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Cat's Cradle

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     Keith is perched on the Black Lion's head, staring out at the sunset. There's some kind of contraption on wheels lying beside him that he must have dragged up there.

     Lance isn't sure what gives him the biggest shock: that he's never imagined Keith as the type to admire sunsets, the weird thing he's taken the time to bring all the way up there with him, or the fact that it's been several days since he's seen the guy at all. 

     Krolia had dragged him to the hospital wing nearly a week ago, and then adamantly refused any visitors to her apparently sick son.

     Well, Lance is notorious for taking advantage of a good situation, and he's just drunk enough to admit he misses Keith.

     He scales Black and plops himself down at Keith's side.

     “You look like hell,” he observes, taking in the mottled bruising on Keith's exposed skin, the yellowness of his gaunt face, the slump of his shoulders.

     Keith only hums in response, eyes sliding over towards Lance but that's all he gets.

     And Lance can understand. He can sympathize. They've all had a rough go of it at some point or another. He tips the bottle of vodka he's been toting around towards Keith. “You wanna drink about it?” 

     Keith spends a long moment side-eyeing the bottle, then shrugs and plucks it from Lance's grasp. The long swing he takes makes him grimace and gag, but he goes right back for more.

     “What's the doo-dad for?” 


     He gestures half-assedly at the weird pouch-and-pole-and-wheels-and-tubes companion Keith's keeping for company. “Your … thingy. What's that?”

     “How much have you had to drink?”

     Lance shrugs. “Enough.”

     Keith rolls his eyes, but Lance still sees the little smile that works its way onto his face. He holds up an arm high enough for Lance to see the needle piercing his skin, the clear plastic tube trailing down and out of sight. “Radiation syndrome,” he explains. “Spent too much time in the quantum abyss. They've got some kind of medication or something that's supposed to flush out my system and, I dunno, make me healthy. Feels like crap.” 

     “Oh,” Lance says dumbly, not fully processing the issue. “You probably shouldn't be drinking then.”

     At that, Keith just laughs dryly. “I'll manage.”

     “I have a feeling there's a hospital room you're supposed to be in right now.”

     “Yet, somehow, I'm out here.” And Lance has to shake his head, smiling, exasperated, because that's so typical of Keith. 

     There's a lull, as they both turn to watch the sun sink lower over the horizon. The clouds around it are illuminated in vibrant cotton candy colours. The bottle finds its way back into Lance's grasp.

     “What about you?”


     Keith taps the plastic in Lance's hand. The liquid sloshes inside. “Why are you drinking?”

     He sighs, sips the vodka, tilts his head back to catch the last fleeting rays of sunlight. “Well, it feels trivial now,” he says, relishing the pleasant buzz that winds down to his fingertips as the bitter alcohol settles in his stomach.

     “Sorry my irradiation spoiled your wallowing.”

     Lance sticks his tongue out at him. Keith shoves his shoulder with a bony arm.

     “Hunk keeps pushing me to ask Allura out.”

     Keith doesn’t say anything for quite some time. The air cools around them. “Why don’t you?” he asks, eventually. His attention is focused on fiddling with the tube he’s hooked up to.

     Lance shrugs. Sighs again. The booze warms his face and ribs. “I mean, I guess I kinda liked her when we first met. Y’know, pretty alien lady. Could kick my ass. Nice hair. Hard not to chase after that.” Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Keith kind of make a face at that, like he’s considering the truth of the statement. “Things change, though.”

     “Really?” Keith half-scoffs, reaching out for the alcohol. The bottle is almost empty. Lance knows that was mostly him. He’s just kind of busy having a crisis over here, so he can’t really be blamed. “Pretty alien lady too tough for you?”

     “Oh, no.” He shakes his head vigorously, a bold smile creeping onto his face that is one-hundred percent influenced by the vodka, because the precise brand of confidence he’s experiencing would otherwise not exist at all. “‘Tough’ is just fine. But my tastes lean more towards the, uh, quiet, dark-haired, brooding but a total doofus type, y’know? ‘Could snap my spine, but also is really good at making me laugh’ kinda thing.”

     “There aren’t many girls like that in the universe,” Keith offers, working to finish off the rest of Lance’s meagre supply of booze. He can’t complain, because he definitely shouldn’t have any more. That bottle was full just an hour ago.

     But the unwarranted confidence rears up again and he really can’t hide the smile this time, shaking his head in the encroaching darkness. The chill of the night air settles over his skin but he’s not as bothered by it as he should be. “Didn’t say it was a girl.”

