Keith sat in what should have been a quiet corner of a coffee shop. Instead the overwhelming crowd from outside in the streets seemed to have leaked inside the shop using it as a pit stop in their journey.
The group was boisterous yet polite. Covered in an assortment of colors that often represented the rainbow as they ordered an unhealthy amount of iced coffee to battle the heat outside.
Keith couldn’t be one to judge. Though he wasn’t exactly at the parade for himself, he too had a bit of rainbow on his face as he finished his own iced coffee. Scrolling through the photos he had been assigned to take. He made quick work to get rid of anything not worthy of looking at as he scrolled through.
Despite it being summer he had already had these planned for his senior final to fit inside his portfolio. Pride was one of his missing links he had been desperate to include. Being one of the few openly gay people at his high school had its own challenges but it was never something he ever wanted to hide. So he didn’t mind including it for his future senior project. In fact he seeked it out specifically.
His finger suddenly paused on a photo that caught his attention as he recognized a face in the crowd. A normally bright and excited face that was often the center of attention in the dumbest ways. Blue eyes normally sparkling in a way that was easy to imprint on.
However in the photo they seemed nervous. Like they were afraid of being spotted. They wanted to stay hidden but they were there in the sea of color with a small pin attached to their shirt.
Keith’s fingers itched at the photo. He wasn’t sure what he disliked more. The idea of Lance McClain, hiding in the crowd like he belonged, maybe searching for the opportunity to take a quick selfie for clout on his Instagram, or the fact the normally confident and friendly Lance McClain was actually hiding amongst the crowd in fear of being recognized for different reasons.
Keith tapped the table lightly staring at the photo like it was going to give him the honest answer. Was the same kid who used to bully him about Shiro and Adam adopting him actually here for something other than clout?
The bi flag pinned to his shirt and the slight paranoid look on his face was stuck in Keith’s brain. Was Lance actually here for a reason? If so, why does he seem so scared? It wasn’t Keith’s problem to deal with… but his instincts were going nuts.
Keith groaned looking out at the crowd. It was huge. What were the chances he would run into him again anyway? It wasn’t like he had recognized him when he took the photo to start with and it wasn’t like they were on good terms either. Sure they had both matured since the mockery of middle school but it still hadn’t left Keith’s brain. Lance’s words had been cruel back then. Not easily forgotten.
He skipped to the next photo spotting Lance there again. Something had shifted in the few moments since the first photo. In the back someone had raised up a rainbow flag letting it almost wrap slightly around Lance as it lifted in the air. Keith must have caught it just after the point of surprise because Lance’s face seemed to have softened momentarily as the flag drifted toward the sky around him. It was actually a really damn good photo.
Keith cursed, tossing his empty cup into the bin as he battled his way back out. His camera bag strapped onto him as he protected his camera by tucking it close to his chest in reach.
It was a long shot but it was better trying here than waiting for school to start again. Besides occasionally bumping into each other because of mutual friends the pair general avoided each other. Likely it wouldn’t be easy to capture Lance once school was in session.
Keith let himself drift with the crowd slightly keeping an eye out for the white and blue shirt with the bi flag pinned to it. A hint of the light brown hair and blue eyes that had seemed so worried earlier. Any hint of the tanned skin amongst the crowd.
He just needed to know.
Keith felt himself drift toward vendors row. Stands set up with all sorts of colorful items. Music from the stage that would later host a few local bands could be felt in the air as he moved. Eyes searching occasionally stealing a quick click of his camera at groups as he went by but his mission had changed.
He wasn’t as familiar with this city but he had been here a few times. It was only thirty minutes away from their hometown but it was the closest big city they had. They were the only ones who had a Pride parade to go to that was of decent size and close by. Which meant the crowd occasionally forced him into small areas he wasn’t confident in. Ironically it bumped him into the one person he was looking for.
Lance was holding a small ice cream as he eyed a booth toward the end carefully. Even then he seemed to keep his distance as others jostled each other to look around. He took a final scoop of his spoon before wading up his napkin and placing the ice cream cup and napkin in a trash bin nearby.
Keith watched a bit longer as Lance silently moved to the narrow street at the end of vendor row. It amazes him slightly at how different Lance was away from his normal group of friends. Normally the center of attention now seeming desperate to hide and blend in.
It was almost uncomfortable
Keith sucked in a breath as he grew closer. He eyed the best spot to pull Lance aside two booths ahead. A small ally tucked between some booths. Keith quickly swept up besides Lance grabbing his wrist pulling him in quickly.
“Hey! Wait please don’t- Keith?”
Lance’s voice, originally loud and panicked, quickly dropped to a whisper at Keith’s name even more panic seemed to shape it. His face quickly paled and the tall lanky boy seemed to suddenly shrink in Keith’s grip.
“Do I need to delete this?” Keith quickly shoved his camera screen at Lance
It was the photo of Lance with the flag surrounding him in the air. Lance’s gaze quickly locked onto it, a sharp sound escaping his lungs. His mouth opening and closing as if desperately trying to remember words but they were stuck inside him.
“Is it payback or blackmail,” Lance whispered moving his eyes to Keith absolute terror obvious in his gaze
“Neither? Look do I need to delete it? I need stuff for my senior portfolio and obviously they don’t hold pride celebrations year round around here so I had to start the project during summer. So I can delete it or if you just want me to hoard it for later and not publish it I can do that too. It’s not my business but it is yours.”
Lance glanced from Keith to the photo a few times before slowly swallowing and moving his gaze to the floor. His face felt hot and his eyes stung a bit.
“Please delete it.”
Keith made sure Lance saw him hit the trash button and then yes to confirm. The photo fading away never to be seen again. Lance seemed to slump slightly in relief. As if that possibility of the photo existing in the same realm as him was really the end.
“You should get going. The concert will start soon. If it’s like last year it’s kinda fun. A bit poppy but you know,” Keith said readjusting the straps on his bag as he backed up, “And you know you can relax and have fun here. I’m the only one who comes here from our home town now that Ryan and James graduated. They have already moved away for college. It's not like anyone is here to give you a hard time.”
Keith went to leave only to pause as a slight brush on his forearm refocused him back to Lance. Lance still seemed terrified like the floor was going to drop under him. Maybe it already had in his brain
“I won’t say anything,” Keith quickly interjected before Lance could open his mouth
Lance nodded slowly releasing Keith, “Thank you. I… I know I don’t deserve your protection… especially after everything.”
The word protection sat wrong with Keith but he simply shrugged taking a few more steps back. He didn’t feel right leaving Lance alone in the alleyway while he returned to the festivities. It was obvious by now he came alone and despite how annoying the guy was to deal with on a regular day he was way outside his territory.
He looked lost and terrified. It was rather unsettling seeing him as such. Keith felt the internal battle inside him fade. It was Pride after all… even if he didn’t want to tell anyone he was he. He didn’t have to hide alone. He should be able to celebrate too.
Keith held out his hand slowly to Lance watching the confusion and shock resonate in his eyes. The blue pools edge with red as he tries to fight off his own internal battle.
“Want to walk around Pride with me?”
If anyone had told him earlier that morning that he would be walking around with Lance McClain at Pride he would have gone back to bed and tried to wake up again.
Because it wouldn’t have been real
Expect it very much was
Lance still seemed jumpy and on edge but he willingly followed Keith as they ventured back into the crowd. Keith pulling his camera back out snap a photo here and there occasionally even fully stopping to drop to some odd angle to catch something. Lance didn’t make a single sarcastic comment about it.
Keith wondered if it was because he had been caught or if the guy was just still that terrified. It didn’t really make sense but he let it be. It wasn’t his place to pester him about what was going on. They were not friends by any means.
Instead Keith forced himself to sprout random tidbits about the day. What he had seen or heard. What had happened the year before. The weather. The fact that there was some cinnamon bun place a street over that was really good.
Small things to help filter the air around them as Lance simply followed along eyes wide looking around. He definitely seemed to relax as time went on. Almost as relaxed as Keith had managed to capture in the photo with the flag. It still wasn’t normal Lance though.
They watched the concert together with Keith still clicking away. Even had a quiet dinner of pizza and garlic knots from a stand. Most places started to close up at this point as the crowd moved toward the bridge.
Keith could feel Lance tense immensely as they followed.
“What’s about to happen?” Lance muttered to Keith
It had been the only time Lance had spoken since Keith pushed him in the alley that hadn’t been just to order food. Keith hesitated slightly but brushed lightly near Lance’s elbow keeping Lance besides him.
“Firework show. They close off the bridge for an hour as it’s the best spot to watch. Then it’s over for the day.”
Lance nodded, still seeming tense. Keith’s frown deepened. He pulled Lance slightly from the crowd so they could slow down.
“We don’t have to. If your scared of heights or something,” Keith kind enough to keep his voice down
Lance shook his head however, “It’s not that. It’s just… today was suppose to go very differently so I think I’m over thinking right now,” Lance whispered seeming to sink back into himself
Keith was annoyed by the slight high difference as Lance seemed to have grown in the short time they had been gone from school. It forced him to look up slightly at Lance trying to read him. He wasn’t good at it to begin with.
“Lance,” but Lance shook his head stepping back toward the crowd waiting for Keith to follow
Keith grumbled under his breath slightly before rejoining Lance. They waited with the crowd all looking away from the city to where the show was supposed to start. Keith could still sense Lance on edge but it wasn’t as bad as when they first stepped on.
