Keith had grown up in the middle of Texas. All his foster families had been faithful Christians who had left the house every Sunday to go to the midday service. And yet Keith had never been to a church before.
He found it more than just a little ironic that now, after he had found out about his Galra heritage, after he had fought for the sake of the universe more than one time - that now, after he had dealt with forces much bigger than existence itself, he was standing under the golden archway of a house that was built to worship a mighty supernatural being, whose existence Keith seriously doubted. Where was this God supposed to be? He had traveled countless galaxies, had stranded on planets with a toxic atmosphere, had flown through space rainstorms and had even spent two years of his life in the Quantum Abyss. And yet he hadn't encountered anything similar to a God.
That wasn't to say Keith had made fun of the people who'd prayed during the war. He hadn't dared. Why should you make fun of people for something that gave them hope? He should know. He'd slept with his mother‘s knife below a pillow for years.
Still, the occasion he found himself involved in might have been a pleasant one. At least weddings were supposed to be pleasant. But all Keith felt was a weird hollowness creeping up on him. The feeling of being out of place. The building built for a being he didn't believe in only fueling this feeling.
The crucifix above the doorway - the paintings of fallen angels and gossiping devils, all of it felt like it was mocking him. As if the angels were pointing at him. Whispering; laughing about the pain he'd seen. If they could talk, perhaps their voices would echo through the little room, "You think you've been taught pain, Keith Kogane? Would you face us? Would you face our Lord?"
And maybe Satan himself would leave the confines of the painting and come to stand in front of him, an accusing finger held high, saying, "May this day teach you pain."
Keith shook his head as he heard a knock on the door. It didn't stop the thoughts from tumbling through his mind, but at least it stopped the pictures from moving.
"Come in," he called, in as loud a voice as he dared. He was still afraid of doing anything that might trigger the painting's creatures.
The heavy oakwood door opened and revealed Lance. Keith had to do a double take to make sure it really was Lance. They were all still getting used to his Altean markings. "There you are!" Lance stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. "Everyone's been looking for you. Especially Krolia, I think she might be more nervous than Shiro or Curtis themselves."
Lance was chuckling, but Keith didn't feel like chuckling at all. Curtis. That name still stung. How often had he heard it in the past few weeks?
Curtis and Shiro are officially dating. - Curtis and Shiro are getting their own flat. - Shiro and Curtis bought a pet. - Curtis and Shiro were five minutes late for the briefing, you know what that means. - Apparently Curtis introduced Shiro to his parents.
And the infamous - Shiro and Curtis are getting married.
Keith didn't realize he had been biting his lip until he tasted blood. But when he did, he quickly swiped the back of his hand across his mouth and turned so Lance couldn't see him. Which wasn't his best idea, because it not only left him facing those darned paintings, but it also showed him a sight much worse than Satan pushing angels down into the depth of hell.
It was an engagement picture. A golden frame holding the picture of a happy Shiro and an even happier Curtis, their hands intertwined and both showcasing two sparkling, golden rings. Against his better judgment, Keith stretched his hand out to take the picture. It didn't burn him - of course it didn't - but it might as well have. He physically recoiled, almost as if the frame had suddenly grown fangs to bite him.
Before he could set the picture back down again though, Lance spoke up, "It's hard seeing you like this."
Keith set the picture back down on the table, not daring to turn around just yet. There was a treacherous sting at the back of his eyes. "What do you mean?"
"You love him."
Keith couldn't help himself. He spun around so fast, he himself was surprised he hadn't hurt his neck. "What?"
He didn't know which was more distressing. The pitiful look in Lance' eyes or the way Keith's hands had started trembling. "After all this time, you still love him," Lance finally said, a pregnant silence having settled in the room.
Keith huffed. A bad attempt at nonchalance that even he couldn't believe. "No, I don't," he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. It ringed hollow, even to his own ears.
There was one thing Keith was incredibly grateful for: Lance didn't hold unnecessary discussions. He might have once, back in the day, when they were all still young and too childish to see that there were greater things than pancakes on a Sunday morning. Instead, Lance came over to him and held a hand out, not quite touching, but close enough to offer comfort. "You know, it's funny," he said, but his voice didn't hint at amusement, "Back when all of this started? We all thought you were like, soulmates or something.
We made bets on when you'd finally crumble and tell each other. Even Allura and Coran joined in." Lance paused a beat. Keith wasn't sure whether it was to think or whether the sound of Allura's name still scratched at a fresh wound.
"But then, after Shiro vanished when we fought Zarkon?" he continued, his tone heavy, "You had changed. Your...behavior towards him had. You two were like icebergs drifting towards each other but never quite reaching. I mean back then it wasn't Shiro, obviously. Not really, anyway. But we didn't know.
