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hands of fate (i won't say goodbye)

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            “You stay here. I’ll be right back, and I swear on the castle, if you’re gone when I come back—”

            “I’m not going anywhere.”

            Keith speaks it in a hoarse voice. He can probably get away with chalking it up to exhaustion, maybe even invent a cold to cover it up. In their dire straits, he’ll have no problem convincing Lance—he’ll probably buy it as another misfortune to befall them.

            He stares at Lance with all the earnestness he can muster, all the innocence he can manage. Lance watches him for one skeptical moment, and then sighs and draws him into a hug, tight. He lingers for far longer than he needs to, face buried in the side of Keith’s neck as he takes in his scent. Keith can do nothing but hug him back, hold him close and gently card fingers through his hair. The knot in his chest tightens, and his stomach roils with nausea.

            He doesn’t know how many of these precious moments he has left.

            He doesn’t know if he wants to know.

            So he folds it up and tucks it away and focuses on now, on the way Lance feels in his arms, even through the Paladin armor, through the Blade armor. Focuses on how Lance’s quiet muttering ruffles hair up at the back of Keith’s neck, and how Keith can’t hear what he’s saying—can’t hear if it’s a prayer or a plea or both or something else entirely.

            “It’s just a broken leg,” Keith lies. “I’m not dying, Lance.”

            Lance laughs. It comes out choked, and the knot worsens as Keith’s heart twists; Lance must be crying. And the fact that he doesn’t draw back, doesn’t reveal his face with a sunny smile and a reassuring quip, confirms it.

            “I know,” Lance mumbles—mumbles, because his voice will break if he speaks—“I’m just…it’s been a long few days.” And I’m worried about you, is what he doesn’t say, and doesn’t have to. Keith knows. He remembers several days ago in the ambush, when he went down, surrounded, and Lance screamed his name, convinced it would be the end of him, so anguished and terrified that Keith still hears it at night, something that’ll never leave the back of his mind.

            It’s just a broken leg, Keith insisted then, when Lance’s bayard flared to life in the form of a rifle bigger than anything he’d ever wielded up to then, and their assailants ran. I’m not dying, Lance.

            It’d been a miracle, they’d thought. A skirmish with at least ten thieves and criminals after them for one reason or another, and the worst injury to come out of it was a broken leg. Now, Keith doesn’t think it was a miracle. No, whoever was out there, whatever’d forced them into this…having mercy wasn’t the term. It was more like... it was showing them the beginning. A taste of what still lies ahead.

            “You don’t have a choice; everything is already in motion. What matters now is how you handle the challenges.”

            “Alright,” Lance sighs after a few minutes, finally letting Keith go, standing when Keith releases him, eyes puffy and rimmed with red. “I’m gonna go find a place to stay for the night. I’ll be back within the hour, hopefully. If I’m not back in two…”

            “I’ll find you,” Keith says, and ignores the exasperated look Lance shoots him. “I’m not leaving you for dead, alright? If you’re not back in two hours, I’m coming after you, no matter how far away you might be by then.”

            Three years ago, they became Paladins.

            A year and a half ago, they finally confessed their feelings.

            Eight months ago, Keith joined the Blades.

            Three months ago, Keith almost didn’t come out of a mission alive, and if it hadn’t been for Lance and Red, he wouldn’t have.

            “What are…?”

            He couldn’t finish his thought. His head spun, and several Lances undulated in front of him. He was vaguely aware of a hand ghosting over his own, pressed against his side, warm and sticky. Then there was another hand cupping his face, and then—

            Lifted. He was being lifted.

            “La—”

            “Shh.” He blinked a few times, tried to focus a little more; despite the severe-seeming set of the jaw above him, his murmur was soft. “Stay awake for me, alright?”

            Keith laughed—hacked up blood, and saw Lance’s face whiten after, couldn’t pinpoint the reason why—he was already dreaming, wasn’t he? Lance, here, halfway across the universe—

            “I’m not leaving you here to die,” Lance cut in. “Alright? You’re not dying on me, Kogane.”

