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I.

 

The first time Keith meets Lance, he kisses him.

Well, more like his mouth punches Lance’s mouth.

Anyway.

Keith is late. After arguing with his parents for a solid ten minutes about wanting to go to school alone today — “I’m eight years old now mom stop babying me!” — he runs out the door with his skateboard and zooms off. The new school he transferred to was only three blocks away, so it would’ve been dumb if his mom or dad walked him over. Besides, Shiro started walking to school by himself when he was only seven. Why couldn’t Keith do the same?

He’s brooding so much and going so fast that he doesn’t notice the boy walking in front of him until it’s too late.

“Watch out!” he shouts, just as the boy turns his head around and Keith holds out his arms to brace for impact. 

Stars explode behind his eyes as they crash into each other, his skateboard flying out from underneath his feet. He lands on top of the other boy, palms scraping concrete and stomach bruising from the bony knee digging in. Something soft is against his lips. When he opens his eyes, he sees a bright blue pair staring back at him, pupils crossing to the center.

It takes a beat for them to realize that their mouths are pressed together. 

Keith launches back onto his feet and the boy beneath him scrambles away with a yelp. Keith wipes at his lips with the back of his hand as he takes in the other boy’s appearance. He looks to be around Keith’s age, skinny and dark and with a mess of brown hair. There are teardrops in his eyes and a bright red mark smarting his forehead, probably matching the throb Keith feels on his own. The shirt beneath his rumpled jacket has a print of a shark reading a menu, comment box saying: “I’ll just have a salad.”

“Dude, you ass-ulted me!” The boy cries, furiously scrubbing his own mouth and glaring daggers at Keith.

Ass-ulted? Is he trying to say ‘assaulted’? “I didn’t assault you! I just—” Keith looks around for his skateboard, only to discover that it’s splintered in half on the sidewalk next to a nearby tree. “You broke my skateboard!”

The boy jumps up to his feet, waving his arms indignantly before pointing one accusatory finger. “I didn’t do that! It’s because you crashed into me! And— And—” His cheeks inflate like a pufferfish, and it would’ve been comical if he didn’t immediately scream afterwards: “You stole my first kiss!”

Keith feels his entire head erupt with heat. “I— I didn’t steal it!” he somehow splutters over his mental meltdown. Kissing is for adults, like his mom and dad. Whatever just happened shouldn’t count. “If you had watched where you were going—”

Me? You’re the one who came charging at me out of nowhere!”

“I was trying to get to class!”

Me too you buttcrack!

Out of the corner of his eye, Keith notices a crowd gathering. Great. His moment of distraction is all it takes for the boy to march up to him and slap him across the face.

Oh.

Oh no.

It’s on.

Five minutes later a teacher finds them wrestling and slapping the daylights out of each other on the ground. They both land in the principal’s office as the bell rings, and they both have to call their parents to explain what happened. Keith learns that the boy’s name is Lance, that he’s in Keith’s third grade class, and that he speaks even faster in Spanish. Eventually, their moms walk in together — chatting amiably about their terrible sons no doubt — before fixing both of them with equally bone chilling glares.

They’re forced to apologize.

Keith kicks at the floor and grudgingly mutters, “I’m sorry I crashed into you.” Then, after a pause he adds: “The skateboard wasn’t your fault.”

Lance scrunches up his jaw, looking just as reluctant to offer an apology. After a nudge from his mom, though, he says, “I’m sorry I called you a buttcrack. And a skank.” His mom gasps. “And I’m sorry I slapped your face.”

“I’m sorry I slapped your face back.”

Neither of them mention the accidental kiss.

That’s how they meet. It takes another month and a dodgeball game for them to speak again.

 

II.

 

Lunch time is often a battleground.

Voltron Elementary shares an open field with the neighboring middle school, Galra Academy. Everyday during lunch time recess, a competition is organized between the two schools, varying from soccer matches to relay races.

Why middle schoolers are racing against kids younger than them is a point Keith has never been able to wrap his head around. Katie says it’s because their brains are pea-sized and that they need to compensate for their lack of intelligence by picking on elementary schoolers. When Keith watches two Galra students bash their heads together in a show of strength and team morale, he thinks she might be on to something.

