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Reigniting

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“Lance! You have to take this training seriously.”

“I am, Princess,” he replied from his position on the forest floor. His chest heaved with exertion, stuttering underneath his blue tank. His gaze snapped to Keith. “It’s not my fault Keith keeps messing up.”

“Me?” Keith gasped incredulously. He took a threatening step toward Lance, looming over the boy. Lance’s eyes widen as he scrambled up and placed an arm out. His fingertips skimmed Keith’s chest before he stopped. “I’m not the one who can’t even hold his balance.”

“That’s not true!”

“Interesting that Lance can avoid nearly every footfall while we trek through the forest, yet trips up every time he spars with Keith,” Pidge hummed with a smirk. They rubbed their chin in fake contemplation. “ Curious .”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lance shrieked. 

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing,” Hunk interjected. The werewolf walked to Lance’s side and placed a hand on his shoulder. “We all have things we need to work on.”

“Hunk’s right and so is Allura,” Shiro said, drawing everyone’s attention. “Everyone here can improve their physical and magickal fighting skills.”

“Yeah, I know that,” Lance said rather obviously. “What I don’t get is why. Allura, you said that we each were attached to these ultra powerful fae spirits, so why do we have to train if they can just kick the Galra’s ass for us?”

Allura groaned. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“Maybe we should take a moment to talk about this more,” Shiro said, putting a stop to Allura possibly throttling Lance. “We were all pretty stressed and confused the first time the Alteans explained how we were connected to the lions. We’ve been training and traveling for a few months, so I think a proper recap is in order before we reach the Arusians. Would that be okay, Allura?”

The princess took a deep breath before nodding. “That seems reasonable. When we first met, I suppose I should’ve been more detailed.”

“Yeah, it was kinda rushed,” Lance grumbled, before yelping at Pidge’s elbow in his gut. 

Shiro took a seat in the grass and the others followed suit, all staring up at Allura.

“As I’ve explained before,” Allura began, “every one of you is connected to a lion, a magick that is yours yet not. You cannot have dominion over it like your innate magicks, but you can control and tame it with attention and training.”

Pidge raised their hand before asking, “What is a lion anyway?” 

“It’s like an animal with a body of a sphinx and a head of a merlion,” Keith calmly replied. 

“And how would you know?” Lance snootily asked. Keith narrowed his gaze at him, crossing his arms. 

“That’s a rather accurate description,” Allura said before Keith could reply. Keith tilted his chin up, eyes lazily gliding over Lance who glared back and indignantly huffed. “No one knows the origin of this magick or even if a lion is its true form. It is simply the shape it takes if it’s needed to physically manifest, which it can’t do until it’s wholly connected with a physical being. You five are the anchors the lions need to become solid.”

“So why us?” Hunk asked. “If the lions need a physical being to latch onto, why not connect with, I don’t know, a tree?”

“It’s not that easy,” Allura said. “A tree is too… simple. The being must have the mental capacity to call upon the lion. An ideal candidate would be fae, but after the invasion and the betrayals I witnessed…” Her eyes fogged for a brief second before they cleared with an accompanied strained smile, “I trust no one more than you five to be the next paladins.” 

Everyone remained silent. Altea’s defeat to the Galra would always be a sensitive subject for Allura. She hasn’t talked much of it: an offhand comment here or there, but nothing concrete except for the tears trailing down the pink marks decorating her cheeks. She always thought her companions could not hear her choked sobs in the middle of the night; no one has had the heart to correct her. 

“That and of course, you five happen to have identical quintessences to the lions.”

“And that is…?” Lance drew out. Allura furrowed her brows.

“Do witches not know of quintessence?” she incredulously asked. 

Everyone looked to one another, confusion evident in their eyes. Apparently not. 

“Oh, well,” she said hesitantly, clearly not anticipating their lack of basic magickal knowledge. “Quintessence is life itself. It is the magick within that allows you to live, breath, think. It is your being. For the lions to bond to a creature, their quintessences must match and you five happen to correspond to the five lions: black, red, blue, yellow, and green.”

Hunk shrugged his shoulders before scratching the back of his neck. “I guess that makes sense.”

“So the plan is to use these lions to defeat Zarkon and his regime?” Keith asked. 

“Yes, while gathering and freeing as many allies as we can,” Allura said. “I would’ve preferred to begin your lion training earlier, but you need to be physically capable before I can trust you to control your lions. They can be quite dangerous if not tamed correctly.”

“We understand, Allura,” Shiro assured. He stood from the grass to stand by her. “We’ll continue to work hard before you deem us ready to call upon the lions. Right, team?”

A chorus of affirmations rose from the group as they all stood.

“Thank you. All of you,” Allura said. “I know I can be rather tough, but I do so because I want you safe, especially against the Galra and their necromancers.”

Lance felt Keith stiffened at his side, but he wouldn’t dare look at him. Despite the overwhelming urge to do so, to see his reaction, he couldn’t because he couldn’t place any suspicious on him--it was a lesson Shiro had ingrained into him once they actually had a conversation after Shiro learned Lance knew of Keith’s necromancy. Keith’s safety was Shiro’s priority, which meant it was Lance’s as well. If Lance did anything to obstruct that, Shiro wouldn’t hesitate to act. And Lance rather not go up against all that muscle with a tragic backstory involving the murderous Galra. 

“Necromancers?” Keith asked. His voice wavered. Barely, just enough for Lance to catch. 

“Had I not mentioned? There were witches present during the invasion.” Allura paused, a frown pulled on her lips. She whispered, “Many of them. Too many.” She closed her eyes and Lance could physically see her grief as she wrapped her arms around herself and angled away from her friends. “Apologies, I rather not… I cannot discuss what happened. Not yet. It’s--”

“Allura,” Shiro interrupted. “You don’t have to explain yourself.”

“Yeah,” Hunk agreed while everyone nodded along. “You’ve been through so much in so little time. It’s okay if you’re not ready to share now or ever. Just take your time.”

“Thank you,” Allura shakily said.

“Now how about some lunch,” he said. “I can make your favorite with the juniberry jam?”

Allura’s face broke into a soft smile. “That sounds lovely. Everyone must join.”

She placed her hand around Hunk’s arm as he led her through the trees toward camp. Pidge shoved by Lance, sticking their tongue out before catching up with the group. Lance dramatically gasped before chasing after them and roughly ruffling their hair. They grumbled as they flattened it down. 

“Maybe when we start training up again, Lance will finally be able to get his head out of his ass,” Pidge teased. 

“Oh, please. If anyone has to get their head out of their ass, it’d be Mullet,” Lance said, turning to see… no one following him. He stopped walking. “Keith?” 

