or, enter your birth date.*
October - "Romeo and Juliet on Halloween"
A cool breeze stirred the autumn-cast leaves that remained affixed to their trees, the fall season was now dug-in and not letting go anytime soon. The longer nights, chilled winds and foggy days helped to set the perfect tone for Halloween, less than a week away.
Which was, in part, the reason why Lance and Keith were out and about on a cloudy October night, walking past Parrington Lawn. They were on their way to visit the University Mortuary.
The University Mortuary was a haunted house, based in a repurposed two-storey commercial building in Seattle’s University District. The attraction had become a staple in the city’s calendar over the past several years, opening its doors in late September, and closing for the season in the second week of November.
The exterior of the office building had been dressed up with an appropriate selection of decor, including faux-rusting signs, cobwebs, bloody handprints, fake boarded up windows, flickering lights, and even a vintage-looking hearse.
Even though the hour was getting late, there was still a healthy crowd waiting to be let in at 9:30p.m.
Lance led the way towards the ticket booth that had been set up at one end of the building. A member of the attraction staff, dressed in a dirty and bloody orderly’s uniform, greeted them with a pale and withdrawn face (thanks to the wonders of modern stage makeup).
“Welcome to the University Mortuary, are you here for a viewing?”
“Very good.” The male crew member nodded. "Viewings are twenty-four dollars each.“
Lance handed over the cash, and the orderly passed a pair of tickets through the window. "The mortuary Director would like to apologise for the state of the facilities… Good cleaning help is hard to find…” The ‘orderly’ allowed themself a dry chuckle. "…Alive. If the sights you see within the mortuary become too… Distressing… Please proceed towards the nearest exit.“
Lance and Keith nodded. "We will.”
“Yeah.” The raven-haired man agreed.
“Have a good fright.” The orderly bid them farewell, and Lance laughed as they joined the queue.
“So… Happy after-Birthday!” The tanned man grinned.
Keith looked amused. “You already gave me a present on Tuesday; you didn’t have to pay for this as well.”
Lance smirked. "And I’m not gonna miss a chance to spoil you a little, especially as you’re such a big fan of haunted houses.“
"Shiro told you, didn’t he?”
Lance theatrically avoided his gaze. "My sources will remain anonymous. Anyway, consider this the other half of your birthday present from me.“
Keith smiled. "Thanks, Lance.”
The tanned man smiled back, and began to dig into the pocket of his jeans. "No problem.“ He held up his cell phone. "Post-birthday selfie?”
Keith shook his head with an amused smile, but he conceded. Lance directed him to stand at a spot where he could photograph both his boyfriend and the attraction sign in one shot.
The pecan-haired man uploaded and tagged the photos on his social media, taking a moment to admire a photo of himself and Keith that had been taken by a helpful stranger next to them in the queue.
Keith game him an amused look. “I’m fine here if you and your phone would like to get a room.”
Lance held the phone up so his boyfriend could see the photograph of the both of them. "I mean, hey, you can’t blame a guy for admiring a memory like this, can you? And if we’re being honest here… My cell’s always been there, it doesn’t put me down, stand me up, and it helps me look pretty.“
Keith crossed his arms over his chest. "I hear it’s secretly been seeing a younger model iPhone on the side.” He remarked in deadpan. Lance looked at his phone with exaggerated betrayal.
“How could you, I thought we were exclusive… Pending network charges!”
People in the queue were starting to stare, so Lance discreetly slipped the device back into his pocket. He sidled up to his boyfriend, and wrapped an arm around Keith’s waist.
“Feeling guilty?” The indigo-eyed man quipped.
“Just making sure the guy I care most about in the whole world doesn’t get scared in the haunted house.”
Keith smirked. "Shouldn’t you be hugging yourself then? I’m not the one who gets scared easily.“
Lance sniffed dismissively. "I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Keith rolled his eyes. "Whatever.“ His lips twisted into a soft but menacing smile. "How about we forget about the movie at the Varsity and I put on The Woman in Black instead?”
“Nope.” Lance’s response was quick, and an octave higher than normal.
The doors to the University Mortuary finally loomed before them, and a pair cast members, one dressed as a bloodied medical examiner, the other as a dishevelled orderly, beckoned the visitors closer.
“Ticketttttssss… Pleeeeasssseee…” The dishevelled orderly hissed, and he checked Keith and Lance’s passes. The cast member tore them half-way through, and handed them back, passing their attention to the ghastly medical examiner.
“Welcome to the University Mortuary, look alive, watch your step, and try not to lose your head.”
Lance chuckled, whilst Keith rolled his eyes. The cast members pulled the mock-wood and glass doors open, and the two men stepped into the haunted house.
The first room was what appeared to be a dimly lit entrance foyer. The room was a portrait of designed chaos, with dirt and grime-crusted tilework and plaster, stained paperwork that littered the floor, and a receptionist’s desk that had been knocked askew.
The light was provided by a pair of dimly-lit art-deco pendant lights hung from the ceiling, and the flicker and flare of a knocked-over lamp on the desk.
Ahead of them, another set of mock-wood and glass doors beckoned. The pane in the right-hand door had been made up to look like it had been shattered, and fake blood had dripped down from the broken edge to the floor.
Around them, a soundtrack of screams and unsettling industrial noises piped in from hidden speakers.
Keith and Lance crossed the foyer unaccosted, leaving them in anticipation of what lay ahead.
The double doors led into a long, dishevelled hallway. The left-hand junction was blocked by a pair of gurneys, one with a body bag with a decaying corpse spilling out of it.
“RRRRAggghhhh!” The corpse suddenly grabbed at Keith and Lance, and Lance’s involuntary jump made Keith snicker. They backed away from the body bag corpse, and made their way along the right-hand junction.
All along the ceiling, foam ceiling tiles had come down, exposing dislodged wiring and dark recesses. Lance was so busy watching out for something waiting to drop out of the ceiling, that he didn’t notice the ghoul that burst out of a coffin that had been propped up against the side of the corridor.
“Yaahhh!” Lance yelped, and his boyfriend let out another amused snort. This was proving to be plenty of fun.
The pecan-haired man quickened the pace, turning a left-hand corner in the corridor, which brought them to a fresh set of doors. The fake glass was emblazoned with bold, black writing:
Lance only hesitated for a moment, and pushed through the double doors.
The first thing that hit them was the moaning, coming from a collection of moving shadows partially obscured by a fake wooden barricade over a large picture window. Opposite the viewing window, a set of blood-splattered plastic waiting chairs lined the wall opposite the covered window. A tilted needlepoint sign read:
The space was otherwise sparsely furnished, leaving Keith and Lance’s attention to linger on the window, as the moans and movements on the opposite side of the picture window grew louder.
The men moved to creep past the barred opening, only for the barrier to drop down abruptly, revealing a crowd of zombies reaching out from beyond a rim of fake broken glass.
Lance and Keith dashed out of the far set of doors and further into the nightmare of the University Mortuary.
They’d entered the Autopsy Room, where several of the refrigerator doors hung open, smeared with various liquids, or shut, shaking and rattling loudly from the 'people’ trapped inside.
A refrigerator draw burst open and a bloodied woman reached towards them, pleading: "HEEEEELLLPPP!“
Lance (and even Keith) jumped at the sudden surprise, making them stumble towards the autopsy table.
”SAAAAAAVVVEEE MEEEE!“ A body screamed as it sat upright on the table, causing a clump of viscera to tumble out of a chest cavity.
"Freeeeesh meeeeat?” A voice cried from a dirt-encrusted door in the corner, and a bloodied and crazed mortician with a bone saw darted into view. "Freeeeesh meeeeat!“
"Yaaaaahhhhhh!” Lance screeched, and quickly dragged Keith out of the room into a new corridor.
To their right lay a row of false external windows which had been shattered. Several had been boarded up, but a few were clear, revealing darkness beyond. As they proceeded down the hall, several large things dropped from the ceiling, causing Lance to brush wildly at his hair. Keith moved around the jiggling, over-sized animatronic spiders, and helped drag Lance away from the creepy crawlies.
He was starting to look frazzled from the experience. Keith shot him a reassuring smile. "We can duck out if you’re not enjoying this.“ He nodded towards a door with a prominent EXIT sign above it.
Lance returned Keith’s offer with a shaky smile. "Noooo, I know this is getting to me… But this is supposed to be part of your Birthday present.” He gave Keith’s arms a squeeze. "What good’s a haunted house if it doesn’t scare you, right?“
Keith nodded. "Right.”
Lance turned to face the entrance to the next part of the dungeon. The rusted, flame-licked, vandalised sign proclaimed:
“I mean… It’s only the incinerator, what can go wrong?”
They pushed through the icky door into an extremely industrial-looking space. There was the manufactured scent of something decaying, and something else that had been burnt.
There were bins overflowing with black plastic bags, several of which had ripped open to spill their contents onto the floor: disembodied arms, legs and miscellaneous bones lay akimbo like some macabre pick-n-mix, whilst chunks or torso were hung on hooks and chains from the ceiling. Towards the back of the room stood the incinerator, an unsettling monstrosity of singed brick, foul-stained metal and wildly fluctuating gauges.
As they reached the middle of the room, a limbless torso with hanging entrails swung down from the ceiling and smacked into the wall. Lance and Keith darted aside to avoid the scare.
They were suddenly enveloped by a wave of heat from a hidden heater and a blast of air from an equally-concealed air blaster, bursts of steam and fake flames belched from the incinerator as it roared to life.
“IIIIIIII'MMMMM BUUUUUURRRRNNNING!” The grate covering the front of the incinerator flung open from inside, and a blackened humanoid shape managed to partially crawl out.
Lance quickly darted from the room, Keith’s hand clutched tightly in his own.
They were in a large room now, treated to look like it was meant to be outside of the building. The attraction owners had even gone to the effort to rig up an air conditioner to make it feel like it was the cold outdoors.
A chain-link fence lay along the perimeter of the fake space. The barrier rattled from a crowd of ghouls lining its length, and as Lance and Keith approached the middle of the room, several sections of the fence collapsed, clearly missing them. Free to enter, the undead began to make their way into the space… Whilst Lance dashed towards the way out.
They were in another corridor, this one with three-foot tall words written in fake blood on the dirty wall:
They’d gotten two-thirds of the way down the hallway without anything jumping out of them, which meant Keith knew there’d be something in the final section.
They could see the exit ahead of them.
Which was when a body leapt out from a destroyed doorway, and one of its arms fell off.
“Fuuuuuuuck!” Lance jolted back, and they were hit by a bright flash.
Lance bounced against the hallway wall to avoid the cast member, and he ran hand-in-hand with Keith to the exit.
They burst out into a room that was decorated to resemble an abandoned staff locker room, however the presence of a counter lined with flatscreen monitors, and the more subdued atmosphere revealed that they’d stepped into the haunted house’s exit chamber.
Lance glanced around, apprehensive of one last scare, but none seemed to be waiting in the wings.
They approached the counter, where a woman wearing a partially-burned orderly uniform, and make up to further the illusion, greeted them brightly. "Hey guys, did you enjoy the mortuary?“
"Yeah.” Keith smiled. Lance offered an unconvincing nod of the head.
“Great.” She smiled. "Your photo should be coming through now.“
She clicked the mouse a few times, and a shot of Keith and Lance appeared on the screen. Keith was beaming. Lance looked terror-stricken.
"We’ll take it.” Keith grinned. The crew member sent the photo to print, and readied a cardboard frame and plastic bag as they waited.
“You good?” Keith asked, giving Lance’s arm a supportive squeeze.
“Sure. Yeah. I’ll be good once we get outside.”
Keith nodded, hoping it reassured his boyfriend.
“Alright guys, here you go.” The 'burned’ woman handed Keith the bag containing their souvenir photo. "Thank you for visiting the University Mortuary… Hope you have a great Halloween.“
"Happy Halloween.” Keith returned.
“Yeah… What he said.” Lance added.
The two men exited the chamber, and approached a pair of doors with a brightly-lit EXIT sign above them.
To either side of them, panels in the walls dropped away and a pair of cast members jumped out, making Lance and Keith jolt.
It was going to be a while before Lance ever elected to go into another haunted house, although the contentment pouring off of Keith was enough to justify his jarred nerves and racing pulse.
“Thanks, Lance. That was great.”
The royal blue-eyed man gave his boyfriend a shrug and a fond smile. "Glad you enjoyed it.“
"And… Y'know… Thanks for sticking around to the end.”
Lance shrugged again. "It wouldn’t have been fair on you to leave before the end… And this way, we got a neat souvenir of me looking scared shitless.“
The remarked made Keith chuckle. "That’s a weird bright side… But I’ll take it.”
Lance nodded, an amused half-smile gracing his lips. "Speaking of Halloween…“
The indigo-eyed man glanced at him as they walked "Yeah?”
“I was thinking about costumes.”
Keith’s tone was neutral; Lance could be a bit hit and miss with his costume ideas. "Yeah?“
"What do you think about us going as Romeo and Juliet… Or make that Julian, for Halloween?”
Keith frowned. "It’s… I’m just not sure if people would get it right away. Plus is there anywhere you know that rents Shakespeare costumes? And… Won’t they get hot?“
Lance sidled closer, and nudged his boyfriend. "Speaking of hot…” He then frowned. "Alright. Yeah, it’s not as obvious as I thought it’d be.“
"I mean, it might work if you wore a dress.”
Lance nodded. "And I have the right hips.“
Keith smiled. Lance didn’t have the hips for a Shakespearean dress, but he wasn’t going to tell him that right now. "Sure… Though I liked your idea about the Ghostbusters costumes.”
Lance’s enthusiasm broadened his smile. "Really?“
Keith nodded. "Yeah.”
“Awesome. I think I know a place that still has them in stock. You up for some costume shopping tomorrow?”
Keith smirked. "Sure.“
"Keith and Lance, busting ghosts and scoring candy. It’s gonna be the perfect night.” He glanced back at Keith. "And tonight’s been pretty awesome too.“ Lance suddenly looked thoughtful. "Hey, what time does the show start?”
“The movie starts at eleven forty-five. Plenty of time for use to get there.”
“You want to grab something to eat before the movie?”
“Sure.” Keith smiled in agreement.
Dinner, in stark contrast to their visit to the University Mortuary, was a relaxed affair. They’d popped into Earl’s On The Avenue, a sports bar (with adjoining kitchen) on University Way, as it stood immediately next door to their final destination of the night: Varsity Theatre.