Today it’s a game of capture the flag: fifth graders versus eighth graders. Losing team has to take a dip in the cesspool of rainwater that had collected in the crater on the field overnight, clothes and shoes all on. That would mean they’d be going back to class dripping sludge everywhere.

Allura is elected captain of their team, the oldest in the class, and she swiftly distributes roles to everyone. Hunk and Shay are part of the main defense guarding the flag, while Katie, Lance, and Keith are part of the offense runners. When all roles have been assigned, a battle strategy is volleyed for discussion.

The older and more headstrong fifth graders pass around ideas, while the younger kids stand back and listen. Keith himself is part of the group, but he’s never been one for leading or strategizing. He lets Allura handle it, turning his attention away, noticing Lance fidgeting on the sidelines. It looks like he’s trying to get the courage to speak up, mouth working around half-formed sentences.

Being one of the youngest members of the class — second youngest to Katie who skipped two grades — Lance is sometimes left out of the big kid group. Keith knows that Lance is good at strategy, though; he’s experienced it first-hand from their own rivalry. He may be faster and stronger, but Lance manages to outsmart him all the time with the craziest ideas. They’re not quite friends yet — even after almost two years because Lance can hold a grudge like no other — but Keith respects him.

“Hey guys, I think Lance has a good plan.”

Everyone collectively turns to Lance, who blinks like he’s been shocked by static. He stares at Keith in a mixture of bewilderment and gratitude, before turning to address the group at Keith’s encouraging nod.

Lance stutters a little at first, but his eyes are bright and determined. Once he gains his verbal footing, his strategy flows out confidently, grabbing everyone’s attention.

“There are thirty-five of them and thirty-six of us, right? If we all charge at them at once, they’ll never see it coming. Each of us just has to hunt one of them down, and the last person standing only has to focus on getting the flag.”

It’s a risk, Keith thinks, leaving their own flag out in the open unprotected, but it could work. The rest of the team think it’s worth the risk, too, quickly assigning each other a Galra student to track and tackle down. When it’s Keith’s turn, Lance steps in, holding up a hand.

“No, Keith’s the fastest runner. We should all clear a path for him to the flag.”

This time, it’s his turn to be shocked. Lance and him have always tried to best each other when it comes to running; one time during the Pacer Fitness Test they both ran until they fainted on their feet because neither of them would admit defeat. Lance stepping down and admitting that Keith’s the fastest couldn’t have been easy just now, but he did it anyway for the good of the whole team.

They share a smile before lining up across the field, facing off their enemy.

At the sound of the whistle from a fourth grade referee watching the game, they charge forward at once with a collective war cry. And just as Lance predicted, the Galra kids are so caught off guard by the sudden rampage of Voltron kids sprinting towards them that they panic and flail around for a solid few seconds. That’s just enough time for several of them to be captured and wrestled into the dirt, while the others try to move around the wall of runners.

As the flag comes into sight, and more and more fifth graders peal off from the line to chase after the Galra students trying to make an escape, Keith zeros in on the target and pumps his legs even faster. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the burliest eighth grader, Sendak, moving to intercept him. Keith doesn’t have time to dodge out of the way, and just as he’s about to change course and tackle him head-on, Lance comes crashing in out of nowhere, slamming Sendak into the ground.

“Run, Keith, run!” he shouts, and that’s all Keith needs to fly across the borderline, reach out his arm, and—

He holds up the flag, dusty and heaving and triumphant. The victory cheer that follows is deafening.

The fifth graders shove off their eighth grade prisoners who are groaning in despair, and they all rush toward Keith, including the other elementary schoolers watching on the sidelines. They hoist him up onto their shoulders, chanting “Voltron, Voltron” excitedly while the bright red flag flutters above in the blue sky. Once Keith’s lowered back down to earth and the flag is passed around like a trophy, he pushes around to find Lance in the crowd. 

Lance has a bloody nose and several new scrapes on his elbows and knees, but otherwise he looks intact.

“You did it, Keith! You did it!”

Keith smiles and grasps his hand. “We did it.”

At that, Lance smiles back, bright as the noonday sun. He pulls on their clasped hands and reels Keith in, enveloping him in a grimy, sweaty hug. Keith’s heart does a weird tumble in his chest, but he doesn’t mind. Lance is warm and Keith is happy. What’s there to complain about?

