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the ash of all he ever loved

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His combat boots pounded against the asphalt, the faded, torn black almost matching the cracking, sun-bleached, destroyed road. He slipped through the shadows, pausing with his back against the crumbling wall of the alley, for the abrasive white and purple lights to pass.

 

He froze, still poised to spring with kinetic energy at any point, catching his breath.

 

The light passed, and he slipped into the next shadow. Running, he sprang forward to cling to the wall, the black of his gloves blending in with the night-shadowed, grimy red of the brick.

 

The bump of his sniper rifle case against his back unhindering his purchase to the wall.

 

Scrambling up, his feet clung to the barely-there footholds, the still-searching lights urging him on to hurry. He climbed, up and further up, reaching for the next shadow, reaching for the darkness.

 

His breath swirled in puffs of silver smoke in front of his goggles.

 

Reaching the top, he hauled himself through the remains of a window and immediately flopped flat onto the floor, his heart racing. His hand landed on the small pistol on his side as he scanned for any signs of movement throughout the crumbling top floor of the remains of the building. Seeing none, he eyed a large hole in the roof, the dusty remains of moonlight seeping through dark clouds momentarily. He made a mental note to watch his back. Avoiding the puddles of light, he rose to a crouched position and crept stealthily to a mostly intact wall on the other side of the room, where a gaping window faced his target.

 

He tapped his ear out of habit, frowning as he remembered that he was alone here, in the dark with no assistance. An overwhelming sense of a similar nights crashed into him, the absence by his side glaringly obvious, without Pidge’s voice in his ear to drown out the memories. It almost pulled him under: the comforting pull of deep violet eyes, the feeling of a solid presence pressing against him, the softness of his hands carding through raven hair.

 

The promise of a new sunrise.

 

He shook his head violently, almost dislodging his goggles, and let himself revert back to the familiar black void. Losing himself to focus.

 

He was alone, but he was doing the right thing for the sake of the world. The revolution was well underway, the cogs of destiny moving faster than anyone could have imagined.

 

And he was caught right up in the middle of it.

 

He searched for a sightline through the window, peering toward the bright light of the Galra airships. His hands pulled the case from his back and set it down on the ground, fingers unlocking it by habit without a glance from his eyes.

 

He had willingly jumped in, taking the fall to change the world. The promise of a better future far outweighed the ignorant comfort of his past. He had wanted to push for, to make possible, a world where people did not have to hide when the Galra came to their doorstep, a world where their life is not dictated by the amount of money or power one inherited, a world where it was safe to forge ahead and work for one’s own destiny.

 

A world where he could stand at the edge, watching the stars fall down around him.

 

His eyes glanced up at the dark night sky, the stars all hidden by the polluted clouds. Hands moved automatically to assemble the large, long-range sniper rifle, lifting the lower part out of the case. Setting it on the ground, he pulled the legs out quickly.

 

The world he had imagined with another laying in his arms, many, many nights ago.

 

Several pins were pulled from the contraption, disappearing into specific panels in his gloves for easy access. He snatched the upper part of the gun from the case, slid the barrel out with the silencer already attached, and pushed the spring into a notch to prepare it.

 

The world he had wanted to create for them.

 

Sliding the barrel into the lower stand, he pushed down to lock them in place with a slightly audible ‘click.’ Locking a lever into place, he snapped the two pins out of the panels into his gloves and slid them into place.

 

The world in which he had been abandoned.  

 

A shaky breath racked his body, remnants of loss and anger coursing through his veins. The rebels had to fight for the right to control the way they think, the way they live, and yet, that wasn’t good enough.

 

They could have changed the world together.

 

But he had been the only one willing to take the fall.

 

And now he stood on the ash of all he’d ever loved.

 

The calming darkness swallowed him again, as he gave himself over to the seductive pull of the empty-minded, single-handed focus. He scanned the crumbling room once more and then turned his back to it. Pulling his signature worn black bandana over his face, the bottom half of a skull resting over his mouth, he peered out the window. He tapped his goggles once, annoyed at the lack of flashing green lights to aid him.

 

But he didn’t need the help. He had survived this long without Pidge’s lights and her voice in his ear.

 

After all, the whole revolution didn’t call him ‘The Sharpshooter’ for nothing.

