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Suspended Momentum

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Lance has come to expect a lot of people to wander onto his farm, local neighbors looking to chat or neighbor kids looking to see if Nadia and Silvio could come to play.

What he didn’t expect was to see Takashi Shirogane walk through the front gate and smile at him like it was nothing. “Hello, Lance!”

“Shiro?” Lance asks, blinking like the figure in front of him would disappear if he stared too long. He hurried to meet the man, hugging him tightly. “Wow, what brings you to my neck of the woods? I’m guessing you didn’t make the trip all the way here if you were just looking for some fresh eggs or milk.”

“Not exactly,” Shiro laughs and Lance hears the front door of the house open as Rachel pokes her head out.

“Oh! Mamá, Lance has brought home that handsome man from the Garrison!” she calls and Lance turns to yell back. “Rachel, Shiro is Veronica’s boss!”

“But if he wasn’t you’d bring him home?” she winks and Lance rolls his eyes before turning back to Shiro.

“Sorry about her, she’s my twin so she likes to get a rise out of me,” he says and motions him for follow. “Come inside if you dare, it’s a lot cooler there than it is out here.”

They head inside and make a beeline for the kitchen table, Shiro taking off his cap and laying it gracefully on the wood. Before Lance can say anything, his mother has appeared over his shoulder like she had been summoned by the demons of Good Housekeeping Magazine.

“Oh Admiral Shirogane, what a wonderful surprise!” she greets, leaning over to give the man a hug. “To what do we owe this pleasure? I hope Veronica hasn’t been giving you too hard of a time.”

“I’m actually here to see Lance, but she’s giving me just the right amount of toughness. Major McClain is a fantastic commanding officer and we’re lucky to have her on our team. You should be very proud, Mrs. McClain,” Shiro says, voice full of admiration. “And please, call me Shiro. No need for formalities.”

“Thank you, Shiro,” she smiles patting Lance on the shoulder. “I’ll make you two some iced tea and leave you to it.”

Lance squeezes her hand on his shoulder and thanks her as she leaves. Shiro turns to him, looking a little bashful. “Sorry for arriving unannounced, this isn’t the kind of conversation that would translate well over text or email.”

“Is everything okay?” Lance asks, worried.

“Yes, this is more a personal conversation than anything,” he begins leaning back in his chair. “There’s been an open position for a new faculty member at the Garrison, as an instructor for the some of the junior cadets, so between 12-15 years old depending on the group. These type of positions have been hard for me to fill since the students are so green and I’ve been having a difficult time finding someone for it.”

“So, you looking for a reference?” Lance takes a sip of his iced tea after his mother places the glass next to him. “Can’t say I know anyone out there who could be fit enough to teach at the Galaxy Garrison. Unless you want to make sure the new recruits know how to shuck corn.”

“I’m not looking for a referral, Lance. I want you.”

“What? Me?” Lance gapes, slack-jawed. “What the heck can I teach a bunch of preteens?”

“Well, for one thing, you’re a former paladin of Voltron.” Lance instantly puts his hand in the air to signal stop, but Shiro presses on. “Lance, you can’t keep pretending you weren’t once one of the universe’s greatest hopes.”

“I’m not pretending anything, Shiro.” he frowns. “I’m done with that part of my life. I’m out. I hung up my jersey. Retired my number. There isn’t anything for me to tell those kids that they couldn’t read in a Wikipedia article or watch in that terrible cartoon about it. Which, by the way, do we get any royalties for that?”

“You’re changing the subject.”

“Copyright contracts are a very important subject, Shiro.”

“Lance.”

“Shiro,” Lance says, deepening his voice to mimic the other man and crossing his arms. “I live with a 10 and 8-year-old. I can do this all day.”

Shiro sighs, “You’re deflecting.”

“I’m saying no.”

“You haven’t even heard what I have to say.”

And Lance knows he’s right, but he also knows it’s because he doesn’t want to hear it. He doesn’t want to go back and rehash old war stories because he doesn’t want to relive them. He doesn’t need to relive them. Speaking about the war, being a paladin, losing her….he couldn’t do that as a job. He can barely do that in his life.

“Lance, please,” Shiro says and his voice is soft enough to pull Lance back to gain his attention. “I know what you’re feeling…probably better than anyone else. When we got back home and I learned about Adam, it felt a lot easier for me to just push forward and drown myself in work. But eventually, that catches up to you. It’s been three years, and I’ve seen you when you volunteer on Altea to help Coran with the tours. Nobody talks about Allura’s message for peace like you, and you can make a difference in these kid's lives. They can really use you.”

Lance doesn’t budge, and Shiro continues. “Look, it would just be for the semester. If you don’t like it, you can leave and I’ll find someone else. No strings. Just a single semester, Lance, that’s all I’m asking. Please.”

Lance closes his eyes, taking a deep breath through his nose and letting it out slowly before opening them again. “Can I have the night to think about it?”

Shiro smiles. “Take as much time as you need.”

“This isn’t a yes, by the way,” Lance says as Shiro gets up from his seat, hat in hand.

“I know.”

“Or even a maybe.”

Shiro opens the door. “I know.”

“It’s probably going to still be no, just so you’re prepared for the rejection, Admiral!”

“Bye, Lance,” Shiro smiles and closes the door tightly behind him.

***

Lance tosses and turns in bed that night, silently cursing Shiro for literally waltzing into his life and trying to turn it upside down again. Sitting up, head in his hands, he wonders if taking a walk in the juniberry field would help clear his head. As usual, it just leads him to think about Allura and what Shiro had said that afternoon.

Is being on the farm the best way for him to keep her memory alive? Was there more he could be contributing that he’d been avoiding?

Was he ready for such a change?

He leans forward, forehead against his knees when he feels the top of his cheekbones begin to warm. Leaning back he feels the same glow he did when the lions scattered on Altea, his chest fills with an intimate warmth. Swinging his legs, he rushes to his vanity mirror and sees the marks on his cheeks glowing. He smiles, softly touching them.

"....Okay, Princess."

***

A week later Lance is on a plane, a shuttle and eventually the train stop where Veronica meets him, beeping happily. Exhausted from the journey, Lance squints at her from behind his sunglasses when he makes his way to her car.

“How is it that we can literally wormhole between entire solar systems, but I still need to be in a cramped airplane with only a tiny bag of peanuts as a snack?” he says as a form of greeting with Veronica wraps her arms around him. “Thanks for picking me up, V.”

“Duh! What was I gonna do, have you walk to the Garrison?” she laughs, taking Lance’s suitcase and tossing it in her trunk. The drive is longer than Lance is expecting, but it’s filled with Veronica chatting happily about all the updates the Holts have made to the Garrison while also giving him all the dirt on some of the other faculty and students. Nodding along, Lance leans his forehead against the window breathing the dry familiar desert air. It brings him back to his cadet days sneaking up on the roof with Hunk and watching the stars.

After they pull in, Lance gets out of the jeep and looks up at the building. It's so different than the concrete rectangle from when he was a hopeful 11-year-old taking his flying test in the simulator. It looks like a mix of Altean, Olkarian and Galra tech in one. Pidge's work.

He's about to follow Veronica to Shiro's office when he hears a loud "Lance?" And he turns around to see Keith climbing out of his own jeep. Lance instantly feels his face pull into a grin.

"No way, Keith? Hey man," he makes his way over to give the other man a hug, patting his back. "It’s been a while!"

"Yeah, it has," Keith says and gives a small smile to Veronica before asking, "What are you doing here?"

"Shiro asked me to be a guest instructor this semester."

Keith lifts a brow "He did?"

Lance feels the natural twinge of annoyance at Keith's tone. "What’s that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing!" Keith stammers, his hand flying to the back of his neck, fingers intertwining into his low ponytail. "It's just...Shiro asked me the same thing."

Lance raised his eyebrow. "Really?"

"Yeah, he wormholed to Daibazaal when I was there last. I didn't say yes right away."

"Lemme guess," Lance crossed his arms knowingly. "He said just a semester and see how it goes? And he used the ‘I Believe In You’ voice?"

"Yes!” Keith groaned. “Why does that always work?!" 

And Lance can't help but laugh, the sound pulling from his chest like someone blowing the dust off an old record. Keith joins in too and the sound is more shocking to Lance than his own laughter. Years ago he could count the number of times Keith laughed on one hand. It felt...nice. 

He hears his name and Lance spins around fast enough to catch Pidge who has propelled her entire 5'2 self into his arms, sending him stepping back to regain balance. "Hey! Pidge!"

She pulls back with a grin before jumping on her tiptoes to hug Keith who lifts her up with a grunt.

"You're here too?" Lance asks. "I thought you were doing research on micro-something or other on Olkarian!"

"Microtesseracts," Pidge corrects adjusting her sunglasses. "And I was until Shiro stopped by for a visit."

"Wait...Shiro?" Keith asked. "Did he ask you to teach here?"

"Yeah? How did you know?" And before Keith could say anything a laugh he would recognize anywhere echoes and a loud, "NO WAY!" As Hunk appears, Shay by his side.

"HUNK!" Pidge cheers, breaking into a sprint and jumping into a hug, clinging to him like a koala, Lance and Keith hot on her heels. "IT'S BEEN FOREVER!"

"I know! Shay and I have been out in Zion's belt tasting the different kinds of fungus that grows on the back of asteroids." Lance gives him a look. "It's less gross than it sounds, I promise."

"Let’s hope," Lance says after Pidge climbs down to give Shay a hug as well. He smiled when he felt Hunk squeeze him extra tight. “It’s good to see you, buddy.”

“Same, dude,” he says when he pulls back, hand resting on Lance’s shoulder as he gives Lance the once-over. “You look good, man. You feel good?”

