Keith flits through the computer at his work desk. He doesn’t have anything in particular he’s searching for, but he’s hoping that standing at the computer will make him look busy enough that customers will choose to not bother him. It’s afternoon during a weekday and the living rooms department is quiet. The huge air conditioners chug away in an effort to cool the entire store. They are barely succeeding. It’s beginning to sweat where his hair touches his neck, and Keith hates to imagine how wet his socks are going to be after this shift. He needs a break. Badly. But he’s only just taken one. He sighs and wanders over to a couch they have on sale, pretending to fluff its cushions. It also happens to be right under an air vent.
“No, no, my pleasure.”
An unfamiliar voice rings out. It’s low and pleasant, with that air of retail professionalism Keith recognizes. His ears prick up, trying to identify who it is.
“Toilets are just next to the restaurant on your left.” The helpful voice guides again. Keith’s brows scrunch. He’s worked at the store for three years now and is familiar with everyone who works on his floor, yet he can’t place this voice. Curiosity gets the better of him. He stops his half hearted couch cushion fluffing and walks around the corner. He sees the host desk at the store’s entrance, and the young man working at it, greeting customers and directing them as they enter the large labyrinth of departments. He looks no older then Keith, but he’s taller… slimmer. His broad shoulders fill out his uniform nicely, and his tan skin makes his new work shirt look an even brighter yellow. Keith would definitely remember meeting him.
“Yes,” The boy turns a dazzling smile onto the new customer. It’s an older woman with a shaky grip on her cane.
“I’m looking for shoe horns. Is there a short way there?” She asks.
“Of course,” The boy chuckles. “Shoe horns are in the laundry department downstairs. You can get there faster if you take the stairs down from the restaurant and then take the shortcut on the right hand side in linens.”
Keith’s eyebrows shoot up. This should be a new guy, but his knowledge of the store is way too good. Shoe horns are a niche product, how the hell does he know where those are already? And he explains the shortcuts like he’s walked them a million times.
“Delivery can be organized with the deliveries desk on the left hand side of the checkouts.” The stranger explains to another customer.
“Prices start at $59, but for most suburbs the price will be $89.”
Not even Keith knows that. He always has to check the prices on the website when a customer asks about delivery. He stares in disbelief at the boy in front of him. Had they just never met? Was he some kind of furniture/homewares retail genius? Maybe he’s transferred from a department downstairs?
Someone Keith does recognize ascends the stairs. His face is weary, and he walks by Keith with heavy footsteps. Keith snaps his hand out.
“Shiro!” Without taking his eyes off the host, he grabs Shiro by the forearm. Shiro jumps a bit.
“Him. Who is he?” Keith nods in the direction of the stranger. Shiro turns his exhausted head. His eyes light up when he realizes who his brother is talking about.
“Oh, Lance.” He smiles.
“Lance. He’s transferred from the store down south. He’s moved for university and wanted to work closer. He’s Hunk and Pidge’s friend. They’ve mentioned him.”
“They have?” Keith relaxes and crosses his arms. He has no recollection of anyone called Lance.
“What department is he in?” He asks. Shiro’s smile widens.
“Yours.” He chuckles. “He’ll be hosting mostly. We were told that’s what his position was at the other store, and his manager said he was pretty decent at it.”
“Pretty decent.” Keith exhales. That seemed like underwhelming praise for someone who was clearly great at their job.
“He’s living with Hunk too, so you’re probably gonna see a lot of him.” Shiro leans back and sinks his hands into his pockets. Keith hums with acknowledgement. He continues to watch …. Lance. How he easily strikes up conversations with customers and walks away leaving them smiling. Keith misses the mischievous smirk that Shiro wears as he leans in close.
“… He’s cute, right?” He whispers. Keith jumps back like he’s been electrocuted.
“Stop.” He hisses. Shiro’s loud laughter is beginning to draw attention.
“Just go home already! Your shift ended an hour ago!”
“Alright, alright, I was just on my way to clock out.”
“Just on your way to harass me.” Keith pouts.
“Meeee? Harass my sweet baby brother!” Shiro fakes like he’s scandalized. He wears a shit eating grin and jogs off. Keith makes a mental note to put extra jalapenos in his dinner.
“Uh, I’m not 100% sure. Let me help you find someone who would know.”
Keith is pulled out of his glowering by the sound of Lance’s voice coming closer. He turns to see him approaching fast, a young couple close on his heels. Lance makes an effort to reach Keith before they do.
“You work living rooms?” He asks quietly. Keith nods.
“Oh thank god.” He mumbles before turning to address the couple. “I’ll leave you with my good friend…” His eyes dart to the nametag on Keith’s lanyard. “Keith! He’s the expert on these kinds of things.”
Lance begins to walk away. Keith barely has a chance to register what is happening before the couple is hammering him with complicated questions. Something about sofa beds and different mattresses and replaceable covers. He has to blink several times before their questions all sink in.
Keith is standing at the computer again after assisting the young couple, an elderly woman in need of an armchair, and a university student wanting to know if any items were going on sale soon. He stares at the screen and breathes a sigh of relief that he’ll be able to take his last break soon. Just 30 more minutes.
He jumps. His head whips around to see Lance standing next to him.
“I’m sorry about earlier. Sometimes customers just ask really specific questions that I can’t answer properly. Were they ok?”
“Oh… uh…” Keith breathes. He has cute ears… what? He shakes his head.
“Yeah, yeah, they were fine. No problem.”
“Ah good. They seemed like they could be high maintenance.” Lance smiles. Keith notices he has very white teeth.
“I’m Lance by the way.” He sticks out his hand. Keith hesitantly takes it. It’s warm and he has long fingers.
“I’ll be working in here from now on…. Well when I’m not hosting I mean.” He laughs. “I hope you can show me the ropes.”
“You seem to have a pretty good grip on things.”
“Eh,” Lance shrugs. “But I don’t know our full range, or who to call if…”
“Sorry,” A customer forces their way into their conversation. They look sweaty and frustrated. They huff with irritation.
“Just how do I get out of this place?”
“Go that way.” Keith tersely answers. He points down the main path, but offers no other guidance. The customer stomps off. Lance quirks an eyebrow.
“You uh… you ok?” He asks.
“Yeah, why?” Keith looks at him with innocent confusion.
“You don’t…” Think that was rude? Lance wants to finish, but this is his first day. He really shouldn’t pick fights with his coworkers.
“Do you like working here?” He changes direction. Keith shrugs.
“It’s alright. I like the people I work with. I’m not too good with customers though.”
“Really,” Lance laughs a bit. He tries not to sound too patronizing. “How’d you get the job then?”
“My older brother helped. He’s a manager sooooo….” Keith nervously scratches his arm “Nepotism I guess?”
“Brutally honest.” Lance shakes his head. “Remind me to not piss you off. I feel like you could seriously hurt my feelings.”
“I’m kidding.” Lance grins and the panic bubbling in Keith’s chest subsides. He turns back to his emails. Something about flooding in the staff parking lot.
“Who’s your brother then?”
“Your brother. The one who works here?” Lance leans on the desk. Too close.
“Shiro!” Lance exclaims. He pushes back and beams.
“Aw man, you’re Shiro’s brother? He was at my interview! I had to build a desk with him. Dude moves like a machine, it was crazy. I’ve never seen someone move an allen key like that. He seemed really cool.” Lance fawns. Keith exhales. He’s used to this reaction, but it doesn’t stop hurting just a bit. Shiro is charming, extroverted and talented in every way. Keith is… reclusive and finds it difficult just to make friends. He loves his brother, but did he just have to be so damn perfect?
“Yeah uh… he’s really something.”
“I’m sure he gets jealous of you.”
Keith’s eyes widen. Now that’s a new reaction.
“Seems like you beat him in the genetic lottery.” Lance smiles coyly. Keith stares like a dead fish.
“Ah damn, people are at my desk.” Lance peeks at the line starting to form at his work station.
“I’ll catch you around, Keith.” He waggles some finger guns and jogs back to his station. Keith’s eyes narrow.
… did he just call me hot?
Keith’s next break arrives mercifully soon. He sits in the coworker restaurant with a slice of carrot cake and a tall glass of cold water. He’s flicking through his phone when Lance enters the break area. He doesn’t notice Keith. He quietly walks up to the door that leads to the kitchen and knocks on it. He shuffles impatiently until a dish washer shows up, drying her hands on a towel.
