lysapadin: pen & ink painting of bamboo against a full moon (Default)
[personal profile] lysapadin
Title: Grooming Rituals
Characters/Pairings: Lance, Keith, plus the rest of the crew to point and laugh
Summary: What hair does is grow.
Notes: General audiences; just a bit of fluffy slice-of-space-life with Lance and Keith sort of bonding, if that's your thing. 3622 words.


Grooming Rituals; or, A Mullet Is Never a Valid Life Choice

What with one thing and another, a universe to defend, an evil galactic empire to defeat, the day to save, a beautiful princess to woo, so forth and so on, Lance doesn't give too much thought to his hair. It's there on top of his head, doing its thing, and spends most of its time inside a helmet—see above, galactic empire, defeating of. He doesn't much care what it does, long as it doesn't turn loose, as his grandpa would put it.

What hair does is grow.

Lance notices this only in passing when his hair starts to tickle the back of his neck, when he has to push it out of his eyes while he's in the middle of working, as he has to use a little more space shampoo to work up a good lather in the shower. It's a minor annoyance, sure, but when there are so many other things that offer rich fodder for complaint (Keith, food goo, the absence of anything remotely like pizza in space, Keith, Allura's relentless training schedules, Pidge's deep reluctance to share all the delicious Earth media squirreled away on the hard drive of her laptop, Keith, the Galra, and did he mention Keith?), it hardly warrants noticing.

Then one day he's giving Keith hell (because he's bored, mostly, and picking a fight with Keith is always a reliable way of passing the time) and references Keith's mullet in his usual loving fashion: "Whatever, Mullet-Face."

Normally this would be good for making Keith roll his eyes and attempt an equally witty comeback (not that he would succeed, because Keith is hopeless), but today Keith actually just smiles. It's terrifying. "Who are you calling Mullet-Face, Mullet-Face?"

Which doesn't even make sense! But when Lance tells him so, Keith's smile gets wider and more terrifying. "Guess you haven't looked in a mirror lately, have you?"

Lance takes a second to absorb this and immediately scrambles for the closest reflective surface.

His shriek is loud enough to bring people running from every corner of the castle-ship, not that he notices right away, busy as he is confronting the horrible truth his reflection is showing him: "He finally realized he's grown a mullet," Keith reports with malicious satisfaction when Shiro demands to know what's going on.

It's not strictly accurate, it's more like a shag cut really, but it's not entirely wrong, either.

"Is that… all?" Shiro asks, or something like that.

Lance can't be sure. He's too busy tearing his eyes away from the monstrosity that is his reflection so he can grab Hunk and shake him. "Why didn't you tell me I had a mullet, Hunk?" he—okay, he can admit it, he's man enough to own it—he wails.

Hunk blinks at him, not particularly shaken. "I thought you'd chosen to grow it out?"

"Mullets are never a valid life choice!" Lance says, anguished. (Behind him, Keith says, "Hey!" in offended tones.)

Hunk just pats him on the shoulder. "I'm sure Keith will share what he knows about taking care of mullets if you ask him nicely."

Lance stares at him in utter disbelief before turning to Pidge, who's watching all this and looking like she wishes she had popcorn. "You are dead to me, Hunk. Pidge, you're my new best friend."

"I don't know, you probably could rock the mullet look if you tried," she offers, because Pidge is made of nothing but gleeful spite.

"Never mind, you're dead to me, too," Lance says, which leaves the options for new best friends thin on the ground—can he declare Blue his new best friend, or would that be weird?

"I can't believe I dropped my call to the Balmerans for this," Allura says, disapproving, and walks out again. Lance would chalk it up to her Altean heritage failing to comprehend a basic human concern, except that Coran seems distressingly sympathetic to his plight as he follows her out.

Of course it's Shiro who comes to the rescue. Good old Shiro, whose mouth is twitching a little, but still says, "Why don't you just cut it if it's bothering you so much?"

Shiro, who is just about as clean-cut now as he was however long ago it was when the Kerberos mission was first launched. Which—how?

More important things first, mysteries of the universe later. Lance rakes his hands through his hair. "I would, except I know for a fact that me cutting my own hair is a terrible, terrible idea." There's a whole photo album back on Earth full of evidence of that point. Yeah, maybe he was six at the time, but Lance can't honestly say that he has any reason to think he's improved since then, either.

Shiro's mouth twitches some more, like he knows exactly what Lance is getting at by that. "I guess you'll have to ask someone to do it for you, in that case."

"Annnnd I'm out," Pidge decides, already backing away. "Call me when you're done so I can point and laugh."

