The sunlight was filtering in through the open door to the boba shop’s dining area and Lance was counting down the minutes until his shift ended. He could see the oranges and reds of the sky and the way the golds hit his register made it hard for him to see what words were displayed across the screen. Customers were muttering orders Lance was straining to hear, but he was marking them down frantically, thrilled at the prospect of missing the eight o’clock rush, when people hit the boba shop for dessert after they finished their dinner. Finally, the register displayed his desired time, a blaring six, zero, zero at the top of the border, and Lance finished his line of customers before clocking out.
Knowing they still had a few hours before the wave of customers came, two of his coworkers signalled him over to talk. He grabbed his phone from the back area, then met them behind the one employee that was actually working, Kyle. Lance was friends with the man running the other register, even though he was a bit too touchy for his tastes, and he was confused by the shushing fingers his other coworkers were putting to their lips. Was there something they didn’t want Kyle to know?
Candice, taking the initiative in the silent conversation, took her finger from her lips and pointed it at Lance. The brunet nodded, slowly and defensively, then furrowed his eyebrows when her finger next went to Kyle’s unaware backside. She brought her two hands together to form a heart. Lance whipped his head back and forth, while his confusion began to wane and his anger began to wax. Yanking her hands apart, she repeated the succession of motions with more fervor and received a negative response that mirrored the increase in energy.
This continued for another thirty seconds and Lance was getting exasperated. The unspoken argument was rising tension levels in the room, so much so that Kyle had even asked what they were doing a few times, though he luckily hadn’t turned around. Neither he nor Lance had ever made any implication they were dating and Lance was at his wit’s end in trying to explain to Candice that her assumption was very much off base. And, sure, Kyle was an attractive guy and he seemed to have a kind personality to go with it, but he wasn’t at all who Lance was pining after. For a moment, the heated motions of his coworker’s hands went unnoticed as he thought about who he was interested in.
He glanced out at the sunset that drew sketches of warmly lit watercolor paintings along the glass front of the shop. For a split second, he thought he saw the silhouette of his crush framed there by the sunlight; the dangling spindles of his charcoal locks that ticked the flesh of his shoulders, the way those same shoulders often rolled back in an inkling of a stretch, the faint outline of his chiseled features through the shadows across his face. But Lance blinked and the figure was gone. He turned back to his coworkers, but not before checking the time again on his phone.
They hadn’t stopped the hand motions, though now they had changed the message behind him. No longer did they imply a mere romance between Kyle and Lance, now they’d begun to make a loop with one hand and they were shoving a finger of the other hand through the middle of it. The brunet got hot, his fingertips beginning to go numb with the anxiety and embarrassment coursing through his hands. He hadn’t so much as considered a sexual relationship with any of his coworkers. To be completely honest, the idea of thinking so lewdly about any of them made him physically ill. He shook his head, more firmly than any of the other times, and he shoved past them to make his way out from behind the counter. Candice followed him to the dining area, she followed him out the front door of the shop, and she followed him to his car. Finally, having had more than enough of her persistence, Lance whipped around and angled his car keys at her face.
His words were seething and pooling against his tongue before they fizzled out in a cloud of steam in the January air. “What, Candice?” He slapped his hand over the trunk of his car, leaning his whole body weight against the VW Beetle and hoping, praying, for some other vehicle to race past and take his coworker with it on its hood. Lance checked his phone for the time again, sure to note how he had exactly twenty minutes to get to dinner if he wanted to keep his promise to meet his friends at the restaurant in time. And there was no way in hell he was going to be late. Not when dinner meant seeing Keith.
“Lance, please date him.” The brunet raised his eyebrows, reinterpreting the hand motions he’d seen earlier. So, they weren’t asking if they were having sex or dating, they were asking if they would have sex or date. Not that that changed Lance’s response in the slightest. He swung his key chain around his finger, leveling a gaze with Candice.
“Why would I?” It was a harsh question with a brutal tone, but Lance figured he’d already made it abundantly clear that he was, under no circumstances, interested in dating any of his coworkers. Unless, by some stroke of luck, Keith decided to abandon his job in favor of making boba, that is. Candice looked back to the boba shop briefly, probably gauging if she had enough time away from the influx of a random crowd to explain an answer. Gripping Lance by the shoulders, she swung him so she could look at his face while her back was directly to the incoming view from Kyle.
“You didn’t hear this from me, but Kyle likes you.” Anxiety was starting to spark along Lance’s spine now. He hated that he’d been put in such a compromising situation. What was he supposed to say? Hadn’t he made it perfectly clear? He’d said no to every motion, he’d phrased his question as bluntly as possible, why the hell would she tell him about a crush that wasn’t her news to tell? And she was wearing such an expectant expression. There was a half baked grin on her face, a smile that was one positive response away from popping out of the metaphorical oven, fully cooked. She was looking at him as though he’d burst into tears and exclaim that her news was the best thing he’d heard all week or that he’d felt the same way for years.