“Is Hunk around?”
The girl looks confused, but nods all the same. She slips behind the door. The next person to open the door is Hunk, his chef jacket covered in grease and marinara sauce. He wipes his hands on his apron. A huge smile erupts on his face when he sees Lance.
“Hey! Happy first day!”
“Ah thanks, can you come on break yet?” Lance looks at his friend hopefully.
“Oh yeah, hang on.” Hunk steps into the kitchen.
“Hey Coran! I’m going on my last break if that’s ok!”
“Righto!” His manager answers.
Hunk begins to step into the break area when Lance places his hand on his chest.
“Whoa whoa, hold up.” He drops his voice. “Smuggle me some princess cake. I know we’re not out.”
“Jeez, Lance. I could get in…”
But Lance turns the puppy dog eyes on him. He presses his hands together pleadingly.
“Ah jeeez,” Hunk knows he’s lost. He disappears back into the kitchen. When he reemerges he looks around to make sure no one is watching him, and pulls out a small plate with a pink frosted cake on it.
“I’m not doing this all the time.” He warns.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, just hand that baby over.” Lance enthusiastically takes the plate and picks up a fork. Hunk starts to untie and pull off his apron. He scans the room for a place to sit. He spies Keith huddled in the corner, trying to ignore the chatter around him with his nose buried in his phone. Hunk smiles.
“Keith,” He begins to walk over. Lance is on his heels, but hesitates when he sees where they are headed. Keith looks up in surprise.
“Can we sit here?” Hunk throws his apron over a chair. Keith wordlessly nods. He pulls himself up so he isn’t slouched over his chair as much. Hunk pushes out a chair for his friend, but Lance pauses.
“You guys know each other?”
Hunk’s eyes flit between Lance and Keith.
“Oh! You’ve met already.” He laughs. “Yeah, yeah, Keith and I go to school together. We take the same physics and maths classes.”
“Oh…ok.” Lance sits. “You must be pretty smart then.” He smirks.
“Not as good as Hunk.” Keith clarifies.
“Smarter then me though.” Lance mumbles.
“What was tha…?” But Keith drops his question when he sees Shiro walk in. He shuffles over to the lunch bar and pulls out a ready made sandwich. He turns over his shoulder to meet Keith’s disappointed glare.
“You said you were going home! You’ve been here since 5am!” He chides. Shiro deflates when he sits down next to him.
“I know, I know.”
“You said you were all done.”
“And yet… here I am.”
“Shiro…” Keith shakes his head. He chews on his bottom lip.
“I’m leaving soon. I promise.” Shiro bumps him with his shoulder.
“You better.” Keith glowers.
Shiro looks up from his sandwich to see Lance is watching him.
“Ah! Lance! Welcome aboard. I see you’ve met my overbearing little brother.”
Lance tries to hide his smile. Keith pouts.
“Yes, we’ve met.”
“How’s your first day treating you?”
“Pretty good. It feels like business as usual. Just a slightly different…”
Lance jumps at the interruption. A tall girl bursts into the break room. Her fair hair is pulled into a messy bun on top of her head, and her blue eyes are striking against her dark skin. Her elegant face is pulled into a grimace. She throws her water bottle down on the table and flops next to Shiro.
“I just had a customer try to return a product we haven’t stocked in five years. Five years! And when I explained that all of our products had a one year limit on returns, not to mention we didn’t even supply his product anymore, he just kept screaming that it was only a few months ago. That there was noooo waaay it could have been five years ago. I asked if he had a receipt, which of course he didn’t because it was five years ago! But then, amazingly, I was able to search his credit card in our system and pull up his purchase history, and OH SHIT GUESS WHAT?! He absolutely did buy that product not five, but SIX years ago. I didn’t even work here then!” The woman takes a big gulp from her water bottle then slams it down again. Shiro chews his food unfazed.
“I showed him and he threw a fit. Said he wanted to see the store manager and demand we refund his money. I told him it was her day off.”
“Is it?” Hunk wonders.
“Of course not. But I wasn’t going to enable that guy anymore. He yelled at me about how awful I was and said he would never shop here again. I thought I was gonna have to call security on him!”
The girl places her head in her hands. The group at the table is quiet.
“That guy must have some nerves of steel to look at a woman as beautiful as you and still feel angry.” Lance leans forward and practically purrs. Allura looks up in cautious disgust. Lance’s smile falters. He realizes Keith and Hunk are both looking at him with wide eyes.
“She’s the customer relations manager, dude.” Hunk whispers, but everyone hears.
“Oh, manager!” Lance’s confident façade shatters. He pedals back hard. “Sorry I…. yikes.” He slumps.
“She’s also my girlfriend.” Shiro smiles lazily in between bites. Lance swallows.
Hunk rolls his eyes and claps his friend on the back.
“Allura, this idiot is my best friend, Lance. Lance, this is Allura. She deserves your respect and admiration.”
“I didn’t mean to… I’m sorry about…”
“It’s fine. Really.” Allura smiles good naturedly.
Something resembling disappointment flutters in Keith’s stomach.
Thankfully the tension is broken when Lance spies someone he recognizes enters the break room. Her steps are heavy and her hair is matted with sweat around her neck and temples. Her glasses sit askew in front of tired, half lidded eyes. She fills a mug with one, two, three shots of espresso.
“Here comes trouble,” Lance chuckles under his breath. Pidge turns over her shoulder to see the group crowded around the table in the corner. She smiles lazily when she sees Lance.
“Happy first day.” She holds out her fist and Lance bumps it with his. She takes a huge gulp of her coffee. Unsweetened. No milk. Still scalding. Lance shudders.
“Rough day?” He asks.
“Rough life.” Is her grim reply. She pulls up a seat. “Where they got you working?”
“Hosting. And living rooms.”
Pidge’s eyes sparkle menacingly. She goes from a living corpse to wildly alive and dangerous in 0.5 seconds. She throws her mug down.
“Living rooms! Living rooms!! Are you fucking…! No! No! I’ve been asking for more staff for months! I have twice the workload, I’m the last department so I have to deal with all the customers YOU GUYS have fucked up, I’ve got at least two pages of incoming stock to set up for every day, AND this is third time this week I’ve had a sick call and have ended up doing everything by myself!” She throws her arms into the air, as if pleading god to smite her down.
“This is absolute bullshit! Living rooms already has three full time workers, and at least four part timers. They don’t even need…!” Her glare gets turned on Shiro. “You’re a manager! Weren’t you at his interview?! Why didn’t you assign him downstairs?!”
“Hey, hey, whoa Pidge…” Shiro holds his hands up in a placating gesture. “I’m logistics, not sales. I have no control over where the sales managers assign people.” He explains. “Besides, living rooms lost a coworker last month and had been struggling to look after the department properly.”
“That’s because upstairs coworkers are shit and weak. The fact Keith hasn’t been fired yet is the purest example of that!”
“Now, hold on there…”
“What the fuck, Pidge…”
A chorus of her friends calling her out knocks Pidge to her senses. All animosity seems to melt from her body.
“I’m sorry, Keith. I didn’t mean…”
“It’s ok.” Keith mumbles.
“No, no, I know you work hard. I’m sorry. I’ve just been doing 10 hour shifts every day, and it’s been six days since my last day off…” She slumps forward. “I feel like I’m going crazy. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”
“It’s ok.” Keith repeats, a bit gentler this time.
The group is quiet and a heavy silence settles in. Lance hates silence.
“Is this what I’ll eventually become?” He points at Pidge’s depressed, sweaty frame. She laughs darkly.
A phone rings. Everyone’s hands fly to their pockets. They all breathe a sigh of relief when they realise their phone is not the one ringing. Pidge doesn’t even reach for hers.
“I’m on break. Fuck ‘em.” She says into her coffee. Lance groans.
“Ah man, it’s me.” He answers it.
“Host and living rooms, this is Lance…. Uh huh… yup… ah… I’m on break so… no Keith is with me… Yeah ok I’ll check for you. Hold on.”
Lance takes the phone away from his ear and groans.
“I gotta go guys.” He shovels the rest of his cake into his mouth. “See you at home, big guy.” He stands and ruffles Hunk’s hair.
“Catch ya later.” He waves to the rest of the group and jogs off. Keith watches his back as he exits.
