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Until the Last Candle

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Keith was bored. He was bored; his waistcoat was far too itchy, his hair was tied too tightly away from his face, and Mrs. Mulligan had sent three of her five daughters to flirt with him. He sighed heavily through his nose as the latest one prattled on at him about something. Possibly dresses. He had only just arrived back in London a fortnight earlier, having returned from his 3 year tour of Greece, Italy, and France. Shiro had encouraged him to join the courting this season and he could already feel himself regretting it. 

 

“Listen,” he said bluntly, ignoring the guilty feeling at her brief hurt expression. “Mary, was it?” 

 

“Margaret,” she said cooly, “Mary is my sister.” Keith groaned inwardly, why parents insisted on naming their children with names starting with the first letter was beyond him. 

 

“Ms. Margaret,” he said, as sincerely as he could muster, “I must apologize. I assumed everyone knew, but I am gay.” Margaret stared at him, her brown eyes going wide. 

 

“Mr. Kogane, I offer my most sincere apologies,” she replied after a moment. “My mother has been,” she paused, looking for the polite word, “ encouraging me to talk to everyone.” Here she paused again, and met his eyes, “because I myself am interested in everyone .” Keith felt himself relax a bit. 

 

She grinned slyly at him from under her long eyelashes, “Shall I have my mother stop sending us over?” She pouted coquettishly at him, “She did hope that Madelyn would make a wonderful impression.” Keith barked a laugh and quickly covered his mouth, his shoulders shaking silently. Margaret looked pleased to have made him laugh. 

 

“No, please do not,” Keith asked, “I truly am sorry, but I do hope we could be friends?” The words felt awkward and cumbersome leaving his mouth, but it was what Shiro had advised him to say when turning down suitors he was uninterested in. Margaret looked pleased by his offer and nodded her head in agreement. 

 

“I think I would enjoy that quite a bit, Mr. Kogane, now if you excuse me,” she set her face in a determined grimace, “I must deliver the news to my mother that you are uninterested in all of us.” 

 

Keith chuckled and turned to face her, “I am sorry truly, I think we really will get along well.” 

 

Margaret beamed at him, “Yes, as childish as it may sound, I am always happy to make a friend.” Keith bowed slightly at the waist, and Margaret returned with a curtsy before hurrying off into the crowds.

 

Keith watched her go, her long pale sea-foam dress swaying behind her slightly. He was pleased to note that several heads, men and women alike turned to watch her. 



“Now, what was that about,” a familiar voice questioned from behind Keith. Keith sighed heavily and turned to face his older brother, Shiro, who was smirking at him with a knowing gaze. Keith felt a flare of annoyance at Shiro’s face. 

 

“Did you or did you not write on my formal announcement papers that I was only interested in male suitors,” Keith hissed quietly, silently pleased at the confusion that graced Shiro’s face for a moment. Any moment that he caused perfect Shiro to feel off kilter filled him with a childish glee. Keith knew that Shiro had only heavily encouraged his tour of foreign countries to put off his courting season. He wanted Keith to have the upper hand as much as possible in a courting, but after 3 years away, perhaps his brother had changed his tune. 

 

“Keith,” Shiro murmured quietly, leaning down to speak quietly in his brother’s ears, “You know I would never put you through anything that made you uncomfortable. I certainly put your preferences on the announcement.” Keith felt a surge of love for his brother and a swift sting of guilt. As much as he liked riling Shiro up, he knew deep down he could have never been gifted a better older brother. 

 

“Even if it would be incredibly funny,” Shiro whispered quickly. Keith gasped at him, he took it back. He wanted to be an only child. 

 

“You are the worst ,” Keith growled at him, whipping around to glare at the dance floor, his tailcoats flapping behind him. Shiro chuckled behind a perfectly gloved hand and grinned at Keith. The pair stood in silence, watching tailcoats and dress swirl around the dance floor in a sea of pastels and darker colors. “If you did say that I only wanted male suitors,” Keith broke the silence, turning back to face Shiro, “then why are so many ladies coming to talk to me? Surely they must be aware?” Most people did thorough research before attending any social event; knowing exactly who they wanted to talk to and what to discuss. Then, they pretended it was all a chance of fate, to add to the romance. Keith thought this was stupid. What was the harm in knowing someone? 

 

Shiro smiled kindly, “Keith, think. Most parents would be perfectly happy if their child had a platonic match. Some of the best marriages are built off of purely friendships.” When Keith seemed skeptical, Shiro continued, “Consider your dear friend, Pidge. They and their wife are perfectly happy to live as friends in their marriage. Spending time devoting to their inventions, rather than children.” 

 

Keith inclined his head in agreement; he could not find fault in this. Pidge and their wife were thrilled in their manor home where they spent their days tinkering and inventing new creations. Bouncing ideas off of each other as they shouting through the doorway to their conjoined laboratories. The best of friends and one of the best marriages Keith had seen so far. 

 

“Why are you so concerned with this,” Shiro suddenly inquired, suspicious all at once. “Is there someone who has already caught your eye?” He chuckled, certainly thinking about how prickly and picky Keith was with his friends, let alone a potential suitor. 

 

Keith, froze. There was in fact one person who had caught his eye. However, his eye had been caught several years before; in fact, quite some time before he had left London at 18. 

 

Shiro picked up moments later and gaped at Keith. “Keith is there someone? You must tell me so I can help! I could make a proper introduction! If they are younger than I am, I will surely know them, since I have been out in society longer than yourself and since I have been home this season.” Keith inwardly groaned, this was exactly what he feared. Shiro would become way too involved and then micromanage the entire courtship. It would be a miracle if Keith would be able to make it down the aisle without Shiro coaching him the whole way. 

 

Keith glanced around for an escape, and seeing none at that moment, sighed heavily. “There may be someone,” he paused, “older,” he grumbled quietly. Shiro’s eyes lit up with delight. 

 

“You must tell me who, dear brother,” Shiro stated excitedly, almost loud enough to be heard over the quartet in the background. Keith felt his ears begin to burn and he looked desperately around only to have his eyes fall upon him. 

 

Lance McClain.

