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Six Degrees of Separation

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I. 

Lance grinned as he watched Keith speak on the screen in front of him, listening intently to every word they rarely ever got to hear from him nowadays. Most calls to the Blade of Marmora were to the whole team, but Lance had a few calls with Keith alone, as did the other paladins. But Lance found something special in these calls, at least for him. With Pidge and Hunk closer than ever, talking about science stuff he didn’t understand, Matt joining their genius group, Shiro acting stranger than ever, and Allura and Coran so focused on the Coalition (and Lotor, who Lance didn’t even want to think about), he’d grown to be reminiscent on the times when Keith was with them. His past self never would’ve believed that, but Lance missed Keith. They were...friends now, and he longed to have that friendship again. But of course, right when Lance had begun to realize all that was going on inside his head about Keith, he’d taken off for the Blade of Marmora.

 

“Lance? You okay?” Keith asked, snapping Lance out of his trance. Lance’s eyes scanned over Keith’s expression, knit eyebrows and a small pout showing concern. He didn’t fail to notice the way his heart soared upon seeing that Keith cared.

 

He nodded quickly. “Yeah, fine.” Keith had just been telling him about finding his Mom. They’d all seen the vlogs everyone on the team made, and it was no secret that Keith had gotten a bit...overwhelmed in his. Lance was just glad he could find some closure on that. “I’m happy for you, buddy.”

 

“Thanks.” Keith was doing that thing where he rubbed his thumb and fingers together. “She...hugged me, and now she’s here with me. It’s not perfect or anything, but we’re working through things. Maybe you guys could meet her one day.” The way Keith spoke about his mom made Lance’s heart ache for his own- his mom who gave great hugs and loved him unconditionally. His mom who would run her fingers through his hair when he was upset, his mom who probably thought he was dead for so long. His mom who was now likely worried sick about Lance fighting a war in space and hearing him try not to cry when watching his video. But this was about Keith’s mom, so he pushed those thoughts back for now.

 

“That’d be great.” Not only because Lance would get to meet Krolia, but because Keith would be back home. “Do you get your stubbornness and hotheadedness from her? Or your mullet?”

 

Keith rolled his eyes, though his lips tugged upwards at the playful teasing. However, before he could respond, Lance could hear alarms blaring at the Marmora Base. Keith frowned, obviously upset. “Sorry, Lance. I have to go. We’ll talk soon again, yeah?”

 

Trying to hide his disappointment, Lance nodded. “Yeah, uh huh, see you later, Keith.” He smiled, his heart fluttering at the way Keith smiled back before he hung up the call. As the holographic screen disappeared, Lance sighed, leaning back against his bed. Almost every call seemed to be cut short like that. Either Keith had to go on a mission for the Blade, or Lance one for Voltron. Keith already wasn’t here for the most part; couldn’t Lance pretend he was for more than ten minutes? He never in a million years would’ve thought he’d be heartsick for his self-proclaimed rival, feeling a pain in his chest each time he realized how far away Keith was. Lance couldn’t help but laugh bitterly to himself. He didn’t think Keith would ever feel the same way about him, not when Lance had gotten into petty fights with him constantly before, so what was the use of feeling like this? But Lance couldn’t make it go away, so he allowed himself to imagine what it’d be like if Keith was still with them as he drifted off to sleep.

 

He was woken from his dream approximately two hours later, shuffling out of the room to throw on his armor and thrust himself into battle while the vision of Keith’s lips against his faded from his mind as quickly as it appeared.

II. 

The first time Lance caught on that something was wrong was the day on Olkarian, when the vines attacked them and they projected onto the astral plane. That was the day Shiro had yelled at him, unlike he’d ever yelled before. Lance actually couldn’t recall him doing that with anybody but Slav, and he didn’t want to admit just how much it had hurt. But what really convinced him that something was off was when Shiro called out to him, but couldn’t remember it at all afterward. Lance had felt a knot form in his stomach when Shiro denied that anything had happened, and ever since then, he’d been observing Shiro’s actions. He only grew more sure of it when Shiro admitted to Lance that he didn’t feel like himself. Whatever it was, Lance was determined to get to the bottom of it.

 

The problem was, he had no idea where to start. Lance wasn’t even sure if the rest of the team would believe him about this. Allura had agreed with him that Shiro was being difficult, but they’d thought it was because of stress before. Lance could tell this wasn’t just stress. He frowned, tapping his foot on the ground of his bedroom floor as he tried to think of a way to tell the others about his suspicions. After a moment, he had a sudden idea- Keith. It seemed ridiculous. Out of everyone, Lance was the most unsure of Keith believing him. He hadn’t even been here to see Shiro acting so off. But Lance felt an urge to tell him. Maybe it was because he was so far away. No matter the reason, Lance decided he was going to try and explain this.

 

He pulled out the communicator he used to talk to Keith (everyone had been given one, and Lance wondered how often the others used them). He figured he was supposed to be down for breakfast soon, but decided that could wait as he pressed the call button. Lance suddenly realized that he’d just woken up, and reached up to frantically fix his hair, looking in the reflection of the device at himself (it was a stupid concern, but he couldn’t help wanting to look nice when talking to Keith). As the call connected, he quickly shot his hands down and smiled. Keith appeared in front of him, looking exhausted, but with a smile on his face as well.

 

“Hey man.” Lance waved a little; it seemed like forever since their last individual call, but it definitely hadn’t been as long as it felt.

