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Chasing Happiness

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(Wise men say)

 

Keith had always disliked singing.

It wasn’t that it was bad, or anything - he just thought it was stupid. It was loud and most people couldn’t do it properly. His dad could. His dad was an amazing singer. But because his dad was an amazing singer and he wasn’t, he didn’t sing. It would be a waste of time and he didn’t want anyone to laugh at him if he sounded like Cindy from kindergarten. (He was pretty sure that he was better than Cindy but he couldn’t know for sure. So he wouldn’t do it.)

Instead of singing, Keith spent his time climbing trees. Climbing trees or building secret hideouts in the forest while pretending to be an adventurer, that’s what he was all about. And no one would make fun of him for that, that was plenty cool. Not that singing couldn’t be cool - his dad was very cool. But singing was only a good thing if you were good at it and the same couldn’t be said for adventures. Adventures were always awesome.

Sometimes, his dad would try to get him to sing. He would get out his guitar and start playing Keith’s favorite songs while singing in his happy voice. That was unfair; Keith always ended up singing along with him then. His dad’s happy voice made him feel at ease, a grin on his face as he swayed to the music. It worked even better if Keith was distracted with something, such as drawing an evil dragon or try to tie two branches together to make himself a sword with a hilt. Then the music would creep up on him, flood his mind and make him hum along. And before he knew it, he would be singing.

Never with other people though. Only his dad could do that.

Sometimes when Keith got sad because he missed his mom, his dad would come along and pull him into a tight hug. Hugs were another thing that Keith didn’t usually like: many of the other kids smelled pretty bad. Or had sticky fingers. Dirty he could deal with, that he understood - he liked digging around in search of earthworms, too. But sticky was something different. Sticky was icky. He didn’t want his clothes to be icky.

His dad’s fingers never were icky though. Or sticky. They were big and warm and rough and cuddled Keith close, protecting him from the nightmares and bad thoughts. And whenever those thoughts were especially bad, his dad would start singing. He wouldn’t bring his guitar for those days, he would just sing and hold Keith until he fell asleep.

Yes, his dad was an amazing singer. He could sing any kinds of song, fast and slow ones, happy and sad ones, funny and even creepy ones. He had even heard him sing in a language that wasn’t English sometimes and that was really cool. Keith had always admired those people that were able to speak a different language without mixing stuff up. It was almost like magic.

But as it stood, that was everything. Keith admired both people that could speak other languages and people that could sing very well. He admired them, but otherwise he didn’t waste any time on those things. Until you were good enough to sing or speak in front of other people you would have to study for ages and Keith simply wasn’t patient enough for that.

And then. Then there came the day where his dad left.

One of the teachers at the kindergarten had gotten a call and had sat Keith aside, telling him that someone else would come pick him up today. It was strange and Keith didn’t really want to leave with someone that wasn’t his dad - but he had accepted it. Especially once the woman that wanted to take him with her presented him a bag with his own clothes, telling him they would go on an adventure.

An adventure. Of course he had accepted.

The woman and another man in the car took him towards some kind of home for children. Keith didn’t like it here, it was way too loud. But when he asked when his dad would come pick him up again, the woman sighed, sat him down and explained him that his dad was gone.

“Gone where?”

“Just gone. Don’t worry about it, I’m sure he’s happy wherever he is.”

“But I am not happy here. And he is happy with me. Why isn’t he here?”

The woman hadn’t been able to really answer his question. She had told him that his dad was gone, over and over again; she had told him that he couldn’t come back. Keith hadn’t been satisfied with her answers and had left to ask the man. His dad was somewhere far, far away, he had said. Too far to come back soon.

That night had been the first night Keith had cried alone, hugging his arms around his chest and muffling his sobs into his knees. He shared his room with other children now, he couldn’t be loud.

Soon enough he noticed that it didn’t matter.

~*~

“Keith, why don’t you like singing?” His father had asked him once. “You always seem happy when you do it.”

Keith had scrunched up his nose and had gone back to picking at his vegetables. “I am not. I am only happy because I am with you.”

“But you like music, don’t you?”

“Yeah. But singing is different,” he had explained awkwardly, frowning down at his plate. “It’s stupid. People laugh when I am bad.”

His dad had ruffled his hair then. Keith had hated it; now he missed it. “Let people laugh. If you don’t sing, then you won’t get better. It might sound stupid now, but let me tell you something: if something makes you happy, don’t let other people ruin it. You are not wrong for wanting to do what makes you happy.”

~*~

Soon enough he noticed that he didn’t have to worry about that.

Soon enough he noticed that no one cared.

So Keith had started singing. He sang to himself when the bad thoughts came back, he sang to himself when he was taking a shower, he sang to himself when he was drawing evil dragons. He sang to the music he listened, he sang when he used a plastic shovel as his sword since they weren’t allowed to use sticks, he sang when he felt lonely. Keith sang a lot. And yeah, some people made fun of him for that; but most simply didn’t care. So Keith didn’t care either. Singing made him happy and his dad had told him not to let other people ruin it for him.

Keith had been sitting outside on the swing set, quietly singing to himself when he had met Shiro for the first time.

“Hey there. What are you singing?” he had asked, a kind smile on his face. Keith had shrugged and kept up his legs movement, propelling himself closer to the sky.

“A song.”

“Which song?”

“You won’t know it,” he had dismissed. But unlike the other kids Shiro had stayed.

“Try me.”

“No, you won’t know it. I made it myself,” Keith had clarified. Shiro had blinked in surprise, then a sweet smile had taken over his face.

“Oh, really?”

“Yes.”

“That is amazing! Can you sing it again for me?”

And so he had.

And again when Shiro had come back the next time.

And again when Shiro had come back the time after that.

And again when Shiro had brought his parents over, and again when they had agreed to foster him. And again when he had gotten accepted into their family.

Keith sang a lot now. He had a new dad, one that was horrible at singing. But he didn’t mind, he was just fine with being the one that filled the house with low humming and clear tones when he picked up his favorite songs on the radio.

Over time, Keith sang less. That wasn’t a bad thing though - his family had gotten him classes. They payed for Keith to get to sing with a professional teacher and Keith had never been happier. This is what his father had meant all those years ago, he figured. If something makes you happy, don’t let other people ruin it. He wished that he was able to see him again, if only to show him that he had finally understood. Ironically, he was happier now, even if he missed his father terribly at times.

But whenever he felt down, he could sing. He was good at singing now. Great, even. Good enough to perform at concerts.

And that’s where he met him for the first time.

 


 

(Only fools rush in)

 

Lance had always loved the guitar.

It wasn’t just playing it either; it was touching it, listening to it, smelling it. For as long as he could remember he had been surrounded by a guitar - first because his grandfather had always played it and then, once he passed away, because his sister Charlie took it up. And while he loved everything about it, he had long since known what his favorite aspect was: the way it made people smile.

That was just a fact, he thought. People smiled around the guitar. People smiled when his sister started playing beautiful songs, they smiled when his mamá played funny melodies, they smiled when Theo and he himself sang along to childrens verses. Happiness. The guitar brought happiness.

So, naturally, he had wanted to learn how to play the guitar. And, naturally, his family had agreed - because the guitar brought happiness and who wouldn’t want their child to be happy, right? Even at the age of six Lance had known that guitars were expensive, so when he had unwrapped his birthday present and had been met with the sight of a brand new, blue guitar he had sworn to himself that he wouldn’t let the money go to waste. He would make people happy with this.

And that’s what he did. He made people happy.

At first it was only himself, then it was his mamá. Next was Theo, then Charlie, then papá. He wasn’t quite sure when his abuela started humming along with his songs but it must have been when he was around seven years old. Tío Guillermo and tía Rosa hadn’t heard him at all yet (Lance didn’t count skype sessions. The sound just got all wrong through the computer) but they were always smiling widely when he told them about how much fun he had. Emilio hadn’t heard him playing yet either but he always asked about whether Lance was able to play this or that song already and he got really excited when Lance promised to perform for him one day.

And as his skills grew, so did the amount of people that smiled at him - and Lance couldn’t be happier. Everyone in his family loved listening to him play, even if they sometimes had to throw pillows to make him stop practicing the same song for the thirtieth time that day. His teacher was amazing and energetic, seemingly never exhausted with explaining stuff over and over again until he got it just right. The people in his school gave him ohs and ahs when they heard about his guitar and he made lots of new friends in the music club.

The list went on and on. So when his teacher Coran asked him whether he wanted to participate in a concert, Lance answered with an enthusiastic yes.

And that’s where he met him for the first time.

Actually, he didn’t meet him right away. Which was probably why their first meeting was kind of weird. Lance was nine years old, grinning from ear to ear and bubbling from excitement. He was going to participate in a concert. He was going to perform in front of people. This was his first concert!

“Mamá, we have to get one of those flyers right now!” he said, clutching the strap of his guitar case a little tighter. His fingers were itching to do something, to play, to work off some of his nervous energy but he knew that he needed the program first. Otherwise how would he know when he was supposed to start playing?

“Go get one then,” his mamá answered, pointing her head towards the teenagers in black clothing that were handing out the flyers. “Papá and I are going to find us some seats. Give me your jacket.”

And so Lance did, quickly but carefully swinging Blue around to hand her to Hunk and tugging his jacket off. He almost twisted his elbow in his eagerness to get out of the sleeves but he didn’t really care about that. Once his mamá took his jacket, Lance snatched his guitar back and gave his friend a bright grin. “You too!”

“Oh, are you sure? I mean, I can totally carry it on my own-”

“Nonsense,” his mamá interrupted, already holding out an arm for Hunk to drape his jacket over. Hunk gave her a grateful smile, quickly slipping out of it and handing it over.

“Thanks!”

“He’ll join you in a moment, we’ll just go check out the program first,” Lance said. His excitement was almost tangible as he dragged Hunk over to the teenagers. One of them took notice of Blue and smiled at him.

“Are you playing today?”

“I am!” he answered happily. The boy laughed and got next to him, opening the flyer and folding it in half.

“Can you find yourself?”

“Uh,” Lance said, squinting at the paper. There were a lot of names. Definitely more than he had expected. They were sorted after the time where their performance began though, so he should be-

“There you are!” Hunk exclaimed and pointed at the 3:30pm bracket. Lance’s eyes lit up as they caught sight of his own name and his heartbeat sped up a little. Wow. Wow, he was actually going to perform today. In front of other people.

“Let me see. Lance, is that right?” the boy said, tapping against the paper. Lance nodded wildly.

“Yep, that’s me!”

“Come over here for a second.” With these words he guided Lance to another table where lots and lots of lists were spread out. For a moment the boy seemed to be just as lost as Lance was, then he made a soft ‘ah ’-noise and pulled one of the papers towards himself. “Okay, let’s see. Lance, Lance- ah, there you are!” He looked up and sent Lance a kind smile. “You are the third in your group, so you have to be here at around 3pm. We want to give you enough time to warm yourself up and rehearse your song of choice at least once before you go out on stage.”

“3pm. Gotcha. Can I start rehearsing earlier?” Lance asked, fiddling again with the strap of his guitar case. 3pm. He wasn’t quite sure what time it was but he knew that they had left home at 1pm. So there was probably less than two hours left before that. And then he would have to perform.

Perform. In an actual concert.

