Lance found Nyma already staring back at him. "It's not like I ever told you anything either. We just… didn't work together. That's all."

With the words finally out, all their cards on the table, a peace seemed to settle between them. Any hard feelings had eased away long ago, any animosity that had once existed gone. They were both at ease with where they were in life, both having learned their lessons from their failed relationship.

"I really do miss just… talking to you," Nyma said with a half smile. "I think it's actually kinda funny how well we work as friends compared to how disastrous we are in a relationship." She stole one of Lance's remaining fries and smirked back at him when he shot her a less than pleased look. "You still have my number?"

Hesitating briefly, Lance shook his head. "I deleted it from my phone but I still remember it."

"Same here." Nyma had her eyes on Lance's fries again, but backed off when he dramatically covered them with his arms. She couldn't help but giggle at his mock upset frown. "Feel free to call me if you ever wanna vent about your celebrity boyfriend. We can be venting buddies."

Even though Lance knew it was probably not right to feel this way, he couldn't deny that the thought of having Nyma back in his life made him a little happy. He truly did miss just hanging out with her. She was incredibly fun to go partying with, the type to get you to try out new things you never would have done otherwise. She was also someone you could confide in about pretty much anything. She was the exact person Lance would want to consult about relationship problems, especially considering she was one of the only people in the world who understood how Lance operated in a relationship. "Sure," he eventually answered. "Next time you wanna stress eat, just call me instead."

Nyma finally laughed a genuine laugh, something like relief shining in her eyes. Seeing that, Lance felt oddly at ease despite the storm quietly brewing in his mind. This entire conversation had kicked up old memories, had made him remember just how bad he truly was at relationships. It made him wonder if he could even maintain a relationship with Keith if they did have the time to meet up more regularly. The fact that it had taken them about a year to get together, despite being attracted to each other almost from the start, spoke testaments of how dysfunctional they were together. Lance's current relationship with Keith may be more dysfunctional than his relationship with Nyma had been. Perhaps the distance was the only thing keeping their relationship alive.

By the time Hunk and Pidge returned, all the food was gone and they were all able to have normal, tension-free conversation. Lance tried to remain present, but found his mind constantly wandering off to thoughts of Keith. It was beginning to scare him how much he truly cared about the guy. Lance couldn't help but imagine what would happen if what had gone down with Nyma ever happened with Keith. Misunderstandings piling up, eventually becoming so insurmountable that no amount of talking seemed to solve anything. He dreaded the thought.

Eventually, Nyma seemed to notice his absence of mind and turned her attention away from discussing her favourite restaurants with Hunk to Lance. "What're you thinking so hard about?"

A little bashful over being figured out, Lance desperately tried to find a way not to talk about Keith. As much as he wanted to vent to Nyma, they had only just met after years of not seeing each other and with both Hunk and Pidge there, he didn't want to unload all his relationship issues on her immediately. "Just… curious how Rolo's doing," he blurted out, instantly regretting his words when he saw Nyma's face drop. Rolo had bullied him in school, but he had also been friends with Nyma since way before Lance had even met her. Now that he was older, Lance figured that perhaps Rolo had always been jealous of anyone that got close to Nyma and had resorted to violence because of it. Still, despite Rolo's garbage personality, Lance couldn't help but wonder. "He kinda disappeared off the face of the earth a couple years ago. Do you know anything?"

Gaze dropping to the table, Nyma began agitatedly stirring the strawberry milkshake a waiter had just brought her. "I haven't really heard from him either," she murmured in an oddly dark tone. "He just…" Suddenly, a sharp sigh tore past her lips. "I don't even know if he's alive, Lance."

Floored by the words, it took a moment for Lance to find his voice. "Oh," he mumbled quietly, vowing to never bring up Rolo around Nyma again. It didn't seem like she even wanted to think about him at all. 

Some time passed before the silence dissipated and regular conversation picked back up again. Both Hunk and Pidge quickly warmed up to Nyma again, which was no surprise seeing how they had been friends with her as well before the breakup. One of Lance's biggest regrets in his failed relationship with Nyma was that not only had his friendship with Nyma ended, but so had the friendship she had shared with Hunk and Pidge. Although they hadn't been best friends by any means, they had both lost a friend over Lance essentially being young, dumb and too flirty. 

Despite the relaxed and pleasant atmosphere, Lance's thoughts quickly wandered back to Keith and musings over how long they would be able to maintain their relationship in its current state, if at all. He was ready to take on whatever hardship needed to keep things going, but as time passed and against his better judgement, he was beginning to think that Keith wasn't putting in the same kind of effort. Lance couldn't blame him, of course, what with him being booked left and right. And yet Lance couldn't simply turn off the doubts bubbling in his mind. When a frustrated sight left him, Hunk and Pidge sent him questioning looks, while Nyma seemed to recognise the cause of the sigh, eliciting a sympathetic look from her.

Seeing that, Lance couldn't help but wish Keith was that responsive to his worries. 

The manatee area was silent when Lance arrived there at the end of his shift. Safe for the quiet lapping of the water and the low humming of nearby machinery, it was almost deathly silent. Not having guests around to make noise seemed almost unnatural, especially in a room that was usually used for shows and presentations. After rolling up his pant legs, Lance carefully dipped his feet into the water and sat down at the edge of the pool. When he turned around to reach for one of the carrots he had brought, the door swung open to reveal a familiar handsome face.

"Hey, James," Lance greeted the other intern, carrot in hand. "What's up?"

James stopped a few feet away from the pool, eyes trained on the seemingly empty pool. "Nothing much. Shift's over and I wanted to check on Livia. You too, huh?"

Lance nodded silently, then turned his attention back to the pool below. He didn't have to wait much longer for something to happen. A manatee appeared below his feet, the sound of a person near the water having lured it out of its tank. When it spotted Lance, it slowly and leisurely swam upwards until it broke through the surface with its snout, shooting little droplets of water all over Lance when it breathed out. "Hey there, beautiful," Lance greeted the manatee, chuckling a little when his hand was immediately nibbled on by a bristly snout. 

"Oh wow, she really is attached to you," James commented, a small pout forming on his face. "She never comes out for me."

Laughing at how genuinely insulted James sounded, Lance tried feeding the gentle giant in front of him a carrot. "Livia's a shy girl, you know. She won't just open her heart to anyone. Especially not to guys that criticise her weight."

"She is overweight though," James immediately argued. "Everyone secretly gives her treats, so it's not that surprising."

"See, that's exactly why she doesn't like you." Lance said it with a smile, but it soon faded when Livia continued to ignore the carrot he was holding out for her. "She's still not eating."

A long sigh left James as he crossed his arms. "It's the second day now, huh? Has she eaten anything at all?"

"A little here and there. But nowhere near how much she usually eats." Finally giving up on the food, Lance began stroking Livia's head, which only prompted her to immediately roll on her back and demand for belly pats. Lance, of course, was happy to oblige. "They're gonna take another look at her tomorrow." He shot a grateful smile at James when he leaned down to give him a comforting pat on the back.

"She'll be fine." James, evidently recognising Lance's worsening mood, decided to change the topic. "I saw your boyfriend on TV earlier while I was on break."

"Oh, really?" Even though he was worn out from work, the mention of Keith both energised and exhausted Lance. "Was it another talk show?"

"Something like that, yeah. It was about the movie he's in. Or at least it was supposed to be."

A dry little laugh escaped Lance. "Let me guess, the host kept deviating from the movie to ask about his personal life, so he got pissed and tanked the whole thing."

"Pretty much," James chuckled. "I think the death glare he gave that host would scare just about anyone. He looked ready to walk out when she kept asking if he was gay now, you know. And then she got really flustered when he called her out on trying to fish for a scoop instead of asking him about his work."

"Yeah, that sounds like him." Smiling to himself, Lance watched Livia turn onto her stomach again, but not leaving his side. 

A small shudder seemed to run through James' body as he recalled Keith's infamous scowl. "Remind me to never piss of your boyfriend." After checking his watch, James then quickly made his way to the door, already waving goodbye at his fellow intern. "It's late, I'm off. Don't stay too long. You know we're not supposed to just hang out here for no reason."

"Yeah, I know." Although he said it, Lance already knew he wouldn't be leaving here for a while. He used to be able to come visit Livia during his breaks or right after shows; sometimes one or both of the other manatees also came out for more treats. But now that he had to basically hide himself, his time with Livia had drastically decreased. He still got to see his favourite animals everyday, but it was depressing regardless. When Livia snorted at him and shot more water droplets at him, presumably for not paying enough attention to her, Lance finally laughed genuinely. "Sorry, sorry. I'm all yours."  

Just as he said that, his phone rang in his pocket, forcing him to retreat his hands out of the water and dry them off before he could actually take out his phone. "Keith," he murmured with an air of surprise when he saw the name on his display. Suddenly nervous, he accepted the call. "Hey…"


It had been yet another two days since Lance had last even heard Keith's voice. Back when they had simply been friends, not hearing from each other for an entire week or more had been normal. Not seeing each other face to face sometimes for months on end had been the norm. The distance had been comfortable. But now that they were dating, every day that passed without any communication at all was torturous.

"What's up?" Lance asked, a little distracted by Livia blinking up at him with those adorable button eyes of hers.

"Just wanted to ask how your day was."

Letting Livia nibble at his leg, Lance leaned back and braced himself against the floor with his free hand. "Same as always. Mostly did food prep. Cleaned a lot. What about you? I heard your talk show thing went completely down the drain."

"Don't remind me," Keith grumbled. "I keep telling Shiro to not have me booked for these shows but noooo I need to go on and let them question what I do with my life when it has shit to do with what I'm actually there to talk about."

Managing a half smile, Lance's eyes wandered upwards to stare at the ceiling, watching the reflections from the water dancing across the teal surface. "So what's next?"

"No more interviews, finally. Just a radio thing and then a bunch of meetings about the tour next year. I also rented a studio so I can actually start properly working out the songs and recording vocals and stuff. I could go to my label but… I don't like being there."

Eyebrows immediately creasing together at the strange tone, Lance briefly wondered if he should ask why Keith didn't like being at his label. He probably wouldn't receive an answer even if he asked though. And Lance wasn't in the mood to pry. "Guess that means we still won't see each other a while."

Keith was silent for a while, clearly sensing that something was off. "Are you upset?"

When asked so bluntly, there really was no way for Lance to weasel his way out. "A little." He could somewhat imagine the frown that was probably on Keith's face now. "I know you can't do much about it, but… it sucks that we can't meet. It sucks a lot."

"Yeah… I know."

The loud 'I miss you' rang out for both of them, despite neither actually saying it. It was slowly becoming unbearable how badly Lance wanted to just see Keith in the flesh. He didn't even watch television anymore and purposely avoided social media simply so he wouldn't come across Keith and end up missing him even more.

"Lance, um…"

The sudden shift in tone instantly sent alarm bells ringing violently in Lance's head. Keith never sounded this unsure and lost; it was practically unheard of. "What?"

"Well…" Seemingly unable to form a full sentence, a frustrated sigh left Keith. "I don't know if you've kept up with social media at all, but apparently a lot of people think our relationship is fake and that I'm only dating you for publicity."

It took quite a bit for Lance to even process the words. Never in a million years could he have expected a sentence like that. How could he? It wasn't normal to have your relationship – something that really should only matter to the two people involved – scrutinised and judged by so many other people. "That's ridiculous."

"That's what I said, but what we think doesn't seem to matter to anyone. I didn't want to tell you this, but my PR team tried completely denying our relationship at first. They tried to publish a statement saying we're just friends, but um… I… threatened them into not doing it."

Lance was beginning to feel mental whiplash from these back to back revelations. "Wha– How did you threaten them?!"

"Well imagine a PR manager's worst nightmare. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it might've been something along the lines of 'I'll punch someone the next time I'm on live TV'. They know I would do it."

Facepalming now, Lance was conflicted over whether he should praise Keith for so fiercely defending their relationship or if he should yell at him for being such a stereotypically wilful celebrity. "Well, apparently they didn't have to publish a statement at all, since people are convinced we're faking it anyway."

"About that…" Keith was hesitating again, clearly reluctant to tell Lance any of this, "my PR team already came up with a really dumb strategy."

Suddenly remembering that Livia existed, Lance dipped his free hand into the water for her to nibble on. "I'm listening."

Sighing again, Keith grumbled something inaudible, before explaining. "It's just your typical PR bullshit. Having us go places together and tipping off contacts in the media so people will be there to take photos of us. Stuff like that. I think it's pathetic to call paparazzi on yourself, but what do I know?"

Lance suddenly vividly remembered the time Keith had explained fake relationships in the entertainment business to him. It was ironic to think that those same tactics could be used to also prove to the public that a relationship was genuine. 

"They're already setting up this club date thing for this weekend. I told them we don't need that shit, but–"

"I'll do it." 

Suddenly deathly silent, Keith's shock could be felt even through the phone. "What do you mean, you'll do it?" 

"I'm saying I don't mind going to this club thing with you, even if it's fake." Lance sounded nonchalant, but in reality his entire face felt impossibly hot. He tried to sound bold and confident, despite the fact that his heart was racing impossibly fast.

"Lance, listen, this isn't–"

"It helps get people off your back and we get to go out together. I don't see any downsides."

Keith went silent yet again, clearly still hesitant to give in to Lance. "It would be completely staged."

"So? Does it matter as long as we're together?"

Keith had no counterargument to that, which eventually prompted him to sigh in resignation, his voice growing much softer when he spoke again. "Fine. We'll do it. I'll text you once everything's sorted out." There was a small pause in which another voice, though severely muffled, could be heard on Keith's end. It sounded vaguely like Shiro. "Sorry, gotta go."

"Yeah," Lance murmured back, suddenly feeling dazed. "See you this weekend."

A brief pause, then Keith's voice finally had a hint of joy in it. "Yeah. See you." 

Chapter Text

Lance, usually one to keep his room relatively neat and tidied up, was beginning to absolutely drown in his own mess. Shoes were scattered everywhere, shirts and pants thrown over his bed and all kinds of accessories laid out on his desk. The floor wasn't even visible anymore, every inch covered in some kind of clothing item. That he even had this many clothes startled him. Considering his financial situation, having this many clothes to choose from was a blessing. Lucky for him, Lance's older sister, Veronica, took him shopping once or twice a year. Out of their family, he was the only one who actually thoroughly enjoyed clothes shopping, so she didn't mind paying for everything. Even though it did sting his pride a little, Lance was grateful. 

Taking one more look at himself in the mirror, Lance finally stepped out of his room to walk in front his two friends who were lifelessly slumped on the couch watching a mindless reality show. "How's this?"