He pulls out his mobile and flips through facebook again when someone coughs. His eyes look up.
“Soooooo, Keith~” Hunk starts. “What do you think of Lance?”
Keith’s eyes narrow suspiciously. He shrugs.
“Seems nice. Good with customers.”
“You haven’t been mean to him yet?” Hunk raises his eyebrows.
“What? No!” Keith barks. “Why would I…
“Don’t be mean to him, Keith.” He points a large index finger into Keith’s space. “He’s my best friend. You’re a friend too, but he’s more sensitive than you.”
“What the hell…?” Keith pulls away from Hunk’s finger. “Why on Earth would I be mean to him? I like Lance! Well… from what I’ve seen anyway.”
“Augh I dunno,” Hunk sighs. “I just worry you two will clash. You have pretty opposite personalities. Like Lance likes Pitbull unironically, and bad Sylvester Stallone movies, and expensive skin care products…”
“Hunk, it’s really fine. We get along fine.”
“Sorry, sorry I’m just nervous.” Hunk runs a hand through his long bangs. “I just want my buds to get along!”
Keith smiles quietly at his friends passionate display.
“Hey, Keith…” Pidge smirks into her coffee. “You know what else Lance likes?”
Keith takes a sip of his water. He makes a questioning noise.
Keith doesn’t stop coughing for five minutes.
Keith’s next shift is a stressful one. It’s the day before their big sale, and he has to hang up all the signage and replace price tags with the new slashed prices. It wouldn’t be that bad, except for the fact that he’s only allowed to start putting signs up an hour before close. They’ve had a sick call. He’s alone and closing time is fast approaching. He’ll have to call Shiro and tell him he won’t be making dinner. At this rate he’ll be at work until 11pm.
“Good evening, this is a customer announcement. Our store is now closed…” A voice over the loud speaker rings out.
“Shit,” Keith hisses. He’s high on a ladder struggling to hang his fifth sales banner. He still has 15 to go. His fingers tremble as he manages to tie the signs loops over the beams that cross over the ceiling.
“Goodnight, Keith!” Lance peeks in from the start of the department with a wave.
“Uh yeah, night!” Keith’s voice trembles as he strains to hang the sign straight. Lance glances curiously at Keith on the ladder. His eyes pan around the department for signs of anyone else helping to set up the sale. He swears he remembers at least two other people were supposed to be here.
“You alone, man?” Lance quietly walks over to the ladder. Keith sighs as he finally manages to finish tying the sign.
“Yeah. We had some sick calls.” He begins to descend. He’s already thinking about where the sixth sign is supposed to go.
“You’re setting up sale all by yourself?!” Lance guffaws. He’s set up for enough sales at his old store to know it’s a monumental task.
“Looks like it.” Keith sighs. He looks through his pile of signs and pulls out the next one to hang. It’s one for a sofa bed in the corner. This one will be particularly hard to hang.
Lance begins to rummage through the signs and pulls one out for a product he recognizes.
“This one’s gonna hang on eight loops, right?” He asks as he begins to cut the loop line that is used to hang the signs.
“What? What are you…?”
“I’m helping you out. There’s no way I’m leaving you here to do all this. And managers will have a fit tomorrow morning if it’s not all up.”
“No, Lance. You’re supposed to go home now.”
Lance smiles and shrugs.
“It’s fine. I need the extra money. Now it’s eight loops, yeah?”
Keith sighs. Maybe this set up won’t be so painful after all.
They work out a system. Because Lance is taller, and struggles less to toss the loops over the ceiling beams, he stands on the ladder whilst Keith prepares and hands him the sign from below. Keith soon discovers that Lance is actually pretty good at this, and teaches him a few tricks that make hanging the banners easier.
“So apart from this incredibly interesting evening, how has the rest of your day been?” Lance smiles down at Keith as he’s handed another banner. Keith grips onto the ladder to keep it steady.
“This whole day’s been pretty… less than average.” He grumbles quietly.
“Get any mean customers?” Lance chuckles.
“Yeah.” Keith sighs. Lance stops laughing. He looks down to see the concerned look on Keith’s face.
“Had some guy call me useless and threaten to complain about me.”
“Whoa, you ok?” Lance leans against the ladder. He contemplates coming down and comforting Keith properly.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m used to it.”
“This has happened before?” Lance balks.
“I told you I wasn’t good with customers.” Keith smirks and meets Lance’s gaze. Lance shakes his head.
“You seem plenty nice to me. I’m sure they’re just jerks. That whole ‘the customer is always right?’ thing?” Lance stretches up to finish looping the lines for the 11th banner. They’re slowly making progress.
“Absolute bullshit. Customer’s are idiots.” He bites. Keith laughs.
“It’s odd to hear you say that.”
“You gotta treat them like children.” Lance hops off the last step with a huff. He wipes his dusty hands on his navy pants, leaving marks on them. “So tell me, Keith…” He grabs the next sign to hang. “If customer service isn’t your thing, then what is?”
“What do you mean?” Keith pushes the ladder to the next location. Lance begins to climb it.
“What are you good at? What do you like to do when you aren’t sweating in this store?” Lance looks down and laughs. He leans easily, like the height barely fazes him.
“Uh…” Despite Keith being constantly told by his professors how talented he is in numerous areas, and winning enough academic and athletic competitions that he lost track long ago, he finds it difficult to talk about himself. His brain fizzles out. Lance would never care how proficient he was in chemistry, or that he was on the champion field hockey and soccer teams in high school. Those are boring facts to put on a resume. Keith didn’t know how Lance’s grades were, but he knew he had a large family, that he was crazy good at making sandcastles, and hated wearing shoes when he didn’t have to.
“Riding motorcycles.” Keith blurts. It’s something that only his closest friends know about.
“Oh yeah?” Lance perks up. “You just like riding them or…?”
“Yeah, I’m actually saving up to buy a touring motorcycle.” Keith smiles shyly to himself. “I wanna travel around the country when I graduate.”
Lance’s fingers pause their ministrations with the hanging loops. He looks down at Keith and nods encouragingly. This dream of Keith’s has surprised him.
“…That’s really fucking cool.”
“Yeah. I could never do something like that.” Lance shakes his head. “And you’re gonna do this all by yourself?”
“That was the plan?”
“Amazing. That’s so cool. I’d be terrified of dying in a ditch somewhere.” Lance laughs. The 12th sign is finished.
“What else?” He beams and hops down.
“I’m pretty good at rolling cold rolls.”
“Rolling what now?”
“You know, those rolls in like…. Vietnamese cooking. They’re filled with vermicelli and veggies and prawns… wrapped in rice paper?” Keith mimes rolling one in the air.
“Is it like rolling a burrito?”
“I dunno. I’ve never rolled a burrito.”
“Well I’m the king of rolling burritos.” 13th sign completed. “Tell you what, I’ll roll you a burrito and you roll me a cold roll and then we’ll swap and judge each other.”
“Sounds like a plan. I always look forward to burritos.”
“I don’t know anything about cold rolls, but in my experience, if a food is rolled it’s usually pretty damn good.”
“You eat a lot of rolled foods?” Keith smirks.
“I’m convinced that all cylinder food is a gift. Burritos, tamales, churros, cannolis, cannellonis… uh… that cookie dough that comes in a tube, Greek dolmas…”
“Yiros?” Keith offers.
“There you go. Now you’re catching on.” Lance laughs. 15th sign down.
“Fruit roll ups?” Keith hands him the next sign.
“Oh, a classic.” Lance smirks.
“The power of the rolled food is strong.” Lance whispers, as if it’s a religious statement.
“So you ride bikes and roll rice paper. What else have you got? I’m guessing you’re good at physics if you’re in Hunk’s classes.”
“I’m ok. Physics is one of my favorite subjects.”
“Neeeerd.” Lance teases. Keith rolls his eyes.
“What are you studying officially anyway?”
“Aerospace engineering.” Keith replies in a bored tone. Lance slowly turns his head. His mouth and eyes are wide. 17th sign down.
“Holy fuck dude.”
“What?” Keith shrugs.
“Oh I juess I’m ok.” Lance mocks Keith’s humble previous statement. “I know the aerospace program. I tried to get in to the aerospace program. You have to be a genius to get into there.” 19th sign down.
“Alright, this is depressing me. What else are you into?”
“Tae kwon do?” Keith offers. Lance snorts.
