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What It Is Lonely People Seek

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“What, again ?” Pidge said in disbelief as Keith started hacking up gunk on the way to breakfast.

“Obv-viously,” Keith coughed irritably, his abdominals still sore from the last time he was sick.

“Did you catch something on that mission yesterday?” Pidge studied Keith with intense scientific interest. He shoved her face away with maybe a little more force than necessary, burying his free hand in his pocket.

“Dude, no offence? But you’ve gotten sick practically every time we’ve visited a planet for weeks now.” Hunk shook his head and Keith shot him a glare.

“Yeah, what’s with that?” Lance chimed in, looking up from inspecting his nails. “Do Galra have shitty immune systems or something like that? Seems kinda off-brand for them.”

“Maybe it’s just half-breeds,” Pidge suggested as they walked into the common room.

“Coran!” Hunk sang out. “Keith needs more Altean Robitussin!”

“What, again?”

“Yeah, again ,” Keith growled, not sure who he was more pissed at—everyone being annoying and making his already considerable headache worse or his own body for betraying him.

“I’m starting to get worried about you, Keith.” Shiro’s brow furrowed in concern. “I feel like you haven’t been yourself for a while now.”

Keith rolled his eyes and coughed into his elbow. “Come on Shiro, look at me. I’m more myself than I’ve ever been, apparently.” Keith threw his arms apart to indicate his recent transformation in a dramatic move more suited to Lance than the usually reserved red paladin.

… Maybe Shiro had a point. But Keith wasn’t about to admit that.

Shiro sighed, sounded resigned to Keith’s bad temper. “Alright Keith. Will you at least let Coran run a few more tests to see if we can get to the bottom of this?”

More tests? I’m not a fu—a freaking guinea pig, Shiro. I’m sick of frigging tests.”

“I know you are, but—”

“No! I’m fuck—I’m fucking fine , Shiro! Leave me alone!” Keith shouted, ears quivering. Storming out of the dining hall felt good, and had the added benefit of saving him choking down goo he was never hungry for.

Rolling back under the sheets of his bed Keith squeezed his eyes shut, hoping to maybe get a few more minutes of rest before he was inevitably dragged to the medbay.

Keith had always been an insomniac, so he was well used to functioning on too little sleep. But lately what had been a troublesome but manageable condition had worsened into this; barely three hours a night, for weeks and weeks and weeks. Keith was aware that was probably why he kept getting sick, but he knew from experience he could only wait out the insomnia, wait for exhaustion to overwhelm him and settle him back into a healthier rhythm.

Coughing pathetically into his pillow, tears squeezing out of his eyes as he choked on phlegm, Keith prayed it would happen soon.


It didn’t.

Coran’s medicine took care of his illness overnight, but that night had been just as shitty as all the others. Keith awoke feeling grey and cloudy, like his head was stuffed with clammy cotton wool. The headache that never seemed to leave him these days beat in his temple like usual, and suddenly Keith wanted to cry. Gasping in a huge breath Keith held it, focusing on the pressure above his heart rather than the squeezing around it. He didn’t even know what he was upset about—did sleep deprivation make you sad? It had never happened to him before.

When the immediacy of his feelings had faded somewhat Keith dragged himself out of bed, feeling overwhelmed surrounded by his own memories. Trudging up to Observation Deck 7Δ Keith struggled to unstick his thoughts from his skull, which was still full of fog.

Slumping down in front of the window Keith tried unsuccessfully to rub some of the everpresent soreness from his neck and shoulders. Heaving a great sigh he raised his eyes to the view, staring for a moment as the sight of the stars brought that feeling crashing back into his gut.

Tearing his gaze from the glass Keith buried his face in his knees, curling up and trying to regulate his gasping breaths. Distantly he wondered at the source of these emotions, seemingly unconnected to any thoughts, but more of his attention was devoted to riding the waves crashing over him.

Keith had no idea how long he sat there, shivering cold despite the moderated conditions, but eventually the sound of footsteps registered in his consciousness.

Curling up tighter Keith wished the person away with all his strength, fear clawing up his throat at the thought of being at the mercy of another in this moment of vulnerability.

The footsteps stopped.

“Figured you’d be in here, man.” Lance’s voice filtered in through Keith’s cloudlayer, making him flinch despite the mild tone. “You missed breakfast, which is whatever, but Shiro was hoping to talk with you about something. Doesn’t look like you’d be up for it right now though, huh?”

Keith’s eyes opened and he blinked into the darkness of his arms. Lance... wasn’t going to force him?

Lance let out an exaggerated grunt as he lowered himself beside Keith, somehow managing to keep quiet for a full five minutes before speaking.

“You okay dude?”

Keith swallowed, ears flat to his skull. The time for pretending to be fine had passed several minutes ago when he’d refused to uncurl from the fetal position, but a huge part of his psyche was still demanding he find a way out of this.

“Mn,” was all he managed, barely voiced and muffled by his arms, but a response nonetheless.

“Yeah,” Lance sighed, as if that had made perfect sense. He cleared his throat. “Yo. Not that I like you or anything, but do you want a hug?”

Keith froze.

“You don’t like, have to, obviously, but…” There was a quiet sound as Lance rubbed the back of his neck. “Hugging is good when you feel crappy. It’s like, brain chemistry and shit.” Keith sucked in a big breath. “So… you in?”

Keith raised his head and looked out at the stars again. That big greyness inside tripled in size, filling up his lungs, sticking his tongue to the roof of his mouth. Frowning fiercely against it Keith turned to Lance, hands fisted in his sleeves.

