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behind this mask of mine

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A life as a member of the Blade of Marmora is the only one Keith has ever known. He differs from the other members around his age in the sense that he grew up in the group; he isn’t a volunteer, nor was he recruited. He thinks, sometimes, that his mother never wanted him. She was never around when he was younger, and still isn’t—she’s always off on missions. However, Keith has seen pictures of her holding him as a baby with his father, and she was smiling in every one of them. She looked happy, which then makes Keith wonder if she resents him, because his father died protecting him. He thinks that maybe she stays away because he’s the spitting image of his father, and is a reminder of the better life she had on Earth. It’s one of the reasons Keith always has his mask on—a naïve part of him believes she might come back if his face is always hidden.

So, Keith was raised by whichever members were on base at the time, but even then no one stuck around for too long. He wants to be able to say that they took care of him, but it wouldn’t be true. They were never there when the other kids picked on him. When they rejected him because he doesn’t know his father, when they laughed because he looks more ‘Earthling’ than Galra, the older members said nothing. Even when they started getting physical, picking fights because they wanted to topple him from being ranked at the top, ganging up on him, the people who ‘looked after’ him did nothing to intervene. They stood by, watched him get hurt, watched them tear him apart and break him. Keith supposes that it’s better it turned out this way. With no one to give a shit about him, Keith can throw his life into his assignments. “Knowledge or fucking death,” he often reminds himself, coupling it with a cruel chuckle.

And then he meets him.

Keith really doesn’t want to be here. They tell him he needs to be because he’s a representative, since he’s one of the best, but he doubts that’s why. He’s pretty sure it’s because he looks like them—the Paladins. He’s a bit sceptical, to be honest. They’ve done well enough on their own for so long, even if their progress has been somewhat slow. Everyone else seems to think differently, however, and it makes him want to know just how much this giant robot can do to help. He has to admit though, he is looking forward to meeting the pilots. The princess, because he’s heard tales about Altea and its people since he was young, and the humans, because they’ll look like him. While waiting, he wonders whether they’d be surprised at the sight of him, but pushes the thought away when he remembers that they won’t ever see the real him. He will always be behind his mask.

The lions are larger than Keith imagined. He has seen some big ships, but they in no way compare to the machines that are currently perched before him. They are designed so intricately that he is able to quickly identify which lions are the guardians of what, and idly speculates, as he walks towards them, which one he would fly if he were a Paladin. Even though Keith knows that all five lions are here as a display of power, and even though he understands that he is supposed to be intimidating as well, he can’t help but think that this is all a little unnecessary. There’s nothing he can do about it though, so he stays silent as the meeting commences.

“You’re late.” The princess speaks in a commanding tone, wearing a stern expression, and Keith is impressed. She does not lead Voltron—that much is obvious from her blue uniform—yet she is just as much of a leader as the one who wears black. He assumed she would be like a child, fragile and inexperienced, but he’s almost glad to find out he’s wrong.

As his own leader Kolivan explains that they had to ensure it was safe to be here, and the importance of it, Keith uses it as an opportunity to survey everyone else. Aside from the two leaders, the rest seem to be quite plain. The smallest, in green, seems to be as interested in their ship as Keith is with their lions. The one in yellow looks to be very strong, but he seems afraid, eyes darting back and forth. Whoever is wearing red comes off as quite confident, standing proudly with arms crossed and chin tilted high. Keith goes back to admiring the colourful ships afterwards, and doesn’t pay any mind to whatever is being said.

At one point, Keith feels eyes on him. He tries to tune it out, but when the feeling of something prodding at him doesn’t go away, he has to look. And that’s when he makes direct eye contact with the Red Paladin. As direct as it can be, anyways; the pilot doesn’t know he’s looking. The intense inspection makes Keith want to avert his gaze, but he also wants to try and figure out why he’s being scrutinised, so he stares back. The person no longer appears as cocky as before, and instead seems to be confused. Keith notices a slight head tilt, and then the eyes shift from him to where the other members are standing. He follows the movement, forgetting he’s supposed to be standing still, and accidentally turns his head. When he catches himself, he brings it back almost immediately, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. The one who was watching him does a double take, then pokes the Yellow Paladin, saying something which results in two sets of eyes now on him. Keith tries to ignore it, tries to suppress the feeling of embarrassment, and then he catches something the princess says that infuriates him.

“You are still Galra. How do I know that I can trust you?” The princess doesn’t look angry, per se, but she is definitely not smiling. This strikes a chord in Keith. He doesn’t believe she is in any position to be making statements like this, and the words fall out of his mouth before he can stop to think about them.

“You’ve been gone ten thousand years. The Blade of Marmora has done a lot of work on our own in that time, and I’m sure we will continue to do so whether you’re here to help or not. What makes you think we should form an alliance with you?” Keith is overstepping his bounds; he can feel Kolivan staring daggers at him, and even the other members have jerked in surprise at his sudden outburst. He doesn’t back down though, just continues to hold his ground. The members of the Marmora work hard at what they do, they sacrifice their lives for their missions, and he won’t stand for all of that being belittled simply because of their race.

There’s a moment of calmness before chaos arrives. The Red Paladin is the first to yell back, asking Keith who he thinks he is to be speak to 'Allura' like that. And then someone next to Keith shouts something, to which the smallest pilot replies using profanity Keith hadn’t expected them to know. It’s suddenly very loud, and Keith starts majorly regretting his actions when Kolivan turns his head back to him sharply after observing the scene he’s caused. Keith berates himself in his head—he has potentially cost them an ally vital to winning the war, and he can’t even begin to imagine how he’s going to make up for this. He’s brought out of his thoughts when a voice booms through the air.

“Enough.” All heads turn to the Black Paladin, and everyone stops talking right away, shifting their attention to what is being said. “At the end of the day, we are all on the same side. And if we’re going to defeat Zarkon, we’ll have much greater chance of doing so by working together. I think we are all in agreeance on this, so should we move to the castle and begin planning?”

There are a few nods here and there, but they don’t head off until Kolivan says so. Back in their ship, it’s dead silent. The mistake is still hanging over Keith’s head, and everyone else is too afraid of Kolivan’s wrath to say anything. Keith knows this tension isn’t just going to resolve itself, so he musters up his courage and starts to apologise.

“Look, I’m—”

“Don’t,” Kolivan cuts him off, and everyone stiffens, waiting for an explosion. But then he just sighs. “You were out of line, and I know you’re aware of that. I don’t disagree with what you said, but the stakes are too high to risk testing this alliance. There will be no repercussions this time, but I’m trusting that you will not do it again.” Kolivan enunciates each of the last words clearly, making sure Keith gets the message, and he does. For the rest of the ride over Keith is telling himself to stay silent, and stay invisible. His opinion does not matter, he is simply a soldier of war.

The Castle of Lions is a lot… homier than the headquarters where Keith usually spends his time outside of missions, despite the smaller number of inhabitants. As they’re being led to the bridge of the ship, Keith takes in the atmosphere. It’s more casual, and it makes him feel somewhat comfortable. The tranquillity is soon interrupted by three of the Paladins running and jumping past them, yelling after each other and laughing. Keith watches them with awe, and wonders what it would be like to be close to someone the same way they are.