“You know, we make a pretty good team,” Lance says, voice tinging on shy. He pushes back to look at Keith like they’re seeing each other for the first time.

“Partner?” he offers, and the tumbling in Keith’s heart becomes faster.

He smiles through it, though. Chases after it.

“Partner.”

 

III.

 

In seventh grade, they all go to a haunted house.

Everyone in class is split off into random pairs by pulling numbers from a hat. Somehow — because Mothman hates him for eating half his pop tart offering that one time, probably — Keith winds up with Lance. 

He doesn’t mind Lance obviously since they’re best friends, but he knows what a fraidy-cat the other boy is, and can only imagine how deaf he’s going to be by the time they make it out of the haunted house. Lance is already overcompensating, too, boasting to everyone — and making a show for the girls, especially — how he’s going to punch his way through the attraction cause he’s so brave and buff and look at my nonexistent muscles blah blah blah.

Keith knows Lance is brave when it comes to life stuff like rescuing the neighborhood cat from the highest tree or standing up for Pidge when he found out the high school girls were bullying them, but when it comes to fake stuff like werewolves and ghosts, he’s a total wuss.

“It’s okay to be scared,” Keith says when they’re all lined up for the haunted attraction, seeing the way Lance’s fingers won’t stop tapping against the rail.

“What?! I’m not scared!”

“We can holds hands if you’re that afraid,” Keith offers, holding out his palm. Shiro told him once that holding hands is a way of comforting someone, and since Shiro somehow got into college he’s probably smart enough to know what he’s talking about.

You’re the one who’s afraid!” Lance squawks, clutching his own hand to his chest in a vice grip. His eyes flicker back and forth, as if checking to see if anyone’s watching. After making sure the coast is clear, he drops his defensive posture and shuffles closer.  “But… I can hold your hand! Since you’re scared!”

“What—” Lance quickly grabs his hand just as they move to the entrance, the next pair to go in. Keith holds on tight despite Lance’s confusing logic, shrugging as he says, “All right, let’s go.”

Pushing through the blacked out entrance tunnel, they step inside a purple-lit hall, a plume of red smoke obscuring the path. Lance whimpers beside him as they start walking, body pressing in close, warm against Keith’s back.

Giant spiders, werewolves, and other monsters jump out sporadically, causing Lance to scream every time, right into Keith’s ear. As they walk deeper and deeper into the house, his hand becomes increasingly clammy in Keith’s grip, and his nails dig sharply into Keith’s skin. Keith doesn’t complain, though, knowing just how scared Lance is. Admittedly, he kind of likes the feeling of protecting him.

He squeezes Lance’s hand back in what he hopes to be a comforting gesture.

“Keith, Keith are we almost out yet?” 

“Almost, Lance, just—”

Suddenly, a zombie pops out from behind a veil of cobwebs in an explosion of light and smoke. Lance screams so hard he actually falls backwards, hand slipping out of Keith’s grasp. The flashing lights are disorienting for a good minute, and by the time Keith finally regains his bearings, Lance is nowhere to be found.

“Lance?” Keith calls, slightly panicked. He couldn’t have gone far. Maybe he’s even running toward the exit.

Keith tries not to worry as he continues forward, listening to the other screams and laughter echoing throughout the house. After a while, he hears footsteps in the distance, and… is someone yelling his name?

Through the darkness, he squints, until he sees a person sprinting toward him full-speed, familiar olive jacket flapping in the air.

“Keeeeeiiittthhh!”

“Lance?!”

He holds his arms out and catches Lance with an ‘oof,’ stumbling back a little from the force. It seems they’re always running into each other, Keith thinks distantly, until the sound of Lance’s quiet sobs draw back his attention.

“Hey, hey.” He lifts Lance’s head, worried that he’s hurt somewhere. “What are you doing back here I thought maybe you managed to get out?”

“I did! I did get out, but when everyone told me you hadn’t I got scared!” Lance is wailing now, wet and ugly and full of hiccups. “I— I thought you were gonna be stuck in here forever! I had to come back for you!”

Keith feels his heart skip a beat, as if it’s been pinched. Lance, who had been terrified of the haunted house, had ran back inside even after getting out. Lance, cheeks ruddy red with tears and snot down his nose, had come back for Keith.

“Dummy,” he mutters, but he wipes at Lance’s face with his sleeves gently.

