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give me a moment

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/draw me a life line, 'cause honey I got nothing to lose/

 

. . .

 

now

Keith breaths in once again, deep and painful. Maybe if he keeps leaning his back on the door and holds in his breath long enough, he’ll wake up. Because this is a dream. It has to be. Maybe he’s in a coma, or maybe he died in his sleep and this is his afterlife.

Because why else would Lance-freaking-McClain show up at this shitty motel, in a shitty deserted place, at the shittiest time of Keith’s life.

Breath in. Hold.

 

. . .

 

13 years ago

“See, you just gotta hold it the right way,” Lance explains, glancing from the kite gliding in the air to Keith. “And then,” Lance says and twists his hands just so that the kite starts twirling in the air, going around and around.

Keith watches carefully, awestruck, because he has tried hundred and three times to make the kite cut through the air that way, but each time has ended in failure. Either his grip was too weak, or too strong, or he twisted his hand the wrong way.

But Lance continues to rule over the wind, making the sky-blue paper glide as he pleases, like he’s been training to be a kite-controlling expert for all his ten years.

With one swift motion of his hand, he jerks it from the sky to his direction and catches it gracefully, making a show out of it. Then he turns to Keith, face beaming in one of those blinding, toothy grins Keith finds hard to look away from. Even with the missing front-tooth, that smile is still as sparkly as ever.

“Now you try,” he holds his arms out, gestures for Keith to take the kite from his hands.

“It won’t work anyway,” Keith mumbles, frowning, but still grabs the kite and wraps the string around his hand.

“Stop being a whiney baby and just do it!” he exclaims excitedly, gently nudging at Keith’s shoulder.

Keith lets out a sigh, but Lance’s positivity is infectious, so he really can’t help the tingly excitement spreading through his stomach.

With a little hope and a lot of unassertiveness, he lets the wind take the kite upwards from him and immediately tightens his hold. His palms are sweating and he feels the nervousness take control over the sparkles in his chest. He manages to hold it up for a minute or so, but not long after the kite starts to swerve. It’ll soon tilt to the left, or maybe right, and after that just down and down and down.

And just as it’s about to change from swerving to free-falling, Keith feels a steady hand on his.

“Don’t pull so hard, dude,” Lance looks up, brows furrowed with attentiveness. “Let it go free a little.”

So, Keith does just that, lets it go the way Lance has told him to. And it stays up. In the air. Gliding gracefully.

Keith looks back at Lance, ready to burst all the excitement into words and at him, but the words never come out. Lance is still facing the sky, but instead of a stern, concentrated look, he’s just smiling. Ever so gently, genuinely, happily. Keith feels like he should do the same. Something, some kind of unnamed energy tells him that he doesn’t need to put his excitement into words, because Lance knows. So, Keith looks up and smiles, too.

“See, I told you, you could do it!” Lance grins wider and looks at him, still holding onto his hand.

“You’re helping,” he nods at their hands. “That’s like cheating,” he says, but grins right back at him.

Because with or without Lance’s help, the kite is still floating among twittering birds, Keith is somewhat controlling it.

And if he were to be completely honest, it’s more fun with Lance by his side.

“Ready for the trick?” asks Lance and just as Keith nods in glee, he twists Keith’s wrist the right way and the kite starts careening and Keith starts giggling.

“Still cheating,” he says, a matter of fact.

“Just have fun, will you?” Keith hears a grumble from his side and laughs.

He does. Because Lance is always fun. He’s the one making the whole class laugh about stupid things, and getting detention after creating too much noise. He’s the one who threw paper-planes at Keith on his second week in new school, because you seem sad and buddy, you’re too young to be that sad. He’s the one that poured slime in Jake’s bag after he was being a jerk to Keith, because mean people only deserve slime in their bags and poop on their face.

He’s the one who became Keith’s first friend, and soon best friend. And Keith always has fun with Lance.

Lance keeps his hand on Keith’s and the kite has been in the air for longer than Keith has seen it be.

“We, probably, broke a world record!” beams Lance as they walk back home, the sky tinting into the soft color of purple. “We’re Kite-Mind-Controlling Masters!” he dramatically exclaims, gesturing with his hands, voice going serious and deep.

“Mind controlling?” Keith raises a brow.

“Yes, duh, we control their minds,” he says with two fingers pressed on each side of his temple and nods at the kite in Keith’s arms.

“Kites don’t have minds, Lance,” he deadpans.

“Just- ugh. I think you need a Fun and Imagination classes more than Math or English.”

“There’s no such class, either,” he says and earns a punch on his shoulder.

He learns to fly the kite, but never managed to make it glide as long as he and Lance had.

That day was the first moment Lance has given to him that Keith remembers clear as day. The one he’ll take to his grave. Because, looking back now, maybe, this exact moment – fun and childish and genuine and so, so full of Lance – is when he started to unwittingly, unconsciously fall into a deep, deep hole.

 

. . .

 

now

“How long are we going to be hiding here?” Pidge asks from where they’re settled on the floor, scrolling through rows and rows of memes.

“Why does the universe hate me so much?” Keith groans throw gritted teeth, ignoring their statement completely.

“Maybe he doesn’t even remember you?” they continue, now typing on their phone with an unamused expression.

“How will that be better?” he barks at them. Yeah, it would be easier, but not better. After a life-long history, he’d be mortified if Lance had forgotten about him.

“Why am I here again?” Pidge looks up, irritation slowly consuming their features, but then again, they usually look like that.

“To make sure I don’t actually die,” he peeks from the door and, yep, Lance is still there, in front of the counter, talking to Shiro and booking a room. “And if needed, help me disappear.”

“This is all I can hear from you,” Pidge says and Keith glances down at them with a questioning look. Pidge taps on their phone and How to Save a Life starts playing. “The soundtrack of your broken heart.”

“I hate you and you could’ve looked up a better Emo Heartbreak Song,” he hisses, turning back to the slightly crack-opened door.

“I could have, and you know what you could have done? Not drag me in this stinky closet and get your gayass-self together, you know, like an adult.”

“Well, I can’t go out there now, he’ll know I was hiding,” he leans away, sliding a hand nervously in his hair. Then he leans back and peeks in the entrance again. Lance.

He sees Lance with all his summer-radiating glory, and tanned skin, and long limbs, and slender neck. Keith is smashed face-first with the reality – aka all of the reasons he fell in love with him, and, as it seems, is still falling deeper.

Then Lance grins his blinding grin at Shiro, shining brighter than a thousand suns combined, and Keith almost chokes on his own spit.

After years, he still finds it hard to look away from it. From Lance.

Goddess, the universe really does hate him.

 

. . .

 

Keith’s apartment is cold. Not intentionally, he pays his bills – barely, but still pays them – and he has a decent heater. But it’s always cold. Keith’s shoulders shudder from the unpleasant freeze. The chill of 10:30 pm is not helping, and neither is November.

Keith pads into the kitchen, quickly heating up a cup of tea. He hears a soft sound behind the counter and soon Red hops up on it. She stretches gracefully and yawns.

“Hey, girl. Boop,” he greets her with a Boop on the nose. She meows. “You cold, too?” he says and grabs Antonio from the cupboard – a big, white mug with a doodle of a raccoon and a text saying there should be a better way to start a day than waking up every morning.

It was a gift from Lance. He’s the one who came up with the name, also.

Keith runs his thumb on the black lines.

“It’s a mug, Lance. Mugs don’t need names,” Keith says with a roll of his eyes.

“Hey! Don’t be heartless! Antonio deserves a name, along with some RESPECT!” he exclaims, cradling the mug into his chest like it’s an injured little bird. This boy, honestly.

It was the day before he had to leave, across the state to his new foster family. Lance had tried to be cheerful and supportive, but Keith knew him better. He had noticed the redness of Lance’s eyes that morning, and his smile had been mirthless, never truly reaching his eyes. It only made the hollow in Keith’s chest grow wider, deeper, promising to swallow him whole and alive.

“Besides,” Lance continues, glancing down at Antonio. His voice sounds low and sad and Keith wants to disappear. “You’ll have something from me, you know, an everyday item so you won’t forget…” his voice gets quieter with each word, until it was barely audible. But for Keith it rang like sirens, loud and clear and painful. Forget? Like he ever would. Like he ever could. Lance is a great friend and always makes him laugh. People don’t forget people who make them laugh.

“I’ll Facetime you every day, Lance. I’m not going to forget,” he promises and lifts up a fist. “Boop?” he asks.

Lance smiles. “Boop.”

“The name is still awful though,” he adds.

Lance gasps and covers the mug’s nonexistent ears. “Don’t listen to him, Antonio, you have a beautiful name and his just an asshole.”

The whistle of his silver kettle brings him back to reality. Keith blinks, then exhales heavily.

He notices Red hop up, next to the sink, meowing for his attention. Keith flicks his eyes at her, questioningly. Red glances at the unwashed dishes, then slides her golden eyes at him, judging. Keith is certain, from the very first day he adopted Red, Miranda Priestly is most definitely reincarnated in his cat.

“Okay,” he sighs, putting the hot mug on the counter and rolls up the sleeves of his hoodie. “Honestly, you and Lance would be best friends, two OCD crazy,” he murmurs and Red licks her paw, completely ignoring him.

The realization that it was actually, very really possible for Lance to meet her made Keith’s stomach twirl. He was here. A ten-minute drive away. Staying in the crappy motel Keith works at.

Keith shakes his head. Lance will leave tomorrow and his life will go to normal – a really sad, boring, Lance-less normal.

 

. . .

 

Keith shoves at the cart a little too forcefully, and the metal squeaks against the granite floor.

The last room he cleaned up had left him with the urge to vomit. Honestly, how disgusting can people be? He can take the spilled drinks and sticky substances – which he deliberately is not questioning the essence of – and half-empty bottles laying around. But three, three puddles of vomit, used-up condoms – did they have an orgy or some shit?! – and all of the above? In just one room? Goddess, he would punch the people who had stayed there and then give them an hour-long lecture about tidiness and basic politesse.

The cart swerves to the left and Keith lets out an annoyed groan. Are these stupid carts possessed by demons, determined to make his life ten times difficult?! Well, if there is a demon, congrats, it’s doing a great job ruining his day. He corrects it and knocks on the next door. Room 15.

“Just a sec!” he hears a muted call and freezes.

Wait.

He looks up at the plastic numbers, poorly glued on the wooden door. Room 15.

“You’re sure he’s going to leave tomorrow morning?” Keith repeats once again.

“That’s what he said,” Shiro shrugs, still staring at him with wide but knowing eyes.

“Okay,” he says, then Keith’s shoulders fall and he exhales, running a nervous hand in his hair. “Okay.”

“I’d ask if you’d want to talk about it, but I guess not?” Shiro looks at him skeptically, probing something on his face.

Keith flashes. “No,” he shakes his head a little too eagerly, then coughs, “What room?”

Shiro continues to examine him for a second longer, before answering. “Room 15.”

Room fucking 15.

Keith hears footsteps rushing towards him.

Shit. Shit. Shit shit!

Lance should have left eight-fucking-hours ago!

“Sorry, I know we’ve stayed longer than we agreed to, but- “

Lance stops, eyes widening and mimicking Keith’s motionless stance.

After two years, this really wasn’t how he wished to see Lance again.

Keith is suddenly aware of every single thing. His brain is on hyper-focus mode, taking in the smell of damp walls, the scratches on the door that Lance is holding open, the gravity growing stronger with each passing second, the firmness of the tiles beneath his feet. The blood rushing in his fingers, his arms, his whole body, causing him to feel numb, but also horribly tense.

But mostly he takes in Lance. Lance with his ocean-blue eyes. Lance with his crooked-up nose. Lance with his mouth agape. Lance with his freckles, creating unique constellations on his perfect, perfect face – Goddess, he wants to kiss them all countless times, forever, incessantly. He sees the tiny scar on the corner of his forehead from when he fell down from a tree. He sees his ridiculously long fingers wrapped around the handle. He sees his skin is still the same shade of caramel-brown.

Just, Lance. He sees Lance.

“Keith,” he hears Lance say, low and shocked and broken, but the sound is muffled, like he’s hearing it from underwater.

 

. . .

 

10 years ago

Lance: r u here yet

Keith: Not yet.

Two minutes later.

Lance: r u here yet

Keith: Not yet!

A minute later.

Lance: r u here yet

Keith: I’m turning off my phone.

“Your friend seems excited,” says Derek without looking away from the road. His eyes look heavy and tired. Fifteen hours of non-stop driving must be tough.

“Yeah,” Keith turns his phone on silent mode. The flash keeps blinking and Lance keeps texting.

Keith is not annoyed, just really, really overwhelmed. Ever since he told Lance he was planning to visit him his phone has been blowing up.

“You don’t seem… emotional,” he flicks his blue eyes at Keith, examining him.

“I’m happy, too. Just-” he is. He’s so freaking happy to see Lance after so long, in person and not on his phone screen that he genuinely does not know how to show it. After so long…

“Hm?” the man hums questioningly, lifting his hand to push the hair back from his eyes.

“It’s been a year, I’m more nervous than anything,” he says quietly, picking at the skin around his nails. A nervous habit of his, Lance always scolds him to stop.

They have been talking regularly. At first, they called each other every day, but as school started, he only managed to talk to Lance once a week. And their friendship has been the same, it didn’t change because of the distant, and Lance has still been Lance and Keith has still been Keith. And his rational self knows that he has nothing to worry about, but the irrational part makes this more complicated.