When they arrive at the bridge, Kolivan and his right-hand man Antok continue to the middle where the princess’ royal advisor awaits, while Keith and the rest of the Blades remain on the edges. As the strategy meeting formally commences, Keith tries his best to keep up with everything being said, however he finds himself zoning out a lot. He keeps looking at the stars outside, since glass panes surround them instead of walls. It makes him think of something he learnt on a planet where the inhabitants could manipulate materials with a single touch. We are all made of the same cosmic dust, he had been told. It has since comforted him many times, acting as a reminder that everything is related, and that he is not so alone. He really liked that planet; it was quiet, and he closes his eyes now to picture it.

Keith is interrupted when he hears movement, and sees someone coming closer in his peripheral vision. He shows no reaction, but jumps the slightest bit when the Red Paladin pulls up beside him. “So… why are you so small compared to the others?” Keith says nothing, even though the comment irks him. It’s something he’s been teased about before, and he would rather not deal with it again. “Okay, are you not allowed to speak or something? That’s fine. I enjoy talking to a wall,” this makes Keith smirk, “I’m Lance, by the way. Not sure why they skipped all the introductions, but I can fill you in.”

The only thing going through Keith’s mind when Lance tells him who’s who is that he wasn’t lying when he said he’s okay with Keith not replying. He’s completely unaffected by it, and it throws Keith into a state of confusion. He’s unsure why this boy wants to share these personal details with him, and he’s puzzled by how much he isn’t bothered by it. In fact, he likes it, and the people Lance is describing sound really cool, so he continues listening intently to what he’s being told. Keith sees Pidge and Hunk prodding at Shiro somewhere in front of them, and when Shiro makes an annoyed face but does nothing about it, he realises they seem like a small family. He averts his gaze immediately, because the image makes Keith’s heart clench. It’s like the universe is playing a joke on him, showing him something he’s longed for since he was a child, and not allowing him to have it.

Keith feels better when Lance starts telling him about the school he went to on Earth—the change of topic is just enough to suppress the pent up emotions threatening to resurface. The education system Lance was in sounds a lot more pleasant than what Keith went through, however some of the information he had to learn sounds completely useless. He gets distracted trying to understand what a 'mole' is, and Lance’s words become muffled, until they disappear altogether. This brings Keith back to the present, and he sees that the meeting has finished. He feels a bit guilty about zoning out for most of it, but to be fair, he wasn’t the only one. There’s a handshake between Kolivan and Shiro, then the Blades start heading out. The princess watches after them with a dirty look on her face, and it causes anger to flare within Keith again, but he remembers Kolivan’s words and turns away.

Just before he starts walking, Keith catches a glimpse of Lance again, and feels an obligation to say something to him. The boy had kept him company, even if he doesn’t know it, and Keith feels like he should give something back.

“My name’s Keith, by the way,” he decides to say in the end, as a fleeting comment. He says it quietly enough so that no one but Lance will hear, and he’s gone before the Red Paladin has the chance to react.

That night Keith lies awake for a long time, wondering what this warmth that he feels is. When he finally falls asleep, he dreams of a welcome heart and hands.

It isn’t like Keith expected to see Lance again, but he isn’t surprised that he does. The meeting had gone well, apparently, because they are now working closely with Team Voltron to put an end to Zarkon’s reign.

Keith is currently at the hatch of the Red Lion, waiting for the drop off signal. They are going to liberate another planet today, and hopefully have them join the coalition. As the Galra start firing at them, adrenaline starts pumping through Keith’s veins. There’s something about the dangers of his missions that always gives him a thrill. He has to stay focused, and be on edge, otherwise the consequences are dire. When Kolivan instructs Lance to open the hatch, the blast of air adds to the excitement, even though he can barely feel it through his armour. And when he finally drops through the hatch, into the open air, gliding alongside the rest of his members, he feels exhilarated.

They don’t stop after landing; they immediately forward roll into a running position, and dash towards the Galra Sentries that are attacking. They cut their way through them easily, and Keith relishes in the way his blade slices through them smoothly. They have to halt when heavy artillery positioned somewhere up high prevents them from going anywhere, and Kolivan radios for air support. Within moments, the lions take down the weapon, and the Galra forces evacuate.

Keith becomes grateful for their new alliance as he watches the parade from the sidelines. Without the lions here to help, they may not have been able to fight off the Galra so quickly, if at all. And he’s sure that the Paladins couldn’t have done it by themselves either, considering how many soldiers there were on the ground, so in the end Keith concludes it’s a team effort. However, Hunk and Lance are the only ones being thanked, although Keith can’t really say he minds. They’ve never really stuck around after freeing planets before, afraid that the people might take it the wrong way, so not getting recognition for their actions is something he’s used to.

Meaning, when Lance tells the people of Puig they can’t forget the Blade of Marmora when expressing their gratitude, Keith is somewhat astonished. He can tell Kolivan is too, by the way he turns to look at Lance, but he recovers quickly to tell the Puigians it was their honour to do so. It’s blatant the Puigians weren’t planning on acknowledging them, some frown and turn their eyes away after Kolivan speaks, but they don’t flat out ignore them either, which Keith supposes makes them better than most.

Back in the Red Lion, Keith thinks back to what Lance said today. Rarely has someone accepted them so easily, and it’s reminiscent of how Lance started talking to him so casually when they first met as well. He wonders what it is about Lance that makes him appear so hospitable, and realises just how contrasting they are. Lance is evidently sociable, and he’s good with people, whereas Keith barely talks to more than two people a day. Luckily, before his thoughts can spiral, they arrive at the castle.

Since all they’re doing is giving a report on how the operation went, they’re not going to be staying long. Keith’s not required to enter the castle either, as it’s just a brief meeting. He disembarks the Red Lion last, and makes sure the other members are heading to their ship before jogging over to where Lance is standing.

“Hey, Lance?” There’s no immediate response, and Keith wonders if he spoke too quietly.

“Wh—” Lance turns around in a daze and jumps when he registers who it is standing in front of him. It makes Keith wince a bit, he didn’t mean to scare the guy. “Oh, Keith? Hi! What’s up?” Lance’s voice sounds tight, and he looks like he’s trying very hard to contain himself and not ask a million questions.

“I just wanted to say thanks,” Lance’s eyes widen, “for what you said out there today. It really meant a lot to me, and I know the others appreciated it too.” Although Keith is unsocial, he is pretty good at reading people, even if a lot of them are covered by full body armour and have masks on most of the time. He knows what he’s saying is true.

“Oh! Well I’m glad,” and then Lance beams. It’s such a simple smile, yet it makes Keith flush, knowing he’s the one who caused it. He decides to leave now before he does something to ruin it.

“Bye, Lance,” Keith gives a small wave, “have a good day.”

“Bye, hope to see you soon!” Lance replies in a cheery voice, and Keith has already turned around by that point, but it still makes his heart skip a beat. He almost trips over himself as he’s jogging to the ship, because he can feel Lance’s eyes on him, and that’s when he realises he’s in deep waters.


So, Keith has feelings for Lance. What those feelings are is unclear, because Keith doesn’t have feelings; he’s pretty sure it’s Blade of Marmora protocol, actually—“thy must be a stone cold bitch”. He tells himself it’s because Lance is treating him nicely. While he’s probably like that towards everyone he meets, since he’s that kind of a person, Keith definitely doesn’t get treated like that often, if at all. It’s disorienting; for some reason he wants to see and be around Lance all the time now, because when he is, it makes him feel like things are okay.

