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say my name (and every color illuminates)

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say my name (and every color illuminates)

 

Lance has never seen the color of the ocean.

He’s never seen the color of the sky either, but according to his older brother Marco, the sky’s color is just a reflection of the ocean and Lance keeps that tucked somewhere safe in his heart, knowing how important it is. It reminds Lance that nothing well done was ever done alone.  

He wishes he could see the color of the sky, just like everyone else in the world who takes its shade for granted, but he can’t; he was born colorblind. He can only see on a monochromatic spectrum: black, white, and the shades in between. For Lance, the sky is a light shade of grey that gets darker and lighter as the day ebbs and flows.

Ever since he was young, he wished he could see the color of the sky. He knows it’s a special color--a color the sky shares with the ocean, and sapphires, and blueberries, and the Cookie Monster, and the packaging on Oreos. All the best things are blue and Lance can’t see it, but it’s his favorite color just the same.

He’s asked countless people to describe it to him:

“I dunno, it’s like...mellow, I guess?” Marco had said.

“Well, it’s a cool color, unlike red, which is warm,” his eighth-grade art teacher tried to explain.

“It looks how water feels,” his mom had said.

It didn’t matter though; every description, no matter how poetic or detailed, could ever make him fathom the hue. He can’t fathom any hue.

But still, his favorite color is blue.


 

It’s on a balmy summer evening when Lance is visiting Cárdenas during the break that he has the first dream. He doesn’t realize it’s a dream as it’s happening, but he’s still in control; his limbs do what they want and his thoughts are in complete sentences.

He’s in a white--or at least, very bright--room with no doors or ceilings, or even walls for that matter. The whiteness goes on and on to somewhere Lance can’t see, but it doesn’t bother him. In fact, he’s oddly calm--peaceful, even.

He looks around, checking over both shoulders for signs of anything to interact with. He doesn’t find it right away, but at some point something and someone is showing up in the distance, and it’s like a fog is clearing as he walks towards it to investigate.

He sees the back of someone with black (or very dark) hair tending to something on a counter that’s the same shade of white as the rest of the place. There’s something mesmerizing about this person to Lance. He’s not doing anything very interesting that Lance can see, but the way his arms are moving and the way he’s hyper focused on his project has Lance entranced.

He walks slowly towards the person, careful to keep his footsteps light so as not to disturb the quietness that engulfs the place. When he gets to the stranger, he has no idea what to say or do, so he steps just behind him to look at the counter.

The counter is covered with succulents of all different types and planting pots that vary in size. Soil is scattered among the counter like stars are scattered in the sky and there’s something about the mess of it all that has Lance smiling, so he steps up next to the person and clears his throat.

The reaction is instantaneous; the person snaps his head up from his plants and jumps back in surprise, dropping one of his planted succulents as he does.

The pot smashes with a deafening crash on the ground and Lance gasps at the fresh mess at his feet. He’s frozen on the spot and for a few moments, all he can do is stare at the vulnerable, exposed plant lying unprotected amongst the spilt soil.

Slowly, Lance lifts his head up to see the planter’s reaction and when his eyes are level with his, the planter is already staring at him. To Lance’s dismay, the stranger wears a scowl that rivals a rabid dog’s with his lip curled and teeth bared. It’s an intimidating look, made even more intimidating by the sharp angles and lines of his symmetrical face. Lance would even call him an attractive guy if he wasn’t trying to stab Lance with his glare.

“What are you doing?” the stranger asks, but it’s less of a question and more of a slight at his intelligence--Lance can read the subtext. The stranger kneels on the ground and gently cradles the potless plant, dirty roots and all, between his fingers and lifts it carefully to the counter.

“Sorry,” Lance starts, because he is. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to say ‘hi’.”

The stranger isn’t looking at him, but instead nursing the injured succulent and repotting it with a concentrated pout on his face.

“You could have killed it.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t have dropped it,” Lance says, crossing his arms. Plant boy is getting on his nerves and Lance is losing interest in playing nice.

“I wouldn’t have dropped it if someone,” the stranger starts, looking back to glare at Lance, “hadn’t snuck up on me while I was working!”

“What do you want me to do? Yell at you from fifty feet away? Pretty sure ol’ planty here would have slipped through your butter fingers either way, jumpy.”

“That’s Keith!”

“Well, fine then, Keith--” he starts and Keith looks like the sound of his name just punched him in the stomach, but Lance continues on, “maybe next time learn to hold on to your plants if they’re so precious to you.”

For the life of him, Lance couldn’t understand why it’s so easy to pick a fight with Keith, a total stranger. It’s almost like they’ve been fighting for years, like the bickering is all part of a script Lance memorized until it became second nature. There’s something safe and comfortable about it, but somehow still dangerous and exciting. It strikes a flame in Lance’s chest that he keeps pouring gasoline into.

Keith makes a low growling noise in the back of his throat with another scowl and Lance wonders if he even knows how to smile.

“You’re so annoying!” Keith says and it makes Lance smirk. Getting under Keith’s skin just feels so good--like taking a hot shower after getting soaked in a winter rainstorm.

“Calm down, Mullet. Don’t get flustered. I know my pretty face can be a little disorienting, but keep it together, man,” Lance says because he knows (somehow) that it will anger Keith the most.

“The only thing disorienting about you is how stupid you are!” Keith says, clenching his hands into fists. Normally, Lance would be worried such posture would mean a fight, but he knows--knows--Keith won’t hit him, so he gives Keith another cheshire grin as Keith continues to glare.

Lance opens his mouth to tell Keith “stupidly handsome ”, but before he can, the never-ending room starts to go fuzzy, then in a blink, Lance is swallowed by pitch black.

 

Lance wakes up light-headed and confused. He lies in his bed, staring at the ceiling for several minutes before he’s able to comprehend what just happened.

It was...a dream, he thinks, but he can’t quite believe it. It was so real; Lance remembers smelling the unearthed soil, remembers how his arms felt as he crossed them, remembers the way his heart hammered in his chest as he spoke with--

With--

I can’t remember his name, Lance realizes and soon after it dawns on him that he can’t even remember his face, but he remembers someone.

There’s a heavy weight on Lance’s chest as he tries his best to hold onto as many details as possible from the dream. He remembers most of it--the white place that went on forever, the counter, the succulents, the broken pot, and the fighting. It’s just the person he was fighting with he can’t recall at all, which makes no sense because Lance never forgets a face.

What makes even less sense is that he even had a dream in the first place--in all of Lance’s twenty years, he’s never once remembered his dreams the morning after, but this he remembers in startling clarity.

He wonders if it’s an omen or a premonition because something deep within Lance is telling him that it’s important, far more important than he could imagine.

Lance continues to lay in his childhood bed with the covers clutched between his fingers up to his chest for a long time and at one point he has to blink back tears. He has no idea what to make of that.


Two months go by and Lance gets too caught up in the romance of summer to think too hard about the dream. He leaves Cuba and goes back for his junior year at Garrison University without incident, but his mom demands that he starts putting in applications for a job immediately, so he does, unable to ever defy her.

He puts in applications at all kinds of places--grocery stores, retail stores, flower shops, fast food joints, anywhere. He dreads getting a minimum wage job, but the promise of income is appealing enough to get him over it.

Lance is glad to be back at school, as much as he’ll miss his family. He can’t help but bask in the freedom and independence college offers him--it makes him feel like an adult with agency, which is a feeling he loses back home.

During the second week of classes, Lance comes back to his apartment after his evening astronomy class and calls it a night. He washes his face, brushes his teeth, applies his aloe and cucumber face mask, and goes to bed.

This is the second night he dreams.

Lance is sitting on Varadero Beach at sunset in a tank top and shorts with his toes curled in the warm sand. The beach is unlike he’s ever seen it--there’s not a single person there and the only sounds to be heard are the lapping of the waves and the squawking of seagulls in the distance. It’s peaceful and nothing like how it is in real life, which is how Lance knows it’s a dream.

The clouds are mixing with the sun’s fading rays into a mess of tangled shades of grey that are beautiful despite Lance knowing it would all be better in color. He watches on, feeling safe and comfortable in this little dream world that his subconscious made for him. After a while he starts to realize that the sun isn’t actually setting, but instead is just stuck with one half behind the ocean, and the other visible on the horizon.

Lance’s mind is surprisingly steady and quiet. Usually, he can’t help but have thousands of thoughts invade his mind all at once--thoughts about the past and the future, and not often enough about the present, but he’s present now and he’s fully taking in this sight he would surely never see in his waking hours.

His half-way meditation is broken, however, when he hears something shifting in the sand. Leaning back on his hands behind him, Lance tilts his head to the right and sees someone standing several feet away from him.

Keith, his mind supplies and with a sudden clarity, Lance remembers Keith’s face from the last dream he had. Lance had forgotten both Keith’s name and face, but seeing him standing there with bare feet, a dark-colored shirt, and dark-colored jeans rolled up to the calves, makes Lance realize he never forgot. Not really.

Keith’s staring at him with wide eyes that are all soft surprise and a low-hanging mouth that was probably supposed to gasp but never did. Lance thinks he seems smaller, more vulnerable here than in the last dream they had together and there’s a part of Lance that wants to comfort him, assure him that everything is okay.

“Fancy seeing you here, Mullet,” Lance says, trying to ease some of the awkward tension in the air. When Keith’s face morphs into a frown as he rolls his eyes, Lance decides he’s succeeded. He’s even more sure when he sees Keith is stepping closer to him.

“That’s Keith.”

“I know.”

“Are you gonna give me a stupid nickname everytime we meet?” Keith asks and Lance tips his head in confusion.

“Who’s to say this isn’t the last time we see each other?”

The question makes Keith blanche and he turns his head away to look at the sand by his feet. He takes a couple of breaths as his eyes stare hard at the ground and Lance can tell he’s deep in thought.

Pulling himself out of it, Keith snaps his head back to look at Lance with an even face. “Can I sit here?”

Lance feels his eyes widening at the question, but he nods before he has a chance to register what he’s doing.

Keith mumbles out a quick “thanks” and sits next to Lance, pulling his knees close to his chest.

They sit in silence for several moments with the crashing waves playing as background music to their lack of conversation. Lance is watching the tide lick the sand while Keith stews with palpable, nervous energy beside him. Lance probably should be mad at him; they didn’t exactly leave best friends last time, but he can’t find it in himself to be angry about it. After all, Keith is just a figment of his imagination--not really something to spend negative energy on.

“Where are we?” Keith asks, looking over his shoulder to meet Lance’s eyes.

“You don’t know?” Lance asks, confused that a manifestation of his subconscious isn’t aware of such a basic fact. “We’re on Varadero beach. I live nearby.”

Keith furrows his eyebrows with the new information and looks back out to the sea.

“I’ve never seen the ocean before,” he says, quiet and careful.

“Huh. My subconscious is weird.”

“Your what?” Keith asks, looking at Lance again.

“Well, that’s what you are, right? My subconscious talking to me? That’s what my aunt says dreams are, but it’s kinda weird that my subconscious hasn’t seen the ocean before since I’ve been around the ocean my entire life.”

“What? No! I’m--I’m not your subconscious, I’m your--” Keith starts, but he slams his lips together in a tight lock, then looks at the waves, while Lance sits up taller and leans in closer to him.

“My what?”

“Just--!” Keith starts, getting frustrated and pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’m real, okay? We’re not--this isn’t--we’re having a shared dream.”

Keith must realize how ridiculous it sounds because he’s tucking himself into a tight little ball with his hands wrapped around his knees and his shoulders hiked up to his ears. Lance blinks at him, not believing the outlandish claim, but he doesn’t want to upset Keith by telling him that. He tries to give Keith the benefit of the doubt.

“Alright, so let me just get this straight. You’re saying we’re both real people in the real world, who are having some weird mind-meldy dream right now?”

“I know it sounds crazy, but yeah. That’s the jist.”

“Okay, let’s assume for a minute that I believe you, how and why is this happening?”

Lance can tell that the question causes an internal crisis within Keith because he visibly flinches and turns his face as far away from Lance as he can. Lance can even see the nape of Keith’s neck from this angle and it looks surprisingly darker than the shade of skin Lance is used to seeing on Keith.

“What’s your name?” Keith asks and for the second time, Lance blinks at him.

“Uh, what?”

“You didn’t tell me last time.”

“Oh. Uh, It’s Lance.”

At the sound of Lance’s name, Keith relaxes a bit and takes a breath before turning his body to fully face Lance. Keith is staring straight at him with a steely determination Lance has never seen the likes of before and for a moment he forgets what they were talking about.

“Lance,” Keith says, clearly and Lance feels it immediately. His stomach swoops so violently that he gasps out loud and feels his eyes shoot open wide. He looks down at his stomach then quickly back up to Keith who now looks just as shocked as Lance.

“What was that?” Lance asks, a small tremble in his voice as he can still feel the sinking emptiness the swooping caused in his stomach.

“I think--” Keith starts, scratching the back of his neck with one hand, “I think it’s a clue.”

“A clue to what, dude? Come on, stop talking in riddles and just tell me what you think is happening,” Lance says and the weird swooping feeling in his stomach has transitioned into a knotted nervousness. Lance knows that the answer to his question won’t be inconsequential, otherwise Keith wouldn’t be so freaked out to tell him.

Keith is still fidgeting like an eighth grader trying to ask his crush out to the winter formal, but he manages to ground himself enough to look Lance in his face. He puts on the same determined look as before and Lance braces himself.

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“Lance, I’m pretty sure that this dream is our soul link.”

Whatever Lance was expecting, it wasn’t that.

Because if that were true then that would mean--

Lance swallows and he can hear his heart pounding up into his ears.

That would mean he’s my soulmate, he thinks.

The realization hits him like being hit by car and if he wasn’t already asleep, it might have made him pass out.

Soulmates, his mind repeats and his stomach swoops again at the word.

Soulmates are a common occurrence in the world--Lance has always wanted one, truth be told--but not having one is just as common and Lance always thought he was one of those people who fell in with the soulmate-less lot.

Soul links take thousands of kinds of forms, but most of them have some sort of physical element. He has friends who have matching birthmarks with their soulmates, matching scars, the words of their soulmate’s first sentence tattooed on their skin, countdowns, and he’s even seen someone who was able to communicate with their soulmate by writing on their skin. Lance’s body has always been clean of any such marking, but his friends and family have always assured him there are plenty of other ways to identify your soulmate.

He’s heard of soulmates finding each other at their first touch, or their first kiss, or even their first words to each other. It’s even possible for soulmates to find each other through different combinations of soul links.

He has never, however, heard of a dream soul link. It seems too whimsical, too cheesy, even for a soul link connection.

Lance is still trying to breathe and not completely freak out, but instead, he looks at Keith--whose cheeks are definitely several shades darker than they were a minute ago--and just gapes at him.

Keith doesn’t say anything, he just keeps fidgeting and looking for something new to look at every few seconds. It dawns on Lance that he’s probably waiting for his reaction to the news he just dropped.

With the most even voice he can muster, Lance simply asks, “You think we’re soulmates?”

Keith’s skin becomes an even darker shade as he scowls at the bluntness of the question, but Lance can’t bring himself to feel bad. He has to know.

“Well, yeah. After that first dream, I was kinda curious because that was the first dream I’ve ever had in my life, so I uh, did some research and well…”

“Well?”

“I dunno! It all just seemed to point to the dream being a soul link!” Keith says, with a sharp shrug.

“Okay, fine, but like what ? What makes you think this is a soul link?”

Keith makes a small strangled noise like he’d rather be doing anything else. “The articles I was reading said that common signs of a dream soul link were never having dreamed before, not being able to remember facts about who you’re dreaming with, lucid dreaming, and well, this isn’t specific to dream soul links, but apparently it’s uh, not uncommon, to have a physical reaction when your soulmate says your name...for the first time…”

As Keith trails off, Lance feels himself get another punch in the gut, because yeah, that all fits. That all fits perfectly.

Holy crow, he’s my soulmate, Lance thinks and he figures he should be happy, but it’s just too new and overwhelming for him to have any perspective on this at all.

“So, when you said my name earlier...you were testing me?” Lance asks.

For a second, Keith goes very still and Lance wonders if that’s shame marking his face as he looks at the sand beneath him.

“Yeah. Sorry,” he starts, voice quieter than before. “I guess I was. I didn’t really wanna tell you unless I was sure. I mean, I was pretty sure when I saw you again, honestly, but...”