Beyond the sports being shown on the establishment’s televisions, the menu offered a degree of subdued excitement through its selection, with Lance grabbing the classic B.L.T. on sourdough, with Jalapeño poppers & fries, and Keith ordering the Meat Lover’s pizza.
It was with a satisfying feeling of relaxation and contentment from their meal that Lance pushed open the door to the bar, and held for his boyfriend. They stepped out into the night, and strolled the short distance to the movie theatre.
The facade of the Varsity was alive with light. A double-row of bulbs glowed underneath a metal trapezoidal marquee, the lower-half of which was painted emerald green, the upper-half in ocre. The front of the marquee was emblazoned with red, three-dimensional, metal neon-illuminated letters, which spelt out the theatre’s name.
The backlit letterboards were brightly illuminated, with solid black letters advertising the night’s showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as other upcoming events. The edges of the marquee were trimmed with yellow and green strips of neon.
They sauntered towards the metal and glass doors at the theatre entrance, ducking past the queue gathered outside hoping to grab tickets for the late showing.
Lance held the door open for his boyfriend, and Keith shot him an amused smile as they entered the lobby. Keith indicated the ticket/concession counter.
“I know we’ve just ate, but do you want anything for the movie?”
“Keeping up the movie date night tradition.” Lance grinned as he sidled up to hug his boyfriend from behind. "Alright… It’s not like we won’t be burning it off later, anyway.“
Keith gave him a half-hearted elbow to the gut, but he failed to hide the dangerous smirk he had. "Maybe.”
Keith slipped into his seat, calmly juggling his small Coke, pack of M&Ms and the bag with the souvenir photograph due to the lack of cupholders for the grey, angular upholstered seats.
As he got comfortable, Lance dropped into the seat beside him, his medium Fanta and bag of Starburst clutched tightly in his hands. There was a gentle murmur of voices as other patrons found their seats in the theatre’s auditorium.
“So… Have you seen Rocky Horror before?”
Keith nodded. "Yeah, it used to get shown a lot on cable around Halloween.“
"How old were you when you first watched it?”
Keith smirked. "Young enough that I shouldn’t have been watching it.“
Lance laughed. "I always knew my boyfriend was a teenage delinquent.”
The other man chuckled. "I never said that. It was just this strange film that Shiro would always turn off if it came on when I was around. One night I finally caught it after he’d gone to bed-“
"When you were supposed to be in bed as well.”
“…When I was supposed to be in bed as well. Yes. And I learned pretty quickly why he hadn’t wanted me to see it.” Keith suddenly looked contemplative. "I guess it helped me work out a few things about myself back then.“
Lance hesitated; he wasn’t sure what was the best response to that candid remark. "So I owe Tim Curry in fishnets for helping you realise you’re gay as hell?”
“You have seen it!”
“I really haven’t!” Lance held up a free hand defensively. "It’s just that you can only go so-far in the L.G.B.T.Q-plus community without seeing something from Rocky Horror.“
Keith quietly chuckled. "Okay.” He glanced back at the blank screen, a nostalgic look painting his features. "It wasn’t Tim Curry in fishnets that gave me my… 'Gay awakening’… But yeah, this movie helped me realise I liked guys.“
Lance looked towards the screen and gave it a salute. "Thanks you, weird, campy seventies B-movie parody!” They laughed for a bit, attracting a few looks from some of the people sat around them. Lance leant close to talk a bit more confidentially to his boyfriend. "Sooooo… Who was your gay awakening?“
Keith’s flashed with amusement. "Ben Barnes, in Prince Caspian.”
Lance tried to remember the movie. "Did he go shirtless in that?“
Keith laughed. "No… But there was this scene where he’s fighting a group of soldiers in a castle… And part-way through this battle, he’s spinning and fighting with two swords.”
Lance smiled. He should’ve known. "So you’re saying that if I’d kicked some guys’ asses with a couple of swords, maybe we might’ve ended up dating sooner?“
Keith shrugged; he was doing a terrible job at concealing his amused smirk. "We’ll never know.”
The seats had filled up a little more, and as Lance checked the time on his phone, the lights dimmed.
The black curtains hiding the screen drew back to reveal the film certificate, which vanished as promptly as it had appeared.
The silence in the auditorium was burst by a pronounced music-hall style rendition of the 20th Century Fox fanfare, which cued the film company’s logo from the 1970s to fade into view in front of them.
As the music came to a close, and darkness conquered the screen once more, the sound of a howling wind played through the theatre speakers as a caption appeared:
A piano and guitar track began to play over the blackness, which were dominated by the sudden vision of a pair of lips, decorated in vivid-scarlet lipstick. The lips grew to fill the screen, and parted to sing the opening pre chorus:
“♫Michael Rennie was ill
The day the earth stood still
But he told us where we stand.
And Flash Gordon was there
In silver underwear.
Claude Raines was the invisible man.
Then something went wrong
For Fay Wray and King Kong,
They got caught in a celluloid jam.
Then at a deadly pace
It came from outer space,
And this is how the message ran…♪”
The lips on the screen froze, shifting to black and white as a new title card, rendered in a gory crimson typeface appeared on the screen:
“♪Science Fiction, Double Feature.
Dr. X will build a creature.
See androids fighting Brad and Janet.
Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet,
At the late night, double feature picture show…♫”
It was close to half-past one when Keith and Lance exited the Varsity, the indigo-eyed man was in a good mood, and Lance was (badly) humming along to some of the half-remembered songs from the film’s soundtrack.
“That was weird… But in a fun kinda way.”
“Mmmm.” Keith hummed in agreement. Lance had one arm slung over Keith’s shoulder, whilst his free hand held the bag containing their souvenir photograph.
“It’s kinda giving me some ideas for Halloween.”
Keith glanced towards his boyfriend. "Yeah?“
"Frank-N-Furter. I bet I could put something like that outfit together pretty easily.”
Keith wasn’t sure whether to find the idea funny, inspiring, or scary. Maybe it was a mix of all three. "You’ve got the legs for it.“ He conceded. "But what about the high heels?”
Lance considered the point. "Hmmm… I might try to find some shoes with thick heels… To help me stand.“
Keith nodded. "Sure. So… Which version of Frank are you thinking of doing?”
“The first version of Frank’s got a lot going for it, just imagine the kind of entrance I could have with a cape like that!”
“I already can.”
“They’re not going to see that coming! The version of Frank with the leather biker jacket was pretty good, too.”
“You might not be able to find all the stuff you need in time for Wednesday.”
“Oh, I’m not thinking about this year, I’m talking Halloween twenty-nineteen!”
Keith smirked. "What happened to Romeo and Julian?“
"Hey, you were right about it being too obscure… And it doesn’t really hold a candle to that big, gay extravaganza.” He bobbed his head in the direction of the movie theatre.
Keith let out a laugh. "Glad you liked it.“
"So… If you were going to dress up as a Rocky Horror character for Halloween, who’d you go as?”
“Riff Raff.” Keith responded, without hesitation.
Lance adopted a wounded puppy look. "Awww, you wouldn’t want to go as Rocky?“
"You’d be showing off enough skin for both of us.” Keith pointed out, nudging his boyfriend.
“But you’d look hot in gold boxing shoes and hot pants.”
“I probably would.” Keith conceded. "And I’d probably mentally scar our friends and my brother forever.“
Lance pouted, but he knew he couldn’t have it all his way. ”Fiiiiine. I’ll be Frank, you’ll be my… Handyman.“
Keith smirked. "And with a bit of a mind flip…”
“…♫Let’s do the Time Warp again!♪” Lance joined in. And they continued to sing, and jokingly dance as they made their way back to Keith’s motorcycle.
As Lance settled in behind his partner, arms wrapped around Keith’s waist, and photo held as carefully as possible, he leant forward and whispered into the rider’s ear.
“♪Whatever happened to Saturday night?♫”
“♫When you dressed up sharp, and felt alright.♪” The other man returned.
Keith slipped his helmet on and kick-started the Yamaha.
He revved the engine, and they took off into early morning, wild and untamed creatures of the night, safe from their trouble and pain.
September - "I light the candles at your sweet sixteen"
The flicker of flames gently spread out across the water in a closing ring, the procession of embers carried and passed on by the flotilla and participants in a ritual that had been performed for the past twenty-four years: Providence’s WaterFire installation.
Hamish and Jack were stood at the railing overlooking the basin of Waterplace Park, taking in the spectacle that the freckled young man had first been introduced to four months ago. They’d made it a semi-regular habit to visit the WaterFire events if they happened to be staged on a night where both young men were in the city.
The parade of boats reached their conclusion, leaving a chain of nineteen braziers aflame just above the waterline of the park basin. The reflections of the miniature infernos danced across the dark surface of the river, darting here and there in a ballet of chaos and enchantment.
Beyond the circle of the park’s focal point, to the south-east, additional braziers flickered on the Providence River along the length of the memorial park. To the west, flames cavorted along a short stretch of the Woonasquatucket.
“Seen enough, or do you want to hang around a little longer?” The white-haired man asked as he nudged his boyfriend.
Hamish shrugged with a smile. “I’m good, it’s not like I haven’t seen the display before.”
Jack chuckled. “And I thought the only thing you cared about was seeing things set on fire.”
Hamish grinned. “What can I say? You know how to speak to my pyromaniac’s heart.”
They stepped away from the railing, a gap that existed for only a moment before it was adopted by some of the other spectators lining the riverbank.
“It’s too bad we didn’t meet when we were younger, if I knew you were this much of a fan of fire I could’ve gotten you a cake for your sweet sixteen, lit it with candles and everything.”
“That’d be neat, though let’s be honest… Would you go for candles or would you put sparklers on it instead?”
“Ahhh, you got me.” Jack smirked. “It would’ve been sparklers.”
Hamish let out a quiet laugh. “You can put sparklers on my cake next year if you want.”
Jack brightened. “That I’ll do, and if you’re looking for ideas, I’m happy to have sparklers on mine as well.”
“You’d be happy to have sparklers on pretty much anything.” The green-eyed man remarked.
Jack suddenly went quiet, and he dropped his eyes to Hamish’s waistline.
The younger man suddenly had a dawn of horrific realisation. “No, not gonna happen.”
“What if I did it first to show you it’s safe?”
Hamish shook his head. “I’m not gonna let my boyfriend burn his dick off just because he thinks it’ll look amazing. And I have no interest in turning mine into a Roman candle.”
“It’s a sparkler, what could possibly go wrong?”
Hamish looked pointedly at him. “Remember what happened on Labor Day?”
The blue-eyed man suddenly looked sheepish. “That was an accident!”
“Toothless wouldn’t agree.”
“He didn’t lose that much tail fur…”
They ambled clockwise around the park basin, making their way towards the river walk sweeping east towards the memorial park.
“So what’s the Mosh… Moshass… Moshassuck Cinema like?” Hamish enquired, referring to their eventual destination. Jack had surprised him earlier in the evening with tickets to a revival screening of Back to the Future.
Jack’s eyes almost seemed to glow in the darkening dusk. “It’s this awesome retro place on Thayer Street. They built it back in the early part of the last century, and even though it’s been through a few renovations it still has a lot of character…” Jack let out a frustrated noise. “I want to tell you more about it… But I don’t want to ruin your reaction when you see it for the first time.”
Hamish flashed a half-smile at his boyfriend. “It’s gotta be worth it if it gets you this excited.”
“It is. It really is.”
Hamish grinned. “Then lead on, m'lord.”
The incline along Thomas Street began to grow as they passed by refurbished gas street lamps and historic wooden houses. Beyond the pavement on the opposite side, the floodlit white spire of the two-hundred-and-forty-three-year-old First Baptist Church in America stood out against the darkened sky.
It was thanks to these walks that Hamish had developed an appreciation for walking through Providence after dark. The city took on a second life once the sun went down and the lights flared to life, especially on WaterFire nights.
“And that house… So I’m told… Is featured in one of H. P. Lovecraft’s books.” Jack remarked, pointing towards a wooden house with a dark frame, yellow and tan stucco panels, painted figures, and a variety of bay windows.
Hamish googled the address, and his phone confirmed Jack’s narrated tour: The building featured in Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu, and dated from 1885.
This was another thing that Hamish enjoyed about their time walking around Providence, the information Jack conveyed may not’ve been to an academic level, but it was passionate and wide-ranging. It helped to piece together a map of the city’s history and influence.
“You ever read any of Lovecraft’s books?” Hamish asked as they gave the Fleur-de-Lys Studios one last appreciative look, before resuming their walk to College Hill.
Jack shook his head. “I’ve seen a couple of bad movies based on his books, which Bunny refused to watch - He’s actually read a bunch of them, felt it was his way of becoming a ‘true Rhodie’.”
“Does Aster just a fan of classic horror, or does he prefer modern fiction as well?”
“Oh, he loves everything from horror to science-fiction, and he’s happy to take a detour through crime and thrillers. About the only thing he doesn’t like are those trashy romance novels. 'The only time I’ll ever be grateful to have one of those rags is if I end up in some post-apocalyptic Rhode Island and I need something for the fire’.” Jack remarked, putting on an atrocious attempt at Aster’s accent.
Hamish laughed. “What about the Fifty Shades series?”
Jack levelled a cautious look at his boyfriend. “Don’t get him started.”
The freckled man nodded. “Gotcha.”
“Now Anna on the other hand, she really loves those trashy romance novels.”
Hamish let out another laugh. “Oh no…”
“Yep.” Jack grinned. “It’s made for some pretty interesting conversations between the two of them.”
“Imagine if they finally worked things out, got their own place, and had a shared library?”
Jack let out a hearty laugh. “I’d play matchmaker just to see that happen.”
“With or without a cupid’s costume?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Bow and arrow, yes. Diaper? No. If I’m gonna be dressing up as some sorta love god I’d rather be that other version of Cupid… The Greek one?”
Hamish consulted his phone again. “Eros.”
Jack pulled his boyfriend closer as they walked. “Yep, that’s the one.”
“I’m not gonna complain about seeing you shirtless and holding a bow and arrow, but I kinda see you as the god of something else.”
Jack raised a dark eyebrow in interest. “Yeah?”
“Maybe the god of mischief… Or winter… Or maybe the god of Christmas.”
“I’m happy to accept the title of 'God of Mischief’ or 'God of Winter’, but Nick is the undisputed God of Christmas… After, y'know… Jesus.”
Hamish broke into laughter again. “No argument here.”
A further thirty-minutes or so found Jack and Hamish walking north along Thayer Street, a brightly-lit marquee a little over half a block away drew them in like a ship to a lighthouse.
The marquee was an up-ended pyramid stuck onto the front of the cinema, and decked out with strips of white, red and blue neon. On the top-most edge of the marquee, the cinema’s name blazed in white neon script.