            So he’d spoken aloud, then.

            “Just…just hang on,” Lance continued on, Adam’s apple bobbing, voice trembling. “I’ve got you, okay? Just keep your eyes open, I’m gonna get you out of here.”

            Keith spent weeks in the castleship after that, between his recovery and his trying to convince Lance and the rest of the team that he’d done exactly what he needed to do, and that if the mission killed him, then it was for the greater good. Wasn’t that what they were doing, after all? Trying to save the universe, even if it cost them their lives?

            Keith’s ship loomed over him as he walked forward, the rest of the team in one line behind him, all of them here to see him off, so very different from the last time he’d embarked with the Blades. Last time, he’d been able to slip out in the middle of the night, and nobody’d sent a message after. It was his duty, and they all knew that. Knew they’d see him in a few weeks, maybe a few months at worst.

            He didn’t intend on turning around to face them—they’d already mostly said their goodbyes.

            But then—Lance shot forward, collided with Keith and almost knocked them both to the floor. Keith stumbled and turned around, tried to get a proper grip on Lance. Lance drew back, fractionally—Keith thought he might’ve been working with him—and a hand came up and cupped Keith’s jaw—

            And their lips met.

            If Keith was a serious person, all business, no-nonsense, too conscientious of his reputation, he might’ve tried to keep it brief, tried to explain that he had to go.

            Maybe Keith from a few years ago was that person.

            Keith of the present wasn’t.

            He slid arms around Lance’s waist and pulled him in, melted into the kiss like wax under flame, as Lance rubbed a thumb over the ridge of his cheekbone. When he sighed into it, Lance deepened it. And for once, he didn’t hear a single protest at their open display of affection. Not like usual, where one of their teammates joked for them to get a room. Instead, they all remained silent, and when the two of them finally pulled apart, Lance looked at him, long and hard.

            “Don’t ever scare me like that ever again,” he whispered, eyes flickering down to Keith’s side. With the fresh Blade uniform, with the healing, there’d been no scar left behind, nothing that he could see at the present moment. Keith felt it all the same, and the scar itched.

            “I can’t promise that,” Keith replied, voice thick. “I’m sorry.”

            Lance’s eyes darkened, however slightly. In anger? Maybe.

            “Then I’ll just keep coming after you,” Lance said, meeting Keith’s gaze again. “I don’t care how far away you are.”

            “Lance—”

            “I mean it.”

            Because the Blades would leave Keith for dead, if it meant the success of the mission. He had the proof.

            Voltron operated differently. He had the proof of that, too.

            “Stay safe,” Lance said, when Keith didn’t speak. “I love you.”

            One last kiss, on his forehead this time. Lance moved to walk back when Keith surged forward again, wrapped his arms tightly around Lance and buried his face in the side of his neck. No Paladin uniform—no mission scheduled for the team that day. No obstruction, as Keith hid away from the rest of them, as Lance brought his arms back around him and held him close.

            “I love you too.” Keith’s eyes burned; he squeezed them shut. “Know that. Know that I love you.”

            “I love you,” Keith adds, when Lance casts him a more sobered look. 

            And I’d go after you no matter what, no matter how many broken bones, he doesn’t add. Lance knows it: he’ll give it his all, give it everything, if it means Lance stays safe and alive.

            “I love you too,” Lance says. “I’ll be as quick as I can. If you need me, shout, use the comms, just—call for me, okay? And don’t be an idiot.”

            Don’t try and fight any battles alone, you little shit.

            I can’t promise that, Keith thinks, as he nods to Lance.

            Lance nods back, once, and then starts walking away, deeper into the woods. He starts along the river Keith’s settled beside, glancing over his shoulder every few feet to make sure Keith hasn’t gotten up and bolted, or something of the sort, until finally he gets far enough away without Keith moving that he thinks he can trust Keith’s word, and doesn’t glance back again.