Lance can see the logic in that, so he offers no counter argument, but instead just silently stares at the boy he knows as “Keith”.

Keith, he thinks. Keith--my soulmate. This is my soulmate, Keith.

He works the words in all different combinations in his head until Keith looks like he just might explode if Lance doesn’t say something.

He’s just about to make some dumb joke about being the man of Keith’s dreams when the world starts to get fuzzy around the edges.

Then, in a puff of smoke, Lance is plunged into darkness.

 

He wakes up with his heart thundering in his chest and it doesn’t calm down all day.


 

As soon as Lance gets some free time from school and job applications, he does his own soulmate research. Though he chose to believe his (tentative) soulmate--whose name he still can’t recall--in the dreamscape, he was tainted by skepticism in the morning.

After class, Lance heads to his apartment, searches the internet for information on dream soul links and finds more on it than he thought he would. He finds plenty of articles and interviews from renowned animologists (soul link scientists) and dives in to the first article Google brings up:

 

ARE YOU DESTINED TO MEET YOUR SOULMATE IN A DREAM? DR. FRIEDRIECH TELLS YOU WHAT TO LOOK FOR

“The shared-dream soul link is one of the rarest and most mysterious of soul links, and often indicates an unusually strong bond between soulmates--possibly even two souls who have been connected for a vast amount of time. Dream soul links can sometimes be difficult to identify, as they can be easy to write off, but there are a series patterns animalogists have found that can give you a pretty good hint.

M: So, Doctor, we’re dying to know. What’s the deal with shared-dream soul links?

DF: Well, Mary, they’re much like any other soul link in that its purpose is to help you find your soulmate. Though, interestingly enough, most people who experience shared-dream soul links don’t remember key information about their soulmate. They can’t remember names, faces, or information about their location usually.

M: That seems pretty counter-productive to the whole purpose of a soul link.

DF: Well, yes and no. Of course, being able to remember your soulmate’s address and phone number would be helpful in finding them, but after years of field research and interviews, we believe that shared-dream soul links serve a second function: to allow the soulmates to bond before they meet. Shared-dream soul links create incredibly deep connections as the dreamscape is a place where the soul can not hide for long. By the time shared-dream soulmates meet, they usually know each other more intimately than any other person in their life. It’s really one of the most fascinating and beautiful soul links I have ever studied.

M: Wow. Yeah, I can see why. Any idea why some soul links allow for bonding pre-meeting and some don’t?

DF: The most common theory amongst animologists is that a soul link is reflective of the soul bond itself. It’s not really something we can measure, but I tend to think individuals who have a harder time opening up, for whatever reason, will be more likely to have a soul link that allows for interaction before the initial meeting. Again, just a theory. We have nothing concrete on that.

M: Incredible. So, now for what everyone wants to know, Doc--how do you know you have a shared-dream soul link and not just vivid dreams?

DF: Yeah, that’s a great question. Now, everyone’s different, but there are some patterns we’ve picked up on through our research.

Number one, the dream will be lucid, or you’ll be aware you’re dreaming and have complete autonomy over yourself. Dreamers usually won’t be able to control where the dream takes them, but they’re still very present in their body.

Second, the dreams are always very vivid. It’s usually obvious that it’s a dream, but 100% of our subjects said they remembered each dream with perfect clarity, almost as if it happened to them in real life.

That being said, most of our subjects couldn’t remember the face, name, or geographical information of their soulmate until they met them in person.

We also have found that most of our subjects didn’t dream at all before they encountered their soulmate in the dreamscape for the first time.

Another big identifier is if you’re meeting this person in your dreams consistently. If you just had a really vivid dream with someone talking to you, but it never happens again, then it’s probably not a shared-dream.

We’ve also found that your soulmate saying your name out loud for the first time will usually cause some sort of physical reaction, which is very common in all soul links. If your stomach suddenly fills with butterflies when they say your name, chances are you’re in a shared dream.

 

Lance pushes away from his work desk and lets his wheeled chair slide him back as he lets out a noisy exhale. There is more of the article to read, but Lance has read enough. It’s clear to Lance now that dream boy was right--they’re soulmates and they have a shared-dream soul link. No, they have a textbook shared-dream soul link, according to Dr. Friedreich.

Lance leans back in his chair and places both palms over his eyes, then lets out a soft groan.

Did he read this same article? Lance wonders, remembering how his soulmate tested out the soul link theory by calling out Lance’s name. Lance remembers the way the sound of his name made him feel and his stomach flutters in a ghostly reenactment.

The boy in his dreams is really his soulmate, isn’t he?

Not for the first time, Lance’s stomach lurches at the thought. He should be ecstatic. He should be bouncing off the walls, he knows he should--but he’s not. Instead, he’s kind of terrified and shaking a little, because he sort of met his soulmate and Lance didn’t leave the best first impression.

Plus, does Lance even like the guy? They’re supposed to be made for each other, two halves of the same soul--two lanterns floating and dancing together for all of eternity, but the very first thing they did when they saw each other was fight. Their second meeting wasn’t as fiery as the first, but did that mean they’re right for each other?

Not all soulmates are romantic, but most are, so does that mean Lance is going to fall in love with this guy? The thought makes Lance’s heart race and his chest tighten with anxiety. It’s all very sudden and overwhelming. For a long time, Lance thought he would never get his soul link, but now that he has one he couldn’t be more nervous.

Lance starts pacing his room and tries to shake away some of the anxiety in his heart. It doesn’t work great, but it does make him realize that he needs to talk this out with someone and get some perspective--and he knows the perfect person for that.

He grabs the phone off his desk and hastily finds his best friend Hunk’s contact info. He answers on the second ring and Lance breathes a sigh of relief when he hears Hunk’s cheerful “Hey, dude!”

“Hey, man. What are you up to right now?”

“Just watchin’ TV. What’s up?” Hunk asks.

“You wanna meet at a coffee shop or something? Something happened and I just...really need to talk it out with someone.”

“Everything okay?”

“I’m fine. I just want to talk.”

“Well, alright. Meet me on 4th and Cherry in twenty?”

“Sounds perfect, Hunk. Thanks,” Lance says before they say their goodbyes.

 

Thirty minutes later, Hunk and Lance are seated next to a window at their favorite coffee shop with caramel mocha lattes in hand. It takes a little coaxing from Hunk, but eventually, Lance is able to tell him everything--the dream, his soulmate, Dr. Friedreich’s research, and his worries.

“Hunk, what if we’re soulmates and we don’t even like each other? I mean, the guy nearly bit my head off for scaring him.”

“Yeah, well you did almost kill his succulent.”

“His succulent was fine!”

“Still, dude. Not cool.”

Hunk. I’m serious! We’ve only met up twice and one of those times we were glaring at each other the whole time,” Lance says, gripping the base of his coffee cup a little bit tighter than before.

Hunk sighs, takes a sip of his coffee, and places it gently on their table. “Lance, I know this is kinda hypocritical coming from me, but don’t worry so much. He’s your soulmate. No matter what, he’s gonna be an important person in your life.”

“But what if he doesn’t like me, Hunk?”

“He’ll like you, Lance.”

“But how do you know?” Lance asks as his upper body melts onto the table and he presses his cheek against the hardwood.

“He’s your soulmate. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love their soulmate, let alone not like them. It’s fine, Lance. Be excited! You always wanted a soulmate and I bet this guy is gonna end up being really great. Not to mention, he’s gonna think you’re really great.”

“He doesn’t think I’m really great now.”

“He will! You have a connection that lets you guys get to know each other before you ever meet! You’ll see, once you get to know each other, it’ll all make sense. The universe doesn’t get this stuff wrong.”

Hunk gives Lance a pat on the shoulder and Lance lets out another frustrated moan.

“God, I hope you’re right, Hunk. I really hope you’re right.”


 

The third dream happens a few nights later and Lance has no idea where he is.

He’s in a desert, he knows that much. It’s a blustery new moon night and it should be freezing, but Lance can’t feel the wind; he can only see it jostling the needle-like leaves on the surrounding joshua trees and hear it whistling through the surrounding rock formations.

He starts walking and expects to find his soulmate around here somewhere, but sees no sign of him.

Keith, a voice in his mind whispers and it also supplies him with the accompanying face--pale and angular, framed by dark hair and accented with dark eyes. It’s not a bad face at all, if he thinks about it.

As he walks, he devotes his time to analyzing the face in his mind’s eye.

Keith. His name is Keith. He’s my soulmate, Lance thinks and his stomach does an odd sort of thing where it flutters and bubbles, instead of twisting and lurching. It’s a feeling that makes Lance want to jump off a diving board, instead of running home to bed. He welcomes the change after all the worrying. Hunk’s words at the coffee shop helped to calm him down, but being here in the dreamscape is a thousand times more effective. It’s healing, like bathing in lukewarm water.

He’s not afraid anymore, or at least, he’s not consumed by fear anymore. He’s still nervous, still worried this could all go terribly wrong somehow, but it’s manageable.

After several minutes, or perhaps several seconds, of Lance stumbling through the dark desert, he sees a light up ahead. It’s a camping lantern placed on the cliffside of a rocky hill and Lance makes his way towards it, knowing it’ll lead him to Keith.

He finds the base of the hill, then hikes up it with far more ease than he would have in the waking world, until he finds the little campsite nestled up at the hill’s top.

The campsite is a rare piece of level land that comes equipped with a park bench and public grill at its center. Off to the side are two camping chairs that sit next to a little, dome-shaped camping tent built for two.

Then, on the edge of the hill’s cliff is a person sitting on top of a fully opened sleeping bag and gazing upwards at the stars. He’s leaning back on his hands, much like how Lance was sitting at the beach in their last dream, and he’s very still. The lantern sits next to his left hand and glows happily, breaking up the desert’s darkness.

Lance can only see his back from where he’s standing, but he knows the person is Keith and he feels his heart do a little leap at the sight of him. Lance takes a step forward and tries to think of a way to make his presence known without scaring Keith like he did the first time they met.

“Took you long enough,” Keith says without moving and it eases Lance’s worries a little--he even catches himself smiling.

“Hey, I’m not the one who dreamed up a deserted wasteland as our next big dreamscape location.”

This gets Keith to look over at Lance and frown at him, which only makes Lance’s grin grow more sly.

“It’s the desert not a deserted wasteland. There’s wildlife all over the place.”

Lance can’t help but roll his eyes at that. Does his soulmate really have to take everything so literally?

“Well, next time dream up some place where I don’t have to hike up a steep hill, capiche?” Lance asks. Then, without invitation, he walks over to Keith and sits beside him on the sleeping bag. He takes it as a good sign that Keith doesn’t shove him off right away.

“Hmm, I dunno. Looks to me like you could use a hike or two with those skinny legs of yours,” Keith says and Lance swears there’s a ghost of a smile on his lips, but Lance ignores it in favor of letting out an indignant gasp.

“Listen, buster! I’ll have you know I have the quads of a bodybuilder and the calves of a Greek god, okay? I spent more time swimming than walking as a kid, so you do not wanna challenge me on lower body strength, dude.”

For just a beat, Keith’s eyes look at Lance through his peripherals and his mouth twitches before he finally lets out a little scoff of a laugh that has Lance’s stomach doing the fluttery, bubbly thing again.

“Okay, rock climbing then because I know you’ve been neglecting those noodles you call arms.”

The banter is so easy and natural that, despite himself, Lance is actually having fun bickering with Keith and when he crosses his arms, and puts on an annoyed face, it’s really only for Keith’s benefit.

“I can’t believe you’re wasting your third dream with me, your soulmate, by insulting my athletic physique,” Lance says and it wipes the smile right off of Keith’s face. As Keith looks away from him, Lance panics and tries to backpedal. “Keith, sorry I--”

“You called me your soulmate,” Keith interrupts and the words send a bolt of lightning through Lance.

“What?”

“You called me your soulmate,” Keith says again, this time turning his head to meet Lance’s eyes and it sends an even sharper bolt of lightning through him.

“Well, yeah,” Lance starts, rubbing a palm against the base of his neck. “That’s what we are, right? Soulmates?”

“It’s just...last time you seemed--I dunno, freaked out or something,” Keith says, his voice quiet and unsure.

Lance has always been good at sensing how the people around him are feeling and if he has to fathom a guess, he’d say Keith is just as anxious and uncertain about this soulmate thing as he is. Somehow, it makes him feel a little better.

“Yeah, maybe a little, but I guess it just caught me by surprise. I always kind of thought I was one of those people who didn’t have a soul link, y’know?”

At this, Keith nods. “Yeah, I thought the same thing. So, you think I’m right? You think this is our soul link?”

“Yeah, dude. I did my own research and we’re kind of the classic example of a shared-dream soul link. Pretty sure I’m not just suddenly having vivid recurring dreams of a grumpy mullet-head out of the blue. What’s that saying? ‘Once is chance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action,’ or something?”

“Something like that,” Keith says with a small smile that only lasts a beat before fading. He stares hard at his knees and Lance can tell he’s psyching himself up to ask something. After a couple of long moments, Keith finds Lance’s eyes with a determination Lance is starting to get used to and asks, “Are you disappointed?”

Lance blinks, a little stunned by the question. He doesn’t know how, but Keith never fails to completely surprise him. Lance lets the heaviness of the question set in as he studies Keith, who looks like the answer may make or break him and something in Lance goes inexplicably warm and soft.

“Of course I’m not disappointed,” Lance says and he doesn’t mean for it to come out as a whisper, but it does. “You’re my soulmate, Keith. How could I--wait, unless you’re disappointed?”

Keith’s eyes snap wide at the question and he gapes like a fish for one whole, monstrous second.

“I’m not!”

“You’re not?”

“I’m not!”

“Oh,” Lance says and a dopey smile sneaks its way onto his face. “Cool.”

Keith, who Lance is pretty sure went several shades darker again, goes back to looking at the stars. Taking his cue, Lance lies down on the sleeping bag and tucks both his hands underneath the base of his skull, then lets his elbows fan out on either side of his head.

As Lance gets comfortable, Keith reaches over to the lantern and switches it off and immediately, millions of stars blink into the night sky like they’re coming out of hiding.

“Whoa,” Lance breathes and he hears Keith let out a satisfied chuckle as he lays down next to Lance.

“Still think this is a deserted wasteland, Lance?” Keith asks and Lance can hear the smug smile on him, but he’s a bit too overwhelmed with the beauty of the sky to call him out on it.

“You got me, Mullet. This is...incredible. I’ve never seen stars like this.”

“Never?”

“Never.”

“My dad and I used to go camping every night of the new moon so we could see the stars like this. You can see so many more when you get away from the light pollution and I dunno, my dad just always wanted to go.”

“That’s so cool, man. Do you and your dad still go?” Lance asks and Keith goes very still and very silent. “Keith?”

“No. We don’t,” Keith says and Lance knows better than to press it.

They fall into silence for a long time, both just observing the beauty of the stars above until Lance has an idea.

“So, hey, we’re kinda supposed to be getting to know each other during our dreams together, right?”

“Uh, I guess? Why?”

“I was thinkin’ we should play twenty questions! Like, I ask you a question and you have to answer it and then after you answer, I answer. Then, it’s your turn to ask a question!”

Keith hums thoughtfully, but he doesn’t seem completely put off by the idea. “Fine, we can do that, but I reserve my right to pass any question I don’t want to answer.”

“Okay, fine, fair enough,” Lance says before immediately thinking on a great question. “So, Keith, what is your favorite food?”

“Uhhh cheeseburgers. You?”

“Ugh, dude. Varadero Beach has this stand that sells these garlic knots that are seriously a religious experience when you bite into them. They’re just...so soft and buttery and garlicky. It’s the best, man, I’m telling you…”

“Sounds good.”

“Well, once we meet, I’ll take you sometime,” Lance says and when Keith goes completely silent again, Lance starts to worry.

“Okay,” Keith says, once again quelling Lance’s fears.

 

They continue back-and-forth like that for several hours or minutes (it’s hard to say in the dreamscape) until twenty questions dissolves into an easy conversation that Lance leads because he’s so full of questions (and long-winded answers, if he’s honest). Lance is glad he suggested the game because it’s helping him get to know Keith, if only a little and Lance is figuring out more and more that he’s not much of a sharer. If he can answer with one word, he will and Lance has to ask multiple follow up questions to get any real substance out of his answers.