The forest around him remained silent except for the occasional chirp of a bird or flutter of a faerie. He turned back to the group as they continued walking, Pidge now hanging off Shiro’s back, the man not struggling at all under their added weight. 

Lance set his jaw and strode off in the opposite direction, back to the training field with a worried knot beginning to settle in his gut. Once Allura finally found the juniberries, they had moved on from their last location, following the river upstream for a few days. Their new camp remained unburned, a promise Keith had reluctantly agreed to; Lance wouldn’t be surprised to find the clearing a crisp, but as he quickly strode to the tree line, there was no smoke, no clogging smell, no heat. 

Lance busted through the brush only to be greeted with Keith. Standing. Unmoved since their conversation with Allura. The stillness of the boy offset Lance. He was so erriely stationary, not flaming, smoking, or popping. There was no smell of a warm fire in the air, the smokey spice of a yule fire absent. Like a ghost, Lance could feel his presence, but couldn’t sense it with anything other than his eyes; Keith seemed more apparition than witch and the thought scared Lance.

Slowly he approached Keith. His head was hung down, eyes obscured by his raven hair, but Lance knew Keith could hear the grass crumpling under his foot. He didn’t dare touch him, simply planted himself in front of the other witch. 

“Hey, Keith?” Lance softly asked. Hesitantly Keith titled his chin up. Dull, unfocused eyes landed on Lance’s face, seeing him but not seeing him. Lance swallowed then asked a question he already knew the answer to. “Are you okay? Everyone left to get lunch.”

Keith turned his face away, clearing his throat. “I’m fine.”

“Keith,” Lance breathed. 

“No, it’s fine, Lance,” Keith said. He took a step back, but Lance could see the trembling of his knees. 

“Why don’t we sit for a bit?”

“I said I’m fine.”

“And it’s clear you’re not,” Lance frustratedly countered. He ran a hand through his curls. “Let’s just sit for a few minutes. Please. It doesn’t have to be for long.” Lance placed a light hand on Keith’s back, but the boy stiffened and moved from it. It hurt Lance, but he swallowed it. He needed to focus on Keith, not himself. 

Keith carefully stepped toward the trees until sinking down beside one. Lance followed suit, leaning his back against the trunk. He didn’t know where to start. The necromancers’ involvement in the Galra invasion struck Keith. He hadn’t even known if there were others like him and when he finally learned there were still live necromancers, he’s on the opposite side. He’s fighting against those like himself: marginalized, hunted, scared. But maybe they weren’t with the Galra. Maybe Keith would choose his people over them.

Lance berated himself right after the thought. Keith had been the one pushing everyone so hard to continue training and to quicken their schedule so they can reach the Arusians and finally begin gathering allies. Keith looked after Shiro’s wounds and scars after his return and calmed him after his nightmares when no one else could approach him. He hated the Galra almost as vehemently as Allura. Necromancers wouldn’t change that. 

After a few minutes, Lance finally broke the silence. 

“Allura mentioned necromancers,” Lance began, wincing at how stupid he sounded. Keith nodded. “They… they are working with the Galra.”

“I know,” Keith said with a hard voice, then again quieter, “I know.”

“What do you want to do?”

Keith humorlessly chuckled. “What can I do? I finally hear of others like myself and they are on the opposite side of this war.”

“You don’t kn--”

“Allura said so,” Keith said, voice defeated and dry.  

“You don’t know the circumstances,” Lance argued. Keith huffed in disbelief, turning his head away. “Listen to me. You don’t know why they sided with the Galra. There are so many possibilities as to why and you can’t dismiss them until we see them for ourselves.”

“But what if… what if you’re wrong?” Keith pleaded. 

“I’m just not,” Lance said.

“That’s not a very convincing answer.”

“Never said it was. You’ll just have to trust me,” Lance said, a smirk on his lips.

“I… I’m trying. I can,” Keith murmured. “But not with this. I can’t hope and wish that I’m not the monster parents tell their children about only to discover that we are everything everyone thinks of us. Murderous, unnatural, evil things.”

“You aren’t evil,” Lance said, his voice decisive. He spoke his words as if there were no other truth he could’ve uttered. He fully faced Keith, grabbing his shoulder until Lance could see his violet eyes glinting beneath his dark hair. He’s always hated how easily Keith could snap his emotions away, cover them up until they exploded from his lips or around his knuckles. He couldn’t know what Keith buried under his mask, but he could feel the turmoil, the destruction, the hatred. He had to stop it; the need dug under his skin and pricked at the back of his neck. He needed to stop it. 

“You are not evil,” Lance sharply stated. “They are people, just like everyone else, and because of that they sided with Zarkon and the Galra. Not because they are necromancers. Necromancers aren’t evil. People are.” But Keith shook his head. Lance now held both his shoulders firmly, attempting to ground him in his words. “If you were evil, you wouldn’t have stopped that peryton. If you were evil, you wouldn’t have surrendered while I… while I held a dagger over your head. If you were evil, you wouldn’t have this guilt eating at you and you wouldn’t have stopped yourself from using your magick.”

“I’m not guilty,” Keith murmured. 

“Exactly!” Lance exclaimed. “Then why do you carry the guilt with you anyway? You can’t help the magick you have, so make the best of it because clearly the other necromancers didn’t. They sided with the wrong fae, so now we are going to kick their asses.”

Keith huffed. “They’re necromancers. They are going to be so much harder to take down and Zarkon has an army of them.”

“Then we’ll train harder, bond with these lion creatures, gather the fae allies Allura mentioned,” Lance said. “They aren’t going to scare us. I’m not afraid of them. And I’m not afraid of you either, so you better bring it on in training. No backing down, Mullet.”

Keith chuckled, shaking his head. Ah, and that’s all Lance needed: a smile, a small one, but nonetheless a crack in Keith’s armor. “Okay, then you better not complain when I kick your soggy ass.”

“Soggy! You better take that back!” Lance lightheartedly pushed at Keith, who landed sideways in the grass, propping himself up on his elbow. “I’ll have you know this ass is loved by all the ladies.”

Keith’s pinking nose scrunched up as he snorted. “Ha! Doubtful.”

“Why, Kogane! How dare you question my ass’s plumpness,” Lance snootily said, placing his hands on his hips. “I may not have Hunk’s thiccness or Shiro’s muscle, but my bubble butt is still prized in all seven pockets.”

“Oh stars, please stop!” Keith laughed. 

“Not until you admit my ass isn’t soggy,” Lance said.

Keith’s eyes glinted in challenge. He slowly sat up, before saying, “Never.”

