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play me (till the sun rises)

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Lance is having a horrible day and he’s just about ready to be done with everything.

His bad day starts right from the get-go when his roommate doesn't wake him up for class that morning. There’s nothing on their shared lease agreement saying he has to, but over the last three-and-something months of rooming together, they’ve developed a system that works both ways. Keith’s classes start later in the day, so he never needs an alarm, even going to bed as late as he does.

(Lance once stayed up to find out, just out of curiosity. Keith’s bedroom lights went out at three in the morning. How actually does he maintain his skin with those kind of hours?)

(Must be the shifter genes. Must be.)

(Not that he’s spent a lot of time contemplating Keith’s complexion. No, that’s not it.)

Lance on the other hand has three eight AM classes a week, and he also has a very bad habit of not snoozing every single one of his eighteen alarms but completely turning them off and going right back to sleep. Putting the phone on the other side of the room to encourage him to get up and switch it off never helps – he just walks right back to bed, throws the blanket over his head and goes to sleep.

Keith always hears those alarms and bangs on Lance’s bedroom door until Lance drags his ass out of bed to answer it, by which time Keith’s already gone back to bed himself and Lance won’t be able to fall asleep again once he’s actually out of bed and approaching semi-wakefulness at the unholy hour of 07:00. You’d think having your roommate’s alarm ringing at that time in the morning – three times a week, when you don’t need to be up that early, would make for bad blood between them – but surprisingly enough, Keith never complains about it.

But today, Keith doesn't wake him up.

Today Lance snores through most of his alarms until some part of his sleep-adled brain registers that, Hey…hey, didn’t I have a class today?

Wait.

Oh no.

And Lance might have been a little concerned that Keith didn’t wake up him because in the three and a half months Lance has been living here, never has Keith just not woken him up. Lance might have been concerned had it not been already 07:48, which means he has less than fifteen minutes to shower, brush his teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast because hello most important meal of the day and the only one he actually eats well, and bike to class.

He only gets three of those things done. His rumbling stomach and wildly untamed curling chestnut brown hair are dead giveaways as to which ones they are. Needless to say, Lance is not in a happy mood like he tries to be every morning.

And because Lance can be a petty excuse of a human being sometimes, he knocks smartly on Keith’s door on his way out and calls out, “Hey Keith? I’m gonna –I’m heading out for class now.”

(He doesn't mean to sound so timid but he’s also a smart guy who’s very aware that Keith can turn into a panther, even though he’s not seen it. Panthers tend to have very big teeth and claws. They’re also carnivores.)

There is only a vaguely disgruntled grunt that comes as answer from the depths of Keith’s room. Lance huffs and purses his lips, then turns and flounces out of the apartment.

He won’t deny that he feels a little hurt at the complete lack of response. When Lance first moved in, he’d done some digging about werepanthers and found out that though they’re solitary and generally dislike large company, they do sometimes need to – for lack of a better word, ‘cuddle’, every now and again. Most big-cat shifters are like that. They usually have their pack for that, but panthers are solitary creatures, and their wereshifter counterparts supposedly aren’t any different in that regard. Lance was still new to this country and he desperately wanted to make a good impression with his new roommate.

So he offered to be cuddle buddies for Keith. Keith – looked so stunned that Lance even knew anything about shifters, never mind something so specific to werepanthers. He just – agreed.

And actually meant it when he agreed.

Since he moved in they’ve had at least three cuddle sessions. They never say anything about it and it’s never quite what Lance expects it to be. They just –sort of lean into each other sometimes. Often Lance doesn't even know it’s happening until Keith tips his head on Lance’s shoulder which insofar is Lance’s only tell for when Keith needs it.

Lance knows there isn't anything more to it than that. It’s just – it’s something Keith needs to do every once in a while. Maybe he doesn't even want to. Maybe he only does it with Lance out of convenience. But Lance? Well – he tries not to let his heart run away with the reigns to his mind and start conjuring up imaginings of something that will never happen.

They ‘cuddled’ only just last night and Keith’s mood generally improves after these little sessions. Lance knows he shouldn't, but he still feels a spike of hurt go through him out how Keith’s just, totally ignoring him today. As if ashamed that he cuddled with Lance of all people.

Things only go downhill from there.

Pidge, his partner for said early-as-unholy-hell class and one of the ten or fifteen other humans at this university with Lance, calls in sick. Lance offers to come over after classes are done for the day to nurse her back to health, but Matt, her big brother, and his boyfriend have that covered. So Lance has to start the gargantuan task that is this research paper that will be a determining factor in their final grade of the semester on his own. Not exactly a fun way to start the day.

Lance doesn't even understand why knowing about the history of the mythos surrounding mermaids – who’ve really just been wereshifters the entire time – has to do with his major. He kinda does, but also not.

Then he goes to the coffee shop located in the university – because the administration is smart and recognizes that students need a ton of caffeine in their system on a daily basis – to get a bite to eat and some coffee. His appetite is difficult and picky and the coffee shop on campus has the only pastries his stomach agrees with in the entire city.

(Or at least the few blocks he’s been brave enough to walk around and get to know more of on his own, because Havana and Miami are nowhere near this – this big. Noisy. Crowded.)

But some idiot turns around too fast as they’re leaving the shop just as Lance is entering and ends up spilling their steaming hot cappuccino all over Lance’s shirt. This not only gives him what feels like first-degree burns on his chest but chills for most of the morning as his shirt dries in the rapidly cooling air as winter approaches.

It’s ten o’clock. He still has one more class to go to that afternoon. There’s work after that. Lance wants to jump off a bridge at this point.

He feels so low in spirits that he begins to wonder if his – maybe, just maybe, his uncle was right when Lance came out as bi after he turned sixteen. Maybe he was right and God would strike misery on him for being so sinful.

It says a lot that he feels bad enough to be contemplating the validity of what his uncle said years later, half a world away and – attempting to – living his dream.

Living his dream becomes significantly more tiresome when Hunk calls in needing to skip work at the restaurant they both part-time at because he caught the same flu bug Pidge did when they were working on a robotics assignment together.

Because he needs the money, Lance takes over his entire slot, getting burned in the kitchen two separate times while he’s at it. He ends up working a very long double-shift that leaves Lance nearly dizzy with exhaustion by the time he stumbles back home at the end of the day. He makes a bumbling beeline for his room, not bothering to change or do any of his normal skincare routine, and crashes on his bed.

His last thought before he slips into hazy dreamscapes is to count his lucky stars that he has no early classes for the next three days and a day off from work tomorrow. After the day he’s had, he figures he deserves it.

Lance wakes up the next day feeling decidedly better – a good night’s sleep can do wonders. He lazes in bed for a while then takes a shower that wakes him up fully. It’s only when he goes to scrounge about in the kitchen for something to eat that he remembers Keith. He hasn’t seen him for a whole day now. That’s kind of – unusual? Concerning? They share an apartment. It’s normal to bump into each other a few times a day as they go about their business.

Lance had actually tried to initiate a more friendly relationship with his new roommate. Mami wanted him to make friends – and he did want to make friends. He was a little nervous of it but he wanted to try. He’d managed to get a hold of this apartment out of pure luck, when he was worrying if he’d even be able to attend New Altea if he couldn’t actually find a place to live in first.

Keith’s last roommate bailed on him, and with the end of the month fast approaching – he’d needed a new roommate, and quick. The apartment is big and nice but the burden of rent on one person (student? Lance isn't entirely sure – he’s seen Keith studying, but never what) is a little high. Keith only asked for one month’s deposit and one month’s rent and Lance honestly would have hugged the living daylights out of him for going so easy on Lance when every other landlord and/or potential roommate had demanded three months’ deposit on rent. Non-negotiable.

They were kind of mean with the way they talked to Lance too. He trusts his gut feelings about people and steers clear of the ones he doesn't feel good about – Keith was practically a godsend by that point.

Mami was wary of him living with a shifter. Most humans are. He had to do a little convincing, but in the end everything worked out. Besides, Keith isn't so bad. He’s not very good at being welcoming and can be a little hot and cold at times so that it’s difficult to know what his thoughts are – and Lance really has no clue how Keith feels about him. But that’s not as bad as it could have been. And Keith is…

Keith – well. He sent Lance into a bi panic the second he laid eyes on him – albeit unknowingly on Keith’s part – and Lance always feels like he’s walking on eggshells when he’s around Keith. It’s not like Lance hasn’t ever been around attractive people before, but Keith is just – he’s different, for some reason. Lance is still trying to figure out why.

(The impromptu cuddle sessions don’t help with the confusion.)

It’s not like Lance even knows much about Keith. Keith is an intensely private guy. It’s been almost four months now and Lance doesn't know much about Keith. He knows his name, that he’s wary of spicy foods, that he needs to cuddle sometimes courtesy of his shifter genes, and…

Lance sags against the island counter in the kitchen as he thinks about it. It’s sad but really? That’s about all he knows about Keith. He doesn't know if Keith goes to school and which one if he does or what he’s studying. He doesn't know what kind of work he does to afford a nice place like this. He doesn't even know if Keith has friends or not. He probably does. Lance has just never seen them.

Lance sighs, finishing up the savoury eggs he’s frying (both sides fried with a salsa sauce mixed in, because his stomach does not appreciate white food. Eggs? Fry it both sides or make an omelette with a lot of chilli powder or it’s out. Milk? He’s verging on lactose intolerance at this point) and peeking at the hallway where the bedroom doors are, hoping the smell of cooking food might draw Keith out of his cave. It has before.

The apartment remains silent save for the sizzling of the eggs stuffed with fried onions and capsicum steamed in cold-pressed sunflower oil, two slices of still-hot toast sitting ready on his plate. His eyebrows scrunch together – he hopes Keith has at least eaten something. He must have. He’s pretty sure shifters have a higher metabolic rate and burn through energy faster than humans, so they need to eat more than a regular person does.

Lance stares at the eggs and capsicum and toast on his plate for a moment, then at the mug of black coffee with enough sugar enough it to give a water buffalo a heart attack. He backtracks to the fridge and pulls it open, taking a mental snapshot of everything in it, then doing the same with the overhead cupboards where food is kept. He’ll check later on, and if everything is still the same, he’ll know Keith has not, in fact, eaten anything.

He’d knock and ask now if Keith wants to eat something, but what if he just pulled yet another all-nighter and is sleeping right now? Better to wait. If Keith doesn't eat on his own by then, he’ll probably make something up for Keith to eat – one of the few compliments the dark-haired boy has given him so far is that Lance’s cooking is really good. Lance would certainly hope so, otherwise his Mami would look to the heavens and wonder where all her years of teaching the little boy who tagged along after her in the kitchen went.

(Lance blushed as red as the jalapeños he’d had cooking in a sauce when Keith said that.)

(Keith had also looked mildly concerned by the fiery red jalapeños until Lance assured him they were just part of the side sauce and not the main dish. One of those few things Lance has learned about Keith is that he has a massive sweet tooth – if the amount of candy in the cupboards and fridge is anything to go by.)

He’s just finished up his breakfast when his phone buzzes at him. He picks it up after safely depositing the tray and empty plate on the bedside table.

“Yo,” Pidge greets, sounding a little croaky and all-in-all as fed up with the world as Lance felt yesterday.

“Hey Pidge,” Lance grins at her typical monosyllabic greeting. “What’s up?”

“I just wanted to –” she coughs, a dreadful hacking sound that has Lance wincing in sympathy. “Just wondering how’s the research coming along,” she huffs out. “Matt and Shiro won’t let me anywhere near my laptop to help.”

Lance frowns. “Pidgeon, I wouldn't let you anywhere near it to help, and we’re partners in this thing. You should be focusing on getting better.”