 

The pair made eye contact across the dance floor and Keith could hear Shiro chattering animatedly in his ears, but he was not picking up any of the words. All he could see was Lance. He made a pleading face at Lance, and Lance’s face split into a grin. He watched as the older man bent to say his goodbyes to the ladies he was talking with and began to make his way across the dance floor to Keith. 

 

Keith’s heart leapt. Lance had been surprisingly scarce for the past few social events. Keith had seen glimpses of him from across glittering ballrooms, bright, sunny lawns, and shade soaked courtyards, but Lance had never approached him once. A fact that had broken Keith’s heart over and over, for it was Lance that Keith was in love with. 

 

But Keith had a plan. He had been planning it since the moment he left for Greece. Keith had known that 3 years would not put a damper on the feelings he had for Lance. He had been painfully infatuated with Lance since he was 14. Lance had been one of Shiro’s closest friends growing up and often spent time with him throughout their childhoods, with Keith often trailing behind. Lance had been nothing but kind to him throughout their lives, and had been in society 4 years longer than Keith had. Keith was certain that his 14 year old heart would surely shatter when Lance turned 18 and joined society to be courted for 2 years. When Shiro had heavily pressured Keith to delay his courting season with a tour, Keith had known his small chance at marrying Lance was slipping through his fingers. Lance would surely be married by the time he returned. But, much to Keith’s surprise, with every letter Shiro wrote, there was no mention of Lance’s engagement. Keith had even, in a moment of pure desperation, sought out a London newspaper in a port in France; scouring the engagement announcements. Only to be elated, when he had not seen Lance’s name. 

 

The moment he had stepped off the ship, Keith had wanted to demand news of Lance from Shiro, but he did not want his brother to be aware of his feelings. If he was going to be engaged to Lance by the end of the season, he had to play his cards right. Keith had waited until a lull in their conversation on the carriage ride back to their house, when he asked about Lance. 

 

“Oh,” Shiro waved him off, “Lance is fine, as always.” Keith waited impatiently for more information and when Shiro seemed to be done with the topic, Keith prodded him again. 

 

“But, surely he is engaged? Or is he perhaps waiting for the right person, like yourself,” Keith inquired, hoping to not seem too obvious with his intentions. Shiro hesitated, briefly, but Keith caught it. “What,” he demanded, his heart quickly sinking in his chest. 

 

“I would doubt that Lance would be engaged this courting season, considering what happened last year,” Shiro had said slowly, choosing his words carefully. 

 

“Considering what happened last year? What happened last year,” Keith questioned. 

 

Shiro grimaced, “It is not for me to say, but if it is true, then Lance is a bit more,” he paused, looking for the right word, “ bold , than I had ever considered him to be previously.” 

 

Keith had sat back in the carriage, watching the townhouses of London go by. What could Lance have possibly done that he had not heard about? He eyed Shiro curiously; Shiro always tried to shield him from anything remotely scandalous or untoward, which was why Keith had been shipped away for 3 years. Keith had always remembered Lance to be a gentleman, always trying to include him during his and Shiro’s friendship. He would have to find the answers somewhere else, he had decided finally, perhaps at a courting event in the upcoming days.

 

Keith had anxiously held his breath throughout the first few social events, feeding the small flame of hope that Lance would perhaps approach him in courtship. However, it seemed to Keith that Lance was avoiding him completely. When he had demanded this of Shiro, his brother had laughed and said that maybe Lance was finally becoming serious about the courting process, and did not want to spend time with his best friend’s little brother. Keith had never wanted to stomp on Shiro’s foot more in that moment.



But he had known that he had seen Lance watching him at these societal events and he was sure he was not imagining it. If Lance was only watching as Shiro’s friend, protecting a sibling, then Keith would back off; however, if he was watching for another reason, then Keith knew what he would have to do. 



Lance arrived in front of the brothers, and gave a short bow to them both. Keith’s stomach flipped excitedly; wearing a deep blue waistcoat with golden buttons, Lance looked no less than perfect in Keith’s eyes. His cream colored shirt accented his tan skin and his knee high boots had clearly been polished recently. Keith drank in his form eagerly, hoping Shiro would not continue his questioning in front of his friend. 

 

“Good evening, gentlemen. Looking handsome as always,” Lance said brightly, smiling at Shiro and then Keith. “Keith, it is good to see you after so long,” Lance told him directly. Keith felt his mouth go dry for a moment, had Lance’s voice always been that gorgeous? Or had he just been deprived these past few years at sea? He swore Lance’s gaze lingered over him for a moment longer than appropriate. 

 

“Lance,” Shiro exclaimed happily, “how are you this evening?” 

 

“Fine, thank you,” Lance replied smoothly. “However, I have noticed our resident wall flower standing off to the side, and I have come to ask him to dance.” Keith’s heart leapt into his throat. A dance was more than he had expected from Lance. A brief conversation perhaps, flirtation at best, but a dance? Unthinkable. 

 

Shiro grinned mischievously, “Take him out for a waltz then,” he said, giving Keith a gentle nudge in Lance’s direction. Lance offered his hand to Keith who took it eagerly, praying no one noticed his desperation. 

 

“I do hope that I was not misinterpreting your expression,” Lance murmured to Keith as they made their way to the dance floor. “You looked a bit,” he paused, clearly looking for the right word, “uncomfortable. But, I also know that we have not seen each other in quite some time, so if I am misinterpreting, please let me know,” he added on hastily. 

 

Keith smiled at the floor to hide his grin. Lance had always looked out for him, making sure he felt comfortable and safe. Keith licked his lips nervously; he had made up his mind. He was going to take the leap and tell Lance what he wanted. It was now or never. He felt Lance’s arm snake around his waist, pulling him in tightly and taking his other hand in his own. 

 

“I was not truly uncomfortable, but I was glad to have found an escape,” Keith looked at Lance up through his lashes, “an escape with yourself, of course.” Lance blinked and then swallowed nervously. Keith suppressed a smirk, years of reading romance novels by the light of a candle late into the evening were finally paying off. 