The first whizz and boom silenced the crowd as blue shimmered in the sky. It was followed by some red then purple. A bunch of white joined in. Cheers joined the whizzing and booming. A few couples stole kisses as the display lit up the sky.
Keith quickly snapped a few photos of the people around them with the fireworks in the back. Adjusting a few things around before doing so again. His lense not giving him exactly what he was hoping for so he finally hugged slightly giving up to enjoy the view for himself.
After several minutes he let his gaze wander over to Lance. For the first time all day Lance finally seemed at some ease. A soft smile on his face as he watched the people around him and not the fireworks on the sky. Keith felt like he could finally release his breath that he had been holding all day watching over Lance and he turned away before he was caught staring.
The show eventually ended and people began to thin out. Sure the party for some was still going but for Keith he was well done at this point. He was eager to see his photos on his computer and start editing. Plus the bed sounded really good after all the walking. He was also sure he was a bit red from the sun. His skin felt itchy and dry once the sun had set. He was sure the small rainbow on his face would leave an interesting tan line.
“Thank you for not leaving me alone today… and for deleting the photo,” Lance’s whisper drifted toward Keith with such an odd sincerity
“Uh sure no problem?”
Lance carefully removed the pin from his shirt as well as the tiny rainbow yarn bracelet someone had passed to him at one point during their walk. Keith watched slightly sick as Lance carefully hid them in his pocket. A small part of it seemed to click in Keith’s brain.
Lance thanked him earlier for protecting him. Lance had been on edge and worried the entire time he was there hardly granting himself a moment to relax. Lance was here alone. Lance was terrified at the simple idea of a photo of him existing at Pride had been taken. Lance was carefully hiding his tiny two items he had been sporting through the day.
It could be Lance wasn’t comfortable coming out which would be a surprise. Their school wasn’t exactly the friendliest about it.
An old memory from middle school however entered his mind. It was a talk he had with Shiro when he and Lance had gotten into the fight. Lance had mocked him saying how pathetic and disgusting it was to be adopted by two men. That they must be trying to get Keith to join their cult once he was of age.
Keith had proudly won that fight only walking away with minor scratches while Lance had a few good bruises. They both however were sent home for two days for fighting.
It was also the first time Adam and Shiro sat him down to explain that not everyone would like that he had two dads. Adopted or not. That some parents will tell their kids over and over that it’s bad even if it wasn’t and that it wasn’t his job as a twelve year old to try to beat them into thinking it was.
The final piece had clicked in place for Keith. Lance had learned all that talk from somewhere when they were kids right? Maybe it was a parent. Maybe that’s why he was so distant today. Maybe it wasn’t safe for him to be out.
So why did he risk coming here?
Keith swallowed down his thoughts reacting before he had much sense to not to. He pulled out a crumpled bit of paper from his camera bag as well as a pen and scribbled his number shoving it into Lance’s hand.
“Emergencies only. Text only. I will not answer a call. Like I said emergency only. I’m not here to chat just because you are bored.”
Keith quickly turned waving behind him to Lance as he quickly aimed for his car. He was really tempted to turn back around to grab the paper he had just given to Lance and toss it far far away. Instead he walked all the way to his car, took in a huge breath, and then texted Shiro he was on his way back.
Keith wasn’t exactly surprised he hadn’t heard from Lance. Even three weeks after Pride. Keith burrows himself in editing his photos sorting through what he liked for the portfolio or just things to hold on for the future.
A small part of him wished he had been able to at least keep the photo of Lance purely because it really was a great photo. One of his favorites before editing that he had taken. It was gone though. Deleted from the memory of the camera to never be seen again.
Though Keith caught himself doing something now that he had never done before. Each photo he would look at the face of everyone in it making sure no one seemed uncomfortable, worried, or scared. That no one wore the same look Lance had when Keith tracked him down.
It had never come to mind before that it could have potential been an issue. Now however he was checking rigorously and it was really slowing down his progress.
His phone lit up besides him though he ignored it for a moment longer. He never bothered keeping the ringer or vibrate on. Only Shiro and Adam ever texted him. It was almost never an emergency. Likely they were just calling him down for dinner.
Keith stretches after a few moments looking at the phone. There were two alerts.
Shiro- Don’t forget Adam and I have date night. You are on your own for dinner. Money is on the counter. Be back around 10
Oh that’s right date night. Keith sighed closing his eyes briefly thinking about how it had been three weeks since he had pizza but he really wasn’t in the mood to drive and get it.
He looked back down at his phone to see the other message. An unknown number staring back at him.
Unknown- I need to hide for like an hour and everyone’s out of town… can I hide at your place? -Lance
Keith frowned, confused. Why does Lance need to hide? Why him? If it’s just an hour why not just hide at a restaurant or something for the time being?
Keith- bring pizza on your way. I have change when you get here I just don’t want to drive to get it
Keith followed it up with his address. Ten minutes later a thumbs up came through.
And then Keith stared at his phone
He didn’t know Lance. Heck he still didn’t even like Lance. He was surprised Lance even bothered texting him. Heck Lance was coming to his house.
What was he supposed to do with him?
Fifteen minutes later Lance knocked on the door leaving no more time for Keith to stare at his phone trying to figure out how this was supposed to go.
The end result also baffled Keith. They simply laid on the floor in the living room with the t.v. on in the background eating a slice every once in awhile. After an hour and five minutes Lance sighed, helped Keith clean, waved, and then left.
That was it
Lance didn’t speak a single word. Neither did Keith.
Oddly enough Keith was actually okay with it. Sure he wasn’t used to a quiet Lance but it was definitely better than their normal sarcastic arguments.
Another two weeks passed and nothing from either one.
Keith groaned watching the temperature slowly rise above one hundred. It was too hot for this. Living in the south was hell.
His phone glowed. He paused looking over annoyed. Lance.
Lance- 1 hour?
Keith starred at it. His best bet was referring to last time. He and Lance hadn’t talked since then that was the only thing he could think of.
Keith sent a thumbs up letting his arms fall back to the floor as he tried to soak in the air conditioning pumping through the house.
He and Lance spent an hour and three minutes soaking up air conditioning in his room. Not a single word spoken.
The next time was only a week later. Much later in the day than normal. Lance’s text asking for an hour and Keith sending a thumbs up. Was this the new normal?
It was 9pm when Lance arrived. They laid on the floor of Keith’s room for 58 minutes before Lance waved goodbye and walked out.
It was a week before school started when it suddenly changed. It was 10:23pm when Keith’s phone lit up. It had been a bit over two weeks since Lance’s last appearance.
Lance- I just….
It didn’t make much sense to Keith what Lance needed. He still hadn’t figured him out. They had almost never talked in the hour moments he was here normally.
When Lance arrived it was obvious he was more ragged than normal. Like he hadn’t slept in ages. Dark circles almost seemed permanent. Eyes incredibly dull. Like he had been fully drained of life.
Keith didn’t push him about what time he was planning to leave. Instead he quietly let Lance in, pressing a finger to his lips as Shiro and Adam had already gone to bed. They headed to Keith’s room where Lance laid in silence on the floor. Keith kept to his bed this round. After an hour and twenty minutes Keith tossed a spare pillow and blanket down for Lance before shutting off the light.
Keith woke up earlier than he meant to. Maybe subconsciously thinking of Lance on the floor. Lance’s blanket however was already folded on top of his pillow. It was hardly 6am.
Lance came back two days later to repeat the process.
Shiro and Adam have remained blissfully unaware of a random teenager laying on Keith’s floor at random times of the day. If they had known it would have been a bit different. If they had found out it was Lance McClain it would be very different. Keith didn’t want to deal with it and had even had Lance climb through the window a few times so the adults could remain oblivious.
In all honesty they probably wouldn’t have minded. Keith however, knew his many former complaints of Lance would be brought up. Many questions would be asked. Too many. So Keith simply opted to avoid the situation.
When school started Keith had a feeling things would go back to normal. Essentially they did. He and Lance only shared two classes together for the year. Their second block English and final block History.
Lance and Keith both stuck to their normal friend groups. Hardly giving each other a glance in the halls. By any account Lance seemed like his normal, happy, boisterous self.
Except Keith could see it
It was like a mask he wore. A seriously good one. Maybe it was just because Keith had become so used to quiet Lance on the floor of his bedroom that he could find quiet Lance behind the mask.
Lance was sinking behind that mask.
However once school started Lance didn’t come by again for a while. Keith wondered if he had other houses he would do this at and he would just rotate who’s turn it was. At the same time however no one else seemed to notice the mask or seem concerned when Lance’s eye bags were visible despite his stupid routine he did before he slept.
It was three weeks into the school year when Lance finally showed back up. He seemed exhausted, hardly climbing through the window before he basically collapsed on the floor asleep. Keith awkwardly set a blanket on top of him and a pillow beside him incase he needed the pillow later.
Keith began to wonder if he needed a different method of handling Lance. Should they actually talk? Would he even respond? It really wasn’t his business. He wasn’t friends with Lance. Just a place he occasionally crashed for reasons he didn’t really know.
The next morning just like normal the blanket was folded on top of the pillow and Lance was already gone.
Lance was also not at school that day.
Keith’s fingers found themselves pulling up Lance’s contact several times that day debating if he should say something. He didn’t and they went into the weekend without hearing from Lance.
Lance came back to school that Monday however behaving like normal. The pattern continued though. Lance came over about once a week, never speaking a word and leaving before Keith woke up.