Lance launched himself at him, trying to pin his wrists, but they slipped out of his grip easily. Keith hooked his leg around Lance’s and his world spun. Suddenly Lance was on his back gasping as Keith loomed over him with a triumphant smirk, hair haloing his face. 

“That’s the best you got?”

“You wish,” Lance pushed out from clenched teeth. The witch wiggled and twisted but Keith’s grip was solid, his wrapped hands pushed against his wrists. After multiple failed attempts, Lance deflated, gazing up at Keith, who looked upon him with crinkled eyes. Even through the cloth and leather, his hands were warm against Lance’s wrists. He thickly swallowed as his face heated. “Okay, okay, you can let go now.”

Keith hesitated before releasing his wrists. In a second he was off him and Lance was standing up and dusting off his clothing, taking his time as he got his head on straight. When he was done, he offered a hand to Keith, pulling him up.

“So your hands are feeling better?” Lance asked. Keith flexed his fingers. The leather pulled against the wrappings underneath that continued further down his arms. He shook them out.

“Thanks to your healing sessions,” Keith said. “It’s been a little over a week and they hurt, but it’s way better than last time.”

“If they still hurt, maybe you should lay off training for a bit,” Lance suggested, but Keith shook his head. If Keith didn’t think about postponing training beforehand, there was no way he’d lay off after learning the necromancers allied themselves with the Galra. “Look, just think about it alright? You can’t damage them more.”

Keith remained silent until huffing when Lance nudged him with his shoulder as he passed him. He turned, raising a brow at Lance’s antics.

“C’mon.” Lance nodded his head toward camp. “Hunk’s making some fae dish with juniberries for lunch. Wouldn’t want to miss out. Plus I want to change your bandages. If you’re not going to stop training, we need to look after them more.”

“Lance, you really don’t--”

“Nuh, uh. No way, Kogane, are you getting out of proper care and hygiene,” Lance tutted. 

Keith shook his head as he smiled and fell into step beside Lance.

 

---

 

Necromancers were part of Zarkon’s army; that was an unforeseen complication.

Keith had never thought, never had even considered, necromancers seeking refuge from other witches in the Fae Pocket. Fae were notoriously hostile to other magickal creatures invading on their territory uninvited and for whatever reason, they decided to take necromancers in and hide them away. 

Well, maybe the Galra knew what they were doing.

If they had been planning their invasion since before the Purge, then they would've known accepting the necromancers would only be an advantage. Better to ally yourself with the most dangerous than make an enemy of them. But now that put a strain on Keith.

How could he protect his friends? It’s been so long since the Purge, so long since anyone has had to subdue groups of necromancers. It’s hard to kill something that controlled death itself. If he could… If he could ask his pop or even his ma… They’d hate him for even thinking about killing purposefully , but he needed to protect his friends. Everyday they were growing closer to each other as well as the Galra. Keith couldn’t just stand by and not do anything when he could be the only one able to stop the necromancers.

Keith sat deep in the forest, away from camp, away from the training field, away from his friends. Balanced in his lap was a book, the smallest necromantic book he owned. With the title scratched out and a locking spell around its cover, he thought it would be the easiest one to conceal as they traveled. The spells varied from beginner to advanced. He had it opened to a summoning spell. It was fairly simple, but he had avoided it because it called for necromantic fire. It hadn’t been long since he had started practicing with the fire, maybe a week at most, but he was desperate. If he could get a hold of his pop, he could apologize, ask for forgiveness, beg for advice. He didn’t know what to do. He needed a way to save him friends.

Keith took a breath, steadying himself, clearing his mind and the space around him. On an exhale, he breathed out hot molten air, searing symbols around himself, intricate necromantic runes. The grass crisped and blackened around him. He glanced around then back at his book; the runes had to be perfect. Then he grabbed the mortar he had prepared beforehand, full of various yet thankfully simple ingredients. It just needed one more thing. 

Carefully Keith took off a glove and unwrapped the bandages on one of his hands, letting the cloth, still smelling of healing balm, drop to the floor. He unsheathed his knife. The symbol lightly glowed at its hilt. 

The final ingredient was a connection.

Slowly he dragged the sharp edge of the blade across his warped skin. His teeth clenched as he pressed hard enough to draw blood and his hand shook as crimson dripped like syrup into the bowl. A few drops. It was only a few drops but Keith was sweating yet cold and shivering. 

He might see his pop. Thickly he swallowed. It was a terrifying thought; it was a radiant idea.

Picking up a pestle, he grinded the ingredients together until they were indistinguishable from one another. Now for the last part.

He placed the mortar in front of himself, aligning it just right with the runes. A quick snap of his fingers his necromantic fire burst from his palm. He held it carefully, delicately. He was still so new to this : the control, the little he had, was incredible and thrilling and powerful. The flame grew with his rising emotions. He smiled.

Keith prayed to whatever gods or spirits or powers of the universe that this would work and placed his hand above the mortar.

“Keith?” a voice asked.

Immediately his fire extinguished. He gasped as he turned around, knife held out with its rune glowing ominously.

Pidge stood there, a few paces behind him, their glasses glinting as their eyes darted from him to the runes. They widened.

No.

“Pidge,” Keith choked. But they shook their head frantically before bolting into the forest. 

“Shiro! Allura!” they called.

Keith didn’t even have time to think. He followed after them.

---

 

“That’s not what I meant, bud,” Lance complained, draping himself over Hunk who was sitting, hunched over some of Pidge’s human tech--very illegal, but very cool--and fiddling with different parts Lance didn’t care to know the names to. “I’m just saying if the twins decided--”

“Your mamá would kill you for encouraging your niece and nephew,” Hunk chuckled, jerkily moving Lance until he finally rolled off his back and into the grass beside him. Allura walked by and shook her head and smiled at Hunk, rolling her eyes at Lance’s antics, before joining Coran over the map table. 

“But they’d so get away with it!” Lance shouted. “They’re innocent little ángeles and no one would suspect--”

Suddenly Hunk shoved his hand over Lance’s mouth, which kept moving under his palm. Hunk shushed him before turning to the treeline with furrowed brows. Lance followed his gaze. 

Something was wrong. 

“Do you hear something?” Hunk asked after a moment. Lance simply shook his head. 

Hunk stood up, leaving him laying in the grass. Tall wolf ears appeared on his head, twitching and swiveling. He gasped.

“It’s Pidge! They’re in trouble!” 