 

“I am sure that anyone would have been more than happy to help you escape,” Lance replied after a moment of hesitation. He led Keith gracefully around the dance floor, following the dance’s movements perfectly. 

 

“That may perhaps be true,” Keith agreed, seemingly aimable, as he let go of Lance’s shoulder to turn out beside him. “But nonetheless, I was glad it was you, for I have missed you deeply” he finished swiftly as he and Lance turned back together. Lance stumbled in his steps and Keith could not hide his grin that time. Never once had he ever seen Lance stumble in a dance; not when they were practicing as children together all those years ago, and not at any social event since. 

 

Lance held out his hand as he and Keith stepped apart from each other and turned once, before joining their hands to switch places and repeat the step. His ocean blue eyes never once left Keith’s face, as if he was a riddle Lance was quickly trying to solve. 

 

Lance drew Keith back in and they began their waltz around the dance floor again, Lance’s arm a heavy weight against his back. “What made you seek an escape,” Lance hesitated, “with myself?” 

 

Keith schooled his face in an innocent expression, “My brother was only asking who I had set my eyes on this courting season,” he explained demurely and immediately felt Lance tense under his hands. Keith arched an eye knowingly, and waited for Lance to ask who. The question did not come. “Do you not want to know who,” Keith asked after several moments of silence from the man in his arms. 

 

Lance grimaced, quickly, before placing a polite expression on his face. “Only if you wish to tell me,” he sighed, finally. He let go of Keith’s waist and extended his arm, facing Keith as they turned slowly in a circle around each other. Keith watched the taller man’s face carefully, as their hands lightly touched in between their bodies. They rotated slowly and Keith impulsively made his choice. 

 

He firmly wrapped his fingers around Lance’s, whose mouth fell open in a silent gasp. Keith doubted anyone had been so bold to ever hold his hand in the middle of a dance. “I did not tell my brother who I had my eye on,” Keith stated finally, drawing Lance’s eyes back to his and away from Keith’s firm hold on his hand. “But it is someone who I have known for quite some time,” he watched as Lance drew in a quick breath, “An older gentleman who I have known all my life. Someone my brother is quite close to, and I myself am incredibly fond of.” Keith waited for Lance to make the connection, begged any higher power for Lance to make the connection. Lance stared at Keith dumbfounded, his body clearly acting on autopilot as he raised his arm for Keith to twirl under. Keith giggled, ducking under the upheld arm and spinning giddily. 

 

“Keith,” Lance hissed at him, “Keith, do not toy with me. Who is this older gentleman?” He sharply brought Keith back to his chest for the final waltz around the ballroom. Keith watched dizzily as the candelabras blurred together into a bright, glittering haze behind Lance’s head. 

 

“He is the only person I will give my heart to and the only one I will marry,” Keith smirked, relishing in having Lance’s complete attention. Keith felt Lance’s hand clench the back of his waistcoat and felt his breath catch in his throat. He prayed no one was looking at them too closely, this would surely cause rumors to begin. 

 

Lance bent his mouth to Keith’s ear and whispered fervently, “Keith, if it is I who have your heart, say the word and I will be at your home tomorrow to court you properly. If it is not, say the word and I shall never speak of this again.” 

 

Keith felt his heart soar; Lance returned his feelings and was willing to court him. This was by far better than anything he had ever read in any of his romance novels. Keith felt as if he were floating on air; he could crow with excitement or run for miles with all the adrenaline pumping through his veins. 

 

Lance pulled him even closer somehow, there was no longer any space between them. Their chests were flush and Keith swore he could feel Lance’s heart beat racing, or perhaps it was his own. “It is you,” he said quietly, “It was always and only you.” 

 

As they parted for the final few steps, Keith saw Lance’s face light up in excitement and joy. He had done that. His words and his confession had down that and nothing else. Lance led Keith in one final spin and then bowed over Keith’s outstretched arm. “I will be there tomorrow, first thing in the morning at the beginning of calling hours,” Lance met Keith’s eyes firmly. “There is nowhere else I would ever rather be.” 

 

Keith felt Lance’s hot breath sweep over his gloved hand and his stomach dropped in a new and exciting manner. He could hardly wait the 12 hours until he saw Lance’s face again, but he knew if he stayed at this ball for a moment longer, he would do something impulsive and never live down the scandal. He knew in his heart, he could not do that to Shiro. Keith returned Lance’s bow and turned to head back to Shiro. He dared to peak over his shoulder back at Lance, and found the man watching him walk away, his gaze clearly lower than appropriate. Keith stifled a hysterical giggle. In the span of a night, he had gone from desperately pining for his older brother’s best friend, to having the man watch him walk away. 

 

This had gone better than he could have ever expected. 

 

*** 

 

Keith was awake before dawn the following day. He barely shut his eyes at all the night before, he had been too excited. Lance was coming to court him. Lance McClain was coming to court him. He managed to stay in his bed, tossing and turning until he saw the first rays of daybreak. Keith jumped out of his bed and scrambled down the hallway to wake up Shiro. 

 

“Shiro,” Keith shouted, throwing open his brother’s door, ignoring how the older man shot up in bed in alarm. “Shiro, we need to get the house ready for my courter,” Keith continued, throwing open the heavy drapes and letting the fresh morning light into the room. 

 

Shiro sat up against his pillows, rubbing at his face, “Sure, sure. We shall get the drawing room ready,” his words cut off abruptly, and he blinked at Keith. “I am sorry, did you say courters?” 

 

“Court er ,” Keith corrected, emphasizing the singularity, “Just the one.” He threw himself face down onto the foot of Shiro’s bed. “I am very excited,” he confessed after a moment, “So I would appreciate it, dear brother, if you did not mess this up.” He looked up and glared to Shiro’s grin. 

 

Shiro smiled gently, “Keith, you know I would never intentionally hurt your chances with a suitor.” Keith huffed, pressing his face into the deep purple blanket on the bed. “You know I would not,” Shiro protested, “I promise to be fair and kind to any man who walks through the door.” 

 

Keith beamed, he knew that Shiro would honor his word. “Wonderful,” he pushed himself off the bed, “I am going to go get ready, please do the same.” 

