It’s dangerous, to be this far out into the desert without telling anyone, without bringing backup, but then again, Keith’s never been much for rules, and Lance was notorious for ending up in the principal’s office back in the Garrison.
They snuck out of the Resistance base on Keith’s old bike, recovered some time at the beginning of the war on Earth’s front, resting tucked away in a corner of one of the hangars ever since. Most people still think it fallen into disrepair; no one but Lance knows of the nights Keith’s spent awake tinkering, repairing, for a moment like this.
They’re far from the Resistance base. Far from the Garrison and all of its smaller bases scattered throughout the desert. Perched atop one of the highest peaks of the twisting canyons. According to the map stowed in Lance’s jacket pocket, they’re a good two minutes and several thousand feet above the cave where they first found the Blue Lion.
The sky overhead is clear, the same way it was that night that fate, destiny, and some sheer dumb luck pushed the team together, headfirst into their destinies.
Lance followed Keith into the unknown then. He’s followed him now—spent the whole bike ride sitting behind him, arms wrapped tightly around Keith’s waist as he cut hard turn after hard turn, tore over the sands and kicked up dust in their wake. Followed him to the cliff’s edge. Finally sat down next to him and leaned back, let his fingers fall over Keith’s and twine slightly.
And it’s all for this: an open stretch of sky. Endless possibility.
“You know,” Lance whispers, “it’s weird. I used to love space.”
Keith turns and looks sidelong at him, as Lance stares up at the stars. They twinkle, sparkling flecks among the vast darkness, and Lance wonders how many of them are gone now, how many of them have winked out, and that lack of light just hasn’t traveled to Earth yet.
“Well, that’s not entirely right,” he goes on, after a moment. “I still love space, but not in the way I used to.”
If you asked Lance several years ago whether he’d be out on a cliff in the middle of the desert with Keith Kogane, about to spill everything resting inside of his heavy heart, the night before they’d head into a battle that very well could decide the fate of not just Earth, but the universe, he’d have laughed in your face.
Now the knowledge just emboldens him, because it may be now or never. This may be the last quiet moment he gets with Keith, the last time for reminiscing, for admitting.
“When I was a kid,” he says slowly, “I loved space in the way I loved the Earth and the ocean.” He takes a pause, to let that sink in, all too aware of Keith’s careful gaze on him. “When you’re a kid, you just wanna go exploring. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to go backpacking through other countries, and then I wanted to be a scuba diver and explore the oceans, and then came the astronaut phase.”
He lets out a laugh, with an edge more bitter than he intended.
“Guess it wasn’t a phase after all.”
His small bout of laughter dies when Keith doesn’t join him, and he swallows thickly.
“I loved space for what it meant to me,” he explains, quieter than before. “It meant possibility. Adventure. We only had vague ideas about what was at the edge of the solar system, what was beyond it. I wanted to discover things. I wanted to meet aliens. Sometimes, I’d sit up in my room at night and look at the planes overhead and pretend they were UFOs, expecting alien visitors any day.”
The sky tonight is free of ships. The Garrison turned this area into a no-fly zone, save for their allies—in that case, the Galra—and they shoot down anything unauthorized. Or try to, at least.
Voltron proved a bit of a challenge.
“I wanted to visit other worlds,” Lance continues. “I wondered what else was out there. I thought, it must be beautiful, other worlds. Like Naboo, or something. But it’s different now, the same way the world looks different when you get older.”
In the far distance, he can just make out the lights from the main Garrison facilities, where he spent a large chunk of his teenage years, taking orders, receiving reprimands, goofing off and evading punishment every chance he had.
Tomorrow, he may very well be the hand that destroys it.
“When you get older, you find out about the tragedy. The suffering. The corruption. Traveling is less appealing because there’s nowhere that really seems like the paradise you thought it was. That’s how space is. I’m not...we’re not the same kids we were.”
Lance squeezes Keith’s hand, and when he speaks again, his voice is rougher, scrapes against his throat as he swallows down the lump he suddenly finds there.
“I can’t look at the stars the same way, knowing what I know. There’s still beauty out there, and a lot of mystery, but there are also people we know. People we’re fighting for and against, and it’s...I can’t live in blissful ignorance anymore. I can’t escape up there the way I thought I could, because there’s really not many places to run and hide, are there?”
He laughs again, wetly, and finds his image of the stars blurred and distorted.
“It’s just,” he tries again, voice high, catching on every few words, “it’s weird, you know? Nights before exams, sometimes, I’d just...I’d go sneak onto the roof and look at the stars, and here I am! Night before the biggest exam of my life, and it’s…” The constellations twinkle overhead, and Lance chokes. “Everything looks the same, but it’s not. It’ll never be the same again. We’ll never be the same again, and I’m...scared. So much has happened and changed and...that’s all still the same. That’s gonna go on no matter what happens tomorrow.”