“What do you like to do for fun?” Lance asks.

“Work out.”

“Why?”

Keith shrugs. “Feels good.”

Lance, exasperated with the constant lack of details, rolls his eyes.

How does it feel good?”

“I dunno. It’s like, when I’m running I can feel my muscles and lungs working. Makes me feel alive, I guess and it’s supposed to release endorphins so…” Keith trails off, like he usually does whenever he says more than a sentence. Lance wonders why he does that. It’s like he thinks what he has to say isn’t interesting, but Lance is trying to eat up every detail even when Keith only throws him scraps of information. Keith is his soulmate; he wants to know him.

They’ve mostly taken to easy, shallow questions that Lance thinks Keith would find non-threatening. Lance has learned quickly that Keith won’t answer any question regarding his family, so Lance avoids the topic altogether, but he racks his brain for something else that would require Keith to reveal more about himself.  

“Okay, Keith,” Lance starts, taking a pause to dramatically inhale, “what is your biggest dream?”

Lance has rolled over on his side with his head propped up on his hand so he can look at Keith when he answers, but Keith has gone very still again. His eyes are still looking up at the stars, but Lance can tell he’s seeing something else in front of him.

“Pass,” Keith says.

“C’mon, Keith. I won’t make fun of you.”

“I’m not worried you will.”

“Then, why won’t you tell me?”

“Just...pass, okay?” Keith asks, with finality and Lance frowns, but looks for a different question anyway.

“Alright, fine. Uhh...oh! Okay. You never told me where we are! Is this where you and your dad went camping? Do you live nearby?”

It occurs to Lance a little too late that Keith probably won’t answer a question about his dad, but is surprised to find a small smile on Keith’s face anyway.

“Yeah. We lived like thirty minutes from here, so this has always been our spot.”

“Do you still live around here?”

“You won’t remember if I tell you.”

“So?”

“So, it’s not like we can go find each other or something.”

“Who says I want to?” Lance asks with a shit-eating grin and Keith throws a pebble at him.

“Hey!” Lance says, throwing his own pebble until it turns out to be a mini-war that Keith eventually wins. The battle doesn’t make Lance forget his initial question, like he’s sure Keith is hoping it did, so he continues on. “C’mon, Mullet! Tell me where! I wanna know if you live close to my school or not.”

Keith sits up with a sigh and Lance can tell he’s about to give him some sort of answer, but the corners of Lance’s vision starts to go blurry.

He knows he’s waking up and he can see by the expression on Keith’s face that he knows too.

Lance sees Keith mouth “next time” before he’s plunged into darkness.

 

He wakes up wishing he could go back to sleep.


 

As Lance gets ready for his day, all he can think about is his soulmate. It’s not much of a surprise, really, as Lance has always been the romantic sort, but he realizes it’s a real problem when he goes to his lectures.

He tries--honestly, he does--to pay attention to his professors, but he can’t stop his mind from trying to remember his soulmate’s face. He knows it’s the kind of face that is hard to read at first, a face that needs to be studied before he can really read it, but he can’t remember much else. It’s not that Lance is coming up completely blank; he can remember that his soulmate has dark features, but it’s all very blurry.

He takes a break from trying to remember his soulmate’s face and instead focuses on his name. If Lance is honest, he’d be able to deal with the his soulmate’s facelessness a lot better if he at least had a name. For one, it’s annoying to constantly refer to his soulmate as “his soulmate” and two, Lance has always felt like someone’s name says so much about them and Lance is hungry for as much information as he can get about his soulmate. Lance knows his soulmate’s name starts with some hard consonant sound and it constantly feels like it’s on the tip of his tongue, but he can’t quite figure it out.

When he makes no progress on his soulmate’s name or face, Lance thinks about what he does know. Lance knows the whole soulmate thing seems to put his soulmate on edge, but when he’s feeling comfortable he likes to tease Lance, he enjoys working out because it makes him feel alive, and he used to stargaze with his dad every month when the moon was new.

Lance tries to tell himself that all those little details tell him far more about his soulmate than his name or face do, but it’s hard when faces and names are such big contributors to identity. Still, thinking of these little details calms Lance down.

Then, before he can even bat an eye, all of his lectures are over. Exiting his physics class, Lance throws back his head and groans. He’s going to have to get the notes from a classmate later because he was too busy daydreaming and doodling a desert night scene to have taken any, which is bad because there’s a midterm next week.

Lance walks back to his apartment in a stupor, his mind swimming in thoughts of the last shared dream they had, and his thoughts grow more complicated the more he replays it in his mind.

It was kind of...romantic, he thinks and his stomach flutters at the thought. He even finds his lips twitching up into an awkward, involuntary smile because yeah, stargazing and lying side-by-side while you play twenty questions? Pretty freakin’ romantic.

Lance feels his face heating up while his thoughts go down this path. He hasn’t thought about this much before now, but after last night, Lance is pretty sure it’s a romantic soul link and not a platonic one.

He absently wonders if the dream could even qualify as a date.

If it does, I think it went well, he thinks, remembering how his soulmate laughed as they threw pebbles at each other.

Lance’s thoughts derail into daydreaming about all the places he’d take his soulmate on real dates and his chest balloons with a light, happy feeling. Lance has never been in a long-term relationship, so he’s positively floating when it hits him that he has a soulmate--he’s going to be loved. No one’s ever loved him before, not in that way.

Lance has to stop walking because he’s overwhelmed himself, so he leans on the wall of an office building he’s next to and buries his face in his hands.

He can feel the positively goofy smile he’s wearing and the burning heat of his cheeks on his palms, and it takes an amount of restraint Lance didn’t know he had to not start squealing right there in public.

He’s so distracted by his own giggly, bubbly thoughts that he almost completely misses that his phone is softly ringing in his jacket pocket. He comes to his senses and dives a hand into his pocket to see the screen of his phone. It’s a local number that he doesn’t recognize and immediately thinks it may be a job calling.

Quickly, Lance answers the phone and he’s right--it’s a manager from one of the shops he applied for. The manager politely introduces himself and asks Lance if he’s still interested in the position--Lance tells him he is.

“Great, I loved your resume. You have a lot of customer service experience and that’s probably eighty percent of the job. Would you be willing to come in next week for an interview?” the manager asks and Lance’s heart skips in excitement.

“Yeah, absolutely! I can make myself available any time I’m not in class.”

“Okay, perfect. You attached a class schedule, right?” the manager asks and Lance hears shuffling papers through the phone. “Oh, yep. You did. Okaaay...how about...next Thursday? Would three o'clock give you enough time to get from class?”

“Oh, yeah. I can totally do that!” Lance says, trying to sound as friendly and cordial. His customer service voice is one of his most marketable skills, so he milks that as much as he can.

“Great. Then, I guess I’ll see you Thursday,” the manager says and Lance decides he likes his voice--it’s kind and warm.

“Awesome. Thank you so much!”

“Yep! Thanks, Lance.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

Lance hangs up his phone and looks down at the screen with a smile that hasn’t left his face all afternoon.

He’s having a really good day.


 

“I’m really hoping I get it because my bank account is lookin’ dismal, dude, and my mom’s gonna kill me if she has to wire me up any more money this month,” Lance says, sitting cross-legged on the sleeping bag and facing Keith. Over the past week they’ve been dreaming every night and the dream always takes place in either Keith’s desert or Lance’s beach. When they're in the desert, Keith teaches Lance all the constellations he knows and when they're at the beach, Lance shows Keith the tide pools and tells him all about the little creatures living there. Ultimately, Lance decides he prefers meeting at the desert more because Keith always seems more comfortable here. It’s subtle, but Lance can tell in the way that Keith smiles a little easier, in the way he reveals just a tiny bit more about himself than he would on the beach.

“Well, maybe if you stopped buying all those expensive skin care products you wouldn’t have to ask your mom for money,” Keith says and he’s wearing the smirk he gets whenever he teases Lance. It’s quickly becoming one of Lance’s favorite Keith smiles.

“Every single one of those are an absolute necessity, Keith! I’d sooner go without food for a week.”

“I’m legitimately worried you mean that.”

“Listen, dude, I absolutely mean that. I have oily skin and if I skip my whole skin care routine once , I break out. It’s brutal. You should have seen me freshman year of high school--my face was buried in pimples. Buried, Keith! Is that what you want, Keith? A pizza-faced soulmate? Is it?”

At that, Keith is laughing and it’s a carefree, boyish sound that has Lance’s stomach doing flips and his mind scrambling to find a way to hear it again.

“It can’t be that bad.”

“Oh, but it is!” Lance says, voice a little higher than usual. “I got it all figured out now, though. My skin’s like silk, baby!”

Keith raises an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“Would I lie--” Lance starts, but when he sees Keith’s hand moving towards his face, he shuts up.

It’s happening within seconds, but the moment seems to go on forever. Keith is inching his hand closer to Lance’s cheek and Lance stops breathing. The hand in question is relaxed, but the fingers are curved slightly and Lance realizes Keith wants to brush his knuckles against Lance’s cheek.

Keith isn’t looking Lance in the eye; instead, his gaze is fixed decidedly on Lance’s cheek like he’s under a spell. If Lance’s stomach flipped at the sound of Keith’s laugh, it’s freakin’ parkour-ing against his other organs now.

The hand gets closer and just as it’s about to land, Lance closes his eyes and hopes Keith understands the secret message behind the gesture as yeah, I like this.

But the contact never comes.

Instead, he hears Keith let out a small, disappointed, “oh.”

Lance lets his eyes drift open and sees Keith with his arm still outstretched, but he feels no pressure on his face. Lance’s eyes flick down down to his cheek and is immediately confused by what he sees.

Because Keith is touching him, but his fingers are going right through like Lance is a hologram or something.

“Oh,” Lance says, also sad and disappointed.

With the spell broken, Keith quickly retracts his hand and turns away to look up at the stars. Lance’s stomach stills and sinks, while his heart is thrumming in his chest like hummingbird wings.

Should have seen that coming, Lance thinks, remembering how all of his senses are duller in the dreamscape, but he still can’t help but feel let down. It would have been nice…

Mirroring Keith, Lance looks up at the stars and tries to calm down. There’s something so overwhelming, but not enough about the dreamscape that causes a deep sadness to settle in Lance’s chest. It’s like he can feel his soul pulling itself towards Keith the more they see each other and it hurts. It’s a tolerable pain, but he still wants it gone and he’s pretty positive it will only go away once they meet in person.

And Lance is starting to really want that.

It’s odd, but over the course of the few times they’ve met, Lance can feel himself falling for Keith. Right now, Lance would only classify it as a solid crush, but he knows there’s potential for it to go deeper, that it will go deeper. It’s kind of scary, because he doesn’t know how Keith feels, but he has an inkling he may feel similarly.

Looking at Keith through his peripherals, Lance can tell he’s brooding about his failed attempt and probably won’t be very chatty if he thinks he’s embarrassed himself--which is the last thing Lance wants. Lance wants Keith to open up, to know he’s safe when he’s with Lance.

Without allowing himself to think about it too much, Lance calls out Keith’s name.

“Hm?” Keith asks, tilting his head to look at Lance and before he loses his nerve, Lance reaches out and gently brushes his knuckles against his cheek, the same way Keith had done to Lance earlier. It’s like his fingers are just going through air, but it doesn’t matter because Keith’s face is fading into a pretty blush that makes the action worth it. “What are you doing?”

“I just wanted to try it,” Lance says, letting his hand linger on Keith’s cheek.

“Oh.”

With a satisfied hum, Lance pulls away and puts his focus back on the night sky.

As his stomach starts doing extreme sports again, Lance thinks I get why we’re soulmates and feels a blush splash on his own face.


 

With every passing day and every passing dream, they learn more about each other. Lance tells Keith all about Cuba, his mom, his dad, his grandparents, his siblings, his nieces and nephews, and all of his friends. Keith tells Lance about his favorite books and movies, the old motorcycle he’s fixing up, and all his favorite cryptids from Mothman to Nessie.

Keith never mentions his family, or even his friends, and it makes Lance wonder if he has any. Lance doesn’t pry though, hoping Keith will tell him everything once he’s ready. Lance reminds himself to be patient.

 

It’s on a Sunday night that the dreamscape takes Lance somewhere completely different. It’s quite a shock to Lance at first because they’ve been dreaming together every night this week and never once have they been anywhere other than the beach or the desert.

Immediately, the dream is disorienting because it feels so much more real and so much more familiar than the previous dreams. It takes him a minute, but he realizes he’s back home in Cárdenas, recognizing the architecture of some nearby buildings. Somehow, he feels very low to the ground, even though he’s standing at his full height and he can’t understand it at all.

What’s worse is that it’s raining down hard and Lance is soaked to the bone as a peal of thunder echos in the overcast sky. With his attention on the sky, he notices that it’s already twilight and that he only has minutes before it will be dark out, which, for some reason, has him panicking.

“MAMÁ!” He yells at the top of his lungs, and now Lance is really confused because he didn’t make himself do that. It just escapes out of his mouth like he’s being controlled by some unknown presence.

When his body starts running without his consent, Lance becomes concerned. He can feel the rain water splashing against his ankles with every footfall and he’s yelling for his mom again. He’s yelling it so loud that his voice is going hoarse and the more he does it, the more painful it gets, but he just can’t stop himself. He has to find his mom.

Lance is panicking because he has absolutely no control over his body and he’s pretty sure the world is going to end if he doesn’t find his mom before nightfall. There’s something odd about the two anxieties he feels--it’s like one is detached from himself, but still affecting him, while the other is his very own, like it’s the real feeling.

The real one is his panic at not being able to move his own body, while the other one is making his heart race, but it still seems so nonsensical. It’s like he’s terrified of the dark, but Lance hasn’t been afraid of the dark since he was--

Oh.

It hits Lance like a freight train and, suddenly, he knows exactly where he is, and why he’s screaming out for his mother like a child--he is a child.

This is one of Lance’s memories and it’s one of his very worst ones.

He was six-years-old when it happened. He, his mom, and his siblings were all walking to the market to grab some ingredients for dinner, when Lance saw a “pretty kitty” while his mother was looking at produce and talking with Veronica. Lance, thinking nothing of it, had chased the cat down an alleyway and boom ! Just like that, he was completely lost and had no idea how to get back to the fruit stand his mom had been at.

Not knowing that he should have just stayed put, Lance was running around trying to find the stand again, but only succeeded in getting himself even more lost. That was when the sun began to set and the summer downpour started.

It occurs to Lance that he’s trapped in his own body and that his consciousness is only along for the ride--he’s doomed to relive this terrible night and feel every awful feeling that comes with it.

The entire situation is mind-boggling. He’s never had a dream like this and he doesn’t understand what the purpose is at all. The dreamscape is meant to help Keith and Lance get to know each other, but Keith isn’t even here.

Little Lance is still running, trying to find anything that looks even a little bit familiar, and Lance can feel the warm tears mixing with the cold rain on his cheeks.

He runs down an alleyway that looks vaguely familiar and hopes that he might have found a way back home. He takes the chance to slow down and catch his breath a little as he takes in the alleyway. It’s dirty with garbage all over the place and overflowing dumpsters, but Little Lance just trudges through it, until he hears a rustling behind one of the trash bins.

Being a curious child, Little Lance approaches the noise and as he gets closer he hears a low rumble. It’s not a sound he recognizes, so he doesn’t know he should be scared, but Big Lance does and he wants to tell Little Lance to run but he knows he won’t hear him.

As Lance takes another step closer to the noise, a big, black, mean-looking dog shows itself with bared teeth and the most menacing growl.

By now, Little Lance has caught on that this animal means danger and he’s slowly backing away, trembling as he does. The dog is not appeased, however, and it lets out an ear-splitting bark that makes Little Lance scream and run for his life.

Little Lance is running as hard as he can and Lance can feel the abject terror coursing through his tiny body. He’s absolutely sure that the dog is chasing him (though Big Lance thinks he’s wrong about that) so he runs as hard as he can for as long as he can. He keeps his eyes peeled for an adult, even though his mom told him never to talk to strangers, but he doesn’t care at this point--he really needs an adult.

The only problem is he can’t find anybody. It’s like the streets of Cárdenas have completely closed up and he’s all alone in the world with a rabid dog chasing him. His heart is beating so fast that Big Lance is a little worried he’ll have a heart attack, but he knows the end of this story and that’s not how it ends.

