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Carpe Diems and Chrysanthemums

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They say that the captain stays fast with the ship through still and storm.
But this ain't the Dakota, and the water is cold.
We won't have to fight for long.
This is the end.

(Brand New – Play Crack the Sky)


 

 

The day that the seeds rooted themselves deep within Lance’s lungs was, under every other circumstance, quite un-extraordinary.

He’s sitting in the student union building, laptop dimly lit in front of him and two abnormally large textbooks opened uselessly around him, streaks of highlights across their pages with no sense of purpose or direction. The rest of the gang is within proximity; Hunk vibrates nervously next to him, chewing through the third pen cap of the evening, muttering silent curses to himself as he scans his own textbook; Pidge slouches into the couch across from him, barely peeking out above their laptop screen; and Shiro and Allura study quietly at a table not too far away, playing footsies when they think no one is looking. The afternoon sun that gleams into the room mixes with the fluorescent lighting and blurs the lines between reality and sleep-deprived madness, and multiple students cradle their coffee close to their lips despite the liveliness of the blue sky, the bustling students on their way to class. To Lance, nothing about this scene is abnormal; and as he scans the room and examines his friends, he can feel his eyelids weighing down under the desperate need for a nap as he yawns.

It happens right under his nose, quiet as a thief shrouded by the blissful daze of love, as his half-lidded eyes graze across the distant form of Keith.

He’s cradled on the windowsill, one leg dangling lazily to the ground, staring at something Lance can’t quite make out. His jacket is discarded near his perched foot, leaving him only in his typically bland black tee. The sun is angled just right to cast an angelic illumination across his high cheekbones, his messy hair, the volume of his stupidly-defined muscles – and on top of it all, Lance sees the edge of a lingering smile, the kind he knows Keith only shows when he’s sure no one is around, and Lance can’t help but wonder if his eyes match that smile, wide and violet and undoubtedly commanding in their presence, at that moment looking at something that most definitely wasn’t Lance.

Lance wonders what it would be like for those eyes to look at him, wearing that same smile. He wonders if there was any possibility under the sun that maybe, someday, he can do something to give Keith the happiness he must undoubtedly feel in this moment.

Something blooms within Lance’s chest, and it feels a little too physical, because Lance wonders if he’s worn his binder for too long. He takes a moment to adjust it, and when that tight feeling refuses to leave, he notes to himself to take a day off from binding tomorrow and begrudgingly leans back over his textbooks.

When, a half hour later, Keith walks over from his perch and flick Lance’s ear with a smile, the first blossom appears.

 


 

They say children of Aphrodite are more susceptible to Hanahaki Disease; for their love knows no bounds, all doe-eyed and pursed, reddened lips full of compliments and adoration, unable to keep their hearts from bursting for those who catch their eye. To be a child of Aphrodite is to be full of a love that permeates your every nerve, flaring up and lighting fireworks in your eyes at the smallest hint of reciprocation. These hopeless children flirt with hundreds but only have eyes for one, waiting in the dark for a love that will never come.

From the outside, the children of Aphrodite look beautiful and glamourous; but those outsiders do not see the tragedy trapped inside these children. Inside their hearts are confessions unspoken, tears that refuse to be shed, and a love that wants to burn so brilliantly that it threatens to consume their souls without regret. It simmers under the skin, waiting impatiently, until the love becomes too much to bear and it needs to find an outlet before they burn alive.

With nowhere to go, that love plants itself in the lungs, choosing instead to consume their physical bodies, a damnation for falling for those that will never love them back.

Of course, Lance McClain, self-proclaimed modern reincarnation of the love goddess, knows absolutely none of this.

When his chest pains refuse to let up after two days, despite his lack of wearing a binder, he popped two more pills into his mouth and slept through his first class, hoping that all he needed was some well-deserved sleep and a break from Dr. Coran’s endless ramblings before he was back to his normal self.

It doesn’t go away. It never does, and eventually it becomes a part of Lance’s existence, a dull ache in his chest that feels just a little too real.

 


 

I've tried painting from the inside out,
But I've done nothing that I can shout about.

Should I give in?

(Yuck – Rubber)


 

“So if I wanted to say ‘I give him a present’, I would say-“

Le doy un regalo.”

“You were supposed to let me answer that, Lance.” Keith stares at him, seemingly unamused, but Lance notices the coy smile that surfaces on the corners of his mouth and he feels his heart thump, hard.

“Whoops,” Lance purrs, not at all sorry, leaning forward just enough to brush his shoulder against Keith’s. “Guess I just wanted to show off.”

“Show off some other time when I don’t have a test tomorrow,” Keith shoves his shoulder back, and if the tip of his ears are glowing red, Lance is too oblivious to notice. “Now if I wanted to say, ‘she wants to hug me’—“

He goes silent as he begins working through his translation on the paper, leaving Lance to stare at the mop of hair awkwardly hunched over the desk, way too tense for a Spanish 1 test. It’s amusing to Lance that one of the top-ranking astrophysics students at the Garrison can be so easily trumped by direct pronouns.

Keith puts his pencil down and glances over to Lance uneasily. “So would it be, Ella quiere me abrazar?”

Lance wants to chuckle at the butchered, much-too-sharp pronunciation that Keith has, but he bites his tongue, well aware of just how hard it is for Keith to admit when he needs help.

“Close,” Lance humms, and he jumps back in before Keith’s face becomes too crestfallen, before it hurts just a little too much in the cavity of his chest. “Abrazar isn’t conjugated, so the pronoun gets attached to the end of the verb.” He draws an arrow from the pronoun to the end of the verb to accentuate his point. “Ella quiere abrazarme. See? Not so bad once you get the hang of it.”

He can feel Keith begin to simmer at his side, gripping his pencil tight enough that it threatens to snap. “Yeah. Sure. Not so bad once you get the hang of it.” He turns his head away and ducks into himself, and something twists within Lance’s chest, edging up the inner curve of his throat, a kind of itching pain that seems to appear whenever Keith gets that discouraged look on his face. Lance swallows hard.

“Bet you can’t beat me at a game of Smash Bros.”

When Keith turns back towards Lance, he sees him sitting with crossed arms, cocky grin well worn, eyebrow raised in tandem with his dare.

“What are you talking about?”

Lance scoffs, reaching up to readjust his snapback to get that prime douche appeal. “You know. That game we used to play all the time where I kick your ass with Kirby, and you whine about me cheating. That game.” He grins just to bait Keith a little more.

And predictably, Keith bites, hard, already putting his pencil down. “You do cheat, asshole! Swallowing me up and then falling off the stage doesn’t count as a legitimate kill!”

“Well the KO count seems to disagree with you, pretty boy.” Lance scoots his chair back defiantly and makes a show of stretching his long legs. “Besides, you play Sheik, and everybody knows playing Sheik is cheap as hell.”

“They wouldn’t put her in the game if she was unbalanced!” Keith’s chair shoots back, and he stands strong, fists clenched tight. Then, he bends down so he’s eye-to-eye with Lance, and Lance can see the blaze of competition resting in his irises, mixed with a dash of mischievousness that makes his heart palpitate in a bizarre, frighteningly wonderful way; a way that makes his toes feel light and his body feel numb, that makes his vision go blurry and his hands go clammy.

“You’re on, pretty boy.”

Lance grins back, all weak-kneed and sweaty, before the itch in the back of his throat becomes too much and a cough forces itself out.

He keeps coughing lightly all throughout their game of Smash Bros., and when he finally heads home for the night and allows himself to cough hard into his fist, a lone, violet pedal appears in his palm.

Lance notes that it matches the color of Keith’s eyes perfectly.

 


 

 

The internet is surprisingly receptive when Lance googles ‘why the fuck did I just cough up a flower petal, oh my god!?!?!gg!dw??”. From various forums-that-may-or-may-not-be-legitimate, Lance learns four things:

  1. He most likely has Hanahaki Disease, an incredibly rare disease that has no known scientific origin.
  2. The disease sprouts from unrequited love, where flowers began to bloom in the infected’s lungs and continue to spread until the infected dies.
  3. If detected before blossoming, it is possible to take pills to stall the disease’s process.
  4. There are only two known cures; for the infected’s love to be returned, or by surgical removal of the flowers, causing the infected’s memory of the person they loved to be destroyed forever.

His immediate reaction is to completely forget that he ever read any of this and to ignore the problem until it eventually goes away, like he does with most problems in his life. For two weeks, it works relatively well; midterms are coming up, and Keith’s isolative nature when he gets stressed kicks into high gear, allowing Lance some reprieve from the entire situation. Yet, Lance still feels it festering in his chest, especially when he feels that pang of loneliness, when he misses Keith’s bittersweet laughter over his own failure in basic Spanish grammar, or when he rolls his eyes (but Lance can tell he genuinely loves it) whenever Lance does something incredibly stupid. It’s in those moments that he can physically feel the vines twisting up his throat, the petals lying dormant at the bottom of his lungs, just waiting to eat him alive, waiting to strike when he’s unprepared and ready to fall in love all over again.

