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when we defy the stars

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. . .

Soulmate (n), a human being’s ideal romantic match, assigned at the time of birth. A Soulmate is deliberately chosen by The Universe, and is intended to help individuals carry out — and, ultimately, fulfill — their given Destiny. 


 

 

It’s easy to hear the driving rhythm, the pounding bass line as it rattles through the speakers, and mistake it for your own wild heartbeat. It’s easy to feel numb when the drinks are this strong, and shots are being offered on silver platters. It’s easy to get lost in the middle of a crowded dance floor, pressing up against a sea of sweaty bodies, moving like a human tidal wave.

And that’s exactly why Keith is here.

Here is a seedy nightclub on the outskirts of downtown. The Back Room, The Dark Room — something uninspired and slightly pretentious like that. But Keith doesn’t remember. Doesn’t care, honestly. Because the music is throbbing behind his ribcage, and the colored lights are flashing faster than he can even blink, and the room is spinning, spinning, spinning so that faces are blurred into vague obscurity, and that’s just the way he likes it.

He dances with his eyes closed, fingers dragging through the thick of his hair, until he senses the prickle of lingering gazes tickling just beneath his skin. He knows that people are watching; staring as he gives himself over to the music, with his insides pulsing, and his body swaying. And so he stares back through slitted eyes.

One of the two boys who are seemingly wrapped up in each other from a few feet away. A girl with a shaved head who flashes him a surprisingly cheerful smile when their gazes meet. A dark-haired boy wearing a polo shirt that actually fits properly. A curly-haired boy with admittedly very nice shoulders. A shy boy leaning against the wall just beyond the mob of dancers.

They’re all watching.

But Keith keeps dancing.

The curly-haired boy very deliberately catches his eye, and starts wandering closer. Keith lifts a brow, but doesn’t object when the boy moves in front of him to start dancing together. Keith doesn’t touch — doesn’t particularly want to besides a hazy desire to run a palm over those broad shoulders. Heat simmers in Keith’s chest as their bodies fall into sync, led by the thumping beat that surrounds them, drowns them.

It’s the first of many faceless boys who approach him on the dance floor. And Keith indulges in their flirty grins, and hungry eyes — and then spins away when a gentle brush here, and a wandering hand there becomes something like an invitation.

Keith doesn’t want these guys. Not that way. So he only takes a little, just enough so he can breathe. Just enough to keep him going.

On, and on, and on, and on…

Until he’s dizzy with the rumble in his ears, with the fleeting touches he knows could lead to so much more, and with the alcohol still pumping through his bloodstream. Keith dances until the lights sparkle at the edge of his vision, his feet feel heavy in his boots, and his mouth goes dry, parched. So he pulls himself out of the music long enough to weave his way to the bar. He orders a water, leans back against the edge of the counter, and gulps down at least half his glass with one toss of his head.

Someone squeezes in beside him, lifting his empty glass at the bartender, and getting another one in exchange. Keith barely even registers him in his peripheral vision, but he can feel this guy’s eyes all over him as he asks, “Want one?”   

Keith shakes his head, and finishes the rest of his water.

“You sure?” the guy asks again. “You’ve gotta still be thirsty, the way you’ve been dancing.”

At that, Keith turns, and takes the guy in from head to toe: broken in but well-kept sneakers, faded denim wrapped around his long legs, a navy collared shirt that’s unbuttoned a bit too low down the front, and yet fits nicely across his chest, and a smiling, open, attractive face, with tan skin, and the bluest eyes Keith has ever seen.

“You’ve been watching me,” says Keith, blunt.

The guy just grins even more. “Hard not to.”

Keith rolls his eyes, and pushes away from the bar, flexing his toes in his boots, getting ready to walk away. “If that’s your attempt at a pick-up line, then don't even waste my time.”

“Hey,” the guy says, catching Keith’s arm by the wrist, “it’s not a line.”

A single brow arches up to Keith’s hairline.

“Okay, fine, it’s sort of a line,” the guy relents. “But it’s also true. You’re pretty amazing out there.”

“Right.”

“No, seriously, I mean it! It’s like — it’s your energy or something, man. Sure, some people are out there tearing up the floor with their moves, but you… you have this passion. Like you can feel the music, y’know? Not everybody feels it.”

Keith nods to the drink in the guy’s hand. “How many of those have you had?”

“I dunno. Two? Four?” the guy chuckles, and the sound makes something twist tightly in Keith’s stomach. “This place is fun! Don’t you think this place is fun?”

Keith turns over his shoulder, and makes to leave without a response.

“Wait —”

“I’m just here to dance,” Keith snaps dryly — a warning — and starts walking back to the dance floor in a hurry. He craves the heat, and the deafening roar like his lungs crave air, but right when he reaches the edge of the crowd, a warm hand clasps firmly around his own.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Keith demands as he finds that guy’s face — still grinning. God, is anyone really that happy? — beside him once again. 

“Dancing,” the guy answers breezily. “I thought that’s why you’re here.”

Keith narrows his eyes. “Look —”

“Lance.”

“What?”

“I’m Lance,” the guy — Lance, apparently — repeats. “Hi.”

There’s a wrinkle in Keith’s sweat-sheened brow, and a peculiar fizzle in his gut that he can’t quite snuff out. Maybe he’s had more to drink tonight than he thought.

Lance leans in, and whispers in Keith’s ear, “This is the part where you introduce yourself, too.”

Keith swallows around a sizable lump forming in his throat, and tries to ignore the realization that Lance actually smells really nice. “Keith,” he offers.

“Hi, Keith.” And there’s that smile again. Beautiful and devastating. “It’d be a pleasure to dance with you.”

“You don’t know that,” Keith mutters darkly.

Lance laughs, so loud that it cuts into the thundering bass, and splits right through Keith’s chest like a blade. “Has anyone ever told you you’re kinda grumpy?” he wonders.

“Every day.”

“Cool. Just makin’ sure.”

And so they dance. They dance until one song bleeds into another, and another, and another. They dance until Keith feels himself growing comfortable with the press of Lance’s palms against his hips, guiding him, swaying him to the rhythm. They dance until Keith notices the way the edges of Lance’s hair start curling from the sweat rising on his skin. They dance until Keith has memorized every shade of blue that Lance’s eyes become under the flickering lights. They dance until there’s the featherlight brush of lips along his neck, and a smile against his ear, and hands exploring, roaming, everywhere. They dance until —

“Wanna get outta here?”

Keith looks at Lance, all glistening and disheveled and flushed, and feels the breath rush out of him in one quiet gust of, “Yeah.”

And so they leave.

Keith is only half-aware of how they get there — to Lance’s apartment, he’s assuming — but the moment they land on a creaking mattress, with Lance looking so adorably wide-eyed and swollen-lipped beneath him, Keith isn’t too concerned about the details. There’s grabbing, and kissing, and grinding, and gasping, and Keith feels something explode by the trillion inside his veins as he starts tugging on the zipper of Lance’s jeans when —

“H-Hang on.”