Hunk tried to look enthusiastic at Lance's eleventh or so outfit, while Pidge had already given up, simply eyeing him with nothing but exasperation and tired disdain.

"Don't you need to leave soon?" Pidge grumbled, nearly melted into a totally horizontal position on the couch.

Suddenly nervous, Lance glanced at his wristwatch. "Shit, yeah." Growing more and more panicked, Lance frantically turned and looked down at himself. "This looks fine, right? I don't look like I'm trying too hard or anything, right? I–"

"Lance, you look great!" Hunk cut him off, his smile a little stiff. "I'm sure Keith will like anything you wear."

Despite wanting to explain that this wasn't entirely for Keith, Lance decided to simply accept the compliment. "Thanks, buddy." Even though he had experience with going to clubs, Lance found himself incredibly nervous, a chaos of thoughts constantly rampaging through his mind. The excitement over getting to see Keith again after weeks of not meeting him paired with the genuine fear of messing things up for him in some way… It all mingled into a whirlwind of disjointed emotions that left Lance feeling in turmoil at all times. 

"Didn't he tell you some kind of dress code?" Pidge asked, body now halfway on the floor somehow.

"I doubt Keith even knows what a dress code is," Lance grumbled on his way back to his room, taking one last look at his outfit in the mirror: a loose, collarless black shirt with a white flower pattern, which Lance found oddly calming, tucked into black jeans and paired with a silver necklace that almost fit around his neck like a choker. Hopefully it would do. "I'm kinda scared he'll show up in pyjama pants and flip-flops. I hope Shiro can at least wrangle him into something an actual human would wear. I swear, sometimes Keith dresses like he's some shapeshifting cryptid who's never worn human clothes before." One more look at his watch told Lance that he really needed to get going soon. Hastily stepping into a pair of glossy black boots and stuffing a few essentials into the too small pockets of his tight jeans, he finally made his way to the door. "I'll probably be late, so don't wait for me! I'll message you if anything comes up! See ya!"

"Have fun!" Hunk shouted after him, Pidge mumbling some kind of incoherent farewell next to him. 

The moment he was on his way out, Lance's heart began thumping against his ribcage as though it was trying to burst out of his chest. By this time, Keith had to already be outside somewhere in his car, waiting to pick him up. Lance's face went hot when he realised that he had never been picked up like this for a date. It had always been him doing the picking up and driving around, albeit it had never been his own car. It was nice to not have to do that for once, to simply have someone there waiting to take him somewhere nice.

Lance stepped outside into the crisp night air and was immediately relieved that it wasn't too cold – his outfit did not include a jacket after all. After taking a few deep breaths, he made his way towards the street, heart still racing incessantly. Even his hands were beginning to shake a little; enough that it made him feel a little ridiculous. This felt like he was going on a first date, despite the fact he had met up with Keith countless times before over the past year. Only this time… they were dating. And it was the first time they were seeing each other again after making it official. Gulping, Lance couldn't help but wonder whether Keith was this nervous. He couldn't be, right? He was a performer, someone used to thousands of people watching him on stage. He was in front of cameras almost every day of his life. Someone like that had to have nerves of steel. 

Suddenly, Lance was on the sidewalk, eyes almost automatically zoning in on the dark red jeep sitting on the street to his left. Inside, he could see a face partially illuminated by a phone screen. Even from this far away, Lance could tell right away who it was. It took all his might not to run, to not dash for that car like it was a glass of water in a desert. Despite his efforts, he couldn't stop himself from nearly jogging all the way to the car. When he got there, he somewhat clumsily opened the door and stumbled his way inside with a gasped out "Hi". The moment he turned to look at Keith, he was met with a look of bafflement. 

Keith's eyes seemed to move over every single inch of Lance's face, like he was confirming that he was actually real and not some kind of hologram. He had a lollipop in his mouth, the stick peeking out from between his lips. But when Keith's eyes trailed down to where the top two buttons of Lance's loose shirt were unbuttoned to reveal part of his chest, there was a loud crack that echoed through the car. 

"Did you just… bite through that lollipop?" Lance asked him incredulously, suddenly feeling shy under Keith's intense gaze. He received no reply, Keith seeming too busy ogling Lance. "Keith, my eyes are up here!"

Keith immediately snapped out of whatever daze he had been in, the now bare lollipop stick dropping from his mouth. "Wha– Yeah. I know that." Frowning, he picked up the lollipop stick and stuffed it into a random compartment. "Y-You just… surprised me. Since when do you dress like this?"

"Um… I dress like this whenever I go to clubs. It's not that strange." As offended as Lance tried to sound, he couldn't hide the smile that wanted to creep onto his face. Keith was so obviously flustered, it made all his earlier fear and stress evaporate. And with the initial shock of meeting over, Lance finally got to actually take a good look at Keith. Luckily, he wasn't in pyjama pants and flip-flops. In fact, he actually looked surprisingly fashionable. His black jacket and jeans were simple enough, but the white button-down shirt he wore underneath was so oversized that its sleeves peaked out of his jacket, nearly covering his hands entirely, while the bottom reached the middle of his thighs. For a moment, Lance revelled in the fact that they were matching, both in black and white. "You look nice." When Lance saw those deep dark eyes soften at the compliment, his heart melted a little. "Did Shiro dress you?"

Keith proceeded to give him his absolute worst stink eye. "I hate that you didn't even for a second consider the possibility that I might've dressed myself."

"Well, did you?"

The stink eye wavered, but did not disappear. "No comment."

Speaking of Shiro… It had taken him a while to notice, but Lance finally realised that besides Keith, no one else seemed to be around. "No Shiro?"

"No Shiro," Keith replied calmly. "Just us."

Lance's throat went dry at the realisation that this was their first time out in public as a couple by themselves. The one time they had been together in public, Shiro had been there to keep an eye on everything. Now they were by themselves. A hand on his cheek suddenly brought Lance back to reality, his eyes immediately finding Keith's.

"I'm not dreaming, right?" Keith murmured in an absent-minded tone.

Unable to form words when faced with the unreadable look on Keith's face, Lance simply shook his head. He could feel Keith's thumb brushing over his cheek, then slowly wandering down to his jaw. The atmosphere shifted almost palpably, the air between them suddenly growing thick and heavy, buzzing with electricity. When Keith's fingers passed over his lips without actually touching them, Lance finally realised Keith was hesitating. Why, he didn't quite understand. To stop Keith's fingers from moving elsewhere yet again and before he could stop himself, Lance wrapped his lips around Keith's thumb, biting down a little to stop him from moving. He heard a small gasp and released Keith again, glancing up to see his reaction. Immediately, he found an undeniable hunger sizzling in Keith's eyes. It seemed to seep out of his every pore, taking over every molecule of air in the car.   

"Come here," Keith ordered, already leaning in and pulling Lance closer with a hand on the back of his head. 

Lance happily obliged, meeting Keith in a searing kiss. It was sloppy and uncoordinated, hands sliding around clumsily as both struggled to find purchase in the car. Keith was as fervent and intense as ever, the heat of his body all-encompassing. Lance gasped into his mouth when Keith suddenly pulled back on his hair gently, breaking the kiss but staying close enough their foreheads touched. For a moment, all they did was to hotly pant into each other's mouths as they gradually caught their breaths. Lance's eyes were glued to Keith's kiss-swollen lips, desire pooling in his gut like lava. When he glanced up and saw how wrecked Keith looked already, a thought suddenly hit him.

"Are they already here?" he asked quietly, running a hand over Keith's shoulder and down his arm.


Hearing Keith's husky voice from this close almost made Lance dizzy with the burning need to continue what they had been doing. "You know… the paparazzi and stuff."

Keith grew silent, clearly hesitant to answer the question. "Does it bother you?"

He didn't say no. Lance only had to think about it for a moment, before shaking his head. Although he would be lying if he said that it didn't bother him at all, Lance knew that he would have to get used to these things sooner or later. There really wasn't any room for him to be troubled. His train of thought was interrupted when Keith leaned in for another kiss, this one much gentler. Keith being so careful and slow absolutely made Lance melt, all tension leaving his body, any worries flying out of his head. Lance found himself mesmerised by Keith's shoulders, the way the muscles moved and shifted under his fingers. 

The one to pull away this time was Lance, who reached up to softly run his thumb over Keith's slightly swollen bottom lip. "You taste really sugary," he remarked, giving Keith one last small peck. "Just how much candy did you eat?"

Keith immediately frowned back at him, pouted almost. "Not that much."

With a deadpan look, Lance pointedly glanced downwards to where countless lollipop wrappers lined the floor of the car. "You're such a bad liar," he chuckled, pushing Keith's mouth open so he could see inside. "Your tongue's bright red too." His hand then travelled to the back of Keith's head, where he tangled his fingers into his messy as ever hair. Keith unconsciously leaned into the touch when he began to massage his scalp, causing Lance's smile to broaden a little. "What's up with all the lollipops anyway?"

Eyes fluttering slightly with the temptation to close at Lance's ministrations, a frustrated sigh left Keith. "Shiro took my cigarettes and gave me those instead. Said I should find healthier ways to relieve stress. Guess I'll take diabetes over lung cancer."

Laughing dryly at the remark, Lance watched as Keith visibly slumped into his seat, looking ready to fall asleep right there and then. "Have you sleep at all?"

Keith seemed a little conflicted over how to answer, as if he was unsure whether he should be honest or not. "A little."

"You have dark circles under your eyes, you know." Receiving no answer other than a weak half smile, Lance frowned. "Are you okay?" 

The fact that Keith was actually thinking about his answer was already quite telling. "I'm fine," he said quietly after a while, voice barely above a whisper. "I just feel like I've talked enough for a whole year. I didn't know that promoting a movie would be this exhausting."

The smile that was on Lance's face slowly faded away, leaving him looking contemplative. "We don't have to talk while you drive, you know."


"I don't mind," Lance cut him off, putting on a reassuring smile as he let go of Keith and settled back into his seat.

Slowly, his reluctance eased away and Keith's shoulders eventually sagged in defeat. "Sorry. And thanks."

"You're more attractive when you don't open your mouth anyway."

They both knew that if they were not outside, somewhere where there was the danger of being photographed, Keith would have totally smacked Lance for that. "I swear, one day I'll actually launch you into space."

Lance simply laughed and made himself comfortable while Keith started the car, still with a mildly annoyed frown. From there, the car ride went by in relative silence. As much as Lance wanted to ask Keith all kinds of things, about the interviews, the TV appearances, the many premieres in various places, he could tell that what Keith needed at the moment was to not have to think about anything at all. After all, work was probably the last thing he wanted to be reminded of. And so, Lance simply stared out of the window, watching as the moonlit scenery passed by outside. At first he was nervous that people might recognise Keith and cause a scene, but people were too busy with themselves to pay attention to who was sitting inside a random car. As they drove, they delved deeper and deeper into the centre of the city, where the sidewalks became busier and the lights brighter. Eventually, Keith parked the car in a narrow alley between two buildings.

"We're there," he murmured, voice strangely low, sounding like he had just woken up from a nap.

"Got it." Suddenly feeling nervous again, Lance hesitated. But with Keith already opening the car door and stepping out, he had no choice but to follow suit. Lance almost stumbled over his own feet, but eventually managed to actually stand on the sidewalk without looking like a fool. "Oh wow, this street looks fancy." Lance could tell at a glance that this was a go-to destination for anyone with money wanting to party the night away. It was decently busy, the various restaurants and bars that framed the street on both sides looking relatively high class even from the outside. But most importantly, there were several lines of well-dressed and fashionable people waiting to get into different clubs. 

"Come on."

When Lance's gaze jumped back to Keith, he found a hand being held out for him. At first puzzled, Lance shot Keith a quizzical look, which only made the pop-star shake his open hand at him in a demanding manner. "Oh…" Lance murmured under his breath, finally grasping Keith's hand. "I didn't think…" It was the first time since the premiere that they were holding hands. And despite the fact that their relationship was completely open to the public now, Lance still found himself trying to hide. They had spent months hiding from the world, meeting up where no one could find them, their time together only between them. It was odd to suddenly be out in public on a sidewalk holding Keith's hand like this. Luckily, the semi-darkness as well as the flashing lights from various neon signs made Keith difficult to recognise at first glance.

By the time Lance noticed movement out of the corner of his eyes and turned to look, Keith had already pulled their interlaced fingers up so he could kiss Lance's hand. The feel of his warm lips and his breath fanning over his hand sent the kind of sudden jolt through Lance that almost made him falter in his step. He had to swallow an embarrassed screech. 

"Do you really have to play it up that much?" Lance whispered incredulously, feeling his entire face go hot.

"Huh?" Even when he ran his thumb over one of Lance's knuckles, Keith sported a slightly too innocent expression. He watched Lance for a moment, the way his eyes jumped around as if searching for something. Or someone. "You know, I just like touching you," he eventually explained, giving Lance's hand a reassuring squeeze. "Your reactions are cute."

Hiding his burning face behind his free hand, Lance couldn't even look at Keith anymore; he was afraid of even more mortifying words coming out of his mouth. From a distance he could hear the telltale click of a camera, but tried not to pay it any mind. "How can you say this shit with a straight face? Is it some kind of boyfriend harassment gene?"

"No, just years of experience not caring what people think about what I say."

"Why do you sound proud about that?" Lance sighed, finally calming down enough to drop his hand from his still burning face, before actually looking at Keith. "What club are we going to anyway?"

Instead of answering, Keith merely jerked his chin at something a little ahead of them. "It's in there. You need an invitation to get in, so not just anyone is allowed inside."

The building Keith pointed out looked a little less flashy compared to the ones surrounding it, but it certainly still had a very distinguished air to it. Like a smooth black gem among a pile of multicoloured crystals. When they got there, Keith lead Lance up a flight of stairs, before stopping in front of a strangely bland metal door. Shooting Keith a puzzled look, Lance simply watched as he knocked on the door five times in a strangely distinct pattern. A mere second later, a beep sounded, followed by the mechanical sound of the door unlocking. Intrigued but also nervous, Lance followed suit when Keith walked through the door into a narrow entranceway. A reception desk of sorts stood to the right, bathed in pink and purple light. The desk was flanked on both sides by two men that looked like they could crush watermelons with their bare hands.

"Oh, Keith!" the receptionist cheered, looking ready to jump out of her chair. "Haven't seen your cranky face in a while."

"Yeah. Hi." Robotic and dismissive as ever, Keith clearly didn't share the receptionist's enthusiasm.

"Want anything special today?" she asked with a suggestive wiggle of her eyebrows. "You brought your boyfriend to have some fun, right? We have just the–"

"Ezor," Keith cut her off, tone sharp. "I just want a room for later, that's all."

