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Duality

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It’s been this way,
since the beginning of times,
fire and water at odds, fighting never done,
quelling and bursting, almost synchronized,
a magnetic pull that no abyss can break,  
for it’s their battling that allows equilibrium,
it’s constant loss and regain,
it’s like wishing for rain in the desert,
and campfires on the summit of the highest mountains,
all while woeful over draughts,
all while trapped in a burning forest,
every second ticks by bringing forth helplessness,
different and ever the same,
it’s never done, they cannot ever be,
through tamer manifestations it’ll always switch back,
to chaos,
to begin again,
for they’re not meant to be one,
even as the untrained eye might struggle,
at times, to tell them apart.

 

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Keithnyethyux, even as the centuries go by, always presents in exactly the same corporeal form. This, of course, means the ridiculous unruly hair that curls at his shoulders gets to stay, dark and contrasting to the pale skin that looks unfit to rein in fire of all things but somehow does, succumbing only to some minor blushing. It’s ridiculous, surely, the slightly irritated face with all the sharp angles, the thick eyebrows and deep-set purplish eyes. On looking up, however, Lance frustration lessens at seeing a familiar accessory resting atop the deity’s head. The circlet, made of interwoven gold loops, presents a scatter of tiny raw ambers, their glow ranging from cautionary to full-on blinding. Some goddesses deem the simple crown poor taste for a deity of his range (one with rare gemstones would be infinitely more appropriate) but Lance disagrees, even as he himself has a small but intricate white gold tiara decorated with the most select moonstones he could get his hands on. To him, Keith’s circlet fits him well-enough. It’s the one inconspicuous accessory, always there, that gives the fire deity that otherworldly aura no human could ever have.

Of course, his robes do tend to be slightly altered to best match the world he’s presenting in. Here, where it is all shadowy with dense foliage and humid, it’s not that big of a surprise to see they are maroon in color, the fabric light if not exactly billowy. He’s wearing gloves too, was, it seems, as closed fists come into view and burnt leather can be seen turning into clear smoke and some sparkling remnants.

Lance takes it all in and sighs, feeling the peace of some moments prior vanish and a slight agitation taking its place instead. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to see Keith, on some level he needs it, thinks they both do, but it’s been long enough that speculations morphed into questions, and introspection, and he just isn’t all that sure anymore. Of what he’s been doing, what he should be.

His latest encounter with the fire deity, which he’s long nicknamed Keith for the sake of his own tongue, was around half a century ago. Nobody, not even Keith’s tutor Ares, or the all-mighty Zeus, had seen Keith or felt his presence for years since then, which initially gave rise to equally long expeditions to search for him and quarrels about whose fault the disappearance was. Lance learnt he faded quite well with all the noise going around, especially since Poseidon had bigger problems to deal with than his pupil’s unsure floundering and so left him to his own devices most often than not. In time, Lance came to appreciate solitude for what it is, grew accustomed to the quiet, or, well, only mild nagging warnings in the back on his mind.

See, the thing is, there are so many planets and galaxies to take care of that he can’t possibly be directly involved in it all. Most of the everyday ordeals could be sorted via a quick delegation of his influence over water to nymphs so, yes, while Lance does feel their pain at burnt crops, houses, and other miscellanea of troubles brought on by fire he just isn’t that deeply affected by it anymore. The reason? Well, again, Keith hadn’t been around.

So, when left alone with no clear purpose other than be, water is tranquil. It makes ripples, sometimes stales, works up waves if there’s any gravity to help. In most places it goes through evaporation, a passing ritual onto rebirth as it rains down fresh again. Truth be told, Lance had been idling for a while, ‘biding his time’ as his brothers had put it.

And it’s not bad, watching nature do its thing mostly undisturbed. He really enjoys it, he wouldn’t have remained in his human form for so long if he didn’t. It’s a vulnerable thing, for all deities alike, but it hardly matters when the only deity to ever pose any serious danger to him had mysteriously vanished. Even before that, he remembers how Keith made a point of restraining himself from having any direct confrontation with him when he’d gone and worked his influence over originally fire-fueled planets. Storms, floods, and a turbulent cold climate were to be met with a startling, and overall absolute, lenience. It floored him then, destruction wasn’t what he sought, it was all about balance, their elements could never find it by themselves, so they tried to instead.

Both of them, it is a conjoint thing.