Keith’s hand freezes, only slightly peeved. “What?”

“Um.”

“Um?”

“I’m —” Lance groans into his palms. “— Fuck, this is so embarrassing.”

Keith frowns. Asks again, “What?”

“So, listen, I… I know I came off like a confident badass back at the club with all the flirting, and the dancing, and — y’know. Maybe the booze is already wearing off or something — I dunno, dude — but I gotta come clean.”

Lance nibbles his bottom lip. Keith waits.

“I don’t…” Lance croaks. “…do this.”

“This,” Keith parrots flatly.

“Yeah, y’know, this,” says Lance, gesturing awkwardly between their shirtless bodies. “Actually, I — I’ve never done… this.”

Keith knits his brow. “Then why’d you take me home with you?”

“I honestly didn’t think it’d get this far,” Lance grumbles. “I mean, like — have you seen yourself?”

Ignoring that, Keith says, “So you’re…”

“Waiting for my Soulmate,” Lance nods apologetically. “Yep.” 

It finally lands. Keith’s expression smooths out into something emotionless and unreadable, and then he’s rolling off of Lance, muttering, “Oh.”

He blinks up at the ceiling a couple times, until Lance is shifting onto his side to face him, asking, “You mad?”

“No, I —” Keith sighs, letting his eyes slip shut. “— I have a Soulmate.”   

And Lance snorts, “Uh, yeah. I know. We all do. S’kinda the way it is.”

“I mean,” Keith tries again, eyes squeezing a little tighter. “I’m with… my Soulmate.”

Lance’s heavy breaths suddenly go very quiet beside him, and Keith kind of wishes that the mattress would take pity on him and swallow him up like a wormhole.

“You —”

“I know.”

“But then… why?” Lance splutters. “Why’d you even say yes when I asked you to —”

“Because I don’t love him. And he doesn’t love me,” says Keith. “It’s just something we accepted a long time ago.”

This time, it’s Lance who mutters a soft, “Oh.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Keith dismisses gruffly. Like maybe it’s a little bit of a big deal. 

He turns his head to find Lance gawking at him, lips parted, eyes glossy.

“Cut it out,” he growls.

“Cut what out?” Lance squawks.

“Looking at me like that.”

“How am I looking at you!”

“Like you’re trying to figure out how fucked up I must be that not even my own Soulmate could love me.”

“Keith,” Lance whispers. “It’s not your fault.”

“Yeah.”

It’s not you.

It’s not your fault.

He’s heard those words before, and he knows them to be true. But it still doesn’t give him any answers. It doesn’t explain why this had to happen to him. It doesn’t explain why The Universe thought it’d be best for him to ache. Or why he can’t just wake up happy for once in his goddamn life. Just once.

“Hey,” says Lance, quiet.

Keith blinks back to reality.

“D’you wanna crash here tonight? Not in a weird way or anything, but — it’s late, and you’re already here, and I can just drop you off at your place in the morning. Definitely beats a midnight walk of shame, don’t’cha think?”

The corner of Keith’s mouth curls crookedly. “Is it really a walk of shame if it’s not really a hookup?”

“You’re spending the night in a cute guy’s bed and not even getting any,” Lance smirks. “What’s more shameful than that?”

The other corner of Keith’s mouth lifts, too, and then he’s laughing into the pillow.

 


  

They end up staying awake, anyway, until the edge of the sun burns orange over the horizon.

Lance tells him stories about growing up in Cuba; how he used to spend his days in the water, and his nights drying under the moonlight. He talks about his family, and university, and his job at a coffee shop downtown, and how he still sometimes makes wishes on stars, even though he knows it’s silly.

Keith tells him about growing up with his dad, and how bad it hurt when he passed away. He talks about his motorcycle, and his brother Shiro, and how he never knew his mother, but it doesn’t really bother him anymore.

(“My mom wasn’t my dad’s Soulmate,” he admits gravely. “I think that’s probably why she left.”)

They talk until their tongues are too tired to move, and their eyelids are too heavy to keep open. They talk until they’re laying so close, bound beneath the sheets, breath coming out warm against each other’s cheeks.

Lance’s brown fingertips sweep gently over Keith’s bared Soulmark — a textured, scar-like patch of skin right below his collarbone.

“What’d it feel like?” he asks, lips loose and lazy. “Meeting your Soulmate.”

“Mine hurt,” Keith says. “It felt like… getting dragged underwater. And not being able to come up for air.”

“It’s not fair,” Lance murmurs, and — oh — how many times has Keith uttered those exact same words, or screamed them into his pillow late at night, when the rest of the world is silent.

Keith shrugs, and lets his mind slip into unconsciousness. “It’s not up to me,” he says.

 


 

They stop for breakfast on the way to Keith’s apartment.

Well, Lance stops for breakfast. Keith doesn’t really have a say.

“Breakfast burritos, man,” Lance proclaims, with reverence, as he pulls his car up to the drive-thru window. “Breakfast burritos fix everything.” 

And Keith, half-grinning and half-hungover, thinks he’s pretty much right.


  

You will know you’ve found your Soulmate when you can feel your Soulmark during the first introduction; a process that is known as Soulbonding. Soulmarks come in all shapes and sizes, and can appear anywhere on the body. Some describe the sensation of Soulbonding as a tingle. For others, a burn or even a stabbing pain. It varies depending on the intended path of your Destiny.

 


 

“What’s so funny, kiddo?”

Keith looks up from where he’d been snickering down at his phone screen. A selfie from Lance. In this one, he’s behind the counter, wearing his work apron, puckering his lips at the camera as he hoists the largest to-go cup size that the coffee shop offers. The caption reads: I like big cups and I cannot lie.

Not his best coffee pun, admittedly, but he just looks so goddamn adorable that it makes Keith grin, anyway.    

(Later, when Shiro’s prying eyes aren’t giving him looks, Keith will save this selfie into the folder of Lance-related photos that he’s been secretly collecting over the past few weeks. He likes to keep them almost as much as Lance, apparently, likes sending them.)

“Nothing,” Keith answers, tucking his phone into his pocket. 

“Didn’t look like nothing,” Shiro says.

“You’re hovering,” Keith points out, because it’s true. 

“Just let him hover,” says Adam, strolling past the pair with a dish of steaming green beans in hand. “At this point I don’t even think he realizes when he’s doing it.”

Shiro gives his husband a swift pinch as he walks by, and Adam’s soft chuckle carries him into the dining room.

“Is it so bad wanting to know what’s going on in your life?” he wonders aloud.

And that makes Keith narrow his eyes a bit suspiciously. Defensively, maybe. He’s never been one for wearing his heart upon his sleeve, but — then again — this is Shiro. “What makes you think I have something going on?”