 

“Lance, hi.” Keith yawned in the middle of his words, which Lance found endearing. “You’re calling early.”

 

Lance shrugged in response. “I just woke up.” Well, he’d gotten up and taken off a face mask while contemplating whether or not to tell the team his concerns. “You look tired, you alright?”

 

“Fine, just a lot of missions lately.” Keith glanced at the ground for a moment before looking back up to his screen. Lance bit the inside of his cheek at that. Whenever he asked Keith about what was going on with the Blade of Marmora, he never seemed to be happy there. He couldn’t help but wonder if Keith would rather be back at the castle. But wouldn’t he have come already if he did?

 

“Got it.” Lance nodded quickly. He paused for a moment, wondering how to continue with what he was about to say. He had no idea how Keith would take it, but if Lance felt like it didn’t get this out to someone he was going to explode. “I’ve gotta tell you something. About Shiro.”

 

Keith frowned, looking worried. “Is he okay?” Maybe telling Keith that something was wrong with his brother when he was so far away wasn’t the best idea.

 

“I don’t know,” Lance admitted. “He’s been acting weirdly, I think ever since he came back after being captured again. But especially now. He hasn’t been listening to the rest of us, and he’s acting like we’re not a team anymore. It’s strange. He never used to be like this.”

 

Keith’s attention seemed to hang on every word Lance said, a frown forming on his face. “He’s probably under a lot of stress.”

 

Lance shook his head. “No-I mean, he is, but that’s not it. He yelled at me the other day. I’ve never seen him like that, and he told me he wasn’t feeling like himself. Something’s wrong , Keith.”

 

“He yelled at you?” Keith’s worry didn’t disappear. “For what?”

 

Lance waved his hand dismissively, as if his idol’s disappointment hadn’t felt like a stab to the chest. “It doesn’t matter. I think-“

 

“Yes, it does,” Keith interrupted, sounding insistent. Lance was taken aback by the concern; why was Keith as worried about him as he was about Shiro?

 

He sighed before speaking. “We, as in the whole team, were fighting over what to do. I tried to give my input and he told me to stay out of it.” He quickly continued before Keith could interject again. “While fighting later, we all went to the astral plane somehow. Everyone else disappeared, and then Shiro was calling out to me, asked me to listen to him before everything faded. He said he didn’t remember when I asked him about it.”

 

“Shiro always considered the team.” Keith bit his lip. “And he didn’t remember at all? Something has to be wrong.”

 

“That’s what I’m saying. I just don’t know what it could be.” Lance had thought about the possibilities for awhile, but he needed the rest of the team if they were going to look into this. “You're uh, the first person I’ve told.”

 

Lance didn’t miss the way Keith’s lips tugged upwards for a split second. (He was in deep, wasn’t he?) The other’s expression quickly shifted back to its concerned state, though. “You should tell someone who’s, you know, there with you. Maybe Allura might know what’s going on. But...thanks for letting me know.”

 

“‘Course I let you know.” Lance smirked. “You know him best after all.”

 

Keith let out a soft laugh. “I guess you’re right. But really, tell me if you find out anything else, yeah?”

 

“Will do,” Lance assured him, nodding. He suddenly realized that the team had definitely noticed his absence from breakfast, and as much as he wanted to never hang up, he didn’t want them to be worried about him. “I’ve gotta run, breakfast calls. But thanks for listening. I had to tell somebody about that.”

 

For a moment, Keith seemed to be at a loss for words, but he swallowed and nodded. “No problem. Bye, Lance.” They exchanged smiles again before hanging up; that was one of the best things about their calls, the shared smiles. But Lance couldn’t afford to focus on his... complicated feelings for Keith at the moment. He pushed himself off the bed, opening the door to his bedroom and beginning to head down the hallway towards the dining area.

 

He was still unsure about whether or not his team would believe him. Lance at least hoped they would listen , but there was always the possibility of him being dismissed. But Keith had heard him out. Keith listened to his concerns even though he was much closer to Shiro, and trusted Shiro more. If anything was going to push Lance to tell everyone else, it was that. He’d have to figure out how to do it, but for now, he’d keep that as something he needed to do in the back of his mind. Whatever it was, they were going to get through it.

 

As he neared the table, spotting the other paladins all sat together, one more thought passed through his mind before he switched his focus and joined them. Thank you, Keith.

 

III.

 

He was breathing heavily as he shut his eyes for a moment, concentrating on the feeling of the broadsword clutched in his hand. Lance was still getting used to the new weapon, working on the right way to use it and the right stance, which Allura had been quick to correct him on. He opened his eyes again, determination surging through him as he focused on the training bot in front of him. He then began to fight, putting in every ounce of effort he could. He dodged and swung, avoiding hits from the robot, but not getting any of his own in yet. He yelped as the bot came dangerously close, ducking and doing a forward roll to avoid the swing. He then pushed himself up and pushed his arm forward, the sword going through its chest. Lance grinned as the simulation faded away. What he’d failed to notice was the beeping of a call connecting at the front of the training deck.

 

The rest of the team had been there with him, training with their own bayards. They’d seemed to have noticed first and had all stopped fighting and moved towards the screen. Lance looked up to see who it was, and a huge smile spread across his face when he made eye contact with Keith, who looked more or less awestruck for some reason. He rested the sword on his shoulder, jogging over to where everyone else who had already said hello was. “Hey, Keith!”