Finally, Lance turns a corner in another alleyway and keeps running, but his foot catches on an uneven piece of asphalt and he goes flying.

He feels the pain in his hands first, which are stinging from the scrape of the asphalt, and he starts wailing immediately. He gets himself into a seated position and then sees his bloodied knees which only makes him cry harder. He wipes at something itching at his jaw and when he sees blood on his hand from his scraped chin, he straight-up goes into hysterics.

Little Lance is lost, covered in blood, full of scrapes and cuts, dirty from head-to-toe, and to top it all off, it’s still raining and he’s completely soaked. And he’s hungry.

And he’s six-years-old, so all he can do is cry and wail until he physically can’t anymore, and by the time it gets to that he’s absolutely positive he’s lost forever--he’s never going to see his family again and he has no idea what to do.

As the rain keeps pouring down and the thunder rolls, it’s starting to get really dark now and Lance is beside himself with fear. Every little rustle of garbage has him wondering if the mean dog was able to sniff him out or if it’s some other monster lurking nearby to eat him. He wraps his wet arms around himself and lets out a dry sob.

He can’t stand the rain pounding down on him anymore so he gets up and looks for any sort of cover he can find. Since it’s really dark now, he doesn’t want to move much anymore so he stays in the alleyway, but there’s not much of anything by way of cover. The best spot he can find is the area beneath a fire escape, which is still really leaky, but it’s the least wet, so he takes it.

The dryer spot helps a little but he’s still cold and hungry and terrified, and his thoughts are getting way too dark for a six-year-old. He starts to think things like maybe my mamá doesn’t want to find me because I’m bad and if they loved me they would have found me. It’s ludicrous to Lance now, but at the time, it made so much sense. His parents were so busy with all of his older siblings, that they hardly had time for Lance at all. They probably didn’t even notice that Lance was gone, probably didn’t care either. With four older siblings and two parents in their household, Lance was just the seventh wheel.

He shivers again as his stomach grumbles and fresh tears start rolling down his cheeks. He’s too tired to yell out anymore, but apparently, he still has some tears left in him. He’s never felt so scared and so alone before in his entire life, and he just wants to go home.

And as the pitter-pattering of the rain echos in Lance’s ears, his vision goes fuzzy until it fills with black.

 

When Lance opens his eyes, he expects to see his dorm room ceiling, but instead, he’s sitting at the dining room table of his childhood home in Cárdenas. Judging by the way the sunlight is coming through the windows, it’s early in the morning, which is odd because the house is eerily quiet and empty for this time of day. Normally, the McClain household is a cacophony of voices and movement--full of life and laughter.

Odd as it is, Lance is glad for the peaceful scene as he’s shaken by the memory of his rainy night in an alleyway. He’s made a lot of progress working through the trauma that night caused, but nothing could have prepared him for living through it again.

Lance places his elbows on the wooden table and buries his head in his hands, trying to steady himself. He remembers the mantra his old therapist used to tell him to repeat to himself whenever he had flashbacks of that night--you’re safe, you’re loved, you’re irreplaceable.

You’re safe, you’re loved, you’re irreplaceable. You’re safe, you’re loved, you’re irreplaceable. You’re safe, you’re loved, you’re irreplaceable. You’re safe, you’re--

“Lance?”

Lance snaps his head up at the sound of his name and finds Keith staring at him with big, concerned eyes from the kitchen doorway. Happy, but surprised, Lance stands up, knocking back his chair as he does so and smiles at Keith--it’s really good to see him.

“Are you okay?” Keith asks and Lance has never seen such an expression on Keith before. His eyebrows are knit, but his eyes are soft with concern and it’s making Lance’s stomach do flips again. The question catches him off guard though, and truthfully, he doesn’t know how to answer, so he doesn’t.

“What are you doing here?” Lance asks, curious as to why he would be here now.

Keith frowns when he doesn’t get an answer to his question, but he obliges Lance anyway. “I don’t know. The dreamscape just took me here.”

“Oh. Hey, did you...I dunno, did you have kind of a weird dream before this one?”

The question makes Keith stand up straighter, but look away with a guilty gleam in his eye.

“Yeah,” is all he offers.

“What happened?”

Keith is doing that thing again where he fidgets when he doesn’t want to talk about something, but Lance isn’t going to let him off the hook for this one.

“I think...I think I saw one of your memories,” Keith says and Lance feels a little dizzy.

“Okay, hold up. Was it a memory of me as a kid in the rain?” Lance asks and the sad look on Keith’s face is all the confirmation he needs. Lance slumps back into his chair and buries his face in his hands again to hide his flushed face. If there was ever someone he wouldn’t want to see that memory, it’s his soulmate. He can only imagine how grossed out Keith must have been by the entire thing, especially because snot was dripping from his nose pretty much the entire time. “Ugh, god, I can’t believe you saw that. Alright, go ahead, get your cry baby jokes out now.”

He hears the chair next to him move and he can tell Keith is sitting beside him. “I’m not going to make fun of you, Lance.”

This gets Lance to lower his hands and look over at Keith, who looks as sincere as he’s ever seen him.

“Really? You didn’t get any hilarious gems from that treasure trove?” Lance asks with an arch of a brow.

“Lance,” Keith sighs, “you were terrified . I know I don’t have the greatest sense of humor, but I don’t exactly think scared, lost little kids are very funny.”

Lance turns his head away from Keith in favor of an old scuff mark on the table that he absently picks at. “Sorry.”

“You don’t--you don’t have to apologize,” Keith says, then reaches for Lance’s hand, but pulls back. Lance’s heart sinks a little because he really wishes he could hold Keith’s hand right now, but he knows he wouldn’t be able to feel it. Lance grumbles in frustration because, for some reason, the dreamscape was perfectly okay with letting Lance feel cold rain on his skin, but not Keith’s warm body. That doesn’t exactly seem fair.

“Yeah. I--you’re right. I’m still just a little shaken, I think.”

“Why? What happened when you were dreaming?”

“Oh...well, I basically just lived through it again.”

“You what?!

“Mullet, I’m fine. I dunno, it was weird. It was like I was six-year-old me again, and I still had my own thoughts, but I was also feeling what I was feeling then. It was just a lot to process. That's probably my worst memory.”

“Yeah, I can imagine. You sure you’re okay?” Keith asks and the genuine worry Lance hears makes him feel a little lighter, a little better.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. I’ll just take it easy tomorrow. I’ve been dealing with that night for a long time. I’ll be okay,” Lance says and he’s proud of himself when he manages a smile.

Keith smiles back and says, “Okay.”

“So what about you? What happened when you saw the memory?” Lance asks, trying to get the attention off himself if only for a bit.

“Uh, I don’t know. It was kinda weird for me, too. It was like I was a ghost following you around. Like, I saw everything, but you couldn’t see or hear me. I really wanted to help you, but there was nothing I could do.”

“Yeah, I don’t think there would be. What else?” Lance asks and Keith fidgets with his thumb and index finger. “C’mon, Keith what aren’t you telling me?”

“I’m gonna tell you! It’s just...hard, but fine, whatever.” Keith says, taking a deep breath. “I was kind of able to feel what you were feeling, like how scared you were and stuff.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah.”

Both of them go quiet, letting the gravity of what Keith said fall on their shoulders. It’s a terrifying and ominous new power that the dreamscape holds over them now and they both know it. It’s possible that they’ll be sharing memories like this for months, maybe even years, and the thought has Lance shivering like he’s back in the rain again.

A part of him knows that this is all part of their soul link’s master plan to get he and Keith closer, so he tries to look on the brightside. Yes, Keith got a front row seat to one of the most awful experiences of his life--an event that shaped him and made it hard for him to believe, even to this day, that people really love him--but that might be good. Lance doesn’t have to go through the painful process of telling him, because now he already knows. In fact, Keith probably knows Lance way better for it.  

“This soul link stuff really isn’t messing around, is it?” Lance asks, trying to lighten the mood.

“What do you mean?” Keith asks.

“Just...that it’s really trying to get us to understand each other, I think. Like, that night kinda messed me up as a kid, so,” Lance says, wringing his hands on the table, “only the people closest to me know about it.”

“Oh,” Keith says, looking down, and Lance can tell he’s lost in thought.

“Keith,” Lance calls and Keith looks up, “what’s going on? I can see the cogs turning under your mullet.”

There’s a flash of panic in Keith’s eyes before he averts his gaze again and scratches at his arm for want of something to do with his hands.

“I just...I was thinking about what would happen if you saw one of my memories--like, which memory you would see,” Keith says.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah and um, well you said that this was probably your worst memory, right?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

Keith nods his head a little as if in sad resignation and then takes a deep breath.

“I think I know what memory you’ll see then.”

On instinct, Lance scooches his chair so that he makes himself more open to Keith, to try and offer him some small gesture of support.

“Do you want to tell me? You don’t have to.”

“Yeah, I know. But I think I should. I should have told you like, three dreams ago,” Keith says and takes another deep inhale. “My dad died of pancreatic cancer when I was twelve and I didn’t have any relatives that could take me in so I went into the system right after.”

Lance feels his chest tighten at the words and he curses the dreamscape for not letting them touch because he just really wants to take Keith’s hand. Instead, he tries to send the sentiment through his words.

“Keith,” he starts, softly and Keith looks up at him with sad, dark eyes that break his heart a hundred times over. “That’s awful. I’m so sorry.”

The words don’t feel like enough, but Lance put as much... care as he could into them, hoping that Keith at least knows that he’s here for him.

“It was a long time ago. I’m okay,” Keith says, giving Lance a small smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “I just figured if you do see memories from that time, then I didn’t want you to be blindsided. It...y’know, wasn’t a good time.”

“Thanks, Keith,” Lance says and he means it, because Keith is trying to look out for him and loved as he is, Lance was never really someone who has been looked after a whole lot. He usually falls into the role of caretaker amongst his friends and family, so Keith’s gesture doesn’t go unnoticed by him. Lance knows that Keith doesn’t like talking about his dad, knows that it’s hard for him and the well of affection Lance has for Keith gets a little deeper. It gets deeper every time they see each other and Lance wonders if it’ll ever bottom out. He hopes it doesn’t.

“So, what happened in the morning?” Keith asks.

“Hm?” Lance asks, snapping out of his reverie.

“After the night in the rain--how did you get back home?”

“Oh! Oh, you know, a police officer found me in the alleyway and then took me back to the precinct in his police car, which was super cool except for the fact that the cop was this grumpy old dude who kept talking about how badly I smelled--which is fair, honestly. I’m pretty sure I wet myself at some point.”

Keith snorts and Lance smiles, happy that he got Keith to laugh.

“They took me to the precinct, called my mom, and she ran in screaming ‘mijo, mijo, mijo!’ and crying like crazy--never seen her like that,” Lance says, trying to keep the story light-hearted, but he missteps on the last part, suddenly missing his mom.

“She loves you a lot,” Keith says and it’s a statement of fact, not a question, and it’s accompanied by such a soft smile, Lance doesn’t know what to do.

Because Lance can feel the affirmation and validation there. Keith isn’t saying it because it’s an objective fact, he’s saying it because he knows Lance doubts it, knows it haunts him. Keith has seen Lance covered in rain and blood, and felt how he felt hopelessly abandoned by everyone he loved.

And he’s sitting here, right in front of Lance, reminding him he wasn’t. Of course, Lance knows that, but sometimes his brain tricks him into forgetting, tricks him into thinking no one has ever loved him.

But Keith is here, telling him he is loved and Lance believes him. He’s not sure if it’s the soul link or the fact that Keith is one of the most honest people he’s ever met, but he believes Keith. He trusts Keith and he knows he’s staring because Keith’s smile has faded, but the soft look in his eyes hasn’t and suddenly, Lance is leaning towards Keith.

And suddenly, Keith’s eyes flick down to Lance’s lips, then back up to his eyes and it’s slight, but Keith is leaning in too.

Some part of Lance’s brain knows it’s useless, that they won’t feel anything, but he just can’t bring himself to care.

They’re close enough now that Lance has to look down at Keith’s lips which causes Keith’s breath to hitch, and Lance thinks it’s his new favorite sound.

But then, the corners of his vision grow misty and he stops.

No. No, please. Not now.

Then, darkness.

 

He wakes up with his heart racing and his cheeks warm.


 

Lance’s grades are really going to be in jeopardy if he keeps this up because he hasn’t heard a word a professor’s said in two weeks or even fathomed looking at a textbook in the time since. How can he when all he can think about is his soulmate and his soulmate’s voice and his soulmate’s dark features and his soulmate’s steady kindness and...well, the list goes on.

The whole thing has him restless beyond belief because it’s been four days since their last dream and Lance wants to see his soulmate again so much that it’s all he can focus on.

“Dude, Earth to Lance.”

“Huh?”

Hunk rolls his eyes at Lance and takes a sip from his medium roast Ethiopian blend coffee, before placing it back down on the café table. “I’m trying to help you study for your physics mid-term tomorrow and you’re zonin’ out on me. What gives?”

“Sorry, nothing. Just having a hard time concentrating,” Lance says with a lazy wave.

“Seems to me you were thinking about your soooulmaaate,” Hunk says wiggling his eyebrows and making kissy noises.

“Shut up, Hunk! I was not.”

“You were so.”

“Nuh uh.”

“Yeah huh.”

“Prove it.”

“You get this really dopey smile on your face every time you think about him,” Hunk says and Lance’s face heats like an oven.

“I know you have no context for this, but you’re redder than a tomato,” Hunk says, laughing.

“Shut up, Hunk,” Lance says quietly, picking up his own caramel macchiato and sipping it to hide his face a little.  

 

The week passes in a blur of classes and studying, and every night that Lance goes without dreaming, the antsier he gets.

It even messes with his job interview he has at the flower shop. For the most part, the interview goes well and Lance really likes the manager--a kind man with a calming presence and a surprisingly chiseled bod--but he knows he was distracted. He can’t talk with anyone and give them his full attention, not when he’s dying to get back to his bed and fall asleep.

Still, he hopes it’s enough to get him the job. He and the manager seemed to vibe well, despite Lance’s air-headedness, and he’s banking on that being enough. His mom is really going to kill him if he doesn’t get a job soon--he needs this.

But as Lance lays down on his bed that night and worries about how much this soul link is disrupting his life, he comes to the conclusion that what he needs the most right now isn’t a job, but his soulmate.

He falls asleep and doesn’t dream.


 

It’s almost been two whole weeks since Lance last dreamed, but when he arrives in the dreamscape again, a part of him wishes he was anywhere else.

Because immediately, he’s realizes he’s in the clinically-cleaned hallways of a hospital and he knows deep down in his gut that he’s going to see the memory Keith predicted he would.

Lance’s stomach drops as he looks around the empty hospital, which is ghostly quiet and completely abandoned. There are no doctors, nurses, or patients--just a fully stocked hospital with gurneys neatly put to the side and hundreds of files organized neatly behind the receptionist desk.

Lance walks down a hallway and peaks his head through every door he passes, looking for Keith. The more he walks, the more the piercing smell of 409 stings at his nose and he has to rub at it to keep from sneezing.

The further he goes down the hallway, the clearer he sees a door with an odd, shining light coming through its cracks and somehow, Lance knows that’s where Keith is.

He approaches the door slowly, one part of him scared of what awaits him, another part eager to see Keith and be there for him.

No matter how hard this may be for you, it’s going to be a hundred times harder for Keith, Lance thinks and his heart squeezes. It isn’t fair that he has to relive this.

Coming up to the door, Lance takes a deep breath and opens the door.

 

Inside is a simple scene--the sun’s rays cascading through an open window, white curtains billowing softly from the outside breeze, an empty hospital bed, and a young boy sitting by himself in a chair. Lance can’t see the boy’s face, but the color of his (mullet-less) mop of hair is the exact same shade as Keith’s, and Lance knows it’s him.

“Keith,” Lance says softly, trying not to disturb the gentle quietness in the room, but Keith doesn’t respond. Lance didn’t really expect him to.

Wanting to see his face, Lance steps further into the room, but as soon as he does, the scene dissolves in a puff of smoke.

Lance is standing in a small kitchen that he can tell hasn’t been cleaned properly in a while, as there’s a stack of dirty dishes in the sink and dust gathering in the corners. Lance doesn’t dwell on that for long though, because on the east wall is a kitchen table built for two and occupied by two. One is a tall, muscled man in his mid-to-late thirties and the other is small boy, no older than nine or ten, with black hair.