Pidge grumbles, “You sound exactly like Shiro right now. Stop it. It’s annoying. I already have to deal with him right here, and Matt.”

Lance chuckles. “He’s Matt’s boyfriend?”

“Yeah, of co – oh, wait, you haven’t met him yet, right?”

“Nope,” he replies, popping the ‘p’. He sits up on the bed, a light bulb flickering over his head. He looks down at his bare feet, running a finger on the bumpy, scarred soles. “Isn't he a shifter?”

“Yes,” Pidge answers slowly, a little suspiciously. “Why?”

Lance can understand her suspicion; people tend to be hostile and judgemental about human-shifter relationships. It’s like a whole other wave of interracial racism, just against an entire species this time. Lance hopes this one won’t last several hundred years.

“Nothing big,” he said hastily, wanting to smack himself for even starting this line of questioning. It wasn’t like anything bad had happened, right?

…yet.

He just wants to be prepared, all right?

“I was just – I don’t know – wondering if it’s normal for them to kind of – lock themselves away? For a long time? Specifically the big cats?”

A heavy pause. Pidge being sick has her breathing sound scratchy and laboured through the phone line. “Is this about your roommate?”

“I mean, no, I just – well –”

“You’re a shit liar, Lance, don’t even try,” despite the hoarse quality to her voice, Pidge sounds amused. “What’s up with your panther?”

Lance rolls his eyes at Pidge’s uncreative nickname for Keith – and also fights off a blush at the implication of ‘your’.

“Nothing. I think? I mean – he hasn’t been out of his room since yesterday, I think, and…I don’t know, I guess I’m just a little concerned.”

Pidge makes a humming sound that sounds like a frog dying in the back of her throat, accompanied by another bout of harsh coughing.

“Sorry,” Lance says when she’s through.

“Meh,” she grouches. “Fuckin’ hate flues.”

“If it makes you feel better, I’m pretty sure the rest of the world does too.”

“The world and I finally agree on something then.” She grouches. “Anyway. About your panther –”

“He’s not my panther.”

(Lance will deny the little skip his heart does at the thought, to his dying day.)

She entirely ignores his protest. “I haven’t really heard anything about that. I’ll ask Shiro about it when he gets back. He went out on a grocery run, and Matt’ll probably be useless in asking on this. Or maybe not, he’s the one dating a shifter after all,” she muses. “Anywho, I’ll ask them and let you know. It might not be anything.”

Lance bobs his head in a nod. “Cool, thanks. Hey – uh, d’you mind me asking what kind of shifter Shiro is?”

“It’s cool.” Pidge said. “He’s a white tiger.”

“Oh, wow,” Lance’s eyes went wide. White tigers aren’t as common as they used to be, hunted as they are by stupid humans for their fur, so a white tiger shifter? Damn. “That’s cool.”

“Yeah, he looks pretty awesome in his tiger form.”

“Wait – you’ve seen it?”

“Yep,” she replied. “Shifters are picky about who sees them like that – it’s kind of like a whole trust thing with them. But Shiro and Matt were friends for forever before they got together – so like.”

“Courtesy of being Matt’s little pigeon sister, you pretty much grew up with him, gotcha.”

“I will peck your eyes out if you call me pigeon.”

“Kinda proving my point here, Pidgey.”

“Keep talking, Noodle.”

Lance laughed. “I’m gonna go work on the research – and stop worrying about it, okay? I want to get a good grade on it too.”

Pidge chuckles throatily. “Yeah, yeah, I know I can trust you with that. Sorry that you have to start it on your own though.”

“Not your fault.”

“Kinda is.”

“Did you request the flu gods bless you with their gunk?”

Pidge snorts out a laugh. “Oh my god – Lance what the fuck.”

Lance smirks. “Exactly. Stop worrying. Focus on getting better, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Talk to you later.”

“Yeah, bye.”

Lance hangs up and flops back on the bed, staring at the ceiling for a few minutes. He listens to the silence of the house, though he knows there’s no point. He won’t hear anything. Shifters like to install soundproof panelling in the walls of wherever they live, for reasons Lance isn’t sure of and doesn't know if he actually wants to find out about. Keith is no exception to this.

(It makes him wonder how Keith hears his alarms to begin with, but again; shifter senses are better than human senses.)

He pops his earphones in, selects his favourite study playlist, and spends the rest of the day drowning in so many tabs opened up as he continues on the research needed for the paper. He wasn’t lying, he needs the good grade if he wants to keep the scholarship he’s on. Halfway through he realizes he’ll probably need to go to the university’s massive library tomorrow to check out some reference books continuously cited in everything he reads online. Luckily his shift at work starts in the afternoon, so he’ll have plenty of time to get that done.

He doesn't realize how late it’s gotten until his laptop abruptly blacks out, leaving him without the blue glare burning his eyes and instead immersing him in the darkening twilight of his room. He’s not worried about losing any of the notes he’d typed up now that the battery on his laptop finally gave out because he’s paranoid about technology and made sure Word autosaves everything he does every minute.

He leans back in bed, blinking and rubbing at his tired aching eyes, pushing his cramped fingers through the messy bedhead curls of his hair. His spine creaks like an aged wooden tree as he straightens it and pops the chinks out of his bones.

He lounges in bed for a few minutes before the empty gurgling of his stomach pushes him up and out of his room. He gets some instant noodles boiling, entirely unwilling to try for something better. He chops up some onions and gets out the jalapeño sauce he’d made the other day because while he may not want to make much effort in preparing anything to eat, he needs his noodles a little spiced up.

Lance’s lips twitch in a faint smile when he remembers the astounded face Keith made when he’d asked Lance why he doesn't just put store-bought chilli sauce in the noodles.

“‘Not spicy enough?’” he repeated. He eyed the amount of jalapeño and diced onions Lance slid into the bowl already filled with chopped tomatoes, then sprinkled a healthy smattering of kashmiri chilli powder on top of it.

“Dude, I’m Cuban,” Lance laughed at Keith’s face as the other sat on the tall stool, one of four arranged around the island counter. He tried not to let his heart flutter at how attentively Keith was watching him cook. It didn’t mean anything. “You can’t be Cuban and have that weird aversion to spices that you do.”

“It’s not a weird aversion,” Keith muttered with a scowl that was entirely too adorable for Lance’s good. He had a feeling Keith wouldn't take too kindly to being called ‘adorable’, so Lance kept his mouth shut. “It’s called a healthy sense of self preservation. And besides, I use that packet of chilli that comes with the noodles.”

Lance paused in mashing the death-by-spicy-heat-according-to-Keith concoction in the bowl. He squinted at Keith. “I’m sorry, do you actually call that soggy stuff chilli?”

Lance freezes in the middle of the kitchen.

Keith. Food. He needs to check if Keith actually ate anything.

While the noodles continue boiling Lance quickly doubles back to the cupboards, opening the ones Keith uses. Everything is still the same. He frowns, going to the fridge and pulling it open to the same thing; everything is still in place with nothing missing.

He doesn't know about yesterday, but he knows Keith didn’t eat anything today. That can’t be good.

Lance glances at Keith’s silent and closed bedroom door, biting his lip in thought. He checks on the noodles – not soft yet – then goes to the front door. On the small table beside it is the bowl they keep the housekeys in when they’re at home, as well as the keys to Keith’s bike. Both are there, which means Keith is home.

He slowly approaches Keith’s door, biting his thumb as he hovers in front of it uncertainly. He raps lightly on the door.

“Uhm. Keith? You – you in there?”

Silence.

Lance frowns. Is Keith even alive in there? Oh god, what if he fainted and knocked his head on something? What if he caught the same flu bug Pidge and Hunk did but it’s affected him worse than them? Lance is getting seriously worried right now.

He knocks again. “Keith? Are you okay?”

This time there is a – weird – sound from inside the room. Keith’s voice floats through the door.

“Leave me alone.”

Lance physically winces at the distinct irritation in Keith’s voice. There’s nothing wrong with those words alone, but – the thinly veiled anger and frustration behind them is something else. He recoils from the door, stepping back and away. He stares at it for a moment, willing away the unwanted flash of hurt that stings through his chest.

“Right,” he murmurs, uncaring of whether or not Keith can hear him. He probably can, enhanced shifter hearing be damned. “Okay. I’m – I’m sorry for bothering you.”

Sorry for worrying.

Lance feels so stupid for worrying so much about Keith. Clearly he’s fine. Lance shouldn't be worrying about him anyway; shifters are known to be crazy strong and resilient. Makes sense considering they’re literally half animal. They can get pretty freaking strong even on a bad day.

He’s such an idiot for worrying about Keith.

How does it feel? A cruel, taunting voice rises up in his head. A ghost of a past that still haunts him. How does it feel to care about others more than they ever could about you?

Lance shuffles back to the kitchen, listlessly stirring the now soft noodles for a few more seconds before he turns the stove off. He does his best to focus on draining the noodles and sufficiently mixing in his homemade chilli sauce in with the noodles and he tries not to think about how frustrated and irritated Keith just sounded, how Lance had worried for the better part of the day over whether or not Keith was okay. It’s like he’s proving his uncle right all over again; he always cares more than everyone else.

It’s – not fun. It’s really not. It’s tiring. It’s draining. Especially when you consciously realize you care more.

Lance sits himself at the island table, poking at the noodles. He was hungry but now he doesn't feel like eating. He does anyway, slowly winding the noodles around his fork and slurping them up lazily, imagining his Mami’s scolding him for not eating properly. She’s always worrying about that.

He only manages to make it through half of the noodles before his stomach grumbles in complaint. He puts the leftovers in a small Tupperware container and sticks it in the fridge. He goes back to his room and sets up his laptop and notebooks at his desk to continue working.

He immerses himself back in research. For the most part it works in not thinking about Keith, but in every lull when he’s waiting for a webpage to load he unwillingly drifts back to the sound of Keith’s voice when he told him to leave him alone. The chafing irritation, the vexed frustration.

Leave me alone.

Is Lance that annoying?

Even chatting with Hunk for a little while later in the night doesn't help. Lance thinks Hunk can tell something’s bothering him but bless the big teddy bear’s heart, he doesn't try to wrangle an explanation out of Lance for it. He really doesn't want to sound as pathetic as he knows he probably is to one of the few friends he has.

The next morning Lance doesn't make a sound as he leaves the apartment for the library to continue with the research he started yesterday. He still feels like an idiot for last night, but it’s a new day, a good day. Despite the chilly air of approaching winter, the sun’s rays are soft and sweet on his skin as he walks to the library.

Work at his part-time job goes better than it did last time. Only a few rude customers compared to every single one of them thinking it is their sole duty of the day to be as nasty as possible to as many people as they can be. Lance is in better spirits by the end of his shift, a slight spring to his steps as he walks back home.

He keeps his mood up when he enters the resounding, echoing silence of the apartment through sheer strength of will and loudly humming happy tunes under his breath as he fixes himself a late-afternoon snack that might end up being his dinner. He holes up in his room, enjoying a sandwich and opening up Netflix to wile away the rest of the night.

He doesn't think about Keith at all the entire time. No sirree no he does not.

(He does.)

Lance knows for sure that something is wrong when the door to Keith’s bedroom remains closed the entire next day, and the next. Keith is quiet by nature. Lance had that figured out from day one, and he tries to respect that. But this – this is to a whole new level. A whole new seriously worrying level.

Keith doesn't come out to eat, or get a drink, or to shout at Lance to shut the TV off or reduce it when Lance purposefully raises the volume, hoping to coax the dark-haired beau – boy, boy – out of his abode, to no avail. The only reason Lance knows Keith is even still alive in there is because his light still goes on in the evenings over the course of those two unnervingly silent days.