            Keith spends the whole time watching him go, the last rays of the setting sun casting a halo about his head and outlining his silhouette in a pale gold. By the time Lance is almost too far gone to see, behind trees and bushes, beyond rocks and roots, he’s already a blur in Keith’s vision, as Keith ducks his head and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. He lets a single rattling wheeze out of him, and refuses to let it get to a sob.

            “We didn’t—we didn’t ask to be part of some stupid prophecy—!”

            “I know,” the old woman replied placidly, smiling wistfully. Sorrowfully, almost. “So many have come by, hoping to be the ones. And that’s how I knew they weren’t. They were always the eager types, hungry for something or another. They craved glory, they craved adrenaline…but none of them ever expressed resistance, and that’s just what the prophecy entailed—two heroes who never wanted the role.”

            In her cramped little living room, with Lance out on some bullshit errand, the walls seemed to press in. Keith felt his throat closing, as his fingers dug into the floral couch cushions, undoubtedly getting into dust, possibly mold.

            “Dozens have walked into this house,” the old woman continued on. “Siblings, parent and child, best friends, sworn enemies…and lovers, too.”

            The hair on the back of Keith’s neck stood up. Abruptly, he shot to his feet, only to hiss and collapse back down in pain, fire shooting up a leg that hadn’t seen proper care in several days.

            “You don’t want to injure your leg any further,” the woman said without moving, hands folded politely in her lap. “Not good for the healing process.”

            “Shut—shut up!” Keith said, scooting backwards, fumbling for his Marmora blade. “What do you know—?”

            “Enough,” she cut him off. “Enough to know that you both care about the other far more than you’ll ever care about yourselves.”

            Keith froze. The knife trembled in his hand as he tightened his grip on the hilt. “You don’t—”

            “I do know that,” she said. “And even if I didn’t, the way you two acted when you arrived was rather obvious—shoving the other one back, just to get in front. Not very discreet.”

            If he didn’t need information, Keith might’ve gotten up and left, whether she’d let him go or whether he’d have to put up a fight. But she knew things he didn’t, things he needed, so he stayed rooted to the spot, with this elderly woman looking through him, laying everything inside of him out in front of him.

            “You want to know about the rest of your journey,” the woman said, leaning back, closing her eyes. “How to save your team, how to get back. There’s one bit of rather unfortunate news regarding those answers, and it’s that you won’t walk out of this as two.”

            And then she’d explained, while Keith’s heart climbed into his throat. There was supposed to be some sort of sacrifice, or something, involved. In some way or another, one would…be left behind? Die? She’d been vague, but it all amounted to the same: two would become one. They’d be separated, probably never to see each other or the rest of the team again, be it in distance or in death.

            Keith swore then and there it couldn’t be Lance.

            “Babe?”

            Keith was quieter than usual when Lance returned from his errand, collecting logs for a fire or something, Keith hadn’t focused on the details, mostly just focused on Lance being sent away while the woman tried her best to craft a splint for Keith’s leg. When Lance’s weight settled down next to him, dipping the couch, Keith leaned into him, rested his head on Lance’s shoulder. Lance’s brow furrowed as he dropped an arm around Keith and kissed the top of his head.

            “I’m just tired,” Keith murmured, hand finding its way into Lance’s as the old woman turned her back on them and busied herself.

            Keith pretended he didn’t notice the downcast slope of her brow, or the upset curve of her mouth.

            “You two can rest here for the night,” the old woman said without turning around. “The couch is yours, or there’s a bed in the guest room.”

            Because of course, her tiny house, carved into the trunk of an unusually large tree, had a guest room.

            Lance led him there—carried him bridal style, set him down on the bed carefully, stripped his plates of armor and crawled onto the bed next to him and held him close, as Keith pressed his face into Lance’s collarbone and tried not to break down then and there.

            “Keith…”

            Words lodged in Keith’s throat, and he couldn’t talk around them. Instead, he clung tighter to Lance, fought to even out his breathing. Lance ran fingers through his hair. Maybe he’d hoped it would coax an explanation out of him, that with enough patience and enough gentle touching, Keith would open up.