Once again Lance could feel the excitement crashing down on him. For the first time since his decision to take part in this concert there was something else though: anxiety. He could already feel the first tinge of nerves washing over his skin, making him even more fidgety than before. Playing would calm him down though. Playing was peaceful. Blue would reassure him.

The boy gave him a pitying look. “We would like it better if you didn’t do that. You don’t want to strain your hands too much before the actual concert. You will have half an hour to warm yourself up, that’s plenty of time. For now you should just go and listen to the singer’s performances, how about that?”

Lance frowned. “I wouldn’t strain myself too much. I can play for hours.”

“It is better to play it safe, just in case,” the boy answered. Pressing his lips together, Lance nodded. He didn’t really want to agree but he could see that the guy wouldn’t give up - maybe there was a rule in place or something.

Hunk, who had watched the entire thing silently so far, placed an encouraging hand onto Lance’s shoulder. “Alright. We’ll just get back then… come on, Lance.”

“Hah, yep yep, I’ll be back later,” he said, forcing a smile onto his face. It dropped as soon as he turned away from the teen and led Hunk to the concert hall.

“Hey. You okay, buddy?” Hunk asked tentatively. Lance let out a frustrated noise and held out his hands.

“I mean, yeah? But also no? But also yeah? It’s stupid, I think I’m just getting a little nervous,” he admitted. “And I want to play.”

Hunk seemed torn between offering to sneak him out so that he could play or remind him to of the rules. But because he was Hunk and not Pidge he went - of course - with sticking to what the boy had told them to do.

“Let’s just wait here for now. The singers are probably gonna be really good and then you can go to your rehearsal room 10 minutes early if you want,” he offered. Lance was reluctant to accept, but he did it anyway. Together they entered the concert hall and started looking for his parents. The hall itself was super big already but the sheer amount of people made it almost impossible to find anyone.

So many people. He was going to perform in front of so many people.

Once again the thought made him both anxious and excited at once - but Lance didn’t leave himself any time to dwell on the bad thoughts, he just grabbed Hunk by the sleeve and started to weave his way through the crowd. Figuring out how to get himself through these people took a little of the edge off, at least he could put his energy somewhere.

Sadly (or maybe luckily, as the first performances were just about to start) Lance found his family soon enough.

“Ay Lance, where have you been for so long? The show is just about to start,” Cesar called. Lance rolled his eyes and put Blue down onto his seat.

“Figuring out where I have to go to prepare later.”

“Sit down, the show’s just about to start,” Charlie said - and just as she had finished her sentence, Lance’s teacher climbed the small stage. He welcomed them in his typical fashion with lots of funny words and gestures and Lance found himself grinning at him despite his weird mood. Coran said that he had faith in all of his students and that included Lance, so everything would be fine.

After that, there was another welcome. And another one. The concert wasn’t a huge concert on TV or anything but it was big enough for Lance; the three people holding the short speeches were the heads of the three different music schools that had organized the event. Coran’s speech was the best, Lance noted. The other’s were just boring.

Next came singing. A lot of singing. And while it was pretty cool at the beginning - Lance would light up whenever he could recognize a song and hum it under his breath - it got boring over time. There were just so many songs that he couldn’t stand it anymore. His fingers were itching again, he wanted to do something. The end had to be near, right? How much time was still left? He could go play soon, right?

But no. It wasn’t soon. Half an hour before he was supposed to go to his room, Lance grabbed Blue and lied that he had to go to the toilet. Everyone around him had noticed that he had been fidgety anyways, so they let him go without complaints. He was pretty sure that Hunk knew what he was up to, but his friend didn’t make any move to stop him. Good. Because if he had Lance would have just dragged him along anyway.

Sneaking out of the hall, Lance made sure to keep out of the sight of the teenager that had told him about his rehearsal time before. He just couldn’t take the wait anymore and practicing was totally fine, right? Those singers were so lucky, they didn’t have to wait.

Once he was completely out of the building, Lance leaned himself against the stairs and rubbed his hands a couple of times. He liked playing with warm fingers, then he could play faster. That’s what he was planning to do: play as many songs he could as fast as possible. Blue would keep up with him, he knew that. It was sure to make the itch go away, right?

He was right. Time flew by like nothing and soon enough Hunk tapped him on the shoulder, telling him that the break had started and he had to go to his rehearsal room. It didn’t matter, Lance figured - he would just change locations and keep playing. He followed Hunk to a specific room, laughed and thanked him and got back to playing. He ignored the other kids there and focused entirely on his instrument. Pulling the cords. Moving his fingers. Pressing down. One of his songs included drumming against the bottom of his guitar and Lance loved it. He loved all of it.

All too soon Coran came over to get him to the stage. The moment Lance got up and left the rehearsal room, all of his nerves came back in a rush. Oh god, he was going to perform. In front of people. So many people. The hall had been so full that people had been standing at the sides, not everyone having been able to get a seat.

And he would go out there and play in front of them. All of them.

Hopefully he could make them smile.

Swallowing against his nerves, Lance drummed his fingers against his guitar case. He had put his notes in there, even though he already knew the melody by heart. Just in case, it was always good to be prepared. That’s what the flyer guy had told him, too. Play it safe.

Suddenly, applause reached him from behind the small door to the stage. Coran gave him a reassuring smile and some encouraging words before clapping him on the shoulder and heading out to announce him. Lance couldn’t help catching the door before it could close again, squinting through the slit to make out the audience.

An audience that had shrunken significantly.

Lance’s heart dropped. Why? Why were they gone? Did they not want to listen to him?

He still wasn’t quite over his shock when someone gently nudged him from behind, making him step onto the stage. In a daze, he set down his guitar case and pulled his notes out, putting them onto the music stand in front of them. The chair and the small, black block to prop his foot up felt familiar underneath him, not managing to snap him out of his hurt. And so he began playing.

And he played flawlessly.

A few people smiled, but those weren’t real smiles. Lance knew the difference, people had never smiled like that when he had carried a guitar with him. Why weren't they happy?

It was soul-crushing. He didn’t want to be here anymore.

But he still finished his piece, still smiled and bowed when he heard the polite applause. He knew that he hadn’t made a mistake, he had played how he always had. And his family knew: he could see them in the back, their grins huge and proud and their clapping louder than anyone else’s.

His family was happy.

It didn’t matter, Lance decided then. Some people just didn’t want to be happy. And if they didn’t want to be then no matter how hard he tried, they would never be. So instead he would play for those that tried, those that wanted to be happy, those that were happy. He would play for people like his family.

The thought made him feel marginally better and he allowed another black-clothed teenager to bring him back to the rehearsal room. Hunk was already waiting for him, greeting him with a hug and a huge, proud smile. Lance grinned halfheartedly and patted him on the back. “Hey ho big guy.”

Immediately Hunk noticed that something was wrong. “Are you okay? Did you mess something up? I didn't hear anything, promise, I thought you did awesome out there! You were better than the other two before you!”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Lance reassured him, shifting Blue’s case around. He then grabbed Hunk’s hand and led him out of the rehearsal room, not wanting to disturb the other players any longer. He could unwind the guitar in the car or something. “It’s just… it was so empty.”

Hunk frowned. “What was empty?”

“The hall. In comparison to before it was empty. Do people not like the guitar or something?” The thought was disheartening. Blue meant the world to Lance - and Hunk knew that.

“No! It’s not like that. It’s just that most of the singer’s families went home after they were done, so they didn’t stay for your guy’s performances.”

The singers. The singers went home already. Lance blinked a few times, then frowned hard. “What the cheese?! I sat through their stuff! And they think they can leave already? They already got to perform first, that’s just not fair!”

Hunk shrugged helplessly. “Yeah but it’s not like we can stop them.”

“Still! Not fair! I don’t like singers anymore! They should stay!” he insisted. Because that’s what he was going to do now. He wouldn’t leave until the very end, he decided. He would smile and clap at everyone’s performance and make them feel happy.

And that’s what he did. Up until the very end he sat there and cheered every single guitarist on, no matter whether he had met them before or not. Most of them he didn’t know. That still didn’t seem to matter them, if their bashful smiles or huge grins were any indication of it.

The more smiles he saw, the happier Lance grew. By the end of the concert he had almost forgotten about how shitty he had felt at his own performance. He felt good like this and he had made other people feel good as well. That day, he made a lot of new friends.

Just one of them was not like the others.

Lance had been near the flyer guys again, getting himself a new, wrinkle-free program that he could pin to his wall later when he had seen a boy around his age sitting on the floor next to a flower pot. He couldn’t really remember his performance and that made him feel guilty, so he decided to approach him and ask him about it. Maybe he would remember then.

“Hey,” he greeted, a cheeky smile on his face. The boy looked up, surprise evident in the way his eyes grew huge on his face.

“Um. Hey?”

“So, who are you? What’s your name? I’m Lance.”

“Keith,” the boy responded.

“Cool! You having fun here?” he asked cheerily.

“...sure.” Keith's tone was dismissive and Lance was just about to back off (maybe he was tired after the concert and needed a break), when a tentative hand was extended his way. “It's um… nice to meet you?”

Lance’s grin grew impossibly wide and he shook his hand. “Yeah! That’s a stupid thing to say though, you sound like an old man.”

“I’m not an old man,” Keith answered, scowling. Lance laughed.

“Duh. This concert isn’t for old men.”

“...then why did you call me that?”

“Because you sounded like an old man!” Lance replied. And then he laughed again. He just couldn’t help it, Keith’s expression was way too funny. “Your face !”

“What about my face?!” Keith asked, raising a hand towards his own cheeks. His alarmed tone just made Lance crack up harder, laughing until he was almost doubling over. When he threatened to fall down, he put his hand onto Keith’s shoulder, fully expecting to be brushed aside - but although Keith seemed kind of uncomfortable and concerned for him, he didn’t brush him away.

Lance decided then and there that he liked Keith. He was weird, but a good guy.

“Nothing. Your face is all good, don’t worry about it,” he grinned while patting his head patronizingly. Keith scowled and batted his hand away.

“What do you want?”

“Actually,” Lance said, lowering himself to the ground, “I just wanted to know what song you played. I can’t remember somehow and that makes me feel bad.”

Keith blinked for a while, then he looked away from him for the first time he had started the conversation. He fidgeted a little, his pale hands wringing together before he finally shrugged. “I didn’t play. I was a singer. Am a singer.”

A singer.

Lance stared.

Keith was a singer. But he had stayed.

“Oh, uh, that’s - cool. Yeah. Very cool,” Lance answered. He was dimly aware that he still sounded dumbfounded but he couldn’t help it. Keith, at least, didn’t seem to care. He even seemed relieved, somehow.

“You are not angry.”

“Why would I be angry?” Lance asked, one of his eyebrows raising.

“Earlier you said that you didn’t like singers,” Keith shrugged. He was frowning at the ground, his hands now playing with the edges of his shirt. Lance waited for him to add something else, but he kept quiet.

“You heard that? No, wait, don't answer, you obviously did - but like, I had a reason for saying that,” Lance began, turning himself around and scooting backwards until he was leaning against the wall next to Keith. Charlie was taking care of Blue for now, so he didn’t have to worry about accidentally damaging her. “You made us sit through your performances and then you left and never watched ours. That’s so uncool.”

“I stayed,” Keith protested weakly. But Lance grinned at that, bumping his shoulder against Keith’s.

“I know. And that’s why I like you.”

Keith froze up before slowly turning his head around. “You… do?”