 

The three airships with magenta-purple light dipped toward the center of the ruined town, right into his sightline. If he could make this shot, he cut off the Galra general’s retreat with valuable schematics from the base the rebels were capturing. Getting their hands on these plans would both hinder the Galra and help the rebellion advance much, much further.

 

Sizing up the main airship, he loaded three bullets into the sniper rifle, the last of the bullets he  had managed to procure from the previous base they had captured and his only chance.

Though, he knew that he just needed two.

 

His job was to take down the main airship, and then the Galra general immediately following. He was trusting the other rebels to take down the two airships on guard.

 

Flashes of diagrams and long-winded explanations echoed through his mind, Hunk’s voice ringing in his ears.

 

A shot to the gas tank. A shot to the general’s head.

 

That was it. Easy enough.

 

He checked his watch, noting that he still had about three minutes. Three minutes in case things went wrong.

 

And then they did.

 

A crumple of debris had his head whipping around, to be met with a force pushing him up against the wall. The hooded, masked figure had a glowing knife pressed up against his neck, another strong arm pinning him. The glowing violet lines and eyes on the mask lit up the room, forcing his eyes to adjust quickly. He kept a secure hold on his sniper rifle but didn’t move.

 

He glared the person down, “Really? Now?”

 

The hand pinning his chest to the wall reached up and clapped over his mouth. “Shut up, Lance.”

 

Lance’s eyes widened in surprise, the voice that haunted his dreams ringing through his ears. He moved quickly, snatching his pistol from the holster at his waist and shoving it into his assailant's abdomen. He wrenched his mouth away from the offending hand.  “What the fuck are you doing here?” he snapped, his voice dangerously low.

 

The man sighed, unphased by the gun pressing into him, and lowered his knife. “Watching your sorry ass, it seems. You were spotted scaling the wall. I killed him.”

 

Lance scoffed, “You know that’s not what I meant.” Pushing against him, Lance hooked his right leg behind the man’s left, causing him to stumble back slightly. Slipping away, he set down his sniper rifle and put both shaking hands on his pistol, aiming at his assailant.

 

“We both know I could take you down easily if I really wanted to,” his snarky, matter-of-fact voice stabbing Lance to the core.

 

Lance stood firm, the taste of metal on his tongue.  “You haven’t seen me in a year, Keith. Who knows how I could have changed, how you could have changed?”

 

Keith sighed again, pulling a tab at the back of his hood. The mask dissipated, revealing a face more familiar to Lance than his own. The intense, violet eyes stared into his soul and he tried hard not to flinch.

 

“Lance,” Keith started, taking a step toward him and reaching out.

 

“No!” Lance snapped. Then, remembering that Keith had gotten a Galra sentry off his back, he spoke quieter. “No, no, no. You are not allowed to just appear,” he waved his pistol in the air, “out of nowhere, claiming to protect me.” He took two big steps forward, pulling himself to his full height, attempting to tower the two inches he had over the raven-haired man. His finger jabbed into the hard planes of his chest, “This is bullshit, and you know it.”

 

Keith gently reached up to grab the offending finger, “Lance-”

 

He ripped his hand away from the familiar, tender grip. “No, absolutely not. I have a job to do right now, that is essential for the good of the revolution, and you are distracting me.”

 

Keith’s eyes narrowed, “And you think I’m not here for the same reason?”

 

Lance threw his hands in the air. “No, Keith!” he whisper-shouted. “No, I don’t. Because a year ago, you left me alone in that little shack, with nothing but memories of a broken heart. You left me to chase some obsolete clue of your heritage, your Galran heritage, into the enemy territory. You left me, left the revolution we began together for our future, and for all I knew, you had joined them!” His breath came out in short pants. Then, softer, “For all I knew, you were dead or had betrayed us, betrayed me.”

 

Keith scoffed, “Some faith you had in me.”

 

Lance’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Some proof of faith I had to go off of.”

 

He could see the hurt dance across Keith’s eyes.

 

“Now,” Lance continued, glancing at his watch and swearing under his breath, “I have two life-changing shots to take, so watch my back. Or stab it again.” He bent down to pick up his sniper rifle.

 

He leveled his gaze with Keith’s now-guarded face. “And if you’re going to stab me, actually stab me so I don’t have to live with this hurt anymore.”

