The first time Lance spits flowers from between soft lips, he’s at a gala for sea turtles, of all things. There’s light music playing, something pretentious he can vaguely hear through the locked bathroom door—and over the sound of his lungs actually trying to kill him. And, okay, he knows what’s going on, he’s not an idiot. He just thought that maybe he’d have more time, y’know? That maybe he’d work up the courage to tell Keith before vines started twisting into his throat and whole flowers were catching on his teeth.
But, he didn’t— hasn’t —and so here his dumb ass is. Coughing up petals the color of blood, a rich red he’s seen in glimpses of shops, a brightness that draws your eye from across the room.
He manages to get the flower out and—damn. He’s got it bad, huh? Lance sits back against the cool marble wall of the spartan bathroom, heaving breaths slowing as he turns the flower around in his hand. A bright red dahlia, perfect and whole, twists between his fingers, bringing color to the room around him.
A knock breaks him out of his thoughts, a gruff but warm voice bringing it full circle. “Your Highness? Is everything all right?”
Lance huffs a laugh while taking one last look at the flower, standing easily before tossing it into the toilet. “I thought I told you not to call me that, Mullet.”
“Well, Your Highness, I distinctly remember asking you not to call me ‘Mullet’ in formal meetings, but here we are.” Keith snipes back, quick as ever. “It’s not even a mullet anymore, you know.”
Lance sticks his tongue out at the door as he washes his hands, and then remembers that Keith can’t actually see him. “I’m sticking my tongue out at you right now, just so you know.”
“Ever the picture of decorum, Your Highness.”
They wrap up the night by schmoozing rich assholes and making conversation about prosciutto hors d’oeuvres, hoping to at least triple what Lance has already fronted for this project. They won’t know until the numbers come in the next morning, but he’s tired as hell and his face hurts from all the smiling he had to do. You’d think growing up royalty would have given him a leg up, but no—it still sucks , and by the time he’s heading towards the car, he’s making quite a bit of headway on that bottle of wine he snagged from the bar.
“You know you’re one of those rich assholes, right, Your Highness?” Keith asks as he slowly leads him towards the car.
“Yeah, yeah,” Lance says as he waves his hand, “a rich asshole that signs your paychecks, though! Don’t you forget it!”
Keith smirks at him while opening the door with a flourish. “Of course.”
“What, you decide now is the time to drop the forma-”
“Your Highness.” He closes the door with a laugh, taking one last look around before sliding into the front seat.
Lance chuckles to himself, enjoying the title just a smidge when it comes from Keith. He was born into it, he didn’t earn it through deeds or good will—but when Keith says it with that familiar edge of humor, or even in a chagrined and exasperated tone… he feels like maybe just doing what he can is enough. So he watches the light fly by, watches the city move around them, watches the way reflections of neon signs spread through dark hair… and coughs gently.
“Hey, Keith,” he says as he clears his throat, willing it away, ‘not now’ desperate in his thoughts.
“Yes, Your Highness?”
And there’s something in his tone, a softness that maybe hints at something more. But there’s also a reminder there—that Lance isn’t available, that he’s the Prince and not the prospective date, that he’ll… never be more than this. That maybe the distance between them will never be closed.
He’s so quiznacking tired.
“Do you think I’ll ever get to stop being ‘Your Highness’? Like… can’t I just be ‘Lance’?”
Keith raises an eyebrow at him in the mirror, coming to a gentle stop in front of their building.
“Aren’t they the same?”
The ride in the elevator is just long enough for the tickle in his throat to become a ragged claw, tearing and scraping in it’s attempt to get out. Lance is sweating, the wine a searing pain as he takes a long drink to try, try, try and keep the flower down, desperation a familiar taste. He can’t — won’t — do this now. He’s a Prince, for Christ’s sake. He can handle this.
Keith is standing slightly in front of him, and while Lance would normally sit back and enjoy the view, right now he’s just worried about making it into their apartment. And yeah— their apartment is the operative word because even if it’s the whole top floor of a skyscraper, Lance is still tortured with views of Keith he can never truly have: soft and rumpled in the mornings before he has his sweet coffee, hair in a small ponytail with multicolored acrylics smeared on his nose, or a pile of novels next to him as he relaxes.