Immediately Hunk began shifting, far too fast to be comfortable. His clothing flew into the leather tag around his neck, pocketing the fabric away neatly in a slip of magick as his body shrunk and grew, as bones cracked and muscles lashed. Fur sprouted from his skin, a dark chocolate color that enveloped him. His golden headband now rested around his neck as a status symbol, more for the sake of others than for his pack. In a few tense seconds, a full grown werewolf stood by Lance, growling and huffing at the treeline, ready to bolt. 

“Lance!” Pidge distantly shouted. Lance heard his name, the shrill, terrified tone of their voice breaking through the silence of the forest. “Someone! Hunk! Hunk!

Lance immediately had water swirling around his fists, heading in the direction of Pidge’s scared screams. Hunk whined beside him, wanting to crash through the forest to protect the youngest of them all, but he waited, deferring to Shiro’s judgement. The man was already in battle mode, the intensity of his eyes setting Lance on edge, but he followed their leader as he dashed to the forest line. Suddenly a bird crashed through the brush and landed against Shiro’s chest. He grunted as he carefully gripped the owl who shook in his hold. 

As Shiro retreated to Allura and Coran with Pidge in his hands, Lance stepped between them and the forest. Something out there scared the shit out of Pidge--a very hard thing to do. If it followed, it wasn’t getting past him. 

“Shiro! Shiro ,” Pidge cried. Lance glanced over his shoulder. Pidge had shifted back to their human form and were clawing at Shiro’s shirt. “It’s… It’s--He,” they hiccuped. 

“Hey, calm down, Pidge,” Shiro spoke slowly and authoritatively, the hardness in his voice chipping at her frantic brain. “You need to tell us what happened.”

“He--He was...” they gasped. “ Keith!

“What about Keith?” Lance interjected before Shiro could. He left Hunk to guard them as he locked worried eyes with Shiro. “Is he hurt? What attacked you?”

They shook their head, taking a few breaths.

Hunk growled, grabbing everyone’s attention. Allura moved closer to the wolf, her battle staff in hand. 

Keith burst through the brush, panting. Twigs and leaves littered his dark hair and he had lost one of his wrappings around his burns, the streaked skin glistening with healing salve. Lance let out a breath at the relief he felt. The feeling spread from his chest to his finger tips. He took a step toward Keith, but jerked at Pidge’s scream.

Necromancer!

The clearing fell silent. 

Lance thickly swallowed as he hesitantly looked to Keith. He hadn’t noticed the terrified look in his eyes. 

“Traitor!’ Allura yelled. She grabbed her staff barreled through Lance and Hunk. Keith looked upon her with wide eyes, frozen yet she swung. He narrowly evaded, rolling to the side in a crouch, hands up. 

“Wait! Please--” 

“No, you filthy monster! ” 

Allura advanced on him again. In his panic, Keith forgot his training. He stumbled back, colliding with a tree, and tripped over one of its traitorous roots. He fell, bracing himself on his hands, but crying out in pain at the pressure to his burns. He crumpled. And Allura took advantage: her staff raised high, but it never hit its mark.

Lance stood above Keith. Water floated above their heads, slowing Allura’s swing and all but stopping her from hurting Keith. 

“Lance,” she growled. “ Move.

Stars, she was terrifying. Her pink marks glowed as dark as blood. Her blue eyes burned through Lance, igniting his fear but also his courage. He wasn’t going to let her hurt Keith.

“No,” Lance said. He whipped the water, steering her staff to the floor. She shrieked in anger, throwing it down before she pounced, grappling with Lance’s wrists, trying to still his fingers. Within seconds he was on the floor, gasping as the air was pulled from his lungs. Her hands were wrapped around his own and the water dropped to the floor, draining into the soil. He bucked and strained, but she was too strong; she easily moved him, trapping his throat under her forearm and crushing it. He gasped, feeling like a fish out of water. 

Vaguely he heard a growl nearby and then heat. So much heat. Keith steamed next to them, warding off Hunk and threatening Allura. He gripped his stomach and hunched over his knees, but his eyes never left the way Allura restrained Lance.

“Get off him,” he forcefully said. She shook her head, sweat dripping from her brow. Fire exploded from the witch, surrounding the three on all sides. It moved steadily closer. Lance’s vision blurred, but he still saw Allura’s eyes widen in fear. He glanced over to Keith, who was now coughing like he had the day in the practice field. “Don’t want… to hurt you.”

Keith was losing control. Pidge’s hysterics, Allura’s reaction, the realization that everyone now knew what he was: it was too much for him.

Lance reignited his struggle, catching Allura off guard. She released him and he rolled into the fire that he knew wouldn’t hurt him. While Allura remained trapped in the circle of flames, he landed in front of Keith who was choking on his own breath. He drew in water around them, blocking out the others for just a moment. Making to grab Keith, he reached out his hand, but the necromancer flinched away, hanging his head. 

“Sorry,” Keith choked, followed by a few coughs.

“You don’t have to apologize,” Lance said. He glanced back to the others. The fire had extinguished and he could hear Shiro arguing as well as Hunk’s growls. “Just go. Be safe. I’ll find you when we work this out.”

Keith sadly shook his head. His eyes glistened. 

“Goodbye, Lance.” 

His words pierced Lance’s heart. It felt like a forever farewell and it sucked the life out of his chest. Lance realized Keith didn’t think he’d be coming back. He wanted to argue, to hold him here and tell him off for even considering they wouldn’t see each other again. He was such an idiot for thinking he wouldn’t go after him. 

But then Keith ducked into the brush, igniting it. The trees cracked and strained. 

They couldn’t follow him. 

Lance couldn’t follow him. 

He dropped his water, allowing it to pool beneath his feet. He refused to extinguish the growing fire around them; he wouldn't follow Keith if it meant putting him in danger. He took a shaky breath and faced the group.

“--could you, Shiro! You put the entire team in danger!” Allura screamed. “You should’ve told us. I never would’ve allowed for him to--”

“Which is exactly why I didn’t tell you,” Shiro said. Lance eyed him. He was strangely calm; no, he was cold and authoritative. “He’s my brother and I asked him to come along on this mission before we met you and Coran, before we knew necromancers aided the Galra.” Allura growled. “But Keith isn’t like that. He wouldn’t purposefully hurt someone.”

“So you admit he’s hurt someone before,” she snapped.

“I never said that.”

“But you implied it.” She turned away from him. “How do you know he won't turn on us? How do you know he hasn’t already sided with them? He could be a spy!”

“Keith would never do that,” he seethed. 

“And how would you know this? You hadn’t seen him for cycles during your imprisonment.” Shiro froze. Allura either didn’t care or didn’t notice. “He could’ve--”

“That’s enough!” Lance yelled, stepping between the two. He was worried for Shiro and pissed at Allura. She couldn’t talk to him like that; he’s only protecting his brother. 