Looking back, he thinks that’s when he started falling in love.

 

IV.

 

Lance sprouts like a beanpole over the summer.

He enters ninth grade with gangly limbs, broad shoulders, and skin-tone two shades darker from the Havana sun. He’s taller than Keith by several inches now — “half a head!” Lance rubs it into his face — even though Keith’s nearly a year older than him.

The universe is cruel that way.

The only solace he has is in Lance’s voice, cracking dips and waves as he tries to navigate his deepening vocal chords. It’s funny when he tries to flirt with girls at the pool party and his crooning sounds more like yodeling.

What’s not funny is when he directs his attention back at Keith, because no amount of unintended yodeling is going to save Keith from this awful, all-consuming crush he has on his best friend.

“Hey, come on, do a dive with me,” Lance whines, pushing into Keith’s personal space like a total jackass. Keith desperately tries to focus on something else, like Hunk’s bright yellow galoshes or Uncle Coran’s bizarre mayo hot dogs — anything but the way Lance is draping all over him wearing only his swim trunks. Keith feels like flying into the sun when his palms skim over Lance’s ribs, bony yet buttery soft beneath his touch.

“Gitoffme you dumb—” he tries to grumble, but Lance only laughs and pulls him up, dragging him to the edge of the pool and toppling them both in.

The water hits sharp and cold. Keith flounders for a solid minute before breaking through the surface, mind bent on revenge. When he hears the sound of Lance’s laughter, though, sees him bright and golden in the sparkling blue, his mind switches to pushing him up against the wall and kissing him breathless.

He shakes the water out of his head before he can act on the stupid thought. 

That night, he dreams of chasing someone through a field of sunflowers. Dreams of warm skin melting against brown earth. Dreams of Lance’s hands tangling with his, blue eyes glazed and bruised lips falling open as Keith sinks into him.

He wakes up with a groan, throwing his blankets off and stumbling into the bathroom for a long, numbing shower.

 

V.

 

Unbelievably, Lance gets a girlfriend.

Okay, not so unbelievably. By now, everyone in high school knows he’s the resident flirt who’s not-so-secretly a hopeless romantic. Sweet and attentive with a heart more giving and kind than most, a lot of people love Lance.

It’s hard not to.

Anyone would be a fool to turn him down, Keith thinks, ignoring the swollen emptiness inside his chest. In the courtyard, beneath the shade of a tree, Lance is holding her in his arms, looking the happiest Keith’s ever seen him. The emptiness compounds, and Keith has to dig his nails into his palm until they break skin so that the hurt pours from somewhere else.

“I’m gonna gag,” Pidge says, making wretching noises from the back of their throat. The traitorous part of Keith agrees. 

That should be me, he thinks, before turning away so that he can’t see.

Good for him, he tries to think instead, and then doesn’t think at all.

 

VI.

 

“Hey, where you been?”

Beneath the dim glow of streetlight, Lance’s eyes are fire bright. Sunken with hurt. It’s cold outside, snow drifting softly from the dark clouds above, but Keith feels the shame broil hot inside him nevertheless.

“Busy,” is all he can say. He can’t find the words to say more. Can’t look at Lance either, keeping his eyes focused on the cars passing by.

Lance had swim practice and Keith had soccer. It was inevitable that they’d eventually run into each other, no matter how hard Keith’s been trying to avoid him.

Lance isn’t one to give up, though — one of the things I love about you, Keith thinks wryly — and stands in front of him, glaring in that familiar way of his. Keith’s caught up in height again; able to look down the slope of Lance’s nose, the curl of his lashes, the bow of his lips.

“Was it something I did?” he asks, and Keith’s chest throbs at how pained he sounds. How wounded. Lance must realize his own vulnerability, too, because he casts his head down and kicks at the sidewalk, voice going small.

“I miss you.”

Keith wonders, if I hold you close, if I kiss you right here, would you still miss me?

If I told you I’ve loved you since we were twelve, what would you say? What would you do? 

Lance looks back up, tears clouding his eyes. Keith wants nothing more than to cradle his face and kiss away his aches, but that would be his own selfish desire. Not what Lance wants. Not what Lance needs, which is to have Keith back as his friend.

“I’m sorry,” he says, hands clenched inside his pockets as the tears slip down Lance’s cheeks. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop.”