One day, it’ll be too much and his heart will just explode in his chest. Or, he guesses, flowers will grow in his lungs.
The elevator opens up to a big, but warm and inviting, living room. Books are stacked on side tables, a pile of throws decorating the couches, and about a million pictures of his friends and family decorating every surface available. The front wall is completely glass, showing off a small courtyard in the middle of it all, flowers and a pool bringing more life to this place.
Keith takes a cursory glance around while Lance waits—and, shit, are his eyes starting to water? He tries coughing a little, just to relieve the pain, and ends up with a whole mouthful of petals. His eyes bulge, panic hot and wild gripping him as he frantically searches his jacket for that handkerchief his mom berated him into carrying since the age of five.
He spits them into the cloth just has he hears footsteps coming his way, the wine once again burning as he chugs to get rid of anything else there.
“Is our place safe from foreign invaders at one in the morning, Red?” Lance says, smiling through the buzz and oh, he has pretty eyes.
Keith chuckles, “Thank you, Your Highness. I’m told I take after my mother’s side of the family, and yes, the apartment is clear.”
“Quiznack, I said that out loud, didn’t I?” He says as he shoves the handkerchief into the bottom of his pocket, hoping that for once in his life, he’s being smooth about it.
“Yes, you did. Go on, get some rest. I have the day off tomorrow, so someone else will have to babysit you, Your Highness.”
“Ugh, will you cut it out with the title while we’re at home? I’m over it, Keith! I mean it!” Lance points at him, swaying just a bit. Not enough for Keith to be bent over in laughter, the ass.
“Yeah, yeah. Now get to bed! I have to be up early enough as it is.”
“Oh ho ho! Big plans, Keithy boy? Got a hot date?” Lance says as he slings an arm around Keith’s shoulder and moves towards Keith’s side of the apartment.
“Uh—no? I’m meeting Acxa for some drinks, but that’s really about it. I mean, that and dinner with Shiro and Adam, but they don’t count—I think Hunk is going to be here tomorrow, by the way. Your Highness.”
Acxa? Lance’s eyes sting a little more, his throat tight from something besides the flowers. He’d heard Zethrid and Ezor talking to her at the last get together, teasing her about her crush on Keith. Maybe… he reciprocated? He’d never really given that vibe, though, so Lance had thought—had hoped-
“Ah. Well—have fun, my dude. I’ll uh—I gotta get some shut eye so I’ll. See you when I see you, I guess.” Lance disentangles himself, taking one last look at violet eyes and windswept hair. “‘Night Keith.”
Keith’s eyebrows are pinched, a small frown pulling at his lips. “Is everything okay?”
“Yyyyyyup,” he says, popping the ‘p’ while turning his back to Keith and waving over one shoulder, wine bottle still clutched in his hand.
“All right… well, goodnight, Your Highness.” He sounds hesitant, but he still lets Lance walk away without another word.
Lance makes it two steps into his room before he’s falling to the floor, empty wine bottle clinking harmlessly against wood as he heaves. And heaves. And heaves, whole flowers falling between his hands, petals sticky and wet, making red drip down his arms and teeth.
He thought the time in the bathroom earlier had hurt, but this is torture. His throat is raw, mouth sore, and he swears he can feel a stem in his lungs, digging and cutting. How? How has it gone so fast? How is he spitting bouquets of red dahlias, how can he go from one flower to a chest full in a few hours?
He cries as he cleans it up, begging for something— anything —in the universe to make this right, to take his pain and his love and get rid of them, even knowing he wouldn’t change the fire in his chest for the world. He loves Keith, and it’s woven into his soul to the point it’s killing him.
He lays in bed and thinks of a way to get around this without putting his bodyguard in the uncomfortable situation of rejecting his boss—or cutting out the flowers, never to remember the feeling of hot hands and a gaze like molten lead.
