Kolivan isn’t actually his uncle but he’s definitely his savior: if Keith hadn’t gotten this job at the Shades of Marmora he’d have been forced to suppress his urges to drown all the screaming eight year olds at Vreparty Sal’s in the bacteria infested ball pit.
Vreparty Sals’s is suburban Arus’s space themed version of Chuck E Cheese and it’s made it abundantly clear that kid targeted arcade and restaurant combos are a hell pit no matter what planet you’re on. Keith likes kids well enough—more than most adults, actually—but he likes them one on one, not when they’ve been transformed into a stampede of rampaging wildebeests by sugar, cheap pizza, and sheer numbers.
Meanwhile, Keith’s new job comes with a 20% friends and family discount, an excuse to wear sunglasses indoors so he can avoid making eye contact with people, and the best view in town.
The only view in town worth looking at, really.
The facts are these:
- The Shades of Marmora sits directly across from Abercrombie and Fitch, which had to hire a new model for the summer seeing as their old one--Lotor--had vacated the continent for the summer to provide himself with a plausible-if-you-squint-really-damn-hard excuse for a British accent.
- Abercrombie and Fitch’s new model is six foot plus of well muscled beefcake and Keith wants to climb him like he’s the jungle gym at Vreparty Sal’s.
- No one should fill out a polo shirt that well, especially not one with a fucking moose embroidered on it.
Keith was so so close to beating his high score in Snake when the new model had walked outside the shop, tan and smiling and lethal, holding a stack of noxious perfume samples that clash with the smell of the Cinnabon three doors down in a way that’s both nauseating and disturbingly nostalgic in its familiarity.
Keith cannot stop staring. He can’t stop staring for so long that his almost record breaking game of Snake self destructs when his snake crashes into its own tail; when he can feel Kinkade from the Nokia cell phone cover kiosk staring at him; when his sunglasses slip down his nose and he ends up making eye contact with the dude he’s been shamefully oogling for the past ten minutes.
Said dude smiles, a cute flush cresting over the tips of his ears, and waves, a few of the tragic perfume samples fluttering free from the grip of his way too high tech prosthetic. Keith had been foolish enough to smell one of those samples before; it was like someone bottled despair. And then Lance had started wearing it and Keith’s days of forgetting what Fierce smelled like were a distant, sun drenched memory that included far less Lance.
Most of Keith’s best memories
As it stands, he’s deciding to fling his paycheck into the wind so he can buy a few bottles of despair just to stand a little closer to the guy handing out samples.
Keith is so fucked.
To say Keith’s new work mode is “distracted” would be an understatement—like six feet under.
Kolivan tells him to focus, then mutters under his breath that it’s lucky that they’re slow. Keith’s lost track of time entirely. He’d also lost track of one of the few sales he’d managed to make that day.
By the time Keith meets Pidge at the food court for lunch on one of the rare days that they’ve managed to coordinate their lunch breaks he’s grappling for some semblance of normalcy.
‘Those two, over by the Cinnabon.”
It’s a lanky guy with long hair and a girl who looks like she’s passably happy with her companion but merely humoring the existence of everyone else within a one hundred foot radius.
“Long term couple, came to the mall because they haven’t been out on a date in a while. Deeply regretting not just staying home and getting stoned in their apartment instead.”
“What about those assholes over there,” Keith says, inadvertently sealing his fate. Because he points at a swarm of people he thinks he’s seen around campus without realizing Hot Abercrombie Adonis is only a few feet away. And how in hell’s good name is he supposed to focus on people he couldn’t throw a flying fuck at when there’s an actual ab roller advertisement standing just a few feet away.
“Frat boys that someone decided to let out of their Zima lined cage for the day.”
“Earth to Keith?”
“Hi. Yes. I am here.”
Pidge looks at him from under an arched brow, “really? I’m having a hard time believing that. This is usually your strong suit.”
“No I was just...thinking about how move in day is in a few weeks,” he says. It’s a decent cover and he’s pretty proud of it, considering the circumstances.
Her eyes slide over to that corner of the cafeteria, and a deeply considering look flashes across, her face—one that Keith knows means trouble. But, uncharacteristically, she lets it go, checks her phone, and excuses herself to go back to work.
Keith’s just about to settle in for the quiet remainder of his lunch break when Lance sits down next to him. Because of course he does.
It’s just Keith’s luck that Lance is unusually perceptive—which is to say that he’s set aside his self involvement enough to have an average amount of interest in what’s going on around him.