He was completely unprepared for the sight of Lance sitting there, expression a little awkward but mostly honest, head tilted in invitation. It blew through Keith like a powerful wind, stirring up the clouds and rattling his shutters. Lance must have seen something in Keith’s face because he raised his eyebrows and unfolded his arms, holding them open with a guileless smile.

Something in Keith snapped. Maybe it was his strings, he thought, because he immediately collapsed forwards, face crashing painfully into Lance’s shoulder, hip banging the floor as he fell against his chest.

Lance let out a quiet oof as he was hit with Keith’s weight, but his arms didn’t hesitate to wrap around him, gathering Keith in and squeezing him just tightly enough, holding him together.

The sensation was almost overwhelming. Keith shuddered as Lance’s cheek came to rest on his hair, his body a burning furnace compared with his own. It felt so good and right Keith felt his eyes burn, his trembling arms coming up to clench in Lance’s shirt, pulling on him, needing him closer.

Lance’s breath was warm in his hair, and Keith’s tears were warm on his neck, and then the darkness was warm when he settled into it.


Keith surfaced from his nap slowly, but it wasn’t the sticky, clinging slowness of the sleep deprived. Rather, he became aware of himself in stages. First the glowing sense of comfort in his belly. Then, the soothing warmth all along his front. Eventually the ache of his hip on the floor made it through and Keith blinked his eyes open, remembering where he was.

His eyelashes brushed Lance’s neck and the other boy made a quiet sound. “You awake?” he murmured softly into Keith’s hair.

“Y… yeah,” Keith said in wonder. It felt a little like a dream, but there was no doubt that he was here, on the floor of the small observation deck, wrapped in Lance’s arms. Sitting up slowly Keith squinted against the light instinctively, but there was no headache shooting through his temple. Turning to face the view Keith felt a familiar awe as he took in the breathtaking sight, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

The smile only grew as he bent backwards in a huge stretch, his muscles feeling pliant and relaxed.

“Feeling better then?” asked Lance, reminding Keith of his presence.

Keith could have sworn he had never felt better in his entire life.

“Yeah,” he declared, beaming at Lance, who looked back in pleased surprise. “A million times.”

“That’s—That’s great, man!”

Keith laughed and nodded. “Yeah. You wanna go eat? I’m starving.”

Grinning Lance leapt to his feet and pulled Keith up with him.

“Let’s do it.”


That day Keith ate five bowls of goo, a record only just shy of Hunk’s. After joining on group training with more enthusiasm that he’d had in weeks Keith crashed for a full thirteen hours, awakening feeling like a new person.

He dropped back easily into his usual pattern of seven hours a night, making up with Shiro and going planetside without fear for more than a week.

On night eight he had some trouble falling asleep, but that wasn’t unusual for him. If he was a little irritable the next day he blamed it on pre-mission jitters.

Day ten he had some unexplained muscle soreness, and his sleep still hadn’t fallen back into pattern, but Keith wasn’t one to dwell, so he powered through his training despite everyone being completely annoying to him that day. Growling to himself as he lay in bed that night an uncharacteristic tendril of dread had him hoping he wouldn’t fall ill after the mission tomorrow.


“Keith!”

“Oh my god!”

“Hold on buddy!”

Keith tried to answer the frantic voices in his ear but only managed a groan, blood bubbling on his lips. He’d taken the Galran commander out, but not before taking a significant amount of damage from his laser sword. He had no idea how close the others were, but he was fairly certain he couldn’t walk.

“Keith!” came his name again, but this time it wasn’t over the coms. Struggling to raise his head Keith caught sight of Lance skidding into the room, scouting for enemies even as he sprinted towards his fallen comrade. “Keith! We’ve got to get you in a healing pod. Can you walk? Shit, it doesn’t look like it.” Still rambling to himself Lance carefully slid his arms under Keith’s shuddering form, lifting him against his chest as gently as he could. Pain still lanced through him as they moved, but something in him relaxed as he rested his head on Lance’s shoulder. “This might hurt, but I’m going to run, okay?” Lance commanded, worry and fear humming just beneath the surface. “Keep the pressure on your wound.”

Closing his eyes against the pain Keith pressed more firmly over his stomach and turned his dirty face into Lance’s neck. Things were starting to grow fuzzy around the edges, only the throbbing of his injury keeping his conscious, but somewhere deep down beneath all that he felt like maybe it was worth getting hurt to feel Lance’s arms around him again.


Keith’s stint in the healing pod was one of the longest yet, but at least this meant Lance had almost gotten over making jokes about cradling Keith in his arms by the time he awoke. Not that Keith would have minded—the healing pod must have helped with his other symptoms as well because he was feeling really good.

It turned out the guy he had killed had been someone really important, and the paladins were flat out for the next several days running defence. By the end of the week everyone was tired and grumpy.

Lying awake in bed in the wee hours of the morning Keith hissed in distress. Throwing himself on his stomach he buried his face roughly his pillow, only to flop onto his back a few moments later, feeling wide awake. With a grunt of frustration Keith slammed his fist down on the mattress again and again. Morning was already so close and he wasn't even close to sleepy, in spite of the exhaustion settling in his bones. Would he ever be able to sleep well again? In that moment it felt like an impossible dream. Feeling tears of frustration prick the backs of his eyes Keith threw himself to his feet, unable to stand the oppressive quiet of his bedroom for a moment longer.

Wandering the halls like a ghost Keith found his feet taking him towards the kitchen. Maybe a hot drink would make him feel better, he reasoned, rolling his tight shoulders and rubbing his stinging eyes.

A surprised yelp made him snap his head up as the door slid open.

“Ah geez, you scared me dude!” Lance grumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. There was a bowl of goo in front of him, but it seemed as though he was merely stirring it endlessly without eating any.