“I don’t know. You just seem happier lately. And because you were just giggling at your phone like a teenage girl.”

“I wasn’t!”

“Oh, leave him alone, Takashi,” Adam’s voice intervenes from the other room. “He could’ve been looking at memes for all you know.”

Shiro tilts his head with a small grin. “I don’t think he knows what that is.”

“I know what a meme is!” Keith argues. And he really does. Lance showed him some the other day.

But his protests go ignored or, at the very least, aren’t taken very seriously. Shiro laughs good-naturedly into his fist, and Adam even starts chuckling again. Keith huffs, folds his arms across his chest, and leans back into the marbled edge of the kitchen counter.

“Why do I even bother coming back here?”

“Because we’re fantastic company,” answers Shiro. “And we feed you.”

“Right,” Keith snorts. “I suffer for Adam’s burnt chicken casserole.”

And then, again, from the other room: “I can hear you, you know.”

Keith and Shiro lock eyes, and then promptly burst into a fit of laughter.

 


  

Later, when they’re gathered around the dining room table, sated and comfortable, and their plates are smeared with remnants of casserole — which is only mildly charred, Adam makes a point of bringing up, thank you very much — Keith pushes some green beans around with his fork, and just notices.

He notices a lot of things, but nothing out of the ordinary. These Sunday night dinners have become routine by now, and so it really isn’t surprising when Adam thoughtlessly covers Shiro’s hand with his own atop the table, like his body just naturally seeks out that familiar touch. Or when Shiro snitches a stray carrot off of Adam’s plate, pops it in his mouth, and chuckles in response to a fond but disapproving look, the way only two Soulmates know how to make each other smile. Or when Keith peeks sideways to find the chair next to him just as empty as it is on every other Sunday night.

It all hits him in a funny way. A funny, stinging, gut-wrenching kind of way, and Keith doesn’t know what to do with it.

So he blurts: “I met someone.” 

And then bows his head, hiding his pink cheeks, and nudges those green beans around with more fervor.

“Someone?” Adam says.

“A guy,” Keith specifies.

There’s a heavy pause, and Keith is pretty sure it’s so Shiro and Adam can exchange a subtle glance.

Shiro swallows his mouthful of carrot, and asks, carefully, “Is there more to that story?”

“Not really,” he says. If only, he thinks.

“Well,” Shiro reaches for his wine glass. “Alright, then.”

Keith stabs one of the green beans, and chews it for a very long time.

 


  

It is important to note that a Soulmate is not necessarily your perfect match — it is your ideal match, according to The Universe. It is possible for deep and profound relationships to be forged between individuals who are not Soulbound. However, your given Destiny can never be achieved without the permanent partnership of your Soulmate.

 


  

LANCE [8:32]: u know what sucks?
LANCE [8:32]: 2 hour lectures on microbiology at 8-o-fucking-clock in the morning, that’s what
LANCE [8:36]: sos help i’m gonna die
LANCE [8:37]: i’m dyinggggg
LANCE [8:39]: i’m dead. rip me 
LANCE [8:39]: death by amoebas. what a gross way to go

KEITH [8:40]: Pay attention. You might actually learn something.

LANCE [8:41]: OH SO NOW U TEXT BACK
LANCE [8:41]: u let me die, u little shit

KEITH [8:42]: You seem fine to me.

LANCE [8:42]: i’m not fine, i’m booooored
LANCE [8:43]: distract me

KEITH [8:44]: How?

LANCE [8:45]: idk ask me something
LANCE [8:45]: oH
LANCE [8:45]: let’s do a q&a!!!

KEITH [8:47]: Who’s Q-ing and who’s A-ing?

LANCE [8:47]: we can switch off!!!!!

KEITH [8:49]: What if you ask me something that I don’t want to answer?

LANCE [8:50]: is that ur first question?

KEITH [8:50]: Lance.

LANCE [8:50]: OK FINE
LANCE [8:51]: ur safe word is mullet

KEITH [8:51]: Fuck you.

LANCE [8:51]: ALRIGHTY FIRST QUESTION!!
LANCE [8:53]: how’d u meet ur soulmate?

KEITH [8:53]: Mullet.

LANCE [8:53]: kEEEEEEITH
LANCE [8:56]: UGH UR IMPOSSIBLE
LANCE [8:57]: what’s ur fav color?
LANCE [8:57]: u get a lame one for ruining the game on the first question

KEITH [8:57]: Very mature.
KEITH [8:58]: It’s red.

LANCE [8:58]: NICE
LANCE [9:10]: dude it’s ur turn

KEITH [9:11]: I’m thinking of a good one.

LANCE [9:11]: don’t hurt yourself, buddy

KEITH [9:13]: Have you ever changed a tire?

LANCE [9:13]: ………..
LANCE [9:14]: what happened to thinking of a good one?

KEITH [9:15]: I just got back from working on my bike at the garage and it made me think of that!
KEITH [9:15]: Whatever.
KEITH [9:15]: Just answer it.

LANCE [9:15]: omg ur too much, kogane
LANCE [9:16]: and yes, i have btw
LANCE [9:16]: my turn!!
LANCE [9:18]: what’s the first sentence of the second chapter of the book that’s closest to you right. this. very. second. 

KEITH [9:18]: That’s weirdly specific.

LANCE [9:18]: do itttttt

KEITH [9:20]: It’s a really long sentence.
KEITH [9:20]: I’m not typing this whole thing.

LANCE [9:20]: then just gimme ur fav sentence
LANCE [9:28]: KEEEEITHHJGBVJYKFT

KEITH [9:29]: “I think and I think and I think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.”
KEITH [9:29]: There.
KEITH [9:33]: Lance?

LANCE [9:34]: that’s a really good one

 


  

“— But seriously, though. What are you gonna do for an entire weekend without me?”

Lance tosses a pair of socks at the suitcase he has laying open on his bed, but he misses, and the socks bounce off of Keith’s nose instead. He ignores it, watches as the socks roll across the floor, and disappear under Lance’s nightstand.

“Nothing, probably,” Keith answers shamelessly.

Because, honestly, he can’t seem to recall a single weekend over the past month or so that hasn’t, in some way, involved Lance. Hanging out with Lance, texting Lance, thinking about Lance. Does he even remember what a Lance-less weekend entails? Or what it feels like?

Does he even want to remember?

Lance peers up from his sock drawer with a pouty bottom lip. “Aww, that’s no fun.”

“You really want me to have fun without you?” Keith quirks a brow, skeptical.

Conditionally.”

Then Keith smirks. “Not even gonna ask.”

“Well, I’m gonna tell you, anyway,” Lance pivots around on the spot, chin held high, and a long, slender finger held even higher. “Condition one — bike safety.”

“C’mon, Lance,” Keith groans.