Keith starts to actively listen out for announcements Kolivan makes, and he stays up to date with news regarding Voltron. For now the Blades are still acting separately to Team Voltron, but they’re communicating somewhat frequently via video. Keith always tries to get a glimpse of the screen, looking out for where Lance may be. Sometimes he thinks Lance is trying to find him too, because occasionally he’ll send a little wave in Keith’s direction. It’s subtle, unnoticeable if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but Keith knows. And it makes his heart flutter, every time.

In an attempt to suppress the emotions he’s feeling, Keith puts a lot more effort into training, and signs up for more missions than usual. It isn’t the smartest decision—he returns to his room with more bruises and cuts every day—but it’s less dangerous than getting close to someone. That distracts you, it clouds your judgement, and it’s something Keith cannot afford. His tasks require precision, accuracy, and that works well at keeping Lance out of his mind. He has no room to think of anything else then, and after a while, the Red Paladin is nothing more than a fleeting thought.

That is, until they meet again. Kolivan is taking a team to the Castle of Lions because they’re going to be planning something, and for some reason it means Keith has to be there too. He doesn’t have any objections, exactly, but he would rather be out and about than standing around doing nothing. He ignores how half of that is a lie, because ever since Kolivan informed him about the meeting, he’s been looking forward to seeing Lance again. It’s not his fault though, okay? The guy is interesting, and Keith would be suffering a lot more if he weren’t there.

When the Blades arrive at the bridge, and Keith doesn’t immediately spot Lance, he’s honestly disappointed. There was no guarantee he was going to be there, but since Kolivan brought a crew, Keith assumed everyone was going to be present. Upon further inspection, he notices the Yellow and Green Paladin aren’t anywhere to be seen either. Perhaps Lance is on a mission, then. Keith becomes a bit annoyed that Lance gets to enjoy that while he can’t, but he’s glad that at least one of them is able to. And then, he thinks that maybe they actually are in the castle, but don’t want to be here. Keith can’t blame them, but suddenly he feels bitter rejection. It’s telling him that even Earthlings don’t want to be around him, that no matter where he’s at or who he’s with, Keith will always be alone. He then scolds himself for these childish thoughts; there is nothing that warrants them, he doesn’t even know the Paladins. Shaking his mind clear, Keith takes his station and once again looks out at the stars that seem to be right in front of him.

Keith is zoned out, so when there’s a tap on his shoulder, it startles him. He ends up whirling around and placing a hand on the hilt of his dagger, ready to attack. When he realises it’s just Lance, he relaxes and straightens up. He does a quick look around to make sure no one else saw what just happened, because he’s embarrassed to have been caught like that, and he’ll probably be reprimanded for getting distracted.

“Sorry,” Keith starts, looking at Lance, who is in a defensive position with both of his hands raised up to his face, “you frightened me.”

“You think?” Lance composes himself, and when he’s standing normally, Keith notices he’s looking up slightly to meet Lance’s eyes. Now, Keith is used to be smaller than most, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. The difference between him and Lance seems to be miniscule though, so he can’t find it in himself to be that mad. “Although, you gave me one hell of a scare too. Seriously, who pulls out a knife from something like that?”

“Sorry,” this time Keith gives a small chuckle, “it’s instinct.”

“Oh…” Lance replies, but he seems to be in a daze, and although Keith can’t see too clearly behind the visor, there seems to be a redness to his cheeks that wasn’t there before. Keith is about to ask if something is wrong, when Lance speaks again. “Well, I am here to ask if you wanted to check out my lion! I don’t know about you, but these things bore me out, so maybe you wanted to do something else?”

“Wait, seriously?” Keith can’t contain the excitement behind his words. Ever since he laid eyes on Team Voltron’s ships, he’s imagined what it’d be like to fly one of them. It’s not that their ships are bad, they get the job done, but there are legends surrounding the lions—flying them has to be an experience.

Lance nods and holds out a hand, and that’s all it takes for Keith to accept his offer. He takes a quick glance at what Kolivan and the other Blades are doing, and after seeing that they’re still intently discussing things, places his hand in Lance’s. Lance clasps their hands together with a big grin, and starts running before Keith can question it, dragging him along. The sound of them running draws the attention of the others, but by the time Kolivan yells out Keith’s name they’re already out of the door.

They continue running to the hangar, for no real reason, and they’re still holding hands. At some point Lance starts laughing, and it makes Keith laugh too. He seems to be on a high. Lance’s touch is intoxicating, and it feels like Lance isn’t just pulling him to his lion, but to a world he’s never seen before. When they arrive at the Red Lion’s hangar and Lance lets his hand go, there’s an immediate loss of warmth and stability that Keith misses.

“Hey, beautiful!” Lance greets his lion cheerily, which confuses Keith, until he realises they are sentient. The Red Lion’s eyes beam yellow in response, and then she crouches, opening her jaw. Keith watches in awe, so he doesn’t immediately follow Lance when he starts moving again. “Cool as, right?” Lance’s voice snaps Keith out of his daze, and he somewhat nods, because he’s now been entranced by something else.

Lance is walking backwards in a stable, but nonchalant way, and holds his arms out as if he’s presenting the interior of the lion to Keith. He also smiles widely, and the confidence Keith almost rolled his eyes at when they first met is now causing him to lose his mind. Lance looks so carefree, yet so sure of himself—there’s no wonder why Keith is captivated. He manages to follow Lance into the cockpit, and nearly jumps when it lights up in brilliant reds after Lance sits in his seat.

All of sudden many screens pop up, and Lance is pulled forwards. Keith walks until he’s standing directly behind Lance, and in his peripheral vision he sees Lance smirk as he takes in everything around them. The controls aren’t that different to the ones on their own ships, but they seem much more advanced and detailed. When he turns to face Lance, he finds that the pilot is already watching him, with an unreadable expression. Even with Keith’s eyes now on him, the boy seems to be in a reverie. Keith tilts his head to match Lance’s, and that brings him back to reality.

Lance coughs, then sets his eyes in front of them. This determined look washes over him, one Keith hasn’t seen before, and any playfulness present before is gone. “You want to go for a ride?”

“We can do that?” Leaving the bridge is one thing, but leaving the actual castle? Keith doesn’t even want to think about how much trouble that could get him into.

“I don’t see why not!” Keith looks at Lance, at how he looks to be in his element, and comes to the conclusion that this moment is what he wants to remember. He wants to see the Red Paladin fly; he wants to see the stars with Lance; he wants to learn more about this ‘boy from Cuba’; he just wants. And instantly all the emotions Keith had tried to suppress come rushing back. He swallows, then nods, knowing Lance can see. Lance pushes the throttle, and then they’re launching into space. “Giddy-up, buddy!”

The Red Lion is fast, it moves quicker than the Blade of Marmora’s ships, but it still feels very smooth. Lance looks very calm as he skilfully guides them through a belt of asteroids, and Keith almost doesn’t want to break the comfortable silence that’s fallen between them.

“He’s in full control,” Keith mutters out loud, more to himself than to Lance. It’s something he had been observing since he entered the cockpit. He’d heard the lions can make their own judgements, and will sometimes override their pilot’s commands if they disagree. He wonders how far that goes, what a lion would do if its pilot was in mortal danger.