He waves a hand, an indiscriminate gesture, toward the sky, and then lets his arm fall back down to his side, lets his head drop as he stares at his lap and blinks the tears out of his eyes, finally. They slip down his face, wet and warm.
“I’m sorry, I’m...that was a lot, to dump on you, and...I don’t even know where half of it came from.”
He feels Keith’s extricate his hand from underneath his own, and seconds later, Keith’s arm tentatively slides around Lance’s waist, and Keith scoots closer. When Lance doesn’t flinch away, Keith settles, pressing in closer, letting his arm tighten slightly.
“It’s alright,” he says, and his voice is steady but low, almost reverent as he tips his chin up toward the sky. “I get it. My dad...he’d tell me all these stories. When I was younger, I didn’t know any better. I thought he made it all up. He probably got them from my mom, looking back on it, but…” Keith sighs. “He never told me about the war, or anything. He always made it sound hopeful, like there was salvation or something out there, waiting for us.”
Keith drops his eyes, drops his chin.
“I bet he was talking about my mom, wherever she was. Whether he was waiting for her to come back for him, or he thought she was waiting for him to come up and reunite with her...I don’t know. But since then...the stars were my escape, too.” Another breath; inhale, exhale, and then: “Now, though…I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back.”
Lance’s head turns sharply, and Keith winces.
“Shiro, the Garrison...being a fighter pilot rescued me from a life that would’ve been far different than this, and probably would’ve suffocated me. In a way, my dad was right. Trying to get to space became something of my salvation, but like you said, knowing what I know now, about what’s out there...I’m never gonna look at it the same way again. No matter what, I’m going to see war. I’m going to see death. I’m going to see my mom gone, and...and Shiro taken, and you guys…”
Keith swallows, and lets out a breath that shudders this time.
“It was like that before,” he admits. “Right before we found the Blue Lion. Space took Shiro, at least, and I had some...some weird feeling in my gut, about my mom. But it was at least hopeful, before. Space took Shiro and gave me a purpose to try and track him down and get him back, but now...I’ve lost everything to space.”
A word for a lot more than Keith has the energy or emotional capacity to vocalize.
“I feel like I did part of that to you,” Lance whispers, and it’s Keith’s turn to turn his head, until they’ve locked gazes.
“What are you talking about?” Keith asks incredulously.
“We lost the last of our teenage years out there because I got us stuck there. We should’ve been graduating the Garrison, we should’ve been goofing off and getting in trouble just because we could, we should’ve—”
Keith slaps a hand over his mouth.
Honest-to-God shoves his palm over Lance’s mouth so he’ll stop talking.
“What happened to us is far from your fault,” he says almost immediately, voice louder and harder than it’d been minutes ago. He carefully gauges Lance’s deer-in-the-headlights expression. “The Galra already knew about Earth and the Blue Lion, and we...we were the only people in ten thousand years who could connect with the Lions.” He slowly releases his hand and drops his voice, as he takes one of Lance’s hands and holds it tightly. “I’ve got a feeling that no matter what happened, we would’ve ended up here anyway.”
“No. And if you really wanna go around assigning blame for who got us stuck out there, then it was all of our faults. Shiro went to Kerberos. Pidge was on the roof. You followed me. I had all the data on the Blue Lion’s location. Hunk had the geiger counter. And it’s better it happened this way, than...I don’t know, us having to find Voltron while the Galra hunt us down. And if it had to happen, if it had to be us…at least we made an effort.”
He releases his other arm from around Lance’s waist, so he can point up at the sky.
“Look at that. There are still stars up there because we fucking tried, and if we make it out...when we make it out of this thing alive tomorrow, even if we feel sick as fuck looking up there and knowing the things we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, we can at least say well, we succeeded, because I can still see the constellations.”
“And what if we don’t make it out?” Lance can barely manage his words; his throat’s closing and his vision’s still blurry when he looks at Keith, and his expression sends Keith’s heart into his own throat.
“We will,” Keith says sharply, “but if you wanna hear the nonexistent alternative: if we don’t, then everyone who does can make it out and look at the constellations and know that we gave up everything for them. They’ll look up at the sky and they’ll raise kids who’ll look up at the sky with the same wonder we did, because if we can’t look at the sky like that anymore...then we can at least preserve it so someone can.”
Lance’s tears aren’t really helping Keith’s resolve.
He reaches both hands up and cups Lance’s face, thumbs brushing over his cheeks, wiping away the wet, and then Lance is grabbing his wrists and leaning in and Keith’s leaning in too and then their mouths are pressing together, and then it’s just the two of them.
Not Paladins, not cadets. Just two boys, under a sky of endless possibility.