“Yeah, you’re a little weird but okay, I guess,” Lance answered. Keith blinked a little more, then a tentative smile took over his face.

“And that’s a good thing.”

“Yep. We can be friends, even if I don’t remember your performance.” At that, Keith’s smile transformed into a full-blown grin.

“Yes. And I don’t remember yours either.”

Letting out an offended gasp, Lance punched Keith in the shoulder. “How dare you! I thought we were friends!”

“But… we only just became friends… and you didn’t remember mine either?!”

Lance blinked, staring at Keith who stared back. For a while neither of them moved, Lance waiting for Keith’s face to show any signs of a joke or something, but he there was nothing. Keith seemed dead serious, if a little confused. Lance couldn’t help but to break out into laughter again.

“That was a joke, Keith. Do you even know what a joke is?”

“Of course I know what a joke is! Shiro tells tons of dumb jokes-”

“Lance!” his mamá then called. Lance startled a little before pushing himself onto his feet.

“Oops, I gotta go.”

“Lance! We’ve been searching for you for twenty minutes now! Lance, come here, ahora!”

Uh-oh. Lance gave Keith a crooked grin and sped off towards his mamá before she would get really angry with him. She might forbid him from going to another concert and then what would Lance do? He didn’t have any other way to contact his new friend. No, he couldn't afford to miss the next concert. Lance needed to participate and hope that Keith would be there again as well.

And that was the beginning.

 


 

(As the river flows)

 

Keith forgot about the boy.

It wasn’t on purpose; it was just that he had met him on a very busy day. It was his first performance, the day Shiro came back from space camp and his mom’s birthday. His parents had brought him to the concert and texted Shiro to meet them there. He had been waiting for his brother when the boy at approached him to make conversation - and once he was gone, Shiro was there and told him lots of new facts about planets and stars. It was awesome and Keith decided that he would attend the camp next year as well.

Only when Allura asked him five months later whether he wanted to participate in another concert he remembered him. The boy had called him a friend. Friends were people that you were supposed to talk to regularly… and he didn’t know how to do that unless he agreed to sing again, so he said yes.

But the boy wasn’t in the audience.

Keith had tried not to let it get to him and just keep singing. He was almost ten years old already, he was too grown up to be sad about lost friends. He had lost a lot of friends over the years, that was nothing new. And hadn’t the boy made fun of him anyway? Why was he so bothered by it? He didn’t even remember his name!

But he was. Keith was bothered by it. He was bothered by it enough that Shiro immediately noticed it when he picked him up from backstage.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, worry clear on his face. Keith let out an annoyed huff of air. Shiro probably wouldn’t make fun of him for wanting to meet the boy again but he would start worrying about Keith being sad and that was even worse.

“Nothing,” he pouted instead. Shiro gave him his how-stupid-do-you-think-I-am look and crossed his arms.

“You sure?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Keith retorted and crossed his own arms. He hated how small it made him feel in comparison to Shiro.

“Because you are being all pouty again,” Shiro answered, grinning.

“I am not!”

“That’s definitely a pout though.”

“It’s not,” Keith insisted.

“Nope, can’t convince me. I know you, now out with it. Why are you pouting?” Shiro seemed to be getting more amused by the second but Keith grew agitated just as fast. This wasn’t funny!

“That’s none of your business,” Keith bit out. When the grin fell from Shiro’s face and got replaced by a raised eyebrow he defensively raised his shoulders. “...sorry,” he finally added. Shiro nodded.

“That’s better. Now, are you sure you don’t want to tell me why you are all grumpy?” he asked, clapping a hand onto Keith’s shoulder. Keith allowed Shiro to take him back to the entrance hall where a lot less people than last time had assembled themselves. The concert wasn’t as big this time, according to Allura only two schools took part in it.

Maybe that was the reason why the boy wasn’t here. Maybe he went to the third school.

Somehow, the thought soured his mood even further.

“It’s the boy!” Keith finally exploded and uncrossed his arms. “I met him on the last concert, he played the guitar. And he talked to me and said that we were friends but I haven’t seen him in the audience.”

Shiro blinked a few times as if Keith had said something unexpected. “A friend?”

“Yes,” Keith huffed. “That’s what he said. I don’t remember his name though.”

At that, Shiro laughed. “What a good friend you are,” he teased. Keith was having none of it though, he stopped in his tracks to turn around and glare at Shiro.

“He is not even here! That is a way worse friend!”

“Are you completely sure about that? You were the last singer today and some of the guitarists are already in their rehearsal rooms,” Shiro finally said, his grin turning into a soft smile. Keith’s eyes lit up with hope.

“Really? Can we check? Can I go to their room?” But Keith hadn’t even finished speaking yet when Shiro shook his head.

“No, the room is reserved for them. Besides, if he is in there, he will need the time to warm up. We could take a look at the program though and see whether you can recognize his name,” he suggested.

Keith felt his chest swell with excitement. Yes. Yes. He might not have been able to remember the boy’s name from memory alone but he was sure that he would recognize it when he saw it. Whipping his head around to find one of the people that had distributed the flyers, he gripped Shiro’s arm. “There!”

Shiro’s eyes followed his arm to where he pointed and nodded quickly. “Come on then.”

“Yeah!”

Just a few moments later Keith had a new program between his hands, allowing Shiro to guide him back to the concert hall while he focused on reading all the guitarist’s names. He didn’t have to search for long, the second name in their row practically jumped at him.

“Here! That’s him!” Keith exclaimed excitedly, twisting around to thrust the flyer at Shiro’s face. “Lance! That’s his name!”

Shiro leaned back a bit to get a clearer look at the program, then squinted his eyes at it and looked down at his left wrist. He wore a watch there - Keith thought it was a pretty cool watch, all black and purple.

“Well. Looks like your friend is about to start his performance, then,” Shiro said. Keith’s face contorted in horror as he ripped the paper back and dragged Shiro behind him, close to running now. He didn’t want to miss Lance’s performance, he really didn’t. Lance had missed his, but it wasn’t as if he had had a choice. He needed his rehearsal time, Keith knew that. And Lance had also been the one that had approached him last time so Keith owed him to at least watch his concert.

The two of them just barely arrived in time to hear the moustache guy’s announcement, then Lance gave the audience a happy grin and began to pluck at the guitar’s strings. Keith knew absolutely nothing about guitars but he thought that Lance’s looked nice; it was a deep blue color with smileys and stars drawn along the sides. He briefly wondered whether Lance had drawn them himself, then Shiro nudged him towards the seats. Following his lead, Keith made his way towards their parents without ever taking his eyes off of Lance.

Lance was smiling.

It was tiny, but it was there. How did he do that? Did he actually have fun performing in front of others? Keith didn’t really mind it as much as he had when he was younger but he still wouldn’t consider it fun. Not the way Lance quite obviously did.

The song Lance played was a fast paced, fun one. He couldn’t really afford to look up from his fingers all that often but when he did, his eyes never once strayed towards the music stand where his sheets were spread out. No, he was always looking out into the audience, smiling at everyone that locked eyes with him. Keith could tell when he did because he always started nodding a little more in time with the song.

And then he finally saw Keith.

Keith had scooted to the very edge of his seat in anticipation, impatiently waiting for him to finally look into his direction. Their eyes met and Lance’s smile turned into a full-blown grin for a moment, then he looked back down at his fingers. It wasn’t much but Keith was thrilled either way. Lance remembered him, he definitely did. When he looked up the next time, his eyes strayed over his general area until they found him again to nod at him too, then he moved on to the next part of the audience.

All the while the fast-paced song kept playing. Keith found that it matched the rhythm of his heartbeat. Funny.

As soon as Lance’s performance ended, Keith started clapping. He supposed that it was a little more energetic than usual, if Shiro’s snort was anything to go by. Keith toned it down but otherwise didn’t acknowledge his brother, fully focused on how Lance bowed on the stage and gave them all a bright grin. The moment he disappeared behind the door on the side Keith was on his feet, rounding his parents to get to the door. He could hear them calling after him but he knew that Shiro would explain the situation.

Once he was out of the concert hall, he immediately took off towards the floor that lead to the stage door. He didn’t have to wait for long before he heard voices coming into his direction and he sped up a little more.

“-did very well.”

“Thanks!” Lance’s happy voice rang out. “I had a lot of fun again. Why aren’t we doing concerts more often?”

An amused huff. “Because they take a lot of time and effort to organize. It’s not just putting a few chairs into a room and hoping for the best.”

“I know that, but-”

“Lance!” Keith called, his eyes wide in excitement as he watched Lance turn from the backstage helper to look at him.

“Keith? What are you doing here?!” he exclaimed then, hugging his guitar case close. His eyes were wide with shock and Keith could feel a frown tugging at his face. Was he the only one that had looked forward to this?

“I wanted to visit you,” he answered stiffly. Lance just blinked.

“But you aren’t supposed to be here. You can visit me at the rehearsal room!”

“Lance is right,” the helper said. Keith glared at both of them and tightened his jaw before protectively crossing his arms. All of his excitement was gone now.

“Fine. I’ll just go back then,” he spat out, turning away.

“Wait! Wait, wait, wait!” Lance called. Keith could hear him almost tripping over his feet as he caught up to him. “I’m coming with you! How did you know how to come here?!”

“I sang earlier,” Keith said. He still felt a little hurt from his less than enthusiastic greeting but Lance seemed to have wanted to meet him at least a little. Otherwise he wouldn’t have followed him, right?

“You did?! I don’t remember. Did I miss it? Because I’m pretty sure I would have noticed you, I was waiting for you the whole time!”

“Couldn’t you have just looked at the program to figure out when it was my turn?” he pointed out. Thanks Shiro, he added in his brain. He would have forgotten about the program thing as well if it hadn’t been for him.

“Well. Here’s the thing: my little brother is mean,” Lance stated plainly. “He knew that I was trying to get a look at the program because of you so he snatched it away and hid it. All of the programs of my family, actually. And then he got my sister to help him with it. They are horrible.”

“...oh,” Keith said. He wasn’t quite sure what to say about that. It did sound terrible.

“Yep, that was stupid. Next time though. Definitely next time. Are you doing another concert?” Lance sounded so determined to meet him again that Keith couldn’t help a tiny smile from appearing on his face.

“Yeah.”

“Me too! This time a lot more people stayed to listen, it was super fun! Did you like my performance?” Lance asked. He was grinning again and Keith felt his own smile deepen.

“I did. It was a fun song.”

“It is, isn’t it?! I used to play a simplified version when I was younger so playing it now is really cool. I can see how much better I got… and then there’s all the nice memories the music brings with them.”

Keith hummed, watching their feet walk over the tiled floor. Lance’s shoes were completely different from his: Lance’s were red and blue with a light-up sole and mismatched laces. Keith’s were black and boring with velcro fasteners. He had never particularly thought much about his shoes, they were just something he had to wear as to not hurt himself - but looking at Lance’s now, he realized that maybe one could wear shoes for fun. Was there anything that Lance couldn’t make fun?

“Keith? What are you looking at?”

“Your shoes,” he admitted. Lance stopped walking and Keith stopped as well, frowning as he looked back at him. Lance was raising an eyebrow at him, cocking his head to the side.

“My shoes?”

“Yeah. They are very different from mine,” Keith shrugged. Lance’s eyes wandered down his legs to his feet and silently stared at his shoes for a moment, then he grinned.

“Mine are way cooler,” he claimed.