Death it is, then.
Lance is already awake by the time Keith stumbles out into the kitchen, grumbling and scratching his stomach before his eyes catch on the large mug of coffee sitting on the island. He immediately looks ten shades happier, lips slipping into an easy smile as he takes in the light liquid—and, hell yeah, he should be happy, Lance put, like, ten thousand pounds of sugar and creamer in the damn thing.
He watches as Keith hums happily, sipping the coffee carefully before realizing it’s just hot enough to not scald his mouth, his legs doing—is he dancing?! Lance blinks to clear his eyes, absolutely positive that he’s dreamt this up, that his eyes are starting to see hallucinations as part of this disease.
But, nope, his eyes open to Keith, sure as all hell bouncing on his legs and humming, hair skimming across his collarbones. And suddenly, his chest burns, filling and expanding in a wildfire of flames, heat pooling in his stomach with the force of oh god, I love you so much. Within the next instant, it’s broken, though, as his mouth fills with petals and panic overtakes the heat, the cloying taste of flower suffocating his tongue and grinding between his teeth.
Shit, shit, shit.
He carefully leans down and spits the flower into his hand, tucking it into a napkin. His head snaps up to catch Keith still dancing, moving to dig through the fridge for breakfast, coffee balanced in one hand. Lance breathes a sigh of relief, only to cough on petals still left in his throat.
Keith whips around, nearly spilling coffee over his arm. His eyes are wide as Lance coughs a laugh and takes a desperate sip of the hot black liquid in front of him.
“The great Keith Kogane, taken out by a surprise attack! What would you have done if I was some sneaky intruder, huh?”
“Well, Your Highness,” and he’s not imagining it, is he? The red creeping along his neck, ears tinged pink. “I’m just so used to your insufferable ego that fills up every room in this house, you can’t exactly blame me for heading straight for breakfast instead.”
And oh, Lance feels that like a blow. Because while they used to have a rivalry, a sort of heated and edged relationship, he’d thought they’d become friends. Close friends. And...well. It doesn’t really matter.
It never does.
So he puts on his mask, becomes haughty and offended just like everyone wants, and plays it out.
“Excuse me? My ego is exactly as big as it needs to be, thank you very much!” Lance says, one hand coming to his chest while the other brings his mug up for a drink.
“Uh huh. You know I’m just teasing you, Your Highness,” Keith sighs and rubs his eyes, dark circles more prominent than usual stabbing at Lance. “I’ll send Hunk a message, make sure he didn’t forget about being on duty today before I meet Acxa. Need anything while I’m out, Your Highness?”
Just you, Lance thinks, and then shoves it down, just like he does everything else.
“Nah, man, I’ve got everything I need. Think I’m just gonna have a lazy day for once. Don’t worry about texting Hunk, I’ll give him a nice little wake up call later,” he says, grinning and rubbing his hands together like some villain in a drama. Or y’know, not at all, because I don’t need him freaking out when I blow flower chunks . “Is everything okay? You don’t look like you’re getting much sleep with Black Eye One and Two over there.”
Keith rolls his eyes, turning back to the fridge to dig out his yogurt. “Just fine, Your Highness. If you remember, you kept us out late as hell last night.”
“Keeeeeeith, it’s too early for you to be this formal, I’m begging you to please drop the titles for, like, one millisecond.” He says as he lays across the table, arms splayed out in front of him.
“Wait, really?” Lance jerks up, eyes wide and staring.
“Of course,” he says with a smirk, spoon swirling the fruit and yogurt together. “Your Highness.”
Lance glares without heat, the fight leaving him all at once and a bone weary exhaustion taking over. “Whatever, man.”
Keith is still smiling easily to himself as he takes a big scoop of his food, happily enjoying the pop of blueberries while ignoring the prince across the room. Lance feels his eyes snag on the small smear of white on Keith’s nose, yogurt he hasn’t noticed.
“Hey, Mullet. You got a bit on your nose, there.”
