Actions

Work Header

Of Codes and Chaos

Chapter Text

Lance opens his eyes reluctantly, and he squints. He traces the light that floods in through the window and illuminates the walls, casting shadows in the corners of the room. He can feel the cool breeze seeping in each time a blast of frigid air whistles past outside. He shivers and curls himself further down into the covers. If he had been alone, he would have been freezing, however the arm draped across his stomach and the legs entangled with his own remind him that he is very much not alone.

“Hey,” Lance murmurs, as he turns his head towards Keith’s direction. In response all he receives is the ever so slight increase of Keith’s breath softly hitting the back of his neck. He settles back down and turns his attention to the posters neatly tacked on the wall. A gentle sigh escapes past his lips and he helplessly scans over the titles of countless books and comics that are tightly packed on the bookshelf in front of him. “Keith,” He tries again, stabilizing his tired voice. This time, he gets a soft grunt in response, and Keith tries his best to press impossibly closer to Lance’s back.

“We’ve gotta get up, we’ve been in bed all day.” Lance says gently.

“What time is it?” Keith grumbles quietly and presses his warm forehead between Lance’s shoulder blades.

Lance shifts forward, reaching his arm out from underneath the covers to grab his phone off the nightstand. He pulls it back in as quick as he can before the cold air of the house can steal the warmth from his arm. He unlocks it, the clock that hovers over a picture of the two of them reads 8:30 AM.

“8:30,” Lance laughs and Keith whines.

“Five more minutes.”

“And waste five more minutes of this beautiful day?” Lance cries out dramatically. He can feel Keith nodding against his back and he tightens his grip around Lance’s stomach in a weak attempt to still him.

“I’d be perfectly fine wasting this freezing day in bed with my warm boyfriend,” Keith’s sleepy words tickle his bare back and Lance can’t suppress the shiver that travels down his spine.

“Keith,” Lance says softly before lifting his dead arm off his side and rolling over to face him. Keith’s eyes remain closed and he scrunches his nose up at the movements.

“Lance,” He says, mocking his tone.

For a moment, all he can do is stare at him in awe. All he can focus on is how gorgeously disheveled he looks. His hair is thrown around atop his head and his face is so beautifully sleep deprived he almost forgets to breathe.

Lance finds himself grinning helplessly. “You’re so perfect,” He whispers. In response Keith pops one of his eyes open and raises his eyebrows in surprise. “What?” Lance asks, confused by his expression.

“I probably look like hell,” Keith laughs. “Unlike you who looks like an untouched God,” He trails off and reaches his hand up to trace along Lance’s cheek. Lance leans into it, chasing his warmth. “Not even a single piece of hair is out of place.”

Keith’s finger continues to ghost down Lance’s collarbone, lingering. Lance reaches up and redirects Keith’s hand to place a kiss on his palm. “Can’t you just take one of my compliments without complaining for once?” He rolls his eyes, “Plus, even if you did look like hell, I always think you look amazing.”

A light blush crosses Keith’s cheeks. He laughs, “Lance you’re such a dork.” Lance leans forward and plants a kiss onto his forehead.

“I know,” He says, taking a couple more seconds to appreciate this calm moment. He sighs, “But come on, we have to get up.” Keith frowns immediately and attempts to bury himself further under the covers, but Lance is faster. He pulls the blankets up off the bed and throws them on the floor. In hindsight he should have thought about the fact that this would affect him as well, but if Keith were to get too comfortable again, there would be no telling when he would be able to get him up. He groans and flips over onto his back abruptly.

“Why do we have to get up? What is so important about today?” Keith asks, sitting up.

“Don’t you remember? We’re meeting everyone at the warehouse today.”

“Right,” He says in defeat. “Fine, okay, let me shower,” He swings his legs over the side of the bed and sits there for a moment. Lance’s eyes flutter across the image of Keith’s bareback in front of him. He lazily reaches his hand up to tenderly trace along the solid black flame-like tendrils of ink that climb up his spine, and down his right shoulder. Keith sighs happily as goosebumps appear in the wake of Lance’s movements.

“Okay, I’ll go make breakfast.” Lance says and reluctantly pulls his hand away from Keith. He practically throws himself off the other side of the bed. His warm feet sting against the cold hardwood floor as he makes his way over to his dresser. He grabs a pair of sweatpants and a Captain America tank top and puts them on, he turns to see that Keith has clothes bunched up in his arms. Lance meets him at the foot of the bed and loosely interlocks their fingers before placing a kiss on his cheek and leading him out of the room. Locked hands falling apart, Keith continues to walk across the hallway to the bathroom, while Lance makes his way down the stairs and into the kitchen.

Lance finds himself pouting without Keith’s warmth by his side. He stands in the kitchen and stares out the window that sits above the sink, watching the snowflakes glide by the window in blurs. The grass has a perfectly light coating of white that has yet to be defiled with footprints, and the trees have a glistening layer of slick ice that catch the quick moments of sunlight. He shivers and crosses his arms across his chest, not realizing how cold he had gotten.

He takes a final look at the winter wonderland outside before turning on his heels towards the counter. He grabs two bagels out from the bread box and plops them into the toaster. He then finds the fridge, opens it up and examines the contents before he is hit with a rush of cold air. He grabs out the cream cheese and just as he walks back over to the toaster the bagels pop up. He pulls them out, places them onto a paper towel, and spreads an even coat of cream cheese on each piece. He glances out the window again, the storm had picked up considerably, the scene turning much grayer than it had been a few minutes earlier.

Soft footsteps descend the staircase and Lance turns around to see Keith in a t-shirt and black jeans. His hair is still wet, and his cheeks are flushed from the hot water. He walks over to Lance and leans up against the island in the middle of the kitchen. Lance is quick to face him. He can already feel the heat radiating off him and he melts instantly. Keith holds his hands out, palms up, and Lance latches onto them with his cold ones with hardly a second of hesitation. He stares as his hands begin to glow a soft orange color and heat seeps into Lance. He closes his eyes and leans his forehead against his collarbone in an attempt to fully immerse himself in Keith’s warmth.

He can feel Keith’s finger tips travelling up his arms, gliding across his skin with feather-like touches, leaving the soothing warmth in their wake. He pauses at his shoulders, hovering a little too long over one spot. Lance opens his eyes and stands up straight again, meeting Keith’s pensive stare. He can feel the heat beginning to fade from his hands as a pained look flashes across his features. Lance knows what he’s staring at.

“Hey,” His voice just barely breaks a whisper and he reaches his hands up to take Keith’s into his own. He can feel the heat beginning to fade, but Keith’s guilt glazed eyes still don’t meet his own. “What’s wrong?”

“I just—” He pulls his hands from his grasp and places his fingertips back on his shoulders, tracing the slightly raised skin.

While Keith had tattoos, Lance had scars. Burn scars from before Keith could control his fire bending. They are now nothing more than small patches of skin that are slightly darker than the rest of him. Lance wished he could cover them somehow, if only for Keith. He hated seeing the guilt in his eyes when they were exposed.

“Stop, you know I don’t blame you for that.”

“No, I know, but that doesn’t change the fact that I did it,” Keith rushes out.

Lance rolls his eyes. “It also doesn’t change the fact that you couldn’t control your bending.” Keith sighs, defeated. “I will never blame you for those.”

“Okay,” Keith takes in a deep breath. It’s rare for him to make a big deal about the scars. It had happened so long ago that Lance hardly noticed them anymore. However, he knows that he’ll probably spend the rest of his life assuring Keith that he doesn’t care, because he knows Keith would never forgive himself.

“Come on,” Lance turns around and transfers the bagels to plates, handing one off to Keith. “Let’s eat, breakfast is going to get cold.” They make their way over to the dining room table.

“So what time were we supposed to meet with everyone?” Keith asks between bites.

“Good god, you really have the memory of a ninety-year-old man,” Lance laughs.

“What? Why?”

“Because we—” He pulls his phone out of his pocket and opens their message with the group. “—talked about it last night and said 10:00 a bunch of times, just for you grandpa.”

“Oh,” Keith stares intently at Lance’s phone. “Huh, okay sure, I believe it.”

“What do you mean you believe it? I wasn’t trying to lie to you.”

“Oh, come on, it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve tried to mess with me like that.”

Lance nods and puts his phone away. “Yeah, okay true. I guess you’re right.”

The two finish their breakfast in an easy silence. Once they’re both done they take their plates to the kitchen and set them down in the sink. The snow had seemed to calm down for the moment, but an inch or two had fallen while they ate. Lance soaks in the sight, Keith clings onto his arm and rests his chin against his shoulder. They watch together for a moment before Keith speaks.

“I really hope it stays calm for a little, so we can make it to the warehouse.”

Lance hums in agreement, shivering at the thought of having to walk outside right now, although it is inevitable. The warehouse is about a twenty-minute walk from their house, and while it’s quicker to drive, they both had a silent agreement that neither of them were feeling up to driving in the snow.

“We’ll just have to dress in layers,” Lance laughs and leans his head against Keith’s.

“You might, I’ll be perfectly fine.”

Lance sighs softly, jealous of Keith’s ability to keep his body heat so well regulated. “Right, well if you’ll excuse me, I need to go add a few layers.” Keith lifts his head up and Lance lazily makes his way up the stairs and back to the room. He grabs a pair of jeans, his long-sleeved baseball tee and changes into them. He puts on a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants over the clothes he already has on, and then to top it off, his green jacket. He feels a bit dumb as he walks down the stairs, but he would rather feel dumb than cold.

By the time he gets back downstairs, Keith has already put on his black combat boots and jacket over top of his t-shirt and is waiting by the door. He chuckles quietly at the sight of Lance’s layered look. Lance shoots him a glare and plops down on the floor next to the shoe rack. He slides on a pair of thick socks and pulls on his blue snow boots.

“What? You look great,” Keith says in amusement. Lance rolls his eyes and extends his hands out and Keith grabs on and pulls him into a standing position.

“Shut up, I feel like an idiot,” Lance pouts and shoves his hands into his pockets.

“You’re ridiculous.”

Lance shrugs. “Maybe so.”

Keith reaches forward and opens the door, a burst of snowy wind blasts through and Lance flinches. They walk outside, shutting and locking the door behind themselves.

The frigid air bites at his exposed face and even though he’s only been outside for a few seconds, he’s already shivering. He glances at Keith who allows his hands to swing at his sides as if it were a beautiful summer day.

All the houses in their neighborhood are completely covered in the beautiful blankets of white. They take their time walking silently, listening to the soft crunch of the freshly fallen snow under their feet. It seems as if no one else wanted to brave the cold weather. Lance found it nice in a way, to be able to see the purity of it all before it becomes tainted.

After a few minutes of walking, Lance finds himself linking arms with Keith. He can feel his warmth seeping through his jacket and his shivering subsides significantly. The further they walk the more the sounds of the city intrude their peaceful silence. The houses begin to thin out and are instead replaced with a pathway of small shops that would soon lead into the labyrinth that is the city. Instead of following the path further into the city, they cut behind the small gas station and continue to gravitate towards the river that lies behind all the buildings.

The sound of rushing water soon replaces the sound of people. The edges of the river are covered in paper thin sheets of snow-covered ice that fade out as they reach the warmer waters. Lance grins as he pulls his hand out of his pocket. His fingertips extend towards the river and a small section of the ice follows them. He curls his fingers to make a loose fist, the sheet of ice condenses down, mimicking his movement. He continues to manipulate it in to various other simple shapes while they walk.

The warehouse looms over the outskirt of the river, the chips of white paint peeling away from the walls of the building mix in with the splotches of snow that cling to it. The wood that’s been exposed underneath the paint is dark and slick with snow that failed to hold shape and morphed into ice. It stands tall for a one-story warehouse, and that makes for a very spacious inside. On the side that is closest the city there is one gigantic garage style door, meant to allow machinery through. The door doesn’t open anymore, permanently jammed and far too heavy to attempt to open with sheer strength alone. Instead, on the side in front of them there is a small ramp that runs along the side of the building and leads up to a door.

As they reach the ramp, they notice someone had scraped the snow off, creating tiny piles of white fluff on either side of their path. Keith reaches his hand out to open the door, but the handle is quickly snatched out of his reach as it is yanked open. A tall man stands in the doorway, his muscular stature is downplayed by his oversized sweatshirt, and he wears a black beanie, barely covering his white tuft of hair in the front.

“Hey guys,” He smiles, the gesture accentuates the pink scar across the bridge of his nose.

“Hey Shiro,” Lance greets. He moves out of the way quickly and they glide past him.

The room before them is illuminated by soft white string lights that hang from the ceiling. The usage of the large space has been condensed down into the center of the room where a small television sits on top of a stand. Across from it is an arrangement of bean bag chairs and recliners. Behind chairs is a long dining table accompanied by multiple mix matched folding chairs pushed underneath it. The table is clear besides a small potted plant neatly placed in the middle. Off to the side is a much smaller card table but is instead covered in various papers clumsily strewn about. Three laptops and an array of mechanical pieces sit haphazardly atop the mess.

“Lance, Keith!” Pidge’s shrill voice calls from behind their laptop that sits among the mess. They jump up from their spot, their eyes wide behind their glasses. “Get over here!”

“Jesus, okay Pidge chill out,” Keith laughs.

He and Lance kick off their boots, tiptoeing around the small chunks of snow that they tracked in from the outside and make their way over to the painfully unorganized makeshift desk.

“Listen, Hunk and I have been here all night,” Pidge says frantically as they walk over.

“Yeah,” Hunk adds, voice potent with sleep. Lance stands next to him and places his hand on his shoulder.

“Oh man, you guys must be exhausted,” He says.

“I am—”

“No, not at all,” Pidge cuts in. “So, we’ve been running some tests on Shiro’s arm, and we think we can make some major improvements.”

Shiro folds his arms across his chest protectively. “What’s wrong with my arm?” He pouts.

“Nothing! Nothing is wrong, of course it’s our design,” Hunk nods. “But we think we can add in a mechanism that will attach itself to your nerves in a more advanced way.”

“Meaning?” Keith asks.

“Meaning, we think we can restore Shiro’s bending in his right arm.” Hunk sparks to life for a triumphant moment, before the sleepiness settles back in again. “We just need to have you sit down and run some more tests to make sure we can actually do this.”

Lance looks up at Shiro, who can barely compose his excited expression.

“That’s really great news,” Shiro mumbles, he holds his hand out in front of him, flexing his metal fingers and curling it into a fist.

“Will he need a new arm entirely?” Lance asks, eyeing the schematics on Hunk’s laptop.

“That is the ultimate goal,” Pidge says, pushing up their glasses. “While we work on his bending, we also want to enhance his mobility and make the design sleeker,” They reach out and grab Shiro’s hand, pulling the sleeve of his sweatshirt up to reveal more metal. “I was also thinking maybe we could add in some cool compartments and put some weapons in it, his arm would be a big swiss army—”

“What? No, you can’t make my arm into a swiss army knife!” Shiro retracts his arm and Pidge chuckles maniacally.

“I promise I won’t let them do that to you,” Hunk says, his head now resting in his hands, his eyes drooping.

“What? I think that would be awesome!” Lance exclaims, lightly slapping Hunk’s arm.

“Honestly, could you imagine how cool that would be? If someone needed a knife or a screwdriver or something you would never have to go looking for it because it would be in your arm.” Keith adds in.

“Oh, my god please don’t make my arm into a swiss army knife,” Shiro mumbles rubbing his face with his non-metal hand.

“I won’t let them,” Hunk says confidently.

“No promises,” Pidge grumbles.

Before any more arguing could continue the door bursts open. Lance whips his head towards the door to see an abnormally large person covered head to toe in snow gear. The person stands with their arms full of two rather large paper bags.

“Help,” A pitiful voice calls from behind a scarf wrapped around their mouth.

“Matt stop being so dramatic,” Pidge says without looking up from their laptop.

“I got you buddy,” Lance says and crosses the floor to Matt, taking the bags from his frozen arms.

