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to you and me (us against the world)

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                Most people in Allura’s mansion are at least a little bit tipsy and a lot of bit rowdy as the hour draws closer to midnight. The music gets louder, thumps in this house and all up and down the street. New Year’s Rockin’ Eve blasts from multiple TVs in the house to ensure that no one misses the ball drop in Times Square. In one of the dens, karaoke gets out of hand as Matt takes up the mic and immediately demands All Star.

                Keith slips away from the crowds by escaping through the back door, the one that leads out to the patio and garden. It’s abandoned tonight—nobody’s brave enough to face the cold for more than two minutes at a time, leaving the tables and chairs back here empty. Still, though, the fairy lights strung through the garden twinkle, illuminating a path for Keith.

                He barely sets foot onto the intricately-laid cobblestone before the door squeaks again behind him. He turns, and finds Lance jogging toward him, hands jammed into his pockets and scarf covering all of his neck, plus his mouth.

                “Mind if I join you?” Lance asks, cheeky grin peeking out over the top of the scarf as he extends a gloved hand.

                A warm smile spreads across Keith’s face. He takes Lance’s hand and intertwines their fingers, pulls Lance close to his side until their shoulders press up against each other.

                “Party too much?” Lance murmurs as they begin their stroll through sparse hedges, though he already knows the answer. He squeezes Keith’s hand, while Keith nods.

                “Yeah. Loud...just got kinda overwhelming after a while. I’ll be good to come back in soon, though,” Keith says. “Hopefully before the ball drops, but, y’know...if I miss it, oh well.”

                Part of him still doesn’t see what the big deal is about watching the ball drop. He can wear a watch or open the clock app on his phone and witness as the seconds tick down, and the year changes. But it’s tradition, and he’s already got so few traditions from his childhood to hang onto. He supposes there’s no harm in keeping this one.

                “I’m sure we’ll be able to hear everyone do the countdown from out here,” Lance says with a light shrug.

                Before long, Keith and Lance find themselves in front of the fountain at the center of the garden. Lance flicks his eyes to Keith and back to the fountain, and then pulls Keith toward the rim of the fountain. He sits on the concrete, and Keith settles next to him. Lance lets go of his hand to bring his arm around Keith’s back, while Keith leans his head on Lance’s shoulder.

                For a few minutes, they sit in silence, but then Lance sucks in a breath. Keith raises his head slightly, just enough to get a better look at Lance.

                “2018,” Lance starts. “It’s...it was a year, huh.”

                “Sure was,” Keith agrees quietly.

                He tries to think back on the year, all the way back to last January, everything between then and this moment. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the unbelievable, the incredible. He thinks about senior year, all the drama and chaos of being in their second semester. Their final musical with the drama club, finding out about Nyma’s lingering feelings, Rolo’s weak attempts to come between them, their two-year anniversary, prom, skip day, graduation. College, and everything it brought with it—the anxiety of application deadlines, and then awaiting decisions; officially selecting each other as roommates; awaiting housing announcements; dealing with the financial aid office; orientation and rooming together and getting to class; choosing new classes for the spring semester.

                His family and friends—his mom, coming back after sixteen years of silence. The endless support from his friends, from his brother, from his fiancé. And then that: proposing to Lance, taking that leap after months getting over his own worries that Lance would leave him.

                Oh, how wrong you were.

                “Where do you think we’re gonna go from here?” Lance asks, but his voice wobbles, and Keith’s head snaps up, sharper this time.

                Tears shine in Lance’s eyes. Keith frowns, and shifts upright, turns to face Lance.

                “What do you mean?”

                “I mean, like…” Lance huffs, the slightest bit frustrated. “We can’t—we can’t anticipate everything that happens every year. Like, this year was...it was full of surprises.” For emphasis, he raises his left hand and wiggles his finger, where, underneath his glove, his engagement ring rests. “But we can still guess, right? And try and plan? Does that make sense?”

                “Yeah,” Keith answers, and then shrugs in answer to the original question. “I dunno, where do you wanna go?”

                Despite his wet eyes, Lance lets a giggle slip past his lips. “I mean, at the rate we’re going, we might just be married by the spring.”

                Keith laughs. “I thought we promised our moms and Shiro we’d wait until after college.”

                “I know, I know.” Lance’s grip on Keith tightens, and he pulls him in closer. “I’m just...no break, right? That’s completely off the table?”

                The break. Guilt breaks over Keith’s head like a tidal wave, because he was always the one to bring it up, was the one to suggest it in the first place. Even through February, they still kept the break on the backburner but not completely off the stove. He can’t even recall when they stopped considering it, when the possibility became nonexistent. But that’s what it is, now—irrelevant, and never going to happen.

                “Completely off,” he confirms. He cups Lance’s cheek and runs an ice-cold thumb over his cheekbone, eliciting a shiver from him. He places a hand on top of Keith’s.

                “Good… Can I be possessive for a second?”

                “Go for it.”

                Lance’s fingers wrap around Keith’s hand. “You’re mine, Keith. And I’m yours. I know last year, you were still...God, you were still terrified. I’m gonna be honest, it broke my heart seeing you that scared. It...still hurts to think about, I can’t...I can’t imagine what you were going through, that you...you wouldn’t believe in someone really loving you, in someone who wouldn’t leave.”

                Lance moves Keith’s hand from his face to his heart, splays Keith’s fingers out over his sweater.

                “I promise you, I’m never going anywhere. You’ve got my heart—you’ve got all of me. You have my past, you’re my present, and you’re my future.”

                Keith’s eyes begin stinging at about the same time his vision blurs. He chokes on some cross between a nervous laugh and a cry of relief and leans forward and collapses against Lance’s chest. Lance wraps both arms behind Keith’s back and holds him close.

                “You’re my future, too,” Keith mumbles into his chest—mumbles, because his voice can’t go any louder without shattering, and the lump sitting in the middle of his throat is particularly painful to talk around—and sniffles. “I don’t...I don’t know where the year’s gonna go, but we’ve got each other.”

                Lance settles his chin on Keith’s head. Even without seeing it, Keith can picture the soothing smile he must be wearing.

                “Mr. and Mr. Kogane-McClain,” Lance sighs happily.

                A cold breeze cuts through the garden, then. Lance and Keith shiver in sync, and Keith sits up, tilts his head back as the first few snowflakes from the clouds that have been plaguing the skies fall. It’s about that same time that shouting starts up inside the mansion. Lance takes his phone out of his pocket and squints at the screen.

                It’s 11:59.

                “Well, no time to make it back inside,” he mutters.

                “That’s okay,” Keith says.

                He rises from his seat along the fountain and pulls Lance up after him, and then snakes arms around his neck, while Lance’s find their way around the small of Keith’s back. The countdown is loud and clear to them, even all the way out here.

                “To a new year,” Keith whispers at five seconds.

                “To you and me,” Lance counters, leaning in.

                The ends of Keith’s mouth tug up. “To us against the world.”

                The cheering in the mansion reaches a crescendo, while similar shouting echoes from all around the neighborhood; the sky lights up in washes of different colors, brilliant blues and reds and purples, as people shoot off fireworks in spite of the snow; and Keith and Lance kiss their futures, renewed fires burning in their chests.