And shit, he shouldn’t be so cute, right? Keith crosses his eyes trying to look at it like a kid, and Lance feels the pinch in his chest at it, falling just a little more every second he stares. That’s the thing—when you can’t have what you want, it makes you burn for it even more. And simple things like this—breakfast, loaded coffee, yogurt on a nose—become even more potent to your heart. So Lance’s legs ignore his brain and get up, making their way over to where Keith is still standing with his eyes crossed, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.
“Here, you big baby,” Lance says as he wipes at his face with a napkin, their eyes locking just when he finishes. Lance feels the burn of petals again, barely overshadowing the crush of affection filling him.
Keith looks stunned, his pupils blown wide, red color pooling on the back of his neck. “I’m your babysitter, not the other way around, Your Highness,” he says, and god damn, there’s that title again. He’ll never escape it. “But uh—thanks, I guess.”
Lance smiles, and he doesn’t show his teeth. Because silent rejection never flowed through him as certainly as it does now, and flowers never pushed his tongue down to crush against the corners of his mouth.
Keith’s back slams against the bathroom door, because what the fuck was that?! His heart is pounding in his chest, breaths coming fast as he feels the red finally overtaking his face. “What the shit. What the — what the shit!”
He’s been pining after the prince for years and now the gods want to test his resolve?! And okay, Lance is definitely bi, but he’s also definitely not interested, so why the hell was he just staring into Keith’s eyes and wiping his nose off with a napkin?! He pinches himself, and yeah, it’s real. This is definitely his reality, he didn’t wake up in an alternate dimension, and he certainly didn’t fall down any rabbit holes. So again: what the shit?!
Keith catches sight of his own face in the mirror, and in one swift movement, he’s wrenched the door open to stalk over to his bed. He slams himself down and grabs desperately for a pillow, screaming into it with all his might. His mind has become mush, one with a pile of pudding or mashed potatoes, unassuming and sticky. He comes down from his panic and stares at the forget-me-nots decorating the pillow jadedly, already so used to the feeling of small flowers making their way out that it no longer even registers.
His phone beeps at him from the floor, a reminder that he’s supposed to be meeting Acxa in twenty minutes. He drags a hand down his face, determined that this was a one-off fluke, a serious lack of communication on both their parts. Because Keith has been keeping a very careful wall between himself and the prince, keeping his distance, keeping what sanity he has left.
Because when Keith confessed last year, and Lance didn’t even acknowledge him…he got his flowers removed.
It didn’t quite turn out like it was supposed to, though. The doctors couldn’t get all of them, couldn’t clear his mind and his heart and his lungs of the man he’s never stopped falling for—said the only real way to fix it now is to die or be loved back. So Keith puts away his hope, sweeps the flowers into the trash and grabs his things, content to know he at least has this.
“I’ll see you tonight, Your Highness.” He tosses back on his way out to Lance, who seems to be fiddling with the flower arrangements dotting the hall.
He gets a closed lip smile in response, and swipes his tears away when he’s out of sight.
Shit, was Keith dressed up? Because — and he’s being generous here — he might be able to squeeze a coin between the waistband of those jeans and Keith’s skin. He’s hoping he passed his reaction off as normal, because dahlias are just pouring from his mouth, petals and whole flowers spilling into the arrangement in front of him.
Lance drops to his knees, chest heaving as he finally spits out the last of them. He sighs, reaching for his phone and firing off a text to Hunk.
Lance : Hey man! Keep getting that shut eye, I know you and Shay had a hot date last night! I convinced Keith to stay in and watch some movies with me so we’re all good here
Quiznack, does that sound too formal? he thinks for a second, then shakes his head. He’s a prince, of course it’s normal to be wordy sometimes! Whatever!
He scoots his back against the wall, coughing a few more times to bring bright red past his lips again, feeling the tear in his throat and his chest just a bit more than he had yesterday. Lance brings the damp flower up in his hand to look at it, and the dark red staining parts of it make it clear: this isn’t going well. Not at all. You’re not supposed to bleed until the end stages, and it’s been a day. How the quiznack did he end up here in twelve hours? Is he really that far gone?