Having gone over most of their major fights and best cast spells routinely, Lance still can’t easily pick apart the shove from the needed push to move, keep alert, be better, and if put on the spot, soul bared deception-free by divine spell, he doubts he could all that confidently say if Keith has ever truly been a real threat to him. It goes against all logic, so he wisely keeps his mouth shut around everyone he knows. To himself, however, in these impromptu escapades he’s been indulging on, it’s as clear a revelation as they come. Water finds a way back, it isn’t as easy to see in the heat of battle, when it feels dry and too warm as fire expands and conquers, but it’s all momentary. All that panic and instinct to douse, to stop, to not let it consume what holds life, so fragile and liquid and there.

It’s always there, untouchable all throughout his and Keith’s victories and defeats. They exist alongside, invariably, to cancel each other out how many times it takes. They never exactly began, so they couldn’t end, right?

It gives him a weird sort of solace, that one thought. Seeing Keith with his own two eyes, though, standing a few feet away and with his arms crossed makes exasperation bloom anew in him, as real and intense as always. It’s routine, and deeply-rooted behavior, to get defensive. To be annoyed by Keith’s presence alone, no buts or ifs. He can’t get a grip on all the abstract thinking he’s been doing and act accordingly, no. He needs to protect, himself, this planet he’s been working so hard on reconstructing.

So, he attacks.

Not moving a centimeter, Keith conjures a fire vortex that cleanly eats his ice daggers, then closes.

“You know, ideally you should be aware where your vortexes direct things to.” Lance tsks, retreating and trying to anticipate Keith’s attack “For the sake of other realities, thought we’d talked about it? Before you took leave to Zeus knows where…not.”

“Laincimedes, I-”

“It’s Lance.”

“I haven’t been gone for no reason, Lance.” Keith dusts off some pesky fireflies settling on his bare arms, seeking warmth. “Maybe you’ve heard about the Blades committee? I learnt some things of use from them in the Underworld.”

“Oh, right- the Blades. The ones so fond of secrecy and pointless blood oaths? Yes, why, their fall from grace was the highlight of this millennium! For Hades and their brainless army of course.” Lance flashes him a smile, mouth gone acid with the implications of his rival, h- Keith, having had the chance to meet one-on-one the most powerful undead soldiers from The Wasteland Below. It’s been decades…and Keith’s been what? Taught deadly fight tactics, trained brutally to corrupt excellence while Lance skipped stones and sunbathed? He blinks, trying to process it, hands already signaling water to freeze the ground around Keith, to get his feet caught in ice all the way to his knees.

“Your hands,” Keith points out, focus entirely unperturbed by Lance’s ongoing immobilization of him. “They’re shaking.” 

“Great, focus on them and not on losing your feet, will work out amazing for you.” Lance bites back, a foolish threat even to his own ears. He doesn’t like what he heard one bit, they are primordial deities first and Olympian deities second, they aren’t supposed to meddle with the Underworld, it’s unknown, powerful, and holds secrets deemed very dangerous. Voice continuing not to crack, he adds, “What on Mount Olympus were you doing in the Underworld, may I ask? Your only tie is to me. To water.”

“I’m well aware of that, don’t worry.” Keith face twists weirdly, lips stretching in some sort of lopsided smile.

“Then I suggest you start acting like it.” Lance waits for the scowl to settle, the look in his eyes to harden, the growl to dampen his increasing bravado and overconfidence. Keith compliments him, instead, on his crouched defensive posture. Even weirder, he then takes his time sizing Lance up only to stay in the spot he’s been frozen to, unnervingly silent and very unlike his impulsive self.

Keithnyethyux. I’m- I’m not dealing with an impostor. Because if I am, I’ll get furious.” Lance spits out, patience ran out as he stomps over to the feebly restrained man. He feels no force pushing him back, no cautionary burn, no harsh smoky aroma. “Where’s Keith? Who’re you?!”

“You’re so hopeless.” Maybe-Keith shakes his head, eyes narrowed. His nonchalant attitude lasts little, however, when Lance focuses on the energy thrumming through maybe-Keith’s veins, his blood, which he decides to beckon to him, then liquefy it a bit. Maybe-Keith doubles over then, upper body swaying to the side while he tries to cough out the feeling of excess, which he cannot.

“Excuse me?” Lance watches him wheeze, just as humans do when trying to get air back on their lungs. Only Keith needn’t be affected so much by a silly trick on his corporeal form. “Look at you! As if the fire deity himself would ever let himself be this much of a mess over a little extra blood! This is bizarre, who even are you?!”

