They reach a tentative truce over the next month, each getting caught up in his own classes and content creation. But the unease reaches a peak on a Friday evening after another of Shiro’s imposed Family Dinners. Pidge and Allura had announced they were having a girl’s gaming evening, testing out a game for Pidge’s channel. Lance lit up at that, saying it was the perfect opportunity for the guys to all bond since they hadn’t had much time to do so. They split up and then the boys reconvene in the common room. Keith is the last to arrive and finds the other three spread out over the couches, nail polish and sheet masks spread out on the table between them, Lance holding a jar of a goopy green mask and a brush, applying it to Shiro’s face, and Keith feels his muscles lock up. Feels his chest go tight, his breathing becoming harder—heavier. His face is red as he stands in the doorway in his boxers and an old shirt of Shiro’s and stutters, “Ooh...are we doing...t-that. Are we doing that tonight?”
The other boys look up at him. Shiro is starting to get up to see to Keith if he has a full on meltdown; Hunk raises a cautious, curious eyebrow; and Lance tries not to shut down. He knows that what’s happening to Keith has little-to-nothing to do with him, but he’s having a really hard time not getting defensive.
His mind is flashing to his brothers, his dad, his old friends, his middle school bullies — all telling him that liking girly things makes him a girl. That he’s a fag, and a tranny, that he’s filthy and wrong and God doesn’t love him, no one will ever love him if he doesn’t man up. And oh, god he’s having a meltdown now, too, and he has to snap himself out of it, it’s unfair to Keith if he doesn’t snap himself out of it. He needs to man up and stop acting like a baby.
Lance shakes his head and tries to focus on the scene unfolding in front of him. His hands and breathing are shaky. Shiro is gripping Keith’s shoulders, hunched down just a little to look his brother in the eye. Hunk is fully oriented toward the pair in the doorway. Good. Lance takes another deep breath — no one saw his slight break. He knows, logically he knows, that liking these self care things doesn’t make him a girl, and doesn’t make him girly even. Right? Hunks been telling him that. But here Keith is, Keith who has done everything to be seen as a man, having a meltdown because of the girly things. Because they’re girly, which makes Lance and the things Lance likes girly. So...Lance starts to get angry.
Keith is shaking in his skin, trying to pull himself together because who does he think he is coming into Bro Time and immediately having a meltdown? He does Not want to partake in the activities laid out in front of them. He does Not want a face mask or nail polish or any of the stuff Lance has laid out. The thought of it makes his stomach churn and his eyes water. Makes him think of being forced into dresses and being called pretty. Makes him feel twelve years old again wanting to die because he just got his first period and it’s the first sign of becoming a woman and the last thing Keith has ever wanted to do was become a woman.
And suddenly Shiro is in front of him telling him to take deep breaths, and he’s trying, and how much time has even passed? Why is he still panicking? When he finally can breathe again, and his vision is less blurry around the edges —more tired blurry, less tunnel blurry— he sees Hunk looking at him in concern, and turns a wary gaze towards Lance. Keith is taken aback by what he sees.
Lance is sitting on the couch next to Shiro’s abandoned spot and face mask supplies, cheeks red, eyes welled up with tears, jaw and fists clenched, looking like he himself had just been barely talked down from a panic attack. Their eyes meet and then Lance is a flurry of motion. He’s gathering as much as he can of his supplies in his arms and trying to stumble out of the common room, but things keep falling, and eventually he just leaves them to the floor. Keith, Shiro, and Hunk all watch in dumb silence.
“Maybe I should go after him?” Hunk asks, wringing his hands. He thinks he might have a clue as to what that was about, but he doesn’t want to intrude on Lance or make Keith think he did anything wrong so he stays put, looking to the others. Shiro sighs and runs his prosthetic through his hair, his other hand still on Keith’s shoulder.
“No. No I think...maybe I should?” Keith speaks up and hates how his voice wobbles as he is still shaken up from his almost panic attack. Shiro raises an eyebrow at him, as if to ask, are you sure? And Keith nods and squares his shoulders. Shiro let’s him go and he turns to follow Lance out of the room.
He hadn’t heard Lances door close, so it was likely Keith would find him on the roof—a place he had discovered each of them frequented at different times when truly searching to be alone. Sure enough, Lance was sitting on the roof, nestled between two dormers, clutching handfuls of hair and staring blankly at the dark ground below them.
