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star-dust in our hollowed hearts

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The stars were our witnesses.
But when I asked them whether you love me
they kept silent.
A graveyard on the night sky.

R. Meisel, Sunblind

 

 

i. 

Between his first and second year at the Garrison—in between learning how to calculate the velocity of falling objects and familiarising himself with the academy’s Safety 101 for Pilots—Lance comes to learn that hearts are brittle, fragile things.

He also learns that some things are inevitable.

Like how he finds his gaze drawn towards Keith whenever the other boy is looking the other way (which, unsurprisingly, is more often than not). He takes in the strong line of the other boy’s jaw, the ethereal gleam of his irises, the way the corners of his eyes crinkle and dimples form whenever he shows one of his smiles that are few and far between.

He wonders whether other people notice this too, or whether he is the only one.

Sometimes, Keith looks back at him and Lance’s heart skips a beat and start to flutter dizzyingly, and it feels like the frantic flapping of hollow-boned birdwings, desperately trying to keep themselves in the air.

But hearts are brittle, fragile things. And his knows only to fall and break and break and break.

 

ii.

“We did it. We are a good team.”

He’s slumped against a wall, holding on to Keith’s hand like an anchor to keep himself up as best as he can. Lance wants to say something more, and the word partners echoes in his head mockingly and digs into his cheeks like barbed wire, sitting heavy on the tip of his tongue. It refuses to leave his lips.

He ends up keeping his mouth shut because he doesn’t want to ruin the moment nor does he want to overstep boundaries. Staring down at their interlaced fingers, he briefly wonders whether he’ll come to regret this missed opportunity later on.

Keith looks like he wants to say something else as well, opening his mouth but changing his mind and snapping it shut just as quickly and Lance almost wants to laugh despite their current situation because of how uncanny the ridiculous image is to that of a fish out of water gulping to inhale oxygen. There’s a pause; the air stills before Keith squeezes his hand instead, uncharacteristically gentle, while his lips curve up into the smallest of smiles instead and somehow that’s enough and yet it isn’t.

The fires from the battle are still raging and Lance’s throat and lungs are scratchy and dry from inhaling the toxic fumes and his eyes hurt from the harsh smoke stinging at them and everything hurts and hurts and hurts but nothing hurts more than his hopeful, bleeding heart.

 

iii.

Later on, he lies in his room as he stares at his palm, eyes fixated on where the other boy’s fingers had rested against earlier that day. His own fingers follow the lines of his hand and the slight curves of his palm—slowly, carefully—like they’re mapping out the trail of Keith’s fingertips. If he closes his eyes and tries hard enough, he thinks that maybe he can still feel warmth of the ghost of another’s touch against the softness of his empty, open palm.

He curls his hand tight into a closed fist. His knuckles, calloused and rough from overuse and overexposure, jut out angrily, sharp and bony. Unrelenting. And Lance wishes, he so desperately wishes, that his heart could be hardened like the rest of him too.

Sleep finds him with his fist pressed firm against his chest, guarding his weary, paper-thin heart.

 


 

 (one)

fall

/fɔːl/

noun

1. a season in between the scorching burning-up of summer and freezing death of winter; a season that is neither-nor, rather, one wherein the process of dying takes place, when everything turns brittle and yellow and orange and red

verb

1. to move downwards from a position of high to low, typically rapidly and without control; a crash

2. when you start to notice every little thing he does, from his smallest gestures to his tiniest grins; and when he finally, finally smiles at you it’s like being tossed into the vastness of space because all of a sudden you can’t breathe and the only thing you can see is the radiance of the stars in front of you

 


 

iv.

Lance is no stranger to crushes—people who’d come into his life temporarily, for the briefest of moments, before slipping back out with quiet inevitability, but not without leaving a permanent notch in his heart.

Mia from seventh grade who sat to his left in class and giggled at every single one of his jokes, with her melodic laughter that sounded clear as tinkling bells which made his skin prick with goosebumps (that was all she turned out to be in the end—pinpricks on his skin and heart).

Bryan from the party three years later with his cheeky smirk and teasing hands—cool with the lingering remnants of his alcohol on his fingertips—that made Lance shiver, who kissed in a way that made the sharp sting of vodka on the sly curl of his lips and the bitter taste of beer on the tip of Lance’s tongue taste so impossibly sweet together (whose love, Lance finds, is as impossible as the rest of him).