If there was one person who didn’t take well to the cold, it was Matt. The second the temperature drops below sixty degrees, he’s shaking like a leaf. So, having on three hundred layers of clothing to walk to the store in snow wasn’t uncommon for him.

“Could you uh—”

“Yeah one sec,” Lance sets the bags down and begins to unzip the first jacket, then the second, then the third, and then the fourth, like peeling back layers of an onion. He pulls the jackets off, revealing a sweatshirt that is still oddly tight and wrinkled up, showing the multiple layers that are still underneath.

“Thank you,” Matt says, pulling off the scarf and hat. Lance drapes the jackets over Matt’s outstretched arm, and then he drops down to pick up the paper bags. The bags are emitting a warmth and the delectable scent of rotisserie chicken. Lance breathes in the scent, a part of him regrets eating before he left, but another part doesn’t care.

“Oh, my god. Matt did you get the chicken?” Pidge’s head shoots up from the laptop, eyes wide, much like a feral animal.

“It smells like he did,” Lance says, placing the bag on the empty table.

“Yes, my little Pidgey, I got you your chicken,” Matt calls from across the room. “And another one for the rest of us,” He mutters, just barely loud enough for Lance to hear. Lance laughs under his breath and begins to pull out the contents of the bags.

“What are you laughing at?” Keith asks, coming up behind him and wrapping his arms around his waist.

Lance hums for a moment, pretending to think. “Your mullet.”

Keith scoffs and retracts his arms from around his waist. “What? Does it look bad today?”

Lance turns around to face him. “Every day,” He teases, a grin creeping across his face. Keith pouts dramatically and crosses his arms. “But I still love you,” He holds his arms open for a hug.

“Whatever,” Keith mutters and stumbles into Lance’s arms, keeping his arms crossed.

“Ugh, get a room,” Pidge grumbles and pushes past them, straight to the food. Lance notices that Hunk had been very quiet, only to look over to see him fast asleep on his keyboard.

“We’re in a room, Pidge.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Do I?”

“You’re about to find out,” Pidge says, sounding about as menacing as a four-year-old wielding a feather for a weapon. Lance turns around to see them with a plate of food piled to its limit. Pidge sits down at the table that isn’t covered in papers and begin working on their food.

“I have no idea what they just said to me,” Lance says quietly to Keith.

“They haven’t slept in two days, I don’t think their arguing skills are there right now,” Keith says.

“My arguing skills are perfectly fine!” Pidge shouts, their voice much louder than they had probably intended.

“Right, well while you and Pidge argue, we would like to get to the food please,” Matt says. Lance and Keith move aside for him and Shiro to get their food.

“So, what do you guys think?” Matt asks, gathering up his plate of food.

“Of the arm?” Lance asks.

“Yeah, it’s amazing right? I wish we would have thought of this sooner,” He says, examining Shiro’s arm from a distance. “If it wasn’t for Pidge’s findings the other night we still wouldn’t have anything.”

“Well, yeah it’ll be really nice to see Shiro back at full power again,” Keith says, Lance nods in agreement.

“I just hope we can actually pull it off,” Matt sighs.

“Oh, come on, with you, Pidge and Hunk working on this thing? It’ll be done in no time,” Shiro says, smiling reassuringly.

“Yeah, but it’s not that simple, we have to worry about if your body can handle it, and if you—” Matt continues to ramble on, but Lance stops listening once he feels his phone vibrating in his pocket. He pulls it out, expecting to see an incoming call from his mom, but instead he’s met with a call from an unknown number.

Keith glances over curiously. “Who’s that?”

Lance shrugs. “Unknown,” He says, maneuvering the screen so Keith can better see.

“Probably just a telemarketer.”

He allows the call to roll into voicemail by itself before he shoves it back into his pocket. Even while they all take their places sitting at the table, Matt continues to ramble on about the numerous outcomes of replacing Shiro’s arm.

“Matt, seriously, as long as the tests come out positive everything should work out just fine.” Pidge bites out. They have finished over half of the food that was piled on their plate, and they show no signs of slowing down.

“Well yeah, but what happens if his nerves don’t respond properly?”

“Then we’ll find a work around, there’s nothing else we can do,” Pidge says with a mouthful, waving their fork in the air.

“Even if it doesn’t work, I still appreciate everything you guys are doing for me,” Shiro cuts in. “Now stop worrying about it so much or I won’t let you touch my arm.”

Pidge and Matt gasp. “You wouldn’t dare,” Pidge says, dropping their fork on the table with a clang. “Not with all of this work I’m putting into this arm, I’m going to touch it as much as I want to!”

“Then I’d suggest you two stop worrying about it so much,” Shiro says, leaning back in his chair, a smug look plastered across his face.

“It’s not even—” Pidge turns their attention to Matt, “Matt if you make me miss the chance to tinker on this beautiful arm, in the name of science, I will slaughter you.”

“Hey, before you slaughter Matt, we actually wanted to ask you guys something,” Shiro says, once everyone has calmed down. “We wanted to do this while Hunk was awake, but I think it’s best not to bother him right now,”

Lance nods, he genuinely feels bad for Hunk, he might be built with the brain of a genius, but he wasn’t built to stay up for more than 24 hours. Unlike Pidge, who can stay up for a week straight without batting an eye, and still be able to design an entirely new arm for Shiro.

“So, I’m going to be officially moving in with Matt—” Lance feels the insistent buzzing of his phone against his thigh and he sighs quietly and reaches into his pocket to silence it. “And we’re going to need some help to move my stuff,” He says.

“Oh,” Keith says inaudibly.

“I know, it’s a little abrupt, but you should be fine, right Keith?” Shiro asks, his eyebrows are knit with concern. “I mean, you’re always at Lance’s anyway, so you’ll hardly notice that I’m even gone.”

Lance can feel Keith’s mood shift in an instant. He seems to curl in on himself, and he feels as though he’s a million miles away already.

“I mean, I guess, it’s just a little weird,” Keith says.

“Well, I’m not getting rid of the place. It’s just all yours now,” Shiro smiles, attempting to lighten Keith’s mood.

“Hey, like he said, you’re always at my place anyway,” Lance chimes in, leaning closer to Keith.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not saying you can’t—or shouldn’t, it’s just—”

“Weird?” Shiro finishes, pained by Keith’s scattered thoughts.

“Yeah,” Keith says quietly, he looks down at the table and gently grabs at Lance’s hand under the table. Lance takes his fingers into his own, lightly tracing meaningless patterns onto Keith’s skin.

“Like I said, I’m not getting rid of the place, and you’ll obviously get a say in what goes,” Shiro says, smiling gently. “But I think this is good, the change will be good.”

“Well, I’ll help,” Pidge says. “But I swear to you, none of my stuff better get moved around. Just because you’re moving in, doesn’t mean you get to mess with my system.”

“Trust me, I wouldn’t dream of it,” Shiro says, holding his hands up in mock surrender.

Lance tunes out the conversation and turns his attention to Keith. He sits a little more rigid, and he seems more distant. He and Shiro had lived in that small apartment since Shiro had adopted him, it holds a lot of memories for Keith. However, somewhere deep down they all knew this day was coming soon. Matt and Shiro’s relationship had been progressing quickly the past few months, and Shiro had basically already moved in with Matt.

“Hey—” Lance whispers to Keith, and he jumps when he feels his phone vibrating in his pocket again.

“Yeah?”

“Sorry,” He pulls his phone out to see 48 missed calls displayed across the top of his screen, and the unknown number lights up the incoming call. He simply stares at his phone, confused, and Keith looks down at it quizzically.

“What’s wrong?” He asks.

“I silenced my phone a few minutes ago, and it’s buzzing again,” Lance says, an odd mixture of feelings swirl through his mind, and his phone feels heavier by the second.

“It’s probably just a glitch,” Keith shrugs.

“Maybe,” He declines the call once more, and hesitantly sets it down in his lap. “Anyway, are you okay?” He asks, his voice low.

Keith simply nods. “Yeah, I knew it was coming, I just—” Lance watches as the blue light from his phone illuminates Keith’s pale face when it begins to vibrate again. Keith sits still, mouth still hanging on his words, and his eyes fall to Lance’s screen. “It’s your mom,” He says matter-of-factly.

“Oh?” Lance drops his gaze down to his phone and quickly picks it up, swiping the screen to answer the call. “Hey ma, what’s up?” He asks cheerfully.

“Goodness gracious, you are a hard man to get a hold of, Lance McClain,” Lance visibly finches at the sound of a man’s voice on the other end.

“Excuse me?” He sputters. He looks up at Keith, who raises his eyebrow in confusion.

“Please, continue to act like you’re talking to your mother, and go outside,” The voice commands.

“I’d really rather not,” Lance scoffs, at this point everyone at the table is staring at him.

“Let me put it simply, Lance. Just because I’m not near you does not mean I have no power over you. Please continue to act as though you’re talking to your mother and make your way away from your friends. Otherwise, this can get very ugly very fast,” The voice stays impressively cool through the exchange. Lance goes stiff and swallows hard. Fear begins pooling in his stomach and he stands up in a robotic manner.

“I’ll be right back,” He says, his voice is smaller than he wished.

“Everything okay?” Matt asks.

“Yeah, it’s about Luis,” Everyone nods, instantly seeming to understand for the wrong reasons.

He holds his phone back up to his ear and walks to the door.

“Is everything okay?” Lance asks, slipping on his boots.

“Are you outside?”

“Would you know if I was lying?”

“Yes,” The voice replies coldly. Lance shivers, if from the cold outside or the harshness of the man’s voice, he’s not sure. He steps outside, regrettably not grabbing his jacket.

“I’m out,” He bites out.

“Good, I need you to listen closely to what I’m about—”

“Who is this?” Lance asks abruptly through his chattering teeth.

“My name is Alfor, I’m sure you’ve heard of me,” The man doesn’t falter.

A spike of fear runs down the back of Lance’s neck. Alfor is the “right hand man” of the mayor of the city, Zarkon. However, not three days ago, Alfor was found dead in his office.

“This is ridiculous, if you’re going to do a prank call at least choose someone who is alive,” Lance chides. “Don’t call this number again,” He pulls the phone away from his ear and hangs up the call. He hardly has time to reach for the frozen doorknob before he feels his phone vibrating in his other hand. He groans and looks down at it, this time instead of reading out “Unknown Number” or “Mama” it says, “Don’t Hang Up”. He holds it with a shaky hand and taps on the answer button. He takes in a deep breath before putting the phone up to his ear once more.
“How are you doing this?” He asks tentatively.

“Oh Lance, I have so many resources at my fingertips right now that you wouldn’t even be able to fathom,” The voice, Alfor, says. “Now, take your hand off the doorknob.”

Lance hadn’t even noticed the aching pain that the frozen doorknob had been sending up his fingers. He allows his hand fall away and drop to his side.

“Okay, hand is off,” He says, suppressing a whine in the back of his throat.

“I know,” Alfor says simply, just to further drive his invisible control over the situation deeper. “Now, are you ready to listen to me?”

Lance nods, more to himself than Alfor. “Yes,”

“I am fully aware that everything I am about to tell you will sound insane—”

“More insane than getting a phone call from a dead man?” Lance cries out in a hushed voice.

“I’m afraid so,” Alfor replies. Lance can only stare out at the rushing water in silence for a moment. The sun had poked out from behind the clouds sometime while they were inside, it casts down a subtle warmth that has melted the ice on the edges of the river. Lance grabs on to the gentle warmth to ground himself while he is berated with gusts of frosty air.

“Okay,” He says, his voice barely above a whisper.

“The city is in danger,” He begins. Lance regrets his agreement immediately. “I wasn’t killed, but the danger was—is—very real.”

“And what am I supposed—”

“Just hear me out,” Alfor says, a hint of softness crosses his words. “You know of the name Zarkon, yes?”

“Of course, he’s the mayor.”

“Zarkon is the man who made the attempt on my life,” Alfor says.

Lance can’t help but gasp. “What—”

“I understand this is a lot to take in, but he and I have been working on a device that will allow anyone to gain or lose their bending at will. I was told that it would be used to help people, it would help bring equality to the non-benders, but apparently Zarkon had other plans,” He pauses, Lance had hardly noticed that he was pacing, even though there was nowhere to go on the small ramp.

“Once the device was finished, he used it on himself.”

Lance stops pacing abruptly and squints to look across the river. “Okay, so what? Don’t tell me you’re pulling all this crap just to tell me Zarkon accidentally took all his powers away and you need someone to help reverse it. If so you’ve called the wrong—”

“He gave himself the ability to use all kinds of bending,” Alfor says grimly.

“I’m sorry?” Lance gapes. “Is that even possible?”

“Apparently so. Now listen, I don’t have much more time, I’ve already been on the phone with you for too long,” He says, suddenly his leveled voice is rushed. “The core of machine has been broken into five pieces and scattered across the city. Each piece of this machine has been encrypted with a code that will reactivate it.”

“Okay?” Lance says, his stomach is tying itself into knots the longer Alfor speaks to him.

“Under no circumstances should these codes ever be shared with anyone, otherwise the city as we know it will surely collapse,” He says sternly. “I’m giving you one of the codes.”

“What? No, I don’t want it!” Lance says, beginning to pull the phone away from his ear.

“Lance, I’m afraid you don’t understand, I can’t let you hang up this call without giving you the code. If you hang up now, I will have to kill you,” Alfor speaks loudly. Lance freezes, his breath seizing up in his throat. “I’ve told you far too much to simply let you hang up.”

Lance thinks he’ll choke. He can’t speak, so he nods stiffly.

“Your code is V-O10.”

Chapter Text

Keith sits at the table, quietly missing Lance’s company. Shiro and Matt move to sit on the bean bag chairs. They continue to talk about the logistics of moving in, something that Keith has quickly tuned out of. He rests his head on the table and closes his eyes.

“Hey, stop sulking you emo baby, you’re making my breakfast taste bad,” Pidge says.

Keith snorts, “Breakfast?” He props his chin up on the table and raises his eyebrow.

“Yeah, breakfast.”

Keith sighs heavily, sitting up. “I’m not sulking,”

“Then what do you call that?” They ask, staring at him inquisitively.

“Call what?”

Pidge shoves their plate forward and rest their head on the table in a dramatic fashion, imitating Keith.

Keith crinkles up his nose. “I’m not trying to,” He sits back, crossing his arms.

Pidge sits back up, “Look, I’m sure everything is going to be fine.”

“I know, just—can you go back to talking about Shiro’s arm or something?” Keith says, his tone harsher than intended. “I’m sorry, I’m fine.”

“Okay, sure,” Pidge deadpans. “How about, instead of Shiro’s arm, have you heard about the possible re-elections coming up?”

“What? Isn’t it too soon?”

“Well, yes, but with Alfor dead people are scared that there won’t be anything holding Zarkon back from going through with his plans to expand his power.”

“Whoa, wait, Alfor is dead?” Keith stammers. He finds himself sitting up a little straighter, confused. Just then, they hear the door open. Keith turns to see Lance walk in, he looks paler, and oddly shaken.

“Jesus, Keith, do you not pay attention to the news at all?”

“News about what?” Lance asks, suddenly at Keith’s side.

“About Alfor being dead, did you know about that?” Keith asks, leaning up against Lance’s side. He can feel Lance stiffen under his touch.

“What? No that’s crazy,” Lance says, but the surprise doesn’t make it to his voice. Keith glances up at him and instead of the shocked expression he expects, Lance just looks numb.

“Yeah, it happened a couple of days ago, apparently he was shot,” Pidge continues.

“Smart, don’t use your bending and it’s harder to narrow it down,” Keith mumbles.

“It also means whoever did it didn’t want the blame to come down on one group,” Pidge says.

“Could have been a non-bender,” Keith suggests.

“With as much as they struggle? I doubt someone would kill the very man that was trying to help them,” Pidge counters.

“That’s fair.”

“It could have been anyone, whoever did it was clean about it,” Shiro calls from behind them.