“It wasn’t a little,” Maybe-Keith mutters, his expression turning serious. “I opened a fire vortex just now, Lance. Who else could do that, you think?”

“I don’t know!” Lance throws his arms up, deciding he’s getting to the bottom of this one way or another. His glare intensifies as he closes in on maybe-Keith.  “You answer! Or else!”

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A curve, Keith senses the blueprint of it being laid out before anything fully materializes.

When it does, it closes swiftly around them, clear, fresh and expertly tamed water surging sideways as the air condenses at Lance’s will and gives shape to a whirlpool of sorts. It’s a move made to intimidate, to hide them away completely, droning out sound, light and warmth. Keith notices some fireflies get trapped along with them in the process, but they no longer flock to his exposed arms. No, he can feel the chill bloom all the way to the bones of his human form and sure enough, he’s at about his limit, there’s not much more he can take and deliberately not defend himself. But he wants to make a point, needs to.

“A nuorthex,” Keith starts, eyes closing in an attempt to focus and channel his innermost calmer emotions, “is a flower you’ll see nowhere around here”. Hand extended just barely, he feels the tingle rise shyly from his fingertips. When not immediately doused, he goes for the petals, as best as he practiced. Then the wiggly stem, the sloppy leaves hanging idly of it. “How long has it been since you’ve seen something for the first time?”

Lance offers an extended ‘uhhhh’ and, by the sounds of it, retreats. Keith could sense the atmosphere shifting around him, but it’s only when he opens his eyes again that he realizes the water deity not that far away either.

“That’s a flower?” Lance says, eyeing it curiously. “Like, a flower made out of fire? How’d you do that?”

“You like it?” Keith presses, extending his arm further.

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“It’s shiny, I guess. Kind of small?”

Attention grabbed, Lance figures there’s really no harm in entertaining what by now evidently isn’t an impostor. Keith makes no attempt to stop being affected by his influence, so he advances. It’s not like he’s got something better to do, either, so he scoots down and gets his face closer to inspect the rare flower better. There are some sort of moving glyphs, he notices, carved lightly on its petals. They’re gold-ish up close, and they tease him: just about when he’s about to decipher their meaning, they change and twist into new ones. For some reason, it’s oddly endearing.  “I, uh, no? I’ve never seen something quite like this before. ”

“So, do you like it?”

“It’s nice enough, yes. Pity it’s not real, huh? I mean, I’d so hate to-” Lance snaps his fingers, a spray of water falling over the flower and making a few petals sizzle wildly. Lance is smirking, though, teasing. “You’re being weird, you know? Did you catch some sort of Underworld illness? If so, that’d be your first so we’d be on equal ground about this whole first-time experiences matter, in this century at least.”

“We’re equal as we are. That’s not the point.” Keith frees his mind’s eye from the image of the flower, which results in it bursting into neat sparks the wind carries dutifully around. “This whole dynamic we’d going on, I decided to seek unabridged knowledge about it. The type you’d never get in Mount Olympus being a primordial deity.”

“Oh, because the Underworld is surely so much better and reliable.” Lance sneers, his irritation back, and tenfold.

“In part, yes. I can’t speak for you but the thrill these rituals of combat are meant to carry have been lost on me for, let’s say, some centuries now. Zeus would dismiss it at best, have me go through one of his brutal memory wipes at worst.” Keith offers a half-hearted shrug. Gaze lowered, he runs his hands down his robe to straighten the damp fabric going wrinkly, the knots holding it together being properly readjusted if found wind-loosened. His hair is being tossed around in air currents as well, his face coming through like flickers of an old broken film. It’s a sight to behold, he is, he’s incredibly b-

Vulnerable. Lance’s brain eagerly provides. Attack. Now. Full force. Unrepentant.

“Keith, he’d never-” Lance falters, conflicting emotions swelling inside him until the one comment he’s heard being repeated in speeches and gossip alike slips past his tongue, proud in its blind self-asserted rightness. “Not us, that’s meant for gods and goddesses that have lost their sense of responsibility and duty, had their grace tainted with unfit selfish thoughts like- like humans would. This form we take we-” It clicks, slowly, the way most revelations do. His tongue is slower to catch up but his voice does drop “we aren’t it. Thinking otherwise is just deluding yourself.”

