Midwinter Eveby Taryn
Quick Disclaimer: Voltron is the property of WEP
Author's Note: It should be pointed out that I wrote this during a long August afternoon in New Orleans, when my options were to spend all day in the frozen food section of the A&P, carry out the "let's do a running tackle on the Hand Grenade to see if he bounces" plan out of general heat-induced delirium and the hope that Orleans Parish prison had better air conditioning than me, or pretend that it was midwinter. Guess which idea won.
Outside the warmth and safety of the castle, the air was thick with falling snow. Inside, the Feast of Midwinter was in full swing. Raucous laughter played counterpoint to the soft strains of melody from the string orchestra, though both were only faintly discernible through the tightly closed solid glass doors of the main reception balcony. The heavy velvet curtains kept out most of the candlelight, turning the balcony into a shadowed pool of freezing darkness broken only by the light of the intermittent torches burning at intervals along the castle's walls. Out here there was only the soft whispering cadences of the wind, the frigid caress of the snow, and the flickers of firelight from the Midwinter bonfires in the valley below.
Resolutely ignoring another burst of laughter that even the thick glass couldn't quite block, Lance carefully set his mug of coffee down on the icy stone wall and wrapped his arms tightly around himself in a vain effort to block out the steadily increasing chill. Snow was rare this close to the Castle of Lions. The advent of the "storm of the century" on Midwinter Eve had been declared an act of the Goddess herself, adding even more exuberant energy to celebrations already veering out of control. As far as Lance was concerned, it was only further proof that the Universe at Large really was against him.
Keith and Allura had cornered him earlier that afternoon and informed him that this time there would be no secret arrangements made with the guards on duty to replace them, no feigned emergencies, and absolutely no other "oh-so-plausible" excuses for him to get out of attending the party. He would attend, and he would stay till dawn with the rest of them, like it or not. Midwinter was an important holiday on Arus, and there had been little enough reason to celebrate lately. It would do the general population- or at least the portion important enough to attend- good to be surrounded by their valiant protectors on this most important evening.
Lance had waved off their attempts at intimidation, having heard all the threats multiple times in the past. He'd promised that of course he would be there. He would never dream of missing such an important occasion. And if he left out any promises to stay the entire time, well, what of it? He didn't imagine that anyone would really notice if he left early anyway. Even if they did, they'd never notice for the right reasons. It would all boil down in the end to a huge fight with Keith about how he never listened and never obeyed orders unless he thought they were a good idea. Once Keith got it out of his system, they'd be back to business as usual. No problem. Lance was perfectly willing to risk Keith's wrath if it got him out of the more unpleasant and frustrating aspects of one of Allura's balls. For that matter, he was more than willing to face the gates of Hell with a smile just so long as he didn't have to go back inside and face the spectacle of the two of them together for the rest of the evening.
It should have been easy, he thought with consternation. It always had been in the past. All he had to do was put in an appearance, dance with a couple of women, and then he could pull a disappearing act while everyone else was making goo-goo eyes at the Princess. This time, though… Eyes narrowed as he stared unseeing at the glowing light of the fires painting the swirling snow in shades of red and orange against the velvet blackness of midnight. This time Keith must have been prepared. He must have actually warned people. Lance hadn't been able to step within three feet of an exit so far without someone grabbing his arm and dragging him back into the chaos of the crowd. And through it all, even in the midst of the thick masses of humanity, somehow he could always see them together. They were laughing, or dancing, or Allura was just touching his arm while they spoke to someone important. "So picturesque. Such a lovely couple. So fucking perfect." The building anger on top of the frustration was nearly enough to make him homicidal. Hence the escape to the confines of the deserted balcony.
Picking up his rapidly cooling spiked coffee and giving it an experimental swirl, Lance glared off into the distance. 'It would serve them all right if I froze to death.' Fighting a sudden grin at the childishness of the thought, he downed the coffee in a single gulp.