“With his level of security? He has so many guards that he’s practically untouchable,” Keith says.

“Not that untouchable,” Lance mutters under his breath. Keith turns to him.

“Could have been one of those low life gang members,” Matt says bitterly. There’s a moment of silence wherein everyone has suddenly gone still.

“Yeah, maybe,” Lance says quietly.

“Crap—Lance I’m sorry,” Matt tries to correct himself hurriedly.

“What? Why apologize? You’re right,” Lance says lightheartedly. It’s hard to tell if he is being genuine with the crooked smile plastered across his face.

“I know I just—”

“Luis? It’s fine, I’ve already told you guys not to dance around him,” He waves his hand nonchalantly.

“Speaking of, was everything okay with the phone call?” Keith asks. He watches his casual expression fall from his face in an instant.

“Yeah—” He hesitates, “Yes, everything’s fine. Just bringing home typical gang related violence, nothing new.”

“Oh, so everything is alright though,” Keith presses “Right?”

From the moment Lance had walked back into the room something seemed unusually off with him. Luis related problems usually set Lance off for the day, but never shaken.

He simply nods, albeit rather stiffly.

“Glad to hear it,” Shiro says, glancing at Lance. “So, who is Zarkon running up against now?”

“No one has announced yet, everyone is too scared. Zarkon has way too many ties to be easily taken down,” Pidge shrugs. “Honestly, it would be a miracle if anyone would run up against him,”

“Then what’s the point of calling for a re-election?” Keith scoffs.

“He’s using it to try to appeal to the people,” Pidge rolls their eyes. “He’ll probably say something along the lines of ‘Oh we’re so sad about Alfor dying, I’m letting you all know that I sincerely want to hear your opinions, do you want me to leave office?’ However, it’ll all be fake, and he doesn’t really care.”

“He’ll need a new deputy mayor though, right?” Keith asks.

“Not necessarily, it’s just what the public likes to see. It just means there is a buffer between what Zarkon wants and what actually gets put into law,” Shiro replies.

“Then he’s probably ecstatic about Alfor being dead,” Pidge says matter-of-factly.

Keith finds his gaze turning to Lance, who has been oddly quiet during the whole exchange. Lance sits unmoving, his eyes locked onto a seemingly interesting spot in the wall just beyond Pidge. Keith frowns.

“Right, well as riveting as this political drama is—” Keith rises from his chair and Lance’s attention snaps to him. “Lance and I have a lot of cleaning to do back at the house.”

“We do?” Lance gawks.

“Yeah, the house is a wreck right now, so we’re going to head on out.” Keith pushes his chair in and Lance eagerly follows suit.

“You don’t want to stay and help me run tests on Shiro’s arm?” Pidge whines.

“You have Hunk for that,” Keith points towards the table that Hunk sits at.

“Yeah, I don’t know if you noticed but Hunk has been dead asleep the entire time you have been here!”

“Go wake him up, we won’t be much help to your testing anyway,” Keith shrugs. Pidge sits back in their chair with a long, drawn out grunt.

“We can come back over later, once we’re done cleaning,” Lance says with a smile.

“Fine, whatever,” Pidge sighs.

They walk over to the door to retrieve their layers from the coat rack. A chorus of goodbyes is exchanged as they make a swift exit. Keith flinches at the sudden burst of cold air, but a small surge of warmth explodes at his core, taking the chill from his skin. The snow that had been falling has been diminished to nothing more than mere dust in the air and the sunlight blazing behind the gray clouds leave a blue tint to the world. He glances at Lance, who seems to be blue for different reasons.

“Are you sure everything is okay?” Keith asks once they are down the ramp.

“Yeah, I’m fine, it was just startling,” Lance says. He looks calmer outside, allowing his shoulders to droop and his exposed hands to gently swing at his sides.

“Okay,” Keith says quietly.

“What about you? I’m sorry I got the call while we were talking, are you okay?” Lance asks, quick to change the topic. A pang of guilt resonates in Keith’s chest.

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine. I don’t even know why it really upset me,” A light, humorless laugh escapes past his lips.

“Okay, well you know what this means right?” Lance asks with a mischievous glint in his tone.

“My apartment is going to have no taste in decoration anymore?”

“Exactly. Which means, we get to decorate it however we want to, and who better to help decorate than me?” His expression is finally breaking out of its dazed somber look. Keith feels a smile tugging at his lips.

“What? You don’t think I could decorate it by myself?”

“No, absolutely not,” Lance declares all too quick.

Keith gasps in mock surprise. “Why not? I think I have great style'.”

“If by ‘great style’ you mean putting out way too many succulents and a chair, then sure, you have ‘great style.”

“Hey! That was one—”

“But luckily, I have wonderful style, and I am fully prepared to decorate the entire apartment by myself,” Lance says loudly above Keith’s complaints. “In fact—” He reaches over, latching onto Keith’s arm as they enter the small shopping district they passed through previously. “Let’s go look at some furniture.”

“What—” Lance pulls him in the opposite direction of his home and instead to the sidewalk covered in slushy gray snow that leads to the city.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” He smiles. Keith doesn’t resist, he allows himself to be tugged along.

As they continue further into the city, more people begin to crowd the streets. The snow on the ground is hardly beautiful anymore, turned into mush under the mercy of the heavy foot traffic. It leaves the streets looking dingy, as a city should be.

Keith’s gaze traces along the windows of the tall buildings that surround them as Lance guides him through crowds of people. He catches glimpses of graffiti plastered on the spaces of concrete walls and sidewalks, and shops that have metal bars pulled down over the fronts of their doors with multiple locks climbing up the latches. Some vendors have decided to endure the snow and stand on the sidewalks shouting about how great their deals are on their sopping wet products. Most of them look miserable, only held up by their will to live. Occasionally, they pass by musicians that play songs that sound warm on an abnormally cold day. Some have captured the attention of bystanders who stand with them, enthralled by their voices.

As they continue the sidewalks fade into metal sheets that have been intricately placed to make complex patterns. Keith can feel an artificial warmth seep up through the ground, leaving the metal free of all snow. The whole area is made from a similar type of metal from the ground up. All the buildings mirror the intense attention to detail that is portrayed on the ground below them, and the air shifts around them into something more familiar, relaxing. Above them, a large dark gray metal sign is strung up between two of the buildings that reads “Welcome to the Balmera Sector” in elegant gold letters.

Lance stops in front of a shop abruptly. “Here?” Keith asks. “Isn’t this a little expensive for us?” He laughs.

“Well, yeah but we aren’t buying anything today, and it looks fun,” Lance shrugs with a smile. The outside of the shop has two large window panels that lead into a rather elongated interior. Every inch looks to be covered with furniture that looks gorgeously antique.

“And not my taste,” Keith protests, but Lance is already pulling him through the door. They walk straight into a wall of heat and Keith cringes. He forces himself to release the heat he held internally and quickly sheds off his jacket in hopes he can escape the overwhelming warmth that surrounds him.

“Good afternoon, how can I assist you today?” The creaky voice of an older woman calls from the table that stands off to the side. Keith glances over, you could turn the heat down, he thinks.

“Oh, we’re just looking around, thank you miss,” Lance replies cheerfully.

“Alright, please do not hesitate to ask questions,” The lady says, a pleasant smile is plastered across her rocky lips.

“Thank you,” Lance repeats, and proceeds further down the narrow path laid before them. Keith follows, careful to not knock over any of the precariously placed lamps and vases that line the path. He finds it beautifully ironic that a gentle woman made from heavy rock, runs such a delicate antique shop.

Lance continues along the path until he reaches the back of the shop and stops abruptly. Keith nearly runs into him but catches himself on the back of a couch that groans under his weight. He snatches his hand back quickly, and sighs in relief to see the couch unharmed.

“Keith,” Lance whispers.

“Yes?” Keith says, cautiously moving forward to peer beyond Lance’s shoulder. In front of him sits a large display that holds a long sword, sheathed, with impressive black and red detailing.

“You need something like that in the apartment,” He says, taking a step closer to inspect it.

“It’s beautiful, but I bet the price is off the charts,” Keith says, stepping next to Lance, noticing that the body of a dragon is engraved on the sword, dressed up in red and purple jewels. He’s enraptured by something oddly familiar about it.

“Couldn’t you imagine something like this displayed in the living room?” Lance muses. “It could be really cool if we do it right.” He glances it over once more before he’s satisfied, and then he turns over his shoulder to walk along the other side of the shop. Keith, however, stays and stares at it for a little longer.

“I see you are taking a liking to the sword?” The voice of the woman at the front of the shop asks, suddenly much closer than she previously had been. Keith jumps away, careful not to bump into anything. The woman laughs dryly. “My apologies, I did not mean to frighten you,” She smiles kindly.

“Sorry,” Keith says, straightening himself up.

“It’s quite alright, child,” She places her heavy arm on Keith’s shoulder. “That sword was given to us by a Galran man, it is believed to have been used in ancient times during the wars.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Yes, however, it is a shame that it was used by such a malicious group,” She says, her tone turning into something venomous.

“It’s a good thing that times have changed,” Keith says lightly.

“Have they?” The woman says, sadly. “With Zarkon at the helm, it seems as though nothing has changed at all.” She sighs. “I apologize, I do not mean to burden you with such grim talk.”

“That’s alright,” Keith says quietly, although something akin to irritation thrums under his skin.

The Galra have always been viewed as a superior race, especially in this city. Since ancient times, the Galra have been known to use every tool at their disposal to claw their way to the top. They have a bad habit of treating everything like it’s an obstacle in their path to greatness.

In recent times however, the strive for greatness isn’t so prevalent anymore. There is no need to prove that any one group is more powerful than the other. People wish to live peacefully, and Alfor is the reason for it. Coming from Altea, the second largest sector in the city, comprised of mostly non-bending Alteans, Alfor has fought for peace and equality since the day he was born. Running with Zarkon was a major risk for him.

With Zarkon being Galran, he comes from the largest sector of the city, Daibazaal. It is considered the most successful sector, with the population being primarily Galran. Altea being primarily science and architecture paved a path of respect, while the Galrans were known for nothing more than their forceful ways and abundant envy.

The two broke many barriers by working together. They proved that even two people coming from opposite ends of the spectrum could meet in the middle and work together. People became inspired by Alfor and Zarkon’s efforts, and it’s helped to change the attitudes of many people. Alfor has always been more level headed, and he’s been known to push Zarkon towards what the public wants. Everyone knows that Zarkon hardly ever agrees with Alfor, and most times when he does it’s simply for publicity. It’s been tense, but people believe that with Alfor in power things will get better. Looking at it now, Keith can see why people are so unsettled by Alfor’s death.

“It’s just a shame,” The woman says, breaking his thoughts, as if she knows what he is thinking. Keith nods in agreeance.

“Sure is.”

“Hey, Keith,” Lance says in a hushed voice from the other side of the room.

Keith turns back to the woman. “Excuse me,” He says, bowing his head slightly.

“Of course,” She says softly.

Keith takes one last look at the sword and turns to where Lance is standing. He points at a small golden statue of a lion, that stands on a black base, with a goofy grin on his face. Keith walks over to him, mindful of the fragile objects that surround him.

“What’s that?” He asks.

“A statue of a lion,” Lance says bluntly.

“No, yeah, I can see that.”

“Oh. A book end maybe?” He says questioningly.

“Yes, it is a book end. It originally came to me in a set of two, however the second one was bought by itself,” The woman announces from behind her stand again.

“Huh, weird, who buys just one book end?” Lance laughs, Keith shrugs.

Lance continues his loop around the store, pointing out random items that entertain him. Keith lazily trails behind, not looking at anything in particular. By the time they reach the front of the store again, Keith is sweating. The heat had seemed to turn itself up as they made their way around, and he was more than ecstatic to exit the building.

“Thank you,” Lance says contentedly.

“Have a wonderful night,” The woman calls after them.

Keith gratefully strides out of the store first, allowing the frigid air to lift the excess heat from his body. He hears Lance gasp behind him.

“You’re not even going to put your jacket on?” He asks in horror.

“No, oh my god, no it was so hot in there, how are you not dying?”

“Not all of us have superhuman warmth constantly circulating through our veins,” He says and returns his ungloved hands to the safety of his pockets.

“Right, sorry,” Keith laughs. “Where to next?”

“Well since we’re in the Balmera Sector, should we go visit Shay?” Lance suggests.

Keith nods in indifference. “You sure Hunk won’t be too jealous?”

“Hunk should have woken up if he wanted to be jealous,” Lance says. He takes the lead and Keith falls into step next to him.

The further they walk into the sector the larger the stores become, and the more complex the metal work turns as the space opens to a large city square. Balmerans are known for their resident earth and metal benders, they earned their reputation off the skills that reside within them by building extremely complicated and gorgeous structures. It is also one of the oldest sectors in the city. A lot of history lies in these streets. Although, it becomes increasingly clear just how much of a toll modern times has taken on the stunning sector.

Instead of walking past grand windows and breathtaking views, the beauty of it all has been covered up with tactless propaganda posters, begging for the votes that Zarkon doesn’t need to win the re-election. He watches as numerous shop keepers mosey out of their stores to tear them down as quickly as possible without making a scene, despite knowing that someone would be back in the area later and replace it once more. It’s always a dangerous game to play, considering those who are plastering them across the city are typically those associated with the most dominant and violent gang in the city, the Empire. Being that they are comprised of only Galra, it’s easy to understand why they can’t seem to gain a good reputation.

“This is horrible,” Lance says in disbelief. He guides Keith over to a random shop and examines one of the posters. They all have various designs, but the messages are the same; ‘Vote for Zarkon on Re-election Day’.

Keith grits his teeth. “It’s ridiculous, no one is even going to run up against him, why do they have to take it this far?” He asks no one in particular.

“Just driving the nail into the coffin as far as it will go,” Lance says with disdain.

“It’s not exactly helping the Galra clear their name either,” Keith crosses his arms.

“It doesn’t help that everyone thinks that Zarkon is enabling the Empire,” Lance huffs and continues to walk down the street. Keith stands, fixated by the poster. In a fit of anger, he crumples it up, allowing a burst of flames turn it to gritty ash in his hand. Feeling satisfied, he moves along.

It’s not long before they reach their next destination of a small clothing store that is nestled between a book store and an office of some kind. This shop is significantly less spacious than the antique store they had been in, and it is arguably much more cramped. Though, Keith is less scared to run into clothes than lamps. Lance walks through the door first, and they are hit with a blast of hot air mixed with flowery perfume. Keith forces himself not to gag.

“Keith, Lance!” A chipper voice greets from the back of the store.

“Hi Shay,” Lance advances to meet her. Keith walks leisurely after him, touching every piece of clothing he encounters along the way. He yanks his hand away when he touches a specific fabric that catches on the dry skin between his fingers.

“Goodness, it’s been a while since you two have come to visit me without Hunk, is he alright?” Shay asks. Keith finally reaches the area where Lance and Shay are standing. Shay towers over Lance easily, her yellow eyes are filled with concern and she holds her large, gray, rocky hands in front of her heart.

“Of course, him and Pidge stayed up all night working on a new model for Shiro’s arm, he passed out,” Lance laughs.

“Oh, poor Hunk. Pidge should know better than to keep him up so late at night,” Shay says, the concern not leaving her voice.

As they stand making small talk, Keith can feel the heat of the store crawling up the back of his neck and leaving him with a subtle nausea. The warmth collecting under the jacket that hangs over his arm doesn’t seem to be helping much. He sneakily takes his leave from the conversation just as it begins to pick up its pace, and he walks around, trying to find the coolest part of the store. He goes closer to the windows, hoping they would allow some cold air to seep through, though there is little success.

He sighs, his hot breath leaving a light fog on the window.

Irritation creeps up his spine when he can’t seem to escape the heat, so he takes to slipping outside instead. The cold air is a blessing to his hot cheeks, and it sweeps his feeling of nausea away in an instant. He sighs in relief, feeling marginally better. He leans against the window, watching people pass by. He’s not sure how long Lance will stay and talk with Shay, but he’s thankful for the cold weather.