"Oh woooow, Keith taking his darling to a private room. That's new." Eyes sparkling now, Ezor clasped her hands together with a mocking smile. "Is this what they call true love?" Seeing how utterly unamused Keith was, she finally sighed and dropped the act, speaking in a monotone voice tinged with exasperation. "Fine, whatever. You can have the candy room. I don't think anyone's using it tonight."

Lance only saw the key Ezor handed Keith for a second, but in that brief moment he could tell it was special. Befitting a room that was called the 'candy room', it was powder blue with some sort of fancy keychain that was several times longer than the key itself. That was all he saw, before Keith turned towards him to grasp his hand and pull him towards the door that would lead into the actual club. 

"Use protection, you guys!" Ezor called after them cheekily.

Face flushing with embarrassment instantly, Lance subconsciously tightened his grip on Keith's hand. It didn't help at all when in the next moment, Keith turned towards him to whisper into his ear.

"Don't worry," he said, voice intoxicatingly low. "We don't actually have to do anything. It's more about us spending the night here and leaving the next morning wearing the same clothes."

Unable to answer verbally with how tight his throat suddenly felt, Lance simply nodded. He was a little mortified at how Keith's breath trickling over his ear and neck made him all light-headed and weak in the knees. His mind was so occupied with Keith's mere presence that he almost didn't notice the floor trembling beneath his feet or the heavy thrum of music already permeating the air. He came back to the present when Keith let go of his hand to push open the door and Lance was met with what looked like the inside of a sci-fi fever dream. The club was fairly packed, but not to the point that Lance couldn't even see the interior. Everything was lit up in neon blue and red light, even the bar to the left emitting its own illumination. The walls were completely covered in mirrors, which only made the inside seem that much bigger – it was still quite early after all. The furniture and the interior in general was very geometrical, all clean lines and curves. Behind the bar, monitors lined the wall and constantly played abstract animations spliced into live action footage. It all screamed futuristic and expensive. 

"So this is the type of place you go clubbing?" Lance asked in a hush, subconsciously sticking close to Keith's side.

"Well… one of a couple. I got banned from a lot of clubs, remember?" 

Wondering if he would ever get used to the feeling of Keith's whispering into his ear like that, Lance tried to ease his suddenly racing heart. "What did you do to get banned from so many places anyway? I never asked."

"I don't… really remember. I was pretty drunk for a lot of it. I probably got into fights with people and stuff. Shiro knows more, but he won't tell me."

Lance merely hummed in response, wondering if he should look up articles from that time. He had so far avoided even thinking of that dark time in both of their lives, but perhaps it was time to face it. 

Keith suddenly stopped near the dance floor, where a crowd was already moving to the beat of the music humming through the club. "Do you wanna dance?" 

When Lance turned his head towards Keith, their faces were close enough he could have easily stolen a kiss. So he did. "You look like you really don't want to." He could feel Keith sliding a hand over his lower back and unconsciously leaned into him. He kept his hands in his pockets, but felt tempted to let his hands run all over Keith. It was getting increasingly difficult to play it totally cool; especially with people already off in corners and at tables cozying up to each other.

"I'm just… tired."

The words felt oddly ominous and heavy, as though they had some kind of deeper meaning Lance wasn't understanding. Keith didn't seem in a particularly bad mood either, so he wasn't entirely sure what to make of the words. "So no dancing then. Wanna just sit and hang out instead?" When Keith simply nodded, Lance grasped his hand and began pulling him up a flight of stairs that was lit entirely by red light.  

The second floor of the club looked out at the dance floor, couches lined up along the walls and sitting in semi-darkness. They were mostly lit up by small lamps on the little cylindrical tables, which only provided enough light for whoever was sitting on a couch to see each other. The blue light of the entrance area and bar was completely gone now, everything entirely basked in a deep crimson. But rather than heading for one of the couches right away, Lance pulled Keith towards the railing above the dance floor. Although he didn't seem enthusiastic about standing any longer, Keith didn't protest and let himself get pulled around.

"It looks even crazier from up here," Lance commented, glad the music wasn't so obnoxiously loud he had to yell over it. While the lights below slowly shifted from icy blue to dusky violet, the music changed to something a little more exciting, something that slowly pulled more and more people to the dance floor like it was magnetic. "It's so different to other clubs. I thought a club you go to would be way more chaotic, but it's weirdly chill."

"That's cause I prefer places where I can take a nap if I have to."

The retort made Lance remember that Keith had indeed requested for a private room of sorts, which made him wonder what they were going to be doing in there. Simply thinking about it made his heart race, but not entirely in a good way. He jumped a little in surprise when Keith suddenly leaned in to nip at his jaw. 

Feeling Keith's hands slowly wandering up his arms, his chest pressing against his back, Lance reacted with a sharp intake of air. "You–"

"Oh, Keith!"

Interrupted by the approaching voice, Keith only stepped back from Lance a little, sliding one arm around his middle instead. "Oh, it's you," he greeted the stocky man, who was surrounded by a small entourage of people in suits.

"Still as rude as ever, I see," the man spat, his too wide smile growing tense. "I have a name, you know."

"What do you want, Lubos?"

Lance immediately reached out to grab Keith's hand and squeeze it, signalling him to settle down. 

"I heard you're working on a new album," Lubos said with an expectant gleam in his eyes. 

"Yeah, so?" A frustrated sigh left Keith when Lance elbowed him for his dismissive tone. 

Lubos seemed hellbent on maintaining a neutrally friendly expression, but was very obviously failing. "I just figured I'd offer my help if you ever need it. I think if we worked together, we could produce another hit. Don't you think so?" 

"Not really, no."

Realising there was no saving his boyfriend, Lance decided to give up and simply watch. As much as he disliked Keith's approach, this Lubos guy did give him an off feeling, something unpleasant and dark. No wonder Keith didn't want anything to do with him.

Agitatedly clenching his jaw a few times, Lubos swallowed his obvious frustration. "I heard you're not using the studio your label provided you?"

"I guess." Keith responding with a half-hearted shrug only served to increase Lubos' growing ire. 

"Why go through all that trouble?" Lubos asked, still trying to maintain his calm facade. "You're always welcome to use my studio. You know that."

"No thanks."

His friendly smile almost utterly crumbling now, Lubos struggled more and more with hiding his disdain. "I've told you this before, Keith, but that mouth of yours is gonna keep getting you into trouble. I'd watch out if I were you."

Uncertain whether he should feel relieved or concerned, Lance watched as Lubos and his entourage finally walked off with an uneasy feeling settling in his stomach. "Why does his name sound familiar?"

Keith eyed him momentarily as though he wasn't sure whether Lance was joking. "He owns Olkari Studios."

Lance's mind went blank for a moment as he stared into Keith's eyes, which were totally devoid of emotion, before muffling his own scream of surprise. "Keith! How– He… And yo-you–! Keith!"


Seeing Keith so nonchalant, Lance couldn't help but simmer down right away. "How can you talk to him like that?! Didn't he produce a whole album of yours?"

"Yeah. It was hot garbage." 

Lance wanted to facepalm, but barely refrained from actually doing so. "Still… is that enough for you to talk to him like that?"

"It's not," Keith admitted after a small pause. "He's just a really shitty person in general."

Waiting for Keith to elaborate but receiving nothing but silence, Lance turned to lean into Keith's line of vision and meet his eyes. "You're not gonna tell me why you think that?"

Searching Lance's curious eyes, Keith eventually shook his head. "I'd rather not," he said, tone solemn. "There's things you're better off just not knowing."

As much as Lance wanted to make him talk, he knew Keith would never tell him about all the dark sides of the entertainment industry. And even though his curiosity felt limitless, Lance was afraid of finding out things he never wanted to know. And before he could descend further into the gloomy corners of his own mind, Keith wordlessly guided him away from the railing and towards one of the couches. They unceremoniously plopped down on the soft cushions and immediately sank into the couch with relieved sighs, Lance sliding an arm behind Keith's head, while Keith grasped Lance's thigh in a somewhat possessive gesture. When Keith gave his thigh a squeeze, Lance almost let out a little gasp, anticipation immediately sizzling through his body. So when Keith's burning gaze slid towards him, any remaining hesitation left Lance's mind. It barely took seconds for the air between them to grow hotter and heavier than it had been all night.

When their lips met this time, it was greedy and hungry, an explosion of their weeks of helplessly longing for each other. With so much pent up frustration fuelling him, Lance had no problem keeping up with Keith's fervour. Completely lost in the rumbling thrum of music and the glow of red light washing over him, he didn't even notice Keith's hand wandering further up his thigh. Lance was too busy exploring the inviting, warm inside of Keith's mouth with his tongue instead. Every little moan and gasp that came from Keith made Lance care less and less that they were out in public. He knew he was being incredibly loud and shamelessly moaned into Keith's mouth, knowing the sound would get drowned out. The music blasting through the club was loud enough the vibrations still drummed through his body despite being on the second floor, away from the big speakers around the dance floor. An indescribable heat rushed through Lance when Keith pulled him closer by the back of his neck, deepening the kiss even further. Keith being a walking furnace made the feeling of his tongue sliding over his own that much hotter, completely robbing Lance of the ability to form a coherent thought. He was surrounded by Keith's intoxicating scent, the heat of his body bewitching. 

"I guess the rumours were true." 

Lance completely ignored the voice at first, so caught up in Keith that he barely even heard it. But Keith broke the kiss and simply looking into his stormy eyes, Lance knew he was pissed off. So before Keith's mood could get any worse, he placed another chaste kiss on his lips. A promise for more.

"Luka…" Keith mumbled, as though he was only then remembering the girl's name, still in a daze from the kiss. "What do you want?"

The moment the redhead's thin smile turned into an annoyed pout, Lance recognised her. She was a relatively well known actress, having started out as a model and recently starring in a few movies that were huge box office hits. Still young and considered an upcoming actress, she seemingly had a bright future ahead. Lance's heart rate instantly picked up, his entire head going hot at the realisation that this celebrity, someone he had previously only seen on the internet or in movies, had watched him make out with Keith like the world was about to end and it was their last night together.

"I just thought you two looked like you were enjoying yourselves," Luka replied, her smirk dazzling even in the semi-darkness of the club. "Mind if I join?"

Keith's hand returned to Lance's thigh, giving it another possessive squeeze. "I'm not into that kinda stuff."

Immediately, Luka's expression morphed into one of exaggerated surprise. "Oh really? That's not what I remember."

Lance was entirely lost by now, the feeling that he was missing something overwhelming. He knew Keith was hiding a lot from him, especially things related to his life as a celebrity, but it always surprised him just how deep that abyss of secrets seemed. Sooner or later, Keith would have to reveal at least part of the things he was hiding. How else was Lance supposed to find any kind of even ground with Keith?

"Do you need anything else?" Keith shot back curtly, expression stony. Clearly, he wanted this conversation to end as quickly as possible.

Luka simply shrugged, crossing her arms. "I guess I wasn't expecting a yes from you anyway. We all know you're a huge stick in the mud when it comes to having fun. Unless, you know…" With the way her and Keith were exchanging telling looks, there for sure was some sort of silent conversation going on that Lance simply wasn't understanding. "But what about your little boyfriend?" Her suggestive gaze slid towards Lance, who was still quite starstruck and seemed unable to take his eyes off her. "He seems interested." 

Lance could feel Keith's eyes burning into the side of his head, his thoughts now racing, heart merrily hammering away in his chest as he tried coming up with some kind of appropriate response. "Uh… no, I just… I… I like you," he blurted out, earning a downright bone-chilling "What?" from Keith. It sent cold shivers down his back, making him panic even more, especially when he saw the confused but pleased look on Luka's face. "No, wait! I said that wrong!" he began to ramble in a panic. "I meant your movies! I thought you were really great in the Colony remake you did last year! It was only your second role but you played the crazed cult member really well. It was really impressive." When he watched Luka's reaction, he saw the smirk vanish and her expression morphing into a neutral and unreadable one. Not unlike the one Keith wore whenever he tried to hide his real thoughts. Speaking of Keith, he seemed ready to lynch Lance, his burning gaze damn near searing a hole through his skull.

"You really mean that, don't you?" Luka said with surprise swinging in her voice. She was barely audible over the thrum of music, but her words still rang clear. "You don't have some kind of agenda or anything, huh?" Lance simply blinked back at her, before shaking his head innocently. "Hmm…" she eventually murmured to herself, contemplative eyes sliding towards Keith, before a small smirk formed on her face. "Hold on to him well, Keith. Who knows who else might try to snatch him up." With those ominous words, she turned and finally left, disappearing in the crowd almost instantly. 

The moment the actress was out of sight, Keith's visibly relaxed, some of his earlier anger seeping out of him. Eventually, he responded to the questioning look Lance was sending him. "I know what you want to ask."

"Do you?" Lance immediately questioned.

"You're not getting answers out of me." Although Keith sounded harsh, he softened his words by stroking Lance's knee. "At least not now."

Lance had expected that kind of answer, but didn't fail to let out an overly dramatic sigh. "Fine," he grumbled. "At least tell me if people around you are really so two-faced they can't even give you a compliment without having some kind of hidden agenda."

At first, Keith seemed reluctant to answer yet again, but with a frustrated sigh he finally yielded. "It's pretty much what you'd expect. Even if you're legitimately some kind of genius producer, actor or musician, hardly anyone in this industry just gives out compliments for the sake of giving a compliment. Connections are important, so a lot of people only see others as a resource for their own success."

With the intent of somewhat lightening his next words, Lance dropped his chin on Keith's shoulder and intently stared up at him. "And you get away with being a huge douchebag cause you're so successful people still want to work with you even if you insult them to their faces."

Clearly not a fan of the blunt words, Keith averted his gaze and turned his face away from Lance. "Well… yeah, probably. It's rare anyone approaches me for genuine reasons, so I don't care if they end up not liking me. I'm just making use of my freedom to do so. Not everyone has that."

Staring at Keith's averted face dyed in red light, Lance was uncertain about what to feel. He had always disapproved of Keith being so unbelievably rude to practically anyone he met, but gradually he was beginning to understand that he had somewhat valid reasons. It wasn't simply his personality and things went much deeper than Keith was letting on. Lance wanted to ask him if something had changed his attitude because he couldn't recall him being this way at the beginning of his career. As much as Lance had clashed with Keith since kindergarten, he knew that he wasn't originally the type to respond to kindness with aggression, even if the kindness was fake.

"It's getting crowded," Keith suddenly noted, whispering the words into Lance's ear while being needlessly close. 