As the fire of the snitched whiskey burned its way down his throat, numbing his senses to even the bitter flavor of the cold coffee, he stared again out into the flawless cold beauty of the winter night. 'This can't be it,' he told himself as the rage started climbing again out of the numbness. 'That can't be love. He absolutely cannot love her. Not like that. Not so… cold. So perfect. So…' With a sudden unstoppable urge to break the images rising in his mind he flung the coffee cup from his outstretched fingers, leaning over the slippery stone wall of the balustrade to watch the porcelain fragments shatter into a thousand pieces that shone iridescently in the torchlight on the cobblestone road below. The sight captivated him completely, the fragments spread so thin and brokenly like dreams smashed against the hard unforgiving shores of reality, and he was barely aware that the grip of his numb fingers was slipping against the icy stone until suddenly warm hands were on his shoulders, yanking him roughly away from the edge.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Lance brushed away the hands that were shaking him and stumbled slightly sideways as his senses tried to focus beyond the sudden rush of blood and adrenaline. "I was… I was…" Suddenly his vision came back into focus, and the rage flooded everything as his eyes locked with Keith's. Trying to shove hands into pockets that didn't exist on his dress uniform, he glared at his wide-eyed commander and finally gestured wildly towards the wall. "I dropped my damn cup. Is that all right with you, or am I going to be sent to the salt mines or something equally ridiculous for that, too?"
"You dropped…" Keith's voice stopped in mid-sentence. Lance fought the urge to turn away like a chastised child as Keith's gaze suddenly veered towards his "Captain Keith" expression. He hated that look. It always made him feel like he was eight years old again and had been caught standing over a broken vase by his mother. The concern lurking somewhere underneath only made it worse. Keith finally shook his head, everything disappearing behind the familiar irritation that Lance had been waiting for. "What are you doing out here? It's freezing."
Lance pasted on what he knew was his most annoying smirk, more than happy to play the game if that's what Keith wanted, just so long as the other man would go away and leave him in peace. "Of course it's freezing. It's Midwinter. It's supposed to be freezing."
Keith didn't answer immediately. Another look crept over his face, this time the one that Lance couldn't put a name to. It was the one that somehow seemed so intense and so vulnerable at the same time, and always made him want to pull Keith into his arms and protect him from the world. Which, given the way the evening was headed, was beyond ridiculous. Annoyance with himself began to war with the already burning anger at the world in general, and Lance forced his attention away from Keith by turning to stare at the falling snow with what he dearly hoped was nonchalance.
Lance tightened his hands into fists by his sides, but continued to stare out at nothing. 'Maybe if I ignore him, he'll go away, back to Allura where he obviously belongs. Go away, go away, go away…'
He heard Keith sigh softly, a sound that was as familiar as the whole scenario. A rustle of clothing told him that Keith was moving. Lance fought back a sigh of his own, sure that Keith was headed back inside. Relief fought with sudden crushing sadness, and tears pricked his eyes as he waited for the creak of the opening door and the burst of sound from people enjoying the party.
"Lance, will you please look at me?"
Lance started at the voice directly over his shoulder and spun around. Recognition of the barely audible tones of frustration in Keith's voice combined with the alcohol to spur him into recklessness even beyond his norm. He stared directly into Keith's eyes with blazing fury, nearly desperate for a fight. "Why? Why don't you just get your damn lecture over with and go back to Allura? I'm not going back in there! I was just fine out here till you showed up!"
He watched Keith's eyes narrow as his anger rose, bringing a flush to his cheeks visible even in the flickering light of the torches. "You were not fine! You're not dressed to be out here in the cold. You're going to get pneumonia if you stay out here sulking like a spoiled child. Why don't you just come back inside with the rest of us?"
Lance let a slow impudent smile spread over his face, watching as Keith's jawline hardened in response. "No."
"No?" Keith reached and grabbed one of Lance's arms as he went to turn away. "No? That's not an option. You ARE coming back inside with me. I don't really give a damn whether you like it or not. Life's full of things we don't like, but sometimes we have to do them anyway."
Lance yanked his arm away and unconsciously wrapped his own wrist around the spot Keith had touched as if the touch had burned. "No." He backed away, his voice dropping down to a whisper. "I am not going to go back in there and watch the two of you play the perfect couple for the rest of the night. Do you know…" His voice trailed off as Keith's face froze in shock and he realized he was speaking out loud. Spinning around, he stalked to the edge of the balcony and turned his face upward into the falling snow. Closing his eyes, he let the flakes fall across his bare skin like a dozen frozen kisses and waited for whatever repercussions his mouth was going to bring down on his head this time. In a way, whatever the outcome, it was a relief. At least maybe he'd know the truth. Or maybe…
The silence was starting to grate on his nerves. He never had been able to take silence. People claimed it was one of his faults, but he always thought of it as a strong point. What did silence ever amount to, really, but misunderstandings? It was much better to take action, consequences be damned. Keeping his eyes tightly closed, he spoke the words that had been grating across his mind all evening. "It really pisses me off, you know that? Real love isn't like that, like the two of you. It can't be. Not so perfect, so… chaste, even. This isn't some fairy tale told to stupid kids who'll believe anything. It's life. It's more than that. You deserve more than that. Than her. Not that there's anything wrong with her," he temporized, deciding maybe getting himself thrown into the dungeons for treason wasn't the best way to spend the night, though he couldn't really truly imagine Keith doing that. He hoped.