He watches curiously as the store owner across the street emerges from his shop, and frantically starts to tear down posters from his windows. He sighs, and just as he averts his gaze, he hears yelling from the same area. He whips his head back to see three boys, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere, crowded around the store owner. All three of the boys have the trademark purple skin of a Galra, and their clothes are decorated with the insignia of the Empire.

Keith pushes off the wall in an instant, he can feel fire humming just underneath his skin, begging to be released. However, he doesn’t even get to take a step forward before someone slams into his side, nearly knocking him to the ground.

“Hey! Watch where you’re going,” He snaps, catching his balance on the window of the shop. The person who had bumped into him stands up straight, he towers over Keith easily, but it only makes Keith square his shoulders.

“Keith Kogane, I presume?” The person, who Keith registers immediately as a man, speaks low with a voice thick with age. Keith barely hears him over the commotion across the street.

“I—What?” Keith looks at the man in disbelief. The panic now buzzing in his head seems to amplify the compressed fire, making it almost painful.

“Walk with me,” The man’s face is masked with a black scarf, leaving nothing but a slit for his piercing blue eyes and white eyebrows to peak through. Keith studies him. Along with the scarf he wears, every inch of his body is covered in black, as if he is trying to disappear in the depths of the city.

“I don’t think I will,” Keith retorts sharply, reaching his hand back for the door back into the safety of Shay’s shop. His mind is quietly racing in the background, running through the scenarios for who this man could be. Someone from the Empire was out of the question, no Galra would have such stunning blue eyes. Nevertheless, Keith can’t fully expel the thought from his mind. His past run ins with gangs in the city haven’t exactly placed him with a good reputation, and he fears this could be his history coming back to bite him in the butt again.

“I think you will want to hear what I have to say,” He narrows his eyes on something behind Keith. “Unless you don’t care about the fate of Lance McClain,” His voice becomes dangerously brisk, something that sends a flood of unbearable heated anger through Keith’s body. His body lurches off the window, his fingertips lighting abruptly.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Keith’s voice is unforgiving. The man seems to back off for a moment, before Keith can see a smile crinkle up the bridge of his nose.

“I’ll explain while we walk,” He says confidently.

“I’m not—”

All too quickly the man’s hand reaches into his pocket, producing a small handgun. “I was being serious,” He says, his voice reads amused.

Keith scoffs, allowing the flames to dissipate, reluctantly. “A gun? What are you going to do, shoot me?” He mocks.

The man chuckles and motions for Keith to begin walking. “You’re feisty,” He says.

Keith turns to his left and begins to walk, he glances into the store before passing it up all together. Lance and Shay are still innocently tucked away in the back of the shop, completely unaware of the odd turn of events that have taken place outside.

The man falls into step with Keith, who warily looks down at the gun that he holds. He can see his hand shake in a way that is not from the cold. “And you’re nervous,” He taunts. “What is this? Your initiation?”

The man stays silent as they continue, and Keith glances around uneasily. At least he knows where he is, he could walk this part of the city blindfolded. If something were to happen, he at least knows where he is.

 

“Where are we going?” Keith asks after a few minutes of walking. The man seems to have direction, but Keith can’t tell their intended destination.

“Here,” The Man stops suddenly. They have entered an area where the buildings are a little more spaced out, allowing for shady spots in between them. Keith doesn’t have time to fully assess the whole area before the man shoves him into one of the alleyways.

“Hey!” His shout is cut off by his back unexpectedly contacting the wall. The man grabs his shoulders and holds him there, Keith winces at the uncomfortable feeling of the gun pressed up against his collar bone.

“Please, listen to me, there’s not much time,” He says hurriedly. His voice has changed into that of a terrified child, something about it drains some fight out of Keith. He slowly removes the hand holding the gun from Keith’s shoulders, and dips his head in surrender. “It’s not loaded,” He says apologetically, “And I wouldn’t have hurt Lance.”

“How do you even know him?” Keith asks, maneuvering out of the man’s grip. “I won’t run,” He says reluctantly.

“I have my resources,” He says, and before Keith can question him, the man reaches his hand up and pulls down the scarf that covers his face. Keith inhales sharply as his features are exposed. The unkempt white beard and blue marks that glow faintly in the dingy alleyway rest under his bright blue eyes. The face of a dead Altean man displayed plainly in front of him sparks an odd conglomeration of confusion and amazement.

“Al—?” The man clasps his hand over Keith’s mouth just before his name can fully escape.

“Yes, I am Alfor, and yes I am alive, please do not make a scene,” He says through clenched teeth. Keith smacks his hand away, a new sense of anger washing over him.

“Everyone thinks you’re dead!”

“Yes, I do keep up with the news, and it is quite hard to miss your own death!” He snaps, his voice reverberates against the walls and he cringes. “Now that we have cleared up who is alive and who is dead,” He straightens himself up, wrapping the scarf back around his face. “We are not here to discuss what happened to me, soon that will be inconsequential.”

“What do you mean?” Keith challenges.

“Well for example, if you continue to shout, I won’t be alive much longer to tell you what I am here to tell you,” He says simply, with a sharp glare.

“Fine,” Keith folds his arms, he keeps his guard up, analyzing the alleyway they stand in.

“I was supposed to die,” He begins quickly. “It was Zarkon who made the attempt on my life, however one of my guards stepped in at just the right time to take the fall for me,” His voice is filled with sorrow.

“Wait, Zarkon—”

“Yes, turns out he’s been planning to take me out for some time now, anything to have the leadership all to himself. He wanted to use my death as a scapegoat to lash out as much as he wants,” He sighs, “And, we were building a machine. One that would have the power to give or destroy a person’s bending, regardless of type. I was building it under the impression that it would be used to help those who are less fortunate, but Zarkon had other ideas for it.” He pauses. Keith looks at him, confused. “Once the machine was finished, he used it on himself,”

Keith stares at him, stunned, his heart racing. “Okay? What does this have to do with me?”

Alfor sighs heavily. “I have broken this machine down to five pieces, and each piece is encrypted with a code that will reactivate it. I’m the only person who knows every code, but I fear I won’t be around much longer.”

Keith quickly connects the dots in his head and backs up, only to meet the wall again. “Look, I’m not your guy okay, I—”

“I’m going to give you a code—”

“No! I already have enough baggage, I don’t need to be harboring something from Zarkon,” Keith says frantically.

“Please, listen, you cannot breathe a word of this to anyone, no one must know I’m alive, and no one must know this code—”

“Did you not hear me?” Keith says, his voice turning frantic. “You’re not dragging me into this!” He takes a step closer towards his exit, but he’s cut off by Alfor’s iron grip on his arm.

“You misunderstand me, I have to give you this code and now. I have told you far too much—”

“And whose fault was that?” Keith gives a futile tug on his arm, but the taller man overpowers him with ease.

“Your code is O-N09,” Alfor says before Keith can get another retort again. “And you must understand that the fate of this entire city rests on your shoulders,”

Keith gapes at him. “You did not just tell me that,” He laughs breathily. He yanks his arm out of Alfor’s grip and crosses his arms. “What happens if I just walk out of this alley and tell anyone I want to?”

“Then I would kindly remind you of the threat I made at the start of our pleasant conversation,” He says with certainty. Keith’s resolve fades in an instant and he rolls his eyes. “And however pleasant of a conversation it was, I must take my leave. I’m trusting you to make the right decision, I’ll be in touch again soon.”

“Feel free not to be,” Keith grumbles.

“Oh Keith, you are just like she said you would be,” Alfor says, a certain softness creeps into his words. He turns to walk away, but Keith catches his shoulder.

“Wait, she?”

“Your—”

As if on cue, a loud crash sounds from the direction they came from, it’s so violent and abrupt that it shakes the ground below them. Keith reaches out to steady himself on the wall behind him. They both stand rigid, waiting for a clue as to what the sound was caused by.

It only takes a moment for chaos to explode outside of their safe alleyway. Shouts erupt, and people begin to run by in hysteria. “I have a feeling you should go,” Keith says quietly, afraid that his voice would break the rest of the world beneath him. Alfor nods and takes off running, in the same direction of everyone else, deeper into the city. Just then, another loud crash occurs just outside the alley, and the culprit of the loud sounds makes itself clear. Keith stands in the alley and watches the building just outside of it go up in flames and he gets thrown back on impact, the ground coming up to meet him much sooner than he had anticipated. Fear seizes his heart, how close was the first blow to Shay’s shop?

He’s up in an instant, he uses the motion of pushing himself off the ground as momentum to bolt out of the alley. He doesn’t take the time to evaluate the pandemonium that has swiftly swept the city off its feet, instead he breaks out into a sprint towards Shay’s shop. People continue to run against him, shoving him every which way, anything to keep him from where he needs to be. Amongst his panic, he can miraculously feel his phone vibrating in his pocket. He tries not to slow down while pulling it out, but he nearly drops it when he sees Lance’s icon pop up on the screen, he wastes no time answering the call.

“Lance, where are you? Are you okay?” Keith rushes out desperately.

“I’m fine, we’re fine, we’re still at Shay’s shop. Whatever that was hit a little further up,”

“Okay, okay good,” Keith sighs out.

“Where are you?” Lance asks, his voice laced with concern.

“Sorry, sorry—I’m heading back that way, I got—” Another explosion hits just next to Keith, the impact sends him and the few people that still haven’t made it out straight to the ground. He looks up just in time to watch flames spiraling down toward his face, he throws his arms up in front of him, just barely deflecting them before they engulf him.

He tries to ignore the aches that now course through his body and gets himself back on his feet again once the aftermath of the explosion has passed. His ears ring painfully, and a daze encases his mind. Smoke intrudes his lungs as he tries to catch his breath. He glances around, his whole world seems to be spinning, but he sees other people around him struggling to even stand and guilt resonates in his chest when his only thought is Lance. His eyes scan the ground, looking for the illumination of his phone against the dark smoke. He locks onto it, and just as he reaches down to grab it, something slams into him, shoving him back down to the ground, his head smacks against the concrete hard.

“You filthy fire bender!” The voice of a woman fills the space between the fading ringing in his ears. “You did this, didn’t you?” She shouts.

“What are you—” Keith sits up weakly, holding his hand to the back of his head, he winces at the touch.

“I saw you deflect those flames! Do not lie,” Keith looks up to see a tall Balmeran woman looming over him. “You were the one who caused this, were you not?” She accuses. She holds her hand up, chunks of rock begin to rise, breaking through the metal beneath their feet and gathering around her.

“What? No!” The daze that he is trapped in seems to break its hold and for a moment he is hyper focused. The woman brings her hand down and the rocks are sent flying toward his face. Keith acts quicker than he can think. He crosses his arms in front of him, drawing from the flames around him, he forms a barrier of fire between them. He holds it there just long enough to catch the Balmera’s focus, and while she is distracted, he takes off again, with a bit of luck he snatches his phone up along the way.

He glances down to see the call still lit up on his screen, he places it back up against his ear, only to pull it away at the sound of Lance’s shouting.

“—Keith Kogane, I swear on my life if you just died—”

“Lance—” He doesn’t stop shouting, “Lance! Stop I’m fine, I’m here,” Keith finds his voice to be groggy from the unhealthy intake of smoke.

“What happened? Where are you? What was that sound?” It’s Lance’s turn to be desperate, but his panic seems to ground Keith as he emerges into a clearing.

“I’m fine, I swear. One of the explosions went off near me, nothing too big,” He tries to sound nonchalant about it, but he can practically feel Lance fuming on the other end.

“Nothing—”

“I’m almost there,” Keith says quickly. He takes in the destruction before him. The buildings seem to be mostly intact. They were built with metal that is meant to withstand these kinds of attacks, but the damage seems to lie in the blown-out windows and completely obliterated interiors. He catches glimpses of multiple people who lie on the ground, whether they are breathing or not is unclear. He tries not to think about it as he jogs past.

“Do you know who’s doing this?” Lance asks tentatively. Keith jumps at the sound; having forgotten he still had the phone pressed against his ear.

“No,” He sighs. Within seconds he reaches Shay’s store. The windows look cracked in various spots, but not enough to totally shatter them. He can’t say the same for the building next to it. He carefully steps over the debris on the ground from the other shop and gently pushes on the door. The glass buckles against his push, once he’s in he makes sure not to let it slam. He hangs up the call and shoves his phone back into his pocket. “Lance?” He calls out, after not immediately seeing them.

Lance pops his head up from behind the counter in the back. “Back here.”

Keith shoves past the clothing displays, as if it would help him reach the back quicker. “Come on, we need to get out of here,” He says when he reaches them. Lance is now standing, but Shay is still sitting with her knees pulled protectively against her chest.

“I am frightened,” She says quietly.

“I know, but come on, we’ll be safer once we get out of this district,” Keith pleads. His encounter with the woman in the street keeps nagging at the back of his mind.

“Keith?” Lance says, his voice concerned. Keith looks at him, his expression is just as perplexed. “You’re bleeding,” He says bluntly.

“What?” Keith reaches to the back of his neck, his fingertips come back slick with blood. “Oh, it’s nothing, I just fell,” He says, wiping his hands off on his jeans. “Come on, we—” The ground rumbles ominously. Items in the shop shake, some even fall to the ground.

“What is that?” Shay says as the shaking slows to a stop.

“Another explosion probably, which is why we should get out of here,” Keith says.

“Okay,” Shay says, standing up on shaky legs. “Let us go.”

Keith nods and grabs on to Lance’s hand, leading them out of the store. Their exit is accompanied by the shattering of the glass door Keith had tried so hard to be gentle with. He sighs, and once they are outside there are sirens quickly approaching. Keith glances the direction he came from, fresh flames burn high not too far off and Keith cringes.

“Who could be doing this?” Shay asks, despite the answer being clear. Keith has no doubt in his mind that this has something to do with the Empire, which is why the faster they can leave the better.

After checking to make sure no obstacles block their path, they head towards their escape. Unsurprisingly, they are stopped. Multiple holographic screens pop up along the tops of the buildings with the image of a silhouette of a person displayed across them. They are prominent against the cloudy skies.

“To the citizens of the city,” The artificially distorted voice booms across the streets, silencing even the weakly crackling flames. “As you watch the destruction of your precious Balmera District, let this serve as a reminder to not challenge the rule of Zarkon, for he will cleanse this city, and the Empire gives him their full support.”

They all stare up at the screen, fixated on the unmoving picture. “They’re doing this in the name of Zarkon?” Shay dares to speak. Anger swells up in Keith and he’s clutching onto Lance’s hand too hard.

“Does it surprise you?” He asks through clenched teeth.

“Let the Balmera District be an example of what happens when you—”

The feed is cut off. The screens disappear, and everything happens at once.

“It was him!” The voice of a sickly familiar woman screeches from behind them. “He burned me.”

Keith whips his head in the direction of the shouts. The woman from before stands with two other Balmerans at her side, pointing an accusing finger at him. In a whirlwind he watches as a swarm of metal and rock fly his direction, but he can’t seem to react until Shay is at his side, aggressively putting a wall of rock between him and the assault.

“Keith?” She says, her voice is kindly accusing.

“I didn’t—I swear, she attacked me, all I did was put a wall between us, but—”

“Say no more,” She says with a nod.

“Keith?” Lance yanks on his hand, Keith reluctantly turns his head to face him.

“I’ll explain, I promise I didn’t hurt her,” He says hastily. Lance simply nods.

“Please! Cease this needless attack!” Shay calls out against the sound of rocks and metal berating her wall. The attacks slow to a stop. “Please, do not let the violence that surrounds you force your hand,” She says, lowering her wall slowly. The Balmerans have come closer, but Shay holds her ground.

“You protect a fire bender? He, who burned my arm, and who set off these attacks? Do you know what all you are protecting, child?” The woman’s voice is hostile, and she does not back down from her stance of attack.