“I feel something,” Lance says with a shrug and a smile he knows doesn’t quite reach his eyes. He hopes the light of his voice can keep Hunk from probing anymore. It seems to work because Hunk is instantly looking at Keith and grinning widely.

“Oh dang, look at Keith over here with the low ponytail look!” Hunk wiggles his eyebrows as Keith touches the back of his head a little bashfully. “You finally growing out the mullet? Does Xadrion dig it?”

Lance blinks. Xadrion? 

“Hunk.” Keith’s voice is rough and instantly Hunk’s mouth shuts and cleared his throat.

“Uh, anyway - this is kinda nuts. When Shiro said there was a semester-long catering job opening at the Garrison, he didn't say anything about you guys being here too! I would've said yes sooner." 

Keith narrows his eyes.

"What?" Hunk asks Pidge, pointing at Keith. "Why is Keith making the Keith Face?" Keith's frown deepens. "Oh no, I made it worse!"

Keith swats his hand away. "I'm not making a face, it's just weird that Shiro found all of us for this one semester."

Lance can’t help but agree. 

"Oh good, you're all here!" Shiro greets, walking out of the front double door of the campus with a wide grin. 

Everyone waves, but Keith who crosses his arms over his chest. "What kind of setup is this?" He demands like they were being held captive and not just at the Garrison. 

"You know, Keith, most people say hi before they accuse people of things," Lance offers with a sigh.

"No, he's right, this was a setup." Shiro smiles and instructs them to hand their bags to the cadets to bring to their quarters. "Follow me to my office and I'll explain there."

Veronica and Shay follow the cadets and the rest of them follow Shiro through the winding halls of the campus. Lance used to know these halls like the back of his hands, memorizing them as he snuck out between classes to avoid the instructors. He probably should memorize them again now that he was an instructor, huh? 

They reach Shiro’s office easy enough. It’s big and spacious with plenty of comfy looking chairs around his desk. Next to his monitor, Lance spots a picture of him and Curtis, smiling at what looks like to be the beach. He takes a seat next to Keith as Shiro leans against his desk with a smile.

“Well, what is it?” Keith asks, his question direct but not full of any malice. “Why did you ask all of us to be here?”

“The Garrison has had a shortage of instructors with particular skill sets,” Shiro explains, resting his weight on his hands as he leans. “Since I’ve become Admiral, I’ve seen several of our students in need of guidance. Many of the staff here are used to running the Garrison with a different mission in mind, one that’s about obedience.”

“So sticks in the mud,” Pidge offers and Shiro smiles.

“Something like that,” he says. “When I saw the open spots for this semester I wanted to bring in you four. There was a bit of a selfish streak to it, though. It’s been a while since we were all on Earth together.”

“That’s true,” Hunk says, planting his feet on the ground solidly. “It really does feel nice to be back on our home turf.” 

“What about after this semester?” Keith asks arms crossed over his chest. 

“You’re free to stay on if you enjoy it here, but I won’t force any of you to make a commitment like that without consulting your loved ones and other obligations first,” Shiro assures. “We hire by semester, too. So if you can’t stay on past that, we have the means to replace you.” 

“Tight ship,” Lance says waving his hand as he speaks. “Now that we’re all here, how does that change anything? I’m assuming we’re not gonna be dawning our old colorful uniforms?” 

Shiro laughs. “No you won’t, you’ll be in the green Garrison scrubs just like the rest of us, but we will re-estate your titles from when you were Paladins, bringing you all up to Lieutenants. Except for Pidge, who’s been a part of the Garrison for the last three years and has since risen the rank of Lieutenant Commander.”

“What?” Lance gasps leaning over his chair to look at Pidge who grins cheekily at him. “Since when do you outrank us? Are you even old enough to rent a car?”

“That’s no way to talk to your, Commanding Officer, Lieutenant. ” Pidge preens and Lance has half the mind of throwing his boot at her but doesn’t feel like being court-martialed after only being back an hour. 

Shiro continues to explain their new role as instructors for the Junior Cadets and it all seems very basic. Lance’s main class would be a lecture course on the Voltron War, talking about the alliances they formed and the road to victory. Keith would be running the flight simulator and drills. Pidge is running the engineering arm and robotics, and lastly, Hunk would be heading up all meals and food for the Garrison with Shay helping him manage inventory. 

Even though Lance has never taught anything in his life, when Shiro presents him with the lesson plan of the course he can already tell it doesn’t do any justice to their story. It was all just facts and dates. It was boring.

“I’m giving you free rein to run your positions as you see fit,” Shiro says as everyone looks over their tablets. “You’ll also be assigned an assistant to help you acclimate. Lance, I think you’ll recognize the name of your assistant.”

Lance does with a smile - Nadia Rizavi. He’s always liked her and being around a familiar face does quell some of his anxieties.

“Anything else?”

“Uh yeah, I have a question...uh, sir?” Hunk says raising his hand and looking baffled. “Wait, do we call you sir, now? Do we need to ask for permission to speak? Are you Shiro or like, Sir Shiro?”

“I’m not calling you sir,” Keith looks Shiro dead in the eyes.

“Typical,” Lance says under his breath, earning him a hard jab to the knee from Keith.

“No need for any of that with me,” Shiro explains. “But in front of your students, you should follow Garrison etiquette.” 

“Okay, cool so, Civilian Shiro, my question was just around housing,” Hunk says thumbing the door. “I know Pidge has her own place off-campus, but Shay and I saw some new apartment units on our way in. Is that where we’ll be staying?” 

“Affirmative. You and Shay will have your own unit, however,” Shiro turns to Keith and Lance. “We only had one unit left for housing, so you two will be dorming together. It’s a decent size, fully furnished, with two bedrooms so you guys should have more than enough space. Hope that isn’t a problem?”

Lance blinks before he and Keith look at the other. It didn’t seem like a bad idea, and it wasn’t like Keith seemed like he would be a messy roommate. If his living habits were the same as when they traveled together, he packed light and kept mostly to himself.

“That’s fine with me,” Lance shrugs and Keith nods in agreement. Shiro tosses them their apartment keys in a fluid motion, which they both catch with ease.

“Alright, with that you’re all dismissed until 19:00 hours.”

“What are we doing then?” Pidge asks, jumping from her seat and Shiro grins.

“We are going to celebrate!” 

***

“Oh my god, finally!” Lance says, climbing out of the taxi in front of the bar as Keith paid the tab. “I thought that driver was gonna get us killed, like, seven times.”

Keith signs the screen and makes his way out, slamming the door behind him as the car skids away. “It was your fault for taking so long to leave the apartment.”

Lance frowns. It had only taken them so long to get settled because once Keith and he had found their apartment and opened the door it became very apparent the one room was superior to the other. It was large, had a window overlooking the desert and a double bed. After they both made a dash for it, they decided a more fair approach would be to decide over flipping a coin. However, neither of them had spare change so they tried a few rounds of rock-paper-scissors but they kept pulling the same motions. They then tried to determine it over rounds of tic-tac-toe which also proved fruitless because it kept leading to a draw. Eventually, Keith just gave up and let Lance have the room, pulling his backpack over his shoulder and chucking it into the smaller bedroom with a less beautiful view.

After all that, Lance barely had time to change out of his travel clothes and shower. Even though he works on a farm, that that didn’t mean he still wasn’t adamant about his personal hygiene.

“Well not all of us are fine with running out the door without a second thought,” Lance barks and Keith raises an eyebrow looking down at his boots, black jeans, tight t-shirt, and leather jacket, blinking dumbly.

“I think this looks fine.”

“Yeah you would,” Lance says over his shoulder. “C’mon, we’re late.”

They enter the bar and it’s the amount of noise that Lance isn’t used to anymore. It’s full of hundreds of conversations told in loud voices, all of them competing with the rock music that dominates the atmosphere. The crowd is young, probably all in their mid-20s like they are, for the most part. Keith winds his way through the warm bodies ahead of them and Lance is close on his tail not to lose him in the crowd. They eventually spot Hunk waving his arms widely above him at the table where he, Shay, Shiro, Curtis, Pidge, Matt and N7 are all sitting. And yup, this is weird. Lots of couples. 

He feels his chest start a familiar ache. Sitting down at the table, so many pairs. Happy faces, soft glances. He swallows hard, feeling the dull pain in his chest begin to grow claws and sinking into his heart. 

“Lance?” he hears and looks up to see Pidge waving her hand in front of his face. “Earth to Lance?”

“Yeah, sorry I guess I just spaced out,” he says with a small smile.

“More like wormholed. You let, like, three opportunities to make fun of Keith just fly by.”

“Aw, I did?” he turns to the other man with a pout. “Did you try to walk through a glass door again?”

Keith’s back straightens. “That was one time and it was a wasn’t a glass door! It was a Krokian material that was meant to look transparent!”

“Still walked into it.” 

“Alright, you guys settle down,” Shiro laughs pointing to the bar. “We don’t have table service so you’re gonna have to brave the crowd to get your drinks at the bar. Just put it on my tab.” 

“Fine,” Lance sighs following Keith as they get up and navigate through the mob of people to make their way to the bartop. Lance can barely hear his own thoughts but his sharp eyes manage to see two guys move from the bar and taps Keith’s shoulder and motions for him to follow. Quickly they’re able to order their drinks and put it on Shiro’s tab.

Leaning up against the hardwood, Lance turns to Keith with his chin in his hand. “So, no interdimensional space wolf this trip? Could’ve saved us on the cab fare.”

“Not this time,” Keith says, turning around to lean his back against the bar. “He’s with my mom back at Daibazaal. She has a huge backyard and he’s gotten so big, the Garrison would be too cramped for him.”