            Instead, Keith wiped out, and pretended not to remember anything from the night before when he woke up in the morning, when he and Lance ate a meager breakfast, packed up what they could—including some food and tools and a fresh map from the woman—and went on their way.

            That was this morning.

            It’s been a day now, and Keith doesn’t know how he’s going to break it to Lance.

            If he’s ever going to break it to Lance.

            The old woman didn’t give them specifics, didn’t say how or when this thing would occur, just told Keith he would know when the time came. Maybe the time will never come, and she just wanted to strike fear into his heart for shits and giggles.

            Now why on—well, we’re not on Earth. But would she really do that?

            He supposes not; the looks she kept giving them are proof enough to Keith that she was sincere with every word, and it sends another wave of nausea rolling over him. He groans. He tries to draw both legs up so he can fully bury his face, but only manages one. His splinted leg stays stretched out in front of him, elevated on the backpack the old woman gave them for their supplies.

            It’s not a very comfortable position, and eventually, Keith surrenders himself to fully leaning up against the tree behind him, head lolling off to one side.

            Exhaustion breaks over his head, a second wave that mingles with his nausea, but he can’t let himself fall asleep. Not when he’s alone, and not when Lance is alone, traipsing around in unfamiliar territory with no one to watch his six.

            He could talk to Lance over their comms, but Lance needs the quiet if he’s going to be vigilant. Keith needs the quiet if he’s going to be vigilant, if he wants to be prepared to fight with a broken leg. So he resigns himself to the fact that they’re both going to be alone for the time being, and he has to trust that Lance can look out for himself.

            Yes, he’s an adult. Yes, he’s a Paladin.

            But that makes him one of the six soldiers in this war with the biggest targets on their backs.

            Such big targets that someone out there decided to throw us all into a prophecy that one of us won’t come out of.

            It can’t be Lance. He’s got a family to go back to, has a beach with sand he needs to feel between his toes again and an ocean to dive into again, has rain to splash around and get drenched in again, has a Lion and a team relying on him to come back.

            You’re selfish, a voice in the back of Keith’s mind says, and it’s right. It’s selfish to not tell Lance about this catch, to make this monumental of a decision for him. But the only other alternative is Lance being left behind, Lance…

            Lance dying.

            Slav can say whatever he wants about infinite realities; Keith knows there’s not a single one of them out there where he’ll ever let Lance die—at least not when it’s preventable, at least not when Keith can take his place.

            And what about you?

            Keith swallows hard and makes himself raise his head, tip back his chin long enough to stare up at the darkening sky. It’s clear, already dotted with dozens upon dozens of stars, winking down at him through the foliage. All different colors, as far as he can tell. Some motionless, others visibly twinkling. His eyes rove over them, searching for the two most familiar, never finding them.

            These aren’t the skies he’s used to, after all.

            Unfamiliar skies, but too-familiar circumstances.

            “Why would you do that?”

            Anger.

            Keith hadn’t been expecting anger.

            He didn’t think Lance expected his ensuing laugh.

            But that was what came—laughter, bubbling out of Keith’s mouth in the form of blood, running down the side of his face, dribbling down his chin, some gushing forth from his nose. A shattered visor and shards of glass to the face and being stabbed in the gut in the middle of what was supposed to be just a routine prison break would do that to you, after all.

            “Why wouldn’t I?”

            Such a stupid non-response, but it was the first one Keith could come up with, given that most of his mental energy was concentrated on keeping his mind away from his injuries, and the rest of his energy in general was spent on his body trying to keep his ass alive.

            “You—you can’t just—no!”

            Lance, ever the wordy one, was at a loss as he cradled Keith, eyes frantically flitting over his injuries, continually coming to rest on the worst of them: the stab wound in his stomach. It was supposed to be Lance; that soldier had been aiming to kill him, and Keith had only had time to cry out a warning and simultaneously shove him out of the way, and take the sword himself.

            The soldier had only lasted a couple more seconds before Lance shot them in the face, point-blank.