Lance sits in his apartment’s shitty living room, surrounded by white Christmas lights and empty Cheetos bags, staring at the blots on his white ceiling as if they were galaxies ready to be mapped by his own celestial eyes. A chill runs up his spine and he chances a glance away from the stars and down to his fingers. Two lone, violet petals sit in his right palm, and he swirls them in his hand just like his thoughts do in his own mind, endless and begging to be answered when no clear answer exists.

Should he tell Keith? Is there even a chance that Keith will like him back?

His mind jumps to the same, automatic conclusion it does every time he thinks about this – no, there’s no way in hell that Keith would ever see anything in him that he couldn’t see in anyone else, stop fooling yourself you idiot. Hunk always told him to stop putting himself down so much, back when Keith was just a mere flicker of a crush in the grand scheme of things, and Lance found it much easier to buy into the lie back then, when his biggest worries were failing Gen Chem and having another date stand him up for coffee.

Things were different now. It was too late for him to even consider the pills. Now, he was so head over heels, he could possibly die.

Was it worth it, living with this pain? Should he just get the surgery and forget this all ever happened?

He surges forward with clammy hands, letting the petals fall to the carpet as he grasps his temples with his palms. What would that mean, to forget Keith? Forever?

The forums weren’t very helpful in this part – of course, anyone who actually got the surgery couldn’t exactly remember what things were like before, so they couldn’t say how things were different. And to be honest, that scared Lance. How could he just forget Keith like that? How could he act like nothing ever happened?

The gods were asking him to give up every single happy memory he had with Keith in exchange for a potentially bland life with more rejection, more Gen Chem, and more unfulfilling emptiness.

Lance remembers first meeting the boy in the cobalt red jacket, strutting into his high school literature class like he was hot shit, and god, Lance wanted to put him in his damn place. He should have known, back then, that he was the moth barreling head-first into Keith’s wild flame. But he didn’t, and he blissfully ignored the warm buzz under his skin whenever Keith rose to his challenge, whenever Keith rejected the title of ‘rival’ with a scoff yet simmered in place whenever Lance beat him at something as simple as making the better paperclip necklace.

He really, really should have known. But he didn’t, and here he was, vines twisting up his throat, taunting him with the love he could never have.

And as he sat there on his couch, legs kicked up on the table, sipping his Red Bull as if it wasn’t 3AM in the morning and like he didn’t have class the next morning at 9 – Lance made a decision.

Lance McClain wasn’t going to let himself ever forget Keith. He was going to fall on his own sword and treasure every moment he had from now on, knowing he had lived a life full of love and happiness.

Lance McClain was going to die, and that was ok.

It was all ok.

 


 

Always thought I knew the song;
I'd just memorized the words
But truth grew through like a bramble weed
Ripped up what I thought was me…
I remember lying there, learning a joy that thrived in grief
Thinking about a garden I left…
Where there was nothing hiding you from me...

(Adjy – Another Flammarion Woodcut)


 

 

A lot of things changed after that moment.

He stopped actively avoiding Keith, who seemed just as relieved by his recurring presence. The first time they saw each other after two weeks of self-imposed purgatory, instead of lashing out with something like ‘welcome back, asshole’, Lance could have sworn he saw some sort of flicker in his eyes, and the snappy comment was replaced with a god-blessed smile, flushed cheeks stretching wide with a silent welcome. It was enough to make Lance reach out and hug him without thought, and when those muscled arms wrapped around him, he could feel the bell toll once more for him, a thousand blossoms going off all at once in his lungs.

He started calling his family more often. They were everything to him, even if they were hundreds of miles away, back in Florida where the sun was undoubtedly keeping them warm, even as he sat in his kitchen in snow-boots and five too many layers for any human to wear. His mama would always answer first, scolding him for not calling as much (even if had been picking up the slack recently); then papa, who scolded him equally for not having the kinds of grades ‘he knows his genius son should have’; then to his older siblings, Yuma and Daniel, and to his younger siblings, Penelope and Anabel and Ricardo, each yelling about how they missed him and how they hope college is going well, making Lance’s heart swell with pride. More than ever, Lance lived for these moments, because he knew that any day now he would soon be gone. It was that thought that may or may not have caused him to shed a tear every time he hung up the phone.

His homework (and, consequentially, grades) fell by the wayside so he could have more time to hang out with his friends. They obviously noticed – with Shiro and Hunk expressing the most concern and Pidge expressing the most eye-rolling disdain – but really, what do grades matter if you’re not going to live long enough to use your college degree anymore? Lance would consider dropping out, but he was here on a full ride, and more time in college meant more time with Keith, so.

He didn’t tell anybody about the disease. There was no point – why worry everyone over his condition when he could spend his last moments laughing and enjoying life with them? Besides, if he told anyone, he was sure they would encourage him to get the surgery. And really, Lance couldn’t find it in him to remove such a drastic part of his life.

So like everything in his life, he bottled it up, let it fester inside of him until it eventually killed him. How symbolic for Lance, to die because he was too scared to show the world what was really going on inside of his mind, heart, and spirit.

 


 

 

Lance sits at the desk, tapping his pen impatiently against the scratched surface, running a hand through his unkempt hair.

“You know that new motorcycle you’ve been eyeing for a while?”

Keith looks up from his own desk, a curious stare pointed at Lance. “The new Hybrid? Yeah, what about it?”

“Why don’t we go down to the lot and check it out?” Lance has already pushed himself back from his desk, stretching his arms wide. “We’ll say we’re interested in buying it and give it a test ride. I know you’ve been dying to try it out yourself.”

“Lance.” Keith sounds exasperated, tapping his foot a little too harshly against the library’s decades-old carpet. “We have that astrophysics test tomorrow, we don’t have the time for this-“

“Oh come on.” A purr warms the crest of Keith’s ear, and he turns to see Lance there, bent over with a cheeky grin, dangling his keys in the air. “It’ll just be one ride. We’ve been studying for what, two hours now? Everybody needs a break.”

Lance can physically see the resolve cracking on Keith’s face. “But we have to-“

“Whatever we have to do can wait an hour or so.” Lance leans in just an inch closer, just enough that all he can see are the violet hues struck across Keith’s pupils. “You know what the cool kids say – YOLO. And we are gonna YOLO it the hell up.”

“Don’t you dare utter that phrase in front of me ever again, Lance.”

“And I never will if you go on this ride with me.” He dangles the keys again for emphasis. “I’m doing this for your own benefit, ok? Riding down the streets, wind in your hair, passing every car on the highway-“

“Let’s go.” Just like that, Keith’s grabbing his coat from the back of his chair and is already stomping towards the parking lot, barely chancing a glance back to Lance. “Like you said, just one ride.”

Lance smirks to himself and stares at the back of Keith’s head for a heartbeat too long before he finds himself coughing up petals. They’re in his pocket a moment later, unseen by Keith, as he follows him down to his decades-old, half-broken Corolla.

 

One ride turns into three, and Keith howls with the frigid wind as they weave between cars, high on adrenaline. Lance whoops right along, arms wrapped just above Keith’s waist, finding solace in Keith’s radiant body heat. When Keith gets caught up in the speed, Lance takes the chance and gently places his chin right on Keith’s shoulder, frost-tipped ears brushing against each other in the numb wind. Keith doesn’t notice, or more likely doesn’t care; but either way, Lance feels alive, gripping onto the mysterious-but-kind boy that has caught his heart like a firefly in a jar.

He doesn’t care when the lot owner shouts at them for going over their time, nor does he care when he and Keith run away the moment ‘sale’ comes into the conversation; all he cares about is that feeling of Keith’s back against his chest, his hair against Lance’s ear, and his thudding heart against Lance’s own.

Lance excuses himself early from their study session so he can go cough up blossoms, holding the memories close as the petals fall out of his mouth.

 


 

 

“Something’s changed, hasn’t it?”

Lance laughs at the statement, no sincerity to his tone, as he continues to eat his scrambled eggs at their shanty dinner table. “Has something changed? As far as I’m concerned, I’m still a broke, trans man of color, attending one of the whitest schools in the nation-“

“Can you take anything I ask seriously?” Hunk groans as he scrapes his spatula under the fried egg, moving it onto his own plate.

“Only if you say please.”

Hunk moves to sit across from Lance, a small pout painted on his face. “Please tell me if something has changed and if I should be concerned about your general wellbeing.”

“Well, when you put it like that, how can I not take it seriously?” He chuckles at his own statement, but turns serious once he thinks about it, pursing his lips into stone. “I guess something might’ve changed, yeah.”

“Is it Keith?” As always, Hunk strikes gold on Lance’s emotional wellbeing, causing Lance to stiffen.

“It’s totally Keith, isn’t it.” At the lack of witty comment, Hunk leans in closer, observing his friend with concern. “Listen man, you’ve made googly eyes at him before, but you’ve taken it to a whole other level recently, it almost makes me wanna fall for him-“

“Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever,” Lance waves him off, grumbling into his own forkful of scrambled eggs. And then, weakly; “I don’t fawn over him that much.”

Hunk shoots him a glare so disbelieving of his shit that Lance sinks into his shoulders, quietly scooping more eggs into his mouth.