That's what Lance likes about Pidge—that no-bullshit, take-no-prisoners willingness to mock the rest of them.

Hunk is shaking his head, too, when Lance looks his way. "No can do, buddy, a man's hair is sacred, you know I've always thought that."

Lance squints at him. "Like hell you have."

Hunk rubs the back of his neck. "Okay, you got me, but I have no idea how to even begin cutting someone's hair and I don't want to be the one who's responsible for you complaining about it for the next six months while it grows back out."

Shiro coughs against his fist because he's a good person who tries not to laugh outright at the misery of others.

Hunk pats Lance on the shoulder. "Pidge is right, I'm sure you'll find a way to make a mullet work for you." And then he wanders back out, abandoning Lance to his mullet-haunted fate.

Or maybe not; there's still one more possibility, though Lance doesn't like to consider it. Shiro already has so much that he does for the rest of them. It never seems right to ask for more. But these are desperate times. Besides, Shiro keeps his own hair trimmed up short, so he must be sort of sympathetic, right?

Lance steels himself and looks to Shiro, who looks back, clearly amused. "I can stick a bowl on your head and trim around that, if you really want me to try," he says before Lance can even open his mouth. "That's about the extent of my skills, though."

Lance is diverted from his own crisis for a moment, because that can't possibly be right. "You—but—" He gestures at Shiro's head. "How?"

Shiro looks like he's trying hard not to laugh; the reason for that becomes clear the second he says, "Keith does it for me."

The universe is truly a cold and unfeeling place.

Lance stares at Shiro, horrified, and Shiro smiles at him amiably and tips his head at Keith, who is standing back with his arms folded across his chest, expressionless.

"No way," Lance says.

Shiro shrugs. "Your call, Lance. Fast as your hair seems to grow, I'd say it won't be more than a year or two before it gets long enough that we won't be able to call it a mullet. Or I can go find a bowl. It's your head."

"But it's Keith," Lance protests.

Shiro rolls his eyes. "I have seen the two of you literally throw yourselves in front of blaster fire for one another, but you won't trust him to cut your hair for you?" He doesn't outright tell Lance to grow up, but the subtext is pretty clear from the look he gives them both. "Come find me if you change your mind about that bowl cut." Then he walks out, leaving Lance to his fate.

Lance looks at Keith helplessly; Keith stares back, stone-faced.

Lance scrubs his hands through his hair again, despairing. "Do you really cut Shiro's hair for him?"

"Yep." There is absolutely no compromise in Keith's tone.

Aw, geez. This sucks.

Lance takes a deep breath. "It looks good." It goes against everything he stands for to compliment Keith outside a life-or-death situation or its immediate aftermath, but he is a man in dire straits. Needs must.

Keith unbends minutely. "Thanks."

When that's all he says, Lance realizes that he's going to have to suck it up and ask. Aw, geez. He takes another deep breath. "Willyoucutmyhairforme?"

"I'm sorry, what was that? I didn't quite understand it," Keith says, because he's an asshole.

Lance grimaces at him, but Keith stares back, clearly unimpressed. Fine. Lance swallows his pride and enunciates as clearly as he can around the way his pride sticks in his throat. "Will you cut my hair for me?" It sort of galls him to do it, contravening the right and proper way of things, but he even says, "Please?"

"I guess."

That's… actually not as bad as it could have been. Lance might have made him beg if it had been the other way around.

"Thanks—wait, where are you going?"

Keith keeps on walking and raises his voice. "Do I look like I carry scissors with me everywhere I go? Come on."

Lance makes a face at his back, but refrains from pointing out that normal people don't just walk off in the middle of a conversation. Better not to antagonize Keith before he takes a pair of scissors to his hair, right?

Keith doesn't say anything as he strides from the common room to his quarters and palms the door open silently. Lance slouches in after him, looking around with interest since he's never seen the inside of Keith's quarters.

There's shockingly little to be seen, almost like Keith only just moved in this morning and not months and months ago. Lance's own quarters are getting downright cluttered with all his space souvenirs and the things he's coaxed the castle-ship's fabricators into producing for him. If Keith's done anything similar, he's sure got all that stuff stored away.

Keith drags the chair out from the desk and jerks his chin at Lance. "Go soak your head."

Lance starts to retort before he catches the edge of Keith's smirk. "Hah. Hah. Hah. You're such a riot. I bet you've been dying for an excuse to use that one."

"Bathroom's through there," Keith says, which certainly isn't a denial. "Get going before I change my mind."