“I’m serious! Don’t go popping any wheelies on that metal deathtrap you call a motorcycle, especially if I’m not around yelling at you to knock it off,” and Lance’s eyes narrow into two blue slits. “You got that, Evel Knievel?” 

A reluctant, deadpan drawl: “Fine. Whatever.”

“Condition two —” Lance barrels on. “— that new ice cream place that just opened up across from that Asian-fusion restaurant we love? Off-limits.” 

“Why?”

Lance throws his arms up. “Because we said we’d check it out together! And if you go by yourself, and pick a flavor you don’t like, then guess what? I won’t be there to trade with you.”

“But what if I pick a flavor that I do like?”

Another bundle of socks is hurled at Keith’s face — this time, exquisitely aimed.

“Just don’t go, dude!” cries Lance. 

“Okay, I won’t,” Keith sighs, and rolls himself over, belly-down on Lance’s mattress. “No joyrides, no ice cream. Anything else?”

“Condition three,” Lance announces, something subtle and almost wistful tugging at the corner of his lips. “No matter what you end up doing — even if it’s something really lame — you have to miss me, and wish I was there.”

Keith meets his gaze with a nebulous look of his own. “Could say the same to you.”

“You wish, mullet,” Lance snorts, and goes back to scouring through his closet, but Keith swears he notices a pinkish tinge to Lance’s cheeks before he swivels away. “I’ll be too busy dancing the night away at my sister’s wedding, having the time of my life. So you’re definitely gonna be the one missing me.” 

And before can Keith parry that insinuation with a sharp quip or an equally-as-non-threatening counterargument, he notices the growing pile of clothes now pouring out the sides of Lance’s suitcase.

“You’re only gone for two nights,” he says, nodding toward the mess. “How much stuff do you actually need?”

“I’m just being prepared,” Lance defends as a burgundy blazer goes flying from his closet, and lands on top of the heap. “Knowing my sister, this wedding’s gonna involve something crazy like a candlelit horseback ride through the mountains, or a masquerade rehearsal dinner.”

Keith’s eyes go a little wide. “Big deal, huh?”

“Huge. Her Soulmate’s some kinda lawyer — or attorney?” Lance pauses to scrunch his nose. “Who knows, but he’s loaded. So this shindig’s gonna be fan-cy.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah,” and another colorful shirt joins the ranks. “But I mean — I got a big family, so big weddings are kinda our thing.”

Keith kicks his feet as they dangle off the edge of Lance’s bed, a bit pensive as he says, “I’ve only ever been to Shiro’s wedding. It was pretty small. Normal, I guess. A good-sized wedding.”

“Not for me,” Lance chirps with a definitive shake of his head. He’s grinning when he turns back around to face Keith, an athletic shoe in one hand, and about three striped ties in the other. “Man, when I get married, I wanna go all out. The music, the booze, the cake — and I want all my family and friends to be there. As many people as possible! A big, white wedding.”

“With your Soulmate?”

He’s not entirely sure why he says it, but he’s sure he regrets it immediately because, just then, Lance’s smile twitches out of shape, and the whole room grows a little more dim.

“Well, yeah,” says Lance. He tosses the shoe back into the depths of the closet with a thunk, and fidgets aimlessly with the silky ties in hand. “I’m the only one in my family who hasn’t met theirs yet. Weird, right? I mean, I know it’ll happen eventually, but… I dunno. Feels like I’m doing something wrong or something.”

Lance gives one of the ties a particularly thoughtful look, and Keith feels the fiery prickle of impulse dancing along his tongue, wanting so desperately to yell at the top of his lungs: Nothing about you could ever be wrong. You’re amazing. You’re perfect.

But instead, he says: “It happens when it’s supposed to happen. Isn’t that what they say?”

There it is again. That same wistful, frustrating little half-smile from earlier. It graces Lance’s lips so effortlessly as he tangles the silken fabric around his fingers even tighter.

“Yeah, guess so.”

 


 

KEITH [5:54]: How was the wedding?

LANCE [5:59]: beautiful. stunning. literally perfect.
LANCE [6:01]: my sister looks so happy
LANCE [6:01]: may or may not have shed a tear or twenty
LANCE [6:02]: may or may not still be shedding tears
LANCE [6:02]: manly tears obviously

KEITH [6:03]: Obviously.

LANCE [6:04]: currently en route to the reception!!

KEITH [6:05]: On horseback? A private jet plane?

LANCE [6:05]: close. party bus
LANCE [6:05]: this thing is TRICKED OUT tho
LANCE [6:06]: there’s a disco ball in here
LANCE [6:06]: and a stripper pole holy shit 

KEITH [6:08]: Lance.
KEITH [6:08]: Are you crying on a party bus right now?

LANCE [6:11]: shut up i don’t wanna talk about it

 


  

Not everyone’s given Destiny is designed to be a happy one. There exists a strict, natural dichotomy to preserve the flow of The Universe. Yin and yang. Give and take. Ebb and flow. Without sadness, there is no happiness. But you must remember that it is you, and you alone, who has been chosen to walk the specific path of your Destiny. Fulfilling it is a great honor, and shows utmost respect and gratitude to The Universe for gifting you with life and purpose.

 


 

“Hey, hey, it’s ‘ya boy, Lancey-Lance! Can’t make it to my phone right now — places to go, people to see — but leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you when I can. Later!”

Beep.

“ — Shit. I… Hi, Lance. It’s me. Um. I — shit — I know it’s getting late, and you’re probably still at the reception, but… I had — I wanted to — I broke up with him. My Soulmate. I know it’s… I just couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t fucking — I couldn’t keep looking at him, and feeling nothing, and — I couldn’t let that be the rest of my fucking life. And I get it. That’s not supposed to be my choice to make, but — god, I’m sick of drowning, Lance, I just wanna fucking breathe.

“He said… I’m being selfish, and a fucking idiot. But if that’s what it means to just… wanna be happy for once, then — fuck it — I’ll be selfish. I’ll be an idiot. I don’t care anymore. I’m not scared of The Universe, or what it’s gonna do to me. I’m not. I’m not playing by these rules anymore. I don’t want this Destiny. I don’t want this life. I don’t —

“ — Sorry. This is… a mess. Just forget about this message, and we’ll talk when you get back. Night.”

 


  

Early the next morning, Keith is startled awake by incessant pounding — not knocking. pounding. — on his door. He drags a hand through his bed-rumpled hair, patters his way through the apartment, and yanks the door open, face contorted into sleepy agitation.

Lance. The name might’ve ghosted past Keith’s lips, but he isn’t quite sure because Lance is here. He’s here with his suitcase parked behind him, flushed and panting and dusted with snow flurries from outside, like he literally just sprinted straight here from the airport. Maybe he had. Keith wants to ask him. He opens his mouth, almost does, but then it’s —

Lance. More Lance. Lance from head to toe. Lance throwing his entire body at Keith. Lance’s cold nose burying into the crook of his neck. Lance’s arms ensnaring him, squeezing impossibly tight. Lance all around him, Lance everywhere he breathes. Lance, Lance, Lance.