 

“You have a sword?!” Keith sputtered. His cheeks flushed and his eyes were wide as he gazed at the broadsword.

 

“Oh, this?” Lance chucked softly. “Yeah, it sort of just happened.” Despite Allura telling him about why she thought his bayard had changed, he still wasn’t too sure how he got it.

 

“You’re really good at it.” Keith seemed impressed, and Lance beamed at the compliment. He could feel warmth fill his chest as his face tinged red. Keith, the one who fought with blades, thought he was good at sword-fighting. He couldn’t help but feel pleased by that.

 

“Thanks. Means a lot from our resident sword-user.” Lance deliberately included the word our. Even though Keith was with the Blade of Marmora, he’d always be a part of Team Voltron, whether he wanted to or not. And maybe, just maybe, hearing those things would convince him that coming back was worth it. It was a shot in the dark, but if there was one thing Lance trusted about himself, it was his aim.

 

Sometimes, Lance really didn’t understand Keith. Why did he look so flustered? He wasn’t even responding, just smiling back at Lance; it seemed like Keith was at a loss for words.

 

A cough from Pidge interrupted their...whatever they were doing. She raised an eyebrow, glancing back and forth between the two of them. “Last time I checked all of us were here.”

 

Lance laughed a little, attempting to hide his embarrassment. His broadsword transformed back into his bayard as he walked over to Pidge and ruffled her hair, smirking. “Don’t worry, I won’t take up all the call time.”

 

He then felt Pidge’s elbow hit his side and rolled his eyes. Shiro broke up the squabble by speaking up, a smile on his face as well. “Hey, Keith. How’ve you been?”

 

Lance noticed Keith give Shiro a skeptical look, as if he was trying to see what was wrong for himself. It’d be harder than that, though; Shiro’s suspicious actions were more subtle most of the time and seemed to appear in a sporadic pattern. As he’d promised himself, Lance had let the rest of the team know. It took some convincing, but luckily, they believed him. Now, they were working on figuring out what to do. It was hard when they still didn’t know what exactly was wrong, but having the rest of the team helped. Keith seemed to give up on looking for anything. “I’m alright. You guys?”

 

“We’re doing well, too.” Allura nodded, with a smile. “Having Lotor here has been a...hassle, but we’re managing.” Lance frowned at that. Lotor’s presence annoyed him to no end, but there wasn’t any getting rid of him. (He’d definitely tried.)

 

Keith furrowed his brows. “At least things are working out. I’ve...missed you guys.”

 

“We miss you too,” Hunk chimed in. Lance nodded in agreement, almost too quickly. He couldn’t stress how much he missed Keith being at the castle enough. He wished Keith could at least visit them or something. Lance just wanted what they had before again. They were becoming friends, they already were friends now. He hated how alone he felt sometimes without Keith there, and wanted it to end.

 

The group fell into a steady conversation, serious discussion balanced with playful laughter. Lance always felt light and airy while talking with Keith, alone or with the rest of the team. It was like everything faded away for a moment, and all his focus shifted towards the boy who’d been able to take over so many of his thoughts.

 

The call lasted a long while, something rare for conversations with Keith. Lance was surprised that there wasn’t an emergency any of them needed to go fix. He knew it couldn’t last forever, and it soon came to an end.

 

“I have to run soon.” Keith looked like he didn’t want to hang up, but didn’t have much of a choice.

 

Shiro nodded. “Alright, we’ll talk to you again soon.”

 

Lance’s bayard transformed back into the broadsword, party because he assumed they’d keep training, and because he liked how impressed Keith was by it. “We’ll get back to our training, then. I’ve gotta work on my technique.” The words were playful, said with a smirk.

 

“I’ve been trying to teach you the correct stance,” Allura teased. Lance had gotten much better at it over time, so it was more of a joke.

 

Keith’s grin, something that’d rarely been seen in their early days as paladins, was infectious and endearing. “Good luck with that. Maybe I can teach you sometime...if uh, you still need help.”

 

Lance felt his heart skip a beat upon hearing that. He took a moment to imagine what Keith helping him with his sword would be like. Granted, he’d be a flustered mess during it, but Keith would be with him, here. “I’ll keep it in mind. Talk to you later, mullet.”

 

The rest of the team said their goodbyes as well, and Lance felt the rush of disappointment he got everytime a call ended. He was still grinning like an idiot, though. Luckily, training started up again before Hunk or Pidge could tease him for his expression. They had to catch on at some point.

 

As the simulation started up again and Lance began to swing the sword, he thought stopping his improvement for awhile might be good if it meant he’d get lessons from Keith.

 

IV.

 

Going into Keith’s room was something Lance knew he definitely shouldn’t be doing, but he didn’t care as the door opened and he sucked in a breath upon looking at the unoccupied room. The only time he’d been in there was when his mind wasn’t in a good place, and now history seemed to be repeating itself. Except this time, Keith wasn’t there beside him. Lance looked to the side, spotting Keith’s jacket hanging from a hook on the wall. He swallowed thickly, staring at it with longing eyes. Of course Keith left it here; he wouldn’t have any use for it with the Blade of Marmora. Lance took a few steps towards it, barely thinking before reaching out a taking it in his hands. He stood without moving for a few seconds, staring down at the red, yellow, and white fabric. It didn’t look right. Keith should be here, wearing it. Lance tightened his grip on the cloth, turning around and quickly leaving the room. Luckily, he didn’t run into anybody in the hallway as he made his way to his room. Once inside, he slipped off his own jacket, carefully putting Keith’s on.