“I protect my friends. He did not set off any attacks, he is a good person,” Shay says calmly.

“Then how do you explain him setting off a bomb in your own district?” The woman challenges.

Keith feels the fire threatening to burst from his fingertips, but Lance’s cooling touch simmers him. “I didn’t set off the attacks, I was trying to protect myself and you attacked me,” He grits out.

“Filthy fire benders always lie,” One of the other Balmerans speaks, his doesn’t try to mask the disdain in his voice.

“Please, if we go around hurting people who we believe to be bad, how are we any different than those who hurt us?” Shay begs. No one speaks for a moment; the words sinking into the tension. The woman scoffs and shakes her head.

“You will escape this time, fire bending bastard,” She snarls and turns around.

The fire explodes in Keith’s hands, he moves to go after them. A confused whine gets caught in his throat when he’s drenched in freezing water, snuffing out his flames.

“You’ll be no better than her,” Lance whispers aggressively, turning Keith’s shoulders to face him. “Do you hear me?” He locks eyes with him, a wave of calm washes over him, leaving him more confused than anything.

“I hear you,” He says, shame heavy in his voice.

“Come on,” Shay says, nudging Keith’s back. “Let us go before we get into any more trouble.”

Keith nods and Lance latches onto his hand again as they hurriedly walk out of the district. Keith finds himself shivering. His wet clothes stick to his skin, making it hard to warm himself up. Lance shoots him an apologetic look, but he just shrugs. He deserved it.

Chapter Text

As they walk through the city Keith can’t shake the feeling of Lance’s pensive stare on his neck.

“What?” Keith asks, not turning to face him.

“You’re still bleeding,” Lance says softly.

“It’s nothing.”

“I’ll look at it once we get back to the warehouse,” He says defiantly.

“But—”

“No buts,” Lance says, squeezing his hand.

“Fine,” Keith sighs.

Just outside of the Balmera District seems to be part of different time. The chaos and destruction seem to be a thing of the past whereas the area they walk into is in perfect condition. People have flooded out of stores and apartments to witness the holographic screens that are apparently still visible. The sound is much quieter, but it drones on with the same message repeatedly. Instead of the still image from before, it shows images of the destruction caused.

They rush past the dumbfounded bystanders and make their way out of the city. Keith feels his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulls it out to see Shiro’s name, and slides to answer it immediately.

“Keith! Jesus Christ, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you guys, did you hear about what happened in the Balmera District?” His voice is far too rushed, it takes Keith a moment to process the words. “Oh my god, oh my god, you were there, weren’t you? Are you okay?” His voice reaches a whole new level of panic at Keith’s delayed response.

“Yes, we were there and yes we are fine, we’re coming back to the warehouse now,” Keith says, trusting Lance and Shay to guide him through the crowds.

Shiro sighs on the other end. “Where are you?”

“We’re about to reach the river, it shouldn’t take us long—”

“We’ve been watching the news, some of the buildings don’t look too great, people are speculating that Zarkon had something to do with it because of the message from the Empire,” Shiro says. “They might not be done, get here quick—and safely.”

“On our way,” Keith says and hangs up the call.

“Who was that?” Lance asks.

“Shiro, he’s worried they aren’t done attacking,” Keith sighs and shoves his phone into his pocket.

“We’re almost there,” Lance assures.

“Yeah, I know.”

They squeeze through the opening between two buildings that lead to the river. With the sun peeking out of the clouds, dark green grass has poked up from under the now dirty snow. The warehouse is in their sights after a few minutes. Keith dares to glance behind them; he can see dark smoke rising from the tops of the buildings. He must force himself to look away as anger settles in his stomach. It only forces him to walk faster.

“So, what happened back there, with that woman?” Lance asks.

Keith sucks in a breath. “She saw me go down from the blast of the bomb and had seen me redirect some of the flames. She pushed me down, hence my head, and tried to pelt me with her rocks. I threw up some flames to distract her, I guess she got burned in the process, but it wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“Oh,” Lance says quietly.

“There’s not much else to tell, it was an honest accident.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself,” Lance says, giving his hand a reassuring squeeze. “I believe you.” Keith nods jerkily, and they leave it at that.

They reach the warehouse within minutes, Shiro stands protectively outside of the doors, waiting for them. “Shay, I’m so glad you’re okay,” Shiro says as they walk up the ramp. Shay trails behind, and Shiro gives her a welcoming embrace.

“Thank you. The explosions did not reach my store,” Shay says. Shiro nods and they all enter the building. The sounds of the news playing echoes through the open space. Matt, Pidge, and Hunk all crowd around the television. Hunk perks up at the sight of Shay and rushes over to them.

He hugs her tightly. “Shay! How are you? Is everything alright?”

“Everything is fine, I am unharmed,” She says with a smile.

“Keith?” Shiro says, standing behind him.

“Huh?” Keith turns around, his face is twisted up with concern, staring intently at Keith’s neck.

“You’re—”

“I’m bleeding, I know, Lance has made me painfully aware,” Keith says, crossing his arms. Lance enters his line of sight again, holding a bright green first aid kit in his hands.

“Painfully aware of what?”

“That I’m bleeding.”

“Oh yeah,” Lance says with a sigh. “Some old—”

“—Building fell on top of me,” Keith bursts out.

“What?” Shiro and Lance ask in unison, Shiro’s jaw dropping to the floor.

Keith laughs uneasily. “Not actually, one of the bombs just went off near me, I fell.”

“You should let me take a look at it,” Shiro says sternly.

“No, Lance’s got it,” Keith says, giving Lance a harsh glare.

“Yeah Shiro, trust me, I’m a professional. Shay’s probably really shaken up right now, why don’t you go with the others and comfort her? I can take the problem child,” Lance covers smoothly.

“Are you sure?”

“Shiro, do you know how many siblings I have? I know how to take care of injured children,” Lance says, returning Keith’s glare. Keith rolls his eyes.

“Okay, let me know if you need anything,” Shiro says, glancing uneasily between the two. He pats Keith on the shoulder and he returns to the others.

“What was that about?” Lance whispers abrasively. They walk over to the corner of the room behind the television with a small work table wedged between the walls. The furthest from the group.

“I don’t know, I don’t want to tell Shiro it was about my bending, he gets weirdly protective about that kind of stuff,” Keith says in hushed voice.

Lance guides Keith to straddle the chair, and he pushes the other chair up close behind him to examine the wound. Keith hisses when he starts to move his hair out of the way. He whispers soft apologies, continuing his gentle exam.

“Okay, it’s not that bad,” Lance determines. He pulls his hands away for a moment, Keith rests his elbows on the back of the chair, tuning into the actions of the others. Matt and Pidge have hardly looked away from the television screen, and Shiro and Hunk continue to comfort Shay.

“I just need to clean it,” Lance trails off. Keith lurches forward when he touches the wound with a freezing cloth that stings.

“Lance you’re going to kill me.”

“I told you I need to clean it,” He says, rubbing gentle circles around his shoulders, coaxing him to lean back. “I’ll be as gentle as I can.”

Keith sighs, hesitantly leaning back. Lance tries again, Keith goes rigid at the freezing cloth that leaves a stinging pain in its wake. He stares ahead, focusing on the expressions of Matt and Pidge who have yet to leave their spots in front of the quiet television. They look perplexed, almost angry. Keith can only wonder what the news is saying, what lies they are using to cover up the tracks of the Empire.

“All done,” Lance says abruptly. Keith turns to face him and jumps at the sound of Lance breaking open an ice pack.

“Why do I need an ice pack?” Keith questions as Lance places a paper towel over it and shoves it into his hands.

“Just, use it, it’ll feel nice,”

“But it doesn’t hurt,” Keith protests.

“But I don’t care,” Lance grabs onto the back of Keith’s hand and pushes the ice pack to his head. Keith sighs, and Lance smiles triumphantly. Lance leans forward and brushes a brief kiss across Keith’s lips before pulling him up and leading him toward the rest of the group.

“How’s your head?” Shiro asks, looking up from the television.

“Just a scratch, like I said,” Keith replies, all the fuss over a small wound leaves a hint of irritation in his tone.

Keith plops down onto an open bean bag chair and Lance joins Hunk and Shay at the less cluttered table behind him. The television is channeled to the news station, it has a continuous loop of the breaking news at the bottom of the screen while two news anchors cover newer topics as they arise.

“…With the new developments over who is behind these attacks, and what their purpose is, Mayor Zarkon has some words for the public,” As the woman on the screen finishes, the video feed switches to Zarkon sitting in his office. Matt scrambles quickly for the remote to turn up the volume as he starts speaking.

“To the citizens of the public,” He begins, shuffling papers in front of him. “I would like to ask that you not fret over the attacks from the Empire, for as long as I have been in office, they have been quiet. These fools believe that since Alfor has died they can begin to act out again, which I will remind them that they are quite mistaken,” He folds his hands and rests them on the desk, his purple skin gleaming in the pink lights of his office. “I would ask that you, the public, allow me to cancel the re-elections, for with swift actions, the Balmera District is already on its way to being restored. I ask that instead we hold re-elections for a deputy mayor, together we can work in honor of Alfor, and together we will continue on a path towards greatness.”

Keith’s stomach twists when he speaks about Alfor. During the chaos he’d almost forgotten about the code and Alfor being alive. Panic pulls at the thoughts.

“More like, I’m telling the Empire to keep quiet until I want to win the re-elections,” Matt mocks, sitting back in his seat frustratedly.

Pidge rolls their eyes. “I just can’t believe people still believe a word he says.”

“They have no one else to believe,” Keith sighs, “They’re scared.”

“If everyone is so scared, why aren’t they doing anything about it?” Hunk says angrily behind him. Keith turns to face him, he looks at the ground, his fists are clenched. “Can’t people see that if Zarkon was such a great leader, he would be protecting us, not just cleaning up the mess once we’ve already been hurt.”

“Hunk, please—” Shay places her hand on Hunk’s arm, a gesture that doesn’t seem to reach him.

“Especially when they keep targeting the Balmera District, what is this? The fourth attack within the last week?” Keith can feel the frustration boiling in Hunk’s blood from where he sits.

“Hunk, buddy,” Lance’s voice is smooth, “Someone will do something, people will start connecting the dots sooner than later,” Hope dances in his voice, it trickles into Hunk’s words.

“And in the mean time? How am I supposed to be relaxed if they keep attacking the Balmera District, if they keep attacking Shay’s district?” Hunk’s voice softens, his features melt slowly.

“You do what you are doing now. You be my support, my rock, when things go wrong,” Shay says. “And help me clean up my shop and my home when it gets wrecked,” She says lightheartedly, a giggle on her lips.

“We have to focus on the things we can control,” Shiro chips in. “And none of you are going to get involved with this stuff, it’s far too dangerous,” He says sternly. There’s a beat before Lance snorts.

“Okay dad,” He says mockingly.

“Hey! I’m just putting it out there,” Shiro says defensively, his gaze flickers to Keith.

“Why are you looking at me?” Keith asks, his brows furrow with confusion.

“Plus, what would we even do? We’re too normal to get ourselves in trouble,” Pidge chortles. Keith’s stomach sinks, his code nagging persistently in his mind.

“Or just normal enough,” Shiro sighs. “Look, all I’m saying is maybe no more throwing ourselves in front of exploding buildings anymore, yeah?”

“I didn’t throw myself in front of anything,” Keith snaps, pulling the bloody ice pack off the back of his now unpleasantly numb wound.

“You know what I mean,” Shiro says defensively. A dense quiet surrounds them. Keith feels too hot with the pressure of everyone watching.

“Yeah, I do know what you mean, and a little faith would be nice.”

“Keith—”

Keith puts his hand up and gracelessly pushes himself out of the bean bag chair. “Don’t.” Lightheadedness crashes over him in an instant, he sways on his feet.

“Whoa okay, you hit your head pretty hard, maybe we should go home,” Lance says, quickly grabbing his arm from behind. “Are you all going to be alright here without us?” He asks jokingly, but no one laughs.

“Yeah, you sure you don’t want me to drive you back?” The irritation in Shiro’s voice forms into concern. He stands up and walks towards Keith.

Keith shakes his head, but the room in front of him seems to lag, he would have stumbled backwards if not for Lance’s iron hold on his arm.

“I think we’ll take you up on that offer,” Lance says. Keith huffs frustratedly.

“I’m fine,” Keith groans.

“Okay, well I want a ride, so you can walk back by yourself if that’s what you want,” Lance says, abruptly letting go of Keith’s arm. Keith takes a step forward, stumbling dangerously. He catches Lance’s arm for stability.

“Fine, fine, whatever, you win.”

A dull throbbing sensation spreads like a wildfire in his skull, opening space for a splitting headache. Lance allows Keith to readjust his grasp on his arm, and they allow Shiro to lead the way out. They mumble out their goodbyes to the rest of the group before walking out and into the cold. Keith had forgotten about his damp clothes until the cold air amplifies the feeling again, he mentally curses Lance for soaking his clothes. The sky has turned from grays and blues to burnt oranges and pinks cutting through the clouds. The air has taken on a new chill with the lack of sunlight.

They walk around to the front of the warehouse, Shiro’s black SUV, still covered in stubborn patches of snow, comes into view. Shiro unlocks it and gets into the front seat, Lance opens the back door and climbs through to the other side and Keith follows suit. Shiro is quick to turn on the ignition and start to pull away from the warehouse quicker than Keith or Lance can get themselves buckled.

“Gee Shiro, are we in a rush?” Lance asks, clicking his seatbelt into place.

“I guess not,” He says distantly, slowing to a stop at the end of the street. “Keith, what happened to your head?”

“I already told you, I got caught next to—”

“Yeah, sure, you got close to one of the explosions,” Shiro says, clearly frustrated. “Do explosions piss you off that much?”

“What are you talking about?” Keith asks, a sinking feeling settles in his stomach.

“I’m not stupid, I can tell when you’re hiding things from me.”

“I’m not hiding anything,” Keith says sitting back uneasily.

Shiro allows a few cars to whir by in front of him before making the turn out onto the main street. “Did you get into a fight?” Shiro asks, gritting his teeth.

Annoyance spikes down Keith’s spine. “I said I’m not hiding anything.”

“That wasn’t an answer.”

“Are you kidding me? I’ve—”

“Guys,” Lance shouts abruptly. “It’s been a long day; can we not do this right now?”

“We wouldn’t have to if—”

“Shiro, Keith was with me the whole time. It was just bad timing,” Lance pleads. No one responds. The rest of the short drive is lived in uncomfortable, heavy silence.

They arrive at Lance’s house within a few minutes. Shiro, rather aggressively, pulls in next to Lance’s car and puts it in park. The doors unlock, and Keith wastes no time getting out. He breathes in the freedom of the crisp sunset air. He walks up to the front door, Lance is taking his time talking to Shiro in the car. Lance opens his door, saying his thanks for the ride, and joins Keith on the steps. Shiro watches through the windshield with an apologetic look on his face, just long enough to see Lance get the door open.

“What did he say?” Keith asks.

“Hm? Oh, nothing. He just wanted to know if we could help him start packing tomorrow,” Lance says, kicking off his boots and beginning to shed off his layers.

“And you said?”

“I said yes, of course,” Lance says questioning. “He’s not really mad at you, he’s just worried.”

“That’s almost worse,” Keith says. He takes his boots off, setting them down next to the shoe rack and lays his jacket on top of it.

“Come on Keith, can you blame him?”

Keith sighs, anger still tingling in his veins. “I’m going to shower,” He says, without waiting for a response he walks upstairs, setting the useless ice pack on the counter on the way up.

Without so much as thinking about grabbing clean clothes, he storms into the bathroom. Shutting the door swiftly, he stops to lean against it for a moment, allowing his solitude to extinguish his irritation.

