The air is unusually crisp for this time of the year when Lance steps out on the porch in search of their illusive house guest.
Shiro is an absolute pleasure to have around, always ready to help with whatever he could, always smiling and making polite conversation with Lance's family, humouring the young ones and swapping stories with the adults. But during the few days he was staying Lance noticed his tendency to slip away at times, usually after dinner when the day’s work was done and things got too crowded and rowdy.
Lance understands the need for some peace and quiet and he is the last person unwilling to give Shiro the space he needs. But there is still a quiet, nagging voice at the back of his head urging him to at least check on the man, to make sure everything was fine after this had went on for several days. So when he notices Shiro slipping away again that night after helping put the dishes to wash, he lets a few minutes pass by before quietly following his former leader out of the main house.
As it turns out Shiro has not wandered off too far. He is leaning against a fence a short stretch up the road, arms flung back over the wooden bars and head tipped back to observe the night sky. Lance approaches slowly, making enough noise for the man to notice him as he walks along the gravel road to where the man is standing.
When he is close enough to talk to him Lance doesn’t say anything at first and simply settles against the fence right next to the man, tilting his head back as well to observe the sky that seems to stretch out forever above them. It’s an image Lance is well acquainted with, remembers staring at it from his bedroom window, wide eyes full of child-like wonder.
"The stars are so bright out here", Shiro says after a long stretch of silence that somehow never dips into uncomfortable and Lance hums his quiet acknowledgement.
"Yeah, I like coming out here to look at them when the whole daytime madness is over", he smiles, tipping his head back to take in the painfully familiar constellations. There is a bittersweet tug in his chest, a feeling that has overcome him a lot lately, that he’s been trying to ignore. But Shiro’s presence doesn’t make it any easier.
A quiet, breathy laugh makes Lance's chest pull even tighter, a sweet ache spreading between his ribs that has nothing to do with the image of the night sky and everything with Shiro’s gentle presence next to him.. He knew this would be happening as soon as Shiro had asked if he could visit and yet it catches Lance by surprise every time.
So much has happened since Lance first started crushing on the older pilot and yet, through all of the adventures and horrible experiences they'd gone through together, he had never been able to completely shake what he felt for Shiro. Not when he had loved and lost Allura, not even in the long months since he moved back home and hadn’t heard from or seen the other man at all.
Lance has never been good at fighting this and he is even worse now, breathing in the fresh night air alongside Shiro.
"Isn't life on a farm all about getting up at dawn? Doesn't sound like there'd be a whole lot of opportunities for nightly stargazing." There is an amused lull to Shiro's voice but it only serves to cover something deeper and darker in the thoughtful tone. Lance swallows, looks over at the other man.
Shiro is still taking in the sky, skin and hair so pale in the moonlight, but when he slowly bends his head forward and looks at Lance his eyes are a deep black, a stark contrast that makes him look ethereal, other-wordly.
His gaze is endlessly soft though, fond and curious and there is still something behind that expression even. Something that makes Lance swallow back the nonchalant answer already at the tip of his tongue.
Instead he turns towards the other man, tilts his head, licks his lips. There is a question that had been at the back of his mind ever since Shiro had shown up on the farm a few days ago. It is question too direct, too invasive to ask in the bright light of day with laughing kids and bustling farm life all around them.
But here, far from the noise of Lance's family, tucked away in their own private pocket of the quiet night, the question doesn't seem as absurd anymore. And asking it doesn't take nearly as much strength and courage as Lance would have expected.
"Are you happy, Shiro?" The words are quiet, barely above a whisper, but they still have a profound effect on the other man. Shiro freezes, dark eyes going wide like he had been caught doing something awful. He looks at Lance for a moment or two until he seems to deflate with a deep sigh that sounds lost and exhausted.
Another stretch of silence passes between them while Shiro tries to build up the strength to answer or maybe just searches for the right words but the longer the quiet of the night around them is the only thing Lance hears the more sure he gets that Shiro's answer won't be a positive one.
In the end his former leader sags back against the fence, raising his human hand to rub at the back of his neck.
"Let me say it like this", he begins, his voice surprisingly steady considering the way he's still holding himself. "When we were out there fighting the Galra, fighting Zarkon, fighting Lotor, fighting Honerva ... while we were doing that all I ever wanted was to be done fighting."
The heavy words make something in Lance's chest shift and an almost overwhelming longing comes to life, makes him want to reach out, want to maybe touch his fingers against Shiro's arm to provide at least some measure of comfort, show that he is right there with Shiro. But he holds himself back, allows the man to finish his explanation in peace. He is owed that much patience at least when Lance had to go and ask him a question like that, a question that seems simple at first but would have never felt so grave from the beginning if it truly were. If there was an answer to it as simple as “Yes”.
"And when we finally won the war I thought that was my chance to be done, you know? I came back to earth, tried to settle down and build a family..."
A quiet laugh carries through the air between them, a laugh that does not sound happy or amused in the slightest and instead has a deep, almost desperate sadness clinging to it. Lance's heart aches, fingers still itching, but he holds back.