 

The first thing Lance noticed was how familiar it was. Even though he’d never worn it himself, he’d seen it on Keith so many times he practically knew the pattern of the stitches by heart. It wasn’t as warm as his own but still had a comforting sense to it, snug and like a permanent blanket draped over his shoulders. He wasn’t sure whether that was because of the jacket itself, or who it belonged to. Either way, it helped. Or it just made Lance miss Keith more.

 

He sat down on his bed, hugging the jacket to his chest as he tried to make sense of everything. He wondered whether his family had gotten the video he’d made for them, and then curled in on himself more. He didn’t want to think about them. He didn’t want to think about the late nights sneaking downstairs with Marco, Luis, and Veronica to watch movies while tiptoeing to the microwave for popcorn. He didn’t want to think about helping his grandmother with the cooking and her strict, but caring advice. He didn’t want to think about running around in the backyard with his nieces and nephews, and being the one they looked up to. And he certainly didn’t want to think about his mom. Because if he thought about them, things began to spiral. It seemed much too late for that, though, and trying not to picture them in his head did nothing to stop them from appearing.

 

For a moment, Lance thought about telling somebody, really telling somebody about missing his family or his doubts. But who would he go to? He felt isolated on the team. He’d go to Hunk, but he was probably with Pidge at the moment, talking about something science-related that he wouldn’t understand. Being there would just make things worse. Allura was likely busy, Coran too. And Lance definitely wasn’t going to Shiro with this, not with everything they suspected was going on with him. Besides, Lance wouldn’t have ever thought to do that anyways. His heart felt heavy when he considered Keith as an option. He’d tried once before, and came out of it feeling better, even though it hadn’t permanently fixed anything. But Keith wasn’t here.

 

Lance’s eyes flickered towards the communicator that sat off to the side. He could call Keith right now, tell him what was going on. He thought it over for a moment. Would Keith really care? Would he be interrupting something much more important? But he had to try. Lance didn’t think he could go on much longer without telling anybody, or everything would fall out in a cataclysmic explosion eventually. He reached over and snatched the communicator before he could change his mind, pressing the button to call Keith.

 

As the call went through, Lance came to the realization that he was still wearing Keith’s jacket, and his eyes widened. He pulled it off as quickly as he could, throwing it off to the side and not even caring to see where it landed as he sighed with relief; how would he have explained wearing Keith’s jacket to him? He missed the feeling of it around his shoulders, though. Luckily, the call connected right after Lance had gotten it off.

 

Lance felt warmth explode through his chest as he saw Keith appear on the screen. Keith smiled at him, and Lance felt like everything had melted away to make room for Keith. But it hadn’t, and he was still holed up in his room with Keith’s jacket in the corner of his bed. “Hey, Lance.” Keith’s expression faltered into one of concern. Was it really that obvious? “Are you alright?”

 

Lance bit the inside of his cheek. He felt the urge to put on a smile, lie and say he was doing great, ask Keith how he was doing with the Blade, but he managed to resist it. He had to do this. He didn’t know what to say, so he just shook his head.

 

“Did something happen?” Keith asked, looking more worried. Lance was sure it was somewhat jarring to see him like this; he hardly allowed that to happen.

 

Shaking his head again, Lance spoke up, “No, I just-” He paused, trying to figure out how to word everything. “I wanted to talk to someone, and I didn’t know who, so I...called you.”

 

Keith seemed taken aback by that. It was strange for Lance to think that Keith didn’t know how much he valued the times they got to speak with one another. Did Keith feel the same way about their calls? Did he miss Lance like Lance missed him? He wasn’t sure, but he hoped that was the case. “Me? Are you...sure?”

 

Lance nodded in response. Keith didn’t seem to think he’d be good in this sort of situation, but Lance didn’t care. For him, Keith was the best person to talk to right now. “I’m sure.” He made himself continue before he stopped. Lance was afraid if he paused again, he’d end up dropping it. “I just...feel so alone sometimes. Pidge and Hunk are always hanging out, talking science, and Matt joins them a lot. Allura’s always busy, especially with Lotor around, and I just-I don’t even know about, Shiro anymore.” Lance grabbed the blanket that was laying on his bed. He’d chosen Keith’s jacket in favor of it before, but there was no clutching that at the moment. “I’ve never really told anyone this but I dunno, I feel like a seventh wheel here. And I really miss my family.” Even with Keith gone, feeling like the odd one out still stood with Matt being at the castle so often.

 

“You…” Keith struggled with what to say after everything Lance had just told him. “Lance, why would you think that?”

 

“I miss you,” Lance blurted out without thinking. It’d been partly a way to deflect the question, but Lance immediately regretted it after saying it. It sounded...much too upfront. He wasn’t even sure what he could call the two of them. They were friends now, weren’t they? It was normal to miss a friend. But it wasn’t normal to miss just a friend the way Lance missed Keith.

 

He bit his lip as the pause after his words seemed to last much too long, though it was really only a few seconds before Keith spoke again. “I miss you too.” Lance, who’d been looking off to the side and trying not to meet Keith’s eyes, suddenly snapped his gaze towards the other, relief washing over him. “But you’re important. You should know that.”

 

Lance couldn’t help the way his lips tugged upwards slightly at that. The reassurance from Keith, that made his eyes burn and his chest feel warm, was small, yet incredibly significant to him. “It doesn’t feel like it. You’re all so talented, and incredible, and smart, and have your own special things. I’m just a boy from Cuba.”