“And you!” Allura shouted, marching right up to Lance. “You defended him.” Her eyes searched his, blank until realization crossed them. She stepped back. “You knew as well.”

Lance nodded. “I knew. And he doesn’t deserve this distrust.”

“Lance?” Hunk quietly asked. He turned to see his best friend cradling Pidge to his chest while Coran stood above them. His face was crushed with betrayal, his brown eyes glimmering. “You didn’t tell me?”

“I’m so sorry, Hunk. I couldn’t,” he pleaded. He shook his head, determination seeping into his words. “I couldn’t.” 

Shiro walked over and placed a hand on Lance’s shoulder. “And that isn’t your fault. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions today. I didn’t have the best reaction when I found out, but I learned the truth about necromancers through Keith. If all of you have the heart to hear him out, I promise he’s still the same Keith we’ve been living with for months.”

Lance looked to his friend’s faces. Silence. It was deafening, crushing. He didn’t know what he would do if they didn’t agree to at least try to understand Keith. Ignorance caused this situation and only knowledge could dig them out of it. They had to agree; they just had to. But as the seconds ticked by, Lance could feel the hope in his chest dwindling like the dying flames around them. 

“He…” Lance faltered. “He isn’t like the stories we grew up with. He’s not a monster or maggot eater. Keith isn’t evil. He doesn’t revel in death. He struggles a lot with it actually.”

“Keith has been through more than you can imagine because of his inclination,” Shiro added. “There’s more to the story of necromancy and he will tell you if you just give him a chance.”

A moment passed before Pidge spoke up, “Inclination?”

Shiro offered her a sad smile. “Necromancy isn’t the choice of the user. It comes about naturally like any other magickal preference. And it’s not an addiction either. We can’t tell him to stop because, well, he can’t. Asking him to do something like that would be like asking me to stop dreamwalking.” Shiro ran a hand through the white locks at his forehead. “All we are asking is for you to give Keith a chance. He’s the same person he was before you found out that he's a necromancer. Nothing has changed.”

“Everything has changed,” Allura sneered. 

Lance faced her. “ Nothing has changed. Keith is still Keith. Mullet and all.”

Allura glared but didn’t retaliate. The clearing settled back into a tense silence. No one moved.

Until Coran stepped forward. “I would like to have a word with the boy.”

He walked to Shiro and Lance, wrapping an arm around the latter. The small affection made Lance want to cry. Coran was willing to listen. He might not like that Keith was a necromancer, but he would hear his story. He was never more grateful for the man.

Lance looked hopefully to Hunk and Pidge. While Hunk stayed sitting, Pidge shakily stood, brushing off his hands. They held their head high. 

“I’m sorry about…” They closed their eyes and took a shaky breath. “I reacted badly. I know that Keith is still Keith. But I saw the runes and I acted irrationally.”

“A first,” Lance mumbled with a tired smile. 

They huffed lightly. “This is the first time I’ll admit you’re right. I got scared and I want to say I’m sorry. If I just thought for a second , then we wouldn’t be in this mess and no one would be mad at Keith and… and he wouldn’t have run away.” They wiped their eyes under their glasses before saying,  “I--I’m sorry,” then rushing Shiro. He wrapped his arms around their thin frame, enveloping them completely as they sobbed into his shirt. The sight hurt Lance. He slowly approached and wrapped his arms around the two. They were so close to being whole again.

Lance looked up at Hunk who stood above them. “I understand why you didn’t tell me. But it still hurts.”

“We tell each other everything,” Lance said, “but this was one thing I had to keep to myself.”

Hunk lightly rolled his eyes. “I know. And you can keep things to yourself, I just wish you three had more trust in us. But you can start making up for that now.” He joined the hug, crushing everyone against his chest. Lance laughed in relief as he was squished between Hunk’s shoulder and Shiro’s arm, Pidge wiggling somewhere in the middle, but it cut off with a simple question from Coran.

“Princess?”

Lance saw her with hard eyes. She didn’t understand. She backed away and retreated into the forest. Coran sighed.

“She just needs time.”

 

---

 

Coran stayed behind at camp to look after Allura. He promised he’d try to talk with her, to make her see reason, but he never promised results. Allura could be quite stubborn when she wanted to be: it made her a reliable leader, but weak to malleability. It’ll take time to change her mind about Keith. 

Shiro led the rest of the group toward a particular spot on the mountain, one he and Keith had agreed upon to be a meeting place if anything happened. The walk was silent… except for Hunk’s questions. 

Sooo ,” Hunk drew out, “does Keith like have raven familiar? Or vulture? Or crow?”

“No,” Shiro answered.

“Okay, okay.” Then silence for a few moments. “Are zombies real?”

“I don’t know.”

“Would Keith know?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay… What about maggots? Are maggots involved in his whole magickal necromantic thing?”

“Gods, I hope not.”

“No,” Lance answered. “Keith hates maggots.”

Hunk fired question after question at an alarming rate. Shiro and occasionally Lance would answer them to the best of their abilities, but the more he asked, the more evident it became that only Keith could definitively answer many of his questions. The more he asked, the more Lance noticed the silence of one little witch-familiar. 

Lance slowed his gait until he walked by Pidge who trudged on in silence. It was unlike them to not join Hunk in a jumble of questions about something new and interesting. Their head was somewhere else and Lance could tell cause they flinched when he cleared his throat. 

“Ya know, you might want to listen in on Hunk’s questioning. Might save you the trouble of asking later,” he joked. 

“Oh, right, sorry,” they monotonously replied. 

Lance sadly smiled. Regret and guilt marred their features: the furrow of their brows and the pull of their frown, but especially their drowning amber eyes. He imagined he looked similar after he attacked Keith. “Don’t worry too much. We’ll get him back.”

“You don’t know that.”

“No, but it’s the most likely possibility and you’re all about statistics, right?”

They shrugged. “Yeah, but… what if he doesn’t want to come back? I fucked up so badly.”

Lance loudly gasped, covering his heart with his hands. “Don’t let Shiro hear you using that language. He’ll bind your tongue and maybe even curse you into saying good words.”

“Oh please, there’s no such thing as a good or bad word. Just words attributed with good or bad connotations completely conjured by society and--” They stopped abruptly then elbowed a smug Lance in the gut. “Good try.”

Lance choked on his breath. Pidge has bony elbows, duly noted. 

“Hey,” he gasped, “I got your mind off brooding for a few seconds. I’ll count that as a victory.”

“I’m brooding for a reason,” Pidge defended. 