Lance sniffs, an ugly crier still. “You better you fucking jerk. Butt.” He punches at Keith’s chest, then grips the front of his jacket, as if he’s afraid Keith will run away again.

“You must really hate me if you’ve downgraded me to a butt and not a buttcrack,” Keith says, and smiles broken-heartedly at Lance’s answering laugh. 

 

VII.

 

Rain always reminds him of Lance.

A soft staccato drums along the rooftop, the cool scent of bruised earth drifting through the window. Keith lowers the volume of his headphones to listen to the comforting drizzle of white noise, leaning back in his chair and breathing in.

The chime of the doorbell breaks the peace.

It chimes repeatedly as Keith makes his way down the stairs, ripping open the door with an aggravated, “Okay, okay, I’m— Lance?”

Lance is standing in front of him with his head bent down, drenched in rainwater from head to toe. Keith quickly drags him in and up the stairs, scared by the redness of his eyes and how hard he’s shaking.

After changing into a fresh set of Keith’s clothes, Lance sits at the head of his bed, blankets swathed all around him. Only his head and hands peak out of his cocoon, holding onto a mug of tea Keith had made for him while he was showering. Keith wraps his arm around him, letting his head rest against his shoulder as he waits for him patiently, knowing Lance will speak when he feels ready.

Eventually, Lance says, “We broke up.” His voice breaks at the end, and Keith feels his chest splinter open, too. “She said— She said I was too much—”

A sob shudders out of him, and Keith instantly shifts around to hold his face gently in his hands, thumbs wiping away stray tears. “You’re not. You’re never too much, Lance,” he says fiercely. “If she said that then you deserve better.”

Lance nods weakly, and Keith carefully takes the mug away from his hands before hugging him close, letting him cry against his collarbone and murmuring comforts into his hair.

He calls Hunk and Pidge after dinner. They come over immediately baring tubs of ice cream and a stack of card games. When Lance sees them his eyes fill with tears again; Hunk envelops him in his signature burrito hug and Pidge holds onto his ankle, resting their head against his calf.

They play UNO and watch episodes of Young Justice until they all fall asleep piled up on Keith’s bed, Lance’s cheek pillowed against his chest. 

Keith brushes his lips against his forehead before his eyes fall shut.

 

VIII. 

 

Lance has always lived on the seventh floor window to the left, by the fire escape.

Keith knows this fact by heart because he’s snuck in that way one too many times, and he’s snuck Lance out a couple times, too.

He taps on the window with the patent knock and waits for Lance to let him in. After a minute or two where it sounds like Lance has knocked over half his belongings, the window slides up.

“What are you doing here?” he hisses, ushering Keith in. Keith slips over and onto the floor with a soft thud, letting Lance shut the window behind him. When he straightens, he takes in Lance’s haphazard appearance: from his flyaway hair to his threadbare shark slippers. His tired eyes and his off-skew reading glasses.

“How long have you been stressing out?”  Keith asks, sitting on the edge of Lance’s bed. Lance slumps down into his desk chair with a groan, head drooping over the back.

“Since five when you dropped me off.” The clock by his bedside reads 12:35. “I want death. And a chocolate frosty.”

“You’ll get in, Lance,” Keith reassures him for the nth time. He’ll say it as much as Lance needs to hear it. “Your test scores and extracurriculars are all good enough. And I read your essay it’s solid.”

“Yeah, but I messed up my GPA sophomore year. I’m not top of my class like you, Hunk, and Pidge. Altea is prestigious as fuck there’s no way…” Lance sighs, drooping forward onto his desk littered with textbooks and notes. Keith feels a pang of sympathy, but his faith in Lance’s abilities doesn’t wane.

“Come on, I’ve a surprise for you,” he says, jumping up and patting Lance’s back. Lance perks up at that, looking up at Keith curiously.

“A surprise? What are you up to, mullet?”

“You’ll see. Put on something warm. We’re going outside.”

Tossing on a throw blanket around his shoulders, Lance follows Keith out the window. He’s about to head down the fire escape before Keith shakes his head, grabbing his hand and tugging him in the direction up. Lance frowns in bafflement as they climb the steps, all the way to the open rooftop.

When Lance sees what’s waiting for him, his mouth falls open with a gasp of wonderment.