“Dude, who are you staring at,” Lance says, twisting his neck to get a look.
“It’s definitely not no one. That’s not a no one look, that’s a someone look,” Lance says speculative.
“Wow Lance, I’m impressed, your questionable talents are wasted on the aeronautics department.”
“Thank you I— hey ,” Lance says. “I am a blessing to the aeronautics department and to the universe at large! You should be grateful they even let you in the door of the university with that hair.”
“Uh huh, sure,” Keith says. He’s already distracted.
“What are you looking at?” Lance says, turning with a full body twist. In the least subtle manner possible.
“Quit it, Lance!”
“Ohhh, Keith has a crush,” Lance sing songs. Keith regrets everything. But he can’t deny such a basic fact.
“Doesn’t he look...familiar?” Keith asks. But is sounds wrong as soon as he says it because if Keith had seen him before, that level of attractiveness would have a very lasting first impression.
“I don’t know, it took you a month of classes to remember my name, so your theory doesn’t check out.”
“I stand by it.”
Keith met Lance during their first week of classes when they’d gotten their first test in Introductory Physics back in freshman year and Lance had immediately declared himself Keith’s rival.
In reality he was more like the annoying little brother that Keith had never asked for and was desperately trying to get a refund on. Two years later and still no luck.
“Don’t worry man, ol’ Lancey Lance has got your back.”
“I can’t resist a friend in need,” Lance says because he’s an asshole.
Keith bangs his head against the table with a solid thud. This is exactly what he was afraid of.
“So. Tell me about the guy,” Pidge says, stealing a fry and the remnants of Keith’s dignity all in one go.
“What guy? Who said there was a guy?” Keith says.
“Hunk, Kinkade, that guy from Hot Topic who likes to pretend he’s a lot more hardcore than he is.”
“You’re going to have to be more specific, that describes literally every Hot Topic employee.”
“You know what you’re terrible at? Avoiding the questions. And also lying. Thankfully I know better than to approach this conversation without back up,” Pidge says, as Allura sits down at their table with a tray full of food from Orange Julius.
And that’s the moment when Keith learns what real terror is.
Allura, whose godfather Coran invented hairagami, also works at Abercrombie and Fitch. She wears her hairagami to work every day, elaborately twisting up her long white-blonde hair into shapes she promises anyone can replicate in the local public access infomercials that she stars in.
When she’d started working at Abercrombie and Fitch, she’d defended her right to wear her hairagami to the local manager so passionately that now they were petitioning A&F corporate to make it part of the dress code.
Keith wasn’t surprised to hear it. Allura is the top student in their college’s International Relations program so he also won’t be surprised if Allura’s the first UN ambassador to get their start in the dimly lit, bass thumping dressing rooms of A&F.
“The guy’s name is Takashi Shirogane, Shiro to his friends, and,” Allura gives him a gaze that reduces the remnants of his dignity to rubble, “potential love interests.”
Rizavi plunks down her tray next to Allura, “are we talking about Keith’s love life?”
“What the fuck.” How does everyone already know about this?
“I just sold fifteen tubes of blueberry scented body glitter and I need sustenance. And this sad food court chow mein isn’t going to cut it,” she says, prodding the food on her tray with disdain. “Only quality gosip will sustain me.”
“Do not tell her more, not if you want to use my discount on the sunglasses I saw you eyeing,” Keith says. It’s an empty threat and he knows it but it’s the only card he has.
“I have five hours left in my shift at GameStop and unless someone shows up with an actual robot, this is the most amusing thing that’s going to happen to me today. So. Even though Shiro is a family friend--”
“He’s a what ?”
“--I need details and lots of them.”
“Let’s go back to the part where he’s a family friend. I feel like you glossed over that.”
“Well,” Pidge says, far too thoughtfully for it to be honest. Keith can tell she’s savoring this, like the gremlin she not so secretly is, “he’s more Matt’s friend than a family friend, though I can say with 100% certainty that my dad would adopt him in a heartbeat if adopting a legal adult with their own apartment lease were an option. I’m pretty sure he’s looked into it.”
“You couldn’t have mentioned this a couple of weeks ago?”
“That would have required you to admit you had feelings for him--or that you knew who he was at all. Your sunglasses only hide so much, Keith,” Pidge says, carelessly shattering his painstakingly built fortress of denial. He sees it crumbling down around him, brick by brick by brick.
“Just download a bunch of stuff on Limewire and make him a mix cd like the rest of us plebs,” Rizavi says. The rest of Keith’s disgraceful cohort nod along like she’s spoken some sort of prophecy.