“Are not!”

“Are so!”

“Are not!”

“Are so!”

“I bet your laces get caught on branches when you climb trees!” Keith said then. Lance was right. His shoes were cooler but only because Lance was wearing them and he could make everything fun. If Keith had worn them they would have probably looked stupid.

“Keith, Keith, Keith,” Lance replied, shaking his head. Keith ducked under his arm when Lance tried to drape it across his shoulders. “Climbing trees is for little children. I’m bigger than that already.”

“It’s not. Shiro climbs with me sometimes,” he frowned.

“Who’s Shiro?”

“My brother.” For some reason that answer made Lance laugh.

“That doesn’t count. Your brother has to do stuff with you, he’s your brother. Of course he would climb trees with you.”

Now it was Keith’s turn to stop in his tracks. He glared at Lance as he balled his hands and hunched his shoulders. “He does not. And climbing trees is fun. Not that you would know since you are wearing shoes with laces.”

“Hey! I could totally climb a tree, even if I wear laces!”

“Oh yeah?!”

“Yeah!”

“Prove it then!” Keith challenged. His words seemed to throw Lance off a little, he looked at him with confusion in his gaze.

“How do I do that?”

“Climb a tree. Take a photo. Bring it next time,” Keith deadpanned. Lance pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes at him and Keith got ready for another fight, when he suddenly broke out into laughter.

“Alright, let’s do that! I’ll bring you a photo next time! I’ll prove it to you!” he grinned, sticking his fist out. For a moment Keith just stared at it, unsure what to make out of the sudden change of attitude, then he tentatively bumped it with his own. He was immediately rewarded with a blinding grin that made him feel as if someone had just punched all air out of him.

“Uh. Yeah, sure,” he answered awkwardly. Lance then threw an arm across his shoulders, tugging him close to his side.

“Awesome coolios. But now tell me - what is your favorite song?”

 


 

(Gently to the sea)

 

“Cesar.”

“Hm?”

“We need to climb a tree.”

“We need to what?”

“Climb a tree. And take a photo.”

“Lance, there are no trees suited for climbing around here.”

“You can drive. Drive us to a park and climb a tree with me.”

“And why should I do that?”

“I need that photo.”

“What for?”

Lance dropped the urgent tone and smiled softly. “For a friend.”

~*~

He had convinced his family to come extra early this time. Not that that would help him with watching Keith’s performance if he was up as late as last time but maybe he could meet him before the concert started. That would be awesome.

Pushing Blue into Charlie’s arms, he went to Cesar to pester him about the photo they took of him in a tree. It was now around 4 months old already, he had immediately taken his brother to the park the day after the concert, but he hadn’t forgotten about it. Lance kept his promises.

He had also discovered that climbing trees was super fun, so he supposed he owed Keith an apology, too. That was okay though. Lance might hate apologizing but he was a big enough person to admit that he was smarter now than his past self.

While his family already entered the hall to settle into their seats, Lance stayed at the reception desk, eyes trained on the door. Cesar had teased him about his excitement but ultimately left him to do what he wanted. Lance had had to convince him to take Theo with him - his little brother had gotten weirdly clingy over the last month and while he usually didn’t mind, he didn’t want to meet Keith with Theo hanging around his neck.

Lance had stood by the desk for fifteen minutes when one of the flyer distributing people approached him.

“Hey there. Are you lost? Do you need me to help you find your family?”

Lance looked at the girl in surprise. “Who? Me?” The girl just smiled and nodded kindly. She was pretty, almost as pretty as Charlie, and for a moment he was too flustered to respond. Then he stretched and pointed at the floor to the concert hall.

“Nope. Not lost. I know where to go, this is already my third concert. I’m just waiting for a friend.”

The girl made a noise in understanding and leaned against the desk next to him. “You are performing today?”

“Yeah!” Lance beamed, turning to give her his full attention. “I actually play the guitar so I’m super early but I wanted to meet my friend before he has to warm up today.”

“Oh? Who is your friend?”

“Keith,” Lance replied happily. “Do you have a program? I can show you. I haven’t been able to listen to even a single one of his performances yet so I really hope that it works out this time.”

“Why haven’t you?” the girl asked as she handed him a flyer from the pile on the reception desk next to her.

“Because our times never line up. He’s always so late in his bracket and I’m always so early that I miss his stuff while I warm up.” Lance skimmed the paper and felt his heart gave an excited thump when he saw that Keith was in fifth today. “Yes! I’ll get to hear him sing!”

The girl laughed amicably and plucked the program to look through it herself, probably looking for Keith herself. “Say, how did you two become friends if you didn’t even hear him singing yet?”

“Oh, that’s a funny story. He thought I hated him, actually,” Lance said, before launching into an explanation on how they met. He was so immersed in his story that he didn’t notice someone approaching them until the girl moved her eyes from him to something behind him. Pausing his stream of words, he turned around to see what had grabbed her attention.

Keith. It was Keith.

A huge grin took over Lance’s face and he put his hands on his hips. “Speak of the devil and he shall appear! Why are you so late?”

“I’m not late,” Keith said, glowering at him. That was better than the awkward scuffling he had done earlier though, so Lance wasn’t complaining.

“I’m a guitarist and I was here earlier than you. That totally counts as late.”

“I am not late though! I’m early, even! I don’t have to go warm up for another half an hour!”

Lance beamed and approached him, giving him a quick hug. Keith stiffened in his hold and he immediately let go again. Instead of dwelling on it, he pointed at the older teen that stood by the entrance, watching over Keith.

“Is that your brother?”

Keith followed his arm until his eyes landed on the guy. Then he smiled softly. “Yeah, that’s Shiro.”

“Come on then, you need to introduce me! You already met my family last time, now I want to meet yours,” Lance said. Keith had mentioned his brother often enough already that Lance knew that he was important to him. And that was after only having met him for two times!

“Do I have to?” Keith asked, sounding dismayed. Laughing, Lance took off towards the guy, leaving Keith to follow behind him. He didn’t want to touch him again in fear of making him uncomfortable.

“Yep. He sounds way cooler than my siblings, so I gotta meet him.”

“Charlie was cool,” Keith answered, finally giving up on his reluctance and catching up to Lance. Lance grinned at him.

“Yeah, she is. She can do anything, it’s incredible. If I didn’t know any different I would have thought that she was the oldest, not Cesar. He’s a fucking ass.”

If Keith was impressed with his swearing, he didn’t say anything. Lance shoved his disappointment aside and focused on the Keith’s brother instead. Not even five steps later they stood in front of him and Lance had to put his head back to look him in the eye. Man, he was tall.

“Keith,” the guy greeted. Then his eyes wandered over to Lance and he smiled. “And you must be Lance.”

“Right on,” Lance grinned. “You’re Shiro.”

“Oh? Keith mentioned me?” he asked, sounding amused. Keith huffed and Lance turned to look at him, noticing how he hid his face behind his bangs. It was a weirdly shy gesture and Lance wanted to push the hair back to see his face.

“...yeah. He said that you’re cool,” Lance answered then, turning back towards Shiro when Keith really didn't say anything. He wouldn’t touch Keith again, not even to brush his hair aside, he had already established that. It had taken him a while to fully understand that not all people liked hugs and casual touches but he got it now. He would respect his boundaries.

Shiro grinned even wider. “Is that so?”

Keith refused to grace that with a response. Lance laughed instead. “Yeah. He also said that you make stupid jokes though, so I’m not sure how much that counts.”

“He said what now?”

“Your jokes are stupid, don’t even pretend they aren’t,” Keith finally spoke. He had lifted his head again and there was a smirk on his face that Lance found he liked a lot.

“Maybe they are,” Shiro immediately admitted, “but you are still laughing at them.”

“I’m not!”

Keith’s indignation made Lance laugh. “Aww Keith, I didn’t know that you would appreciate my humor so much! Now I won’t hold back anymore!”

“Shiro, what have you done,” Keith whispered, mock horrified. Lance laughed even louder and punched him in the shoulder, resulting in Keith shoving him back. Before their playing could escalate, Shiro clapped both of them on their shoulders and guided them to the concert hall.

“We should probably go find some seats before it starts.”

“You can sit with my family!” Lance immediately suggested. He was sure that Keith and Shiro would fit right in and his family certainly wouldn’t mind. But before they could enter the hall, Lance stopped dead in his tracks and turned towards Keith. “Wait!”

Keith looked at him in alarm. “What?”

“I still have something for you!” Lance exclaimed, reaching into his pocket. He ignored Keith’s confused look as he searched for the photo. Once he found it, he made an ah-ha noise and held it up in the air.

Keith squinted a little and leaned closer. “Is that… you?”

“Yep. I climbed a tree with my lace shoes. Easy peasy,” Lance smirked. Finally Keith seemed to remember and took the photo.

“How far did you get?”

“Pretty far. I was close to the top and then the branches were to thin to hold me up properly,” Lance boasted. Unfortunately Keith didn’t seem impressed this time either, he just smirked and put the photo into his own pocket.

“So you climbed for that long? I thought that climbing trees was for little children?”

“Okay, now you’re being mean,” Lance said, allowing Shiro to nudge them towards the hall again. “I obviously did it, so I liked it. I might have been wrong about what I said last time.”

“You admit it?” Keith asked, sounding weirdly excited. It made Lance feel all tingly and happy.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Yeah, sure, I admit it - but that was past me. Present me is much smarter.”

A snort. “Is not.”

“How would you know?”

“You are still wearing lace shoes. If you really liked climbing trees, you would have gotten yourself other ones.”

 


 

(Darling, so we go)

 

Keith never forgot his third concert. He would vividly remember how it had felt to stand up on stage, looking down at the audience and see Lance’s mouth drop open. It made him giddy whenever he remembered it and he usually had to start humming in order to stop himself from doing something stupid like smile for no reason. That would be weird.

But the memory stayed with Keith. He remembered how Lance had sat in his chair, all slouched and smirking, an obvious challenge. Blow me away, he had seemed to say. Go on, I dare you. I bet you can’t do it.

And so Keith had done it.

He had cleared his head, focused on his breathing and loosened his shoulders. And once the quiet background music had started, he had too.

And Lance had dropped all attempts at looking uninterested. His mouth had dropped open and his eyes had grown huge. Keith still remembered how a smile had tugged at his lips and he had to close his eyes to not let a laugh bubble out of him. He needed full control over his voice.

When he had opened them again, Lance had closed his mouth. He had been sitting on the edge of his chair, much like Keith had sat at Lance’s performance, and had looked at him with a sparkle in his eyes that he had been able to see all the way from the stage. Keith had had to focus on Shiro to not start blushing and embarrassing himself.

(After his performance Lance had ran backstage to meet him, out of breath and hair a mess. He had barely been able to get his words out, but the look in his endlessly blue eyes had Keith told everything he needed to know. “That was so awesome, now I know why they always saved you for last!”

His breath had caught. His heart had skipped a beat. His cheeks had flushed.

Keith would have been worried about himself, if Lance hadn’t still been beaming at him.)

Now he was at his fourth concert, sitting outside on the stairs next to Lance after the guitarist had finished his own performance. Lance had skipped over visiting the rehearsal room again, choosing to join Keith outside and clean his guitar there. Keith had watched with rapt attention as Lance had explained what the strings were called and how to loosen them properly, paying close attention to the care with which Lance handled his instrument. It was clear that it was very important to him.