            “You can’t do that for me,” Lance insisted, voice breaking. “Why the hell—?

            His voice pitched up, and he choked on the rest of whatever else he tried to say, lost it to the tears cutting neat lines down his cheeks.

            “I hate it when you cry,” Keith mumbled, and reached a shaking hand up to touch Lance’s helmet. “Doesn’t suit you.”

            “And dying doesn’t suit you!”

            Lance’s eyes unfocused; his lips moved and made sounds that Keith couldn’t hear. 

            Maybe after that, Lance finally got his wits about him; Keith would never know for sure. He’d passed out there, passed out to Lance calling his name, over and over, each time more terrified than the last—

            Just like the other day.

            Keith lets a few tears break free and roll down his face, as he takes in a deep breath and then lets it go, uneven. Rattled.

            He can pretend all he likes that his own dying would be for the greater good, would be the best-case scenario in this sort of situation. He can pretend it’s all for Lance, can pretend he’s doing him a favor by keeping him alive at the cost of his own life, but it’s so. Fucking. Selfish.

            If he dies, Lance will never forgive him.

            If you die, he dies with you.

            Living, but not alive. Lance, but only in form.

            And if Lance dies? Keith goes too.

            The Earth, with its sun extinguished.

            “No,” he mutters out loud, through the lump in his throat. “No. No!” His eyes narrow as he throws his fists out at his side. “There has to be another way! You can’t do this to me! Not after all the other shit you’ve put me through!”

            “…Keith?”

            Keith recoils. Violently. He smacks the back of his head against the tree trunk and swears.

            The comms—or at the very least, his channel to Lance—have been on the whole fucking time.

            “I’m coming back,” Lance says, concerned.

            “No—”

            “Please don’t argue with me on this,” Lance cuts him off. “I have to talk to you. Face-to-face.”

            “We need shelter for the night.”

            “Keith, please.”

            Keith knows, no matter what fight he puts up, he’s at a clear disadvantage. He can’t help Lance—is resigned to staying down, immobile for the most part, and now has hit his head. He can fend for himself, but probably not for long. And there’s always the part of him that wants Lance by his side as often as possible, the side of him that hates separation because he knows it may be the last time, even when it may not seem like it.

            “I know what you’re doing,” Lance adds, more quietly this time. “I think I know why.”

            You don’t, Keith wants to insist. You have no idea.

            But not only is Lance’s voice quiet, it’s heavy. Heavy in the same way his dads’ coworkers voices were when they broke the news to him about that fire, heavy in the same way the reporters’ voices and the Garrison professors’ were when news of the Kerberos Mission’s fate broke, heavy the way their allies’ are every time they have to speak of fatalities on the battlefield, of every plan gone awry.

            Lance knows.

            So Keith caves; twenty minutes later, Lance breaks through the tree line, distress lines around his eyes, brows knitted.

            “She told you,” Keith says first.

            “You weren’t just tired,” Lance counters.

            “You weren’t going to say anything.”

            “Neither were you.”

            Lance walks forward until he’s standing over Keith, and then falls to his knees at his side, takes off his helmet and sets it down next to him so Keith has an unimpeded view of his face.

            “You think there’s another way around a prophecy,” he says. “A prophecy.

            “Have rules ever stopped me before?” Keith retorts.

            He’s usually not the one to bring levity to a situation, and it’s a poor attempt. He realizes as much when Lance winces.

            “These aren’t rules you can just break, Keith,” Lance says softly, taking his hand, lacing their fingers and staring down at them. “This is a prediction. It’s supposed to happen, you can’t just…you can’t work around it like it doesn’t exist. For all you know, you changing your actions to get around it could just be playing into it.”

            “It’s too vague.” Where Lance goes soft, Keith goes hard, forceful. His voice is strong when he speaks, and Lance’s eyes meet his. Tired. Possibly frightened. “It doesn’t even say whether or not we die. It just says one of us won’t make it back, right? It doesn’t—it doesn’t even say whether that means make it back right away, or permanently. I’m not going to stop until I figure this out.” Keith squeezes Lance’s hand in what he hopes is a reassuring manner. “I’m not letting some stupid prediction by some entity separate us.”