“Huh?” Even as Lance speaks, there is no hesitation in his movements. Before long, he’s navigated through the rocks, and they’re now suspended in open space. “Oh, yeah. It wasn’t easy though—earning her respect, I mean. You’re a feisty one,” Lance takes on a playful tone and glances up, “aren’t you?” The lion roars in response, and he laughs out loud, turning to face Keith. “See? But it’s all good now! We’ve bonded.” Lance stretches out his arms and lounges in his chair.

Since they’re no longer in motion, Keith uses the opportunity to venture in front of Lance’s seat, to the windscreen. If he stands past the holographic controls, nothing but glass surrounds his vision, and it’s like he’s in an ocean of stars. It feels ethereal, and Keith doesn’t feel so lost anymore. I’m going to become one of them some day, he thinks.

“Do you want to fly her?” When Lance speaks, it’s soft and careful. This marks the third side Keith has seen from Lance. There’s the cocky confident side, the deadly calm when he’s flying, and now this. Keith wonders where this gentleness comes from, what made him take on a tender tone, and feels a fluttering in his stomach when he realises that maybe it’s for him.

“What?” Keith finds it hard to believe Lance would trust him with something like this.

“I mean,” Lance sits up, and he looks sheepish, “you know how to fly right, I assume you do because of the ships you have.”

“Yeah,” Keith is one of the best pilots the Blade of Marmora has, “but I thought the lions only let their pilots fly them?” This is common knowledge, and the fact Lance seems to have forgotten is weird to Keith.

If the reminder jumps out at Lance, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he simply gets out of his chair and displays it to Keith. “Well then you can just get a feel for the controls.”

Keith stares at Lance, still thinking he’s crazy for letting him do this, but cautiously goes to sit down anyways. He’s afraid that something might happen, since he’s not the actual pilot, and especially as he knows the Red Lion is temperamental, but breathes a sigh of relief when he’s still sitting a moment later.

He reaches a hand out, but hesitates before the throttle. This is a Voltron ship, and he doesn’t know if he should be doing this, even if the pilot is letting him. Lance must notice this, because before Keith knows it the boy has leaned over the edge of the seat and guided Keith’s hand onto the control. Keith glances at Lance’s hand on top of his, then looks up at Lance himself, and—when did they get this close? Lance’s helmet seems to be right in front of his eyes, and normally Keith would hate this invasion of personal space since it makes him feel constricted, but now he feels like he can’t breathe for an entirely differently reason.

Time seems to have come to a standstill; it’s like they’ve been told to pause for a photo, and Keith wishes that were true because then he’d have captured this moment forever. He doesn’t know why he’s so enraptured. He’s lived all his life without being close to anyone, so why does Lance make him feel like he hasn’t? Why does Lance make him feel like he’s deserving, and that he’s something more? He knows it’s not just a kindness thing because he’s gotten gratitude from strangers before and it’s never made him feel like this, so what is it about Lance that does?

Before Keith can ponder any further, the lion suddenly lurches sideways and throws Lance off balance. Keith’s body reacts on instinct, and that’s how he ends up with Lance in his arms. Lance didn’t fall gracefully (he only narrowly missed hitting Keith in the face with his flailing), but Keith had an arm over his waist and the other around his shoulder almost immediately, catching him before he could injure himself. Lance starts to recover, and in the meantime, Keith stares down at the sight before him. He is cradling Lance. He’s shielded others with his body before, and he’s carried various beings to safety before, but he can’t say he’s ever cradled someone. This is a first.

The moment the Red Paladin realises the situation he’s in (and Keith knows when it happens because he breathes out a heavy sigh and then freezes, slowly turning around to face him), his eyes widen and suddenly he’s flailing again, but this time Keith can’t get a hold of him and he ends up on the ground. Keith quirks an eyebrow at the events that just unfolded in front of him, finding it amusing, and then waits for Lance to recompose himself.

Lance sits up, rubs at his elbow, then frowns. “Wh—What—How—Did you push the throttle?”

“What?” Keith jerks backwards. “No? Even if I did I don’t think it would do anything?”

“Then how come Red moved?” Lance’s words cause Keith to become confused as well, and now he’s also thinking about what may have happened.

“Did you push it? Maybe she responded because your hand was technically on it.” Keith is actually proud of himself for coming up with this, but deflates when Lance gives a small shake of his head.

“No, I don’t think—Wait a minute,” Lance looks up and narrows his eyes. “This was her doing.”

“What?” Keith asks in disbelief, “she did that on her own? But I thought that only happened when you were in danger.” He then muses for a moment, “or was it a warning to get me out of your seat?” After coming to this conclusion, Keith half leaps of Lance’s seat just in case.

Lance doesn’t change his expression, but is now shaking his head in a disapproving manner. “Nah,” and he doesn’t shift his gaze at all, “she did that on purpose, it’s not because of you.” Immediately after the words leave his mouth, Red purrs in response, as if to question Lance’s words, and the Red Paladin suddenly becomes the same shade as his suit and lion.

“What was that?” Keith understands that the pilot and lion have a bond like no other, but he doesn’t particularly like being left out of what appears to be a secret conversation.

“Um!” Lance is squeaking, almost. “Nothing! Let’s head back now, they’re probably close to being done.”

While Lance’s words and sudden change in demeanour feel like a rejection, it really doesn’t affect Keith as much as it normally would. Because right now, watching Lance flustered and mumbling to himself under his breath is—dare Keith say—cute. He finds it endearing. And it brings a smile to Keith’s face that he can’t even try to fight off.

This boy is something special, Keith decides. And he is going to make as much use of their limited time together as he can.

Keith and Lance walk back to the bridge together to find an ensemble awaiting. A range of expressions greet them as well. Allura doesn’t look particularly happy, and neither does Kolivan (although that might just be his face). Hunk and Pidge look giddy though, and they keep waggling their eyebrows, which causes Lance to hide his face, much to Keith’s confusion. When he turns his head to try and see why, Lance only ducks away further. Once everyone has decided they’ve looked at them for long enough, quick farewells are exchanged, and the Blade of Marmora heads out.

Keith doesn’t forget to thank Lance before he goes, and turns around to wave goodbye when Lance shouts “I had fun!” after him. He hears snickers behind him as he exits the room, and the muffled voice of Lance speaking with an accusatory tone follows soon after. He wonders what that’s about, and whether it’s related to all the other events he has no explanation to.

Back at the base, Kolivan asks for Keith to stay behind when dismissing everyone. It makes everyone still for a moment, and a few members glance at Keith as if to wish him luck. Keith is honestly pretty nervous as well. He wasn’t really thinking about the consequences of his actions when he was with Lance, so he hasn’t thought about what he can say to defend himself. Keith doesn’t move from where he stands, and continues to look away as Kolivan approaches.

“What was that?” The tone of Kolivan’s voice causes Keith to flinch. It’s not a tone he’s heard often, but he’s familiar with it enough to be able to understand that it means he’s done something very wrong. “We were there on a mission. This is no time to be fooling around. The longer we postpone this, the more lives will be lost, the more homes will be destroyed. Or is this all some kind of game to you? You think that if you slack off or take a break someone else will do your work for you?”

“No,” Keith speaks firmly and maintains a steady gaze, because he knows firsthand how Zarkon’s reign has affected lives, and his leader knows this too. He understands Kolivan is just making sure his head is in the right place, but his choice of words is angering Keith. “I won’t do it again,” and then he starts to move away.