     Keith makes a strangled sound around the lip of the bottle and coughs into his sleeve a few times. “Oh,” he croaks, wiping his chin. “I … Sorry, I thought--”

     “Yeah, I’m bi,” Lance says. He stretches his legs out in front of him and leans back on his hands. “You’re one of the first people I’ve told that to. You should be honoured.”

     “So, you’re upset that Hunk is pushing you and Allura together because … you like a guy?” Keith asks. A dying ray of sunlight catches on his hair as he turns to look at Lance, resting his cheek on his bent knees.

     “Pretty much.”

     “And Hunk doesn’t know?”

     “Nope,” Lance says, popping the ‘p’. He holds out a hand and Keith obligingly presses the much-lighter bottle to his palm so he can down the last few drops. 

     “Why not?”

     Lance tries not to blush, because now that he’s made the mistake of sharing, he’s not sure how to navigate this conversation without giving himself away. The courage he’s been functioning on is running lower the longer he hesitates. “Because … well, because if I told him he’d probably guess who it is right away.”

     “Who is it?” Keith asks, like it’s not the kind of question that could literally send Lance’s world crashing down around him. He’s chewing absently on his thumb nail, eyes unfocused even as they bore into Lance’s soul.

     Sober Lance notes that he still looks like hell. Drunk Lance thinks his eyes are pretty and almost tells him that. “I can’t say,” he tries, floundering for an out. “You know him.”

     A frog croaks somewhere nearby, signalling the official end of a very long day. Then Keith leans into his space just enough to whisper, “You know, Shiro’s kinda old.”

     Lance is so shocked that the high laugh he sputters out is almost hysterical with relief. “That’s so rude,” he hisses, shoving Keith’s shoulder. “And his hair isn’t even black anymore.”

     Keith laughs, too, putting out a hand to steady himself. “Well, he is old. He’s Team Voltron’s silver fox.” When Keith winks lasciviously, Lance’s heart leaps into his throat, and he has to remind himself that Keith is just messing with him. 


     “Am I wrong?!”

     “You’re banned from talking!”

     “Face the facts, Lance!” Keith shouts when Lance plugs his ears and starts humming. 

     “You’re terrible,” he says. “I’m telling Shiro.”

     Keith’s ice-cold fingers wrap around his wrist and yank his hand away. “He already knows.”

     “Wow, damn.” Lance can’t just ignore that, no matter how buzzed he is, because that’s not normal. “It’s not that cold out, dude.” He grabs tighter onto Keith when he tries to pull away. His skin feels dry and frozen. What was the problem again? Radiation… oh. “Radiation syndrome?” he says dumbly, trying to catch Keith’s eye. The task proves difficult.

     Keith just nods, in the end.

     “Are you gonna be okay?”

     Keith shrugs. “Well, I’m half-alien. And I’ve survived worse.”

     “Is Krolia okay?”

     “Yeah, that’s the alien part that stopped me from, like, immediately dying in the quantum abyss.”

     “Oh.” He doesn’t let go of Keith’s hand.

     Keith doesn’t make him.

     “Walk you back to your room?” he offers, too hopeful.

     But he isn’t disappointed. “The shitty hospital room?” Keith says cheekily. “No, thanks.”

     Lance mulls that over for a moment. “Walk you back to my room?”

     “Are you propositioning me?” Keith’s eyes are bright and alert even in the grey twilight, and when he bites his lip it punches all the air from Lance’s lungs.

     “I am a gentleman,” he says around the breathlessness, hand over his heart. “And you’re drunk. I would never.” 

     Keith regards him openly for a long while. “You’re drunk. I’m barely buzzed.”

     “Hm. You got me there,” he admits. “Wait, are you propositioning me?” Keith laughs, and Lance loves that, and he wishes he wasn’t such a sissy. The conversation has given him the perfect opening, the ideal place and time for a confession, but then-- Keith is toting around medical equipment, and he looks like a strong breeze will topple him. And now Lance has provided him with alcohol, which kind of steals away the magic of the moment. 

     Not to mention that Lance, himself, is so full of alcohol that the best he’ll manage is some stuttering and maybe an atrocious pick-up line or two. 

     He swallows the words and stumbles to his feet, still gripping Keith’s hand. Keith uses the leverage to stand. They both wobble a bit, unsteady for various reasons, and Lance is grateful for the excuse to put his arm around Keith’s waist and balance them, especially as the Black Lion lowers its head to make their trip back to the ground a little easier. 