Pidge texted that Shiro said it’s probably not anything serious, but this can’t be normal, right? Even for a shifter.

…what the hell is going on?

It’s in the middle of trying to enjoy the new season of The Dragon Prince on a study break that Lance throws his hands in the air, mutes the TV, and stalks to the kitchen. He rifles through the cupboards looking for a thermometer. He finds it, then quickly fills up a glass of water and hesitantly makes his way to the door to Keith’s bedroom.

The memory of Keith’s harsh answer to his concern from last time echoes in his head like an ache beating through his skull. He grits his teeth and knocks anyway. Because you know – he’s a masochist who always cares more about other people than they ever can about him.

“Keith, man, seriously, if you’re not feeling well, just – tell me and I can help.” He calls out, closing his eyes and bracing for another caustic response.

None comes.

“I’m literally gonna call the cops or – or something.” He tries threatening. “You’re kinda worrying me here.”

Still nothing.

Lance shuts his eyes in defeat, lightly thumping his forehead against Keith’s door. “I’m leaving a glass of water by your door, okay? So you don’t die of dehydration, at least,” he adds in a dark mutter, shrugging off the hives that rush over his skin at the memory.

Lance can’t help feeling a little bitter as he definitely does not stomp back to the kitchen, irritated with himself for continuing to care about someone who’s made it clear that they don’t need it.

He stands in the middle of the kitchen for a moment, wondering what to do. He can always go back and continue on the project he and Pidge are working on, but she’s feeling better and they agreed to meet up tomorrow afternoon to go over what Lance found and start actually writing the paper, and he’s just…not in the mood for doing any studying – at all.

He could always call Hunk and see if he’s up for hanging out since he was also getting better from the flu, but he’d mentioned that Shay was over and taking care of him. Lance doesn't want to get in the way of any of their alone time, especially because Hunk had been pining after Shay for a long time before finally asking her out.

Lance looks around himself at the empty apartment, barren of any personal markers beyond the muted TV continuing to play The Dragon Prince. The sharp light of the kitchen bathes everything in white, chasing away shadows of the evening.

An odd but familiar heaviness settles in the bottom of his chest, like an anchor thrown overboard. He’s lonely. He’s lonely and bored, and itching for something to do.

He wanders back to the kitchen, pulling open the fridge and peering into various cupboards. He’ll cook something, maybe he won’t eat it himself because he’s not really that hungry, but – but maybe the smell of cooking food will lure Keith out of his room. He doesn't even know why he’s so fixated on Keith and whatever’s up with him and his dumb mullet. He kind of feels like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go.

He sighs, hanging his head for a moment before looking up at the cupboard he kneels in front of. He’s not in the mood to cook anything. He reaches in and grabs a big glass bowl and a packet of popcorn, standing up and setting the popcorn on the counter beside the microwave before turning to put the bowl on the island counter.

He lets out an unholy shriek and nearly launches into the air like a ballistic missile, fingers loosening and the glass bowl slipping his hold, when he sees Keith just – standing right there.

Keith moves lightning fast, snatching the glass bowl out of literal air before it can crash and shatter to a thousand pieces. Lance steps back instinctively, hip bumping into the island counter. He presses a shaking hand to his wildly thumping heart.

“Keith, what the fuck!” he shouts, bit too high and a little breathy, but can you blame him? Lance doesn't do well with people sneaking up on him. He really doesn't. “Don’t freaking pop up out of – out of nowhere like that, fucking hell!”

Keith ignores him, putting the bowl on the counter a foot away from where Lance stands trying to hide his trembling. It’s only when he steps back, folding his arms across his chest, does Lance notice something is a little – off, about Keith.

Lance has a problem when it comes to Keith. He doesn't know how to not stare at Keith. The least he can do is try to be subtle about it, which he hopes he actually does manage most of the time, because he doesn't want Keith to know that there are some serious budding feelings that bubble up in his chest every time he’s in proximity with the shifter.

But thanks to all that staring he knows what’s a normal look on Keith. He knows Keith’s hair is on the long side, falling out of the border of being a mullet and now just long, probably enough to tie back into a ponytail, and it’s not like that out of a fashion-style choice, but probably because Keith just doesn't seem to care about it.

(It’s a little unfair, how little Keith seems to care about his appearance and how effortless it is for him to just roll out of bed looking like some dark hero.)

He knows that Keith has nicely-shaped lips that he’s thought about way too often, with chiselled cheekbones that, again, he’s thought about way too much. He knows that Keith has pale skin that suits him instead of making him look ill (difficult line to tread), whether naturally or from not hanging around in the sun enough, he’s not sure. All he’s absolutely sure about is that that alabaster shade of his skin makes for a nice contrast with the pitch darkness of hair that falls over thick black eyebrows set over those eyes, and.

God. His eyes. Keith’s eyes. Lance is certain that he could lose himself in them for eternity and not complain about it. Keith’s face is usually set in a perfect poker face that makes it so hard to know what he’s thinking, but his eyes.

That saying, about how the eyes are the windows to a person’s soul? Whoever coined that phrase got it right and deserves a Nobel prize.

Keith’s poker face is top notch, but he can’t quite keep emotion out of eyes that aren’t entirely what colour they want to be, constantly shifting between an odd shade of grey that makes Lance wonder if he’s looking at slate silver eyes or deep blue ones, then switching over to mulberry wine. The sheer depth of his eyes steals Lance’s breath away, every time. Odd, considering that even with the emotions visible in his eyes, Lance can never tell what Keith is thinking.

Lance can’t write to save his life, but looking at Keith turns him into a poetic sap so easily that he knows, no matter how hard he tries not to, he’s already tripped and is falling headfirst into the Keith Rabbit Hole.

He’s not so far down the rabbit hole that he isn't a little wary of the way Keith is looking at him right now. The only way to describe it is hungry. Keith looks at him like the way he did that one time Lance came home to find him cooking and Keith told him he hadn’t had a chance to eat that whole day. At the time Lance had made a joke about not eating him, and Keith had cracked a small smile at that, but now…

It’s kind of looking like that joke might be more literal this time round. But carnivore shifters don’t eat people. They don’t. Lance is perfectly safe with Keith.

Even with the way Keith is looking at him, even with the distinct aura of danger radiating off of him, Lance doesn't feel scared for his life. No, he’s just a little scared because he doesn't know what’s going on right now. He knows Keith won’t hurt him.

(Don’t ask him how he knows that, and yes, he knows it’s naive and foolhardy to be so trusting, but it’s – Keith.)

Keith is tense like a bowstring drawn taut, in danger of snapping at even the slightest wrong move. That tension is practically vibrating off his entire body. Coupled with Keith being taller than him (Lance is not a midget), and with visible muscle despite the lean physique…

Lance thinks he can kind of understand what gazelles feel like. Not the shifter ones. Or maybe even them too.

He swallows past the tennis ball lodged in his throat. Keith’s eyes flicker but never leave him, and Lance knows he’s caught onto Lance’s jumpiness. Is that a shifter thing, or a Keith thing, to instantly be able to pick up on when someone is nervous around you? Probably a mix of both.

“You – you nearly gave me a heart attack, man,” Lance internally winces at his stutter, but he bulldozes past it as he tries to calm himself in the only way he knows how; mindless chatter. “So you finally came out of your cave, huh? That’s good. I was starting to get a little worried.”

Keith remains eerily silent. He’s so unmoving, not a hair moving out of place. He’s just standing there. Watching.

Lance wonders if maybe Keith knows about all the times Lance has been unable to keep his eyes off him and he’s now paying Lance back for all of it in one go.

“Uh, I’m making popcorn.” He backs up a few steps before turning to the kitchen counter, fumbling for the packet of popcorn. He waves it a little as he flicks the microwave on and starts getting the popcorn ready. “You want some? There’s also some caramel flavoured rice cakes, those are really good. Unless you want to eat something a little more substantial, I can do that too. I don’t really have anything to do right now anyway. I’m – I, I’m watching The Dragon Prince?” he doesn't know why he says that like a question.

What is he doing? Stop talking. He needs to stop talking.

He continues talking. “Season two just came out, so far so good. I’m liking the new guy – Aaravos? Yeah, Aaravos. But I hope they don’t forget about Runaan, I really hope whatever queer stuff they put in the show will actually be good, otherwise I’m never going to trust another American animated show when they say oh, hey, watch our show, we’ve got great content for you, we won’t stab you in the heart and then twist the knife in so it hurts as much as possible. Uhm, do –uh, you wanna join me? We can start with season one if you haven’t watched it, the art style is a little different to what you usually see but it’s really good and I totally don’t mind re –”

“You need to leave.”

Lance goes dead still. He feels like his entire body wilts, his face draining of colour, his bones turning weak and crumbling. There is absolutely no context given and – Lance’s heart drops straight through his stomach and down to splatter on the floor in a bloody, disbelieving mess.

“...what?” he whispers.

Because what? What’s happening right now? What – what did he do wrong?

He turns around just in time to see Keith’s frown at how suddenly pale Lance has gone. Keith must see something in his eyes – the abrupt, sickening lurch of fear that has Lance’s knees shaking, or maybe he can smell it, goddamned shifter senses – because his eyes widen in realization.

(Really, Keith? Really? What’s Lance supposed to think when you drop an untethered bomb like that out of nowhere?)

“No, Lance – that’s not what I meant. I’m not kicking you out,” he rushes to explain, taking a step forward to Lance, before he stops. A strangely wild and desperate look crosses his face for a split second before he tenses, slipping back into chains of control Lance hadn’t noticed there before, and the poker mask firmly back in place. “That’s not what this is.”

The words should settle Lance’s nerves. In a way they do. But why did Keith say that in the first place? Why does Lance have to leave? What does he mean?

“Then what?” Lance asks. He hates how unsteady he still sounds. How hard his heart pumps. “What did you mean by that?”

For a solid minute there, every bad thing that could happen flashed before his eyes. He saw himself getting kicked out of this really nice apartment and being unable to find another one because finding a place to live in Altea is so hard, especially on a budget as tight as his, and he refuses to ask Mami for more help than she’s already giving.

If he can’t find a place to live how can he attend university here? He can’t go back home a failure, not when Mami sacrificed so much so he could live this dream, after the hell that happened to the family. After the hell that happened to him. He can't go back home to where his uncle might show up again.

“I just – I need you to leave for a few days, okay?” Keith says, drawing Lance out of his spiralling, panic-fuelled thoughts. “Is there anyone you can stay with?”

Lance shakes his head, warily eyeing Keith in flabbergasted confusion. “No. Both of my friends came down with a flu.” He shrugs, a little helplessly. “I don’t – I really don’t have anywhere to go.”

Keith purses his lips, a scowl pulling the dark slashes of his brows low as he runs a hand through his loosened hair. It’s a very distracting move.

“Okay – okay,” he mutters distractedly. “I’ll call my brother – he’s a good guy and you can stay with him until it’s okay to come back.”

He frowns. Until – “Until it’s okay to come back?” he echoes. “Keith, what’s going on? Why are you – what are you doing? Why are you suddenly kicking me out? Did I do something? If I did I can –”

Keith looks horrified that that’s the first thing Lance thinks about this whole situation. That Lance is the one who did something to warrant being pushed out of the apartment. At least that’s what Lance hopes the shocked incredulity on Keith’s face is for.

“What? No – you didn’t do anything.” Keith says, voice hard and firm, leaving no room for doubt. “This is not on you.”

“Then what is it?” Lance asks, frustrated. “Why the he – why do I have to leave?”

“It’s better if you do,” Keith dodges. “It’s safer.”

Safer? Lance repeated. The fuck?