“Oh,” Derek sighs knowingly, then adds. “Remember Mark? He came to visit last month.”

“How could I forget, you cried like a baby,” he smirks, the memory of Derek hugging his friend on the verge of tears floats up in his mind.

“First of all, I had something in my eye,” he points his finger at his eyes, utter denial.

“Sure,” says Keith, emphasizing his sarcasm and shrugs.

“And secondly,” Derek deliberately ignores him. “How long do you think I hadn’t had seen him?”

“I don’t know, like a year?” Keith guesses, furrowing his brows thoughtfully.

“More like twelve,” he corrects and makes a turn to the left. Keith snaps his eyes from the familiar road to the man, wide with awe. Twelve years? The two of them acted like it had been no more than a year, cracking inside jokes and laughing and mocking. He wondered if he and Lance would ever have a relationship that strong.

“My point is,” he parks the car and turns to him. “Friendships don’t die that easily, kiddo,” his eyes flick behind Keith’s shoulder, crinkling at the edges as his smile widens. “Especially these kinds.”

Keith raises his brow in confusion and looks behind him. Lance was running towards the car and he was screaming something Keith thought sounded like his name.

And he was wearing a shark costume. A puffy, furry shark. Costume.

“Dude,” Keith says when he gets out of the car and Lance is fidgeting in front of him. He looks him up and down, then says, “I think I got the wrong address.”

“You jerk,” Lance punches his shoulder, then after a moment of hesitation, pull Keith into a firm hug, swallowing him into the fluffiness of the costume. “Mamá is going to freak out when she sees you!”

“You haven’t told her?” Keith asks from where his face is smashed against Lance’s shoulder, voice coming muffed. They pull apart and he notices Lance is taller.

“Nope,” he pops the ‘p’ and grins. And, as it has always been, it’s bright and blinding and Keith can’t take his eyes off of it. “We gotta surprise her in Style,” he drawls the last word dramatically and slides his hands – fins – in the air for the sake of being extra.

“Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”

“Still as boring as ever,” he shakes his head, sounding like a disappointed father.

“Glad to know he’s normally like that and not just with us,” Keith hears Derek behind him and they both turn to the man. “I’m Derek,” he smiles at Lance and walks to the trunk.

“Hello, sir,” Lance says and attentively observes him. Then turns to Keith and lifts up his fins – probably a thumbs up.

“Just Derek is fine,” he says and grabs Keith’s bag from the car. “I’ll pick you up in two days.”

“Yep, thanks, Derek,” he swings the bag over his shoulder.

“Have fun, kiddos,” he ruffles Keith’s hair. “Nice to finally meet you, Lance. Keith’s been talking about you ever since I met him.”

“Really?” he smirks and turns his wry expression to Keith.

“No and goodbye, Derek!” he shoves at the man’s back, pushing him towards the car. Derek laughs and raises his hands in surrender. He waves once again and drives off.

“He seems nice,” Lance says, combing his nonexistent beard. The costume makes the motion look ridiculous.

“Yeah,” replies Keith, fondly.

“And you didn’t lie when you said he was handsome,” he taps the fin on his chin. “I’m surprised you even talk to him.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“You know, because you’re all Emo and Antisocial,” Lance teases.

“No, I’m not!”

Lance gives him a look.

“I’m not an emo,” Keith mumbles. “Derek is great. His fun, too.”

“That’s great, buddy,” Lance says. “Now, let’s get ready, mamá will be home soon.”

“You sure it’s okay if I stay?” he asks, looking back at Lance from where he’s being pushed towards the door.

“Keith, yes. Like it or not, you’re a part of this family, too,” Lance rolls his eyes annoyingly, but there’s a small smile playing on his lips.

Keith’s chest feels warm and soft, because it has always felt like home with Lance. Even when his father was still alive and when he lived only ten minutes away from Lance instead of a fifteen-hour drive, this place has always felt like home.

Lance rushes him upstairs, and Keith could feel Lance’s excitement, contagious and warm.

“Okay,” Lance halts in front of his room. “Ready?” he asks, and Keith opens his mouth to say something sarcastic, but the words get stuck in his throat at the sight of Lance. He’s grinning so wide, Keith fears his cheeks will rip apart. And his eyes are creased at the edges and he just looks so genuinely happy and vehement.

“Yep,” is all he manages.

Lance slowly pushes the door open, biting down at his bottom lip – a nervous gesture Keith’s still not sure if he likes or not.

“What. Am I looking at?” Keith says, holding his breath.

“Do you like it?” Lance asks impatiently, rubbing his fins together.

“Do I like it?” he looks at Lance like he has just asked the dumbest question – which, in fact, he has. “Do I like it?” he repeats, voice monotone and lacking emotion.

Keith looks at the hippo costume again, laid neatly on Lance’s bed.

“You’re freaking me out, buddy, is that a yes or a no?” Lance utters, voice nervous and uncertain.

“Dude,” Keith deadpans and turns to Lance, grabs his shoulders and says with the most serious face he can manage. “I will wear it until it becomes a part of my skin. Then I will be it.”

“I knew you would love it!” Lance’s furrowed brows relax momentarily and his whole face beams. Goddess, this boy is way too shiny for his own good. “Come on, put it on so we’ll match and surprise everyone’s socks off!”

Lance, being the drama queen, puts the blinds down, drowning the house in theatric darkness and somehow, turns a lamp into a stage-light.

“You remember the moves?” he asks.

“Hell yeah!” Keith answers, eyes flamed with excitement.

They hear the car pull up and Keith almost squeaks at the familiar voices. They take their positions – Keith hiding in the living room and Lance standing in front of the stairs.

The door clicks and just as Rosa enters, talking to the others about her day, the music begins.

 

/she keeps her Moet et Chandon/

/in her pretty cabinet/

 

Keith peeks from the door frame and watches as Rosa and the rest of the McClains stand in the door, gazing Lance dance with amusement and fondness. His heart fills with warmth. These are the faces of his childhood, and these are the people who create his second home and Keith is so lucky to be a part of this dramatic and loving and loud family.

Keith is downright buzzing as his part comes up. He positions himself and as soon as Freddie says the right words, Keith is sliding across the floor.

 

/she's a Killer Queen/

 

Lance pulls him up and they dance – as in throw their limbs around and twirl and dip each other. It feels ridiculous and probably looks more stupid, but it’s no less fun, and it is entirely, unreservedly theirs, just for the two of them to share and Keith loves this no less than their Booping TM, or their summer nights on the roof, or sleepless ones playing video games.

Rosa screams and hugs Keith until his ribs start aching. And then Lance’s siblings tackle them both on the floor. Lance insists on taking pictures and they do. They take and take and take, until Keith threatens to go home.

“It’s so nice to have you here, mijo,” Rosa says, mixing the delicious food on the stove. Keith smiles at her from the counter, patting Blue in his lap. The cat keeps purring.

“Yeah, now Lance can finally stop crying about how much he wishes for you to be here,” Rachel groans and ducks her head just in time to avoid a garlic knot.

“Shut your mouth, stupidass!” Lance hisses and grabs another garlic knot, only to be hit by a towel on his head.

“Stop throwing food,” Rosa scolds and returns to the stove.

“Luis, would you please?” she turns to her brother with a knowing look and Lance utters their names from gritted teeth.

“I swear to god, Luis,” Lance points a finger at him, frowning. “I have blackmail.”

“Kids, behave,” Rosa says, but Keith doubts anyone heard her. He watches with amusement as the brothers have a stare down.

They hold eye contact for a moment, then Luis turns to Keith, nonchalant as he deadpans, “He sleeps in the alien shirt you gave him. Every. Single. Night.”

Lance makes a choking noise.

“You do?” Keith asks, amused at how red Lance’s face is. He’s feeling… something.

“Luis has been sneaking out from home at night!” Lance shouts with a high-pitched voice, completely ignoring him.

Luis gasps and Rachel cackles, leaning back into her chair and mouthing to Keith we just need popcorn.

“Lance spilled his tea yesterday and cleaned it up with the cat!”

“Luis broke the window last month, not some kid from the neighborhood!”

“Luis!” Rosa exclaims and, well, they hear her now.

“Well, Rachel broke the vase you loved so much and blamed it on Blue,” he defends and looks accusingly at his sister, an offended hey escaping from her.

“Qué hiciste?” Rosa exclaims, glaring at her children.

“Lance pushed me!”

“I did not!” he says and the whole room is thrust into chaos. Keith missed this. McClains were always noisy and loud, it perfectly balanced the quiet that ruled over at Keith’s old house.

Maybe that’s why he fits well with his new foster family, they’re obnoxious and fun.

After a long lecture from Rosa – somehow Keith was involved in it as well – they set the table and have dinner – loud and chatty and noisy. Perfect. Luis even brings his guitar and Keith hears Rosa sing for the second time in his life. And just as the first time, he’s holding his breath, because this woman has a voice of a siren, enchanting and breathtaking.

It’s way past midnight when he and Lance decide to call it a day. Keith’s eyes are aching from playing video games for hours and by glancing at Lance’s heavy and dark eyelids, he assumes his are too. They walk into Lance’s room and stare down at the pajamas Rosa had readied for them.

“Costumes?” Lance asks.

“Costumes,” Keith nods and they flop on the bed.

“Man, I haven’t had this much fun in ages,” Lance says tiredly, but there’s a fond undertone in his voice.

“Mm,” he hums in agreement.

“Oh, wait,” Lance bolt up, rushing towards his closet. “I found something in the basement the other day,” he says and continues shuffling through his things. He lets out a triumphant aha and turns to grin at Keith.

“A polaroid?”

“Not just a Polaroid, Sun 600!” he exclaims and turns the camera on. “Say cheese.”

Snap and flash.

Keith blinks. “Just burn it,” he deadpans.

Lance hops down next to him and slaps his shoulder with a fin. “Take some selfie?”

They do. Again, Lance takes and takes and takes and Keith has to physically snatch the camera out of his hands.

They argue over who kips which photo. Keith only wants the one in which he and Lance are Booping TM, but apparently, so does Lance.

“Okay, I sell you my soul and you give me that photo,” Lance offers.

“Hmm…” Keith feigns a thoughtful look, making a show by combing his nonexistent beard. “No.”

“Keiiith,” he whines and Luis knocks on the wall, asking for some peace and quiet. Lance glares at the wall. “Please,” he whispers and pouts, even puts on his best puppy-dog eyes. And Keith would have conceded in any other situation, but he really likes and wants this photo.

“No,” he says firmly and smirks when Lance huffs in surrender.

He looks down at the picture, staring at two boys dressed in their favorite animal costumes, all fluffy and weird, smirking as their hands connect into a gentle… well, into a gentle BoopTM.

And this picture, this day is the second moment Lance had given him that Keith will forever cherish.

They fall asleep in their costumes and Rosa scolds them in the morning.

 

. . .

 

now

“No, way,” Lance whispers, eyes still wide and shocked.

Keith swallows, still lacking the ability to move, or think, or just exist.

 “Oh, Dios mío! Keith!” he rushes forward, pulling Keith into a tight hug.

What?

“Keith, oh my god! I’m so happy you’re not dead somewhere in the woods,” he blurts out, then he stills and pulls away like he’d been burned and scowls at him, eyes full with hurt and fury. “You- ” he slaps at Keith’s shoulder, “little- ” slap, “piece- ” slap, “of- ” slap, “shit- ” slap slap slap.

“Ow, okay,” Keith cries out and steps back, rubbing at his shoulder, but he did kind of deserve it.

“Aw, I’m sorry, did that hurt your fragile shoulder?” he asks sardonically. He deserves that as well.

“Lance- ”

“Well, it should’ve been painful, you big bag of stinky crap! Where the hell have you been for the past two years?!” he’s yelling now and Keith feels his heart drop. Because this isn’t the angry and annoyed kind of yelling, it’s broken and sad and full of devastation.

“I,” he starts and almost winces at his weak voice. He coughs. “I’ve been here,” he says nonchalantly, as if there’s not a storm of emotions in his mind.

Lance stares. And stares. And stares some more, like Keith just grew on a second head.

“Here.” it’s hollow and bitter and cuts right through Keith’s chest. “Right.”

Keith sees the flames die in Lance’s eyes, and he wants to run. He has to run! Because this Lance – shallow and cold and emotionless – hurts. And Keith knows he has no right to be hurt, he knows it’s selfish. But if he stays here, Keith is sure he’ll have a meltdown. His hands are already starting to tremble.

He steps back, gripping a hand tightly on the cart. “I have to go,” he breathes out.

Run, run!

“Huh?”

He’s mad anyway.

“I have to clean the rooms,” he continues monotonously.

Probably hates you anyway, everyone hates the people who leave them.

“I get it, it’s for work and a great opportunity,” Lance says, pacing up and down. “But- but it’s far, Keith!” he comes to a halt in front of the bed Keith is nested on. Lance’s hands slump down to his sides and his face looks broken. Keith’s chest feels tight.

“He’ll come and visit, Lance,” Keith tries to comfort him, knowing damn well he sucks at it. Luckily, Lance knows it too, and knows Keith is trying his best to be supportive.

“I know he will. ON HOLIDAYS!” he throws his hands in the air, face flushed with exasperation. “And soon, he’ll only come to see us, like, twice a year and calling every day will become every week and, BOOM! I’m talking to my father just once a month!” he finishes with a heated huff.