“Yeah, of course, but for a reason Keith would roll his eyes at,” he commented lightly, smiling when Pidge’s brows furrowed further. He poked them, watching their eyes cross as they followed his finger. “You better stop that or you’re going to get wrinkles.”

Pidge huffed and swatted his hand away, but the lines did disappear. “What do you mean? He probably hates me right now. I saw him practicing and immediately flipped shit. I didn’t think . I just saw all the stories we were told as kids instead of my friend.”

Lance was quiet for a moment. That had been his initial reaction too. He had seen Keith’s magick and his mind had tunneled: he was no longer Keith but an evil necromancer, one that his uncle wouldn’t have hesitated to kill. The scary stories and nightmares of his childhood had come rushing back, blinding him to the fear, the acceptance, and the despair written on his friend’s face. Even when Keith had stopped the peryton, his vendetta against necromancers had persisted. It wasn’t until hearing what would’ve been Keith’s final words had he stopped. 

Keith wanted to die; Keith had asked him to kill him. Then he almost left. 

Lance was determined to change Keith’s mind. These people loved him. And he would prove it. 

“Then say that,” Lance replied.

“Huh?”

“Say exactly that to him. Well, maybe not exactly, but you have to explain your thought process to him or else he won’t believe you,” Lance said.  “I only found out last week. Suddenly Keith was no longer Keith , just a necromancer. I reacted worse than you did, but after Keith said some pretty heavy stuff, I realized that I had been threatening my friend. And even after I apologized, he was going to leave.”

“But he didn’t,” Pidge said.

“Yeah, cause I apologized immensely and convinced him to stay despite his fear that someone else would find out his secret,”  Lance said before darkly chuckling. “I guess he was right. Not even two weeks later and here we are.”

“I didn’t mean to find out,” Pidge quietly said. They shrugged their shoulders before crossing their arms. “I noticed him running off a lot lately. More than usual and I was curious. I thought something was wrong.”

Lance stopped them for a moment, placing both hands on their shoulders and looking into their eyes. Stars, Pidge was really putting themself through it; their eyes glistened like melting honey. They needed to hear this. “Don’t feel guilty about being worried over your friend,” he said. “You cannot regret going after him when you thought he wasn’t okay. The very fact that you were worried about him proves that you are a good person. Yes, you did not react well to finding out Keith is a necromancer, but no one has. It’s hard to get over something so ingrained in us. We all just have to work on accepting Keith for being himself. And I know you’ll try the most out of all of us.”

Pidge’s bottom lip began to tremble. Oh stars, if Pidge started crying, Lance would cry. He pulled them into him, cradling them against his chest, rocking them until their tears began to stain his shirt. He rested his head on theirs. 

“Learning he’s a necromancer unlocks so many things about him. He suddenly made sense. So apologize like you want, be authentic, but remember that Keith has had this happen to him before with me and with Shiro and with other people in his life. He…” Lance hesitated, remembering the look on Keith’s face as he encouraged Lance to kill him. A pang traveled through his heart. “He’s not going to be in a good place when we catch up to him. Shiro and I can help him, but you’re going to have to step up and make it clear that you aren’t afraid of him, but especially that you won’t hurt him. He needs reassurance that you don’t hate him.”

Pidge shook their head, their glasses digging into Lance’s chest. He ran his fingers through her hair. “I could never hate Keith,” they mumbled into his shirt.

“But you also ran in terror from him,” he reminded. “All he knows right now is that you saw him practicing and ran. And then he got attacked. He doesn’t know that we are looking for him to get him to come back. He might see us and think we tracked him down to hurt him.”

“I…” she faltered, closing her eyes for a moment. “This is my fault. I regret running. So I’ll tell him that. I’ll explain everything and I’ll beg him to come home.” They paused for a moment. “We would never hurt him.”

Suddenly Lance was back in that field, icy dagger over Keith. The necromancer had sat there, refusing to fight, accepting his death. His friend was ready to die and he wouldn’t fight back. Lance didn’t miss the disappointment in his tired eyes when he collapsed in front of him. 

Lance swallowed past the lump forming in his throat. “He’s expecting a fight. And he’ll refuse to be a part of it.”

“Lance, what do you mean?”

“Pidge, Lance!” 

Both of them whipped their heads towards Shiro and Hunk. They had fallen behind while talking, but as soon as Lance saw the distress on Hunk’s face he grabbed Pidge’s hand and bolted for them only stopping when Shiro’s arm prevented him from going further. They stood on the edge of burnt grass and cracking trees. Smoke steadily rose from the stripping bark and the curled bushes and flames still flickered on dried leaves. Lance could feel the heat on his face, reddening his cheeks. 

“What happened?” Lance breathed, though he already knew the answer: Keith had lost control. Everything was ash. It looked too much like the last training field; the same withering plants, the same acrid smell, the same fear pooling in Lance’s gut. His breath hitched as images of the fiery peryton flashed across his vision, but he shook it off and pulled back from Shiro. 

He’s not scared of Keith.

“Keith and I agreed to meet here by that gnarled tree if anything went wrong,” Shiro softly said, ignoring Lance’s question. It was quite obvious what had happened. Shiro turned to the crater of ash, gently stepping on blackened grass. “Keith!” he shouted. “ Keith!

He called for his brother a few more times. Keith never answered.

“He’s not here,” Hunk morosely said, placing a hand on Shiro’s shoulder. Shiro shook his head, turning his steel eyes on the group. He was determined. 

“We need to find him.”

“He can’t be far,” Lance said. “It’s as hot as the sun here. Must have went up in flames not too long ago. Hey, big man, can you sniff him out?”

Hunk sadly shook his head. “I can try, but with all the smoke, my nose isn’t going to be much help.”

“What about a bird’s eye view?” Pidge suggested, coming up from behind Lance. “The trees are thinner here. I might be able to see him.”

Lance didn’t like the idea of Pidge flying around with all the smoke obstructing their vision, especially with how emotionally distressed they were, but they were desperate. They needed to find Keith before he disappeared. It was the only plan they had. 

Shiro nodded, but warned them to be careful, giving them a quick hug. And with that they were off, her owl form soaring above the trees. Lance watched as they circled above them a few times before darting off. Lance gasped. 

“They found him.”

The three men raced through the trees, dodging shrubs and roots, all while keeping an eye on Pidge. Until they disappeared, diving into the canopy.  

“Where’d they go?” Hunk asked. 

They looked through the trees, seeking gleaming glasses, a red shirt, a flick of a flame.

“Keith, wait!” they heard Pidge distantly shout. 