Holidays quickly approached and that seemed to make things tougher on Lance. Two weeks before Thanksgiving he had almost shown up every day at Keith’s. He seemed worse off too. Skin slightly pale and he seemed to back off food.
Keith wasn’t going to say anything. It wasn’t his issue. He didn’t know how to handle it anyway. They weren’t technically friends.
It was Monday before Thanksgiving when Keith cracked. Something had woke him up. He couldn’t exactly say what at first as he blinked trying to focus on the clock.
Then he heard something. A sob being forced back as if desperate not to be caught. Another tried to follow.
Lance was crying
“-nce?” Keith grumbled sitting up to look at the curled mess on the floor
Lance moved slightly trying to bite down on his arm to stop the sounds. His pain seemed to fill the room however drawing Keith fully awake. Keith full moved to the corner of his bed looking down at Lance.
“Lance,” he tried again
Lance simply curled deeper into himself trying to ignore Keith. Like he was trying to keep the last strand of himself protected. Keith didn’t understand what was happening in the least.
Keith slid down besides Lance carefully placing a hand on Lance’s shoulder. Lance flinched and seemed to shake more. Had it been a bad dream?
“Sorry,” Lance coughed trying to settle his breathing
“What happened? Dream?”
Lance didn’t answer. He simply remained curled into himself trying to ease his breathing. Keith stays besides him with just a hand on his shoulder. He didn’t know what to do. He sucked with people and he wasn’t sure what was crossing a line here. He and Lance weren’t friends after all.
“I just don’t like holidays,” Lance whispered as he drifted back to sleep breathing still heavily painful
Keith wasn’t sure what to do with that information but he definitely felt uncomfortably staying on the floor with Lance. His instincts however were screaming to stay. In the end he caved bringing his pillow and comforter down, tossing the comforter over him and Lance but leaving plenty of space between the two on the floor.
Lance was gone again by the time Keith finally woke up extremely sore from his half night on the floor. Was Lance always this sore from sleeping on the floor?
It was also the first day Lance seemed to have not cared about hiding himself at school. His group seemed to flock around him trying to lift up their normally cheerful friend. Keith heard him brush them off simply stating he felt a bit sick this morning.
Keith expected Lance to be back that night but he didn’t show up.
He began to think maybe last night was the final straw for Lance. Maybe he wasn’t comfortable having others know he wasn’t the happy guy he always was. Maybe he didn’t plan on coming back after what happened. Maybe Keith overstepped sleeping on the floor besides him.
It was the first time since Pride that Keith actually felt a slight worry about the situation.
But he didn’t know what he was supposed to do
It was the Monday after Thanksgiving when everything went to hell.
Lance was at school though he looked miserable. Openly miserable. Again he passed it off to his friends that he wasn’t feeling well. Hinted it may be the flu or something as if hoping to keep them at bay.
He didn’t like holidays…
What happens at holidays? Was that why he seemed so off?
Keith shook off the feeling and focused on his work.
Then Lance didn’t show up for his last class.
Maybe he was just sick
But internal alarms were glaring for Keith
He just didn’t understand why
He was still walking home when his phone buzzed. He had finally turned on the vibration on his phone when Lance started texting at odd hours.
Lance- one more night… please
One more? Like never after?
Keith- what do you mean one more
Lance- just one more night in the floor
Lance didn’t respond to the question mark. Keith shrugged slightly continuing his walk home. Sure he could have taken the school bus but he just really hated people. He didn’t want to have to hear them the whole ride when he could just walk.
When Keith got home he chatted with Adam and Shiro a bit about school before slinking off to his room to finish homework. Dinner would be ready in two hours according to the dorks in the kitchen still staring at the box. With Shiro in control they would probably be ordering pizza later.
Keith had to blink a few times when he entered his room. Lance was already there and this was the first time Lance had ever brought a bag with him. He seemed absorbed on his computer not realizing Keith had come in.
But that isn’t what made Keith slowly back out the door and sneak back downstairs
He stole what he needed from the freezer coming back up. Lance noticed him this time when he entered. His face turned fully toward him giving him the full view of the damage.
Swollen and cut lip. A cut on his cheek. A black eye and heavy bruising on the side of his face.
But his eyes… they were brighter and more determined than Keith had ever seen them.
“What the hell happened to your face?” Keith tossed the bag of frozen peas towards Lance
Lance caught it carefully placing it to the side of his face wincing. He turned back to his computer and kept scrolling. He seemed to be looking at people. Specifically a first name. The list was huge though.
“Could you actually believe I won?” Lance responded clicking profile after profile
“No. Your right hook sucked the last time we fought.”
“We were twelve,” Lance pouted
Keith tilted his head watching Lance quickly speed through profiles still searching
“What do you mean one more night?”
“If I can get this to work… I will no longer be a nuisance on your floor.”
Lance paused looking up at Keith, “I figured that much was obvious Keith. I’m finally taking care of things.”
Keith starred and Lance a while longer before moving to his desk pulling out his school work.
“Dinner is in two hours or so if you want any,” then Keith slid in his headphones
They went back to their normal silence routine. Lance did accept Keith’s offer of dinner for once resulting in a small game of Keith stealing a plate for Lance and trying to sneak it toward the hallway for Lance to bring back. They had both felt Lance already being in the house suddenly appearing at dinner would be odd. Not to mention Adam and Shiro still didn’t exactly know Keith and Lance were on ok terms.
Just as Keith shut the lights Lance’s phone dinged. Then dinged again and again and again in a frantic fashion. Lance frowned, seeming confused and quickly shut off the sound to not disturb Keith. Lance’s eyes widened and blue eyes suddenly seemed clouded.
“Are your parents asleep yet?”
“Yeah they went to bed over an hour ago by now. I think I can hear Shiro snoring.”
“Think it will be safe if I use your bathroom then for a phone call?”
Keith frowned slightly. Why couldn’t he just take the call in here?
“Yeah just keep it down,” Keith rolled over pulling the covers closer to him
Keith waited for Lance out of curiosity. His pillow and blanket ready for him to come back. His laptop still out and his bag waiting. Keith forcing himself to blink to keep awake.
Lance eventually tiptoed in almost two hours later. Keith pretended to be asleep letting only the tiniest sliver of his eye remain open to watch Lance. Only the light from the laptop was on and it was not giving Keith the best view but it looked like Lance had been crying. A lot.
He seemed calm though. Calmer and more relaxed than Keith had ever seen him. Lance carefully moved through the room to his spot shutting down his laptop. He laid down letting out a small sigh yet that sigh seemed to have lifted years of pain trapped from him as a wet chuckle escaped his lips.
“I guess it’s ok now,” he whispered into the darkness
Lance was gone in the morning. His blanket folded properly in the pillow as always. His stuff gone. A small scrape of paper was left on top of the blanket though.
Keith yawned sliding of his bed to look at it seeing a slight bit of scribbling on it.
Thank you for everything- L
Keith felt a bit weird like he had missed a big clue in something. Why did Lance say this was the last time? What was happening? Was he ok?
It didn’t help that Lance wasn’t at school that day either. Nor the next and not the day after. In fact no one seemed to know where he was.
Keith could hear his friends theories about maybe he was sick or something happened to a family member. It was weirder than that though. It was soon noticed all of Lance’s social media was gone. His phone shut off. Even the teachers began to ask if anyone knew.
No one knew the answer.
It did seem as if Keith had been the last person to see him. Though he wasn’t sure if he should bring it up. No one knew Lance slept at Keith’s. They weren’t friends.
A week went by before Keith finally caved trying to text Lance even going so far as to call but the voice on the other end claimed the number was no longer in service. Keith felt a new sense of stress over taking him.
He was just gone
He should be used to it though. Everyone leaves him behind in the end. With or without wanting.
At two weeks Keith finally managed some luck. Christmas break was right around the corner and the chill in the air was getting a bit much. Yet Keith found himself knocking on the door of a quaint looking house.
He waited patiently till the door opened revealing a short woman. Keith could see a man behind her trying to spread the branches on the fake Christmas tree to perfection. Keith knew he was at the right place because of her eyes. She had Lance’s eyes.
“How can I help you?”
“I just… Lance McClain lives here doesn’t he?”
The man in the house seemed to have heard. He straightened and turned frowning. The woman sighed waving away the man behind her before he could move forward.
“No he doesn’t. I’m sorry. You must have the wrong house.”
Keith starred at the woman feeling a bit desperate. He wasn’t at the wrong house. He had checked. He wasn’t wrong.
“Please. I just need to know he’s ok,” Keith whispered eyes darting to the man who huffed over the fact Keith was still on his porch
The woman slowly shifted the door so her face hardly fit behind it. Her eyes seemed exhausted and sad as she responded.
“I’m sorry I can’t help you.”
The door closed firmly in front of him
Keith felt his heart quicken. He looked up at the two story house wondering if he should risk it. Hide till evening and break in. Maybe Lance was there. Maybe something was wrong.
“What are you doing here?”
Keith spooked slightly as a car door shut besides him. He looked over to see a very familiar girl staring at him. Natural tan, brown hair, blue eyes, those blue eyes…
“I just… you are Rachel McClain right? You graduated last year.”
“Yeah. What are you doing at my house?”
Keith moves himself off the porch a bit closer to the sidewalk. He drug his toe slightly letting his eye dart from the door to Rachel.
“I just… I’m trying to find Lance. No one knows where he is. I was just trying to see he was ok.”
Rachel’s eyes narrowed, “Who is he to you anyway? Didn’t you and him fight in middle school?”