Keith stares at his hands, toys with the skin around his nails.

“Shit, Keith,” he hears. “I’m sorry, I’ve been blabbering about my father- shit.”

Keith snaps his head up immediately. “Don’t apologize for that.”

“I just- ”

“Lance, I’d hate myself if I ever made you feel like you couldn’t talk to me,” he says and feels a stern frown take over his face. Lance’s face relaxes a little.

“It really sucks when they leave,” he slumps next to him, then falls on his back with a groan. “First Luis left for college, V is getting ready to leave and you’re- ” he flicks his eyes up at him, wide like he’s said something he didn’t mean to. “Well, you’re away, too and it’s like, this place is getting bigger and emptier and it SUCK!” he groans some more. Lance covers his face with his hands, pulling down his eyelids.

Keith watches Lance stare at the ceiling, wordless.

“No, no no no, no you don’t,” Lance throws out words and grabs his arm. “Not again, Kogane!”

“Lance, just-- you’re mad at me,” he says, his voice sounding more like a plea than anything. He tries to free his arm, but, Christ, Lance has been working out, hasn’t he?

“I am, but-- ” he cuts off, flicking his eyes around as he searches for the right words. Then he groans. “I am, I’m so mad I could punch you right now.”

Okay, he deserves that as well.

“But-- but I-- you’re my friend, Keith. And I haven’t seen you for two-fucking-years,” Lance huffs, there’s a thick layer of woe behind his voice. “I mean, you basically vanished, Keith,” he let’s go of Keith’s arm, and sounds so broken and vulnerable Keith just wants to hug him and protect him and kick his own ass for turning their friendship into this. “I’m mad because I know we can fix this and, like, we’re both here and instead of talking to me you’re running away. Again.”

Keith swallows. He knows Lance is right and he wants, more than anything, to get things back to the way they were, to get Lance back into his life. But-

What? But what? Just do it! Lance is right here, stop being a coward and do it! shouts the voice in his head, a voice that sounds a lot like Derek, as ironic as it is.

“But,” he croaks. “I left, Lance.”

Lance scoffs. “Yeah, I know.

“I left, Lance,” he repeats, words heavy on his tongue. “Without saying a word and-- and,” he inhales, deep and painful, closing his eyes for a moment because fuck if looking at Lance wasn’t overwhelming.

Lance probs his face, then says, “You think I hate you.”

Keith looks at him then. Lance has always been good at reading people, especially at reading Keith.

“I messed up, Lance,” he huffs sardonically. “I’m sure you do.”

“Well,” Lance steps closer. “You did fuck things up, buddy, and the biggest fuck up is that you thought I could ever hate you.”

Keith blinks, unable to say a thing. Lance watches him, but he’s lost in his own head, before something flicks in his eyes.

“Anyway,” he steps back and talks casually, like the past two years were only a bad dream and nothing more. “I’m here for only a day, so I’m thinking maybe we could hang out? You could show me the city since you’ve been living here,” he continues, oblivious to Keith’s existential anarchy and confused stare.

Keith blinks at him again. Because Lance was so Lance it was hard not to just stand and stare. Keith is suddenly eleven again, holding Lance’s broken nerf gun in his hand and holding back tears, and Lance just waves at him with a quick don’t sweat it, dude and asks him to tag along and grab some ice cream. Keith is fourteen again and is picking up the shattered Lego pieces from Lance’s bedroom floor after he knocks it over, Lance is kneeling beside him and reassuring that it’s fine, Keith, I didn’t even like it that much. That was a fat lie, Keith knew Lance worked for months on it, but still, Lance was fast to exonerate and asked him to binge-watch The Lord of The Rings with him. Keith is seventeen again and is apologizing non-stop after promising to hang out with him and not making it in the end. Lance, as usual, smiles and offers him some pizza.

And Keith is twenty-three now, and Lance is standing in front of him with all of his charms, and is asking to hang out with him. After Keith had been gone for two years without a single word, Lance just accepts him back to his life and Keith thinks he might breakdown. He doesn’t deserve this, Lance does not deserve a shitbag that is Keith. His hands tremble.

“Keith?”

Keith does not deserve him. The familiar fear takes over his vanes, turning blood into ice.

“I can’t,” he blurts out, hating himself more as Lance’s face falls. “I have to-- work. Work, clean some rooms and clean the hall and-- ”

“Actually,” Keith hears a voice from behind and curses under his breath. “He has a day off today,” Pidge says, voice wry and evil and gremlin-like.

“Great!” Lance beams. “I’ll go grab my stuff and tell Hunk not to worry.”

“Pidge,” he hisses at them from his shoulder when Lance disappears in the room. “What have you done?”

“You can thank me later,” they check out their nails with feign arrogance – okay, maybe half-feign.

“I. Will. Kill. You.”

“Just have fun with the love of your life,” they push Keith’s possessed cart away – which does not swerve one bit, even carts are assholes – and wave a hand at him. “This place is already shitty, and you being emo is not helping its aura at all.”

“I’m not an emo,” he huffs under his breath and frowns at Pidge’s sure you’re not, pal.

As he watches Pidge disappear, the realization fully dawns on him. Lance is here. With him. And they are going to see the city.

Holy shit.

“You are alive?!” he hears a familiar squeak and half a second later a wet towel is smashed on his face.

 

. . .

 

6 years ago

Keith dials once again, for the hundredth time that evening. No answer. Again.

He glares at his phone, like all of worlds misfortune is stored inside of it.

“Everything alright?” asks Derek form the counter, making God-know-many cup of coffee.

“Terrific.”

“Your boyfriend is probably busy,” he says nonchalantly, stirring the dark liquid.

“Stop calling him that,” he utters, then adds with a sigh. “Probably.”

He stares at the phone again. Derek is right, Lance could be just busy, it’s not the first time he didn’t manage to talk to Keith because of an essay or a project, and Keith has had his all-nighters too. But this time he knows something is off, the strange, unnamed energy tells him that something is not right.

He dials again, and this time the answer comes.

“Lance? Hey, are you alright?” he jumps straight to the point, because something is not right.

“Hey,” he croaks and it’s his post-crying voice, scratchy and dry.

“Lance, what happened?” Keith leans forward on the chair, shooting a worried look at Derek, who’s now sipping his coffee with a concerned expression.

There’s only silence for a moment, and for the duration of it, Keith’s mind was filling with a thousand thoughts of what could’ve gone wrong. Then there’s the sound of breathing and a choke. Keith’s restless to just teleport to Lance and ease whatever is making him sound so broken.

“It’s abuelita,” he finally says, more like breaths the words out, weak and shattered. “She-- she passed away, Keith. Last night.”

Derek moves closer to him when Keith inhales sharply, pain spreading through his body like wildfire.

“We woke up and, just, found her like that,” Lance continues. “The doctor said it was a heart attack.”

And Keith’s heart drops. The memories fly by in seconds, swiftly changing from one to another – the ugly sweaters, the stolen cookies, followed by a scolding smack, gentle head-pats, reassuring words.

“Lance, I’m so sorry,” and it seems so insufficient, these words seem so useless. And he can imagine how unnecessary they are to Lance.

“Yeah.”

Keith tries to find the right thing to say, but he knows words are just some needless background noise for someone who’s faced with such loss. So, he looks at Derek again, searching and asking for help.

“I have to go, Keith,” he hears a whisper. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

And Lance hangs up before Keith could even answer.

As Keith looked down at his phone, chest aching and eyes burning, he made up his mind then and there.

“You have to take me to Lance,” he bolts up and runs to his room.

“What?” calls Derek, confused and worried.

Keith quickly gathers all the necessaries and shoves them into a backpack. His stupid words didn’t matter – not to him, anyway. He was better than just a simple, generous but still plain “I’m sorry”.

“Derek, please,” Keith pleads when Derek walk in his room. “I need to be with him right now.”

Derek thinks for a moment, then nods and turns to grab the keys.

The fifteen-hour drive is reduced to ten, the night and mostly empty roads help a lot. He thanks Derek and runs to the familiar house he came to love so much.

Keith is just about to knock when he realizes the time – 4:13am. So, he goes for the back entrance.

Keith climbs the tree and sits on the long branch, which stretches right in front of Lance’s window. He peeks in the room, the only light source being a small lamp, and just as he’d expected, Lance is not asleep - he can never sleep when nervous or upset. Keith’s heart stings at the sight of the boy.

Lance is lying on his bed, folded in four and is absently flipping through a photo album, he seems so small, and lonely. Keith can’t see his face in the dark, but is sure his eyes are bloodshot and puffy from crying. He knocks gently on the window.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Lance startles and looks up, face molded in fear and surprise. It takes time for him to make out it’s Keith and not some kind of a maniac creeping at him from his window, and quickly makes his way towards Keith.

“What the hell?” he whispers and helps Keith get inside.

Keith stares at him, his face is paler than usual and his eyes are heavy and dark. And bloodshot. The characteristic summery vibes are now replaced with a cold, sad aura and Keith’s chest drowns in the sticky, black liquid of devastation even more.

He puts his bag on the floor and blinks his tears away, he will not cry when Lance is hurting. Keith has to be there for him and breaking down will do no good.

“I’m here, Lance,” he says, making sure his voice is empathetic and steady. “I’m here for you.”

Keith sees that Lance is trying to keep his face straight, to keep himself together, but fails miserably as his mouth becomes wobbly. And the eyes follow and sparkle more in the moonlight. He ducks his head down, and his shoulders shake.

And it’s like a punch in the face. Keith tentatively drags him into a gentle hug, rubbing comforting circles on his trembling back.

“It’s okay,” he croons. “Cry it out.”

And Lance does. He cries and cries and cries.

And as Lance places his hands between him and Keith and fists the red material of his hoodie, Keith tightens his arms and rests his cheeks on Lance’s hair. It’s messy and curly and soft.

They stand like that, Keith is not sure how long, but at some point, he comprehends that seeing Lance this way is hurtful and awful, and awakens his protective instincts like nothing else, and he realizes that his feelings might not be as friendly as he wished them to be. Because Lance is important, Lance is the walking sunlight with his blinding smile and ocean-blue eyes, holding deep emotions and cherished memories in them. Lance is stupid jokes and facemasks and late-night star gazing. Lance is creating new constellations and ignoring Keith when he says you can’t just create and name a new constellation. Lance is casual touches and chest-aching, bone-melting laughter.

Lance is so Lance and Keith likes him. He likes him so much, it’s almost funny he only just now realizes it, with crying Lance in his arms and the quiet of 5am surrounding them.

He slowly drags him towards the bed when Lance calms down, and gets him under the covers.

“Try and sleep, okay?” he whispers and leans away to go and sleep on the couch or on the floor, when he feels a frail grip on his arm.

So, he stays, and he hugs Lance more, and he combs his hair and he takes in this moment – Lance burying his head in his chest, pearls of tears on his eyelashes and hurt in his furrowed brows. He seems so fragile, Keith is afraid he’ll fall apart. He has the sudden urge to kiss all of Lance’s pain away, to kiss the tears dry from his eyes, to kiss the worried lines straight, but he keeps his lips to himself and instead, tightens his hold on the boy.

“Thank you,” he hears a tired voice, dry and broken. He rubs his head in response and continues to play with Lance’s hair until the boy’s breathing gets heavy and steady, until his face relaxes.

He cares for Lance so deeply, it almost hurts.

 

. . .

 

now

Hunk had smacked him with the towel for two minutes non-stop, all the while renting and scolding him, then he had apologized and pulled him into one of his rib-shattering bear hugs and told him if he pulled off another disappearing act again, I will die, Keith, the sadness and heartbreak will kill me and you don’t want me to die, because I’ll be mad and will hunt you! Then, as he checked the time, Hunk had yelped and with blabbering words and rushing steps, he left the motel.

And with that, he was standing outside of the building, into the chilly evening of November, next to Lance.

“Shay is arriving in an hour and he’s nervous,” Lance explains with an apologetic smile. “She’s here because of her job and Hunk is surprising her.”

“Shay?” he echoes, glancing at Lance and then back at Hunk’s back. “He asked her out?”

“After a loooooot of reassurance and a little bit of force, he did,” he says with a roll of eyes, hands swinging in fake-exhaustion.

Keith hums.

“So, where should we start?” Lance rubs his hands restlessly, eyeing a passing car.

“Um.”

Lance slowly turns to look at him and Keith can already hear his next words.

“Keith,” he drawls, tilting his head like he’s talking to a child who won’t admit they broke the cup. “Have you or have you not been out in the city?”

“Well,” he looks to his left. “Not in the city.”

“Why. Are. You. Like. This?”

“I didn’t feel like going out,” Keith says defensively, crossing his arms and frowning at the pavement.

“For two years?!” he exclaims, with all of dramatics – expressive face and thrown-up hands. “Dude, I’m even more pissed now that I know you wasted your time away from me.”

It’s no fun without you.

“Well, we have to fix that,” he says with finality and grabs Keith’s arm.

“Um, Lance?”

“It’s Vegas, Keith. VEGAS!” he says. “You cannot come to Vegas – let alone live here – and not have fun!”

“Okay, but the city center is the other way,” he points behind his shoulder, fighting down a smile when Lance whirls on his heels and faces the right way.

 

. . .

 

“One more, I’ll get it this time,” Lance pulls back, but Keith has a firm grip on his arm and even though Lance has been working out – and no Keith did not stare at his biceps when Lance took his coat off – Keith is still stronger.