“One last thing,” Keith stops but doesn’t bother turning around, thinking that it will just be something general, “I think it would be best if you stay away from the Red Paladin. He isn’t a good influence. I can’t risk having you jeopardise assignments.” This causes Keith to whip around, ready to argue, but Kolivan already has his back to him and is walking away. As dramatic as it is, it’s Kolivan’s way of saying his words are final, and nothing will change his mind.

Keith storms back to his room, and gets ready to sleep with those words replaying in his head. “Who does he think he is?” he mutters to himself, “‘he’s a bad influence’. Pfft, it’s not like the Marmora is any better.”

By the time Keith’s lying on his back in bed, however, his emotions turn into something else. His anger has mostly seeped away, and now doubt is crawling into his mind. It’s not because he agrees with his leader though. Lately he’s been thinking about what could happen between him and Lance, the different possibilities, and they usually have happy outcomes, but the further along he imagines, the less hopeful he gets.

Maybe I should stay away, Keith muses, Lance probably has someone waiting for him at home. How could he not? He’ll get back having saved the universe, he’ll be a hero, and they’ll reunite and rejoice and he’ll forget about me. If I’m around him any longer, I will only get more attached, and in the end when he leaves I’ll be the one who gets hurt.

Tears start to prick at the corner of Keith’s eyes, and he chuckles bitterly at the hot feeling. He is stupid to have thought he could ever mean anything to anyone.

But god, he makes me feel so alive.

After Kolivan’s confrontation, Keith expects to be pulled off the missions he was already assigned to involving Voltron, but his name is still on the document, and it doesn’t change even after a few days. It’s seems pretty counter-intuitive to Keith, but he’s not going to argue. He is, however, prevented from joining new operations. He finds this out when the newest signup sheet is published, and he receives an error when he submits his name. It irks him, however it is more or less what he expected. He supposes this restriction will make it easier to move on from Lance. He will only see him a few more times, and the thought is daunting, but he decides not to think about it. He won’t tell Lance until it’s the last time either, because he doesn’t how the boy will react, and he doesn’t want to risk making things awkward.

One of the missions takes them out to a field of flowers. Blue petals cover the entire area, and it’s like they’re in a large body of water. There’s a gentle breeze blowing, and as it passes by a ripple-like effect is created. It’s a sight to behold, and after Keith takes in the view, he looks over at Lance to find him wearing an unreadable expression. He has taken his helmet off, and he looks awestruck, but not in the same way Keith feels. His mouth is opened slightly, he’s blinking a lot more than normal, and that’s when Keith realises Lance is overwhelmed. Keith doesn’t know what could’ve caused this, or why, but immediately he silently moves to stand beside the Paladin. He doesn’t say anything, because he’s bad with words, but he hopes that his presence can be at least a little bit comforting.

“It looks just like an ocean,” Lance says after a while, “it looks like home.” He barely gets the last few words out before he has to scrunch his eyes closed and take in a massive deep breath—probably to suppress whichever emotions have arisen without warning. Keith doesn’t know what ‘home’ is for him, they’ve never talked about it. He assumed Lance didn’t want to, but he thinks maybe he should’ve asked, since Lance looks like he has been keeping feelings about it bottled up (and he knows firsthand how bad that is).

“What’s it like?” Keith fixes his eyes back in front of him, so Lance doesn’t feel pressured under his gaze, but also because he wants to imagine living next to something like this. The bed of flowers looks soft, and he wonders what it would be like to be submerged in them. The wind makes it look like the whole field is alive, swaying back and forth, and he wonders what it would sound like, if it were actually water instead.

“It’s beautiful. That’s really the only word I can use to describe it. The water is crystal clear, but it looks like a blue gradient from afar. Add some white clouds and you get the most picturesque landscape imaginable. It’s warm throughout the entire year, so we could go to the beach whenever we wanted. I just love being in the water, you know? I love swimming in it, and I could always clear my head when doing so, but after a while I love to float on my back while the sun beats down on me. I love diving back under, letting the ocean cool down my skin. I love the sounds, too. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore are like a lullaby to me. Sometimes there would be seagulls as well, and my siblings’ kids would always chase them around, their laughter filling the air.”

At some point in the middle of Lance’s speech, Keith can no longer look away. Lance’s words draw him in, and he plainly watches the boy speak. When he’s done, the only thing that can be heard is the wind, and the only other movement aside from the flowers is Keith’s hood billowing. It’s very serene, but it also feels empowering. For some reason, the image of him turned towards Lance while he faces forwards, with everything at a standstill except for what the wind moves, makes him feel like he can do anything.

“Can I tell you something?” Lance’s voice is hesitant, but when he turns, his gaze is steady, locking Keith in place.

“Yeah,” Keith’s reply comes out breathy, “anything.”

“I know we’re supposed to be brave Paladins and Defenders of the Universe or whatever, but honestly?” Lance pauses, he seems unsure about revealing this. “I just want to go home.”

Keith, at this moment, realises how unfair Lance’s situation is. He is so young, and yet here he is risking his life on a daily basis to save galaxies. He has family on earth, he’s someone’s child, but that means nothing here. With how busy they are and the distances they’ve travelled, Keith doubts Lance has even seen a glimpse of Earth since leaving. Keith thinks that if he could take Lance’s place so he could go home, he would. But as it stands, he can’t, and it frustrates him that he can’t help in any other way but offer some solace with his words.

“You’ll get to go back soon, I promise. We’re getting closer to defeating Zarkon as each day passes, and then you will get to go home.” Keith hates how useless this feels, but Lance smiles for the first time today, so he counts it as a victory.

“What about you, then? Where’s your home? What’s it like?” The question causes Keith to retreat. He wants to be open with Lance, especially after he poured his heart out, but he can’t do it. There are topics Keith stays away from no matter what, and this is one of them.

“I don’t really… have one,” he says in the end. “The Blade of Marmora headquarters, I guess. It’s not really homey, though.” Lance gives him a curious glance, and then his eyes soften. He looks like he’s about to say something, but Keith wants to move on, so he cuts in. “Let’s check the fields out.”

Keith feels guilty about walking away so suddenly, but the Paladin catches up to him in no time, and thankfully makes no attempt to continue their previous conversation. They walk side by side in silence, and it’s calming.

Just before Lance embarks his lion, Keith asks for him to wait. The pilot seems confused, but Keith doesn’t provide an explanation. Instead, he quickly runs to the side of the lion to pick a single blue flower. When he comes back, Lance looks more lost than before, staring at the object in Keith’s hands. Keith stands frozen for a moment, nervous, and then steps up right in front of Lance. He lifts his arm, then gently tucks the flower behind Lance’s ear. The boy raises a hand to touch it, questioning, and Keith finally speaks.

“It’s so you can have a piece of home with you.”

Lance doesn’t react immediately, so Keith freaks out. Had he read the signs wrong? Did he overstep his bounds? The thing about not having been close to anyone before means he doesn’t exactly know how much it too far. He begins to backtrack, face heating up, and he feels so embarrassed he wants the ground to swallow him whole. When he starts to mumble an apology, however, Lance surges forwards and pulls him against his chest. Lance’s arms immediately wrap around Keith, and despite the hard armour they’re both wearing, it feels very soft.

“Thank you,” Lance whispers, and Keith acknowledges it with a small nod.

As Lance continues embracing him, Keith starts to feel like he doesn’t deserve this, not when he’s still hiding behind his mask. Lance doesn’t even know who he really is. And yet, Keith finds himself tentatively raising his arms to hug Lance back. (He wants to stay like this forever.)