The back-lit panels of the signage were adorned with semi-transparent red letters for the features, and opaque black letters for the show times. Hamish cast his eyes over the available showings:
THE NUN 2:15 4:15 & 6:20
BACK TO THE FUTURE 8:00
A small thrill shot through the green-eyed man. He’d seen the Back to the Future trilogy on DVD and cable plenty of times, but there was something special in getting to see it on the big screen.
Abruptly, Jack hopped off of the sidewalk and paused to let some cars pass by. As soon as the road was clear, he gestured for Hamish to follow, and they crossed over to the other side of Thayer Street. From there, Hamish could take in the whole facade of the Moshassuck Cinema.
Nestled between a strip of single-story stores and restaurants on one side, and a large Greek café on the corner, the cinema was the odd building out on the block, towering over its neighbours at two storeys.
The cinema building was rendered in pale, sand-coloured bricks, with an arrow-shaped, oxblood-red metal roof cornice. Behind the top edge of the marquee, a Diocletian window with a dark tan surround could just be seen.
The space beneath the marquee was almost completely devoted to the main entrance of the cinema, with a pair of narrow columns on either side supporting the facade above.
After taking a few minutes to admire the cinema’s facade, Jack and Hamish crossed back over to the building. As they neared the entrance, Hamish could see that the columns were adorned with chrome-framed displays.
The displays facing out toward the street promoted the cinema’s business plan, and the upcoming events and festivals taking place in September. Further into the cinema entrance, on opposing walls either side of the chrome-and-glass double doors, additional displays featured lobby cards and film posters for upcoming screenings. One of them proudly displayed the poster for Back to the Future.
Jack leant forward and pulled open one of the doors for Hamish.
“Gents first.” Jack smiled.
“M'lord.” Hamish nodded back with a slight smirk.
The lobby of the Moshassuck was about as wide as the facade, but what it lacked in width, it made up for in decoration. The walls were clad in Bottichino marble, with emerald plaster trim. The ceiling curved into an arch above them, and was interspersed with ribs that connected to pilasters that ran the length of the lobby on either side. The foyer was lit by art deco wall sconces on the pilasters, and large Roman-style hanging dish lights.
To their right lay the concession stand, a charming feature from a by-gone era.
The counter stretched out to take up a quarter of the width of the whole cinema lobby, and was roughly L-shaped. The counter was primarily gloss black with a white median strip, with stripes of aluminium trim bordering the two colours and the edge of the surface. A third of the counter had been cut out to incorporate a glass display which boasted a wide selection of chocolate and candy.
Atop the counter sat a large square popcorn popper, with retro graphics and plastic buckets printed with the cinema name. On either side of the popper stood soda dispensers, a milkshake maker, a 1990s cash register, and a letterboard advertising the day’s screenings.
Behind the counter stood a pair of chilled drinks cabinets, which butted up against a large mirrored panel.
Above the panel was another letterboard, the concession menu. White plastic letters on black advertised the treats the cinema had to offer.
Above the menu was a curved banner with recessed downlights, finished in gloss black and aluminium trim, with the word 'SNACKS’ emblazoned on it in three-dimensional silver letters.
Butting up against the far end of the counter was a Häagen-Dazs chiller cabinet, which hummed in quiet contentment in the small space.
Towards the far end of the lobby, beneath another Diocletian window (this one complemented with an antique brass-coloured Roman lattice) lay two sets of double doors that could only lead into the auditorium.
“What do you think of the place?” Jack whispered.
“It’s amazing…” Hamish replied in whispered awe. They’d both been to the modern cineplexes the city had to offer on previous dates. Stepping through the doors of the Moshassuck however… It was like stepping back in time.
The auburn-haired man took a few more moments to soak in the atmosphere and architecture of the place, before he returned his attention to his smiling boyfriend. “I figured you’d love it.”
They approached the counter, where a woman in a buttoned-up blouse and a red cardigan was stationed. Although the choice of clothing might’ve seemed more like the choice of someone older than herself, she appeared to be in her late thirties.
“Good evening and welcome to the Moshassuck! How can I help you two tonight?”
Jack smiled at Hamish and gestured for him to go first. The freckled man scanned the menu above the concession stand. “Uh, could I get a medium bucket of popcorn and a large Fanta, please?”
“Sure.” She nodded, and started to reach for the buckets above the popper. “And for you, sir?”
Jack didn’t even bother to scan the menu. “I’d like a large Coke and a large bucket of popcorn, and some chocolate chip cookies, please?”
The staff member nodded, she briefly set the buckets down on the counter so she could start filling their drinks.
Armed with their snacks, and with their tickets checked and torn by a second staff member at the drop box, Jack and Hamish proceeded through one set of double doors and into the gloom beyond.
It was here that Hamish saw the building’s true scale.
Where he’d been expecting a snug auditorium which was the same width as the lobby, the room was almost three times the width of the lobby, and easily twice the length.
The auditorium was dimly lit, a choice that helped enhance the ambiance. On each side of the auditorium, uplighters picked out scrolling carvings on the walls, and at the far end, atop a small stage, a row of spotlights illuminated the curtain covering the screen, bouncing red-coloured light from the fabric up onto the white (or cream)-coloured ceiling, and onto the sloped walls at the front of the auditorium.
The cinema seats stretched out in front of them, split into three blocks by two aisles. Like most of the features of the Moshassuck, the seats appeared to be vintage, and by the looks of it, could accommodate close to five-hundred people.
With it almost time for the showing to start, there was only a scattering of seats still yet to be filled, and a gentle rumble gave the auditorium an unexpected ocean-like quality, with the vocal noise ebbing and flowing like the tide.
Jack and Hamish made their way down the left-hand aisle towards their seats, just as a piece of music began to play over the speakers:
“♫Let’s all go to the lobby
Let’s all go to the lobby
Let’s all go to the lobby to get ourselves a treat…♪”
A selection of cartoon food began to dance and sing on the screen, and the curtain drew back to reveal the full glory of the animated musical snipe.
Hamish broke into a grin. “Wow, I’ve heard about these.”
“The whole place is retro in one way or another.”
“How did you find out about this place?” The green-eyed man asked.
“It was Aster. A friend of one of his friends works here, and they were showing the Mad Max trilogy over a long holiday weekend. I found out about it, and the first time I came here, which was…” Jack paused and frowned in thought. “…four years ago…” His blue eyes widened in realisation. “Wow. So yeah, I first came here in twenty-fourteen, and I got to see the original Tron.”
His boyfriend grinned. “I’d pay to see that on the big screen.”
Jack nudged Hamish’s arm. “I’ll let you know the next time they’re showing it here.”
The last remaining seats were filling up now, and as the two young men settled in for the show, the lights dimmed further.
On the silver screen, the 1980s-era Universal Pictures logo appeared silently, and promptly faded to black.
A white title card appeared on the screen.
The sound of a ticking clock began to fill the hushed auditorium.
More clocks joined the first, building a choir of mechanised time pieces. A new title card materialised:
TO THE FUTURE
The title letters were rendered in a red-to-orange gradient, and bordered in silver. A gentle trickle of light animated over the silver elements, making them momentarily shine.
Jack and Hamish sat ready to learn what would make time travel possible.
Alan Silvestri’s orchestral score grew to soar as Doc Brown zip-lined down from the top of the Clock Tower. An instant later, the eccentric scientist landed on the lawn in front of the building, and began to tug the industrial cable free of the tree branch that’d snagged it.
Meanwhile, Marty McFly roared towards Courthouse Square in the DeLorean. The teenager only had precious moments to hit eighty-eight miles per hour in time with the lightning bolt.
His gloves smoking from the friction, Doc managed to free the cable.
“Doc!” Marty urged as the scientist darted over to connect the cable to the line strung between the street lamps. In the time machine, the time-traveller braced for impact.
The clock ticked over to 10:04 p.m., and the lightning bolt struck.
Even though Hamish had been expecting it, the boom from the lightning bolt made him jump in his seat.
The lightning danced down the cable, sent Doc flying as it singed his gloves, and made the DeLorean vanish in a burst of explosive, fiery light.
The scientist watched as a pair of fire trails shot along the street, the proof that Marty had been successfully sent back to the future.
The action briefly died down as the scene transitioned to Hill Valley in 1985, and Hamish stole a glance at his boyfriend. The white-haired man was riveted to the screen, a wide, infectious smile plastered on his face.
The green-eyed man grinned in response, and turned back in time to see Marty’s return to his time startle the local homeless man.
Hamish and Jack stayed until the Amblin Entertainment logo played on the screen and dissolved to black. With the house lights now up, Jack and Hamish made their way towards the exit and the lobby, dumping their empty drinks and popcorn buckets in the trash.
“I don’t need to ask you if you enjoyed it,” Jack remarked, “you’re smiling like a kid on Christmas morning.”
Hamish let out a jovial laugh. “Oh yeah. I mean… It’s just another experience when it’s being shown on a theatre screen.”
The blue-eyed man nodded. “Yeah.” He glanced back at the cinema. “I’m gonna come here every time they show a classic.”
“You’d better let me know when you’re next coming down here, because I want to come along.”
Jack let out a laugh. “Like I could stop you. I think they’re showing Ghostbusters next month as part of their 'fright features’ season.”
“We need to go.” Hamish pleaded enthusiastically.
Jack let out a short laugh, and he took his boyfriend’s hand in his own. “I was gonna get you a ticket as soon as they went on sale.” They stood there for a spell, basking in their shared enthusiasm.
Jack reluctantly broke the moment. “Do you want to grab something to eat? I think a few places around here are still open.”
Hamish nodded. “Sure.”
A consultation of Jack’s phone had provided them with the choice of the Meeting Street Cafe, an eatery that occupied the first floor of a two-storey building a block north of the cinema.
First opened in 1985, the café had served the residents of College Hill a selection of sandwiches, salads, burgers, pasta, and an all-day breakfast. The decor was tidy, if a little impersonal and dreary, but what the business may have lacked in visible character, it made up for in the personality of its staff, and the menu selection.
Hamish watched as Jack mopped up the last of his Lasagna Florentine, his own chicken and vegetable plate lay finished towards one end of the table they shared.
“Looks like we’ve found our dinner spot whenever we stop by the Moshassuck.” The freckled man mused.
“No argument here.” Jack agreed. He stacked his plate atop his boyfriend’s, and reclined in his seat looking satisfied.
“There anything else you want to check out tonight, or you happy to just sit there in a food coma?”
“The food coma does sound tempting.” Jack grinned, though his eyes remained closed. “But nah, I’ll be walking this off in a little bit.”
Jack and Hamish sauntered along Waterman Street as they made their way back towards the city centre. As they walked, a brick and stone clock tower that could’ve felt at home in the Piazzo San Marco in Venice rose above the trees. Although the tower wasn’t floodlit, there was plenty of light thrown onto it by the adjacent buildings of Brown University, revealing much of its shape: the tower was square until it reached the top of the clock faces, above that, there was what looked like a domed temple with pillars and other embellishments.
At first, the clock tower caught Hamish’s eye due to its pleasing classical styling, but a new detail drew his attention: the clock hands were positioned at two minutes to midnight.
Hamish checked his phone just to be sure; the LED screen announced it was 22:45.
“That’s wrong.” The green-eyed man remarked, indicating the tower.
Jack spared a glance at the tower, he then smirked. “Yep. That’s Corrie Tower, a sign of one guy’s love, and the university’s laziness.”
They drew to a stop in front of a large, gothic building that resembled a church. Jack hopped up to sit on a low stone wall that was flanked at each end with cast iron, globed lampposts, and topped with an iron railing between the lamp standards. Hamish hopped up to sit beside him.
“So Carrie Tower was built by this guy who married the granddaughter of the university’s founder, as a tribute to her after she died. The tower eventually started to fall apart, so the university made some plans to restore it… Only it’s like they’re doing it on a payment plan because the only thing they’ve fixed so far is the base. The clock hasn’t run in years, and the bells don’t work… So there it sits, looking all pretty but useless… Kinda like Jaden Smith.”
“Yeah, but you know what they say about a broken clock?” Hamish posed, a brow raised quizzically and lips poised in an enigmatic smirk.
“That you should throw it away and get a new one?” Jack grinned.
“That it’s right twice a day.”
Jack chuckled. “You saying I’m only right twice a day?”
Hamish laughed. “I’m not saying anything.” Their banter subsided for a bit, and Hamish then asked: “So it’s a sign of the guy’s love?”
“Yep, it even has an inscription on it: 'Love is strong as death’.”
“That’s not the least bit creepy.” The green-eyed man remarked, provoking Jack to chuckle.
“I know, right? Do me a favour, if I end up dying… Don’t build any clock towers in my memory okay? Maybe make a donation to Bruins in my name.”
“You know, I might end up dying before you.” Hamish quipped.
Jack levelled a sarcastic look at him. “Let’s be honest here, who’s more likely to get themself killed doing something stupid?”
Hamish playfully relented, holding up his hands in defeat. “You got me.”
Jack barked a laugh, and leapt off of the wall. Stood on the sidewalk, he held out his hand to his boyfriend. Hamish accepted the hand, and slipped off the wall to join his boyfriend.
They took a final look at the stilled clock tower, and then resumed their walk back towards Downtown Providence.
“The inscription might’ve been a little creepy, but the guy clearly loved his wife.”
“Yeah.” Jack bobbed his head in agreement.
“Guess he’s kinda setting a standard for the rest of us to aim for.”
Jack cast a sideways glance at the man he walked hand-in-hand with. “What I said about building me a clock tower also covers other small buildings and monuments.”
Hamish rolled his eyes. “I meant we should aim to make sure our boyfriends… Or girlfriends… Know how much they mean to us.”
Jack’s cocky smile rematerialized. “Yeah? Got any ideas?”
“Sure.” Hamish said with certainty, and he leant over to kiss Jack on the cheek.
or, enter your birth date.*
September - "I light the candles at your sweet sixteen"
The air was cool and the skies bright but cloudy as Lance waited in the driver’s seat of his blue 2001 Toyota Echo. He stifled a yawn as that morning’s light rain splattered silently against the windshield; it was another early start… Although he’d be lying if he said he wouldn’t be taking a bit of comfort from knowing he wasn’t going to be having as bad a morning as some people he could mention.
And speak of the devil, the Shirogane/Kogane stepbrothers materialized in the shade of the doorway to Shiro’s apartment building. They were both dressed in jogging clothes, with a backpack slung over their shoulder.