“Look I… I’m just trying here ok,” Keith didn’t bother holding back the emotion
Something shifted in Rachel’s eyes. She looked at the house then back at Keith. She sighed walking toward the door passing Keith as she did.
“He’s gone. He’s ok but he’s not living here anymore.”
She stepped inside closing the door behind her before Keith was spotted by anyone on the inside.
Christmas passed but Keith didn’t feel any better. He just felt guilty. Maybe if he had talked to Lance instead of just sitting in silence Lance wouldn’t be who knows where. He would be home with his family or on Keith’s floor.
“You got mail,” Adam said handing a small blue envelope to Keith as he shifted through the others
Keith frowned looking confused. No name, no return address. He opened carefully peaking in first. A small bit of paper and a bit of sand. Even more confused he pulled out the paper shaking off a bit of the extra sand.
I’m ok- L
There was a small drawing of a wave and palm tree in the corner.
He was ok
Time moved on. Eventually Keith told Shiro and Adam what had happened. Both had noticed how distracted he had been and finally brought it up the day before school started.
The conversation was long. He told them everything from Pride to the letter. He got a bit of heat for not telling anyone but Keith pointed out in the end it was probably for the best.
Everyone had their theories but no one really knew where Lance had gone nor why.
Most people at school simply seemed to accept the fact he wasn’t coming back. Occasionally only bringing him up as graduation came around in wonder to where he had gone.
Keith didn’t hear anything else from Lance. He said he was ok so Keith trusted that he was. Though on slow days his mind drifted wondering where he could be. If he really was ok.
Graduation came and went quickly. Keith finally made his decision on college. It surprised all of them including Keith. It hadn’t even been in his top three choices but it just felt right… except the fact it was in California. He and Shiro argued for several nights about it. Shiro argued it was too far and that Keith complained about the heat enough as it was. How would he survive California?
Keith couldn’t say what exactly. It just felt right. Something was there. Plus it was a free ride so why not. If it really was horrible he would transfer for sophomore year. That is what he and Shiro agreed on.
Pride came again and Keith found his mind trapped on Lance the whole day. He felt his eyes constantly looking for hints of the same look he had found the year before.
But everything was ok
Shiro and Adam took an entire week off to help Keith move into the dorms. An entire week claiming they wanted to look around and take a bit of a vacation. They wanted to see where their son would be living. Though Keith knew they weren’t ready to let go yet. Honestly Keith was really glad they came.
Keith was quick to meet his new roommate. A large guy who happened to be local and a bit too friendly. He was already talking about showing Keith around and introducing him to others. Shiro and Adam appreciated it. Keith however was more content searching for a hiding spot on campus away from all these people.
The guy insisted they call him Hunk. Why? Keith couldn’t figure out. He doubted it was his actual name that’s for sure. He also excitedly talked about his friend Pidge, again didn’t seem like a real name, who had apparently decided last minute not to go to school in New York but chose the Garrison instead.
“It’s kinda a small college. More local or in state kids come here so luckily I kinda know a lot of people here anyway. What about you? Or did you just show up because…” Hunk drifted looking at Keith
They had taken a seat on the curb outside of a local taco truck as they waited for their order. Shiro and Adam activity talking to the guys in the truck. Luckily Adam knew enough Spanish to make up for Shiro’s pathetic attempt.
“I don’t know, I just had a feeling it was where I needed to be. I figured if it doesn’t work after a year I could also transfer out back closer to home.”
“Not a bad plan. The place itself isn’t bad. Kinda small I guess compared to other places but we are an hour from the beach and an hour from a big city so we have options.”
Shiro and Adam joined them with the food. Talk eased through the group though Keith opted to only respond when needed. The food truck eventually waved off but not before the girl rolled down her window to lean out.
“Hunk! Don’t be a stranger! I still got more tricks to teach you!”
Hunk waved her off as they drove to the next stop for the day.
“You know her?”
Hunk rubbed the back of his neck slightly chuckling.
“Yeah that’s how I knew where to find them. She goes to the college. She will be a senior this year with her girlfriend too but they are both going for their Masters so they will be around awhile longer. When they aren’t doing school they drive around with the food truck. It’s how they pay for everything. They are cool people. Her brother helps out too when he can. He’s a freshman at the college this year too so I’m sure we will see him around.”
“Ah cool so like a family side business instead of a job you gotta work around. That’s smart,” Adam said tossing his trash into a bin nearby as everyone stretched ready to walk back toward the college
“Not really. It’s just the three of them. Veronica’s brother only recently moved here. He’s kinda quiet but he’s cool. They kinda just have their own thing going.”
“Well brother and sister are still family right?” Shiro added
Hunk rubbed the back of his neck with a sigh, “Yeah.. they are just complicated. Not really my place to say and honestly I still hardly know any of it. I just know they only recently found each other again or something of that nature. But they are good people. I’m sure you will get to know them eventually. Veronica and Acxa are very active around here. You will definitely see them!”
Keith shoves his hands deeper into his pockets nodding. They headed back towards campus for the evening. They still had a few days till Shiro and Adam had to return home then classes would start. Keith planned on making the most of it.
Keith was regretting everything.
The heat alone was suffocating him as he waited outside his classroom for the class before him to file out. Chemistry was next. He hated chemistry. He was an art major for a reason but it was a mandatory class to take.
Which made him hate it more.
It was also probably his biggest class. The amount of Freshman and Sophomores crowded there waiting was ridiculous. Hunk slumped besides him scowling at his phone.
“We will have to save two seats if possible. Pidge and Lance are running behind. Not sure why I’m surprised with those two.”
For the first time since Pride Keith wondered how Lance was doing. If he was still ok. If he was safe. Where he could be now.
Eventually they all cycled in hoarding a spot on either side. People looking for spots scowled at them saving seats but moved on. The teacher had entered the room quickly clicking on his laptop about to begin. A tiny human with glasses barreled quickly taking the seat besides Hunk.
“Sorry got held up. Thanks for the seat.”
“Where’s Lance?” Hunk asked moving his bag besides him
“Admissions called him. Said there was an issue he had to fix. He already sent a note and email to the professor. We figured it was the first day he shouldn’t miss anything.”
Hunk sighed signally for Keith to move his bag from the seat they were holding. Pidge quickly introduced herself to Keith just as the professor began.
Class drug on slowly and Keith couldn’t help but wonder how the boy who used to sleep on his floor was doing.
“We just started classes yesterday, why do we need a study session?” Keith glared at Hunk from his bed as Hunk flashed puppy eyes at him
“It’s supposed to be good to get in a routine! Look, we just get together tonight look at all of our schedules and mark when tests and stuff are due and what we need to focus on.”
“We haven’t even had a second chemistry class yet.”
“Yeah but we will tomorrow.”
Keith groaned looking at the clock. It’s not like he had plans anyway…
“Free coffee for tonight?”
“Deal,” Keith muttered grabbing his bag together
Hunk smiled, grabbing his own and they began their walk to the library. Hunk texted their coffee orders to Pidge and Lance who were supposedly already there.
They found Pidge in the corner of the basement library section. They could be a bit louder in the basement of the library vs the regular section. There were random rooms full of workshops and such ready for the students to use if needed.
“Coffee should be here soon,” Pidge said pulling open her laptop and pulling her planner open
“This feels like a coming of age movie. Cheesy and stupid,” Keith muttered pulling out his laptop
Pidge snorted adjusting her classes. A sticker on Pidge’s laptop caught Keith’s eye. A small ace of spades with the ace colors sat proudly over the apple icon. Keith spotted the laptop across from him yet to be open sported a tiny bisexual colored shark.
LGBTQ people really tended to naturally flock together
Four coffees slide across the table gathering Keith’s attention to the new arrival.
Keith knew the surprise was obvious on his face. His eyes widened considerably and his jaw seemed to drop just a smidge.
The surprise mimicked in the one who had just delivered his coffee.
“You are really ok,” Keith spoke first ignoring the confusion from Hunk and Pidge at the staring contest
“I… yeah… what are you doing here?”
“School… and you?”
The air felt weird. There were so many things Keith wanted to ask. So many things he wanted to say. He really wanted to pin Lance to the wall to yell at him for leaving without saying anything. It was just not suggested.
“You two know each other?” Pidge finally drew them back to the table
“Uh yeah. High school. Before I came here.”
So this is where he came.
He seemed ok
It was weird. The others tried to move past it but it was there. Keith was just distracted.
Lance really did seem… just ok
He seemed lighter in a way for sure. Almost like he was getting his confidence back. His blue eyes were the brightest he had ever seen. His face relaxed. He had put weight back on and his skin looked healthy again. He hadn’t grown though. Keith now edged past him in height.
They carefully worked out a schedule with everyone together. Apparently Lance worked in the library three days a week and then was on and off with his sister in the food truck as needed. He also lived off campus in a little apartment with his sister and her girlfriend.
Keith felt out of place with the group. He wanted to go back to his dorm with his coffee and just stare at the wall. He needed to think. It wasn’t like he and Lance were friends anyway.
It shouldn’t matter
Lance didn’t let Keith sneak off after though. As the group exited the doors of the library Lance quietly wrapped a finger around Keith’s belt loop.
“Hang back a bit please,” he muttered
Keith slowly nodded mentioning to Hunk he was going to check something and would be back at the dorms later. Lance offered to walk him as it was on his way. Leaving nothing questionable for the others to worry about.