 

Lance whipped around to face the window, noting the thirty seconds left on his watch, and took a deep breath, grounding himself.

 

He focused; checking out the window, setting his gun, lining up the first shot, peering through the scope. He ignored a faint crunch of gravel behind him, knowing without looking that Keith had planted his feet, aware and ready for anyone to come up behind him.

 

He lined up the first shot to the gas tank. He took another deep breath. He felt the slight vibration of his watch signifying that time was up.

 

The doors to the base burst open, Galra pouring out around the General, followed by rebels.

 

He pulled the trigger.

 

Before the bullet had time to connect, his hand was pulling the lever to reload, lining up the next shot.

 

The airship exploded.

 

Lance fired again.

 

The General fell.

 

But Lance was already disassembling the sniper rifle, shoving everything back in the case quickly. In less than thirty seconds, the case was a firm presence against his back.

 

“We have to move,” he whispered to the dark figure, striding forward.

 

Keith nodded, leading him toward the hole in the roof. “Follow me, I have a getaway.”

 

Lance froze, “How did you know I didn’t have a getaway?”

 

Keith’s hair glinted under the dusty moonlight. “Come on, Lance. Trust me.”

 

They climbed up through the hole onto the roof.

 

“How, Keith?” Lance pressed.

 

Keith stopped on the roof, turning and fully staring at Lance. “The knife was my mothers. She is full Galra. But she also is one of the founding members of a secret organization that has been opposing the Galra empire since before the rebellion started: The Blade of Marmora.”

 

In the clouded night sky, with Keith’s voice speaking so earnestly at him, his violet eyes begging him to understand, Lance was transported back to that open field, the stars spread out above them, Keith warm in his arms.

 

He took two steps forward, continuing. “I’ve been with them since I found her, two weeks after I left you. I asked them to send you correspondence, begged them to join the rebellion, but their position was too vulnerable. But trust me when I say that I wanted you to know that I was alive and helping from the other side.”

 

Lance’s breath hitched.

 

“A few weeks ago we got a message from one of our spies that the rebellion was making their move. I finally got through to the leaders and we sent an encoded message, like the ones we used to write at the beginning.” Keith reached out toward Lance, and then let his hand drop. “Pidge finished decoding it after you had already left. Hunk figured you might need back-up.”

 

Lance felt himself responding, reaching his hand out slowly to chase Keith’s falling fingers. “So you came?”

 

Keith smiled softly, his eyes crinkling around the corners. “So I came.”

 

There were explosions in the distance, remnants of the mission carrying on around them, but Lance was too wrapped up in the realization that Keith had been helping the whole time, trying to get back to him the whole time.

 

That Keith had come for him as soon as he could. That he had been trying to find a way back home.

 

A sob racked Lance’s body and he surged forward. His fingers fisted in the hood around Keith’s raven hair and Lance buried his face in his shoulder.

 

“You’re here.”

 

Keith smoothed a hand over Lance’s hair, his other encasing his waist and pulling him closer into the embrace. “I’m here, and will stay forever, if you’ll let me. I’m so sorry, Love. I really tried to get back to you sooner.”

 

Lance snorted through his silent sobs. “I bet you pestered the shit out of them every day. Maybe even threw a couple knives.”

 

He could almost hear Keith rolling his eyes above him. “You know me.”

 

Lance looked up, his hand slipping in the hood to Keith’s cheek. “I know you.”

 

Keith grinned, “And I love you with everything that I am. Always have and I will never-”

 

Lance kissed him.

 

Though so much had changed in a year, they slotted together familiarly. Devotion surged in their chests, relief that the one they love was still alive. Changed, a little broken, but still alive.

 

Lance pulled back gently, laying his forehead on Keith’s. His violet eyes were full of soft tears and love, saying everything they did not have time to say on the roof, as the world fell down around them.

 

Keith let his hand fall down to intertwine with Lance’s. “Come on, let’s go change the world together.”

 

Lance couldn’t help but grin giddily as Keith pulled him to the edge of the roof and jumped. A silver hoverbike appeared beneath them, the cloaking device disengaging.

 

Lance wound his arms around Keith, resting his head on his back.

 

Words from long ago slipped into his mind. 

 

Let’s go find a new sunrise.