Lance slipped out of the car and joined them at the doorway. "Hey guys.“ He greeted, and leant over to kiss Keith on the cheek. He also took the opportunity to check out his boyfriend, sporting an old pair of black sneakers, black shorts, a black tank top (currently covered by a lightweight windbreaker), fingerless leather gloves, and adding a dash of colour were a set of matching red sweatbands on his wrists and forehead. For the occasion, Keith’s hair had been tied up into a ponytail.
It was enough to make Lance willing to take a jog with him around Lake Sammamish, but they had a prior engagement they needed to get to.
"Thanks for picking us up.” Shiro smiled.
Lance made a dismissive wave. "Pshaw, it’s no problem. I got a text from Pidge a few minutes ago saying they’re on their way in Hunk’s car.“
Shiro nodded. "Then we’d better get moving.”
Lance moved over to open the front-passenger door so he could slide the seat forward. Keith settled into the back of the car, whilst Shiro sat shotgun. Keith had always insisted Shiro get priority whenever they were travelling in Lance’s car.
With his passengers in situ, Lance flopped into the driver’s seat, strapped in, and retrieved a scrap of paper from one of the cubbyholes either side of the car’s stereo. He studied it for a moment, and began to type an address into his SATNAV.
“Turn right in. Three. Hundred. Yards.” The device instructed.
“Alright, look Marmorites, you’re about to get wrecked by the Broganes!” Lance grinned, and ignited Azul’s engine.
The journey from Beacon Hill to Union Hill-Novelty Hill had lasted almost forty minutes, and by the time the dashboard clock told them it was seven-thirty, they were making their way along Northeast Carnation Farm Road. The ride had been relatively smooth and enjoyable, thanks to the absence of office workers jamming up the city streets, and Lance’s playlist rotating via the aux jack plugged into his phone.
The pecan-haired man was in a pretty good mood as he joined the queue of vehicles lined up at a turnoff on the road, just past the main buildings of the farm. Stood gently swaying in the breeze were purple banners advertising the day’s feature attraction:
THE TRIALS OF MARMORA
The event was a major part of the ‘Broganes’ calendar, a physical fitness event which saw them spend the better part of an hour scaling log traverses, tyre runs, rope walls, apex climbs, fire strips, barbed wire, and enough mud to leave you almost covered head to toe, which wasn’t a possibility, but a certainty.
The obstacle course was spread out across three miles of countryside, ending at the festival which rolled a live D.J., a large photo backdrop, food and drinks, junior training, and finisher’s celebration into one huge after-party.
Lance was directed up a snaking field road, and into a large grassy clearing that had been designated as the parking lot for the event. He pulled Azul into an empty spot, and shut off the engine.
The three of them slipped out of the car, and took a moment to stretch and take stock of their surroundings.
“I think I can see Hunk’s car.” Keith remarked, and pointed a fingerless-gloved hand towards the distinctive canary-yellow Ford Escape.
“Awesome. I’ll give them a call and see where they’re at.” Lance grabbed his phone from the car and pulled up Hunk’s contact.
“Hey buddy, how’s it going?”
Lance grinned. "We’ve just parked up. Where’re you guys?“
"Still at my car, just getting a few last things together.”
“Hold on, I think I can see you.” Lance began to wave wildly towards the other car. He temporarily put his phone against his chest to muffle it. "Hunk! Hey, Hunk! Over here!“
A figure that could only be Hunk popped it’s head around the side of the vehicle, and waved back.
Keith and Shiro shared an amused look, before they went back to their preparations. Lance returned the phone to his ear: "We’ll be right over in a couple of minutes.”
“Take your time, see you guys in a bit.”
Lance turned his attention back to his companions. "How’s it going over here?“
"Almost ready to go.” Shiro reported with an emphatic final tug on his shoe laces, past experience had taught the stepbrothers that double-knotting them was always recommendable. "And done.“
Royal blue eyes shifted to the other man in the group. "Hey, how’s it going down there?”
“I don’t know, how’s the air up there?”
Lance chuckled. "Cute. You good to go?“
"Uh, not really.” Keith responded, he raised what looked like a black length of string into Lance’s eye-line. It was the snapped third of one of his sneaker laces.
The opportunity was too perfect. "Some people would say that’s fixable, but I’m a frayed knot.“ Keith looked genuinely surprised by the joke, which lasted all of four seconds before he turned a mean glower on his boyfriend.
"Because of that, I’m gonna push you into the mud.”
“Don’t even think about it, lace murderer.” Lance fired back.
“Here you go.” Shiro stepped over, handing Keith a fresh lace and a pocket knife to cut the remaining knotted section.
“That’s knot how you remove a broken lace.”
Keith let out a frustrated groan. "Lance, I swear to whatever God made you…“
Lance, Shiro and Keith made their way towards Hunk’s car. Crowded around it, evidently waiting for them to arrive, were Hunk, Pidge, Allura and Coran, all of whom, like Lance, were dressed for a day spent out and about in nature.
"Hey guys.” The grey-eyed man grinned.
“We were starting to wonder what had happened to you.” Allura smiled in greeting.
“I’m sure our combined efforts would have located them in no time.” Coran mused, twisting his moustache thoughtfully.
“We were just…” Lance paused to glance at his boyfriend. "Tying up loose ends.“
"I’m leaving.” Keith grumbled and made an exaggerated move to leave.
“Whilst Keith’s mostly joking, he’s also right… We’d better be heading off to grab our race packets.”
“We’ll try see you off from the starting line.” The white-haired woman added.
“And we’ll meet up with you again at the finish line.” Pidge added.
“Yeah. Good luck on your run, guys.” Hunk chipped in.
“And try to avoid the mud!” Coran suggested, prompting the group to laugh.
“See you guys later.” Shiro nodded, and he joined Keith as they headed towards the event tables.
“See you at the start line, Ninja!” Lance shouted, and Keith briefly turned to fire back an awkward wave.
They watched the figures retreat into the distance for a few minutes, before they too set off towards the cluster of stalls, tables, tents, and the blast of music that comprised the Trials of Marmora festival.
“Man…” Hunk noted, awed. "Every year they’re as pumped for Marmora as if it was their first… How long have they been doing this now?“
"Shiro’s been running it since he was eighteen. Keith’s been doing it seven years now.” Lance answered.
Hunk let that knowledge sink in. “Wow. I don’t know how they haven’t gotten tired from doing it so long.”
“They change the layout and the obstacles every year or so, which helps keep it fresh.” The bespectacled spectator pointed out.
“Plus, you know Shiro, he’s always up for a challenge… And Keith…” Lance laughed fondly. "He’s a classic adrenaline freak.“
Pidge smirked. "I hadn’t noticed.”
Lance glanced down at his shorter friend. "You guys get up to much for Saint Hildegard this year?“
Pidge beamed. "It was amazing! Dad took us to this pizzeria in Whittier Heights where they have a wood-fired oven, and it really gave the crusts this…” Their hands waved about for a word.
“Volume? Crispiness?” Hunk suggested.
“Yes!” Pidge pointed at him excitedly. "Both of those! The crusts on store-bought pizza just seem so weak and doughy in comparison. It’s like comparing Matt to Shiro in terms of physical build.“
Lance laughed. "Does Matt know you compare him to Shiro?”
Pidge shrugged. "All the time.“
"Man, I could go for some of their Charcuterie, or some of their sausage pizza right about now.” Hunk mused.
“'Fraid it’s pre-packed sandwiches and semi-cold cola, big guy.” Pidge commiserated.
“A dream deferred is a dream denied.” Hunk sighed sadly. He then brightened as an idea settled in: “Maybe we should go there for a double date some time, you and Keith and me and Shay?”
Lance nodded. "Sure. Keith would probably jump at a chance to have a pizza that isn’t made by Domino’s.“
"Aren’t you the one who usually suggests Domino’s as an option?” Pidge enquired pointedly.
“Lies. It’s all vicious lies.” Lance joking deflected.
The journey through the festival revealed a handful of things that caught their eye, such as the Blade Store, the beer garden, The Mettle of the Blade (an off-course challenge that tested a participant’s endurance by supporting their own weight with steady rings), a tug-of-war, and what appeared to be the start of a costume contest. Through past experience they’d seen that there was plenty for participants and spectators to take part in.
They reached the plastic tape marking the edge of the spectator area. There were about a dozen or so people clustered about, waiting for the first wave to begin. Most of the other onlookers were still over at the festival, or had picked their spots by the finishing line.
“So, any bets on who’ll finish first?” Lance asked.
“It feels a little unsavory to bet on our friends.” Allura chimed in thoughtfully. "But… I believe Shiro will be the victor.“
Lance made a dismissive sound. "Shiro’s a power-house, but he’s no competition to the Street Ninja.”
“I hate to speak bad of Keith, obviously, but Shiro has the greater experience. He’s been doing this longer… As we established a while ago.”
“And Keith’s always given one-hundred percent whenever he’s made the run.” Their bespectacled friend pointed out.
“Team Punk has broken, and in its place stands Team Pince!” Lance grinned.
Pidge rolled their eyes. "For the record, I never agreed to 'Team Pince’… Though it’s better than 'Team Pance’.“
"Team… Allurunk… Backs Shiro to win!” Hunk grinned, though it wobbled a little on the team name.
Coran looked between his four friends. "In the name of sportsmanship and fair play, I’ll side with hoping they just have a good time. It’s not important who wins… What is important is the journey you take getting there.“
They continued to chat amongst themselves until Pidge, following a check on the time on their phone, announced: "Ten to eight.”
“There they are!” Allura called out, and the distinctive profiles of Keith and Shiro trekked across the grassy field. The two of them were now shirtless, with their race bibs pinned to their shorts. Shiro grinned broadly and nodded as he spotted the group, the two stepbrothers approached their crowd.
Keith and Shiro handed their bags across the barrier tape, it had become an agreed-on tradition that those watching would look after the belongings of those racing.
“Thanks, guys.” Shiro nodded.
“Yeah.” Keith agreed.
“Knock them dead, Babe.” Lance rallied.
“Not literally.” Pidge smirked. "Leave them in your dust.“
"Take these amateurs to school.” Allura spurred-on brightly.
“Yeah, kick their butts!” Hunk cheered, then added a moment later: “In as friendly and competitive way as possible, I mean.”
“Hear, hear.” Coran agreed with a broad smile.
“We will.” Keith grinned, and he shared a nod with his stepbrother. They took their positions amongst the other racers… The other 'Blades’, as the event organizers referred to them.
The mood of the weather shifted as eight a.m. approached, as if it too were getting ready for the race. The overcast sky finally followed through on its threat, and a light rain began to fall whilst the wind picked up.
Toward the starting line, a grey-haired and grim-faced man wearing a violet-blue-coloured hoodie stepped up to a metal platform. Even from there, they could make out the Trials of Marmora logo printed in eggplant-coloured ink on the man’s clothing.
The stern announcer raised a microphone to his mouth as he addressed the crowd: “The Trials of Marmora is a challenge, a test of endurance, skill and patience… Spread across thirteen obstacles over three miles of open country. These trials result in one of two things: success or failure. Blades, are you ready to test yourselves and triumph?”
“Yes!” The competitors responded resolutely in-near unison. Almost every participant in the opening competitive wave appeared to be a veteran of the event.
“You may run the challenge, but the greatest challenge is knowing when to stop.”
The sound of a lion’s roar played over the loudspeakers, and on either end of the starting line,, a pair of fire machines flared into life, sending bursts of flame into the air.
The race had started, and the Blades were off.
Keith and Shiro maintained a relaxed jog as they put the starting line behind them.
“Ready for this, old man?” Keith smirked.
“Only if you think you’ve got the stamina, shorty.” Shiro chuckled back.
The path curved towards a small cluster of rectangular industrial buildings and metal silos. From there, the Broganes crossed Northeast Carnation Farm Road and followed it eastwards, jogging on the verge with the other competitors. A little over two-hundred feet along the road, the pack of racers turned off at a gate with a giant purple arrow pointing toward it, and they entered the leafy shade of the adjacent woods.
As they jogged, a sign staked into the ground proclaimed:
YOU ARE NOT MEANT TO CROSS THAT FINISH LINE
Keith smirked to himself, the 'motivational’ signs never changed.
After several minutes of jogging along the straight path through the trees, the woods broke away as they entered a clearing. Ahead of them stood the first obstacle: The Warzone.
The Warzone was comprised of three mini-obstacles, a triangular wooden inclining wall, followed by a barb-wire crawl, and a second inclining wall that bookended the far end. Shiro’s height and greater strength had him quickly up and over the first inclined wall, but Keith’s nimbleness and energy had him in close pursuit. Each man crossed the crawl section at equal pace, and both landed on the far side of the second inclined barrier at roughly the same time.
The race path curved through a pair of long, low outbuildings for the farm. Ahead of Keith and Shiro, the ground dropped into The Entrenched Soil, a pair of muddy pools, separated by three mounds of soil.
The two men charged through the obstacle, Keith managed to avoid the worst of the mud thanks to a quick bit of jumping, whilst Shiro, who sought to preserve his energy by sticking to the ground, earned a splattering of mire up to his shins.
The Broganes jogged on, ignoring the hydration station and proceeded to a stretch of roadway. As the road swept southwards it butted up against a cluster of farm buildings, and then led out into the nearby fields. The failed surface of the road crunched beneath their sneakers as it briefly wove eastwards, and then sharply curved southwards.
The younger man grinned as the sign advertising the next challenge flipped by, he had a chance to win some ground against his brother. The route the stepbrothers followed veered off the road and onto the adjacent pastures to the north, taking them along a dirt path towards the third obstacle.
The Blade’s Edge was an apex ladder: a twenty-foot obstacle where they had to scale a sloped side, hope over a short wall, and climb down a vertical side that was affixed with rungs along the upper half, and a sheer face on the lower portion.
Keith was the first to reach the structure, but Shiro pressed forward to quickly move into the lead.
“How’s the view down there?” Shiro quipped.
“Dunno, why don’t you tell me?” Keith returned as he scrambled up the rungs on the upward side. He wasted little time at the apex of the apex, and kicked off the paneled side whilst halfway-down.
Shiro reached the ground almost a minute after his stepbrother, and put in a quicker pace to close the gap between them. "One of these days… You’re going to roll your ankle doing that.“
"If it happens, it happens.” The raven-haired man made as much of a shrugging movement as he could whilst running.
They were just over a quarter of the way into the trials, and from there the challenges would be getting tougher.
From The Blade’s Edge, Keith and Shiro jogged westwards until they reached the tree-line, and from there they followed it until they reached a new dirt path, and they followed that until they returned to the stony roadway.
