The first thing Keith notices is the guy leaning over him. Probably a guy, he amends; it's hard to make out much detail with the sun haloing the person's head, leaving their face in shadow. It's a little too bright to look at for long, and after a moment he closes his eyes again, starting to notice everything else, too. Like the pain. That's starting to get really noticeable.
"What happened?" he asks, voice rough, not sure if he wants the other person there or not. The sand is warm under his back, and he's remembering why he was lying on his back to begin with.
His bike is going to be ruined. Finding another one is going to be a pain, assuming he makes it out of here, because that is definitely a broken leg he's trying to move and the middle of the desert is not a great place to have no transport and a broken leg. Frankly, he's half-torn on whether he wants to make it out, but if someone is there, he's not about to give up just yet.
And the other guy isn't even answering him, although he can hear muttering. If he strains he can pick out more words, and it's almost comforting. There's something warm about the voice, something that inspires trust, even if the words don't.
"-he's not dead yet, it's fine. I can fix this. No-one even has to know." The person sighs, heavy enough to be clear. "They can't laugh at you if they never find out, right?"
Keith groans, loudly. Okay, it's probably a miracle anyone found him out here at all, but couldn't it have been someone more... useful? "Hey," he tries again, a little more emphatic even if it hurts. Frustrated, he opens his eyes again, only to find it's later than he thought, the sun no longer overhead or blinding, although it's still uncomfortably bright. The guy's head had been right above him, sun behind it, right? Has he lost a couple of hours? Alarmed and starting to get angry- how long has this guy just been stood there when Keith was pretty obviously hurt- he snaps. "I can hear you. Are you going to help, or not?"
The muttering pauses. "You can hear me?" the other guy asks, sounding surprised.
"Obviously," Keith says, patience very strained. "You're right there. If you wanted me to not hear you, maybe you should have stood further away."
"You can hear me," the guy says, and it sounds- concerned. "Oh, hell. That makes it an emergency." Hell sounds like it's the worst word he can think of, which it clearly isn't, because the word he says next makes Keith's hair stand on end. He can't make it out, but the syllables are- oily, somehow, but also sharp. He can feel his brain trying to curl in on itself rather than listen, and that's incredibly uncomfortable.
By the end of it, there's a sound like a door opening, and a very warm, very unpleasant wind blows over him. And then a new face, way too close, when he opens his eyes to see what's going on.
Keith might be hallucinating, because all he can really think is that the face is as sharp as the word was. Everything is pointed. Chin, nose, ears, horns, slit pupils in icy blue irises. The look those eyes are giving him. The grin, and the teeth in it.
Keith is not actually religious, but he's fairly sure can recognise a demon when he sees one. He flinches, and shamefully yelps when that hurts.
"Hunk, buddy-" the face says, and pulls back, and that's kind of a relief, honestly, although the new voice is sharp, too. "How do you always pick the pretty ones? What in the heavens did you do this time?"
"I didn't do anything!" the other guy- Hunk- says. "...That was kind of the problem, but, uh, you try keeping up with someone who goes 300 kilometres an hour on a regular basis and has zero regard for their own life, and if you do any better, then you can talk." He hesitates, and adds, reluctantly, "also, he can hear you, so maybe keep it down and avoid calling him pretty?"
The face comes back, and the surprised expression rounds off some of the points. Keith glares up at the demon, eyes narrowed. "I'm right here," Keith bites off, short and terse from pain and also being talked about, "what the fuck is going on?"
The demon shrugs, although- huh. He can't believe it's deliberate, but there's a wing overhead, and it's black and keeping the sun off him. The more he looks at it, the more half-buried bands and blurred speckles of blue he can make out. It's much easier than the demon's face, at least, and kind of distracting him from the pain.
"I'm Lance. That's Hunk. Those aren't actually our names, but they're ones you can say, at least. You're technically dead," Lance says, conversationally. "Or will be, pretty soon. Or you wouldn't be able to see us."
"What." Keith says, flatly, and then Hunk is back in his field of view. And- okay, yeah, it wasn't the sun, his apparent rescuer has an actual halo, although it looks like he's turned it down significantly since last time. Now it's just a bright glow, rather than blinding. Now Keith can see his face, he looks- kind. All rounded edges and anxious expression, in distinct contrast to Lance.
"Not yet. I've still got him, for now," Hunk says. "Look- this is a long story, and I promise I'll explain it later, Keith. Lance, I just- I need a deal, okay?"
Lance looks at Hunk over Keith, and Keith swears he can see concern, fitting strangely on a face that doesn't look made for it at all. "You know what you're asking, Hunk. I can't do you any favours on this one. I need payment."