Feeling Keith's hot breath hit his ear and neck, Lance had to bite back a surprised gasp that got stuck in his throat, goosebumps rising all over his skin. With his heart racing and face burning, he cleared his throat. "What about it?" He finally couldn't keep in a small surprised moan when Keith cheekily nipped at the shell of his ear.

"Let's go somewhere more quiet," Keith suggested, voice strangely firm. "The crowd's starting to get annoying."

Having been too distracted to notice, Lance finally glanced around to find the once thin crowd on the second floor having become quite dense. Where there had been several free couches before, now everything was occupied, people even standing around at the railing or near tables to chat with brightly coloured drinks in hand. "Where do we go?"

Pressing a chaste kiss to Lance's temple, Keith made it quite obvious what he wanted to do once they were somewhere more quiet. "I reserved a private room, remember? Let's go."  

Before he could ask any further, Keith had already gotten to his feet and was invitingly holding out his hand for Lance to take. After only a brief moment of hesitation, Lance accepted the hand and let Keith guide him through the noisy crowd. He could tell quite a few eyes were on them and he wasn't entirely sure if all of them were staring out of simple, innocent curiosity. Keith's words were beginning to make him question every glance and whispered conversation. Some of the faces only seemed vaguely familiar, a few others he recognised as various singers, actors, models and the like. It was a situation unlike anything he had ever experienced before and all of a sudden, being in a crowd like this was overwhelming. Feeling some unease and panic well up, he was incredibly grateful Keith had ejected them both from the situation before it could have gotten worse.  

Lance was lead through the now unbearably thick crowd, the temperature several degrees higher than when they had entered. Things were evidently heating up, both on the dance floor and in the lounge area. The beat of the music grew so powerful Lance could feel it resonate with every cell of his body, as though it was disturbing the very makeup of his anatomy from within. The light illuminating every aspect and side of the club was still neon blue and deep red, oddly comforting in one moment and unsettling the next. Lance usually liked clubs, but here he felt strangely out of place. He clearly didn't belong and yet he was here. It was another reminder of how different he was from Keith, what kind of deep chasm of differences there was between them. Even if Keith acknowledged and accepted him as he was, the same couldn't be said for everyone else. 

"This is it," Keith suddenly announced, waking Lance from his musings.

Lance hadn't even realised they were out of the main room of the club and inside a dimly lit hallway. It was quite nondescript, with dark walls and a small potted plant sitting in a corner. The sound of a key turning in a lock was oddly jarring in the otherwise silent hallway, the music in the club a mere distant and muffled thump at this point. Throat going dry a little, Lance followed Keith inside when he stepped into the room.

"Of course she'd give us the candy room," Keith scoffed, immediately throwing off his jacket and carelessly discarding it on an armchair. 

Even without knowing its name, Lance would have been able to guess the theme. The room was sparsely furnished only with a bed, a simple desk and a little couch, but the furniture that was there was coloured in bright and cheerful candy-like hues, mostly bright reds and blues that seemed to match the overall theme of the club. Lance quickly caught sight of the candy sitting on the desk and made a beeline for it. "Wow, there's actual candy in here," he noted excitedly, already picking up something out of an ashtray-sized dish that looked like red crushed up rock candy and smelled like strawberries. But before he could try it, Keith suddenly appeared at his side and took a tight, almost painful hold of his wrist.

"Don't eat that."

Shocked at the unusually sharp tone, Lance waited for Keith to loosen his grip so he could drop the candy back into the dish. "Why? Something wrong with it?"

Expression dark, Keith silently took the dish and unceremoniously dumped its contents into the trash bin beneath the desk. "It's not candy."

"Oh," was all Lance could say in response, suddenly feeling dumb and naive for not realising what was actually in the dish. This was a nightclub and not a kindergarten after all. 

After the initial shock wore off, Lance let his eyes wander around the rest of the room, finding a small fridge sitting and quietly buzzing away next to the desk. Although he was curious, Lance didn't look inside for fear of what he would find. The little trash bin was empty safe for a few scraps of paper and the 'candy' Keith had thrown away. If not for the colourful theming and the candy, Lance would call this a regular hotel room. And so with nothing left to explore in the room, Lance turned to ask Keith what they were going to do in such a lavish room, heart already racing a little. What he found was his boyfriend half asleep on the bed. He was sitting up on the side of the bed, but gradually nodding off, head slowly lolling around, sometimes snapping up whenever he woke back up enough to regain control over his body. 

"Hey," Lance called him softly, walking over and stopping close enough he could almost whisper directly into Keith's ears, "wanna sleep?"

Hearing the words, Keith snapped out of it a little. Eyes heavy with exhaustion, he slowly shook his head. "Want you."

"Wh-What are you? A kid?" Lance sputtered, taken aback by the blunt words said in a voice that was low and laden with a tired hoarseness. 

Rather than respond to the jab, Keith pulled Lance closer by the belt loops in his pants and clumsily guided him into straddling his lap. Lance, almost in a trance by now, obliged without much resistance, too mesmerised with the gentle way a tired Keith was handling him. It was odd to not receive some sort of comeback, not even a reaction. Lance liked to cover up uneasiness with jokes, so knowing Keith would always respond in kind to resolve any tension was comforting. But now that safety net was gone and Lance had absolutely no way to defend against the on-flood of sensations and feelings coursing through him. The distant, muffled music of the club paired with the distinct silence of the room gradually heightened Lance's senses, making him overly aware of each and every one of Keith's actions. The rustle of his clothes, his calm breathing, the tired flutter of his eyelashes, the way he was unhurriedly sliding his hands over Lance's thighs. 

While Lance was only beginning to explore all the dips and valleys of his back with his hands, Keith wasted no time descending on Lance's collarbone, which he had already eyed back in the car. Caught off guard by the sudden hunger that seemed to take over Keith, Lance swallowed a surprised gasp. He could feel Keith's teeth sliding over his skin, his tongue licking a path across his collarbone. The sensation sent an almost overwhelming shudder down Lance's spine and he could tell it only spurred Keith on further. The hands he had been letting wander across Keith's back began clawing into his hair, his breathing growing erratic. The sound of Keith sucking at his skin was obscene, lighting a fire in Lance's gut that spread throughout his entire body instantly. He couldn't hold back a moan when Keith pulled down his shirt far enough he could sink his teeth into his shoulder. 

Seemingly pleased by the reaction, Keith finally parted from Lance's collarbone to stare up at him, eyes unfocused and skin flushed. "You're so hot," he murmured breathlessly.

Unable to hide a pleased smile, Lance soon broke out into a cocky grin. "Of course! You have good taste after all!" Daring to look back down after a few seconds of stroking his own ego, Lance found Keith pouting, of all things. "Hey, you get told how attractive you are everyday. Why does it matter if I tell you?"

"It's different when you say it," Keith shot back, slurring his words slightly. 

Finding some enjoyment in Keith being this tired and defenceless, Lance pushed him down onto the bed and watched him fall asleep for a few seconds the moment his head hit the mattress. "You trash-talking that producer to his face earlier was pretty hot."

"You think so?" Keith mumbled back, half asleep by now.

Lance simply hummed back in response, before leaning down to capture Keith's lips. When he gently sucked at Keith's bottom lip, he received a pleased little moan as reward. Lance could feel Keith's resolve waning, his body going more and more slack as the seconds ticked by. When he finally broke the kiss, Keith finally spoke up again, voice already heavy with sleep.

"Sorry we can't do more," he lamented, reaching up to run his fingers over the back of Lance's neck. "I didn't get to sleep a lot."

"I know, don't worry." With Keith gradually becoming deadweight underneath him, Lance got off him and gently shook him awake. "Hey, at least take off some clothes before you sleep."

Eyes closed now, Keith haphazardly kicked off his shoes and somehow slid off his jeans, all while lying down. After that, he slowly crawled towards the pillows and let himself drop into a more conventional sleeping position, now only in briefs and a shirt. Watching all this unfold, Lance could feel his own tiredness creeping up, prompting him to pull out the blanket from underneath Keith so he could cover him, before getting ready to sleep himself. He followed Keith's example and haphazardly slid out of his shoes and pants, keeping on his shirt. By the time he slipped in beside Keith, his boyfriend was already fast asleep, breathing even and body completely still. Keith already had terrible bed hair, his hair probably ruined from Lance unknowingly running his hands through it more than he should have. Lance tried fixing it, but gave up in favour of simply stroking it. Keith was dead to the world, completely unaware of the ministrations of his boyfriend. The sheer peacefulness of the situation quickly eased Lance into his own sleep, whisking him away despite the muffled thump of nearby music. 

Even with how strange this room was, even with the club being so alive just outside the door, even with the world seeming like it was against them, Lance couldn't have been more comfortable than in that moment.

Lance awoke to the back of his neck being bitten and nipped like a chew toy. The occasional hard bite would wake him up more and more, until he eventually knocked his elbow backwards and received a pained groan in return. "Stop trying to eat me," he grumbled. "Why are you even awake?"

"It's morning," Keith drawled, voice still heavy with sleep. "I need to leave for a photoshoot in half an hour."

"So you're trying to get some now?" Lance slowly opened his eyes, before running a still drowsy hand over his face. Unfortunately, rubbing at his eyes only made him all the more tired again. "Am I just here to be your stress relief toy?"

"Obviously," Keith immediately replied, inching closer again until he could press his chest against Lance's back and slide a hand under his shirt. Immediately, his hands began to explore the dips and curves of Lance's torso, sliding across his ribcage, barely ghosting over his nipples and sinking down to his abdomen.

Lance tried not reacting to what Keith was doing to him out of spite, but it was nigh impossible. He was almost certain Keith could feel how fast his heart was racing. Despite his efforts not to, Lance would twitch and squirm, burying his face in his pillow to muffle any sounds that might spill out. He shouldn't be reacting like this, he knew that. But being in a bed, in an unfamiliar place and surrounded by an eerie silence, all served to make the situation more intimate than Lance could have ever fathomed. He could feel Keith's heartbeat against his back, almost thumping quicker than even his own. 

When a hand suddenly ran over the waistband of his briefs, Lance couldn't hold back a surprised gasp and froze up. An uneasy tension spread through his body, which seemed to make Keith back off.

"Did I startle you?"

Having Keith whisper in his ear like that, Lance flinched a little again. "Kinda." Knowing he needed to explain, Lance gulped and tried to sort out his own chaotic thoughts. The atmosphere had almost instantly cooled off, turning into something that still buzzed with passion, yet was underlined with a tinge of unease. "The whole um… sleeping with a guy thing just really freaks me out, you know. I've only been with girls before, so…"

Keith was silent for a moment, the hand he had kept on Lance's waist slowly retreating to simply rest on his shoulder. "I… well… me too? Kinda."

Caught off guard by the admission, Lance finally turned onto his back so he could look Keith into the eyes. He was momentarily distracted by Keith's spectacular bed hair and seemingly cranky expression. Seeing Keith in his natural state somewhat dissolved some of his unease. "So… you don't wanna stick anything in me?"

"Not really, no," Keith replied casually, shrugging. 

"Oh thank god." Lance slumped together a little in over-exaggerated relief. "My ass is safe."

Keith chuckled at the dramatics and propped up his chin on one hand so he could look down at Lance. "What about you?"

Mirroring Keith's shrug, Lance took a moment to really consider the answer to that question. "Me neither," he eventually answered quietly. "Even with girls it doesn't really… you know… do much for me. I like… touching you though. And kissing you. Especially… kissing you."

"Then let's just keep doing that." Smiling, Keith wasted no time leaning down to capture Lance's lips in a searing kiss that properly woke them both up. Their lips would part then meet again, rolling against each other in a slow dance, tickling pleased little sighs out of both of them. 

"Egh," Lance eventually spat as he pulled away from the kiss. "Morning breath." 

Planting one last kiss on his boyfriend, Keith clumsily climbed off the bed. "Sorry, gotta get ready," he mumbled in a tired slur. "You better get up too. We have to leave together, otherwise we came here for nothing." Already trying to somehow fix his mess of a hair in a wall mirror, Keith seemed strangely upbeat for someone that had only slept a handful of hours. Perhaps he was simply used to working with a lack of sleep. "The sun's coming up, so paparazzi won't be able to just hide in the shadows anymore. They're probably waiting outside and are gonna jump us the second we step outside. They'll ask us a bunch of intrusive question and try to provoke us into giving them a scoop. Just don't answer them. Ignore them and keep walking."

Fully awake now, Lance nodded. "Got it." This was going to be his first taste of being chased by paparazzi. For his previous encounters with them he had either not been relevant enough to be ruthlessly chased down or able to somehow escape them before things could get out of hand. Now he was jumping directly into the tiger's den. 

"Shiro's parking nearby and waiting to take me to that shoot. He's gonna give you a lift."

"Thanks." Lance finally left the bed to stand next to Keith in front of the mirror. Although his own hair was a little messy, it was nowhere near the disaster Keith was still trying to fix. All he had to do was run his hands through it a few times to make it look somewhat presentable. By the time he was fully dressed again, Keith was only just putting the finishing touches on the bird nest on his head. "That's what you get for rocking a mullet," Lance teased him, earning him a downright murderous look. "Your hair is a sin to mankind."

Keith scoffed at him, shooting him a snarky grin through the mirror. "You realise my hair wouldn't be this bad right now if you didn't constantly grab it like I'm some kinda race horse, right?"

"Yeah, no, that's definitely not it. I think you hair is just that stupid." Nodding to himself, Lance had to suppress a chuckle seeing Keith's indignant scowl. Now that they were about to part ways soon, something he had been meaning to tell Keith resurfaced in his mind and he suddenly grew nervous. At the risk of putting a damper on this entire thing, Lance hesitantly stepped forward. "Um… Keith?"

Hearing the change in tone to something almost timid, Keith instantly grew suspicious. A small frown bloomed on his face. "What is it?"

There really was no other time to say it. This wasn't something they could talk about while Shiro was around, so it had to happen now. "I wasn't sure how or when to bring this up, but… I met my ex last week. We talked. Just a little. And… her and I both kinda of want to try and be friends again. Maybe."

Instantly forgetting about getting ready to leave, Keith snapped away from the mirror to stare at Lance with total confusion in his eyes, anger already tinging his voice. "What? Why?"

"Look, we only dated for a couple weeks," Lance tried to reassure him. "Before that we were friends for years. And I kind of… miss her, you know. Meeting her again made me remember a lot and–"

"But you dated, so obviously there was some kinda attraction there."

Realising that this was going to be much harder than he had anticipated, Lance's voice wavered. "Well… kinda, but–"

"And obviously there was a reason you two broke up and lost touch." Keith's tone only grew more biting the longer this went on.