Ahead of them, the smoldering glow and waft of smoke heralded the next obstacle: Kral Zera (Sacred Flame).
This was the challenge Keith had found to be the most underwhelming, in a race of mud ditches, climbs, pulls and crawls, a line of burning logs stretched across the path seemed utterly anti-climactic.
The Broganes leapt the flames with unchallenged ease.
“That challenge still sucks.”
“I know, I know…”
“Can’t you say something to Kolivan?”
“The last time I asked him about it, he mentioned that there were a number of reasons why it couldn’t be as big as the other obstacles, ensuring participant safety was one of the main ones.”
“It just seems such a waste given the whole 'warrior trials’ image they’re trying to create.”
“This might sound overly-sentimental, but I’m glad it’s not over the top… I don’t want to see you burned to a crisp.”
There was some weight to the argument that Kral Zera was only there to lure the competitors into a false sense of security, for further along the route, back on the farmland, lay the intimidating Ascent of the Blade. A thirty-foot triangular prism where the participants scaled one side with the help of ropes, and descended with the help of rungs.
Keith had the initial lead up the ascent, but Shiro stole ahead of the younger man thanks to his greater upper-body strength. As Keith scrambled over the top to clamber back down, Shiro calmly worked his way down the rungs. Upon touching the ground he walked backwards and winked at Keith. "A little effort with a bench press or some press-ups can work wonders.“
Keith swore under his breath and hopped down the wooden rungs.
The woods made a return, and their path meandered and weaved as it curved northwards, back towards the road and the starting line.
The two runners broke out into a clearing, which revealed the next course obstacle: The Slipped Knot. Keith had just caught up with Shiro as the man with the undercut waded across a knee-high moat of brown water, the official start of the obstacle, which consisted of a series of plastic chutes laid out on the ground, with a crisscross of ropes suspended above them on a wooden frame.
Keith pushed across the water and turned around, allowing himself to drop onto his back in the plastic chute. He grasped the ropes above him, and pulled himself along the plastic path, chasing Shiro along the five-hundred-and-eighty-foot obstacle.
They emerged on the far end, Shiro in the lead, but with Keith nipping at his heels.
The racers were now officially reaching the half-way point, and ahead of Shiro and Keith lay a brand-new obstacle:
Kusarigama, which upon first sighting appeared to be the bastard child of a set of balance beams, a ramp climb, and metal chains strung across the metal support structure.
"That’s new.” Keith remarked as they drew up to the structure.
“I know what you’re thinking, don’t even try it.” Shiro warned.
They reached the chains, and proceeded to use them to make their way up the incline facing them. The going was slow, due to the precarious nature of the links, and all the while Shiro knew that Keith just wanted to get this challenge over and done with.
“Patience yields focus.” The older man reminded, already sensing Keith’s impatience bubbling.
They reached the top of the metal pyramid, from there it was the same way back down.
Naturally, Keith had other ideas.
The younger man’s arms sprang out to steady his balance, and he began to walk the narrow metal structural beam down to the ground.
Shiro briefly hesitated, taken back by his brother’s recklessness. "Keith!“
"Sorry Shiro, but it was taking too long.”
The moment Keith’s feet touched the soil, Shiro had only progressed a third of the way down. He shook his head ruefully as he continued to descend the obstacle.
Keith skirted the edge of a mossy pond that veered on the size of an Olympic swimming pool, the path of the trails took him counter-clockwise around the body of water towards the eighth obstacle of the course.
The Drifting Shards was a challenge that threw unpredictability into the mix, consisting of a rectangular wooden truss frame, from which were suspended three rows of seven platforms.
The tethers that supported the platforms allowed them to shift and sway against the participant’s momentum and center of gravity, forcing them to take navigate the obstacle slowly in order to progress safely.
Keith fought his urge to take the challenge too quickly. Shiro’s earlier caution came to mind, as well as the knowledge that a measured approach would give his stepbrother a chance to chop up his lead.
The raven-haired man deftly climbed onto his first platform, and used his momentum to swing it forward as far as he could - closing the gap to the next platform, and allowing him to step across.
He was moving toward the third platform in the line when Shiro climbed onto the obstacle behind him.
Once again, the older man used his greater physical volume to his advantage; throwing it into the swing to rock the suspended platforms further, and close in on Keith.
By the time the younger man was making his effort to move on to the sixth platform in his line, Shiro was swinging towards the fifth in his.
The moment Keith stepped off of the final platform of the Drifting Shards, Shiro was only half a step behind him and narrowing the ground fast.
Of course, now that he didn’t have to worry about the ground shifting beneath his feet, Keith could also unleash the throttle once more.
The returning leg of the course trail wound through the main buildings of the Carnation Farms property, and under the roadway via an access tunnel. As Keith and Shiro emerged from the darkness into the light, the finish line would soon be visible, rather than an abstract concept.
The ninth obstacle, Luxite Grip, lay ahead. The main structure was a wooden truss, similar to Drifting Shards, but hung within its perimeter were four swaying, double-sided frames with rock climbing handgrips. Luxite Grip was a test of grip, balance and constitution.
Keith and Shiro were roughly equal in speed and skill as they traversed the challenge, having spent plenty of time over the years at Parkour Visions and Momentum Rock Climbing back in the city.
“Just like old times, right?” Shiro grinned as they inched from one end to the other.
“Child’s play.” Keith agreed.
They hopped off the frame at the far end, and left some of their fellow competitors behind.
Shiro and Keith were now feeling the physical exertion from the challenges, their lungs sucked greedily at the air whilst their legs and arms began to burn from lactic buildup.
They had enough to make it through the final quartet with a bit to spare afterwards for the final dash… Whichever way they played the closing leg of the obstacle course, they both knew they were going to be feeling the day’s exertion in the morning.
Towering ahead of them was The Water of Knowledge, a combination of an apex ladder and a light downpour, provided by water jets mounted to a pair of wooden trusses at the near and far ends of the ladder. The water sprayed out and soaked the surface of the apex, which was suspended over another pool of dirty-coloured water.
The obstacle provided the test of having to grapple with the sodden structure, introducing chance and a degree of luck late into the game which had been largely fought with skill, speed and agility.
Keith and Shiro jogged towards the waist-deep water and dropped in, each man aiming to reach the treacherous incline first.
Keith was the first to haul himself out of the water, but the unpredictable nature of the obstacle came to life, and his grip slipped, sending him back into the pool.
He spluttered as he pulled himself back up to start again. Shiro was about half-way up the apex when his sneaker slipped, and he slid back about a foot. He braced himself against the frame and pushed forward.
The grey-eyed man was still in the lead as he pressed on over the tip of the apex, and Keith’s impatience led to a minor slip of his own, before he too had surmounted the summit.
The younger man clambered down the apex as quickly as he could risk, trying not to focus too much on Shiro’s increasingly distant figure as he hauled himself out of the water and back onto semi-dry land.
He caught sight of his stepbrother as the older man dropped into a crouch and clambered under a purple canvas branded with the Trials of Marmora logo, and disappeared into a trench. Keith arrived at Down to Earth a half-minute later, and progressed down into an earthen channel.
He crept forward through the ankle-high layer of mire as quickly as he could, the need to make up on the time lost against his stepbrother driving him on through the trench.
The channel had cut through the soil in a straight line for about twenty feet, where it then ended in what looked like a T-junction. Keith wasted no time in considering the options and just ducked right, and then left again into a new length of tunnel on an offset. If he’d made the wrong choice, he’d deal with it if and when it came.
Another twenty feet of crawling, and he was bursting out into the overcast light… Right beside Shiro!
“And here I was worried I’d lost you!” The man with the undercut chuckled.
Keith smirked. "You have to try harder if you want to shake me.“
There wasn’t any doubt about where the next and penultimate course obstacle would be, it was the biggest bastard yet.
The Tail’s Sting: An obstacle that towered over the fields surrounding it, an unholy mutant lovechild of the Trial of Marmora’s greatest hits: The Blade’s Edge, Slipped Knot, and a little bit of Kral Zera for seasoning.
Starting with another mud moat, the first part of The Tail’s Sting was a two-level structure shaped roughly like an L, constructed of shipping containers.
Participants could ascend to the first level either by a wooden ladder, or pull themselves up the apex climb with the help of a rope.
The ascent to the second level was via a wooden ladder, albeit almost the entire width of the whole structure.
From the top, the racers would then slide down a plastic chute to the base of the obstacle on their backs, passing under a line of flames erected above them.
Keith and Shiro had gotten this far without taking the easy option, so they both went for the rope climb as soon as they’d pulled themselves from the moat.
The Broganes fought to keep in step as much as they could with the other, pulling from what remained of their energy to rob the other of any lead they’d started to build.
They scrambled up the final ladder, their arm muscles protesting at the ongoing effort and strain.
There was no time to admire the view from the top, as quickly as they could they hopped onto the plastic chutes and slid back down to terra firma.
The two men were at ground level in moments, and hopping off as quickly as possible to make it to the final challenge: Rebirth.
The thirteenth challenge was simple in its execution: A one-hundred-foot-long ditch dug into the earth, filled with mud and strung overhead with low-hanging lengths of barb wire, designed exclusively to ensure anyone passing through would get covered almost head-to-toe in mire.
Shiro was ready to give the last leg of the Trials of Marmora his all, and he knew Keith wasn’t going to give up. The older man led the charge into the pit of sludge, and his stepbrother went in straight after him.
They worked and pushed themselves, burning through their reserves as they ploughed across the pit with their fellow Blades. Their legs joined their arms in protest, and what wasn’t coated in mud was slick with sweat.
It was quite possibly the most disgusting either man had felt… But it’d be worth it.
They neared the edge of the pit, and the rush from the knowledge that they were nearly at the race’s end spurred them on. They clambered out of the muck and up the sodden incline back up to the topsoil, and made a last dash for the visible structure of the finish line.
Victory was within each stepbrother’s grasp, here were Shiro and Keith, neck-and-neck and pushing each other to the end.
"There they are!” Pidge bellowed, drawing their attention to the stretch connecting the final obstacle with the finishing line.
“Who’s in the lead?” Lance asked, peering towards the two muck-splattered runners.
“Both of them!” Hunk reported in awe.
The Broganes were footsteps from the line when Keith seemed to get a sudden surge of last-moment energy, and pulled forward enough to cross a second before Shiro.
The two men darted past, and began to lose traction as they let themselves wind down. Lance, Pidge, Hunk, Allura and Coran quickly made their way over to join up with the exhausted men. As the group approached their friends, Keith flopped like a ragdoll onto the ground with a groan, and Shiro eased himself to sit down in the grass.
“Oowwwww.” Keith observed.
“Seconded.” Shiro agreed.
“You guys are nuts, but it looks like you had a good time.” Pidge remarked with an amused smirk.
Shiro grinned a tired smile. "We did.“ Keith gave them a thumbs up.
"And it looks like you guys have enough mud on you to give most of the sorority girls in Seattle a facial.”
Keith managed to somehow sit up and then pull himself back onto his feet. "Speaking of facials.“ He remarked, making his way over to Lance.
"Nope! Don’t even think of trying it!” Lance balked and quickly backed away.
The tanned man made an inhuman screeching sound as Keith planted a mud-stained kiss on the side of his face, smearing the splatters from his cheeks and jaws from the last challenge.
Lance pulled away from the embrace to the laughter of their gathered friends. "You’re lucky you’re my boyfriend and you’re cute… Even when you’re fucking covered in mud.“
Fifteen minutes later, Shiro and Keith had collected their medals (purple enamel affairs that replicated the angular blade-like shapes of the event logo) and participant swag, posed for photos in front of the eight-foot tall photo backdrop, and were now in the shower station, washing off the worst of the mud that they were caked in.
Lance, after Keith had brought him over briefly to rinse the mire from his face, waited patiently nearby with their towels and bags of clothes.
Keith’s sweatbands, and both runners’ sneakers were still going to need some TLC after they got back to the city, but for the most part the Broganes were now clean. Lance handed a faded black towel out to Shiro.
"Thanks.” The grey-eyed man accepted the offering and started to dry off. Keith took a moment to wring out his hair, before he accepted the frayed red towel he’d brought.
The raven-haired man flashed a tired smile. “Thanks.”
“It’s the least I can do for my super-hot boyfriend.”
“Super-hot? Even when I was wearing half a field?”
Lance shrugged. "You looked a lot better after that little show you put on during your shower.“
"You want a real show? You can watch me the next time I’m taking a proper shower.”
Lance smirked, and settled his hands on Keith’s damp hips, making it harder for the other man to actually dry off. "Why only watch when I can wash your back for you? As well as other parts I like?“
Keith rolled his eyes, but his mouth was curved with amusement. "How romantic.”
“One kiss you two, then we have to get back to the others.” Shiro quipped in good humor as he drifted past.
Lance watched his boyfriend’s stepbrother disappear in the distance, before turning back to Keith with a smile. "He didn’t say it had to be a quick kiss.“
It was around half-past nine that morning when they grabbed a spot at a metal folding table at the event festival, the Broganes gratefully sat down on the provided chairs as their friends settled in with them, each man tiredly but proudly wearing their competitor’s T-shirts. Around them, more and more of their fellow blades were taking part in the merry atmosphere.
There was a healthy chatter between Hunk, Pidge, Lance, Coran and Allura, but for Shiro and Keith, they were taking some time to rest and recharge with the help of the food and drink provided by their friends, and the Trials of Marmora organizers.
A pair of men approached the table, one of them was the announcer from earlier. Like the announcer, the other man was dressed in a branded hoodie, and was someone Keith recognized.
Shiro set his food down and wiped his hands off on some paper napkins so he could greet the two men. The stern man was dark-skinned, with tufts of grey hair. A prominent scar ran from his forehead down to his lower lip on the right-side of his face.
The other man was white, with a thin, angular face, a short silver Mohawk, and a thoughtful countenance.
"Kolivan! Ulaz! Great to see you!”
“It’s good to see you and Keith again. I trust you and your friends are enjoying yourselves?” The man with the scar, Kolivan, welcomed.
Shiro affirmed: “We are.”
Ulaz, the man with the Mohawk, smiled and clasped Shiro’s forearm in a friendly gesture. "I was certain we’d see you and your brother at some point… You’re almost as much a part of the fabric of the trials now as the obstacles.“
Shiro chuckled. "I guess we are a little single-minded when it comes to Marmora. How’s Thace? Is he around?”
The South-African shook his head. "He probably won’t be here until this afternoon, there was a scheduling conflict with his self-defense class. He’s well however, we had our third anniversary this June.“
Shiro’s brows rose. "Three years already? Where’s the time gone?”