He takes a closer look at Keith’s dishevelled form. He looks a little – Lance didn’t notice it at first, but Keith looks worn out and keyed up all at the same time. Those vibrant eyes of his are brighter than Lance is used to seeing but there’s also a distinctly dark look to them that Lance can’t quite put a finger on. His hair looks like he’s been running his fingers through it several times for hours and while the look isn't exactly bad, kind of like a sexy bedhead, it’s more tussled than Keith lets it be. His skin isn't flushed and he’s not sweating. He doesn't look like he has a fever, but maybe that’s because shifter biology is a little different to humans?

Maybe he should just leave it alone. Keith doesn't look too good, but Lance is curious. Curiosity? It’s his fatal flaw.

“This is coming out of nowhere Keith, and I.” He swallows, trying to be a little more daring than usual. “I live here too. So. It’s kind of unfair – you won’t even tell me why.”

Keith doesn't say anything but Lance sees him swallow. His gaze darts down to see Keith’s hands opening and closing in loose fists.

Lance walks forward. He doesn't fail to notice the hitch in Keith’s breath when he does or how live-wire tense he gets.

“Keith, are you sure you’re all right? If you’re not, I can help.” He doesn't think as he stops in front of Keith and reaches up to press the back of his hand to Keith’s cheek, the way his Mami does when checking her kids for fever. His eyes widen. “Geez Keith, you’re burning up –”

He doesn't know what he did. Keith makes a low sound, somewhere in his chest – a growl, his eyes flashing then darkening to pitch-black midnight pools. It’s almost like Lance can see those chains of control unravelling – slipping off of Keith as quickly as they’d been put on.

Keith moves.

Lance stumbles back in surprise, hip bumping into the island counter again and his eyes widening, but it doesn't stop Keith. Lance blinks – there’s a hand tangling in his choppy curls, another cupping the side of his face before the hand in his hair leaves and a strong arm wrapping around his waist and pulling him flush against the lean, hard line of a body burning like a furnace – his hands have nowhere to go but to grip the front of Keith’s shirt, and

Lips are crushing to his.

Lance blanks. He doesn't understand what’s happening – but he does, he just can’t fathom how but it’s happening. He’s fantasized about it so many times before and it’s everything he thought it would be and, and – and not, and more, all at once.

Keith is kissing him. Keith is kissing him. Keith is kissing him.

It’s not gentle. It’s hard, and – desperate, like Keith physically can’t stop himself, which would be flattering if Lance weren’t more preoccupied with the gentle way Keith’s holding him, even despite how he presses his slightly chapped lips to Lance’s, moving over his, and then –

Lance’s lets out an embarrassing little whimper when hands grip the back of his thighs, Keith lifting him off the ground and setting him on the island counter without breaking contact between them, with an ease that has blood rushing to Lance’s cheeks and further south. Keith tips his head back from Lance, for barely a second, and Lance’s opens his eyes only long enough to see the almost animalistic longing on Keith’s face before Keith is pushing forward again, capturing his lips.

He startles when Keith nips his bottom lip, very light, then a tongue brushes over his lips, and his gasp lets Keith in. Lance’s whites out as his nerve endings spark with unexpected pleasure that races through him as Keith kisses him, licking into his mouth, traces his tongue with his own in a way that has Lance’s toes curling as he wraps his legs around Keith’s trim waist, trying to get closer. His heart thumps so hard and wild in his chest – he’s sure it’s about to beat right out of his body. He reaches up to grip Keith’s firm biceps because holy lord, he’s sitting on the counter but he still feels like he’s going to collapse if he doesn't hold onto something right now.

Keith rips himself away seconds later – stumbling back and knocking into the fridge behind him. They’re both panting hard. Keith stares at Lance with wide, impossibly dark eyes. Lance – dazed and trying to catch his breath with his lips still pleasantly tingling and his cheeks red as burning tomatoes. There’s a – deep, aching want in his stomach.

What…what? What was that? Never in a million years (fantasies barely count) could Lance have imagined this would actually happen in real life. He’s been pining after Keith for a little while now but he never thought anything would actually come of it, especially not like – this, so suddenly and so, well.

Lance isn't going to be forgetting that kiss for a long time.

“You didn’t stop me,” Keith whispers, staring at Lance with a puzzled, baffled look. His voice is deep and gravelly. Lance is getting increasingly aware of the growing situation in his pants. “Why didn’t you stop me?”

Now how to answer that question without outright admitting that Lance has been hardcore crushing on his werepanther roommate from basically the moment they met months ago?

Lance licks his lips nervously. After what just happened he doesn't miss the way Keith’s gaze flicks down to the movement before darting back up to focus on Lance’s face with an intensity that has the heat in Lance’s cheeks reddening.

“I – I didn’t want to?” he looks away and focuses his eyes on the abandoned popcorn, unable to hold that vivid gaze. “I didn’t – I didn’t want to stop you.”

The silence that resounds through the kitchen is heavy, weighing on them. Lance doesn't know what to do, what to think. He doesn't know how to say, I want you to kiss me. He doesn't know how to say, I want you to kiss me like that again, I want you to want to kiss me. He doesn't know how to say, I want you.

He is such a mess.

“Why?” he asks instead, and he hates how even he can hear the uncertainty in his voice. “Why did you do that?”

Lance can feel him still intently watching him, but for the life of him he can’t meet Keith’s eyes. Not yet. Not when he’s replaying every single split second moment of that kiss, still trying to relive it, even as he wants to know why it happened. He can't bring himself to look at Keith when he’s still thinking about Keith’s hand in his hair – Keith’s arm tight around his waist – Keith’s hands on the backs of his thighs, lifting him clear off the ground so easilythe way Keith kissed him…

Keith, Keith, Keith.

Lance finally does look at him when Keith steps forward. He’s a few inches taller but with Lance still sitting on the island counter, when Keith stops a foot in front of him, they’re at perfect eye-level. Keith’s eyes are like dark indigo nebulae swirling with pinprick bits of light piercing through. Lance could get lost in his eyes – he is getting lost in them.

“This is why you need to leave Lance,” he says roughly. He holds Lance hostage with the sound of his voice, the look in his eyes. “I’m in heat right now. I would have warned you but – it came on earlier than it’s supposed to.”

Lance stares at him, trying to understand what he’s saying. Heat? Is that why Keith’s body temperature is so high? Still, that doesn't seem bad enough to need Lance out of the apartment entirely.

“What does that mean?” Lance asks nervously. “I don’t get it.”

Keith blinks at him in return, looking a little thrown for a second. He clears his throat. “You, uh. You don’t know?”

Lance gives him a look, both eyebrows raised. “Would I be asking if I did?”

Keith gives him a tight but amused smirk. He takes another step closer. Lance’s heart flutters. “You’re studying marine biology and you don’t know what a heat is?”

He’s about to defend himself, righteously offended at the teasing jab, before his mouth snaps closed as it hits him like a truck to the face. He even remembers reading the short passage about it in a textbook a while ago though he mostly skimmed past it because it wasn’t what he’d needed at the time.

Heat’ applies to nonhuman mammals. It is a state or period of heightened sexual arousal and activity. The term ‘rut’ is specified to be a state of sexual excitement pertaining to male mammals.

Huh – well.

Lance didn’t see this coming.

Look, it’s not like he knows nothing about shifters. With the world in the state it’s in, shifters having exposed to the mass population a few decades back, everyone still suspended in a state of not quite knowing exactly where humans and shifters fit together in this new world order – it’s hard to just not know anything about them.

Also, New Altea is primarily run by shifters. Most of its students are shifters. There’s a pattern of that. There’s only maybe ten or fifteen other humans in the entire university. Not many people want to school with a bunch of half-humans who can shift into animals at will. Lance goes to New Altea because they’ve got the best course in marine biology – and they encourage international students.

He won a scholarship and the rest – history.

It doesn't cover dormitory expenses, but he makes just enough from his two part-time jobs – one at the restaurant, the other at Coran’s Antiquities Emporium – to send a little money back home, survive on a day-to-day basis himself, and pay his half of rent for the very nice apartment he shares with Keith.

(He has a nagging feeling that even with the half he pays, Keith might be paying more to make up the difference. It’s – he doesn't know how to approach this issue.)

So, yeah. Lance likes to think he’s not entirely ignorant about the whole other species his own cohabits the planet with. Also they’re kind of cool. In the same way it’s nice to look at a lion from the other side of a fence or in a nigh-on indestructible land rover kind of cool, but – awesome nonetheless.

His research was innocent though. He knows that there are darker aspects to being a shifter, both by the fault of humans – shifter furs and skins is just as prized as normal animal ones are – and shifters themselves, but he’s never felt brave enough to venture into those dark avenues of information.

He didn’t…he didn’t read anything about heats. He didn’t know shifters can get heats. Probably the fact that they’re half animal should have clued him in, but he isn't very knowledgeable about this stuff, okay? He studies marine biology, not shifter biology.

“So.” Lance says. His brain scrambles for something to say. “I need to leave because…”

Keith gives him a look, a little odd. Half exasperated and half fond. “I don’t want to do something to you because I’m in this – state.”

“You look pretty lucid to me right now.”

Keith frowns. “I just kissed you.”

Lance does everything he mentally can to fight off the blush he knows still paints his cheeks anyway as he says, “I mean, yeah, that was kind of – unexpected. But do you see me complaining about it? It’s um.” He bites his lip. “I’m not. In case that’s not clear.”

This time it’s Keith who stares at him, thrown for a loop. He looks like that’s the very last thing he was expecting. Did Keith think he’d throw a rage-fuelled tantrum at being kissed? No way. He means what he said; it was unexpected, but you don’t see Lance uttering a word of complaint about it.

As far as first kisses go, that was damn good. As much as Lance can guess so, and he thinks the sheer number of fanfics and romance novels he’s devoured over the years is a pretty good place to start his expectations with.

(It says a lot that Keith’s kissing him was way better than anything Lance expected because those fics and novels set his bar up way too high.)

“How…” Lance trails off, frowning as his eyes lower to fix on the black soft-looking material of the V-neck sweater Keith wears. He’s close. Really close. One more step and Lance could wrap his legs around Keith’s waist again. That had felt good. Really good.

“How…?” Keith echoes, his voice low as he gently prompts Lance.

“Does it – how does it work?” Lance asks quietly. The question comes out in a shaky breath as Lance looks up, straight into Keith’s eyes pinning him in place. “I’ve read stories, but they weren’t really about shifters so I don’t know. You look calm.”

It’s probably why Lance didn’t realize that whatever was wrong with Keith was anything like this. To be fair, he didn’t know shifters had anything like heats until exactly one minute ago – so. That says a lot.

“Shifter heats aren’t what you see in those stories,” Keith answers, regarding Lance with a thoughtful look on his face. “We go into heats, but only every couple of months.”

“How long between each?” Lance asks, the student in him peeking out.

Keith’s lips twitch in a faint smile at the curiosity shining clear in Lance’s eyes. “Three or four months.”

“And how long does it last?”

Keith hesitates for a moment. “A couple of days, sometimes up to a week.”

Lance bobs his head in a nod, filing away that piece of information. That might explain Keith’s hermit caveman act, which means he’d already spent – what, four, five days? – with this, alone. He was trying to hide this from Lance. That makes something weird squirm in his stomach. Half keen and half wary anticipation. He can’t explain it. He just – feels it.

“What happens if you don’t…y’know, do it?” he asks.

“Just – general discomfort. Irritability.”

“Is it painful?” he knows heats aren’t particularly painful, but when animals go through heats unrelieved of that sexual need, it becomes painful. Like, discomfort to the levels of pain. He remembers that much from the textbook. Shifters – if they get heats, it can’t be much different, can it?