At a lull in the conversation, Keith finally reached over and softly tapped against the guitar’s side. “Did you draw this?” he asked. The small drawings still caught his eye whenever he saw the instrument.

Much to his surprise, Lance reacted defensively to his question. “Yeah. Some of them. You got a problem with that?”

“Uh. No? I thought they were nice,” Keith replied uncertainly. Lance blinked a little in surprise, then he let out a whoosh of air and relaxed again.

“Oh. Thank god. There are a few assholes that keep telling me that I shouldn’t ‘mistreat’ my instrument. Blue, that’s her name. They tell me over and over how bad it is for the wood to have sharpie on it and I can’t stand it. This is my guitar and I take good care of it - they probably didn’t even give their guitars a name, so they can just shut up already.”

“I still think that they look nice,” Keith said. It made Lance grin and bump his shoulder against his own. Ever since Lance had hugged him for the first time there hadn’t been a second one, but Keith could count on the shoulder bumps being a recurring thing.

“Maybe I’ll bring a sharpie next time and you can add your own drawing,” Lance laughed, angling his guitar towards Keith. “See, I drew the stars, planets and smileys, Cesar drew the car, Charlie drew the flower, Theo tried to draw his stuffed bear but he kind of failed so it’s just a cryptic message now, mamá drew the cloud, papá drew-” at this point Lance had to turn his guitar to show Keith its other side, “the fish, Hunk drew the muffin, Pidge drew the robot and there is still one space left.”

“What should I draw, then?” Keith asked, ignoring how warm his chest felt when Lance offered him to add to it. He knew how important his family and close friends were to Lance. And he? He had barely met him four times now. But whenever they met it was as if they had been friends for years already, conversation and teasing words flowing as naturally as water. And Lance wanted him to draw on his guitar.

“Is that really a question? Half of the time I’m calling you ‘tree boy’ in my head,” Lance smirked. Keith raised an unimpressed eyebrow.

“Really now? You’re still hung up on that?”

“I climbed a tree for you!”

“And you had fun,” Keith pointed out. Lance narrowed his eyes at him and leaned over his guitar, trapping it between his legs and chest.

“I did. But you can’t convince me that you’re over your tree-climbing obsession. Once I have enough money I’m going to buy you a bonsai.”

Keith snorted and leaned back onto his hands. “You can’t climb a bonsai.”

“See! I knew it! You know what kinds of trees are suited for climbing!” Lance exclaimed triumphantly. Keith just rolled his eyes.

“That’s common knowledge.”

“Blah blah blah, excuses,” Lance smirked. A small wave of irritation overcame Keith and he gave him an annoyed look. Luckily Lance didn’t catch it, he was placing the guitar back into its case.

“So, what now?” Keith asked once he had finished. Lance looked up and shrugged.

“Let’s go back inside? There are still some guitarists performing. None of them will be as good as me, obviously,” he smirked confidently at that, “but we can still be nice and grace them with our presence.”

“You are annoying,” Keith sighed, but got to his feet and reached out to pull Lance to his feet. The other boy didn’t even miss a beat, he took Keith’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled up, Blue’s case already slung over his shoulder.

“Right, let’s go then. Shiro is not sitting with my family today.”

“No, we couldn’t find you guys when we came in,” Keith said. He watched Lance give a wave to the two poor flyer guys that were on duty during the actual concert and lead him towards the hall.

“Yeah, we were a little late this time. Traffic. It’s all good though, we still made it in time to your performance.”

Once again, Keith felt his chest warm at those words. Lance was so nice, he really made him feel as if they had been friends for two years already. “Yeah, you did. I saw you, you were on the right.”

“Yep,” Lance answered, popping the p. “All off to the side, the other places were taken already.” A comfortable silence settled over them until they reached the door to the concert hall and Lance stopped, letting his hand hover over the handle.

After nothing happened for a few seconds, Keith began frowning. “Why are you stopping? Go in already.”

“I was just thinking about whether it would be okay for me to ask you a question,” Lance answered slowly. Keith cocked his head, not understanding where the sudden uncertainty came from.

“You ask me tons of questions.”

“Yeah, but this one is kinda different,” Lance chuckled. Then he let his hand drop away and shrugged. “Eh, might as well. I just noticed that you and Shiro look nothing alike. Like, really nothing. The only thing that’s matching is your hair color.”

Keith blinked in surprise. “That’s it?”

“Hey! Mamá raised a polite boy, I’m not sure whether that would be an okay thing to ask! It might have been a sensitive topic!” Lance complained loudly. Snorting a little at the ‘polite’, Keith shrugged. It wasn’t a big deal to him at all.

“I’m adopted.”

Apparently it was a big deal to Lance though. His face fell and a horrified expression took over. “Shit, I knew I shouldn’t have asked. I’m sorry-”

Keith groaned in annoyance. “Seriously, why does everyone always say that? It’s fine! They are my family now. Just because we don’t look alike it doesn’t mean that I’m not at home with them. We all get along, I don’t feel out of place. It’s cool. We are a family like everyone else’s.” That. That right there was the only reason why he disliked telling people about it. Lance startled a little at his strong response but then grinned crookedly.

“I guess I should have expected that. The way you worship Shiro is pretty obviously similar to how Theo worships me.”

Keith would have been offended if he hadn’t known for a fact that Theo was currently in his rebellious phase. Lance had mentioned it earlier in passing. So he smirked instead, crossing his arms and quirking an eyebrow at him. “More like you worship Charlie.”

For a while Lance spluttered a bit, then he settled for poking a finger at Keith’s chest. “It’s time for you to shut up now.”

Shrugging, Keith opened the door to the concert hall. They were quite far in the back but the music filled the hall nicely, sounding out into the floor. Lance immediately slipped in, Keith right behind him. Once they were inside, they didn’t know which direction to go though, with Lance’s family being to the right and Shiro with his dad to the left.

“Let’s just stay here?” Lance finally whispered. Keith turned his head to the side to hide his soft smile at that.

“Sure,” he whispered back after a moment. He could hear Lance sigh, then lean back against the wall. Keith joined him, watching the concert, but way more focused on the warm presence at his side.

“Say, when did you get adopted?” Lance finally asked quietly. Since they were this far in the back no one was around to scold them for interrupting the music, so that was a plus, too.

“They fostered me since I was five, then I got adopted into the family when I was six,” Keith shrugged. Lance nodded in thought, then he turned his head towards him. Imitating him, Keith turned as well to meet his gaze head on.

“Do you remember your… old family?”

Keith scrunched up his nose and frowned a little. “Kind of? Not really. Vague thoughts, impressions. I remember that my father could sing and play the guitar. He was nice, even if he had a funny accent.”

“A funny accent?”

“I think he was from Texas.”

All of a sudden, Lance pressed both hands over his mouth and hastened back out of the door, leaving a confused Keith behind. Moments later, Keith could hear the sound of muffled laughter sound through the door. Frowning, he pushed himself up and joined Lance who still seemed to have a hard time controlling his laughter.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked him, slightly irritated. Lance took a look at him and broke out into another fit of giggles.

“You. Are Texan. I just can’t stop imagining you- with a cowboy hat- I just- oh god, this is so hilarious, wait until I tell Cesar about this.”

~*~

“Lance!”

“Heya Keith. Fancy meeting you here.”

“We’ve been meeting at these concerts for two years already.”

“Guess so. But before you start crying about our reunion after three long months, take this.”

“What is this?”

“A gift. Open it.”

“...I repeat, what is this?”

“A mixtape! Open it, I specifically made it for you.”

Keith slowly opened the CD, suspiciously peering at the tracks. What was Lance planning? He didn’t trust that grin.

And he was right about that. There, right on top of the track list, sat the song that explained what the tape was about.

  1. Cotton-Eyed Joe

 


 

(Some things were meant to be)

 

Lance was extremely curious about Keith’s performance today. Keith had approached him before he had had to go to the rehearsal room, smirking when he had confidently declared: “I chose today’s song. Allura allowed me to do what I want, even if she was sceptical. Something about me being too young, I think.”

Lance’s eyebrows had risen to his hairline. “Oh… yeah?”

“Yep. So make sure you listen closely. It’s all thanks to you.”

Keith’s message was cryptic, but Lance could feel himself growing excited by it. Thanks to him? Did Keith choose a song with him in mind? Had he inspired him somehow? Oh god, how was he supposed to wait for thirty minutes before Keith finally got out of the rehearsal room?

But then it was time. Lance felt tempted to shove Coran off the stage just to get Keith to sing a little earlier - and that was saying a lot. He loved Coran with all his heart. His teacher was amazing. Keith was just… a special case.

Then Keith strolled onto the stage, much more casually than usual. He let his eyes trail over the audience until he found Lance, smirking widely at him.

And then the music began playing. And then Keith sang - ‘Before he cheats’ by Carrie Underwood.

Lance laughed so loud that he dropped out of his chair, consequently getting forced to leave the room before Keith’s performance ended. He had no idea how Keith managed to finish his song, if Lance had been in his place he would have started laughing as soon as Keith had. For the rest of the day he would break out into random laughter whenever his thoughts strayed back to his friend.

~*~

“Hey Keith,” Lance said, making Keith look up from this concert’s program.

“Hm?”

“Why did you start singing?” He watched Keith’s eyes widen in surprise, then a conflicted expression took over. It was intriguing, to say the least. Lance also couldn’t help but notice how pretty he had gotten over the five months where they hadn’t seen each other.

“I guess I just… wanted to be happy. And singing made me happy,” Keith answered slowly. Lance thought back to Keith’s performances but didn’t remember seeing him smile all that often. Then again, how would he know; he wasn’t Keith and he couldn’t see into his mind. Keith had proved time and time again that his brain worked differently from Lance’s.

“Is that still true?” he asked instead. Keith gave him a confused look, so Lance elaborated. “I mean, are you still happy when you’re singing? Are you still able to sing for yourself?”

“I am,” Keith answered, his brows furrowed. “I am happy and I can still sing for myself. I just- I guess I approach the performances differently from you.”

“How so?”

“You are singing to make other people happy,” Keith stated, making Lance blink in surprise. How did he know? But Keith had already turned his head back to the program, making him miss Lance’s bewildered expression. “Of course you enjoy singing in front of people. I don’t really- well, I don’t mind, exactly, but it’s not where I’m most comfortable. I prefer lessons or singing in a private setting.”

Huh. “Then why are you still doing the concerts?” Lance asked tentatively. Keith’s cheeks got a faint pink dust and he avoided Lance’s eyes as he raised his shoulders a little.

“It’s- it’s um... good practice?” he said, the crack in his voice making it sound like a question. Lance’s eyebrows wandered up his forehead, but he didn’t call Keith out on his obvious lie. Instead he pushed him towards the hall, where only Lance’s and Keith’s moms were present today. The more concerts they had had, the more the news about them had worn off.

“You’re harsh to yourself if you only do this for practice,” Lance teased lightly. But honestly, what other reason could he have? He knew for a fact that Keith’s family would never force him to do something he didn’t want to. Maybe his teacher was kind of pushy like that? Then again, Keith didn’t seem like the kind of person that would let himself be influenced by that.

Lance guessed it would stay a mystery for now.

~*~

“Are you sure I’m allowed to be here?” Keith asked, sounding doubting. He was fidgeting quite a lot but Lance couldn’t tell whether it was because he had brought him here or because of the thing he wanted to talk about. In an effort to diffuse his nerves, Lance shot him a sly grin.