Keith followed Lance towards a small park near the agricultural side of campus. He took a seat on the bench and patted the spot besides him.
“I owe you a lot.”
Keith sighed, “Not really. I have questions obviously but you don’t have to answer them.”
Lance hummed as a jogger went by them. He tilted his head back slightly soaking up the last bit of heat the day had to offer.
“You saved me that day you know.”
Keith faced Lance slightly confused. What was he talking about?
“That day at Pride. I had a note written out and everything. I just wanted a few hours of peace… a few hours to be comfortable being me but I couldn’t relax. I wasn’t planning on going home that day.”
“Is that why you tensed so much at the bridge?”
Lance nodded watching another jogger go by. Keith stayed silent for a while. All the things he almost chose instead of asking Lance to join him. He almost left Lance alone that day. Lance wouldn’t be here if he had.
He had no idea
Lance tapped his fingers to his knee several times as if searching for something in a queue.
“Well… you know how I was like in middle school. I had it drilled in my head as a kid that liking someone of the same gender was a sin. Wrong. Evil. I started lashing out more about it as I got older and started questioning myself. I was worried I was going to disappoint everyone and that my thoughts were a sin.”
“Because that’s what they drilled into you,”
Lance nodded again
“I have two older brothers who are married to women with children. Logically my sister was next. She came back her first year of college during break and introduced us to her girlfriend.”
A small oh sounded in Keith’s brain as it made connections. The girl in the food truck was Veronica. Lance’s sister.
“She knew the risk. She hoped maybe their love for their daughter was greater than their fear. This was right around the time I really started guilt tripping myself. I was figuring things out and regretted every word that had slipped out of my mouth prior.”
“They didn’t accept her did they?”
“Nope. Kicked her out. Disowned her. Cut her off from everything. Had all the siblings remove her from everything. All of that.”
Keith could see the scene playing in his mind. Veronica and her girlfriend being forced out of the house. The doors slamming. Cussing all through the house. Orders shouted. A scared Lance hiding in the stairwell watching things go down.
“My dad… is a good guy most times… but he got drunk that night. Was saying how he wished he could bring her back and beat the sin out of her. He broke some glass. Threw a chair stuff like that. So I vowed never to say anything until I knew I was safe.”
“This was freshman year?”
“Sophomore. I did fully realize I was bi freshman year though.”
Keith hummed thinking back. That was when Lance’s taunts had lessened considerably.
“So what happened that made you… want to…”
Keith nodded as Lance finished the question for him.
“Well it started not long after that. I kinda just sunk into myself. Realizing I was never going to make my family happy. I couldn’t reach Veronica to talk and I didn’t know anyone who was safe so I just folded into myself. I folded myself down so much I couldn’t breathe. I had talked myself down to the point I thought I was everything my father had said.”
Lance adjusted himself leaning back again stretching his feet in front of him.
“By the time we got to the summer of our senior year I was just… done. Rachel has left for college now too so it was just me in the house. I swear I felt like he knew and was just waiting for me to say something so he could attack. I was so scared at that point I didn’t see a way out. So I figured one day without fear and then… goodbye.”
Keith felt sick. Lance sounded so casual talking about it. Like it was such a normal conversation to have.
“Why didn’t you? You said I didn’t leave you alone… but why was that enough?”
Lance wiggles his nose and huffed
“Honestly I’m not sure. It just was. It was such a small thing that even someone who I had tormented for having gay parents and then later came out as gay themselves was willing to protect me despite everything. It’s not like we were friends or anything. I had been horrible to you and your family. The whole day though it was just… tiny things. I think your number was the final anchor that kept me here. Having the option to go somewhere safe even if it was just for an hour.”
That’s how it started. He just wanted to be safe. He wanted a break. He wanted to breathe for just an hour before he let his soul become suffocated with the hate again.
“He found out the day you left didn’t he? Found out and hit you,” Keith felt his hand spazz slightly wanting to form to a fist but he ignored it
Lance shrugged looking annoyed, “Yeah he called me during class. Said it was an emergency and to come home. He found the bracelet and pin in my sock drawer. By the time I got home he was already drunk. Went for it right off the bat. Said he would beat it out of me like he had wanted to with Veronica.”
“You said you won? I stopped by your place… he didn’t seem bruised.”
“I know. Rachel told me you stopped by. It’s why I sent you the letter. I honestly figured people would get over it after a few weeks.”
“They did but there was no longer a Lance on my floor every night.”
“Next time I’ll leave a body pillow of me as a replacement,” Lance chuckled
Keith felt himself smile slightly
“But yeah I won. He landed a few surprise hits. I shoved him to the floor and I guess snapped. I took a stand. Told him I was proud of what I was going to become and it was a shame he couldn’t see around such a stupid idea that love had to have rules. That who I love shouldn’t stop him from loving me but I don’t have to wait around for him to figure it out if he was going to try and kill me over it.”
An odd tickle of pride rose in Keith’s chest for Lance. The poor guy had been crying on his floor only a few days before in fear. Only to turn it around a few days later.
“He told me to leave obviously. I packed my bag and ran. He cut me out of my bank account and phone in less than an hour so I was kinda lost after that. Luckily I had texted you already and was already thinking. I knew I had to find a place to go. It was only November so it wasn’t like I could sleep on your floor all school year plus there were other issues to deal with so I searched for Veronica on social media.”
“That’s who you called that night right?”
“I couldn’t find her but I found her girlfriend’s profile. When they responded we did the call over messenger and I told her everything. She got me a ticket for the next day and I never really looked back.”
“You could have told me what was happening. We could have gotten you out of there sooner.”
Lance shrugged tapping his thigh again
“I wasn’t ready to talk. You could have pushed me to talk and I probably would have never dropped back by. It’s part of why I kept coming back. It was safe and you didn’t push or ask questions.”
Well it wasn’t like they were friends enough to ask… Keith thought
They sat in silence for a while, the sun setting in front of them. They sky fading from colors to black ready to end the day. Students however were still very much out and about. They had hardly been here a week and they already seemed to have demolished any form of a normal sleep schedule.
“Are you really ok though?” Keith finally asked
It had been the main question of his thoughts any time Lance entered his brain. That despite the sudden disappearance he was ok somewhere. He just wasn’t expecting that somewhere to be here.
Lance let a tiny smile play on his face before answering.
“Yeah I’m ok…”
“Pretty much. I’m still working out a lot of crap. Which I guess will not be an overnight thing. It’s easier now knowing I’m safe and I have Veronica. I just have years of bullshit I’ve still got to filter through that had been ingrained into me. So I’m ok.”
“You at least aren’t wearing that mask anymore right? The I’m fine one that you use to wear at school all the time?””
Lance turned slightly surprised at Keith. Sure Keith had seen him at his lowest but he didn’t actually think Keith had paid attention past the nights Lance slept on his floor.
“I guess not. I don’t really have to fake anything here anymore.”
Keith hummed and silence came back. They stayed there till the last sun rays fully left leaving the inky darkness to surround them.
“We should probably go home. We have class tomorrow,” then Lance groaned slightly, “And I gotta work the truck.”
“I’ll see you in chemistry then,” Keith stood offering a hand to Lance to help him off the bench
Sure he didn’t need it but either way it felt fitting.
“And… Keith. Thank you. For everything. I’ll never be able to repay you.”
“Don’t worry about it. Seriously.”
Lance waved a small goodbye turning to walk off campus toward a nearby apartment complex. Keith pauses in his steps however turning back to Lance’s retreating figure.
“Hey Lance,” Keith called out
Lance paused half turning to face Keith. An eyebrow lifted slightly in curiosity. Keith swallowed hard looking at the boy in front of him. He had grown for sure. He had changed but he was still so unsure of himself. Still a bit afraid.
“I’m proud of you.”
With that Keith turned walking back to the dorms shooting a quick text to Shiro and Adam who had arrived back home just yesterday.
Keith- you couldn’t guess who I ran into today
Lance and Keith titled themselves friends after that evening.
Freshman year drug on as the group of four were together almost everyday. Keith picked up a part time job in the library’s coffee shop that was attached for easy access for studying students. A routine quickly set in for everyone.
Lance often reserved hours for the other three while he was on shift in the library in private rooms so they could work without being disturbed. Some nights Keith would come in alone and Lance would give him the key to the single room when Keith just needed away from the group.
It wasn’t that Keith didn’t mind the group. He actually liked them. It was nice having real friends for a change. It was just some nights listening to Hunk and Pidge’s conversations as they argued about robotics was just too much information in one go.
Keith and Lance did learn to relax with the others eventually. Lance still flinched at loud noises or when people moved too fast. Keith still got annoyed when people crowded him or constantly wanted to know what he was doing. But they learned to adjust.
Keith secretly enjoyed watching Lance grow his confidence again. The real type, not the fake type he had used in high school to survive. There were still some days he would show up when Hunk was out just to lay on the floor next to Keith’s bed in silence. Keith occasionally joins in.
College was tricky. Having to learn how to be an adult while still being a student. The group made many fumbles in the attempt but supported each other throughout.
Keith even made a few friends outside the group, much to Shiro and Adam’s delight. He brought news of a bigger surprise home for Christmas when he admitted he had been seeing someone from his Art History and Perspective class. They dated till the end of his Sophomore year splitting on good terms but decided to remain friends instead.
Headed into Junior year the groups decided to cave and split an apartment. Lance tired of living on Veronica’s couch and the others ready to move out of the dorms. They found the crappiest and cheapest four bedroom apartment they could. One tiny bath and tiny kitchen but the living room was decent sized.