Keith didn’t reply, dragging himself over to the beverage dispenser and trying to remember which button made the tea he liked.

“So why are you awake?” Lance asked, voice appropriately hushed for the early hour.

Keith just grunted and clicked at random, deciding any drink was good enough.

“Have you been sleeping okay? No offence my man, but you have looked like shit for a few days now. You’re not sick again are you?” Lance had walked closer to Keith during this concerned speech, and Keith barely resisted the urge to sock him in the stomach for bothering him.

“I’m fine ,” he growled, chugging the mug of tepid liquid without tasting it and roughly shoving past Lance.

Or at least, he tried to. As soon as their shoulders brushed Keith felt something uncurl from his rigid spine and his ears twitch up. Ignoring this reaction—would his body ever stop being weird?—Keith took another step, but then Lance’s hand was on his shoulder, his pinky brushing the bare skin of his neck, and that tiny point of contact held Keith frozen.

“Are you sure? I’m just trying to help, man.”

Keith swallowed. He still couldn’t make himself move away. “Why are you up?” he snapped defensively.

“Had a nightmare.” Lance shrugged. “Happens occasionally. Is that what’s up with you? Bad dreams?”

“Have to sleep to have bad dreams,” Keith muttered, too distracted by skin-on-skin to watch his words.

But rather than jumping on his confession Lance simply hummed sympathetically and squeezed his shoulder. As the gesture fizzed through Keith’s body he remembered the last time he and Lance had been alone together. Lance hadn’t made fun of him then, he remembered. In fact…. he’d hugged him… and Keith had had the best sleep of his life.

“Does this happen to you a lot? Is there something you do that helps?” Lance asked, thumb sweeping back and forth on Keith’s scapula, warm even through the fabric of his shirt. He tilted his head, expression concerned, waiting for a reply like he wasn’t slowly unravelling Keith with every swipe of his thumb.

Keith tried to swallow, but his throat was too tight. Looking down and away he felt his ears flatten. Huffing out a breath Keith steeled himself to pull away and leave, but the thought to where he was leaving to , of returning to his silent bedroom to lie awake for another four hours, stopped his breath. Flicking his eyes to the side to peer at Lance he found only concern and pity—or was it empathy? The dark smudges under Lance’s eyes were almost a match to his own. Squeezing his eyes shut Keith tried to make himself go—and then he was leaning into Lance, shoulder against his chest, burrowing his head under his chin and gripping the fabric of his sleeve so tightly it should have ripped under his claws.

“Oh,” Lance said, voice tinted with mild surprise, arms coming up to wrap around him without hesitation. “Does this help?”

Keith shook his head, nose dragging against the warm skin of Lance’s throat, but it wasn’t a denial. Freeing his arm from between them Keith turned fully into the embrace, wrapping an arm around Lance’s waist and squeezing desperately. Lance responded by holding him tighter and Keith realised he was shaking, almost too badly to stand, clinging to Lance like a lifeline.

After a few minutes in the silent kitchen Lance yawned wide enough to make his jaw crack and Keith bit his lip in preparation to let go.

“Mmn. Mind if we take this back to my room?” Lance hummed, voice thick with sleep.

Keith tensed, unsure, but Lance’s hand against his back started dragging up and down in a soothing wave, and he yawned again, seemingly not even aware of the way he was touching Keith. It all presented a very non-threatening picture, and when Keith allowed himself to imagine it—lying in Lance’s bed, his arms around him, the soft cadence of his sleeping breath in his hair—he found he wanted it more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life.

“Okay,” he whispered, lips moving against Lance’s collarbone.

“Okay,” Lance mumbled, sounding half asleep already. Shuffling back a half step Lance released Keith, one hand sliding down to curl gently around his forearm, and then he was leading Keith back down the hall, rubbing sleepy tears from his eyes.

“Mn, come on,” he said as they entered his room, finally letting go of Keith to crawl under the sheets. Standing awkwardly by the bed Keith stared down at Lance, perfectly visible in Keith’s improved night vision, lashes fluttering softly against his cheek. Sighing as he sensed his hesitation Lance rolled onto his side and held the blanket open, not bothering to open his eyes. Heart in his mouth Keith gently slipped in beside him, barely suppressing a gasp as Lance snuggled against his side and wrapped a strong arm around him.

Judging by his breathing Lance fell asleep mere moments after that. Keith tried to stay awake a little longer—to take stock of this strange position he found himself in, to savour the feeling of another person’s warmth wrapped around him—but he had no chance. Not even two minutes after getting into bed Keith felt his thoughts slip away, lulled by the rhythm of Lance’s heartbeat.


Blinking awake to the sound of a groan and movement beside him Keith turned his head to find Lance mid-stretch, hair ruffled and eye-bags all but vanished.

“Morning sunshine!” he grinned, poking Keith in the side until he let him up.

Keith didn’t have the wherewithal to respond before Lance had disappeared into the adjoining bathroom, leaving Keith with just his fading warmth in the sheets.

Swallowing thickly Keith sat up, hand coming up to soothe a headache that wasn’t there. He felt like a million dollars, better than he’d felt since—Keith bit his lip. Since the last time he and Lance had hugged.

Could touching really cure illnesses? Was this some weird Galra thing? Keith felt stupid just for thinking it, but three times made a pattern and there was no denying that he felt happier and healthier than he had in a long time.

“You look better!” Lance chirped as he exited the bathroom, hair sitting properly once again. “Did you sleep well?”

“Uh… yeah.” Keith’s voice cracked a little. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, really well. Um, thank you.”

