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counting sheep

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  It’s a dreamstate. It’s a clean slate. It’s the feeling of fresh sheets against clean skin. The meddling of body heat and exposed legs. The cold rush of cleansing moonlight soothing its way through the wind, and against the bedroom curtain. Gracing itself on the comforter that smothers their bodies in the heat of the night.

  

  It’s a headspace that Lance never thought he’d be able to guide himself through. Let alone, find himself having the opportunity to land into it in the first place. Being here, intertwined with the person he adored the most in the whole world. It was like something out of classroom daydreams. Like a sugarcane-sweet diary entry. Like it was almost too good to be true at times.

 

  The clock beside the bed reads 3:18AM. The glass of cherry seltzer from the night before stands still and stale, tasteless at room temperature. The howl of the summer wind comes not often, but is always celebrated upon arrival. The curtains dance as they cool off from the hot day before.

 

 Lance's heavy eyelids anchor down, and up, and down, and up. It's been a constant (losing) battle for the past two hours. 

 

  It’s nights like these where Lance doesn’t sleep. He can’t. Maybe it’s the smothering heat from the July bound weather. Maybe it’s the constant worrying and thoughts and scenarios that he can’t seem to hurdle over. Maybe it’s the way his hands can never stop shaking, and his knees will never stop bouncing in anticipatory nerves. The anticipation of nothing, that is. 

 

  Letting his anxiety get the best of him is what Lance seems to do best. And it kills him. Especially nights like these, where he got into his freshly made bed early, beaming and giggling and having fun. But it didn’t matter. Even after all of the talking, laughing, kissing, touching, holding. Getting a good night's sleep was thrown out the window when Lance’s head hit the pillow and said goodnight.

 

  How could he be so invested in the moment, trying to remember every detail every time as if it’s his last; but, the second it’s dark and desolate, and there’s nothing but him and the July nighttime, his brain tells him stories of embarrassment and fears and every grim detail between it all? Making him burrow further into the chaos.

 

  Lance’s broad, tan, freckled shoulders are exposed over the white contrasting comforter, embracing the warmth of the body next to him. Their back cradling into the concave of Lance’s longer, lankier torso. He can’t help but keep his eyes open in this moment, holding them in a focus on the person in front of him.

 

  Keith. 

 

  Keith is cradled in Lance’s arms like a newborn puppy, soundly asleep, probably dreaming of driving a shiny, bright red race car throughout the desert that he once lived in. 

 

  His long, unnaturally jet-black hair is scuffled into a mop on the pillow in front of Lance’s face. But Lance doesn’t pay any mind to it, even when it tickles his up-turned nose. The body heat that swims under the covers is no bother to either of them, in fact. The blankets are pulled up close. The loose sheet is a crumbled mess by their feet. The standing fan oscillates on Keith’s side of the bed. Lance pulls Keith’s body in a bit too abruptly, kneading him closer into his torso.

 

  The heavy rises of Keith’s chest against Lance’s curdled hand soften and shorten at the pull. He lets out a soft, half-asleep noise, pressing the small of his back closer into Lance’s exposed chest, and returns to his slumber. 

 

  The wind sings louder, and the window listens closer. The fan turns in excitement of the newfound cool air. Lance sighs into the strands of Keith’s hair. 

 

  Lance slowly retracts the arm that holds Keith atop the covers, and slides it in front of his own chest, lined up with the top of Keith’s head. Lance’s long fingers reach out to the strands in front of them, twirling carefully at the very ends of the pitch-black hair.

 

  He can’t see it, but Lance just knows beautiful Keith looks in this moment.

 

  His eyes shut effortlessly, hazed in navy blue. His straight, sturdy nose pointing up ever so slightly, exhaling and inhaling with every passing dream. His mouth is either scrunched to the side, or opened barely. His bare chest rising and falling with the wind. His hair, in Lance’s hands, bending itself around his fingertips. Effortlessly.

 

  Lance straddles the dark hair between his fingers, twirling, combing, and petting aimlessly, thinking. And thinking and thinking and thinking. He sighs again.

 

  “Lance?” The sleep in Keith’s voice cracks out, bearing his surroundings. Keith begins to shift out of his position, but Lance pulls him closer.

 

  “Hi,” Lance croaks back. His voice falls groggy and quiet beside Keith’s ear.

 

  “Time?” Keith murmurs. Lance feels the vibration down Keith’s spine, and then into the pit of his stomach.

 

  “Don’t worry about it,” He chuckles lightly.

 

  “Sleep?” Keith attempts. Lance can tell he’s barely awake.

 

  “Not yet.” 

 

  “Try?” He coos. 

 

  “Trying,” Lance kisses the back of Keith’s head, wrapping his arms back on top of Keith’s side. He can’t see it, but he knows when Keith smiles. He hopes he’s right this time, because he can’t help but smile back. 

 

  “Close your eyes.” Is all Keith needed to say.

 

  And so Lance does. He lets himself cast the anchor on his eyelids, finding relief behind the darkness he reclaims.