The pause is longer this time, as if Keith’s genuinely contemplating just not telling him. Lance gives him a flat, unimpressed look, cocking his head to the side.

Keith sighs. “A little, yeah.”

“And why do you want me to leave?”

He knows he’s touched on a sensitive question when Keith tenses, a dark look crossing his face. He eyes Lance warily, as if waiting for Lance to jump up and start accusing him of something atrocious. Lance continues to look at him with completely innocent curiosity. Blinking his blue eyes at him. Playing on how he knows he looks now – innocent, eager to know.

Keith sighs. “You’re not going to drop this.”

“Nope.” Lance beams. He’d even kick his legs out like a happy child if not for the fact that that would mean touching Keith.

Despite how close they are, they still haven’t actually touched. It leaves Lance wanting, longing for it, but he almost feels like this is some kind of game, a dance; to see how long they can go like this.

Lance decides to take the next step in the dance. He swings his feet a little, just a bit, a completely natural move. It makes the space between his thighs widen a few inches – a completely normal thing to happen.

Keith’s eyes remain on his. Something in them flickers. Lance bites the inside of his cheek.

What is he doing?

“What do you know about shifter dynamics?” Keith asks.

“Nothing?” He has no clue what that even means. “What is that?”

Keith nods like he was expecting that. He shuffles forward just a little. Just enough.

“There are certain genes in our DNA that give us an alpha, beta, or omega makeup,” he says. “That’s what dictates our heats. Betas don’t get it, and – we don’t lose our minds like in those fanfics you read.”

Lance blushes but he remains quiet when Keith shoots him a little smile that has Lance’s heart pattering funnily in his chest.

“Alpha shifters tend to be more dominant and taking in their ruts,” Keith continues, and – there, that’s another half-step closer. “And omegas more submissive, more giving, but we’re still in our right mind. We’re more,” his voice dips lower, and Lance resists the urge to just open his legs like a streetwalker, right there. “Possessive of things and people we consider ours.”

Lance swallows. “Which are you?”

Keith regards him silently, searching.

“Alpha.”

If Lance were a dame in the eighteen hundreds, he’d be swooning and fanning himself. Those fanfics he read? Not helping his imagination right now. Seriously not helping.

Lord have mercy on my soul.

“O – oh. Okay.” He manages tightly. He swings his feet again, making the space between his thighs just a bit bigger. The corner of Keith’s lips kick up in a tiny smirk. “So, uh. How – you, um. Need to do, uh, that. Right?”

Keith makes a low humming sound, they’re close enough now that Lance can almost feel it. Keith’s still not touching him, but he’s practically right in between Lance’s parted legs.

“It doesn't end it, but we can be satisfied by pleasuring our partners more than ourselves.” He says the words so calmly, with such a straight face, but coupled with the dark look in his eyes and the deadly smirk playing about his lips.

Lance feels like he’s dying.

His skin stretches too tight over his body. His bones quaver with a need to do something. His lips are still tingling from that kiss. The sensations he’d felt from it are sparking up again, echoes he wants to feel again, wants to feel more of.

“You said you would have warned me,” Lance says, a mere whisper with how little distance there is between them. “What did you mean by that?”

Keith just watches him instead of answering him, and this time Lance can't bring himself to look away. Instead he holds Keith’s gaze unwaveringly. His eyes flick between Keith’s as he waits for an answer.

“It wasn’t supposed to start for another month,” he finally says. “It caught me off-guard.”

Lance frowns. “Did something trigger it?”

“Yeah,” Keith answers. He leans forward a little. Lance’s breath picks up and his heart stutters when he puts his hands on either side of Lance, gripping the edges of the countertop but not touching Lance. He’s just made the final move in their dance.

Lance’s hands clench to loose fists on his thighs. “What was it?”

“You.”

Lance blinks rapidly at him, gaping in shock. “Me? I – I what? How?”

Keith, for his part, doesn't look put off by Lance’s confused floundering, because what? How does that even happen? Lance triggered this?

“I’m attracted to you.” He answers simply, honestly. Lance’s world just about crashes to a grinding halt. “It seems that made it come on faster than usual. It’s not unheard of for this to happen with shifters.”

Oh.

Oh, fuck, Lance triggered this?

“Um.” He clears his throat . “Is ‘I’m sorry’ the appropriate thing to say here?”

Keith shrugs, leaving it entirely up to Lance. He decides not to apologize for something he had no control over. He’s not quite that pathetic.

“Is that why you want me to go?”

Keith nods slowly, almost…hesitantly. Like he’s regretting wanting that, maybe? No, that’s just wishful thinking. Must be.

…right?

He doesn't know.

“I don’t –” Keith sighs. “I didn’t want to risk doing something to you that you wouldn't want because I’m like this.”

Lance frowns. The implication of what he means is hard to miss. “But I thought you said shifters don’t, and I quote, ‘lose your mind’ when you’re like this?”

“We don’t,” Keith replies. He tips forward, slightly, just enough for Lance to feel the heat that radiates off his body. “But you –” he closes his eyes.

Lance can visibly see the signs of struggle Keith is going through. White lines bracket his lips, his brows haven’t smoothened out from frowning – his whole body is tense as a wire pulled harshly.

“I…?” Lance gently prompts.

Keith groans as he closes the distance between them. Lance’s heart stops and restarts with all the violent force of an old truck sputtering to life when Keith presses his forehead to Lance’s. His eyes are closed and his hands are away from Lance’s body, giving him an out if he wants to take it.

Lance does not want to take it. He really doesn't. He’s not – he thinks he knows where this is going but he’s not entirely sure. All he knows is that he wants to see, to find out. He wants to know how far this can go, whatever ‘this’ is.

“You make me want to do things to you,” Keith whispers huskily. “You make me want to see you in so many different ways, and that’s on normal days. Couple that with a heat…”

Lance’s heart has entirely evacuated his chest. It’s in his throat now. Again, the implication of what Keith means is hard to miss, even to an apparently completely oblivious idiot like Lance.

(He may or may not be stuck on the fact that he triggered Keith’s heat, rut, whatever you want to call it.)

In a split-second, Lance makes a decision that has him wondering what actually he’s getting into.

“Can I help?” he asks softly. “If I’m not a shifter. Can I – I want – I want to help.”

Keith pulls back, staring at Lance like he didn’t hear that right. “What?”

Lance gives him a smile, what he hopes is reassuring but he knows looks more shaky. “You heard me. I want to help you.”

Keith’s eyes flicker between Lance’s earnest ones, looking for a joke that isn't there.

“Do you know what that means?” he asks. “Do you know what you’re offering to me?”

Maybe?

Lance nods. “It’s – sex, right?”

Even just saying that has him burning up. What does he think he’s doing?

A part of his heart squeezes tight at the words. He doesn't want this to be just about sex. He knows about sex, about how good it’s supposed to feel, but he knows there’s the mindless sex you can have with some random hook-up from a bar, and – there’s the sex you can have with someone you care about, with someone who cares about you.

He wants the latter. If this happens, he wants it to mean something.

(He doesn't say that. He always cares more than others.)

“It’s more than that,” Keith says. Lance closes his eyes as he feels Keith’s lips move lightly over his, pressing just barely to his cheekbones, ghosting over his ear. “It means giving me your body. Giving me control. Letting me do what I want to you, for as long as I want. Giving it to you good – making you feel good, so good.”

That doesn't sound so bad. Intense, Keith is an intense guy, but not bad. Kind of – Lance thinks he wants it?

Lance swallows when Keith’s arm comes up around him, gripping his hips in a gentle but possessive hold. His legs tighten involuntarily, knees pressing against Keith’s waist on either side as the action has a spike of want darting between his legs. Keith presses forward, and Lance’s breath hitches when he feels the bulge on Keith’s front, just barely touching his own stirring interest.

“What about you?” Lance asks, his mind dripping with the haze of some unnamed desire he’s only ever felt hints of a few times in his life when in the privacy of his room with his thoughts – mostly in the months since he met Keith. “What can I do for you?”

He feels Keith’s answering smile on his cheek. “You’re so soft, you know that?”

Lance’s eyebrows crinkle at that. Soft? “How?”

Keith chuckles as he pulls back, giving Lance a heated look. “You want to please me. You want to take care of me when I’m like this. Are you sure you want that?”

Lance, despite knowing just how inexperienced he is in this, nods . “Yes. I want it. I want you.”

For a moment, he worries that he’s revealed too much with those three simple words. I want you. Does it say too much about how long he’s been pining after Keith? Does it say too much about how desperate Lance is feeling to find out how Keith plans on making him feel good?

Keith’s eyes darken at his words. The pirate grin he gives Lance is downright sinful. He leans forward, pausing when their lips are just barely touching and they’re breathing each other’s air. He looks into Lance’s eyes – they’re so close that Lance can see the dark flecks in his eyes.

“Good,” he murmurs.

Then they’re kissing again. It’s softer, more patient, but Lance can feel the undercurrent of need just beneath the surface. It’s like – like Keith is holding back, just barely. Keith’s hand comes up to cradle the side of his face in a devastatingly gentle hold, his mouth pressing to Lance’s, kissing his bottom lip, their mouths slotting together perfectly.

But this time, Lance has an idea of what he’s doing. This time he tries to give as good as he gets. He parts his mouth slightly and kisses Keith’s bottom lip. Keith tilts his head just so, moulding their lips together, moving just enough to keep them going. It’s – so soft and innocent compared to the first kiss that Lance practically melts into it.

One hand slides up from Lance’s cheek to cup the back of his head as Keith licks at the seam of Lance’s lips. A little sounds slips out of him as he opens his mouth for Keith and Keith swoops in, massaging his tongue. Lance tries the same, eyebrows scrunched with concentration. He feels it when Keith tightens his hold on Lance’s hips – maybe he’s not so bad at this.

He hooks his ankles together at the small of Keith’s back, shuffling forward on the counter a little, trying to press closer, to relieve some of the building pressure in his pants because holy shit is he getting hard. He whimpers needily when he finally get it, the barest friction that isn't enough.

Keith breaks off to murmur against his lips, “Hold on.”

Lance does so, tightening his legs around Keith’s waist as his arms wind around Keith’s neck, their chests pressed tight together. He yelps in surprise when he’s lifted off the counter, Keith holding him with his arms under Lance’s thighs so freaking easily.

“Oh my god,” Lance breathes – he very much likes that Keith can carry him, but also his hard-on is pressing against Keith’s torso. “It’s so hot that you can do that,” he giggles, glancing down as Keith smoothly turns away from the kitchen and starts walking to his bedroom. Which doesn't have Lance’s stomach clenching tight with fluttery anticipation and nerves. Not at all.

“Carry you?” Keith replies, barely looking away from Lance’s face. “You barely weigh anything.”

“Hey!” Lance squawks indignantly. “Take that back.”

Keith cocks one eyebrow, impossibly smug. “Why? It’s the truth.”

Lance pouts at him. “It’s not.”

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Makes it easier to lug you around.”

“I don’t know if you’re calling me skinny or fat at this point.”

Keith chuckles. “Whatever makes you feel better.”

Lance feels the door to Keith’s bedroom at his back for a moment before Keith, somehow, opens it. He strides in, grip on Lance not faltering for a second. He kicks the door shut behind him before he goes in, walking backwards towards his bed. Lance barely has any time to look around Keith’s room – he’s never been in here, all he really sees is the floor-to-ceiling windows that let the bright wash of moonlight illuminate the room – before Keith sits on the bed, Lance straddling him and.

That is definitely a hard-on he can feel on his ass where he sits snug in Keith’s lap.

Keith tips his head up and easily reconnects their lips. Lance’s eyes slide closed as he loses himself to this, his fingers tracing gently over Keith’s sharp features, almost scared – like he’s afraid this will be taken away if he indulges too much. But he can’t – he can’t stop himself.