“You’re welcome! Having someone there helped me as well!” Lance grinned at him, and Keith had never been more glad their ‘rivalry’ had waned somewhat in the past few months. But then his sunny expression dropped into something more serious and Keith felt his stomach clench. “So, did you want to talk about it? You were kind of a mess last night—and it’s actually not the first time I’ve seen you like that, man. Are you really okay?”

Keith looked away. His instincts were screaming at him not to let anyone know of his weaknesses, but the larger part of him understood that if his hypothesis was true he was going to need to tell someone , or else he wouldn’t be able to continue being an effective paladin.

“I... about that…” Keith’s mouth twisted as he fought to put his thoughts into words. Seeming to sense his discomfort Lance sat down beside Keith and smiled at him encouragingly. “For a couple months now I’ve been... unwell? I don’t know. I get sick really easily, I can’t sleep , my body hurts and have no energy…”

“And you’re about a thousand times more grumpy than usual,” Lance prompted with a grin.

Keith frowned. “I… guess so. Um, but the other day after you… you know. Hugged me or whatever. I felt better.” Keith swallowed and glanced quickly at Lance. “A lot better.”

Lance frowned. “You mean, on the observation deck?”

“Yeah. And then, after I was injured and you—”

“Cradled you in my arms.”

“— carried me back it happened again. I thought maybe it was the healing pod but…”

“...now you think it was the cuddling,” Lance finished with a confused tilt of his head, making Keith wince at his choice of words.

“...Yeah. You remember what you said that one time, about brain chemistry...?”

Lance’s eyes widened. “Oh! You mean—? You think you’re so touch-starved it’s making you sick? Is that a Galra thing?”

Keith shrugged and looked away, feeling his cheeks heat. Of all the weird alien attributes to have he had to get one this humiliating.

“Well that’s awesome! We can fix that easy!” Keith’s breath stuttered and he felt something like hope flutter to life in his chest. “The team will be happy to cuddle the crap out of you, man,” Lance continued, and Keith felt that hope get crushed out.

“N-No! You can’t tell the team!” Keith blurted, ears flat to his skull.

“What? Why not?”

“I don’t want them to know! It’s bad enough that I’m all purple and furry. My Galra side nearly broke the team up once, I don’t want them to see any more of it.”

“But you aren’t—”

“I said no , Lance! Promise me you won’t tell them!”

Lance looked shocked, but he swallowed, searching Keith’s eyes for something.

Whatever it was he must have found it, because his shoulders slumped and he looked away. “Alright,” he said quietly. “I won’t tell.”

Keith relaxed and blew out a breath. “Thank you.”

Lance nodded glumly and then straightened up. “So I guess you’ll be needing all you cuddles from me then.” He smiled and flexed an arm. “Excellent choice. I’ll have you know I’m the best cuddler in this quadrant—as far as anyone knows.”

Keith huffed, caught between burning relief that Lance was going to help him and shivery embarrassment. “Don’t call it that, asshole.”

“What? Cuddling? But isn’t that what it is?”

“Shut up. Just say ‘hugging’ or whatever, Lance.” Keith shoved his shoulder lightly, but couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face and down into his stomach.

Chapter Text

 

 

Despite his willing promise to help Keith out whenever he needed it had been several days since the last time they had touched.

The team were currently being briefed on an upcoming rescue mission. It was fairly par for the course by now, and Lance was letting his eyes drift. They fell on Keith just as Allura was finishing up listing the livestock casualties. The local population relied on these fat greyish water cows for most aspects of their lives, and in light of this they had become a major target for the Galran forces trying to overcome the population. This was not an unusual strategy for them, and Lance felt only the slightest twinge of regret at the high number of deaths.

Not so for Keith, apparently. As Lance looked at him the shaking of his balled fists registered before his expression. At first Lance thought he was furious; he was savaging his lip between his teeth and frowning hard enough to give himself a headache. But Lance had never seen this particular expression on Keith’s face before, and he had seen Keith angry a lot.

And then he noticed the tears.

Though none had fallen Keith’s eyes were definitely shiner than they were meant to be.

Feeling his jaw drop Lance took a moment to take in the sight of Keith on the verge of tears, because surely he would never see it again. On second glance, however, he began to notice other things. The smudges under his eyes, standing out more because of his sallow complexion. Thinking back Lance realised Keith had barely touched his lunch.

Heaving a great sigh Lance turned back towards Allura, hoping the rest of the meeting wouldn’t take long. Keith had apparently let himself get quiet bad again instead of asking for Lance’s help. Honestly Lance didn’t know why he expected any different.

The second Allura was done addressing the paladins Lance marched over to Keith and began dragging him towards his bedroom.

“Wh—Lance! What do you want? I need to go to my room for a minute, I don’t have time for whatever this is—”

“Uh, yes you do, because you, sir, need a fucking hug.” Glancing back Lance saw Keith go to open his mouth. “Uh-uh, don’t you try to deny it, mister. I saw you back there, I know you were getting choked up over those giant naked hamsters.” Keith started and ducked his head, Lance watching in fascination as a dark blush crept over his features. “So just come here already,” he finished.

Slapping his palm over the controls Lance stomped into the centre of his room and turned to face Keith, who was still hovering just inside the door.

His blush had dissipated somewhat, but he was still not meeting Lance’s eyes, already abused lip back between his teeth.

Suddenly stuck with the awkwardness of the moment Lance cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “Uh, aren’t you—” his voice cracked “—aren’t you gonna come in?”

Glancing up through his bangs for a moment Keith closed his eyes and visibly steeled himself, marching over to stand in front of Lance. The door slid shut with a note of finality, sealing the boys in with their silence.