Keith keeps his silence, maybe unhearing, maybe uncaring. A set of flames appears next under the bid of his calculated stare, crackling to life and curling tentatively around the ice that keeps him bound. It melts, slowly, into puddles. Lance struggles to process the mildness of it all, how differently from their usual exchanges it goes, leaving no lingering trauma to his aura or his corporeal form. Maybe just a slight buzz, static-filled. It confuses him.

“Engaging in it made me feel- it’s wasn’t the reaction, the shock of being doused, you know? It’s not that. I didn’t think twice about battling you when in proximity or if a challenge was issued but when I started being more conscious about those decisions I realized…” Keith’s wandering eyes lock with his at last, and there’s not a trace of deceit in the subdued, almost pleading look he sends Lance’s way.

 “It’s like I didn’t want to.”

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“Keith,” Lance tilts his head, not entirely ready to understand what is being said to him. Instead of asking for clarification, he steps back in caution. The whirling water still surrounding them falls apart, a result of his weaning concentration and growing anxiety. Maybe this is all some elaborate plan to distract him and attack when he’s least expecting it? It has to be. “Listen to yourself, talking about us ‘wanting’ things. What are you, some incredulous human? The Fates is all there is, forever weaving the threads of destiny and deciding for us. We act on what’s been written, very gracefully of course!”

“You can’t really think that. Not when you’ve been stuck in your human form for so long.” Keith huffs, eyebrow raised high in a skeptical fashion. Like Lance isn’t being the rational deity here. “What for?”

“What do you mean ‘what for’? You know how it feels. I- This way I can better help destroyed planets be reconstructed, channel my influence more precisely.” He presses a thumb into his wrist, as if it could stop the quickening of his pulse in response to Keith’s weird presence and antics. His blood flow is a pain to control, though, so there’s no use in trying. “I can socialize and connect better with the nymphs. I can focus on one thing, mostly, have my consciousness compacted and…here, I guess.”

“Right.” Keith dismisses, hand all but whipped up to point at the sky turning indigo as the night approaches and brings along a string of sapphire moons. “So you think that’s The Fates doing. The Fates, undoubtedly, decided you’d be the most useful in your corporeal form…tending to trees and flowers, watching water mold the terrain into rivers and the sea life develop. In some faraway planets you’ve told no-one about.” Keith’s steady stare is boring into him at this point, so he stands up straighter, not liking the condescending turn this talk seemed to be taking. “For years on end.”

“Ah, ‘cause you’re so above it.” Lance bites back, standing his ground if only for a couple more seconds. This isn’t Keith’s usual egging on, this feels much too specific and personal. Intimate, something no one is meant to know, much less talk lightly about.  “You’ve been a proper deity all this time, going on an excursion trip to the Underworld! Hate to break it to you but The Fates must be so done with your bullshit to put you through all of that, Keith.”

“And also with yours, by extension, then.” Keith quips, mouth curving just past that non-dimple-inducing angle that his confident smirks rarely reach and instead settling on full-on boyish.

“What’s the point of all this? You…you’re talking like you’ve been here. Which you haven’t. I’ve been idling because my attacks on your domain garnered no response.” Lance rubs his arm and looks away into the pretty fluorescent foliage. He feels silly recalling how he’d been reminiscing to it about his biggest fights with Keith. It must think him such a cheap liar now, first-hand seeing him being all civil with the very same male deity. Humid wind rustles his hair, heedless of his inner turmoil. Sweat beads on his nape.  “So, it’s on you.”

“Mhm,” Lance hears him start pacing around him, this side of predatory. “Was it that bad? Didn’t you enjoy yourself better this way? You certainly looked it, you know.”

Lance freezes on the spot. “What?!”

“I’ve been around. In my true form, I mean. I’ve been, I don’t know, watching over you?” Just the idea of it has Lance gawking pathetically, and the look he fixes Keith with when turning around is dubious at best. He’s mad, sure. His conscience is also sort of short-circuiting. “Wanted to see what you were up to after all this time. I was calmer too, so that helped.” Lance sees his shrug, casual, and is suddenly overcome with the very odd urge to book it somewhere far, illogical and impractical as it’d be with Keith’s ninja-like sense of direction and impeccable tracing skills. “Look, I really didn’t want to interrupt your work, what you’ve accomplished is nothing short of awe-inspiring. I’ve found my own ways to deal with excess energy, and watching you do the same helped my resolution. Conviction, if you will. ”

“Watching me helped what now?” Lance screeches, vocal chords be damned. “Keith, y-you’re ruthless, you don’t- you can’t, uh, guard me. You’re my rival. And it’s not like I need to be guarded, anyway! I’m a primordial deity, just like you. ”

“That you are.”