“Listen.” The genuine-ness that warms Hunk’s voice makes Lance look up, and he sees a Hunk with his eyebrows creased, pensive and concerned. “I know how you get when you really like someone, yeah? It’s like….you almost change into a whole different person. You would probably throw yourself off of a cliff if they so much as mentioned the idea. I guess I just….”

Hunk fiddles with his thumbs, surprisingly lost for words. “Keith is a great guy. And I think you guys would have the greatest babies ever, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t want you to lose yourself in this entire thing, ok?” He quirks his head a bit and scratches his chin. “I don’t want to lose the Lance McClain I know and love just because he’s got a huge crush on someone.”

At the low, heart-breaking tone that Hunk takes on, Lance reconsiders this whole ‘I-will-die-for-Keith’ thing. Is he throwing himself over the metaphorical cliff here? Is he just throwing his life away over some stupid crush?

No, his mind interjects, it’s nothing like that. He thinks back to his crushes of the past – Allura, Nyma, even Shiro and Hunk at some point or another. He liked them all, yeah, and maybe he was a little overdramatic and willing to throw himself in front of a moving truck for them, but this thing with Keith truly felt different.

And really, he couldn’t pinpoint why. It’s not like he was any nicer to Lance than the others (except for Nyma, maybe, the cheater) – more the opposite, calling Lance an ‘idiotic asshole’ more times than he could remember with a shit-eating sneer. Nor was he any more attractive than the other candidates (have you seen Hunk when he hits the gym? Lord almighty). He’d forget to shower sometimes, and his hair was grimy and weirdly long in the back. His jacket and fingerless gloves were equally tacky and useless, and he was an angry, impulsive mess of a human being. Said anger issues almost led to him getting expelled twice in the last year alone. To top it all off, he preferred vanilla ice cream to chocolate chip cookie dough, which, what kind of heathen would ever think such evil thoughts.

But now that he thought about it – maybe that was why he was so attracted to Keith. Keith had flaws. Keith got angry and got shitty haircuts and flew off the handle whenever someone told him to fuck off. Keith sucked at Spanish and wasn’t good at giving compliments and hated wearing the Halloween costumes that Lance would force him into. He wasn’t like Allura, with her goddess-esque appearance and admirable leadership qualities, or Shiro, with his amazing physique and calm demeanor. He was just Keith – beautiful, flawed, passionate, and ready to put everything he had into the things he cared about.

It was just enough to make Lance realize that yes, he would give anything for the dumb, mullet-haired boy in a tacky red jacket and fingerless gloves.

Even his life.

 

 

Hunk pokes him with his fork, drawing his attention back to the table. “Earth to Lance? Got stuck thinking about Keith’s cute face again?”

 If only Hunk knew. “Yeah, you know me,” Lance chuckles, grinning with a mouthful of eggs. “I can’t stop thinking about how sexy that greasy mullet is, makes me just wanna dig my fingers into it and-“

“Please stop saying anything forever until the end of time.” And with that, Hunk left their tiny dining table, electing to eat his fried egg in his room in peace.

Lance slouched back into the wooden chair, allowing himself to relish in it all – the feeling of his binder, the blossoms in his chest, the flush in his cheeks because yeah, he totally was thinking about Keith’s cute face again.

The death knoll was upon him, but he had not a care in the world, because it was through death that he was truly feeling alive.

 


 

Everyone's a building burning 
with no one to put the fire out. 
Standing at the window looking out, 
waiting for time to burn us down. 
Everyone's an ocean drowning 
with no one really to show how. 
They might get a little better air 
if they turned themselves into a cloud.

(Modest Mouse – Blame it on the Tetons)


 

 

Christmas is coming up and Lance is two days away from headed home, fresh from the hellhole that was finals, battered and bruised but somehow barely alive. His friends are in the same state; Hunk’s itching to go back to the warmth of Hawaii, Shiro’s ready to cross-country road trip with Pidge for Christmas with the joint Holt-Shirogane family, and Allura’s spending her holidays with Professor Coran, who was always willing to take in international students who were alone for the seasonal festivities.

Keith, however, is going to stay on campus. All alone, in his apartment single, without a Christmas tree and without any presents to his name.

And well, Lance couldn’t leave him in such a sorry state.

So he invited the mopey boy over to make a gingerbread house, because they were on sale at the bargain store and really, who the hell doesn’t like making gingerbread houses? Lance even splurged on real M&Ms, because he was thoughtful like that.

But of course, because Keith and Lance were both involved, nothing went as planned.      

“How did you get frosting in your hair???” Keith yelped, looking at Lance with a dumbfounded face as Lance struggled with combing the sticky substance out of his locks. “I didn’t even manage to do that, and my hair’s longer than yours!”

“You’re not helping!” Lance screeched back, watching in horror as his combing efforts only made the problem infinitely worse. “And you don’t get to judge when you managed to break the roof off of the house!”

“I wasn’t expecting the gingerbread to be that fragile!” Panicked, Keith runs over to the sink and forces the hot water on, waiting impatiently as the temperature crawls from a freezing cold to an unsatisfying lukewarm-ness. “Get your head over here, dumbass, the hot water will rinse the frosting right out!”

An indignant gasp escapes Lance as he puts a hand right over his heart. “You want to put my hair under tap water?!?!? The gall, Keith, that stuff is unfiltered-“

“Just—“ Lance get whiplash from the yank of Keith’s hand, shoving his head straight under the flowing water that’s steadily gaining heat. “Y-ybbou cawn’t joust-tgjis is TORTURE, KEITH-“

“Torture is having to deal with you all the time,” Keith snides, quickly rubbing the frosted strands of Lance’s hair with a washcloth. His elbow held Lance down in between his shoulder blades, giggling a little as the thinner boy squirmed under his grip.

Once he was thoroughly satisfied with the job, Keith let go and shut the water off, watching as Lance recoiled with heaving breaths and a wet dog-like attitude, dripping bangs and all.

“That was horrible,” Lance grumbles as he heads around the counter towards the bathroom, looking for a proper towel to rinse himself off. “Awful, horrendous, abominable, dreadful-“

“If I hadn’t done it, you would’ve stood here for fifteen minutes whining about how ruined your hair was.”

The apartment goes silent, aside from the small sound of Lance opening the bathroom cabinet. “My hair’s still ruined.”

And Keith, unable to help himself, smiles slyly. “I’m sure your fancy hair products will fix it right up. Now come on, we’ve got a gingerbread house to destroy.”

 

 

Although Lance was peeved at Keith’s choice of words (“we’re not destroying the house, we are building it for a nice gingerbread family!”), in the end, destruction was the only word applicable for what they had done; the roof was shattered into pieces, crumpling in itself, as the sloppily-frosted walls caved in, haphazardly decorated with package-brand gummy drops and occasional red and green M&Ms. (They ended up eating most of them.) A gingerbread reindeer stood by itself near the house, the frosting making it look like it was terrified (while wearing a cute little bow tie – Lance had insisted it was a fancy reindeer). Gumdrops and candy canes were scattered across the ‘lawn’, with two canes broken at the top because Keith couldn’t resist the cinnamon kind.

It was an ugly, festering mess, the kind that would make any mother turn their children away in horror, covering their eyes and praying to God that such a thing would be burned.

It was perfect for Lance and Keith.

“Wow,” Lance breathed, in mock awe, shoulder-to-shoulder with Keith and a towel around his neck, observing the house with amusement. “This is, by far, the worst gingerbread house I have ever made.”

“Don’t act like you don’t like it.” Keith side-eyes him, mischievous grin in place, making Lance feel all warm and tingly. “This is perfect, and you know it.”

“Hmmmmmmm.” Lance taps a finger against his chin, half-considering the idea. “I guess it could grow on me, possibly, maybe.”

Keith makes a non-committal noise, but in the corner of his eye, Lance can see just how content Keith is. He can already feel the itch in the back of his throat, the need to cough, but he bites his lip and forces it down, needing to relish in this moment with Keith. Needing to make this whole thing worthwhile.

Speaking of which—

“Oh!” Lance holds up a finger, signaling for Keith to stay put, and moves towards the closet. “I almost forgot. I got you something!” He gets down on his knees and digs through the piles of shoes, trying to find where he placed the present.

“Got me something?” Keith echoes, confused enough that Lance feels his heart break all over again, forcing him to remember just how few presents Keith has gotten in his lifetime. “Like, for Christmas? Lance, you really didn’t have to-“

“Oh shush.” Lance continues to dig, gradually growing frustrated, before he eventually finds the present, wrapped and crinkled present near the back of the closet. “It’s Christmas, and you’re Keith. You deserve a present more than anybody, in my humble opinion.”

Lance can feel the silence deep in his bones, and for a moment, he wonders if he accidentally crossed some unknown line, made Keith feel uncomfortable in his eagerness to treat him to a true Christmas. The present slips from his hands as he turns and sees Keith’s downturned face, chewing on his lip nervously, and Lance’s heart sinks. “Listen, Keith, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, you don’t have to take the present if you don’t want-“

“No! I uh, no, that’s not it, I, um.” Keith looks positively flustered, blushing and avoiding all eye contact, but still waving his hands frantically in Lance’s direction. “I just – I’m not used to this, I don’t know how to act. I……wasn’t expecting it. I really don’t know what to say.”