 

“No, you’re not.” Keith’s brows furrowed, which Lance found sort of endearing, though Keith seemed frustrated. “You’ve piloted two lions, you’re a great shot, hell, you’re using a sword now, too. And...you helped me.” That definitely caught Lance’s attention. “You were, uh, sort of my stability when I was the black paladin. I don’t think I could’ve done it without you. And you’re just-you’re so good with words. You knew exactly what to say to me when I was being too reckless-or to anyone when they needed it. You-you know how people work. And I don’t understand that at all.” He looked off to the side for a moment, before shifting his gaze back to Lance. “The point is, you’re the glue that holds the team together. You matter. Your family would be proud of you.”

 

If one could explode with warmth, Lance would at that moment. He felt a fuzzy, light feeling travel throughout his body as the words tugged on his heartstrings. His cheeks were wet, but for once he didn’t care because Keith had said all these things. Keith, the star pilot who Lance had been disappointed by when he didn’t return his greetings at the Garrison. Keith, who he proclaimed his rival when the other barely noticed he was there. Keith, who he fought alongside with on team Voltron, but hardly got along with at first and who Lance thought would always be better than him in everything. Keith, whose footsteps Lance had promptly followed in. Keith, who was his friend. Keith, the one he was in love with.

 

“Not good with people huh?” Lance smirked a little, rubbing his eyes and wiping the tears that dotted his cheeks. “After all that, that’s gotta be a lie. Thank you...I kinda needed that.”

 

“Yeah, I-of course.” Keith seemed a little awkward, but his warm smile was enough to make Lance’s heart soar. Lance wished he could reach through the screen, wrap his arms around Keith and properly let him know how much that meant to him. He didn’t even care what Keith would think at this point. But he settled for an exchange of smiles and feeling warmer than even the jacket had made him. He then realized that Keith’s jacket was still in his room, but it was too late to fix that as Keith’s head tilted and he spoke again. “Is that my jacket?”

 

“Nope!’ Lance retorted quickly, his demeanor changing completely as he kicked around for a spot on the bed where the jacket might be. Once he spotted it fall on the floor, he looked back to Keith. “Yep, nothing to see here.”

 

Keith raised an eyebrow, obviously skeptical, but he seemed oddly okay with it to Lance. Lance knew he wouldn’t appreciate someone taking his jacket (it’d actually happened to him a few times before, but he wasn’t sure if he’d just misplaced it or not, since it always ended up back in his room). But Keith seemed to be fine with Lance stealing his. “If you say so. Are you...alright now?” He smiled again, though his voice was laced with concern.

 

Lance nodded once more, genuinely this time. “Mhm, I’ll be okay. Nothing Lancey Lance can’t handle.”

 

Judging by Keith’s laugh, he was glad Lance was behaving like he usually did. “Glad it’s not a challenge, then.”

 

“Thanks to you, for now,” Lance assured him. He had no idea what’d happen in the future, but he’d always have Keith’s reassurance in the back of his mind, now. “I have to go.”

 

The other nodded in response. “Okay...just, tell me if you need to talk again, yeah?”

 

“I will,” Lance promised. “Same goes for you, you know?”

 

Keith’s lips tugged upwards into a thin smile. Lance hoped Keith knew he could come to him if he needed it. “I’ll...keep it in mind. Bye, Lance.”

 

“See you.” Lance curled in on himself as the call ended. His eyes caught Keith’s jacket curled up on the cold ground, and stood to grab it. Flopping back down on the bed, he held the jacket to his chest, though this time for a completely different reason. Maybe he’d keep it for just a little while longer.

V

“Lance, come say hi!” Hunk called out from across the common room. Lance turned his head towards him, grinning as he saw what Hunk was doing. He’d been wandering around the castle, hands stuffed in the pockets of his jacket (Keith’s was still tucked away in his room), and looking around for something to do. They’d finished training for the day, and Lance had tried, but couldn’t fall asleep. He was glad for that when he saw Keith’s face on the holographic projection of Hunk’s communicator, though.

 

Lance jogged over, sliding onto the couch next to Hunk and hitting into his best friend’s side. He hoped he didn’t appear too eager, but couldn’t bring himself to care at the moment. He hadn’t spoken with Keith since the day he’d stolen the jacket; it’d been a while since then. “What’s up, Mullet?”

 

Keith crossed his arms over his chest, though it was lighthearted. “Someone’s in a good mood.”

 

“Am I not allowed to be excited talking to my friend?” Lance shrugged. Even though the exchange was playful, Lance felt strange about it. Keith seemed... off. Lance didn’t know what it was, but he got the sense that something was wrong with Keith.

 

“Guess you’re right.” Keith looked off to the side for a moment, only further confirming to Lance that he wasn’t alright. Had Keith been talking to Hunk about it? Had something happened with the Blade?

 

Hunk grinned. “I was just telling him about our most recent mission with the aliens- those Udrosk things? We wouldn’t he made it out of that mess if it wasn’t for you.” Hunk nudged Lance’s side, and Lance smiled to himself. He’d been working on training a lot more, for what he and Allura called their ‘secret project.’

 

“Thanks, man, you were great too,” Lance responded. “That kick maneuver was fantastic.” Really, they’d all done well during the last mission. He glanced back at Keith, noticing the solemn, almost nostalgic look on his face, and Lance’s lips turned downwards. He had a feeling he knew what was wrong now.