“Good!”

“Lance?”

Keith, undeterred in that terrible, bad, almost vicious way of his, slides up next to him and has the audacity to ruffle his hair and check his crown is well in place. Touch his crown, his!, then let the very same warm hand linger on his shoulder. “You’re not scared of me.”

Oh.

Oh.

“You’ve a death wish, Keith, is that it?” Lance shrugs off the offending touch and hisses, stepping to the side. Putting distance between them makes it easier to ignore the tender moonlit still being casted on Keith’s face, the wind’s ongoing caress of loose longish strands that leave windswept hair behind.  Indignation bubbles up in his veins. “This is all the Blades doing, isn’t it? They’re so keen on knowledge and sacrifices; no warning was ever too great in the face of their stupid quest for freedom. Well, look where it’s landed them. Led them, more like, where’s utter chaos forever.”

“They’re fine. There’s nowhere better to perfect the arts of combat than the Underworld.”

“They were angels, meant to defend Mount Olympus at all costs!” He points a finger back at the fire deity. He may not be accountable for what they did, no, but defending it came awfully close in Lance’s book. “Whatever superior battling skills they might’ve acquired there means nothing if they’re not here to put them to use. They were deceived into pursuing what they didn’t need and now must suffer the price of getting what they wanted and being stripped of everything that gave them grace and meaning.”

“They’re happy…but they used to be scared.” Keith concedes. He breaks eye contact, moving to kneel where some sunflowers rest in the dark. With a swirl of his wrist a ring of dazzling flames appears, a source of light as far as the plants are concerned and so turn to it naively.

“Hey, watch it!”

“Scared of feeling different than they were told they should, of the blooming self-awareness that suggested all they ever lived by is nothing more than a lie, magnificent, well-accepted and meant to keep them docile.” Lance watches him toss fire back and forth between his hands. It loses shape with each pass, becoming smaller, until it’s a spark that disappears up in smoke. With it gone, the sunflowers quiet again. “It’s easier that way, isn’t it?”

A pause follows, during which Lance tries to mold his scattered thoughts into words, words that will shut Keith up for good. He gapes, however, unsure of where to start, how to properly channel that ugly itchy feeling taking home in his chest. He’s beaten to it.

“Let’s say you’re not scared of me like you’re supposed to be, you don’t fear death by my hands and you find it less and less bothersome to stand my presence. The implications of it all is what’d make you feel inadequate, not me. And what’s realer then? Duty or feeling? Is it too bold to say you’ve already got your answer when I gave you a flower and you came near me like it was nothing?”

“Keith,” Lance sobers, the mossy ground below him sensing his distress and pulsing soothingly back at him. “No, no, hold your horses. You didn’t give me a flower, that’s ridiculous. You showed me a trick, that’s all.”

Keith arches an eyebrow and gets on his feet again, dusting his knees off in the process. There are still dark dirt stains on his otherwise immaculate robe and Lance can’t stop looking. “I could always go back and smuggle one if you wish so.”

And you’re holding back your influence, for some weird reason.” Lance splutters, unsure as ever. This isn’t just the fire deity being annoying, something about him is decidedly off. “You made those flames dull instead of just…bursting the ice. You teased the sunflowers only to leave them unharmed afterwards. You- you’re careful. That’s why.”

“You can be gentle too. You’re allowed to. It’s been the same for me I’m telling you, if you would listen.”

“No, Keith. I don’t want, I can’t- You. I can hurt you.” It’s the truth, even as his voice wavers. He needs to hear even if Keith won’t, be reassured.  “I’ve done it and I will keep on doing it.”

“It’s not a matter of being able to. Go ahead. I won’t stop you.”

Lance rises to the challenge because that he knows. Bringing his hands up he pictures the cold flowing out of him, visualizes his element right at his fingertips, his, to tame and will and direct, forward, where a certain boy deity won’t stop talking nonsense and acting strange and he needs to goad him into fighting so he’d remember, how things should be. His fragile concentration is broken soon, however, by a rasped-out curse.  He sees Keith hovers close, unmoving and expressionless save for the twitching of his right bare arm, where an icicle proudly shows off its melting extremes, middle caught where vessels and skin should be, untouched.  