“You’re not selfish,” he’s saying, only slightly muffled against Keith’s neck. “You’re not. You’re brave, Keith, you’re so brave.”

You make me brave, Keith wants to say, but doesn’t. 

“God,” Lance gasps, and Keith feels it warming against his skin, all the way down to the bottoms of his feet. “You win. I really, really missed you.”

Keith chuckles low in his chest, and wraps himself around Lance, holding on just as desperately.

“I missed you, too. So I guess we both lose.”

 


  

Shiro sits across from him, and stares.

Keith stares back. Unrelenting, as always.

“So you broke up with your Soulmate.”

“Yes.”

Shiro’s brow wrinkles warily. “For this other guy?”

“Not for him,” says Keith. “Because of him.”

An even deeper wrinkle now. “I’m not following.”

Keith finally glances away, down at his lap. “You know I never loved him, Shiro.”

“Yeah, but you don’t love this other guy, either,” and then Shiro blinks. “Do you?”

“He makes me happy,” Keith says instead of answering.

“Keith… You know that’s not —”

How it goes. How it works. What you’re meant for.

“What if Adam wasn’t your Soulmate?” he demands at once.

Shiro blinks again. “But he is my Soulmate.”

“Say he wasn’t,” Keith insists, voice rising. “Say he’s someone — just someone — and you still know him the way you know him right now.”

He pauses, as if to catch his breath.

And then: “Would that make you wanna be with him any less?”

“Keith.”

“I’m asking.”

Shiro keeps staring, and Keith is staring back again, and they’re both so, so quiet until —

“Okay.”

Slowly, Shiro closes his eyes. Nods. Understands.

“Alright. Okay,” he says, blowing out a breath. “We’ll figure this out.” 

 


  

KEITH [10:12]: No coffee pun today?

LANCE [10:22]: nah, man
LANCE [10:22]: i’ve been feeling a little DEPRESSO this morning
LANCE [10:26]: i’ll hold for applause

KEITH [10:27]: Not your best work.

LANCE [10:28]: sorry
LANCE [10:29]: i was just so distracted by your BREW-tiful face!

KEITH [10:29]: This is a text conversation, weirdo.

LANCE [10:29]: you mocha me crazy, you gorgeous piece of

“Lance!”

The phone nearly jumps out of Lance’s hand as he’s dragged back to the present, where there’s a very frantic-looking Hunk, hands full with coffee pots and cartons of cream, and a very impatient, and ever-growing line of customers.

“Little help over here?” Hunk calls out again.

With a sheepish grin, Lance pockets his phone, and adjusts his apron. “Sorry, buddy, I gotcha!”

And then he springs into action, taking orders faster than Hunk can even make them. Suddenly it’s a whirlwind of non-fat, no foam and extra pump of peppermint and hold the whip, please, until the crowd thins out, and only a few lingering customers remain. From somewhere behind him, Lance hears Hunk heave a sigh of relief, and so Lance flops forward onto the counter, exhausted and, oddly enough, sticky from — yep. That’s definitely some caramel sauce smeared across his cheek. How did that even happen?

He’s wiping it off with a nearby dish rag when a pretty girl approaches the register, and Lance feels himself blush.

“Busy morning?” the girl guesses.

The blush starts spreading across his entire face, down his neck. “You could say that.”

“Well, I’ll go easy on you, then,” she smiles, and — gosh — that’s a nice smile. “Just a small latte, please.”

Lance offers an appreciative sigh as he reaches for a cup. “One small latte for my new favorite customer. Can I get a name for that?”

“Allura.”

“Cool. How d’you spell —”

The blush keeps spreading, spreading, spreading. Down his spine, across his chest, into his stomach, and then —

It bursts. Like a firecracker beneath his skin, the warmth consumes him.

Oh.

He looks up from the cup, and Allura’s eyes have gone wide with shock, never once glancing away from Lance’s own dumbstruck gape. A minute passes, maybe more, and the warmth starts to burn pleasantly around his left hip. Right where his Soulmark mars his skin.

“Allura,” he repeats. Soft. Distant.

And then, to himself:

Oh, god.      

 


  

If no progress has been made toward fulfilling your Destiny, and your soul has not yet bonded with its ideal match, then The Universe may intervene. It will pave a course, and present opportunities that will lead you to your Soulmate. You must trust The Universe.

 


  

Keith’s phone buzzes and shakes him out of slumber, but when he muzzily reads the name lighting up his screen, he answers on the first ring.

“Lance.”

“Hey.”

“It’s two in the morning.”

“I know. Uh — Did I wake you?”

“It’s two in the morning.”

“Right. Sorry. Just… go back to sleep, okay? We can talk later if —”

“Lance. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. You were sleeping.”

“Yeah, and now I’m not.”

There’s a pause before Lance asks, softly:

“How was your day?”

“My day?”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

“You called at two in the morning to ask about my day?”

“Don’t leave out any of the good stuff.”

“Okay, um. I hung out with Shiro.”

“Yeah? How was that?”

“Good. He and Adam are talking about buying a house.”

“Wow. That’s — wow.”

“I know.”

“Where are they looking?”

“Couple miles outside the city. Adam likes the price, Shiro likes the quiet.”

“Wow. Cool. Awesome. Exciting news.”

“Yeah.”

It’s silent again, save for a static-y noise that Keith assumes must be Lance breathing into the receiver. So Keith prompts:

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Are you gonna tell me about your day now?”

More silence. More breathing. And then, so quiet that Keith almost mistakes it for more static, Lance goes:

“I met my Soulmate today.”

The static disappears from Keith’s ears. Now it rattles around his brain.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, she’s — she’s really great. She came into the coffee shop today. Apparently she’s been going to the one down the street for months, but it closed for renovation, so she had to stop by mine instead. We’ve been just barely missing each other by a block and a half for almost an entire year, and then all of a sudden, it’s — just — isn’t that the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard?”

“Yeah. Pretty dumb.”

“Keith?”

“Hm?”

“You okay?”

“Yeah. Just tired.”

“Oh. Yeah. My bad. Sorry for waking you up. Again.”

“S’fine.”

“You can go back to sleep now. Just wanted to hear your voice.”

“Mm.”

“Night.”

But neither of them hang up. So Keith says:

“Hey, Lance.”

“Yeah?”

“What’d it feel like — for you?”

“Nice, I think. And… warm.”

Nice and warm, Keith thinks. And his body trembles with the sheer desire of it all. 

“I’m happy for you,” he forces out.    

“Thanks, buddy.” 

 


  

It’s the longest few weeks of Keith’s life.

Texts are ignored.

Phone calls are unanswered.

Voicemails are unreturned.