That's not an option, so Lance goes, ducking into the bathroom to run some water from the tap and wet his hair down.

When he gets back, Keith has produced a towel from God only knows where, along with a comb and scissors, which is sort of reassuring. At least the guy has some belongings to his name. Keith jerks his chin at the chair and Lance experiences a qualm. "Um," he says, eyeing Keith. "Dude. Seriously. You're not going to do something awful to my head, are you? I mean, I know we give each other a lot of shit and all, but you wouldn't, would you?"

Keith gives him a long, silent look that, for all his lack of expression, is full of judgment. "No. I wouldn't." He pauses for a beat. "Do you want me to do this or not?"

"I do, I just—if something goes wrong, I'm the one people are going to be laughing at."

"I don't see how that would be any different from usual." Keith points at the chair while Lance is complaining about how cold that was, seriously, that was practically Arctic. "Sit down, I swear I'm not going to ruin your hair."

Face with no other palatable options, Lance sits.

Keith drapes the towel around his shoulders and tucks the ends in so deftly that Lance is forced to admit that maybe he has done this before. Then he promptly takes the comb to Lance's hair, which smarts something fierce. "Ow!"

"Maybe you should think about brushing this once in a while." Keith's voice holds no sympathy whatsoever as he works the comb through Lance's hair.

"Ow! Geez—I normally don't have to," Lance tells him. Keith sniffs and keeps at it, working the knots out of Lance's hair briskly. By the time he's done, Lance's eyes are stinging. "I bet you're not this rough with Shiro."

Keith pauses in the act of reaching for the scissors. "No. It's Shiro."

Like that explains everything—only it does. Shiro's got enough on his plate without one of them adding to it.

Lance and Keith share a moment's silence over that thought, then Keith picks up his scissors and uses his other hand to adjust the angle of Lance's head. "Now hold still."

That's a tall order, but Lance does his best to obey while Keith runs his fingers through his hair and makes the first cut. Lance does cross his fingers beneath the drape of the towel in hopes that Keith really does know what he's doing.

Keith handles his hair and those scissors like he does, anyhow, which is what Lance clings to when he sees how long the first chunks of hair Keith is trimming off him really are. He works at a steady, unhurried pace, which is probably good, right, except for the fact that Lance is shit at holding still without something to distract him.

"So how come you know how to cut hair, anyway? Was beauty school your fallback plan for if the Garrison didn't work out for you?"

"No," Keith says after a barely perceptible pause between one snikt of the scissors and the next.

Which, yeah, so that was pretty tactless given how Keith's stint at the Garrison had worked out in the end. But now Lance is committed, and what's more, he's curious. He plunges on. "I mean, it's just not a skill you expect an ace fighter pilot to have, you know?"

"What would you expect?" Keith asks as he nudges at his head, making him tip it to the side.

Lance ponders that one for a bit while Keith works. "Dunno. Dazzling wit, devastating charm, and a way with the ladies?"

Keith snorts at him. "That wasn't in any of the materials I read."

"Well, doesn't it go without saying?" Lance asks.

"No, it really doesn't," Keith says. "A pilot needs to be able to fly. That's all that matters."

"Maybe for you, but trust me, a fighter ace needs all those other things, too." Lance has seen more than enough movies to be certain of that.

Keith snorts again and keeps working, trimming Lance's hair steadily, lock by lock, running his fingers through his hair to compare the length of it and trim the strands that are too long.

This brings Lance back to his original point. "Seriously, where did you learn how to do this? Cutting hair isn't part of being a pilot, I know that for sure."

"Does it really matter?" Keith asks in his best monotone.

"Now that I'm all curious, yeah, it really does." Lance peers at Keith the best he can from the corner of his eye. Keith's wearing one of his most forbidding expressions. "C'mon, you can tell me."

"I can, but I don't want to." Keith nudges at him again. "Look up."

Lance obeys. "Bet I can figure it out."

"I seriously doubt that you can," Keith says.

Oh, now it's on. "Being a pilot is just a stopgap until you can pursue your true passion," Lance tries.

Keith doesn't even bother to respond.

"You enjoy defying expectations and deliberately pick out the weirdest hobbies you can think of." No response there, either. "A wicked fairy cursed you at birth to wear a terrible mullet all your life, so you learned to cut hair to defeat the curse." Lance scrunches up his nose. "Naw, can't be that, you've still got the awful mullet."

"Where do you even come up with this shit?" Keith asks, and hey, he's unbent a little and sort of sounds amused.

Lance grins. "My mom says I have a febrile brain."

