Cover Art provided by fire_juggler.
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Okay, various new cadets, or whatever the lowest level of soldier would be just out of regular training, have been selected to an advanced special ops program. Keith, Lance, Jeff, Sven, Dusty, Wolo, Tangor, Marvin, Hutch, etc., start their journey together as friends and comrades.
First planet they head to is the Moors of Castille, mostly a barren landscape, rocky with little foliage. It has two suns, and though the temperatures are similar to Earth's equator region, the oxygen levels are lower, making breathing more difficult. The recruits begin with twenty kilometer runs. Everyone is panting by the end. *grin* Keith notices that even Lance and Tangor, who've had the highest endurance scores of them all, are breathing hard.
Lance tries to crack a joke about marathon running, ha ha, and Dusty comments back with 'yeah right, you can't 'cause they grounded your ass' meaning the brass upstairs have limited Lance's outside activities b/c he usually gets into trouble. A complete lack of impulse control. So, Lance tries to start an argument, but Keith puts a stop to it b/c he's more serious than the others. He knows Lance will be a problem if he can't learn some restraint and vows to help him.
Second planet is Quasi-Upida, a mix of jungle and swamps, very Dagoba-like, with noxious fumes, poisonous plants, and a great environment for studying chemical warfare, or so their superiors think. Several of them end up with burns and sores on their skin. They complain (loudly) but all soon learn the value of proper physical cover and equipment checks.
From Lance's POV, he starts to admire Keith, who has started demonstrating good leadership abilities. Lance knows he himself doesn't have the patience for it, and he's always been the funster in a group. Is that even a word?? He doesn't know; he doesn't care; it just describes him well. Probably from growing up in such a strict, formal household, his mother a politician and his father a lawyer. Bleh. Not for him!
But Keith is a different story, all serious and focused and purposeful. He doesn't seem to have much joy, and Lance sets off to change that with jokes (haha) and slaps on the back (ouch!) and just general playfulness (cut it out already!). It's after a particularly rough excursion where half the team falls into stinging nettles (intelligent stinging nettles, it should be noted -- vicious little things), that Lance comes to admire (i.e. stare at) his fellow officer Keith.
Keith is asleep, recovering, as Lance thinks, He never cries, never complains. He takes all the training in stride. He's incredibly smart and loves to study. He's always so stern, yet now while he's sleeping on the infirmary's bed, his features are relaxed and he looks .... Lance doesn't want to admit it, but he finally does. He's beautiful.
Third planet is Malloc 3 in the near colonies, fairly well developed with lots of high-technology cities surrounded by vast farming and mining operations. The team is here to learn intelligence gathering, hacking, espionage, and virtual integrated systems.
Keith and Jeff have been chosen for extra leadership training (yay!) which takes them away from the others (boo!) for hours at a time. Keith finds he misses the rest, the friendship and camaraderie, but even more so his thoughts stray to Lance, who was getting better at controlling his emotions when they were out by themselves, but he hasn't worked on holding it in around civilians. Keith keeps worrying how his friend is doing elsewhere in the city.
Turns out that the two kidsters, Marvin and Hutch, did cause a security fracas in Sector D. Sven did some quick damage control and Dusty provided getaway cover. But what was most surprising to Keith was Lance's ability to sweet talk his way through the blunder. He would never have that kind of easy attitude. Keith found his gaze straying to Lance more and more. The man was handsome -- they all were -- but Lance's happy smile made his breath stop.
Fourth planet is ................ wait for it .................... NOT a planet. That's right; they actually are in the asteroid belt in the Delta Cepheus RU-2443 star system, working on anti-gravity lessons and deep space fighter combat. Lance excels at that. 'Woohoo, 49th kill today, gentlemen!' *high-fives over the speakers* He finds utter contentment in the cockpit, joy and adrenaline radiating from every pore, much to the amazement and consternation of everyone else. His rashness comes through, but it always seems to benefit him in the end (sound of superior's heart stopping not-withstanding).
He's still watching Keith, who seems more at peace out in the quiet of stars than he ever had planet-side. Lance longs to bring more comfort to their relationship, but he knows Keith is going to be promoted to be their commander soon (and if he isn't, then some brass is going to find Lance's foot in his groin) and that will end any possibility of a 'friends with benefits' plan, for the higher ups frown on fraternization between ranks.
He glances. He stares. He fantasizes about running his hands through that shiny, black hair. He thinks he catches glances back from Keith, yet the look is gone a moment later and Lance can't be sure. So then he sighs (uhhh) and turns away. :(
Until one day they are floating in the cargo bay and the typical hands touch when reaching for the same tool. They each stammer an apology ('I'm sorry.)(No, I'm sorry, you need it more.) and then get to just staring at each other openly. They move closer together. Lance pulls Keith in. Music swells. Their lips are a breath away.... Then in clatters Sven, ruining the moment, and they don't speak of it for days. Or weeks. Or months, whatever. Stupid boys. Just get on with it!
So they land on the fifth planet, their final training ground, and this is a bit different. Keith and Jeff have indeed been promoted to Commander, while all the others have graduated to Lieutenant status as befitting their advanced training. The team as a whole is on a real assignment, not terribly dangerous -- not against the Drule Empire itself or anything like that -- but they are to take down an operation of a lesser known renegade team hailing from Norma, a mid-sized planet with atmosphere similar to Earth's, a stronger gravity, and colder temperatures.
They spend weeks evaluating the land and gathering data on the enemy. Plans are proposed, hashed-out, briefed. Equipment is bought, tested and inspected. Blah blah blah. They covertly move in, take up positions, go to take the bad guys out, and of course everything gets fubarred. Gun fights break out (bang! bang!). Things explode (ka-boom!). Teammates get shot (Ahhhh! Fuck, man, that hurts!) and one, Dusty, dies. :(......
Lance becomes furious >:( , and Keith knows this will end badly if Lance allows himself to lose control, a control that Keith has worked so hard to instill in him. Time is short and he doesn't want to lose the one thing that has been a bright spot in his life. So he calls upon the one solution he is sure will work. 'Lance, don't do this. I don't want to lose you,' then kisses him. (Yay! Everybody cheer!)(It's about damn time; even they agree.) It's a beautiful kiss, if a bit sloppy for a first time, but their whole beings go into it, and that's what really counts.
They disengage from the kiss, and Keith is all 'Wow' and Lance is 'But the rules, I didn't think you'd ever break one' and Keith is 'I'd do it for you' and that's such an Awwwww moment. :D
Then Lance will say 'What are we going to tell the others?' and Keith will return 'Tell them to retreat and regroup in the north passage. I'm going to set a diversion.' And they both know that wasn't what Lance was asking, but will deal with it later, once everyone else is back at headquarters and bandaged up.
Upon returning from the mission, Lance is fully prepared to sit and talk rationally -- boy, Keith must have been rubbing off on him -- but Keith, being the up-and-coming leader, takes charge of the opportunity and dives in lips first. Lance must have been rubbing off on him as well.
Together they will learn to navigate this new shaky trajectory.