 

“Keith, it is barely dawn,” Shiro complained. “Can we wait just a bit longer?” 

 

“No,” Keith called over his shoulder, already headed to his room to call his servants to draw a bath. He could not wait; he would be in that drawing room as soon as possible, just in case Lance might be early. 

 

Hours later, Keith was practically vibrating in his seat in the drawing room. From his position on the settee, he had an unobstructed view of the front walkway, and he knew that the light from that window would make him look very enticing from the doorway where Lance would enter. He had a plan

 

His thick sketchbook sat open on his lap, his latest design for a sword doodled on the open page. Men of his societal position were often encouraged to have several hobbies and pastimes, and Keith had always enjoyed the design and creation of fencing swords. Followed closely by the sport of fencing itself. Keith added some quick lines as Shiro strolled into the room, stifling a yawn. 

 

“So,” Shiro said, settling himself into the arm chair across from Keith, picking up his novel lazily, “this one courter we are seeing today. Is he the older gentleman you mentioned?” 

 

Keith stiffened, realizing he was unaware of how Shiro would take Lance courting him. Well, Shiro had promised to be fair, so he would have to trust his brother. “Yes,” Keith hesitated, “He is older than I,” he eyed Shiro warily, “Perhaps your age?” 

 

Shiro looked at Keith for a moment before shrugging, “No matter, as long as he makes you happy.” 

 

Keith felt his heart soar, he knew that Shiro would be understanding and kind. “He makes me incredibly happy,” Keith confessed. 

 

Shiro grinned, pleased and picked up the book to begin to read, when a strange look passed over his face. “Wait, he makes you? You already know him, personally?”

 

Keith blanched, but was saved before he needed to answer by their butler knocking at the door. “Sirs, there is a Mr. McClain here to see Mr. Kogane.” Keith grinned and made to stand, when he heard a gasp come from Shiro. He glanced at his brother, who was staring at him with his mouth wide open. 

 

“What,” Keith demanded. Shiro looked at the butler, then back to Keith quickly before making up his mind and sweeping Keith from the room through the opposite door. “Shiro, no! Where are we going,” Keith cried. 

 

“You are not being courted by Lance,” Shiro hissed, waving at the butler. “Detain Mr. McClain for a moment, please,” he called over his shoulder, before shoving Keith into the next room and firmly shutting the door. 

 

“Why not,” cried Keith in despair, looking backwards at the door. Lance would get the wrong idea and leave if he did not go greet him soon. Keith felt Shiro place his hands on his shoulders, trying to get his attention, but Keith was busy, trying to stare holes through the walls to see Lance.

 

“Lance, though he is one of my dearest friends- Keith, look at me,” Shiro said impatiently, trying to catch Keith’s eye from the door. “Though he is one of my dearest friends, is a notorious flirt. He chases people only to leave them when he grows bored.” 

 

Keith glared at his brother, “That is most unkind,” he declared firmly. “Besides you said you were fine with it! You said it did not matter,” he exclaimed. 

 

“That was before I knew it was Lance,” Shiro groaned. “When you said he was an older gentleman, I assumed it was perhaps Matt or-” 

 

“Matt,” Keith cried incredulously. “Matt is ancient !”

 

“He is a year older than I am,” Shiro shot back exasperatedly. “How is Matt ancient when Lance is just one year younger?”

 

Keith shrugged, “I do not know. Matt is ancient and gross. You are ancient and gross. Lance is older and,” he paused, his eyes glazing over a bit, “ mature .” 

 

Shiro gagged, “Please, stop talking.”

 

“Think of all the things Lance could teach me,” Keith said dreamily, hoping to get a rise out of Shiro. 

 

“No, this ends now,” Shiro said, taking his hands off of Keith’s shoulders and heading back to the drawing room. “Lance is leaving and you are trying again with a more appropriate suitor.” Keith wanted to scream, he should have known Shiro would not truly be fair. Then he remembered. 

 

“You said you would treat all of my suitors fairly,” he cried, grabbing at Shiro’s arm, tugging on it until his brother turned back to look at him. Shiro hesitated and Keith knew that he had him. “Takashi, you promised, ” Keith wheedled, playing the card of the younger brother.

 

Shiro hesitated, and Keith knew that he had him; Keith knew that Shiro hated breaking promises to Keith and had ever since they were children. “I did,” he said reluctantly, running a hand through his shock of white hair at the front of his head. “I did promise that I would treat every suitor fairly,” he said again, seeming to gain speed. 

 

Keith eyed him suspiciously, “So, I can go and greet Lance?”

 

“It is Mr. McClain, if he is a suitor,” Shiro shot back, almost absentmindedly, seemingly somewhere else in his thoughts. Keith ignored this, Lance would always be Lance and not Mr. McClain. 

 

“Please, Shiro,” Keith sighed heavily. 

 

“Go ahead,” Shiro said suddenly, “I shall join you both in a moment to act as chaperone.” 

 

Keith paused, Shiro had something planned; he just did not know what. However, he also wanted to see Lance, and he wanted to see Lance now. He could handle whatever scheme his brother came up with later. Without waiting any longer, Keith strode back into the drawing room and poked his head into the foyer to find Lance. 

 

Lance was standing staring up at the portrait of Keith’s parents, who had long left London and left Keith solely in Shiro’s care. Keith sighed happily; Lance looked immaculate, as always. In a beautifully simple black waistcoat, holding his hat in his white gloved hands, Lance looked exquisite. Keith walked over silently and stood by Lance, who nodded his head in greeting. 

 

“You know I have never actually met your parents,” Lance said humorously in greeting. “I have only ever known Shiro and yourself.” 

 

“They are fine people,” Keith shrugged, “but I quite enjoyed being able to grow up under Shiro’s care.” Despite whatever hair-brained stunt he was about to pull, Keith thought personally. 

 

Lance smiled genuinely at him, turning to face him head on, “Keith, you must know how joyful this makes me.” He extended an arm to guide Keith back to the drawing room, “I must confess that I,” Lance blanched here, clearly debating whether or not to continue. 