“You won’t and your bank account ‘won’t feel so good’,” he says annoyed and shoves Lance’s puffy coat in his hands.

“Hey! It’s too early for that kind of feels,” Lance says and shivers, his white Henley is not strong enough against the cold breeze of November. He quickly zips the coat up and wraps the scarf around his neck, shoving his red nose in the wool.

Adorable.

Keith clears his throat. “Well, that was a waste of-” he glances at his phone. “Two and a half hours?!”

“No,” Lance says skeptically and peeks at Keith’s phone, then, as if still not convinced, he pulls his own out. “How?”

“That’s gambling for you,” Keith sighs, white cloud escaping from his mouth. Keith watches as it fades into the air.

“Wanna watch a movie?” Lance asks.

“You’re in Vegas and you want to go to the movies?” Keith raises a brow.

“I don’t think you’re in the right place to judge,” he smirks, and then adds, “Besides, I haven’t seen a movie with you for years – literally.”

Lance nudges his shoulder and moves past him, leaving Keith to stare at him, face warm and chest beaming with sparkles.

Lance insisted on buying the tickets, but Keith fought him over snacks so it all balanced out.

They took their seats as the screen lit up and the first scene of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ began to roll.

“We’ll travel back to the 80s, Keith!” Lance says while paying for the tickets. “And it’s Queeeeen! It’s, basically, already our movie!” he adds, his agitation doubling the one Keith feels.

His last words make Keith, make their – whatever-ship they have – feel special.

 

. . .

 

5 years ago

“But doesn’t she, like, despise people like me?” Lance furrows his brows, previous nervousness – which Keith had been trying to blow out from him – took control all over again.

“She is not, I just said she’s not as touchy and talkative as Rosa or Derek,” Keith reassures and stops at a red light, turning to face his fidgeting friend.

Lance is still looking unconvinced and a little afraid, like Keith is taking him to a psychopathic murderer and not to his foster mom.

“Relax, Lance,” he says again. “Meredith is great, she’s just,” he gestures vaguely, in search of the right word. “Idiosyncratic.”

“Oh, no,” he tenses up even more, shaking his head slowly. “You’re using fancy words.”

Keith sighs.

Lance has already met Derek, and not just once, and since both of them are familiarly charming and beaming with energy, they got along well. Keith is certain Meredith will love Lance as well, but maybe mentioning that she was more indrawn and introspective was not a good idea. Because, apparently, Lance took it as she hates people like you. Which is such absurdity, she’s got A Lance as a husband, for crying out loud.

“What if she thinks I’m too annoying or too stupid or-- ” he gasps in horror. “What if she thinks I’m a horrible friend for you, let alone best friend,” his last sentence comes out as a whisper and Keith has to control himself not to punch Lance’s dumb thoughts away.

“Lance, I swear to God,” he warns.

“She uses perfumes, right?” Lance asks suddenly, cutting him off. Keith parks the car in front of a grey-ish beige colored house, orange lights gently pouring from the windows, into the gloomy night, giving the place a relaxing ambiance.

He turns to him, “You got her a perfume?”

“I couldn’t just come emptyhanded, especially if she might not like me!” he says, as if Keith is questioning the most obvious thing in the world.

“For the last time! She will not dislike you, okay!”

“You don’t know that!”

“I’ve been living with her for five years now, I think I know a thing or two about her.”

Lance opens his mouth to argue some more, but the words die in his mouth as Derek knocks on the window. He smiles and waves for them to get outside of the car – a safehouse for Lance – and inside the house – his worst nightmare at the moment.

“Okay,” Lance inhales deeply and gets out of the car, shouldering his blue backpack. Then, before Keith can open his own door, he bolts back in. Derek gives them a confused look, before stepping in the house. “You didn’t answer if she likes perfume or not.”

Keith groans, dropping his head back and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Why do I have to suffer.”

“Because you’re my friend and you love me, and Keiiith!” he whines.

“you love me”

“She does, Lance.”

I do

“Good,” he breathes out in relief. “‘cause I used a quarter of the money from my summer jobs.”

Keith blinks. “Are you nuts? That money was for college, you ass!”

“College is not important, this is!” he retorts and Keith feels something.

Because as ridiculous as Lance’s nervousness is, he can’t help but find it endearing how hard his trying to make a good impression. It shows how much Lance cares about their friendship and about Keith and Keith is feeling warm and his chest is buzzing with pleased sensation.

“She’ll love you, okay?” he tells him, looking straight in his eyes so Lance will know he means it. “Trust me, alright?”

Lance hesitates, biting at his bottom lip and flicking from Keith’s one eye to another, then nods, small and timidly. “Alright.”

“Boop?” Keith lifts up a half-clenched fist.

Lance flicks his blues down at the hand, then back up at Keith, his face morphs into a soft, loving smile. He connects his own knuckles gently to the other boy’s. “Boop.”

She loved him.

 

. . .

 

“Told you she’d like you,” he says, smirking around the rim of his mug.

Lance huffs, but his smile is earnest. “She’s so cool, I mean a house of candles? Good to know romance is still alive.”

“I knew you’d love that story,” his lips quirk up. “She will never admit it, but she’s as hopelessly romantic as you are,” Keith says, then adds, “Actually, no, she still has a chance of survival, you’re completely doomed.”

Lance elbows him. “Oh, puh-lease, like you haven’t watched Pretty Woman at least twelve times.”

“You have no proof of that.”

He has, but Lance doesn’t need to know that.

Keith blows at the tea and takes a careful sip. He’s sitting on the porch swing – his favorite place in this entire house, especially in summer when he can read his books and enjoy the warm weather.

Besides him Lance mimics his action and drinks the hot liquid, letting out a pleased sigh as it warms down his throat. He leans further into the huge, thin but fluffy blanket Meredith had given to them. It’s the beginning of fall, but Seattle is known for its chills.

“I can see why you’ve come to love this place,” Lance says, eyeing the empty road and noisy houses.

Keith hums.

There’s a quiet shuffle from the bushes, followed by a faint meow. The familiar white cloud of fur makes his way towards the two boys.

Keith smiles at the cat and quickly bends down to scratch his ears when it nests next to his feet.

“You didn’t tell me you had a cat!” Lance says accusingly, frowning at him.

“We don’t,” Keith says, scratching some more as the cat leans into his touch and purrs. “I fed him once when he was a kitten and he kept coming back.”

Lance stands up and kneels in front of him, just so the white foam is between them. Lance reaches out his hand and the cat sniffs it curiously, then flicks his sky-blue eyes to the similar ones. Lance slowly slides his knuckle up on the tiny nose.

“I call him Socrates,” Keith adds, a matter of fact.

Lance looks at him then, and stares. Keith snaps his eyes at him, raising a brow. “What?”

“I knew you were into weird names,” he smirks, there’s a fond undertone Keith barely manages to catch. It does something, again. “Antonio is a horrible name my ass, you hypocrite piece of an empty hole in the air!”

“…empty hole in the air?”

“Just go with it.”

“And this is a cat, Lance, an actual living creature and not a ceramic mug,” he adds.

“You have a weird-name kink, it’s official,” Lance continues, expressly ignoring him.

“I’m honestly offended,” he flinches, because no.

“You come to me if he tries any weird shit, got it, Soc?” he tells the cat and looks up at Keith, already beaming at his subsequent reaction.

“Lance, gross,” he scrunches his nose and Lance laughs, one of his short but genuine laughs and Keith’s heart does a flip. Or twelve.

They have a photo shoot for the next hour, Keith brings his beanie and Ray-Bans and dresses Socrates in them and Lance snaps the photos – with the dramatics of lying on the ground and yes, the camera loves you babies.

They drag Derek out and ask him to take a family portrait – Lance and Keith on each side and the white mass of fluff in the middle. They do their initial BoopingTM and Keith’s heart flutters at the sight of Lance’s smile when they sit down on the swing and look at the pictures – soft and fond and so, so beautiful.

I want to kiss you

“You know what,” Lance says, looking up at him with that blinding smile of his, and Keith thinks it too much to bear, he thinks he’ll explode. “We’d make a hell of a cool family.”

Derek muffles a laugh as he returns inside and Keith would glare at him if he could think clearly or just function as a human being. Lance looks back down at the phone and Keith just stares, and stares, and stares. He stares as the boy’s lips twitch upwards, as he grins and flashes his white teeth, as his eyes crinkle at the edges and as his deep, deep blues become sparkly.

And Keith loves it. He loves those eyes, wishing to dive and drown into them. He loves those faded freckles, wanting to kiss each of them for thousand blue moons. He loves the brown curls, longing to slide his finger into them and make a mess.

And the smile, he loves that smile so much it’s starting to hurt.

He loves Lance so much it’s starting to ache.

Keith’s throat feels dry.

I want to kiss you

Lance leaves the next day, hugging tightly and waving eagerly and Keith’s throat still feels dry.

 

Another Moment.

. . .

 

/to find our way home/

 

. . .

 

now

They’re standing in front of the movie theater, staring up at the red, lightened words that read ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Keith feels drained and equally full of buzzing energy, a paradoxical state he only has after a mind-blowing, soul-wrecking masterpiece of a movie-slash-book. And, well, this was the king of those kinds of movies. He peeks at Lance; the boy’s face is wide-eyed and agape. Keith thinks he feels the same way.

“Even though I still want to kill whoever was in charge of the movie’s audio,” Lance starts, voice even. “This was…” he inhales, turning to Keith with nonchalance at first, and eleven different emotions the next second. “A FUCKING RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE!”

Keith is grabbed by the shoulders and shaken. Lance’s excitement is rubbed on him in milliseconds and he’s grinning wide. A couple of strangers shoot them an annoyed look.

“I AM SO UNLUCKY TO BE BORN AT THIS TIME OF AGE!” he continues and Keith laughs.

“We’d have a literal heart attack if we saw Queen live at their concert,” Keith says, nudging at Lance to walk forward.

That would be the most awesome, the most LEGENDARY, the most BADASS way to die,” he says. “And I would do it gladly, and be very much proud.”

“Not sure about you, but that audio-dude would’ve actually died if he had messed up the last scenes,” Keith says, because fuck the sound just went blank at the most intense and interesting moments. Guess Satan really is punishing him for his sins.

“I know, right?!” Lance agrees, looking at him with irritation. “What was up with that?”

They rant some more, and talk some more, and walk some more. And just act like themselves – Keith and Lance.

When they make a turn on Fremont Street, Lance jerks to a halt, stopping Keith with him by the arm. Keith can see the light bulb light-up above Lance’s head and then the boy beams at him, and it’s one of those smiles Lance gets when he has a bizarre idea, like when he decided to koala-hug the Christmas tree they had put up in their poor excuse of an apartment on sophomore year of college – the poor tree had to be thrown away.

Lance pulls his phone out and taps a couple of times, then he grabs Keith’s hand abruptly, grinning from eye to eye. Keith baffles, and when Lance captures his other hand Keith opens his mouth in question, but the familiar chords make their way in the air.

“What?” Lance questions, still smiling at him with that blinding smile that is worth the shine of a thousand galaxies combines. “Don’t tell me Killer Queen has died in you.”

Keith tears his eyes off from the cocky smirk and returns one of his own. “I’m offended there, buddy.”

And they dance, surrounded with bustle and hustle of people, but their glances and chattery turns into a barely existent white noise and blur as he and Lance – he and Lance – are wrapped into a protective bubble of notes and music. They twirl and dip and make overly-dramatic drum and guitar playing moves. And they laugh when one of them does an obnoxiously weird move, and Lance folds in half when Keith walks into a stranger and knocks them both on the ground, apologies stuttering from his mouth, and Keith sees stars as Lance smiles at him more, and feels the shudders run down his body as Lance touches him more, leaving burns on Keith’s skin.

And the forgotten, dusted feeling wakes up from its slumber and slowly make its way to consume him completely. A feeling he always got when his father tucked him in bed and left the door slightly cracked open so the thin line of light would slide into his room like a protective shield and scare all the monsters away. A feeling he always got when they ate cereal in the mornings, or watched movies at night, or order pizza and play card games. A feeling he got whenever he was carried from the couch to his room, sleepy and tired but conscious enough to feel the steady arms beneath him.

The feeling he always got when Lance called his name, when Lance binge-watched Star Wars with him, when Lance sneaked into the kitchen at 2am and stole some snacks with him. When Lance BoopedTM him, when Lance smiled at him, laughed with him.

A feeling he can only name as home.

It creeps out of its cage cautiously, but fiercely blooms in his chest. And with the warmth and joy comes the fear and ice.

Keith stuffs his emotions back at their bottle, tossing it away at the furthest part of his mind. He’s dancing with Lance, after so long he’s here and those emotions won’t get in the way of having one of the best times of his goddamn life.

The music suddenly stops when the playlist comes to an end and the crowd around them starts existing again. They freeze for a moment, staring at each other with heavy breaths. Lance is standing close, one hand on Keith’s and the other stretched out at his side.