Along the cable lines, from one end of the roof to the other side, strands of fairy lights float in the sky, twinkling like a hundred, golden fireflies. At the center, a boombox sits on top of a picnic blanket, music flowing out of it in soft, static waves. An assortment of creamy cushions are piled around, a white paper bag and two red cups nestled against them.

“Keith— Wha—”

“Hunk and Pidge helped me set it up while you were busy studying,” Keith explains, helping Lance onto the roof. His heart feels restless all of a sudden, palms clammy with nerves. “I thought you could use a break, and…” He guides Lance toward the picnic blanket, pointing at the paper bag and cups. “I also got you some fries and a chocolate frosty.”

Lance gives him no warning as he tackles into him, hugging him tight. “I love you so much you’re the best!” he says, kissing Keith’s cheek with a loud smack. Keith thinks he’s about to faint, heart throbbing slightly when he knows Lance doesn’t mean his love the same way. Nevertheless, he hugs just as fiercely back, swaying them on the spot as the boombox changes song, Lance giggling brightly in his arms.

“I love you, too.” 

 

IX.

 

Keith’s always hated parties, but he figured he’d go to at least one before senior year ends.

One of the seniors who Lance obviously knows but Keith doesn’t is hosting, parents gone on vacation and college friends back on spring break with easy access to alcohol. Their house is already a proverbial mess of drunken students and trashy EDM by the time they arrive with Hunk and Pidge, booze cups, pool floats, and half dressed classmates sprawled all over the front lawn and backyard.

Keith can’t say it’s all bad. An hour in, he's actually enjoying himself, talking to classmates he’s grown to get along with over the years, playing several matches of foosball, and steering clear away from the suspicious punch bowl in the living room.

Lance, being the social butterfly that he is, is completely lost to the crowd, until Keith spots him in the kitchen, pressed against—

Wait.

Keith vaults over the couch, shoving his way forward as fast as he could. His ears pick up on Lance’s scathing voice, practically seething, “get away from me, Sendak! I said no!”

Sendak doesn’t take the hint, reaching behind Lance anyway and slapping his hand over Lance’s ass, grabbing harshly. Lance instantly strikes his face in retaliation and throws his cup of punch for good measure, just as Keith pushes between them and the whole room tenses at the commotion.

Sendak snarls, swiping at his bruising cheek and blinded eyes, hair dripping red from the punch. “You crazy bitch—”

“Fucking say another word to him again and I swear I’ll fucking kill you,” Keith says, words blistering from the rage roiling off of him. His fists are shaking, ready to pummel Sendak at any moment. The only thing holding him back is Lance’s hand gripping onto his arm, soft voice saying, “Keith, Keith don’t.”

“I didn’t say a damn thing he fucking overreacted,” Sendak growls. Lance pins him with a withering glower.   

“You did! You grabbed me when I told you no multiple times!”

“I didn’t fucking touch you—!”

Allura steps in, blue eyes practically ice. “I saw you, Sendak. Several of us did. Stop bullshitting.”

Sendak’s mouth twists, grisly and loathsome. His eyes scan the room, realizing he’s caught in a corner. “Why would I do that to a faggot I’m not—”

All Keith sees is red when his fist connects.

He’s not sure what happens after that, only that his jaw stings, and his knuckles are red. When he comes to, Lance is standing in front of him, hands over his shoulders. Mouth moving frantically. Blue eyes searching and…

Scared.

That snaps him out of it.

He’s pulled out of the kitchen and straight out of the house, Lance shoving his hand into his varsity pocket to grab the keys to his beat up pick-up truck. He pushes Keith bodily into the passenger seat before clambering in on the other side, not saying a single word as he starts the engine. The car is silent as they drive off, arriving at Lance’s apartment half an hour later.

Surprisingly, the usually loud and hectic Mendéz house is quiet and empty for the night. Lance silently points Keith to his room while he goes into the bathroom, no doubt searching for a first-aid kit. Keith settles down on the floor against the foot of the bed and waits, feeling the skin around his jaw swelling.

When Lance walks in, he still won’t speak to Keith. Instead, he methodically picks out the necessary materials from the first aid kit, tearing open a package of alcohol pads and grabbing Keith’s face none too gently before wiping at his open wounds.

“S-Ow, Lance sto—”

“Hold still you big baby or else I’m really going to get mad.”