He walks leisurely to the mirror, taking in the sight of his disheveled self. His exposed skin is covered in smudges of dirt and dried blood on his shoulder that Lance had missed. He reaches curious fingers around the back of his head to inspect his wound, flinching at his initial touch. He pulls his hand back, relieved to see a lack of blood. He huffs, turning on his heels to twist the shower handle. Cold water sputters out of the shower head above him. He steps back, stripping his clothes off hastily, throwing them over the back of the toilet. He reaches one hand in; cold water meets his hot skin, steam seizing his arm. He exhales shakily, turning his hand over until the water reaches a desirable temperature, and he steps in.

He stares down as the water runs over his skin, taking layers of the dirt down the drain. For a moment, this is all he does. The hot water soothes his aching muscles. He can feel painful areas that, if not already, will certainly be bruised by morning. He tries not to think. He just stares down at his feet and he relaxes, until he can’t. Alfor crosses his mind, the conversation, the code. His head snaps up.

“O-N09,” He mutters slowly, his hoarse voice sounds foreign to him. He clears his throat, and whispers it again, wincing at the weight they carry. He sighs, this is stupid, he thinks. There was no way to tell if there was any truth to Alfor’s words, he could have been lying Keith sighs, the only way to tell if he was telling the truth would be to find the other four people with codes, however that would be impossible, given the scarce information he has. Anyone could have those codes.

He jumps at a soft knock on the door.

“Come in,” He says, his voice echoing off the wall.

“Are you alright?” Lance’s voice is small, timid.

“I’m fine,” Keith says, a certain bitterness to his tone.

“Listen, if this is about Shiro moving out, I—”

“It’s not,” Keith softens, leaning up against the wall. “I’m sorry, I’m okay I promise.” There’s silence, then shuffling. The shower curtain is pulled back, and suddenly Lance stands in front of him, stripped of his clothing and completely unharmed. Keith straightens up, crossing his arms, attempting to feel less naked.

“Keith,” Lance says, with finality. “Are you alright?” He asks again. It takes everything out of Keith to jump out of the shower.

“I’m good,” He replies. He won’t give up unless I give him something, he thinks stubbornly. “The uh—” He averts his gaze. “The Balmeran lady, shook me up.”

“Oh,” Lance says, so much sympathy creeping into the one word makes Keith’s stomach turn. While it wasn’t exactly a lie, it wasn’t what was truly bothering him. “It was just one lady,” He tries, a small smile tugs at his lips. “I think fire bending makes you hot,” He raises his eyebrows.

“Haha, very funny,” Keith rolls his eyes. Lance laughs at his own joke, Keith can feel his persistent irritation fade.

“I know I’m hilarious, don’t thank me, I’ll be here all night.”

“Wasn’t going to thank you.”

“I’m wounded,” Lance places his hand over his heart dramatically. “And freezing, let me under the water,” He gently forces Keith out of the way, seeking the warmth.

“How am I supposed to get all this dirt off of me if you’re hogging all the water?”

Lance shrugs. “You were in here long enough, you had your chance,”

Keith scoffs. “You’re insufferable.”

“I’m aware,” Lance says, grabbing his shampoo. Lance’s eyes dip down to Keith’s chest, his eyes narrow.

“What?” Keith asks, looking down.

“Those explosions really beat you up,” Lance says, voice quieting. His hand comes into Keith’s view, fingertips ghosting along Keith’s shoulder over light bruises, just beneath the surface.

“I’m fine, could’ve been worse.”

“I guess,” Lance sighs, and returns to washing his hair. He’s quick to finish, allowing Keith to return under the water. Lance steps out of the shower, humming as he begins the rest of his routine. Keith’s skin turns red from his insistent scrubbing, or from the water being far too hot. He turns the handle to a colder temperature and grabs a bottle of Lance’s shampoo, inspecting it. He shrugs and washes his hair with it quickly.

He shuts the water off and stares at the white wall in front of him. He flicks the dripping water from his hands. He steps out to see Lance already dressed, his wet hair pinned back, covering his face in a light green paste. He glances up in the fogged mirror, looking at Keith, and points over to the toilet where a pile of neatly folded clothes sit atop a towel.

“Oh, thanks,” He mumbles, grabbing the towel. He dries all the water off his body and roughly shimmies the towel through his hair. He examines the clothes; a pair of boxers, pajama pants, and one of his baggier t-shirts. He slips them on without protest and plops down on the closed toilet, his exhaustion consuming him all at once. He reaches behind him, digging into his jacket pocket to retrieve his phone. An abundance of texts show up in the group chat made between Hunk, Pidge, Shiro, Lance, and himself. He swipes them away, instead favoring to look at the stream of news stories that show up. However, all of it ends up being a repeat of the news he already heard.

“Anything interesting?” Lance asks, leaning up against the sink.

“Nothing new,” Keith says, scrolling mindlessly down the list.

“I guess that’s good?” Lance says, reaching behind Keith to push his dirty clothes off the back of the toilet and grabbing a wash cloth from the basket that lies beneath. Keith grabs onto his dirty clothes, holding them in his lap.

“It looks like the Balmera Sector is nearly cleared up again though.”

Lance whistles lowly, wiping his face mask off. “That was fast.” Keith nods.

“Are you almost done?” Keith asks abruptly. Lance glares at him, still wiping off the remnants of his face mask.

“How many times have I told you I can’t rush my process?” He asks offendedly.

Keith groans. “Alright, I’m going to lay down, I’m exhausted.”

“You can’t even wait for me?” Lance whines. Keith gets up, carrying his dirty clothes with him.

“I can’t rush your process,” Keith mocks and walks out the door. He walks across the hall and into their room, dimly lit by the light from the bathroom. He throws his clothes down next to the door and crawls into the bed. The sheets are cool against his warm skin. He holds his phone in front of him, flinching at the brightness, and clicks on the continuously updating group chat. At this point, it’s a conversation between Pidge and Hunk, Keith is in the middle of skimming the conversation when his eyes begin to droop.

“Hey,” Lance’s voice is like velvet. Keith flinches awake, not sure when his eyes fully shut.

“Hm?” He curls in on himself, squeezing his eyes shut. He feels his phone slip from his fingertips, he weakly grabs for the it, but his grip is replaced with Lance’s cold hand. He sighs and presses it against his cheek, he can feel Lance settle down in front of him. He opens his eyes a crack, meeting ocean blue.

“Good night,” Lance mumbles, a fond smile at the corners of his mouth. Keith hums in response and allows himself to drift seamlessly back into a comfortable sleep.

Keith’s eyes snap open as soon as they close, Lance’s back is to him now, and much farther away than before. Keith scoots closer to his figure, reaching his hand out to settle on his exposed skin. Keith frowns. Lance’s arm is impossibly ice cold.

“Lance?” He says, but his voice is distant. Lance doesn’t stir. Keith props himself up on his elbow and allows the soft orange glow of his hand illuminate the space between them. However, he can feel

Lance jolt awake.

“Stop,” Lance’s voice is harsh, “You’re hurting me.”

“What?” Keith recoils, but Lance doesn’t give him the chance to pull his hand away before it’s covered in ice. Impenetrable, painful, ice.

“You’re hurting me,” He turns to face Keith, his eyes are full of hatred.

“I—I’m sorry,” Keith cowers back, clutching his icy hand to his chest. He tries to generate the heat once again to melt it, but instead the ice just spreads up his arm. “What are you doing?” He cries out.

“You hurt me,” Lance snarls. Keith watches as burns begin to appear all over his body. Massive, disgusting burns. The ice continues to spread, the pain spreads with it. Lance shoots his hand out, aiming at Keith’s throat. Keith acts quick, pushing his hand out of the way and rolling off the bed. “Coward,” Lance laughs. Keith picks himself up with a groan, and Lance is already standing in front of him. Keith blanches at the sight of Lance’s marred skin.

“I’m so sorry,” He whispers. Lance’s disgustingly burned lips curl into a smile.

“I know,” He reaches his hand out again, this time he taps Keith’s chest. Keith feels the cold carve its way through to his heart, leaving an aching hole. Keith goes still, and with another tap Lance sends him plummeting toward the floor. He doesn’t feel the impact, instead a sickening feeling washes over him as he descends through the floorboard, the scene in front of him dissolving into a city street where he stands completely alone.

“Lance?” He breathes out. His heart is beating rapidly, and each beat leaves him feeling weak. He looks down, searching for the ice that coated his skin. To his relief it disappeared with the rest of the disturbing images.

“Keith,” Alfor’s voice rings out across the empty area. Keith whips around to see him standing a few feet away from him, he wears the same clothes from their encounter earlier, there’s a murderous intent in his eyes.

“Alfor? What—”

“You’re going to fail,” He shouts angrily.

“Fail?” Keith asks, his voice is small. Alfor advances quickly, panic creeps up Keith’s throat and he backs up, only to be stopped by an invisible force.

“You’re going to fail, and the entire city will fall to Zarkon, because of you!” He roars.

“I haven’t told anyone, I told you I wouldn’t tell,” Keith counters.

“What is your code?” Alfor growls, hands seizing the collar of his shirt.

“What? Why?” Keith reaches up, latching onto Alfor’s hands.

“The code I gave you. Don’t tell me you already forgot it,” He pulls Keith forward with minimal effort, just to slam him back into whatever wall is behind him. “Tell me your code.”

“It’s—” Keith stops, he looks Alfor in the eyes, something is wrong. The threat he made against Lance flashes in his mind. “You told me not to tell anyone,” He says, steeling himself.

“It’s just me,” Alfor says, his voice shifting to something sweet.

“You told me…” His voice trails off, his body feels weaker, tired.

“Keith, wake up and tell me your code,” Alfor shouts, he raises his hand and it comes crashing down on his face.

Keith’s eyes shoot open, his breath comes out short, his chest is tight. He lies on his back, staring up at the glowing stars on the ceiling. He flexes his tingling fingers and sits up, glancing over at Lance who is sound asleep, lying sprawled out on his stomach. Without hesitation, Keith reaches over and places a hand on Lance’s back, his warm back. Keith’s breathing eases
momentarily, he pulls his knees up to his chest and rubs his eyes with the palms of his hands.

He glances at his side table; his phone is placed right next to the lamp. He picks it up, reading that the time is three in the morning. He sighs frustratedly, his body feels too jittery now to fall back asleep. So instead, he stares at the wall in front of him, mulling over the events of his dream. He winces at the memory of Lance’s burned skin, he hesitantly looks back down at him. He’s fine, Keith reminds himself.

He sighs, grabbing his phone again. The time has barely moved. He pushes himself out of bed, warm feet hitting the delightfully cold floor. He tries to avoid all the familiar creaks in the floor, so as not to wake Lance, and makes his way out of the dark room and into the hallway where he feels safe enough to turn on his flash light on his phone. He walks down the stairs and into the kitchen. The light of the moon bathes the kitchen in a blue hue. Keith turns off his flash light and flicks on the dim light above the sink and starts to make a pot of coffee.

He slumps into a chair at the island and unlocks his phone. He begins carelessly scrolling through the news, just as quickly as it all happened, the events from the past day are already weeding themselves out of the feed, waiting to be replaced by a new catastrophic event.

Just as the strong scent of coffee begins to waft its way through the kitchen, Keith opens an article on the new details on Alfor’s death. He skims the article, curious to know just how Zarkon is covering the whole situation up. It seems that the only thing he is doing is not revealing any details at all. The article is so vague that it makes Keith more frustrated than anything. It seems that no one knows about the false identity of the body or have even the slightest clue about Alfor being alive.

He scans the article again, and then again, and then one more time. They say he was shot in the head, that Keith already knew, but this article also claims that one of his body guards was also killed in the same fashion. Neither of the bodies were shown, Zarkon claimed it was out of respect for the families.

Keith goes to a new article with the same topic, it says almost the exact thing word for word. He rereads it a few times, and then goes to a new article. After reading the sixth article with the same wording and details of the event, Keith groans. It’s clear that Zarkon is filtering the media. He stops for a moment, and then switches to looking up articles just about Zarkon. He’s curious to know if there is any news about the machine that they were building.

He scrolls for what feels like hours before coming across an article that mentions a machine from over a year ago. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t give much detail on what the machine is, or its purpose, but it briefly mentions the use of a substance called quintessence. Keith stares at the article, shocked. Alfor explained that the machines purpose was to manipulate bending, but the use of quintessence is unnerving. Quintessence is simply raw energy and tampering with it has proven to be extremely dangerous. Any documented attempt of tampering with large quantities of quintessence have ended in multiple casualties.

The amount of quintessence that a person has is completely case by case. There are safe ways to mess with it, but without an extremely talented quintessence bender, it’s nearly impossible. From what Keith has learned, there is a limit to how much and how little quintessence a person can hold. Overloading a person with quintessence can lead to quintessence poisoning. The body thinks the excess is something akin bacteria, and it begins to attack itself. Removing too much, however, can kill them.

A pit forms in his stomach. This means that they must have a phenomenally powerful quintessence bender working with them. Quintessence bending is something rare to come by. Those who have the ability usually never get past the phase of experimenting with small amounts. If what Alfor described the machine to be is true, then this would mean someone can manipulate large quantities of quintessence.

He understands now why Alfor was so desperate to stop the process. Alfor said that Zarkon can now use any kind of bending, this most likely means his quintessence levels have exceeded their normal levels. Zarkon should be dead from quintessence poisoning by now, but instead, he’s quite clearly alive with an impossible amount of quintessence and incredible power flowing through him.

Keith leans forward, rubbing his temples. His head is spinning, and quite suddenly he’s exhausted.

“Coffee?” Keith jumps, scanning the room for Lance’s groggy voice. He spots him at the top of the stairs, clutching onto a throw blanket in the darkness.

“Coffee?” He questions. Lance begins lazily down the stairs.

“You made coffee?”

“Oh,” Keith glances at the coffee pot, completely forgetting he had put it on to begin with. “Yeah, coffee.”

“Keith,” He reaches the bottom of the stairs on heavy feet, staring intently at the clock. “It’s four in the morning.”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“So, you made coffee?”

“I figured I might as well just stay up.”

“That’s a horrible idea,” Lance groans and plops down into the chair next to him, leaning heavily up against his shoulder. Keith chuckles.

“Sorry, I didn’t think I’d wake you,” Keith says.

Lance sighs, “Nightmare?” Keith hums in response. “Wanna talk about it?” Lance asks, repositioning to wrap the blanket around his shoulders.

“Not really,” Keith mumbles. Lance nods sleepily. “Why don’t you go lay down on the couch?”

“Come with me?” Lance pleads. Keith looks at him, his eyes are tired, barely open.

“What? Lance, I just told you I can’t sleep,” Keith laughs.

“You don’t have to sleep just because you’re on the couch,” Lance challenges tiredly.

Keith looks down at his darkened phone, “Okay, yeah you’re right. Come on,” Lance straightens up a little bit and pushes his chair back. He walks behind Keith’s chair, tugging on Keith’s arm along the way. Keith grabs his phone and follows Lance, giving the coffee pot a longing look. Lance drops down on the couch, pulling Keith down with him. Lance wastes no time trapping Keith with his legs and wrapping his blanket covered arm around his stomach. Keith smiles, settling down.

Keith feels Lance fall back asleep quickly. He stares at the blank television, allowing his eyes to close. Just as he starts to drift off, he feels his phone buzz in his hand. He brings his phone up to his face, a text from Pidge flashes across the screen.

‘Pidgeon: ARE YOU AWAKE’

‘Keith: yeah whats up’

‘Pidgeon: I THINK MATT AND SHIRO ARE MOVING OUT’

He stares at the text, confused.

‘Keith: what’

‘Pidgeon: MATT SHIRO MOVING OUT’

‘Keith: shiro hasnt moved in yet’

‘Pidgeon: KEITH I THOUGHT YOU WERE SMART’

Keith scoffs quietly, he starts typing back, but Pidge’s text comes in first.