“How big?” Lance asks as the bartender begins pouring their beers.

“Here lemme show you some pictures,” Keith grins, spinning around to lean over and pull his phone from his pocket. Lance peers over and sees that his lock screen is a picture of Kosmo under what looks like ten blankets he’s gotten himself stuck in. He recognizes the photo from the group chat they have and Lance replied with a photo of a baby sheep from the farm. The two of them went back and forth for a solid half hour trying to out-cute the other until Hunk declared the contest wasn’t fair because Lance had too many cute animals on his farm and Keith only had one Kosmo. 

Being a soft dog dad wasn't something that Lance ever thought he would see from Keith in this reality, yet here they are.

Keith’s thumb quickly types in the password for his phone and opens his camera roll, quickly swiping through various pictures of Kosmo around Earth and Daibazaal. Lance coos and awws accordingly until Keith’s swipes too far and suddenly it’s landed on a picture that isn’t of Kosmo, it’s that of Keith and a tall, lean Galra man with pushed back hair, kind eyes and his arm around his waist. They’re both laughing and the picture looks like it’s a poorly taken selfie from Keith’s phone. With lightning speed, Keith goes back to the pictures of Kosmo, acting like the picture never existed and talking about the trip he, Curtis and Shiro had gone on last summer. Lance nods along pretending to be listening even though he can’t hear anything because his mind is screaming.

Keith has selfies with a handsome Galra guy on his cellphone. 

The handsome Galra guy who is probably Xadrion.

Xadrion is probably Keith’s boyfriend.

Keith has a Galra boyfriend named Xadrion.

Mindlessly, Lance grabs his beer when it’s handed to him and looks back at the table. Again, full of couples, except for Pidge. And honestly, Lance wasn’t sure if Pidge was not even single. Maybe she had her own significant other on a faraway planet that he didn’t know about. Why did Hunk know about Xadrion and Lance didn’t? They were all in the same group chat? When the hell was someone gonna mention, “Oh hey, Keith has a boyfriend and he’s a hot Galra guy maybe we should know who he is because Keith hasn’t dated anyone literally ever and seemed to only care about knives, swords, and space wolves for the majority of our friendship,” huh? Why didn’t anyone tell him?

He looks up, feeling his grip tighten on his glass and suddenly the room is spinning and it’s really warm because there are close to a hundred people in this bar. He hears his name being called, but before he can answer and pretend his world isn’t falling to pieces around him, he feels someone bump into his side and he drops his beer on the sticky floor, sending glass shattering everywhere. Silence washes over them like a wave and he’s stuck in the middle of the space covered in beer and avoiding glass. 

“Sorry...I’ll...clean this up,” he manages, moving back and stumbling over a young woman and her friend. “Sorry...excuse me I just need to…”

'Leave,' his mind shouts. 'Get out of here.'

His feet take him through the faceless crowd until he feels the cool desert air hit his face and it dawns on him that he's outside. A small group of bystanders stop chatting to ask Lance if he's alright and he guesses the reply that escapes his mouth is sufficient because they leave him alone.

Lance leans against the wall of the building, closing his eyes and breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. He follows the breathing technique Veronica taught him when his thoughts got particularly bad after they returned to Earth,  inhaling quietly through his nose to a mental count of four, holding his breath for a count of seven and then exhaling completely through his mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. It takes a few moments but he feels his nervous system begin to calm down, the thoughts begin to slow and he’s able to slowly open his eyes again. 

That’s when he sees that Shiro has taken the spot next to him against the wall, looking at him with those kind eyes that always make Lance feel guilty even though he hasn’t done anything. 

“Hey,” Shiro says and Lance swallows back.

“Hey.”

“Do you need anything?” he asks and before Lance can reply adds. “You can ask for help, too.”

“I don’t need help, Shiro. I just got a little claustrophobic with the bar and the people...it’s a lot.”

“Things being ‘a lot’ weren’t always an issue for you.”

“Yeah, well now it is,” Lance shoots back and instantly regrets it. “Shiro...I’m sorry...I didn’t mean to snap it’s just…” 

“No, I’m sorry,” Shiro says, placing his hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t realize how it would be with everyone here and their partners. It’s a lot for you to see at once, and I should have been more sympathetic.”

“You can’t just tell everyone not to bring their boyfriends or girlfriends just because mine died, Shiro,” Lance says and the look on Shiro’s face says it all. He would do that for Lance, he would rent out this entire bar so it was just them if it would get Lance to make an effort and see them again.

“I know you’re probably not feeling like your best right now,” Shiro removes his hand from Lance’s shoulder and leans against the wall with him. “But sometimes our best looks different depending on where we are.”

“It feels like I’m doing a lot to be just kinda okay.” 

“Being just kinda okay is still better than not being any kind of okay. It’s progress, Lance, not perfection.”

“How will I know when I’m making progress?”

“You won’t, but eventually something is gonna hit you and you’ll realize just how far you’ve come,” Shiro stands up straight, making his way back to the door and looking over his shoulder. “You coming back in?”

Lance sets his jaw, turning to look at the street where the hustle of the city’s nightlife filled the air like music. Three years ago, it was still mostly rubble. Buildings that didn’t even exist before now lined the streets and welcomed patrons from all sorts of planets and solar systems.

“Yeah,” Lance nods, kicking off the wall. “I’m coming back.”

***

Lance climbs out of the cab, standing in the entrance of the Garrison feeling the earth shift beneath his feet. Behind him, he hears the slam of the car door as Keith stumbles out. 

After Lance returned inside with Shiro, he was greeted to an extra beer and many, many, many reunion shots for the table. The alcohol flowing through his system had quelled his anxieties and he found himself loosely laughing at Matt’s jokes and feeling his chest expand when he was able to deliver a particularly good zinger at Hunk or Pidge. And when Keith and he had locked eyes and maybe fell into a little contest of who could finish their lines of shots faster, well, who was Lance to say no? He won, of course, because even if Lance was feeling better he still wasn’t above getting a rise of out Keith by poking him in the ribs right when he was mid-throw for his last shot, causing him to cough and send the alcohol snorting out of his nose. 

But now they were very drunk and needed to figure out how to get back their apartment. Lance looks over his shoulder to see Keith leering at him.

“Wha ‘re you just standin’ ‘here for?” he slurs, stumbling forward and thumbs to the right. “We ‘ive over ‘here...”

“Okayyy~” Lance grins, happily following Keith along the cement path as the cool dry air blew against his flushed face. They reached the steps up to their front door and suddenly the apartments around them began to sway like they were part of a funhouse mirror illusion. “Oh no….”

“On no wha?” Keith demands, turning around from his spot at the top of the stairs just as Lance makes one staggering pace and doubles over. “Lance, don’t puke!”

“I’m not!” Lance fights and instantly shut his mouth because maybe that was a lie. 

“Keef…” he whines because he needs to get up the stairs but the world is turning upside down so how could this even be possible?

“Lance…” Keith warns but there’s no bite in it. Lance looks up at him, trying to force his face into the most pathetic look and he telepathically tries to tell him to come down the stairs and help him up. It takes less than a second before Keith lets out a long sigh and makes his own shaky way down the stairs to take his arm and throw it over his shoulder, leading him up. “C’mon…” 

“My hero~”

“I’ll ‘rop you,” he promises as they sway together up the steps, but his grip on Lance is tight and secure. The proximity of their faces together lets Lance see the rosiness from the alcohol gives Keith’s face a soft glow. His skin is really dry though and he makes a mental note to make sure his new roommate starts to moisturize. 

You’re welcome, Xadrion,’ Lance thinks bitterly. 

They reach the front door where Keith fumbles with his keys, of which he has a gazillion on his one keychain. 

“What are you? A space janitor?” 

“Leave me ‘lone! I live on, like, ‘wo planets,” he hisses, finally unlocking their door with a click and the two of them stumble in a mix of drunken tangled limbs on their sofa, both too sloshed to move. 

“Two planets?” Lance echoes and Keith groans, face planted.

“Earth ‘nd Daibazaal.”

“Ohhhh yeah…” he says looking up at the ceiling. “I forgot cause you never visit…”

“I do…”

“Nahh…” Lance tries to readjust himself because Keith is dead weight, but all he manages to do is shimmy up the cushions so Keith is spread out in his legs, face buried on the thigh of his jeans. His hair has all but fallen out of its elastic, inky locks falling out of place. He can’t help himself and takes a strand between his fingers. It’s softer than he thought it’d be. “Too busy with your Galra boyfriend…”

“Ex…” Keith’s mumbles and Lance feels the rumble against his pants. “We...broke up.”

“When?” he asks even though it’s literally none of his business considering he wouldn’t know Xadrion if he strolled in here and went apeshit on Lance for touching Keith’s very soft hair. Keith shrugs.

“A ‘ew weeks ago? A ‘onth?” he lifts his head up and the view of Keith between his legs, face flushed with Lance’s hand on his head is a very interesting one that Lance compartmentalizes into the little box in the back of his mind where he puts all his weird feelings about Keith. “It didn’t ‘ork out…”

Even in Lance’s fuzzy drunken mind, he cannot figure out how someone could just break up with Keith Kogane. The same guy who spent their first few weeks back on Earth sleeping on the floor of his bedroom because Lance couldn’t get out of bed because he was so devastated. The same guy that when he had to go to Daibazaal to help Krolia and Kolivan with the rebuilding process had offered Lance Kosmo to take his spot in his room, a gesture so earnest in its intent that it made Lance laugh for the first time. The same guy that even though he was on a new planet and discovering his own people would send Lance packages of weird Galran vegetables with short notes like “For the farm. Don’t make a face mask out of it.”  