Lance feels unburdened, and he smiles as he stands up, present in hand, and strides over to Keith. “You don’t have to say anything, buddy. Just open the present. It’s not a big deal, really, I just wanted to remind you that….” And Lance mirrors Keith, all blushy and avoidant, staring at the floor like it was his new best friend. “That even though you don’t have anyone to go home to for Christmas, you’ve always got a home here, on campus, you know….you’re not alone at all.”

A heartbeat of silence. Then two. Then three.

“Lance…..”

They stand still, mirrored and flushed, refusing to make eye contact but desperately wanting to. When the awkwardness becomes too much to bear, Lance shoves the present into Keith, turning his head away.

“You haven’t even opened my present yet! Here! Open it!” His hands turn clammy as he waits for Keith to grab the present. And he does, with thin, tentative fingers, staring at the present like it was the most magnificent thing in the world.

And that thought crosses Lance’s mind again – I wonder what it would be like for him to look at me like that – before he feels the itching in his throat again and he shoves the thought back down into his subconscious, swallowing hard.

The tearing of dollar-store wrapping paper warms his ears as he watches Keith open the present with reckless abandon. Even if Keith hadn’t opened many presents before, he sure know how to do it right – as loudly and crazily as possible, ripping apart as much of the thin, colorful paper as you can get your hands onto, with the gleeful adolescence of a child. (And considering how few presents Keith had ever opened, Lance know just how genuine that glee was.)

When the paper has all fallen to the ground, Keith holds his present up, letting it unfold itself in front of him.

“Is this…..” Keith starts, tepid and unsure, still staring at the gift with curiosity, “Is this a sweater?”

“Yeah!” Lance wrings his hands together, suddenly nervous again. “Money was pretty tight this year, you know, so I couldn’t afford to get you anything super fancy, but I know how to knit pretty well, so I figured I could make you something? And I mean, I’ve never actually seen you wear a sweater before, but why not start now? Of course, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to-“

The words stop tumbling out of his mouth when he realizes that Keith isn’t paying attention at all, still starstruck by the gift before him.

“You…..” Keith starts, then stops; then starts again, “You made this?”

In that moment, Lance can see the way the bangs fall cautiously in front of Keith’s face, the way his eyes turn wide and doe-like with wonder when he is amazed, and god, it hurts in his lungs, but he can’t help but love it, loves the pain intertwined with the love he feels so deeply in his chest.

“I did!” Lance circles the sweater and leans in close to Keith, sticking a pointer finger out towards the sweater. “And I made it super personalized, see – in the middle I put a big picture of Red, since I know you love your cat so much, and I put a bunch of knives across the bottom because you’re super weird and really love your knives, and I put some reindeer here because what’s a Christmas sweater without something Chistmas-themed-“

“How long did this take you?” Keith’s gaze has turned from the sweater to Lance, stabbing him straight in the lungs.

He allows a small cough into his fist and shoves the petal that forms into his pocket. “A couple days, probably? I lost track, sorta, I made it while watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model so I can’t really remember-“

“This is…..this is amazing Lance. I can’t….I don’t know what to say.” His arms slump and the sweater goes down with them, head turned downward. “I didn’t even get you anything. God.”

“Heeeeeeey,” Lance swooped in, throwing an arm around Keith’s shoulders. “Don’t even worry about it in the slightest, alright? I don’t need any gifts to have a great time. Besides, last time you gave me a gift, it consisted of shoving me under the sink and near-drowning me, so I think I’m good on the gift giving for now.” He beams at Keith, urgently trying to show him that everything was ok, but he bites back only slightly, turning to Lance with a crestfallen frown.

“I wish I got you something though. I’ve just never gotten anyone anything for Christmas, because I’ve never really had anyone to give anything to….I’m not used to this. This is so….”

And Lance can tell Keith is feeling overwhelmed, because he’s about two seconds away from shutting himself off from the world, and Lance won’t have any of that.

“You wanna know what you can give me?” Lance moves away from Keith and throws himself on the couch, fuzzy socks dangling in the air. “Come and watch Guardians of the Galaxy with me. It’s got space and aliens and shit, I know you’ll love it.”

Keith almost wants to reject the offer, feeling like it was a cop-out, but he sees the puppy-dog eyes that Lance is smoldering him with and he can’t help but give in. “Alright, fine, but you better not eat all of my muddy buddies this time, or else I swear to God I will kick you in the nuts.”

Lance snorts, feigning a look of fear, before warming up to the feel of Keith slouching into the couch next to him.

“Alright weirdo, whatever you say.”

 


 

Change your way of limping around the world

‘Cause you know what will come soon

A real broken leg

And you this will come true

You cannot get away

(Mount Eerie – Grave Robbers)


 

 

Christmas at the McClain house is a chaotic, Herculean mess of presents, ornament painting, popcorn stringing, TV Christmas specials, and peppermint hot cocoa (which Lance may or may not have spiked, now that he was of age). The Florida sun is an unfortunate buzzkill compared to the constant state of snow in the North, and a younger version of Lance would’ve wished for white Christmases and warm, tacky sweaters surrounding a warm, stocking-hung hearth. Now, however, he’s grown to love it – Lance couldn’t imagine a better way to spend Christmas than at the beach with your siblings, showing off his surfing skills and shoving their faces into sloppy sandcastles when they whined about how bad he was at making them. (He’s a physics major, not an art major, sheesh.)

He can’t help it when his mind wanders to Keith, whose likely sitting alone in his hazy, grey apartment, sipping black coffee and watching the snow fall out of his window as he tries to pretend that today isn’t any different than the others.  It’s a bitter thought. Lance wants to brush it all away and relish in these precious moments with his family, but then his lungs act up on their own and he’s coughing petals with purple irises and god, he misses Keith.

Lance wonders if Keith’s wearing his sweater that day, smiling to himself as he sips that stupidly bitter coffee, remembering that he really does have a home with Lance and everyone else.

It takes all that he has not to cough up an entire bud right then and there on the beach.

His family’s concerned, yeah, because Lance may be reckless at times but never about his personal health, but Lance just reassures them that it’s a lingering cold from school, nothing more, don’t worry, I’ll be fine.

And he will be, really. Everything’s going to be fine.

It’s the pill that he forces himself to swallow as his parents drive him to the airport, his face soaked in tears and his mom cradling his face, murmuring praises of love and it’s ok honey, you’ll be back for summer, yes? We’ll see you soon, we love you so much, we’re proud of you.

And it’s the reality he can’t turn away from as he sits in the airport lobby, neck pillow pressed against his face, wailing with sobs.

He may be a child of the McClains, but his Aphrodite blood runs thick, burning him with a love that he could never dream of giving up - even if he had to give up everything else.

 


 

 

Keith picks him up from the airport, and oh fuck - he’s wearing the sweater, obnoxiously bright red, and Lance can feel his heart palpitate because Keith hates standing out in a crowd but here he stands in the middle of an airport, looking like an overzealous candy cane, browsing his phone without a care in the world.

Lance runs to the bathroom and vomits up vines and sunflower seeds.

The vines whip harmlessly around the toilet when he flushes, and Lance can almost relate – caught in a mess he can’t control, flailing in a hurricane that’s going to drown him.

The end is approaching, he can feel it in his bones.

 


 

I'm saved by nature
But it always forgets what I need
I hope you'll stop me before I'll build a world around me
We need a forest fire

(James Blake – I Need a Forest Fire)


 

 

They’re in Keith’s apartment this time – a little stiffer and bland compared to Lance’s, but he has a PS3 so whatever – and they’re lazily eating takeout, Keith half-watching as Lance plays through his video game.

School’s started but hasn’t quite kicked in, leaving them all the time in the world to hang out like this, unguarded and carefree. It’s warm and it’s comfortable and it’s all Lance wants from this life, really.  

It’s in this nonchalance that Keith poses a question, a little too hardened, staring at Lance with concern and unease.

“Hey,” he starts, quieter than normal, and Lance turns to him immediately, his own concern growing. “I, uh –“ Keith gulps, then glances back to Lance with watery eyes – “Does it hurt?”

Lance smirks devilishly. “Ooooo, Keith, are you gonna ask me if it ‘hurt when I fell from heaven’, because finally-“

“Could you not?!?” Keith looks flustered, turning away bashfully like a pink-ened rose away from the sun. “I’m—I’m trying to be serious here, jerkface.”

His shoulders droop as he leans back into his couch, still smirking. “For the record, yes, it definitely hurt. The fall from heaven, I mean. See this scar I have on my palm there? A constant reminder of the price I pay for being angelic.”

“Lance, I know that scar’s from that one time you were overeager about your frozen pizza and tried to grab it without an oven mitt.” There’s a gentle smile on his face, warm like summer lilies, before it drops into a frown, thumbs fiddled absentmindedly. “But that’s not the point, I guess. I mean – I was asking about your-“

He makes a gesture towards his own chest, flapping it nervously, refusing to make eye contact.