 

“Please, go on,” Keith rushed breathlessly, desperate to know all of Lance’s confessions. 

 

“I have been enamored with you for quite some time,” Lance blurted, inelegantly. “Shortly after you left I realized-” he cut himself off here, shaking his head and continued, “I have always thought you as kind and clever and quite fun, so I am looking forward to spending this time getting to know you to the best of my ability.”

 

Keith blinked, confused a bit. “But, Lance, you do know me,” he stated. “You and Shiro-” 

 

“I want to get to know you outside of Shiro,” Lance cut him off firmly. “I want to get to know you as the person with whom I could spend the rest of my life.” 

 

Keith felt his face flush, no one had ever spoken so boldly to him before. It was unnerving. It was delicious. 

 

Lance grinned at him, clearly pleased with the blush on Keith’s face. “Shall we then,” he nodded his head towards the door of the drawing room. 

 

“Yes, please,” Keith said breathlessly. The pair moved into the drawing room and Keith’s mind began to race with what they could talk about next. Lance had said he wanted to get to know him outside of Shiro. Perhaps they could talk about hobbies; he had a vague idea that Lance enjoyed shooting and was rumored to be quite a marksman. Keith knew they both enjoyed riding horses, they could spend some time discussing that as well. 

 

However, all these thoughts came to a screeching halt, when Keith locked eyes with Shiro, who was standing in the middle of the room, smiling serenely. Lance tensed at the sight, but swallowed and said, “Shiro, I am sure it is a bit of a shock to see me here, but I promise to you that I am serious about courting Keith. I have been quite taken by your brother for some time and I hope that you do not hold any rumors about my reputation against me.” Keith nodded along, thinking to himself that while it sounded very rehearsed, he must give Lance credit for speaking so eloquently and making his purpose quite clear. Shiro could not doubt his intentions now. 

 

“That is all well and fine,” Shiro stated calmly. “But, since you are in my house, you will abide by the rules I have set for Keith’s courting.” 

 

Keith’s eyes widened, sensing a trap, but before he could say anything, Lance said, “I promise to abide by any rules, Shiro. I do not want to jeopardize any chance I have for Keith’s hand.”

 

Keith’s heart soared at such a strong statement, but when he glanced at Shiro, he knew this was not what Shiro had wanted to hear. 

 

“There is only one rule I have, while you are in my house, and that is that you must leave by the time the candle goes out,” Shiro announced. Keith stared at his brother, uncomprehendingly. The taper candles they used in their house could burn for 10 or 12 hours on a good day. Surely, this was not what Shiro was actually intending. Keith felt Lance hesitate beside him, seemingly confused by this piece of good news. 

 

“I can live with that rule,” Lance said slowly, eyeing his friend with confusion. 

 

“Good,” Shiro said, clapping his hands together. “Because here is the candle,” and he held out a nub. Keith felt his stomach drop. Shiro was holding a candle that had been burnt out almost to the end of its wick. He had to pinch it between his fingers to hold it, he could not even wrap his fist around it, Keith noted with panic. 

 

“Shiro, this is not fair,” he cried, “You promised-”

 

“I promised that I would treat every suitor fairly and every suitor who follows Lance will experience the same thing,” Shiro said firmly. “I am upholding my promise to you and,” he narrowed his eyes at Lance, “I am protecting you from having your heart broken.” 

 

“You are doing a perfectly fine job of that yourself,” Keith snapped, feeling tears welling in eyes, much to his mortification. Shiro blanched at the heavy outburst, but held steady in his resolve. 

 

“Keith,” Lance said, speaking for the first time since the candle had made its appearance. “Keith, would you look at me?”

 

Keith glanced up, knowing that Lance would surely think him not worth the trouble now. Much to his shock, Lance looked determined and focused. 

 

“I will take any time I am giving to spend time with you,” Lance murmured fervently. “Would you like to sit down and tell me about your fencing? I have heard that this year you have won several matches. I would love to hear more about your passions.” 

 

Keith gave him a watery smile, and felt his heart quicken. Lance was truly here for him. Lance was clearly willing to put in the time and effort to court him, even with Shiro’s insane limitations. He took a deep breath and led him over to the settee, opening up his sketchbook to show Lance some of his most recent designs. 

 

Keith felt himself talking more in that time than he had ever talked before, and Lance had not only listened, but actively took part in Keith’s passions. He requested that Keith help him design a sword so that one day, perhaps Keith could instruct him. Keith had flushed at that, the idea of Lance holding a sword was enticing, for lack of better word. He was sure the thought of Lance’s beautiful hands holding a sword of his own design would keep him up late at night. 

 

After about 45 minutes of talking, Keith saw the flame flicker out on the side table next to Shiro’s elbow. Shiro immediately snapped his book closed. “Lance, I am sorry, but that is all the time Keith has today. You may take your leave of us,” he said, calmly. 

 

Lance sighed heavily, but stood up, brushing his waist coat down to remove any wrinkles. “Keith,” Lance said, holding out his hand, “I will be back tomorrow and the next day and the next and the next.” 

 

Keith stood as well, taking Lance’s hand in his own, “And what about the next, sir,” he questioned boldly. Shiro cleared his throat pointedly, and Keith ignored him, pointedly.

 

Lance beamed, “And surely that one as well.” He brushed his lips lightly over Keith’s gloved hand and Keith thought that he would surely float away from happiness. Lance straightened and turned to bow to Shiro. “Shiro, please have a pleasant day,” and with that he left the room. 

 

Keith hurried to push aside the gauzy white curtains to watch Lance depart down the front walkway. “Shiro,” he called over his shoulder, “if that man gives up on me because of you,” he paused turning to face his brother, “I will never forgive you.” 

 

Shiro sighed heavily, “One day, you will thank me for this. But until then, I understand your pain and I respect that you are upset.” 

 

Keith scoffed, and turned to leave the room, “If you scare him away, I will leave. I will leave London and this time I will not return,” he stated coldly. Shiro watched him sadly, as Keith stormed from the room. 