“See? I said I wouldn’t stop you.” Keith nods stiffly. “Go on”

“You’re… bleeding. You’re letting me-” Lance frowns, dumbfounded at the strange sight. Usually Keith would have charred half his body by now, not that he’s seriously hurt, not yet, but out of all the Olympian and primordial deities, Keith was never one to be seen vulnerable. He tended to go the extra mile to conceal any wounds made to his physical form, even during battle, when most considered it was little logical to spare any energy in something other than attacking and destroying.

“Not your duty at all, Lance.” A hiss makes his upper lip curl up, clearly treacherous. “That’s for me to worry about. Go on.”

“Bullshit. You have to defend yourself. I won’t commit annihilation, are you out of your dense conscience? It’s like you’ve forgotten everything about us, Keith! ”

“That’s a whole lot of feeling put into a puny two-letter word, don’t you think?”

“Shut it!”

Us.” Keith chuckles, and honestly, seeing his teeth more often in the last hour than he has in centuries is kind of freaking out Lance. Wherever the everyday scowl went, he’d like it back pronto.  “Think of it. Annihilation of one of the base elements by its opposite is considered the greatest honor. You’d automatically give rise to a new reality with you at the head of Mount Olympus. You always go on about all of Zeus’ privileges, don’t you? What, is my destruction suddenly too big a price to pay for some reason?”

Lance sours, the bile rising up his throat gone acrid. “I’m not like that.”

“Aren’t you my rival? Didn’t you want confrontation? That’s the best outcome.”

“I want to clash, you and me, we just clash. It’s nothing monumental, it’s nasty, it’s tiring and dreading, but it’s necessary.” 

He wants to push Keith, shake him, up and down, like a doll. He needs to see the his own reflection in his dark eyes being menacing, a god to be respected and feared, someone that’d make Keith snap, make him stop running his mouth and getting funny ideas. He’s not in the right state of mind to accomplish any of those things, however. His hands hang mid air, open palms soon becoming contained fists. “As far as outcomes go, anything close enough to seriously disrupt your influence is a bad outcome. Annihilation, naturally, is pure madness. Fire is a menace to me, to water, but it’s not all there’s to fire. I’m not blind to it, okay? To the warmth it can be found in it, the life that can thrive at its edges, the energy spurred on by its sparkles, the taste food is given over its flames, the balance being regained with the ashes it leaves behind.  It’s not my place to put an end to any of it. Please stop speaking so lightly of matters so dire, Keith. ”

“So you won’t do it?” Keith tuts, a flame coming to life where he’s injured and leaving a glowing patch of healing skin behind. Dried blood still paints patterns on his arm, a reminder.

“Are you even listening?! That you even insinuated I’d is insulting.”

“It really is not. Unless, for some weird reason, you care about me.”

“I care about equilibrium, yes! There’s nothing weird about that, good heavens! Listen to yourself, you don’t make any sense. ” Lance lashes out. “I need you to fight, Keith. Put an end to all this nonsense.”

“I can fight all right. Just not you, not like this.”

“Self-reflection is corrupting if not engaged in sparingly, you’re aware.”

“Says who, Lanceimedes?”

“You damn well know who.” He brings a hand down, the other left hanging, straight and tense, palm open in a signal to stop. “No, zip it. I’m done with this exchange. You’ve just appeared and you do this? I’m getting all worked up for what? It’s like you’re leaving again but- but you won’t listen, won’t accept that thoughts can corrupt, and do. It’s like you’re brainless and won’t see that I’m here, I want to help, you, but you’d rather take heed of some strange Underworld group’s advice. You’re pulling away, and forgetting your purpose, and I’d rather you didn’t come back, Keith, if it’s only to leave again.”

“On some level, odd as it may feel,” Keith intones, softly, moving with small careful steps until he’s close enough to graciously hold Lance’s still raised hand in his. The tiara resting around his head unwinds itself momentarily, to scoop and pull back in loops the long tresses being fanned against Keith’s forefront and eyes, courtesy of a dancing breeze. He gets to see all of Keith’s face at once when the blessed accessory settles again, washing the moonlight already there with some rich gold accents born of its own shine. It’s a breathtaking sight, all of him is in that moment, the raw energy surrounding him all electric and as inviting as his physical form, the one that meets his eyes, and holds his gaze with a purpose. Lance can’t dare look away, dazzled into fear, probably, by the way his stomach sinks and his heart feels all caged up in his chest beating erratically. 