“The Trials will be marking its tenth anniversary next year.” Kolivan noted.
“Wow.” Shiro remarked, a little in awe.
“Time certainly flies when you’re enjoying yourselves.” Allura remarked thoughtfully. "And I have no doubt the two of you will continue to return until you’re physically unable to compete.“
Shiro shrugged. "Basically, yeah.”
“Until we get too old or lose a limb, or something.” Keith mused out loud.
“We should get Shiro a cake for his twenty-first run… And another for Keith’s 'sweet sixteen’.” Hunk grinned.
Lance nudged his boyfriend. "Guess I’ll have to light the candles for yours.“
Keith gave him a thoughtful look. "Yeah? Will you be blowing them out for me as well?”
Lance shrugged, a dangerous smirk curving his lips. "Don’t know… Though I’m sure something will get blown.“
Pidge made a face. "Seriously? Right in front of my salad here?”
or, enter your birth date.*
Lance wasn’t sure his insides were working properly anymore. He’d been sat in the window of his temporary Garrison quarters, staring out of the transparent aluminum as the first rain he’d seen since returning to Earth pebbled and rivuleted the surface. The sight, something he’d longed to see and feel for so long had brought him to tears.
He’d expected to be happy when he got to experience rain again, and maybe he was… But why did it also seem so damn sad?
The tears had eventually subsided and he’d stayed there, absorbed in the natural phenomena that so reminded him of home. He’d eventually given in, pushing the window open so he could stick his hand out of the gap and into the precipitation. He embraced the cool wet as it dampened his skin.
Sitting there, knowing he was back home, knowing he was alive, knowing they would have to journey back into the stars in order to fight what the Galra Empire had become, knowing that they could’ve died fighting the latest robeast, and they may still die in missions to come… It’d left him with a lot to digest, and even more things that churned around in his head, leading the Blue Paladin to feel that his feelings and his mind weren’t working the way they used to.
A restless energy began to take hold of Lance’s limbs, making him less relaxed and content to just stay by the window. There was a thought circulating that he couldn’t squash, couldn’t avoid… And if he was going to be stuck with it, maybe he could talk to someone about it.
“Hey guys, anyone seen Shiro around?”
Pidge and Hunk looked up from the workbench they’d been sat at. They’d already been busy spending the last several hours dissecting some of the technology from the robeast, and had been providing technical notes to a team of Garrison engineers and scientists.
“I haven’t seen him in, like, so many hours.” Pidge responded unhelpfully.
“I think he’s in a briefing with Iverson, Commander Holt, Allura, and a few others of the senior staff.” Hunk chimed in.
“Oh.” Lance nodded.
“Something wrong, buddy?” The Yellow Paladin leant forward towards his friend.
The tanned man made a dismissive wave of his hand. "Nothing… Really. I just wanted his advice on something.“
"You want us to tell him you’re looking for him?” The Hacker asked.
“Nah, I’ll find him when he’s free.”
The restlessness had briefly returned during the hour Lance had paced and sat beside the door to Shiro’s own temporary quarters, but his patience was rewarded as their battle-scarred leader appeared in the junction of the corridor, said something to a lower-ranking member of the Garrison staff, and watched as they disappeared. Turning towards his quarters, Shiro’s face broke into a smile.
“Lance! Sorry if I kept you waiting, the briefing overran.”
Lance effortlessly pushed himself up the metal bulkhead. "Waiting? Pshaw, I just got here.“
Shiro nodded as he approached his door. "Did you want to talk about something?”
The weird feeling from early began to return to Lance’s being. "Yeah, y'know… Only if you’ve got the time to fit me in. Important Garrison stuff, and all that.“
Shiro flashed a warm smile. "I’ve always got time for you guys.” He tapped the pass code into the glowing number pad, and the door sprung open. "Please, come in.“
This was the first time Lance had seen Shiro’s quarters, and he took it in as the older man settled a bag of briefing materials and data pads down beside his desk. There were a couple of plastic boxes full of what looked like personal items still waiting to be sorted, but one item Lance did spot, perched on Shiro’s desk, was a photograph of a man with glasses.
Lance had learned about Adam Wyle following the Garrison memorial ceremony, from conversations with some of the staff, and from some info relayed from Keith via Hunk and Pidge. He hadn’t known that Shiro had almost gotten married before he’d signed up for the Kerberos mission. He’d also not been aware of Shiro’s condition prior to being captured by the Galra.
"Take a seat.” Shiro gestured towards a recessed couch that was set into the wall. He settled down amongst the cushions at one end. "Would you like anything to drink?“
"Got any Space Juice?” Lance asked, a smile that was possibly a bit forced on his face.
“Fresh out I’m afraid.” Shiro smiled apologetically. "Would Ramune be okay? It’s lemon and lime.“
"Sounds good.” Lance nodded. Shiro extracted a pair of bottles from a mini fridge, and decanted some of it into a metal mug emblazoned with the Garrison insignia. He handed the mug and open bottle to the Blue Paladin.
“Drinking from the bottle for the first time is a little tricky.” The grey-haired man explained, he settled down on the opposite end of the couch.
Lance took a sip of the clear liquid, and hummed appreciatively. "I can’t remember the last time I had anything like lemonade.“
"The guys working the hydroponics labs are hoping to have a crop of fresh fruit and vegetables ready in about a month. There’s also some talk about preparing a space for cattle so we might be able to produce milk, cheese…” He trailed off.
“Kalternecker could probably help. She’s probably one of the healthiest cows in a hundred-mile radius.”
“Probably closer to five-hundred.” Shiro nodded. "If you’re happy to allow Kalternecker to be put to use, I think they’d really appreciate the head start.“
"We’re working for something bigger than milkshakes.” Lance smirked.
Shiro nodded. "Thanks Lance, it’ll really help.“ He took a sip from his bottle of Ramune. "I kinda get the feeling that you didn’t really come here to talk about food, though.”
Lance fought against the shift in his demeanor, but it ultimately won-out. His gaze trailed down to the coffee table, and the fidgetiness returned. "I… I’ve been thinking a lot about the last battle. How we could’ve died because of how tough that robeast was. It’s… Stirred up a lot of stuff in me.“
Shiro leant forward. "That’s only natural. A near-death experience can do that to us.”
“But why now? After everything we’ve been through? Why not after we fought Zarkon, or Naxzela, or when the Teleduv nearly blew up? We’ve nearly died dozens of times, why is this time different?”
“I think… Maybe we just haven’t had the time to properly sit down consider things before. After pretty much every instance you’ve mentioned, we’ve had to quickly turn our attention back to the war with the Galra. This is the first time we’ve actually got a chance to really take stock and see how it’s affected us.”
The point stuck Lance like walking out of a warm house into a freezing-cold morning. Here he was, complaining about his own problems to the very poster-boy for P.T.S.D.: Diagnosed with a terminal illness, kidnapped by aliens, forced to fight in a gladiator ring, escaped to get back to Earth, went back to space and joined a science ninja robotic lion team, fought his captors, fought the emperor of his captors, literally died and was then reborn. Not to mention he had lost his arm twice now.
What the fuck was Lance thinking? Compared to Shiro, his life was rainbows and candy.
“I… I think I better get going…” He muttered and pushed himself away from the couch.
“Lance! Wait!” Shiro moved quickly to intercept. "What’s wrong?“
Lance shrugged. "I just realized that I’m whining about nothing to someone who has had, like, literally everything bad happen to him.”
Shiro’s face fell. "Is that what you really think? That what you’re experiencing is less important?“
Lance didn’t give a verbal response, but the flash of a half-hearted smile was answer enough.
"Lance, what you’ve gone through isn’t any less important just because it’s not everything I’ve gone through. Stress, grief… They affect us in different ways. Are you seeing the staff therapist to talk about what you’re feeling?”
“No.” Lance shrugged.
Shiro processed that answer. "C'mon, let’s sit back down.“
The two men resumed their spots sat at opposite couch-ends from each other. "I’ve been seeing the therapist for about a week now, to help me with my P.T.S.D. I think it’s going well, but we’re just getting started. We’re talking about three years of stuff to get through… Or six if you adjust for time-travel. I’d like for you to schedule an appointment when you feel comfortable.”
Lance nodded weakly. "I will.“
The older man offered a friendly smile. "I think it will do you a lot of good to get things off your chest. I… I think that maybe sometimes you keep things bottled up, and that isn’t good for any of us in the long run.”
Lance let out a breath. "Yeah.“ He nodded. "I guess I have…”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Shiro asked.
“I do. I…” He shook his head in frustration. "How am I going to tell you when I haven’t been able to explain it to myself?“
"Just give it your best shot, sharpshooter.” Shiro smiled encouragingly. "Start from the beginning and take as much time as you need, I don’t have anywhere I need to be.“
Lance made a scoffing sound, it wasn’t his usual level of amusement, but it seemed a good sign. "Oh come on, you’re Shiro! Hero of the Garrison! You fought a robeast while controlling a badass giant robot-ship and once again cleaned Sendak’s clock. You must have tones of meetings that you need to attend.”
“Yeah, well… I might do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make time for Team Voltron… For my friends. And when it came down to it, it was Keith who ensured Sendak would no longer be a threat.”
The smile on Lance’s face softened, it might even have been sentimental. He took a breath, and began: “How did you know when you were in love?”
Shiro’s eyes widened for a moment, and he then adopted a thoughtful expression. His brow relaxed, and his lips curved into a fond smile. "It creeps up on you. It’s not like a crush where you’re head-over-heels the moment you see someone. Real love burrows into you, and often you don’t even realize it until suddenly you have this moment of epiphany.“
Shiro leant a little closer. "You start to notice little things about them, body language and behavior we usually pick up subconsciously… How they tap their fingers when they’re thinking, or suddenly brighten up when their favorite music starts playing. You might notice how they smile, or that they get more expressive when they’re talking about something they’re passionate about. You’ll probably also find yourself spending more and more time with them… And thinking about then when they aren’t there.”
Lance nodded slowly, he thought he knew what Shiro was talking about. "How did you know you loved Adam?“
Shiro’s expression briefly returned to thoughtful, and his gaze travelled across to the photograph on the desk. His face settled on something that looked like fond nostalgia. "I think I realized I was in love with him the moment I saw him after a long day of training. He’d been flying for hours, spending… At most ten minutes on the ground between sessions… It was the end of the day. He was in his flightsuit, his hair a mess and almost certainly smelling a little ripe, yet he had all the time in the world for the cadets and the questions they were asking him. He was great with them… And it was then that I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him…”
Lance wanted to ask more about Adam, but he was now feeling very conscious about the feelings he was probably stirring up in the Black Paladin.
“Have you ever fallen in love with someone you hated?”
Shiro looked surprised for a moment, before he broke into relaxed laughter. "Maybe. Adam and I had a bit of a rocky start when we first met… Typical alpha male fighter pilot stuff, it’d make for a bad romantic comedy… It’s nothing like the kind or rivalry between two people I happen to know.“
And there it was, the elephant in the room.
Shiro’s expression was sympathetic. "We can save this for another time if it’s getting too uncomfortable to talk about.”
Lance avoided Shiro’s gaze again. "I want to talk about it… There’s just this part of me that doesn’t feel it’s real, and that if I say it out loud, it’ll make it real. Hating him just seemed so easy compared to this.“
The grey-haired man nodded. "If I had to be completely honest with you, I don’t think you’ve ever actually hated him. I think you felt a little intimidated by his skill, and because he didn’t respond to you the way you expected… Or the way most other people did, and that got under your skin. I figure Keith was a little… Pardon the choice of words… ‘Alien’… To your experiences, and he became this sort of puzzle that you had to solve.”
Lance nodded. "I was hung up on him, wasn’t I?“
"And because you were having difficulty working out how Keith ticked, it made you frustrated, and that fed back into your growing resentment of him, and that grew into your rivalry.”
“My one-sided rivalry. He barely remembered me when we met.”
“I think he did notice you back then, I think he actually mentioned you a couple of times before I left… Though maybe not by name.” Shiro mulled on that thought. "I think things would’ve gone differently between you two had I not left for Kerberos and been captured by the Galra. I think you two would’ve reached some sort of understanding.“
Lance huffed in amusement. "Yeah, probably over hating James.”
Shiro smirked. "Maybe. But for what it’s worth, I think that because you’ve both become Paladins, you’ve reached a better place than if you’d never left the Garrison. I think the both of you have grown closer to each other, even if the arguments and the bad memories from your days as Juniors have gotten in the way.“
Lance nodded, a half-smile playing on his lips. "We don’t argue as much as we used to.”
“Hunk also mentioned something as well… He said that while you and the others were trapped in some sort of… 'cosmic game show’… You said something about Keith being 'the future’?”
“Hunk!” Lance protested, his cheeks flushing.
“Talk to me, Lance.”
The Blue Paladin pouted. "It was just something I said in the moment.“
Shiro favored him with a dubious look. Lance let out a puff of air and ran a hand through his hair.
"Alright, fine… He’s our leader, which he is… And he’s been a lot better at being a leader now since he spent those two years out of time with his Mom. Maybe that’s one of reasons we’re getting on better now… Like… Having to wait all that time’s made him more patient? And… Maybe he’s going to help bring humans and Galra together in peace because he comes from both cultures? Maybe he’s who they need as a leader… Not murdering tyrants like Zarkon or murdering nutjobs like Lotor…”
Shiro was quiet for a few minutes as he absorbed Lance’s rambling, but heartfelt train of thought.
“Does he know any of that?”
“He knows about the 'he’s the future’ stuff… And do you know what he said after I said that? Nothing! Instead he said he didn’t want to be stuck with me!”
Shiro looked sympathetic. "Keith… Isn’t delicate or diplomatic about what he says.“
"Ooooooh, there’s a surprise!”
Shiro looked thoughtful. "Still, he picked you out of all the others.“
”…..Yeah.“ Lance conceded.
"I don’t think his choice was as spiteful as it might’ve looked. He could’ve picked Pidge, Hunk or Allura. Instead… He chose you.”
“Maybe…” The Blue Paladin grumpily acknowledged. He suddenly looked inquisitive. "Wait… Are you trying to tell me something?“
Shiro shook his head with a smile. "I’m just saying that what he said maybe wasn’t what he really meant.”
Lance’s face looked contemplative. "I know I’d messed up earlier in that game show, but I didn’t think I’d pissed him off that badly. Before that we’d gotten on a lot better than that.“
"And how have things been since the game show?”