 

***

 

Much to Keith’s surprise, and Shiro’s as well, Lance returned the next day at the exact same time, clearly eager to spend as much time with Keith as he could. He did the same the next day, and the day after that and the day after that. It continued throughout the month and Keith could say without hesitation that it had been the best month of his entire life. He and Lance spent all the minutes Shiro allowed them discussing literature, the arts, and different passions and hobbies. 

 

Shiro had not given up on his endeavor to dwindle the amount of time the pair had together. Keith had no idea where he was getting the nubs of all these candles from; he actually began to wonder if Shiro was cutting candles down to the size he wanted, to better control the situation. Shiro did not seem the type to waste money on being that petty, but Keith could tell he was getting desperate to split them apart. 

 

Desperate as well, Keith spent most of waking his hours counting down until the next day he could see Lance. He had never been able to converse with someone so easily before; Lance always seemed to know exactly what to say to pull the conversation along. But that was not to say that he domineered over the conversation at all either. In fact, he more often than not waited for Keith to speak and to gather his thoughts. Lance made his feel like his opinion was not only valued, but wanted, even encouraged. 

 

There was one day, Keith spent most of their time discussing his favorite book that he had read over and over again when he was younger and was mortified to discover that he had used up all of their time together. He stammered an apology, hoping that Lance would forgive him and return the next day, but Lance had only laughed and said that their conversation had been illuminating. Whatever that had meant. 

 

The next day, when Lance arrived, he looked bleary eyed and completely exhausted. After some prodding, he sheepishly told Keith that he had gone out and purchased the book Keith had spent their last meeting talking about, and had stayed up all night reading it. He told Keith that he simply could not put it down and had wanted to see the ending through. 

 

No one had ever done anything so romantic in Keith’s life. It had taken all of his strength not to launch himself at the man, but only Shiro’s watchful eyes stopped him. Keith had then casually mentioned that there was a companion book to go along with it, and Lance’s eyes lit up. 

 

“Would you please read it to me,” the older man had begged, “I confess I do not think I could carry on a conversation you deserve right now, but I also do not want to leave.” Keith had blushed, but did so, finding the book in his room upstairs. Keith had read that day until the candle had burned out, and then had insisted that Lance take the book with him to finish before their next meeting.  

 

Their conversations varied wildly from horseback riding, to fencing, to their favorite music composers, to even talk of the future. Lance seemed almost shy to bring up topics about their potential future together, as if he himself could not dare to dream it a possibility. Keith, however, had focused on the only future he wanted, and that was one with Lance by his side. Any other thought had completely fled his mind and his days and nights seemed to revolve around the other man. 

 

Keith felt himself becoming bolder, even under the all encompassing watch Shiro held over the pair. He caught himself staring at Lance’s high cheekbones for longer than appropriate; holding onto his arm when they crossed into the room for longer than necessary; and felt his eyes darting down to the other man’s lips too many times to deem it an accident. Lance, conversely, was the model of decorum. He was appropriate, polite, and modest, but delightfully mischievous within the bounds that Shiro set. 

 

Except for one time. 

 

One afternoon, after Keith had finished describing a sword duel he had participated in during his time in France, Lance had blurted, with a gleam in his eyes, “It pleases me greatly that you enjoy sword play so much,” and Keith felt his mouth drop in surprise, as he burst into a fit of hysterical giggles. He could not control his laughter and his shock; no one had ever spoken to him so crudely. Keith was no stranger to double entendres, they were almost expected in any courting situation. However, to use one so rude and bold, was unlike anything he had ever heard before. Keith was certain that if it had been any other man, he would have left him sitting in the room then and there. But with Lance it was different. It always was. 

 

Shiro stood up abruptly, and blew out the candle. “Goodbye, Lance,” he stated firmly. 

 

“I earned that,” grimaced Lance, “But, it was worth it to hear your laugh,” he whispered to Keith before he swept from the room, his tailcoats breezing behind his legs. 

 

“The nerve he has,” Shiro groaned, as he wiped a hand over his face, slumping down in his high back armchair. “He is going to get himself hurt.” 

 

“No, it was perfect,” Keith managed to wheeze out, between his giggles. “I hope one day that he and I may be able to cross sw-” 

 

“Stop,” shouted Shiro, as Keith dissolved into more giggles, sliding off the settee and onto the floor, holding his sides. “Perhaps,” Shiro said slowly, after watching his brother lay spread eagle on the ornate golden carpet, “the pair of you are not that different after all.” 

 

“We never have been,” replied Keith happily, “I believe we share parts of the same soul.” 

 

Shiro gagged, and poked Keith’s side with his boot, “Come on, get up. We have things to do.” 

 

***

 

A week or so passed with more visits from Lance, and Keith could see Shiro’s hesitation to continue the rules he had set up. Once or twice, Keith had noticed the candle go out, only for Shiro to ignore it for two or three minutes. However, Keith also knew that Shiro would not back down first. Shiro clearly thought he was protecting Keith, and whenever Keith pressed further about Shiro’s claims of Lance’s so called scandalous reputation, he refused to divulge any details. Keith could not believe that Lance had done anything untoward in regards to another courtee. Lance was far too kind and considerate to push the limits with anyone, even if Keith desperately wanted Lance to push social boundaries with him.

 

 Keith made his way down the stairs hurriedly one morning, tying back his longer black hair as he went down the dark wooden stairs. He had overslept that day, a result from staying up far too late reading the latest book Lance had recommended to him. He skidded around the corner, almost knocking over an ornate vase that someone ( Shiro, he grumbled internally), had thought to place right in harm’s way. 

 

To his horror, the drawing room’s door was already cracked and he could clearly hear voices coming from within. Lance was already here, meaning that Shiro was absolutely in the room with him, probably antagonizing him. Keith made his way to push open the door when he heard Lance say fiercely, “Shiro, I am serious about him. I have never been more serious in my life, I want to propose and you are making it incredibly difficult.” 

 

Keith came to a standstill, his heart racing. Lance wanted to propose. Lance wanted to propose to him. His stomach erupted into a million butterflies and he felt a shout of excitement climbing through his throat, when Shiro shot back, “You must be joking. I would never let you propose to Keith after I heard what happened with Ms. Nyma.” 