"Y-Yeah, but we…" Lance trailed off when he realised that Keith was genuinely getting angry over this, something he probably should have seen coming but was still surprised by. "Do you think I'll cheat on you or something?"

With a frustrated sigh, Keith turned away shaking his head. It wasn't an outright no but it made at least some of his thoughts quite obvious. "I just don't see why you'd wanna meet an ex-girlfriend again. You broke up. You got over it. Why meet her again?"

"Cause she's one of the only really close friends I have, Keith." Lance wasn't antisocial by any means. He had countless acquaintances and many people he would easily call friends, but very few of those were people he truly felt close to. "You of all people should know how hard it is to let anyone get really close to you." Lance said the words in a dry finality that didn't allow Keith to simply snap some kind of snarky response back at him. "And if I wanted to cheat on you, do you really think I'd even tell you all of this? I brought this up because I thought we could talk about this without you blowing up."

Refusing to meet Lance's eyes, Keith shook his head again and solemnly went back to getting ready. "Let's talk about this later. I don't have time for this right now."

Lance wanted to ask when that was going to be, but knew it would only upset Keith more. Later for them didn't mean later the same day, or even the same week. It could easily mean a whole month later. It was simply something they had to accept and work with. Keith wasn't the type to neglect his career for a relationship and Lance didn't want to demand that of him either. Their relationship not being top priority was a bitter pill to swallow, but something Lance simply had to accept if he wanted to stay with Keith. Moments like this made him realise just how far from normal their relationship was. Even their arguments had layers of complication that were abnormal. Lance couldn't even get angry at Keith for not having time to talk things out.

Once they were both ready to go, the two of them left the room still in their outfits from the night prior, except quite wrinkled and a bit sloppy after a night at the club. They were silent on their way out, the air still hanging heavily between them. Keith kept up a brusque pace, forcing Lance to hurriedly trail after him. When they arrived at the reception, no one was there. Keith didn't even bother calling anyone and simply dumped his room key on the desk, before heading for the door. It seemed like he was simply going to throw it open and waltz out like the celebrity that he was, but instead he stopped. After standing with his back to Lance for a moment, he turned a little and held out his hand. When Lance shot him a quizzical look, pouting a little, he made an impatient gesture with his outstretched hand.  

"We can't go out there looking like we're about to break up."

Hearing the words made Lance's insides go cold, his body locking up where he stood. "Are we?" When he received no answer other than a confused frown, he gulped. "Are we about to break up?" he forced out in a hushed voice.

Keith's hand dropped a little at the words, but he didn't retreat it. "Of course not," he spat with an edge of frustration, before closing the gap to simply grab Lance's hand and pull him towards the door. "I wouldn't have gone through all of this for you if I was going to break up this easily. You're not getting rid of me any time soon, no matter how much you piss me off."

Donning a dry frown, Lance made it obvious that Keith's response, albeit seemingly reassuring, was still quite garbage. An idea suddenly hit Lance, one that made his frown disappear, now replaced by a rapidly growing grin. When he saw Keith reach for the door handle, Lance pulled him back by their interlaced fingers, then used his free hand to turn him around and slam him against the door with a loud thunk. Surely, anyone outside had heard that.  

"Lance, what–"

Keith was shut up with a ruthless kiss, one that was all in right from the start, one hand running through his hair yet again, the other tearing out of his grasp to push into his clothes and slide over his lower back. Helpless little gasps escaped him every time Lance changed the angle and reached deeper and deeper, making him completely unable to keep up or even understand what was going on. All he could do was desperately cling on to Lance as he was ravished. 

The moment Lance pulled away, Keith tried again to somehow get a grasp on the situation. "What is this?" he asked breathlessly. 

As much as Keith looked wrecked, Lance was also visibly not at all composed. At the very least, Keith seemed to feel as heated as Lance looked, heart racing and his entire body hot, skin almost tingling with electricity. "If those vultures have been lurking out there waiting for us, we might as well give them something worthwhile."

"Wha…" Before Keith could finish his sentence, his hand was grasped tightly and the door behind him opened. Finally understanding what was going on and simultaneously realising that it was already too late to go back, he quickly put on his poker face. Or tried to. 

Lance could tell Keith was far from calm and collected. He was smiling now, incredibly satisfied that he had so fabulously given Keith a taste of his own medicine. His smile quickly grew shaky though when Lance heard the first few ominous clicks of nearby cameras. He tried not to purposely seek them out, but hearing the hurried and frenzied shuffling of feet closing in, he couldn't help but glance nervously. With a quick cursory look, he instantly found three people running up to them as they walked out, all equipped with large cameras; there were probably even more incoming. Keith was walking ahead now, keeping their hands connected. Uneasy in this foreign situation, Lance's tightened his hold on Keith's hand, absolutely sure the other could feel how he was beginning to shake with an indescribable feeling of anxiety. People were beginning to shout at them, mostly throwing random questions at Keith or simply calling his name to get his attention. It was something Lance had seen happen to celebrities countless times, but being in the middle of it was chaotic and incredibly nerve-wrecking. If he messed up now, within minutes photos of his mistake would be all over the world. One little mess-up could absolutely ruin things.

"Keith, hey!" one particularly forward paparazzo yelled, his raspy voice far louder and more jarring than anyone else's. "Did you guys stay the night? What did you guys do? Did you have fun? You guys look like you really enjoyed yourselves there! Hey, Keith, does fucking a guy match up at all to fucking all those models?"

By the time Lance sensed Keith's growing rage, it was already too late. Not only were people all around them throwing far too personal question at them, but this loud guy was now throwing the most obscene questions at them. On top of that, he was also flitting about in front of them, taking close up photo after photo of their faces and throwing more personal questions at them. But most importantly, he was blocking their way to Shiro's car. It was visible from where they were and yet seemed so incredibly far away.

A small surprised gasp left Lance when a hand suddenly shot out to grab the paparazzo's camera by the lens, blocking its view. A moment later, Lance realised that Keith had stopped walking and was now staring down the paparazzo with fury burning in his eyes, his hand firmly grasping the guy's camera. His knuckles were turning white from how hard he was gripping it.

"You better get out of my way or you'll regret it." Keith's voice was a deep growl that would make anyone's blood run cold. The expression on his face was so furious and dark, it was obvious that his threat wasn't an empty one.

Feeling real, blood-chilling panic run rampant through his system now, Lance scrambled for something to do. The rest of the world didn't exist to Keith anymore. He couldn't hear the sea of clicking cameras growing more rampant and fevered, everyone around him only waiting for him to blow up and give them the chance to take incredibly valuable photos.

Lance could easily tell how spectacularly south this entire situation could go. With no time to think up a more refined plan, he reached out and grasped Keith's wrist in a tight hold, which made him instinctively loosen his grip on the camera. He then forced Keith to meet his eyes by stepping forward into his field of vision, physically stepping in between him and the paparazzo. Once Lance had Keith's full attention, he leaned in so he could whisper into his ear, knowing the cameras surrounding them had to be running out of space to save all the photos that were being taken. "Keith…" he began quietly, hearing his boyfriend gulp at the ambiguous tone, "if you do anything worth a negative headline, I'll kiss you again and make a whining, moaning mess out of you in front of all these people." When there was no reaction from Keith other than his face being totally frozen in shock, Lance smirked. "Unlike you, I love attention."

The speed at which Keith's hand retreated from that camera was probably record-worthy. Despite how much he tried to school his expression, his ears turning slightly red completely betrayed his true emotions. When Lance raised their joined hands to mockingly kiss his knuckles, Keith froze up even more, an almost pained expression taking over his face at being teased so blatantly. Seeing the absolute hunger beginning to simmer in Keith's eyes despite the obvious teasing, slowly replacing his anger, Lance mentally celebrated. Knowing all eyes were on how him and Keith were seconds away from making out, he used that chance to attack. The loud paparazzo was of course still blocking their way and, like everyone else, distracted. Too distracted to be prepared for Lance brutally kicking him in the shin. It surprised him enough that he crumpled to the floor, groaning in pain and leaving enough room for the two to finally make their escape. Keith's car was now only a short walk away, one that was frantically photographed and filmed every inch of the way.

Shiro greeted them in the car with a pinched expression, watching with obvious concern as Keith practically stuffed Lance into the car and immediately followed him inside, pushing Lance up against the other side of the car like he was a wolf about to devour his prey.

"You guys, there's still cameras pointed at you!" Shiro warned, but with a hint of resignation; as though he had simply accepted that there was no way to stop these two. 

His warning fell on completely deaf ears, because Keith was already kissing Lance, totally crowding him into the seats of the car.

"At least put on seatbelts!" Shiro pleaded helplessly, sighing. 

The car soon began moving, which the two only noticed when Shiro purposely stepped on the gas so abruptly, it almost knocked them down. Their kiss was forcefully broken, resulting in them staring each other down as they regained their bearings. Memories of their earlier fight resurfaced in both their minds, which made the lust and hunger quickly dissipate. Their hands were still intertwined, but remembering their fight, they both had the inclination to pull away.

"You can let go of my hand now," Lance murmured darkly, eyes averted. "No one can see us." Their show of pretend was over now. There was no need for them to play the happy, lovey-dovey couple despite still being in the middle of an argument.

But rather than let go, Keith's hold only tightened. He seemed to struggle with his words, as though he wasn't sure how to even begin responding to anything that had happened. For a moment, all he did was grind his teeth; perhaps a nervous habit. "You saved me back there," he began after a while, giving Lance's hand a small squeeze. "Thanks."

The quiet and almost timid words of gratitude made all kinds of fuzzy, warm feelings buzz around in Lance's stomach. They were like little sun-warmed fluff balls floating through his body. "You already have DUI and vandalism charges. Can't have you adding to that with assault or something." With the mood a little less heavy now, Lance was finally able to somewhat process the fact that he had kicked a paparazzo. Hard. Perhaps he would regret it later, but for now he relished in the satisfaction of it. "Did your label tip all those people off?"

"Not really," Keith replied calmly, that poker face back on his face, completely hiding away his emotions. "Just two people. That's enough to get the ball rolling." He cut himself off by yawning, before wiping a sleeved hand over his still tired eyes. "Calling paparazzi on yourself to get attention is pretty frowned upon, but my PR manager has no shame so… there's that." Keith seemed to finally sense Lance's lingering frustration over the fight, prompting him to pull one of Lance's hands into his lap so he could hold it in both of his. "Look, I know I probably shouldn't have gone off on you like that."

Suppressing a childish pout that oh so desperately wanted to emerge on his face, Lance refused to meet Keith's eyes. "Do you really think I would cheat?"

"No!" Keith immediately shouted, shocking even himself. "Not that, I just…" His now much quieter voice trailed off, the singer seemingly mulling over his own thoughts before responding. That in itself seemed like progress, considering Keith had a tendency to flat out say whatever he was thinking, regardless of whether or not his words would hurt someone. "I just worry cause I can't spend a lot of time with you. I'm worried about you finding someone who can give you way more of their time."

Hearing the admission, Lance's stomach was suddenly doing weird flips. Of course Keith would be worried about this, but hearing that he was worried about the same thing that Lance had been agonising over was incredibly comforting. "It… It is hard. Not seeing you. Not even being able to just call and talk to you. You know, that kinda stuff. But…" With a small sigh, Lance managed a half smile. "I worked way too hard to be in this relationship with you. I was prepared going into it. Besides, it would be dumb to end it over something like this." He could see the regret in Keith's eyes, making the last bits of anger left in him slowly dissolve as well, before his eyes sank to the floor. "I'm… sorry for bringing up my ex-girlfriend. I know it's a big taboo to talk about exes, but Nyma and I really aren't like that. Our relationship was over so quickly, I don't even know if I would call it a proper relationship. The main reason I was hurt afterwards was cause I lost a friend over being dumb and horny. I never realised how much hurt she was hiding until we broke up and it just made me feel like a shitty friend." Lance finally moved his gaze away from the floor to meet Keith's eyes. "I want to make it up to her somehow. And she wants to do the same for me. Something like that. And if it helps, she's dating someone too."

Having attentively listened to the entire thing, Keith now settled back into his seat and released a deep sigh. He never let go of Lance's hand, keeping it firmly on his lap. "I get where you're coming from, but… I just…" He began shaking his head, eyebrows furrowing together into a frown. "In my head I get it, but I still feel weird about it."

"Jealous?" Lance poked, not entirely expecting a response. That was why Keith's casual, almost off-hand reply shocked him so much.

"Maybe I am," Keith admitted nonchalantly. "I don't like imagining you alone with other people. And if I could, I would probably lock you in my house and never let you leave again."

"Dude, you sound like a serial killer." Lance meant it as a joke, but when Keith responded with nothing but a blank look, he wavered. "Uh… would you actually?"

Eyes narrowing in thought, Keith took just a little too long to answer. "No. Of course not."

Incredibly suspicious at that odd pause, Lance backed away towards his own side of the car a little. "Creep." The murmured response earned him a half-hearted smack in the arm, tickling an amused chuckle out of him. With things between them finally settling down and their hands still joined, Lance allowed himself to relax. Now that he was safely on his way home, the fact that he hadn't slept nearly enough caught up to him and his eyes grew too heavy to keep open. And just as he could feel his head lolling around as he slowly nodded off, he felt something warm and fluffy plop onto his shoulder. Sleepily glancing downwards, he found black hair and pale skin pressed up against his shoulders. Already half asleep, Lance simply nuzzled into the inviting softness and dropped his head against Keith's. He could feel Keith's breath fanning over his neck and shoulder, but even that couldn't keep him awake. Sleep quickly won him over and whisked him away. 

That the world was already freaking out over Lance taming Keith and kicking a paparazzo was something he would only find out some time later.


Chapter Text

The air smelled of rain and sunlight when Lance made his way along the damp sidewalk. The streets were still soaked from an earlier shower, glistening and sparkling in the sun. A small bell chimed above his head as he stepped into a cozy little smoothie bar, the interior decked out in every colour of the rainbow; the neutral wooden floors and counters were the only thing breaking up the chaos of colours. Basking in the peaceful atmosphere, Lance settled in one of the booths near the floor-length windows and set down his laptop on the table. And just as he opened it to begin working on an article for his blog, the chair on the other side of the table was pulled back and someone promptly sat down.

"Here, try this," Nyma demanded, dropping a smoothie in front of Lance that was an odd mix of muddy orange and bright green. The fact that she could look so serious despite wearing pigtails and a bright orange apron was almost comical. Still, with her mesmerising looks she easily stood out, even wearing the standard smoothie bar uniform. 

Unfazed by the odd colour of the beverage and the chunks floating on top, Lance took the smoothie and gave it a contemplative look. "What's in it?"

Nyma hesitated, expression pensive as she watched Lance's reaction. "Pineapple."

