They had come in flashes. Small glimpses of his life springing before his eyes and searing through his vision like the beginnings of a supernova. A blaring white that enveloped him whole.
The flashes had mostly been about Lance’s past. His 10th birthday, his family gathering and swarming him with hugs and presents and a multitude of home cooked food he’d only revisited in his dreams. Or the time he got into the swim team and won his first meet, the exhilaration of it all. There were also the unpleasant memories, like when he broke his leg falling off the monkey bars when he tried to climb on top of the structure to impress one of the girls in his class.
But so far, he hadn’t seen a peek of his future. They’ve only been in the Quantum Abyss for a week so he knew he should start expecting them to come soon, but he knew deep down that he’d never truly be ready for what he could be faced with.
It came when he was out collecting water, two buckets hanging heavily in his hands as he sped back to camp. But that searing light of the unforeseen had smacked right into him, penetrating deep within the confines of his mind and twining around him like weeds on a vine.
His body surrendered to the beckoning, his hands suddenly free of the buckets and moving up to protect his head from the sudden ambush. When the light gradually began to fade into something more familiar - like the kiss of the sun on cool, unclothed skin - he unwrapped them to find himself standing in front of a cottage.
It was a sizable house. Not too small, but not too big, either. A tinge in his chest told him that it was just right, strangely enough. The roof was tiled with shingles in the shade of warm brown, reminding him starkly of home, or what a home should look like. He could pick out a window on the left-most side of the house, a bricked chimney resting in between the three other windows on the right, placed in triangular form. The surface of the cottage itself was in the shade of creme-white, and he couldn’t help but liken it to those of fantasy worlds he used to imagine as a little kid.
It gave off this magical sense of wonderment, of the unknown.
Lance took in a deep breath and let it out with the straightening of his back. This was the future, he was certain of it. He’d never seen a house like this before, never mind a cottage.
With his heart hammering against his ribcage, he followed the cobblestone path towards the small three steps of stairs, and to the door. A welcome sign next to the door greeted him, and he took a moment to observe the clear choppy handwriting that undoubtedly belonged to a child, fit with tiny colorful hand prints on each side of the plaque. An array of questions whirled through his mind at the mere sight, but he entertained none and walked right through the door.
A couple of couches lined the living room, which was right beside the dining table. Given the limited space granted by the cottage, he would have guessed that much. It strangely felt spacious all the same. The walls and floors seemed to be constructed out of wood, but they glinted as though glazed with a sheen of lacquer. His eyes darted to the photo that rested high and proud on the wall beside the TV, and he felt his knees weaken at the trio smiling with all their hearts right back at him.
His footsteps were as light as snow, coming closer to inspect the photo with more clarity, because maybe it had been a trick of the light, maybe that wasn’t—
But no. As he stood there, before the pure euphoria beaming out of the bunch huddled together with their arms securing around one another, he couldn’t mistake anyone else for the man that stood right beside him in that frame.
Keith. It was Keith.
And standing right in between them, was a little girl with dark pigtails and a crooked smile. Lance couldn’t dare hold back the flood of questions he had, then. It was obvious, looking at the photo anyone could see that they looked like a family. The happiest of any kind.
A startled laugh left his lips like the ghost of unbeknownst ecstasy. He couldn’t stop staring at the three of them, looking from the shining brilliance of the kid sandwiched between them, to the content expression he hadn’t seen himself wear in what felt like ages, to the way Keith seemed to be smiling with his mouth halfway to bursting all the way open, as though he was in the middle of a laugh just as the picture was snapped, like — like he couldn’t contain his joy, his unbridled love—
Lance turned his head quickly, blinking away the collection of tears that seemed to have formed in his eyes without his notice. He took in a shaky breath and leaned against the platform extending from the wall, hand squeezing at his eyes as he tried to get a grip on himself.
The concept of a future had seemed so forlorn to him, he wouldn’t allow the thought of anything other than ending the war, and somehow it always felt like he’d be a part of that end, the only thing left of him being his name ringing on the lips of history professors, on the tongues of students as they read history books.
But this was more, it was so much more than he could ever imagine.
The door clicked open right then, and Lance froze. He sniffed and swallowed a plethora of sobs he would most certainly see through later, now however, he had to see . He had to take all of it in, to experience it if only for this moment.
“Babe, is that you?” came a mirror of his own voice, somewhere upstairs. Footsteps followed, they sounded hurried, overridden with anticipation.
“Yeah,” said the man from behind, and the way his tone careened through the room and danced over his spine was like the tickle of a memory, a blow of nostalgia that reminded him of how much he adored that voice.
Slowly, Lance pushed himself off the ledge. Turned around.
An older version of Keith stood before him. Lance studied him harder than any text he’d ever read in comparison. The first thing he noticed was how utterly long his hair had gotten, how it was tied up into a high ponytail. And honestly, Lance had to take a second because this was Keith. In a literal ponytail.
Oh, if there is a lord up there, please give me strength.
He had a biker jacket on, and Lance felt the impending urge to look out the window and see if he owned a motorcycle, too. The little girl next to him was squirming with a cheeky smile high on her lips, tugging on Keith’s jacket as she giggled euphorically.