Junior year seemed the breaking point for Hunk. He struggled the most. Wasn’t uncommon around finals to find Hunk crying in Lance’s arms over the smallest thing. He survived it however finishing with decent enough grades.
Lance’s habit of sleeping on Keith’s floor continued even after moving in together. Typically it was just on bad nights. When everything inside felt too dark or as it got closer to holidays when Keith would leave to go back home for a bit. Keith never really questioned it.
Keith did eventually cave on a chilly evening. The heater in their apartment wasn’t working properly. It wouldn’t be fixed for a few more days. Lance had one of his nightmares and found himself in Keith’s room at 2am. He had drug every blanket he had with him quickly curling into the floor besides the bed.
Keith had woken up the moment Lance came through the door. Even if Lance didn’t mean too Keith was just a light sleeper. Keith knew it was cold on the floor. He was still shivering slightly in his bed. California was supposed to be warm; he wasn’t sure why it had to be so freaking cold now.
“Lance,” Keith finally mumbled trying to sleep again
“Sorry didn’t mean to wake you,” Lance yawned blinking up at Keith
“I’m freakin cold,” Keith shivered as if making his point known
“Mmmm me too,” Lance whispered burying himself into his blankets more
Silence sat between them a while longer but Keith couldn’t go back to sleep. He was too busy seeking warmth somewhere in his bed. He was sure the floor was probably worse.
“-acne,” Keith’s face was in his pillow but Lance hummed back
“Just get in the bed. It’s too cold for this crap.”
Lance didn’t move for a few moments. Keith scooted over anyway, making room. It wasn’t like their beds were big to begin with. Lance carefully sat up looking at the new spot available.
Lance slowly stood flopping his blankets on top of Keith’s before crawling under the new massive hoard of blankets the pair had combined. Having a human under as well seemed to help with the added body heat. The pair quickly fell asleep near each other.
Lance didn’t sleep on the floor ever again after that.
Keith also has a small realization in the middle of Junior year.
Acxa and Veronica were finally set to get married. They were going to wait till later that summer but the planning was well underway. If often left Lance muttered things about flowers and flavors and ribbons under his breath as he helped his sister in any way possible.
It was going to be a small wedding. Mainly Acxa’s family with some friends. Keith, Pidge, and Hunk had also been invited due to how small it was actually going to be. Lance had mentioned Rachel had been extended an invite seeing she was the only McClain who was still sorta willing to talk to them but there had been no response as of yet.
Keith often found himself watching Lance plan everything. Watching him mutter and research whatever his sister needed while also balancing his school and work schedule. Keith had to drag Lance away from the table more than once to go to bed because the boy was going to work himself ill if not.
He found himself a bit extra protective of Lance. Maybe due to the lack of care the boy was giving himself lately. He kept an eye on his eating and sleeping patterns. Was quick to help out way before he requested it. Even helped in some of the planning.
It felt like most of his junior year was centered around helping Lance. Which was maybe while Adam made the comment during Christmas break about it.
“You like Lance don’t you?”
Keith had paused mid sentence. He had been describing the flowers he and Lance were arguing between for the wedding. It was something that only happened a week before break. It was recent and still fresh on the brain.
“You literally haven’t stopped talking either about him or to him since you came from home,” Adam pointed down to Keith’s phone just as it buzzed signaling Lance’s response to Keith’s earlier question
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Also doesn’t deny it,” Shiro pipped in bringing the bowl of popcorn to the couch
Keith huffed leaning back staring at the tv. He had noticed it too. It was actually part of why he and his ex opted to stop dating. Keith didn’t think much of it at first other than a bit of a crush simply from being around Lance too much.
However he was really starting to think otherwise recently.
“So what’s the problem,” Shiro asked letting his arm fall behind Keith on the couch
“Why do you say there is a problem?”
“Because it’s you,” Adam said stealing a handful of popcorn
The thing was Keith couldn’t pin it to a problem. It was multiple.
Yes Lance had casually dated through college but it was never anything serious. Keith also hadn’t been blind to the lingering moments shared between them. Heck they almost never slept alone anymore. There were tons of small moments that lingered in Keith’s mind of why he could be reading all of this correctly.
There was just…
“I don’t think either of us could handle it if it goes wrong,” Keith finally offered
“Have you two become that dependent on each other already?” Shiro said earning a smack on the arm from Adam
“We literally aren’t any better Shiro.”
“Well… think about it. We have reached the point where we are best friends. We live together. Our friend group is tiny as it is. Dating and breaking up would split it and people would take sides. Someone would essentially lose everyone. Lance can’t afford to lose anyone else at this point. So I’m just going to let the situation be. I don’t want to risk it.”
“You act like you already know you will break up in the end,” Shiro pointed out
“Well you never really know and do I seriously seem like the type who is going to settle down and marry one day? Now one bothers putting up with me that long.”
“We have,” Adam interrupted, “So has Lance and your new friends. Believe it or not you’ve changed a lot too. You might have been stuck watching Lance evolve; you didn’t notice your own. You two might just be ok you know.”
“I’m not risking everything on a maybe ok. I’m sick of hearing ok.”
Keith phone’s dinged again. Another message from Lance came though. Keith opened it to see a selfie with Acxa’s newest cousin. She was only a few weeks old. Lance had the cutest smile as the baby stared at him in slight confusion.
Keith stared at it for a few moments before sending a heart and closing his phone again.
“I say they will fold either before or during the wedding,” Shiro said watching Keith
“Nah after. Keith won’t say anything till Lance does.”
“Keith is impulsive.”
“Keith is still right here,” Keith muttered stealing the popcorn and focusing back on the tv
With the wedding being at the end of June Keith opted to stay till after the wedding instead of going back home right away. Which meant he was often drug along to every appointment Lance had to help Veronica for. Willingly of course it was just a bit different than Keith had originally thought summer would go.
“Hey you get to join us for Pride this year though!” Hunk said as Keith complained about the heat the day for the 100th time
“Yeah! Pride then the wedding and then you can go home to your fancy air conditioner,” Pidge said fanning herself as well
Lance had just entered the apartment groaning as well. Quickly dropping bags on the table and laying on the floor.
“It’s too hot,” he whined shedding his shirt so he could lay on the cooled kitchen floor
“Ew Lance, you're sweaty. Put your shirt back on,” Pidge said from her spot on the counter
“You are the one laying where we cook,” Keith pointed out receiving a middle finger
“Veronica is in panic mode,” Lance muttered
“Not surprising,” Hunk responded
But Lance shook his head
“You know how we waited till after Christmas before finally finding out Rachel was coming?”
Small groans echoed through the apartment of remembrance
“Rachel called again… my mom wants to come.”
They were blessed with a few days off to sneak to Pride. The crowd was massive compared to the one at home. Keith was surprised to see how Lance navigated through with such ease. The last time he saw Lance at a Pride Parade he had tried to blend in and hide. Now he was seeing a very different Lance.
He really had grown.
Keith felt the sense of pride spread through him as he watched.
Keith kept busy with his camera as normal. Occasionally being dragged by Lance to keep from falling behind the group.
An odd sense of déjà vu hit him. Lance was just in front of him as a gust of wind rolled through the street. Several flags twirled up at the right moment. Lance turned slightly to look up at them. Bright blue eyes clear as ever with a smile playing on his face.
Keith felt his camera click before he even processed the thought.
Lance turned slightly to smile back at Keith. Keith felt himself smile back despite himself. He grabbed Lance’s hand tugging him forward slightly to whisper in his ear.
“I’m so proud of you.”
Wedding day was actually peaceful. Keith’s main job was to keep Lance on track. Lance’s job was to simply take care of Veronica. It was weird seeing both the siblings so relaxed despite the day.
Rachel has been the between person when it came to if their mom could come or not. The answer was an easy yes under the condition she didn’t step out of line. Keith knew Lance had been nervous about it. He hadn’t seen his mom since the morning he was kicked out. She wasn’t home when he and his father fought.
However she never reached out to bring him home which always rubbed Keith wrong. Honestly he thought he was probably the least happy of all to have the two McClain outsiders coming. He didn’t trust them.
A notification popped up on Keith’s phone from Acxa. Keith slid it over to Lance who glanced at it quickly only to pause and glance back.
“When did you change your screensaver?”
It was the photo of Lance just two weeks prior at Pride. The difference from the photo he had deleted all those years ago to the one now was a very clear one to Keith.
The photo they deleted was a softer still nervous Lance with a split moment of freedom. He was still blocked with fear. This photo showed how much Lance had grown.
And Keith loved it
“I really liked it. Reminds me of the photo we deleted. You are just happier in this one. I love seeing how far you’ve come.”
Lance couldn’t have hid his reddening face if he tried. He looked back to the table’s centerpieces he was supposed to be adjusting.
“Is that what you were meaning when you said you were proud of me?” Lance whispered
“Part of it,” Keith matches his tone turning to hide the blush on his face as well
The wedding was beautiful. Of course it was they had exhausted themselves so it could be. Lance only gave brief greetings to Rachel and his mom before darting off to busy himself with other things.
It didn’t go unnoticed by Keith that any time one of them drew close to Lance that Lance would often excuse himself from the area. He even ducked behind Hunk and Keith a few times for good measure.