Keith could kiss him. He just needs to lean a little and he will be kissing him. And he wants to, the urge is overwhelming and he can’t really help it when his eyes flick down at Lance’s mouth, slightly open and so, so suggestive. Keith’s mind is buzzing and his body starts to move on autopilot, leaning closer. He feels Lance’s hand grip his a little tighter and slides his eyes up to the deep blues in time to catch them staring at his own mouth, before they come up to his indigos. He licks his lips and snaps his attention back at the boy’s lips again, which are getting closer, and closer. And his hammering heart is skipping beats and his chest is tight with sparkles and twelve different emotions coexist within him, creating a chaotic surge of feelings. And they will kiss. Keith will kiss Lance. He can feel the other boy’s hot breath on his face and Keith let’s out a shaky breath, just a little more, a little closer and-

Keith feels a thrust on his shoulder and finds himself being pushed away from Lance. “Oh, excuse me,” someone says next to him, but Keith barely registers their voice. His ears are ringing violently, and his whole body is hot, aching and longing for the velvet lips he was so close to.

He clears his throat, shame and embarrassment washing all over him. He hears the same sound coming from Lance, and as Keith finds the courage to look up, he finds the other boy’s face flushed red. He wonders just how hot his cheeks are and his hands become restless. Keith shoves them into his pockets and averts his eyes to anywhere but Lance.

“Ke- OHMYGOD IS THAT AN ICE CREAM TRUCK?!” he yells and that’s how Keith escapes the humiliating post-almost-kissing moment and buys strawberry ice cream in the icy chill of November instead.

Lance is blabbering about one of his and Hunk’s shenanigans when he trips on his toes and buries his nose into the vanilla ice cream cone in his hand. The crooked-up tip of his nose goes white with melted cream, Keith kind of wants to kiss it off.

Instead, his hands move on their own and before he can question his action, his thumb wipes Lance’s nose clean. The boy stills, but it barely lasts half a second – and Keith only catches the sudden motionlessness because he’s hyper-aware of everything, now that his mind has caught up with his action – before Lance etches a sheepish smile and returns to his story-telling.

Keith licks the vanilla off from his finger, the foreign and insanely familiar feeling spreading like wildfire in his veins, again.

“So,” starts Lance, licking his ice cream. “What now?”

“Wanna walk in Caesars Palace and act like we own the place, then walk back out?”

“You just get me.”

 

. . .

 

“We’ll take it!”

“No,” Keith blurts out, then smiles apologetically at the woman and drags Lance to the side. “Excuse us for a second.”

“What is it now?” Lance whispers when there’s a safe distance between them and the woman in a uniform.

“Oh nothing, just trying to avoid a blocked credit card and a drained bank account!” he whispers back.

“Keith,” he starts and Keith is already groaning. “This. Is. Vegas.”

“Stop saying that every time you have a stupid idea.”

“How is ranting a Rolls Royce a stupid idea?”

“It will be when you won’t have a drop of money in your wallet!”

“But Keeeeith,” he whisper-whines. “I always wanted to drive in a big city with a fancy, more-expensive-than-a-thousand-souls kind of car!” and he has the audacity to pout and put on his puppy dog eyes.

Keith pinches the bridge of his nose. “How about we avoid your financial crisis,” he raises a hand to stop Lance’s protest. “And I promise to show you around the city on Sab- on my bike.”

Lance doesn’t even blink. “Deal.”

Keith sighs and is about to turn and leave, when, “On one condition.”

“Huh?”

“Call it the name you were about to say,” Lance says with his shit-eating grin and sly gaze.

Shit.

“Sabrina,” Keith breaths out a mumble and prays Lance will leave him be.

Of course, Satan is the one controlling his life.

“Ah, ah, ah,” says Lance, cocking his hip to the side and resting a hand on it. Keith curses. “The whole sentence.”

Keith glares and Lance smiles oh so innocently.

“I promise to show you around the city on Sabrina,” he maffles quickly, averting his eyes away from the blue ones.

“Just admit you like my names,” Lance swings his hand around Keith’s shoulder and they make their way towards the exit.

“Never,” Keith whispers theatrically, face hot and red, and Lance’s shoulders shake with a laugh. Keith can’t hold his smile back when the other boy’s laugh sounds like music to his ears, really.

 

. . .

 

“STOP NOT TELLING ME YOU HAVE CATS!” Lance shouts and pads towards Red.

She stops licking her paw and literally looks Lance up and down – judgingly and arrogant.

Yep, definitely Miranda Priestly.

Red sniffs the hand Lance is reaching out to her, curiously swifts her tail on the counter. Lance then slides his slim fingers into the cat’s long, rich-red fur and scratches her cheek.

“She’s beautiful,” he whispers, then stills and looks down apologetically at Red, then at Keith. “It’s a girl, right? I mean, it looks like a Queen and I kinda assumed it was one.”

“Yep, Red,” says Keith, the warm feeling of fondness spills out of his chest, into the room, making it bright and warm, different from its usual gloomy and cold ambiance.

Lance stop and makes an effort to turn towards him, crossing his arms and putting an expression that Keith can only call utter disappointment.

“It’s simple and relevant,” he defends.

“Have I taught nothing to you for the past, oh, I don’t know, fifteen years?!” he exclaims dramatically, patting his right foot against the travertine tiles.

“Yeah, that you’re a complete drama queen,” Keith deadpans, but even he catches the devoted undertone of his voice.

“I can only imagine what hell living with this Mothman-loving-creep must’ve been, reinita,” Lance coos at the cat, rubbing his gentle fingers over her head – Goddess, Keith wishes that were him – and Red, being a piece of shit, moves her shoulders like she’s letting out an exhausted sigh and leans into the touch. Betrayal.

Keith only huffs and goes to his room. He’s still wearing his uniform, might as well slip into something comfortable.

“Why is it freezing in here, by the way?” Lance calls from the other room. Keith puts on a black hoodie, tucking the sleeves up when they dangle from his arms. It’s slightly oversized, which is completely his fault for never truly paying attention to the clothes he’s buying. “Keith, is your heater even on? Poor Red is probably freezing in here, aren’t you girl?” follows an accusing voice. Keith grabs his black jeans with a frown.

“It is on and Red has a nest of blankets if she gets cold,” Keith retorts and walks into the living room, where he finds Lance holding Red in his arms as he probes the bookshelf. There’s nothing fancy to look at, actually. Asides from the books, Keith keeps some old, framed photographs and miniature items, his childhood kept safe in them.

Lance is staring at one of the framed pictures, and as Keith walks up to him and follows the boy’s gaze his eyes land on the Polaroid film – a shark and a hippo, BoopingTM. His heart hammers inside his ribcage and his face flushes hot, feeling as if he was caught longing for the love of his life. Keith dares to peek at Lance and finds his face twisted in a thoughtful frown; he seems spaced out and there’s a storm of emotion in his deep blues.

Keith clears his throat and Lance jerks to a start, snapping his gaze at him. His cheeks tint in a soft pink.

“I was, um,” he coughs, then looks down at his clothes. “That’s a little tight on you, don’t you think?” he says and nods at the hoodie. Keith rolls his eyes and walks past him.

Lance continues to stroke Red’s fur while Keith puts on his boots.

“I’ll give her some food and we’ll be going,” he tells him and calls for the cat to follow him, and she does. She hops on her usual place on the counter and watches her owner grab a can of cat food and place it on a plate.

“See you soon, Boop,” he tells her on the way out and pokes her tiny, pink nose, an action completely based on muscle memory.

Lance is smiling wryly at him and Keith cocks a confused brow.

“Nothing,” he says and walks out of the apartment, waiting for Keith to lock the door. “Will you Boop me too when I leave?”

Keith feels the heat travel up his neck, but keeps a nonchalant voice nonetheless. “Maybe.”

Lance snickers.

 

. . .

 

“You jog?”

“Yes,” says Keith, stepping closer to the bike.

“When you can ride on this,” he points at Sabrina. “You jog to work?”

“Yes, Lance,” he replies, irritation tugging at his voice. He hands Lance a helmet and put his own on.

“Unbelievable,” he shakes his head, looking down at the red helmet in his hands.

Keith rolls his eyes and slides a leg across the leather seat. “Just, get on, will you.”

Lance sighs and does just that. A little more than that.

As the engine hums beneath them, Lance presses firmly on Keith’s back, locking his hands around his middle and Keith has to fight the urge to lean back into the boy. He jolts forward and then abruptly stops, laughing as Lance yelps a startled hey and clenches on him even tighter.

“Asshole,” he says from where his head is settled on Keith’s shoulder, but his voice has a playful undertone.

Keith passes throw the busy roads, sliding between cars with no problem, and as the city lights turn into a blur of lines – orange and red and neon blue – his adrenalin kicks in, and the boy behind him secures the hug even more.

Keith feels warm with buzzing energy and flattering chest and if he allows himself to ignore everything else – to ignore yesterday and even more, tomorrow – he can say he’s feeling happy. And it has been so long, so long since his face hurt from grinning too wide and his eyes saw every color glow brighter than usual. So long since he last saw and spoke to Lance.

 

. . .

 

2 years ago

Keith idly turns another page of his textbook, reading the first two sentences before deciding that the words were becoming too hazy for him to see clearly. He sighs and rubs the heel of his hands on his eyes, sliding them to his face and pulling down his eyelids.

Keith is exhausted like an eighty-years-old, and it’s only 9 pm, and he’s only twenty-one. He plops back onto the couch and closes his eyes shut, welcoming the soothing darkness.

It’s only minutes later that the front door slams open and then slams shut. A bad day, he guesses.

“We’re having a spa night and don’t even think about saying no, I need it,” says Lance, his voice dripping with exasperation.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” calls Keith tiredly, not opening his eyes.

Lance shuffles in the bathroom, gathering face masks and other skin care crap Keith can never remember the names of. It’s their last year in college and after experiencing all nine gates of hell – aka, the dorms – they had agreed on renting a cheap, but livable apartment. And, well, Keith is very satisfied with the privacy and comfort their tiny apartment offers, but it’s all fun and games until Lance pads out of the shower with only a towel wrapped around his bottom. Or when he pulls off his shirt in the middle of the room in mid-June, because holy shit, it’s so hot in this pot-of-flames of an apartment!

Yeah, it’s hot.

Keith hears bottles spray across the coffee table and he opens an eye to peek at the boy. Lance has his hand reached out to him, holding a hairband while he’s reading something on one of the green bottles, frowning down at it.

Keith pulls his hair off from his face and leans on his elbows, placing them on each of his knees.

“Wanna talk about it?” he asks at the sight of Lance’s worried line between his brown. He shakes his head and opens the lid to a green mask. “Iverson again?” to this he nods and scowls intensely at the cream. Adorable.

Just as Lance is about to slide his fingers across the mask, Keith grabs his wrist.

“I’ll do it,” he takes the bottle from his hand and explains when Lance raises a questioning brow. “I know what Iverson-stress feels like, you deserve special treatment,” he smirks and gestures for him to relax at where he’s seated on the carpeted floor.

Lance blinks at him, but obeys and leans against the side of the couch. Keith sits down next to him on the floor and hands him a blue hairband with bunnies dotted all over it and Lance pulls his curls up, exposing the face Keith dreams of peppering with kisses.

Lance closes his eyes and Keith inhales deep. He dips his fingers into the cool cream and spreads it on the bronze skin. Lance flinches at the coldness of the mask, but relaxes when his body gets used to it.

Keith watches carefully, memorizing the face all over again, because how can he not. Lance is beautiful. And Keith wants to scream it until his voice cracks and he wants to kiss the lips, which are only inches away from his thumb, until his lungs give out. He sighs.

“Done,” Keith says and has to force himself to peel his fingers away. He wipes the green substance from his fingers with a towel and searches his usual facemask – it’s the quickest one to dry.

“I will probably fail,” he hears a whisper and snaps his eyes back at Lance.

“You won’t fail, Lance.”

“Iverson is a dick, but he’s still the best there is,” he continues, ignoring his previous words. “And I can barely keep up with him and the rest of students,” he scoffs. “I should just work at Starbucks or McDonald’s for the rest of my miserable, talentless life.”

Keith feels the anger boil.

“Hey,” he snaps. Lance flicks his head up at him, eyes wide. “Stop talking shit about my best friend, asshole!”

Lance huffs a laugh and his usual mirth is returns – just barely, but still does – to his eyes.

“And if you’re having trouble, I can help you out,” he continues, more gently. “You don’t have to deal with it alone, Lance, we talked about bottling thing up.”

“Look who’s all caring and soft,” Lance says, his characteristic wry smirk nested against his lips. Keith rolls his eyes. “Aww, you’re such a cat!” he says and tries to snake his arms around him.

“What does that suppose to mean,” Keith utters, pushing Lance away on his chest – half-heartedly, of course.

Lance just laughs and throws the facemask at him. “It means your grumpy-cute, now put this on,” he crows and grabs the remote to put on their movie.

Keith’s heart does a flip and his face becomes hot, waaay hot for it to be subtle, so, in an attempt to cover his reddened cheeks, he quickly smears the white cream on his face, spreading it swiftly and unevenly.

The beginning of The Haunting of Hill House lights up the screen and Lance glances back at him, scrunching his nose in displease.

“An animal,” he stage-whispers with feigned terror.

“What?”

“Just- ” he cuts himself off and grabs a table mirror instead, and Keith’s half-covered face answers his question. The facemask thickly covers some parts of his face, and the others are either just dotted with it or completely bare.

“Oh,” he says and reaches to correct it, when he feels a sudden weight on his lap.

“Let me,” Lance tells him and his long fingers slide across his burning face.

Lance, in his lap, legs settled across on each of Keith’s sides.