Karen from the coffeeshop half a year after, with her warm smiles and gentle hands that never failed to pass him a freshly brewed cup of on-the-house coffee complete with a sneaky don’t tell wink whenever he patronised the café en route to his morning classes (who, with ironic iciness and clinical detachment, practiced her sorry-I-don’t-feel-the-same-but-I-hope-you-find-someone-else speech on him when he finally gathered the courage to confess).

And yet, somehow, Keith feels different from all the others who came before. His laughter is too deep—a slow, raspy chuckle that is the complete opposite of Mia’s laughs. His touch is too hot—his fingertips leave invisible burns on Lance’s skin, makes his entire body flare up with heat so intense it feels like everything’s on fire. His smiles are rarer than Karen’s ever were—and yet, the flashes of his grins somehow manage to convey more emotions and sincerity than hers ever did, absent of the bitterness and temporary warmth of her coffees.

But above all that, his love—fuller than everyone else before him.

 

v.

“I like you.”

His voice cracks. Breaks like angry waves crashing against the sharp claws of rocks on a cliff during high tide while his heart lurches like a ship tossed around by a storm-ridden ocean. Lance feels like he’s drowning; the quiet of the surrounding steals the air from his lungs. Involuntarily, his hands start to fidget with emptiness and in a moment’s decision they settle to nervously grip his elbows even though it feels wrong and they itch to hold something else instead. He swallows, feeling bloodied shards of glass catch in his throat and chest.

In an almost cliché way, time slows down and Lance feels the universe hold its breath alongside him.

Keith’s fingers twitch ever-so-slightly (but Lance still notices; he always notices) and they reach forward a fraction of an inch like he’s reaching out for Lance, but then,

“I can’t,” he says quietly, refusing to make eye contact. His fingers jerk back mechanically. “I’m sorry, Lance, I don’t...I’m not—”

“It’s okay.” Lance’s heart kind of feels like a dying star finally burning itself up for good and the remnants of it is filling his lungs and it chokes him but—“It’s okay, it’s fine. I understand.”

Keith still looks unconvinced and Lance catches the guilt that flashes in his eyes so he adds on, “It’s really fine, Keith. It’s just a silly crush, I’ll get over it. We can still be friends.”

“Yeah,” Keith breathes, relaxing and looking visibly more relieved. “Yeah. Of course.”

And so it goes. Outside, the universe heaves a tired sigh but nothing changes and the planets still spin around their axes and the stars continue to shine and burn, heavy only with the weight of the secrets they hold. They are still friends; nothing changes.

Lance gives Keith a weak smile and a shaky nod before making to leave the room. He briefly considers patting the other boy on the shoulder like he normally would on any other day but decides against it; he fears that Keith’s touch may shatter the rest of him and leave him as broken as the mangled mess in his chest.

 


 

(two)

Dear Keith,

Keith:

Hey buddy,

Hey Keith,

About yesterday.

I didn’t mean to suddenly confess like that out of the blue. I mean, if I’m honest, my feelings for you aren’t anything new; it’s just that I’ve never even considered telling you about how I felt. Not when I didn’t know whether you felt the same way; not when I didn’t even know whether you liked guys. Guess I know now. But it’s just. I thought,  you know, I thought,

I meant it; I meant what I said. I know you probably think that this is another one of my stupid pranks or whatever but it’s not. I am being 100% serious. I think I’ve probably liked you ever since our time at the Garrison. It’s not like I wanted to like you of all people, but what can you do huh. Funny how the universe works. It’s something else, liking someone for two whole years and finally getting closer to them through the oddest of circumstances, as if the universe wanted you two to be together; to think that maybe, finally, you do have a chance with them but only to find out that you don’t stand a chance — that the universe had never ever granted you a even a fraction of a chance.

Like I said, it’s okay that you don’t feel the same—it really is.

I’m sorry.

L.

 


 

vi.

When he closes his eyes, he thinks of the ocean and Varadero beach back on Earth—he thinks of home. But lately, god, all that comes to his mind whenever he closes his eyes and he’s left in the dark are images of cheekbones sharp enough to cut like the rest of him. Fierce eyes that glow blue and purple in the colour of bruises. Perfect teeth and dimpled smiles flashing canines bright in the darkness, in a way that compels Lance to reach forward in his dreams like a moth drawn towards a flame.