Silence descended again for a moment before this time Keith's voice shattered it. He sounded odd, almost shaken. "So what do I deserve, then?"
Forcing his eyes open, Lance stared up into the spiraling whiteness for a moment before turning around to look at his captain. Keith was staring at him with the look again, though it was slightly marred by what truly did appear to be shock around the edges. His cheeks were still flushed, and his dark eyes were pools of blackness in the shadows of the balcony. Lance smiled slightly, trying to breathe around the ache in his chest, and looked back away into the safety of the night. "What do you deserve? Passion, for a start. You are passionate, you know. You may try to hide it, but it bleeds through in everything you do." He took a deep breath and forced himself to continue. "You just need someone who can make you feel. Even anger would be a start. Anything but that numbness, that…" The words left him as the breeze kicked up, sending a cascade of icy air that cut right through Lance's uniform.
"Cold?" Keith voice suggested from behind him. Hands closed over his arms again, gently this time. "Lance, you're freezing. Come back inside?"
"No," Lance whispered, trying hard not to lean back into Keith's arms. He shivered involuntarily as the breeze playfully tugged at the openings into his uniform.
Keith sighed again, and Lance's heart began racing at the slight touch as he rested his forehead against Lance's neck. "I don't love her," Keith whispered against his skin.
"I know," Lance whispered back. He was surprised to realize that despite all his denial, he really did. "I know."
"So does she, if it matters."
Lance blinked in surprise and turned back around to face Keith. Keith stayed close, letting his hands slide down Lance's arms until their fingers laced together. His eyes downcast, he continued in a voice barely audible over the rising wind. "She knows. She knows I don't love her. She knows about you-"
A sudden rush of fear broke through the surprise and Lance tightened his fingers around Keith's as leaned down to capture Keith's mouth with his own in a kiss that was anything but chaste. Intending only to silence Keith before he could utter the words and destroy the dream that could only exist for a moment, like the coffee cup caught in a perfect arc of flight for a split second above the onrushing pavement, his will was lost in sensory overload in seconds. Nothing else mattered but Keith. His smell, his feel, his taste were intoxicating. There was nothing else, not even the cold as they stepped closer and the universe itself ceased to exist outside the circle of their arms.
It was Keith who pulled back, one hand tangled in the icy stiff confines of Lance's hair. Lance choked back sudden tears as the cold rushed back in with the rest of the night. "I…," he whispered, unable to finish the sentence as part of him still braced for the impact.
"I know," Keith whispered, the hand dropping down to trace the line of his cheek before slipping back into his hair. "I know."
Lance nodded once, realizing somehow that even that wasn't really as much of a surprise as it should have been. "This isn't going to be easy, you know."
Keith finally smiled at him, a real smile this time. "Of course not. Nothing with you ever is."
Lance smiled back, shaking his head. "That isn't true. I'm incredibly easy to get along with. Just ask me. I'll tell you."
Keith laughed slightly and kissed him quickly. "Right. Now will you please come back inside before we both freeze to death?"
Lance hesitated, glancing back out over the edge, but the shards of glass were already completely obscured with new fallen snow. Keith took his hand and tugged him toward the door. "Come on. I promise we'll continue this as soon as we can break away, all right?"
As Lance's eyebrows raised in disbelief, Keith clarified. "After dawn. I'm sure you'll survive."
"You promise?" Lance demanded skeptically as Keith pulled open the door, releasing a blast of heat from the fires and press of bodies.
"Yes, I promise. And I always keep my promises. You, on the other hand…"
"Hey, I’m still here, aren't I?"
"Only because I all but barred the escape exits."
The door slammed shut on a burst of laughter and sound, releasing an eddy of snow that skirled across the balcony and was carried over the edge by the breeze. Stillness descended once again in the shadows as the snow continued to fall, bringing with it a new sense of peace and burying a world waiting to be reborn anew by the distant hand of spring.