Keith had placed a finger over his lips, signaling for her to contain her clear excitement. She placed a palm over her own lips and nodded fervently.
Lance felt his whole body soften at the interaction.
Future Lance had bounded down the stairs by then, coming to a stop right in front of the duo, looking back and forth between each of their faces in an anxious manner.
“So? How did it go? Please tell me it went well,” Lance asked with a smile so hopeful he found himself swallowing at the genuineness with in it. Suddenly, whatever it was, he hoped it had gone well, too.
A beat of quiet strung it’s way between them, and Lance bit his lips as he waited for what was going to happen next, before the little girl interrupted it with a boisterous laugh that pierced through the boundary where her palm hid her mouth.
That was when Keith took something out from behind his back — a pot of grape hyacinths that Lance realized he hadn’t even noticed — and erupted with a huge, “I got the job!”
Lance had stilled for a second, then immediately jumped into the air with a pounding fist and screeched out a loud, “oh my god, Keith, you did it! You’re gonna be an art teacher!”
“I’m gonna be an art teacher!” Keith repeated as though in disbelief, a tremor flowing through his shoulders as he smiled so widely it managed to transfer onto Lance’s own face. He seemed to buzz with this energy, the pot shaking in his hold.
“Daddy’s gonna be an art teacher! At my school! Now, I get to see you both at school, papi!” beamed the little girl as she began squealing and twirling around them in pure unadulterated glee. And Lance felt their joy emenanting into his very bones.
“That’s right, darling,” Lance laughed fondly, then moved towards Keith but stopped when his eyes fell onto the pot of flowers still in Keith’s hands, smile turning exasperated. “Oh my god, and even with this news you still bought another pot—”
“—Because you love them—”
“—I swear, Keith, this is about you and yet you still… and on top of that our garden is gonna topple with all these pots, but you know what? I don’t even care because you did it , put it down and come here!”
Keith did, and they all clashed together in one giant, heaping lump of entangled limbs. Murmurs of “You’re gonna be amazing, Keith, I just know it,” and “I’m so proud of you,” were spoken between them in the most loving way Lance had ever heard himself speak. And this time, he let the tears flow down his cheeks as he watched them, as he watched what soon could be his family.
The surge of adrenaline decided to come right then, a flashing white obscuring his vision and slowly pulling him further and further away.
No, please, not yet .
He tried fighting against the overwhelming pull, tried to move against this invisible barrier that separated the past, present, and future, but to no avail. The last thing he caught was him and Keith coming together to share a sweet kiss, before he was plunged back into an open field, blue sky hovering above him, solid dirt tainting his knees beneath him, head shoved into the warmth of a broad chest.
“—ance, Lance please, breathe,” the gravelly tone that could only be Keith’s voice rang through Lance’s ears like a lifeline. He held onto it, squeezed the solid body keeping him together, and realized just how labored his breathing had been. It was as if someone had punched the air right out of his gut.
Maybe his resistance had worked more than he thought.
He slowly dragged in more air, evened it out, in and out, in and out. The chest smelled like pine and midnight mist, like the smell of rain on fresh grass, but it was also so glaringly Keith. His vision began clearing up, still splotchy with tears.
He pulled back and Keith’s worry stricken face was all be could see. He sank to his knees in front of Lance, hands cradling his face with the most gentle of grasps, as though afraid to touch him. His thumbs were moving over his cheekbones, and Lance thought he might be wiping his tears for him.
“Sorry, I…” he began, and it left him as a choke. He licked his lips, didn’t even bother to clear his throat, and just met Keith head on. Those eyes watched him intently, a telltale sign that he was listening, that he was there , and Lance didn’t know how he would continue to look into those pools of stardust without also facing what could become of his future.
That sheer happiness that had settled into the pits of those eyes, the contentment, the love.
Keith was waiting for him to continue, but Lance only slumped forward and dug his face deep into his neck. He pulled him back in and hugged him tight, arms bundled into the back of his shirt and squeezing hard. It took a moment for Keith to realize what was happening, but when he did, his arms wrapped back around him tentatively, like he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to.
“Was it a rough one?” Keith asked, quietly. His hand worked its way into Lance’s hair, softly patting it down. Lance’s heart followed the motion, slowly abating.
He nodded wordlessly, pressed even closer to him if that was possible, and took in a gulpful of air, of Keith. He nosed the column of his neck and rested his lips over his sternum, growing pliant in his arms. “Can we… can we just stay like this, for a second?” he asked, just as quietly.
“...Yeah, of course,” Keith said, and Lance could feel his breath hit his ear like the notes of his favorite melody. “Will you be okay?”
Lance took in another breath of air, and thought about what more his future could hold. Prior to the flash, he hadn’t decided how well he should believe these glimpses, how much faith he could put into them. But what he did believe was that it could be a possibility, that he had it within him to make it a reality. Whatever it may be, it would be his choice.
So he nodded, again, and cleared his throat this time. “Yeah… I think I will be.”