"I have no idea why you sound so proud of that," Keith says, though Lance only really half-hears him, caught by the pang of missing his family all over again. He ought to be used to missing them by now, Christ, but every time he starts to think he has, he goes and makes himself remember them all over again—this time his mom laughing at some wild story he'd been spinning for the rugrats and ruffling his hair, telling him he ought to write for television. Damn it.

He realizes he's been quiet for too long when Keith says, sounding deeply uncomfortable about it, "You, uh, all right?"

Lance scrounges up a laugh. "Oh, yeah. Sure. I'm fine."

It's probably not convincing, but whatever, it gets the point across.

Oh, wait, this is Keith he's talking about, so no, it doesn't. "You miss her a lot, huh?"

Lance closes his eyes, because wow, he so does not want to have this conversation even if Keith does sound, what, sympathetic. There are some things a man does not discuss with his eternal rival, and that's all there is to it.

Not that Keith got that memo, because he goes on to say, "I still miss mine, too. Not that I remember much, but. You know."

Lance blinks his eyes open, because—what the shit was that? That—that sounds like—"You don't remember your mom?"

"Not much." Keith's voice is very matter-of-fact. He could be talking about the weather. "I was pretty little when she died."

This is not the kind of thing deathless rivals talk about at all. This is the kind of thing Lance might talk about with Hunk, very late at night, with the lights off, when they're both on the verge of falling asleep and have the option of manfully denying any such conversation ever occurred when the morning comes. Maybe.

And it's not the kind of thing he can turn into a joke, either, which is too bad, since jokes are Lance's hands-down favorite way to wiggle out of awkward situations. There's really only one thing he can actually do: "Geez. That sucks."

"Shit happens," Keith says.

"Yeah, I guess it does," Lance says, which is all that anyone really can say to that.

They stay silent for a while as Keith works and Lance's hair starts to pile up on his shoulders and around their feet. Lance moves his head when Keith nudges at it, and meanwhile he thinks about what it would have been like to grow up without his mom, with just his father and the rest of his family, and geez. He really doesn't like it or the way it makes him feel bad for Keith. He opens his mouth to change the subject and distract himself: "So your dad raised you, huh?"

Damn it. That's not changing the subject at all.

"No." Keith's tone is quiet, almost cold. "He died a couple years after that." Where his voice had been, what, warm or wistful or something talking about his mother, there's none of that for his father. Here be dragons, that's what his tone is.

Right. So Lance can take a hint. "Sorry."

Keith doesn't say anything to that, just focuses his attention on trimming the hair up around Lance's ears.

That's fine. Lance is currently thinking of all the times he's complained about how Keith must have been raised by wolves and feeling bad about it. In retrospect, the joke isn't funny at all any more.

Keith really can ruin anything.

He's sunk deep enough into his thoughts that he jumps when Keith prods at his shoulder. "Wake up. I'm done. Go take a look."

Lance stands, sheepish, sending hair cascading off his towel to the floor, and ducks into the other room to take a look at Keith's handiwork.

It's… it's actually not bad at all. Looks pretty good, even—definitely better than the proto-mullet and perfectly acceptable to Lance's discriminating standards.

"Satisfied?" Keith asks from where he's leaning against the door.

"Yeah, actually, I am." Credit where it's due and all; Lance gives Keith a thumbs up. "You did a good job. Thanks."

Keith squints at him. "Huh."

"What?" Lance says.

Keith just shrugs. "Nothing, just surprised it didn't cause you physical pain to thank me."

"Yeah, yeah, don't get used to it." Lance pulls the towel loose and realizes there's hair all over the damn place now. Shit.

Keith is already turning away, and Lance can't let it end like this, not when he actually owes Keith one. "Want some help cleaning up?"

Keith gives him a surprised look from over his shoulder, but then nods. "Okay, sure. If you want."

Lance shrugs at him. "Least I can do, considering."

Keith shoots another of those puzzled glances at him and then dismisses whatever he's thinking. "Whatever."

"Okay, lemme just go find one of the space brooms. Back in a sec."

"They're not space brooms, they're just brooms," Keith say, rolling his eyes, which just goes to show that being a genius in one thing doesn't transfer to everything else.

"They're brooms, they're in space, so therefore they are space brooms," Lance calls over his shoulders. It gets him an amused snort in reply.

Whatever. Keith will bow to his superior wisdom one of these days, Lance knows it.

He runs his hand through his newly-cropped hair and trots off for a space broom, already plotting ways of getting Keith to explain his beautician skills when it comes time for a trim-up.


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