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sleep now, and dream of the ones who came before

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Regris is gone. He was right there. And now he's gone Regris is gone. 

No. He's not gone.

Regris is dead. 

Keith gasps for air, shock propelling through him. Shock. God. He’s in shock. Now his innate instinct to survive and to get safely back to the ship is ebbing away, now he’s here and Kolivan is here, it all crumbles away. In its place is cold, brutal shock. The type of shock that teeters on the edge of sharp, unyielding panic. He’s safe. He’s okay. But Regris isn’t. They lost Regris. There’s a violent twist in his gut that turns the gasps into heaving. Elbows dig further into the floor as tremors make it impossible for his legs to support him. Eyes are wide, blown open. But Keith sees nothing besides Regris fading out of sight. He feels nothing besides Kolivan hauling an arm around him and dragging him away from the blast. He hears nothing besides the broken desperate plea burning on his tongue. Then there's that terrible sound of atoms tearing apart and Regris lost to the explosion that engulfed the ship.

Just a few more ticks.

Those words haunt him. Final words. Because Regris is dead, Regris is dead. Regris died right in front of them. Keith watched Regris die. He tears his gaze up to Kolivan, who remains quiet. Stoic, almost. Keith can’t see his face and he wishes he could. Because he needs to know, he has to know that it’s not shameful to feel this despair crushing him. Kolivan’s mask stays in place. Keith looks away, pressing his eyes shut and gritting his teeth. Regris is dead, Regris is dead. Regris is dead-

Breathe, breathe. In out, in out. In. Out. Pressing his lips together, Keith swallows down the awful sound rising up his throat. He can’t let it break over him, can’t let it surface. Absolutely not. Not when Kolivan is right here and undoubtedly watching his every move. Assessing his behaviour. He has to remain focused. Level-headed. God come on. They’ve lost people in this war before. Ulaz. Thace. But that's wrong, and rationalising another person’s death is something Keith never will do. Keith saw the room light up in flames and combust, he saw Regris die. Regris is dead and Keith saw him die.

Worse, Keith made that choice. He made that choice to stay on the ship. Just a little longer, just a few more ticks. Kolivan listened and agreed. If they had left, Regris would still be here. Regris would be alive. It's pressing. It's jarring. It's true. Regris isn't alive. Regris is gone. 

Regris is dead. 

“Keith,” Kolivan’s voice has Keith snapping his head up.

He moves too fast to chase new sounds. Anything will do. Anything besides the explosion hammering through him with each heartbeat. Anything besides the relentless you did this you made that choice you caused this sinking in its teeth and gnawing away at his bones until it bruises. This is a pace his body cannot physically keep up. His blurry vision momentarily fades into black and his balance falters. Kolivan called his name - didn't he?  Come on, focus. A few hard blinks later, and Keith can make out the outline of Kolivan again. That’s something, at least. Colours are dull, but somehow still too much. Keith winces. It hurts to look. It takes a lot of effort to keep looking. Kolivan’s mask lifts up. There’s an expression there Keith can’t quite make out. Not with the moisture in his eyes threatening to fall and push him over the edge. Stubbornly, Keith fights it. The hot prickling stings with every growing second. He could pull up his mask, blink softly and let it go in private. But he won’t. He can t. He has to fight. He’s always fighting. That’s all he has left now. Fight. Survive. Fight.

For Regris.

“Keith.”

A hand hooks under his arm, gradually hoisting him up. Keith’s not ready to stand. Not remotely. The air knocks clumsily out his lips in a hiss of air. It sounds just like when he was spiralling through space, suit torn and skin exposed to the void of space. Hello? Kolivan-? Anyone? Legs lose balance, and Keith pushes away from the hand because  he has to. He has to fight and take this. This is war. This isn't easy, of course it isn't. It's not meant to be. But that doesn't mean he can have this. The universe doesn't stop for their grief and feelings. Keith knows this. He has to keep strong, keep his body strong. For Regris. Be a pillar of strength no matter how much he's betraying himself. 

Kolivan fastens his grip. A tremor ripples through Keith, and his knees buckle. There’s no way he can support himself anymore. He sees the ship splintering into jagged shards. He hears the desperate plea bursting from his lips. Regris, no! He feels Kolivan keeping hold of him. Kolivan. Ship. They’re in the ship. Not that ship, a different one. By this point, Kolivan is the only thing keeping him standing. He’s hanging awkwardly from Kolivan’s arm, strings that tug his limbs into motion now dangling. He’s limp like a rag doll with no puppeteer. A ship drifting with no fuel.