He sucked his cheeks in for a second, nibbling on the insides to combat his wave of nerves. “I don’t know what you want me to say to that, to be honest,” he muttered as he shifted one elbow to rest along the roof of his car and cast his gaze to the dust accumulating there. Candice stared back, the same wordlessness portrayed in the darting of her eyes and the opening and closing of her mouth. Finally, she stuffed her hands into her pockets and spun back to face the shop. Heading back to her shift, she raised one arm in a lazy goodbye.
“Do with that information what you will.”
Lance opened the driver side door and swung one leg inside. His heart was still pounding with a tempo that was faster than what was healthy and he could feel it in his throat. It made his hands shake as he put them on the wheel. He felt so out of place; like he’d been given a glimpse into something he shouldn’t have seen, which, in all honesty, wasn’t that far off of what actually happened. It seemed like Candice had put an extra weight on his back and thrown the ball into his court with a declaration that it was his move, when there was no move he wanted to make. He couldn’t tell Kyle he wasn’t interested, since it wasn’t Kyle who’d asked him out. But at the same time, he couldn’t just go back into work tomorrow like nothing had happened, could he? His head fell against the horn of his steering wheel and a parking lot full of people glared at him and his impending dilemma, upon hearing the noise his car emitted.
For now, though, Lance just had to worry about dinner.
He drove to the restaurant while holding back his stressed tears and, when he pulled up, he spotted Keith’s motorcycle already parked nearby. His heart was still thrumming too hard in his chest, but now it was for a different reason. After making certain his car was locked, he carried himself to the door of the restaurant and opened it. Bells chimed. The place was mostly empty; a booth in the corner full of elderly people were the only inhabitants, other than his friends, who sat at a separate table. Of his friends, Keith was the one to look up first. He smiled and waved at Lance as he entered, patting the empty seat next to him as an invitation to sit down.
The brunet swore he was about to swoon. Keith had seemed to hate him when they first met in high school, and Lance had returned the spite tenfold, but since they both graduated college, Lance had begun to consider him the friend he was closest with. And the friend he was most attracted to; a fact he was reminded of when he watched Keith drag his bangs away from his eyes. The setting sun lit his pale skin so it shined gold and made his eyes twinkle as they squinted in a smile directed at Lance. He was wearing a black, leather jacket with a grey t-shirt underneath. He was truly the picture of a man who was edgy and cool, but not a man who’d outgrown his emo phase. It was really a stark contrast to the faint curve of a smile to his pale lips.
Lance tossed himself into the empty seat Keith was offering, acting as though he hadn’t just fantasized about having that edgy jacket being lent to him. He also pretended not to enjoy the smell of Keith’s generic, storebrand shampoo and the scent of the cologne clinging to his skin. Swinging his arms over the back of his wooden chair, he eyeballed the rest of his friends, none of which were looking up from their phones. Shiro, upon further scrutiny, didn’t even appear conscious and his device had begun to hang limply from his drooping fingertips. Lance turned to Pidge, attempting to read the reflection of an article in her glasses to no avail. Finally, he peered at Hunk, who was typing a hasty message with a grin splitting his face in two. Lance slouched and turned his face to Keith.
Reaching a hand weakly up to prod the cup of his hand at his attractive friend’s cheek, he murmured, “Keith, at least you love me.” The man smiled back, lifting his own hand to press against Lance’s with a tenderness that he’d really grown into. Man, Lance would have fallen so much faster and so much harder had Keith always shown this compassionate side. There was a shadow of a blush on his cheeks, so Lance thought, but he set it aside as an illusion of the rays of winter sun streaming in through the windows at the front of the restaurant.
Keith hummed as a sort of agreement to Lance’s statement of love, which had the brunet quickly dropping his hand and facing the rest of the preoccupied group so his crush hopefully wouldn’t see his burning skin. His palm landed against the top of the table and his eyes stumbled across the glass of iceless lemonade at his spot. He wrapped his fingers around it, flitting his stare back to Keith in question. “Oh, they came by and asked for our drink orders before you got here. You like lemonade, right?” Lance nodded, flushing hotter. A swell of joy and embarrassment was swimming behind his eyes and in his chest at the way Keith knew what he liked to drink. It was really such a simple, platonic thing to know, but he couldn’t help but to be flattered by the mindfree action. “And drinks that are too cold make you cough, right? Was it okay for me to say no ice?” The brunet buried his nose in his hand, smothering the gleeful smile that was slowly beginning to part his lips. That fact had been a little more specific, almost bordering on a romantic level of attentiveness, and it had Lance feeling lightheaded. But it was completely correct, so he made sure to nod again. The movement stuttered with the oppositional force of his palm against his chin.