“What, cuz I’m Asian? What are you saying…?”
“No! No! Nonononono…” Lance holds his hands up. “Just like, you look… uh… athletic, like you’re clearly…” Lance’s eyes pan over Keith’s physique and he swears at himself. He’d be lying if he said he’d never looked at Keith’s arms, or leered at his slender waist in comparison to his shoulders.
“You… you look like an active person!” Lance settles on. His ears are glowing furiously. He curses under his breath.
“Okay??” Keith’s eyes narrow.
“That’s really cool though!” Lance tries to recover. With the final sign all tied up, he climbs down the ladder. He squats into a fighting stance…. Or at least an imitation of one.
“Think you could teach me some sweet moves?” He gently punches Keith’s bicep with a loose fist. Oh, that’s a solid bicep… stoooppp.
“I’d kill you.” Keith places his hands on his hips. He smiles at Lance’s goofy martial arts moves. All are accompanied by horrific sound effects.
“Try me, hot stuff.” Lance shuffles forward. “I’ve got legs for days, son. I could keep you at bay with these babies.” And he actually manages to execute a fairly impressive hitch kick.
“I’ve noticed.” Keith shakes his head. Lance stands up straight. A shit eating grin is on his face.
“You’ve been looking at my legs?” He grins. Keith freezes. Oh fuck. He’s let it slip. He has to distract Lance. Move on like he never heard him. This never happened!
“That was the last sign.” He nods at the bright yellow banner above their heads.
“Oh yeah! Guess it was. That actually went pretty quickly.” Lance smiles fondly. Something warms in Keith’s chest.
“Thanks, Lance. I really couldn’t have done this without you.” His voice is soft and far too sincere. Lance’s grin falters.
“No problem, man.” He ducks his head and smiles. “I like when we get to work together.”
Keith’s heart clenches.
With the sale fully up and running, Keith’s next shift is hectic. Long gone are the days where he can just stand by his computer and look busy. He’s constantly having to redo displays because customers keep trashing them, and his department is littered with products from elsewhere in the store. He’s shocked to find that a customer has abandoned a children’s high chair in the coffee table section. Why would a customer carry a high chair all the way from children’s…. just to neglect it here? Why carry it all that way? Keith learned long ago to not question people’s behaviour.
He’s printing out a pile of price tags when his phone rings for the eighth time that hour. He picks it up with an exasperated sigh.
“Living rooms, Keith speaking,”
“Hey, when’s your next break?” The cheerful voice on the other end asks.
“…Lance?” Keith’s face scrunches in confusion.
“Yeah, who else would it be?” Lance laughs.
“…Why do you need to know when my next break is? Do you need to go? Do you need me to get someone to cover you?” Keith rattles off all the explanations he can think of. There’s a disbelieving laugh on the other end of the phone.
“I’m asking because I wanna have lunch with you, you idiot.”
Keith freezes. No one’s ever deliberately gone on a break with him before. His hand grips the work phone tightly.
“Oh?” He squeaks.
“Yeah, I prefer eating with friends. Makes it feel like recess.”
Frrriiiieends???? Keith’s brain short circuits. Is that…? Well reasonably he could be Lance’s friend. They talked about classes and enjoyed each other’s company. But their interactions only ever took place at work. Did that count? Does this count?
“I was gonna go in an hour.” Keith breathes. He tries not to let his voice shake too much.
“Cool! I can wait til then. I’ll swing by your department when I’m ready to go.”
“C…cool.” He hangs up. He completely forgets to say goodbye.
True to his word, Lance arrives in an hour. They walk to the break room together, stand in line at the cafeteria and complain about the limited selection. Keith’s expression breaks into a shy smile when he sees one item that’s on offer. He gently nudges Lance in the side and points to a ricotta stuffed cannelloni.
“Cylinder food.” He whispers. Lance sniggers. He loads up his plate and they go sit at their usual table in the corner. Despite Lance asking Keith to go on break with him, he doesn’t force conversation or talk at his usual break neck speed. They sit in comfortable silence, flicking through their phones and munching on their subsidized lunches. Keith notices that Lance eats all the olives in his salad. He hates olives, so he happily moves his over to Lance’s plate. Lance makes something like a happy chirping noise and eats them greedily. Keith feels warm.
Allura enters the room and Keith sniggers to himself.
“You gonna hit on my brother’s girlfriend again?”
“Shut up,” Lance hisses. He smiles around his mouthful. Both of their eyes flick up when Allura approaches their table.
“Keith,” Her tone is serious. Keith’s stomach drops. All the warmth he previously felt fluttering around his chest vanishes and turns cold. Dread builds.
“Oh no…” He whispers.
Lance can see the fear on Keith’s face. His eyes dart between him and Allura. What could possibly make Keith look so distraught.
“Keith, I’m sorry, but I got another complaint about you today.” Allura speaks softly so only their table hears. Keith deflates. Lance stares in shock.
“I know you’re trying, but this is starting to be a problem.” Allura bites her lip. “You’re good at forecasting and building and merchandising, have you thought of maybe transferring to logistics with Shiro?”
“I can’t work those kinds of hours with school, Allura. You know that.” Keith pushes the food around on his plate. Lance feels guilt and sadness swell within him. It pushes him to rub his foot against Keith’s under the table. He eyes Keith’s hands. He thinks about reaching across the table and grabbing them. He thinks about holding them tight and kissing the back of his knuckles. Hold up.
Keith looks up and meets Lance’s worried expression. He presses his foot against Lance’s. A subtle brush that hopefully conveys “I’m ok.”. Lance purses his lips.
“Alright, I trust you’ll find a solution.” Allura is about to turn away when she finally notices Lance. Her body language picks up and she happily claps him on the shoulder.
“Oh, Lance! I’ve had lots of customers mention to me how wonderful you are! Keep up the good work.” She lightly jostles him. He smiles nervously. It hardly seems appropriate to do all this in front of Keith.
“Sorry,” He breathes when Allura leaves.
“What? No don’t be.” Keith shakes his head. “You deserve the praise.”
“Still…” Lance bites his lip.
When they return to their departments, Keith’s heart is no longer in his work. He wanders around listless. He feels like he’s at his wits end. He doesn’t know what he’s doing wrong. The customers ask him questions… he gives them the answer! So why are so many people unhappy with him? Why do so many customers scoff and walk away from him shaking their head? He doesn’t know what more he can give.
Unconsciously he’s wandered to the start of his department. He watches Lance man the hosting desk. A hostile couple approaches him. Keith swallows. He’d know that look anywhere.
“Excuse me!” The frustrated couple’s voices bark. Lance immediately comes out from behind the desk.
“We have been wandering around forever looking for one product, and you guys keep telling us it’s in different departments. First it was downstairs, now it’s upstairs! We’ve been here for over an hour now!”
“Ok, ok…” Lance, all business, moves behind his desk. His fingers fly over his keyboard in a flurry.
“What exactly was the product you were chasing?”
“Drawer liners. Just drawer liners to protect kitchen drawers!” The woman huffs in exasperation.
“Ok, are these them?” Lance moves his monitor so that the couple can see the picture he’s brought up.
“Yeah, that’s them.”
“Ok, so good news and bad news…” Lance smiles. He smiles wider and laughs when the couple groans.
“No, no, it’s not that bad. The bad news is that this is one of the trickiest products we carry. A lot of our coworkers think that they’re downstairs in pots and pans, just because that makes the most sense, but they’re actually up here in stove tops. It’s just horrible bad luck that you needed this particular product.” Lance sighs. “But the good news is that these are kept just two departments down in kitchens, in between stove tops and cutlery drawer sorters.”
“Are you sure?” The woman asks, skeptical of Lance’s answer.
“Yes, I swear to god.” Lance laughs. “This place is pretty much a giant rat trap, but I’ve learnt it well over the years.”
“Oh I know.” Lance laughs, and the couple seems to as well. Keith stares in confusion. Why… why were they laughing now?
“I once had a friend text me, it was three am. Three am! Just to ask if this store had fire exits. He was convinced that it was such a labyrinth that everyone would just perish if there was a fire.” Lance recounts his story with a chuckle.
“Are there?” The couple smirks.
“Yes! Yes, we have fire exits. You will know because in the event of a fire I will run towards it shrieking like a child.”