“Uh…” Lance started, not sure what to do with his hands as Keith continued to glare at him like he was a training drone about to get its ass kicked. Realising he was going to have to be the one to make the first move Lance shoved down his embarrassment and opened his arms awkwardly. He swallowed with a click. “Did you, ah… bring it in?”

Keith’s frown got got somehow deeper as he glared at Lance’s chest like he could set it on fire and escape all his problems, but after a moment he stepped forward, close enough for Lance to feel his heat but not quite touching.

Reflecting on how much more embarrassing this kind of this was when it was premeditated Lance carefully enfolded Keith in his arms, loosely cradling him with his palms over his shoulder blades. Tilting his face up a bit Lance waited, able to feel the exact moment the tension drained out of Keith, who finally shuffled that half-step closer to bring their bodies into contact. Lance felt rather than heard Keith sigh out against his skin as he carefully leant his forehead on Lance’s chest. His arms were still hanging by his sides, carefully held away from his sides.

“You can, um, you can touch me if you want.” Lance said, immediately regretting his embarrassing phrasing. Keith stiffened a little for a moment, before carefully bringing his hands up to rest very lightly on Lance’s waist. Lance squeezed his eyes shut, still feeling kind of flustered, but then Keith’s hands fisted in his shirt and he melted against him. Huffing a relieved laugh Lance finally hugged him properly, squeezing him in and relaxing as the atmosphere settled into something more comfortable.

“Shtut uph,” Keith mumbled, his face squished into Lance’s shirt, but he didn’t sound angry. Lance was momentarily overwhelmed by how cute he was being.

Settling his cheek on the top of Keith’s head Lance smiled at the reminder of just how fluffy it was. Really, Lance thought, this arrangement might not be so bad. Heaven knew one could never have too many cuddles.

They stayed like that for maybe ten minutes without moving, but before long Keith’s stomach had started grumbling and he had slipped out with a sleepy ‘thank you’.

Feeling somewhat soothed by the contact himself Lance had decided to settle in for a nap, strangely gratified to know that somewhere in the castle Keith was doubtless about to do the same.

 


 

 

After the first time Keith seemed to finally accept his fate. He’d still push it between sessions longer than Lance would like, and he was still awkward about touching Lance at first, but really, a part of Lance couldn’t even believe this was the same boy who had thrown himself desperately at him on the observation deck or refused to hug Lance until he was breaking down over pseudo-hippos in the command room.

At the moment they were laying in Keith’s bed, Keith between Lance’s knees with his back against his chest as they both did their own thing on their tablets. Lance had one arm wrapped loosely over Keith’s chest, fingers tapping idly as he scrolled through pictures of a beautiful planet they’d visited recently.

After a time and without his conscious input Lance’s hand moved up to bury his fingers in Keith’s hair. Distractedly scratching his fingernails over Keith’s scalp Lance didn’t notice him going even more boneless than before, eyes slipping closed.

He most definitely did notice, however, when the purring started.

A low rumble that could be felt more than heard warmed up the alcove around Keith’s bed. Frozen in shock but careful not to let the movement of his fingers slow Lance stared down at the top of Keith’s head, a delighted grin slowing stretching across his face.

“Dude!” He finally exclaimed when he couldn’t take it anymore.

“Mmm?” Keith asked, the purring melting away long enough for him to voice the sound.

Voice dropping to an excited whisper Lance said “You’re purring!”

“Mn, what?” Keith said, brow furrowing adorably.

“Listen!”

Keith stayed silent—or mostly silent—for a moment, Lance’s fingers still stroking around his ears. And then his eyes flew open and his body went rigid against Lance’s.

The purring stopped immediately, and for a few seconds Keith didn’t move—and then, as slow as Lance had ever seen it, he began to turn deep crimson.

“What.”

“You don’t have to be embarrassed, dude. It’s super freaking cute.”

“The.”

“Oh shit, do you think all Galra can do that? Do you think Zarkon can?!”

Fuck.

 

 


 

 

“Hey, Lance? Can I talk to you for a second?” Keith asked, giving Lance The Look™. Lance raised an eyebrow. Did he think he was subtle?

“Sure thing dude,” he grunted, swinging himself over the couch back and wandering after Keith in the direction of the bedrooms. At least he was asking when he needed it, Lance thought. Progress.

Following Keith through his bedroom door Lance took a moment to stretch—he had been almost asleep on the couch before Keith had come. When he lowered his arms and opened his eyes, however, Lance was struck with a sight he’d never seen before.

Keith was reaching out to him.

No matter how often they did this—and it had been a fair few times at this point—Keith was never the one to initiate contact.

But there here was, holding his arms open, a bit of colour on his cheeks.

Feeling his eyes widen Lance stumbled forward in his haste, stepping into Keith’s arms with an unfounded enthusiasm. He felt something funny twist in his chest as Keith’s arms came around him, and Lance couldn’t help feeling like something amazing was happening.

Curling around Keith Lance bent his head down to his shoulder, feeling Keith’s pulse against his cheek.

They stayed like that for a long time, Lance never quite able to shake the frisson behind his ribs, something like the first time he’d flown the Blue Lion.

Heaving a deep sigh Lance prepared to extract himself, expecting Keith’s limits to have been reached by about now, when a hesitant touch froze him to the spot.

Was that… Keith’s hand in his hair? Lance swallowed thickly, not daring to move as Keith gently ran his fingers from the nape of his neck to his crown in a slow motion Lance could feel down to his toes. At the top of his head Keith pause for a moment, before repeating the action once more and then gently stepping away.

Lance knew he was staring but he couldn’t bring himself to stop. Keith didn’t look him in the eyes, clearing his throat a bit and hesitating as if to speak before quickly rushing out of the room.

Sitting down heavily on Keith’s bed Lance realised he was blushing.