Okay, it’s no big deal, okay.

Keith looks up at him, and curses himself when a quivering breath escapes from his lungs at the sight of Lance’s eyes, ever so soft, colored in the darkest blue Keith’s ever seen on him. Even though his heart is promising to break his ribs and run across the room, he still tries and relaxes at the other boy’s touch. Lance’s fingers glide gently and steadily on his cheeks, on his chin, his nose, his forehead. Keith can’t really help it when his eyes flutter shut, it feels so good, Lance’s touch is tender and loving, and at this moment his slender fingers control Keith’s world.

Keith feels a thumb run back and forth on his cheekbone, just under his eyes. Back and forth, and again. It sends shivers down his spine and inflates his chest with jubilation. Keith’s hands are itching to move, to touch, to grip. Instead, he opens his eyes when his cheeks are continuously traced with fingers, leaving burnt marks behind.

Lance is looking down at him, eyes foggy and half-lidded. Keith swallows. Unconsciously, his eyes flick down at the boy’s mouth, and Keith senses Lance doing the same. If he’s getting the right signs… if Lance is… and he wants to. He wants to so much, right now, with Lance so close, just a breath away, he wants to.

“I want to kiss you,” words come out like a puff of air, barely above a whisper. He inches closer – or maybe, they both do – eyes never living the other’s lips, so inviting.

“About time you say that,” is the last thing he hears before his breath is taken away.

Lance’s lips are soft, and needy, and they move expertly against his own. They’re perfect and make Keith forget how to breathe. His hands slide up to Lance’s neck and he pulls him closer, deepening the kiss. Lance groans in the back of his throat when Keith slips his tongue across the bottom lip before going further.

Lance tastes like coffee and face cream, and their faces are most likely a mess, smudged with facemasks all over, but it’s the best kiss Keith’s ever had. And it gets only better as Lance’s slim fingers find their way to his hair.

Keith’s breathless, he can feel the burning in his chest, but oxygen is not as important as Lance’s wet lips are. He prefers to die of suffocation than to leave them, and with all honesty, it’s a great way to leave this world.

In spite of his wish of a tragic death in Lance’s arms, Lance pulls away, panting. Keith chases the warmth of his lips, but stops at the sound of a familiar snicker. He frowns up at him.

“Nothing, just,” Lance laughs some more. “Finally.”

“Yeah,” he says for the sake of saying something back and leans in for a pack. And another. And another.

“I mean, how long were you going to let me wait,” says Lance in between kisses.

“Didn’t know you were waiting.”

“Oh, please,” Lance exclaims and pushes him back. “I was dropping hints everywhere! And even stopped being subtle in the end.”

Keith blinks up at him. “You were?”

“Oh my god,” he throws his head back, groaning up at the ceiling. Keith traces the exposed neck with his eyes, gulping. “Yes! I thought it was being clear when I asked you to cuddle with me every. Single. Night. For the past two weeks.”

“I thought you were having trouble sleeping after that horror movie we saw,” he defends.

“Well, yeah that too, I’m still sure the thing is on the closet,” he shivers. “Just waiting for the right moment to eat me alive,” he narrows his eyes and says with a low voice.

Keith huffs a laugh and kisses him. Because he can. And he wants to. Lance’s smile pushes back and soon they fall into the oblivion of just the two of them.

And then the phone rings.

 

. . .

 

Empty.

That’s the only word Keith can think of to describe himself, leaning against the cold, white walls of Dillard hospital – empty.

Vacant. Deserted. Voided.

Like his souls has been sucked out of him and took every emotion with it. Keith is not sure when he entered the state of nothingness, but at some point, the tightness in his chest, preventing him from breathing, had been eased out and his eyes had stopped burning. Emotions – painful and agonizing and suffocating – had stopped coexisting within him, fading somewhere distant, somewhere out of his reach, maybe his soul really took them away with it. Everything’s just dull now, and shallow, and empty. And right now, nothing truly matters. Not even the man with a tube placed in his windpipe, hooked up to a ventilator.

The only thing that matters is it happened, again. Again.

But that, too, is losing its meaning as the seconds tick by.

Keith sees himself for afar, seated on the cold floor, dressed in his black and maroon sweats, different Chuck Taylors on each of his feet – one denim and low-topped, the other light grey, high-topped. His hair is still a mess and his face would still be covered in white facemasks if not for Lance, who calmly helped him to semi-function with the chaos and entropy ruling inside of him.

Lance had offered – maybe even pleaded, but Keith’s ears were ringing far too loud for him to be sure – to come along, but Keith declined his offer with finality in his voice and was bolting forwards on his bike. The heartbreak and hurt that had twisted on Lance’s face pinched his chest, firm and painful. But he barely felt the sensations, words roaring too loud in his head.

“Am I speaking to Keith Kogane?” a voice asks, and judging by how low and raspy it sounds, it probably belongs to a male. The voice has a coldness in it that Keith has heard before, very long time ago. The voice brings back flames and screaming and tears.

“Yes,” Keith answers, his guts twist in worry. Something yells in his mind that the will would crumble down on him, and Keith prays not to hear the familiar words once again.

“I am calling from the Dillard hospital to inform you about your guardian, Derek- ” the rest is not really important, all he needs to know is that it’s about Derek, and the call is from a hospital. Rest of the conversation comes in bits of pieces.

“-we’re very sorry for your loss-“

“-and several broken ribs, along with his three limbs-“

“-suffering from a heavy concussion-“

Keith’s phone lights up and it takes three tries for him to register that it’s a text from Meredith, telling him she’ll arrive soon. Hours ago, he was wishing for her to be here, ease his chocking pain with her steady and promising words, now it doesn’t matter that much. She could arrive days later and Keith would not give a damn – more like he can’t, not anymore.

“--sir,” someone shakes him by the shoulder, gently. His eyes snap up to a white coat and brown locks of hair. “If you’d like, you can visit the patient,” the voice says, Keith can’t tell if it’s a male or a female. Doesn’t matter anyway.

He sees himself nod and gets up to his feet, automatically following the white blur behind. His steps seem light, but it’s hard to move, like the gravity is pulling him down with all of its force, mercilessly trying to get Keith on the ground.

A door opens and the first thing he registers is the beeping – unnatural and deathly. The white coat closes the door behind him, giving him privacy.

Next sound is the whooshing of the fans – the fans that maintain the ups and downs of the man's chest.

Then the breathing, loud and heavy and lifeless. Forced.

Keith feels nauseous. He sees white, ashy white on the man’s face, along with blue and purple. A tub is parting his lips, sliding down his throat like a sneak. Keith’s hands itch to rip it out.

He moves slowly, cautiously. Afraid. He’s not sure of what exactly, the worst has already happened, his fears have already formed a skeleton and put on a flesh of their own. But the fear is still there. Or, maybe, it’s hope.

Derek’s chest moves up, then down.

Keith stands near the bed, not daring to sit down. He stares at the bandages covering his body like scars, stares at the cuts on his face and hands, at the fallen, darkened eyes, closed. Motionless eyelids. Keith thinks if they were open, they’d be as empty as he’s feeling, maybe even more. He shivers at the image. It’s a familiar shiver, and a familiar image. His father had his eyes open after all.

The door opens and tender fingers slide up on his shoulders. He can’t even think of the state Meredith must be in, losing the love of her life. Keith remembers suddenly all of their tales, their affectionate mockery, gentle pecks of goodbyes and hellos, simple gifts just for the sake to see the other smile. He feels his heart move for the first time in the past hours, squeeze tight inside his ribcage, almost like shrinking into a smaller form.

Keith eyes her face, stoical but still wet with tears, and her eyes seem to have aged a hundred years, full of pain and loss. He slides a hand, pulling her to a side-hug. They stay like that, each in their own mind, telling their own farewells.

Keith watches as the nurse cuts off his air support, as the ECG goes mute, drowning the room in silence, heavy and soul-crushing silence. Again.

Keith sees the man exhale his last puff of air, emptying his body from whatever drop of life he still had within him. Again.

Keith hears the shallow and cold I’m so sorry for your loss. Again.

The only difference is him. He’s not angry like before, or lonely, or overflown with countless burning emotions. He doesn’t feel the tears choking him to death, asking desperately to be released. He just feels an immense sense of betrayal. He’s not sure who or what he is being betrayed by – maybe by Derek, maybe by the driver of that fucking truck, maybe by the powers, maybe by himself. The only thing his barely functional mind can grasp on is one blood-freezing feeling – betrayal.

 

. . .

 

The familiar black kettle whistles, like its life depends on it. Keith snaps out of his mindless oblivion and sets it off of the flames. He pours it in one of the red mugs – there are at least a dozen more of them. Soaked tealeaves let out an aromatic smell, almost enchanting, and Keith breaths in deeply. Derek always knew where the best of teas could be bought. Keith wishes he had asked where to find them, in that case he’d never have to worry about running out of the most pungent smell that reminded him of Derek.

But, well, that can’t be helped now, can it.

“Morning, honey,” he hears a gentle voice and turns towards the woman, her eyes still trying to blink off the sleep.

“Mornin’,” he replies, sliding the red mug to her. “Made you some tea.”

“Thanks, although coffee would be a lot more useful,” she says, idly blowing at the hot liquid before sipping it. “We really have to repair the coffee machine.”

Keith hums. A coffee machine is least of his worries – everything is less important nowadays. He manages to stay awake without caffeine perfectly fine.

“Guess you’ll have to drink the shitty, tasteless coffee at work,” says Keith.

“First day back and I can’t even have a proper coffee,” she rolls her eyes dramatically, but playfully.

Keith has been back to Seattle for two weeks, making sure Meredith was well and not alone to deal with the demons. They both took some time off from the outside world, mostly spending time at home, watching movies, reading books, simply enjoying each other’s company. For Keith it was more than just spending time with his foster mom and recovering by her side, it was a solid proof that she was still alive, that she was unharmed and she was still there, with him. Keith would sometimes snap his head up from the book he was reading or from the TV screen, a surge of panic overtaking his whole being, coming out of nowhere. And he’d quickly fall back to his unusual state of calmness as his mind registered that the woman was just barely inches away, unharmed and very much alive – well, for the physical part.

Meredith would sometimes stare. Keith had caught her gaze a few times, burning his shoulders from across the room. She’d just smile and at times, mutter something unintelligible breathlessly. And at rare occasions, when Keith managed and fell asleep, he’d feel shaky fingers on his head, combing his hair or on his arms, sliding up and down. He had always kept his pretense and locked his eyes shot, knowing exactly how much Meredith needed the substantial knowledge of him being there.

“You’ll be home?” Meredith asks as she gulps the last drops of her drink and places the mug in the sink.

“Yeah,” he says.

Meredith is quiet for a while, watching at him carefully. “Keith,” she starts. “I’ll be fine, if that’s what’s keeping you here. You have your own life to go back to, don’t let me keep you away from it.”

“No, I--” he pauses, weighing his words before vocalizing them. “I know you’ll be okay, but it’s not just that. I don’t think-- I don’t want to go, yet.”

“Okay,” she says, voice soothing and reassuring. Keith always liked the way her words carried peacefulness with them. “Whatever you need,” she walks closer and slides an arm on his side, pulling him into a side-hug. Keith leans into it, because it feels like caring and love and safeness. “We’ve got each other.”

She shakes him once, offering a smile. Keith returns it weakly and pecks her cheek goodbye – it’s a new habit he developed after re-living his nightmares, a tiny kiss every time they parted, a tiny mark of hope for them to reunite again.

 

. . .

 

The porch swing squeaks a little as Keith flops on it, and he winces. It’s sometime between three and four in the morning, he’s not quite sure. What he is sure of, is that waking up Meredith after a busy day is not a good idea.

Keith folds his legs up, covering them with the fluffy blanket and squeezing his knees tight over his chest. The air is cold against his face, but Keith welcomes it. Feeling the iciness makes him aware of his own body, something he occasionally losses the sense of. He sees a familiar white fluff float towards him, and he plucks the cat off the ground as it starts to meow.

Something else shuffles nearby. Keith’s hand stills at where it’s buried in the white fur and his eyes flick up. A tall figure approaches him. Keith just watches.

As Lance steps closer, the dim light from the outdoor lamp slides its way up on the figure, revealing a huge, warm hoodie with legs and a frown. Keith recognizes it as one of his don’t-care-what-it-is-as-long-as-it’s-cheap-and-wearable hoodies, and at any other time, maybe, the butterflies would’ve come and his face would’ve flared up. But now it’s just a semi-pleasant fact.

“You’re very uncool,” is what Lance says, he places his bag near the swing and takes a seat next to Keith, automatically reaching out a hand to the white foam with whiskers and scratches his chin.

“Nothing new in that,” he says back, monotonic.

“A text back would be nice,” Lance grumbles, keeping his eyes on the cat as he pouts. “It’s not like I’m asking too much.”

His last words leave a sour taste in Keith’s mouth.

“My phone died,” he says dumbly.

“You’ll be amazed, but humans, you see, have created this thing called a phone charger,” he gestures with his hands, sliding them in the air above his head in a form of a rainbow. Keith catches the bite in his voice and looks down at Socrates. He can’t face Lance, not when he has no reaction to his words when he knows he should. “Very handy thing.”

Keith hums.