And then that incident happened and we got Shiro back from the consciousness of the Black Lion and for a moment there, we thought this was it. That you had finally found each other. We thought now was the time the both of you would give in. But then we returned to Earth." Lance kept his right hand close to Keith, while his left made to comb through his brown hair. It had grown longer, Keith acknowledged in a short moment that the stabbing pain in his chest had settled.
"Wow, Keith, man. I had never seen you so devastated. After Shiro knew of Adam? You barely talked to him besides crew meetings.
Everyone could see it. You were avoiding each other. Whether you knew it or not."
Keith had started worrying his lower lip between his teeth. By now he was shaking like an earthquake was moving the ground he stood on. Except it wasn't. And the angels behind him had started snickering again.
"And somehow, you both let it come to this," Lance finished, his hand finally touching Keith's. And Keith surprised himself by not recoiling. But somehow Lance's touch felt grounding. Like an anchor inside a turbulent storm.
It was silent for a beat. Maybe two. When Keith found his voice, he wasn't sure whether it was really him speaking. His voice sounded so far away, almost as if he was suddenly drowning underwater. "Do you sometimes remember all that talk about alternate realities?" he asked, his voice betraying him by breaking. "Do you sometimes...Do you sometimes think about what our lives are like in one of them?"
Lance shook his head. He had a smile on his lips that somehow looked amused. His Altean markings were sparkling in the light of the room. "Sometimes? Keith, I think about it all the time. Ever since we've lost Allura, I have been praying that somewhere - somewhere in one of those countless realities she saved - that somewhere she is alive." Lance had started fidgeting with a leather bracelet on his wrist, his eyes darting around the room like a hunted animal. "That I am alive with her. We both, together. I haven't thought about anything else in a while. I would dare say I became slightly obsessed with the idea."
Keith raised his head. "Like Honerva?"
At that, Lance laughed a little. "Gee, not that obsessed. I wouldn't sacrifice tons of realities just to be happy."
No, Keith knew Lance wouldn't. Lance had loved Allura deeply. But Lance also was a righteous and virtuous man. He knew the difference between Good and Bad, better than Keith thought any of them did. And maybe a Defender of the Universe should be thinking in the exact same way. But then again. "Well, you see, that's the scary part," he murmured, "At this point, I don't know how far I'd go."
This seemed to make Lance halt for a moment. He looked like he considered Keith's statement for a second. Then he simply shook his head. "You wouldn't act like Honerva. I know you."
"Okay, well. Let's say you do know me. What would I act like?" Keith couldn't explain the sliver of fear that crept up on him. He didn't honestly believe he might turn out to be like Honerva. Or did he?
Lance crossed his arms, leaning back against the door. "That depends on which Keith is asking me."
Keith furrowed his brows. "What are you even talking about?"
"Well, if it's the Keith of our Garrison days, the answer is pretty easy. He wouldn't have come here, hiding away someplace he deemed safe and maybe letting out his frustrations while riding his hoverbike. Maybe he'd attend a fight club." The confidence in Lance's voice shook him. But thinking back, Keith had to admit that it probably was the way in which his older self would have acted.
Back then, Keith had been too afraid to admit his feelings. Back then, he had already felt more than simple friendship for Shiro. But had he ever dared acknowledge it? He hadn't allowed himself to even consider the possibility of the L-word. Because there had been Adam. And Keith had still been young. And Shiro had been way out of his league, as he would always be.
"But if we're talking about the Keith of the present, things get a little more complicated." Lance glanced at the engagement photo, half-hidden behind Keith's back. "I don't know him that well, but I have a feeling it's a matter of fight or flight. Either he dashes down the aisle, to kiss the life out of Shiro right there on the spot. Or he would act like Pre-Kerberos Keith, hiding his feelings and suffering in silence."
They both startled when the door opened without a knock. It revealed Pidge, her slightly longer hair braided and neatly tucked back with various hair clips. Colleen hadn't let her get away with wearing pants. She looked around the room before her gaze settled on the two of them, an eyebrow raised. "What are you doing here? The ceremony's about to start."
"Oh, we were just talking," Lance said, as composed as if their previous talk hadn't happened. He smiled at Pidge, all false promises of happiness. "We kind of forgot the time."
Pidge huffed. "Anyway. Matt's got the rings and Shiro said he wanted one of you to carry them." She stepped into the room, not closing the door. "So, who's it gonna be?"
Lance's hand snatched up faster than Keith's mind worked. "I'll do it."
"Then you better hurry up, everyone's all nerves and big talk." Pidge sounded very much annoyed and a lot like she wanted the whole ordeal to end. Keith had seldom related to her that much.
"Alright, I'm coming." Lance motioned for Pidge to leave the room. Then he also made to step over the threshold, turning around once more. Blue eyes fixed on Keith, he said, "So, what's it gonna be, lover boy?"
Then the door closed and Keith was left to whispered accusations of angels and devils.