 


 

“You’d think being an intergalactic war hero would be less boring than this,” Lance complained, flopping forwards to rest his cheek on the fancy dining table.

“Shh! They’ll hear you!” Hissed Pidge, poking him in the side with an oyster fork.

“Least it would liven things up,” Lance muttered but straightened up, contenting himself with fiddling with the collar of his alien formalwear.

They were at some kind of diplomatic dinner, yet another alien king trying to convince the Coalition it didn’t need his resources. The atmosphere was tense and stuffy and the way the clothes pressed against Lance’s throat was supremely uncomfortable.

Unwilling to eat any more of the weird food Lance sat back in his chair, nursing a glass of space juice and perusing the other guests.

There were aliens of several species here, but none that were even remotely humanoid. Lance had trouble interpreting the expressions of blob people, and so found he gaze turning towards his teammates.

Shiro and Allura were deep in conversation with the local planet’s ambassador, polite expressions beginning to strain as he continued to refuse to hear reason. Pidge was performing a dissection of the strange living dessert and Hunk had his eyes closed, carefully sampling every dish and no doubt coming up with one thousand new recipes per second.

Keith was sitting beside Pidge, one seat away, looking a little like he was going to be sick. Considering the menu Lance didn’t think anything of it at first, but then Keith looked up and caught Lance’s eye.

There was sweat sticking some of his hair to his brow, and he was staring at Lance like he was some kind of lifeline. Surprised Lance tried to ask what was wrong with his expression alone and Keith’s face grew somehow more desperate. Flicking his eyes around the room like a trapped animal Keith turned back to Lance and bit his lip.

Well. No helping it then.

“Hey, guys, will you excuse me for a second? I gotta go to the bathroom. You went before, right Keith? Mind showing me where it is?”

Without waiting for a reply Lance stood up and started making his way towards a tapestry he’d noticed servants ducking behind. Sure enough it opened into a network of hallways, doubtless leading to the kitchens and such.

Glancing behind him Lance watched Keith step past the curtain, ears back and breath coming a little too fast through his nose.

Determined not to make him wait Lance scouted ahead, finding a small room filled with folded chairs. There was just enough space for the door to swing freely, and after Keith had squished in beside him Lance closed them into the semi-darkness.

“Hey,” Lance said, not sure why he was almost whispering. “You okay?”

“Mn,” Keith replied, which Lance knew meant ‘not really’.

“Come on then,” Lance murmured, reaching out blindly to reel Keith in.

Something about the low light made the whole experience seem far more intimate than usual, Lance keeping his eyes open but still feeling hyper aware of Keith’s hands on his waist, the sound of his breaths, his lashes brushing his neck.

Through his palms on Keith’s back Lance could feel his heartbeat slowing, his ears twitching up to graze his chin. Sighing in relief Lance felt himself relax into the embrace. He hadn’t realised how worried he had been until it all drained away. Without thinking Lance leaned forwards and nuzzled his face into Keith’s hair, mindful of his ears.

In the still room Lance could hear Keith’s breath hitch, but he didn’t tense up or pull away. In fact, he tilted his chin up just a fraction, bumping his head into Lance’s face like a cat. Laughing with relieved delight Lance gave Keith a final squeeze and let him go.

“You ready to go back out?”

Even in the dark Keith’s smile was bright. “Yeah.”

 

 


 

Lance choked and frowned down at the boy in his arms. He’d stormed into Lance’s bedroom that evening looking like he was ready to commit a bloody homicide. Teeth bared he’d roughly gestured for Lance to get up, reaching out to jerk him forward when he took too long.

Keith’s strong arms had come around him and Lance had refrained from making a comment about how rude he was being, used to seeing him like then when it got bad. Usually after a few minutes he would calm down and rub his cheek against Lance’s chest in a silent apology.

But Keith had been holding him for more than ten minutes, arms ever tightening and claws digging into Lance’s back. It had been difficult to breathe for a while now and by this point Lance was being completely crushed.

“Are you—are you okay, buddy?” He wheezed, patting Keith feebly on the shoulder.

“I’m fine!” Keith growled thickly, sounding a little rabid but also kind of on the verge of tears.

“This… is this not working for you?” Lance asked carefully, hearing the concern in his own voice.

“Shut up! It’s fine!” Keith’s voice had gotten louder.

“You don’t want to try something else?” Lance pushed, not sure he could take much more of this strangulation.

There was a long moment of tense silence, and then Lance heard Keith’s frustration rumble in his chest. Ripping his arms from Lance’s sides Keith roughly shoved his cold hands up the back of his shirt, shuddering as their skin made contact. Lance suppressed a yelp and almost didn’t notice Keith’s shudder over his own shivering.

“How are your hands always so freezing?” Lance whined, shimming his own warmer ones under Keith’s shirt.

Keith didn’t reply, pressing forwards so their bare stomachs touched and pushing his face hard into Lance’s neck.

“Does that feel better?” Lance asked more quietly after a beat of silence.

“Mmn.” Keith replied, forcing Lance to take most of his weight as he slumped forward bonelessly.

“Okay.” Lance said, a smile in his voice. Keith was practically non-verbal when he was relaxed and Lance thought it was the cutest thing in the world.

But as Keith burrowed into his shoulder and sighed Lance felt a frown creep back onto his face. Was Keith developing a tolerance to him? The time between cuddle puddles had been growing shorter, Lance reflected, and Keith was beginning to stay longer and longer. Not that Lance minded, of course, but he couldn’t help feeling the stirrings of dread in his stomach as he held Keith tighter to his chest.

 

 


 

Lance is woken a few nights later to the sound of rough knocking on his bedroom door.