 

Though before he could ask, Pidge burst through the door. “Hunk! I got it to work!” She was beaming, looking like she was going to burst with excitement. Hunk started to look the same. Lance had no idea what the two were working on, but it had to be something good.

 

Hunk turned towards Lance, and Keith on the call. “You guys won’t mind if I go, right?”

 

Lance waved his hand dismissively, giving Hunk a reassuring smile. “Go on, we’ll be fine here.” Keith nodded in agreement.

 

Hunk cheered a little, hopping off the couch and running after Pidge, the two arguing about double-modulation and triple-modulation as they left. Lance laughed a little and shook his head, turning towards the screen. A lot of the time, he felt a little left out when Hunk and Pidge ran off like that, but now he got to talk Keith. It was like what it used to be.

 

“They’ve been having a debate over double and triple-modulation. I swear they’re gonna start a war over it. I dunno what they’re doing now, though.” Keith gave a half-hearted laugh in response, and Lance bit the inside of his cheek. He wasn’t expecting any other reaction, but Keith’s voice simply sounded wrong. “Are you okay?”

 

Keith sighed slightly, shaking his head. He looked reluctant to explain what was going on. Lance knew the feeling, but he wanted to help. He’d promised that Keith could talk to him about anything whenever he needed to before, and he’d meant it.

 

“You can tell me,” Lance assured him. “I did say you could whenever you needed.”

 

Keith looked like he was debating it as he bit down on his lip. “I...alright.” He took in a breath before continuing to speak, looking to the side a few times as if he was making sure nobody could hear. “I don’t want to be part of Blade anymore. It’s not that I’m unhappy, I just, it’s not right.”

 

Lance would never admit it, but his heart practically leaped out of his chest at that. Was Keith going to come back to the castle after so many months of being apart from the team? Lance hoped so; he didn’t know how much longer he could take this. But Keith seemed unsure. Instead of reacting happily like he was on the inside, he opted for raising an eyebrow. “Not right? What do you mean?”

 

“I-” Keith was obviously struggling to explain, his frustration increasing the more he spoke. “I joined to discover who I am, being you know, Galra. But my mom’s here now, and the Blade is...I think they’re messing with my head. Ever since joining, it feels like my life doesn’t have value. And I know something’s wrong, but it’s drilled into everyone here to just leave people to die for the mission, that dying for the cause is better if you can’t gain anything.”

 

If Lance’s heart had been soaring before, it was now cracked with sympathy and concern for Keith’s current state. What had the Blade members done to him? Keith was averting his eyes, looking like he thought he shared too much. Lance bit his lip. “That’s not okay, Keith. It’s just not right, and they can’t continue making you think like that.”

 

Keith threw his hands up in exasperation. “Then what am I supposed to do, Lance? I’m fighting with them right now . I have to think like that.”

 

“Do you want to, or do you just feel like you have to?” Lance questioned.

 

Hesitating for a moment, Keith ran a hand through his hair. “I have to.”

 

“Then it sounds like you’re unhappy to me.”

 

Lance let the silence hang in the air as he watched Keith’s expression carefully. Keith looked like he was thinking hard after that, coming to the only possible conclusion in Lance’s view. But Lance couldn’t keep the silence going; he had to further reassure Keith. “If you don’t want to fight with the Blade, you shouldn’t keep going. They’ll go on just fine without you. And...we’d really appreciate having you back here, you know.”

 

For a moment, Lance was worried. Was he being too forward? But Keith looked back to him after Lance spoke, and they made eye contact. “What about Voltron? You already have five paladins. What use would I even be?”

 

Lance frowned. He recognized the feeling all too well. It was exactly what his concerns had been when he’d went to Keith’s room for the first time. But this time, there seemed to be a solution. “It’s not...definitive, or anything, but Allura and I are working on something. It’d actually work really well if you came back. I’ll explain another time, but know that at least.”

 

Keith furrowed his brows in confusion, trying to decipher what Lance had meant by that. But he seemed to have dropped it for the moment. “I..don’t know what to say. I’m still unsure.”

 

“You don’t have to make up your mind now.” Lance wished he could reach through the screen and take Keith’s hand in his own. Wished he could squeeze it and feel the warmth as he reassured Keith that everything was okay. “But consider it, yeah?”

 

Taking a deep breath, Keith nodded slowly. “Okay..I’ll think about it. Uh, thanks, Lance. I’ve missed being with you guys. I don’t think I realized it when I, you know, pushed you all away, but the team sort of became like a family?”

 

Lance’s lips tugged upwards. “We’d all be really happy if you came home, then.” He noticed a wet track down Keith’s cheek, and desperately wished he could wipe it away. But maybe, just maybe, he’d get a chance soon.

 

Although Lance didn’t mind Keith displaying emotions (honestly, he really needed it), Keith seemed to be flustered by it. He swallowed thickly, nodding again. “I’ll try and keep you updated. I’ve gotta go, but tell the others I said hello, yeah?”

 

“‘Course I’ll tell them. Bye, Keith.” Lance gave him a thin, but encouraging smile, hoping it would be enough. Keith returned the smile and goodbye before hanging up. Lance leaned back against the couch, letting out a bated breath. Lance was beyond worried and just hoped Keith would make the choice to come back soon. If he’d wanted that before, he definitely wanted it now. He could tell Keith hadn’t shared everything ; he’d been incredibly hesitant. But whenever Keith decided to tell him more, Lance would be there.