Lance and the couple all laugh. Keith chuckles a bit too. Wait a second, what wizardry was Lance pulling? Keith was sure this couple were about to scream in his face. Now they were joking around?
“Why did your friend ask at 3am?” The man asks.
“I honestly like to believe that he had been laying there in distress since midnight with this question just burning on his mind.” Lance shrugs. “Or maybe he was high. I dunno!”
They all laugh together again. Lance sighs.
“But anyway, those drawer liners will just be on your right in kitchens.”
“Excellent, thanks so much. Take care of your stoner friend.” The couple smirk and walk off with a wave.
“It’s not hard. You just give him some doritos.” Lance calls after them. They leave the department still chuckling.
Keith’s jaw is on the floor.
He stalks over to Lance with fire in his eyes.
“Oh hey KeithWhoa…” Lance steps back. Keith’s gaze is wild.
“HOW?!” He exclaims.
“H…how what?” Lance steps back again. “You okay, buddy?”
“How?!... w…with the customer and the anger… and then the laughing…and…?” Keith stammers all over the place. He runs his fingers through his hair desperately.
“Oh, those two?” Lance juts a thumb in the couples direction. “Ah no they were fine. Anyone would be mad at getting jerked around like that.”
Keith swallows. He stares in awe at this retail deity in front of him.
“Teach me how to do that.” He blurts.
“Teach me how to… I dunno… not be shit at this customer service thing.” Keith scratches his arm, suddenly embarrassed. “Teach me how to do what you do.”
“Keith, I don’t…” Lance makes an uncommitted noise. He scratches his jaw. “I don’t really know if I can teach that. Like it’s just something I do?”
Keith’s eyebrows crinkle. This. This is what he needs to fix his problem. He tries to switch tactics. Pleading?
“Please Lance, you have to. I don’t know what else to do.”
“I’m just not sure if I can explain it. I’ve never been good at articulating things.”
“You’d be great. You’re the best I’ve seen. If anyone can help me, it’s you.”
“I’m hardly worthy of your praise. I’ve seen lots of people manipulate customers better than me.”
…An idea strikes Keith. It seems ridiculous, but maybe…. Just maybe…
“Alright, I guess you’re just not up for the challenge.” He sighs. “If you don’t think you’re good enough…”
“Now hold on…”
“I could just go ask Pidge? She’s as good as you, right?”
“Pidge? That prickly leprechaun creature?” Lance guffaws.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure she’d be able to teach me as well as you could.”
“Are you crazy?! She could never hope to be on my level!” Lance shrieks. Keith tries not to smile.
“You think you’d be more suitable?” He asks innocently.
“Damn right I’d be. Buckle up buttercup, because your ass is about to get schooled.” Lance juts his finger into Keith’s chest. Keith grins victoriously.
Lance watches Keith intently over the next hour. He’s never really watched Keith interact with customers, so he isn’t sure what the problem could be. Keith did like to scowl a lot. Did they just think he had kind of a mean face?
“Excuse me, do you have any more of these?” A girl asks about a beaded cushion on display. Keith looks over his shoulder at the product.
“No.” He replies curtly, then leaves the girl when he notices someone knock over a bin. Lance laughs a bit to himself.
An older man approaches Keith and asks how much a chair is. Keith looks at the chair and notices that the price tag is clearly on its seat.
“The price tag is just there.” He points at it. The man squints in the direction Keith is pointing.
“It’s just on the chair. The big white tag.”
“Oh, ok.” And the man waddles over towards it. Lance frowns.
The final straw is when a woman inquires about a couple of couches. She is conflicted over which one to choose and has asked Keith to help her make a decision.
“My room has brown carpet, so do I take this brown couch? Or this black one?” She asks, flopping back on the brown couch.
“I think the black one is a bit more comfortable.” She muses to herself.
“So take that one.” Keith offers.
“Hmmm, you think?” The customer hums.
The woman waits for some kind of explanation, but receives none.
“I uh… I think I’ll ask my sister what she thinks.”
“Ok.” And Keith turns to go back to checking the stock levels. Lance sneaks up behind him.
“The hell was that?”
“Wah!” Keith jumps back. He rubs his ear that Lance’s breath had just tickled. “Don’t sneak up on me!”
“Sorry, sorry. But it’s good to see that you do have emotions at least.” Lance smirks. Keith squints, looking perplexed.
“You act like your soul has left your body. Like the customer could kill themselves in front of you and you wouldn’t give two shits.” Lance rubs his temples and laughs. He can’t believe what he has to work with here.
“What? She said the black one was more comfortable. It matches her floor, it’s more modern, she thinks it’s more comfortable, she should buy the black one.”
“So saaaaaayyyyy thaaaat!” Lance groans. “Use your words Keith! Remember what I told you the other night?” He squeezes Keith’s arm. Keith suddenly forgets everything that ever happened to him up until this point.
I was born, I work at this store, Lance works at this store, I thought his nose was cute, I liked that I could look at his butt when he was on the ladder…. We talked about bikes and food.
“Uh… fruit roll ups are a classic tube food?” Keith offers.
“Wha…? No, no, no, I said customers were idiots. They’re dumb toddlers whose hands need to be held and they need to be guided through every decision. Like sheep you have to shepherd them as they run around in a blind panic. They’d shit themselves if we didn’t have a million bathroom signs!” Lance notices a woman passing incredibly close. “Good afternoon,” He smiles until she’s walked past.
“Morons. The lot of them.” Lance continues his lecture. He starts to think about the things he does subconsciously. Manners he’s developed over years of working retail.
“You’ve gotta smile more, use lots of words. If you talk a lot then people feel like you’re really engaged. Ask questions, even if you think you know the answer. You have to explain the reasoning and justification behind decisions. If customers understand where you’re coming from, they become a lot more tolerant of policies. Always offer to do more work than you have to.”
Keith blinks several times. This deluge of advice washes over him.
“That’s too many things!” He sighs. “How am I supposed to remember all that?”
“It’s ok. I know it’s a lot.” He gently touches Keith’s forearm. Keith knows its supposed to relax him, but it just sends a thrum of electricity through his body. His breath stutters.
“I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
“McClain! Get your ass back to your desk!”
“Except right now.” Lance blanches at the sound of his manager’s voice from across the department. He drops Keith’s arm and scurries off with a wave.
“I have faith in you, Keith!”
An hour passes and the flood of customers has slowed enough that Lance feels he can abandon his post. With a devious smirk, Lance tip toes back into living rooms. He lights up when he sees that a customer has approached Keith. Perfect timing.
“Do you have any of these?” The girl points to a large clock with roman numeral numbers and an olive green border.
“No.” Keith replies curtly. Lance rolls his eyes. He approaches him from behind, and touches his arm so that he doesn’t startle him when he speaks.
“Why not?” Lance murmurs.
“We’ve sold out… I…I’m afraid.” Keith continues, listening to Lance’s cue.
“Oh! Ok…” The girl immediately brightens. “Ah man, I drove all this way just for it.” She pouts.
“Are we gonna get it back in?” Lance prompts again.
“I uh… I could see when we’re going to get new stock in… if you’d like?” Keith anxiously asks. The girl smiles and nods.
Keith guides her over to his computer and punches in the product’s code. He navigates the mess of numbers and figures that are brought up and expertly interprets them.
“It says that we should have another delivery arriving Tuesday, so if you come in on Tuesday or Wednesday we should definitely have them. It looks like it’s not a high turnover item, so we shouldn’t sell out right away.” Keith pauses. An idea strikes him. It sounds like something Lance would say.
“If uh… if you didn’t want something like this to happen again you can always check the product online and check stock there before you come all the way down?” He suggests. The girl smiles brightly.
“Ah, I didn’t know you could do that. That would definitely save me a lot of trouble. So Tuesday?”
“Tuesday.” Keith confirms.
“Alright, thanks…” The girl’s eyes find Keith’s nametag. “Keith. You’ve been very helpful.”
The girl leaves and adrenaline courses through Keith’s body. His cheeks are on fire. There’s two beats of silence.
“Alright, Keith!” Lance grabs hold of his shoulders and lightly shakes him. “That was great!”
Keith hides his face in his hands and groans a bit.
“Now was that so hard?”
“Yes!” Keith whines. Lance laughs and pulls his hands away from his blushing face.