“Lance you don’t have to hide. You can just say you are not ready to talk,” Keith finally took him aside to talk after spotting Lance do a full 180 to avoid his mom
“I know I know,” Lance wrung his hands together slightly, “It’s… I do want to talk to them… but…”
Lance nodded looking at his feet. Keith held his hand out for Lance. Lance stared at him for a moment.
“I’ll help you.”
Lance carefully took his hand and followed Keith.
“Just squeeze if it’s uncomfortable and I'll get you out. Sound good?”
Lance nodded as they edge near the others. Keith knew they would approach him again when they spotted him so Keith let him relax near a standing top as they watched people dance. A small part of Keith wanted to watch Lance dance but they were a bit busy for the moment.
A few minutes passed and sure enough Rachel and her mom slowly approached Lance and Keith. Keith felt Lance shift slightly closer to him. Keith gave his hand a quick squeeze.
“Hello Lance,” his mom breathed out seeming just as nervous, “You’ve been busy today.”
“Yeah I’m trying to make sure they don’t actually have to do anything today. I’m just glad it’s working.”
Keith rubbed his thumb in a circle on Lance’s wrist hoping to keep his attention. Mrs. McClain seemed to look at the pair slightly then drop her eyes as she fiddled with her fingers. Something Keith noticed Lance would do from time to time when he was nervous.
“Look I have no excuse for anything. I promise I’m not here to start anything… I should have stood up for you two. I was confused as to why everything was happening but I should have accepted you both and stood up for you. I failed as a mother for you two. It took me a while to realize it. I know there is nothing I can do to make anything better nor anything I can do that will make your father change his mind… I just wanted you to know I am sorry I failed you. That I still love you even the parts I have problems understanding because they are still what make you you. I just want you two to be happy and I’m really glad you are getting there.”
Lance didn’t squeeze Keith’s hand but he could feel it shaking slightly. Lance had already cried during the ceremony and he had vowed he wouldn’t for the rest of the day. He wasn’t succeeding.
“Can I please hug you,” Lance whispered his voice sounding incredible choked
Keith squeezed his hand hard as his mother nodded crying now too. Keith released Lance who quickly was engulfed by his tiny mother. Keith and Rachel shared a small smile as they hugged.
Keith stayed by Lance as he caught up with his mom. He was eventually called for something and simply touched Keith’s shoulder saying he would be back and that Keith could stay leaving him with the other two McClains.
Mrs. McClain started Keith a bit as she gently placed a hand on his forearm. He looked down at her seeing Lance’s blue eyes staring back. Lance’s were just a smidge bluer now that he saw them everyday.
“Thank you… for taking care of my son when I failed. I heard a bit from Veronica. How you let him sleep over when he was struggling. How you’ve been such a good friend to him since.”
Keith felt his ears tint pink slightly
“You were the one who came looking for him before Christmas. To see if he was ok,” She continued
Keith nodded slightly earning a small smile
“You must really love him don’t you.”
Keith quickly shook his head
“It’s… not like that. Especially then. We actually kinda hated each other before. We weren’t even friends till I moved here.”
Mrs McClain laughed as she tapped her eyes
“Your eyes lie then. They hold a lot of love in there. They were colder when I first saw you. Lonely even. Now they are warm and happy but they change when you look at my son.”
“You're just not going to say anything are you?” Rachel said running a finger over her glass of wine
Keith faltered slightly as the pair grinned at him. He dropped his gaze not wanting to see the reactions.
“I can’t because if anything goes wrong I’m not going to be the one who takes everything away from him this time. I have already seen him at his lowest. I’m not going to be the cause of it.”
“Who says you will?” Rachel said with a frown
“People get sick of me quickly. They don’t hang around. When they do… I mess up. It’s bound to happen so I just won’t say anything. I always just brush through people’s lives. I wasn’t meant to stay.”
“You may want to tell that to my son then because the looks you two have been sharing all night are worse than the brides who married today.”
With that Mrs. McClain announced she was getting more wine and waddled off leaving Keith looking confused with an amused Rachel.
Something was off when Keith came back for senior year.
Lance was thinking too much. Keith could see it all over his face. Often shocking him back to reality watching the boy blush and duck his head.
Lance also wasn’t coming to Keith’s room as often. Which annoyed Keith way more than he would like to admit. Then Lance started dating a girl from one of his classes… and she was hot. Even Pidge made a snide comment that she was way out of Lance’s league. There was a lot of arguing at dinner that night.
Keith felt like it was finally happening. It had just taken longer than he expected. Lance was finally tired of him. Ready to move on to the better version and leave him behind. Just like so many others had before him.
Keith felt like molten lava ran through his chest any time Allura’s name was mentioned or he caught a scent of her on Lance. He went home for Thanksgiving that year despite for a break.
Adam and Shiro were heavily confused about his mood but he wouldn’t talk. Then they realized something… they hadn’t heard about Lance since Keith arrived. As far as they had seen Lance hadn’t texted or called Keith since he had been there either.
In fact he hadn’t reached out at all.
Keith knew he would have to get over it and move on. He could power through rooming with Lance one more year then it wouldn’t be an issue anymore. He put together a whole plan while on break.
And the whole thing fell apart the moment he got back to the apartment.
It was quiet. Pidge and Hunk not back yet apparently. Keith thought Lance would be home though. Then he remembered Allura and gritted his teeth to just hide in his room.
He opened the door to see messy hair peeking out from under the sheets. He edged closer to see Lance seeming to be having a small nightmare. His face heavily stained with tears and small whimpers escaping his lips every now and then.
Keith felt his heart pause as his plans went out the window. He crouched besides Lance carefully running a hand through his hair to reveal his face fully.
“Lance. Hey hey hey it’s ok. Lance wake up.”
Lance’s eyes fluttered open. Heavily bloodshot like he had fallen asleep crying too. Once he focused on Keith a new wave rolled through him. Openly sobbing as Keith looked shocked.
Keith tried to clear Lance’s tears with his thumb but eventually crawled in besides him letting him cry into his chest. Lance’s fingers clinging to Keith’s shirt. Keith rubbing Lance’s back trying to get him to breathe.
“Lance you gotta talk to me. I don’t know how to help you,” Keith whispered sending a fresh sound from Lance’s mouth
“Please just don’t leave me. I can’t… I can’t… you are the one person I can’t lose and I’m terrified I’m about to.”
Keith pulled Lance back to look him in the face. Was it a dream? Did Allura break up with him? Did something happen to Veronica?
“Lance what happened? I’m here. We are ok.”
Lance seemed so desperate to say something but seemed to think better simply burying himself back into Keith’s chest trying to gain control.
It took time for Lance to settle. Keith coaxed him into a shower while ordering take out. Keith had him curled on the couch with Chinese food in just under an hour.
And Keith waited… for anything
Why had Lance snapped like that? What happened? Why did Lance think Keith would leave when it was very much going to be the other way around?
“Keith… what’s your biggest fear?”
Keith felt the air grow still. He hesitated at the first thought that popped into his head. Was it really a fear? Especially when it happened so often to him.
“People leaving,” Keith muttered chasing a bit of rice around with a chopstick, “I got so used to being passed up as a kid while at the orphanage that it was weird when people chose me only to leave me behind. It was worse. I got so used to people only wanting me for a short while and being left behind it haunted me. That’s why I was so distant to everyone for so long.”
“You still kinda are… distant I mean. You have moments I think where you realize you're too close and you slowly back off. You’ve been doing that a lot recently,” Lance whispered staring at the floor
“You have too,” Keith responded
Lance was silent picking at his food slightly.
“I fear I’m unlovable… and that I can’t love back properly.”
Keith’s food paused on its journey to his mouth. It dropped back into the container as Keith starred at Lance. Lance was still picking at one spot without any usefulness.
“You are joking right? Did something happen between you and Allura? Did she say something?” Keith felt his voice rise slightly as he set his food down
Lance shook his head slowly, “Not really. I broke things off with her a few weeks ago. I didn’t say anything because she was so nice about it… she did say that she didn’t think I could love anyone more than…”
Lance sighed, putting down his food, “It doesn’t matter… I guess because she’s right. I’ve loved someone for a while and there isn’t anything I can do about it because I don’t handle being loved well and I don’t know how to return it. They deserve better anyway.”
Keith stood up standing in front of Lance. He wanted to grab him and shake some sense into him. He couldn’t though so he was resorting to pacing and talking.
“First off you are an extremely lovable person. Lance everyone in this house loves you. The majority of people who have meet you love you and those who don’t are stupid. Heck even Shiro and Adam do and they only see you when you interrupt my calls.”
Keith gritted his teeth thinking about the next part. Lance loved someone. He had for a while.
“You also know how to love back Lance. You show us that everyday. Every tiny detail you put into our friendship or for your sister or for everyone you meet. How can you look at me and say you think you are unlovable? That you don’t know how to love when I see it everyday?”
Lance simply sat and stared at Keith for several moments as Keith’s chest rapidly rose and fell. Like he was just waiting for everything to process.
“Do you think I’m going to leave you one day?”
Keith felt his eyes get hit at Lance’s question. He knew one day Lance would. He would because he could. Because he could do better. Because he deserved better.
“Because I’m pretty you are stuck with me. At least till you get tired of me first.”
Keith had never wanted to hit Lance so badly.
“I’m not leaving until you want me to,” Keith shuttered slightly trying to focus
“I don’t want you to.”
They stared at each other for several more minutes. The clock alerted them when every second passed. The commercial behind them was talking of a new show that would come out later that week.
“Who are you afraid to love Lance?”