 

He pushed himself off the couch, deciding it couldn’t hurt to go see what Hunk and Pidge were up to. As he walked, Keith refused to leave his thoughts. Lance imagined him standing by his side in the castle hallways again, and for once, it didn’t seem so impossible.

 

+1

 

It had been a week. A week since team Voltron received any sort of call or message from the Blade of Marmora. Lance felt hollow with worry every time he thought about it. The calls had been scarce before, but Keith had told Lance he’d try to give updates, and Lance just wanted to know whether Keith was coming back to the castle or not. He knew it was a difficult decision, but he wouldn’t be able to get the image of Keith laughing along with everyone or simply standing in the hallways out of his mind until he had an answer.

 

Scratch that. He’d never be able to unless Keith came home.

 

Lance was also worried out of his mind. Had Keith done something reckless to endanger himself while on missions? Knowing Keith, it seemed likely, but Lance had a feeling whatever Keith was doing with the Blade was a lot more risk-taking than when he had the whole team by his side.

 

Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, Lance brushed his fingers over the small communicator tucked inside. He’d started carrying it around with him after they’d talked about Keith possibly leaving the Blade, not wanting to miss anything. Now he just knew it was unnecessary. Still, Lance liked to keep it with him, just in case.

 

A few seconds passed, and Lance was suddenly glad he’d carried that thing around everywhere when he felt the buzzing against his fingertips. His lips immediately spread into a grin and he pulled the communicator out of his pocket, pressing the accept button right away. Luckily, it was actually a call from the Blade like he’d expected, and not anyone else. Lance had been heading towards the hangars to work on his ‘project,’ but that could wait.

 

He held the communicator up so Keith could see him clearly, but frowned when he was met with a black screen. This had never happened before. Was it some kind of glitch. Lance tilted his head to the side slightly. “Keith, buddy, I think you’ve got your thumb over the camera or something.”

 

No sound came for a few seconds, just static and what Lance thought sounded like shuffling behind him, but all his focus was on the screen. Then a voice came, so unmistakably Keith. But it sounded... close. “Turn around.”

 

Lance whipped around, his heart skipping a beat as his eyes landed on Keith , standing about ten feet behind him. Without thinking, without looking, with only feeling, he let the communicator fall to the floor and took off in a run. He nearly crashed into Keith, and was just glad he didn’t knock the other over as he wrapped his arms around him in a tight hug. Keith stumbled backward a few steps, but hugged back, burying his face in Lance’s shoulder. Lance subconsciously reached over to weave his fingers through Keith’s hair, accidentally letting out a joyful laugh. “You’re here!” He exclaimed, not wanting to pull back.

 

Keith nodded. It seemed like he didn’t want to break the embrace yet either. “I’m here.” The words were simple, and while Lance couldn’t see him, he could hear the smile in Keith’s voice. They stayed like that for much longer than a hug would normally last, but it felt like a mere few seconds to Lance. He blinked back happy tears as he pulled away, finally getting a real look at Keith.

 

He was still wearing the Marmora suit; Lance supposed he didn’t have any other clothes, but he couldn’t help the fear of that meaning he wasn’t staying for good. He pushed that thought from his mind quickly, though. Keith’s hair was tousled and messy, but his eyes shone bright and his lips were curled into a thin smile and his cheeks flushed and all Lance wanted to do was lean in again and kiss him. He spoke again instead, still grinning. “Are you staying? For real?”

 

“Yeah, I am,” Keith answered. Although they weren’t hugging anymore, he was still incredibly close to Lance, the two brushing against each other every few seconds. “I decided right after the call, but it took a while to get everything in order. I’m sorry I didn’t call you before.”

 

Lance shook his head dismissively. “It’s fine. And now it’s a surprise.” He had been dwelling on it constantly, but now none of that mattered. All that mattered was he was seeing Keith right next to him. “Does anybody else know you’re here?”

 

“No, you’re the first one I saw. Uh, my mom’s with the ship we took. I’ll introduce you all once we find everyone.” Keith tugged on a strand of his hair, still smiling. “I didn’t know if you’d have your communicator on you or not, but I figured why not try?”

 

Lance laughed, glancing back at the device laying on the ground. “I forgot about that for a second. Nearly broke it.” He didn’t move to go pick it up, yet, and had a feeling he wouldn’t remember at all.

 

Keith looked past Lance at the communicator on the ground, and then seemed to notice where they were. “Why were you heading towards the Black Lion’s hangar?”

 

“Well, remember when I told you a spot for you on the team might be opening?” Lance tilted back on his heels for a moment. “Turns out we figured out what’s going on with Shiro. I’ll explain later with everyone’s help- it’s way too complicated for me to do alone. But he’s not in a position to be piloting, and...I sort of have a connection with the Black Lion now. It’s still a little shaky, but I’m working on it.”

 

Keith was definitely worried about Shiro, but seemed to trust Lance for the time being. Lance was glad for that, as he wasn’t sure how Keith would take the actual news of how they had to somehow get the real Shiro back later. But now wasn’t the time for that. Keith’s eyes were wide with surprise, but if Lance wasn’t mistaken, something like pride flashed through them. “So, what you’re saying is...I’ll go back to flying Red? And you’re gonna be the leader ?”