He loses himself to – Keith’s lips, hot and urgent on his. Keith’s hands running up and down his body before dipping under his shirt, warm fingers tracing up Lance’s body – he trembles as they trace little whorls on his skin. Lance moves a little, presses his knees together, circles his hips, tries to push closer. He relishes in the tiny catch in Keith’s breath as Lance moves over what he knows is Keith’s cock right under him.

God, he wants – he doesn't know what he wants, he just – wants. So badly.

“Your shirt,” Keith murmurs against his lips. “Let me take it off. Now.”

Lance nods, stomach fluttering with excited nerves at the commanding tone of Keith’s voice – a command, but still a request. Still giving Lance an easy out if he wants it. Keith worried about doing something Lance wouldn't want, and yet here he is – they’ve barely done anything and Keith is still making sure that this is what Lance wants.

It is.

He leans back, enough to raise his arms, and Keith wastes no time. He slides his palms up Lance’s torso, under his shirt. Lance can’t keep his eyes off Keith, taking in the way his the indigo of his eyes are practically swallowed up by blow-up pupils. His breath is trapped somewhere in his stomach as Keith’s hands skim over his body, heat coiling tight in his lower abdomen at the touch. He loses sight of Keith when the shirt goes over his head, and before he knows it, he’s sitting shirtless on top of Keith, who’s staring at him with such fixed intensity that Lance squirms a little.

“I don’t – I don’t work out much, okay?” he mutters defensively.

He knows he’s not bad looking, but he also doesn't have abs, and he is kind of scrawny. A part of him wants to cross his arms, just to try and feel a little protected. He’s only taken off his shirt and he’s already feeling so self-conscious about his bo –

“Beautiful,” Keith murmurs.

Lance’s cheeks explode with colour.

“I’m – you’re just saying that,” he says. He’s blushing so much he can feel his ears burning with it.

“No,” Keith says. He moves up the bed a little and turns so quickly that Lance sucks in a sharp inhale when he finds himself flat on his back on the bed, his legs still around Keith’s waist, and Keith hovering over him. “I wouldn't say it if I didn’t mean it.”

Lance laughs nervously. “Since when are you such a smooth talker?”

“A while,” he answers, before leaning forward to kiss him again.

Lance’s hands slide up to card through the long, soft dark locks of Keith’s hair like he’s had dreams of doing for months now. He loves it – the feel of the silk of Keith’s hair slipping between his fingers. It’s unbelievable how soft it is with how thick it is. Keith shifts, presses his hips down. Lance loses his breath at the friction, fingers tightening in Keith’s hair.

“Again,” he whispers, pleading against Keith’s lips. “Again, do – do that again.”

“What?” Keith purrs, smiling coyly. He presses his hips down again, and Lance pushes his head back into the soft mattress as he bites back a moan. “This?”

“You know what, you tease,” Lance grumbles. As payback, he rolls his hips up, just hard enough that they both groan aloud at the friction.

It’s – good, but not quite right. Not yet.

Pushing past the nerves, he pulls at the sleeve of Keith’s sweater. “It’s your turn.”

Keith doesn't miss a beat, and it does wonders for Lance’s nerves. It makes him think that Keith is just as impatient for this as Lance is. Then he remembers that Keith is in heat. He’s a shifter – he’s in heat. Of course he wants this.

(Lance shuts the door on the line of thinking that thought leads to. He doesn't want to think about that. He wants to enjoy this. Let him have this.)

Keith sits up, straddling Lance’s narrow waist, and quickly pulls the sweater off. His body is a vision in the moonlight that falls over him; pale and lithe, toned but not like he snacks on steroids everyday. Broad shoulders taper down to a lean waist, the strong line of his jaw, hair black as oil curling around his face and brushing over his shoulders, eyes almost glowing violet in the backlight of the moon…

Lance’s mouth goes dry.

(He feels like he can see the panther lurking beneath the skin of the human. It doesn't scare him nearly as much as it maybe should.)

Unable to resist the temptation he reaches out and runs his fingers over Keith’s abs, velveteen skin pulled taut over hard muscle. A delighted grin pulls at his lips when the muscles jump at his feather light touch.

Keith leans down, hovering a scant inch above him. “Like what you see?”

Lance nods, too eager, but god. Oh god, skin-to-skin contact feels so good. He can feel the smooth press of Keith’s heated body on his – smothering him, but he doesn't mind, it’s good. He puts his arms around Keith’s shoulders, fingers sliding into his hair as Keith lowers his head and nips gently at Lance’s neck, just where his pulse is. Lance’s dick twitches at that as he swallows hard, skin prickling.

“This okay?” his breath ghosts over the wet spot on his neck as he tugs lightly on Lance’s earlobe. “Tell me when it’s not.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Lance stutters, his brain fogged over as he loses to the sensations Keith inspires in him with just a few touches. “It’s more than okay. You can – you can do more.”

Please, I want more.

Keith hums. Lance feels the vibration of it where their chests touch. “Remember what I said,” he pulls back, forearms lined up with Lance’s head as he gives Lance a searing look. “This is about you too.”

“Then I don’t want you to hold back,” Lance says, putting to words the off feeling he’s caught about the gentle way Keith handles him. “I know you are. I don’t want you to.”

“Lance…you don’t know what you’re asking for.” Keith warns.

“I do.” No I don’t. “I’m not – don’t treat me like glass. I’m not gonna break.”

“Have you ever done this before?” he asks, his gaze serious on Lance.

Lance swallows. He can’t lie but he’s afraid that if he says the truth Keith will change his mind – think he’s too inexperienced. But he can’t lie.

“I – no.” He shakes his head. Heart thumping. “I haven’t.”

Keith doesn't move, hesitation lingering in his eyes. Lance feels tension thrum through Keith, touching him everywhere there’s contact between their bodies. How much is Keith holding back? Why is he – why kiss Lance like this but still be scared of going farther?

“Please,” Lance whispers. His arms tighten around Keith’s neck as he brings his face closer, tapping their noses together. “Please. I’m here – I want to.”

That – breaks Keith. Like he realizes that Lance is here and he – he’s here, he knows Keith is in heat and he’s here. Lance pulls back just in time to see those final chains fall away. Keith surges forward, kisses him hard, fast. Lance’s back bows as Keith’s arm goes under him, pulling him into Keith, bringing them close – so close Lance can feel Keith’s thundering heartbeat beside his own.

Lance barely notices Keith’s lips leaving his own, reattaching to his neck as he slowly starts to trail lower. It gives Lance a chance to catch his breath – he loses it in the next second with every suck and bite to his skin at his shoulder, collarbone. Wet heat circles his nipple before surrounding it and Lance clenches his legs together, groaning as Keith laves his other nipple. A breathless sound escapes him at that and he presses his head back into the soft bedsheets.

He tries to rub against Keith – whimpers when Keith moves away, down, lower, lips trailing over Lance’s body heaving with breath. He watches with wide hazy eyes as Keith stands by the edge of the bed, over him, staring down at Lance’s body like he’s something to marvel at when Lance is the one doing the marvelling.

“Are you sure?” Keith says. “This is the last chance. You have to be sure Lance.”

“I’m gonna kick you where the sun doesn't shine if you don’t do something,” Lance threatens. The effect is a little lost in translation when his voice warbles with barely suppressed need.

Keith hears it. He hears it – he smirks wickedly. He leans down between Lance’s legs, hands coming up to massage his thighs almost consolingly. “Your wish is my command.”

It’s so – cheesy, a stupid line, but Lance doesn't care when Keith swiftly yanks off his sweatpants and underwear in one go. Lance groans when his cock bobs up, finally free of the restricting clothing, already beading with pre at the head. He flushes, cheeks darkening – he’s never been naked in front of someone else before – he can feel himself turning red as he stares at Keith who gets down on his knees.

Lance moans as Keith wraps a hand around his cock, stroking slowly, up, down, up, a flick of the wrist and Lance sees stars. He dissolves into a whimpering, moaning mess so quickly he’d feel embarrassed if he weren’t totally –

Oooh god, Keith just – took him in, all in one go, and he’s not small, okay. The sound that escapes Lance is an aborted mewl as he slaps the back of his hand to his mouth, trying to keep it in. Lance’s toes curl as he brings his legs up, bracing his feet on the edge of the bed and fighting to keep from closing them as he looks down and – loses his breath. The sight of Keith between his legs, dark head bobbing as he takes Lance so easily, the wet heat surrounding his cock.

“Please,” he bites his lip – he doesn't know what he’s pleading for he just – it’s so good, it’s “So good, so good.” He’s almost there, he can feel it – a tightening in his groin, lava pooling in his lower abdomen.

Keith looks up, and he must – he knows what he looks like when he does that. Reddened lips wet with saliva, hollowed cheeks as he swirls his tongue just under the head as he makes eye contact with Lance. He knows, and then he pulls off Lance with a pop and Lance almost cries at the loss.

“Why’d you – why’d you stop?” he asks, almost desperate.

“I’m not stopping,” he answers as he stands again. He goes to the bedside and retrieves something from the drawer, taking out a bottle of – Lance flushes. Lube. Of course they’d need that. He’s never done this but he’s not an ignorant.

He returns to the bed and Lance’s mouth goes dry when Keith strips his jeans off and he sees the hard line of his erection through his boxers, fabric dark with a stain. His heart pounds in his ears as he watches Keith take those off as well – and Keith is naked before him.

Lance’s first thought?

Will he fit.

Because – god. Keith is – Lance doesn't know if it’s something to with being a shifter but Keith is big. Bigger than Lance, longer, not by much, but on the thicker side, the head fat and flushed, and Lance cannot get the utterly filthy images playing across his mind out of his head.

He leans forward and Lance thinks he’s going to touch his cock again – he braces for it, it’s such a rush, spreads his legs wantonly waiting for it – but instead Keith runs his hands over Lance’s thighs, under, leaning down and – oh. He kisses the tender skin of Lance’s inner thighs and Lance’s breath hitches, cock twitching.

That’s – this – he doesn't know, this isn't – this is so intimate, he doesn't know what to think.

“You’re so sensitive,” he blows a breath over the spot he just kissed. Lance bites his lip as he looks at Keith there – between his thighs, one hand caressing Lance’s calf, the other between his own legs, palming at his erection. Lance can’t explain why he finds that so arousing.

“Ye – yeah well,” he stammers, gulping as Keith meets his gaze from – down there. “I’ve – I’m not – I’ve never done this. So.”

Keith hums as he presses another wet kiss to Lance’s thigh, higher, closer to where he wants that mouth. “I’ll take care of you.”

Those words – they go straight to Lance’s dick and the stupid thing in his chest. Keith is not at all how Lance expected of someone in heat. He didn’t really have any expectations to begin with but Keith is just so – gentle. He wonders if that’ll change. He wonders if all those secret little fantasies of his will play out. He wonders –

He completely loses that train of thought when Keith traces a finger down past Lance’s balls to that sensitive there that has Lance’s brain short-circuiting.

“Have you ever touched yourself here?” Keith asks, traces a finger around the ring of muscle of Lance’s hole. Lance jerks – startled. His head is immediately filled with some of the most dirty images he has ever let himself picture in his imagination in his entire life. He fights off a telling hitch of breath.

He shakes his head. Then nods when his brain remembers how to function. “When I realized I like guys like girls –” he pauses when Keith smirks knowingly and presses just the tip of his finger in – cold, the slide easy because of the lube.

The small intrusion is – weird. Unfamiliar. But with how turned on he is right now all he can actually do is imagine Keith – pushing into him, holding him down, taking him, looking at him the way he is now – as if Lance is the most beautiful thing in the world.