Ah. Ok. “You know you can just say the words ‘binder’, buddy.” Lance kicks his legs up onto the table, stretching out like a cat with his arms above his head. “But yeah. It kinda hurts. Some days more than others. But I’m not stupid with it, and I know my limits, so I’ll take it off when I need to.”

Keith sits in place, quiet, still fiddling his thumbs. It makes Lance nervous and he already misses the comfortable atmosphere from before. “It’s really not a big deal. And now that you’ve reminded me of that pizza story, I’m really regretting getting Chinese-“

“Can I see it?”

The question startles Lance out of his ramblings, and when he focuses back on Keith he sees him bright red and fully turned away.

“See what? My binder?”

“I uh….” He trails off, turning impossibly redder. “You don’t have to. I guess I just, I don’t know….I wanna understand it better.”

“And you think seeing it’s going to give you some big revolution?” Lance isn’t pissed, not really, but it’s accidentally leaking into his tone and he flinches at himself for being so unnecessarily harsh. “That’s not really something you should ask your trans friends about, buddy. Just for future reference. But because it’s you, and I know you’re just a socially awkward idiot, I’ll let you into the exclusive club.”

“No! I mean-- argh, fuck.” Keith buries his face into his sweaty palms, looking truly embarrassed for the first time in Lance’s life. The constriction in his chest and his throat almost becomes too much to bear.

“I wasn’t trying to….I don’t know. I just—fuck—I just…there’s so much about you I don’t really know Lance, and I just thought that….”

“Hey, Keither. Keithy buddy. You’re fine. I promise.” Lance leans forward and pulls his palms away from his face. He looks so fragile and scared and all Lance wants to do is hug him and stroke his hair and tell him everything really is ok, but he settles for a ruffle of his hair. “You can always ask questions about that sorta stuff, yeah? I love it when people do. Reminds me just how cool and unique I am.”

 In that moment, Keith looks up to him with crestfallen eyes, just as vibrant and violet as he remembers them, and Lance can taste the edges of perfume and thorns in his mouth. “Why do you do it, then?”

Lance tilts his head, soft. “Do what? Wear it?”

“Yeah. If it hurts.” He licks his lips in pause, alluring Lance’s eyes to the motion. “Why would you do that if it causes you pain?”

“Ah, Keith.” Lance beams at him. “Because the physical pain I feel from this is completely outweighed by the happiness it gives me. It may be a little uncomfortable, but god, does it feel right.”

And Lance doesn’t really understand why Keith looks so goddamn starstruck when he stares at Lance, and it’s too, too, way too much for his blooming heart to handle. His spit turns thick and he pushes himself away before the thoughts can linger poisonously.

“We shoulda ordered pizza,” he murmurs, grabbing his controller and aborting himself promptly out of this feeling that’s overwhelming his chest. “I know you like egg rolls, but nothing can beat cheese-stuffed crust.”

Keith doesn’t reply, he just nods and stares at the floor, flushed beyond repair.

“I gotta go to the bathroom,” he stutters, and before Lance can nod, he’s fastwalking down the hallway and slamming the door.

 

Lance mulls over his words as he paces through the video game, humming a lazy tune.

The physical pain I feel from this is completely outweighed by the happiness it gives me.

It may be uncomfortable, but god, does it feel right.

 


 

It's late
You are not awake
And it's nothing
I want you so bad it's devouring me
And I think I love you
But you'll never find out

(Waxahatchee – I Think I Love You)


 

 

Lance asked Shiro to meet him at the bleachers.

The underfunded softball program at their university makes the bleachers feel out of place surrounded by grant-funded research buildings and sports complexes. For Lance, though, it’s just isolated enough from the rest of campus (yet close enough to Lance’s apartment) that he feels comfortable talking here, in the echo of clinking wooden bats and grass stains on white pants, sun set high yet lacking warmth.

The coughing’s getting worse. He’s throwing up more now, and his body thumms with a constant sense of weakness.

Out of all of his friends, he figured Shiro might just understand the most. He doesn’t want his death to be a mystery – he just wants it to be his own, damned, beautiful choice.

They sit on the cold metal benches in silence at first, watching the collegiate players do practice runs around the pitch.

“They’ve got nice butts,” Lance humms, watching as a practice runner slid into second. “I wish I had an ass like that.”

“Lance, I am absolutely positive you didn’t ask me to meet you here because you wanted to talk about butts.” Shiro looks vaguely annoyed, just blushing lightly enough that Lance can’t help but smile to himself.

“You’re right, I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean I can’t praise them, huh?”

The groan that came after was ultimately satisfying, and it helped to relieve the tension in Lance’s bones, at least a little bit.

They sat again in silence, cautious, with Lance breathing slow and steady while Shiro waited patiently for him to recollect himself. It was an odd sight, for Lance to be so suddenly reserved and nervous over something. Shiro could feel unintentional goosebumps run up his forearm, like a forewarning, telling him something was about to change forever.

Lance, finally, turns to Shiro, nonchalant on the surface but tension clear under his skin. “Have you ever loved someone so much you think it might just kill you?”

Whatever Shiro was expecting, it certainly wasn’t that. He takes a moment to ponder, finger tapped against his bottom lip, while Lance leans back and stares at the clouded sky. He misses the baby blue of the daylight sky, the celestial navy of the night. Grey doesn’t suit this world, and he silently hopes that he’ll make it to summer, see that bright sky one last time.

“I suppose,” Shiro humms, eyebrows furrowed, like he’s not sure of his own answer. “I mean, back before Allura and I were dating, there were some days where I just wanted to rip my own heart out because it hurt, yeah. Is that what you’re talking about?”

Lance shrugs it off, tries to play it cool. “Sorta, I suppose.”

“Hmmmmm.” Shiro turns back to him, serious, the slight nip of the late-winter breeze highlighting the prominent strike across his nose. “It’s Keith, isn’t it? You like him?”

“Hunk always did tell me I was a lot less subtle at these things than I thought I was.” He lolls his head in Shiro’s direction and points a half-assed finger gun. “Hook, line, and sinker, Shiro. Mullethead has swooped in out of nowhere and stolen my heart.”

“I want to say I’m surprised but I’m really not.” Shiro scoots closer to Lance, clasping a hand on his bony shoulder. “You do realize that you were one of the few people in high school Keith would willingly talk to? I guess I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”

Lance chuckles, before it turns into a cough, clinging his palm close to his mouth so he can catch any loose petals. “You say that as if we’re dating already or something.”

“And why aren’t you?” Shiro stares at him, unnerving but gentle, making Lance want to spill out all his bottled emotions in one go.

But he doesn’t. That’s not what he’s here for.

“Because we’re friends,” Lance states, like it’s the most obvious answer in the world. “I don’t feel like screwing this up just because I wanna write cute Valentines to him and crap. I don’t even think Keith’s ever had a crush on anyone. Why would he start all of a sudden?”

Shiro makes a peculiar face, one that Lance can’t place but leans more towards amusement. “And you’re sure that Keith has never had a crush before?”

“Well duh.” Lance throws his gloved hands in the air, exasperated. “I mean, I’ve told him every crush I’ve ever had, it only makes sense that he would do the same. And he’s never told me about anyone, so boom,” he snaps his fingers, “Keith doesn’t get crushes on people. Or generally have feelings other than annoyance and mild hatred.”

Suddenly, Shiro pulls his hands down his face, groaning wildly. “I cannot believe this.”

“Huh? Believe what?” Lance stares at him, confused, mouth slightly ajar as the broader man settles back next to Lance, hands sprawled across his lap.

“Nothing.” A crinkle of a smile appears in the corner of Shiro’s mouth. “Just maybe, possibly, try and tell him how you feel. I think he’ll be more receptive to the idea than you want to give him credit for.”

“Pssssssh.” Lance waves him off, sobering up to his own reality. “For Keith? Plenty of fish in the sea. I’ve seen the way the gals and guys stare at him in lab. I’m small fry, Shiro. I ain’t got a chance in the world.”

“Don’t say that.” Shiro’s grip on his shoulder tightens. “You’re quite the catch yourself, you know. Anybody would be lucky to have you.”

Lance smirks playfully. “Says the guy who rejected me two years ago.”

“Oh come on. I didn’t reject you because you weren’t a catch or anything. I rejected you because you were my little brother’s best friend. Cut me some slack.”

“Never.” Lance sticks out his tongue, looks up to the darkened sky, and sighs.

Practice ends and the ladies begin to file off of the field. Shiro and Lance still for a moment, watching them chatter, with Lance occasionally blowing kisses to those who glanced at him. (They shot him a grimace right back.)

Shiro moves to stand, stretching his arms above his head with an audible creek of his prosthetic. “I’ve got to run the simulation in a few. Sorry to leave you so early.”

“You’re fine.” The clouds darken with the promise of snow, and Lance shivers. “It was nice to have someone know, at least. In case something were to happen.”