Keith growls, anger flaring again at the memories. “He should’t have called you that. He shouldn’t have touched you—”

“And you shouldn’t have beaten the shit out out of him when you’re on a soccer scholarship, Keith!” Lance swipes at the mark across Keith’s jaw, causing Keith to hiss in pain. “What if you had gotten into trouble because of that asshole? Thank god our classmates were there and saw what happened otherwise he might’ve pressed charges against you!”

Keith grimaces, sagging under the weight of Lance’s admonishments. “I just wanted to protect you,” he says, quietly.

Lance’s harsh swabbing of his face softens at that. He tosses the bloody pad into the trashcan nearby when he’s done cleaning, ripping open a new one to tend to Keith’s torn knuckles. 

“I know, but I don’t want to see you get hurt because of me.” He holds Keith’s hand delicately as he cleans the wounds there, too. “And I can handle myself, you know.”

Keith nods and looks down, shame sinking his stomach. After Lance is all done and satisfied with how Keith is patched up, he releases a sigh, looping his arms around Keith and pulling him close. Keith makes a noise of surprise as Lance settles into his lap, legs straddling his sides.

“Thank you,” he says, breath warm against Keith’s ear. Keith shivers slightly, fingers curling into the carpet. “It did mean a lot to me when you came to my defense like that. Think my heart fluttered a bit.” His voice lightens around the joke, trying to ease the atmosphere.

Keith winds his arms around Lance’s waist and hugs him even closer, face burying into his neck as he feels pressure against his eyes, tears blistering at the corners.

They stay like that for a long while. Keith not sure if he’ll ever be able to let Lance go, and Lance murmuring soft comforts into his hair.

 

X.

 

Their letters from Altea University arrive at the same time.

Pidge and Keith aren’t surprised when they find out they’ve been accepted, being top of their class and legacy kids to boot (Matt and Shiro both went to the same school). Hunk, as valedictorian and captain of the engineering club, is no surprise either. All that’s left in their group is…

“I can’t open mine. I can’t.”

Keith is leaning against the counter in Lance’s kitchen, watching him pace back and forth frantically, refusing to address the envelop lying on top of the table.

“Lance, there’s no way you didn’t get in,” he says, smiling encouragingly and picking the envelope up.

“But what if I didn’t Keith? What if you all go without me and I’m stuck here in bumfuck Garrison becoming an underpaid stripper living on sardines while everyone else—”

“Want me to open it?”

Lance heaves a sigh, pacing coming to a halt. After a minute, he spins around, snatching the envelope from Keith’s hands and tearing open the seal. It takes another minute for him to pull the letter out. Then another long, torturous minute for him to unfold the paper, open his eyes, and—

“Holy shit,” he says, voice indecipherable. Keith moves over to him, suddenly anxious.

“What?”

“Holy shit.”

“Is that a bad holy shit or a good holy shit Lance I—”

“I got in.” Lance’s eyes lock onto his and Keith feels his heart soar, shouting, “see, I told you, I told you you would—!”

“I got in! Keith!” Lance leaps into Keith’s waiting arms, legs hooking around his waist as Keith swings them around the kitchen, both of them laughing and yelling and Lance damn near crying. 

“Oh my god I’m so happy I could kiss you right now!” he sings, before the words sink in. Keith isn’t sure if he heard right either, staring at Lance wide-eyed as he shoves both hands over his mouth, acceptance letter dropping out of his grasp. 

Keith slowly lowers him back down onto the ground, feeling nothing short of thunderstruck.

“I— I mean— Keith, forget what I said, I’m not—” Lance tries to say, but Keith won't let him take it back. Won't let this moment slip away, not this time.

He holds fast onto Lance's hips, and Lance's breath hitches at the touch, hands falling down to meet Keith's. Keith threads them together, from pinky to thumb, feeling Lance’s fingers stitch perfectly between his.

"Lance, I'm going to kiss you now," he says, rubbing slow circles into the patch of warm, bare skin beneath his thumb. Lance shivers against him, nodding silently, bumping their noses lightly together as his eyes fall shut. Keith feels his heart swell at the sight, and he remembers the first time they met, all those years ago. 

This kiss is nothing like the first, but Keith will remember it for the rest of his life, too.

.

.

.

end.