 

Just as quickly as the butterflies had come, Keith felt his heart plummet. Could this be the scandal that Shiro was always hinting at, but never confirming? His thoughts began to whirl; he knew Ms. Nyma, a tall, slender blonde young woman. Keith had always personally thought she had a cruel gleam in her eye, but seeing as how he never interacted with her, he also thought that perhaps he was just being cruel. He crept closer to the door, hovering just outside in the shadows of the hallway.

 

“Nyma,” he heard Lance say, incredulously, “is that what has been keeping Keith and I apart? Nyma?” 

 

“I heard how you abandoned her and left her alone with another suitor,” Shiro shot back, “you ran off with her older sister who was supposed to be chaperoning you both.” Keith felt as if an icy douse of water had just been poured over his head. Lance had abandoned someone he had been courting, for their chaperone, and left them alone with another suitor. He felt as if his legs were jelly, would Lance abandon him that way? He did not know if his heart could take it. 

 

“Nyma abandoned me ,” Lance hissed furiously. “She tied me up to a tree and she and her sister went off to meet other men.” Keith’s gasp was drowned out by Shiro’s own. “When my sister, Veronica found me, hours later, might I add, Nyma and her suitor had already been seen all over town.”

 

“Nyma’s sister left London out of shame,” Shiro said hesitantly. 

 

“No, she did not,” Lance exploded hotly, “she eloped. She’s currently in the town of Bath happily married to the young man who helped Nyma tie me up.” 

 

Shiro fell quiet, and Keith knew that his mind was churning. Lance’s story could easily be confirmed, if Veronica had indeed been the one to find him. But then why- 

 

“But then why did you allow Nyma to say all those awful things,” Shiro questioned, pulling the words right out of Keith’s mind. 

 

Lance sighed, “By the time I was able to pick up the courage to see her again, the young man had already run away and out of fear for her reputation, she spun a story that put the blame on me.” Keith felt his heart pang in sympathy for Lance, it must have been humiliating to have been put through such a tortuous experience. 

 

“She had more to lose than I,” Lance continued, “considering my family’s high position in London, so I just went along with it.” The drawing room was silent and Keith could almost hear the curtains rustling in the breeze from the windows. 

 

“Lance,” Shiro groaned in a familiar tone, Keith had to stifle a laugh. It was the same tone Shiro had always used growing up when Lance had come up with some insane scheme to get them in trouble. “Why didn’t you share this with me, at least?” 

 

“You did not ask,” Lance grumbled, “and I assumed that you assumed the worst of me.” 

 

“Lance, I did not ask because I thought you would tell me what happened! When you did not, I thought you were ashamed,” Shiro cried, clearly shocked. 

 

“Oh,” Lance said, plainly. There was a pause where neither men spoke, and Keith pressed his ear closer to the door to hear. “May I be honest, then,” Lance inquired, after a moment. “Lay everything out on the table?” 

 

“Yes, I believe that would be best,” Shiro replied. 

 

“When you announced that Keith was leaving for his tour, instead of joining the courting season at 18, I was disappointed. However, at the time, I believed it to only be disappointment at losing a friend or a confidant during a stressful time, what with the upcoming courting season. When he left, I felt a part of myself break off and I felt unmoored, and alone,” Lance stated. Keith felt his heart twist, he had felt the same way as well leaving Lance. 

 

“It took the better part of two weeks to realize that I missed Keith, desperately. I missed his sarcastic comments as the three of us spoke of the latest gossip, I missed visiting you and hearing the sounds of him practicing sword fighting in the yard, I missed seeing his face across the crowded rooms of parties and knowing that I could always go and speak with him if things were overwhelming. I just missed him.” 

 

There was a heavy silence, and then Lance spoke again, “From there, it took me 24 hours to realize that I loved him. Every part of him that he had shown me throughout the years, I had loved. And every part of himself that he had shared with me, I cherished, and I wanted nothing more than to write and beg him to return.” 

 

“So, why did you not,” Shiro questioned, quietly, asking the question Keith had been wondering. 

 

“Oh,” Lance scoffed, “You know me, always just, insecure. I thought that there was not a chance in hell that a man like Keith, so confident and bold and chasing after exactly what he wants, would ever choose someone like me.” 

 

“Lance,” Shiro said sympathetically, “You know that-” 

 

“And then,” Lance interrupted, “I thought, what better way to get over Keith, my best friend’s beloved younger brother, than to court someone else? Someone his exact opposite? Someone like Nyma. And well, you know now how that turned out. After that incident, I was so nervous about courting anyone else seriously, that I just flirted, gaining the reputation that you so clearly believed up until now.” 

 

Keith felt his throat tighten a bit, Lance had been through so much while he was away. Keith ached to hold Lance in his arms and to hug him properly, and shield him from people who may hurt him. 

 

“Lance,” Shiro started quietly, “I truly am sorry for doubting you. I should have come to you directly and asked. I just,” he sighed heavily, “You know I just have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Keith. I just know that I am supposed to protect him and look out for him, otherwise he would never do it himself. I am not trying to make excuses, and I will spend as long as you need apologizing for ever doubting you.” 

 

Keith heard nothing for quite some time and peered in to see Shiro and Lance in an embrace, appearing as if all problems had been forgiven. Keith saw Shiro move away and whipped his head back out into the hallway. He was not sure what he was supposed to do now. Did he confess to hearing everything? Did he play innocent? He sat with his back against the wall, trying to quickly contemplate his options, when he heard Lance clear his throat. 

 

“So, now that you know, well everything, can I propose to Keith,” Lance asked, “Or is there something else keeping us apart?” 

 

Keith’s pulse quickened. His mouth felt dry and he felt as if he was standing on the edge of a precipice. He could see so clearly the future he wanted with Lance, being dangled in front of him tantalizingly. If Shiro said no in this moment, Keith knew their only option would be to elope. Or to leave London forever if Lance decided he was not worth the effort, he thought quickly to himself. 