“Huh?” Shiro grumbles, half paying attention while he slugs his bag over his shoulder. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Eeeeeh, nothing. Go teach some cadets how to fly a damn simulator.” Lance musters his brightest smile, standing up so he can hug Shiro before he leaves.

Shiro accepts the hug with grace, but as he pulls back, he grips Lance’s shoulders with determination. “But seriously. Maybe consider telling Keith. I’m not kidding you when I say he won’t take it as poorly as you think he will.”

Lance nods, already locking away the idea before he can mull over it for too long. “Yeah, sure, I’ll reconsider.”

It’s easy for Shiro to say something like that; for him to suggest Lance throw himself out there so easily. Shiro could throw himself at the moon and the moon would probably blush. He wasn’t like Lance; gangly, curves in all the wrong places, unable to keep his mouth shut, had to work twice as hard to get half as far as everyone else. He just didn’t know. And Lance wasn’t about to unveil every insecure card he had under his belt.

So he patted him on the back, wished him a good day, and started the trudge back towards his apartment, staring at the grey sky the whole way home.

He coughed up blood from where the thorns scratched his throat and allowed himself, just once, to fantasize a world where he could be with Keith, happy and flower-less and full of warm kisses, so that he could smile his way through the pain.

 


 

 

His body feels weary and tired. The grey clouds don’t let up and neither do the petals cresting the back of his mouth.

Lance starts missing class more and more. He gets a couple of concerned texts from his peers, which doesn’t surprise him, considering how sociable he is. What does surprise him is what he sees when he checks his vibrating phone, after missing Dr. Coran’s class for the third time in a row, and he’s greeted with a text from none other than Mulletboy himself.

 

Mulletboy <3 <3 (11:14 AM):

You missed test day. Where the hell are you?

 

He groans and throws an arm over his eyes, shielding him from what little sunlight flickers between his blinds. Who cares about test day anymore? Certainly not Lance.

Then, another vibration;

 

Mulletboy <3 <3 (11:15 AM)

I could stop by and help you catch up, if you want.

 

For the first time in days, Lance feels warm.

 

Sir Lancelot McLovin’ (11:18 AM)

Just got the flu, don’t worry your pretty face off. Would love it if you stopped by smoochie poo ty ilu <3 <3 <3

 

Mulletboy <3 <3 (11:20AM):

Why are you like this

 

Lance considers that for a moment, staring at his glow-star covered ceiling.

 

Sir Lancelot McLovin’ (11:30 AM)  

Only for you, babe. Only for you.

 

 

Keith’s plans of studying are immediately derailed once he walks into Lance’s room, sees how pale and sweaty he is. The rest of the evening is spent with Keith washing his blankets (“they’re full of sweat and stains, Lance, come on”) and fork-feeding him microwavable ramen (“jeez, Keith, really pulling out all the stops here for this romantic dinner” “shut up and eat the noodles”) before he reluctantly leaves for the night, gently scolding Lance for being so irresponsible about his illness and promising he’ll be back tomorrow.

It becomes a regular thing, for the next week. Keith stops by and checks in on Lance; Lance forces a smile and says he’s starting to feel better, no thanks to Keith, before Keith shoves him in the shower and cleans up his mess. Occasionally he tries to help him study; but Lance’s mind is too out of it, and he’s too tired, too weak to really retain anything that Keith throws at him. Eventually he gives up and they settle on watching Teen Titans together until Lance passes out, leaving Keith to carry him back into bed and disappear before the sun rises.

He always come back, though, and Lance can see the growing concern on his face, day by day, as the lie becomes less and less believable.

It’s that gentle worry that makes Lance reconsider what Shiro said.

Maybe he should tell Keith.

Maybe Keith deserves to know.

He watches the black-haired boy as he concentrates on the microwave, impatient as the bowl of ramen spins round and round.

Lance is convinced there’s no way in hell Keith will ever reciprocate, but….maybe it’s unfair to keep this hidden from him.

He’d been so caught up in making sure that what little life he had left with Keith was wonderful, that he failed to consider what might happen after, how might Keith react. He doesn’t want Keith to hate him once he’s gone. He wants him to be happy……

For the first time, the idea sounds appealing to him. And as he excuses himself to go throw up blood and lilies into the toilet, he lets that gentle worry linger in his memory, warm his bones as he heaves up every emotion in his gut.

On the first day of Spring, he thinks. On the first day that the sky is no longer grey and the flowers begin to bloom around him and in his throat, he will tell him.

 


 

It's the first day of spring
And my life is starting over again
Well the trees grow, the river flows
And its water will wash away my sin
For I do believe that everyone
has one chance to fuck up their lives
Like a cut down tree, I will rise again
I'll be bigger, and stronger than ever before

(Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring)


 

 

On the first day of spring, the sky is cloudless and blue, and Lance sits on a park bench, staring up at it with wonder, with watery eyes and shaking fists.

When he told Keith to meet him here, he knew he would get immediate resistance – ‘you’re too weak’, he snapped, ‘it’s cold outside, I can just meet you at your apartment’ – but no. Lance wanted to see the sky for himself. He wanted to see the roots of newly planted rose bushes and the dulled green of the lush grass for himself. He wanted to feel the gentle, oncoming spring breeze for himself.

Lance takes this moment of solitude and cherishes it for all it’s worth. The park, with its colorfully metallic swingset and bark-stuffed slides, reminds him of his family. He imagines his little siblings clamoring onto the top of the slide, screaming for Lance to join them on their mountain, which he would do without fail. His mother would scream at him for being so stupidly dangerous but he wouldn’t care, because he was king of the world, surrounded by his family, basking in the sun and howling with the humid wind.

He smiles at the thought. Lance made sure to call his family one last time before he came here. Yeah, mom, I’ve been a little under the weather but I’ll be fine. Everything’s ok. See you soon. Love you.

It wasn’t a lie. Everything was ok – and he would see her soon, sometime, after all of this was over.

 

Lance can tell Keith’s appearance from a mile away. He’s ditched the cropped jacket in favor of one that’s a little more useful for the chill, black and simple and very fitting for him. His beanie covers his ears where his mop of hair fails to do so, pushing his bangs farther in front of his face, making him look almost mysterious. Alluring, Lance wants to call him. Even though he still wears those obnoxious boots and fingerless gloves, Lance can’t muster the energy to be annoyed by it. Instead he feels a warmth in his core, the warmth of familiarity, and he finds himself smiling again.

Keith looks worried. It’s a look that’s grown too routine for him, and it almost makes Lance miss his perpetual scowl. He wishes he would smile more. Hopefully Lance can make him smile today.

A coughing fit erupts from his throat and his eyes water with pain. In the corner of his blurred eye, he can see Keith quickening his pace, so he grabs every petal he can and shoves it in his pocket before he can see, quickly adjusting his hoodie to make him look stronger than he is.

It’s a façade that fails immediately, once Keith finally closes in on him.

“You look terrible,” he spits, unaware of his own bluntness. Before Lance can properly retort, he’s sitting next to him, palm gently splayed on his shoulder. “We really shouldn’t be meeting out here. It’s cold-“

“Stop worrying so much, you weirdo.” Lance sticks his tongue out, glancing back up at the sky. “Besides, it’s warmer than it has been, and I needed to get some fresh air. Let me live a little, Kogane.”

Keith makes a displeased noise before relenting, leaning back into the bench. “Well, make this quick. I don’t want you getting sicker on my watch.”

“Always so impatient.” Lance chuckles, much quieter than his usual wholehearted laughter. “No need to rush. What I have to tell you is….really important, anyways, so.” He shrugs. “Y’know.”

“Impor-?” Keith stalls, seeing just how calm Lance looks, despite his pallid skin and his sunken eyes. It’s just enough to shut him up, watching Lance, chewing the bottom of his lip nervously.

He can feel Keith’s gaze on him, unwavering and nervous, and he coughs again. It sounds sickly and weary, just disturbing enough that Keith reaches for him, before Lance quickly waves him off with a smile. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Just let me say what I wanna say.”

Keith has never been a patient man; but Lance is just radiating bliss right now, oddly soothing, and he can’t help but buy into it, watching, waiting for Lance to talk.

Lance seems in no rush. He keeps looking up to the sky, smiling to himself, allowing the wind to tustle the frayed edges of his hair.

 

Time to get the seeds into the cold ground.

It takes a while to grow anything,

Before it's coming to the end, yeah.

 

“Keith.” Lance staccatos the word like a firework, pursing his chapped lips. “You know, I used to be a complete and utter jackass. And before you jump in and say ‘you still are’, because you’re sassy like that – I mean, I used to be a real jackass. Hell, I literally only met you because you did better than me in English class and I wanted to beat you so bad. You remember that?”

“Fucking hell, Lance, how could I forget?” Keith laughs, smooth like honey, dripping sugar straight into Lance’s veins. “You literally called me a ‘mullet-brained asshole’. What does that even mean? That’s not a thing, like, at all?”

“Oh shut up. It was clever and you know it.” Lance punches him lightly in the shoulder, and makes eye contact with Keith, forcing him to stifle a cough.