“Hey man,” He holds his hand up for a high-five. “Good job.” He smiles easily. Keith feels a laugh bubble through his chest. He claps their hands together and their fingers seem to lace automatically. Lance gives him a reassuring squeeze.
“Thanks.” Keith quietly grins.
Keith stumbles into his home and welcomes the gust of cold air conditioning. It makes his sweaty skin feel cool and tacky. He wanders out to their living room and collapses on the couch. He thinks about maybe standing up and getting himself a big drink… but that can wait. He lays back to enjoy the cool and the quiet.
“Don’t get too comfortable there.” Shiro walks out. He’s buttoning a collared shirt and Keith notices that he’s wearing his nice jeans. The dark ones that make his legs look like they go for years.
“We’re going out.” He announces. Keith groans and buries his face in the couch cushions.
“Whyyyy?” He whines. “Just go without me.”
“You were specially asked for.” Shiro laughs. He walks over and hits his little brother in the butt several times. “C’mon bro. Let’s go. We’ve been invited to hang out at Hunk’s place.”
Keith peeks a curious eye at Shiro.
“Mmmmhmmm.” Shiro hums knowingly.
“Oh uh… Lance lives with Hunk right?” A slight blush rises on Keith’s cheeks.
“Uh huh.” Shiro leans down close to Keith’s ear. “So you better change and get hot already.” He teases. Keith shoves him away with a growl… even if he does spring off to his closet a bit faster then usual.
“Bruh…” Hunk implores. He’s walked out into their living area to see Lance wearing nothing but his underwear, whilst sitting on the couch playing video games.
“You knew what you signed up for when you agreed to live with me.” Lance smirks. Hunks laughs.
“Fair enough, but you need to get changed. People are coming over.”
“People?” Lance scoffs. “What Pidge? She’s seen my tighty-whities before. Her gay ass has comes to terms with it.”
The opening chest music plays from the tv and Lance gives a weak cheer.
“Alright, a heart piece.” He goes back to his game. Hunk sighs.
“Not just Pidge.” He smirks. “Shiro, Allura… Keeeeeeeeiiiith~”
“Fuck!” Lance slams down his controller and leaps off the couch.
“Why didn’t you warn me? There’s… there’s…” Lance’s voice goes quiet as he sprints into his room. He emerges in an impressive 30 seconds later in some shorts and a loose tank top. The arm holes are so large that the sides of his stomach and chest are clearly visible. He starts to run around the kitchen and living room, gathering things into his arms to dump in a closet.
“This whole place is a shrine to what a loser I am!” He spies a picture of Hunk and himself dressed up as characters from Aladdin stuck to their fridge. They have to be about 10 years old. Hunk looks cute in his purple vest and little red hat… Lance looks ridiculous in the aqua two piece and matted long, black, wig.
“Stuff like this!” Lance yanks the picture from the fridge. “I can’t let himI MEAN all of those guys see this.”
He tosses it into the linen closet along with his Goku figurines, questionable comics, and cute stuffed animals.
“Aw not Mitsy. Now she knows you’re ashamed of her.” Hunk whines as an old and well-loved stuffed Labrador gets tossed in.
“She’ll forgive me!” Lance shrieks.
They order pizza when everyone arrives. Lance eyes the closet he’s stored his shame in warily, but he manages to relax throughout the night. He lounges on the couch, munching on his pizza slice, chatting with the others. He claps his hands excitedly when Hunk offer to put Mario Kart on. He greedily rushes for a controller and notices Keith does as well.
“Oh, you up for this, Keith?” He sneers. Keith smirks back. A dark laugh sounds from his throat.
“I think I can handle it.”
“Alright, but consider yourself warned.” Lance elbows him in the side. His eyes do a quick once over of Keith. He looks different out of uniform and it’s not lost on Lance.
“Let’s go!” Keith cheers as the race starts.
“Shit,” Lance hisses. He had gotten distracted by Keith’s exposed collarbones. He punches the button on his wii-mote. Waluigi rushes forward.
“Ohoho, falling behind already?” Keith taunts.
“Pfft, just thought I’d give you a fair chance.” Lance breathes confidently. Sure enough, he knows the shortcuts, how to take the corners tight, and he catches up with Keith soon enough.
“Impressive.” Keith whispers. “But is it enough?” He smiles frighteningly. A green shell is launched and it amazingly hits Lance. His character goes tumbling.
“I’ve been playing Shiro, Mario Kart champion, my whole life!” Keith laughs loudly. “Step aside rookie.” He sighs.
A red shell appears. Keith’s eyes widen. He swerves as much as he wants, but its futile. It collides with him. Lance pulls coolly into first place.
“I don’t know about championships, but I’ve been battling the entire McClain clan for decades. You don’t get to be the number one McClain driver by accident.” Lance boasts. They round the final corner of their final lap. The finish line is in sight. Lance and Keith are neck and neck.
CRASH! A bomb takes both of them out centimeters away from the finish line. A player they’ve never noticed before screeches into first.
“GET WRECKED SCRUBS!” Pidge howls triumphantly.
Keith and Lance both groan. Lance takes a pathetic bite of his pizza and chews slowly.
“So besides these losers getting their asses handed to them, what was on the agenda tonight?” Pidge asks. Hunk hums with thought.
“I really just wanted to hang. We could watch a movie?”
“Nah, that’s no fun. I want to talk to you guys and I can’t do that if we’re all focused on a movie.” Shiro counters.
“What about a board game?” Allura asks.
“NO.” Pidge and Hunk immediately shut down. Allura blinks at them.
“There have been…” Hunk nervously wrings his hands.
“Incidents…” Pidge finishes. Allura looks at Shiro, who just nods, asking her to trust them.
“You guys wanna go out anywhere?” Lance stretches out on the sofa. His long, tan legs invade Keith’s space. Man…. They were awfully smooth looking.
“Like where?” Pidge asks. Lance just shrugs.
“Oh! Oh! There’s a karaoke bar just down the street. Lance and I were gonna try it out sometime, but it’s always more fun in a big group.” Hunk explains. Allura claps her hands together excitedly.
“Karaoke?! Like with a stage and…”
“No, no, you just get a room and you can buy drinks and food and they’ll bring it to you… it’s great!” Hunk explains.
“Oh that sounds fun!” Allura jumps up and down. “Will you come Shiro?” She clings to her boyfriend’s arm.
“I wanna try it!”
“Yeah, yeah. Sounds good. As long as I get to do Bon Jovi I’m happy.” He chuckles.
“Oh god, I’ve gotta see that.” Pidge is already pulling on her shoes. Lance is beaming and scrambling to find his house keys.
“Alright! It’s on!” He opens the front door and begins herding people out.
“C’mon, Keith! What are you waiting for?”
Keith swallows. The sweet release of death.
This is an awful idea. A terrible idea. Keith nervously sips his root beer float while Lance lounges with his arms outstretched on the back of the couch next to him. It would be so easy for Keith to lean into his chest. The exposed skin on Lance’s side practically begs him to come closer. Lance taps his toe to the beat of the song booming out of the Karaoke machine. Hunk and Pidge are belting out a particularly dramatic rendition of Aqua’s Barbie Girl. So far Keith has remained quiet and no one has noticed that he hasn’t sung anything yet. He laughs at Pidge’s over exaggerated valley-girl voice and Hunk’s deep taunts of “C’mon Barbie, Let’s go party”. Keith leans back and feels his head brush Lance’s arm. Lance doesn’t pull away. This is good. This is ok. If he can just stay tucked into Lance’s side for the rest of the night then that would be brilliant.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Pidge bows low when their song is over. Lance whoops and cheers for his friends.
“Me next! Me next!” Allura springs for the mic and begins to scroll through her song choices. Shiro smiles fondly at her enthusiasm.
“Ohhhhh I gotta pick this one! It’s Shiro’s favorite!” Allura laughs sarcastically.
“Oh god, what have you picked?” Shiro groans, but it starts to be drowned out by the disco beat and piano riff that starts to play.
“Oh no…” His eyes widen as he seems to recognize it.
“YOU CAN DANCE! YOU CAN JIII-IIIVE! HAVING THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE~” Allura points at Shiro with all of her feeling.
“Oh God! Why Abba?! Why must you do this to me Allura?” He whines and pulls his hands down his face, but he can’t hide the smile that has erupted there. Allura busts out some very dorky disco moves and tosses her hair out of her bun. She throws her hair tie at Shiro. Lance whistles.