Keith Kogane isn’t someone you don’t make it work with, he’s someone you keep for life.

And Lance can’t help but let the small question escape his lips because he needs to know. “Why?”

His answer is a soft snore, as Keith passed out and kept Lance pinned to the sofa. Clumsily, Lance reaches back behind the couch and pulls the throw blanket and tosses it over Keith to cover him and his legs. It’s a weird position and his neck is gonna be stiff tomorrow, but that’s a problem for sober Lance.

He leans back and closes his eyes, feeling a little less guilty about running his hand through Keith’s hair as his soft snores lull him to sleep.

Chapter Text

Lance’s eyes open as he adjusts to his bleary surroundings. His lower half feels numb, and he manages to look down to see that somehow in the middle of the night Keith had adjusted himself so at least Lance could slip himself out of his grip. He glances over at his cellphone which is reading that they slept through three of his alarms and he shoots up with a start.

“KEITH! WE’RE LATE FOR CLASS!”

Keith groans, pushing his face deeper into the couch cushions. “You’re having a nightmare, Lance. We left the Garrison years ago.”

“Oh yeah…” Lance falls backward onto the sofa, closing his eyes. Good old Keith, always so logical and sane and…

Wait a minute.

“KEITH, WAKE UP WE’RE TEACHERS!” Lance shrieks, kicking Keith off the sofa and sending him tumbling to the floor with a loud thud.

“SHIT, YOU’RE RIGHT!”

***

“Hello, Gentlemen,” Rizavi greets, looking annoyed. “You’re finally here.”

“Second Lieutenant Rizavi, you shouldn’t speak to Lieutenant Kogane and McClain like that,” hisses the woman next to her, narrowing her brown eyes at the other before turning to them and saluting. “Deepest apologies for Rizavi’s actions, sirs. Lieutenant Kogane, Lieutenant McClain, I am Second Lieutenant Malika Khan. I am here to assist Lieutenant Kogane in anything during his transition of being a Professor at the Galaxy Garrison!”

“Uh, at ease, Second Lieutenant,” Keith says, awkwardly. “It’s nice to meet you, Malika. Thank you for your help.”

Malika’s eyes are steely. “It is an honor, sir!”

Lance turns to Rizavi and with a casual wave. “Sup, Rizavi!”

“Hey Lance,” she smiles and the two high-five, sending Malika into shock.

“The casualness…” she whispers under her breath, and Rizavi ignores her.

“What kept you two? The orientation is about to start in a few minutes. I was getting worried we were gonna have to come and get you.”

“We were out last night, and Keith here forgot the set his alarm,” Lance says nodding to the other man.

“Me? You slept in too, and you’re literally a farmer.”

“Not after that many tequila shots I’m not.”

“Your alarm didn’t wake us up either!”

“Again, many tequila shots were had,” Lance points to Keith with a frown. “And you were dead weight last night. I don’t think my neck will ever recover from that weird sleeping position because you spread out like a Silgreian Squid when you sleep!”

“Only because you never stop moving!”

“Ohhhh…” Rizavi says, breaking them from their argument, looking smug. “Admiral Shirogane said you two were roommates, but I didn’t know it was like that .”

Lance blinks looking between Rizavi and Keith. “Like wha-”

“It’s not like anything,” Keith’s eyes narrow, sending Rizavi an icy stare before pushing forward towards the double doors barking, “Let’s go, we’re late.”

“Y-yes, sir!” Malika says following him inside.

Lance looks over at Rizavi who gives him a wink and follows Keith and Malika inside the conference room. He’s too hungover to try to decode what is going.

“Well, hello there!” Hunk calls once they walk in and Lance is so relieved when the smell of food hits his nose.

“Hunk, have I told you lately how much I’ve missed you?” Lance says as he begins shoveling what looks like eggs and bacon onto his plate. “Because I should tell you every hour.”

“Yes, you should, but I also may have figured after last night a few of us could use a little help to get through this orientation,” Hunk crosses his arms. “Shay and I don’t have to teach a class like you guys, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help where we can.”

Lance looks at Shay who hands him a weird pinkish/greenish drink. “What’s this?”

“It is a Surlais healing tonic,” Shay explains with a smile. “I believe Earthlings call it, um, ‘hair of the dog,’ yes?”

Lance takes one smell of it, and his face falls. Yup, that sure is...something.

“I saw Pidge and Keith take a seat in the back,” Hunk points over to where a small table was. “You should join them. Iverson is looking to start soon.”

Lance nods and heads over to the table. He takes a seat next to Pidge who has her head resting on the table, uneaten food on the plate next to her.

“Hey, Pidge,” he greets, and she raises her hand loosely before flopping it back on the table. “Wow, you look like I feel.”

Pidge groans in reply as Rizavi takes a seat next to Malika just as Iverson begins his opening remarks to the room.

“Good morning returning and new faculty for what we hope is another successful semester at the Galaxy Garrison,” he bellows, and the room rumbles with polite applause. “We are excited to start the new year with some interesting fresh faces, including the former paladins of Voltron. Paladins, please stand up!”

Lance sighs, rising to his feet and letting a small smile grace his face. Next to him, Keith stands arms still crossed over his chest, Pidge wobbles up, and behind them, Hunk waves with a bright smile from the catering table. Everyone claps again, and Lance wants to curl up and die in a hole.

This is so not his thing anymore.

Luckily, that’s all Iverson says, and after that he’s all business, talking about enrollment rate, rules, and guidelines. All things that Lance takes note of and quickly realizes how deeply out of his element he is. He looks over at Pidge, who is doodling absentmindedly on her notes some kind of new robot plan.

“There really is a lot to remember,” Lance says, trying to brush it off as a joke and Pidge shrugs.

“It’s the same thing every year,” she assures. “As long as the kids don’t end up dead or dismembered, you’re fine.”

Lance raises an eyebrow. “Is that something that has happened before?”

“I mean it hasn’t not almost happened.”

That’s all Lance needs to know about that particular subject. After Iverson, it’s Shiro’s turn to speak. When he reaches the podium, the room hushes into silence.

“Before I was Admiral of the Galaxy Garrison or even a paladin of Voltron, I was a flight simulator instructor in these very halls,” he begins, wide smile. “And every year, I entered this room with the same mixed bags of nerves. Would the students like me? Am I going to be able to answer all their questions? What if they ask me something I don’t have the answer to? And in the end, each of those worries came and went. Being an instructor here is not just about following a syllabus or exact procedure; it’s to ensure that we are inspiring the next generation of pilots, scientists, engineers, and explorers. There is no problem too large for us to tackle, or too small to be insignificant. And while you’re teaching your courses, I have a funny feeling some of you will leave this semester learning a few things yourself, too. Together we are building the future,” he pauses and looks down at his podium with a smaller smile. "Lastly, I wish to dedicate this semester to Princess Allura of Altea. Without her, there would be no paladins of Voltron and no peace in our universe. It's been three years since she made the ultimate sacrifice. Although she can no longer be with us, her spirit continues to inspire the work I do, and I hope the work you do, too."

Shiro wraps up and the room bursts into applause. Lance can’t help but let the smile creep onto his face.

“Shiro’s final remarks are the only thing that isn’t the same every semester,” Pidge smiles as if reading Lance’s mind. “Culture change for somewhere as traditional as the Garrison takes time, but Shiro really has brought in new energy and inspiration to the place. He just has a knack for bringing the right people together at the right time.”

The rest of the orientation goes by without much fanfare, and when Lance gets his packet of the students’ - his students’ - names, it hits him.

This is very different than the tours with Coran. These are real kids who are going to be looking up to him. They’re going to have expectations and hope - how was he supposed to live up to that? How could the guy who couldn’t even save his girlfriend from having to be the universe’s bargaining chip help a handful of students?

He feels a nudge on his arm and looks over to see Pidge looking up at him. “Hey...you okay?”

“Yeah…” he lies. “I’m fine just…”

She eyes his roster and instantly makes the connection. “Ohhhh, I see. You’re having newbie jitters!”

“Well, when you put it like that it sounds really stupid…”

“Nah, it’s not stupid. I actually have a whole program in my lab to help, if you wanna come after this?”

“Really?” Lance leans back, a little relieved. “Wow Pidge, you really do think of everything, you little genius!”

“I know,” Pidge smirks, reaching forward and accidentally grabbing Lance’s Surlais healing tonic. Not noticing, she takes a swing and quickly spits it out, covering Malika in pinkish/greenish drink. “HOLY QUIZNACK, WHAT IS THAT?!”

“Is it good, Pidge?” comes Shay’s sweet voice as she hurries over to their table, looking excited as Keith reaches forward to grab napkins to help Malika wipe the drink off her uniform. “Hunk said it could help you humans with your, um, hangovers?”

“Uh...” Pidge stammers and Lance can tell that she does not want to hurt Shay’s feelings because Shay is the kindest, gentlest living being in the entire galaxy. But Lance didn’t need to take a swig to know that tonic tasted like bleach and toilet water. “It’s…great, Shay.”

“Oh, I am most pleased! Please make sure you finish the tonic to help revitalize your body!”

“Ha ha...oh, I will!” Pidge over-smiles as Shay heads back to the catering table to talk excitedly with Hunk. She smells the drink with a grimace and turns to Lance. “I think there’s motor oil in here.”

“Dude, with all the weird alien gunk we’ve had to eat, I would not be surprised.”

***

After Orientation, Lance and Rizavi follow Pidge to her lab in the basement of the Garrison. They are quickly surrounded by small drones who scan their bodies before turning light green and letting them pass.

“Security Drones,” Pidge says over her shoulder before leaning down and removing her glasses so a reader can scan her pupil. “They keep people I don’t want out, and people who I do want in. They’re my Rover Units.”