Maybe things haven’t changed that much; maybe he is still thinking of home.

 


 

(three)

things i love about you:

The way your fingers curl tight around the arch of my shoulder and my heart at the same time; the way you’ll press your palm against the curve of my back and leave indents on my skin from your careless fingers like you do my heart; the way you say things that make me feel like I can’t catch my breath because I just keep falling and falling and falling.

How, when we’re sitting together in the castle-ship’s observatory, you’ll point out your favourite constellations with such earnestness; how the lustre of the stars is reflected in your eyes and the stardust spills from your lips when you do, outshining even the brightest constellations in the skies.

The fire you carry in your bones, the way it blazes like an inferno and ignites everything in its path, leaving no survivors. I’m burning.

 

things i hate about you:

How you made me fall for you.

 


 

vii.

Lance suspects that everyone else probably knows, that everyone except Keith already knew; even if they didn’t, well, they do now.

All his friends have started acting more carefully around him, like they’re afraid that any little thing would break him. Lance hates it. Hates the way Shiro will grip his shoulder, turn to him with heavy sympathy and say something like if you ever need to talk I’m here—to which Lance can only nod stiffly in response, because who the hell talks about their boy problems to the older brother of the boy who crushed your heart? Hates the way Pidge and Hunk have stopped prodding fun at him and stopped making jokes about his very obvious lack of flirting with alien girls. Hates how even Allura and Coran have picked up on it, smiling apologetically at him with a pity that he doesn’t want.

And Lance hates the heavy air surrounding the team after The Confession, because it feels thick and heavy like smoke from a burning house and it suffocates him. He hates the way the rest of them step careful around him, as if he’s a ticking time bomb on the verge of detonating at any unsuspecting moment—he’s not, he’s not (if anything, he’s the one who’d been on the receiving end of one, the one who’s now scarred with residue and shrapnel digging into his skin that hurt too much to remove).

 

viii.

Slowly, maybe, he learns to get over it.

It hurt at first. His skin still tingled with dangerous electricity at the slightest touch of Keith’s fingers, and his entire body hurt down to his hollow bones and heavy heart, the pain sharp and stinging like an angry red sunburn, his skin threatening to crumble under the heat of Keith’s touch like burnt-out cinders.

But it’s easier now. He knows how to avert his eyes subtly whenever Keith gets too close; to stop himself from staring and his gaze from betraying the love that’s still embedded too deeply in his heart. He’s taught himself to let fake carefree laughter be the thing to spill from his lips instead of the poison pooled in his heart, and to stop tensing whenever Keith’s hand brushes over his skin (his fists unclench, and in exchange it is his heart that wrings and twists instead).

And it’s easier now. He knows how to hide the sound of his crying on the nights when the ghosts of his feelings catch up to remind him, cruelly, of how he’s still so much in love with Keith (the pillow, suffocating as it is, works well to quiet his choked sobs). He’s learned how to force his lips into a convincing smile-that-mostly-doesn’t-resemble-a-wince and he smiles until the corners of his mouth hurt, the ache a reminder to keep his lips from running and saying what his mind is thinking, iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouiloveyou

It’s easier now (it really is). It is painfully normal, how Lance throws casual pick-up lines to alien girls, flashing his trademark flirtatious grin (it’s too wide; the gap is too wide) whilst keeping voice airy and light in hopes that his friends will believe that his heart is too. It’s almost normal, how he’ll nudge Keith’s shoulder, knock fists together with bone-hard knuckles after a tough battle; how Keith will sling an arm over his shoulder like the curve of a hook, press his temple against Lance’s and laugh with a fullness that echoes in the empty cavern of Lance’s chest.   

And sometimes he really does manage to forget and he makes jokes about Keith’s future lover without feeling like there’s a knife lodged in his heart; and he flirts with the cute bubble-alien girl he meets on one of their missions without feeling like there’s a weight on his shoulders; and he allows himself to grin and guffaw so hard that the stinging in his chest comes from his laughing too hard instead of a broken heart, and when he screws his eyes shut in laughter he doesn’t even notice Keith staring at him with a look he used to be all-too-familiar with, but, but—

 

ix. 

in the end, he still looks; he always looks. And he still loves; he’ll always love.