And Keith just hurts. 

 


  

When he finally tracks him down, he finds him sitting on the concrete stoop just outside his apartment building. And it looks like he’s been here a while, all slouching shoulders and lifeless muscles, staring at nothing just below his feet.

Keith takes a seat beside him on the bottom step. Lance doesn’t move.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” says Keith, breaking the silence like a sledgehammer.

“Yeah,” breathes Lance.

“Gonna tell me why?”

“You know why, Keith.”

It sounds like maybe there should’ve been more bite to his words, but it’s as depressing a sound as the mournful crickets chirping in the distance.

Keith clenches a fist, then releases. Repeats. “I’m —”

“Can we just —” Lance snaps. “— not talk for a sec?”

Keith cranes his neck, offering only half of his face, but still manages to see Lance dipping his head back, eyes shimmering beneath a blanket of starlight from above. He knows that look. He knows Lance. So he asks:

“What’re you wishing for?”

Lance grits his teeth. “For you to shut up, that’s what.”

“You really think The Universe is listening? You think something out there is gonna change just because —”

“I don’t know what else to do, okay?” blurts Lance. His gaze lowers, and his brow is pinched tight, angry with Keith. Angry with the stars. Angry with himself. “I’ve tried everything, Keith, everything. But I can’t… I can’t get over you.”

Keith feels something bearing down on him, just enough so that it’s difficult to breathe. “But your Soulmate —”

“I know, Keith, I fucking know. I finally met my Soulmate, and she’s gorgeous, and smart, and amazing, and…”

“And?” whispers Keith.

“…and not you.”

Keith’s heart leaps into his throat as Lance turns to look at him, pinning him with that devastating blue gaze.

“Why couldn’t it be you?” Lance mutters, voice so weak that it threatens to crack. “I want… you.”

“You have me,” Keith says firmly. “I’m already yours.” 

But Lance shakes his head. “Keith, we’re not —”

“I don’t care,” and his eyes are wild with some sort of brash, fervent urgency. His jaw has never clenched tighter. His heart has never beat faster. “I don’t care about The Universe, or my Destiny — I’m gonna live the life that I wanna live. With you.”

The stars flicker overhead, like they’re listening. Watching.

You are my soulmate, no matter what some mysterious, omnipotent force is trying to tell me,” Keith reaches out, needing to touch, needing that warmth. His hand settles on the curve of Lance’s cheek. “Because I’m choosing you. I choose you, Lance, and I always will.”

And then there’s lips. Soft, slow, beautiful lips crashing into Keith’s like a wave hits the shore. There’s a moment — just a moment — when Keith fears he’ll slip right through the cracks of the earth, like The Universe would dare to deny him even a second’s worth of wonderful. But he doesn’t. He stays right here, anchored, clinging to the only thing that’s ever felt this right.

They break apart, breath mingling, and lips still trembling.

“What happens now?” Lance asks.

“I don’t know,” replies Keith, “but I already told you — I’m not scared of The Universe. I’m not.” He holds Lance’s gaze, swimming in blue as he says: “Are you?” 

Lance watches the starlight pile up in Keith’s midnight eyes, glossy and bright, and thinks: how could he ever be?

So he whispers a resounding, “No,” and kisses him again.

 


  

Physical intimacy with your Soulmate is said to be the most euphoric experience that a human being can have. When two souls are bonded, senses within the body are heightened, which exponentially increases the pleasure for both parties. Sexual intercourse, kissing, embracing, and even simply holding hands is best enjoyed with your Soulmate.

 


  

Time passes. Sundays come and go. And Keith continues to notice things.

He notices when Shiro nudges Adam with his hip as they stand side-by-side at the sink, scrubbing away at what’s left of the dinner dishes. And when Adam starts to hum under his breath. And when he drops his sponge into the soapy water, and tugs Shiro into a slow dance to the tune of his humming, despite the halfhearted protests and bashful laughter.

He notices when Lance saunters up from behind, wraps his arms around Keith’s middle, and trails kisses along his shoulder, his neck, his jaw. He notices Lance’s smile against his skin. He notices Adam and Shiro, still humming, still swaying.

And he notices no difference between the two couples.

No difference at all.

 


  

“You sure?”

A swift peck to the lips. A reassuring palm to the cheek.

“Hundred percent. Hundred and ten percent.”

A chuckle, happy and breathless. God, he loves him. 

It starts with hands. Hands in hair, hands on skin, hands everywhere. Warm becomes hot, and eager becomes desperate, and soft becomes temptation.

“Are you —”

Yeah.”

Hushed whispers that disappear behind gasping breaths and clipped moans. Winding limbs, and beating hearts. Pressure building, fingernails clawing. Too much, and not enough.

“Lance…”

“It’s good,” he says. “It’s so good.”

It’s slow and patient. It’s careful and rhythmless. It’s blazing, and perfect, and suddenly more, more, more.

“I got you,” he says, never more certain.

Fingers lace, and muscles clench, and loose lips start to murmur names and I love you’s like promises and prayers.

It’s heaving lungs, and stars exploding, and body-numbing release.

And then it’s just them.

Sweet kisses, and flushed skin, and hearts pounding in harmony. 

Glistening eyes, and crooked grins.

“Let’s do that again.”

Wholehearted, blossoming laughter.

 


  

“You want my permission to what?”

“To marry Keith.”

From the kitchen, Adam’s shuffling footsteps come to a halt. He’s eavesdropping, and they both know it.

Shiro’s eyebrows are raised and amused. “It’s, uh, sweet of you to ask, Lance, but Keith is very capable of making decisions on his own.”

“I know that,” says Lance, wringing his hands and feeling a little silly. “It’s just — I wanna do it right, y’know? And you’re his brother — I mean, kinda. But you basically raised him, which means you probably know him better than anyone, or at least the longest, so I’m assuming you might know a thing or two that even I don’t know. Like maybe he’s already said something to you about… Or not! That’s cool, too, I mean, this is kind of a big thing to be talking about, given the circumstances, and —”

“Lance. You’re rambling.”

“ —Yeah. I do that, sometimes.”

His tone goes gentle and fond. “What’s this really about?”

It’s about everything, Lance wants to say, with the words trapped behind a clamped jaw. It’s about me, and him, and us, and our hearts, and our lives, and our forever.

“I guess I’m just wondering if you think he…” Lance sighs, and glances up timidly through the fan of his lashes. “… Do you think he’d say yes?”

Adam’s footsteps patter quietly, tiptoeing closer to the doorway.

And Shiro offers a sympathetic grin. “Look, Lance, this is Keith we’re talking about. You can’t predict anything with him. And even if you could, it wouldn’t be right of me to speak on his behalf.”

“Yeah,” mumbles Lance. “I get it.”

“But I need you to know something, okay?”

Lance holds his breath, and waits.