“Like the dog?” Rizavi asks.

“Nah, like the drone she had back on Arus that exploded and put me into a coma before the Castle of Lions was taken over by Sendak,” Lance replies and Rizavi stares at him wide-eyed before he sighs. “It’s a long story, go ask Keith about it. We apparently had a bonding moment during it that he hasn’t shut up about for, like, five years.”

“Keith held Lance's hand, and Lance said they were a good team,” Pidge explains, the lights in her lab turning on as they sensed her motion. “There was purple light surrounding them too. It was pretty romantic.”

“Ohhhhh…” Rizavi says looking at Lance with a raised eyebrow. “So like, what’s the deal with you two?”

Pidge makes a noise of pure discomfort, escaping to a hoverchair to the other side to the room to type in some codes as Lance felt the collar of his uniform heat up. “You mean, Keith and me?!”

“Yeah, you and Keith. Are you like, dating now? Casually hooking up? What’s the situation there?”

If Lance had eyes in the back of his head, he could see Pidge frantically making the “cut it out” motion across her neck for Rizavi. It is ignored.

Lance snorts. “There is no situation. Keith and I are friends.”

She raises an eyebrow. “Just friends?”

Lance isn’t sure what it is that triggers it, but the grip on his heart starts up again. It’s a pain that pulls acid from his chest, his voice getting testy.

“Don’t go there, Rizavi,” he warns, and luckily it’s enough that she backs off, raising her hands in a sign of defeat.

Pidge calls them over, and Lance is thankful for the excuse to drop the conversation as they make their way a small room with a handful of repurposed Sentries seated at desks and a whiteboard in the front. The lights flicker on with a buzz, nearly blinding Lance.

“Pidge, what is this?”

“This is a training simulator,” she explains, kicking off the table and sending her chair scooting to where the whiteboard stood. “These Sentries are gonna be practice students and you, Lance, their professor.”

“Hello, Professor McClain,” one of the Sentries says, raising its hand in the air. “I am excited to be in your class.”

“Uh, thanks?” Lance says, a little nervous. After years of fighting these robots on Galra warships, it takes some adjusting to think of them as anything other than metal death machines.

Pidge’s chair floats to the back of the room, and Rizavi takes a seat next to her, crossing her legs and resting her head in her hand as her elbow rests on her knee. Adjusting her glasses, Pidge pulls out a remote with a small dial in the middle.

“Here’s how this is going to go,” Pidge waves the remote in the air so Lance can see it. “I’m going to trigger the Sentries to be your students and ask you questions. If you answer them in a way that’s appeasing, the Sentries will stop. If not, they’ll keep going.”

Lance arches an eyebrow. “Doesn’t that sound kind of chaotic?”

“You’re teaching teenagers, Lance, they’re pure chaos,” Pidge says, turning up the dial. “Okay, 3-2-1 GO!”

The Sentries all sit up and look at Lance with sparking lights where their eye visors rest on their faces.

“Uh, hello?” he says, attempting to make eye contact with the robots in front of him. “I’m Professor McClain, and this is-”

“What does quintessence do?” one of the Sentries interrupts and Lance is thrown for a second.

“Sorry!” Pidge calls from the back. “They may be a little buggy. I just updated their processing the other day and haven’t had a chance to QA. Just roll with it, and I’ll adjust accordingly.”

“Okay…” Lance says slowly turning back to the Sentry. “Well, quintessence is essentially life itself, it’s what powers the entire universe and-”

“Can humans use quintessence?” another robot asks, and Lance turns to them.

“Um, sort of? We use it in our ships and to power the wormholes to travel through different galaxies, but we can’t harness it like the Alteans do.”

“Why not?” another Sentry asks, and Lance is losing his patience, turning to Pidge in the back.

“Pidge?!”

“I’m working on it, just keep going. You’re doing great!”

Was he?

“Because humans can’t manipulate quintessence like Alteans can,” Lance answers and the Sentry’s visor flickers like a blink and puts its hand down. Lance sighs in relief.

“Alright, so if all the questions are done. Let me give you all a brief overview of-”

“Was Princess Allura able to manipulate quintessence?”

And Lance freezes, his body stunned into silence as the name bounces around inside his skull. The amount of times he’s thought of her, to hear Allura’s name again in the past-tense always sends him reeling. He hears Rizavi gasp, and she helps Pidge fiddle with the remote.

“Pidge…” he hears her beg.

“I know...I know…”

Lance clears his throat to hide the shaking and isn’t sure it’s working. He feels something like a rubber band pull in back in his head, stretching thinner and thinner.

“Yes, she was.”

His chest hurts; it's getting hard to breathe.

“Is that why she saved the universe?”

“She was able to save us all because she saw the good in everyone,” Lance clenches his fist, his jaw setting. The band is pulling back tighter.

“Did she save the universe with quintessence?”

“Pidge!” Rizavi’s voice grows frantic as Pidge taps the keys on her laptop.

“I HEARD YOU,” she shouts. “I can’t turn them off! It’s malfunctioning.”

He feels himself exuding a hatred that was like acid - burning, slicing, potent. It fills the room like a haze. The rubber band can only give so much.

“No, that’s wrong,” he grits his teeth to keep himself under control. “She saved it-”

“Is that why she died, Professor McClain?” the Sentry continues, eyes flashing. “Because of Quintessence?”

“Why did she die, Professor McClain?”

“Princess Allura died, Professor McClain. Why?”

“Professor McClain, what happened-”

“Professor-”

Snap goes the rubber band.

“SHE DIED BECAUSE I COULDN’T SAVE HER!”  he explodes, slamming his fist against the whiteboard. “SHE DIED BECAUSE I WASN’T STRONG ENOUGH! SHE DIED BECAUSE I COULDN’T...THERE WAS NOTHING….I DIDN’T DO...I-”

A gunshot cracks through the air and Lance jumps back, losing his footing and falling to the ground. Another one follows, the noise reverberates in his ears and rang out against the wall. He ducks, covering his ears. He keeps telling himself that it’s not his blaster; he hasn’t held a gun in years. But his brain knows that he’s pulled the trigger, had to pull it to protect people. And in the end, she didn’t die in a firefight.

When it stops, and Lance blinks, realizing that not only does he have tears running down his face. Rizavi is in front of him, the barrel of her blaster still hot, standing above the Sentries she’s shot.

“Fixed it,” she says over her shoulder, and Pidge is running over to Lance, skidding to his side on the floor.

“Lance, I’m so sorry,” Pidge takes him into her arms, pressing his face into the shoulder of her lab coat. “The Sentries run on an algorithm and their crawl through the database of the history of the war must have been too sensitive to the sentiment targeting of the emotional side of the war and got stuck on an infinite loop on Allura, blocking its quantum processing and because I couldn’t re-align the aft centrifugal assembly…”

Lance doesn’t know why, but Pidge’s technobabble is somehow comforting. Even though he doesn’t understand a word of what she’s saying, it’s bringing him back. It’s grounding. Eventually, he pulls back, leaving a stain of tears behind on her coat.

He rubs his eyes with the back of his hands and is about to apologize when Pidge stops him. “Don’t you dare.”

He pauses, looking down at his hand, still red from where he hit the whiteboard. He flexes his fingers,  calloused from years of farm work and shooting before that. He makes a tight fist with his hand.

“I didn’t know I had so much…” he trails off and he hears a snap. Looking up, he sees Rizavi has pulled the arm off one of the Sentries she’s shot.

“Anger?” she offers, swinging the limb over her shoulder with a grin. “I think I have an idea to help you with that, Professor.”

Lance lifts himself up to his feet. “What do you have in mind?”

Rizavi tosses him the arm before ripping the second one off the robot, sparks shooting out. Pidge looks pained but closes her eyes and turns to Lance, patting him on the back.

“Let’s break some robots,” she says with a smile and Rizavi cheers, jumping up and down excitedly.

“Pidge, you love these weird robots,” he says, pointing to them with the arm, which is kind of morbid in a weird way. “We can’t just smash them so I can get some unresolved anger dealt with.”

“Of course we can,” she says, tossing him and Rizavi a pair of goggles. “Robots can be rebuilt, improved, and upgraded, but there’s only one Lance McClain.”

Lance smiles and then quickly needs to duck because Rizavi has started hacking away at one of the Sentries screaming something about Kinkade and yeast.

***

“Hey,” Lance greets Keith when he walks back into the apartment, tossing his keys into the bowl on the end table by their front door. Keith is sitting on the sofa, feet on the coffee table (like a monster), reading the school handbook.

“Hey, Lance,” he says back, looking up from the book to give him a skeptical look. “Uh, what happened to you?”

Lance stops by the mirror in the hall and takes a look at himself. His hair is a mess with pieces of scrap metal stuck it, and his eyes are red from angry crying. He wasn’t sure why, but yelling about the injustices of the universe while beating up robots was oddly therapeutic.

“Rizavi and I smashed Sentries in Pidge’s lab,” he explains, plucking the last bit of the metal from his hair and making his way to the sofa to flop next to Keith. He nudges his knee. “Get your feet off the table. What kind of manners are you picking up on Daibazaal?”

Keith rolls his eyes and brings his feet to the floor. “There. Better?”

“Much. The feng shui of the apartment is now aligned. The energy is flowing freely. Do you feel it, Keith? Now that your nasty feet aren’t desecrating our furniture?”

Keith pauses and blinks, staring at Lance like he grew a whole second head. “Wow, you’re in a mood.”

“No, I’m just pointing out that it’s gross to have your feet on the coffee table.”

“Mhm,” Keith says, sitting up. “Alright, get your shoes back on. We’re handling this.”

