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between rush hour and now

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The very first time Lance spots him, he’s several cars ahead on the right lane, bright red motorcycle standing out against the usual monotonous traffic heading home for the day; they’re stopped at a red light in between Arusian Avenue and the campus creamery

He’s wearing a cropped red leather jacket that matches the motorcycle’s hue almost perfectly; Lance can spot a few tufts of dark hair spilling under an equally red helmet, dancing in the wind as he slows to a stop.

Lance looks away as the light turns green.

-x-

“Oh,” Lance says to himself the next evening, stopping at the same red light behind a truck. “Him again.”

His gaze follows the grumble of the red bike and its rider as he filters through both lanes. Before he can vocalize his thoughts - namely, how scandalized he is at the guy wearing the same clothes, or at least, a very similar ensamble again today - the truck in front of him starts moving.

-x-

“Come on, dude,” Lance mutters to himself on the 6th day of spotting the same biker. “What's with the outfit?”

This time the rider doesn’t filter to the front as before, staying in place next to Lance on the left lane.

Lance tries to keep his eyes straight ahead, but he can’t help glancing over every now and then. The rider’s helmet visor is dark, but he can just make out the outline of a strong jaw. The sloping dip of a nose.

Almost like he can sense he’s being gawked at, the rider turns to Lance.

Thinking quickly, he pretends like he’s rummaging for something in his backpack on the passenger seat, averting his eyes

He’s not sure why’s blushing, but he’s grateful when the light turns green.

-x-

It’s become routine now.

They’re several months into their mutual commute. Lance sees the rider, dubbed Red in his mind for lack of an actual name, filtering through both lanes, or else impatiently tapping his foot against the hot asphalt as they wait for the line to turn green.

It’s strangely comforting, the dash of crimson on his evening ride home from school and work. On the odd days he doesn’t see Red, he finds himself wondering where he is, what he does for a living. What does his voice sound like? Is he a cat or dog person? Does he like pineapple on his pizza? Is he also a struggling college student, and if so, why hasn’t seen Lance spotted the familiar red cropped jacket around campus?

On rainy days, Lance wonders just how uncomfortable riding a bike in the middle of rush hour wearing leather really is. “Dude, come on, it’s pouring out. Put on a parka or something...”

But Red seems to be in his element; it’s like the clothes clinging tightly to his body - and god, what body it is - don’t impede the fluidity of his movement.

Lance knows he’s staring and feels thankful for the cover of heavy rain. His face feels heated as he openly ogles at the defined abs accentuated by the soaked t-shirt over his windshield wipers.

Damn that stupid crop top jacket. Lance grips the steering wheel with an iron-clad grasp and attempts to will the blush off his face as the Civic in front of him moves.

-x-

Riding with the windows down is the best part of summer. Now that the rain season is over, he can enjoy rides home with the windows down and music blaring as loud as his shitty speakers will allow.

He looks over one evening and spots Red’s familiar silhouette.

What’s not familiar is the brand new outfit he’s sporting.

In all fairness, it’s really damn hot and out he can’t imagine heat stroke would be much better than road rash.

He’s wearing a tank top version of his t-shirt, clearly modified so the sleeves open down to his midriff, showing pale, defined muscle underneath.

Lance chokes a little and jumps when someone honks at him. He looks back to the road and sees the traffic has left without him.

-x-

It’s ridiculous, Lance thinks to himself almost angrily after a particularly long day at work. He’s never once seen the guy’s face. So why? Why does he find himself waiting anxiously for his shift to end at the library so he can drive home?

It wouldn’t be so bad if it he was excited to go home. But he knows it’s the commute he’s anticipating.

God, he’s such an idiot.

-x-

The familiar bike pulls up next to him one evening. He’s at the same red light (that he's come to think of as theirs), My Chemical Romance blasting through his speakers. He’s mouthing the words to Famous Last Words when out of the corner of his eye, he sees a fingerless leather gloved hand waving at him.

He lowers the volume and glances over to see Red lifting his helmet visor. 

For reasons unknown to him, he feels panic bubble up his throat, but he fights to keep a straight face. “...U-um. Yes?”

Red is fucking gorgeous. 