“Actually, I’m pretty sure that you’re not allowed to be here. But who cares? You gonna run now?”

Predictably, Keith gave a scowl at that. “No. I was just asking.”

Lance laughed good naturedly and pulled his guitar out of its case. Keith immediately frowned at it, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

“That’s not your guitar.”

“It is! It’s just not Blue anymore, she was getting too small for me. I call this one Kaltenecker,” Lance said, stroking the instrument lovingly. He was pretty sure that Keith was giving him another one of his ‘are you serious’-looks, but he didn’t bother checking.

“There are no drawings on this one,” Keith pointed out after a short pause.

“I know. This is an adult guitar, I might be able to use it for years to come still, so I won’t risk drawing something on it that I might not like anymore later,” Lance sighed. Truth to be told, this hadn’t been his idea - those were his papá’s words. He supposed that he did have a point though… and it made Blue special. He still kept Blue and would probably go back to playing on her regularly, even if he had outgrown her.

“Ah,” Keith just said.

“Ah,” Lance repeated amusedly. “Right you are. Anyway, you can sit down wherever and kick your legs up, it’ll be a while still.” With that he moved to the old piano at the back of the room, playing an E a few times before reaching for the sixth string and tuning it to match the tone. Keith pulled one of the many chairs of the classroom towards him and sat down, staring at Lance's hands. His focus made Lance smile to himself.

Once the sixth string was tuned, he ignored the piano and tuned the guitar to itself. Coran had taught him at the very beginning of his lessons that while it was important that the guitar was tuned correctly, it was way more important that it was in harmony with itself. So even if you weren’t able to get the E-string tuned correctly, you would be able to play as long as the other strings were adapted to it.

The tuning process in general didn’t take him long, he had already done it many times over the years. Keith seemed fascinated by it though, so he took his time. Eventually everything was ready and he started with some easy four-fingers exercises.

“Feel free to start talking anytime now,” Lance said conversationally, pretending to look at Kaltenecker when he was really just focused on Keith in his peripheral vision. Keith seemed to battle with himself, even if his focus on Lance’s fingers never faded. It was kind of endearing, somehow.

“I think I’m gay,” Keith blurted out then. He immediately stiffened in his seat, Lance himself stopping his playing in surprise. For a moment he wasn’t quite sure what he should do, give Keith his full attention or keep playing, before he decided to continue his warm up. Keith seemed weirdly nervous about the whole thing, maybe he would relax a little if Lance acted like nothing out of the usual was happening.

“Okay,” Lance said. “Congrats.”

“...why are you congratulating me?” Keith asked, sounding absolutely dumbfounded. It made Lance chuckle and finally look at him, an open smile on his face. Keith was just so- so adorable-

Oh, his brain said then as he stared at his friend. Oh.

Keith really was cute. His laughter was one of his favorite sounds in the whole world and he adored the slightly dishevelled look his wild, long hair always gave him. Lance had noticed early on that he really liked it when Keith smirked or crinkled his nose in a frown - and his voice was truly out of this world. He liked Keith's jokes and their easy banter and the way they could talk about serious stuff if they wanted to. He liked his eyes and how easily he got confused about stuff, he liked how relaxed he felt around him.

And now Keith had told him that he was gay. And his heart was beating faster.

Oh. Lance had a crush.

“Why shouldn’t I congratulate you?” Lance answered, shaking himself out of his staring after a way too long pause. His cheeks felt kind of warm, damn it. He noticed that he had stopped playing too and picked that up again. “You came to terms with yourself. I don’t see any reason to shit on that.”

“Yeah but… congratulate me?” Keith repeated, shifting uncomfortably. Finally something clicked in Lance’s brain and he decided to put the guitar down for good. He was pretty much warmed up now and he would able to play his song no matter whether he had run through it beforehand or not.

“Am I the first person you told?” Lance asked. Keith’s eyes grew huge and his back seemed to get even more rigid than before. That was a yes then.

Sighing, he raised his arms. “Dude. You don’t have to be so stiff. It’s all good. We are good. I am bisexual, Charlie is lesbian, I grew up in a supportive family. Personally I think that mamá is hoping for me to bring home a boyfriend, otherwise there will just be female additions to our future household.”

For a moment Keith seemed to have trouble processing his words, then understanding visibly dawned on him. “You-”

“Yep,” Lance grinned. His heart was in his throat but he wouldn’t let that show. He might have only just figured out that he had a crush on Keith but he would be damned if he let this opportunity to question him about his sexuality pass. “No big deal. So, how did you figure it out?”

“I-” Keith choked a little and stared intently at the ground. Lance tried to make it not so obvious that he was studying every millimetre of his expression. Did he have a chance with him? “I think I have a crush,” Keith said then, raising his eyes to meet Lance’s again.

Fuck.

Lance’s heart felt as if his heart had shattered into a million pieces. No, no, he told himself, it was just a crush. Both for Keith and for himself. Lance would get over him. And if he didn’t, then maybe Keith would get over his crush. And then, maybe, one day, he could ask him out. At the next concert.

“On a boy?”

“Yeah… I think so.”

“You think?” Lance drawled. Keith shot him a glare.

“Yeah.”

“But you’re not sure.”

“No, I’m-” Keith quieted and got a faraway look into his eyes. Lance watched his face let go of the frown and transform into something much softer - it made his chest feel tight. Too tight.

Maybe one day, he told himself. Maybe one day Keith would look at him like that.

“I’m actually pretty sure about it,” Keith admitted.

“Cool. Best of luck to you then,” Lance forced out with a half-hearted grin as he reached for Kaltenecker again. He went through the rest of his warm-up exercises in silence.

 


 

(Take my hand)

 

“What’s rockin’, tree boy?” A voice sounded behind him. Keith couldn’t help but smile as he turned around to quirk an eyebrow at Lance.

“We haven’t seen each other in four months and that’s how you greet me?”

“What, is there something wrong with it? You got a problem with me?”

“Several actually,” Keith smirked. Lance let out an offended gasp and punched his shoulder. Seeing him again after four months made Keith realize how much he had really missed this idiot. His stupid jokes, exaggerated expressions, surprisingly innocent laughter and welcoming presence. All of it made his heart beat faster.

“Not sure why I’m still friends with you. Everything you ever do is insult me.”

“You have no right to say that. The last time you complimented me was when I performed your stupid country song.”

Lance broke out into laughter, his blue eyes sparkling with happiness. “That was genius. You were genius. I don’t think you will ever have another moment in your life as iconic as that one.”

“Shut up,” Keith muttered but smiled when he hit him over the head with his program.

“I’m dead serious. It was amazing.”

Shut up. I am starting to have regrets now,” Keith claimed but he was well aware that the laughter sounded through his voice. Lance clicked his tongue and stole the program from between his hands.

“We can’t have that, now, can we. It was the only moment you’ve ever even come close to being as amazing as my awesome self, I won’t allow any regrets. Now show me, when is your performance?”

Keith’s smile died out a little as he pointed at his number. He had talked with Allura years ago to put him in the earlier group so that Lance would be able to watch, but that didn’t help him this time.

“Awesome! It works out again! I’ll be in the hall, I’ll get to steal the spotlight from your mediocre performance by gracing the people around me with my delightful presence.”

“Actually,” Keith said, feeling his heart drop to his stomach, “you will be able to hear me sing, but I’ll have to leave directly after. So I won't be able to watch yours.” His thoughts went back to the one thing they had circled through for the last few weeks. “Shiro- he got into an accident recently. He lost his left arm. And, um, today will be his first day out of rehab-”

Keith got interrupted by Lance’s hand squeezing his shoulder. He looked up into Lance’s worried, blue eyes, no trace of teasing anywhere. From one moment to another, Lance had dropped all pretense of putting himself above Keith and went straight to comforting him. “I got it. It’s fine. Tell him to get well soon for me, yeah?”

Nodding silently, Keith desperately tried to focus on anything that wasn’t the hand burning through the shirt on his shoulder. He failed; that was just the effect Lance had on him. Luckily he wouldn’t have to worry about Lance discovering his crush, he could just shove his strange behavior onto Shiro this time.

“Great. Then let’s sneak into your rehearsal room, you owe me this after I snuck you into mine last time.”

The smile returned to Keith’s face at the same time as Lance’s hand dropped from his shoulder. This is why he fell in love with Lance. Somehow he just knew exactly how to handle Keith’s emotions - he knew when Keith needed a little reassurance and when he just wanted to go back to normal.

“I never asked you to sneak me in there, that was all your idea. I owe you nothing.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it.”

~*~

After the concert where Keith had to leave earlier, they had agreed to meet early for the next one. To make up for the lost time. Because Keith would apparently cry if he didn’t get his yearly dose of Sir Handsome Lancesome. Keith wasn’t sure about the crying part, but he certainly wouldn’t say no to spending more time with Lance.

And that’s how he ended up next to Lance in the entrance hall, the flyer people only just starting to walk around. Lance had gotten Kaltenecker out of its - his? - case and had started showing him some of his more recent songs, Keith content to just watch and listen. As much as Lance always boasted about his charming attitude and guitar skills, Keith couldn’t say that he was all wrong. He certainly was amazing when he played.

“Boys,” one of the helpers approached them. They looked up as one, questioning looks on their faces as the flyer guy sighed and carded a hand through his hair. “Would you be willing to help us? Just cut a few papers up? We had to print new ones last minute, apparently someone forgot the real batch at the other school.”

Keith shrugged, he didn’t really mind. As long as he could work with Lance, he was happy.

“Sure we can! Do we have to get up though? Because if so I might reconsider,” Lance joked. The guy laughed and produced two heavy scissors and the unfinished flyers out of nowhere.

“You’re in luck today. Here,” he handed Keith the papers and he took them, trying not to wrinkle them in the process, “and here.” He handed Lance the scissors before pointing at the reception desk. “When you’re finished, just put them somewhere on there. Thanks a bunch, you are a real help!”

“Cool beans,” Lance replied, wiggling his fingers at the guy as he left them alone again. Then he looked down at the papers in Keith’s hands. “Give me half?”

Silently, Keith divided the papers into two more or less evenly matched piles and handed one over to Lance. Lance twisted his hand around to give Keith one of the scissors and they got to work. They had just finished cutting up all the papers when it happened.

They were carrying the flyers over to the reception desk, Lance balancing the papers on Kaltenecker, when one of them fluttered to the ground. Keith was about to call out to him and pick up the paper, when Lance slipped on it.

It happened almost in slow motion. Keith saw Lance losing his balance and jumped forward, yanking on his hoodie to keep him on his legs. Lance, who hadn’t expected any of this, reflexively pulled his arms back - resulting in Kaltenecker flying towards the desk. It hit the wood with a horrible sound, then a weird, high pitched noise sounded through the room before it clattered to the ground. Both of them just stared at it for what felt like eternities.

All of a sudden time snapped back into motion and Lance sprinted towards his guitar, falling to his knees and turning it around. Keith was still sort of frozen in shock, watching the scene before him play out. Then Lance cursed and got to his feet, a panicked look on his face. “Crap, I- one of them teared, I don’t- Coran is gonna kill me- shit, I need- the other’s aren’t home yet- I need a replacement before-”

“Lance. Calm down,” Keith said, slowly lowering his hands. Lance’s heated gaze found his and he thought that Lance would snap at him, but then he exhaled audibly and pressed his hands to his head.