 

  Lance listens to the paler boy fall back into his deep sleep. Keith’s chest rising and falling low as he crawls back to his dreams. Lance can practically see Keith dreaming behind the blankness of his eyelids. 

 

  Keith’s won the Daytona 500, celebrating in his desert-barren cabin. Him and all of their friends are laughing with lots of beer cans and spicy chips in their hands. He can feel Keith dreaming about holding a giant trophy in his adorable racing jumpsuit, smiling wide. Keith’s dad is there. Everyone is there. All for Keith. Lance smiles even wider at the idea.

 

  Having the honor to love and be loved by Keith Kogane is nothing short of life altering. Something that completely baffles Lance, even after all this time. As cold, pushy, and sardonic as he is, Keith Kogane is the softest, warmest, loveliest soul that Lance has the world of knowing. So when he fell, he fell hard. 

 

    Like Keith, Lance has always had a tough habit of shutting everyone out if they got too close. Lance can’t help his charm, oblivious to his own self and tone. It was always a harsh scenario when having to deflect intimacy after stringing someone along.

 

  Keith was different.

 

  Keith was the only person that was tougher to crack than Lance himself. The only person that the challenge would be worth, and the only person who was open to the idea of a challenge in the first place. Like a game of tug-of-war. That’s how it started, anyway. It didn’t take long after the war against the Galra Empire- after the countless stress of fighting, trying, running, the constant missed opportunities and watching, waiting, debating, the never-ending losing, crying, regretting- for Keith to open up.

 

  Lance would’ve waited until the end of the world if that’s what it took for Keith.

 

  He practically did, anyway. 

 

  Fighting together in the war against the Galra, side-by-side for all that time, after everything they both sacrificed and fought for, made them need each other all the more afterwards.

 

  They shared each others anxieties, struggles, and nightmares. The same piercing noises that shattered their eardrums, the same burns and scars that marked them with the gratefulness of forever, the same trust issues, the same scared faces of the unknown that all came with joining Voltron.

 

  Lance always knew, know matter how poorly they both showed it, that Keith is a lot stronger than him.

 

  The worries bare more on Lance than he’d like to admit. The memories still lurk over him like the clouds that roll into summer thunderstorms. Restless as 3AM, on the way to the store at 2PM,  cooking dinner at 6PM, watching TV at 8PM, crawling into bed at 11PM, and every time between. 

 

  So it’s another night at 3AM and Lance is sweating under the blanket, half-naked, but living only for the warmth that radiates from the boy beside him. No matter how many nights he lays up, reliving trauma, shaking in his own skin, worrying about what’s next to come, the best thing that came out of it all was Keith.

 

  It’s the only peace he knows.

 

  Lance nuzzles his forehead against the back of Keith’s head and squeezes his eyes tighter, as if that’d make him fall asleep faster.

 

  “I love you,” Lance whimpers into Keith’s hair. Keith hums back, entirely consumed by sleep. Lance continues whispering into the soft strands. “I love you so much, Keith. I love you.” 

 

  “Lance?” Keith repeats just as he did a few minutes ago, but more alert. “Are you okay?” 

 

  “Yeah, I just love you.”

 

  “Are you sure?” Keith questions, beginning to turn over to face Lance. Lance lets him.

 

  “That I love you?” Lance teases, even at this hour. Keith is now face-to-face with him, Lance’s eyes now open, meeting Keith’s. He smiles.

 

  “No, are you sure you’re okay?” Keith’s eyes flutter closed, and then open quickly. He smiles back at Lance.

 

  “I’m okay, I promise,” Lance assures to Keith. “I just love you.”

 

  “You can.. You can talk to me,” Keith slurs in drunken sleep. 

 

  “Go back to sleep, baby,” Lance coos, reaching across to play with Keith’s hair. Keith’s eyes begin to shut.

 

  “Stop avoiding me, McClain,” Keith says with closed eyes and a strained voice.

 

  “Breaking out the last names, are we, Kogane?” Lance twirls a strand between his pointer and middle finger.

 

  “Talk to me.”

 

  “No, it’s okay, I’m fine,” Lance promises to Keith. “Just thinking.”

 

  “You’re an awful liar, Lance,” Keith says, snuggling into the pillow. Lance leans his face in closer to Keith’s so he can feel him breathing. “Thinking about what?”

 

  Lance closes his eyes, inhales harshly. The back of his throat is dry, his tongue tastes stale. The well in his jaw clenches tightly as he fights back whatever it is he’s been holding onto. He moves his arm from Keith’s hair to his side, pulling him in closer. Their foreheads touch.

 

  “A lot.” Is all he can manage.

 

  Keith peeks open one of his dark brown eyes to meet Lance’s blue haze. “You’re gonna have to be less vague, babe.”

 

  “I’m just,” Lance exhales just as harshly. “Thinking about you and me, and our future, and the past, and the war, and dying, and you dying, and Shiro dying, like, three fucking times, and me dying, and, just, more death,” He whispers. “All that death.”

 

  Lance watches Keith furrow his brows. He rubs his thumb over the space between them, then rests his hand on Keith’s hip. “Sorry. You still with me?”

 

  Keith hums in agreement, closing his eye. Lance lets out a hefty sigh.