“Handling what? There’s nothing to handle,” Lance fights, not moving from his spot on the sofa. “I’m fine.”

“No you’re not, something’s bothering you.”

“I’m not moving, Keith. I just walked in,” Lance makes eye contact with the other man who’s eyes narrow. A familiar tension between them rises, the challenge of rivals. Then Keith slowly brings his foot up and pulls off his sock, dropping it dramatically on the floor. Lance gasps. “You wouldn’t!”

“Wouldn’t I?” Keith taunts, raising his foot above the coffee table. “Get your shoes on Lance, or my bare foot is touching this table.”

Lance grimaces as he grips onto the fabric of the couch as Keith begins to descend his foot slowly.

“I didn’t get a chance to shower yet, and I’ve been wearing boots,” Keith whispers as his foot nears the wood. “All. Day. Long.”

His foot is nearly touching the table, and Lance feels his body recoil.

“....AUGH FINE! FINE! FINE! YOU WIN!” Lance shrieks and Keith pulls back. “Just get your nasty feet away from the furniture and back into your gross boots. Christ…”

Keith looks smug as Lance makes a walk of shame to put his shoes back on and follow him out of the apartment door, mumbling the entire way angrily.

It doesn’t take long for Keith to bring Lance to where he wanted to, the Garrison Garage. Lance was familiar with this spot since it’s where he would often go to bring in Veronica’s car for a tune-up in the months before they headed out to space to find Honerva. One time he brought Romelle and Allura along for company and Allura saw just how much oil and grease it took for Earth cars to work and wrinkled her nose in disgust before talking about how on Altea they never used anything as primitive as natural gas.

He smiles at the memory, swallowing hard at the thought of her that propelled him to smash a handful of Sentries and lose his temper at Keith. Being at the Garrison, walking the halls he shared with her during their small window of peace, can sometimes feel like chasing her ghost.

“You still back there?” Keith asks as they reach a door and Lance nods, looking over Keith’s shoulder to see him pull out one of his infinite number of keys from his keychain and unlocking the door.

“How’d you get a key for this?” he asks, eying Keith suspiciously. “Wait, are you a space janitor?”

“Just shut up and follow me.”

Lance obeys, and a few steps inside he sees two hoverbikes, and Keith tosses him a helmet.

“You wanna go hoverbike riding?” Lance asks, catching the helmet quickly.

“Yup,” Keith says, popping the P as he straddles the seat.

“But I haven’t ridden one of these in years,” Lance says, looking at the bike like it was going to become sentient and attack him, which given Lance’s track record isn’t that unlikely. “I’ll probably crash it.”

“No, you won’t,” he looks over his shoulder sending Lance a smirk. “What are you scared?”

Oh, so that's how they're gonna play it?

“With you at the wheel?” Lance slips on the helmet. “Terrified.”

Lance turns the key and sits for a moment, listening to the purr of the engine. It’s a solid machine and comfortable — the vibrations soothing his frazzled nerves.

The garage door opens, and he can tell Keith is growing impatient by the way he's revving up his bike before calling over his shoulder, “Follow me!”

Keith’s bike lifts, and he’s off like a rocket. Lance feels his feet lift off the ground and with a roar of the engine, the powerful machine shoots out, and quickly he’s following Keith halfway down the road and into the canyons right outside the Garrison.

Watching Keith ride is like watching him fly, graceful and with a hint of danger. He waits until the last second to hang a turn and leans a little too far back for a jump. He always sticks it though, never fumbling.

“Enjoying the view?” he calls back, his smile all teeth. “Or did I lose you in my dust?”

“You wish!” Lance grins, revving his engine. “I’m just waiting for you to tire out!”

“Oh, so there’s a strategy to this? I figured you were winging it.”

“Don’t you know by now I’m always winging it?”

Keith’s laugh is loud enough to hear over the roar of their motors and Lance still isn’t used to the sound. Lance was told that laughing was a noise that comes from the mouth, but when Keith laughs, it’s nothing like that. Maybe it was because for so long in their friendship, Keith’s laughs were precious, so few and far between. He would roll his eyes or chuckle, but the full-throated laughs were rare. These laughs are in his eyes, in the way his face changes into that vision of relaxed joy and unrestrained levity. Whenever Lance can pull those laughs from Keith, he feels like he’s won some sort of prize.

“Cliff up ahead,” Keith points to a rocky ledge at the end of the path that Lance wouldn’t have noticed if Keith didn’t call it out.

“What do we do?”

“We’re gonna jump it!”

“WHAT?!” Lance screams. “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR QUIZNACKING MIND?”

“Make sure you get the timing right!”

“IS THAT HOW YOU’RE GONNA TEACH YOUR STUDENTS? DOES SHIRO KNOW YOU’RE GONNA KILL HALF THESE KIDS?”

Keith ignores him. “Don’t pull up too early or you won’t get enough lift, too late, and you’ll crash!”

“THEN HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN TO PULL UP?”

“You’ll know,” Keith calls. “Don’t worry, you got this!”

And just like that Keith speeds off, diving over the cliff just like they did the night they saved Shiro from the Garrison Hospital, only this time Lance sees Keith fly.

He lifts perfectly, manipulating the air around him, moving gently upward in a seemingly never-ending glide. Watching Keith fly was like watching a spirit ascend to the heavens. How could someone like Keith even land on Earth? He’s otherworldly.

The ledge is quickly coming up, and Lance takes a deep breath, the long-forgotten feeling of being entirely in the moment and one with everything around him. He doesn’t have a lion this time, but he doesn’t need it. He soars over the cliff and is greeted to a view usually bequeathed only to the birds, their birthright and domain. He glides on, above the rocky terrain, over the canyons seeing the small patchwork farmland beyond the city as he begins to lose height.

Just as Keith promised, Lance knows precisely when to lift, and he floats down as the wind whips about his sun-kissed face, and he longs, not for the first time in his life, the power to extend the time to savor this moment. The moment when he was able to soar again.

The bike hits the ground in a solid landing, and quickly he’s able to meet up with Keith, who’s already parked his at the edge of the canyon, overlooking the sunset. Lance parks his bike next to him and lets out a deep breath after cutting his engine.

“HOLY CRAP! THAT WAS AMAZING!” He’s a bundle of nervous laughter as he pulls off his helmet. “DID YOU SEE THAT? I CAN’T BELIEVE I JUST DID THAT!”

“Told ya,” Keith says, leaning forward on the handles of his bike to watch the sunset with his helmet hanging from his fingers. “I knew you’d get it.”

“Yeah, but like...I didn’t know, y’know? Like it’s been so long since I did anything like that - probably since the war, to be honest. Hell, I wasn’t even sure I still knew how to ride a hoverbike. Wow...just….wow…” he flops on the ground, extending his legs in front of him and looks up at Keith with a face he is sure looks insane, but he can’t bring himself to care. “Thank you, Keith.”

Keith turns from the sunset to stare at Lance, his face unreadable for a moment. For some reason Lance's thoughts drift to Xadrion, wondering if he was ever able to decipher the kind of looks that have been haunting Lance since they were cadets at the Garrison.

“Anytime, Lance,” he finally says with a smile and Lance is sure it must be the glare from the sunset because Keith is really bright and it makes Lance have to turn away. Keith kicks off his bike and flops next to Lance on the ground, sending puffs of dirt into the air. “I had a feeling you had to let off some steam when you came in before.”

“Yeah,” Lance sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. “It really hit me at the orientation that this whole teaching thing is a pretty big deal.”

“You’re not worried about talking to a bunch of preteens are you?” Keith jokes, and it only takes him one look at Lance’s face for it to register. “Wait, are you serious?”

“Well, yeah! I mean, going up there and talking to a bunch of kids? That’s scary, dude! They’re like, young and know weird slang that I don’t understand,” he pulls his knees up to his chin. “And look, I know this is gonna sound really pathetic, but like...what if they don’t like me?”

“They aren’t gonna like you, Lance,” Keith says, and Lance sits up. He's ready to round on him when he feels the other man’s hand on his shoulder, facing him determinedly. “They’re gonna love you.”

“Keith…”

“You’re gonna be the Professor they’re all excited to go to class to see because his lectures are so interesting. They’re gonna crowd your office hours to badger you with questions about what it was like being both the Blue and Red paladin of Voltron,” Keith looks away slightly. “They’re gonna ask you about Allura, and you’ll tell them how amazing she was, and how she always saved our asses because you know we wouldn’t have lasted an hour without her.”

“Yeah,” Lance smiles, thinking back. “Remember when we were first starting out, and she tried to help us bond with our lions by testing the defense missiles on us?”

“Ugh, yes and Hunk body slammed Yellow into me and yelled ‘combine!’ like that was the secret to forming Voltron,” Keith shakes his head. “That’s what I mean, Lance. You’re gonna be great, you always are.”

Lance smiles and Keith pats his shoulder before leaning back on his hands. “I, on the other hand, may accidentally get some of the students launched into space.”

“Yeah dude, those directions back there were like...basically useless.”

“Basically or completely?” Keith asks earnestly. “Cause I think there was some good stuff about the timing of the jump, right?”

“No, man,” Lance laughs, elbowing him. “It all sucked.”

Chapter Text

The night the lions disappeared on Altea, the five of them couldn't go back to bed right away and Lance had to keep covering his face to keep the tears at bay.

They sat together on the grass in front of the castle, the chirp of some sort of Altean crickets off in the distance. They spoke about Allura and recounted stories of their journey like it all happened longer than just a year ago. Nobody could get her accent right, but Hunk came closest which sent everyone into a fit of laughter and Shiro needed to shush them to keep from waking up the castle.