"I don't know what he's asking," Keith says, and both of them startle. "But whatever it is, I don't need your help." He coughs, and that really does hurt. Hunk's halo dims down another notch, going a little hazy at the edges.
"Hunk's keeping you alive, because he's the biggest soft touch in existence, but he can only do that so long because he's not actually supposed to interfere. I can do so much more, but the trade-off is that I can't do it for free." Lance preens a little, obviously proud, and just as clearly enjoying the chance to show off what he knows that Keith doesn't. "And because I'm very good at being a demon, my deals are usually very unfair. Like, I'm going to unconditionally own a piece of Hunk for this unfair. " The last sentence sounds significantly less proud, and maybe a little like Lance doesn't like the thought of it.
"I can trade a favour with a friend if I want to," Hunk says, clearly feeling defensive and guilty. "Besides, I knew something was going to happen. Pidge told me. I should have been able to stop it, so this is kind of my fault."
Keith still doesn't get it entirely, and pain really isn't helping him focus. But he's not letting someone give away part of themself to save him. Even if he's pretty sure he's screwed otherwise.
"Make the deal with me instead," he says, managing to sound almost bored, even with the faint rasp that is probably a sign something is wrong with his lungs. He's staring at Lance's wing again, following those little splotches of not-black. The wing that is, surprisingly, still over his head. He's not sure what to make of that. Or of Hunk and Lance, honestly- neither of them is actually arguing the fact they call each other a friend, and he would have expected a lot more fighting between an angel and a demon. "It's my life. I don't like owing people."
"I can't let you do that," Hunk says, apologetic. "Part of the rules. C'mon, Lance, you can't take him up on that when I'm here."
"He's got a point," Lance adds, with a shrug. "We'd have to fight it out- oh." He stops for a moment, before his expression twists to something smug. "Tell me you love me, Hunk, I think I have an answer. They don't call me a rules lawyer for nothing."
"That's not a good thing, Lance..." Hunk sounds more wry than upset, clearly an old argument. "But okay, I love you?"
"I know you do." Lance responds, a little warmer. "And I- yeah, you know."
Keith gives them both a look, and a pointed cough that leads to several more, still painful.
"Okay, look, there's precedent. What we have here is ideal challenge conditions, right? I give up a tiny sliver of my soul, Hunk gives up a tiny sliver of his, you give up a tiny sliver of yours. And at the end of a fixed term, like, say, sixty years, depending on whether you did more good or bad, winner takes all." Lance shrugs. "I mean, I'm an excellent tempter, so I'll probably win anyway, but it's a fighting chance. I'm gonna go get something real quick, okay?"
He's gone before Keith- or Hunk- can argue, the same noise and hot, unpleasantly scented wind hanging on the air. Hunk spreads a wing where Lance's was, this time cream and clean and with little gold edges to the feathers, and still between Keith and the sun. "Lance really isn't so bad," he says, half-defensive. "He covers like five of the seven deadly sins, and he talks all the time, but he wants to help. It's just- there are rules, and even the fallen have to follow them."
Keith makes a slightly deprecating noise, because Lance seems pretty irritating as a person. Also, because he never said anything, and he's starting to get a little frustrated with these rules that keep getting mentioned.
Hunk sits down next to him, reaching for his hand, and Keith should pull it away but even the idea hurts. And, honestly, it's... nice. Not many people risk touching him, and no-one since Shiro vanished on him. And Hunk is warmer than a human should be, in a way that makes him feel comfortable. Late evening sunlight, made tangible.
"I'm sorry," Hunk says. "I know you probably have a lot of questions, and I'll answer them later if you want, but- I really did mean to keep an eye on you, today."
"Are you supposed to be my guardian angel or something?" Keith asks, and despite the pain, he manages an edge of anger. "Because you're doing a terrible job."
Hunk shrinks in a little. "Only for the last... year, or so? I know people like to think everyone's got one, but honestly, there's not enough of us for that and Heaven usually is... busy. We only assign one when something big looks like it's about to happen." He sighs. "And we can't really protect you from yourself. Or other humans. Free will, right?"