After Keith completes his last ever assignment that’s related to Voltron, he heads towards Lance to tell him so. He’s been preparing himself for this day, so he thinks that he’s come to terms with it. Even though he didn’t know Lance for very long, it still left him with a lot of fond memories. Keith had a good experience with him, and although it’ll probably take him a while to move on, he can do it. After all, he done it before—no one has ever remained a constant in his life.

Ever since that day at the flower fields, something has changed between them. Keith didn’t notice it at first, but there’s a lot more… contact now. Lance would high five him after they finished a battle, but if Keith got injured he’d reach out to touch his arm and ask whether he was okay instead. He’d have his eyebrows scrunched, looking so concerned, that Keith would say he was fine no matter what state he was in. Because really, what hurt wasn’t his wound, but the fact that he’d lose this (and Lance) some day. It got worse after Keith became aware of it. Sometimes Lance would bump their shoulders together as they walked back to the ships, beaming at Keith when he turned his head. When they managed get put on the same team for a task, Lance would loop his arm around Keith’s neck. Keith hates being short, but if it means Lance does this, he’ll never complain about it again.

Keith gets used to the contact. He leans into it. He even starts initiating it himself. They’re small gestures, because it’s still a daunting concept to him, but he’ll give Lance a pat on the back after he makes a clean shot, and he’ll playfully punch Lance if he makes a bad joke. None of this helps Keith get ready for the last day he’ll ever see Lance, but in the moment he doesn’t care. He doesn’t even think about that fact. He doesn’t think about anything except for the point where their bodies meet.

Today Keith makes his boldest move yet. When he sees Lance holding his hand out for a high five, he ducks under it to wrap his arms around Lance’s torso. It must’ve surprised Lance, because he freezes, but before he can regain his senses and react, Keith pulls back.

“This might be the last time I ever see you,” Keith rushes out when seeing Lance open his mouth. He doesn’t want to explain further, because this is the second time they’ve hugged, and it’s the first time he’s ever initiated one. Keith immediately misses the feeling, and he wishes he had held on for even just a second longer, because there’s something about an embrace that makes him feel grounded. He forgets about all his worries in that moment; his mind is cleared, and he feels stable.

Lance’s looks shocked, then frustrated, and then he goes through a whole other range of emotions before he finally speaks. When he does, it’s with a tone that’s difficult to decipher. “How come?”

“I won’t be on any missions involving Voltron anymore.” Keith makes sure not to look at Lance—he doesn’t want to see his reaction. This is when the situation really sinks in for him. He may never see Lance again. They lead two completely different lifestyles, and live in entirely different environments. Of course, Keith thinks, the first person I ever get close to, and the first person I’ve developed feelings for, is someone I can never have. It figures that the universe would do this. Lance is from Earth, he’s human. Of all the species, it had to be the one where the civilisation hasn’t made contact with ‘alien’ life yet. Because even if they do end up meeting again after the war is over, what then? Earth hasn’t been involved at all, they don’t know about any of this, so would the Paladins really want to risk telling them about it?

“What?” This time Lance just sounds more lost than anything else. “Why? Have you been assigned to something big?” And then his voice drops, and he looks away as well, asking “or do you just not want to be?” with such vulnerability that it honest to god makes Keith’s heart break a little.

“No!” It comes out louder and sharper than Keith intends, but he can’t have Lance misunderstand. “It’s Kolivan, he—Apparently you’re ‘not a good influence’,” Keith mocks, “and so I’m not allowed to sign up for new missions.” Lance jerks back at the words, looking hurt, so Keith immediately adds, “I don’t agree, by the way.” Lance brightens up a bit at this, and Keith feels relieved.

For a while, no one says anything. Keith remains silent to give Lance time to take it all in, and to gather his thoughts. Keith has no clue what Lance might say, but when Lance turns to look at him again, he looks bashful, shyer than Keith has ever seen him before.

“Well, I still want to see you, if that’s okay.”

And suddenly everything Keith had built himself up to, all that angst he put himself through, they crumble away. It’s like a mountain of accumulated worry and negativity collapses underneath Keith and he is falling, but Lance is waiting there at the bottom to catch him. Fuck. Keith can’t even be mad about this. He can’t even be annoyed that he spent all that energy overthinking the whole thing because he’ll get to see Lance again. Except… “How? Our only chance of meeting is on these operations.”

Lance mulls over this for a moment, he clearly hadn’t thought that far. Keith’s heart sinks at this, maybe it won’t work out after all. But then, Lance starts looking excited, and there’s a glint in his eye. “Sneak onto the Castleship,” Lance looks incredibly cheeky, and Keith doesn’t think he should endorse this breaking of rules, but fuck he looks adorable. “I’ll give you a communicator too, so you can know where we are, and when I’m free and all that.”

Keith nods in response. The plan seems to check out (and it scares him how he doesn’t even consider the fact he’ll be breaking protocol). With members of the Marmora coming and going all the time, as well as the fact some missions aren’t disclosed to everyone due to the fact they’re going undercover, no one will notice that Keith isn’t actually leaving for an assignment. If it turns out that he can’t park his ship on theirs, he could always leave it on a nearby planet or meteor, and even if there are none, he’s willing to risk leaving it in the middle of nowhere and just hoping no one notices. “Are we really going to do this?” He asks this because it’s not going to be easy. There may not be many opportunities for them to meet up in the first place, and to add having to go around their superiors? They can try, but it still might not work out.

“Yeah,” Lance gives a firm nod, “now wait here, let me get a communicator and link us up.”

While Lance is gone, Keith rethinks what he’s about to do. He’s always been a bit rebellious—he thinks it came with being different to the rest—but this is on a much larger scale compared to anything he’s ever done before. If he gets caught… He doesn’t even know what they may do to him. He could lose everything. If they kick him out, there’s nowhere for him to go. Sure, some beings may be accepting of a Galra, but there is still a large majority that aren’t. Just as doubt starts to shroud Keith’s mind, however, Lance comes back gleaming like the sun, and the clouds dissipate, leaving behind a clear view. He smiles, but then realises that Lance can’t see it, and scowls. He just hopes the universe will let him have this. He pleads in his mind. He’s already been deprived from so much, so please, just allow him this—the feeling that he’s wanted, and that it’s Lance who wants.

As Keith predicted (but hoped wouldn’t happen), their schedules rarely line up. Whenever Lance is free, Keith is already elsewhere, and when he gets back, Lance is light years away. It’s not that bad though, because they have the communicators now. During their off time, if they’re allowed contact with others, they’ll message each other, and sometimes even call. It’s a different experience—interacting with Lance like this, but it’s also refreshing. Keith finds that it allows him to speak more freely. There’s something about hiding behind a screen, where Keith can’t see Lance’s face either, that he finds comforting. It makes them feel like equals, and Keith can forget about how he’s being cruel to Lance by always receiving, but never giving back.

The first time they manage to meet up, Lance sneakily gives Keith a full tour of the Castle of Lions, and then they just hang out in one of the rooms. The second time Lance comes out to Keith’s ship, and they fly around for a while. They never really do much, but Keith doesn’t mind—it’s enough for him to just be in Lance’s presence. It helps him forget about whatever he’s seen on his previous mission, and what he may have to go through next. They discuss their days sometimes, but always trail off. They aren’t doing this to trade war stories, that’s something they’re living through every day. Instead, Lance entertains them with jokes, or recounts of whatever shenanigans he got up to with the two Paladins his age. He tells Keith about a food goo fight once, which he found intriguing. He asked enough questions about it that Lance brought a plate of it next time and they had their own food fight.

