Keith’s tail twitches nervously. On the other side of this door is one of Lance’s oldest, dearest friends. Given Lance's reputation, Keith can only imagine what they might have gotten up to together. Most likely things that would have him trembling for the better part of the next year. After that, probably only disgusted.
“Anyway, Hunk is one who runs the kitchens. He makes every single one of your meals himself. Because, y’know, all of our food apparently tastes disgusting to you.”
“It’s the ‘sweet’ thing. I don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like, but Galra can’t taste it. And apparently you freaks like nothing else.”
“Hey. If Pidge makes that implant for you I bet you’ll love sweet food.”
“Makes a what now?” Keith asks, but Lance throws open the doors, stepping inside with a flourish, bowing halfway amidst a chorus of greetings.
“Alright, everyone. I have my spouse here to see the kitchens, so please be kind to him.” Another chorus from cheery Alteans. Lance holds out his hand for Keith to take, tugs him into the kitchen. Keith stays close, watching Alteans scurry about, preparing to feed not only the royal family, but also the guards and a portion of Altean’s military, the ones garrisoned at the castle.
As Keith walked past, these Alteans beam at him, scales glowing with delight. They most likely came from a lower class, and therefore don’t see him as a threat-
“Kitty!” To Keith’s alarm, a very small creature came running at him, toddling in its chubby legs. Keith gripped Lance’s arm, managing not to extend his claws into his spouse’s arm as the child grabbed him around the legs in a hug. “Hi, kitty!”
“Rosetta! Rosetta leave the kitty alone- Oh! Oh, gosh. Rosetta, come here!” A pair of very large hands reach down and pry the child from Keith’s legs. “I’m so sorry about that. She’s little.”
Keith looks up to see a very large person in a spotless apron and yellow headband holding the little child. “It’s… fine. It’s all fine. Um. What’s a kitty?”
“You ever seen Honerva carry a little animal around?” Keith nods. “That’s Kova. Her cat, also known as a kitty.”
“I don’t look like that.”
“Tell that to a two-year-old. I’m Hunk, by the way. Nice to meet you.” Keith blinks, looks the towering balmeran up and down.
“Nice to meet you too,” he mumbles. “Why do you have a child in the kitchens?”
“Oh. My wife is pregnant and needed a break. Toddlers, man. Tiny monsters, I’m telling you. Besides, it’s never too early to begin learning different spices. Isn’t that right?” Hunk bounces his daughter, beaming with delight. He's nothing like Keith had expected.
“You guys are so great,” Lance says, smiling from where he’s leaning against a table covered with produce. “Hunk and Shay are just the perfect little family. Also, they can make cave bugs taste amazing. You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Hey, I can’t take credit for that. My grandmother-in-law taught me that recipe. It’s one of Rosie’s favorites too, isn’t it Rosie?” The child nods. “So how have you two been getting on? You doing alright?”
“We’re getting on fine,” Lance answers, scowling at a message on his datapad. “Overworked and underappreciated, but fine.”
“I wish I were overworked,” Keith grumbles, ears pinning back against his head. “I mean, what exactly do they expect me to do? Pidge said that all of my devices are monitored until they can find a way to secure my connections and the guards took everything but my knife when I arrived. There’s not a whole lot of damage a lone Galra can do.”
“Hm.” Hunk passes Rosetta to a delighted Lance, who bounces the little one on his hip. “Remember when ‘innocent until proven guilty’ was a thing?”
“That’s only a thing if the commonwealth asks. The reality is that ‘anything to protect our people’ covers a lot of quiznakery.” Lance sighs, tosses his datapad aside in favor of a cluster of some orbed fruits. He takes one for himself, passes one to Rosetta.
“Thank you,” the child chirps.
“You’re welcome.” Lance beams indulgently at the child.
“Thank you, thank you.” Rosetta grins a wide grin at the prince.
“Well you are very welcome, sweetheart.”
Keith silently watches the exchange, watches as Lance expertly handles the child, bouncing her around and chatting with her while Hunk starts in on an enormous basket of some kind of tuber. The prince seems a natural, happy to engage with the child, setting her at a small table in the corner with a collection of toys, playing some game or another.
Something Keith hadn’t realized he’d been clenching unfurls watching his spouse interact with the child. He imagines that Lance won’t reject him when he inevitably must bear them a kit, and won’t reject their kit either. No. Lance will adore their kits, be a good sire, good father, good mate.
“He loves kids. Wants a small army.” Hunk chuckles. “We’ll see what he says after you guys have your first.”
“Hm.” Keith smiles. “Does he have children already? I know his reputation well, at this point.”
“No. He’s always been careful to prevent such a thing, and if any… prior liaison had a child within a given timeframe, he checked to see if they were his by some small chance. Said that he’d take responsibility, make sure they had that second parent.”
“An honorable cad.”
“I suppose. Oh, there’s a tray of samples for you in that coldbox over there. I’d intended it for lunch, but grab it now and let me know what you think. I haven’t had the opportunity to ask about your food.”