“Keith has been through a lot, and there’ve been times when I’ve been really worried about him. But ever since he met you, I… I don’t worry as much anymore,” Shiro says, so earnest that it makes Lance’s chest ache. “I need you to know that I’ve never seen him happier than he is when he’s with you.”

“I,” Lance whispers, “wanna make him happy.”

“You will. You do.”

Lance finally exhales, emptying his lungs.

“Whatever you decide is the right move,” concludes Shiro, “I’m sure Keith will think it’s right, too.”

And then, from the kitchen, a loud slurp of something that smells like tea, followed by Adam’s voice.

“Just do it, Lance. You know you want to.”   

He does. He really does. And he’s already got the ring in his pocket to prove it.

 


  

Keith says yes.

He says yes with a breathless gasp. He says yes with a smile. He says yes with his heart overflowing. He says yes with his lips trembling fast against Lance’s.

Yes, yes, yes, yes…

 


 

Marriage between two individuals who are not Soulbound is widely considered wrong, sinful, and — in some parts of the world — illegal. Churches, temples, and all other places of worship are forbidden by law to officiate marriage between such individuals. Privately ordained officiants, however, are able to perform a non-Soulbound wedding ceremony to their own discretion.

 


  

Their wedding is just about as romantic as a non-Soulbound wedding can be.

It involves a five-hour road trip to the neighboring state, a very long and very tedious application for a marriage license, and then some very disapproving glares from the officials at the courthouse.

A signature here, a signature there, and then, suddenly —

They’re married.

It’s all spectacularly underwhelming.

And yet, Lance’s smile as they burst out of the courthouse doors is entirely radiant and downright giddy. He swings their clasped hands like a manic pendulum, and then tugs Keith into his chest.

“Hey,” he chides, poking a finger at the corner of Keith’s downturned mouth. “No frowns today, mister husband. I forbid it.”

But Keith just reaches out, and lets his fingertips brush along Lance’s jawline, and says, so solemnly, “This isn’t what you wanted.”

Lance leans into the touch.

“You wanted your family and friends, and dancing, and cake, and a real ceremony. A big, white wedding, remember?” Keith swallows around something awful lodged in his throat. “I hate — I hate that I can’t give you what you want.”

“I want you,” says Lance, like it’s easy, like it’s obvious.

And maybe it kind of is.

 


  

A year later, they’re painting the walls of their newer, bigger apartment. Something light and pleasantly neutral for their newer, bigger guest bedroom.

(“This could be the nursery,” Keith remembers Lance whispering into his ear as they trail a few feet behind the realtor. “Y’know. When we’re ready.” And Keith had squeezed his hand, whispering back, “When we’re ready.” They signed the lease that afternoon.)

“This isn’t as fun as those home improvement shows make it seem,” Lance gripes over by the far right wall. “Can’t we take a break and do something else? Order a pizza? Make out on the new bed?”

By bed, Lance means mattress, which currently serves as their only piece of furniture in the entire apartment after they’d stumbled upon it at a local flea market. Keith had protested, but Lance had insisted because, and in his own words, no one can turn down a bargain!

Keith stops painting, and turns to glare at said mattress. “I’ll pass.”

“Oh, this again?”

“You literally bought it on the side of the road.”

“It looks good as new!”

“It’s nasty.”

“But it’s ours,” Lance grins.

“Our very own nasty mattress,” Keith drawls.

“Isn’t it awesome, though?” Lance gestures to the empty room, paintbrush still in hand, and splattering paint droplets over the tarp-covered floors. “This is our very own grown-up apartment. With our very own guest room for when Shiro and Adam come visit. And our very own kitchen. And our very own laundry room!”

Keith snorts. “You’re seriously excited about doing laundry?”

“With you? With our washing machine? With our fabric softener? Hell yeah.”

It’s so endearing that Keith has to chuckle. He stares at a spot on the wall he’s been aimlessly painting over about nine times now. On their wall.

Our guest room,” he repeats, just because he can, just because it is kind of nice to say.

Somehow, Lance has moved across the room undetected, and presses himself up against Keith’s back, arms circling him, chin tucking over his shoulder. He speaks low, “Mhm… What else are you excited about? Tell me.”

Keith breathes slowly. “Watching our new TV together. Picking up food from our supermarket. Waking up next to you in our —”

Before he can finish, Lance is spinning him around, and catching his lips in a big, open-mouthed kiss. Keith lets his brush clatter to the floor, and starts gathering fistfuls of Lance’s shirt instead. Blue, soft cotton that he loves.

“Lance,” Keith mumbles against his lips. “The walls.”

“Walls, shmalls,” says Lance. “I’m gonna bang you on this nasty, flea market mattress and there’s nothing you can do about it, babe.” 

 


  

If you choose to reject your Soulmate, and defy your Destiny, then The Universe may have to intervene. It will present obstacles, and do everything in its power to prevent your wayward soul from straying. It will feel like swimming against an ocean’s current. Or climbing to the top of a crumbling tower.

But you must trust The Universe.

 


 

It’s a normal day.

Just a normal day.

It’s normal when Keith sips a cup of coffee before leaving to meet Shiro for lunch. It’s normal when Lance, at the kitchen table, rolls his eyes distastefully as Keith swipes his motorcycle helmet off the counter. It’s normal when Keith bends over to press a loud kiss on Lance’s forehead. It’s normal when Lance calls out “I love you”, and it’s normal when Keith yells it back as he walks out the door. 

Lance runs the dishwasher. He finishes Keith’s leftover coffee. He checks his email and instagram.

Everything is normal.

And then the phone rings.

“Lance Kogane-McClain?” an abrupt voice asks.

“That’s me.”

“Yes, I’m calling from St. Altea Hospital. Your husband Keith was recently admitted —”

No.

No, no, no, no, no, no --

He doesn’t hear anything else over the rush of blood flooding his ears.

He grabs his keys, and sprints for the door.

 


  

Lance speaks with a doctor. The man has a kind but somber face, and his scrubs are splattered with blood. Keith’s blood.

It was just a normal day.

Until a car sped through a red light, and collided with Keith on his motorcycle. Four fractured ribs, and a ruptured spleen. Internal bleeding. He flatlined once on the table, but they got him back, and has been relatively stable since. Breathing with the aid of a ventilator. Unresponsive to external stimuli. 

But he’s alive.

The kind-faced doctor assures him that they’re doing everything they can, and hope to see improvement within the next twenty-four hours.

Lance nods, or thinks he does. Then he’s stumbling out the doors, barely making it to the wall before his legs give out, and his back is sliding against it, and he’s collapsing to the floor. Everything is impossibly loud and banging around his skull as he pulls out his phone with trembling fingers, and taps the screen.

The call connects.

Shiro,” Lance whispers.

And then he breaks down.

 


  

Two weeks go by, and nothing happens.