“See that girl! Watch that scene! Dig in the dancing queen!” She continues to serenade. She’s doing a solid job, and would probably sound pretty damn good if she would stop prancing around Shiro.
“You’re a teaser you turn them on, leave ‘em burning and then you’re…” She hesitates. “Goooone.” She ruffles his hair and skips away. He splutters and tries to hide his blush.
“Gross.” Lance whispers to Keith, watching the two flirt shamelessly with each other.
“You don’t have to live with him.” Keith mumbles back. They both snigger.
Allura continues her song with vigour until the final note, where she collapses in Shiro’s lap, like she’s trying to seduce him for the very first time. Everyone claps and Shiro just rolls his eyes.
“Very nice. You’ve missed your calling.”
“I’ll remember you when I’m famous.” Allura winks. Shiro grabs the mic from her, and as he promised, selects Living on a Prayer from the list of songs.
Shiro doesn’t even have to look at the words on the screen. He knows every lyric, dip and key change like this is actually his song and Bon Jovi just borrowed it. Lance’s eyebrows shoot into his hairline. Shiro is actually… alarmingly good at this. Lance has to take a large gulp of his strawberry lemonade. Was it suddenly very warm in here?
“Jesus, did you know about this?” Lance asks Keith in disbelief.
“Sadly yes.” Keith grumbles. “My brother is perfect, did no one tell you?”
“Are you this good?”
“No, no. Not at all.” Keith flushes. “I’m nothing like Shiro.”
Lance’s eyes narrow.
“I think you’re selling yourself short.”
“I’m really not.”
“Well I’m about to know the truth because IT’S YOUR TURN BUDDY!”
Keith blanches as he realizes that Shiro has stopped singing. His song is playing it’s last chords and a mic is being forced into his hands. Like a child, Shiro is able to hoist him up and throw him into the spotlight.
“Nononononono…” Keith tries to run back to the couch. His brother catches him by his collar and drags him back.
“Oh yesyesyesyesyes.” Shiro parrots back.
“But I don’t even know which song to do? I barely listen to the radio!” Keith panics.
“Don’t worry, I got you bro.” Shiro hits enter on a song before Keith glances at it.
Heavy 80’s synth and bass begin to flood the room. Keith’s eyes widen. Shiro’s smile is maniacal.
“I know you know this song! I know you do! I hear you sing it in the bathroom all the time! I know you can!” Shiro squeezes his shoulders with a laugh and returns to the couch.
Shit…so this is really happening. Keith closes his eyes tightly. He grips the mic with two hands.
“You can do it!”
“Slay, bitch!” Keith glares at Pidge’s mocking encouragement.
“Kick Shiro’s ass!” Lance shouts. Keith glances nervously at the floor and opens his mouth.
“You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar… when I met you…” His voice is a bit quiet. Definitely hesitant and somewhat shaky, but he’s pleasant enough to listen to. Shiro whoops and hollers. Lance stares with a dumb smile on his face.
Keith laughs under his breath at his focus.
“Don’t… Don’t you want me? You know I can't believe it when I hear that you won't see me. Don't, don't you want me? You know I don't believe you when you say that you don't need me…” He begins his build to the chorus. He can’t swallow and his fingers are shaking horribly. Lance’s smile falters. He pushes himself off the couch, grabs the spare mic, and pushes himself into Keith’s space.
“Don't you want me, baby? Don't you want me, ohhhhh?!” He joins in and Keith falters at how good Lance sounds. At how strong his voice is, and how it moves over the notes like this is as easy as breathing. Keith imagines him singing to his siblings late at night, or around a fire with a guitar somewhere. Forget Shiro. Shiro was dog shit now. But lance… Lance made vibrations thrum up Keith’s spine. He looked down at him through dark lashes whilst crooning the words:
“Don't you want me, baby? Don't you want me, ohh?”
Lance intuitively takes the next verse. He picks up Keith’s hand and dances around him, playing his role of the young girl in the song.
“I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. That much is true.
But even then I knew I'd find a much better place… either with or without you…”
He playfully bats at Keith’s chest. Keith giggles. Honest to god, he giggles and bites his lip as Lance drapes his long arms over his shoulders.
“I still love yooouuuu~” He croons with a flashy smile. Keith looks up. His eyes are dark and his lips are wet.
“Don’t… Don’t you want me?” He starts again. Something throbs in Lance’s abdomen. Keith’s voice is stronger now. Lance has embarrassed himself enough for the both of them that Keith now feels at ease. He smiles and slips into the song just as Lance did. He places his hand on Lance’s lower back and pulls him close.
“You know I can't believe it when I hear that you won't see me…” He continues. Their foreheads are almost touching.
“Don’t…” Lance echoes back in a higher tone.
“Don’t you want me?”
“Don’t you want me?” Lance closes the gap between their foreheads and noses. He closes his eyes tightly as if he’s really begging. Keith forgets the words momentarily. Lance laughs and his breath hits Keith’s face.
“Don't you want me, baby? Don't you want me, ohh?” Lance intentionally harmonises with Keith. It rings sweetly in his ears, and for once, he secretly hopes that Shiro is recording all of this.
“Don't you want me, baby? Don't you want me, ohh?”
Lance grips the front of Keith’s shirt. Their noses brush.
“Don’t you want me baby?” Their voices ring out. The music fades. Lance’s lustful gaze clears. He steps back and claps Keith on the shoulder.
“Hell yeah! I knew you were selling yourself short!” He laughs.
“I’d say he definitely beat you, Shiro!” He claims.
“Oh, he’s gonna beat something later.” Pidge murmurs quietly. Hunk punches her in the arm. She winces, but doesn’t stop smirking.
“Okay, your turn.” Keith wheezes. He hands his mic to Lance.
“What? I sang, now it’s someone else’s turn.” He tries to rationalize.
“No way, Lance! That was Keith’s turn. You just crashed it! Now sing dammit!” Hunk orders.
“Maybe someone else would like to…”
“Sing! Sing! Sing!” Hunk starts to chant. Pidge and the others join in.
“SING! SING! SING!”
“Ah! Alright! Alright!” Lance stomps over to the tv screen. He pouts and flips through the songs until he comes across an artist that makes his eyes light up. He laughs to himself and hits play.
“Alright, this one goes out to Hunk who blasts these guys in his car whenever we go on long road trips to the beach.” Lance shoots a finger gun at his best friend, who has thrown his head back and is cackling at the sound of heavy guitars and banjos.
“You blast Mumford and Sons??” Pidge looks scandalized.
“They’re the best road-trip music, man. I don’t have to defend myself to you.” Hunk prods her in the chest with his finger. Keith barely notices their bickering. Lance starts to sing.
“Well I came home…Like a stone. And I fell heavy into your arms…” He sings sweetly. A soft gasp passes through Keith’s lips. Singing with Lance had been one thing, but he had been too nervous to truly appreciate many elements of Lance’s performance. He hadn’t noticed how Lance closes his eyes for whole phrases. He hadn’t noticed how all the meanings of the words seem to consume him, perfectly portraying the story of love and want that the lyrics tell. A touch of a smile is on his thin lips. His voice soars on the high notes, then plummets down as the guitars fade away, leaving only the sound of his voice to echo on the chorus.
“And I will wait, I will wait for you. And I will wait, I will wait for you.” He opens his eyes and his gaze meets Keith’s. His eyes are dark. Keith can’t look away.
“So break my step, And relent. You forgave and I won't forget.” Lance holds the mic with both hands. He sings into it like these words are a promise. His eyes are closed for the entire verse, but fly open as he moves into the chorus with gusto.
“And I will wait, I will wait for you. And I will wait, I will wait for you.” He repeats. He begins to dance around the room, pulling Pidge in a small circle. She laughs before she is tossed into her chair again.
“And I'll kneel down, wait for now. I'll kneel down, know my ground…” Lance winks at Keith who realizes that he hasn’t moved for a very long time. It feels like his heart stops. The guitars build and Lance whoops. He attacks the tremendous bridge and final chorus.
“Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow
'Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you”
The song ends to a cacophony of cheers and praises from the group. Lance laughs and graciously bows. He tosses his mic to Hunk, then flops on the couch next to Keith. He sighs.
“Is there anything you can’t do?” Keith breathes. He means for it to come off as kind of snarky, but instead his true awe seeps through. Lance smiles dopily.