“Keith,” says Lance and there’s a softness in his voice that has Keith looking up at him. “Talk to me. I’m here for you, okay?” he adds, brows furrowed in worry and hurt.

that’s the problem

“Yeah.”

stay much longer and you’ll end up with a tube shoved down your throat

“Keith, please,” he peas, placing a hand on his shoulder. Keith flinches back at the contact and notices Lance’s face fall even more. But he can’t help it, his mind and body just want Lance to go away, to leave before...

“Let me help you.”

“I’m fine, Lance,” he deadpans.

“Yeah, and I’m flying a robotic lion, defending the universe from evil aliens,” he scoffs, a thick layer of hurt ghosting under the sarcasm.

“Good for you.”

Keith can feel him glare, two holes burning on his scalp. He knows he’s being unfair to Lance, when all he wants is to help. But all Keith wants is for him to leave, and maybe his empty replies will do the trick.

“Stop doing that,” says Lance, irritation creeping in his voice. “Pushing me away, just, let me be here for you, Keith. Allow me to be here.”

Keith’s head only drops lowers, he wishes to just disappear into the blanket, fade away from the deep blues he can’t help but drown into. Lance’s voice sounds so small and desperate, and broken. And Keith wishes, he really wishes to feel different, wishes to have the strength to let Lance in, to dive into the other boy’s chest, safe and warm. He craves it so deeply-

Its grip is piercing and cold, ice cold, and the frozen venom travels fast in his blood. The fear smiles at him and Keith shudders. Just the idea of losing these sky-blues as well has him feeling nauseous, makes the demons grin wider.

“I just want to be alone, Lance,” he pushes the words out, even though they’re true, Keith still feels like he’s lying, and he never lies to Lance.

“Okay, I’ll just sit here, soundless,” he tries. Keith is still staring at the white locks in his hands, but he can clearly see Lance’s furrowed brows and whirling eyes, searching for the last bits of reason. “It’ll be like you’re alone, I won’t even breath.”

Keith looks up now, worried irises staring back at him. “Maybe another time,” he says dryly and aims for a promising smile, missing a mile from it.

Lance opens his mouth to say something back, probably a protest or a whine, but Keith must’ve had a look that made the words die in his throat. Lance swallows heavily and Keith thinks the boy’s mouth must be dry.

“Okay,” he says. Then again, “Okay, call me when, okay? I’ll come as soon as you tell me to,” he swallows again. “Okay?”

“Thanks, Lance,” Keith replies, because even in this state of emotional numbness, he still knows it’s not okay.

Lance’s face shifts into something downright painful, the lines under his eyes are more visible and deeper. He lifts a fist up and Keith feels his heart shrink for the first time in weeks. If Lance says the word, if he’s going to ask to do it, Keith is sure he’ll just run away. Because he can’t, he can’t, he can’t.

Not on a broken promise. Not on a farewell.

And he probably made another face, more intense this time, because Lance winces and drops his arm, looking away to hide his face. Keith still notices the shiny pearls.

“Call me, Keith, please,” he says and stands up, shoulders his bag and steps into the darkness.

And maybe Keith should be more concerned at the fact that Lance is alone in the streets in the middle of the night, or the fact that he left crying. Or the fact that Keith let him leave crying and alone at this time of night. But all he feels is relief, his shoulders relax and deflating sigh escapes his mouth.

And only months later, after getting a new phone and number, and dropping out of college and reassuring Meredith that moving away into an unknown city was something he needed – and he truly did need it – and promising to call her frequently, after meeting Shiro on the bus and somehow ending up working in a crappy motel with him, he realizes that if he had one chance to travel back in time, he’d go back to that night and beat the living hell out of the most stupid version of himself, who put the heaviest, most excruciating burden of regret on his shoulders.

 

. . .

 

now

Keith pulls to a stop and eyes the monstrosity of a building in front of him. Lance is still clinging tightly, his arms around Keith’s middle and head in-between his shoulder blades, causing the boy’s heart to nearly break through his chest.

“You okay back there?” says Keith smugly, a smirk morphing his lips, and he thanks the powers that his voice doesn’t come out as wrecked as he’s feeling.

Lance sighs, almost sounding disappointed, before slowly pushing himself away, taking the warmth with him and Keith almost regrets his decision to stop. But Keith is not sure when he’ll be able to see Lance again and he sure-as-hell is going to show the boy his favorite spot in this whole entire city.

Keith quickly sends a text and turns to Lance, who’s gazing at Encore in awe, eyes wide and mouth agape. Under the city lights, a mixture of soft-oranges and sharp-neons, Lance looks like a thousand sunsets combined. He’s beautiful and Keith aches to touch him.

The ping of his phone knocks him out of the oblivion of blue eyes and freckles, and he makes his way towards Lance.

“Wow,” he says as Keith stops beside him, eyes still locked on the hotel, as if he’s physically unable to look away. Can’t blame him, Keith was slack-jawed for the entire first week when he moved here. “Just, wow. I’m so gonna come back here when I have at least one-hundred and third of Bill Gate’s budget.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, barely taking in his words and never looking away from the boy, because how can he when he looks like a fucking masterpiece.

Another ping.

“Come on, or do you prefer watching from the distance?” Keith says and tugs at his coat, pulling him towards the building. He feels Lance stumble, but they quickly fall into step next to each other.

“Wait, like come on as in come on inside?” he says, breathless, and when Keith turns his head to look at him he finds the other staring back with surprise, mouth slightly open and the corners of it quirked up in childish excitement, like he received the exact toy he’d asked for Santa, and Keith tries to fight the smile taking control over his face, he really does.

“Not just,” he replies, now full-on grinning at the sight of the boy’s features light up in exhilaration. Lance beams at him and fuck Keith is so weak for that smile. He’d chop his own arm off and then eat it just to see Lance smile like that again.

“Well, what else?” he asks, blissful, eyes snapping back at the illuminated building, then back at Keith with a new spark in the familiar blues.

“You’ll see.”

“Keiiiith,” he whines, unamused, his brows furrow and lips pout – pout. Fucking adorable. What a shame Keith won’t be able to look at him every day.

 Keith shakes his head. Nope, he is not going to think about that and ruin this night. He’ll have plenty of time overthinking this night for the rest of eternity, tonight he’s allowed to shut his brain off.

He walks close to the front entrance and then steps past it, into a darker corner. Keith catches with the corner of his eye when Lance slows down in confusion, his head turning towards the huge glass-doors, then back at the boy in front of him. He shrugs and follows him into the shadows, curiosity still shading his features in a deep color.

Keith knocks at the iron door – once, then twice at a faster pace, then once again. The heavy door clicks before crack-opening slowly, dim light cutting out into the dark. Lance stands beside Keith, hands shoved in the pockets of his puffy coat, head tilted to the side in interest, like a cute little puppy watching its owner throw a ball for the first time, not knowing what to do with it.

A D O R A B L E.

“Hey, Kogane,” greets Matt, popping his head out with a sly smile on his face. “What brings you here tonight?”

“Hey,” he lifts his hand up, smiling sheepishly. “Have a night off at work,” he adds and steps inside the warmth, gesturing at Lance to follow.

Lance puts on his friendly smile, the one he usually uses when he meets new people, and wanders his eyes around the room. There’s nothing much to see, some brooms and cleaning supplies. Yet, the deep blues still shine like they discovered a new planet.

“You got my text?” Keith turns his eyes to Matt, who’s giving him a wry and knowing smile.

“Yep, two of your usual,” he lifts his arm and shows two white containers, but there are bottles of what seems like beer, which is not his usual. Keith raises an eyebrow in question. “I had a feeling you’d like something to drink,” he winks. The three of them make their way to the busy hallway when Matt waves for them to follow.

Keith stares. “Pidge told you, didn’t they?”

“Yep.”

“Can’t keep a fucking secret around here,” he mutters with a frown, but there’s no real heat in his words. True, he’s a private person, enjoying being the only one in his small bubble-of-a-world, but he can use a drink or two right now, so maybe it’s not that bad to open up a little.

“So,” Matt quickly loses interest in him, shoving the bag to his chest and stepping aside to walk closer by Lance. “You’re the infamous Lance, huh?” he examines the boy like he’s some kind of research material, and Keith fights the urge to smack his head. Jerk.

“Um, yes?” drawls Lance, flicking his eyes to Keith and then back to Matt, face scrunched slightly with uneasiness. They make way for a running employee, who’s carrying what seems like a tower of a dozen white towels.

“Keith’s a blabber when drunk,” he says, as if it explains it all. Which, sort of, does, and Lance lets out an understanding ooh and smirks at him. Keith’s cheeks heat up, glaring at Matt and wishing that looks could kill. They walk into an elevator that is a hundred times nicer than Keith’s apartment.

“Aww, you talk about me to your friends,” he sing-song, fluttering his eyes. “While drunk?”  Jerk number two.

“Talks?” Matt whistles, amusement playing in his eyes and Keith shoots him a warning look. Matt ignores him and continues. “I wish he just talked, his tongue bleeds at the end of his lov- oof- ” he wraps his arms around his middle, where Keith had very meaningfully poked – struck – his elbow. Lance’s eyes widen and brows lift up in amusement and the door opens with a bing.

“Thanks for the favor, Matt,” he says annoyingly and places some bills in the boy’s hand, then adds. “We’ll be leaving now, goodbye,” he utters through his teeth, grabs the key that Matt is proffering to him and drags Lance by the elbow, the other giggles and says his own goodbyes.

“He seems cool,” Lance says with a smile.

“He’s a pain in the ass,” retorts Keith, but his voice means the opposite. He hears a soft chuckle from behind.

Keith walks up the stairs, stained with some dots of rust here and there, and soon is standing in front of another iron door, looking just as heavy as the one before. He turns his head to Lance.

“You ready?” he asks with a smug grin and his heart flutters when Lance nods excitedly, lips molding a sweet smile and eyes sparkling with anticipation. He turns the key and push-opens the door.

Face, already gotten used to the warmth of indoors, is hit with the coldness of the brutal winter, and Keith let’s out a shaky breath. He walks backwards onto the rooftop, eyes never leaving Lance, taking in his every expression, catching his every emotion that runs across his features. And right now, Lance’s face screams complete astonishment and awe, with his eyes wide open, flicking around to take in the view, and his mouth agape, tiny white clouds escaping occasionally.

Keith’s smile widens, the feeling of pride surges his insides and his chest inflates with something warm and buzzing. There’s a reason this place is his favorite spot out of all the rooftops he’s been on. The whole city is just under his nose, flickering dots of city-light almost palpable, reachable, a small galaxy with moving lights and busy streets, creating white noise that is not loud enough to scare away the thoughts, but wraps around him in a soothing way instead.

Lance steps closer to the edge, almost too close and Keith bolts towards him and swiftly grabs him by the sides.

“Dude, you trying to give me a heart attack?!” he exclaims, pulling Lance back where he’s safe and away from the possibility of a sudden death.

“This is amazing,” whispers Lance, still gazing down at the city as if he didn’t just give Keith a possible heart failure. Keith’s hold softens, but he doesn’t let go, still afraid that the boy will launch himself forward.

“Yeah?”

Lance turns on his heels, now facing Keith with his awestruck, blissful expression, and Keith is forced to pull his hands back and slump them to his sides. But then Lance’s firm grip finds his shoulders and shakes them. “YEAH!” he shouts and Keith winces at the sudden disturbance of the surrounding silence. His nose scrunches and eyes squint, Lance laughs at his expression.

“Well, then you’re gonna love,” says Keith and ends his statement by looking up. He sees Lance do the same moments after and quickly snaps his eyes down, engraving the boy’s mien once again. But instead of the wide-eyed, slack-jawed look, Lance’s face fixes into a soft one, a mopey smile tugs his lips upwards, something familiar flares in his dark blues – under the stars they look like space itself.

They’ve seen skies more breathtaking and jaw-dropping than this one, but Keith thinks that right now, this familiar, yet so unknown sky is the most special one he’s ever seen. It’s dotted with fewer stars than the usual sky is, but the darkness between the twinkles holds something ethereal. Keith feels it. Sees it in the eyes in front of him, deep and enchanting and so out of this world, holding galaxies of stars that Keith has yet to discover.

“You brought me here to stargaze?” he whispers, looking down at him and the fondness behind his gaze makes Keith swallow, heavy and hard.

“Why not? I thought we could continue our tradition,” he shrugs, glancing sideways, because shit, Lance’s eyes are overwhelming and Keith may be good at self-control, but under the gaze on those familiar and craved blue irises, he can’t really trust himself.

When Lance stays quiet for longer than Keith is okay with, he lifts the bag of food and beer up and nods down at the ground. “Shall we?”

 

. . .

 

“The Cracoon!” exclaims Lance, pointing up at a constellation he swears looks like a crab with a raccoon’s face. Keith never sees it as that, just some formless placing of burning gas, but he nods anyway.

“Cassiopeia,” says Keith, lifting his own finger to point at the stars.

They’ve already eaten the delicious sandwiches Matt had made for them, Lance blabbered for five minutes non-stop about how this was the best fucking shit I’ve ever eaten after my Mamá’s food! Keith completely agrees.

Now they’re sitting down and leaning on the door, with half-full bottles of really good beer in hand and are trying to name the most of the constellations they can make out in the night. Lance sits close, his fluffy coat pushes against Keith’s and the simple contact warms him more than any layer of clothing does. It’s almost a shame how big of an effect the boy beside him has on him. The key word being almost.