They were there for vargas, and Shiro was the first to head back inside, followed by Pidge and Hunk after she fell asleep on Hunk's shoulder and he had to carry her on his back piggyback style towards her room. Keith stayed a little longer with Lance, who had no desire to go back to his bedroom, which was dark and reminded him too much of Allura. It felt like he was living in a space that didn't belong to him, which technically he was.

He's so deep in his own head that he doesn't notice that Keith had gotten up, left and returned with an oversized comforter from his room, dropping it unceremoniously onto him. Lance blinked in confusion as Keith flopped back on the grass and adjusted the blanket so it could fit the two of them comfortably.

“Your lips were turning blue and I figured it wasn't a side effect of your marks,” he said simply before looking back up at the sky. Lance swallowed dryly, wrapping the warm blanket around his shoulder and feeling Keith's warmth radiate at his side. Lance always forgot how warm Keith ran, it was probably some sort of Galra thing.

“Thanks.”

Keith made a noise of acknowledgment before turning to face him, and in the moonlight somehow his eyes looked more violet, “You can let it out now if you need to. Nobody is gonna see.”

Lance's breath hitched in his throat and for some reason, that small act of kindness, the permission that Keith granted him, is enough for the dams to break and Lance started ugly crying into the blanket. Keith’s strong arm comes across his back and he adjusts Lance to press his face into the shoulder of his t-shirt instead of the blanket, and Lance continued to cry noisily, with runny snot and choking sobs.

“I’m sorry…” he hiccuped, wishing he could be more dignified.

“It’s okay, Lance,” Keith said, his voice gentle but full of its own hurt. “I miss her too.”

The next morning when Coran came out to find them, Lance and Keith were tangled in the comforter and Lance’s eyes were still puffy.

***

Lance is pleasantly surprised that teaching Earth kids is a lot easier than teaching Sentries.

His first day of teaching he quickly figures that standing in front of the whiteboard and droning about facts and figures is not the best way to engage the students. He instead leans against the desk in the front of the room and has the kids salute, as is protocol in the Garrison and then quickly throws all the rules out the window.

“I’m Lieutenant Lance McClain, former paladin of the Red and Blue lion,” he greets, hopping on the desk so his long legs dangle off the edge. The kids look horrified, which means that Lance is doing a good job of ignoring the rules. “And I’m your history professor for the semester.”

He has his students all make name tags because if there’s one thing he hasn’t improved on, it’s his complete inability to remember names.

“Make sure to make these your own because they’re gonna be on your desk all semester,” he instructs, handing out pieces of paper and colored pencils. “Feel free to put something you like on it too. It’ll be easier for everyone to know you if we know something about you.”

Talking about the war is a lot easier when he’s teaching it and being able to focus on key details like important characters and battles. Lance quickly learns that a great thing about teaching 12 year-olds is that they’re still young enough that they’ll respect authority in some way, but old enough to bring some interesting points to their discussions.

The class is completely comprised of Junior Cadets in their first or second year at the Garrison, and even though they’re young, it was only a few years ago that Earth was occupied by Sendak. These are kids that were only a few years older than Nadia and Silvio, they remember when Lance and the other paladins of Voltron liberated their families and planet from the Galra. He can tell how much they admire him in the way they greet him before class and linger after with questions.

However, even as the right-hand of Voltron, nobody comes close to the former Black Paladin. That is very apparent the few times when Keith will poke his head into Lance’s classroom asking for an extra whiteboard marker because his always goes missing. Lance feels the mood in the room shift and over his shoulder can see every student sit ramrod straight at their actual hero rummaging through Lance’s desk looking for a marker.

“Everyone say hi to Professor Kogane, kids,” Lance teases.

And all the students in a weird unison that only children are capable of greeting him with a drawn out, “Hiiiii, Professor Kogane.”

To which Keith awkwardly waves in response.

“Byeeeee, Professor Kogane,” the students say as Keith heads out, his ears slightly red with embarrassment and Lance laughs every time they do it.

A few weeks into teaching, Lance checks in with Shiro to make sure what he’s doing is kosher, since the last thing he wants is to have his less than conventional teaching style mess up with whatever long-term curriculum he may have planned for the Junior Cadets. Talking about it with Shiro, Lance finds himself going off on tangents.

“I think Molly Jennings would be a great candidate for any engineering classes with Pidge because she’s really into the Olkarian stuff we talk about. Oh! And Carlo Alpin was really into learning about Luxia’s planet with the mermaids. He would do well in a marine biology course, do we offer that?” He continues to go on and only stops when he realizes that Shiro is leaning back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest looking smug, “What?”

“Nothing.”

“Shiro!”

He chuckles, “It’s just good to see you so animated about your kids, that’s all.”

Lance pauses, looking down at the notes he has about all his students. Some of which are notes he’s written quickly on his hands during a lecture so he doesn’t forget - like how Iwan is allergic to this weird plant that Hunk sometimes uses in the cafeteria so to tell him to stop using it, or that Catherine was struggling to remember exactly how many Blade of Marmora members Voltron met and to schedule office hours with her to review them.

He sometimes goes home and talks about the junior cadets to Keith, and since they have the same bunch of students he’s excited to hear how they’re doing in their flight drills. Keith cares too and sometimes they’ll manage the coursework depending on how much work they’re giving in the other classes. It’s why Lance will never give a test on a Friday because he knows that’s usually when Keith has the kids do their practicals, and Keith typically doesn’t assign much earlier in the week because that’s when Lance starts a new subject.

Oh, wow.

They really were his kids.

“Anyway, it sounds like you’re doing a great job, Lance,” Shiro continues. “Are there any students that are giving you a hard time?”

“Well…” Lance starts and leans back in his chair, looking at the ceiling. “There is this one kid. Caitlyn Markle. Do you know her?”

“Ah, Markle,” Shiro says leaning forward at his desk. “She has a reputation.”

“She’s not really a troublemaker,” Lance says then stops. “Well, she kinda is. She’s loud and definitely the class clown. I know all the tricks in the book.”

“Oh you do, do you?”

“Not the time, Shiro,” Lance raises a hand. “Anyway, her grades are pretty good, though. She’s active in class, loves to read out loud and is usually the first to volunteer for things. She just has so much…”

“Energy?” Shiro offers. “Stamina? Enthusiasm?”

Lance’s eyes narrow, “I see where you’re going with this, Shirogane.”

“Good, so you don’t need me to point out that she sounds very familiar to a certain Cadet I used to know,” Shiro smiles warmly. “Thanks for saving me the conversation, Lieutenant.”

“Why do I have the feeling you brought me in here just to make fun of me?”

“It’s a nice perk.”

Lance wraps up, heading out the door to leave when Shiro stops him.

“And Lance?” he says and Lance turns to face him. “I’m proud of you, and Allura would be, too.”

Lance pauses looking down at his hands before nodding with a small smile, “I hope so.”

It’s a short walk from Shiro’s office to their apartment, and the campus is especially empty since the Junior Cadets were away on a trip out to the badlands for shooting drills. Even though he was invited to join, Lance took the afternoon off to catch up on grading and maybe some sleep.

He unlocks the front door and notices that Keith isn’t home yet. Lance takes off his shoes, looks at the calendar they’ve hung in the kitchen and notices it’s Keith’s turn to cook dinner, so maybe he’s off to get groceries for tonight. He thinks he should probably send him a text to check in. Nothing weird, but like, just to make sure he knows it’s his turn to cook. He takes out his phone and starts typing with his thumbs.

 

Lance: Hey ur cooking tonight

 

He sends Keith a string of emojis of various meat and vegetables.

 

Lance: Need me to defrost anything?

 

Keith takes only a few seconds to reply. He always replies fast.

 

Keith: Nah.
Keith: Do we still have those weird radishes from Hunk?

 

Lance looks in the fridge and makes a face when he sees them there. He’s been trying to avoid them all week, but with a teacher’s salary, they were limited in how fine their dining could be.

 

Lance: If I say no can we not have the weird radishes for dinner?

Keith: No.

 

Lance sends an angry emoji with a knife and Keith replies back with the middle finger emoji. He doesn’t use emojis a lot, but when he does it’s usually at Lance and it’s that one.

Mindlessly, he makes his way to the bathroom, twists on the hot water and kicks off his uniform, waiting for the water to get warm before he turns into the group chat he shares with Hunk, Pidge, Shiro, and Keith.

 

Lance: Keith is gonna poison us with those weird radishes.

Lance: Is there anything we should know before we start cooking them? Are they gonna grow legs and walk away if we don’t boil them first or wtv?

Hunk: Nope, at least not these radishes

Shiro: Excuse me?

Hunk: Just make sure they’re dry when you cook them

Hunk: Try them with some olive oil, Keith

Keith: I’M NOT GONNA POISON US!!!!!

Keith: Cool thanks for the tip, Hunk!

Shiro: So are we just going to ignore the walking radishes thing?

Pidge: if history in this chat has served as any indicator, yes we are

 

Lance adds his own message, filled with emojis, and sends it to the rest of the chat before hopping under the stream. Humming in appreciation as the hot water works out on the sore knots in his neck and back, Lance allows his mind to float around in his head. Of course, it lands on the one thing he's been struggling with for what seems like weeks.

Living with Keith felt good...really good, actually.

At first, he figured after years of traveling the galaxy together it would be similar, with them staying out of the others’ hair and only seeing each other in the morning when they headed to campus to teach. But in reality, it was so much more domestic and full of their own routines.