            “I’m tired of being separated,” Lance says.

            That wasn’t the response Keith expected. He pauses, stares at Lance a long moment. Lance tilts his head, gives Keith a sad smile and makes no attempt to cover up the watering in his eyes.

            “I miss you,” he keeps going, bringing Keith’s hand to his chest, even though they both know he can’t feel Lance’s heartbeat through his armor. “I hate that it took the rest of the team going down to bring us back together, and I hate…” He takes in a deep breath, refrains from sniffling as he tips his head back and squeezes his eyes shut, and then opens them, another tear sliding down his face before he looks at Keith again. “I hate that this might just be the last time.”

            “It’s not going to be the last time,” Keith responds quickly, fiercely. “Do you hear me, McClain? This isn’t the first time we thought it would be the last.”

            Half of Keith’s hits in battle come from impulse, from the split-second decision that someone else’s life is worth saving.

            Lance’s hits are calculated.

            He can’t hide that.

            It took a few battles for Keith to catch on, once the team had really come together, months into the Voltron gig, nearly a year, and hadn’t been until they were deep in the belly of a Galra stronghold to realize what he’d been doing.

            “Shiro and Pidge go east. Hunk, Keith, Allura, you all are going north. East sector locks down, north locks down, I can lock down both south and west from here—”

            “Wait.”

            Keith was the only one who said it, the others too busy nodding along and formulating their own tactics for their portions of the last leg of the mission. He swept eyes around the room, scanning for exits. If east and north locked down, and Lance locked down west and south from here…

            “No,” he said automatically, before Lance could get a word in edgewise. “Absolutely not.”

            “Keith—”

            “There are already soldiers moving in, and you can’t fight them off on your own.” His chest tightened, hackles raising. Someone—someone was moving in, they were running low on time, they had to get moving now if they wanted this to end any sort of well. “I’m staying with you.”

            “I can pick them off!” Lance insisted, waving his rifle around. “I’m the cool—”

            “Cool ninja sharpshooter, but there’s one of you and about forty of them, at least!”

            “I’ve done it before!”

            “You—” And Keith stopped. The breath went out of him in one quiet “What?”

            “Keith, Lance, we have to get moving,” Allura interrupted. “Are you coming with us or staying with him?”

            “Staying,” Keith answered, at the same time Lance said, “Going.”

            Keith’s head snapped back toward him, Lance glared, and Allura groaned. “Keith, stay with him. Hunk and I can handle the northern sector. We must hurry.”

            She wasted no time in grabbing Hunk’s arm and charging through one set of heavy blast doors. Meanwhile, Pidge lifted her shoulders in a shrug at Shiro, and then took off for the east. Shiro glanced at Keith, at Lance, at the control panels and the south doors, footsteps growing louder with every passing second.

            “You two are impossible,” he finally settled on, hurrying after Pidge.

            If their lives weren’t in immediate danger, Keith would have spared the two seconds to throw the bird in his direction. Instead, he waved him off as the blast doors clanged shut between them, sealing himself and Lance inside of the control room.

            “Alright,” Keith said, immediately spinning toward the control panel, eyes flitting over Galran letters he barely understood, let alone could string into words and phrases. “What do you mean you’ve gone solo against forty soldiers before?”

            Lance didn’t answer right away, though he immediately came to Keith’s side, eyes narrowed in concentration.

            “Lance.”

            “I’m trying to concentrate here, Mullet.” Even still, Lance’s fingers started punching at keys, the letters on the screen flashing and changing. From the way the set to Lance’s shoulders relaxed slightly, he must’ve been doing something right.

            “How many times?” Keith asked, fingers hovering over the keys, waiting for some order, unwilling to screw Lance’s work up.

            “How many times what?”