His eyes are dark - a violent mix of grey and heliotrope. Angular cheeks, button nose, thick eyebrows. 

Fuck. 

Fuckfuckfuckfuck

“Got good music taste.” He yells over the grumble of his bike, smirking.

Before Lance can react, the light turns green, and Red is zooming away.

-x-

"C'mon," Lance mutters, teeth grazing frantically at his thumb. "Pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up-oh my god, Hunk!"

"Hey!" his best friend says easily, voice echoing oddly in the car speakers. He seems to catch onto Lance's tone and immediately sobers up. "Wait, what's wrong?"

"Hunk, he talked to me," Lance all but wails, speech garbled by nerves. "He talked to me and told me I have good music taste and I'm going to combust-"

"Whoa whoa, Lance. I can't make out your word vomit super well, it's kind of cutting out. Who talked to you?"

"He did, Hunk!" Lance groans as the light he's stopped at by the plasma donation center on campus turns green. "Red! Red fucking talked to me and I didn't say anything like a moron, I just sat there, and he drove away! I'm such an idiot!" he says, gripping the steering wheel with white-knuckled fingers.

"Oh!" Hunk gasps, finally caught up. "Oh. Shit, dude. Okay, well. Take several deep breaths for me, okay?" he says and Lance nods dumbly before he realizes Hunk can't see him.

"Y-Yeah. Okay, I am. I'm breathing, but fuck, Hunk. I bet he thinks I'm such a loser-"

"None of that," Hunk berates gently. "You were caught off-guard, man. It happens to the best of us. Now, go on, tell Dr. Hunk what happened.

  -x-

Lance hasn't seen Red since he'd spoken to him. He's taken to calling it the MCR Incident in his head.

Summer classes have been picking up and with finals week rearing its ugly head, he finds himself staying late at the library even after his shift, studying or else working on essays and last minute assignments.

It's been stressful to say the least; his last final had been today, so he can relax and not worry about school until the fall semester starts in a few months. And even though he knows his focus should be on his classes and final exams, he can't help but think about Red's eyes. His soft voice. That stupid, arrogant, absurdly attractive smirk.

God, he's so fucked.

As his shift at the library comes to a close, the familiar tension begins to build in his chest; anticipation not only to see him but to see him after they'd talked.

Well. After Red had spoken to him. Lance still finds himself berating his inaction, his confusion. There it was, the perfect opportunity to speak to this guy he'd been weirdly crushing on for months , speaking to him of his own volition, and he'd blown it. 

Way to go, McClain. It'll be nothing short of a miracle if Red talks to him again. 

-x-

Traffic is the same as always - busy with stupid college students cutting each other off left and right, hassled day-workers just trying to get home after a long day at the office. Lance has never really thought about the monotony of it all - he prefers to look at the bright side of things. An extra 20 minutes behind a weight-bearing semi on a busy road at rush hour just means he has an extra 20 minutes to listen to his favorite music. De-stress before he gets home and brings all the negativity of the day in with him. 

Today's not one of those days. 

He knows he's worrying his lip - a childhood habit he thought he'd broken at 10, but alas, here he is at 23; rattled enough by a complete stranger, ripping at the chapped skin on his lips almost frantically. 

The closer he gets to their intersection by the creamery, the antsier he feels. He's almost tempted to raise his windows but that would mean he's scared, and dammit, he's not scared of some hot biker in a cropped leather jacket. Fuck. He's not.

And there it is - the familiar loud grumble of the street bike pulling up next to him as Lance slows to a stop several cars back from the intersection at the red light.

He makes a conscious effort to look at in every direction except for Red's and that's when he notices the pile up at the intersection. 

He'd been so caught in his thoughts and anxieties, he'd failed to realize this area is more traffic-congested than usual. He can't really see what's happening, but there's a flash of sirens somewhere in the distance, heading in their direction. Probably a crash, then. 

"Fuck," he mumbles to himself, craning his neck to get a peek at the action, but the stupid pickup in front of him blocks the view entirely. 

The grumble of the bike stops completely and Lance, windows down and music turned to a lower volume today, forgets his apprehension in favor of confusion and turns to the rider on the lane beside him.