Rolling stiffly out of bed Lance opened it to reveal Keith looking exhausted.

“In you get,” Lance yawned, closing the door when he stepped forwards and crawling back into bed without a second thought. Keith hesitated before following him in, just like he had all those weeks ago before they started their arrangement.

This time Lance lay on his back, manipulating Keith’s limbs until he was draped across his chest, hand curling into Lance’s pajama top and ears tickling the underside of his chin.

“Y’alright?” Lance mumbled, barely absorbing Keith’s whispered assurance before drifting back to sleep.  

 

 

The next morning Lance fluttered his eyes open to realise they had stayed in the position all night. Smiling to himself Lance gathered Keith in closer, snuggling his face into Keith’s hair.

“You snore.” Keith told him, obviously awake but not resisting as Lance rubbed his nose in his mullet.

“I absolutely do not.” Lance replied primly. “You been up long?”

“Not really.”

“That’s good.” Lance sighed contentedly and without having to think about it he dropped a kiss on the top of Keith’s head.

It felt so natural that for a moment Lance didn’t understand why Keith had frozen where he lay against him.

And then Lance felt his eyes fly open as the realisation sank in.

Slowly, as if facing down a dangerous beast, Keith raised his head just enough to peek up through his bangs, chin pressing into Lance’s chest. His cheeks were flushed and Lance could feel his hands fisted nervously in his sleep shirt, but he didn’t look angry.

For a long moment they stared at each other. Though his nervous heart was beating fast in his chest Lance couldn’t help getting a little lost in Keith’s face. There was a single tiny freckle under one of his eyes he didn’t think anyone else had ever noticed, but it captivated Lance’s attention like nothing else. He was so distracted by it, in fact, that his almost missed Keith’s eyes flick down to his mouth for a fraction of a second.

Almost.

Heatbeat picking up even further Lance could feel his cheeks heat but he couldn’t help dropping his own gaze to Keith’s chewed up lips.

They were so close together Lance could feel Keith’s rush of breath against his face in response to his staring.

Screwing up his courage Lance carefully, slowly slid his left hand from where it was resting on Kith’s back up, smoothing over his shirt, tickling past the hairs on his nape and up into his hair.

Finally looking away from Keith’s mouth Lance let their eyes meet, and the contact shuddered through him with the weight of a confession. Keith was staring at him with a tiny frown between his brows like his was trying to memorise Lance’s expression. He held it for a long, warm moment before taking a deep breath and letting his eyes flutter closed.

Swallowing at the sight of those long dark lashes against a pale cheek Lance finally closed his own eyes and leaned in.

“Lance! Up and at ‘em, we’ve got a big mission ahead of us today. I want to see you downstairs in your armour in fifteen, okay?”

Staring at each other in shock as Shiro’s words filtered through to them the boys at least managed to not fall out of bed, though it was a near thing.

“Uh, yes, sir!” Lance called, voice cracking six ways to Sunday.

“Alright. Good morning!”

“Y-yeah, good morning, Shiro!”

Heart pounding for an entirely different reason now Lance tried to interpret Keith’s blank expression as Shiro’s footsteps faded down the hall.

Worrying his lip Lance lasted almost a full minute before sucking in a breath to say—something. Anything.

But before he could speak Keith surged forward and pressed a tiny, lightening quick kiss to Lance’s cheek before throwing himself out of bed and scampering off, leaving Lance frozen.

Pausing for a moment in the doorway Keith looked back and hesitated before saying “After the mission can we—cuddle? Again?”

Lance knew he was blushing like a fire engine but he didn’t care, nodding so hard he thought he might rattle his brain.

Keith turned away before Lance could catch his expression, but his ears were suspiciously red.

He left without saying anything else, but after a moment Lance jumped up and called out after him.

“Hey! I heard you say ‘cuddle’ just then, don’t think I didn’t notice, I told you that’s what it was! Keith!”

 

 


 

“Guys, I’m gonna need a sitrep.”

“It’s not looking good Shiro, I think it might be—oh shi—”

“Lance!”

“Pidge! Crap, hang in there, I’ll deal with this. Hunk, you go get the others—”

“I’m not leaving you, man!”

“There’s no time, get to the— fuck!

“Lance!”

“Lance?”

“Lance!”

 


 

It’s almost ten days before Lance catches a glimpse of a familiar blue wormhole through the trees. Eyes widening Lance dropped the leaves he had been shredding and sprinted into the Blue Lion, hands shaking as he fumbled with her controls in his haste.

Under other circumstances being trapped on the jungle planet wouldn’t have been too bad. There were plenty of supplies on Blue and Lance had found a really beautiful waterfall-fed pool to swim in, but as it was he just couldn’t enjoy it. Day and night he was subsumed with worry over Keith’s condition. He had tried to calm himself with the thought that surely even Keith would tell his teammates what he needed before he landed himself in a healing pod, but his inner voice had not been very convincing.

Hands aching from how tight he gripped the controls Lance shot past the atmosphere and through the wormhole at a dangerously high speed.

Rocketing into the Castle hanger almost literally Lance stumbled out of Blue’s mouth just in time to be swept into a giant hug from Hunk. Lance was happy to see everyone had come to meet him, but he didn’t have time to make nice when there was one glaring absence.

“Where’s Keith.” Lance demanded, cutting through the relieved chatter of his welcoming teammates.

The happy atmosphere froze immediately, the other paladins glancing at each other tightly.

Lance clenched his jaw. Without waiting for them to reply he began striding towards the medbay, stripping off his armour as he went. The others trailed after him in confusion and concern, not trying to speak to him after it became apparent he wouldn’t respond.

By the time he burst into the ward Lance was already stripping his arms out of his undersuit.