            “Don’t—you’re not allowed to play dumb with me!” Keith’s hand shot out to grab his wrist, and stopped halfway there as Lance turned a look on him that pinned him in place. He faltered only a moment, faltered only at the fading glimmer in Lance’s eye and the abyss opening up in its place. “How many times have you put yourself into danger like that?”

            “Every time we do our damn job?” Lance retorted, turning away.

            “You know that’s not what I mean!”

            “Keith, we can talk about this la—”

            Lance didn’t finish his sentence. He and Keith both froze at pounding on the door and the blasting that left dents but couldn’t break through the metal—though that wouldn’t last for very long. Lance pushed Keith behind him, bayard flaring to life as he aimed it at the door.

            “The screen should tell you what to do,” Lance said. “Just follow the instructions, you should find Pidge’s back door, which should lead to the lockdown—”

            “How do you know how to read Galran?” Keith shouted, exasperated.

            Lance’s jaw twitched. “You don’t?”

            “Is that supposed to be—”

            “No, it’s not a jab!” Lance dropped his voice, fixed his stance and took a step back until he felt Keith directly at his back. “I thought you were learning—”

            “Learning!” Keith emphasized.

            “—to find your mom. And I wanted to help you.”

            Keith went slack.

            Lance didn’t dare turn to look at him.

            “Let me at the control panel,” he said instead, thrusting his rifle into Keith’s hands. “Cover me.”

            Keith could shoot…when he had two hands, at least. And under considerably less pressure. And that was shooting in the act of squeezing the trigger; there was never any promise his shots landed, much less when he had his shield activated and angled in front of both himself and Lance.

            This mission is riding on you.

            Lance’s fucking life was riding on him.

            “Work fast.”

            “I’ll do my best.”

            If Lance could have cracked it and locked the sector down in three seconds, Keith supposed he would’ve. But he couldn’t—it wasn’t fucking possible, and every second that Lance spent punching keys was another second Keith’s heartbeat ratcheted up, another second closer to the soldiers on the other side of the door breaking it down.

            “A couple months ago,” Lance said, voice shaking slightly, “we were on that mission on Vintuli, right? And we split up?”

            “Lance, is now—?” Keith risked a glance over his shoulder to find Lance’s shoulders had bunched up.

            “You asked. We’d split up, and they sent…” Lance forced out a laugh. “They sent basically an entire army after me. I had to switch…I had to switch from stunning to killing. I don’t know how many I killed that day, all I knew was that the more that were after me, the less were after you. …The rest of you, I mean. There’s no way I should’ve come out alive. But I did. So I started purposely drawing fire on missions. Usually I’d trip an alarm to send them to my location, and then I’d hide, or-or something, and then I’d find an opening and go. And better they get just one of us. Less people to break down until they crack.”

            “Are you for real?”

            Keith couldn’t help the way it tore from his throat, couldn’t help the way his voice cracked.

            He spun around, grabbed Lance’s arm and turned him away from the computer just long enough for their gazes to meet, for Lance to give him a sad sort of smile, before the door caved in.

            Keith saw it in action.

            He thinks it still haunts Lance sometimes—even in the middle of more recent nights, Lance would wake up from a nightmare crying, muttering deliriously about kill counts and bodies. Keith doesn’t blame him; how can he, when everything he’d gone, every squeeze of the trigger, had gotten them both out of there alive and in one piece?

            “We’ve survived a lot of bullshit,” Keith says, Lance’s midnight sobs still ringing in his ears. “We survived it not communicating, we survived it on the fucking fly. And we’re gonna survive this, alright?” He pulls his one hand free from Lance’s grasp, and then uses them both to cup Lance’s cheeks, thumbs brushing away the remaining tears while Lance closes his eyes and leans into his touch. “I missed you every single day I was with the Blades. But I was convinced I was helping, I was convinced I was doing it for you. The same way you think going solo in a battle and drawing fire is helping. We’re done with that shit, alright?”

            Keith leans in, presses their foreheads together, while Lance wraps his hands around Keith’s wrists.

            “I’m sorry,” Keith goes on. “I should’ve told you last night. I don’t want to lose you, Lance. And I should’ve been smart enough to realize you don’t want to lose me, either.”