“But anyways-“ Lance almost wants to turn away from that purple gaze, but he can’t this time, he needs this, needs to say it to those eyes. “Back then, I was also….really insecure. Still am, probably, y’know. But it was really bad back then, which is probably why I wanted to beat you so bad. You had everything I wanted Keith, you got good grades and everyone thought you were hot and wanted to date you….that probably seems really shallow now, but whatever, its high school.” He laughs at his past self, feels the presence of a warm smile on Keith, and moves on.

“At first I only hung out with you because I wanted to be better than you. But you know, things changed somewhere down the line. I stopped envying you as much and I started, well, appreciating you more. Instead of wanting to be better than you for the sake of competition, I wanted to be better than you just so I could be a better person myself, if that makes sense? And you did that. That was all you, Keith. After we started actually hanging out and I learned more about you, I realized that you were only human too, and that you had your own problems. And I wanted to help you with those problems. I wanted…to do everything with you, really.”

He takes a moment to hack a cough into his fist, and watches Keith, who is still as stone, tight-lipped and silent. It makes Lance smile again.

“Keith, I want to do everything with you. You’re so important to me. I wouldn’t be the person I would be if you weren’t around. I can’t….imagine my life without you. And I just needed you to know that-“

A violent coughing fit seizes over Lance with enough force to keel him over. He coughs up thorns and bloody petals and dead leaves, feeling the vines crawl up his throat and into his mouth. He won’t stop coughing. He can’t stop coughing.

“LANCE! Lance, what are you – what is—“

Keith panics, grabs his shoulder, patting him on the back with his other hand. It doesn’t seem to make anything better.

“Lance, are you ok—I can’t – LANCE!”

In that moment, Keith looks down, and sees bloody vines and violet petals. He freezes.

“Oh my god, do you have Hanahaki—holy fuck Lance why didn’t you tell me-“

Lance coughs become bloodier, coughing up crimson blossom after crimson blossom, seizing his entire body with shivers and twitches.

 

Before you put my body in the cold ground,

Take some time to warm it with your hand,

Before it's coming to an end, yeah.

 

“LANCE!” Keith bends to the ground, forces Lance to face him with red-rimmed eyes, gripping his cheeks with all of the force he can muster. “Lance, I like you, I really like you, Lance, please listen, you don’t need to die from this because I love you-“

Keith sees the warmest, most gentle smile grace Lance’s lips, and he lets out one last weak cough before he falls into Keith’s arms, unmoving.

“What the fuck-“ Keith’s heart seizes, staring at the dormant body in his arms, rushing to check for any kind of pulse.

“This shouldn’t be happening—Lance, I love you, the flowers should be withering! Everything should be fucking ok-“

 

He doesn’t feel anything when he presses two fingers to Lance’s neck.

“No, Lance, DON’T DIE, DON’T FUCKING DIE-“

Warm tears trail down his reddened cheeks, dripping onto the mop of shaggy hair below him.

YOU CAN’T DIE- NO – NO –“

His fingers move without thinking to call an ambulance, screaming into the phone, begging for someone to come and save this boy who was about to die for him.

And as he waits for the ambulance, surrounded by dead leaves and bloody petals, he sobs into the cold, sunken shoulder of Lance’s body.

This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening.

 

It's coming to an end, yeah.

It's coming to an end, yeah.

 


 

 

 

 

Keith doesn’t like hospitals. There’s too much loss in them – too much death, too many shed tears, too many ghosts that weren’t supposed to leave this world just yet, floating around and haunting the florescent corridors with their presence. They remind him of all the loss he’s had in life. His parents, his caregivers – even Shiro, after the accident, when Keith wondered if he was going to lose the one thing he had left in this world.

He wasn’t ready to lose Lance. He couldn’t lose Lance.

Nothing would be the same if he was gone.

 

“Hey,” Shiro sighed, patting him on the shoulder with an air of somberness. “Lance is going to make it. He’s not the type to give up so easily.”

The words bounce off Keith like a hardened brick wall. He sits in the waiting room chair, leaned far too forward, gripping his head between his hands, jaw locked tight.

“This is my fault.” Keith pulls at his hair, bites too hard on his lip. “Why didn’t I tell him sooner? I could have saved him, he wouldn’t have suffered for so long just because I was too scared-“

“Slow down, Keith.” Shiro rubs circles into his back, slow and rhythmic. “This isn’t your fault. If any of us had known that Lance was going through this….we all would have stepped in and done something.” Shiro’s gaze shifts to the floor, half-lidded and melancholy.

“I know.” His teeth grit in frustration. “I know that, but I just…..I just….”

The sentence dies on his lips. Shiro keeps rubbing circles into Keith’s back, feeling his breath as it steadies out. Around them, people shuffle slowly, holding styrofoam cups of lukewarm coffee and waiting for their own news of their loved ones.

They wait. And they wait. And they wait.

 

“Did yours go away?” Shiro asks the tired head on his shoulder, pulling him in closer for warmth.

Keith leans into the touch. “Yeah. I could feel it withering right when he told me everything. I’m ok now.”

“Good.” Shiro humms to himself. “That’s good. I’m glad we caught yours early. I don’t know how I would have handled it if we hadn’t gotten to you in time.“

Keith humms, slowly opening his eyes, readjusting to the dull brightness of the room.

“I don’t understand.” Keith licks his lips thoughtfully, eyebrows beginning to crease. “I told Lance how I felt, when it was happening. I told him. Why didn’t the flowers immediately die out? Why didn’t he…stop hurting?”

The arm over his shoulder stiffens. Keith tilts his head and sees Shiro unusually somber, bordering on hopeless.

“From what I know about the disease, the flowers only die if the love is known to be reciprocated.” Shiro pauses and looks down, eyes rimming red. “I think that Lance didn’t believe you. You know how he is….he tries so hard to seem strong, but deep down he doesn’t have any faith in himself. He didn’t think he was good enough for you, and that’s why he didn’t believe you when you told him everything you did.” Shiro swallows hard. “I don’t think he ever thought he had a chance with you.”

Keith can feel his heart shatter in two.

He takes a shuddering breath and cries hard into Shiro’s sleeve, finally allowing himself to sob.

He prays to every god he knows that Lance will come out of this ok. More than anyone, Lance deserves this. He deserves the world.

 

 

“Mr. Kogane?”

A doctor appears carrying a clipboard, scanning the room for a familiar face.

Keith jumps at the sound of his own name, all but sprinting towards the man in the white coat, feeling his heart thump with adrenaline. “That’s me – is Lance – is he gonna be—“

A metallic grip stops him from jumping the doctor. “Hi. We’re with Lance McClain. Do you have an update on his condition?”

The doctor nods and gestures towards the door, urging them to go somewhere more private. They wean down the white corridors, overhearing the idle gossip of nurses and overworked doctors, making occasional turns until they approach a small office, where the doctor motions for them to come in.

“I hope you two are well,” the doctor starts, sitting down in a blush leather chair as he folds his hands together.

“As fine as we can be, considering,” Shiro laughs hollowly, and he and Keith mirror the doctor in sitting down. “But please, tell us. Is Lance ok?”

The doctor frowns, him-hawing as he scans the clipboard, and Keith’s heart sinks. “The disease was lethal by the time we got to him. I’m surprised he’s still breathing right now. He’s alive, but struggling. We cut the flowers down to a minimum as you requested but they’re still there. The thorns punctured one of his lungs and collapsed it. We can fix it, but he’s going to struggle with breathing for the rest of his life.” The doctor frowns harder, looking up from his clipboard. “Which is concerning, considering his state of binding. It will be a danger to his life is he continues to wear that despite his condition.”

Keith feels numb, blood slowing in his veins, eyes wide as he stares at the doctor. “You’re going to take that away from him? You can’t just-“ He surges forward with grit teeth, eyes threatening to spill over. “He needs that! He won’t be Lance again if he can’t bind. You don’t understand, he needs that-“

“I understand, Mr. Kogane, but it’s more important for him to be alive. Now, it’s possible for us to surgically remove the breasts, but his insurance wouldn’t be able to cover that, so unfortunately-“

“Get him the surgery.”

The doctor stops, all eyes in the room now on Keith. “What was that, Mr. Kogane?”

“Get him the damn surgery.” Keith is gripping his armrests hard, knuckles blistering white. “I don’t care. I’ll pay for it. Fuck, just do it-“

“Keith, think about this.” Shiro leans down with a harsh whisper, deep lines drawn across his forehead. “You don’t have the money for this. You’re making a huge decision-“

He needs it, Shiro.” He growls, fangs borne wide. “He’s done so much for me, I have to do this, I have to show him how important he is to me.”

“You-“ One breath, two breaths, and Shiro sighs, groaning back into the chair. “You’ll have to get a job. You might even have to drop out of school.”

“I don’t care.” Keith glares at him with piercing eyes, so passionate and unwavering that Shiro can feel the air leave his lungs. “He’s been through so much already. This is the least I can do for him.”

He turns back to the doctor, who is still stunned, watching the conversation unfold with a dropped jaw.

“Get him the surgery as soon as possible. I’ll take care of him.”