It takes Lance a couple moments to fully register that the little boy is Keith, as he looks so different from the Keith Lance knows now.

This Keith wears his hair in the same messy mop Lance saw in the last vision and his face is all cheeks. Adult Keith is all hard angles and sharp cheekbones, but this one has the most pinchable cheeks Lance has ever seen and he can’t stop himself from thinking how cute of a kid he is. Lance almost wants to smile, but there’s a tension in the air that’s so heavy it won’t let the corners of his mouth float up.

The older man is looking down at little Keith with thinly veiled pain in his eyes and Keith’s gaze is turned downcast at the table. For several moments, they just sit quietly and Lance realizes that he’s probably walked into the middle of their conversation.

“So, does that mean you’re sick?” little Keith asks in a small voice and Lance’s chest tightens; he knows the answer to that.

The man--Keith’s father, Lance presumes--folds his hand neatly on the table and Lance is struck by how steady he is, how grounded he is in the moment. He’s the kind of person Lance thinks could handle anything the world throws at him and with a cool head besides.  

“Yes, son. That’s what it means,” Keith’s father says and his voice is just as strong, and just as steady as he looks.

Keith goes quiet again, playing with the hems of his shorts and Lance can hear the desert winds whistling outside their small house like some sort of sad ghost song underscoring the scene.

“Are you going to get better?” Keith asks, voice cracking a little. Lance can see that Keith doesn’t know how to truly process the information he’s been given--his eyes glaze over in that same way older Keith’s eyes do when he’s pushing down something painful.

Old habits die hard, Lance thinks as the tip of his heart starts to crack like the rim of an old vase tucked away in the attic.

Keith’s dad shifts his weight in the chair as he thinks long and hard how to answer--and Lance already knows how he answers, but it doesn’t stop his from wishing he’ll say the opposite.

“No, Keith,” his father says and Lance’s stomach drops like a stone, “I don’t think I will.”

It only takes a beat for Keith’s careful stoicism to completely crumble--he lets out a sob and then shrieks out the word, “No!” and his father is up and out of the chair to his side immediately.

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” Keith chokes out with a splotchy face that’s already covered in tears and his father swallows him in an enveloping hug. Choking out sobs into his father’s shoulder, Keith wraps his tiny arms around his father’s neck.

“I know, I know. Shhh,” his father hushes, stroking the nape of Keith’s neck. “It’ll be okay, Keith. It’ll be okay.”

But Lance knows (because Keith knows) that it won’t be okay. Nothing’s ever going to be okay again. Lance can feel the pain splitting and cracking open little Keith’s chest like it’s his own pain, and it’s just really, really not okay.

Then, as Lance is wiping away some wayward tears of his own, the scene fades away into the next one.

 

And it’s different from the other memories because he’s not in a room, living it with Keith like he has been, but instead he seems to be in a sort-of in-between place that reminds him of the white, endless room where he first met Keith.

Instead of infinite white, though, there’s a cloud-like substance surrounding him like he’s in the eye of a tornado and it’s blowing his hair and clothes all over the place, but he feels no threat from it.

It soon makes its purpose known as scenes from Keith’s life begin to play out against the cloud’s substance like it’s a movie screen.

Lance watches the scenes with rapt attention and it seems to be a montage of what happens next in the story:

Lance sees Keith and his father eating dinner together, laughing, and camping underneath the stars in the same place Lance and Keith do. At first, it’s pretty mundane and typical, but then Lance starts picking up on subtle shifts, like how Keith’s dad is starting to look a little thinner, how his fingers are covered in bandaids, and his hair seems less thick than it was before...

Lance swallows thickly because he knows what’s happening, knows it’s all a matter of time.

The scenes keep coming in quick flashes--not long enough to know details, but long enough to give Lance some context. He sees Keith and his dad fighting about something, but he doesn’t know what. He sees Keith, a little taller now, on his bed and crying into a pillow. He sees them in the hospital--Keith’s dad is in some big arm chair with an IV snaking into his chest, while Keith sit nexts to him, playing with a handheld video game and Lance gets the sense that this is routine for them...

Lance sees Keith’s father struggling to go upstairs, his hand tightly gripping the banister like a lifeline...

He sees his father shave his hair in the bathroom with a determined face and Keith watching from the door with the same glossed over look that Lance is starting associate with his memories of his father...

The scene switches one last time to Keith’s father lying in his bed at their home looking worse for wear--his hair is gone, he’s lost a lot of his muscle mass, and his skin is a darker, unhealthy looking shade. Keith is standing next to the bed and rolling a wheeled hospital table over so that it hovers over his father’s torso.

Then, the cloud-like substance swirling all around Lance picks up pace and swallows him whole.

 

Lance lands in the same bedroom he saw in the whirlwind, but now he can hear and see the details of the scene. Keith’s dad looks so much worse up this close and so does Keith, if he’s honest. Keith is a couple years older, maybe eleven or twelve, but there are dark circles under his eyes that age him considerably and Lance is struck with how utterly unfair this is because it’s stripping, stripped, Keith of his childhood, and that’s not something he can ever get back.

“Dad, c’mon, just like, half the bowl and I’ll leave you alone,” Keith says, looking from a bowl on the rolling table and back up at his dad. Lance takes a look over at the bowl and sees that it’s box brand macaroni and cheese.

“Keith, I’m not hungry,” his dad says and his voice has lost the solid strength it once possessed. Lance feels an alarmed anxiety rise in Keith’s chest that makes him feel like some sort of ugly flesh-eating creature is going to crack open his rib cage.

“You haven’t eaten anything all day,” Keith starts and god, he sounds so tired. “Just a couple bites?”

Keith’s father lays an arm over his eyes and sighs. “No.”

“Please? Come on.”

“Keith.”

“I made it for you.”

“I said no,” Keith’s father snaps, and Lance and Keith both know that’s the end of the conversation, but Keith still looks surprised. With a small sigh, he slumps his shoulders and accepts defeat.

“Okay, get some sleep then,” Keith says, moving the rolling table away from the bed and up against the nearest wall.

“Thanks, son. I’ll...I’ll try again when I wake up,” his father says. Lance can tell that Keith doesn’t believe it, but he smiles anyway.

“Yeah, sounds good.”

Keith takes the bowl of macaroni and cheese, then turns off the lights before leaving the room and shutting the door behind him. Instinctively, Lance follows behind Keith until he’s back in the same kitchen where Keith wept in his father’s arms.

Keith places the bowl of macaroni and cheese on the table and he sits at the same chair Lance saw him at before. Keith takes a spoonful of mac and cheese and chews slowly, staring off into the distance.

Immediately, Lance sits in the other chair.

He knows Keith can’t see him and that this is all in the past, but Lance can’t let this little boy eat his macaroni and cheese alone, even if the gesture only exists in spirit.

He watches Keith eat for a few more moments before he vanishes into smoke.

 

The memory brings Lance back to the hospital room he started in, but it looks a little different than when he first saw it--it’s late at night and the bed is occupied by Keith’s sleeping father in a hospital gown.

Lance can tell at first glance that he’s taken a turn for the worst since the last memory and he can’t have much longer left. He’s rail thin and looks like a skeleton dipped in wax, his skin is dried and cracking on his face, and every breath sounds like sandpaper rubbing together.

Lance’s chest feels heavy just looking at him and there’s a part of him that just wants for the poor man to be out of pain already.

He turns his attention to Keith, who's sitting in the same chair he was before in the first memory and staring off into the distance with an unreadable look in his eye.

Keith is numb and Lance can tell; at some point, he started to shut down.

Lance wishes he could give him a hug. He really, really deserves one right about now.

The three of them remain still in the room for many moments, while Keith’s dad’s ragged breaths and the small blips of the heart monitor are the only sounds around to break up the silence.

Then, a new sound comes into the room. Lance turns to look at the door and a sweet-looking woman with blonde hair drawn back in a braid enters and flashes Keith a warm smile. Keith makes a small attempt to reciprocate, but he can’t move his frown past a straight line.

Silently, the nurse tends to Keith’s father--checking machines and administering medicine into the IV. When she’s done, she smiles at Keith again and kneels in front of him.

“Hi, sweetie,” she says easily, like she’s speaking to her own child. “How you doin’?”

“Okay,” Keith says and his voice is so small Lance wonders when the last time he used it was.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay,” she says and she brushes some of Keith’s bangs to the side and Lance breathes a sigh of relief that someone is offering Keith some affection. “Have you eaten, baby?”

“Yeah, I had a sandwich.”

“What kind of sandwich?”

“Peanut butter and jelly.”

“Ooh, my favorite. Did you get it at the cafeteria?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s good. You’re such a responsible boy, Keith. I have a son a few years older than you and he can’t even come down stairs to get his own sandwich,” the nurse says and it pulls an almost smile from Keith. The twitches at the corners of his mouth make her smile back, but suddenly, her face falls. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

Keith nods.

“There’s really no one who can take you in?” she asks and Lance feels his own heart sink. Of course there isn’t.

Keith shakes his head. “There’s not.”

The nurse sighs.

“Okay. I got something else I want to talk to you about,” she says and her face grows increasingly more somber.

“What is it?”

“The doctor--she explained to you what hospice care was, right?” she asks and Keith ducks his head, staring at his hands.

“I know what it means,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper.

“I should have known. You’re so smart,” she says, giving his arm a little rub and another smile.

Thank god for her, Lance thinks, grateful to her for her kindness.

“There’s no easy way to say this,” she continues, going somber again, “but you need to prepare yourself, baby. I’m pretty sure your dad is only going to be here for a couple more days. Does that make sense?”

Keith is still staring down at his hands when he nods and Lance can feel the deep well of sadness resurfacing in Keith. It’s cutting and awful, like someone’s opened him up with a knife and Lance feels like it’s a pain that never truly goes away.

“Okay, I just wanted to make sure you...you knew , so you can make the most of your time together.”

“Yeah,” Keith breathes out.

“Here,” she says, spreading her arms, “give me a hug.”

Keith doesn’t move right away, seeming a little caught off guard by the gesture, but he leans a little towards her and that’s all she need to wrap him tight in her arms.

Oh, thank god, Lance thinks. Thank god.

If Lance can’t hold him, he’s so thankful someone else was there who could.

The nurse hugs him for several moments, stroking up and down the length of his spine and Keith melts into it, a couple tears escaping his eyes.

When they separate, Keith is wiping away the tears and she’s smiling at him again.

“That’s my brave boy,” she says, moving hair from his face again. “Now, remember you just press that nurse button if you ever need me for anything, okay?”

“Okay.”

And this time, Keith is able to give her a real smile, small as it may be.

 

The scene fast-forwards in a haze and they’re still in the same hospital room, but Keith has moved from his chair to the edge of his father’s bed. Keith’s dad is awake, but his lids are heavy and Lance can tell that every moment he’s awake takes unfathomable effort. Every breath is labored and every lift of his head makes it look like it’s twice its weight. He’s doing his very best to look at Keith, to study him and Keith is staring back, waiting.

“Keith…” his father says and his voice sounds like his throat is lined with razors. “I’m so...sorry. About everything.”

Lance’s chest clenches so violently that he has to move a hand to it. He’s not even sure if he’s feeling Keith’s emotions, his own, or both.

Keith, unable to find the right words, just nods and his father slowly moves his arm to gently place it on Keith’s wrist.

“You’re going...to be...such a good man,” his father says with gasping through his pauses.

“Dad…”

“I...know it will be hard...but you’ll be just fine. You’re made...of tougher stuff…” his father says and he gives Keith a genuine smile that he lets drop quickly because it takes too much effort.

“I’m...so proud of you...everything you did...everything you’ll do. But you...gotta promise me something, son.”

“Anything,” Keith says and Lance can see that his eyes are glossy with tears.

“You have to promise to...live every day, okay? No matter...how hard it gets...you keep going. You got it?”

Keith’s face is scrunched up into a painful expression like he’s trying to stop himself from crying, but the tears are already seeping from the corner of his eyes.

“I got it,” Keith says, voice raspy and broken.

“And you promise?” his father asks and he gives Keith’s arm a little shake.

Keith nods. “I promise.”

It makes Keith’s father smile again and for a moment he doesn’t look horribly sick or in pain--he looks happy, at peace. Lance can feel an emotion welling in Keith too complicated to name, but it’s equal parts heart-aching grief, bittersweet happiness, and deep, unconditional love. The feeling overwhelms Lance and he’s crying again, but he doesn’t bother to clean his face.

“I love you...so much…” Keith’s father says and Lance recognizes the steely strength he saw in him at the very beginning of the dream. It’s still there, burning fiercely behind his eyes. “Don’t you ever...forget that, Keith. I love you.”

Keith’s face is splotchy now, and stained with the tears he really tried to keep at bay. He makes a few choked breaths through his tears until he’s ready to speak.

“I love you too,” Keith says and his father spreads his arms to his sides.

“How ‘bout...you give your old man...a hug, huh?” Keith’s father asks with another smile.

Keith returns the smile with tight lips, then gently lowers himself onto his father’s chest and his father wraps his too-thin arms around Keith’s shoulders.

And Lance knows it’s goodbye.

 

The scene fast forwards again and this time Lance catches glimpses of the time jump--Keith’s father convulsing a little, Keith panicking and calling out, doctor and nurses coming in, the nice blonde nurse by Keith’s side…

Then, Lance sees Keith’s father go very still and it’s over. It’s all over.

And the scene fades one last time.

And it’s the same exact scene as in the very beginning--the early morning sun shining in through the open window, the curtain billowing softly from the outside breeze, and an empty hospital bed.

And Keith, sitting so still, so quietly in the uncomfortable-looking hospital chair.

Lance hasn’t stopped crying since he saw Keith and his father’s last conversation, and tears just keep leaking out from his eyes like a broken faucet.

Slowly, Lance walks over to Keith to see his face and his breathing stops when he finally sees it.

Keith isn’t crying. He’s just staring at the softly moving curtains with such an empty look in his eye that Lance worries he’s in shock.

It strikes Lance then that Keith, big Keith, is here too and he just had to go through all of that again. It breaks Lance’s heart all over again because going through it once was cruel enough, going through it twice was...merciless.

I want to see him, Lance thinks and the notion balloons in his chest with such force it sends another wave of tears out his eyes. I want to see him so bad.

And the scene fades away.

  

Lance is back in Keith’s house again and he feels like it’s the first time he’s been able to breathe in a long time. There was something absolutely suffocating about the hospital and Lance is glad to be out of it.

He looks around and sees he’s in the hallway that lead to the bedrooms and on a hunch, Lance approaches the door that he believes leads to Keith’s room.

He opens the door slowly, wanting to be as unobtrusive as possible, despite knowing he won’t be seen by anyone other than Keith.

The room is cozy and well-lived in as posters of giant robots, motorcycles, and star charts decorate the walls and dirty clothes, soccer balls, and a skateboard clutter the floor.

Lance’s gaze goes to the twin-sized bed, and there sitting on top of it, is present day Keith himself fiddling with a Swiss Army knife and staring at it in deep thought.

“Keith…” Lance breathes and it’s a choked, needy sound that has Keith looking up immediately.

“Lance,” he starts, something sad and yearning in his eyes, and he makes to get up, but thinks better of it and stays seated. Lance wonders if Keith wanted to hug him, but remembered he couldn’t. It makes the pulsing ache in Lance’s chest thump painfully because he can’t think of anything he’d rather do than wrap his arms around Keith--if only for a moment.

Instead, he relies on his words and hopes they’ll reach.

“Are you okay? I know that’s probably pretty impossible to answer but…”

“I’m fine,” Keith says as he flicks a blade in and out of the Swiss Army knife’s handle with his fingers. He ducks his head, watching himself tinker with the tool, and the look in his eyes is so far away that it scares Lance a little.

He sits next to Keith on the bed as close as he can without touching him (not that he could) and is just with him for a couple moments. He doesn’t know what to say or if there’s anything to say, but he figures being close like this counts for something.

Lance chances a look at Keith and he’s still staring off, eyes glazed over and vacant. It occurs to Lance that Keith might still be there, in that empty hospital room--that he hasn’t come back to the present yet.

“I’m sorry, Keith,” Lance says, trying to ease Keith back to him. “I’m sorry for everything. It...must have been really hard to experience that all again.”