“You’re attracted to me.”

The soft breeze carrying the smell of rain, the water still sliding down the tall trees, the glow of the foliage all around them, it all comes to a halt. They’re suspended and trapped, he is, Keith made him this, this powerless all too sensitive thing that’ll favor not logic, but a few breathy words, lingering looks and well-placed touches. Millennia of experiences pale to the wonder of being subdued so properly, of having his sacred fate snatched in increments like it’s a weight on his shoulders, not a divine gift. 

“I’m not pulling away, not when I know you’ve been feeling the cool you celebrated turn to cold.” His hand is squeezed, but Lance feels the soft press to his core, his own energy failing to deter the smooth coil of another so radiantly fierce yet barely vibrating past a soft tickle. And it is doing him in, all this delicateness, Keith has really latched onto his newfound worst weakness. It should feel dooming, that’s perhaps his last coherent thought.  “You shiver in lakes and rub away tears before sleep.”

“That’s- you couldn’t-” Keith runs a thumb down his cheek, and offers back a solemn expression, mouth a thin line and brow slightly furrowed. Lance is not sure he’s ever been so fragile under someone else’s touch. He’s seen this, seen mortal beings court and get courted. He knows, too, Keith’s ways. He knows his strength, and vicious attacks, he knows his stupid flowy hair is perfect to grab a handful of, drag him around and smash his face somewhere hard.

Lance senses danger, intimately, like he’s only had when he was a child deity and the older primordial deities kept making attempts on his life, for tradition’s sake as they later explained. Doubts of every shape fester in him and he shivers under his robes, unable to decide, unable to see wrong from right. He’s rooted to his spot but there’s no spell forcing him to, just Keith, seemingly just a boy with eyes shining dully like some dark moons do and a nightmarish dread, his, of being captured, exposed and robbed of ancestral instincts way too quickly for his compressed conscience to catch up.

“Hey,” a whisper registers faintly in his mind. His fingers dig into something warm, and it dawns on him then, his hands are circling Keith’s neck not to choke but to find something to lever himself with. It’ll meld the cracks he can’t stop from forming and expanding, taking him down in his inevitable fall from grace. It’s soft, even as fingers twitch and start retreating with whatever residue fear he’s left. “No, come here.” His hand, sought again and caught, is tugged at and it feels nice, the brief, casual touch. He goes with it, so his chest ends up against Keith, their bodies pressed together and, Mount Olympus above, Keith’s really so, so close. Lance can pinpoint the freckles on his nose, feel the warmth oozing from him and stare into where his pupils dilate, pitch black taking over purple.

“It’s- you’re just- Lance.” Keith whispers, rushed, eyes scanning his face and leaning in, in, in, until he’s out of focus entirely. “It’s all right.”

A press of lips. Sweet, fleeting, and all-around safe. It’s testing, Lance can tell as much, holding his breath in trial and waiting for the slip into the embrace of base-element instinct, for the chirping of birds to wake him up, for the fearsome spade of fire tearing him apart. A clean annihilation, that it’d be, as it sinks easily into his exposed back, the same smooth bare arms are cradling this very moment. They’re all too close, that much is obvious, but try as he might he can’t hold on to that thought, not when all Keith’s touch leaves is a tingling feeling akin to the one on his lips, one he chases after soon again. Parting his lips, he draws closer only to bump noses and breathe in what he’s sure it’s vapor, only it comes in the form of a huff and then his own head is tilted just a fraction, to the right. Mouths coming together in earnest, Lance keens at the rush of selfish first-hand pleasant feeling. He’s dizzy with sensation, his tongue is heavy with the taste of burnt copper and a spicy ambrosia, his flimsy body is held together by squeezing thighs and hands and forearms, nipping teeth, a presence so encompassing it makes his own the calmest it’s been in a while. Contained, that’s what he can’t help but so often long for, what allows the wonders of the depths and separates an ocean from a puddle. Boundaries, all they do is ease and appease.

It feels right.

He trusts Keith, prohibitions aside, it blooms happily inside him as the long-coming revelation it is. It’s overwhelming, but even more so liberating, to have someone curb the intensity of his agitated nature, the all too ready motivation to give life, watch it develop, and keep harm far. It blurs together, obligation, tradition and desire, until his focal point is staring back at him, satisfied grin apparent. Something quiets in him then, and he wants this for him, unfit as he is supposed to be for the hand stroking his side in quiet affection. It’s clear, if not exactly easy to process. Whatever he thought himself to be, he’s more. He’s more than his duty, there’s no other way.  