            “I can’t lose you,” Lance repeats. “I can’t do that, Keith. I can’t let you just…”

            “I can’t let you do that either,” Keith says, one hand traveling to the back of Lance’s head to smooth down his hair. “But we’re going to get through this. Fuck fate, fuck the prophecy, we’re making it out of this thing, we’re making it back to the team, we’re saving them, and then we’re gonna save the fucking universe.”

            He hopes the conviction in his voice is enough to convince Lance, because right now he’s just barely convinced himself, and if he spends any longer thinking on it, any longer without reassurance, it’s going to fall apart.

            For a while, Lance says nothing, and the silence is broken only by the river beside them, broken only by Lance’s sniffling as he chokes down sobs.

            “If we’re really gonna talk about fate,” Keith says, if only to fill those gaps, “then the fate that threw us into this prophecy is the same fate that made us Paladins, because it knew we could handle it. No Paladins in ten thousand years until we finally come along, because it had to be us. Nobody could fill this prophecy in who knows how long, and now suddenly we’re here and it’s us, and you wanna know why? Because we’re going to find a way to survive it.”

            “I feel like your logic is flawed,” Lance croaks with a half-laugh.

            The tension in Keith’s muscles melts, however slightly. “There’s a reason I’m not the team leader. Now come here.”

            He opens up his arms, and Lance collapses into them, settling his face into Keith’s neck, wrapping his arms around Keith’s chest, straddling him but making sure to avoid jostling his leg too much.

            “We still need shelter,” Lance mumbles.

            “We can sleep out here,” Keith responds quietly, hand again finding its way to Lance’s head to stroke his hair. “Weather’s fine, we’ve got food and water, and we’ve got each other.”

            “Always,” Lance adds.

            “Always,” Keith agrees, kissing the top of Lance’s head, eyes stinging again.

            He intends for the silence to reign again, intends to lapse into sleep with Lance in his arms and his belief in their survival unshakable. He almost makes it—really, his eyes are shuttering, and he’s on the brink of passing out, already reclining back with Lance right next to him—when Lance whispers something, hand reaching up, a finger tracing along Keith’s jaw.

            “What?” Keith asks, flicking eyes down.

            This might be one of your last nights together, the voice in his head hisses, back with a vengeance. Every word that comes out of his mouth is important.

            “I wanted to get married,” Lance answers, words slurring slightly.

            “Wanted? Past tense?”

            Now, of all times? Really Lance?

            “I still want to,” Lance admits, hand settling back down somewhere on Keith’s chest, as he readjusts his head on Keith’s shoulder, while Keith rolls over until their noses are touching, and they’re gazing directly into each others’ eyes. Lance’s shine with an openness and vulnerability that only ever comes out at night, only ever comes out when they’re truly alone together. “I’ve always wanted to get married. Always been a dream…I wanna be a dad.”

            Keith thinks he’s cried more today than he has since the Garrison.

            His eyes mist again, and Lance smiles at him.

            “It’s always been my dream, but I never really…saw it with anyone, I guess. Not until you,” Lance says. His hand comes back up, tucks a stray lock of hair behind Keith’s ear. “I think you’d be a good dad.”

            Keith’s instinct is to tell Lance to shut up.

            His second instinct is to tell Lance to keep going.

            His third instinct is this: “Then marry me.”

            Maybe they’re too tired for shock, maybe Lance expected this from him, but the response is a smile even more dazzling than his last, eyes glassier and wetter than before. “Okay.”

            “We don’t need a ceremony right now,” Keith goes on. “We don’t need a law. We don’t need paper. We can get back to Earth and have the biggest beach wedding you want…”

            And he goes on, fantasizing about a future that may never come to fruition but shoving that one thought down, talks more in one go than he’s ever talked in his life, talks through tears and kisses Lance’s away, talks until Lance finally falls asleep, breathing lightly against his skin, talks until he follows suit shortly thereafter, and misses the shooting stars streaking overhead.