Keith spares Lance a quick glance before he’s back to staring at one of his star charts on the wall.

“Thanks,” is all he says.

Lance tries a new tactic. “Can you tell me what happened after?”

Maybe if he can shift the conversation away from the hospital room, Keith can leave it.

Keith takes a breath, closes his eyes for a couple seconds, and lets out a sigh.

“I didn’t have any family to take me in, so I was put in the system until I aged out,” Keith says with a shrug.  

“How old were you when you went in?”

“Twelve.”

“So, six years?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you move around a lot or did you stay with the same family all six years?”

At this, Keith smirks a little (though it doesn’t reach his eyes) and lets out a breath of a laugh.

“No, I didn’t stay at any one place for very long. Wasn’t very well behaved.”

“What, you? Mr. I’m Building a Motorcycle wasn’t a perfect little angel as a teen? Shocking,” Lance says, trying his hand at a little humor. It wins him another smirk.

“I wasn’t that bad. Just got into a couple fights.”

“Mm-hm.”

“I’m serious.”

“Yeah, sure, buddy. Whatever you say.”

Keith rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “You’re impossible.”

“Impossibly good-looking,” Lance says, flashing Keith a grin and some finger guns.

“Oh my god.”   

Despite himself, Keith laughs a little at Lance’s antics and Lance gives him a wide smile. He has to let it fade though, because as much as he likes the lighter turn their conversation has taken, he knows there’s still things they need to talk about--things Lance has to know.

“Were they good to you? Your foster families?” Lance asks, shifting his body so one leg is fully on the bed, crossed in front of his pelvis while the other dangles off the side, so he can properly look at Keith.

Keith stiffens a little at the question and looks at Lance, then seems a little surprised by how they’re looking straight into each other’s faces now. He turns back to his star chart poster and shrugs.

“They were...fine. Nobody ever hurt me or anything, but y’know, wasn’t ever like we were family.”

“Sounds lonely,” Lance says, before he can even stop and ask if he should, but Keith just shrugs again.

“I was used to it.”

Lance’s heart is in his throat as it sinks in that being on his own is second nature to Keith, like being alone is just part of who he is.

“Keith…” he says, not knowing how to finish the sentence.

“It’s not as bad as it sounds. At my first foster home I met Takashi. He was my foster brother for a year before he aged out and he always kept in contact after that. When I was eighteen he gave me a job and helped me get an apartment, so…”

Lance smiles at that, thankful Keith has some support in his life. Keith has mentioned Takashi a few times to him before, but he didn’t know the extent of their relationship.

“Sounds like a solid dude.”

“Yeah, he is,” Keith says, smiling as he looks back down at his Swiss Army knife.

Noticing how Keith seems to keep coming back to it, Lance studies the knife a little more closely. The blades and tools are shiny and look well taken care of, but the handle is more worn down with chips and scratches.

“Was that your dad’s?” Lance asks gently.

“What?” Keith asks, looking up.

“The knife.”

“Oh. Oh no,” Keith says, fidgeting with the knife again. “It was uh, my mom’s. It’s like a family heirloom or something.”

“Did she give it to you?”

“She left it here when she left. Don’t look at me like that, Lance. I was like, two when it happened. I don’t remember her at all,” Keith says and Lance knows he must have been pulling a pretty pathetic look. It’s just frustrating. Keith had been through the wringer and there’s nothing Lance can do other than listen, but he wants to do more.

“Sorry, I just...she was crazy, man.”

“How’s that?”

“She’d have to be to pass up the chance to see you everyday,” Lance says and the effect is instantaneous. Keith’s eyebrows shoot up into his hairline as his entire face darkens in a blush. Immediately, he buries his face in his hands--the closed Swiss Army knife dangling from between his thumb and index finger and his elbows supported by his quads. As Keith groans out his embarrassment, Lance is overcome with giggling laughter. He always forgets how easily Keith gets flustered, but Lance thinks he’s at his cutest like this.

“God, don’t laugh!” Keith says through his hands, but Lance only laughs harder. “How do you say stuff like that with a straight face?”

“It’s a gift,” Lance says with a grin, and Keith is finally emerging from his hands, still with a darkened face. He’s looking at Lance with a soft expression that makes his stomach flip, but too soon, Keith breaks eye contact and bites at his bottom lip. If Lance didn’t know better, he’d say he looks guilty. Despite the odd look, Lance continues on. “I meant it, though. She’s really missin’ out.”

“God, Lance .”

“Alright, alright! I’m done, I promise,” Lance says, holding his arms up in surrender. “Okay, I just got one more serious question for you and then I’m gonna make fun of you for all of the robot anime posters.”

Keith rolls his eyes, but doesn’t defend himself. “Fine. Shoot.”

Lance takes a breath to gather the courage to ask. He wonders if maybe they should just move on, since Keith seems to be in a better mood, but Lance feels like he has to ask, has to let Keith answer.

“Do you miss him?” Lance asks, trying to make the words easy and gentle off his tongue.

Keith’s face fades into a frown and Lance can see a memory in Keith’s eyes.

“Of course, I do,” Keith says, so quiet it’s basically a whisper. “More than anything, but I also...when it was all happening, I--I don’t know, at some point I was just glad he was out of pain. Near the end, I was almost hoping it would happen sooner rather than--”

Keith stops mid-sentence, surprised at himself, and covers a hand to his mouth. It’s clear he hadn’t meant to say that and it wasn’t what Lance was even asking.

Then, Lance remembers something he read about shared-dream soul links: the dreamscape is a place where the soul cannot hide for long.

Lance wonders if this was some deep secret Keith had been withholding in himself, and if it’s by the dreamscape’s design that he lets it out.

Keith still looks shocked and upset, but Lance can only say his name.

At the sound of his name, Keith looks up at Lance with fear in his eyes. “I’m terrible...wanting something like that…”

And then it clicks for Lance why the dreamscape made Keith say it, and he’s glad it did.

“Keith, oh my god, no. No, I think it makes you merciful and empathetic and selfless. He was...he was so sick, Keith. Wishing for more time, to elongate it all further would have just made him suffer and--god, no Keith. You’re not terrible. I promise,” Lance says and he reaches out for Keith’s hand on the bed. His hand just goes right through Keith’s like their hands are two beams of light crossing and Lance can’t feel it, but he doesn’t care.

Keith’s eyes flick down to where their hands combine and then back at Lance, still stunned.

“You’re good, Keith. You’re really good. And I’ll tell you as many times as I need to get it through that thick mullet of yours,” Lance says and he hopes it’ll make Keith smile, but it doesn’t. Instead, he looks pained and like he’s on the verge of tears. He presses his eyes shut, trying to blink away tears and shakes his head a little.

“No, you’re the good one, Lance,” Keith says, taking his hand away from Lance’s and there’s something in his voice that has Lance scared, like he’s about to drop a bomb. “I have to talk to you about something.”

That does nothing for Lance’s anxiety.

“Keith, what’s wrong?” Lance asks and Keith looks like whatever he’s going to say could kill him.

“Lance, I--” he starts, gritting his teeth in frustration, until he takes a breath and looks Lance square face. “I don’t think I can do this, Lance. The soulmate thing.”

Lance’s heart drops heavy through him like a stone tossed in a lake and he just gapes at Keith for a minute as hurt seeps into his ribcage.

What are you talking about?” Lance says, and he sounds more panicked than he meant it to.

“Lance, please--”

“Are you disappointed? Am I not what you wanted or--”

“No! Oh my god, no. It’s not you--

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence with ‘it’s me’ or I swear to god, Keith.”

“But it is! It is me! It’s--Lance you’re so--I haven’t cared for someone as much as I care about you since my dad and just...going through all of this again made me realize that--that I--

“That what?”

“That I can’t lose you too!” Keith says and Lance leans back, astonished, but he’s not going to let Keith off the hook.

“Keith, you can’t just...not have relationships with people because you’re scared you’ll lose them--”

“Not people, Lance,” Keith says, shaking his head again, “You. I can’t lose you. If you had any idea how much I--I’m already so--”

Keith cuts himself short and gives Lance a look that says please don’t make me say it.

Lance is a jumbled mess of emotions as one part him is shattering because Keith is basically breaking up with him and the other part is soaring because, from what Lance is gathering, Keith likes him a lot.

And Lance likes Keith a lot and he’s not going down without a fight.

“Nuh uh, nope! No way! We’re not doing this, okay? We’re soulmates and souls mate eternal, dude. And look, I can’t promise I’ll live forever, but I can promise I’ll take care of myself. Like, I promise I’ll eat healthy, I promise I’ll exercise, I promise to never text and drive, okay? I’ll do whatever I can to stick around because I’m making a promise to myself, Keith. I’m promising myself I’ll be there for you and that I’ll never let you feel alone because you deserve that.”

“Lance I don’t--”

“You do! You do deserve that, but more than that, I want to do this for you. I want to take care of you and I want you to take of me. I want us to do this together and I know it’s a risk, I really do, but it’s worth it. We’re worth it. If-if you really want me to stay away from you, I will, but god, please don't want that, Keith. I can't lose you either,” Lance says, his eyes prickling with tears once again. He feels like he rambled, but he prays it gets the message across.

Keith is staring at him with wide, soft eyes and an expression Lance can’t read. He looks on at Lance, taking him in, frozen, until finally, he ducks his head and brings one hand to cover his eyes, then lets out a groan.

“It’s really stupid that I can’t touch you,” he says and all the nervous energy in Lance’s chest bursts into a flurry of butterflies.

“So, you done thinking your dumb idea was a good idea?” Lance asks and he’s fighting to keep a goofy grin off his face but it’s a tough won battle. Keith puts his hand down and looks at Lance with his big, pretty eyes. In that moment, Lance really wishes he saw in color because he’s pretty sure Keith’s eyes in color are a knockout.

“I was never gonna win this fight, was I?”

“Never.”

Keith lets out a faux-annoyed sigh, but then gives Lance a sweet, fond smile.

And he’s beautiful--the most beautiful person Lance has ever seen. He didn’t realize at first--too blindsided by their hostile first meeting and the newness of it all, but he sees it now, clear as day.

He sees the way Keith is afraid to let people get too close because then he might love them too much, and then lose them. It’s foolish, but Lance can’t help but find it so very dear. It’s only been a month, but Keith has carved his name deep within Lance’s heart and this feeling? The feeling he has when he looks at Keith and Keith is looking back? The one that makes him feel infinite and indestructible? Yeah, that feeling’s not going anywhere.

In this moment, they’re just breathing each other in and there’s no need for words--it’s enough to just be. Then, Keith is moving his hand to brush his knuckles against Lance’s cheek and he stares at the spot where they’d be touching if they dreamscape allowed it with a quiet yearning in his eye and Lance feels an invisible rope underneath his solar plexus yank at him. He closes his eyes and imagines what Keith’s hand on his skin feels like, and if he imagines hard enough, he can almost feel.

He lets out a small sigh as he thinks about really meeting Keith. He thinks about hugs and hand-holding and stolen kisses in the middle of the day. It’s a bittersweet dream-within-a-dream since there’s no way to tell when they’re going to meet for real, but Lance is getting impatient. So impatient.

He briefly wonders if that impatience is him, his soul, or both?

Slowly, he opens his eyes and sees Keith still looking at him with his shining irises and his hand still hovering by Lance’s face and god, Lance just wants.

So, he tells him.

“God, I can’t wait to love you,” Lance says in a breath of a voice, quiet and secret just for them.

And Lance means love as a verb, not just as a state he’s in. He can’t wait to love Keith and all that means, like throwing a blanket over him when he falls asleep on the couch, or cooking his favorite breakfast in the morning or bringing him flowers just because. He can’t wait to make Keith smile, to make him happy. Because when it comes to being in the state of love, Lance is already there and he can do so much more.

Keith looks at Lance and his eyes are so full of something that Lance can’t name, but it’s a something that’s setting his heart on fire and filling him up with so much affection he might burst.

“I know you won’t be able to feel this but…” Keith says, trailing off and letting his hand float down to the bed. Then, he’s leaning closer and his eyes are lidded and Lance is catching on.

And because they can’t actually touch each other, they revel in the moment before contact--the almost.

That’s the best part, anyway, Lance thinks as his own lids grow heavy and Keith gets closer. They’re at the point now where they’re taking peeks at each other’s lips, but then meet each other’s eyes again.

And it’s intimate and special, more so than any kiss Lance has ever had. When Keith tilts his head and juts his chin out ever so slightly, Lance’s chest is a frenzy of caged birds and his stomach is doing triple Axels. He moves too, letting himself move right in the spot that Keith has made for him and allows his eyes to fall shut.

He doesn’t know how, but he can tell the exact moment their lips intersect because it lights a match in Lance’s veins and causes his organs to burst into fireworks. They’re just resting their lips there, but it feels like they’re sharing so much more than a kiss. It feels like they’ve found the secret to the universe and the answer is each other.

And Lance is never going to be the same.

They part slowly and don’t move very far, enjoying the closeness, then open their eyes at the same time and hold each other’s gazes. Lance can’t help but smile wide and it causes a chain reaction in Keith who mirrors him.

“I felt it,” Lance says, like it’s a secret.

If it’s possible, Keith’s face gets softer, fonder.

“I did too.”

Then, very quickly, haze gathers in the corners of Lance’s vision and he’s surrounded by darkness before he can say goodbye. 

 

 

He wakes with his tears washing off parts of his aloe and cucumber mask.


 

“Leandro, this is the second week you’ve called just to say ‘I love you’. What is going on?” Lance’s mom says through the phone and he can hear one of her eyebrows go up in suspicion.

“Can’t a boy just call and tell his mamá he loves her?” Lance asks, a teasing smile forming on his face. In truth, Lance really is just calling to say he loves her as his past two dreams with his soulmate have taught him not to take her for granted.

“They can, but they don’t. Especially, when they’re twenty-year-old college boys. I had two boys before you, Leandro, don’t forget.”

“Yeah, but I’m the sweet baby brother who calls his mamá just to tell her he loves her. No strings attached!”

“I don’t believe you. Do you need more money?”

“No! Mamá! Luís and Marco traumatized you,” Lance says, rolling his eyes at his rambunctious older brothers. “I’m serious. I just miss you is all.”

“Aw, mijo. I miss you too. Every day,” she says and he can tell there’s a lump in her throat, so naturally, there’s one in his too. “So, did you find a job yet?”

Mamá!” Lance groans.

“What? You told me you’d get a job right away when you got back to school. I’m not made of money, Leandro.”

I know, Mamá. I’m waiting to hear back from the flower shop, remember? I told you.”

“I remember! Call them back! Ask the status of your application.”

“They don’t want you to do that.”

“Sure they do.”

“Mamá.”

“Leandro.”

 

It’s been a couple of days since his last shared dream and everyone around him is noticing that something is up. His mom can’t understand why he’d call just to say ‘I love you’, his professors are taking him to the side and wondering if everything is okay at home, and his friends are just flat out annoyed.

“Lance!” Pidge says, all but shouting in his ear and causing him to jump in his seat.

“What, Pidge?! Geez…” Lance says, touching his violated ear.

“You’re doing that thing again.”

“What thing?”

“The thing where you’re thinking about your soulmate and get a dopey look on your face and freak everyone out,” Hunk says from behind his physics textbook.

“I wasn’t--” Lance starts, but stops himself when his two best friends give him flat looks. He isn’t winning this one. “Okay, fine. Maybe I was.”

“Are you okay, dude? I feel like every time you have one of those mind-link dream thingies you get more and more spacey,” Hunk says and Lance can’t disagree with him. All of his waking hours seem to be spent on trying to remember his soulmate’s face and name or replaying the things he does remember over and over again (their kiss features heavily).

He goes through the mundane routine of his day in a daze and at some point, Lance started to feel more awake in his dreams than he does when he’s, well, awake.

“Yeah, no I’m fine. I just...I dunno, it’s hard to explain,” Lance says, scratching at the sleeve of his coffee cup for want of something to do. “It’s like every day we don’t meet, the more off I feel. It hurts not being with him, y’know?”

“Gross.”

Lance narrows his eyes at Pidge. Hunk, angel that he is, slaps her shoulder.

“Be nice,” Hunk says while Pidge rubs her assaulted shoulder and glares daggers at him. “I’m sorry, buddy. That sounds really hard. You think there’s anyway you can speed up the process?”