 

 “Okay. I’m just.. Thinking, and worrying, and remembering. I’m always.. Remembering. I don’t get it. How does this stuff not bother you? I mean, I know it bothers you. But it never feels like things impact you the way that they impact me, and I can’t fucking deal with things the way you do. I can’t just stab a knife into things and call it a day. I dunno.”

 

  “You paint. I stab. It’s what we’re good at.”

 

  “I paint because you tell me I’m good at it. I’d swim across the Atlantic Ocean if you told me I was good at swimming,” Lance laughs at his own joke, then stops. “But, for the sake of not having water in my lungs, please don’t.”

 

  “You paint because it makes you feel good, no?”

 

  “A lot of things make me feel good, Keith. That’s not the point. The point is, I don’t want to be like this forever. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to process things and deal with them the way everyone else can. I can’t just paint out the trauma.”

 

  “I’m just good at bottling things up. Don’t be jealous.”

 

  “But the thing is, you don’t bottle anything up. Not as much as you used to, anyway. You have coping mechanisms. You have things that keep you busy. You have more important things on your mind than how many scars you have, or how many times you had to watch people around you lose their lives. Hunk, Pidge, Shiro. They all have their own ways of coping with their trauma and I just,” Lance chokes. “I just want to sleep again.” 

 

  There’s a sting that floats in the centimeters between their faces. Lance’s breathing picks up, eyes wide open. He stares at the contours of Keith’s cheek bones, letting his anxiety spring up tears he fought back so hard. Keith’s eyes dart open at the heavy breathing hitting his face.

 

  Keith stares at the water filled blue eyes right in front of him. “You will. It’s okay.”

 

  “How can you say that?” 

 

  “Because we’ll work on it together. We all have our bad days. Me, Hunk, Pidge, Shiro, hell, even Coran. We all have our moments. You’re not alone, y’know that right? We’ll get through it together like we always do.” 

 

  Lance lays there, examining Keith. The way his eyes hollow in, his collarbones peeking out from under the covers. He just lays there, and then he cries. Then sobs. He sobs a sonnet of tears and exasperated gasping as he cradles himself into the crook of Keith’s neck. Keith mirrors him, putting his arm around Lance. He reaches his hand up and soothes his palm onto Lance’s bare back.

 

  “But I’m not like them,” Lance pours, smothered in tears.

 

  “That’s okay. Just know that you’re not going through this alone,” Keith coos. Lance lightens up his crying, still gasping. “Breathe. Follow me.”

 

  Keith inhales loudly and slowly, waiting for Lance to follow through. They both inhale, 1, 2, 3, exhale, 1, 2, 3. Slowly, together. Lance holds Keith closer, letting their overheating, summer skin melt into each other.

 

 “You feel a little better?” Keith strides his fingers against Lance’s spine.

 

  “Sort of,” Lance whines, smothering himself further into Keith. They’re entwined in a sweaty mess of legs and hugging. There’s no space between them anymore. The fan oscillates. The wind stops and eavesdrops. 

 

  “What will make you feel better?” Keith inquires, still petting Lance’s tanned back.

 

  “Sleeping,” Lance confesses. Keith nods, sighing in silent agreement. Lance removes himself from Keith, smiling at the sight of his face. “Thank you.”

 

  “No need to thank me,” Keith smiles back. They sway in each others silence. “I love you, too, by the way.” 

 

  Lance chuckles quietly, still a teary mess, remembering just before. “Are you sure?”

 

  “Don’t be an asshole,” Keith bites back. 

 

  “I love you,” Lance says breathlessly.

 

  “I love you,” Keith kisses the top of Lance’s forehead. He leaves his face close to Lance’s again, noses practically touching. “Close your eyes.” 

 

  “Okay.”

 

  And so they do. 

 

  No matter how badly Lance wants to get another look Keith, he doesn’t open his eyes. He can see Keith behind his eyelids while counting sheep.

 

  He sees the beauty of it all in his dreams. They’re swimming in a great, crystal-clear lake, surrounded by nothing but trees. It’s just Keith and Lance, swimming without a care in the world. Letting their feet get covered in mud at the bottom, racing each other from end to end. Avoiding the fish that brush against them, making Lance squeal. Keith laughs and laughs and laughs. The smoldering sun casts its rays on them, warming them from head to toe. But it’s not a suffocating heat, it’s comforting. It hugs them like a familiar embrace. The bridge of Keith’s nose runs red, peeling from the lack of sunscreen. His usually pale shoulders lightly kissed in a similar red. His shiny black hair swirled into a low bun. 

 

  They swim, dance, eat, sing, and kiss. A lot. They sit on a blanket alongside the lake, holding each other underneath the summer sky, now nighttime. Counting every constellation they can remember. Wondering how far away the planets they once visited are. Remembering how far away home seemed. Reminiscing in a bittersweet way, remembering fondly and fearfully. Letting each other be vulnerable, afraid, and honest. Lance remembers, shivering, but accepting. And it’s all okay.

 

 Because here in his dreams, under the stars in the middle of nowhere, holding Keith, Lance sleeps.