‘Pidgeon: CAN U CALL’

‘Keith: lance is asleep and im stuck on the couch’

‘Pidgeon: YOURE IMPOSIBLE’

‘Keith: can you just uhhh text me’

‘Pidgeon: MATT AND SHIRO HAVE BEEN LOOKING AT TOWNHOUSE LISTINGS AND THERS ONE CIRLCED ON THE TBLE’

‘Keith: i thought shiro was moving with yall’

‘Pidgeon: THAST WY IM TELLIGN YOU’

‘Keith: wheres the listing for’

‘Pidgeon: A COUPLE BLOCKS AWAY FROM YOUR PLACE’

‘Keith: have they talked to you about it’

‘Pidgeon: NO BUT THERE IS A TOWNHOUSE CIRCLED YOU DONT CIRCLE THINGS FOR NO REASON KEITH’

‘Keith: okay ill talk to shiro abt it tmrw go to sleep idiot’

‘Pidgeon: CANT SLEEP WORKIGN ON SHIROS ARM’

‘Keith: ok im going to seelp let me know if you need me to answer weird science questions i dont know about’

Keith grunts and sets his phone face down on the coffee table.

“Who was that?” Lance asks quietly.

“Pidge. Did I wake you again?”

“Nope. Why’s Pidge up?”

“Working on Shiro’s arm,” Keith says.

“Science questions?”

“No, apparently Shiro and Matt have been looking for places,” Keith says quietly.

“I thought Shiro was moving into their house?”

“Not sure, apparently there’s a listing circled somewhere?” Keith shrugs.

“Huh, where is it?”

“Apparently a couple blocks away from my place,” Keith says. “I’m not sure, I’ll talk about it with Shiro tomorrow.”

“Man, this sucks,” Lance sighs.

“What?”

“That means we have to move Shiro and Matt’s stuff out. That’s twice the moving. I’m tired already,” Lance whines.

“Yeah, you’re also tired because it’s 4:30 in the morning,” Keith laughs quietly.

“You’re right. I wish you were tired too, it would make it so much easier to sleep.”

“Too much on my mind,” Keith sighs.

“I know, I can hear your thoughts running,” Lance kisses the back of Keith’s head, careful to avoid his wound. “Tell them to stop.” Keith snorts.

“Okay, I will. Go back to sleep,” Lance hums softly, Keith closes his eyes and he follows Lance’s horrible advice. He finds himself drifting off into a fitful sleep, lacking nightmares.

---

Keith flinches at the sun peeking through the window. He smacks his hand over his eyes and groans. He stretches, rolling over, only to stop when he hears a grunt from behind him.

“You’re squishing me,” Lance whines pathetically.

“Sorry,” Keith sits up, swinging his legs over the side of the couch. He stretches, wincing as his movements exposing aches and pains from the day before.

“You good?” Lance asks, propping himself up.

“Yeah just really sore, nothing I can't handle,” He looks back at Lance and shoots him a reassuring smile. He stands up on throbbing calves and makes his way over to his now cold pot of coffee.

“How's your head?” Lance asks, sitting up fully.

“It's fine,” Keith says despite the mild headache he has. He can pin that on his horrible sleep. “Want some coffee?” He asks, reaching up to the cabinet stocked full of far too many mugs.

“I can get it,” Lance says, getting up from his spot, still clutching onto the fuzzy throw blanket around his shoulders.

“I got it,” Keith protests, grabbing down two big mugs.

“Can you heat mine up, please?” He asks, sitting down at the island.

“On it,” Keith says with a nod.

He pours coffee into both cups, fill his to the brim and leaving plenty of space in Lance’s for an absurd amount of cream and sugar. He quickly heats it up between his hands and places it in front of
Lance. “Careful, it's hot.”

Lance smiles affectionately. “Thanks,” He says taking the cup into his hands.

Keith nods, grabbing his mug that's cool to the touch. He takes a sip of the bitter coffee, wincing at the taste.

“So, Shiro and Matt are looking at a townhouse?” Lance asks.

“That's what Pidge says at least.”

“Just making sure I didn't dream that,” Lance mutters, taking a sip of his coffee.

“No,” Keith takes another drink of his coffee, the initial shock of its bitterness has worn off a little. “We should head over soon,” Keith suggests.

“Yeah, whenever you want, just let me get dressed,” Lance says. He gets up from his spot and walks up the stairs.

“Can you bring me down some clothes?” Keith calls up.

“Yeah, what do you want?” Lance responds.

“I don't care, just make me look nice.”

“Yeah like that's gonna happen,” Lance says teasingly from the top of the steps.

“Hey! Watch it, I have your coffee hostage here,” Keith challenges.

Keith grabs two travel mugs from the cabinet and carefully transfers both liquids into them. Lance returns wearing a blue flannel over a t-shirt that Keith clearly recognizes as his own.

“Here,” Lance says, passing off the clothes draped over his arm.

Keith murmurs his thanks and makes his way to the bathroom just beyond the stairs. He changes into an outfit that closely resembles Lance's; a red flannel with a black shirt and black pants. He laughs softly, tying the flannel around his waist and exits the bathroom.

“Really?” Keith says, gesturing to his clothes.

“What?” Lance asks, looking up from his phone. “Oh, my bad,” He laughs. “It's okay, you look nice.”

“Sure,” Keith deadpans. “You ready?” He asks. Lance nods and grabs their coffees. He sets them down next to the door and they both put on their shoes.

“Got the keys?” Lance asks, slipping on his jacket. Keith snatches them off the hook mounted next to the door and jingles them for good measure. They walk out the door, Lance makes a disapproving sound at the cold and rushes past Keith to the car.

“Unlock it!” He shouts, tugging on the handle insistently. Keith clicks the button to unlock the car and Lance jumps in, slamming the door behind him. Keith locks the door to the house and goes to the car, getting into the driver seat.

“Turn it on, it’s freezing,” Lance pleads rubbing his arms and bouncing his legs. Keith turns the key quickly, the engine spurs to life. Lance is quick to crank up the heat while Keith starts to back out of the driveway.

It takes the heat about half the drive to start warming up, something that Lance takes considerable notice to. The city is surprisingly calm. They manage to get to Keith’s apartment without any discrepancies. They roll up to an open apartment complex to see Shiro’s car is parallel parked outside of the building. Keith maneuvers smoothly into the empty spot behind it and puts it in park. He reaches up for the keys, but Lance grabs his hand along the way.

“I don’t want to go,” Lance says.

“What?” Keith laughs.

“It’s so cold, I’ll die,” He pouts. Keith rolls his eyes and pulls his hand from Lance’s grasp. He turns the key and pulls it out of the ignition.

“Come on, it’ll be warmer inside.”

“Are you kidding? Your apartment is always cold,” Lance grumbles, reaching for the handle. They both exit the car, luckily Keith and Shiro live on the first floor in the building closest to the street. Lance rushes to the door and begins knocking furiously. Keith makes it around to the door and unlocks it. Matt opens the door, yanking the handle from Keith’s grasp.

“Oh, sorry. Hey,” Matt greets, moving out of the way for Lance to barge in. Keith notices that Matt is wearing a sweatshirt with a jacket laid over top, which either means he just arrived, or it’s just that cold in the apartment.

“Hey! Glad you guys made it. How are you feeling Keith?” Shiro asks, walking out of his room carrying a rather heavy looking box.

“I’m fine, just needed some sleep,” Keith replies, taking off his boots.

“You hardly slept,” Lance says disapprovingly.

“Why’d you hardly sleep?” Shiro questions.

“Couldn’t sleep. I slept longer than you think, Lance,” Keith replies.

“Sure you did,” Lance says. He stops suddenly, “Oh man.”

“What?” Matt asks.

“We forgot our coffee in the car,” Lance says exasperatedly.

“Here,” Keith starts, tossing him the keys. “Go get it.” Lance flinches and grabs them out of the air quickly.

“Keith, it’s so cold, can’t you go get it?” Lance asks, tossing them back. Keith catches them and throws them back.

“I don’t want to.”

The keys fly back. “Well I sure don’t want to,”

“Lance, it’s not that far away,” Keith challenges, raising his eyebrows. He flings them back, this time however, a short breeze surges through the air, catching the keys at their peak. Keith turns to see Shiro’s fingers outstretched, aimed at the keys. There's a disapproving glint in his eye.

“I’ll go get your coffees,” Matt says, snatching the keys out of the air.

“Thanks Matt, you’re a lifesaver,” Lance says.

“Not a problem,” Matt replies, walking out the door.

“You two are unbelievable,” Shiro chuckles.

“That’s why we have Matt here,” Lance laughs, sitting down on the couch. Matt reenters within minutes carrying their coffees.

“Here you go,” He hands them their respective mugs.

“Thanks,” Keith says, taking a sip of his. “So, what’s on the agenda today?”

“Well, Hunk and Pidge should be over a little later,” Shiro says, picking up a notepad that lies on the back of a chair. “I figure that you and I can start sorting through things in the front, and Lance and Matt can box things up as we go. I’ve already started in the kitchen, if we just want to continue in there,” He finishes, gesturing toward the kitchen area. Keith glances around, there are boxes piled up on the counters of the kitchen trailing out around the table that sits just a few feet away.

“I didn’t realize you had so much stuff,” Keith says, he’s honestly impressed. His own room is bare, he’d never realized how much Shiro really made this place feel like home.

“Yeah, I hardly did either. There are some things here that I’ll most likely come back with, or end up leaving,” Shiro says, mindlessly playing with the corner of a box. Keith moves into the kitchen area, stepping over precariously placed boxes.

“I’m sure you could take most of it,” Keith says quietly. “Just leave me with some plates, I should be fine.”

“I’m not going to just leave you with plates,” Shiro says, rolling his eyes. “I probably won’t be needing a lot of it anyway because—” He stops, Keith looks over to him. Shiro looks back at Matt who nods encouragingly. “Matt and I actually found a nice townhouse of our own,” He says with a wary smile.

“Oh, that’s cool,” Keith says, he internally winces at his own lack of emotion.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Shiro says confused. “I thought you would be more surprised?”

“Sorry,” Keith laughs. “I’d be more surprised, but Pidge told me about it last night.”

“Oh, we left the paper out on the coffee table, didn’t we?” Matt says with a sigh.

“So, anyway we have to figure out what Matt is bringing and what I’m going to be bringing, it’s going to be a lot of back and forth,” Shiro rushes out.

“Okay, we got you, just tell us what to move,” Lance says, standing up.

“Well the boxes on the table are done, so if you and Matt would take them out to the—”

Shiro,” Lance cries. “We just went over the fact that it is downright freezing outside, and you’re going to make me go outside?”

“Go into my room and grab a sweatshirt,” Keith suggests. Lance opens his mouth to argue but he stops, sighing. He walks back to Keith’s room and comes back out wearing two sweatshirts and has placed his green jacket back over top of them.

“Okay, let’s do this,” He says, grabbing a large box from the table. Matt grabs a box as well and they walk out of the room.

Keith and Shiro stand in the kitchen in silence for a few moments, looking over the organized chaos. Keith starts to open cabinets, most of them are rather bare, nothing but a couple of cups and plates left.

“Look, like I said we just need to sort through some stuff—”

“Shiro, it’s not going to happen overnight,” Keith says with a sigh.

“I know, I just hoped we could get most of it done today. We still have to go sign for the new place, we’re not even sure if we have it or not yet, there’s still so much to do—”

“Jesus, Shiro calm down for a second,” Keith says, holding his hands up in front of him. “Even if you did take all this stuff, it doesn’t bother me. Lance wants to help me redecorate things anyway and it’s not like I have company often. It’s going to just be me here, so take what you want. Most of it is yours anyway.”

Lance and Matt rush back in and grab more boxes before disappearing again.

“Is this bothering you?” Shiro asks abruptly.

“Is what bothering me?” Keith asks, he feels his guard strengthen instantly. He’s too warm.

“Me moving out,” He says bluntly. He stands with his arms crossed, avoiding eye contact as best as he can.

“Shiro, I’m 19. You don’t have to baby me anymore and I’m not going to make you stay here,” Keith says bluntly. “It was just a shock at first—” Lance swiftly enters and exits the room again, a cold draft following him, “I’m good now, I’m off worrying about other stuff now. Plus, it isn’t like we won’t see each other again, we’ll be close.”

“I know,” Shiro scoffs. “I know, I’m just used to being here for you,” He says softly.

“You’re still here, just living with a different person,” Keith laughs. “And it’s not like I’m kicking you out, you’ll still have your room here.”

“I know,” Shiro says defeatedly. “Jesus, look how the tables have turned,” He grabs a box from the floor, making a face at the clinking of glass inside.

“What do you mean?” Keith asks. Shiro sets the box down on the counter and motions for the bubble wrap sitting beside Keith’s elbow.

“Just that you were upset last night, and now look at me,” Keith hands him the bubble wrap and Shiro neatly tucks it between the glass cups sitting inside. Keith goes quiet, unsure of what to say. He looks over at the table that still has two boxes waiting to be loaded.

“I’m going to grab the last two boxes for them, they’re probably freezing,” Keith mumbles. Shiro doesn’t protest, he just silently continues to carefully pack the box. He lifts one box that is rather light and nestles it between his arm and his hip, he lifts the second box up with a little less grace. Lance and Matt walk back inside, visibly shivering.

“Oh, so now you decide to help,” Lance says, grabbing the underneath of the box to stabilize it.

“Yeah, I just wanted to see you suffer first,” Keith replies, forcing a mischievous smile.

“Here, let me just get this one,” Lance offers, relieving him of the second box. He leads the way out the door and to the car. “You guys okay?” He asks. The trunk of Shiro’s car has been left open, the spacious trunk has been filled with a Tetris style of cardboard boxes.

Keith stares at the boxes, he didn’t realize Lance had spoken until he nudges his arm.

“What?” He asks, nearly dropping his box. Lance scoops the box out of his arms and sets it alongside the others in the trunk.

“I asked if you guys were okay,” Lance restates.

“Yeah, why?”

“I just heard you talking,” He shrugs. “Thin walls. Why do you think we never—”

Lance,” Keith hisses.

Lance laughs. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, no we’re fine,” Keith says, rubbing his eyes. “It’s Shiro’s turn to be upset, I just don’t know how to help,” Lance rests his hand on Keith’s shoulder, his distress wavers. “Let’s just go back in,” Keith proposes.

“Gladly,” Lance says, eagerly grabbing his hand. They reenter the apartment to see Shiro and Matt sitting at the table, huddled around Matt’s phone.

Chapter Text

“Hey, I thought you were supposed to be packing,” Lance says upon finding Shiro and Matt sitting at the table.

“We are,” Matt mutters, scrolling absentmindedly through his phone. Shiro sits close, running his eyes over the contents of the screen.

Lance scoffs and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, sure you are,” He says. Once his shoes were off, he joins Keith who had already started wrapping stray dishes in bubble wrap.

“Shiro I’m just gonna wrap this stuff up, I hope you didn’t have a system,” Keith says, setting some wrapped cups into a half-filled box.

“Go ahead,” Shiro says with a shrug.

“Are you keeping any of this stuff?” Lance asks, peering over Keith’s shoulder to see bare cabinets.

“Uh, no,” Keith says with a laugh. “Shiro needs it all more than me.”

“We can get you some new things,” Lance says reassuringly.

“I figured,” Keith says.

Lance simply leans against the counter on the opposite wall and plays on his phone as Keith finishes wrapping the straggling dishes.

“Oh, Hunk got me out of my shift tomorrow, by the way,” Keith adds, and Lance perks up. “So, we can—”

“Oh my god, we can go to the Lights Festival,” Lance exclaims rather loudly.

“Did Hunk get your shifts covered?” Shiro asks from the table.

“Yeah, he said that he can handle it with his mom,” Keith says, followed by the screeching sound of packing tape.

“We should have a double date,” Lance says excitedly.

“Are you kidding? Matt and I are going to end up on patrol the entire night,” Shiro says, exhaustion already on his tongue.

“You don’t think that you can get off for the one night?” Lance asks, fully knowing the answer to that question.