“No, I--” Lance starts, but is cut off by the loud buzzing vibrating in his jacket pocket. He quickly pulls it out and looks at the screen. “It’s the flower shop!”

“What are you doing?! Answer it!” Pidge snaps.

“Answer it, dude!”

“I’m answering! I’m answering!” Lance says, getting up and dashing to exit the cafe before finally accepting the call. “Hello?”

“Lance, hey! It’s Shiro from Coming Up Roses,” the manager says and Lance’s heart is beating wildly because he knows he’s calling to say yay or nay.

“Hey, Shiro! How are you?” Lance asks, trying to keep his voice steady.

“Yeah, good. You?”

“Great, thank you for asking,” Lance says and he rolls his eyes at himself for being so overly-formal.

“Oh, yeah. Of course,” Shiro says and Lance is dying because for some reason, being an adult means you have to have this dumb exchange every time you talk to someone and Lance just wants to know. “So, anyway, I wanted to give you a call because I really liked meeting you the other week and I think you’d be a great fit for the position if you’re still interested.”

Lance’s face immediately breaks into a huge grin as adrenaline from the suspense pumps through him. “Oh, wow, really? Awesome! Yeah, I definitely still want the position. Thank you so much!”

“Don’t mention it. Do you think you could come in this coming Monday from noon to close?”

“Yeah! I can do that!”

“Okay, perfect. So, I’m gonna have you train with my assistant manager and he’ll show you the ropes. Mondays are pretty slow, so you shouldn’t have too hard of a day. Just make sure to bring your ID, social security card, and a voided check so I can get you on payroll. We’ll work out your schedule once you get here. Have any questions for me?”

“Nope! That all sounds great. Thanks, Shiro.”

“No worries. I’ll see you Monday, Lance.”

“Okay, bye!”

“Bye.”

Lance hangs up the phone and stares at his screen for several seconds. He doesn’t know why, but he’s really excited, like this is going to open a whole new set of doors for him. Smiling and excited to start something new, Lance looks back at his phone and immediately calls his mom.

Lance spends Sunday evening stressed that he won’t be able to hear a single word his trainer will tell him because his thoughts are always so full of his soulmate. It’s been almost a week since their last dream and Lance misses him--it’s an ache that hits him right in the chest and tugs at him like a fish caught on a hook.

It’s frustrating how distracted he is and he can see how it’s affecting his school work--his test scores haven’t been stellar and he’s gotten a couple “be careful to watch your average, Mr. McClain” emails.

He’s probably just as annoyed with himself as everyone else is with him, but he truly can’t help it. His astronomy teacher will talk about nebulas and galaxies and all he can think about is stargazing under a desert sky with his soulmate. Hunk starts talking about his engineering classes and Lance’s mind is drifting off to when his soulmate excitedly told him about the motorcycle he’s building from scratch in his garage. He sees a succulent in a windowsill on his walk back to the dorms and he nearly trips over himself thinking about their first meeting.

It’s so bad that it could seriously cost him this job if he’s not careful and he really needs it not to cost him his job because his mom will kill him.

Lance gets into bed, aloe and cucumber mask applied and ready to go, and tells himself tomorrow, you’re on your best behavior. No soulmate thoughts for the whole day.

But, of course, the dreamscape has other plans.


 

He’s in blackness--the same blackness he swims in right before he wakes up, but he’s never spent more than a couple seconds here. It’s a blackness that’s all encompassing and spreads in every direction.

What’s most disorienting is the lack of solid ground--or anything solid at all for that matter--as Lance is just floating in space trying (and failing) to find purchase anywhere. He gives up pretty early on and lets himself float like he lets himself tread water in the ocean.

This gets boring quickly and Lance even starts to feel a little panic prickle at his chest. He’s always disliked the dark ever since that day in the rain, but it never bothered him in the dreamscape until now. He’s been in it too long and it’s just too black and too quiet and too much like hopelessness.

Thankfully, he’s saved from spiralling further when something glimmers ahead at an indiscernible distance. It starts off small at first, just a flash of white light, until it grows like something is ripping into the fabric of the darkness.

The tear grows until it’s about the size of a door and Lance has to raise his hand in front of his eyes to protect them from its brightness. The brightness dims a bit as a figure comes through the tear and is silhouetted by the light behind.

A silhouette's all Lance needs to know that it’s Keith and the panic he’s been feeling within in his ribcage dissolves away into a bright warmth that’s become synonymous with seeing his soulmate. A little, fond smile is already on his face before he realizes it and he’s able to glide himself toward the figure.

As the tear starts to shrink, Keith is coming into focus and once he sees Lance, his face lights up into one of Lance’s favorite smiles. The tear, now about the size of a dinner plate, moves so it’s above and casting light on the both of them in the everlasting darkness.

Lance is pushing through the darkness towards Keith, powered by an unknowable source since he has nothing to gain momentum off of, and as he gets closer, he realizes he doesn’t know how to turn on the brakes. He’s hurtling towards Keith and will likely slide right through him, but Keith holds out his arms to catch him anyway.

Lance tries to reign himself back enough to stop, and it slows him down, but it’s not enough.

He’s just about to go through Keith when it happens--he hits something solid.

And that something solid is Keith.

They both gasp at the initial contact and look at each other, stunned, but only for a second, before they collapse in each other’s arms.

Lance wraps his arms tightly around Keith’s shoulders, while Keith hugs around his middle and it feels like a miracle. Keith is solid in Lance’s arms, but he also doesn’t feel like a human would--there’s no warmth or softness to his body. Instead, it’s hard and hollow, like Lance is holding a mannequin. It’s not the same as it would be in the waking world, but he’ll take what he can get.

“Hey,” he breathes, a quiet happiness in his voice. He’s just now realizing how his shoulders seem so much less tense and that he’s breathing a little easier. It’s just...really good to see Keith.

“Hey,” Keith responds and Lance can tell by the sound of his voice that he’s glad to see Lance too.

They take a couple moments to revel in their embrace, but eventually, they pull back, still holding onto each other’s arms to keep steady and smile.

“So, what kind of weird soulmate trial is the dreamscape putting us through tonight?” Lance asks, looking around but still only finding darkness.

“Not sure,” Keith says, taking in his surroundings. “But I’m sure we’ll find out.”

Then, as if on cue, a gust of wind blows through the darkness and howls like a creature in the night. It swoops in and circles Lance and Keith until the wind starts to take form of the same cloud-like substance that showed Lance a montage of Keith’s memories.  

“What...is this?” Keith says over the tornado forming around them. As it forms, it’s howling starts to quiet and it isn’t blowing their hair and clothes as much.

“I think,” Lance starts, his hands tightening around Keith’s forearms, “I think it’s trying to show us something.”

Then, just as before, moving images like video clips appear on the interior of the tornado as if it was a screen.

The visions are far different from what Lance had seen in their last dream, however. This time, there are dozens of scenes playing at once all over the cloud-screen and they’re all of several different pairs of people Lance has never seen before.

There’s nothing that seems to be connecting the pairs at all as they all come from different time periods, different countries, different lives. The only similarity Lance can really come up with is that they were all couples--

And then it hits Lance.

They’re us, he thinks and it’s from somewhere deep within his soul that he knows he’s right. Lance focuses in on one of the couples--two women in regency England, exchanging forbidden letters of love to each other. One is tall with bright, kind eyes and the other has darker features and a quiet kindness in her smile. Lance knows instantly that the tall woman was him and the other was Keith.

It’s like this for all the visions--Lance sees a couple (all of them differing in gender, race, and creed) and can instantly tell which one had his soul and which one had Keith’s.

“This is…” Keith starts, but the sentence dies in his throat.

“Our past lives,” Lance finishes for him, his voice a whisper.

Lance tries to take all of them in, but there’s too many and he can only get glimpses. He sees a boy and girl playing hopscotch in 1920’s New York that end up being high school sweethearts. He sees two men sending each other glances, but looking away when they catch the other looking in 1600s Japan. He sees the pair of them throughout all of history and it’s strange and overwhelming and beautiful.

Lance is tearing up as he attempts to process all of what he’s seeing and Keith squeezes his arms, anchoring him back. Lance breathes and sends him a half-smile that says don’t worry, I’m okay.

Then, the visions fade back into the whirlwind as if they were never there to begin with and the whirlwind changes directions.

More visions fill up the space, but they happen a couple at a time instead of all at once and the subject this time is much more familiar.

He sees Keith, how he is now, feeding a stray ginger cat on his fire escape and smiling down at it. He sees himself talking and laughing with Pidge and Hunk at their favorite coffee shop. He sees Keith watering succulents and sees himself putting on his evening face mask. Then, he starts to see flashes of their time together in the dreamscape: Lance scaring Keith into breaking a pot in the white space, them laughing over some dumb joke by Lance’s beach, them laying next to each other and stargazing in Keith’s desert, and Keith sitting next to Lance at his family’s dining room table.

Finally, it shows the scene of the two of them facing each other on Keith’s childhood bed and leaning in to give each other an almost kiss. It’s embarrassing and it makes Lance’s cheeks go hot, but it also sets off a bubbly, happy feeling in him that has him smiling from ear-to-ear.

He sneaks a glance at Keith and isn’t disappointed. He’s craning his face as far away from the vision as he can without cracking his neck backwards and his entire face has gone several shades darker. It sends Lance into a giggle fit.

“Your face!” Lance says through his laughter.

“Shut up, Lance!”

“Oh my god, you’re such a wilting flower,” Lance says and takes one hand away from Keith to wipe a tear from his eye.

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

“Aw, babe. Don’t be mad.”

“‘B-babe’?!” Keith sputters and he looks at Lance like he’s just punched him in the face.

“Aww, what? Do you not like it?” Lance asks. Keith face flashes through five different pained expressions and Lance is a little worried he’s going to die.

“It’s...it’s fine,” he says, clearly flustered.

Lance doesn’t have a chance to tease him further, though, as the whirlwind surrounding them changes directions again.

Lance and Keith look away from each other and back at the whirlwind as a new set of visions materialize. These are similar to the last set as only a couple pop up at a time, but the first few that crop up has Lance confused. They’re all of Lance and Keith together, but Lance has no memory of them ever happening.

He sees the two of them getting frozen yogurt together and flinging mochi at each other in the heat of summer. He sees them in thick coats and scarves, hand-in-hand with gloves forgotten during the winter. He sees them running out of the rain and stealing a wet kiss under an antique shop’s awning.

A new set of visions swirl around them and this time they look a little older. Keith has his hair tied back and Lance is wearing his glasses (something he usually avoids at all costs), but this Lance doesn’t mind as he wraps his arms around Keith from behind and places a kiss at the base of his neck. The rest are just mundane moments--cuddling on the couch watching a movie, talking over dinner, Lance playing with their Russian Blue cat while Keith watches on in amusement.

He sees his mom wrapping her arms around Keith with a smile. He sees his brothers and sisters laughing with Keith as they tease Lance about something or other during Christmas dinner. He sees them all together as a family.

It’s our future, Lance thinks and as soon he does his breath hitches, and Keith gives his arms a reassuring squeeze because he’s probably figured it out as well.

The scenes come and go faster so that Lance can only get an idea of what is happening but he sees them getting older, sees their smiles and their fights, sees moments where they’re looking at the other but don’t notice, and sees gold bands wrap around their ring fingers.

Lance watches their hair get grayer and their looks get fonder. He watches himself kiss Keith’s temple and Keith kiss his palm. He watches in wonder as he sees a bunch of trivial moments of their lives together--their whole lives.

And suddenly, Lance never has to feel afraid again because by the time the visions stop the Lance and Keith in them are almost unrecognizably old, but they’re still holding hands. They’re still holding hands.

As the last vision fades away, so too does the whirlwind that circled them and it’s just the two of them suspended in the inky blackness together.

Lance moves his head to look at Keith, but Keith is already looking at him and Lance couldn’t accurately describe his face if he tried. It’s strange mix of bewilderment and wonder and fondness and hope, so much hope that it could make Lance cry.

It’s only when Keith brings a palm to Lance’s cheek and brushes away a tear with his thumb that he realizes he’s already crying.

Keith is still smiling, but he looks a little worried, so Lance laughs and shakes his head to let him know he’s alright, and then places his own hand over Keith’s to let him know he’s more than alright. He’s great, the best he’s ever been because he knows now. He knows he and Keith are going to get their happily ever after.

He can tell by Keith’s smile and the slight sheen in his eyes that he’s realized this too and Lance presses a delicate kiss to Keith’s palm. It feels like his lips are just grazing plastic, but it’s more than worth it for the look it pulls from Keith--surprised, but so soft, so sincere that Lance makes sure to commit it to memory. He wants to take that look with him wherever he goes, never leave home without it.

Keith’s palm goes back on Lance’s cheek with a gentle brush of his thumb and his sweet expression fades into something contemplative before he asks, “Hey, can I tell you something?”

Lance intertwines Keith’s free hand with his and gives it a squeeze that’s returned.

“Anything,” Lance says because he can see that whatever Keith wants to say, it’s not easy.

“Okay, uh,” Keith says, taking a deep breath, “do you remember when you asked me what my biggest dream was? Back in the desert?”

Lance nods and Keith’s hand slides from his face before he pulls away, but keeps their hands interlocked. Keith is staring off into the darkness, gathering the courage to say what he needs to say and Lance gives his hand another reassuring squeeze.

“It’s...that,” Keith says in a ghost of a voice and he’s staring off at where the visions once were. Lance looks at the spot, then looks back at Keith.

“What?”

“A family.”

And Lance heart flutters, and stops, then does loop-de-loops, because if he wasn’t already so far gone for Keith (and he is), then he certainly would be now.

"Keith..."

“I just...thought I should tell you,” Keith says, looking away embarrassed and all Lance can do is crush him to his chest. Keith is stunned and tense at first, but in a moment he relaxes into it and wraps his arms around Lance, burying his head into the crook of Lance’s neck.

“Thank you for telling me,” Lance says, holding Keith as tightly as he can. “And boy, did you pick the right soulmate for family. You're gonna have so much family you're not gonna know what to do with it all. God, mamá’s gonna spoil you, I hope you know that. And she’s not gonna stop stuffing your face with food, so get ready for that. Oh, Veronica’s gonna tease you mercilessly about your hair. You think I’m bad? Roni’s gonna be brutal. Marco’s gonna love you because he’s just as big of conspiracy theorist as you--”

Lance stops when he feels his neck vibratre with Keith softly laughing against him. Keith looks up at Lance with that same soft, sincere expression Lance already loves so much and smiles. “And what about you?”

Lance smirks at that and gently brushes Keith’s hair out of his face. “Well, I’m the man of your dreams, of course. Every family needs one.”

“And a cat.”

Lance laughs. “Oh, yeah, that’s rule numero uno.”

The joke makes Keith smile wide and there’s no more need for words between them. So, they just float, holding onto each other, both radiating and all Lance can think is I can’t wait to start my life with you.

And, too soon, Lance’s vision blurs, Keith is gone, and he’s alone in the darkness.

 

He wakes up with his aloe and cucumber mask ruined by tears again, but he’s too busy floating on a cloud to care.


 

If Lance thought he wouldn’t be able to concentrate at work before, then he has no doubt of it now as it’s taken him an extra thirty minutes to get ready for the day because, apparently, Lance can’t effectively brush his teeth and plan his future wedding at the same time.

I’m gonna be late and then I’m gonna do a bad job and then I’m gonna get fired on my very first day, he thinks as he laces up his shoes. It should probably worry him more, but it’s hard to care too much when he’s going to get a cute boyfriend soon who he’s going to be with for the rest of his life (and probably every life after).

Still, Lance has responsibilities and he really doesn’t want to deal with the inevitable phone call with his mother if he gets fired in his first week.

As he walks to the flower shop, running a little late, he practices paying attention to his surroundings to keep his mind off his soulmate. He sees an alley cat poking at some discarded bag at the side of the street and thinks of how cute it is, but his mind betrays him instantly and reminds Lance that he and his soulmate get a cat in the future. He lets out a frustrated sigh and looks around for something else to focus on. He sees a girl with a ponytail and remembers that his soulmate sometimes likes to put his hair up too. He sees a man wearing a wedding band and remembers he’s going to wear one someday. He sees an old man getting onto a bus and remembers he and his soulmate get to grow old together.

He buries his face in one of his hands and lets out a small moan.