A lion with no pilot.

They need you to be their leader. The Black Lion chose you.

How. How, why -

Keith pulls his own strings, but his trembling hands can hold nothing right now. The final pieces of his composure slip, evade his reach. He trips, on the verge of his own unravelling. Keith can’t help but sink into the touch, fall further into the weight. His body sags, eyes slamming closed because god he cannot bear to look at Kolivan right now. There will be disappointment. So much. So much disappointment in this weakness Keith cannot contain. An icy chill slithers up his spine, and the wind rushes through his hair. Sensations are relentless. Unwanted. Too much.

Regris is dead.

Krashik hanum,” the words are uttered softly by Kolivan.

It’s then Keith realises they’re still inside. They’re in the ship. Not that ship, a different one. The escape ship. Wind isn’t blowing through his hair. It’s fingers. That has his eyes opening slowly. Kolivan’s mask is back up. Maybe he’s hiding something, or maybe he’s not. Keith can feel those eyes on him. An intent gaze. What does that mean? Keith wants to ask. Only, it's all stretching too slow, seizing him tight and refusing to let him push forwards. Stuck in a horrible stasis he doesn't want to indulge or acknowledge but it's here and it won't let him go. What does that mean? Keith wants to ask. Only, when he goes to open his mouth the words are torn from him. Lots of things have been torn from him. He shouldn’t be so surprised to lose this too. Yet the sheer intensity of it all overpowers him.

He tries again, scrambling for something anything to say. But nothing comes. Nothing but a small, pitiful whine of frustration. The sound is agonising, ugly and uncomfortable. Pried out from his throat by the universe’s claws, ripped from him without permission. He’s ashamed that Kolivan has to hear it too, be a spectator to this wild rampant shock.

"Krashik hanum,” Kolivan repeats, a mantra of sorts. “Krashik hanum.”

The words sound comforting. Soothing. There’s a melodious nature to it, almost like singing but not quite. Not quite human singing, at least. Rather, the inflection seems to have a set pitch that gives it deeper resonance. The words wrap around Keith. Whatever these words are, the vowels are long and difficult to reconstruct in Keith’s own mouth. They feel important, grounding. They feel like words he should learn to speak too. For Regris.  For everyone. Maybe for himself. Not that he can speak. Imploringly, he looks up at Kolivan. What does it mean?

Perhaps Keith doesn’t need to ask. Not really. Because he realises then, Kolivan has let go. The words alone are somehow enough of a support. Keith is standing on his own two feet. The words have scooped him up and sheltered him from the aftermath of it all. Shock is flittering to a distant horizon Keith won't follow. He can't pursue it. He has to keep charting this course. 

“Krashik hanum...” Keith tries.

It sounds horribly awkward, clumsy. The placement of the accents is entirely wrong, the rhythm of the words spill as his breath continues to trip and catch. Compared to Kolivan’s eloquent recitation, this is notably messy. But the intent is there, each word tinged by the fire coiling inside his chest. Kolivan bows his head for a moment, as if contemplating the words. It’s more like a slow nod. His body language is subtle. The more Keith watches, the more unsure he is about what exactly he sees. Especially now. But Keith catches the way for just a second Kolivan’s shoulders lose their rigid firm posture.

That’s about all he can catch.

Exhaustion is a plague he simply cannot fight, and it washes over him. His body aches, muscles screaming for rest. There’s an unpleasant ringing in his ears, his mind hazy and growing more and more difficult to navigate. He slumps against the wall, falling to a crouch as his body succumbs to it all. As the sounds of the explosion begin to fizzle away to a dull hum, the sight of vivid flames bursting into life before his very eyes now withering to tiny sparks, Keith jolts abruptly. No. He can’t forget this, even for a second. He shouldn’t. He can’t. They’re still on a mission. The mission isn’t finished. And Regris is dead. He has to stay awake, fight this. Fight. Keep fighting. Keep-

“We have at least forty dobashes until reaching the castle of lions,” Kolivan says, turning his attention away. His hands are clasped behind his back. Tightly. 

It’s hard to look up, blinks getting slower and eyelids heavier. Keith hears what lingers beneath the words implicitly. He shouldn’t fight this. It’s okay - but it’s not okay. For a moment, just a single moment, this is okay. There is no judgement, no criticism. Nobody watching. Kolivan has turned his back for a reason, as if somehow knowing the level of discomfort Keith feels at being seen so open and terrifyingly vulnerable. Before Keith can offer anything else, thank you Kolivan, his eyes slip shut.

Sleep takes him.