He’s startled by the front door popping open, and all of a sudden, he knows he’s caught. The pure panic holding him down leaves his eyes wide and mouth dry, beautiful red dahlia still held aloft and frozen in place with blood slowly dotting his fingers. Keith looks up, and oh shit is all that’s running through his head. Well, that and the white noise of panicked screeches.
They just look at one another, silence stretching painfully long and tense before Keith slowly lets the door go, the small click sounding as loud as a gunshot through the quiet room.
“Lance?” Keith asks, his voice rough and painful. He sounds…scared, and that’s not something Lance has heard—well, probably ever.
“He-” he clears his throat, “Hey, Keith. Uh, I can expl—wait, did you just call me ‘Lance’?”
“That’s—sorry, Your Highness. But uh, is that—is that what I think it is?” And oh , his eyes are so beautiful and soft as they look into Lance’s. He feels like he’s drowning in them, the lilac a sharp contrast to his dark brows, and if heaven was a color, this would be it.
Flowers swell and he’s spitting again, red pouring from his mouth and into tan hands. “Shit, Lance, are you okay?” Keith says, frantic as his hands move onto Lance’s shoulders, slowly stroking the t-shirt there. “Just breathe for me, just—just ride it out.”
He pulls a flower from between his teeth and wipes his eyes, breathing feeling a little more cotton-filled than before. “I’m okay, I think. I mean—yeah, this sucks, but it-”
“Why didn’t you tell me? Or—or anyone? Lance, you need to get them taken out.”
Lance feels his heart sink at the thought: no Keith, no feelings, no warm spring rain on his face, no inferno raging behind his ribcage? “I’d rather die a thousand times over than live like that, Keith. Sorry, babe, but no dice.”
“I can’t—I mean, I just— why ? Have you told them how you feel, at least?” And there’s desperation there, too, Lance seeing all these new sides of Keith as he grips his shoulders on the cool wooden floor of the place they share.
Lance sighs heavily, clawed fingers raking his stomach at the thought of burdening Keith with feelings from a dying man to never be returned. He can’t do that, he can’t. Because Keith would try to love him, would make himself uncomfortable just to keep Lance alive. So he puts on the mask just once more, becomes the kind and witty prince, becomes the liar, and spills untruths instead of petals from his mouth.
“Yeah. And they ahhhh—they didn’t feel the same. So it’s okay, y’know? I’m all right with this.” He’s not. Not even a little bit. But he won’t place his death in Keith’s lap. He refuses to hurt the one person he would die to keep more than he already will with his passing.
Keith looks stricken, a light in his eyes quickly dimming as he absorbs the words, something cracking in his expression the longer Lance watches. It’s like the sun setting behind clouds or a flower wilting in the sun—melancholy? That’s what he’s seeing in real time.
“Keith? I know it’s a lot, but what’s—I mean other than me dying, but—are you okay?”
Keith just stares. And stares and stares and stares , until he’s pouring silent tears down pale cheeks, eyes the color of a grave blinking quickly to clear them. He’s shaking as he sits down, pulling Lance close as he cries.
“I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. Whoever they are, they don’t deserve you.”
And okay, being literally cradled in Keith’s arms is a good place to be. A damn good place, actually, that you’ll never find Lance complaining about. And he’s got those strong arms pulled around his middle, nose and lips brushing Lance’s neck—so he does what he’s always wanted to, and sinks fingers into thick, dark hair.
Lance blinks back tears, his heart breaking just a bit more. “They do. They really do—god I just love y— them so much, Keith. It’s okay if I have to die like this, because I can’t let go. I can’t do it.”
Keith sinks into him a bit more, his chest convulsing, shoulders pulling inward like he’s been physically hit. “Yeah,” he rasps out, “I know a bit what that’s like.” One of his hands come up to wipe at his mouth and, there, pale and beautiful, are a handful of forget-me-nots.