“Keith.” He pulls back for a breath, and what escapes his mouth is so involuntary and sudden he has a hard time registering anything past all the bubbly calmness he feels inside.  “I don’t want to die.”

Keith eyes widen, most likely at the sudden change of topic. So few words, and still the underlying humanity in them is undeniable. Pathetic, rather, as the fear itself is an inane one, not really fit of valiant deities like them. It shouldn’t be relevant now, anyway, with Keith being no longer a threat for Lance to neutralize. Not now, not with them on the same side. Not when he feels safe, warm, and it’s home, the way no other place could ever be. It disarms Lance so thoroughly, he’s terrified it won’t last, can’t. Will be torn away from him in an instant, the moment he blinks, breathes-

“What makes you think you will?”

Fingers delicately wipe away the wetness on Lance’s cheeks, leaving a soft tingle behind. Only then he realizes his eyes are brimming with tears and he’s slightly shaking even as Keith tries to coax his temperature up by stroking his upper arms and hunched shoulders. “I can’t promise you it’ll be easy, but we’ll be okay because it’s the way of life. I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

“We’re replaceable, Keith. We’ll be vanished, lost to a darkness so utter and massive we’ll never see, not even ourselves. We’ll forget, be consumed into the nothingness.”

“It’s all tales.” Keith arms close securely around Lance’s waist, head going to rest lightly on his shoulder. His tiara starts sliding forward, however, and in a moonstruck panic Lance goes to grab the precious accessory it before common sense kicks in and he lets go. It wouldn’t fall, no deity is allowed to touch another’s accessories, and lest of all brusquely enough to freeze half a hairstyle. Embarrassed by his actions, he squirms in his spot and flushes when Keith doesn’t let up, instead opting to muffle a laugh into the satin of his robe. His dark hair is soon fluffy and wild again when they lock gazes, his tiara intact and as beautiful as ever.

“Shut up”

“And even if it weren’t just that, just tales.” He lifts a hand beside them, bidding an orb of fire to materialize and start levitating proudly. “I’ll guide the way out. You’ve nothing to fear.”

Lance sniffles, barely containing a snort at yet another tame display of power from Keith today. It’s kind of surreal, when you know what he’s truly capable of. “You really think this little flame is a match for the eternal darkness, huh?”

“Perhaps not as it is, like this…” Keith concedes. “But everything must begin somewhere. Every great thing brought about by nature is founded by smaller, usually inconspicuous advances that span over a time so long some may forget but-”

“I’d never forget you, Lance, much as darkness can try.” Keith clears his throat, voice tight with emotion. Keith straightens, moving to press his forehead against Lance’s, who’s quick to reciprocate. There’s an impromptu communion in the way they find solace in the energy their clashing ones give way to. The booming sound of thunder in the distance is ominous, perhaps, but Lance refuses to let it interrupt.

“I’m with you, through all that came, and may come, okay?”

Lance blinks his swollen eyes open, the blatant care, protective and over all else loyal undertones taking him by surprise. He’ll still have to do a lot of figuring out about how exactly the, by far, most striking and dexterous deity who’s he’d always admired in secret could ever become anything else than untouchable, could ever look at him and, of his own volition, risk so much: sacrifice comfort, an ever-growing glory by Ares’ side and a status as highly respected as feared and envied for none other than…him, the water deity he was supposed to confront and despise. It’s like clinging to a clicking bomb, clearly, whatever they are giving foundation to here. He’s aware of this as much as of the brewing storm, of how Keith would need refuge, soon, if he’s staying, somewhere dry and roomy where he could rest and be safe. Lance doubts there could be much opportunity for a worry-free downtime in the Underworld so he breaks their embrace, offering a hand to guide him away from harm and a small smile, genuine as it hasn’t for a while been, when he takes it without question.

“Just start by not leaving for decades again.”

Keith’s face lights up, right when he side-glances him, of course. A drizzle just started, and already raindrops are turning to humid heat where they reach him.  “Missed me much?”

Lance sighs, looking back at the muddy road and bringing the hand he holds in his to his lips for a soft peck, before he overthinks it. The sky roars on, lighting putting a show with the way they flash but nothing too drastic happens, aside from Keith’s heartbeat picking up for a half a minute and matching his own.

“It’d seem so, yes.”