“Calm down. Yeah. Yeah, you’re right, I have to-” Once again Lance exhaled heavily before he went back to their corner and carefully put Kaltenecker into its case. Keith had figured that one of the strings had somehow managed to tear by the time he had closed it and hugged it to his chest. With his lips pressed together so hard that they turned white and his eyebrows drawn into a deep frown, Lance turned back towards Keith.

At that moment all Keith wanted to do was hug him until that look disappeared from his face. Preferably forever. But since the concert where they had shared their first hug they hadn’t really touched each other like that again and he still wasn’t sure what his boundaries were with Lance. He settled for giving him a concerned look instead.

“Um, you… are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Lance breathed in. He visibly held the air in for a few moments, then his forehead scrunched up even more and he screwed his eyes shut. “Oh, who am I kidding. I’m really not. I need a replacement string. My replacement string. I only have them at home and I don’t have any money with me - I used it all up for the cab ride here - my family was going to take me back home - there is no way I would have enough for a ride back home or-” Lance quieted, his eyes growing wide. Then he suddenly gripped Keith’s left shoulder. Hard. “You. Do you have any money with you? Anything? I promise I will pay you back, I swear!”

Keith had never hated himself more for not carrying his wallet with him. “No. But my house is pretty much around the corner, it’s around half an hour on my bike, I could get some- but then you would still need to go back home and would there still be enough time for-”

“Wait,” Lance interrupted him, his eyes alight with hope and desperation. “You have a bike? Can I borrow it? I promise I won’t be long, I just need to go to my school, I keep one set of replacements there, Coran made me do it, I swear I won’t damage it, I swear on my life-”

Keith didn’t leave Lance enough time to continue his rambles, he simply grabbed his wrist and pulled him out to the lamppost to which he had secured his bike. He unlocked it and pulled it onto the street, offering the handle to Lance. “I don’t have a helmet, but-”

“You are a lifesaver,” Lance said, the relief tangible in his voice. He looked close to tears. Keith didn’t even have time to give him a smile when a guitar was thrust his way. “Take care of him for me!” Lance called over his shoulder - and then he was gone.

Keith stood with a guitar in his arms and a suddenly full heart, not knowing what to do with himself. Kaltenecker. Lance had given him his guitar. He had given him his guitar directly after it had gotten damaged - the amount of trust that implied that didn’t just pass him. Careful to not jostle the instrument any more than necessary, Keith adjusted his hold on it and got back to the entrance hall. The helper from earlier approached him to ask what happened to the guitar and when Keith explained him the situation, he gave a pitying sound. It wasn’t as if he could help though, so he soon left Keith alone again.

Well. Not completely alone. Keith had a guitar now.

Softly placing a hand onto the case, he let his hand trail over the rough material. The case was new, obviously not having been used all that often yet, probably because Lance had needed a new one that fit the size of the new guitar.

He had Lance’s guitar. His happiness. Lance had quite literally left him his happiness to take care of until he came back. Keith could feel his breath catching in his throat again and he carefully leaned his head against the guitar case. He squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to get his heart back under his control. This crush was getting out of hand. It wasn’t even as if he saw Lance often, how did these stupid feelings survive all these months?

When the first people trailed in for the concert, Lance finally reappeared. His cheeks were flushed and he was breathing hard, but he triumphantly held up a case of what Keith assumed to be guitar strings. “Keith!” he called, running towards him. Keith couldn’t help the relieved smile taking over his face as he saw Lance back to how he was supposed to be.

He didn’t realize that Lance wasn’t slowing down until it was too late. Lance collided with him, pushing him a few inches back before he regained his balance. A hug, Keith realized dimly. Lance was hugging him.

Lance was hugging him.

And it felt so nice.

A confused noise must have made it out of his throat because the next thing he knew was Lance pulling back, keeping him at arm’s length as he beamed at him. “You. You are seriously the best guy I know. You saved my life. Thank you.”

Okay, while Keith wouldn't go as far as saying that he was the best guy Lance knew, he couldn’t deny how good it felt to be someone special to Lance. “Um.” He coughed in an attempt to cover up the cracks in his voice. “You’re welcome.” There. That was better.

“I’ll never forget this,” Lance breathed, smile still ever present on his face. And Keith was falling, falling hard. He was drowning in a sea of bright blue eyes and warm, glowing skin and a smile so wide that it was blinding. “Come on, I need to replace the string now. Can we go to your rehearsal room?”

“...sure.”

 


 

(Take my whole life too)

 

Lance had known that this day would come one day. But it still hadn’t prepared him for the soul crushing disappointment he felt when Coran told him that the next concert would be his last one. He was fifteen now, definitely no longer a child, and the concerts were for children. That was something he had pointed out to Keith on their first meeting.

Keith.

No more concerts meant no more Keith. He didn’t think that he was brave enough to give Keith his number… and much less ask for his.

That was it then. No more Keith.

Lance tried to convince himself that he didn’t feel like crying at that thought. He was probably just getting sick. Or remembering the late math homework he had forgotten to hand in. Right. It was just that.

~*~

The concert was over. Just a few minutes ago they had laughed together, making fun of the ugly new flower pots the school had invested in, and now they were standing next to each other in total silence. Lance felt his heart sinking as he watched his family grabbing their bags, preparing to leave.

“I guess that’s it, then,” Keith said in a weird voice. Or maybe Lance’s hearing was weird. He wasn’t quite sure about that, he felt weird.

No more Keith.

“Guess so,” he answered shortly. Then he realized how rude that must have sounded, so he cleared his throat and kept going. “It was fun with you.”

“Yeah… same,” was the awkward reply. Lance snorted and weakly punched Keith’s shoulder.

“What’s up with that unenthusiastic reaction? You should be honored to have known me!”

“Shut up,” Keith said. The familiar answer made Lance's heart ache and smile again. But before he could continue their conversation, Lance’s family called out to him.

“Lance! Come on, we’re leaving!”

“Coming!” Lance called back. He took two steps towards his family, then thought better of it and turned around again, opening his mouth. Keith was watching him, his dark eyes intently trained on him. All of a sudden Lance’s voice caught in his throat.

Nope. No way, he couldn’t do it. What if he got rejected? He wouldn’t ruin their memories like that.

Quickly turning towards his family again, he gave a short wave over the shoulder. He hadn’t gotten farther than three steps when Keith’s voice made him halt again. “Wanna stay a little longer?”

Yes.

“I-”

“Lance!”

“Coming, mamá! One second, I’ll be right there, promise!” Lance then settled his eyes onto Keith, who was still staring at him with that intense gaze. He had grown to know and love it over the years, it was Keith’s focused-face. He only did that when there was something he wanted or was fascinated by.

And Lance knew that he couldn’t deny him anything.

“Actually, mamá,” he called over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off of Keith, “can I stay a little longer? I brought some money, I’ll get a cab home.”

His family knew of his not-so-subtle crush on Keith so he knew their response even before they gave it. But Keith’s face when they agreed made Lance wish he could record that moment and replay it over and over again. He lit up, eyes suddenly coming to live and a barely-there smile softening his features in a way that made Lance want to protect it forever.

“So? What were you planning to do?” Lance asked, once his family had left. Keith looked at him like a deer in headlights, then sheepishly turned his head away.

“I… didn’t think that far.”

Lance snorted and reached for Kaltenecker. “Awesome planning, I’m impressed.”

“I didn’t even know whether you would agree!”

“Hm-hm, you might be right about that. You should be honored that Dance-y Lance-y Superstar-cy decided to keep you company for a little longer,” he grinned, a quirked eyebrow in place. Keith scowled at him.

“Your nicknames get worse with each passing year.”

“Lies and slander,” Lance claimed, although he knew that he was right. It was on purpose though, he loved seeing all the different expression he coax onto Keith’s face. Before Keith could retort something, their friendly banter got interrupted by Coran.

“Lance, my boy! You are still here?” his teacher asked, twirling his moustache. Lance gave him an open smile and thumped Keith on the back a few times.

“Yep. This guy here invited me to hang out but didn’t think that planning stuff beforehand would be a good idea. So now we are stuck with nothing to do.”

The moment Lance caught sight of the glint in Coran’s eyes he knew that he had made a mistake. He had said it to tease Keith, but it appeared he had just gotten them into trouble instead.

And he was right. Coran made them join the cleaning crew.

It wasn’t all terrible though, it turned out. They first got assigned to clean up the programs that the audience left in the concert hall, diving head first into a paper-ball war. Lance was pretty sure that he won, but Keith insisted that using Kaltenecker as cover didn’t count. Well, he was wrong about that. It wasn’t Lance’s fault that Keith had chosen to learn something as boring as singing instead of picking an instrument… even if he was amazing at it.

Next they stacked the chairs in the room on top of one another, making the chair-towers as tall as possible. Lance won this one for real, his arms were longer than Keith’s and Keith made his tower fall over when he tried to get another chair on top of his eleven. They got yelled at after that and proceeded to clean in silence until Coran was happy enough with the hall to give them dinner. They were joined by a woman called Allura, who introduced herself as Keith’s teacher. Lance liked her immediately and the four of them had a good time until Allura got up to return home for the day. That was Coran’s cue to send them away, too.

When they finally exited the building, Lance realized that it was almost sunset. It was probably going to get dark soon and while it wasn’t cold at all during summer, his mamá would want him to get back in a few hours.

Soon. Not yet. Lance wasn’t quite ready to let this end yet.

Clearing his throat, he stretched his arms over his head. “So.”

“So,” echoed Keith.

“Wanna play something together?” Lance asked. He wasn’t quite sure where that question had come from, but he soon realized that it was one that had burned on his tongue from the moment he had first heard Keith sing. He wanted to play with him, not just for him. He didn’t want to just make him happy, he wanted to take part in his happiness.

He wanted them to be together.

“Um. Sure?” Keith asked, sounding a little uncertain. Lance saw how he eagerly leaned forward though, Keith wasn’t fooling anyone with his reluctance.

“Sit down then, let’s begin this concert.” Waiting for Keith to choose a spot, Lance got Kaltenecker out of his case and gave an exaggerated bow towards the empty sidewalk. “Ladies and gentlemen and everything in between, I welcome you to today’s exclusive show of the Texan tree boy and my handsome self. Hold on to something steady for we’re gonna blow you off your feet.”

Keith gave a small snort and Lance beamed at him, before settling down next to him and leaning against the railing behind him. And then they began. Lance was amazed by the sheer amount of songs Keith knew the lyrics to - and he fell a little more in love song after song.

Because right here, on the abandoned dirty stairs of a closed music school, colored in the light of the sinking sun, Keith didn’t just have a pretty voice. He didn’t just look pretty either. He was happy. And it was the most breathtakingly beautiful thing Lance had ever seen.

They kept going for a long time. Long enough that Keith’s voice cracked at the end and Lance couldn’t quite make out the position of his fingers anymore. Long enough that Lance knew that his mamá was going to chew him out for not calling her.

Long enough that he really didn’t want to leave.

But it wasn’t as if he could stay forever. They were just friends. Casual friends that had met each other on a concert and happened to get along well enough to spend up to five days a year together.

So Lance called a cab. They exchanged a few jabs while they waited, Keith seemingly unconcerned with taking his bike home despite the darkness. Lance wasn’t quite sure how he would manage to pedal without killing himself on stray stones or something but he wouldn’t question it.