Waiting for an elaboration but receiving none, Lance was beginning to grow suspicious. "Nothing else?" When he only received an expectant look in response, he sighed in resignation. "Well… bottoms up. I guess." Screwing his eyes shut, Lance took a cautious sip and let it sit on his tongue for a brief moment, before quickly swallowing. 

"So?" Nyma asked with anticipation, looking ready to jump out of her chair. "Is it any good?"

There was an odd burning in the back of Lance's throat and he wasn't sure if he should dare asking about it. "Why does it vaguely taste like old sock?" 

"Dammit," Nyma murmured to herself with frustration. "I tried putting in green tea and ginger but I guess it didn't mix well with the carrot."

In hindsight, Lance was thankful Nyma never told him in detail what was in her strange concoctions before making him drink them. Simply hearing it was starting to make his stomach turn. As thankful as he was to have a place to do his work and hang out without having to pay, he wasn't sure if it was worth being Nyma's taste tester. Occasionally, she would whip up absolute masterpieces, but most of the time her smoothies only served to make Lance feel mystified at all the many ways one could make natural ingredients taste so bad. So far only one of her creations had made it onto the permanent menu, but even that was a large enough success to her to motivate her to keep experimenting.

"Don't you have to get back to work?" Lance eventually questioned when Nyma simply remained in her seat and sipped on her smoothie with a pinched expression of disappointment.

"I'm on my break." Despite her visible disgust with her own creation, Nyma continued drinking the smoothie. Drinking her own failed experiments was somehow part of her process. "How are things with Keith? You two go on a proper date yet?"

Having dreaded the question, Lance sighed. Now that both him and Nyma were dating other people, they had somehow become each other's go-to for relationship talks. And even though Keith wasn't a huge fan of it, Lance continued meeting up with her for these exact talks, embarrassing as they were. "I mean… what do you define as a proper date? We–"

"Okay, let me rephrase that: have you two gone out together and actually called it a date?"

Coming up blank, Lance reluctantly shook his head. "We're both busy, so…" It was demotivating to realise that ever since they had started dating, him and Keith had never actually gone out on a normal date. They were several months into their relationship and still the closest thing to a date had been their club outing, which had been entirely staged for the media. Lance liked to consider that a proper date, but knew it probably didn't count. At least the media had gotten a kick out of it, completely blowing things out of proportion by labelling Lance some sort of homme fatale seductor who could tame even the wildest of celebrities, namely Keith. "I just don't know how we would even have a normal date. It's not like we can just go out somewhere. Before we started dating we hung out at his place sometimes and we could probably just do that, but I kinda…"

Nyma waited for Lance to finish his sentence, but when he remained silent, a knowing smile stretched on her face. "You wanna go out on a real date with him."

After some hesitation, Lance nodded and could feel the tips of his ears go a little warm. "Yeah," he murmured quietly, hiding his reddening face behind his laptop. He still wasn't used to the fact that he was dating Keith. There really was no way for it to ever sink in, considering they hardly ever saw each other. "I just wish we could go out like normal people and have fun, you know. Watch a movie, go out to eat somewhere, hang out in a park or something."

"You've always been a total romantic," Nyma chuckled, fondness entering her eyes. "I'm sure you two can find a way to have a nice date without getting mobbed." 

Nodding as a small smile quirked his lips, Lance began absent-mindedly stroking the keyboard of his laptop. "I kind of… miss him. A lot. All the time."

"I can tell," Nyma replied nonchalantly, taking a quick sip from her smoothie. "I hope you weren't trying to hide it cause you're really not fooling anyone. You're drawing hearts on your keyboard, dude."

Pausing when he realised that yes, he had indeed been drawing hearts onto his keyboards like a lovesick teenager during a boring class, Lance tried to ignore the gleeful little grin on Nyma's face. "Why do you always notice this shit?"

"Anyone would notice when you're this obvious," Nyma shot back with a smirk. 

Lance was still in the middle of trying to somehow conceal his reddening face, when a commotion broke out at the entrance door. It swung open with a loud thud and instantly chaotic voices from outside trailed inside. Two people stumbled inside a little clumsily, one more so than the other. Lance's eyebrows almost rose into his hairline when he recognised the two. "Shiro?" he murmured to himself, watching as the pair approached. The other guy's face was obscured by a baseball cap, but Lance recognised him immediately. Keith looked ready to pass out, Shiro pushing him forward with a firm grip on his arm until they reached Lance's table. "What's going on?" 

Shiro looked exasperated as he pushed Keith into the seat next to Lance and let out a relieved sigh once he was rid of him. "Can you take him for a while? Please?"

"Um…" Unable to really deny the request, seeing how Keith was already making himself comfortable on his shoulder, Lance shrugged. "I mean… sure, but… why? And how did you find me?"

With seemingly every single eye in the smoothie bar on him, Shiro ran a hand over his tired face, his exhaustion and stress truly showing on his face. Luckily, a pair of sunglasses covered him up enough that so far no one had recognised him. He wasn't an incredibly public figure after all. "He's been holed up in his studio working on songs for days now. And that's just in his free time and between events and performances. I don't know how much he's slept, if at all. He's not eating most of the food I give him either. I can't babysit him right now cause I have to get to a couple meetings." Shiro seemed reluctant to answer Lance's other question, but relented with a defeated little sigh. "And Keith mentioned you tend to hang out here around this time, so I called your friend over there to check."

Lance's eyes instantly shot to Nyma, who had already retreated and was waving at him innocently behind the counter when she saw his accusatory glare. He would have to grill her later about why her and Shiro were in contact.

Meanwhile, Shiro seemed a little amused by the antics, although his smile quickly fell. "I also wanted to tell you that people sometimes take photos of you when you're here and post them online with your location. Maybe you should find a different place to hang out. At least until people lose interest a little, you know."

Nodding listlessly, brain still not fully caught up with the situation, Lance struggled to make sense of what was happening. Keith was already fast asleep, his black baseball cap luckily covering most of his face. "Is it really okay for you to just bring him here? Won't we get mobbed or something?"

A stiff smile briefly curled Shiro's lips, before he sighed. "It's still pretty early in the day. As long as you guys head out before people leave work or school, you should be fine. If you feel overwhelmed, just call me. I'll come over right away." He set down what looked to be Keith's bag underneath the table, his face brightening a little when Keith visibly relaxed into Lance. "Usually I would force him out of the studio and dump him in his house for a while, but now he has you, so I can leave him to you."

Feeling his face go a little hot at the words and distracted by how warm Keith was next to him, Lance almost didn't even register Shiro saying goodbye and leaving. His first rational thought was that this had to be a dream. There was no way that within the span of barely two minutes, Keith had appeared out of thin air and was now snuggling into him like a tired kitten. But looking down, Lance couldn't deny that the one taking a nap on him was indeed Keith. He seemed completely dead to the world, which made Lance wonder whether he even knew where he was. And the longer Lance looked at him, the more he noticed how downright haggard Keith looked. His complexion looked ashy, his hair seemed dull and dark rings sat under his eyes. He looked even worse than the last time Lance had seen him. Even when Lance poked his cheek, Keith did not react. He was fully asleep, unlikely to wake up even if the world were to go up in flames around him. A small sigh left Lance and a frown settled on his face, his eyes going back to his laptop and his still unfinished work. 

Lance opted to continue typing one-handed, his other hand placed firmly on Keith's thigh. It goes without saying that working on an article was difficult when his boyfriend was quite literally breathing down his neck, all snuggled up against his side. Lance had never thought of Keith as cute. He was handsome and charming in his own way, but cute? That wasn't a word Lance had ever thought to associate with Keith. But seeing him this defenceless and peaceful, sleeping face free of stress, there was no other way to describe it other than absolutely adorable. Sometimes Keith mumbled incoherent things in his sleep or made strange little noises only Lance could hear. And every now and then, Lance would catch glimpses of Nyma staring at him and Keith with mirth in her eyes, which only heightened his embarrassment. Quite a few of the guests were staring as well, most likely wondering if that guy in the baseball cap was actually Keith, the pop-star. Some seemed to want to approach the famous celebrity, but with Keith so deeply asleep, no one seemed quite daring enough to come and try to wake him up to check his identity.

By the time he was halfway through his article, Lance realised it was getting close to noon, meaning he would have to leave soon. The smoothie bar was already unusually full, the news of Keith being there for sure having spread to the entire world already. When Lance noticed something glinting out of the corners of his eyes, he turned his head and found two girls at another table pointing their phones at him. They were excitedly chatting to each other in hushed tones and mainly staring at Keith. They were completely engrossed in Keith despite most of his face being hidden, but reacted with embarrassed shock when Lance flashed a peace sign at them, essentially posing for their secret snapshots. As surprised as they seemed, they still took their photos and met Lance's unwavering gaze with bashful expressions afterwards, suddenly unable to take their eyes off him. The reaction took Lance off guard. After all, it was his first time having anyone react like he was a celebrity. It was both flattering and unsettling. Yes, it was a nice ego-boost to have people blush when he met their eyes, but it was disturbing to think that they knew things about him despite him not knowing anything about them in return. The enormous imbalance of information made him instantly suspicious of anyone that so much as looked at him. What did these people want? To simply stare and watch so they could have a story to tell to their friends? Would they follow them if Lance left with Keith? Would they approach the moment Keith woke up? Would they continue not so subtly taking their little snapshots to post on social media? What were these people planning to do? With all these questions running through his head, Lance suddenly understood why it was so difficult for Keith to trust anyone he met.

Soon enough, more hushed whispers broke out from other corners of the smoothie bar, which prompted Lance to finally close his laptop and stuff it into his bag. When it came to waking Keith up, as he had anticipated, it turned out to be a difficult task. Simply shaking him a little and telling him to wake up did not work. Shaking him harder only made him mumble more incoherent things. Lance briefly considered tickling him or touching him in a way that would wake him up for sure but already knew that would only result in Keith murdering him the second he woke up. Instead, he opted to instead pinch his nose closed, hoping that would finally rouse him. Which it did.

Keith's eyes slowly began to flutter more and more the longer his breathing was cut off. His lips parted to allow him to take in air that way, but that didn't stop him from gradually waking up, until he suddenly shot awake. "Ngh…" He groaned quietly, scowling as his eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness. "Lance?" he finally whispered when he turned his head and looked up to find his boyfriend sheepishly grinning down at him. "Where…you…?"

Making sense of Keith's fragmented speech, Lance slowly got up while making sure a still half asleep Keith didn't simply fall over without the support of his shoulder. "Smoothie bar. Shiro brought you here, but we're gonna leave now." 

After listlessly staring at nothing for a moment, Keith nodded and roughly rubbed his hands over his face, before slapping himself to wake himself up. "Let's go," he grumbled as he got up on somewhat unsteady legs, absent-mindedly checking his phone before picking up the bag Shiro had dumped for him under the table. 

Surprised by how quickly Keith could bounce back from such a deep sleep, Lance simply followed as Keith lead the way towards the exit. Considering Keith's work, it was only natural for him to be able to fall asleep and wake up in record time. It was probably a skill attained after years of performing and working on tight schedules, constantly moving from place to place, hardly ever staying long enough for a proper sleep. 

"There's paparazzi outside," Keith whispered to him, before pushing the entrance door open. "Shiro left one of my cars outside, so we're taking that."

True to his words, there were already two camera-wielding vultures waiting for them, both instantly going in for the kill when Keith took his first step outside.

"Hey, Keith! How're you doing today?" Even though his greeting went unanswered, the paparazzo simply kept asking, completely overshadowing his colleague who seemed more interested in simply taking photos and nothing more. On second glance, the loud guy seemed oddly familiar. "You guys on a date? You look cute together."

Despite the nice words, Lance tried not to react to the paparazzo in any way. He knew the friendliness was most likely an act to get Keith and him talking. It was one of the most basic interviewing tactics after all: Make your target feel comfortable and safe and then gradually go in for the kill. But seeing how this tactic clearly wasn't working on the silent pair, evidently, other measures had to be taken. 

"Lance, are you aware of the rumours saying that you're using Keith to further your journalistic career? Do you have any comment on that?"

Lance couldn't help the brief frown that flashed over his face. He knew of these rumours; how could he not? Even before deciding to date Keith, he had known he would be bombarded with this particular question. It was inevitable that his motives in dating Keith would be questioned when considering his past as an avid writer of rant articles about the pop-star. But before Lance's mood could grow any darker, Keith reached for his hand to intertwine their fingers and give his hand a reassuring squeeze. Before Lance could ask where they were even going, Keith stopped at a car parked in front of a nail shop. Lance immediately recognised it as one of the cars Keith used whenever he didn't want to attract attention: a simple black sedan.

"Hey, Keith!" the paparazzo went on, never lowering the camera he was using to film everything. "You've dated models and famous actresses, right? Why would you ever downgrade from that?"

The air grew palpably icy, tension instantly thickening it to a point it was nearly suffocating. The moment Keith spun away from his car to angrily march towards the paparazzo, Lance had already grabbed on to his shoulders to hold him back. 

"Ignore him," Lance whispered, subtly urging Keith away from the paparazzo. "Just get in the car." When Keith did nothing but stand there and furiously scowl at the paparazzo, Lance sighed to himself and took the car keys from Keith. After unlocking the car, he quickly pushed a slightly unwilling Keith into the car, hastily shutting the door on him. Although he let Lance manhandle him a little, it was clear Keith was still very much filled with rage and would instantly lash out if provoked any further. The knowledge prompted Lance to quickly run to the driver side of the car and hop inside, shoving the key into the ignition and rushing to start the car before anything else could happen. The paparazzo continued yelling similarly insulting questions the entire time and by now, people had noticed Keith and were not too subtly standing nearby and watching the situation unfold. With the desire to escape stronger than ever, Lance quickly drove off. His heart raced as he aimlessly drove around, hoping to find a more quiet place where both him and Keith could actually relax. Palms sweaty on the steering wheel, Lance unwittingly remembered the paparazzo's face and how familiar it seemed. Then it hit him. "That was the guy you had a bad interview with, right?"

Keith was still fuming, eyebrows pulled into a deep, angry frown. "That was him, all right," he growled. 

Gulping at the icy tone, Lance tried not to show how much the situation was affecting him, lest Keith would only become even angrier. "He was at the premiere. He really has it out for you, huh?"

A long, frustrated sigh left Keith as he crossed his arms, eyes firmly directed at the scenery passing by outside the car. "He really does."