Keith was not, as Lance had assumed, in one of the healing pods, but rather lying in a bed still in his clothes, wires connecting to his temples. At the sound of the door Keith glanced up, gasping at the sight of Lance and struggling to his feet, leaning heavily on the bed as he tried to stand.

In a flash Lance was in front of him, grabbing the hem of his shirt.

“Up,” he said gruffly, waiting impatiently for Keith to lift his arms before stripping him out of his shirt like a child. It dislodged the wires but Lance couldn’t find it in himself to care.

With a shuddering sigh Keith collapsed onto Lance, curling inwards as tightly as he could while shaking like a leaf. Easily taking his weight Lance squeezed him in, stroking over his spine and whispering something soothing into his ear. Even he didn’t know what; he couldn’t hear himself over his heartbeat.

After a few moments Lance felt one of Keith’s hands be pried off his back and then the sound of a machine beeping.

“Incredible,” said Coran, voice harsh after the lengthy quiet. “His vitals are all returning to normal!”

“What? How is that possible?”Asked Allura in shock.

“Yeah, Lance is just hugging him. That isn’t exactly a medical treatment,” agreed Hunk.

Turning his face out of Keith’s hair Lance found all eyes on him. He sighed. In his arms Keith had tensed up like a rock.

“You wanna tell them, buddy? It’s up to you, but I think they deserve to know why their friend just almost died.”

“Mn,” Lance felt Keith’s reply more than he heard it.

“Hm?” Lance prompted, gently jostling his head where it lay on his shoulder. “Use your words, dude.”

There was a long pause and then Lance felt Keith take a deep breath.

“You tell them?” he rasped, voice shredded and hoarse.

“You got it.” Turning back to where his friends were staring it this display Lance swallowed down a sudden burst of nerves. “Uh… so, Keith’s part Galra right? And the Galra are a pack species, yeah?” The team seemed completely nonplussed but they all nodded hesitantly. “Well… a while ago Keith and I figured out he needed, like, a certain amount of physical contact to function properly? More than a human. That’s why he kept getting sick for a while there, his immune system was depressed from being touch-starved, and, uh, he also wasn’t sleeping very well...”

Lance knew he was rambling but Keith’s grip on his skin was bordering on painful as his tension levels ratcheted up with every second the team didn’t speak. For a long moment after Lance trailed off the silence was punctuated only by the beeping of medical equipment.

And then—

“Hrng!” Hunk had come up behind Keith and wrapped them both arm in his big strong arms, crushing all the air from Lance’s lungs in typical Hunk fashion.

Before either boy had a chance to react Shiro was leaning against Lance’s back to force his arms between Keith’s back and Hunk.

Somehow Pidge found room for her tiny self up against Lance’s side, hands like ice where they wedged themselves between Lance and Keith’s stomach.

Coran’s pale hand appeared in Lance’s line of sight as he clapped Keith on the shoulder and Allura gently stroked Keith’s hair, one of the only parts of him still visible.

“Jutht tell uth nektht time, athhole.” Pidge grumbled, face squished in there somewhere.

“Yeah! We love you, dude!” Hunk exclaimed.

“Sure do, kiddo,” Shiro agreed.

“Indeed!” Cried Coran.

“We really do, Keith,” Allura hummed.

Lance wondered if any of the others could feel Keith’s tears on their skin.

 


 

The next day Lance woke up alone with Keith, but he definitely hadn’t gone to bed like that.

Despite the power of their magical group hug Keith had still been very ill, so Allura had suggested they all move to one of the royal chambers. It had had a bed almost the size of the whole room, and the entire team had fit easily into it, everyone making sure to have something touching Keith at all times.

Coran had put on a surprisingly relatable Altean comedy and everyone had stayed until late into the night.

Lance didn’t remember falling asleep, but he was sure he wasn’t the first one. Apparently the rest of the paladins had left, however, as there was no sign of habitation in the giant bed beyond a tiny tuft of purple hair poking out of the covers next to Lance’s shoulder.

Trying not to disturb the other boy Lance pulled back for a long stretch. He didn’t succeed, it seemed, as a pretty pair of purple eyes were watching him over the edge of the blanket when he turned back.

“Hey,” Lance smiled. “You feeling better?”

Keith nodded, moving the blankets down below his chin to reveal sharp teeth digging into his lip. He looked like he was thinking hard about something; his brow was furrowed heavily, but there wasn’t any anger in his expression.

Lance knew from experience that Keith would just blurt out whatever was on his mind in his own time, no matter whether the other person was speaking or not, so he let his mouth run, finally getting to tell Keith all the things about his adventure he’d been wanting to.

He had maybe gotten a little too into it when it came to describing the beautiful pool (it had been really beautiful) because he didn’t see the kiss coming at all.

Halfway through a dramatic description of the giant turtles Keith’s mouth had crashed into Lance’s, lips pressing hard enough to squish his head back into the pillow. Frozen in surprise Lance stared at Keith’s face a few millimetres away, eyes screwed shut in determination, and then it was over.

Keith didn’t pull back very far. He hovered a few inches away, glaring into Lance’s face nervously as he waited for a reaction, cheeks already completely red.

For a second Lance could only blink at him, the tingling still on his lips holding him still, but then he was breaking into a smile so wide it hurt his cheeks.

Pressing that smile to Keith’s cheek Lance crushed him in an embrace, rolling them over all the way until Keith was draped on his chest again, gazing up at him in awe.

“Keith!” Lance laughed in delight.

“Yeah?” Keith asked, a smile of his own spreading across his face.

“Do you know what this means?”

“What?”

“Now we can have cuddle puddles every day!

And they did.






The end.