Keith was hesitant to throw the lump of goo in his hand at first, because that’s not the purpose of food, but then something hit his mask, and obscured his vision. When he wiped it off, he saw Lance unsuccessfully trying to stifle his laughter. He was dazed for a moment by the pure melodic sound coming from the Red Paladin, but then regained his senses. He smirked, launched the goo at Lance, and landed a direct hit on his visor. After that, there was no holding back. They ran around the limited space they had, until the goo eventually ran out. They made a big mess, one Keith wasn’t looking forward to cleaning up later, but he also had the most fun of his entire life. When he shared this, amidst laughter, Lance gave him a look.

“What?” Keith asked, suddenly stopping. Did he say something wrong? Does Lance not want to be here anymore because Keith essentially revealed he’s never had fun before?

“Nothing,” Lance shakes his head, “it’s just—nothing. Don’t worry about it,” and then he smiles, previous expression gone. “Let’s start cleaning up.”

The whole thing confused Keith, but he decided to let it slide. He didn’t want it to ruin his mood, the time he spends with Lance is the only good thing in his life. As they cleaned up, a livelier atmosphere returned, and soon Lance was taking jabs at Keith, calling his performance “weak”. This riled Keith up, and he threw a bit of goo at Lance. They commenced a small second round of their food fight, and this time Keith made sure to win (although he has a feeling Lance let him). They ended up having to clean up again, bantering the whole time, but it was still the best day Keith’s had in ages.

Today, Keith doesn’t even have time to ask what’s on the agenda before Lance takes him deep into the castle, leading him by the hand. He’s on edge the whole time. He's afraid he’ll be caught—even though Lance is with him—and he isn’t sure he should be back here regardless. But his concerns vanish when they reach a massive empty room. Lance lets go and moves to the centre, presses some buttons, and suddenly everything around them lights up. They’re now surrounded by blue-grey, and it looks like something is falling. It reminds him of falling rocks, but he can’t place to significance with Lance.

“It’s rain,” Lance says, as if he can read Keith’s mind. “Water dropping from the sky. I miss it.” Lance’s tone is the same as when he talked about the ocean, but he sounds less melancholic.

“Is it dangerous?” Keith’s come close to being hit with a rock before, and it wasn’t fun. If it’s the same case with rain, he doesn’t understand why Lance would miss it.

“Nah, not at all. Or, I guess hail can be dangerous. That’s when the water freezes and becomes ice. There can be heavy rain too, which could hurt, but I don’t miss that. I miss the sound of light rain, when it patters against a window or the ground. It’s soothing to me, I can fall asleep to it. I miss the smell of it—that sounds weird, but bear with me—just after it rains. There’s even a term for it, the scent, ‘petrichor’. I miss going outside, finding the biggest puddle and just splashing in it. It used to piss my mum off so much, because on occasion I’d get mud everywhere, then track it into the house. I did it less as I got older, but it was still fun to walk through them, or to look at myself reflected in the waters. I miss home, Keith,” Lance still has he head tilted up and eyes closed, but just before Keith can reply, he turns to directly look at Keith, grins, and adds, “but it’s not as bad with you here.”

Keith short-circuits. He honest to god just stops. His face heats up, and his heart starts beating like a drum, loud and fast in his ears, and why is Lance still looking at him like that? He doesn’t know how to react. How does he even reply to something like that? What exactly does Lance mean? Is he seriously—“You make me the happiest I’ve ever been,” falls out of Keith before he can stop it. Before he can even think it. Lance looks taken aback for a moment, and then he smiles, even bigger than before (Keith didn’t think it was possible), and it feels like Keith’s heart stops for a moment again.

The two of them end up just watching each other after that, standing in silence, with the sound of artificial rain falling around them. Keith is still overcome with emotion, and he feels like this will never go away (he hopes it won’t), and that’s when he realises.

He’s in a state of total euphoria.

The thing about euphoria is that it has to end. And when it does, it comes crashing down hard.

Somehow, through the tears blurring his vision, Keith manages to stumble into his room. He collapses onto the floor, attempts to swallow back the bile rising in his throat, and tries to even out his breathing. It takes a while—he keeps choking and coughing and hiccupping—but eventually, he’s left sitting against his bed, chest heaving. He leans his head back against the mattress, and takes a few deep breaths.

This was his fault. Regris, he—Keith was the reason they stayed on that ship. Kolivan suggested they leave, something wasn’t right, and despite knowing that Keith still insisted they plant the tracker to find out where the ship goes. Sure, it was Regris’ decision to continue trying to override the system, but Keith was the one who changed Kolivan’s mind. He wanted to get him, he wanted that more than anything, but his small stature meant he couldn’t overpower Kolivan when he carried him out. Fuck! Why couldn’t he save him a second time? Or rather, why couldn’t he for fucking once listen to what his leader commands? He was already chewed out after the first time for breaking protocol, but apparently the universe thought that wasn’t enough. Regris is gone, and it’s because of him. Regris was one of the good ones, he actually tried to look out for Keith and mentor him, but in the moment he needed Keith most, he wasn’t able to provide. And now Kolivan has lost one of his most trusted advisors too. Keith can’t do this anymore (the shortened breaths return). He doesn’t deserve to be here (his eyes start watering up again). He wants to trade places with Regris (he’s more than willing). And then, something flashes in the corner of Keith’s vision. It instantly stops Keith’s oncoming panic, and after narrowing his eyes, he realises it’s his communicator.

Keith hesitates for a moment, but he’s unable resist the temptation of seeing what Lance has messaged him. “Hey, Keith!” it reads, “I hope your mission went well (knowing you though, of course it did). Anyways, if you’re free after, do you wanna come hang out? We baked cookies—actual, edible ones this time, not those scaultrite ones I told you about a while ago. Come try them out! You know you want to. Let me know if you can make it, I’ll be waiting :)”. Keith stares at the message after reading it, and then rereads it a few times. He wishes so badly for Lance’s positive energy to rub off on him, but it’s doing the exact opposite.

Whatever it is he has with Lance? It won’t ever work out. Any hopes he’s had about it before were all illusions. And he knew that, but chose to ignore them. After today though, he can’t anymore. He’s been beyond unfair to the boy. He’s shared jack shit to him, which is in part due to how he was raised and his natural guardedness, but that’s no excuse. And Lance… Lance is so, so kind, and he deserves so much more. He deserves someone who can give their whole being and soul to him, not someone who’s ready to die at a moment’s notice (although, this is becoming less true the more he’s around Lance). He deserves more than Keith. But because Keith is fucking selfish and wants to indulge in the one chance he may ever have of being close to someone, he puts on his mask and goes.

And here’s the thing. There’s this feeling Keith gets after taking his mask off at the end of every day. It’s not that he’s had a hard time breathing—their masks are integrated with very good filters, it's just that there’s been something on his face the whole day, and it’s constrictive. Recently, Lance makes him feel this way. His presence is refreshing. The mask no longer feels like something he’s hiding behind; it feels like he’s not wearing it at all. He forgets that Lance has never seen what he looks like, and then he’ll remember, and remember that it means he has no chance, and reminds him all over again why he doesn’t deserve Lance.