“How’d you mean?” He chuckles.
“You were…” Keith looks at his feet. He bites his lip. “Really good, Lance.”
Lance sits up straighter. He knows he’s an alright singer, but hearing Keith compliment him feels… better. His eyes sparkle happily.
“Yeah,” Keith laughs. “Between this and how you handle customers…”
“Honestly, those two things?” Lance leans back on the couch. “That’s really it. Those are my only talents.”
“No I’m serious.” Lance’s smile falters. “That’s really it.” He shakes his head.
“You’re far more impressive then me. It’s a good thing we met at work, otherwise I may have hated you when we first met.”
Keith’s face scrunches in confusion. Lance leans in close. The bass line of Michael Jackson’s Rock with You has started to play, and Lance doesn’t want to broadcast his conversation.
“Hunk told me you were ranked second in his physics class, and not by a lot. He also told me that you set a record for the youngest person to receive your senior black belt at your martial arts club. That you beat Shiro’s record by a clear two years.” Lance pulls away and smirks. “That’s pretty impressive stuff. I’d never be able to do anything like that.”
“It’s really nothing.” Keith is thankful for his long hair. He’s hoping it’s covering some of the blush that’s creeping up to his ears and down his neck.
“Nothing? I’m sure if we went to school together I would have started some stupid rivalry with you.” Lance smirks. “God man, you’re smart, athletic, have cool interests, know all the words to some excellent 80’s dance tunes…”
“You’ve got the whole too-cool-for-you vibe going on, but you’ve been nothing but nice to me, you’re really cute, you’re good with numbers and the technical aspects of work which I can never understand…”
“Sorry, what?” Keith’s brain finally catches up with him. Did Lance just…?
“You’re good with numbers at work?” Lance answers.
“No…” Keith licks his lips. “Uh, th…the one… before that…”
Now it’s Lance’s turn to flush bright red. He was hoping Keith wouldn’t notice. It had just slipped out! His mouth had gotten away from him, as it usually did, and he had just blurted that Keith was cute. Not just cute. Really cute.
“Uh, uh well I said…” He clears his throat. It’s fine. This is fine. He can play this off like it’s nothing. He calls Hunk “Handsome man” all the time… why would this be weird?
“I said you were really cute. I mean…” He scratches his jaw and chuckles. “Like yeah, obviously. I bet you have people throwing themselves at you all day. Shiro! Don’t you think your little brother’s cute?!”
“Oh, the cutest.” Shiro replies with no hesitation. He stands up and hugs Keith from behind. He grabs his cheeks with his palms and squishes them, making Keith’s lips pucker.
“He’s just the sweetest and cutest tiny boy ever!” He coos. Keith pouts and shoves him off.
Shiro laughs. Lance sighs in relief. His slip up has been swept under the rug for the moment.
“Hey it’s getting late, we should really head home.” Pidge looks at her watch. Everyone nods in agreement.
“Sorry, can I just use your bathroom quickly?” Keith asks. They’ve gone back to Hunk and Lance’s just to gather up the things they left, before they all head home for the night.
“You and your tiny bladder.” Shiro shakes his head.
“Shut up.” Keith elbows him in the ribs.
“Oh yeah that’s fine. Just down the hall and on your right.” Lance directs. Keith jogs off.
Pidge has already left, but Shiro and Allura wait with Hunk and Lance in the living room.
“Is this taking a while?” Hunk asks. “Like I’m not super familiar with Keith’s bathroom habits, but this… this feels like it’s taking a while…right?”
Shiro sighs. “Yeah, yeah, he’s taking a while.”
Lance stands up. Maybe they had run out of toilet paper and Keith was now stranded, trapped in their bathroom with limited resources.
“I’ll go check on him.”
He walks down the hall and stops at the bathroom door. He brings the back of his hand against it to knock, but stops when the door falls open. No one is inside. Lance peeks in, just to make sure Keith isn’t hiding in the shower for some reason. But he isn’t there. Lance steps back.
Movement catches his eyes. The light is on in his bedroom. Hadn’t he turned that off?
Oh no… Fear builds in his gut. He had removed all the embarrassing memorabilia from the common areas BUT NOT HIS ROOM. No one was supposed to go in there! Why would he clean it?
“Whatareyoudoing?!” Lance kicks down his door. Keith squeals and almost drops the item he’s holding. Lance’s eyes immediately zone in on the metallic thing Keith has pressed to his chest. It’s a plastic trophy, painted gold so that it looks like an Oscar, with a plaque at the bottom that reads “World’s Best Brother”.
“S…sorry! I uh, I got disoriented about which door to go into, and I accidentally came in here, and I would have left! But then I saw the uh… Spike Spiegel there…”
Keith nervously points to the Cowboy Bebop figure on Lance’s dresser.
“And I thought it was cool. I have a big model of the bike from Akira in my room.” Keith crosses his arms in front of his chest.
“I wasn’t trying to snoop!” He says forcefully. Lance’s fear melts off of him. He shakes his head and gives Keith a fond smile.
“It’s fine. Really.” He slowly reaches out and takes the cheap trophy from Keith. “I’m just embarrassed that you’ve seen how lame I am now.”
“I already knew that.” Keith quips. Lance is taken aback, impressed with the zing of his joke. He laughs.
“Yeah well, if you wanna see some real trophies you should check out Hunk’s room. His place is covered in them.” Lance places the trophy back on his shelf. Or at least he tries to, before Keith’s hand nudges his out of the way and he takes the trophy again. His eyebrows knit together in concentration.
“Did your siblings give this to you?” He asks. A smile plays on his lips.
“Yeah, yeah, for my birthday.” Lance laughs at the memory. “They thought I’d probably had enough macaroni picture frames, so they compiled their pocket money and got me this.”
Keith hums. He holds the trophy tenderly in his calloused hands.
“This is a real trophy,” He quietly states.
“Oh no, I just meant that Hunk has ones for like science fairs and…”
“This is a real trophy, Lance.” Keith states. Lance is taken aback by the conviction in his eyes. Keith continues. His tone is gentle and barely above a whisper.
“You said before that I was selling myself short, well…” Keith has to tear his gaze away for this part.
“I think you’re the one selling themselves short.” He breathes. “You’re really special, Lance.”
Lance sucks in air. His chest blooms with warmth.
“You’re not just saying that?” Lance steps forward. His voice drops low. Keith looks up at him through his dark hair.
“Never. I’m a terrible liar.” Keith can’t help but lean forward. He’s pulled into Lance’s orbit so easily. With shaking fingers, he reaches out and touches Lance’s tank top.
“I like how you dress too.”
Lance slumps forwards and laughs airily.
“Thanks. It’s not too surfer-douchebag for you?”
“Nah. And didn’t you call me too-cool-for-school or something?” He smirks. Lance hums. He places his hands on Keith’s hips. One of his hands plays with the chain hanging against Keith’s outer thigh.
“You’ve got a fucking wallet chain, man. I can’t even be mad at how 2007 hot topic you are because you somehow manage to pull it off.”
Keith throws his head back and laughs. Lance grips harder to his hips.
“If you have fingerless gloves I don’t think we can be friends anymore, honestly.”
“I wear some when I ride my bike. Does that count?”
“That’s….” really hot. “I suppose that’s a good use for them.” Lance admits. Keith plays with the hem of Lance’s shirt. He looks up with dark eyes.
“Should I wear them to work?”
They’re only an inch apart.
“Oi Keith! I’ve got a 5am start! Let’s go!”
Shiro’s voice shatters the atmosphere. Lance and Keith’s hands fly off of each other. They step back.
“Sorry, I was meant to…”
“Sorry I got distracted…”
They both dissolve into hurried excuses. They realise they both sound ridiculous and start to laugh.
“I’ve gotta go.” Keith sighs.
“Yeah, better let your brother get to bed.” Lance crosses his arms.
Keith walks over to the door. He places his hand on the frame and smiles over his shoulder.
“I had a lot of fun tonight. Thanks for inviting me.”
“Well uh!” Lance stumbles forward. “If… we could hang out again sometime. Outside of work. If you wanted. Maybe just you and me if you don’t like big social things.” He scratches the back of his neck. Keith smiles brightly. His eyes crinkle at the corners.
Lance thinks he may have died and gone to heaven.