“About the same, better than they used to be.”
Shiro nodded. "From what I’ve seen since I got back, you’ve both been working better together as teammates during battle, and getting along much better when we haven’t been fighting the Galra, or someone else picking a fight with us. I think you’ve reached a new understanding.“
"Maybe.” Lance nodded.
Shiro considered his next point. "Why did you come looking for me?“
Lance looked surprised. "You’ve been in love… I don’t think I have…. I don’t know, you seemed like the best person to ask.”
Shiro nodded. "I understand that, but why are you asking me now? You could’ve asked me once we’d beaten the Galra, or as soon as we’d returned to Earth.“
"Oh.” Lance realized. "I guess… Almost dying but not… I’m starting to realize there’s stuff I want to do and say while I’m still here to say it…“
"And you’ve been thinking about Keith a lot recently?”
Lance nodded. "Yeah.“
"Would you like to know what I think?”
Lance nodded again.
“I think you’ve survived one of our toughest ordeals… You’re grateful that you’ve survived… And I think you’re grateful Keith survived too. I think you realize how close you came to losing Keith, and it’s helped you realize what you feel about him.”
Lance shifted uncomfortably on the opposite sofa. "Maybe.“
Shiro leant forward, and tugged one of Lance’s hands into his. "One of the greatest regrets I’ll always have is letting Adam go… And never being able to tell him I’m sorry, or that I still loved him. Don’t make the same mistake I made.”
Lance nodded in understanding. There was the telltale wetness of tears at the edges of his eyes.
“Tell Keith how you feel. He may not like you the same way you do, but he cares for you… Even if he doesn’t show it.”
Lance set the bottle he’d been holding down and wiped at his eyes quickly. "I will.“ He quickly got up from the recessed couch and made his way to the door.
The Blue Paladin skidded to a stop.
“My door’s always open if you need to talk about anything.”
Lance offered him a shaky smile. "Thanks, Shiro.“
The older man nodded. "Good luck.”
Lance found Keith sparring in the Garrison gym, dressed in boxing boots, gym shorts and a black tank top. Lance quietly chuckled to himself at how typical it was. He then paused as it occurred to him this was one of the things he almost knew on instinct about Keith, one of the best ways for him to calm down was to slice and dice things with his bayard.
Although in this instance, the raven-haired teenager was cutting arcs through empty air.
Lance watched for a bit, wondering if Keith was finding the exercises anywhere near as calming as he did when he went through them on the Castle. Chopping air, no matter how energetic he went about it, had to be a pale imitation to the gladiator droids and floating sentries.
For a time, Lance was happy to just watch Keith sparring. There were no complications when Keith was training, no confused feelings, bickering banter, sudden departures for the Blade of Marmora, or even the Galra. There was just Keith, his katar, and an incredible finesse that regardless of everything else, Lance was always a little bit in awe of.
The Red Paladin chopped the air one last time, and dropped to a crouch.
He rose to stand, skin flushed and hair dampened by sweat, the black curls clinging to his forehead.
In that moment, the Blue Paladin was reminded of what Shiro had said about Adam:
It was the end of the day. He was in his flightsuit, his hair a mess and almost certainly smelling a little ripe, yet he had all the time in the world for the cadets and the questions…
There weren’t any cadets for Keith to mentor, but it didn’t matter. He was a literal hot mess, yet Lance still felt himself drawn to him.
There was a flash of blue as Keith’s katar shifted back into its default bayard configuration, and he turned towards the door. Surprise flashed on his face as he registered Lance.
Lance steeled his resolve, and tried to act casual and cross the room with his usual languid pace. "Hey man, how’s it going?“
Keith shrugged. "Training, trying to get back into routine. We need to be ready to head back out there once the Lions have been recharged.”
Lance settled down on the end of a weight bench. "C'mon Keith, you’re allowed to take some personal time. You… Me… The others… That thing nearly killed us. We need some time to recharge.“
"I spent some time with my Mom a few days ago… And I was with Shiro yesterday.”
Lance leveled a flat look at Keith. "You went with your mom to see your Dad’s grave, and you hung out with Shiro at a briefing session with Kolivan and the Mamorites. When was the last time you actually got your chill on with someone? With Hunk and Pidge, or Matt, or Allura?“
Keith looked uncertain. "I… Can’t really remember.”
Lance pushed himself off the weight bench. "Okay then, first thing you’re gonna do is take a break.“ He slung an arm over Keith’s shoulder. A moment later, his nose wrinkled. "Okay, maybe first thing you’ll do is grab a shower, second thing you do is take a break.”
“That was the plan.” Keith huffed.
“But… Hey, before you do that, I need to talk to you about something.” Lance let his arm slip off of Keith’s shoulder, and he stepped in front of him.
“Please, just hear me out okay? This is important.” Keith folded his arms across his chest, a quizzical brow raised. "Something kept bugging me those couple of weeks we were in the hospital, something that I was kinda afraid to admit to myself until I talked to Shiro about it.“ Lance laughed dryly at himself. "I think he figured things out deca-phoebs ago.”
“What did Shiro figure out?”
Lance tugged one of Keith’s hands away and into his own, the raven-haired man frowned in confusion. Lance swallowed to keep his throat clear.
“That I’m falling for you. I think I might be falling in love with you.”
Keith looked at Lance as if he had suddenly turned purple and gotten yellow eyes. "Very funny Lance.“ He pulled his hand free and side-stepped Lance so he could head towards the gym exit.
The Blue Paladin gaped. He took off to catch up with his teammate.
"I’m not joking Keith!” He shouted, and there must’ve been something in his voice that caused the Red Paladin to halt his departure. Keith hovered by the door, uncertain. "Look, I know I’ve done and said a lot of stupid stuff in front of you… And I’ve been a bit of a dick about this whole 'rivalry’ thing.“
"You had the rivalry.” Keith pointed out.
Lance made a frustrated noise. "I know, I know. It was all me because I was jealous of you… And intimidated… And maybe crushing on you a little as well.“ He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. "I know you have no reason to believe me… So let me show you.”
“Fine.” Keith responded, and Lance took the leap.
He gently leant forward, and kissed Keith on the lips. It was probably a minute later… Though it could’ve been longer or shorter for what Lance knew… That he pulled back. His pulse was racing, and his head suddenly felt cocooned with endorphins and dopamine. The kiss was brief, but felt great… And he hoped that it wouldn’t be the last they shared.
He studied Keith’s response, at the moment he looked a little lost in how to process things. Seems it had left an impression.
After a spell, Keith quietly asked: “Why me?”
“I’m still figuring a lot of it out…” Lance responded with his signature half-smile. "Maybe it’s because you’re brave, that you would… And have tried to sacrifice yourself to save the rest of the team. That there’s this soft side to you that you used to keep hidden away, but you’ve started showing to the rest of us. Then there’s the fact that you’re this amazing ninja with a sword, and you even have the suit to match.“
Keith was starting to look diffident.
"And you know what I said when we were stuck in that really weird gameshow? About you being the future? I meant it… I mean, who better to help us achieve peace with what’s left of the Galra than the half-human/half-Galra Paladin of Voltron? And it doesn’t hurt that you’re pretty handsome… Even though you don’t seem to know it…”
“Even with my… 'mullet’?”
Lance took a tentative step forward. "Even with that.“ He moved another step closer. "And it’s kinda cute how shy you get when someone pays you a compliment…”
He was now stood just outside of Keith’s bubble of personal space. "And for some reason, your lips felt so soft despite the fact I can see they’re dry and chapped.“
They hung there, caught in each other’s gravity.
"You don’t even know if I’m gay.” Keith pointed out.
“You could be bi.” Lance smirked. "I know I’m taking a giant leap here… But… I don’t want to wait any longer to tell you how I feel. I don’t want to deny it anymore.“
The Red Paladin digested what he’d heard.
"You love me?”
Lance nodded hesitantly. "I think I do, I’m sure I do.“
"What if you realize at some point later that it’s just a crush?”
“If it’s just a crush then…” His blue eyes widened. "Wait, you kinda suggested we could end up together?“
"Answer the question, Lance.”
Lance huffed. "If it’s a crush… Then we’ll deal with it. Isn’t that the point of asking someone out? We give it a try and see if it works?“
Keith shrugged. "You tell me… 'Loverboy’… I’ve never asked anyone out, I’ve never been asked out.”
A sudden sadness enveloped Lance. "That isn’t fair.“
Keith shrugged. "The universe isn’t fair, I got used to it. I grew up without my Mom, my dad died when I was a kid, I lost Shiro and I got kicked out of the Garrison.” He then gave a breathy laugh. “And now? I’ve got my Mom back, I got to see the amazing guy my Dad was. I found Shiro… Three times, I’m a Paladin of Voltron and I’ve got friends who make up this weird space family… And to top it off I’ve got this insufferable guy I met at the Garrison asking me out.”
“Insufferable, but appealing.” Lance grinned hopefully.
Keith rolled his eyes, but there was exasperated amusement in his voice. "I guess so.“
"I think I’m in love with you, but I’m cool with taking it slow. Will you go out with me?”
Keith considered the request. "I will, if you remember this.“ He closed the gap between them, grasped Lance by the lapel of his olive-coloured jacket and kissed the Blue Paladin on the lips.
It was impatient, fiery and intoxicating, just like Keith. It was also a little sloppy as well, but Lance was happy to help him with that.
They drew apart. Keith’s hand still clung to Lance’s coat. "You… Hit my heart… Sharpshooter.”
A surge of something happy tingled through him, Keith saying something romantic was new territory. "You stole it first, Samurai.“
or, enter your birth date.*
August - “When you’re on the beach you steal the show”
There weren’t many people Lance was willing to give up his beauty sleep and rise before the sun for, but it just so happened that a certain guy with a certain mullet-like haircut was one of them.
Keith had requested the early start when they’d hung out the previous evening, and Lance had agreed (with only a slight bit of grumbling).
Warm pre-dawn whipped about Lance and tugged at the backpack on his back as Keith’s Yamaha sped along the I-5 through Cascade and Pike/Pine, he was in the dark about where their destination lay, and what was inside the bag he was wearing, but he had complete trust in Keith’s plan. Whatever it happened to be.
Keith took Exit 167 off of the interstate, curving through the tiled and floodlit tunnel that would take them out onto Mercer Street.
The Space Needle swept into view in the distance as their journey continued, and after a short jaunt along Mercer Street, Keith turned north onto Queen Anne Avenue. The street rose ahead of them, and didn’t level out until they’d reached where Queen Anne Avenue crossed Highland Drive, where Keith swung left at the intersection. The cyclist followed the tree-lined residential street until it opened out on to their left, revealing a rectangular park populated with benches and a piece of modern art comprised of a large cylinder stacked on top of a large cube, both of which were perforated by large circular holes.
Keith slowed his Yamaha to a stop in the parking bay that ran the length of Kerry Park, and stilled the engine. He slipped effortlessly off of the motorcycle and helped Lance down onto the sidewalk. Lance removed the blue motorcycle helmet Keith had gotten for him, he stifled a yawn that was mostly genuine, and flashed a carefree smirk at his boyfriend.
“So… What’re we doing here at the ass-end of the morning?”
“This.” Keith nodded towards the far side of the thin park, where the land sloped away to reveal the Seattle skyline. Carrying their helmets, Keith led them over to the low wall which bordered the park’s panoramic viewpoint. The tanned man followed his boyfriend’s lead and sat down on the wall, where he trained his eyes across the city and waterfront.
The morning was dim but clear, leaving the skyline a shadowy version of itself, populated by a scattering of lit office windows, the remaining employees who were either burning the midnight oil, or getting an early start on the day’s work.
Beyond Mount Rainier, the Columbia Center, the Space Needle, and Two Union Square, the sky was beginning to lighten.
“I used to come here a lot. Sometimes I just needed to clear my head, and watching the sun rise… It helped me forget what was bothering me, even if only for a little while.”
Lance glanced towards the raven-haired man; Keith’s focus was entirely on the scene before them. His face seemed serene in the growing, golden light, and the blue-eyed man turned back towards the cityscape. The glow of the sun was bursting through the clouds on the horizon, and it was glorious.
“Is this what this thing’s for?” Lance asked, tugging the backpack strap looped around his right shoulder.
Keith turned back, an amused smirk on his face. "That’s for later.“
They’d watched the sun rise for the better part of an hour, in that time they’d barely traded more than a dozen words, their conversation having been translated through their body language as they sat together, Lance wrapping a hand around Keith’s waist. He was happy to pass the time in near-silence, seeing the calm and relaxed air his boyfriend had embodied was more than worth it.
With the new day literally dawning, Keith lead the way back to the motorcycle, where they resumed their journey heading north on the I-5. At almost a quarter past seven, there was already a steady thrum of traffic as their fellow Seattleites started heading to work.
Like before, Lance could only guess where they were heading to as they tore up the roadway.
A green sign for Edmonds Community College flipped by, and the interstate curved to the north-east. As the sky transitioned to blue at a rapid pace, Seattle slipped away behind them.
The final approach to their destination was unfamiliar to Lance, a winding and wooded route that fed through the suburban city of Edmonds. Keith brought the motorcycle to a stop in front of a pair of white barriers, and chain-link gates, both of which were closed.
Keith seemed to stare at the gates for a moment, like he hadn’t been expecting them to be there.
"It’s supposed to be open.”
“What?” Lance asked.
“The gates, they’re supposed to be open by now.”
“Maybe it’s the ranger’s day off, or like other people, he doesn’t like getting up before eight.” Lance joked.
Keith hopped off of the motorcycle without saying a word, and went to crouch beside the barriers. Lance removed his helmet and knelt beside the other man, who was studying the padlocks barring their way with the kind of intensity that meant he was concocting a plan.
“Looks like we’re walking from here, babe.”
Keith’s response was to extract something from the pocket of his red motorcycle jacket, a small leather pouch full of precision tools.
Lance blinked. “Are those lock picks?”
“You didn’t see these.” Keith muttered quietly as he went to work.
“Does Shiro know you have them?”
“He bought them for me.”
Lance nodded thoughtfully as he processed that information. Rather than press for answers, for now, he opted to watch his boyfriend at work. After only a few minutes, Keith had the first padlock off its chain. It didn’t take much longer for Keith to work his magic on the second padlock, and in little time at all, their way was now clear.
Keith’s chuckle broke the silence. "They need better padlocks.“ He pushed opened the gates and barriers far enough to let his bike pass through, and wheeled it through the gap. As soon as they were through, he left Lance with the Yamaha and headed back to the barriers so he could lock them up again.