“Yeah – yeah no, not done anything.” He squeaks out.

Keith pauses. Then he moves up the bed, finger still teasingly circling Lance’s hole as he braces himself above Lance with his forearm beside Lance’s head. Lance looks up at him and marvels at the dark-haired beauty that seems to – want him. He can see hints of the darker, dangerous animal lurking under the human skin in Keith’s eyes. Pupils blown wide, lips parted as he breathes slowly, thoughtfully, calculating. Keith’s hard body above his –

“How did I get so lucky with you?” Keith wonders.

Lance frowns; confused. “Lucky?”

Keith kisses him, hard. Lance can taste what he thinks is himself on Keith’s tongue massaging his. It’s not – it’s not as bad as he thought it might be considering where it’s been. He lets his tongue dance with Keith’s, almost – almost – distracted by the finger in him until Keith pushes it in, up, in one angled thrust and Lance jerks, a startled gasp shivering out of him.

“What – what was that?” he asks.

Keith moves, startling another surprised whimper out of Lance as he winds his strong arms around Lance’s small waist and twists them around so that Keith is sitting on the bed, Lance naked and hot in his lap, hovering just a little bit over Keith with his legs around Keith’s waist. The position should make Lance feel like he’s in more control – but he just feels all the more at Keith’s mercy, especially when he sees the deadly smirk on Keith’s lips as he looks up at Lance with hunger-filled eyes.

“What?” he asks innocently. That tone is at complete odds with the predatory look of his face. “This?”

And the finger is in his hole again, but there’s no discomfort and – Lance groans, hips jerking forward and circling back as his head falls back, eyes squeezing shut because Keith’s found that spot again and stars are dancing merrily in Lance’s vision.

“There – that –” his fingers spasm where they grip onto Keith’s broad shoulders. “More, more – I want more, please, Keith –”

He makes a strangled noise when a second finger pushes through. The sting is unexpected, but it’s gone in an instant as Keith spears his fingers in right to that spot without hesitation. Lance whimpers, his hips moving back and forth, he doesn't know which way to go to get more, it’s – it feels so good, so good, but he wants more.

“C’mon,” he stutters, letting his head fall forward to touch Keith’s forehead, closing his eyes as the sensations wash over him. “C’mon, Keith – I want –”

“What do you want?” Keith breathes. Lance opens his eyes to see Keith looking up at him, eyes almost black with lust. He tips his head up, lips brushing over Lance’s cheekbones as he whispers, “Tell me what you want. I’ll give it to you. Tell me.”

Lance licks his lips, nerves fluttering in his stomach when he feels Keith’s other hand caressing his hip, soothingly. He bites his lips when Keith’s eyes flicker to them before returning to his eyes. His hands tremble faintly as he lifts them from Keith’s shoulders, sliding up his neck to cup his cheeks, thumbs tracing over his sharp cheekbones. His heart pounds like powerful drumbeats in his chest – to the point that he’s sure Keith can hear it.

“You,” he says, and – because it’s too revealing, to telling on its own, he adds, “I want you in me. Please.”

“You’re sure.” Keith says. Lance doesn't know if he’s confirming, or asking. “You’re sure you want this.”

Lance nods, eagerly – desperately. Honestly he just – he’ll take anything at this point, even if they don’t go all the way. He just wants to feel good, he wants to make Keith feel good, he just – Keith. He just wants Keith.

If this is the only way he can have him, if only for one night – he’ll take what he can get.

Then Keith nods tightly, and Lance can’t help the shy grin that blooms on his face.

“Um,” he swallows. “What do I – do? Like, how should I…” his cheeks flame as he thinks about it. God he’s so obviously inexperienced that he wonders why Keith’s looking up at him with that amused little half-smile instead of rolling his eyes.

“Here,” Keith’s hands grip his hips, and he twists to lay Lance down under him, his legs still wound around Keith’s waist. Lance sighs with a mix of relief in need with his dick trapped between their bodies. Keith pulls one of the pillows down and pushes it under Lance so that it’s under his hips, providing some measure of relief Lance didn’t know he needed. “It’ll be easier for you like this.”

“Really?” he asks nervously. He doesn't mind, really, but he’s always kind of wanted to try this on his stomach. But – Keith knows what he’s doing. He trusts Keith.

Keith nods. “I can control how hard we go –” Lance’s flushes at those words. “If it’s too much, tell me, okay?”

Lance nods.

Keith reaches up to trace his thumb under Lance’s eye, over his cheek. “I’m serious Lance. I don’t – I don’t want to hurt you.”

The curious nerves bunched up in Lance’s stomach warm at the earnest tone in Keith’s voice. He lifts his own hands and cradles Keith’s face in them, smiling as reassuringly as he can. He can see that hesitation in Keith’s eyes – he’s genuinely worried that he’ll hurt Lance.

“You won’t hurt me,” he says. “I know you won’t. But if it’s too much – I promise I’ll tell you.”

Keith watches him for a moment, as if gauging the truth in those words. Then he nods and sits up, reaching for the bottle of lube. That squiggly feeling of nervous anticipation dances in Lance’s stomach as he licks his lips again, watching Keith squirt out a generous amount of lube and slick his cock up.

He looks up at Lance – smirks when he sees how avidly Lance is watching.

“I’m clean, by the way,” he remarks.

Lance blinks stupidly at him before it clicks. “Oh.” He’s obviously clean too.

“But do you want to use a condom anyway?” Keith asks – his thoughtfulness has Lance warming.

Or rather, the thought that he wants to feel Keith – all of Keith, unimpeded – is what has his cheeks warming.

“No, it’s – uhm, it’s okay. I – without is good.” He stammers.

Keith chuckles at Lance’s fumbling, leaning forward again so that he hovers over Lance, braced on his forearm beside Lance’s head. The smile on his face is fond. That’s the only way to describe it.

Lance doesn't know what it means. He’s afraid to ask.

Then he brushes the tip of his nose over Lance’s, and Lance’s heart just about explodes at how endearing the move is – it trembles when he feels the tip of Keith’s cock nudge at the ring of muscle of his hole.

“You’re cute,” he murmurs as he lifts Lance’s leg to settle them over his shoulders and lines his cock up. “Have I ever told you that?”

Lance shakes his head – breath going heavy, stuttering when the head of Keith’s cock pushes through. The burn is expected but Lance shuts his eyes tight anyway as the discomfort sort of just – lingers.

“Hey,” Keith’s voice is a little strained, but Lance opens his eyes to look at the extremely concentrated look on his face. “Don’t forget to breathe.”

Lance huffs. “Yeah, I – ah – hah…”

He flings his head back, back arching and squeezing his eyes shut tight as his whole body trembles, the drag of Keith’s cock pushing into him slowly, oh so patiently, fills him to the brim. He bites his lip hard, reaching up to grip the pillow his head is on as hard as he can, heart pounding so fiercely he feels it throughout his body, Keith’s cock so big and making him feel so full and it’s not – it’s so much –

“Is it all in?” he doesn't know how he gets that out without it sounding like a whore’s moan.

“A little more,” Keith groans, his forehead pressed to Lance’s shoulder, the heat of him overwhelming Lance in all the best ways as he pushes in.

“Fuck,” Lance whimpers. “Jesus fucking – fuck it’s –” he doesn't like swearing but the words just fall out of him as he stretches his other arm up over him, wiggling a bit, spreading his legs wide – thank you flexibility – trying to get used to the feel of Keith inside him, still pushing into him – it’s unusual, it’s not uncomfortable, it’s so much but Lance is greedy already and he wants more of it.

“You okay?” Keith pants.

“Yeah, yes, go, keep going,” Lance is blabbering at this point and completely doesn't care. “I can take it, keep going, don’t stop, I can take it.”

He can. With one final push, Keith is fully seated in Lance with a groan as he presses his forehead to the junction of Lance’s neck. He can feel Keith’s quavering thighs pressed up against the back of his legs – can feel the fullness inside of him – he can feel it all so overwhelmingly completely that he can’t imagine there being anything else in the world.

“God, I can’t believe inside you feels so good,” Keith groans. Lance feels butterflies swarm through his veins, the praise lighting him up from the inside out. “You’re okay?” he asks, and Lance can almost feel the desperation in Keith to – do something.

Lance nods tightly, eyebrows scrunched, little pants puffing out of him as he tries to breathe normally. “Yeah, just – gimme a second.” His fingers are cramped as he slowly lets go of the pillow, lifting trembling arms to wrap around Keith’s neck because god he needs something to hold on to. “You’re so big, so – I’m so full, I just –”

Keith lifts his head, and the dark, carnal gaze he fixes on Lance is so – contradictory. There’s that heated look Lance knows is because Keith’s in heat. There’s fondness there too, some sort of – caring. Lance doesn't understand. He doesn't know where it comes from.

He’s in heat, he’s in heat, Lance chants to himself. Trying to convince himself that this isn't more than a fuck for Keith. This is just – this is just a fuck for Keith in his heat and Lance knew what he was getting into when he literally just offered himself for it.

Keith nods. The smile he gives Lance is so gentle that it kind of feels like it’s breaking Lance’s heart. “Take it easy. Don’t rush. I can wait – remember,” he leans down, brushing his lips over Lance’s lightly once, twice. “This is about you too.”

“Then please kiss me,” he begs quietly. Much as it feels good in a weird, different way, the feeling of Keith fully inside him is still – foreign. He’s not used to it. He needs something to distract him.

Keith doesn't even waste a second – makes Lance think maybe he’s been on the receiving end like this, maybe he knows how it feels. He presses his lips to Lance’s, the kiss turning dirty in half a second flat. Keith braces himself above Lance on his forearm, the other hand skimming down his side in a gentle caress before gripping his hip in a tight, owning hold. He kisses Lance in the most utterly filthy way Lance can imagine, licking into his mouth, tracing his tongue with his, nipping light at his bottom lip and Lance – he’s helpless to just take it all.

He traces his lips down Lance’s jaw and Lance tilts his head back, exposing his neck. He feels Keith pause for a second at that, and opens his eyes hazily to watch the split-second complicated array of thoughts and emotions that play across Keith’s face before he lowers down to kiss Lance’s neck, nipping and sucking and licking, and Lance can’t help the wanton mewl that slips out of him at the attention.

His breath hitches on a moan when Keith shifts a little inside him – heart fluttering – a full-body shudder wracking through him.

“Shit – sorry,” Keith swears.

“No, no – it,” Lance gulps, screwing his eyes shut as he tries to circle his hips. Oh. Oh he wants – “Move, you can move. I’m ready.” Please.

Keith doesn't frustrate him with asking again if ‘this is okay’. He looks at Lance for a second, a searing, searching look – and then he nods. His hand on Lance’s hip grips him in an almost bruising hold but Lance doesn't mind – especially not as he moans when he feels the slow drag of Keith moving, pulling back slow and pushing in slow.

It feels – Lance doesn't know. The sensation of it, the drag of Keith’s cock moving in him as Keith sets up a slow, steady pace – it fills him to the brim, drowns him in hot pleasure that races through his body and pools in his groin like lava. Lance closes his legs around Keith’s waist, ankles crossed at the small of Keith’s back as he tries to push in, to push down, to get more.

“Fuck,” Keith mutters, sitting up, hands sliding up Lance’s thighs, his eyes on his dick disappearing in and out of Lance. “Fuck, look at you. Taking my cock so well.”

Lance lets out an embarrassing whimper before he can stop himself – those words go straight to his twitching dick. Keith notices, shooting him a wicked smirk as he leans down again and whispers by Lance’s ear, “You like that? Such a good boy for me.”