That wind comes back before Keith can answer, or wonder exactly what Hunk is protecting him from. "Okay," Lance says brightly, settling on Keith's other side, and he almost has to laugh at having a full-sized shoulder angel and devil. "Contract." He holds up something that looks nothing like a contract, just a clear glass sphere, and rests it on Keith's chest. "I got Pidge to write it, so it's going to be scrupulously fair. All you gotta do is agree to a contest. Every sin adds to my side, every good deed adds to Hunk's. The exceptions are me and him, because it's not all that fair asking you not to hate me a little for how awesome I am." Keith snorts, and even Hunk looks up with an incredulous expression. Lance reaches over, tapping Keith's forehead with a surprisingly cold finger, before resting his hand there, and that- feels nice, too. "And it's never fair asking people not to love Hunk." Lance looks away, expression pinched.
"You're gonna have to get to this fast," Hunk says, quietly, and looking up Keith can see his halo is in wisps.
"Okay, just-" Lance exhales, the same set of syllables Hunk called earlier slipping off his tongue, even more wrong now, and then shudders. On Keith's chest, the sphere turns a deep cold blue. "Still can't get used to that. Your turn, Hunk."
"You could always come back," Hunk sounds a little sad, but doesn't wait for a response before he says an entirely different set of syllables Keith still couldn't begin to pronounce. Those ones don't have at all the same effect, more soothing and rounded, and the sphere takes on a noticeable swirl, warm yellow mixing with the blue.
Lance's free hand comes up, fingers smeared in red, and runs them over the top of the sphere. It takes Keith a moment to realise Lance has actually collected some of his blood- there's enough of it around, he supposes. It should be creepy, but it's just blood, at the end of the day, and he's not exactly in the mood to be properly spooked.
"All you have to do is say your name, and you're got sixty guaranteed years of life. Good deal, right?" Lance says, encouragingly.
"And- we can probably look into getting the contract changed, if need be," Hunk says. "Pidge is a friend, too. She's probably put all sorts of loopholes and backdoors in this, if Lance got it from her."
Keith sighs, but- he still hasn't found Shiro, and never will if he dies, and there's a vanishingly small chance anyone else will find Keith out here. Usually he likes being alone in the desert, but it does have disadvantages that way. Besides, if he dies here, there's a good chance he's going to end up stuck with one of them, and knowing his luck it would be Lance. He repeats his full name, sullen and sharp, and the sphere- absorbs his blood, it looks like. At any rate, there's now a deep red in the mix, too.
He barely has time to notice it, before he hurts much worse. He might scream, he's not sure, but it passes soon enough. He takes a deeper breath than he's managed since he woke up, and it doesn't hurt at all.
Lance reaches over to pick up the sphere, hand moving from Keith's forehead. He almost misses the cool, for a moment, but then Hunk is helping him sit up, and he can look at himself. He's not fine, exactly, but it looks like he's just scraped up. And Keith's bike- his bike is dented, but whole. He looks at Lance, and then Hunk.
"Done. You're welcome. Can't make it that the accident never happened, but as far as anyone else is concerned, you just had a very lucky escape. Shouldn't have touched the bike though," Lance sounds almost as surprised as Keith feels.
"I couldn't leave it in pieces," Hunk says. "It's a nice bike. And the contract gives me a little more wiggle room, because I'm supposed to help you out against Lance, now."
"Good luck with that," Lance almost sings, before he takes to his feet. "And now I'd better go pay Pidge off. Later, Hunk, pretty boy." He pulls off a sloppy salute in farewell, and this time, Keith can see the portal appear, cold grey symbols around a black starless hole. Lance steps through, and is gone, before Keith can realise he was just given a nickname.
It takes a moment before Keith can move again, but eventually he makes it to his feet, Hunk hovering close. "I guess you're going to want explanations, now," Hunk eventually says. "And I will, but maybe you should go get something to eat. Guaranteed not-dying doesn't mean you won't get hungry or thirsty or hurt. Or tired."
"I'm noticing that," Keith says, eventually, and it's been a weird day. He's not sure he's up to explanations just now. "And maybe... not today."
"Okay?" Hunk sounds confused. "I'll... leave you to it, then? I should probably go say thanks to Pidge, too. Maybe tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow works," Keith says, and trudges towards his bike. "Do I need to... do anything? Or do you just turn up?"
"Turn up, mostly," Hunk replies. "But not in a creepy way! I don't watch you all the time, or anything. I just have an ear out, really, for if something is about to happen."
Keith is more glad of that than he wants to admit. "Tomorrow afternoon, then." By then, he will want answers, he knows. He hates not knowing what's going on.
"Sure." There's a moment, and then Hunk is hugging him, before he backs away. The portal he opens is outlined in gold, and the black is full of stars, and the breeze from it is cool and refreshing rather than hot and dry, and Keith just has time to notice it before it and Hunk are both gone.
Keith gets on his bike, and goes home to sleep. The rest of it can wait until after.