     The aching cold in Keith’s skin seeps through his shirt and right into Lance, and he doesn’t hesitate to shimmy his jacket off the second Black stops moving and drape it around Keith’s shoulders, because he wasn’t lying about being a gentleman. 

     “Thanks,” Keith mumbles, tucking his nose into the collar and sighing.

     “No problem.” Lance swings himself down onto Black’s snout, somewhat clumsily due to the fact that he’s not sure where his limbs even are anymore, then reaches up to help Keith with the little wheeled Garrison contraption. 

     Keith rolls his eyes when he reaches back up for him. “I’m capable, you know,” he argues, but still allows Lance to help lower him down to the next obstacle. He’s lighter than Lance was expecting.

     If he remembers in the morning, he’d like to have a chat with Krolia and the Garrison doctors about just what the hell is going on with Keith. 

     “How’d you even get up there?” he asks, taking in the defeated slump of Keith’s shoulders and the way his eyebrows are pinched together with discomfort as his hand hovers over his ribs, where Lance just grabbed him. 

     “Sheer force of will.”

     “...Did I hurt you?”

     Keith shakes his head, still grimacing.

     “I did.” Lance pouts, and Keith just shakes his head more vigorously.

     “Already hurt,” he says through gritted teeth.

     Lance pushes through the fog in his brain long enough to feel appropriately remorseful (that was definitely his fault, somehow) and help Keith the last little bit of the way to the ground, this time much more gently, before tumbling off of Black’s snout and landing on his ass. 

     Keith’s laughter above him makes it hard to fight the smile that appears in spite of his aching tailbone and bruised dignity. “Yeah, yeah,” he grumbles, rubbing his lower back and flipping Keith off all in one beautifully uncoordinated movement. “Laugh all you want, you irradiated jackass.”

     Keith is positively wheezing by the time they actually start walking, and Lance can’t stop himself from laughing, too. He wraps himself around Keith again because Keith still looks unsteady, making excuses about being too hammered to stay upright. If Keith notices that it’s Lance doing all the ‘supporting’, here, he doesn’t say anything.

     “The stupid Garrison hospital is so boring,” he complains, drawing the jacket tighter around his shoulders as a gust of cold desert air winds between the towering Lions lining their path to the dorm building. “I’ve been waiting to leave for … for, I dunno, however long I’ve been there. Krolia thinks I’m going to up and disappear if she looks away for one second.”

     “Well, you kinda did,” Lance counters, and Keith rolls his too-bright eyes. 

     “You know what I mean.” 

     Lance doesn’t, really, but he’s too busy trying to walk to dwell on it long. Instead he says, “Am I more fun?” with a teasing grin that Keith probably doesn’t even see.

     “Why do you think I left in the first place?”

     “Oh,” Lance says under his breath. He squeezes Keith tighter, closer to his side.

     He tries not to wonder too much about what he means -- tries not to read into something that he knows is going to be too tinted over with his own hope to make any sense.

     The rest of their walk is quiet, the still of the night interrupted only by Keith’s occasional struggle to draw a deep breath, which he insists is just the piercing ache in his ribs. 

     It’s only when they are in the light of his temporary dorm that Lance notices the pallor, the thin layer of sweat forming above his brow, the way his vivid purple eyes glow with fever-shine as he sucks in a wet-sounding breath and shudders.

     “Bathroom,” Keith croaks, and Lance all but carries him there, kneeling him down in front of the toilet just in time for Keith to throw up whatever little bit of food he ate today, and a lot of vodka. 

     Always prepared, Lance snatches a hair elastic off the counter to twist Keith’s hair up into a messy ponytail, brushing his bangs out of his eyes and securing them in place with a headband. “Okay,” he says. “It’s okay.” Keith just gags and retches again, the acidic smell of vomit permeating the room. He rubs circles on Keith’s back and uses his other hand to check that the needle stuck in his arm is still secure (it is), then unzip the bag and make sure there’s still medicine inside (there is). “Yeah, you’re alright, this is probably just a side effect.”

     Keith spits into the toilet and shakes his head. “‘s why Krolia brought me to the hospital. Hasn’ stopped all week,” he explains, slumping back against the arm Lance stretches out to support him. The tears trapped in his eyelashes clump them together and leave his cheeks wet when he blinks. “I’m fine,” he adds.

     “Yeah, right.”

     “Still breathing,” Keith argues, no fire behind it, even as he shudders and leans forward to spit again.

     He vomits three more times before they both agree that it’s over, and Lance provides him with a glass of water and a spare toothbrush to help get the taste out of his mouth. 