“Thank you.” Keith retrieves the tray, sits across from Hunk and his tubers. “And… thank you. For making me food.”
“It’s all good. Fun, actually. I’ve never experimented with Dabazaani cuisine, despite how close Daibazaal is. You guys have good food. I mean, pretty much everybody has good food, but that purple grass you guys use to make bread? Amazing. Rosie loves it, too. She likes it in her stew.”
Keith smiles. “We like to dip it in stew, too... Why do Alteans all eat off their own plates?”
“Most peoples do. Galra don’t?”
“No. Food is… communion. It’s something to be shared. We take from the same pot. We use a sort of flat, crispy bread-like thing to eat softer foods? It’s difficult to explain. We mostly eat with our hands… Sporks are annoying. I don’t use them if I can help it.” Hunk hums, delightedly interested. Keith takes a risk. “It’s why I didn’t eat with everyone for the first few quintants. I was trying to get better at using one.”
“Really? Lance thought you were just very shy. And maybe didn’t like him all that much." Hunk catches Keith’s eye only for the Galra to look away, folding his arms, hunching over slightly on his stool. He is shy. And seems pretty sweet. “Hey.” The Galra shifts, nervous. “Tell me more about what you like to eat.”
“I like spicy things. And… meat. Altean adults don’t seem to eat meat.”
“No, they don’t. Infants do, for a while. They go through a phase where they eat nothing but meat, actually. I’ll reach out to my contact in Daibazaal to see about adding some to my shipments. Have you been to the infirmary at all?”
“You should go and get checked for any deficiencies. I want to make sure you’re getting proper nutrition. Make sure Altea is agreeing with you and all that. It’s very different, isn’t it?”
“Yes. There are plants covering everything! They’re really pretty! And the animals here are cute and don’t bite a whole lot.” Keith's ears perk a bit, his tail sweeping over the floor in long strokes.
“The animals are very friendly, and this planet has a lot of vegetation. My home planet is more like Daibazaal. Or maybe a mix of the two. Plenty of plants and animals, but not quite as many. Balmera grow crystals like spines along their nerves. During certain times of year, they will all resonate, and may create a brand new balmera.”
“What… Is Balmera alive?” Keith cocks his head, ears perked with curiosity. He's got wide eyes, Hunk notices, big and dark like the night, shining with curiosity. Lance is doomed.
“Balmera are mineral-based organisms the size of planets. Most are inhabited by entirely unique species. My people are found only on a single Balmera. We love her and care for her. We live in a symbiosis.”
“That sounds nice.”
“It’s very nice. Making the sharing of food a part of your daily routine sounds nice too. Your people must have strong bonds with their friends.”
Keith smiles, strangely emotional. “Thank you. Others don’t say nice things about my people very often. Especially not here… They look at me like I’m a monster. They hate me.”
“Well I don’t hate you. Pidge, my best friend, doesn’t hate you. They seem to like you a lot, actually. As for the Alteans… xenophobia is an integral part of their culture. Lance is frothing at the mouth trying to find a way to take them all down a peg.
“At any rate, don’t pay them any mind. You are not a monster. You’re just a guy, who happens to be a Galra, just like all other Galra. Just like I happen to be Balmeran. Just like Lance happens to be Altean. Life is arbitrary, but community is not, right? We choose who we share our pot with. I think I’d share mine with you.”
The Balmeran smiles at Keith, and Keith smiles back, eyes suspiciously moist. Poor little buddy. Hunk would absolutely share his pot with him. He’d give Keith a hug, but suspects that he wouldn’t like it. He doesn’t know Hunk well enough. Instead, Hunk finishes preparing his last tuber to be sent to the garrison for the castle’s military, heads to the coldbox.
“I don’t have any pots going at the moment, but I’ve got some dough here for your bread. We can share some of that.”
“Can I help?” Keith asks, looking hopeful. “I can cook. I know how.”
“Of course. Food tastes better with more hands. Lance! Rosie! Come help make bread.”
Lance trots over with the toddler, setting her in a special chair. Keith settles in next to his spouse, teaching him how to knead the grainy dough and twist it into traditional patterns. Hunk and Lance carry most of the conversation, switching from common to Altean every now and then so Rosie doesn’t understand the less appropriate anecdotes and gossip.
Apparently, there’s one particular courtier named Seran who spends most of her time ruining her two children and harassing people for even the slightest perceived inconvenience. They both make good sport out of loudly recounting hyperbolic stories for Keith, complete with exaggerated voices for Seran and her evil, entitled children.
It has Keith doubled over with laughter, eyes watering with mirth as Lance recounts the time Seran’s gardener trimmed her moss slightly too short and she’d chased him off down the street while swinging his own rake at him.
It’s not until he and Lance are returning to their room, sneaking loaves of Daibazaani bread back with them, that Keith realizes he’s still smiling. He bumps against Lance’s side, happily twists his tail around Lance’s ankle.
“Thank you. For today, I mean.”
“You are most welcome.”
“Thank you for everything else, too.”
“You’re welcome, Keith. Always.”