"But ... I've never been good at that kind of family so it ... it didn't really work out."
That makes Lance finally pause in his desperate yearning to give comfort. He frowns, tilts his head to the side.
"Wait, so ... you and Curtis..."
It is strange that Shiro would show up here without his fiancé but Lance didn't want to pry or question it too much. There are a lot of very legitimate reasons why Curtis wouldn't accompany Shiro on a trip to visit a former paladin, none of them as bad as the implication he is reading out of Shiro's words.
"Curtis and I broke up months ago. I'm sorry I didn't mention it earlier, I guess coming out here … I just wanted to get away from all of it, you know?"
"Hey, no, there's no need to apologize", Lance rushes to say, the mere thought that Shiro would feel guilty about keeping this from him making him feel squirmy and uncomfortable. Even though at the same time it stings that something big as that would happen to any of the people he still considers his family and he wouldn’t even know. It’s not Shiro’s fault that it adds to the ache in his chest. And it doesn’t mean that his next words are any less honest.
"That's your business. You can tell me or not tell me whatever you want!"
A slow, soft smile, a fond gaze out of deep, dark eyes. Lance swallows. This is not the right time for his fluttery heart to beat all the way up into his throat. But no matter how desperately he tries to push it back down it will not comply.
"The question you asked me … it’s exactly what I've been asking myself these last few months. The longer I kept thinking about it the more I had to admit to myself that no, I'm not happy."
It is the answer Lance had been expecting and yet it still hits him hard to see Shiro like this, his soft, dark gaze dropping to the ground as he shakes his head and Lance aches for him. Especially because ... this whole story sounds way too familiar, hits home in a way that makes his breath stutter.
"Retiring into a quiet life has never been what I dreamed of when I was young. I always wanted to explore, solar systems, galaxies, the entire universe. And even if I've been through hell trying to do that, we all have, those dreams will always be part of me."
Finally Lance allows himself to reach out, touch his fingers against Shiro's arm to make the other man meet his gaze.
"I think ... I think I can relate to that."
A frown, confused but curious, not about to shut down Lance's quiet consolation but instead ready to turn to him and listen as well.
"But ... you're with your family", Shiro says, slow and thoughtful as he searches Lance's expression for the meaning of his words. "You didn't seem unhappy the last few days."
"Well, I'm not unhappy", Lance agrees with a shrug and slips a little closer to Shiro, fingers gliding along his warm human arm. "But I know what it's like to want something for that entire war and then, when you finally get it, find out it's not as great as you made it out to be."
He pauses and Shiro gives him the time to sort these feelings he just heard put into words for the first time. What Shiro has just talked about, it is the same thing that makes him long and yearn at night when he is alone with his thoughts and the endlessly stretching night sky above. There is a restlessness engraved deep into his bones that Lance just can’t shake, no matter how hard he tries for the sake of everyone but himself.
When Lance continues he feels stable and raw at the same time, allowing himself to open up about these flares of longing and sadness he's been feeling more and more often, flares he thinks Shiro experiences as well.
"I love my family. I love all of them so, so much. All the time we were out there I wanted nothing as much as to be back home with them again. I missed them and I missed earth and I kept imagining how great it would be if I could just be with them again. Experience rain and go swimming and help out on the farm..."
A fond, warm smile sneaks onto Shiro's expression when Lance talks about his family, causing a comfortable warmth to spread through his chest. Shiro looks so beautiful when he smiles. He doesn't do it nearly often enough.
"And I mean ... it is great! I don't mind the farm life, it's nice and all, spending time with everyone is awesome..."
A quiet hum interrupts Lance's rambling and he halts, swallows, tries to brush off the creeping feeling of guilt as he is about to put this yearning into words. Shiro's hand is warm on his, the sudden touch startling and making Lance's stomach flutter.
"But...?", prompts the other man, endlessly gentle and Lance takes a breath.
This is not some kind of treason towards the people he loves, he reminds himself. It's simply what he feels. He is allowed to put words to these feelings, especially in front of Shiro who seems to be going through exactly the same thing and will not judge him.
"But ... if I wanted a quiet farm life I wouldn't have signed up for the garrison. I love my family and I love being with them. But what I really always wanted to do was ... fly. And now that I'm back here I miss it just as much as I missed my family before."
There is another low, thoughtful hum and before Lance knows what is happening or can react to it Shiro has taken a step forward and pulled him into strong warm arms. The embrace is tight but steady and Lance feels his stiff muscles unlock the moment Shiro reaches for him, allowing himself to be swept up in the feeling.
The other man smells of sweat and leather and the stables, the scent of a fresh cologne nothing but a fading afterthought and yet Lance can't help but inhale deeply, taking in the result of a days' work on the farm. It is a familiar, beloved scent that mingles just perfectly with the clear, fresh notes that are Shiro.