Simply hearing the biting tone of Keith's voice, Lance could tell his mood was at its absolute worst. The only thing keeping him from going on a loud, yelling tirade was probably his exhaustion and lack of energy. Perhaps with enough sleep and a full stomach, he would have actually attacked that paparazzo. Recalling Shiro's words about Keith not eating, Lance knew for sure that he, at the very least, had to get food into his boyfriend. Going to any restaurant or public place was out of the question, which only left his or Keith's homes. But Hunk wasn't home yet and Lance wasn't the best cook. Meanwhile Keith's fridge was probably empty, as usual. That left Lance scrambling for options, desperately trying to come up with a way to procure food without attracting more unwanted attention. 

It took half twenty minutes of aimless, silent driving before an idea finally struck Lance. With Keith now sleeping soundly in the passenger seat, Lance had to suppress the excited yell that wanted to escape at his brilliant idea. Giddy now, Lance smoothly found his way through traffic, now with a clear destination in mind. The entire drive, Keith continued to sleep peacefully, undisturbed by the outside world. Even spending time with him like this was incredibly precious to Lance. Simply sharing a space with him was comforting and seeing him so relaxed made relief wash over Lance every time he took a peek at him. 

Eventually, Lance parked underneath a large tree, its canopy providing shade against the blinding sun. He had been lucky enough to still find a spot to park in this massive parking lot that was almost entirely filled with cars already. Once he killed the motor, he considered waking Keith up, but ultimately decided to let him sleep just a little longer. After stealing Keith's black baseball cap to wear it himself, he pressed a chaste kiss on Keith's cheek. 

"I'll be right back," he whispered, before leaving the car and rushing away.

The moment the sound of the car door closing echoed, Keith's eyes fluttered open. He could see Lance dashing away in the rearview mirror and hazily processed his words about returning soon. With no other choice but to wait, seeing how he had no way to hide his face, Keith settled back into his seat. A quick look at his phone told him that he had slept for almost three hours. Counting the time he had slept in the smoothie bar, that was more hours of sleep than he had gotten in the past three days combined. After days of meetings, events and holing himself up in the studio to work on songs, not sleeping or eating properly that entire time, it was a little shocking that he had so easily forgotten about work and slept like a log. The mere sight of Lance at that smoothie bar had relaxed him so instantly, he had fallen asleep the second his head had made contact with Lance's bony shoulder. 

It made Keith want to keep Lance close as much as possible, even though he knew he had his own life to live. He couldn't expect Lance to drop everything just to be with him. It would be selfish of him to demand that Lance practically give up his life for him, abandon his career, his friends and family. Their current situation was ideal for both of them, allowing each to maintain their regular lives, even if it meant not seeing each other much. It was painful and almost unbearable at times, but there really was no other possible way for them to date. 

Keith was still deep in thought when Lance rushed back to the car, throwing open the car door almost with too much vigour. 

"Here!" he exclaimed, throwing a plastic bag into Keith's lap.

Suspicious and still a little groggy from his nap, Keith hesitantly opened the plastic bag to see what was inside. Carefully, he pulled out the contents. "Are these… masks?"

"Yup!" Lance replied excitedly, snatching one of the half masks from Keith's hands. "Mine's an owl! Your's is a wolf or something!" 

Watching Lance enthusiastically putting on his owl mask, Keith couldn't hide his confusion anymore. "Why though?"

"To hide our faces, duh!" When Keith made no move to put on his mask, Lance over-dramatically rolled his eyes and leaned over to put it on him. 

Hands uselessly hanging between them as Lance tied the mask's string behind his head, Keith suddenly sighed. "You realise we're just gonna stand out even more with these, right? Where did you even get these?" The designs of the masks seemed quite elaborate, looking to be carved from wood and painted in rich, earthy colours; they were too light to be made of real wood though. 

Hearing the question, Lance's grin only widened. "You'll see," he answered cryptically. The second he was done tying Keith's mask, he jumped out of the car and dashed to Keith's side to pull him out as well. "Come on!" As he looped an arm around Keith's, he pulled the baseball cap off his own head to instead push it back onto Keith's. 

With his body still sluggish from sleeping for so long, Keith didn't quite have it in him to resist Lance at all. All he could do was helplessly let his overexcited boyfriend drag him out of the car and deeper into the forest that seemed to surround them on all sides. And just when he thought Lance was trying to take him on some kind of scenic hike through the woods, he could hear the distant chatter of people. And after passing by a particularly dense row of trees, Keith finally caught sight of where Lance was dragging him to.

"A renaissance fair?" he murmured incredulously, eyes hectically tracing over the many stalls and events, not to mention the sheer amount of people. "You sure no one's gonna recognise us? What if–"

"Everyone's in costume," Lance cut him off with a grin. "We're just in regular clothes, so no one's even gonna look at us twice. There's way more interesting people around. Like– Wait, shit! Is that a satyr?! Dude, are you seeing that?! Look at her legs!"

Bemused by the way Lance's absolutely eyes lit up at the sight of this lady in hoof stilts, Keith couldn't suppress his smile anymore. He had been to a fair share of lavish costume parties in his life – perhaps too many –, so hardly any of these costumes were blowing his mind the way they were for Lance. Nonetheless, watching his boyfriend lose his mind like that was heartwarming. So often Lance was preoccupied with making sure Keith was fine that he forgot to consider his own well-being. And as much as Keith wanted to take Lance on nice dates and make him happy, he simply couldn't come up with ways to do so. This was his first serious relationship after all. And although he had been on dates, those had all felt like just another part of work. Lance was more experienced in the dating department, so Keith probably should leave things like this to him. Still, that didn't stop him from wanting to do something for Lance.  

Keith was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he didn't even notice that they were already walking through the main gate. "Wait, did you just pay for my ticket?"

"Yup," Lance answered nonchalantly, not even glancing in Keith's direction. Instead, his gaze shimmering with child-like glee seemed to be searching for where to go first. "You wanna see the beard contest? Or the masquerade ball? Or maybe pet some goats?"

Trying not to laugh at Lance, who was practically bouncing up and down in his eagerness, Keith shrugged. "I don't really know. Is there anything you wanna do?"

Although Lance seemed the tiniest bit taken aback by the answer, his excitement instantly overshadowed any other emotion. "Then the goats! I usually come here with Hunk and Pidge, but Hunk's allergic to goats so we can never go play with them!" 

"Sure, let's go." Keith's melted a little seeing Lance break out into another bright smile. He couldn't remember the last time Lance had looked this unabashedly happy. It made him want to give Lance the whole world. 

Even when they made it to the goats, Keith was more focused on Lance than on the cute goats. It was fun to watch Lance's face light up with joy as he played the cute goats, even if Keith didn't quite understand what about these animals and their demonic eyes was supposed to be so adorable. And for some reason, the goats hated Keith but loved Lance. When they didn't stop butting him in the side or biting his fingers when he tried feeding them, Keith eventually lost his cool and began yelling obscenities at the tiny baby goats. Lance had to drag him out of there while nearly toppling over from the laughter shaking his frame. 

"I kinda want a costume," Keith murmured after a while when they were casually strolling around and taking in the atmosphere. "To fit in, ya know."

"Those are really expensive, man." Lance deflated a little at his own words. "You can buy pretty decent costumes here, but I don't see the point in investing in something like that if you're only gonna wear it once or twice."

An almost surprised chuckle left Keith at the words. "You realise you're dating a literal moneybag, right? I have bottomless money pouches, chambers filled with heaps of priceless jewels and trinkets. A dragon guards the deepest part of my treasure cave." 

As much as he tried to hide it, Lance was clearly struggling to fight down a grin. "Although I appreciate you getting into the renaissance spirit, I don't… like you spending money on me."   

As they leisurely passed by stalls selling bright red candied apples and fragrant baked goods, Keith felt tempted to hold Lance's hand, but couldn't quite find the courage to do so in such a busy crowd. Holding hands for the sake of holding hands and not as some kind of show of affection for the press suddenly felt incredibly intimate. Too intimate. "Why not?"

Lance hesitated to answer, but eventually relented with a sigh. "I just… I don't wanna make you feel like I'm just after your money. And I don't want to rely on you financially. I wanna be able to provide for myself! Something like that… Maybe I'm too proud and maybe this seems dumb to you, but that's just how I feel."

"You're right, I think that's dumb," Keith instantly shot back. "It's not like I wanna pay your rent for you and buy you expensive clothes and shit. Can't I even give you presents at all? Is that off-limits too? I have more money than I could ever spend on my own, you know."

Lance was close to pouting now, clearly miffed about Keith mocking him. "Why don't you donate some of it?"

"I do."

As distant metallic clangs and excited shouts of some kind sword-fighting echoed in the distance, Lance almost tripped over his own feet. "You do?!" When all he got as an answer was a casual nod, he continued sputtering. "How– Wha… How much? To what? Why does nobody know about this?"

Momentarily stunned by the barrage of questions, Keith decided to answer each one by one. "About a third of my income, to a lot of different organisations, anonymously cause if I make it public it'll just seem like a publicity stunt, so why mention it at all?"

This time Lance did stop in his tracks. "Wow… suddenly I'm really horny."

"That gets you turned on?!" Seeing Lance's over-exaggerated nod and dead-serious expression, Keith couldn't back a snort of laughter. "Dumbass." Out of the corners of his eyes, he could see Lance's face morph into an expression of shock, making his laughter die down almost immediately. "What's up?"

"Ah no, I just…" The shock quickly made way for a hesitant but fond smile. "I haven't heard you laugh in a while."

Even with the mask covering half his face, Keith could see the different emotions pooling in Lance's eyes. It suddenly made him painfully aware of how goddamn blue Lance's eyes were, like two jewels swimming on the surface of a piercing blue ocean and glistening in the blinding sun. He didn't know how to even respond to that kind of meaningful gaze, so he quickly averted his eyes and nervously coughed into his hand. "I'm uh… going over there to buy myself a costume. Wait here." 

Left behind at an archery range, a confused Lance watched Keith rush away towards one of the bigger tents that housed an impressive arsenal of renaissance-themed costumes. Something had spooked Keith but Lance wasn't quite sure what. Shaking his head a little at Keith's antics, Lance decided to use his alone time wisely and try shooting a bow. He had always wanted to try archery, so it was with a giddy smile that he handed over the money to the knight-looking man overseeing the archery range. He briefly gave Lance an introduction to how to hold and shoot a bow, before simply letting him have a go at it. Lance's arms shook as he pulled the bowstring taught and aimed, his heart rate picking up in anticipation seconds before he let the arrow go. When he did, it left his bow with a distinct whoosh and smoothly cut through the air, before slicing into his target with a satisfying thud. 

"Oh, wow!" the instructor instantly cheered. "People usually miss completely their first couple times."

Lance hadn't hit the bullseye, far from it, but he had hit the target, which was enough of an accomplishment to him. His next few shots proved that it wasn't simply beginner's luck. His eight shot ended squarely in the bullseye, earning him an excited clap from the instructor and an impressed murmur from a little boy that was shooting a tiny bow at the other end of the range. Lance was setting up his ninth and final shot, when a voice caught him off guard.

"That's so hot."

Lance turned on the spot and quickly lowered his bow, finding Keith decked out in a burgundy vest, a white shirt with ruffled sleeves and a floppy hat with a long, bushy feather sticking out of it. He was still wearing his own pants and carrying a small ukulele toy in one hand, the wolf-faced half mask fitting oddly well into the entire ensemble. "Are you… a bard?"

"Um… aye," Keith replied half-heartedly. "I have no clue how bards talk." 

"In rhymes, I guess?" Truthfully, Lance had always relied on Hunk and Pidge for his medieval trivia, so being with Keith made him realise how very ignorant he really was. Finally, he spotted the plastic bag Keith was carrying and eyed it curiously. "What's in the bag?"

Raising the bag a little at the question, Keith suddenly put on an overly innocent tone. "I accidentally bought another costume. I got the wrong size so it's a little big on me. Maybe I'll throw it away, maybe I'll return it, who knows. If I could just give it to someone I wouldn't have to deal with this."

With how incredibly unsubtle Keith was being, Lance simply had to sigh. "What kind of costume is it?"

A mix of an excited smile and an evil smirk bloomed on Keith's face. "An archer."

Meeting Keith's satisfied smirk with a deadpan look, Lance briefly considered firing that arrow after all. "How much is it? I'll pay you back."

Keith mulled the question over for a moment, already getting into his role as a bard by making over-exaggerated pondering gestures. "Two silver coins."

Despite the sigh he let out, an amused smile began to curl Lance's lips. "I don't know if I have any on me."

"Gimme your money pouch," Keith demanded with an urging and overly theatrical wave of his hand. The moment Lance pulled out his wallet from his jacket, Keith pushed it open to dig through the little pile of change inside. After digging through the coins with a baffling amount of concentration, he took two "silver" coins and retreated his hand with a grin. "This should do as a renting fee."

"Renting fee?" Lance asked quizzically, watching as Keith pocketed his two coins of mere change. 

"What? I said I bought the costume for myself." With a cheeky little smirk, Keith slipped Lance's wallet back into the deep pockets of his jacket. "I'm lending it to you temporarily." 

Sighing at the totally sound logic, Lance finally gave up, shoulders sagging. "Thanks, Keith." Seeing Keith break his character momentarily to look a little sheepish, Lance quickly turned around to hide his own embarrassment. Keith making any kind of previously unseen expression always shot a bolt of lighting through Lance's head, like some part of his mind was exploding with an overload of emotion. "Let me get this last shot," he murmured, voice a little unsteady. Even with how much his heart was racing, especially knowing Keith was watching his every move, Lance managed to pull his bowstring back normally, then keep his bow steady as he aimed and held his breath, before releasing and letting his arrow slice through the air and into the target. It wasn't a perfect bullseye, but still decent enough to earn him an impressed little noise from Keith. He had barely thanked the instructor and given back the bow, when Keith suddenly took his hand to pull him away.

"That was great, now let's get you changed."

"Changed?" Lance parroted. "Where?" He was soon ushered towards the backside of the tent where Keith had bought the costumes. There, inside a separate tent, two other visitors were putting on costume pieces and doing their hair, but they disappeared a moment later. That left Lance alone with Keith, who seemed oddly excited, considering Lance was simply changing into a costume. Folding dividers provided a space to change in private and when Lance headed towards one, he shot his boyfriend a perplexed look. "You gonna keep standing there like that?"

"Yeah," Keith replied flatly. "Am I not allowed to?"

Still suspicious, Lance mumbled an unsure little "Whatever," before disappearing behind one of the walls with his costume in hand. Putting on the pants and tunic proved relatively quick and easy. After pulling the hooded cowl over his head, what gave him trouble were the various belts and extra accessories. Pushing up his mask so he could see better, Lance peeked his head out of the divider. "Um…" Before he could even voice his problem, Keith appeared before him.