Lance stomach rolled. He was sprinting in the direction of their voice immediately. Then he saw them: Keith cowering, curled up under a tree, with Pidge above him. Their hands were out and open like they were trying to calm a scared animal. As he ran closer, Lance could see the pops of flame along Keith’s knuckles, both wrappings had disappeared from his hands, leaving his scars and wounds visible. 

“I’m sorry,” Pidge sobbed. “I’m so sorry.” 

Keith shook his head and backed further into the tree’s twisting roots. 

Lance stopped behind Pidge, as did Hunk and Shiro. 

Once Keith saw his brother, he called out, “Shiro.” His voice was raw and low and scraped against his throat painfully. Lance desperately wanted to gather him in his arms and whisper reassurances into his hair. He looked ragged: his hair was knotted with twigs and leaves, his clothing was chard and smoking, and his eyes looked despondent. Both Shiro and Lance took a step forward, but Keith lifted his hands.

“Stop!” he shouted, fire danced along his finger tips. Then a bush burst into flames to their right. He groaned before violently coughing.

Lance’s eyes widened. He’s still not in control of his magick. 

“Pidge, back up,” he said.

“But--”

“Now,” he commanded. They hesitated, but took a few steps backward until Lance was able to grab them and shove them behind him. Shiro tried to get closer again.

“Keith,” he said. “You’re all right. No one is going to hurt you.” Keith shook his head in denial, biting his bottom lip before coughing again. 

“Too much. Too much,” Keith ground out. 

“What do you mean?” Shiro asked, taking another slow step forward. Lance could only watch, holding his friends behind him. He wanted to help, but Shiro had dealt with this for much longer than he had. He knew what he was doing. Yet Lance’s heart still rattled his ribs. 

“Magick,” Keith gasped. He gripped his stomach. A tree suddenly went up in flames.  “Too much.” 

Shiro shook his head in confusion. Lance thought back to the conversations he had with Keith and the practice sessions he had observed. The first time Keith had dragged him into the forest, he had transferred the life energies between two bushes: he took the energy of one and gave it to another. When Keith summoned the peryton and other animals in the clearing, he had burnt the clearing to a crisp beforehand. 

Lance’s eyes widened. Keith took all the life energy from the meeting point he had set up with Shiro. There were no skeletons nor live plants nor animals among the blackened trees. Keith hadn’t released any of the magick he had absorbed. 

“Shiro, he needs to flush it out.” Shiro shook his head, taking another step forward and ignoring Lance’s comment. He huffed, annoyed. Shiro’s hugs and reassurances weren’t going to fix the problem: Keith was in trouble and his friends were in danger. They needed to think through this. “ Listen , Keith, you need to release it. You need to put it back.”

“Can’t,” he gasped. Lance could see how hard Keith ground his teeth, clenched his jaw. It pulsed. “Too much. Haven’t. Practiced like this.”

“You’re going to have to try,” encouraged Lance. Another bush ignited a little too close. Pidge yelped and Keith flinched. The latter buried his head in his knees, shaking. 

“Sorry, ‘m sorry,” he mumbled, hugging himself and inching closer to the trunk as if it would absorb him and take him away from everything. 

“Hey, it’s okay,” Shiro softly said. A patch of grass ignited. Then a sprout. Keith’s magick was releasing with more frequency. Lance watched as Shiro crouched next to Keith, who was shaking. His breaths were uneven and raw and the glimpse Lance caught of his eyes showed pure terror. He was huffing and groaning in pain. Lance’s uneasy feeling ricocheted in his chest.

“Shiro,” he warned, but again he was ignored. 

“Keith, you’re alright. I’m here,” Shiro assured, moving a few inches closer. Keith leaned away feebly, shaking his head. He was mouthing something, but no words escaped him. Shiro reached out a hand; it was steady even as a bead of sweat dripped down his temple. His fingertips skimmed Keith’s shoulder.

Then Keith burst into flame.

Shiro screamed. It was raw and hurt and wounded. He fell to the roots as Keith screamed along with him. Fire consumed him, it’s flames reaching past the canopy of leaves. Lance pushed his friends down, even as Pidge scrambled for Shiro. Lance held on to them while suspending a blanket of water above them; it steamed with heat and in seconds they were coated in a layer of sweat. 

Keith’s breath ran out. Within the flames, he clawed at his throat as the fire consumed the air around him. The fire licked at the surrounding trees and grass, but never travelled from the boy within them. They were contained. Keith was containing them. 

It all happened so fast. Soon the flames pulsed and bled away. 

Keith collapsed. Immediately Lance was up and ready to run for him, but Hunk grabbed his wrist.

Lance ,” he warned. Lance turned, staring down at his terrified friends. Pidge trembled in Hunk’s hold and the big man looked on the verge of tears. 

“I gotta make sure they’re okay,” he said.

“Lance, no. We shouldn’t--we can’t,” Hunk nervously stumbled. Gently he wrapped his fingers around Hunk’s grip, easing off his hand.

“Don’t worry.”

In a few seconds, Lance was at Keith’s side. The boy’s eyes were slits, drooping around the violet within. He looked haggard: half his clothes were burnt and his skin was as pale as the moon. He shook as he reached for his brother.

“Keith,” Lance breathed as his knelt by his side.

He shook his head in reply. “Sh’ro. Elp ‘im.” Lance ignored his request, moving toward him, but he flinched away and his eyes snapped open. He was terrified.

“Okay, okay,” Lance conceded, backing away. “I’ll check Shiro first.”

It was hard to pull away, hard to leave Keith vulnerable and alone, even if he was only a few feet away. Lance slowly crawled toward Shiro, scared of what he would see. Keith must be devastated; he had burnt his brother. Shiro was too close not to have been affected by his fire. Whether the burns were substantial or not, Keith wasn’t going to recover from this whole ordeal easily. 

The older man was out cold, slumped on his side haphazardly. As gently as he could, Lance rolled him onto his back. Despite being so close to Keith when he exploded, he wasn’t engulfed in burns and blistering skin. He didn’t wake, but he also didn’t seem distressed, maybe a little too calm. Lance checked his pulse: he was alive. The witch slumped in relief, gathered himself, then got to work with checking him over, though there wasn’t much to do.

But then Lance got to his arm.

His black sleeves had been seared away, only remnants lingering on his skin--if he could call it that. 

“Lance?” 

He looked up to Pidge standing above them both and Hunk nervously fidgeting behind them. Pidge’s eyes were trained on Shiro’s arm. 

“I… I don’t know…” Lance faltered, glancing back down. He doesn’t understand.