And then the cab was there.

It was goodbye now.

Breathing out without a noise, Lance turned around to give Keith a vague smile. He was going to stay a cool person in Keith’s memories, that one guy that could make him laugh at the concert days. Maybe he would still remember him a few days down the road, that’d be awesome. Lance wasn’t asking for much else.

“Right. Maybe we’ll see each other around,” Lance grinned. Keith’s face told him all he needed to know: he doubted that they would meet again. And, frankly, so did Lance. They hadn’t met at all these last few years outside of the concerts, so why should it happen now?

(Still, Lance couldn’t deny that it was a nice thought. He desperately wanted to cling to it.)

(But he pushed it away. Now was not the time.)

“‘kay. Bye then, Keith.” Lance turned towards the cab, when something grabbed his sleeve and made him halt in his movement. Hope bloomed in Lance’s chest but died out just as fast again when Keith just pulled his arm up and made him turn his hand around. “What are you-”

“A present,” Keith said quickly and pressed something hard and small into his hand. “You made me that stupid mixtape a few years back. And you gave me a photo. So this is for you.” When Keith’s hand drew away, Lance felt the familiar form of a guitar pick in his palm. He grinned a little as he raised it up, but then the cab driver was honking and he shoved it back down into his jacket. He would inspect it at home, where there wouldn’t be a risk of losing it.

“Alright, thanks. That’s a neat present, I’ll actually be able to use that,” Lance joked. Then he hesitated for a moment before he pulled Keith against him one final time. He knew that Keith didn’t like hugs but-

Much to his surprise, he felt arms settle around him. Then there was Keith’s chin digging into his shoulder and his breath stroking over his neck and he was squeezed for a second. Keith. Keith Keith Keith. It was warm and smelled like Keith and felt so right-

And then it was gone.

Lance laughed and said something that he didn't remember. Keith gave him a crooked smile in response though, so he was at least partly certain that he hadn’t completely fucked that up. He kept hugging himself through the ride home, hoping to trap some of Keith’s body warmth there - but it was no use, by the time he arrived it was all gone.

Lance was just getting ready for bed when he suddenly remembered the guitar pick again. He didn’t even bother taking his toothbrush out or putting a shirt on, he just hastened down the stairs in his boxers, going straight for his jacket. There was toothpaste running down his chin but he didn’t care, he just quickly wiped it away with his left arm.

It was a pick. A custom pick. A blue pick with a red tree on it.

“Keep singing, tree boy,” Lance whispered to the empty floor in front of him, his own words coming back to him. “Your voice is beautiful.” Keith’s crooked smile flashed before his eyes.

(He didn’t cry that day. But he came pretty damn close.)

 


 

(But I can’t help)

 

Keith was seventeen when Allura asked him to play again on a concert. It had been around two and a half years for him and he knew for a fact that he wasn’t part of the age group any longer. But his teacher knew him well, and she had immediately explained the situation after catching sight of his confused face - the schools wanted two older and accomplished students to perform in front of the audience, showing them what everyone was capable of if they didn’t give up.

So Keith had agreed, forcibly keeping any and all thoughts of Lance at bay. Yeah, Lance had been pretty amazing with the guitar… but so were countless other students. Lance was the best, but the others weren’t bad either. Keith shouldn’t get his hopes up just to have them get crushed again.

But then Allura had handed him a phone number together with a single name.

Lance.

Keith’s hands had shook when he saved the number in his contacts, not daring to message him first. Was it the same Lance? It had to be. He didn’t remember any other Lance being there during their concerts.

~*~

Just two days later he got a message.

hey, my name’s lance
so we got partnered up to do the concert thing huh
don’t take this the wrong way - but are you by any chance texan?

Keith pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead, not believing that he was actually reading that text. Was he imagining things? But no, when he closed his eyes and opened them again, the text was still there.

He bit his lip in a failed attempt to stop himself from grinning and typed back.

Are you by any chance an idiot that decided to name his guitar Kaltenecker?

He got emojis back. A lot of emojis. Keith then couldn’t keep his laughter to himself anymore, it broke out of him and threatened to tear his chest apart.

Lance.

He had found Lance again.

And it was just like before.

~*~

At the day of the concert, they still hadn’t had played together. Lance had been supposed to arrive earlier so that they could go over the song but he didn’t appear on time. Keith gave him fifteen minutes, then he pulled his phone out and angrily asked him where he was. Just moments later a call came in - he accepted it without thinking twice about it.

“Keith!” Lance’s panicked voice greeted him. It was a little deeper and rougher than he remembered and it stole his breath away. “Keith, I’m so sorry. I’m stuck in traffic, I have no idea whether I’ll even manage to get to the concert on time, not to mention the rehearsal-”

Keith had tried to stay angry. Really, he had. But hearing Lance’s voice after all these years just took all control away from him.

“...figures that you would be late on the one day where it actually counts,” Keith teased instead. There were a few moments of silence, then Lance laughed. Yep, still the same laugh. Full but soft and innocent in ways that one wouldn’t expect when they met Lance for the first time.

“And you’re still an ass. Good to see that some things never change.”

Yeah, Keith thought helplessly, some things really never change. The way his heart seemed to swell at those words was proof of that just as much as Lance’s laughter had been.

“Stop talking about my ass and get your ass over here.” Keith flushed as soon as he noticed how his words sounded. The other end of the line was dead silent too, so he just kept going as fast as possible, trying to bury it beneath other words. A Lance technique, he realized. How ironic. “Anyway. Hurry. I’ll try to get Coran to put our performance off a little but it might be hard with the programs already handed out.”

“...I’m not sure how I’ll hurry the traffic up but sure. You just do your part,” Lance said amusedly. Keith smiled to himself as he hung up the phone. Lance really was still the same guy he had been these past few years.

~*~

Keith was waiting at the door to the stage, Coran’s guitar next to him. If Lance didn’t show up right now, he would have to perform with Coran. They hadn’t been able to reschedule their performance, so the teacher would replace the student.

The clock ticked.

The last singer finished up.

The seconds trickled by.

Applause sounded through the door.

No Lance.

Coran went upstage to announce them and in a last ditch effort Keith dialed Lance’s number. It got accepted after two rings.

“Where are yo-”

Coming backstage right now! Don’t start without me, I already tuned Kaltenecker in the car!”

Keith hang up, signalling Coran to talk just a little longer while he waited for the sound of footsteps to arrive. And there they were - steadily getting louder and louder, closer and closer. Soon enough Lance turned around the corner and then Keith finally caught sight of Lance after two and a half years of nothing.

His eyes widened marginally. Lance was still awkward and a little gangly but he had definitely filled out around the shoulders. His hair was still as soft looking as ever and his eyes were still the same blue as before but they carried a new sharpness to them that Keith didn’t miss out on. It suited him. He was handsome.

Both of them were frozen on the spot, studying each other until Coran came backstage and broke the moment. As soon as he opened the door, Keith turned around, focusing on his breathing. He had a performance to worry about now, Lance could come later.

Shaking his head, Keith entered the stage. An audience greeted him, most faces unfamiliar, but the feeling still the same as all the years prior. So many people were here just to judge his singing.

Except that it wasn’t just him today.

Keith turned his head and watched as Lance climbed the stage, a bright, happy grin on his face. Yeah, it was obvious that he had missed this. Seeing Lance this happy made Keith happy too - and all of a sudden he was back to the day two years ago.

Keep singing, tree boy. Your voice is beautiful.’ A sunset. Laughter. Warmth. A hug.

Lance.

It didn’t matter that he was in front of an audience anymore. It didn’t matter that technically, this was still a performance for others; because it wasn’t anymore. Not really. Not when Lance was playing with him. Then it was private, something special, just for them, and the world didn’t matter anymore.

Lance struck the first few chords and his eyes moved from the audience to Keith. His cheeky grin transformed into something much softer and his wide eyes filled with nothing short of adoration. Close to sparkling. Lance looked at him as if he couldn’t think of anyone whom he’d rather be with and Keith almost missed his cue.

Almost. But not quite because Lance was there, giving him a small nod.

And Keith began singing.

~*~

“Keith.”

“Hm?”

“You were staring. During the performance.”

“...you have no right to complain about that. You were staring even more.”

“Hm.”

~*~

“Keith.”

“What?”

“Say, the guy you had a crush on all those years ago…”

Keith flushed a little and turned his head away to hide his face behind his bangs. “...an idiot that decided to name his guitar Kaltenecker.”

 


 

(Falling in love with you.)

 

It was Lance’s first time visiting Keith’s home and he wasn’t surprised at all to learn that there was a tree house in the garden. No matter how much Keith insisted that he already grew out of his tree-climbing-slash-adventurer phase, Lance wouldn’t believe him. Now less than ever.

“Catch,” Lance smirked once Keith was in the tree house.

“Catch wha-” But Kaltenecker was already flying towards him. With a shout of surprise Keith lunged forward to catch it, almost falling over the edge in the process. Lance laughed, not stopping even when Keith started yelling at him.

“What are you doing? Are you insane?! The guitar might have gotten damaged again-”

“You just proved that you were ready to fall from the tree to protect my guitar. I deem you worthy to be my boyfriend,” Lance joked. He smirked and gave Keith a teasing look when he noticed the telltale pink shimmer that always seemed to dust his cheeks when Lance called him that.

“Shut up,” Keith muttered flatly, crawling back into the house where he could hide himself from Lance’s view. Well, not for long anymore. Lance grabbed the ladder and started climbing, arriving just shortly after. For a moment he just stood near the end, his crossed arms placed on the wooden floor of the house, his head resting on top of them and watching his boyfriend. Keith was opening Kaltenecker’s case, pulling him out of it but never touching the strings. Throughout the years Keith had kept his awe towards his instrument and he was still reluctant to touch it without supervision. It was cute.

Keith was cute.

Lance snickered to himself and finally pushed himself all the way up, plucking Kaltenecker from Keith’s hands. Keith let him do whatever he wanted, watching him as he pulled out the guitar pick and strummed a few times. His eyes flashed in recognition and Lance knew that he had made the right decision to bring it today.

Grinning broadly, Lance patted the floor in front of him. “Come here.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.” And Keith did it, even if he was wary about it. For once Lance really wasn’t planning anything though, he just used that position to lean forward and plant his lips onto Keith’s.

“There we go,” Lance grinned. Keith blinked stupidly, then gave a small smile back. It made Lance want to cuddle him, so he awkwardly shuffled around until he got his back to his boyfriend and tugged his arms around his waist. Keith immediately picked up on what he was doing and pulled him closer, making him lean against his chest. Humming in contentment, Lance strummed the guitar again.

“Any requests?”

“I don’t really care.”

“You know what I’m gonna play then,” Lance warned. Keith laughed, the sound vibrating through his chest into Lance’s, making a huge smile appear on Lance’s face. Peace was the word he would use to describe his emotional state at the moment. Peace, calm and happiness. Here, in the tree house and in Keith’s arms, Lance felt content and at ease in a way he hadn’t experienced before.

Wow, he truly was a sap.

“Yeah, I know. Just get on with it,” Keith answered, nuzzling Lance’s head. Lance could feel his smile against his hair and pressed a little more into it, making Keith leave a kiss. Then he began playing those familiar chords again.

Keith's voice joined him soon after. 

 

 

Wise men say...