Plan backfired, he thinks and he doesn’t know by how much until he checks his phone and sees he’s already two minutes late to work when he’s still got five minutes worth of a walk left to go. Jolting himself into action at the realization, Lance starts sprinting towards the flower shop, but then slows down to a jog because the last thing he needs is to be late and sweaty.

He gets to the shop, Coming Up Roses, which is a little corner shop in downtown and Lance has been enchanted by its charm ever since he first saw it. There are rows of bouquets on display outside of the shop and a folding chalkboard that says, “Have your fill with half-off daffodils!” with a little drawing of the flower to go with it. Lance briefly smiles at the sign’s endearing cheesiness before pushing open the shop’s door to go inside.

Above him, a bell tinkles to announce his entrance and Lance looks down at his phone to see he’s only five minutes late. He hopes his trainer won’t give him too much grief about it, but he wouldn’t blame them if they did.

“Be out in a sec!” a male voice calls and it sounds so familiar, but Lance can’t place it and it’s definitely not Shiro.

While he waits, he takes a better look at the shop since he didn’t get a chance to fully appreciate it when he was interviewed. It looks bigger on the inside than it does on the outside and it’s filled head-to-toe with fresh cut flowers of all kinds. Every wall has rows of different types and little labels that display their meanings in the language of flowers. Then in the center is a circular display with pre-made bouquets that are labeled for different sorts of events and occasions like “Date Night”,“Homecoming?”, “Congratulations!” and “Condolences”.

Then, there’s the back wall that has shelves of potted plants--rose buds, orchids, and a whole assortment of succulents (Lance makes a mental note to use his employee discount to get one of those for his soulmate once they finally meet). The back wall is also where the cashier’s counter lives and in its far corner is a curtained doorway to the back room.

Taking in a big whiff of the mix of scents from the flowers and soil, Lance finds himself poking at one of the bouquets in the center and wishes he could see all of it in color. With a sigh, he waves off the thought and instead thinks of all the great selfies he can get here.

It’s then that he hears footsteps shuffle beyond the curtain and Lance moves out from behind the display to see them.

“Sorry for making you wait I--” the person starts but he stops immediately when he sees Lance.

And Lance has stopped too.

Everything has stopped.

The person in front of him is not immediately recognizable to him, but there’s a pounding in his chest that won’t stop screaming I know you I know you I know you I know you I know you.

His brain is trying to understand, make sense of why his entire body is aching, but it’s just too scrambled to make sense of anything. This person’s face is just too familiar that his head is spinning and his knees are weak.

Then, before he can get himself oriented, his vision starts changing. It starts in the person’s eyes, then spreads to his skin, and out into the shop--to the counter, to the succulents, to the flowers.

The wind gets knocked right out of Lance as the shades of grey he’s used to seeing his whole life fade away into these different, bright, overwhelming shades he’s never seen before and it’s then that he realizes I’m seeing in color.

He almost has to shield his eyes from the brightness of it all, but his eyes are greedy to feast on as many colors as he can and the flower shop is a buffet of hues. There’s so many more than Lance every realized. As a kid, he was taught ROY G. BIV like everyone else, but that’s only seven colors and Lance knows now that it was just the surface and that there’s so much more.  

Lance can feel how wide his eyes are and the way his body is trembling, but when he goes back to the person, the spark that lit this entire powder keg of chain reactions, he seems just as stunned and disoriented. Lance takes in his face--really takes it in and he remembers.

Lance remembers.

 

“Wait, you got a job interview at a flower shop called Coming Up Roses?” Keith asks, looking at Lance with wide eyes as they sit on the sleeping bag in Keith’s desert.

“Yeah, why?”

“That’s where I work, Lance,” Keith says and his face cracks into the biggest smile Lance has ever seen on him and Lance starts screaming.

“ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” he yells and Keith winces at his volume. “Keith do you know what this means?!”

“Yeah, genius. I think I do,” Keith says and he’s being sarcastic, but he’s also laughing so Lance lets it slide.

“Oh my god, Keith! Keith! Keeeiiith. That’s how we meet! We’re gonna meet soon!” Lance says and if there were walls around him, he’d be bouncing off of them.

 

It all snaps into place. His soulmate’s name and face and location. It all comes flooding back into his memory and he’s right there.

Keith. His soulmate.

And, god, he’s so much more beautiful in person.

And in color.

The return of his memories helps Lance come back to his senses, but Keith (Keith!) hasn’t because Lance hears him gasp and drop whatever he was holding.

It falls to the floor with a loud crash and Lance can see now that it was once a potted succulent, but now it’s a mess of broken clay, scattered soil, and a threatened plant.

The crash snaps Keith out of his frozen state and he curses underneath his breath before sinking to the floor to pick up the broken bits of clay on the floor.

Without thinking, Lance rushes to kneel in front of Keith and help pick up the mess, but as soon as Keith sees Lance’s hands reach out, he stops moving.

Then, slowly, Keith raises his head to meet Lance’s eyes and Lance is so struck by the color of Keith’s irises that his breath hitches.

“Keith,” he whispers and it feels so good to say his name out loud for real.

Hearing his name, Keith’s eyes widen again before they well with tears.

“Lance,” he says, his voice shaky and soft, yet it hits Lance like a sucker punch to the gut and his insides are lighting up like fireworks once again.

And he’s too overwhelmed with it all and water starts collecting in his eyes as well and he has no idea what to do except stare at Keith. Keith isn’t being too helpful either as he’s just staring back and Lance wants to touch him or hug him or something, but he can’t think of how exactly. He sees that their hands are already so close and decides that might be a good place to start. At a snail-like pace, Lance moves his hand to take Keith’s and he’s just about to grasp it when--

“Hey, Keith! I heard something crash, is everyth--uh, what’s going on?”

Shiro. Of course, it’s Shiro.

They snap up to their full heights like they’ve been bitten and hastily wipe at their wet eyes. Lance blushes at how odd this must look to Shiro--two guys almost holding hands, staring into each other’s eyes, crying, all while over a mess of a broken pot.

“Takashi! This is uh--”

“Lance, yeah I know. He’s our new hire. Do you two know each other or…?” Shiro asks with a quirked eyebrow and Lance just scratches the back of his head and studies the floor.

“Uh, yeah. We do. He’s uh, y’know, the guy...from the dreams…” Keith says, voice getting quieter as he goes on.

Shiro’s eyebrows shoot up right to his hairline as he looks from Keith to Lance and back to Keith again.

“Whoa, hold up. Lance is your soulmate?!”

“Takaaashiii,” Keith groans and Lance’s face is still a heated mess, but he chances a look over at Keith whose face is a totally different color than it was before and Lance wishes he had a name for it. “Yeah, he’s--yeah that’s who he is.”

After Keith’s admission he looks over at him, his soulmate, and Lance can’t help but smile. Keith, too, can’t keep the corners of his mouth from twitching upwards and it has that warm, bubbly feeling swelling in Lance’s chest again.

“Wow, okay, you two--take the day off,” Shiro says with his hands up in surrender.

“Takashi, I can still work--”

“No. Nope. I’ve had enough friends go through the whole soulmate thing to know you’ll both be useless today,” Shiro says, a little exasperated, but Lance can see a faint glimmer of happiness for his little brother through it. “I hope you don’t mind if we reschedule your training for another time, Lance.”

“Fine by me, boss,” Lance says sending him a smile. “But yeah, I am going to be a total mess today, so probably a good call.”

“What about the store? You can’t run it by yourself.”

Shiro just shrugs and says, “I’ll call Allura in. She wanted the extra hours anyway.”

“But--”

“Keith. It’s fine,” Shiro starts, his face melting into a warm smile. “Go bond with your soulmate. I’ll clean up the mess.”

Keith’s blush has reached the tips of his ears now, but he nods. “Okay. Uh, thanks, Takashi.”

“No worries.”

“Um, I left my wallet and phone in the back, so…” Keith says to Lance pointing to the back room.

“I’ll go with you,” Lance says because he’s not exactly eager to be alone with his soulmate’s only family member when he just met him a few minutes ago.

Keith leads the way into the back which is a small, dimly-lit hallway that contains three doors and a set of mini-lockers on the free wall. Quickly, Keith pulls off the apron he was wearing and hangs it on a hook before going to his locker and grabbing his belongings.

He turns back to Lance and Lance’s belly swoops all over again at the sight of him.

“So, uh, where should we go?” Keith asks.

“Oh, wow, definitely didn’t think that far ahead. Um, I dunno, is there a coffee shop around here?” Lance asks.

“That seems a little…”

“Crowded?”

“Yeah.”

“Uh, well…” Lance trails off, trying to think of a good place. His apartment’s not far, but he doesn’t think that’s appropriate for their first...outing? Date?

I mean, we’ve kinda kissed already and we’re soulmates so isn’t everything a date? Lance thinks, and before he can spiral further, Keith snaps him out of it.

“We have an outdoor patio in the back,” Keith says pointing to one of the doors in the hallway. “It’s where we keep a lot of our extra stock and there’s a break table so…”

“Will Shiro mind?”

“Naw, he just had his break so we’ll have it to ourselves for at least a couple hours, if we need it.”

“Okay, yeah, that sounds good,” Lance says, smiling, and when Keith smiles back he’s sure his heart will give out before they make it outside.

Keith leads the way, getting the door for Lance and Lance is just about to tease him for being such a gentleman when he stops in his tracks and gasps.

With the door open and Lance halfway through its frame, Lance can see the sky.

“WHOA!” he yells, racing out into the middle of the concrete patio that’s lined with buckets of flowers and craning his neck upward. “Keith, is that blue?!”

“What?” Keith asks, catching up to him and Lance notices his eyes seem full of just as much wonder as Lance feels.

“The sky! It’s blue, right?!” Lance asks, bursting with excitement.

“Wait, you don’t know what color the sky is?”

“Oh,” Lance says, then laughs because he realizes he never told Keith about his colorblindness. “Yeah, I only ever saw in black-and-white until--”

“You saw me?”

“Yeah! How’d you know?” Lance asks and Keith smiles again.

“Because the same thing happened to me.”

At this point, Lance isn’t even surprised, but he laughs anyway. “Hey, Keith, I think we might be soulmates.”

“I was hoping you’d have a better sense of humor in real life,” Keith teases and Lance narrows his eyes at him.

“Excuse you, I have a great sense of humor in and out of my dreams, so don’t even start with me, Mullet.”

“Your best insult is just calling me by my hairstyle.”

“Ah ha! So, you admit it’s a mullet!”

“Oh my god, Lance.”

“Hey, you brought it up.”

“You’re so annoying,” Keith says, rolling his eyes, but his smile hasn’t left his face so Lance assumes he’s not that annoying. “But yeah, I think that’s blue.”

“Man, I already love it. Blue’s the same color as the ocean too,” Lance says, bursting. He can’t wait to see how the ocean looks now--how everything looks now.

“Your eyes too,” Keith says, small and quiet but Lance hears it just fine. It makes something go soft in him and suddenly, he’s very tired of beating around the bush, so he closes some of the distance between them and stands in front of Keith.

Keith’s eyes widen a fraction but he doesn’t pull away, instead just meets Lance’s gaze and Lance is desperate to know what color his eyes are.

“Yeah?” Lance asks in a whisper and he sees Keith swallow.

“Yeah. They’re blue too. It’s uh…” Keith pauses, looking for the right word. “They’re beautiful.”

Lance feels his heart hammering in his chest again and his skin tingles.

“Yeah, well. You’re kind of gorgeous all around so…”

Keith’s skin immediately fades into that darker color and Lance decides it’s his new mission in life to make Keith blush as much as he can.

Keith ducks his head into one of his hands and groans. “How do you say stuff like that with a serious face?”

“I told you, it’s a gift. Aww, now, come on. Don’t hide your face now that I’m actually able to see it in real life!”

“Then, stop saying embarrassing stuff!”

“How is it embarrassing for your soulmate to tell you you’re gorgeous?” Lance asks, laughing and reveling in how easy it is to go back into their familiar rhythm. Keith is exactly who he was in the dreams and that alone has Lance’s heart soaring.

“I swear to god, Lance. Shut up.”

“Shut me up,” Lance says and it’s meant to rile Keith up, but once it’s out of Lance’s mouth, he realizes it sounds like an invitation to something else.

Slowly, both of their smiles fade and they’re frozen on the spot. The butterflies that have been flying around in Lance’s stomach since he saw Keith have transformed into flying dragons that have little-to-no regard for his well-being.

Keith is the first one to move. He raises his hand and carefully draws the back of his knuckles towards Lance’s cheek. When they brush against the skin there it’s with the lightest of touches but it still sets Lance’s skin on fire and his breath catches in his throat on contact.

Getting bolder, Keith turns his hand and rests a palm on Lance’s cheek, while his thumb gently brushes against Lance’s skin. Lance leans into the touch, his eyes wanting to close into it, but he doesn’t let them because he hasn’t stared at Keith nearly enough yet.

Keith is mesmerized by his own palm on Lance’s cheek and after a while he says, “Wow, you weren’t kidding.”

“Hmm?”

“Your skin. It’s...really soft.”

“Oh.”

“Got nothing to say to that?” Keith asks, teasing, and Lance lets out a small laugh, but he’s not very interested in teasing each other right now, he’s too preoccupied with how perfect Keith’s surprisingly smooth hand feels against his cheek.  

“Just that I’m...really excited I found you. Don’t think I could have handled another week of that.”

Keith’s face softens at that and he takes a baby step closer to Lance, which makes Lance’s breath catch in his throat again, but he quickly responds by placing his hands on Keith’s hips, which are warm and alive beneath his fingertips.  

“Me too,” Keith says, so quiet, it’s barely a whisper. “I...going to sleep has been the best part of my day...because it meant I might get to see you.”

Immediately, Lance’s face goes up in flames.

“Okay, sorry, man, but I’m at my limit.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” Keith asks, a little worried as he moves his hands to Lance’s chest.

“If I don’t kiss you in like, the next second I’m going to die,” Lance says and it’s a terrifying line, but he doesn’t regret it when Keith blinks at him with his cheeks darkening again. The blank look quickly fades into a devilish smirk and a dangerous glint in his eyes, and Lance feels his grip tighten on Keith’s hips.

“Well, we can’t have you dying--” Keith starts, but Lance stops him with a kiss. Immediately, Keith sighs into it, moving an arm around Lance’s neck to bring him closer and clutching at Lance’s collar with the other. It causes a needy sound to come out of the back of Lance’s throat so he tilts his head to get a better angle and moves a hand to Keith’s cheek, his fingers weaving into his mess of hair.

Keith is a furnace against him and it ignites every cell in Lance’s body like a Christmas tree. With every move, every slide of their lips, every sharp intake of breath, Lance feels himself melting and becoming an absolute goner for the man in his arms. It’s like his life isn’t just his own any more, but now something he has to share with Keith, and likewise, Keith must share his with Lance--an equivalent exchange. They’d known that they were interconnected and bound to each other for months, but it’s final and absolute now, and Lance doesn’t have the words for how that feels.  

When they separate and open their eyes, Lance swears that the colors are even brighter than they were before.

“So,” Keith starts, voice wrecked, “you think you’ll make it?”

Lance moves his arms so they wrap around Keith’s middle before he groans and presses his forehead to Keith’s shoulder.

“Nope. You killed me. I’m dead.”

“I thought kissing was supposed to save you.”

“Hmm, yeah, you’re right. Maybe we didn’t do it for long enough.”

“Hmm, that’s one theory…”

“Should probably test it out.”

“Probably…”

Lifting his head, Lance smirks at Keith with a half-lidded look and presses another slow, easy kiss on his mouth. Lance feels like a star is born in his chest and he prays that it’s a feeling he gets every time he kisses Keith.

After Keith sufficiently revives Lance, they pull apart. Reluctant to lose all contact, they clasp both of their hands together and Lance delights in the warmth of Keith’s palms.

For a long time, they just look at each other and it’s not awkward or tense, like it easily could be, it’s just happy and warm and safe.

And as Lance looks into Keith’s eyes, and Keith looks into Lance’s, he can see his future all over again. He sees the laughter, the support, and the love between them. He sees the next ten, twenty, fifty years that they’ll share together and he knows it’s all going to be okay, just like if they were princes in a fairytale book.

He sees it all reflected in Keith’s strange, beautiful eyes that are a color Lance has no name for yet. He doesn’t know what to call it, but he already knows it’s going to be his favorite color.

And it always will be.