Keith absolutely will not. Abs like that deserve better.
(If he goes home and downloads a bunch of college radio playlists on Limewire that night and ends up with a host of not-good-enough mixes in his garbage can, well, only him and his mom will know it.)
The lions, scuffed and scratched, covered in the initials of god know how many mall faring teenagers, sit just outside of the food court, waiting. Keith likes to head there at closing, when the dying rays of summer sun filter into the mall through the high glass windows that dot the upper edges of the walls.
Keith crams himself into the red lion, legs pretzled underneath as best he can manage.
He’s never seen a kid--or anyone else, for that matter--deign to use these. They feel like they’re meant for him and him alone. Sometimes Keith imagines a “you must be less than this tall to ride” sign and mentally gives it the middle finger. No one else ever uses them so anyone who complain about what little joy he finds in a red plastic lion can fuck right off. This is his rebellion, damn it. When you’re pretty sure your mom used to work black ops there’s only so much you can get away with.
And just like that, there’s motion out of the corner of his eye.
For the first time since--ever--he has company.
“Is this seat taken?”
The voice is smooth and silky, and when Keith looks up to see who it is he feels like he should have expected that it would be Hot Guy From Abercrombie.
“It’s a free country--or a free lion, I guess.”
A short, musical laugh and the jingle of change, “actually it’s a 25 cent per ride lion but with inflation the way it is..”
Keith’s head jerks up, “did you just make an economics joke?”
Hot Guy From Abercrombie flushes and it should not work as well as it does with his snow white hair but it does, oh it does .
“No. Definitely not. I’d never do that the first time talking to someone.”
Keith snorts, “glad to know that working here’s finally given me the hallucinations I always expected it would.”
There’s that laugh again and Keith is so gone.
“Glad I could confirm your hypothesis, then,” he says, folding his long legs into the lion. He doesn’t really fit but it’s more adorable than anything else.
“Keith! We gotta go,” Lance yells. There’s a host of people swarming now, the late movie just let out and Keith’s never been so pissed at a time table.
“Just a second--”
“No we gotta go now,
Keith scowls at him then turns to Hot Guy from Abercrombie with the best smile he can muster under the circumstances, “sorry. I’ll uh. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m Keith by the way.”
Hot Guy From Abercrombie smiles, “I heard. I’m--”
“Tomorrow! Tell me tomorrow!”
Keith decides to make Lance pay for ruining his chance in a multitude of ways: the first is eating a plate of garlic knots in front of him while making exaggerated noises of enjoyment. Well. Only slightly exaggerated.
[some other funny thing for the second one.]
The third is by using Lance’s natural charm—which is to say his terrible taste in everything —to engineer himself another chance. Lance has frosted tips, always pops his collar, and leaves an omnipresent cloud of Fierce by Abercrombie and Fitch in his wake.
He thinks it makes him smell sophisticated but really he just smells like someone mixed three different Pine-Sol scents together and added a dash of vanilla extract for variety.
Between those three tragic character flaws, Keith has two more sources of plausible deniability than he really needs to step foot in the cursed grounds of Abercrombie and Fitch. Lance has cornered several emerging markets of asshole and his particular brand of dorky-yet-douchey-dude-bro-chic seals the deal.
[conversation between Keith and Lance, Lance tries to get Keith to blend in but it’s just a lot of banter and insulting each other even though Lance takes pride in his work of making Keith over.
“Are you sure it’s a make over and not a make-under?” Keith says. He unties the cable knit sweater Lance had slung over his shoulders, runs his hand through the gel in his hair and turns on the sink. He’ll do his best to wipe the stench of Fierce from his skin before he steps foot in that store and puts himself at the mercy of prolonged, immersive exposure.
It’s like learning a foreign language via immersion except that it’s not spoken and the only thing you get a chance to do is destroy your sense of smell and sinuses in one fell swoop.
The store is strategically dim, to keep you from getting too close a look at the color and quality of the clothes on display. But it’s perfect to see the perfect, uniformly distressed texture of the piles and piles of pre-ripped jeans stacked and labelled by size up against the far wall.
“What was the point of coming in here to see Hot Model Guy if I can’t actually see anything ,” Keith says. Lance ignores him. Keith waves a hand in front of his face and either Lance is continuing to ignore him out of spite (very possible) or it’s so dark in here that he can’t even see Keith’s hand (equally possible but infinitely less probable).
“Going to Abercrombie and Fitch is an occasion in and of itself,” Lance says, holding up a sky blue polo shirt that probably has Fierce infused in every fiber.