“Oh, I found one-- the-- shit, what did you name it?” Keith furrows his brows, trying to remember the ridiculous name Lance had come up for it. Then his face lights up as the name floats up in his mind. “The Toenail Garry,” he utters and laughs, because that is the most absurd name he’s ever heard Lance make up. And he loves it.

Keith is not sure how it looks like a Toenail Garry – nor does he know what Toenail Garry is supposed to look like – but he remembers the curved form of it, spiked at the edges and the unusually crooked ending that Lance swears looks like their neighbor Garry’s profile. Well, as long as Lance sees it that way, Keith has nothing against calling it that.

He hears Lance chuckle next to him, the other boy’s shoulder brushes against his own. “I forgot about that one,” he says and sips the drink, and no, Keith does not stare at the way his lips wrap around the rim of the bottle. He turns away quickly and gulps his own beer, fighting away the heat from traveling up his neck, nesting right on his cheeks.

“This is nice,” he hears after a moment of silence, a soft whisper that feels a lot more broken than anything else. And Keith’s chest tightens. “I missed hanging out with you.”

“Yeah,” replies Keith and lifts the bottle to his lips, almost chugging what’s left in it. “I missed this, too.”

Lance stays quiet for a while. Than Keith sees the boy lift himself up and slowly make his way towards the edge, keeping a safe distance this time. Keith watches his back, stares at it as the realization slowly clutches his neck, claws sinking deep and painful into the skin, blocking the icy air from his lungs. Lance is leaving soon. Tomorrow, Keith will wake up and go back to his previous, Lance-less, colorless life. Because Lance is leaving. Tomorrow.

“I can see why you stayed here,” he hears a small voice, barely catching the words. Keith stands up then, approaching him and standing just behind the boy. “It’s alive, moving. Kinda like New York – you always wanted to live there too,” he continues, a smile audible in his voice, but Keith doesn’t need to look at the boy to know it’s one of his sad smiles, the one that cuts right through his chest, through his heart, leaving a bleeding wound behind.

Keith hums in accord. He’s never given much thought about why he stayed here, maybe it really is the fluid, unceasing ambiance of the city that draws him to it, or maybe it keeps him far away from home, enough to consider it more of a memory than something he can go back to.

Lance turns his head, words hanging on the tip of his tongue, when a sudden sound cuts through the air. Lance frowns and pulls his phone out. Keith catches Hunk’s name on the screen.

“Hey,” answers Lance and starts to aimlessly whirl on his feet. He always did that when talking on the phone, walk around the apartment or draw meaningless circles on paper if he had a pen in hand. Keith finds it endearing how Lance never stops moving, and he’s secretly glad that the boy still has the habit of mindless fidgeting. Keith thinks it’s adorable, okay, sue him.

“Yeah I know,” says Lance. “I won’t have trouble waking up-- just pour cold water on me-- oh my god, we won’t miss the plane!” he tells him, irritation creeping in his voice. Lance nods his head once after that, like Hunk could see it and says a quick got it before ending the call.

“Early morning?” says Keith dumbly.

“Yeah, gotta go back home,” he replies quietly, still staring down at his phone, the screen informing them that it’s nearly 4am. Lance moves back until he’s leaning on the edge.

Keith swallows, feeling the flames die in his chest, the cold around him more sensitive than it has been for the whole night. He knew Lance would leave eventually, but now, being actually faced with the fact of him going away, Keith can’t help the tightness in his chest, choking him.

“Yeah.”

Lance looks up, nervously playing with the phone in his hand, before nesting it in his pocket. He looks sideways, then back at him again, eyes sharp, and there’s the smallest of hope in them that has Keith nearly crying.

“Will you come back home?” he croaks out, voice so small and vulnerable Keith steps a little closer to him on instinct, feeling the sudden urge to protect him from whatever is causing Lance to sound like this.

oh, the fucking irony

“I can’t,” he whispers back, and wishes for the hundredth time to have the ability to kick his own stupid ass.

“Why not?” Lance scowls now, his voice sounding more like an angry growl than anything else, but Keith catches the broken undertone.

“I,” he begins. “I have a life here, I mean, I can’t just leave,” he says and the moment his words escape his mouth he fears that Lance will punch him – and he’d gladly let him, because fuck if he’s not the biggest asshole in the whole galaxy.

“You didn’t seem to have a problem before,” he mutters.

Keith clenches his jaw, staying quiet. Because he’s right, Lance is absolutely right and Keith wishes more than anything to leave with him, back to the life he had and he loved so much, back home. But home is where he lost his parents, first his mother left with no warning, then his father was eaten up by flames, and then Derek.

Yeah, home is something he misses bone-achingly, but it’s also something he fears to go back to the most. Because not Lance, he can’t lose Lance. Not him.

“Keith,” he’s snapped out of his thoughts by Lance’s voice, worried and ever so soft. Lance gulps before speaking. “I’m not sure how much you love this place, and if this is the life you want to have now, but,” he stops, weighing his words before adding. “I know you, okay? And working at a motel in a city that’s mostly a stranger to you is not something you wanted.”

Lance stands up and steps closer to him when Keith stays quiet, wordless at how accurate Lance is, how he knows Keith almost better than Keith himself. His eyes stay focused on the floor, feeling like a child being scolded.

“You like two cups of coffee in the morning, and you like to jog before the sun itself is awake, and you like Cap'n Crunch more than actual food,” Lance huffs a laugh here, and Keith’s frown deepens, eyes stay locked glancing downwards and the tightness in his chest has never been more painful. “You like to draw and you want to open your own tattoo shop, because you like the idea of people having something you created on their skin. You hate math and Iverson is someone you’d kill without a doubt if given the chance.”

Keith looks up then, a small smirk on his face. “Everyone would kill him.”

Lance smiles back, but continues with a serious voice. “You’re running away from the life you’ve wanted as long as I remember knowing you,” he says. “And I hate that I can’t help you get back to it, Keith. Just, let me, please,” he says, sounding desperate. Keith feels his hands being placed into a gentle grip, gloved fingers soothing over his knuckles.

Keith stares at him, looking at the boy with the most beautiful blues he’s ever seen and listens to him say the words he once told him before. And he falls deeper, drowns into the sky-blue irises and Goddess, he loves Lance so much, so so much. If something happens to him, if he ever faces the fear of losing Lance--

“What are you so afraid of, Keith,” he hears Lance whisper, soft and concerned. It sparks something inside of his chest that is stronger than the icy fear traveling through his veins.

Keith frees his hands and crosses them across his chest. He looks down when Lance’s face falls. “I just,” he begins, worrying on his bottom lip. “I can’t let something happen to you.”

“What do you mean?” Lance sounds confused, but Keith is looking down on his boots, the tips of it wet and freezing. Then he hears a sharp inhale and a knowing oh. “Keith, hey, look at me,” he says, and Keith does. His eyes are burning, but Keith blames it on the cold breeze.

“Nothing will happen, okay?”

“You don’t know that,” he scoffs.

“And you do?” Lance replies, keeping his calm that makes Keith’s anger boil for some reason.

“I don’t know, okay,” he huffs and throws his arms in the air, white cloud escaping in the air as he speaks. “I just know that if I stay with you something will happen and-- and I can’t lose you too, okay!”

“Lose me? And what do you call this?!” he points between them, the nonchalance in his voice makes its way to exasperation. “Protection? You think by living miles away maintains our relationship or something?! You’re losing me like this even more, if that’s what concerns you!” his voice gets higher and his eyes are now burning with flames of fury.

“At least I know you’re not dying or disappearing,” he shouts back, feeling his face go hot, but his blood feels colder than ice.

“You don’t get to do this!” he says, and Keith hears his voice is on the verge of cracking. “You don’t get to decide that by leaving you’re somehow, with that stupid logic of yours, protecting me! You don’t get to take yourself away from me!” he chokes, voice coming out like a sob. “I don’t need you to ‘protect’ me--” he uses air quotations and Keith sees how his blinking has increased. “If it means I lose my best friend!”

Keith stands still, unblinking, not breathing. Just watching Lance’s shoulders move up and down with heavy breaths, his eyes glistening and brows slightly shaking. He feels selfish. He feels so selfish and if there was an award for being the worlds biggest dick, he’d receive twenty of it.

A sob brings him back to reality, and Keith launches forwards without a blink, throwing his hands around Lance’s scarfed neck. The other’s arms are around his back almost instantly, and Keith feels Lance’s breath on his neck when he buries his nose there. He hates this. He hates Lance crying and he hates himself for being the reason.

“I’m sorry,” whispers Keith, but these words seem so useless and powerless he almost takes them back.

“I miss you, okay?” Lance chokes out, tightening his grip and sinking his face further into the boy’s neck. “I miss you so fucking much. I hate living in that apartment without you, and I hate that I can’t talk to you whenever I want to, and I just hate being away from you. I hate it, I hate it!” he cries with a broken voice and Keith stops fighting his own tears. “I hate that you won’t allow me to love you.”

That drags a short sob out of Keith’s throat and he closes his eyes, feeling the tears leave wet marks that turn ice-cold in seconds. His throat feels tight and no matter how many times he swallows, the ball only grows bigger, locking his airway and not allowing the words to escape.

“Lance, if you--” he clears his throat, tries again. But he’s cut off by being pushed away. Lance looks at him, still holding onto the back. His face is wet, but the tears have stopped crossing over his eyes.

“I won’t, Keith,” his voice comes out raw, but there’s firmness in it.

Keith watches him, blinking away his tears, but they continue blurring his vision. “I’m afraid, everyone either dies or disappears and I’m afraid you will too, I’m so fucking afraid, Lance,” he gasps, giving up on holding back his sobs, and his shoulders shake as he cries.

“It’s okay, baby,” Lance’s hands cup his cheeks, drying the tears with his thumb. “It’ll be okay, don’t cry,” he coos, leaning down so close their noses almost touch.

The softness of his voice only makes him cry harder. Keith closes his eyes, he doesn’t have the right to be the one crying after being the one who left. Fuck, why did he ever thought leaving Lance was a good idea.

“Come on, Keith,” Lance says gently, his thumbs continue to stroke the boy’s cheeks. “Don’t cry, baby, please.”

“I’m so-- so sorry for leaving you,” he hiccups. “I’m an ass and-- and you’re still so nice to me even after I le-eft,” he sobs again. He doesn’t deserve Lance.

“Keith, look at me,” he hears Lance say. “Look at me,” his voice comes firmer and demanding, and Keith does as he’s asked to, ungluing his eyes and meeting the blue ones. He feels a sob crawl up his throat, but swallows it down. “Take a deep breath and calm down,” his voice is so caring it almost throws Keith back into another pit of cries, but he manages to do as Lance says, breathing in the freezing air, never looking away from his eyes. “There we go, now again.”

Keith stands there and just breaths, feeling his heart rate slow down and the choking tightness leave his throat. Lance keeps murmuring for him to breathe, his voice is soothing and relaxing. His hands are warm against Keith’s face, protecting him from the cold around them.

“I’m sorry, didn’t mean to turn this into a cry-party,” Lance tries to joke, smiling slightly.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Keith says with a hoarse voice, he clears his throat.

“Still, I hate when you cry,” he shrugs.

Lance is still close, his face just inches away and Keith’s eyes unconsciously drop at his mouth. He quickly snaps them back up.

“You trust me, right?” whispers Lance.

“I do,” Keith answers without a beat, because he does, more than anything, he trusts Lance.

“Then trust me when I say we’ll be okay,” he continues. “You and me. We’ll be fine. Okay?”

“Okay,” he echoes back, the exhaustion catching up on him.

“Good,” says Lance, and his face beams in a sly but fond smirk. “Now I’m gonna Boop you, got it?"

Keith doesn’t even have time to raise a questioning eyebrow, when his lips are gently covered by the other’s, sending warm and tingling waves all over his body. Keith’s eyes flutter shut and he can’t help but sigh in pleasure. His hands slide down to cup Lance’s neck and push him closer. Lance glides his tongue along his bottom lip and he hums when Keith bites lightly on his lip in response, before pushing his tongue into the others mouth, hearing the boy moan deep in his throat.

Lance kisses him softly, gently, delicately, like he's afraid to break him, to lose him. And Keith is lost in it. He’s lost in those lips moving expertly over his own, causing goosebumps to pepper his skin. He’s lost in those hands still cupping his cheeks. He’s lost in the other's breath, warm against his face. Keith is so gone for this boy, it’s not even funny.

Keith tilts his head to the side, pushing Lance closer to him by the neck, he needs more. More of this kiss, more of Lance. More, more more.

They break apart, breathless and panting. Keith opens his eyes and looks at Lance, his cheeks red and lips velvet. Eyes brighter than the lights around them.

“Now,” Lance begins. “Will you come back home, or should I kiss you again?”

Keith chuckles tiredly. “Don’t you mean Boop me again?”

Lance grins, wide and bright, creasing the corners of his eyes. Those eyes, blue and deep and so beautiful. Keith wants to kiss them. So, he does. He pecks the boy’s face until it’s warm from his kisses, until Lance is giggling loud.

He leans back to look at him, at the smile that carries the summer with it. He loves that smile so much.

“What?” asks Lance, mindlessly drawing circles on Keith’s cheeks with his gloved thumb.

“Nothing,” he shakes his head, then adds, “I’m just really in love with you.”

Lance’s smile only becomes brighter and he quickly pecks a kiss on the boy’s lips before saying, “I, too, am really in love with you.”

A moment.