Two weeks without sleeping, and only eating when Shiro manages to shove some food in Lance’s mouth. Two weeks without hearing Keith’s voice. Two weeks without seeing him smirk before he crawls into bed with him. Two weeks without nothing but the monotonous drone of a heart monitor, and Lance doesn’t know what to do.

So he just sits by his bed, and holds Keith’s lifeless hand. 

“You gotta wake up now, babe,” he says. “I feel like I'm starting to lose it, and you're the only one who knows how to talk me out of the crazy.”

 


 

“God, your hair grows like a weed. Can barely even see your eyes… If you don’t wake up — I swear — I’m taking a pair of scissors and hacking at ‘em myself. I’ll shave the whole mullet, Keith, don’t test me.”

 


  

“Please don’t leave me. Please, please, please, please…”

 


  

“You and that fucking bike, Keith… How many times have I told you to be more careful? But you never listen, do you? You always do whatever the fuck you want, don’t you? You — god — why do you always have to… just — be such a fucking idiot!”

 


 

“Your ribs are looking real good, babe. Everything’s healing up nice and fast. They said it’s ‘cause you’re in such good shape. So I guess I shouldn’t make fun of you for the 5am jogs anymore, huh? Maybe I’ll even start coming with you. Y'know, as long as we move it to, like, seven... Eight, maybe.”

 


  

“The doctor said something about... pulling the plug yesterday. I don’t — I don’t know, Keith. What am I supposed to do? Wish on a fucking star? Pray to the same fucking Universe that’s trying to take you away from me? I know you’re not scared of all that stuff, but… I’m scared. I’m so goddamn terrified, and I — god, Keith, I don’t wanna give up on you.”

 


  

“I talked to Shiro. He said that — that I have to decide. Said that… you probably wouldn’t want me to spend the rest of my life in a hospital, waiting for you. But this is you... and I can’t just walk away. I can’t let you go. Just… I need you to do something, Keith. Do something. Please. Let me know you’re there.”

Lance waits, and thinks about how he’d wait forever just to hear a response. His heart aches. His hand twitches.

But it’s not his hand that moves.   

“Keith?”

Another twitch.

And then Keith opens his eyes.

 


  

Another week passes. A week full of tests, and scans, and complicated medical jargon that floats in and out of Lance’s ears. He’s vaguely aware of the doctors with their clipboards, and the nurses coming and going, but he doesn’t really hear anything until one of them is telling Keith that he can go home.

To their home.

Shiro and Adam stay in the guest room for the next few nights, just to make sure everything goes smoothly. Shiro does their laundry, and Adam stocks their fridge with food, and they both help keep the place tidy and clean. One night, when Shiro and Adam are preparing dinner for them, Lance catches Shiro’s arm in the kitchen, and tells him that they’re doing too much. 

But Shiro had simply smiled, and placed a hand on Lance’s shoulder, saying, “We’re not just here for Keith, you know.”

And Lance had tackled him with a hug that nearly knocks the spatula right out of his grasp.

Keith does fine. He takes his medication when he starts feeling sore, and tries to get as much rest as possible, which Lance knows must be torture for someone like him, who thrives on hot-blooded impulse. And so he lingers by his side, curling up with him on the couch as something mundane prattles on the television screen, hoping that his company will keep him from becoming too restless.

Lance watches as Keith grows drowsy, and blinks his own drooping eyelids to stave away the sleep.

“You’re exhausted,” Keith points out groggily. “Take a nap.”

“You first,” says Lance.

And Keith chuckles quietly, letting his eyes slip shut at last. “I’ll still be here when you wake up.”

But Lance doesn’t know that for sure, so he fights to stay awake.

 


  

Slowly but surely, things start to settle again. Like the aftermath of a devastating storm, things resume — just a bit more weathered and worn than they were before. It’s like something is looming overhead — or haunting them — as a constant reminder of everything that could go wrong, and has gone wrong, and will go wrong. A prison they can’t escape. A monster they can’t outrun.

Shiro and Adam say their goodbyes, and finally return home. And Lance and Keith —

They can’t stop arguing.

“So one little scare is gonna send you running, huh?” Keith snarls. “We knew this could happen, Lance, we knew it —”

“One little scare?” Lance erupts in an outrage. “You almost died, Keith! I almost lost you forever!”

“But you didn’t.”

“But I could’ve! And that’s — that’s the whole fucking point! You think this is it? The Universe had their fun, and now they’re just gonna leave us alone? That’s not how it works, Keith! It’s never gonna be easy for us. We’re gonna have to fight, and hope, and pray to the fucking stars that today isn’t gonna be the day they decide to rip us apart. And yeah, we made it this time, but what about the next? Or the next? Or the fucking next, Keith?”

“We both knew this wasn’t gonna be easy. But this is our life. This is what we are, Lance. And this is what I want. I thought — I thought you wanted it, too.”

The slamming of the bedroom door shakes Lance to his core. He feels it rattling in his bones, his skull, his chest. Even long after the noise stops ricocheting off the walls, he still feels it pulsing a rapid tempo behind his breastbone. Like a ticking time bomb.

And Lance sinks down into the couch, drops his face into his hands, and waits for the time to run out.

 


 

Keith is buried in their bed.

Lance finds him there; quiet, still, and breathing. He watches from the doorway for a moment or two, indulging in the sight of him — here and alive — and then climbs onto the bed, to curl up with him.

The bedsheets rustle as he fits himself snug against Keith’s side, resting his head on his shoulder, and settling a palm over the soft thrum of his heartbeat. One-two, one-two, one-two…

“I take it back,” Lance whispers.

Keith’s pulse flutters beneath Lance’s hand, letting him know that he’s really awake. He’s listening.

“Everything I said. I… I didn’t mean it. This is what I want. M’sorry.”

“It’s okay, Lance,” Keith whispers back.

“I was just — god, how are you not scared?”

“You don’t think I’m scared? Of losing you?” More rustling of bedsheets as Keith carefully shifts onto his side to face Lance, and drape an arm over his waist. “I’m just not gonna let that ruin what we have right now. Maybe it’s not easy, but — I’ll take whatever I can get.”

Lance snuggles closer, hiding his damp eyes against Keith’s chest.

“A hard life with you,” says Keith, “is better than an easy one with anyone else.”

“It’s our life,” Lance murmurs over the sound of that steady one-two. “So it’s pretty perfect.” 

 


 

In the year that follows, not much changes. 

They still go to Shiro and Adam's for dinner every Sunday. They still bicker over which movie to watch on movie nights. They still get a little lost in each other's eyes when they first wake up in the morning, when minds are hazy, and the sunlight is soft. They still love, and laugh, and yell, and drive each other mad.  

Sometimes it’s perfect, and sometimes it’s not.

And sometimes Lance still catches himself staring up at the stars, but he doesn’t make a single wish.

Because — he thinks, he knows — he doesn’t really need it anymore.