Shiro’s skin wasn’t burnt or blistered, but chard. Edges were blackened but still smooth. Pale skin gave way to black then to glinting metal. 

Pidge shakily knelt next to Lance. “Human tech,” they breathed. Carefully they skimmed their fingers over it.

“What--What does that mean?” Hunk nervously asked while winding his fingers together. “How could Shiro--Why does Shiro have human tech? Is it his whole arm?” He gasped. “What if it’s all of him? Are the humans working with the fae? Oh, we’re doomed. So--”

“Hunk,” Pidge berated. They worked their trembling fingers over Shiro’s arm, working their way up to his shoulder than chest. They sat back. “It stops after his shoulder. I can check the rest after he wakes up.”

Lance swallowed. What did it mean? Did Shiro always have a robotic arm? He shook his head. They didn’t need to worry about this right now. Shiro was hurt and Keith was hurting. 

“Look we can deal with this later,” Lance said. “The priority now is to get him back to camp.” 

Pidge added, “The tech must have sensory receptors and an artificial neural network. He felt pain… A lot of it. I don’t know if he’ll feel the burns when he wakes up.”

“We’ll prepare for that,” Lance said. “Dreamwalkers are known for how comatose they can get after a major injury. He needs a few hours. Hunk, get him back to camp. I’ll meet you guys there.” He turned to check on Keith, but Pidge interrupted him.

“I’m staying.”

“Pidge--”

“No! This is all my fault,” they cried. “This is my fault. Shiro, Keith, Allura--that’s all on me. I’m helping Keith.” Lance hesitated. Keith was going to be scared as shit of himself right now. Adding Pidge to the mix won’t help his mental state. “You said that Keith needs to hear how I feel about him. So let me.”

Stars, he couldn’t argue against his own words. 

“Fine, but you stay by me. If he gets too overwhelmed, you leave, got it?” 

They nodded quickly.

Pidge and Lance then helped Shiro into Hunk’s arms. He reassured them he knew the way back and made them promise to be careful before trudging through the trees. 

Lance turned to find Keith… not where he left him. 

Stars ,” he cursed. Keith couldn’t have gotten far; he was on the verge of consciousness when he was checking on Shiro. Lance made a lap around the large tree and he didn’t even need to make the full lap. The pyro witch was only on the other side of the trunk he had tried to melt into beforehand. He was curled up against it. And crying quietly. 

Lance ushered Pidge behind him before approaching Keith.

“Hey,” he whispered. He wasn’t granted a coherent reply: just a sniffle. “Are you okay?”

He shook his head.

“It’s okay that you’re not okay. A lot happened.” Lance crouched down and waited a moment before saying, “Shiro is okay. You didn’t hurt him.”

A cry caught in Keith’s throat. He shook his head in denial.

“No, really. He’s fine. His walker reflexes kicked in, so he’s a little comatose right now, but he’ll be fine when he wakes up.” Lance decided mentioning the human tech attached to his brother’s shoulder wasn’t something Keith needed to hear right now, whether or not he knew about it. In that moment, yes, Shiro had been hurt, but physically he really wasn’t. The tech wasn’t even damaged externally. All Shiro wanted to do was protect his brother. And know that he wasn’t here, that duty fell to Lance. “He’ll want to see you when he wakes.”

Keith shook his head. “Leaving.”

“Not this again,” Lance tutted. He scooted a little closer. “We’ve already been over this: you’re staying. Everyone wants you to stay.”

“Don’t lie,” Keith said, rubbing at his swollen, red eyes. 

“He’s not,” Pidge interjected, moving to sit by Lance. Keith scooted back, his glassy eyes taking them in. Their bottom lip trembled. “I’m so sorry,” they cried.

“‘S fine,” he said, turning his head away.

“It’s not!” Keith flinched back. Pidge reached out their hands for him, but Lance held them back, shaking his head. They glanced between them before deflating. “I’m sorry, it’s not. What I did was terrible. I judged you for the stories I heard about necromancers and not as my friend. I know that you aren’t like the scary stories and not like the monsters the adults remember. I’m sorry.”

“... but with--Galra,” he strained. 

“What about them? So what some necromancers allied themselves with the Galra? You’re here. You’re with us,” they argued.

Keith shook his head, denying Pidge’s words. It got them worked up. Tears threatened to spill past their eyes.

“You’re Keith. You’re irrational and quick to anger. You like to fight and you’re good at it and I laugh every time you throttle Lance. Your fire is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The stories you tell at night with it get spun in my dreams.” Their breath hitched. A tear escaped, running down their cheek. 

“But… I hurt people,” he rasped. 

“No, you don’t,” they denied, shaking their head and getting frustrated. “You care about people. You saw me alone at the Leo Coven. With those bullies. And you stood up for me. You scared them away and took care of me. That’s who I should’ve judged when I saw you practicing today. You were… You were my first friend. My only friend. And I lost you. For years. Please don’t make me lose another brother. Please, Keith.

Lance wanted so desperately to pull Pidge into him, but he wasn’t who they needed. He looked to Keith. He had uncurled from the trunk, his violet eyes drowning in tears and his hair mussed up. He bit his lip, looking hesitant, but opening his arms. Lance’s mouth dropped open in shock. It took Pidge a few more seconds to register what he meant, but once they did, they were scrambling for Keith’s open arms. He grunted when they collided.

“I’m sorry. Keith, I’m so sorry,” they sobbed. “I messed up, but I love you, I love you. Please. Stay . We all want you to stay, please. I promise I’ll listen to everything you want to tell me, even if it’s nothing at all.”

Slowly Keith relaxed into their hold, lazily resting his head on their light brown hair. 

“Say you’ll stay,” Pidge softly said. “We can go back to camp, check on Shiro. Hunk can make your favorite and we can watch the stars like we used to. Please, Keith?”

Keith looked to Lance, hesitance written on his face. He didn’t know what to do.

Lance nodded in encouragement. Keith couldn’t be alone right now. And everyone would be crushed if he were to disappear. Lance would follow after him if he tried to run; Keith probably knew he would. An idea struck. 

“You still haven’t forgiven me,” Lance added with a sad smile. “You can’t leave if you haven’t forgiven me and if you do I’ll just follow and nag you until you come back and forgive me properly.”

Pidge nodded her head, burying it into Keith’s chest. “Same here.”

Keith pressed Pidge further into himself. He huffed out a hot breath. 

“Okay,” he conceded. “I’ll stay.”

Lance could laugh in relief. Instead he collapsed on his back into the grass. They still had a lot to talk about and work through, but he would count this as a big victory: everyone now knew and Keith wasn’t running. Lance smiled.

Keith wasn’t running.