Lance’s eyes are wide. He’s so fucking in love with him, his heart full of fire and his lungs bursting flowers with it… and he can’t even save him. He can’t save beautiful, strong, asshole Keith, with his stupid hair and his stupid eyes and-
“No. You can’t die, Keith. You just—you can’t . Can you get them removed? P-please, Red. Tell me what you want me to do. I’ll get the best doctors, I’ll—whatever you need.”
Keith laughs softly, his eyes gentle and a smoldering flame burning behind them. “Not unless you can love me back, Lance. And we’ve already established that’s not the case.”
“Wait, wait, wait—what do you mean ‘love you back’? Like, can you give me a literal translation of what you just said because it kind of sounds like… you’re...” Lance trails off, his mind pure static. He doesn’t dare to hope, doesn’t want to push his soul any further when he can barely pull breaths past the petals crowding his throat.
Keith scoffs a little, head turning to the side just enough to put his profile in sharp contrast to the wall behind him. “You were there, Lance. That garden party Princess Allura threw when she got engaged to Romelle? The one where you were sitting by yourself and I confessed? Y’know, the one where you ignored me?”
Lance jerks upwards, his back going ramrod straight. “Are you… Keith. Red, buddy, Samurai… are you talking about the party I accidentally grabbed Pidge’s glass and got roofied at and Hunk had to drag my ass to the doctor’s? Is that—you really confessed to me, and I missed it?!”
Keith’s eyes are wide, his mouth moving without sound as he desperately tries to put it together in his mind. “You—you said you had alcohol poisoning! How the hell was I supposed to know?!” He jams a finger into Lance’s chest, “I wouldn’t have had to get all those damn flowers cut out if you’d just told me the truth, asshole!”
“You’re the asshole! Who thinks ‘ah, alcohol poisoning, he definitely remembers my passionate love confession’?! And why would you-” he stops, pain slicing into him as his brain finally catches up to his mouth.
“You… got them cut out?” He asks softly, and quiznack if that doesn’t hurt. Because Keith felt the same, and if he—then he-
“Oh. Uh, yeah. Well, I thought you’d rejected me, so I tried to get rid of them. I can’t leave Adam and Shiro alone, y’know? But—they couldn’t. Said the roots were just grown in there too deep; they took my whole damn lung out to look. And while we’re on the subject, why the hell were you lying to me and acting all ready to die?” Keith grips Lance’s hips, pulling him in closer and shaking him a bit as he does to emphasize his words. “Seriously! Why?!”
Lance laughs nervously in his hands, his brain a haze of Keith and fingers and oh god his lips look good enough to eat. Maybe he’s in some sort of giddy, half-aware state, because before he knows it, he’s leaning forward to catch Keith’s face in his hands. “Because I’m in love with you, and suffocating to death on flowers is better than living a minute without it. I lied because I didn’t think you felt the same way, and I didn’t want you to try and force yourself just so I wouldn’t die.”
Keith has lost the crease between his brows, eyes slowly making their way down to the soft lips in front of him. “How could I ever not love you? You’re irresistible,” he says, and makes good on those words by closing the distance.
It’s not a supernova. It’s not fireworks. It’s not the fast explosion that fizzles out in the night, or the crack of a gun.
It’s slow, and warm. It builds and builds, until they’re a wildfire, they’re coals that will never go out, they’re the universe ever-expanding into nothingness, they’re the sealing of their fates and their souls together. Lance moves into Keith’s lap, straddling him, pulling his hair, and trying to push every feeling he’s had for the last year into this kiss. Keith’s hands move to his waist, gripping hard as his tongue darts out to sweep against Lance’s lips, asking for permission. Lance opens his mouth and their tongues tangle together, the heat burning through their lips and eyes as they fall deeper into each other, their lungs clearing with every hot breath.
Lance doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. Doesn’t know if they’ll bend and melt under the heat of their flames, doesn’t know if it will be too much to endure. Doesn’t know if Keith will step into royalty and don a crown next to him, or move into the room across the apartment.
But for the first time, with lips and heart on fire, in the middle of their home surrounded by the petals of their love...
He knows he hopes.