Red's lifting his helmet visor and sighing as he sets his kickstand down. He throws Lance a casual glance and fuckfuckshitdammit, there's that damned smirk again. "Looks like we're gonna be here awhile," Red says loudly, dismounting his bike and leaning on it, facing Lance. "Might as well get comfortable." 

And. Oh. Oh. Second conversation starter. A possible chance to redeem himself. Lance puts his car in park before turning to the rider. "Can you see what's happening?" He asks. 

Red stands up to his full height - probably a few inches shorter than Lance's 6"1', craning his neck. "Sorta," he says. "Big wreck. Several cars, from what I can see." 

"Shit," Lance purses his lips craning his neck to look. "That bad?" 

"Looks like."

Lance notices several cars are attempting to turn around but it's so congested there's literally no way to do so. He glances at his dashboard - he's got a quarter of a tank left. Who knows when they'll be able to move again, if the crash is as bad as Red said it probably was. He sighs and turns his key, shutting off his engine. He notices others are starting to do the same.

"You've been busy with school lately?" 

The question is so random it throws him off. It takes him a second to realize Red is speaking to him. "Huh?" he blinks, attempting to reboot his brain his half a second. "Oh, uh. Yeah. Finals week."

Red nods thoughtfully, arms crossed over his chest as he looks off in the direction of the crash. "Thought so. Didn't see you for awhile and was starting to get worried." he says, voice cheeky, and shitfuck, Lance's heart does a weird backflip somersault in his chest.

Red had noticed him. Red knows his car and knows what Lance looks like and holy shit, Lance was about to melt. From both heat stroke and his heart suddenly hammering a mad tattoo against his rib cage.

"Heh, yeah?" he says and berates himself when his voice trembles. "Miss me?"

No, of course that hadn't actually come out of his mouth, had it?

Oh, balls, but it had, and now those deep, expressive eyes are on him and Lance can feel his soul ascending to the afterlife as Red shrugs nonchalantly, smirk returning. "Maybe."

It takes a second to process it but when he does, he has to fight the urge to hide his face in his hands and screech. Public, he reminds himself. I'm in fucking public. "Sorry, I'll make sure to warn you next time I disappear." he hears himself joke, his mouth disconnected from his brain entirely and set to autopilot. 

Red gives him an appraising look from his spot reclining against his bike. He's wearing the stupid muscle tank top again, the one with the sleeves and sides cut off to nearly the hemline that looks more like a poncho than a tank top. His toned biceps flex under his skin as Red tenses for a second, lips pursed, before reaching for the backpack strapped to his back. 

Lance blinks dumbly, shooting the traffic in front of them a paranoid look. Emergency services have started arriving at the scene. Soon enough they'll have cleaned up a portion of the road to finally allow traffic to filter through, but for now…

For now, Red is pulling a Sharpie out of the front backpack pocket. He looks back at Lance, eyes suggestive and Lance is willing to let him do anything, ask for anything, if he continues looking at him like that. "Maybe you should," Red states. He glances around, making sure traffic hasn't started moving, and pushes off his bike towards Lance's sedan. "If you want to," he says softly, standing at the window. 

This close to him, Lance gets a whiff of cigarette smoke, sweat, and something like sandalwood. His aftershave, maybe. It's overwhelming and he's sure he's making an embarrassingly stupid face at this ridiculously attractive dude, but he can't help it. 

Red reaches for his arm, biker gloved-clad hand wonderfully calloused and warm. He uncaps the Sharpie with his teeth in a fluid motion, maintaining eye contact before his smirk widens around the cap of the marker. He looks down and scrawls his number on Lance's arm and holy god, did that actually just happen-

"Text me sometime." He says, fingers lingering on Lance's arm a second longer than necessary before he's recapping the Sharpie and heading back to his bike, smirk never leaving his lips.

The sudden grumble of the bike engine breaks him out of his stupor and he realizes traffic has started to slowly move ahead again. He blinks to clear his suddenly fog-riddled brain and quickly starts his car again. He sees Red as the rider glances at him, throwing him a wink, before snapping his helmet visor back down again as he follows the slow trickle of cars slowly making their way through the intersection.

Lance looks down at his arm as the cars ahead of him start moving. 

Keith. it says, scrawled under his number. Red's name is Keith.

He smiles the whole way home.