“And you say I don’t have a life.”
“This is sage wisdom I’m passing down here, don’t forget it.”
“Consider it already forgotten.”
“Goo— hey .”
“It’s the truth.”
“ Hey ,” Lance says with a weird tone and an eyebrow wiggle that Keith immediately banishes to the far realms of his memory.
[Shiro is just chilling there, being the disaster he is, allura gave him a pep talk.]
“Please never do that again,” Keith says.
“Hey,” says someone behind him.
Keith turns and god he regrets bringing Lance with him. Or asking him for advice. Or anything, really.
Keith’s been so laser focused on Abercrombie that he’d managed to forget this mall also has a Hollister, which is like Abercrombie’s cousin who lives 30 minutes from the beach and never lets anyone forget it.
They’re also weirdly competitive with the Abercrombie employees.
Case in point: Keith’s it-never-happened ex-sloppy drunken hookup buddy James Griffin.
Shiro is shirtless. Shiro is shirtless and across from the Shades of Marmora. Shiro is shirtless and across from the Shades of Marmora and it’s very cold in the mall and Keith has to strain his eyes a little behind his sunglasses but even from this distance he’s sure Shiro’s nipples are hard and there’s no way that this is allowed.
“Earth to Keith,” Matt says, a shit eating grin stretched across his face.
Of course he’s here to bear witness to one of Keith’s worst moments because Matt is a genius when it comes to both technology and chaos.
Kolivan’s started spending more time at Antok’s studio and Keith charitably thinks it’s because he’s done such a great job managing it in his absence, but most likely it’s because Kolivan wants to limit his exposure for the pining disaster that he’s at least partially responsible for.
“The silent treatment won’t get you anywhere Keith,” Lance says and damn it if Keith doesn’t know he’s right. Lance can talk enough for himself, Keith, and their entire friend group. For an entire year. And that’s just if he’s in a particularly introverted mood.
Sitting with Shiro and Matt and Pidge is fun and easy and warm. It’s also a war zone, as most things are when you have two Holts in one place.
“He was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious?”
“Wow I can’t believe Avril Lavigne is using her platform to teach people about enforced heteronormativity.”
“Please, Keith. Don’t become one of those people who take one semester of gender studies and then make every conversation about heteronormativity. We may be liberal arts assholes but we don’t have to be those liberal arts assholes. We can have enough self awareness to only bring it up when it’s conversationally relevant.”
“Hey, that shit’s important,” Matt says.
Pidge nods, “It is, but you’re just mad because I’m calling first year Matt out.”
“I’ll do whatever I want,” Pidge says. They all know it’s true.
“I can’t believe my younger sister is doing this to me.”
“Well I’m second generation, so mom and dad worked out all of the programming errors.”
“If anyone’s the skaterboy in this relationship it’s me.”
Shiro goes bright red, “r-relationship?”
“It’s true, just look at the rips in his jeans.”
“You know like...friendship, that’s what I meant,” Keith covers, poorly. He might as well have said spaceship for all that anyone at this table believes him.
“Oh, right, of course.”
“And at least my jeans are ripped naturally.”
“Oh, yeah, you’re 100% organic.”
“Maybe you should have worked at Greening the Cube instead of Shades of Marmora.”
Shiro’s life ends on a Tuesday in August. He knows the exact date and time because Matt is an asshole who marked it on his calendar and there were a ton of witnesses, including his time card.
The setting: an overly air conditioned mall corridor.
The players: Shiro, his dignity, at least 300 pairs of sunglasses, a pun he’s not entirely sure he understands, and the most beautiful man he’s ever seen.
Shiro only took this job as a favor to Allura and to make a dent in whatever medical bills the VA won’t cover. Which is a fair amount.
Hunk in the discovery store
Leif in spencers
- lance’s crush is going homecoming dress shopping and he’s trapped at work. then. THE PARTY COMES TO HIM. (Pidge and Hunk eat Cinnabon on their break and watch from outside.)
- Shiro “browses” shades for 15 minutes. Keith dies when his boss Antok asks why Keith didn’t introduce him to his bf.
- Shiro’s homecoming date status: unknown.
- Pidge works at Radio Shack for the discount
- Pidge is constitutionally against homecoming
- Shiro’s just broken up with his unambitious longterm bf. Does he even want to go on a dance?
- Allura is homecoming queen.
- Hunk plays a pivotal role somehow, possibly by deterring Lance from fully quoting a Bloodhound Gang song.