     “Do you… want to go back?” Lance asks, tentatively, leaning against the door jamb while Keith brushes his teeth.

     Keith pulls a face. “To the hospital? Ugh. No.”

     And Lance’s judgment is just clouded enough to consider that a sound decision. “Okay.” He shrugs. “We’re sharing the bed, then, because the floor is cold-ass cement and I’m not making either of us sleep there.”

     “...’kay.” Keith rinses the toothpaste out of his mouth with the glass of water and doesn’t protest when Lance hovers at his shoulder as they walk to the bed. 

     “Here, sit, I’ll get you something to wear as pyjamas.”

     “This is fine,” Keith says, pinching the fabric of Lance’s jacket between his fingers. 

      Lance shakes his head. “Nuh-uh. Never sleep in jeans. And I want you in something warmer before you freeze to death, anyway. You feel like a walking ice cube.”

     “Wow, fuck you, too.”

     “I’m serious.”


     Keith makes him turn around while he changes into Lance’s absolute fluffiest pair of pyjama pants and a hoodie that is almost hilariously oversized (almost, because Lance has enough presence of mind to be concerned about how damn thin he is). 

     His hair is still tied back when he gives Lance the go-ahead to turn away from the corner, and he’s fiddling with the bag perched on the bed beside him to get the medicine flowing again now that it’s hooked back up. 

     He changes into his own pyjamas and sits beside him, sighing. Keith pries his gaze from the needle in his arm and turns to look at him instead. 

     “You gonna be okay?”

     Keith bites his lip again, and Lance can’t believe how gone he is. “You gotta stop asking that.”

     “Oh. How many times did I ask?” Is he that drunk? 

     “Two times too many.”

     “Two’s nothing. I can get way more annoying than that,” he scoffs, reaching up to slide the headband from behind Keith’s ears. 

     To his surprise, Keith smiles. “Yeah, I know.”

     “Wanna see me try?”

     “Hell no!” Amidst a bout of laughter, Keith untwists the elastic from his hair and passes it back to Lance. “I deal with enough of you on a regular basis.”

     “That’s fair. I can also only handle so much of me.” Lance taps his hand on the edge of the mattress and stands. “Now, you get settled in or whatever; I’m gonna go put this stuff away and get ready for bed so I can be the personal furnace for the ice cube boy.”

     Where Lance expected a grimace, he instead receives more laughter, and for as weak and breathless as it is, it’s so beautiful. “What, you’re gonna melt me?”

     “I have a terrible pick-up line that would work here but all the vodka must’ve washed it away because I can’t remember it for shit.” He grins and shrugs when Keith’s shoulders shake harder. “You make me a puddle or something. I dunno. You need anything before you sleep?”

     Keith shakes his head. “Just for you to stop being ridiculous. Go brush your teeth or whatever.”

     Lance flips him off on the way out, and when he returns Keith has not moved from his place perched on the edge of the bed. His chin is dipping slowly towards the floor as he blinks sluggishly, and Lance has to pause a moment in the doorway to take it in. 

     “C’mon,” he says softly, striding across the room as Keith jerks back to alertness. “Just lie down. You’re fine. You can sleep.”

     “I’m just…” Keith doesn’t finish the thought, too busy sinking into the pillows as Lance all but forces him onto his side. Instead he sighs contentedly and accepts the blankets Lance drapes over him. 

     “It’s fine. I invited you into my space; don’t act like you’re intruding.”

     Keith only hums, face smooshed against the pillow, apparently too comfy to form any kind of proper response. Lance spends a few seconds too long staring before flicking the lights off. He maneuvers himself over Keith, then under the blankets on the other side of the bed. This, at least, seems to rouse Keith back to some semblance of alertness, because he mumbles, “Fuck, you’re warm,” and leans back against him. Whether the action itself was intentional is … not entirely clear, but Lance could die a happy man either way.

     Tentatively, he curls an arm over Keith’s torso, and Keith sighs -- Lance can literally feel the tension drain out of his body as his breathing evens out and then he’s asleep, and Lance is left to stare into the near-complete darkness of his room with his heart pounding and his breath sticking in his throat.

     What would Keith say if he knew how badly Lance had wanted this? And for how long?  

     What are the chances Keith wanted this, too, and that him ending up in Lance’s bed, of all places, was no mere accident?

     He gets his answers the following morning, while Krolia holds him tight and whispers reassurances; tells him how right he was. Tells him how Keith chose him -- how if he could spend the last hours of his life anywhere, of course he’d want it to be in Lance’s arms.