Oh god, Lance screws his eyes shut as he gasps when Keith thrusts in a little harder, once, twice. “Fuck – fucking Jesus – fuck me, oh god please, fuck me, fuck me, Keith,”

Keith bites him.

Lance jerks in surprise, his cock leaking and dribbling pre onto his stomach but he doesn't care because fucking hell – shit, it’s weird but he doesn't mind it, he likes it. He likes the sting of teeth at his skin, pressing hard enough for Lance to know they could do damage but not actually, just pressing in hard enough for Lance to feel it. Keith laps at the oversensitive spot he bit with his tongue, just below Lance’s ear. Lance shivers.

“Sorry –” Keith pulls out almost all the way, then thrusts in, hard. “You’re just –” another thrust and Lance wants more, he’s greedy and wants more and more. “So fucking tight and good. Shit.”

“Harder,” Lance whispers, reaching down to grip Keith’s hip, then his firm ass (shit), trying to pull him in further, deeper. “Please, give it to me good, please Keith.”

“Fuck,” Keith swears, pulling back up again so that he towers over Lance, never stopping in his slow, hard thrusts. “You sure you’re a virgin?”

Lance grins – delirious – he doesn't care. “Virgin with a dirty mind, yes, unashamedly so.”

Keith chuckles – Lance’s heart beats furiously in his chest. “I can tell.”

“C’mon,” Lance circles his hips in what he hopes is a teasing manner, then has a thought. He squeezes his ass, feels his hole tighten around Keith’s cock pushing in and out of him – and yes, he relishes in the groan that punches out of Keith at that. “You promised to make me feel good.”

“Oh, I’ll make you feel good,” the dark promise is joined with a flashing smirk that teases a hint of Keith’s sharp canines.

Lance barely has a chance to catch his breath before Keith’s pulling out – Lance whines at the loss. Keith gathers him up in his arms, pulling him up and kissing him deep and dirty until Lance is dizzy.

Keith pulls away with a wet sound and says, “Turn around, on your stomach.”

Fuck yes, Lance silently cheers as he eagerly turns around. He does what he thinks – hopes – will make him look good, irresistible to Keith. He goes down on his knees, holding himself up on his elbows, spreading his legs wide and popping his ass up. He doesn't wiggle it because he’s not quite that confident, but he does rock back and forth, and tries try to throw what he hopes is a sultry look over his shoulder to Keith.

If he’s going to do this with the guy he’s been pining after for months now – might as well throw caution to the wind.

“What are you waiting for?” he asks – likes how the sounds he’d been making before has his voice hoarse and throaty.

“Fucking hell,” Keith whispers huskily. “You’re going to kill me.”

He grips Lance’s hips – Lance feels his cock push in, and a sigh of relief drips out of him as he lets his head fall forward, breathing heavily as Keith eases into him again, his own laboured breaths close to Lance’s ear as Keith drapes himself over Lance’s back, their slick bodies pressed close.

And then Keith moves.

If Lance thought what Keith was doing before was it – he was wrong.

Keith pistons into him almost achingly hard, his cock dragging deep in and out of Lance in quick and sharp thrusts that leave Lance breathless. He gasps, moaning at the slap of Keith’s thighs to his ass – the bruising grip Keith has on his hips – the force of each thrust pushing Lance up the bed and knocking his elbows out from under him. Lance curves his body into a deep bow, arms stretched out in front of him and lifting his ass higher as he presses the side of his face to the pillow. He brings his left arm down, pressing the back of his hand to his mouth and trying to muffle the embarrassing sounds Keith knocks out of him.

“Fuck – so hot and tight,” Keith’s voice is a rumble behind him. It sends the heat in Lance’s stomach coiling tighter, warmer. “You take me so good, such a good boy –” another hard thrust. Lance tries something – he undulates his body, pushes his hips back in time to the next thrust, and they groan in unison. “Fuck, Lance, look at you.”

Lance hopes he looks good for Keith. He wants to look good for Keith, he wants to be good for Keith, he wants to be Keith’s good boy.

Like this – without the distraction of watching Keith watching him – it’s so much easier to totally lose himself to this. He feels it when Keith changes angle just slightly so that every other push in of his cock brushes against Lance right where it makes stars explode behind his eyes. He turns his forehead to the pillow, arms shaking as he grips the bedsheets in tight fists and tries to hide his broken, punched-out moans from being heard. He wants to reach down and touch his own dick, to relieve the pressure just a bit, but he can barely make himself move he’s so boneless and wired all at once. He settles for dragging the pillow down closer to him, gripping it with all his hazy might.

Keith slows down minutely, fingers dancing along Lance’s ribs as his arms slide up Lance’s body, one going around his waist and the other coming up under his arm. Keith hauls him up so effortlessly until Lance is practically sitting in Keith’s lap like this, Lance’s back to his chest, Keith’s cock still buried deep into him. Lance’s head lolls on Keith’s shoulder, unable to even hold himself up, panting as he stares hazily up at the ceiling.

“I want to hear you,” Keith growls by his ear, nosing at the sweaty hair curling at Lance’s nape. “I want to hear every sound out of your mouth.”

Keith starts up again, thrusting into Lance so hard and right there that Lance literally cannot stop the hoarse cries ripped from him as Keith drives into him relentlessly, his own neglected dick bouncing from the force of the movements.

“I want to hear –” the obscene sound of skin slapping against skin fills Lance’s ears right next to Keith’s gravelly voice. “You say –” Lance cries out sharply at the brutal drive in of Keith’s cock in him, so hard, so deep, Lance’s toes curl. “My name when you come.”

Lance nods blindly, desperately. “Yes, yes – harder, Keith, Keith,” he can’t stop chanting Keith’s name.

His hands scramble for purchase, to hold something, until he lifts them and rakes his nails through Keith’s damp hair, pushing and pulling as he grips the thick strands and lets Keith have his way. His mouth hangs open, unrestrained moans and cries spilling out of him – Keith’s hand around his waist trails lower, splaying over his abdomen – ohgod he can feel it, he can feel Keith’s dick distending his stomach, fuck, fuck he can’t –

“I can’t –” he gasps. “Coming, I’m coming, Keith – Keith – Keith,” he cries out, desperate.

Keith’s hand comes up, grasping his chin and turning Lance to meet Keith in a messy, sloppy kiss. Lance pants into it when they separate a bare inch, Keith’s still pounding into him. He barely manages to open his eyes, a shudder going through him at the dark intensity of Keith’s eyes as his other hand wraps around Lance’s dick, pumping once, twice.

He whispers against Lance’s lips, “I’m here. Come for me.”

It doesn't take much for Lance after that. Two more strokes of Keith’s hand on his dick time with Keith’s cock dragging and pushing into him and he comes – keening Keith’s name as white paints his stomach and the bedsheets, electric lightning racing through his veins. His brain short-circuits – he’s sure he blanks out entirely for a solid few seconds before his brain starts to slowly reboot, the pressure unwinding in his abdomen.

Keith comes almost the exact same moment with a groan – Lance thinks he hears his name there, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking. He inhales sharply as Keith’s fingers dig into his hips, his arm across Lance’s chest hold him secure in place as Lance arches his hips when he feels Keith empty into him. It’s – oddly satisfying. He’s stunned by the intensity of it on his end and Keith’s, but doesn't care much about that because he feels so – loose. Relieved. Like some weights have been lifted off him that he hadn't even noticed were there. He doesn't know how Keith’s managing to hold his entirely boneless body.

Keith lays him down gently on the bed, carefully avoiding the wet spot on the sheets as he runs a hand through Lance’s hair. “I’m going to pull out now, okay?”

Lance nods, shuddering from Keith’s breath tickling his ear. His mind is still trying to regain its footing in the real world – it’s brought sharply to attention as he whimpers at the discomfort of Keith pulling out. He feels his rim fluttering at the abrupt emptiness, feels Keith’s come start to dribble out of him – he doesn't want that. He’s – he wants to keep it in, to keep Keith with him for as long as he can.

“Keith,” he mumbles blearily, voice hoarse and vague, blindly reaching out.

A hand gently grasps his searching one, another brushing back the damp strands of his curling brown hair sticking to his temples. “Shh, it’s okay, I’m here. I’ll be right back – need to clean you up.”

Lance barely understands what he’s saying but he nods anyway. He sinks into the downy softness of the bed, savouring how comfortable it is. Of course it would be – Keith is a werepanther. Panthers are technically big cats. Cats really like their comfort.

He feels the bed dip as Keith returns. Something warm and wet runs up his legs in a soothing caress – Lance groans at how good it feels, entirely unashamed as Keith cleans up the leaking come that dribbles out of his hole. There’s a wet slap – he thinks Keith just carelessly threw aside whatever he used to clean Lance up – and then a body settles on the bed next to his.

Lance isn't thinking as he turns to Keith, opening his eyes to look up into Keith’s. The darkness of that carnal lust that had been in them has faded to leave behind Keith’s normal (‘normal’) violet eyes that look down at Lance from where Keith lies on his side, head propped up on his arm.

Lance blinks, flushing scarlet as he lowers his eyes to Keith’s toned chest. “H – hi.” He murmurs shyly.

Keith chuckles. “Hey. How do you feel?”

Lance pauses – thinks about it. “Don’t know if I’m going to walk tomorrow, to be honest.”

He is sure the look that crosses Keith’s face at that is one of pride. Damn cat.

“Stay here for the night,” Keith says. Lance’s heart twinges. “Wouldn't want you tripping, trying to get back to your room.”

Lance hums, stretching a little and noticing that Keith put a blanket over them. That’s thoughtful of him. He winces a little at the slight burn in his backside, the cricks in his joints – but he doesn't regret any of it.

(Yet.)

“Thanks,” he mumbles, exhaustion creeping through him. “That’d be nice.”

Given permission, he lets himself get comfortable, crossing his arms over the pillow he’s on and resting his head on them, eyes drifting shut immediately. He turns his face away because he doesn't think he can keep looking at Keith’s post-sex beauty. Not without spontaneously combusting at least. He’s so aware of Keith right behind him – of Keith’s every minute move. He can feel Keith shift in the bed a little, then settle down. There’s – there’s a sliver of an inch of space between them.

Lance’s heart aches at it. He wants to close it – he wants Keith’s arms around him again – he wants it but he’s been greedy enough tonight and he – he’s not brave.

He’s tired and he’ll fall asleep quick, he knows – but even then there’s something thrumming through his veins, some weird kind of jittery – waiting. He doesn't know what to make of it. He’s afraid of thinking about it. He’s afraid if he starts thinking, it’ll be about –

He scrunches his eyes tight and wills away the intrusive unwanted thoughts.

“Lance?” Keith speaks into the night quiet that throbs through the air between them. He sounds – awkward.

Lance swallows thickly. “Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

Lance shuts his eyes. “Yeah.”

Minutes tick by.

The weights have returned – only they’re different. They’re – heavier.

Lance rubs his cheek against Keith’s soft pillow as he listens to Keith’s breaths evening out behind him. He curls into himself a little tighter.

This was just…this was just Keith in heat. That’s all. Lance just helped Keith out while he’s in heat. This didn’t mean anything beyond that. Keith said that he’s attracted to Lance – he didn’t say he likes Lance. Attraction is different – Lance, he knows he can look good, especially when he tries. That’s…that’s probably what Keith was attracted to. And now he’s had his try with Lance, so he’ll probably move on.

How does it feel? The ghost of the past that still haunts him drifts up, stealing into the quiet crevices of his broken mind. Lance curls his feet, feeling the stretch of years-old knitted skin. How does it feel to care about others more than they ever could about you?

Lance closes his eyes tight, biting his bottom lip as he fights with everything he has not to let it tremble – not to let the watery sob in his chest out.

What did he do?