"In and out, like a shadow… Leaving nothing but the mystery of the Street Ninja.”
“I’m not a street ninja.” Keith rebutted.
“-Is just what I’d expect the Street Ninja to protect his identity.” Lance countered.
Keith sighed. "On second thought, becoming your boyfriend was a bad idea.“
"Come over here and say that.” The blue-eyed man challenged with a smirk. Keith just shook his head and walked towards his bike. He hopped on and kick-started it.
He looked over his shoulder. "You coming?“
Lance hopped on, and they surged forward past a wooden sign:
Picnic Point Park
Keith had brought him to where they’d spent his birthday.
The Yamaha crossed the parking lot in no time, where Keith brought it to a stop where the curved road joined up with an equally-curvaceous footpath. Keith silenced the engine, and the riders hopped off. "I’m gonna stow the bike behind that dumpster. In case the warden shows up.”
“Breaking and entering, trespassing, and evading the law.” Lance chuckled. "What’s next, public nudity?“
"It’s not that kind of date.” Keith remarked as he unlocked the bike’s seat cover and unhooked it. "Helmet.“
Lance smirked as he handed over his headgear. Having dated Keith for as long as he had, and having known him for even longer, he knew that the other man’s often blunt and grumpy demeanor hid a fiercely loyal and loving friend. Keith wasn’t always a man of many words, but he had his own way of showing how much those close to him meant to him.
Keith secured the helmets via their straps to a pair of hooks fastened to the underside of the seat cover. He fitted the seat cover back into place, and gave the helmets a quick tug to check they were secure.
Satisfied, the raven-haired man pushed his bike off of the asphalt and behind the dumpster.
"So… what brings us back to the beach?”
Keith shrugged. "You like the beach, and you had fun when we came here last time. I figured we could have a picnic, or something.“
Realization dawned in blue eyes. "So that’s what this’s for.” He tugged the backpack strap again. "Awesome, should be nice.“
Keith nodded. He then knelt down and held out a hand. "Could you pass the bag?”
“Sure.” Lance nodded as he shrugged it off. He was silently glad to have a break from the heavy thing. Keith unzipped the backpack, and produced a pair of heavy-duty motorcycle padlocks.
Lance crossed his arms in a reflective gesture. "Huh, no wonder it weighed a ton.“
Keith snapped the padlocks into place, one on each wheel, and checked them to make sure they weren’t going anywhere. He rose to his feet and slung the backpack over his shoulder, favoring Lance with an affectionate half-smile. "Let’s check out the sand.”
Lance grasped his boyfriend’s hand. "Lead the way, Street Ninja.“
The air was warming up, and Picnic Point beach was currently deserted: the benefit of having chosen to visit on a weekday.
Skipping the picnic tables close to the overpass, Keith led them down to the sand. They then followed the shoreline north for a short distance, which brought them to a more secluded part of the beach, one that was scattered with buts of driftwood as big as tree trunks.
Keith picked a spot on a sun-bleached trunk, and they sat. He swung the backpack around and unzipped it, where he produced a couple of plastic bags stuffed with food and drink.
"I didn’t know what would work as picnic food, so I asked Hunk to help me make a few different things you’d probably like.” He dug through one of the bags. "Ham, cheese and pickle sandwiches… And some lemonade?“
Lance grinned as he accepted the offered food. "Looks great. Thanks, babe.”
Keith nodded. "We also made some dessert. Dulce… Dulcy… Dosey doe…“
Lance’s eyes brightened. ”Dulce de Toronja!?“
"Yeah. That.” Keith laughed. "I wanted to make something bigger, but Hunk talked me down because of my backpack.“
Lance laughed amiably. "This’s fine, seriously. I would’ve been happy with store-bought cupcakes… You didn’t have to do all this.”
Keith shrugged, that half-smile on his face again. "I wanted to.“
Lance scooted closer, and gave his boyfriend a peck on the cheek. "I love you for wanting to.”
Lance set to work unwrapping the Clingfilm that protected his sandwiches. As he took an experimental bite from his own, he watched as Keith pulled out what looked like a pair of chicken and lettuce sandwiches for himself. The sandwiches Keith had prepared were tasty, and he let him know as much: “These are pretty good.”
“Thank Hunk, he suggested what ingredients and sauces to use.”
“I will, but you still made them… That’s like, a major part of sandwich-making. Sandwiches are only so-good if your heart’s not in it.”
Keith let out a quiet laugh at the remark, and Lance was happy to chalk that up as a victory.
The two men settled in to enjoy their seaside picnic, set to the rumbling soundtrack of a freight train running along the tracks bisecting the park.
“Mmmmmm.” Lance hummed happily. He was leant against Keith, who had a hand wrapped around his boyfriend’s waist. Initiating physical shows of affection was still a learning process for Keith, but despite his initial caution and uncertainty, he’d grown more relaxed in his embrace with Lance. “This is nice.” The smile he had entered his voice. "And so was the picnic. For future reference you make a mean sandwich, and some really good Dulce de Toronja.“
Keith laughed, and the chuckle vibrated through Lance. "They were only good because Hunk helped me. Without him, the Dulcee…Dulce de… Dulce de Toronja would’ve been terrible. And it was just a ham and cheese sandwich.”
“Dude, it wasn’t just a ham and cheese sandwich. You had the perfect ratio of ham to cheese, and the pickles weren’t too strong or weak. And what did I say about you putting your heart into it?”
Keith grimaced. "Heart sandwich, yuck.“
"I’m being serious here.” Lance grinned.
Keith smirked, choosing not to go for the obvious bait. "I just followed Hunk’s instructions.“
"Yeah, but in addition to your heart you also imbued my sandwich with your special ninja powers. You’re a street ninja and a sandwich ninja!”
That got a breathy laugh out of Keith. "That… That isn’t how any of that works. And ‘imbued’?“
Lance made a scoffing noise. "I may play dumb some of the time, but I’m smarter than I look.”
“Uh-huh.” Keith smirked.
“I was paying you compliments, mullet.”
“Ridiculous compliments.” Keith pointed out.
“They’re still compliments.” Lance mock-pouted. The effort only lasted for a grand total of ten seconds before the look vanished, and he reached over to gently tilt Keith’s head to face him. "Thanks for this.“ He leant in, and pressed a soft kiss to Keith’s lips.
Keith flushed, and returned the affection.
They traded quick kisses, slow kisses, playful kisses and French kisses for a while. Keith reluctantly broke away, and stood up from their driftwood loveseat.
Lance braced his palms on the log and leant back, he regarded his boyfriend with a love-struck smile. "Thinking of heading?”
“Not yet.” Keith responded, and unzipped his motorcycle jacket. "It’s starting to get really hot, fancy going for a swim?“
Lance let out a short laugh. "I hope you swiped some of my swim shorts before we left, because once again I haven’t brought any. I’m happy to go swimming if you’re happy with me skinny dipping.”
Keith suddenly gave Lance a daring look as he dropped the red leather jacket onto the sand. "That’s okay. I don’t have any swimming shorts with me either.“
Lance gaped for a moment, and he felt his pulse quicken as Keith began to pull his black T-shirt off over his head. The hem of the shirt slid away, revealing the lean muscles of Keith’s stomach, as well as the trail of fine black hairs that flowed down from his navel until they vanished beneath the waistband of his black jeans.
The T-shirt quickly joined his jacket, not that Lance really noticed.
"You gonna keep sitting there?”
Lance trained an appreciative look across Keith’s body. "Sorry, was admiring the view.“
"Yeah?” Keith replied - there was that breathy chuckle again. "How’s it looking now?“
His right-hand slipped from the belt loop, and snaked down to the fly of his jeans. He took his time drawing it down, teasing Lance. As soon as it was undone, his hand disappeared inside, and Lance knew he would be undone. The motorcyclist pulled his half-hard penis through the gap.
Lance swallowed. "You’re going commando?”
“You’ll have to keep up with me to find out.” His boyfriend chuckled. He then stuffed his cock back into his jeans and took off in a jog.
As it turned out, Keith had been going commando, a fact Lance would have to file away for later use. With a degree of dexterity and finesse that the other male could only dream of (though he’d got to experience first-hand on many occasions), Keith had managed to remove his boots and jeans with little impact on the distance he was maintaining from his boyfriend.
Now, he was jogging across the sand. Sometimes he kept his magnificently firm ass in his boyfriend’s field of vision, at other moments, he flipped around and jogged backwards so he could treat Lance to the sight of half-masted dick bouncing out of reach like some pornographic carrot on a stick.
Lance was stumbling. He’d had no trouble stripping to his waist, but getting his sneakers and jeans off seen him nearly fall over a handful of times. In the end he’d conceded a temporary defeat in order to get his trousers off, but as soon as his legs were free, he was back in naked pursuit of Keith.
The raven-haired man was hip-deep in the water when Lance finally reached the surf. He charged forward, and hurled himself to tackle his boyfriend.
After a chaotic minute where they were both submerged, they burst to the surface, rivulets of water streaking down pale and tanned skin as they laughed between coughs.
“Did you have to do that?”
“Hey, I’m just going with the flow” Lance rebuked.
“'Going with the flow’, huh?” Keith asked, raising a querying brow. "Like this?“ He shoved his hand into the water and grabbed Lance’s ass.
The pecan-haired man did his best to stifle his smirk. "That’s one way.” He reached out and grasped Keith’s cock where it bobbed, the head just breaking the surface. "Here’s another.“
Lance gently stroked Keith off, sliding his fist up and down the length of his boyfriend’s manhood, rubbing the pad of his thumb over the head and slit as he went. Keith leant into the contact, and his grasp of the other man’s butt cheek tightened.
Abruptly, Lance dropped to his knees, submerging himself almost up to his nose. With little ceremony, he took Keith into his mouth. The standing man’s hands hovered briefly, having been left at a loss without Lance’s ass to grope, but Keith soon found a new activity to task them with, and he gently slid them into the damp waves of Lance’s pecan-coloured hair.
Keith was always reluctant to admit such a fact, fearing it would only cause his boyfriend’s ego to swell, but Lance sucking him off was his favorite thing he could do to him (Keith’s favorite thing to do to Lance was to ride him until he felt Lance come).
Keith hadn’t had as much experience with guys as his boyfriend, but he was grateful that Lance’s own experiences had made him a demon with his tongue and lips.
He was just getting into the blowjob when his dick suddenly slipped free of his boyfriend’s mouth, and Lance smirked up at him. "First one to swim to the rotted pier and back gets to have the other as their slave.”
“What?” Keith blurted. Lance made good on his head start while the indigo-eyed man stood there. "Hey!“
They traded water-logged steps for full-on swimming as they raced from their secluded part of the beach, out towards the rotted wood piles that were visible above the water-line.
Despite the head start, Lance had lost the race to the pier and back. Keith suspected his boyfriend had deliberately lost, but frankly he didn’t care. They were crashed out on the sand, Lance’s head bobbing up and down on his cock, that tongue of his once again working its magic on Keith.
"Huuuuuh… Huuuuugggh…” Keith’s breath came out in a rasp, he was getting close. "Huuuu… Ugggghhhhahh!“ Lance’s cock twitched and his precum left a damp spot where it was pressed between his stomach and the sand.
Keith had always been pretty quiet whenever Lance had given him a blowjob, and when Keith masturbated and Lance watched. He was much more vocal whenever he was riding Lance in the privacy of one of their bedrooms.
Lance suckled Keith’s softening penis for a short while, drinking up as much of the violet-eyed man’s cum as he could manage. He let Keith’s damp cock slip from his mouth and grinned, he’d already swallowed.
Keith settled onto his side and Lance shuffled forward, becoming little spoon to Keith’s big. "You know, I used to think I was pretty wild when it came to the stuff I got up to on the beach, but compared to you, I’m a noob.”
Keith smirked. "You’ve never streaked on a beach?“
"Once. At midnight. When I was alone. I never got to suck someone off on one.”
Keith’s breathy laugh returned. "Glad to have helped.“
"What can I say? When you’re on the beach, you steal the show. Seeing as we’re talking about getting nude, I thought this 'wasn’t that kind of date’?”
Keith shrugged. "I wanted to see the look on your face when I got my dick out.“
"Was it worth it?”
Keith chuckled. "What do you think? And speaking of 'helping’…“ Keith began. Lance felt his boyfriend’s ungloved fingers wrap around his still erect cock. Keith started to smear Lance’s precum with his thumb.
A pleasant shiver ran the length of Lance, and his fingers joined Keith’s as he helped set the pace. "I could use a hand.” He grinned. Keith let out a little groan at the pun, but didn’t stop.
Drying and cleaning each other up took almost twice as long thanks to the lengthy kisses Keith and Lance continued to share. By the time the clock on Lance’s phone reached nine in the morning, they were dressed and ready to head back to the city.
They walked hand-in-hand back along the overpass, luxuriating in the afterglow and of a tiring but fun morning on the beach. Keith’s motorcycle was stood patiently where they’d left it.
Keith worked on unhooking the seat cover, whilst Lance watched. He languidly stretched and rested his hands behind his head. Keith held his red Scorpion Exo 490 helmet by the visor opening, whilst he proffered the blue Box BX1 to Lance. The tanned man accepted the helmet, and mused as he turned it over in his hands.
“Can we do this again sometime?”
“Sure.” Keith shrugged. "We can even do it for your next birthday if you want.“
Lance chuckled. "As long as the others aren’t here to watch. Seeing as we’re talking about birthday presents, you got any ideas what you’d like?”
“Yeah?” Lance enquired.
“Yeah.” Keith nodded. He stepped closer, and rested a hand on Lance’s hip.
“What did you have in mind?” Lance returned, draping his arms (plus helmet) across Keith’s shoulders.
“Well…” He trailed off teasingly.
“Whatever you want, babe.”
Keith gave Lance a mischievous smirk. "What I’d like… Is one of those helmets that looks like the Predator’s mask.“
Lance stared in surprise for a moment, and then leveled his boyfriend with a flat glare. "Not cool mullet.”
Current Residence: A house...no, really
Favourite genre of music: A wide variety
Favourite photographer: None I'm aware of, they're generally all good.
Favourite style of art: No explicet style
Operating System: Windows/Windows XP
MP3 player of choice: Either Windows Media or my Creative Labs MP3 player
Shell of choice: Conch... I'm a fan of "The Lord of the Flies".
Wallpaper of choice: Is flock out? Oh well...
Skin of choice: Fleshy
Favourite cartoon character: I have a lot of favourites, Homer Simpson, Peter Venkman, Garfield the cat...
Personal Quote: "We have the tools, we have the talent"