Lance seemed to flinch and curled back into himself. Keith felt his heart quicken as he sank to his knees besides Lance again. He hesitated before reaching out brushing a fresh tear from Lance’s face.
“Lance you’ve come so far… don’t back down now,” Keith whispered
Blue eyes locked onto Keith. Keith could feel the uncertainty and fear boiling in Lance. He hated it. They had worked so hard to chase it all away only for it to return. He wanted happy Lance again. He didn’t want for Lance to sink so low again. He didn’t want to have to protect the boy who slept on his floor. He wanted him to flourish. He wanted him to take pride in himself. To love himself. To be more than ok.
“I… Keith… I just… I don’t want to lose you when you find out.”
Keith squeezed Lance’s hand tightly. Desperate to get the message through. He wasn’t leaving Lance till Lance wanted him to. It was that simple.
“You won’t lose me Lance.”
Lance’s eyes searched Keith’s face desperate. Keith could feel Lance’s heart beating as he thought. Keith needed to push him over the edge. He just needed to know who was hurting Lance so bad.
“Lance… I’m here… I promise,” Keith whispered
Lance licked his lips slightly closing his eyes letting out a broken sigh. His eyes reopened and Keith seemed to see a new light there. Something Lance typically had that burned brightly in him. Keith wanted to stroke it and bring it forward.
Lance closed the small space between them quickly pressing his lips to Keith’s. It was firm and warm but brief. Lance quickly ducked away hiding his eyes from Keith before Keith for a chance to respond.
Keith could feel his heart in his ears as he looked down at Lance. The dots slowly drifting together.
Keith lifted his hand to tilt Lance’s face back to him. Lance’s breath hitched as Keith brought his focus back to him. Those damn blue eyes nervous and hopeful.
Keith leaned down to kiss Lance. Carefully. Gently. But desperate to show he was here. He was here. He loved him. He felt the same way.
Keith couldn’t stop his own tears as Lance kissed back. He felt years lighter. He felt high. He felt unstoppable.
“I love you too Lance. I really do. It’s why I was so frustrated when you said that was your fear… love,” Keith let the words fan Lance’s face after they parted again
“You literally saved me all those years ago and yet I didn’t even fall in love till last year. It took me so long to understand it. I won’t leave you Keith. Just please don’t leave me either.”
“I think we are stuck with each other then,” Keith presses a kiss to Lance’s forehead earning a sigh
“I love you Keith.”
“I love you too,” Keith whispered as Lance pulled him back down for another kiss
The tension faded slightly only to erode and show the hidden problems under the surface.
It was rocky at first trying to work things out. There were a lot of things to uncover. A lot of things to work out. They had a lot of dependency issues and fear.
Keith caved talking to Shiro and Adam. He flinched at the word therapy but he knew it was something they had brought up before.
It sparked several nights of arguing between the two.
“What if we go only to find out it’s all bullshit. It’s not real love it’s just… desperation,” Lance hissed trying not to wake the others
“Is that what you think it is? That we are desperate?”
Lance sank to the bed with his head in his hands shaking his head. Trying to fight the tears.
“No. No I don’t want it to. This feels like love… like what love is supposed to. I don’t want to go and then tell me I’m wrong. That my fear was right. That I can’t-“
Keith interrupted him grabbing for his hands giving them a small squeeze. He placed a kiss on Lance’s forehead before bumping his nose to Lance’s.
“I love you,” Keith muttered
“I love you… I’m never going to leave you ok,” Lance shuttered
“I won’t leave you… but we need to do something. These fears… they aren’t healthy. If we want to be successful…”
Lance sighed letting his head drop to Keith’s shoulder.
”I know… I just…”
“We won’t lose each other,” Keith squeezed Lance’s hands again
The others seemed to be on edge with the new relationship as well. They were supportive but worried at how it went down. The way they had admitted to each other they had loved each other was almost traumatic. They had bounded their love to their greatest fears.
Their friends and family were worried.
Keith invited Lance home for Christmas. He knew Lance was worried about going back but Keith wondered if it would help. Coming back might help face some of the fears. Bringing him home to Shiro and Adam so he could see how a healthy relationship was.
Not that Keith really seemed to know much better apparently.
They had opted for separate therapy sessions and therapists. They figured it was better to work on themselves before working with each other. Lance’s therapist approved of him going back trying to remain optimistic for him scheduling a session for as soon as he came back.
So Lance went with Keith.
For the most part their days were warm. A typical couple to most. Giggling and mocking each other. Shared kisses and fingers locked together. The look in their eyes screamed love.
There were just those shadowy moments of doubt. Of fear that they would turn and the other would suddenly change their mind about everything.
Lance woke one night from a nightmare. His father’s words ringing in his head as he clutched his head crying.
“Worthless. A sin. Beat it out of you. Make you someone worth loving. Teach you what real love is.”
Keith quick with gentle words stroking Lance’s hair till he relaxed.
For Keith it was often in forgotten moments. If Lance forgot to check in or missed a text. If Lance was gone a bit too long putting him on edge. Constant worry that Lance was just going to walk away.
It would seem totally irrational to others especially seeing how much they loved and protected each other.
But most didn’t know the secrets they carried. Lance never talked about those nights on the floor or his father’s words to others. Keith never talked about the long list of people who left him for a different option. So most didn’t know.
But they did and they were patient with each other for it.
Shiro has commented how much they had relaxed by the end of the third week right before they were to head back.
“You two will be ok. You really love each other, you just have to trust and heal. We are all here for you. We are proud of you two.”
Lance squeezed Keith’s hand, sharing a smile as Keith moved his arm around Lance’s shoulders, pulling him in to press a quick kiss to his temple.
Time was an ally.
Before they knew it spring was there. The heat of summer knocking on the door.
They had to talk about the future. Where were they off to next? Graduation was just around the corner.
“Let’s stay close to a beach,” Lance muttered into Keith’s ear as Keith nestled between Lance’s legs leaning back on his chest
“Can we do like… chilly with a beach?”
“What like Oregon?”
Keith hummed trying time think how hot it got in Oregon
“I want a dog,” Keith muttered
“Ok,” Lance weaved his fingers through Keith’s hair
They were on the wrong future topic. They were supposed to be talking about graduation.
“What about New Zealand,” Lance leaned his head back on the headboard
“We can become sheep farmers,” Keith smiled
“With our dog,” Lance added
“Is gay marriage legal in New Zealand?”
Keith could feel Lance’s heart quicken at his question. He could feel Lance’s humm vibrate through his chest.
“I think so,” Lance finally vocalized
Keith hummed closing his eyes thinking. They had a long journey ahead of them. It was exhausting but worth it. Keith couldn’t wait for the future. He never thought he had a chance.
The chance of love. The chance at a growing family. The chance to have all these options. All these options with Lance.
“I’m going to marry you one day. That way you really can’t get rid of me,” Keith smirked keeping his eyes closed
“Sounds perfect to me,” Lance buried his nose into Keith’s hair pressing a kiss on his head as well
They say in silence for several more minutes. They could hear the door open then close. Pidge shouting that dinner had arrived.
The pair groaned, rolling off the bed to go to the kitchen.
“Keith… we actually do gotta talk about what we are going to do next.”
Their plan was rough but doable. They decided to move a bit closer back to Shiro and Adam. Keith had accepted a job at an art museum nearby while also starting his own photography business on the side. Lance opted to abuse his business degree along with the knowledge from the job he got his sophomore year and wanted to start his own flower shop wanting to also put a small cafe in the front so it could double as a cute date spot.
They would move in at the end of July. Everything was already in the works.
They had made huge progress in themselves and it showed. Lance growing in confidence again, occasionally acting a bit like a teenager with all of it. Not that Keith minded one bit. While Keith was no longer listing all the reasons Lance would leave him in his sleep. It was tiny victories they had overcome.
They opted for one last round of fun with their friends before they had to be real adults. They found themselves at Pride together for the final time. Lance eagerly talking to a lady selling rainbow flowers while Keith was clicking away on his camera.
A small rubble of thunder echoed through the sky. Heads snapped up staring at the darkening sky with apprehension.
Lance edged closer to Keith again hooking their pinkies together. Lance’s face paint suddenly seemed in danger of being ruined.
“Maybe we can find a coffee shop or something while this goes through. I could use a bite!” Hunk said looking up as well
The clouds seemed to finally cave and rain fell down on them. Cheerful stretches echoed through the crowd. Some ran for cover, others simply covered themselves. Keith hardly made a few steps before turning realizing Lance hadn’t followed.
Keith felt his heart flutter again. Just like he did every time he looked at Lance.
Lance had his arms stretched out and head tilted back. His colors started to race across his face. His smile so pure and relaxed. The rainbow flag fluttered behind him.
He let his camera click. The rain and sun created even more rainbows around them. Pride swelled through him as he watched Lance.
It reminded him of their first Pride together. Even more so than last year’s. It seemed each year Lance relaxed more and more. He was more proud and comfortable of himself.
Last year's photo had moved from Keith’s background to a canvas on their wall. It was one of Keith’s favorite photos he’s ever taken.
Keith covered his camera taking his steps back to Lance. He carefully cupped his face in his hands watching Lance’s eyes flutter slightly at the touch.
“I’m so proud of you Lance.”
“I’m proud of us,” Lance whispered with a smile accepting a long kiss from his boyfriend
“I can’t wait to marry you,” Keith whispered as they parted
“Then marry me Keith.”