Something Keith learnt about Lance ages ago was that he’s unpredictable. There are many sides to his personality, and he surprises Keith all the time. Which is why Keith never should’ve assumed he knew what Lance was thinking.

The first time Keith and Lance ‘meet again’ (not including all the times they did so secretly, of course) is on the day they’re going to take down Zarkon. Because it’s such a massive operation, they need all hands on deck, and everyone will need to pull their weight. Everyone gathers at the castle, and the two boys manage to get away before things really get started.

They go to Lance’s room, and for some reason the pilot appears really nervous today. Of course, there’s a lot of pressure because of what they’re going to be doing, but it seems like Lance is anxious for another reason. Keith leans against the wall silently and watches Lance pace back and forth, muttering something inaudible under his breath, before he stops and faces Keith.

“Okay, so.” Lance says it with finality, and Keith straightens up. Something tells him what Lance is about to say is going to big. It feels like Lance had prepared a speech and rehearsed it. “I know that what we’re doing today is going to be dangerous. I know that there’s a chance we could die, but there’s one thing I don’t yet know. I wasn’t going to do this, I went back and forth on it a lot, but the risk of dying got to me, and it scared me so much, but then I remembered something that made me fearless. And I thought, I deserve to have some happiness. I’m not going to let my insecurities hold me back. And this might backfire so badly on me, but I’m willing to take the chance. Give me something to fight for. Keith, if we make it out of this… will you go out with me?” Lance is left breathing somewhat heavily afterwards, and he looks so open, so vulnerable, that it takes Keith a moment to register that this is for him, Lance has just laid out his bare soul to him. It absolutely shocks him.

“I—” Keith suddenly shrinks against the wall, and he hates that hurt immediately crosses Lance’s face, and he’s made it to the door but thinks it would be immediately rude to leave right now, and then he stops. Lance can’t be serious. This has to be a joke, or something, because if it isn’t, Lance is stupidly naïve. He suddenly gets defensive. Despite this being so desperately what Keith’s wanted, he says “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The face Lance makes at this would be comical, if it weren’t for the fact he also looks furious. “Are you kidding me? I know we haven’t known each other for long, but I’ve still spent a lot of time with you, and I enjoyed every second, and I like you, so what makes you think I don’t understand what this is? Or is this a rejection? Were those moments we shared actually nothing? I thought—It really seemed like… Just answer me straight,” Lance snorts as this before the steely expression returns, “do you not like me? Do you not want me?”

Something in Keith snaps. He closes his eyes, breathes in deeply, and tries to stop the onslaught of words pushing to come out his throat. This is a bad idea (the sound of Lance’s voice cracking on the last two questions replays in his mind). This is a bad idea (Keith sees himself giving Lance the flower, he sees Lance smiling in the rain). This is

“Don’t you get it yet? I can’t show you who I really am, I can’t give you me. I am ruined, and I can’t show you that because it would drive you away. I have done some shit, Lance. I’m not a good person; I am broken. And I am selfish, which is why I put on this mask before I see you, even though I’ve been told to stay away from you. And I know that you deserve so much more, that I am not worthy of this. But even then, even after all that, I still want you.” This is the biggest declaration Keith has ever made. This is the most truthful he has ever been. He’s a bit breathless after speaking so much, and Lance appears confounded. Their faces are almost touching now, as Keith took one step forwards with each sentence he spoke. "There’s your answer,” he adds belatedly, “is that enough for you?”

Apparently it’s not. After Lance recovers, he pushes a single finger against Keith’s chestplate. “Who’s stopping you? Your leader? He isn’t here. He doesn’t govern your life. You are your own person. You can’t keep living your life like it’s not your own. That will kill you, before one of your missions do.” Lance immediately jerks back and retracts his finger, taken aback by his own words. He goes silent, and looks away.

Silence has filled the room, and as Keith replays Lance’s words, he realises Lance is right. He’s so fucking tired, and he’s so done, and he wants out, and suddenly he feels like he’s suffocating, he can’t breathe, and the mask is going to kill him, and before he knows it he’s retracting his mask, doubling over onto the ground, and just fucking bawling.

Lance whips his head around immediately (or at least Keith thinks so, he can barely make him out through the tears). “Shit, fuck, what the fuck, what the fucking—You’re human?!” His alarm gains Keith’s attention right away, even through the crying.

“Wh—” Keith cringes at how garbled it probably sounds, but he replied on reflex—the words haven’t registered yet. He then slowly sits up, wipes away his tears, calms his breathing, and tries to be presentable before trying again. “Oh, no. I mean, yeah, my dad was.”

“You are so beautiful,” and the way Lance says it with such conviction has even Keith believing it’s true. He blushes.

Lance leans down to kneel in front of Keith, and he gently places a hand on his cheek. Keith leans into it, because Lance’s touch is intoxicating, and he gets lost in his blue eyes—they’re shining like stars. Lance is absolutely gorgeous; Keith can’t believe how much the mask was concealing, how much he was missing out on. And then he’s hit with a sudden pang of sadness. He places his hand on top of Lance’s, then brings it down between them. “This changes nothing though,” it pains Keith to say so, “we live completely different lives. You have to go home. It won’t work.”

“But what if it can?” Keith looks up at Lance from where their fingers are interlaced, “we’re going to defeat Zarkon; we’re going to restore peace to the universe. What are you going to do after that? Won’t the Blade of Marmora have fulfilled its purpose then?”

“Yeah… I guess so.” Keith’s never thought about it like that, because Zarkon had ruled for so long, and all the stories he’s heard were about him. He’s never really imagined that it would be over some day. Keith is still thinking about this, as well as what it means for Blade of Marmora, when Lance speaks again.

“Then come with me.”


“Back to Earth. Come with me to Earth.”

“Are you crazy?” Keith stares at Lance, “how would that even work?”

“I don’t know…” Lance runs a hand through his hair, “just come with, when the rest of us go back. It doesn’t really seem like there’s anything here for you. Plus, I assume you were born on Earth? Don’t you want to see what it’s like, if it’s the home you never had?” Keith can tell Lance is trying to make it sound as casual as possible, masking the underlying plea. By the way Lance winces, he thinks Lance knows he knows.

“I guess, yeah, it’d be cool to see,” Keith manages a small grin, and Lance smiles widely in return. “Are you sure your family would be okay with it though?”

“Definitely. My mum will love you. Maybe she’ll even be less mad about me vanishing if I’m bringing someone home,” Lance winks, and Keith swoons. “We should probably head back now though, there are more pressing things for us to attend to first.”

Unfortunately, leaving the room means Keith has to put his mask back on, but it no longer feels like a burden. He and Lance walk side by side through the corridor, and they’re close enough for Lance to link their pinkies together. Keith turns to Lance, and is glad for once that his face is hidden behind his mask, because he isn’t sure he’d want Lance to see how fondly he’s gazing at him.

Lance starts swinging their arms, and he’s still facing forwards when he says, “By the way, Keith, I’m not perfect either. I have my insecurities, and I may tell you about them someday, but I’m not as pure as you make me out to be. I appreciate it though, no one who knows me from before would ever say that about me. And I know what I’ve done and have been through can’t compare, but you’re not alone in this, Keith. You’ve got me now. And it’s going to be hard as hell to get rid of me.”

A life with the Marmora is the only one Keith has ever known. But perhaps, with Lance by his side, he can make a new one.