But before he can commit all of it to memory, the intoxicating smell, the warmth and feeling of Shiro's embrace, the quiet, steady sound of his breathing, the hug has passed and Shiro takes a step back. A human and a mechanical hand find Lance's shoulders as Shiro looks at him and there is a spark in his eyes that Lance hasn't seen in ages.
"Okay, this might sound really crazy", Shiro admits as he rushes the words out in a breathless hurry. Like he needs to force himself to follow a sudden idea before he loses the courage. "But Lance ... do you want to fly with me?"
The question takes a while to actually reach him, too sudden and utterly unexpected. Lance blinks, still dizzy from the hug and now this...?
"I was just like you! I always wanted to explore the universe but that passion got lost somewhere in the war. You always wanted to fly but being away from your family for so long was too hard on you. But ... but we can do both now!"
With every hastily uttered word Lance's mind starts to catch up with Shiro's idea and the mere possibility of the other man's suggestion makes his chest light up with excitement and a deep, desperate yearning.
As much as he missed his family and as deeply grateful as he is for being reunited with them again … just like Shiro he has still never given up on his childhood dreams of being a brave explorer. Forcing himself to be satisfied with this kind of life for the sake of other people, no matter how much he loves them … that’s not what either of them deserve.
And now, with Shiro looking at him like that, offering something Lance never thought he’d be allowed to even dream of anymore...
"We could just ... leave", he breathes, thrumming with the sheer amount of possibilities as Shiro's entire face lights up even more. "Get a ship from the Holts. Get a teleport to anywhere we want..."
"Explore however many planets we like, meet new species, learn about them ... and when you start to miss your family we won't be stranded in deep space, we can just come back home!"
"We could bring back samples, help advance earth even farther ... there's still so much we don't know!"
Lance's entire body starts to hum with anticipation and excitement the longer they talk about it. The way Shiro's hands shift from his shoulders to cup both his cheeks, one hand warm, the other cool against his flushed skin feels so incredible it almost makes his knees buckle.
"I don't want to fight anymore but I can't retire yet, I'm not done", Shiro whispers like he is only now admitting the truth to himself trembling but freed, terrified and unable to wait any longer, just like Lance is.
"Me neither", Lance admits, shaking just as badly. For some reason he feels his eyes burn with unshed tears when he takes a shaky breath.
"I don't want a quiet life on a farm. I want to be out there."
Saying it like that, straightforward and painfully honest, feels like finally shrugging off a crushing weight, like he is letting go of all the responsibilities he has taken on. But out here with Shiro he is safe, out here they can whisper all the truths to each other they’ve barely even been able to admit to themselves and find their own yearning reflected back at them in the other’s gaze.
"We risked everything for everyone and we lost so much", Shiro mumbles, warm thumb gliding across Lance's cheek, dragging along the light blue mark. "It is time we start thinking about ourselves and follow our own hearts. The others have found their purpose, they’re doing great things. We deserve that, too."
"We do!", Lance agrees with a certainty that spreads through his limbs, a hot courage burning between his ribs where there had been nothing but a stifled, insistent ache before.
He doesn't know who leans forward first, if Lance is the one to throw his arms around Shiro's shoulders and pull him down or if the other man swoops forward to meet his lips but a moment later they are kissing. It's hot and deep and passionate, everything Lance had ever dreamed of when thinking about what kissing his former leader, his hero, would feel like.
There's a burning desperation in every slide of their lips and Lance moans when Shiro pushes a clever tongue into his mouth, claiming him quick and hot and impatient like Lance is the only way to eternal salvation. And maybe, after staring down a lonely, unfulfilled retirement on earth Lance really is the breath of life and passion Shiro had needed. Lance knows that in this very moment under the stars, Shiro is his.
A blessed life line to pull him out of the self made mediocrity he had been ready to settle for. But Lance has never been mediocre and the mere suggestion of settling for anything always made his skin crawl.
They are breathing hard and heavy when they separate, Lance gasping quietly against Shiro’s hot, slick lips, lingering close like they can’t bear to pull apart.
“Will you come fly with me, Lance?”, Shiro repeats, this time without the desperate uncertainty and yet just as hurried as his first proposal, a rekindled passion burning in his gaze that Lance soaks up greedily. “Let’s explore the universe together.”
“Yes!”, Lance gasps, nodding quickly as he presses another kiss to Shiro’s lips, then another and another. There are words tumbling out of his mouth between kisses, breathless and just as hurried as Shiro had been.
“Let’s call Pidge. First thing in the morning. Tell her to get us a ship.”
Somewhere along the line Shiro wraps both arms around Lance’s lithe form again, spinning them around to push the younger pilot against the fence, using his new leverage to deepen the kisses once more, slotting their bodies together perfectly.
After a long time they pause, bodies still thrumming as they grin at each other, wide and joyful and full of energy and a burning fire they have rekindled in each other.
“Where do you want to go first?”, Shiro asks, fingers of his floating prosthetic tracing the lines of Lance’s cheekbone, then dip down to trail along his jaw.
“With you? Anywhere.”