"What is it?" 

Desperately biting back a pleased smile at Keith's enthusiasm, Lance held up the belts for him to see, noticing that Keith had pushed his mask up as well. "I dunno how to put these on." In reality, with some wrangling he probably would have figured these belts out eventually, but why not indulge Keith a little once in a while? Shiro had entrusted him to Lance after all. 

Keith instantly slipped behind the divider to stand in front of Lance. Despite his mostly neutral expression, his giddiness was evident in the excited gleam in his eyes. "This one…" Keith began to mumble, strapping a sheath with a fake knife to one of the belts, "is for your weapon." He then stepped close until there was barely any air between them. "It goes around your hips." Without waiting for a response, Keith simply fastened the belt around Lance. 

Feeling the heat of Keith's body radiating off his skin, Lance had an increasingly difficult time remaining composed. Every little glance Keith sent him, every knowing quirk of his lips, every slightly too purposeful brush of his hand over his body had Lance's mind slowly clouding up. 

"This belt's for decoration," Keith continued, placing another belt around Lance's waist, before moving on to the last one. "This one's for your quiver. It goes…" He trailed off as he buckled the belt across Lance's torso, opting to let his fingertips trace across his chest, then circling towards Lance's back. With some gentle coaxing, he managed to push Lance against a nearby table.   

Every touch left behind fiery trails across Lance's skin. He wanted nothing more than to simply close the distance and absolutely devour Keith, but he could tell that he was supposed to be patient and simply wait for what was to come. One look at the incredibly heated yet focused look in Keith's ink black eyes had Lance give up on any thoughts of wrenching control away from him. For now, he would simply enjoy.

After they both silently acknowledged the tension simmering between then, Keith wasted no time getting his hands under Lance's costume. The tunic Lance had only just put on was unbuttoned far enough for Keith to slide his hands inside and run his fingers over the lines of Lance's torso. Every deliberate press and stroke made Lance take a sharp intake of air, heat pooling deep in his gut and slowly seeping to the rest of his body, like a slow tidal wave warmed by the unrelenting sun. Keith jerked Lance close until there was no distance left between them, bodies pressed flush against each other. The moment Lance cautiously ran his lips across Keith's neck, the ruffled collar of his shirt tickling his face, he was punished with a little bite to his jaw. The feeling of Keith's teeth sinking into his skin, even if just for a moment, sent a sudden electric jolt through Lance's entire body, one so intense it made heat momentarily explode through his every nerve and then stay there like a drunken buzz.

"Stay still," Keith commanded, voice deeper and rougher than Lance had ever heard it before, heavy with desire.

It was the kind of tone that made Lance want to completely surrender himself to Keith, which was a feeling he had never experienced before with such intensity. He disliked being manhandled or made to feel inferior in any way, but something about Keith so calmly demanding his submission made him absolutely weak in the knees. It made him want to say yes to whatever Keith asked of him.

"You're hard?" 

The smug words pulled Lance out of his daze, making him lock eyes with his satisfied- yet curious-looking boyfriend. Feeling shy all of a sudden, he watched Keith take a small step backwards to be able to admire the bulge forming in Lance's pants, meanwhile keeping the half open tunic out of the way with one hand. "Don't stare at it like that."

Ignoring Lance's words completely, Keith proceeded to stare even more intensely. "You got hard just from making out?"

"I'm sensitive, okay!" Lance barked indignantly, covering his crotch with his hands in embarrassment. "And you keep groping my back and shit!" 

Interest visibly piqued by the words, Keith returned his hands to Lance's bare torso. Continuing to ignore Lance's panicked little whispers of protest, he let his hands travel across the ridges of Lance's back, tracing his muscles and sliding his fingers over the bumps of his spine. He continued until Lance couldn't hold back a shuddering exhale, breaths gradually becoming desperate little pants. "Wow," Keith mumbled as he watched Lance melt into his touch.

Annoyed that Keith looked almost completely unaffected while Lance couldn't even control the noises coming out of his mouth, Lance finally decided to get that kiss he had been craving for an eternity. Before Keith could command him otherwise, Lance had already reached up to circle a hand around his neck to pull him in, any words of protest lost against his lips. Keith kissed back softly, carefully, with the kind of hesitation that indicated he was still floundering for how exactly to go about all of this. But Lance didn't crave that kind of softness. Not now, not after Keith had worked him up to a point where Lance couldn't even think about anything but helplessly drowning in this intoxicating heat together. Lance slid his hand from Keith's neck into his hair, pulling him even deeper into the kiss. A grown rumbled low in Keith's throat and he impulsively dug his nails into Lance's back, the air between them growing unbelievably hot. 

When Lance pulled away, he found Keith panting and flushed to a point it was visible even in the semi-darkness of this tent. He could feel Keith rubbing up against him, which made one thing very clear. "Aren't you getting turned on at all?"

For a moment, Keith simply continued breathing a bit heavily, before suddenly looking apologetic. "Uh… sorry? It just… it takes me a while." Upon receiving a both puzzled and worried look from his boyfriend, it was Keith's turn to become indignant. "Don't look at me like I have some disease and need to be pitied! I'm just a slow starter."

"So if I touch your dick, you're not gonna get hard?" Lance asked bluntly, honest gaze completely void of mockery.

"That's not how that works!" Keith hissed back, real exasperation entering his voice despite the innocent tone of Lance's words. A surprised shriek left him when Lance all of a sudden shoved his hand down the front of his pants. "The fuck you think you're doing?! We're in public!"

"Everyone already knows we're dating anyway!" Lance shot back with a mischievous grin. "Not like anyone's gonna be surprised to find us making out in some tent at a ren faire."

"You really want the next headline about us to include photos of you jerking me off?"

Keith's panicked tone only made Lance's grin widen, especially considering that despite his complaints, Keith was making no moves to stop him from unzipping his pants. "Why not?" Lance whispered, resting his chin on Keith's shoulder so he could whisper directly in his ears. "I think I might be kinda into that."

"Kinky bastard," Keith bit back breathlessly. 

"Hey, you're hard too! Slow starter, my ass!"

"Don't yell." Keith's scolding tone was completely undermined by how audibly turned on he was, his breathing uneven and his voice rumbling with lust. "I didn't get hard until you started groping me."

Lance's giddy grin melted away the moment he pulled down Keith's underwear enough to be able to touch his cock directly. "Oh, wow. I'm actually touching your dick," he noted monotonously, before momentarily retreating his hand to spit into it, then go right back to exploring Keith's length.  

"Will you stop ruining the mood already?" Keith's voice was filled with the kind of tired despair that could only come out of someone that hadn't slept properly and hadn't gotten off in quite a while. "How can you be so sexy yet so unsexy at the same time?"

"Hey, I'm the sexiest thing to ever walk this planet," Lance immediately countered, cautiously sliding his hand further along Keith's cock, a little shudder running down his back when Keith's hips twitched in response. "You better consider yourself lucky I'm even talking to you, yet alone touching your peen."

"Yeah, I can't believe how lucky I am." Keith couldn't quite match the monotony of Lance's tone, what with him currently being jerked off in the slowest, most careful and torturous way possible. "If you don't start properly jerking me off soon, I'll head-butt you, you pompous moron."

"You have a really weird idea of foreplay, you know that?" Lance would have continued rambling and mocking Keith, but after looking up and seeing his boyfriend feel pleasure at his touch made him afraid that even if he tried to speak, only moans and needy whimpers would pass his lips. An almost pained moan burst from his mouth simply from feeling his own erection pushing against the restrictions of his pants.

Their masks having fallen off long ago, their foreheads were pushed together, bangs mingling. Any time they managed to gather their bearings enough to meet eyes, an almost palpable, smouldering heat passed between them. It seeped into their skin all the way down to their bones, setting fire to everything it touched. The few times their lips found each other for a clumsy and messy kiss, it was searing hot. Lance could feel Keith's breath as it hit his neck, burning on his skin like fire. Every little groan and badly muffled moan that fell from Keith's lips coiled the lust simmering in Lance's gut tighter and tighter, to the point it nearly became unbearable. Keith bucking into his hand and consequently pushing their hips together was driving him absolutely mad. The drag of Lance's hand across Keith's cock was gradually slickened by pre-cum, the sound of it growing more and more obscene. If anyone came in now, the divider alone wouldn't hide what they were doing.


With Keith panting into his shoulder like that, Lance could feel his every desperate breath like it was his own. Keith's skin was damp with a thin sheen of sweat, the tantalising scent of it tempting Lance into dipping down to lick a stripe along Keith's neck. "Keith…" he moaned, incapable of forming any other word. The name became like a mantra, falling from his lips without pause as though it was the only word he had ever known. Lance only stopped chanting his name to bite into Keith's shoulder when he could feel the telltale welling of pressure deep in his core. The slightly angry groan the action elicited instantly sent a tingling through Lance's body that radiated from his middle to the rest of his body. 

Keith suddenly slumped against Lance with a particularly loud moan, one that probably could be heard even by people passing by outside. His hold around Lance tightened to a painful level, his posture becoming unsteady. Hearing, seeing and feeling Keith come completely undone like that right in front of him finally sent Lance over the edge. When his orgasm hit, a bolt of electricity shot through his body, nearly taking out his legs as his muscles contracted and relaxed almost simultaneously. Without warning, Keith fell away from him to slump to the ground, barely managing to sit up with his arms propping him up. Lance was supporting himself with a hand on the table behind him, but soon enough his legs lost all strength and he was forced to join Keith on the floor. 

They were both gasping for air at this point, gazes slowly trailing over each other's dishevelled and debouched appearances: costumes unbuttoned and ruffled, pushed up and pulled down in the most obscene places. 

"You got a tissue or something?" Lance eventually managed to murmur breathlessly. "You came all over my hand." To demonstrate, he held up his right hand to show off the result of their little make-out.     

"Just wipe it off somewhere," Keith sighed through ragged breathing. Almost as though to dispel the strange peace and calm hanging between them, his stomach growled loud enough it seemed to almost echo in the tent. 

Grinning to himself over Keith's slightly sheepish expression, Lance found a fake plant to wipe his hand on. "Wanna get some food? I think we're both pretty spent."

Keith still seemed a little uncoordinated, even when he nodded. "Sounds good."

The situation still hadn't quite sunken in for either of them, which Lance was thankful for. He knew that this was inevitably going to lead to some awkwardness, but for now he was simply happy. There had been a nagging worry at the back of his mind that when it came to anything farther than kissing, perhaps he would chicken out. Keith was a guy after all and Lance still didn't find guys in general attractive. He was still very much into boobs, but somehow, because it was Keith, it didn't matter that he was a guy. In fact, somehow that only made him even more attractive.

Lance felt his stomach turn watching Keith eat. The guy ate like he had been starved for months, which – knowing how he treated his own body – perhaps wasn't completely off the mark. The sun was beginning to go down by the time Lance lost count of how many things Keith had devoured. Baked potatoes, an entire pizza, a sandwich, a salad, turkey legs, various desserts, they all went down Keith's throat like they were mere air.

"Dude, slow down," Lance warned as he continued nibbling on his single slice of pizza. He wasn't quite sure if Keith's wolf mask suited him or not, what with him eating like a pig. Or rather wolfing it down. "You look like you're gonna choke." All he got in response was a sharp look that told him to keep his opinion to himself and let his boyfriend inhale his food in peace. "You're not dieting or anything? You're on TV a lot lately."

Keith took two more bites out of his pretzel before he answered. "I'm supposed to be," he replied messily through a mouthful of pretzel, before washing everything down with a swig of beer. "But Shiro's not here to slap all the unhealthy food out of my hand, so fuck dieting."

Stuck between wanting to celebrate his boyfriend's freedom and the need to somehow respect Shiro's work, a sigh left Lance. "Too much greasy food is bad for your skin, you know."

"My skin's never bad," Keith mumbled nonchalantly as he shoved a whole scone in his mouth.

"I hate you." Lance felt no pity when Keith actually choked a little on that scone. Serves him right, Lance thought, recalling all the time he spent on skin care to maintain his healthy glow. Meanwhile, Keith was one of those guys who could eat a whole pizza and not worry about breaking out the next day. "You don't have anything else to do today?" 

Still coughing from the scone that tried to kill him, Keith shrugged. "Just… stuff."

Suspicion immediately niggled at Lance's mind, making him narrow his eyes at his boyfriend, who pointedly ignored his gaze. "You didn't skip out on anything just to have fun at a ren faire instead, did you? I wouldn't have taken you here if I'd known you had other stuff to do."

Unable to hide his guilty conscience, Keith shiftily avoided Lance's imploring eyes, before sighing in defeat. "My PR manager booked me to appear at some launch event for a fashion brand."

There was a brief silence, before Lance abruptly burst into loud barks of laughter that shook his entire frame. "You? At a fashion event?!"

"That's what I said," Keith grumbled quietly, visibly annoyed by Lance's reaction despite agreeing with the sentiment. 

Lance's laughter died once Keith's words truly sunk in. "So… is it okay just to ditch like that?"

"Well… no." Growing nervous under Lance's disapproving glare, Keith took another sip of his beer to buy himself time. "It's not my fault I get booked for stuff without being consulted first. Shiro's supposed to sign off on everything, but my PR manager just keeps booking me for all these events and appearances without getting my approval first. I'm just at a point now where I don't care if people get angry at me for being late to stuff or for not showing up at all. I…" For a brief moment, Keith's composure completely slipped and his lips pulled into a shaky frown that betrayed the whirlpool of emotions he was feeling, all despite the mask covering half his face. "Sometimes I need a break too," he murmured so quietly and in such a weak voice, it seemed to fade into the wind. 

Surrounded by the joyful laughter of faire-goers and engulfed in the excitement of medieval festivities, Lance should have been feeling joyful and energised. But even after catching a few hours of sleep and getting food into his starved body, Keith still looked so deeply exhausted it broke Lance's heart. It was the kind of exhaustion that had seeped deeply into his bones, into the very fibres of his being, dyeing him in the colors of stress and overwork. No matter how much he tried, there were things Lance couldn't help Keith through. So many things weighed on Keith, most of which Lance had no idea about. Often, it felt like the things he didn't know about Keith far outweighed the things he did know. 

"Hey, Keith," Lance eventually spoke up softly, waiting until Keith's tired but curious eyes met his, "make time for me next month."

The out of character request seemed to puzzle Keith a little, judging by the inquisitive quirk of his eyebrow. After all, this was the first time Lance was outright demanding his time instead of waiting for Keith to coincidentally have time for him. "What do you wanna do?"

A smile slowly blossomed on Lance's face, his eyes lighting up with an excited spark. "I want you to meet my family."