 


 

 

When Lance wakes up, he’s surrounded by overwhelming white light. His body feels thinner, lighter, like he’s floating away into the sky. He feels a warmth in his hand and wonders, maybe, if he’s finally in heaven.

“Hey.”

The angelic voice beckons for him, and Lance tilts his head lightly, seeing the boy of his dreams, stroking his hand with his thumb and smiling gently.

“You always could sleep like a log.” A small, lighthearted chuckle pleases Lance’s ear. As his vision readjusts, he can see Keith more clearly, soft and bright yet full of worry lines and dark eyes.

“Feels nice. I like sleeping.” Lance clicks his tongue, sinking farther back into the hospital bed’s pillow, and Keith reaches over to brush his bangs out of his face.

“Of course you do. Get all the sleep you can. You’ll need it.”

Lance humms, savoring the feeling of gentle fingertips against his scalp. Keith continues to brush his fingers through the grimy hair, an unusual feeling for someone who takes so much pride in their beauty routine, biting the inside of his cheek with silent worry.

“Hey Keith?”

“Yeah?”

Lance looks down to his enclosed palm. “Am I in heaven? Is that why you’re holding my hand like this?”

 Keith’s heart lurches in his throat. Lance looks so calm, so resigned to his loveless destiny. His body is overwhelmed with guilt and he grips Lance’s hand harder.

“Lance….” Keith gulps and leans forward, pressing his forehead against Lance’s. “This isn’t heaven. This is real, and I’m holding your hand because I really want to.”

Nervous, starstruck eyes look up at him. “You….really? Are you serious?”

“I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life.” Keith locks his gaze, making eye contact, putting all of his emotional energy forward just to show Lance how truthful he’s being. “I’m holding your hand because I want to. I’m stroking your hair because I want to. I want to do everything for you…because I want to.”

Lance makes a small gasp, breathless, and averts his gaze. “I….”

He pulls away from Keith, bashful and unsure. “The doctor said my lung’s pretty beat up. I can’t talk for too long without hurting….and it sounds like it’s gonna be like that from now on.” He pauses, giving himself time to breathe. “I screwed up everything, Keith. Now my mom’s going to have to pay for all of this, and I won’t be able to bind anymore, and I’m already so behind in school-“

He runs out of breath and hacks up more petals, and Keith rubs his back, holds his hand through the entire process.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Lance.” He keeps rubbing Lance’s back as he recovers from his fit, rubbing his watery eyes with his forearm. “It’s my fault for not showing you how I felt sooner. And I know you don’t believe me. I know I’ve never been good at showing affection….”

When Lance has properly recovered, Keith lets go of his hand and reaches up to hold his face, wiping away tear streaks with his thumbs.

“I’m gonna pay for your top surgery, Lance. You won’t have to worry about that anymore. And I’ll help you catch up in school. I’ll do whatever I can to make sure you’re ok again.”

Glassy eyes watch him in disbelief, wide and almost ready to burst again. “You can’t mean that, Keith. It’s expensive. You don’t have the money. There’s no way-“

“We’ll make it work. I promise.” Keith gives Lance the most gentle, heart-melting smile, his own eyes threatening to water over. “I need you to know that I care, Lance. I’ve cared since high school. I’ll never stop caring. And I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to show you just how true those words are.”

Tears begin to flow down Lance’s cheeks, and Keith leans forward, touching their foreheads once more.

“I love you Lance, I really do.”

When chaste lips press against his own chapped pair, Lance can feel the blossoms in his chest start withering away.  

 


 

So long, my friend
There must always be an end
But all our love and life and song
Carries on, I carry it on

(Patrick Wolf – Eulogy)

 


 

 

The sun is blistering hot on Keith’s ride home. The humid air against his skin as he weaves between cars helps to cool him down somewhat, but by the time he’s back to his apartment, he’s grimy, tired, and ready for a nap.

His plans are immediately derailed the moment he walks into his door.

Keeeeeeeeeith!” Lance whines, stuck somewhere in the apartment that Keith can’t detect. “Keeeith, come help me! Everything sucks!

Keith habitually rolls his eyes and drops his keys and helmet on the counter, padding around the department in search for his missing boyfriend. When he eventually finds him, he’s sitting in the bathtub, shirtless, spraying his own face with a water bottle and flinching every time the water makes contact.

“What the hell are you doing?” He plops down on top of the toilet set, watching Lance as his head lolls back against the edge of the tub.

“The air conditioning broke again. And everything sucks.”

“Well, that only lasted for like, a week.” Keith grabs a washcloth and rubs the back of his neck free of the slowly accumulating sweat. “Think Hunk will be willing to help us out again?”

“Only if we bribe him with egg rolls.” Lance tilts his head towards Keith, looking oddly mischievous. “And our takeout budget’s up for the month, so we’re gonna have to take it out of your gas budget.”

“What? Why can’t we take it out of your facial product budget?” Keith splays his fingers out and points to each one individually. “Or your teeth whitening budget, or your hair care budget, or your manicure budget, or your-

“That’s off limits and you know it.” Lance leans forward suddenly and snatches Keith’s hand in his own, placing a kiss on the grimy knuckles. “This pretty face is already suffering enough from the heat.”

Keith blushes hard, and smiles, toothy and dopey and heart-wrenchingly beautiful in Lance’s eyes.  “Aren’t you from Florida? Shouldn’t you be better at handling the heat than I am?”

“You work fixing cars and bikes all day. You’re used to it by this point.”

“Hmph.” Keith goes to stand, pulling Lance’s hand up with him. “Get out of the tub, I need to shower before tonight.”

Oh?” Lance purrs, eyebrow cocked. “You wanna look pretty for date night, huh? Well, maybe I can join you and help you out with that-“

“Out. Now.” Keith yanks his hand up, earning a displeased yelp, before his boyfriend begrudgingly steps out of the tub, squeeze bottle in hand.

“And to think, you have the gall to say you love me.” Lance places a mock offended hand on his chest, before Keith moves him out of the bathroom.

“I will love you until the day I die. Now let me take my shower in peace.” He slams the door shut in Lance’s face, pleased at the squeak he lets out, and begins to undress himself.

 

 

 

Fifteen minutes later, Keith steps out of the bathroom, freshly dressed and free of dirt, and is presented with a lone Lance, hands behind his back, and a coy smile.

Keith looks him up, confused, and blushes when Lance giggles.

“I couldn’t wait until tonight.” Lance moves towards Keith, and upon closer inspection, Keith can see the deep flush in his cheeks. “I have something I wanna give you.”

Keith’s face feels like it’s on fire. He opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again, and forces it shut when Lance starts giggling again.

“Close your eyes.” It’s a gentle command, and Keith meets him halfway, allowing his eyelids to droop close. He hears a shuffle and feels Lance’s arms wrap around his neck, and something small and metallic falls onto his chest.

“Alright. Open.” Keith does as he’s told, eyes darting down to his chest. Cautiously, he lifts the object up and observes it, eyes glittered with adoration and fascination.

It’s a necklace, made of thin glass. It’s small, clear, and simple – and in the middle of it, fully encased, is a lone petal, violet and bright.

Keith gasps, realization dawning on him. “Lance, this-“

“I kept it all this time, you know.” Lance wraps his arms around Keith’s waist, drawing them closer. His voice sounds like molasses and lullabies, and Keith feels like he could wrap himself in it forever. “That petal was the first one I ever coughed up. It was the realization that I was absolutely, helplessly, unabashedly in love with you.”

His feet feel rooted in place. Keith can hardly breathe, hardly feel; all he can do is stare into those soft, blue eyes, and allow the overwhelming wave of emotions to consume him.

“I know that dropping out of school and getting that job was hard, and I know finances have been tight. I know that sometimes you get tired of eating microwavable ramen all the time and I know that sometimes I’m really whiney about how you hog all the blankets in bed or whatever. But I want you to know that-“ Lance toys with the necklace, placing it against his softened lips. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I fell for you for a reason, and if you ever doubt that, well. Here’s the proof.”

Before he knows it, Keith’s crying, bottom lip quivering with untold emotion. He’s feeling too much and not enough, overwhelmed and craving more, staring at Lance like he was the North Star. “Lance.”

“I love you.” Lance kisses his bottom lip, grips him tighter. “More than anything.”

Keith’s hands shake as he wraps them around Lance, pulling him as tight as possible. “I-“

He chokes out a wet sob into the crook of his neck, making himself home in the unending warmth of this boy who was his world. “I love you too. More than anything.”

They stand in their living room, holding each other tight, with Lance occasionally swaying his hips to some untold beat. He guides Keith with him, carrying him to a soothing rhythm, dotting kisses on his cheek and burning brighter than every nebula in the sky.

Outside, the cloudless sky turns baby blue, and the blossoms vibrate brilliantly with color.

 

--

And if the breeze won’t blow your way, I will be the sun
And if the sun won’t shine your way, I will be the rain
And if the rain won’t wash away all your aches and pains
I will find some other way to tell you you’re okay.

You’re okay...

(My Brightest Diamond – I Have Never Loved Someone)