“Yeah. Thanks, Keith.” Upon turning to give the man in question a grateful smile, Lance saw the proud grin cracking across his face and the way he pumped his fist once, in a celebratory manner. Almost as though he’d been trying something and he’d succeeded. Tilting farther back, Lance tried to spot a lit phone under the table displaying some game or app, but he saw nothing, for there the phone was, face down and unlit on the glass table. He furrowed his brows in confusion at the seemingly unwarranted excitement. Brushing it off, he started to complain about his day. “You’ll never believe what my coworkers did today,” he shouted, getting the attention of Keith, the now fully awake Shiro, and the table of elders in the back. Shiro looked like he was seconds from drifting back off, with his squinting eyes and wrinkled nose. Keith cocked his head to urge Lance to continue. “They kept telling me I should date one of them! And they, like, kept doing the sex hand motions, you know the ones, and it was so uncomfortable! Like, Jesus, mind ya damn business!”
The man to the right of Lance formed a cute pout with his lips, choosing to focus on all the wrong details. “Well, do you want to date him? Or have sex with him?” The brunet gave Keith an incredulous look at the implication. He stuck his tongue out in disgust, crinkled his nose, and drew a line with his finger across his neck. At that, the pout mysteriously left Keith’s lips and he leaned his cheek against his palm and his elbow against the smudged tabletop. He looked a little too relieved by Lance’s answer to be considered strictly normal, but there wasn’t much time to pay attention to that before Pidge began to reply.
With a gaze that didn’t lift from her phone, she said, “Lance, it’s not really that big of a deal. People will always be assholes.” He slumped again, disappointed by the lack of sympathy amongst his friends. His face fell back against his palm and he sighed into it. It only lifted when he felt an even warmer palm against his shoulder blades and his spine went rigid reflexively. God, his back might be straight, but he most certainly was not. No, not a chance in any universe with the gentle sheen to Keith’s eyes and his hot fingers tracing simple circles in the dips between his ribs.
“That was awful of them to pressure you like that,” he said, his voice shimmering just as kindly as his eyes. And just as easily as those words seemed to come to Keith, Lance seemed to calm down. The bitterness that had settled deep in his stomach had seeped and leaked back out into the air to leave him feeling worlds better than he had on his way here. He gave Keith a thankful look.
That was really the highlight of dinner. Food had come as usual, Keith having ordered Lance’s meal before he arrived, which filled him with an even greater sense of joy. He even knew to ask for extra garlic knots on the side. And then the hour had gotten late and Lance headed home with the knowledge that, tomorrow, he had to go to work and handle the problem his coworkers had passed so rudely into his lap. The dread was back, crawling to his lungs and leaving each breath coming out as a squeak. He started to cry on the way home, unbearably anxious at the prospect of more pressuring and uncomfortable conversations. His only consolation was the possibility that maybe his boss, Allura, would take pity on him, should the teasing start again, and that, maybe, she’d tell them to stop. Maybe.
So, when he went into work the next morning, he made sure to clock in and greet Allura with an extra large smile and a pleasant compliment to her shoes. She chuckled, thanking him, before heading to the kitchen in the back with a quick request for Lance to wipe down the tables at the front. He was hasty to listen to her order, not wanting to get on her bad side when she might just be his saving grace. Candice tossed him the wet rag from the sink and Lance ignored the way she hadn’t wrung it out first, so the water sloshed wetly against his eyelids. Man, he wouldn’t have bothered to do his eyebrows this morning had he known he was going to get splashed so early in the work day. He bent over the table, his fingertips stretched at the far corner, and he brushed the rag over the spilled drink there.
“Hey, nice ass, sweetheart,” Kyle shouted from behind the counter. Lance stood up quickly, one hand hovering above the tight fitting fabric of his jeans along his behind. His ears flared red and itchy. The hairs at the top of his neck felt like they were tickling his skin and needed to scratched, the form of his pants around his thighs suddenly felt too exposing, and the dripping of his rag wasn’t noticed seeping through his sneakers. Kyle had always had a habit to jokingly say lines like that and, until now, they hadn’t bothered Lance, but, with the information he learned yesterday evening, they were suddenly immensely uncomfortable. This was a start to what would undoubtedly be a very long day.
The bell of the shop door rang. Lance raced over to it like a lifeline, a warning of the shop not being open yet climbing to the tip of his tongue. Then he saw who’d come in and the air in his lungs could no longer pass his lips. Keith was the one standing there, looking the epitome of awkward, but simultaneously the epitome of hot. His hair appeared some mix of windblown and helmet head, probably from his bike ride over there and the force of the chilled wind outside. His shoulders and muscled arms were exposed, the scarlet cloth of his tank top leaving a lot of his skin completely visible and worth drooling over. Under one arm, he had his fiery, red helmet, paralleling the shade of his bike and Lance’s quickly warming ears. Under the other, he had his leather jacket and some cloth wrapped item the brunet couldn’t name. His ebony pants were torn in a way that screamed badass and his combat boots completed the image. Needless to say, the sight had left Lance’s words to shrivel up and die at the end of his tongue.