Keith scooted out of one of the windows and settled down next to him. He cleared his throat, unsure of where to start. Again, it was Lance who broke the silence. “Sorry. I’m really.” He broke off in an unhappy sigh, “I’m sorry I keep messing up, dude. I’m...fuck.” Keith furrowed his eyebrows and waited for Lance to continue. In the short time he’d known the other man, he’d noticed that for as much as Lance talked, when he had something to actually say it took him a little bit to collect the right words.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” He started, again. “I don’t know why sometimes you say or do things and they make me so upset and I get so mad or unreasonable, and —“ Lance cut himself off again, looking up at Keith with wide, bloodshot eyes. “Not they like, any of that is your fault, man. I’m sorry, shit. I’m like victim blaming, but like you’re not really a victim, you’re just being a person, but you’re kind of a victim cause I’m being a douche and you probably still think I’m a transphobic piece of shit, and I’m not doing anything to make that better, and”
“Lance!” Keith shouted over him and leaned a little closer into Lance’s personal space to get his attention. “You’re rambling. Can you tell me what I do that’s setting you off so maybe we can talk about it so we can determine if you’re actually being transphobic? Or a douche? Because you’ve actually been pretty good for the last couple weeks until right now.” Keith tried to be reassuring in his confusion and post-almost-breakdown haze.
“It...I don’t know. I don’t know what it really is. It’s like sometimes you say or do things that are so manly, like real machismo shit, and I feel so inadequate. And all of a sudden I’m fifteen again and I’m being called puto, mariquita. I bet I’m not making any sense. Like it’s not like you’re doing anything to me. But I still get so mad.” Lance looks back at Keith, his eyes still frantic. “And I keep thinking...what if they’re right, Keith? What if liking the things I do is girly and liking girly things makes me a girl. I don’t—and since I found out I keep wondering, it keeps running through my head. That I must have missed something, am I only a man because people my whole life told me to be one? Am I a girl because I like girly things? Because I like feeling pretty and dressing up? Because I don’t want to have missed something like that, but how can I say I’m not a girl when I like things that you would never do, and you’re like the manliest of men, Keith. How...how do I compete with that?” At this point Lance has buried his face in his hands again, and Keith is looking at him, dumbstruck.
He takes a steadying breath and begins. “Okay that’s a lot to unpack. Can you be cool for a second and we can talk about this?” Lance nods, face still covered. “Do you...do you feel like you could be a woman?” Lance pauses, then slowly shakes his head in a tight little motion. “Do you feel unassociated with either gender?” Lance shook his head again, a little more confident that time. “You’re probably cis then. Which is cool. And a lot of this sounds like some pretty deep rooted stuff. Stuff I go through pretty often, but stuff Shiro goes through too. Stuff related to being gay — to being men who love men, in a world that’s pretty homophobic.” Lance started looking up at him again about halfway through his little speech.
“Really?” He asked Keith in a small voice. Starting to feel an enormous weight lifting from his body, from his soul. Keith smiled a little at him and nodded.
“Yeah, Lance. And I’m sorry for freaking out in the middle of Bro Time and starting this whole mess” Lance tried to cut him off, and stern set to his mouth, but Keith talked over him, “No, I am sorry, okay? But it’s not because the stuff you were doing is necessarily girly that I freaked out. I just personally don’t like doing that kind of thing. It makes my skin crawl and makes me feel like I’m not the right shape or size for my body. It makes me really dysphoric to think that anyone could see me doing that stuf and think, oh good, maybe she’s finally over that boy phase of hers because as much as I pass as a cis man—which thank you by the way for calling me a manly man, I appreciate it I think—there are plenty of people who either know or guess that I’m trans and are just waiting for any kind of slip up to prove that they’re right and I’m just a girl pretending in order to get attention.”
“Oh. Keith. I’m sorry. Um…” Lance trailed off and Keith waved his apology away as if it were an annoying fly.
“Don’t apologize. There’s not really anything to be sorry for. You didn’t know. But if that’s what you want to do for Bro Time, that’s okay. I’m the only one who wouldn’t enjoy that. I can hang out with Pidge and Allura whole you guys do that stuff.”
“No! No you can’t!” Keith raised both eyebrows at Lance’s outburst. “You can’t hang out with them during Girl Time. You’re not a girl and it ruins the sanctity of the practice. Does it make you uncomfortable to be around the face mask stuff or just the thought of having it done to you upsets you?” Keith thought for a moment.
“I guess just having it done to me. I don’t think it would bother me for you guys to be doing it as long as you didn’t try to pressure me into doing it too.”
“We wouldn’t.” Lance assures. Keith already knew this though. “But...what if you still hang out with us during self care Bro Time even if you don’t participate? Would you be okay with that? Cause we won’t do that all the time but I think Bro Time would be sad if not all the bros were there, you know?” Keith grins at Lance’s babbling and solution. Lance grins shyly back.
“I think that sounds like a good plan. To be honest I think I wouldn’t like being left out of Bro Time.” Keith admits.
“Aw, Mullet, don’t go getting all mushy on me. I don’t need that in my life! You’re going to make me want to give you a hug!” Lance teases, making tickle fingers at Keith as he pretends to lunge forward for a hug. Keith full on laughs as he scrambles back toward the exit.
“Come on, Lance. We have bros to get back to.”
They spent the rest of the night hanging out. Keith watching Shiro, Lance, and Hunk do Lance’s “girly” spa things, and the other three doing their best to keep Keith laughing and included even though he was an onlooker to the activities.