“Not a chance,” He sighs. “With tensions running so high right now the Lights Festival would be the perfect time for everything to finally snap, they’ll want as many cops out there as possible.”

Lance huffs. Of course Shiro is right. He knows that they are at least lucky enough to have a couple days off before an event the size of the Lights Festival. With events of all sizes taking place across the entire city, there’s plenty of distraction available for anyone to get away with anything.

When Lance was a kid his parents would take him every year, but since he started working at Hunk’s family’s diner, he usually offers to work so Hunk and his family could enjoy the event. However, after catching word from Shiro that Keith has never been, he has made it his mission to take him, and now he is finally getting the chance.

“It’s fine though, at least we won’t be stuck in the office,” Matt says optimistically.

“You’re right,” Shiro says. “I just hope that the night goes smoothly,” He sighs. Lance simply nods in agreement. The last thing he needs is for the Lights Festival to be ruined for him.

“Alright well,” Lance begins, turning his attention back to Keith who is finishing up taping his last box, “Then it looks like it’s just us,” He says, excitement creeping into his voice.

“Sounds like a plan,” Keith agrees. Lance smiles, looking back down at his phone with the intention of sending Hunk a message of a million thanks, but instead he gets distracted by a message from an unknown number. His heart sinks before he even opens it, the thought of Alfor and his code quickly replacing any thoughts he previously had. He shifts uncomfortably and opens the message that simply says, ‘come outside’. Lance sucks in a breath hovering over the message. He answers the message with shaky hands, asking who the person is. Within seconds he receives a message that simply says ‘now’.

He clears his throat and jams his phone into his pocket. “Hey Keith, can I have the keys?” He asks. Keith gives him a funny look, “My phone’s dying and I need the charger,”

“I have a charger in my—”

“Yeah, my phone has been pretty finicky lately and it charges faster on the one I have in the car,” He says quickly. He can feel his phone buzzing in his back pocket, an irritating reminder. Keith shrugs and hands him the keys. Lance wastes no time putting on his jacket and heading outside. He looks up and down the hall, anticipating Alfor’s face at either end. He sighs, breath turning into a fog, and turns to the car. But before he can take a step, he hears footsteps rapidly approaching him. He doesn’t get the chance to whirl around before he can feel something solid press into the small of his back.

“Let’s walk,” A voice that is all too familiar hisses into Lance’s ear. He stiffens instantly, turning his head to see none other than his older brother, Luis, and most definitely not Alfor. “I just need to talk, let’s go,” He says, pushing Lance forward with what he can only assume is a gun. Lance walks, wincing as they pass a window. “To the left.” Luis says lowly. Lance nods, once they are out on the street he maneuvers to the left.

“Can I just ask—”

“Preferably not—”

“—Why are you holding a gun against my back?” Lance snaps under his breath.

“You wouldn’t talk to me otherwise, would you?” Luis snaps back. Instead of retorting, Lance bites his cheek in hope that his irritation will dissipate. “Over here,” Luis says after a while of walking, he gestures to a small, beat up, black car that sits on the side of the road. Luis guides Lance over to the car and opens the passenger side door. He pockets the gun quickly, and Lance reluctantly gets in. Only once the door is slammed shut does he realize how sweaty his palms are and just how fast his heart is pounding. He breathes deeply, steeling himself. He’s been here before, Luis wouldn’t hurt him.

Luis gets into the driver’s seat, and it’s then that Lance sees from behind him that there is another person who shifts into the middle seat in the back. With the windows being so darkly tinted, he didn’t notice from the outside. He hastily presses himself as close to the door as possible and shifts to where he can see Luis and the heavily tattooed Balmeran who sits with his legs cramped up behind him. He spots a laptop occupying the space next to him, a map is pulled up with a red dot that pulses right in the location they seem to be in. Lance can only assume that this is how Luis figured out where he was.

“How are you doing?” Luis asks, something about his tone sounds genuinely curious, but he can’t trust it.

“Why do you care?” Lance snaps.

“I just want to know how you are,” He presses. “I know it’s been a while.”

“I’m fine,” Lance says irritably.

“So, you’re still dating that fire bender, huh?”

“What the hell do you want?” Lance asks, his hand poised perfectly close to the door handle. This is something that Luis takes notice of and makes a point to hit the lock.

“I’m just catching up with my little brother, making sure you aren’t making bad decisions,” Luis says, lips curling up into a devious smile. “So, fire bender?” Lance looks Luis up and down, noticing fresh bruises, and new scars that have appeared on his tan skin since the last time they met.

“You’re really going to talk to me about bad decisions?” Asks Lance. “And what’s up with the audience member?”

“Oh, so you are still dating the little bitch,” Luis says in mock surprise. Anger quickly boils up in Lance and he nearly lunges forward. “I bet Mama is so proud.”

In a flash, Lance creates a rather large, and sharp, icicle from the open water bottle that sits in the cupholder between them and aims it directly at Luis.

“As someone who decided to abandon his family so he could go off and join a gang, I would choose my words much more carefully,”

Luis eyes the icicle warily but hardens his gaze at Lance. “At least I have the balls to stay loyal to my gang, unlike your good for nothing boyfriend,” Luis says, his smile widening at Lance’s increasing anger. “Maybe that should give you a bit of insight on how loyal he is, huh?”

Lance clenches his fists and redirects the icicle to collide with the radio. The sound of electricity crackles and the Balmeran grunts from the back seat, but Lance and Luis don’t break their intense staring contest.

“I know for a fact that you didn’t show up in my life again after two years just to insult my boyfriend,” Lance says through grit teeth. Contrary to the usual, he wishes he was outside. The anger and adrenaline coursing through his veins leave a trail of insufferable heat behind.

“Actually, it’s been a year and six months,” Luis says with that smile that Lance is aching wipe off his face. “We need to borrow some money.” Lance scoffs and rolls his eyes.

“Absolutely not, especially not after—”

“Not after I pointed out some very concerning qualities—”

“I’m not going to give you any money,” Lance says, his voice reaching a deadly tone. “I can’t—” Lance starts, only to be cut off by the Balmeran shifting in the back. He glances over to his left to see his hand holding a gun not-so-subtlety over the back of the seat. Lance swallows hard. “Luis I’m literally best friends with two cops—”

“Oh, you’ve got to be shitting me Lance,” Luis says, clearly getting increasingly frustrated. “You wouldn’t dare—”

“I’m scared that one day I won’t have a choice, Luis,” Lance says harshly.

“Do you know where we are?” Luis inquires abruptly. Lance stares at him, his eyebrows furrowing in confusion. “Do you?”

“What do you—”

“We are just a few feet from where Keith lives, aren’t we?”

“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” Lance asks. Luis sits forward, brushing his jacket aside just enough for the handle of his gun to be shown.

“Just because you guys can bend, doesn’t mean you’re immune to bullets, Lance.”

Lance sinks down in his seat. Cruel as Luis has always been, he’s hardly been one to threaten his family. “How much trouble are you in?” Lance asks, eyeing the gun.

“Just enough to be desperate.”

Lance sighs shakily, “How much do you need?”

“Well, adding in the two hundred dollars it will take to get the car radio replaced—”

“One thousand seven hundred,” The Balmeran says, his low is so low that it vibrates the windows.

“Yeah, about one thousand seven hundred,” Luis says with a shrug.

Lance’s stomach drops, along with his jaw. “Where do you think I can get nearly two thousand dollars from?” He exclaims.

“You’re saying you don’t have it?”

“Why would I?” Lance snaps.

“Well I just assumed since you, Mama, and Abuelita are all so close—”

“I’m not asking them for money,” Lance says sternly.

“Then should we pay Keith a visit now, or—?”

“Stop, stop,” Lance practically shouts. He runs his hands over his face and rubs his temples, hoping it will open his mind to more options. “When do you need it by?”

“Saturday,” Luis says smugly.

“Two days?” Lance mutters. “Shit,” He says, a short humorless laugh escapes from his chest. “What happens if I can’t get it?”

“Then dealing with me will be the least of your worries,” Luis says, glancing to the nameless Balmeran in the back. Lance studies Luis’ face, looking for any trace of regret, humor, anything.

“I’ll get it,” Lance says with a sigh.

“I’ll tell you when and where to meet me,” Luis says, unlocking the door with a click. “I assume you know your way back.”

Lance doesn’t hesitate to throw himself out of the car, part of him wishes it were moving. He stares down at the ground for a moment, and his head starts pounding the moment he hears the tires squeal away from its spot. He breathes out unsteadily, the idea of asking for the money makes him nauseous. As he begins to take a few shaky steps, he can feel his phone buzzing in his pocket. He pulls it out to see an unknown number calling him, and with a sudden burst of anger he answers it quickly.

“What the hell do you want, Luis? I’m already getting you—”

“Hello?” The voice on the other line says, the confusion cutting right through Lance’s outburst.

“Who is this?”

“Alfor,” The voice, which certainly is Alfor’s, responds. Lance feels as if he is going to explode.

“I didn’t think you were going to contact me again,” He says, stopping dead in his tracks.

“I apologize,” Alfor says. “I wasn’t going to, but an inside source of mine says that things are going to start getting very complicated, very soon.”

Lance sighs, desperately wanting to crawl out of his own skin. “Wonderful. Could you be any less cryptic?” He asks, sarcasm playing on his words.

“I’m just trying to remind you that no one can know your code,” Alfor says. “I trust that you haven’t told anyone.”

“Of course, I haven’t,” Lance says sharply. He sighs, fiddling with his jacket. “No, sorry, I haven’t told anyone,” He repeats, softer.

“I would also like to apologize for getting you involved,” Alfor says, his weighted with exhaustion. “I understand that I have most likely put an enormous amount of stress on you, and you may be wondering why—”

“Gee, how did you know?” Lance laughs dryly.

“I can answer that when this is all over, but please do trust me when I say that you were chosen to keep this secret for a reason,” Alfor says reassuringly. “And once it is safe, I will explain everything to you.” Lance can hear a smile in his voice, and for a moment it feels as though he is talking to someone he has known forever. Someone kind and gentle. “You can trust me Lance.”

Lance nods, “Okay, yeah,” He sighs. “Is there anything else you need to tell me?” He asks. “Another code or anything?”

“No, I’m afraid not, I was just assuring you that you will get your answers in due time,” He says. “However, I must go, please be safe.”

“Yeah, you too,” Lance says, but the call has already been disconnected. He closes his eyes for a moment and tries to calm the nervous energy thrumming through his veins. He pulls his phone away from his ear and opens his messages to Keith. He contemplates for a moment before asking if it would be alright for them to leave. He’s begun to walk back towards the apartment when he gets a response from Keith saying he would be out in a minute.

By the time Lance reaches the car again Keith is leaning against the hood of the car.

“Did you leave your charger at the other end of town?” Keith inquires playfully.

“I wish I could say yes,” Lance says, his voice reflects how suddenly exhausted he is.

“You okay?” Keith asks once Lance gets closer to him.

“Uh, no,” Lance says bluntly, handing the keys back to Keith and walking to the passenger door. He can feel Keith’s puzzled gaze on him as he gets into his seat.

“What happened?” Keith asks, “You just went out to grab a charger—”

“I didn’t go out to grab a charger,” Lance sighs. “Luis texted me,” He says quietly.

“What?” Keith’s voice is appropriately shocked. The last time Luis had been in contact with Lance was nearly two years ago. It was right after him and Keith had begun dating, and being a non-bender, he didn’t handle it well. There was a time when fire benders worked alongside the Galra to suppress anyone who wasn’t them, they went especially hard on the non-benders. Unfortunately, Luis has had many run ins with this type of behavior, and he has no way of setting those horrible experiences aside from the people.

“He was here,” Lance continues. “He needs to borrow some money.”

“And you said no, right?” Keith asks. “He doesn’t get to waltz back into your life and ask for money like that.”

“I have to,” Lance says, his voice smaller than he anticipated.

“You don’t have to do anything for him.”

“He threatened to hurt you,” Lance says abruptly. Something that seems to be a common theme, he thinks grimly.

“Just let him try to hurt me, I swear I’ll put him in his—”

“No, Keith, you would just be reinforcing the idea that fire benders are all horrible people,” Lance pleads. Keith sighs and his body relaxes apologetically.

“How much does he want?”

“A thousand seven hundred,” Lance mutters out quickly.

“I’m sorry, what?” Keith gapes.

“Well, it would have been a thousand five hundred, but I broke his radio—”

“Why does he want that much money?”

“I have no idea,” Lance says, slumping back in his seat.

“You didn’t ask?”

“I kind of got side tracked when he threatened to kill you,” Lance says, he buckles his seat belt as aggressively as he speaks. Keith pauses, his jaw is clenched so hard Lance is afraid he may crack his teeth.

“When do you need it?”

“Saturday.”

“I’ll get it,” Keith says, putting the car into gear. Lance blanches, sitting up straighter.

What? No, I can handle this—”

“I’m not letting you ask your family to support this fucking douchebag,” Keith says, “I have some money put away, let me help,” He says. A guilty relief washes over Lance, suddenly feeling like a helpless child.

“I’ll pay you back,” Lance says, his fight wearing thin.

“I’m not keeping score.” Lance rolls his eyes, he knows very well that Keith would never let him pay the money back, however Lance has always found new ways to sneak it back into his pocket. “So,” Keith says after driving for a little. “You broke the radio?” He asks, glancing over to Lance, a small triumphant smile fights its way to his lips.

“Yeah,” Lance says, clearing his throat. “It was better than what I had intended to do.”

“At least one of us has self-control,” Keith says with a small laugh. Lance doesn’t respond, instead he suffers the rest of the ride torturing himself over the money and Alfor’s words. He struggles with the fact that he knows next to nothing about the code situation, and yet he’s reminded that he’s still in danger because of it. He finds it hard to deal with all the unknowns that come with this code.

Lance snaps his head up when the car comes to a halt. He’d zoned out for much longer than he anticipated when he realizes that they are already back at the house. He shrugs Keith’s gaze off his shoulders and exits the car swiftly, rushing inside to avoid the cold, Keith follows quickly behind.

“I want a nap,” Lance announces loudly as he plops down on the couch.

“So, take one?” Keith says.

“Come here,” Lance says, reaching his hand out and motioning for Keith to come closer.

“I’m not tired,” He replies, leaning over the back of the couch. Lance groans and waves his arm in the air, gently slapping Keith’s cheeks.

“Fine, then I’ll just nap alone,” Lance pouts. He looks up at Keith who rolls his eyes and smoothly transfers the blanket from the back of the couch to cover Lance. “Hey, um—” Lance shifts, pulling the blanket snuggly around himself, “Do you mind if we don’t tell anyone else that Luis is back?”

Keith nods. “Yeah, sure, whatever you think is best.” Lance sighs contently, closing his eyes.

“I just don’t think it would do good to add that stress to anyone.”

“Sure, but next time he contacts you I want to go with you,” Keith says bluntly.

Lance’s eyes pop open. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” He says with a nervous chuckle.

“Why not? I’m sure nothing could go wrong,” Keith says, his voice mockingly sweet as he sits down in the chair next to the couch.

“Only if you promise to behave,” Lance suggests.

“Only if Luis promises to do the same,” Keith challenges. Lance rolls his eyes and aggressively flips onto his back.

“Look, I’m hoping that once I give him the money he’ll disappear again, and you won’t have to even see him.”

“Let me go with you, he’ll be sure to disappear when he sees my face again.”

“Keith—”

“I’m coming with you,” Keith says with finality.

“Whatever you say,” Lance says, closing his eyes. It doesn’t take much silence for him to fall into a deep sleep, one that is only disturbed by Keith’s hand on his forehead. He unwillingly rolls onto his side and lazily reaches his hand to place on Keith’s.

“I’m going to head back to my place for the night, I’ll text you when I get there,” Keith says quietly. “Love you.”

“Love you,” Lance mumbles back, his words slurring together with sleep. He feels Keith place another blanket on top of him, and not too long after he hears the door open and close right before he slips back into a peaceful slumber.