 

“The one and only,” Lance quipped, excitement buzzing through his veins. He hadn’t been sure of the position; he still wasn’t. He didn’t understand why he was the one meant to be piloting the Black Lion. But he had a responsibility to fulfill, and if there was anything he was determined to do, it was to be there for his team.

 

Keith laughed a little, but it wasn’t condescending or out of disbelief; it was more relieved and happy. “You’re much better fit for it than me. I...I really did want to go back to Red. Do you think she’ll let me in?”

 

“Definitely.” Lance nodded. “You haven’t lost your connection with her, I can tell. So, what do you say to being my right-hand-man?”

 

Rolling his eyes, Keith lightly punched Lance in the shoulder. “I’d be honored, Lance.”

 

Without thinking, Lance took Keith’s hand in his, holding it tightly. “Come on, as much as I want to keep you all to myself, the others need to know you’re here, too!” He didn’t wait for a response as he began tugging Keith along down the hallway, leaving the communicator forgotten on the ground. There was no use for it now when Keith was right next to him, like he’d dreamed of so many times before.

 

 

They’d quickly found the rest of the team, who enveloped Keith in a large, group hug like the one they’d all shared when Keith left. (Since Lance had been standing next to Keith, he’d been pressed against the other in the middle, which left him a blushing mess). They then spent the rest of the day together, all previous plans forgotten as the team cherished Keith’s return. After all, Lance wasn’t the only one who’d been longing for him to come back. They all met Krolia as well, who Lance took an immediate liking too. He knew she and Keith were working through their issues together, and while seeing the interactions between mother and son made him miss his own again, he was much too happy to let that bring him down.

 

Later that night, when most of the paladins had finally separated, Lance found himself sitting on the common room couch with Keith beside him. They were both tired, but found themselves not wanting to go to bed in favor of sleepy conversation and muffled giggles.

 

“So when I went to my room to change earlier,” Keith began. He’d changed out of his Marmora suit after reuniting with everyone else. “I noticed a particular item of clothing missing.”

 

Lance’s eyes widened as he came to the sudden realization that he still had Keith’s jacket in his room. His face immediately grew red, and he bent down to hide it in his hands. How had he not noticed when Keith came out in his black t-shirt without the signature jacket? He’d been much too wrapped up in Keith’s return to even remember. He moved his hands away from his face after a few seconds, sitting up. “Okay, I may have stolen it that day, and never brought it back.” He was met with Keith’s laugh, a sound Lance would never get tired of hearing, but his expression was annoyed as Keith chuckled at his antics. “What? It’s comfortable!” Lance defended, trying to cover up the fact that he’d really stolen it because of the emotional comfort it provided.

 

Keith spoke once his short-lived fit of laughter came to an end, “Okay, okay. Will it make you feel better if I admit that I’ve stolen yours a few times before?”

 

“You!” Lance raised a finger, pointing it at Keith. “I had no idea who kept taking it and putting it back!” His reaction was extravagant and accusatory, but Lance was secretly touched by it. He’d give Keith his jacket as many times as the other wanted. He also wondered whether or not Keith had been taking it for the same reason, but it felt far-fetched.

 

Throwing his hands up in the air in an exasperated gesture, Keith raised an eyebrow. “You can’t do that when you did the exact same thing.”

 

“Okay, fair,” Lance agreed, and the two laughed together once more, tilting and bumping into one another a few times, their thighs unconsciously pressed together.

 

Sitting next to Keith after so long, Lance felt warm and light-hearted. It was like everything had just disappeared, like the world had come to a stop to just focus on the two of them next to each other. Lance examined Keith again, this time more carefully, noticing all the little things he’d taken for granted before. He noticed the way his hair, the stupid mullet Lance had made fun of countless times, fell almost flawlessly on his face and how a few of the strands stuck to his face. The purple flecks in the grey of his irises. The scarred, calloused hands that were weathered and meant for battle, but still so soft and warm. The way his lips were curled upwards into a smile that’d seemed so rare when they first met but one that Lance had constantly been seeing in pixels on a holographic screen. The way Lance desperately wanted to cup Keith’s cheek, lean in, and press their lips together.

 

So he did exactly that.

 

Lance’s hand was warm against Keith’s face, his eyes half-lidded and eventually closed as their lips touched. The kiss was electric, sparks running through Lance’s body as his other hand snaked up Keith’s arm. He felt his heart being a mile a minute, practically bursting through his chest as he took in Keith’s scent, one that had lingered on the jacket, and let his mind melt. It only lasted a few seconds before Lance was keenly aware of the fact that he was kissing Keith Kogane, and that Keith Kogane was kissing him back.

 

He pulled back then, staring at Keith with wide eyes and flushed cheeks. Keith’s expression was identical to his own, and Lance thought the red dusting his cheeks was incredibly cute. Lance struggled to find any words to say, but he luckily didn’t have to, because Keith leaned in again. Lance realized how quick and unplanned the first kiss had been, because this one was much slower and less messy, passion running through both of them.

 

When they finally pulled back, both of them took in a few breaths, staring at each other with the same wide eyes, but newfound smiles. What this meant, Lance didn’t know, and he was sure Keith didn’t either. They’d have to... talk about everything, but for now Lance basked in the exchange of smiles and the way Keith’s hand felt in his own when Lance reached for it. All Lance had pictured, all he had dreamed, all he had thought of when Keith was away, had been brought to life as they sat together, two beating hearts once separated, now intertwined.

 

Home again.