 

Shiro sighed heavily, drawing Keith’s attention back to the drawing room. “Lance, you are my friend, I have known you since you were 14, almost 11 years now. Is it not a bit odd,” Shiro questioned. Keith wanted to scream; of course it was not odd! He and Lance were destined to be together.

 

“I have never thought of it as odd,” Lance replied, “I do have another confession to make, however.” 

 

“Oh, what now,” Shiro moaned. 

 

“No, you will like this one,” Lance said cheerfully, “All those years ago, when I wandered into your front yard to introduce myself, the only reason I came over was because I saw Keith practicing his fencing in the yard and I thought that sword fighting was dashing, like a pirate out of the books I had read growing up.  When he refused to talk to me, I just decided to become your friend instead, so I could eventually learn how to sword fight.” Keith smacked his hand over his mouth to hide his laughter. Lance had always thought Keith was interesting, even from the beginning. 

 

Shiro barked out a laugh, “You are joking,” he cried. 

 

“I most certainly am not,” Lance chuckled, “And I do consider myself to be most lucky, because I earned myself a most wonderful friend through the process.” There was another brief pause before Lance continued, “I do hope we can still be friends, Shiro.” 

 

“You hung around me all these years to get to know my painfully shy, younger brother,” Shiro said in awe. “You truly love him?” 

 

Keith held his breath, chewing on his bottom lip, hoping that Lance would say yes. 

 

“Shiro, if you would allow me to propose to Keith, I would spend each day worshipping the ground he walked on, and spending each night missing him terribly while we slept. There is no one for my heart, but him, for he is my heart. I truly believe that we are either soulmates or half of the same soul, for there is no one with whom I have felt more myself than with him. It would be an honor and a privilege to walk through life with Keith, and I would count myself the luckiest man alive to marry him.” Lance stated fervently. 

 

Tears began to form in Keith’s eyes. He had never heard something so beautiful in his entire life and it was, without a doubt, exactly how he felt about Lance as well. It was all he could do to burst through the doors, and beg Lance to marry him then and there. To kiss him fervently as he had longed to do all these days, sitting so close to Lance. 

 

“I will return,” Shiro said abruptly, and Keith heard him hurry from the room. He wasted little time, springing from his hiding place and tripping into the room. Lance whipped around to face him, his hat held nervously in front of him. 

 

“Keith,” Lance questioned, “what are you-” his eyes widened, almost comically, “what did you hear?” 

 

Keith hurried over to Lance and took both his gloved hand in his own. Lance stiffened in shock and opened his mouth to speak, but Keith beat him to it. “I love you as well,” he said, breathlessly. “Lance, you must know how I feel. I heard everything, and I feel the same.” Keith watched happily, as a beautiful blush bloomed across Lance’s face. 

 

The other door to the drawing room flew open and Keith jumped, trying to pull his hands away out of habit, but Lance held firm. “No, I do not think I will be letting go anytime soon,” he murmured, meeting Keith’s eyes with a beaming smile. 

 

Keith chuckled wetly, feeling his eyes begin to water with happiness. Is this who he was now? Someone who cried tears of joy? Perhaps Lance brought it out in him. He felt like he could stare into Lance’s blue eyes forever, and never tire of it. A throat cleared behind the pair and Keith turned to see Shiro, holding the biggest candle he had ever seen. It must have been as long as Shiro’s forearm and almost half as thick. Keith stared uncomprehendingly at his brother, where had he gotten his hands on a candle so big? He drew a breath to question, when the realization hit him. 

 

“Shiro, do you approve,” Keith said hurriedly, “Do you give your blessing?” 

 

“Yes, obviously,” Shiro grunted, placing the candle on the table near his usual armchair. “You both have until this candle burns out to spend time together.” Keith let out an undignified shout and threw himself at his brother, who caught him easily. 

 

“Thank you, Shiro,” Keith whispered into his brother’s chest, arms wrapping around his neck as if he was a child again.

 

“Of course,” Shiro returned easily, before pushing Keith to an arm’s length distance away and looked him in the eyes. “I am sorry for the pain I caused you,” he said firmly. “I hope one day you can forgive me.” 

 

“If you let Lance propose right now, I will forgive you immediately,” Keith bargained. 

 

Both of the other men let out wheezing noises. “Keith, you cannot just-” Shiro started, when the two brother heard a thumping sound behind them. Keith whipped around to see Lance on one knee. 

 

“Keith,” Lance held out his hand imploringly, and Keith scrambled to take it. This must be a fever dream, maybe he never made it back to London and had swallowed sea water by accident. He stared into Lance’s eyes and saw only a reflection of the love he knew he had for the other man. For the second time that day, Keith felt his own eyes welling with tears. 

 

“I do not have a speech planned,” Lance said slowly, as if his sudden decision was finally catching up with his brain, “but I will spend every day of my life trying to make you as happy as you make me. It would be an honor to do nothing more than to wake up beside you each morning, Keith Kogane, will you please-” 

 

“Yes,” Keith blurted, excitedly. 

 

“Okay, let me ask first,” Lance teased, “You do not know what I am asking.” 

 

“I would do anything you asked, Lance. Surely you know this by now,” Keith whispered, breathlessly. 

 

“Then marry me. That is all I ask,” Lance responded, easily. 

 

“Yes, happily, joyfully,” Keith rushed to get the words out. Lance let out a whoop and wrapped his arms around Keith’s waist, lifting him off the ground in his joy. 

 

“There’s so much to do, my love,” Lance declared, “We have to find a church, get new suits, find flowers, oh, and I must tell my family, they are going to be so excited for us, I promise.” It was all Keith could do to continue nodding along, my love , Lance McClain had called him his love. Lance was still holding Keith aloft, twirling him gently around the room, as Keith laughed into the vaulted ceilings. 

 

Lance could want to get married in a stable and Keith would happily agree. There was nothing that could stop him from marrying this man. His man. His heart. He finally felt his feet touch the floor and Lance pressed his forehead against his. “This is all I have dreamed about since you left for Greece,” he whispered.

 

“This is all I have dreamed about since I was 14, you have some catching up to do,” Keith fired back, excitedly. 

 

Lance beamed, “Yes, I do, and I cannot wait.”