“Hey, Lance.” The man in question waved shakily, so the water from his rag slapped against his cheek. “Can I talk to you for a sec?” He nodded quickly, throwing the washcloth to the half dirty table and speedily making his way to Keith’s spot by the wall. The taller man had shoved everything he was holding into his helmet so he had one free arm and he was leaning that one arm against the wall, body slanted and face pressed against the palm of his hand. Lance was left with a dry mouth and a speeding heart. He looked an unfair amount of suave. Truly. When Lance got close, Keith deemed it not close enough and he curled an arm around Lance’s waist to pull him even closer. Flicking a cruel and calculating eye to the people scurrying behind the counter, he whispered a hushed inquiry. “Are these the ones bothering you?” Lance merely nodded, mouth still parched and voice still broken. He could feel the body heat that was positively dripping from Keith’s chest and it was intoxicating. So was his smell. “I have an idea on how to get them to leave you alone. It we pretend to be dating, then you’ll be ‘taken’ and they should leave you be, right?”
His voice finally began to reboot. “I mean, probably, but do you really wanna have to be with me? Pretend or not, that’s a big burden to shoulder,” he breathed, thanking whatever Gods he could think of for the blessing that was Keith Kogane because there he was, nodding firmly in answer to Lance’s shy question. The brunet’s whole body was practically vibrating with the idea of dating Keith, even if it would all be a ruse. And the fact that it had been offered by Keith himself and as an effort to help Lance made the taste of it even sweeter. He was high off the feeling of it; both the elation in his stomach and the adoration running up and down his spine leaving him shuddering and blushing.
“I mean,” Keith said, bringing his elbow off the wall to slide his hand shyly under the waterfall of his tangled hair and to let it rest against the back of his neck. “It’s only for a little while.” And just like that, Lance came tumbling down from his high. He choked on the remnants of joy settling along the sides of his lungs. He spat the sour taste of rejection out of his mouth with the stuttering of his tongue. Right. Keith was doing this out of the goodness of his heart, the platonic goodness of his heart, and he never had an ounce of romantic attraction towards Lance. The sparkle in his eye was just the glow of the sun outside, the red to his cheeks was just the reflection of his shirt across his features, the nervous way he licked his lips was something casual and innocent, definitely not some sign of attraction. If they did this, this was going to be nothing more than an act.
And it would be an endless breath of torture for Lance.
But would that stop him? Hell no.
He nodded determinedly, flinging the last droplets of the sorrow of rejection off his hair. Keith nodded, too, and Lance was on his way back to washing the tables. Before he could make it very far, though, his newly appointed fake boyfriend swung an arm about his waist to let a hand settle hotly against the flat of his stomach. It felt like the skin beneath his shirt was bubbling with discomposure and he was overwhelmed by the mere fire of the temperature in Keith’s palms. The action had been enunciated by a quick call of, “babe,” just loud enough for all the other employees to hear. They stared, shocked, at the duo. Lance was twirled around, pressed solidly against Keith’s chest, and suffocated by the unexpected affection of the action. “Don’t forget your lunch!”
The wrapped item Lance couldn’t name earlier was placed gently in his arms with an exaggerated wink. He was stumbling to catch up with everything Keith was throwing at him. He was abruptly very thankful for the hand that had slid to the small of his back to keep him upright because he was confident he was about ten seconds away from his knees buckling under him. Those seconds, while already few in number, were whittled away when Keith bent forward to press an entirely random and entirely too sweet kiss to the swell of his cheekbone. The ginger way Keith’s lips brushed against the flushed heat of his skin felt wholly too genuine in its levels of affection and Lance crumpled. His fake boyfriend seemed concerned, but a glimmer in his eyes read smug. Either way, he helped Lance back to standing upright, before slipping back to the door of the shop with a careless wave tossed lamely behind him, as if he was chucking some sort of litter over his shoulder. But Lance was left with eyes that clung to the movement regardless. Part of him wanted to scramble to the floor in search of the mystery, invisible item that had been thrown.
“I’ll catch you later, baby,” Keith sang, clearly prideful in every respect, and Lance’s entire body went numb, save the one square inch of skin that Keith had kissed and the lingering outlines of his hand along the brunet’s spine and stomach. He slowly let his hand flop one way and then the other in a mocked wave, with starstruck eyes that followed the retreating figure of his crush. When he turned around to return to work, he saw the confused and gawking faces of his coworkers and boss. But to be completely fair…
He was just as startled and awestruck as they were.