Lance is still used to waking up early, and oftentimes the two of them would go on a morning run together, talking about what plans the other had for the day between small spurts of mini-races. They would get back to the apartment, and one would shower while the other cooked breakfast, jumping into the bathroom once the other left. In the years since the war, Keith had gained some cooking skills (though Lance was still the better chef) and Lance looked forward to their breakfasts together, and would often take his time eating his food so he could spend more time with Keith after he got out of his shower. His face flushed from the steam, hair still damp while he sipped his black coffee is always quite a sight.

At first he figured he just enjoyed Keith's company and their compatibility, but as days turned to weeks it was starting to the become harder for Lance to deny this very real truth that has probably been festering for deca-phoebs, waiting for him to finally open up the pandora's box in the back of his mind where he compartmentalized all his complicated feelings, and acknowledge it.

He's catching feelings for Keith Kogane.

He closes his eyes and leans his forehead against the tile wall of their shower, the warm water hitting his neck in a comforting pattern.

The first time it hit him was a few weeks ago when Lance had finally gotten Keith to agree to try a face mask. Lance watched as he pulled his dark hair back into a high, messy ponytail as he leaned forward, eyes closed, for Lance to paint his face with the mysterious green goop he pulled from their refrigerator. He felt his heart race, beating in his ears, as he gently took two fingers an dipped them into the mixture and ran them gently across Keith’s forehead.

“Let me know if it’s too cold,” Lance had said, his fingers dipping down to the bridge of Keith’s nose. Keith made a nose in the back of his throat and Lance couldn’t help but laugh, “I’m guessing facemasks weren't a thing you and Xadrion did back on Daibazial.”

“You're really hung up on that,” Keith opened one eye to look at Lance with an easy smile. “You bring him up more than me and he's my ex.”

Lance felt caught and frowned, “Only because you never mentioned him before and we literally have a whole group chat where we talk about everything.”

“Not everything .”

“Yes, everything! Remember when Kaltenecker gave birth? I sent you all the pictures!”

“Nobody asked for that and it was really gross and unnecessary.”

“It was the miracle of life, Keith!” Lance snapped and mindlessly took hold of Keith's jaw to adjust him up so he could finish applying the mask. “Stop frowning or it's gonna dry funny.”

Keith sighed and closed his eyes again, “It just didn't feel like something worth talking about…”

“I would have talked about it with you,” and Lance knows this is true because he did that with Keith whenever he was worried about Allura.

Keith paused and opened his eyes, giving Lance that look again. The same one from when they went hoverbike riding, the same one from when they watched the sunset on the Black Lion before his first date with Allura. The one he can never quite read.

And then it's gone and Keith sighed, eyes closed again, “Okay, if I date anyone else again I'll make sure you're the first to know.”

The thought made Lance's heart sink, but he didn't stop applying the mixture. Instead, he was busy appreciating the curve of Keith's cheekbones and the dip of his cupids bow. How soft his skin was, even though he's probably exposed it to all sorts of terrible conditions. Even the weird blemishes from where his hair rubs against his temple were captivating.

Keith's pulse point rests under his finger and Lance could feel how relaxed he was, how much he trusted him. With the barest of efforts, he could lift up his chin and lightly peck a kiss to his lips, the same ones he had been badgering Keith to put chapstick on to keep from cracking, and -

“Lance?”

He thinks it’s the Keith in his memory who asks, but quickly he's back in the shower out of his thoughts and hearing a pounding of something. Lance shakes his head and hears his name called again.

“Lance, hurry up!” Keith from real life yells, pounding on the bathroom door. “I gotta pee!”

He pushes the shower curtain out of the way, “Well hold it cause I'm in here and I haven't washed my hair yet!”

“Are you serious? Ughhhh...let me at least come in to pee quick!”

“NO! THAT'S DISGUSTING!!”

“LANCE!” he hits the door again and it dawns on Lance that he didn't think to lock the bathroom door behind him and quickly Keith takes the handle.

“KEITH!” he yells and before he can stop him, Keith bursts through the door and runs to the toilet. “AUGHHHH!!!”

“Stop being a baby!” he barks over his shoulder as he unzips his pants. “I don't have anything you don't have.”

“We don't know that! You're half Galra so maybe your dick has, like, scales or you have three balls or something!”

“Do you wanna compare?” Keith arches his eyebrow and Lance goes back behind the curtain with a huff, although the dumb bantering is enough to distract Lance from the gross sound of his stream. He totally isn't even close to being into anything like that, but the satisfied groan Keith lets out when he finishes stirs something in Lance that makes him blush. He hears Keith zip up and wash his hands, “There. Done. Happy?”

“Thrilled. Now can you get the hell out?” he calls over the curtain as he begins to lather his shampoo. “Just don't flush the toilet cause it screws up the water temperature.”

And as soon as it leaves his lips he hears the flush of the toilet and instantly his hot shower becomes ice as he scurries from under the stream as Keith slams the door behind him, “KEITH, YOU ASS!”

Nevermind, Lance hated Keith and anything he may have thought otherwise was a momentary lapse in his sanity.

***

Lance is in the middle of grading some essays when he sees Veronica enter and lets out a long whistle.

“Oh dang, we got Major McClain in the faculty room,” he sits up from where he was lounging on the community sofa. “What brings you to our humble little space? I thought senior officers got the bougie offices?”

“Maybe, but your snacks are better,” she grabs a green apple from the communal bowl and taking a seat next to him before taking a bite. “Plus I wanted to catch up with my favorite brother.”

“We both know that’s Luis, so what’s the real reason you’re here?”

Veronica elbows him before leaning back, “I got a report about one of your kids sneaking out last night and wanted to get your take before they issue harsher than necessary punishment.”

“Which kid?” he asks, she nods to the paper he’s currently grading and he groans. “Oh man, Caitlyn Markle?”

“Yup,” she says, taking another chomp of her apple. “And by the looks of it she has great grades, so I find the whole thing really weird. I wanted to get your read on her.”

“She’s great in my class, super engaged,” Lance sighs leaning back and staring at the ceiling. “Keith says she’s pretty decent in the simulator, too.”

“Ooooh, what else does Keith say?” Veronica teases and Lance shoots her a look of annoyance which she counters with an eye roll. “Oh my god, Lance, I’m just teasing. Jeez, if you don’t want me to call you out on the obvious crush that you’ve been holding for years, try not being so dang obvious about it.”

“I don’t have a crush on Keith,” Lance mumbles lifting his head back up. “I don’t know how many times I gotta tell you that.”

Veronica twirls her apple in her hand before softly touching Lance’s arm, “Hey...look, I know the whole thing with Allura was...hard for you.”

“V…”

“No Lance, c’mon,” she insists, holding his arm tighter. “It’s been three years, Lance. I didn’t know her that long, but from what I did knew of Allura she wouldn’t want you to keep yourself from ever moving on. And Keith gets the whole situation better than anyone else you’ll ever meet. You don’t need to explain that stuff to him, he was there too. He gets it, Lance. You two have this thing between you and you can’t keep denying there’s nothing there.”

Sure Lance could! He’s been doing it for years and has gotten very good at it.

When he ignores her and goes back to grading his papers, Veronica lets out a long groan, “Fine. You win, I’ll drop it cause I do need your help.”

“Oh?” Lance grins, crossing his legs and leaning over to smirk at his sister like a cat who got the cream. “Little Miss Major needs my help?”

“Yes, I need you to cover Markle’s detention tomorrow night,” Veronica explains. “I’m gonna formally recommend her to only get kitchen duty since it’s the first offense and it looks like she’s a good kid with an eye for adventure that got a bit carried away in her first year at the Garrison.”

“Can’t relate,” he says inspecting his nails. “And why can’t you do it? Got a date or something?” Veronica blushes and somehow Lance’s grin grows. “Oh shit!”

“It's not a big deal.”

“Is exactly what people say when it is a big deal. C'mon who are you seeing? Do I know him?”

Veronica makes a face and Lance blinks, “Do I know her?”

“...maybe.”

“So that’s a fat yes,” Lance turns on the sofa and grabs his sister’s half eaten apple. “Tell me who she is and maybe I’ll consider it.”

Veronica blushes and pouts, “Lance, c’mon!”

“No way, sis, this is good old-fashioned payback,” he takes a chomp of the apple talking between chews to be extra obnoxious. “Who’s the lucky lady? Is it Maggie from Admin? She seems nice. Or is it Zubeida from record keeping? Lemme know if I’m close, I can rattle off names all break.”

Veronica mumbles a name and Lance nearly chokes, “I’m sorry can you repeat that cause I’m pretty sure you just said-”

“Acxa!” she hisses, face redder than he’s ever seen it before. “It’s Acxa okay? So can you please stop being a total ass for like, five minutes, and help me out?”

Lance blinks and leans back, handing the apple back to Veronica, “Wow...I had no idea.”

“Yeah, well you missed a lot being back on Mom and Dad’s farm,” she sighs, grabbing the apple and taking the final bite.

Lance leans back and looks at his sister. Next to Shiro and his records, Veronica was the reason he wanted to join the Garrison in the first place. Seeing her get her acceptance letter as a Junior Cadet was one of his earliest memories, and she was the first person he called when he got his own letter, before even their own parents.

No matter what happened during the war or even in their family, Veronica was never shaken and usually took everything in stride with great professionalism or light-hearted teasing. Except when it mattered, like when Lance didn’t make it to fighter class and was instead knocked down into cargo pilot. Veronica knew how badly Lance wanted to make the cut and while everyone was out celebrating their positions, she found Lance crying in the small dorm room he shared with Hunk, bringing junk food and dumb movies they could watch together to cheer him up.

The thing about his sister is that when things mattered to her, it was because she was serious about them - and she was serious about Acxa.

“Yeah, of course,” he says softly and when Veronica’s face lights up he can’t help but feel a little twinge of envy. He remembers the same feeling when Allura agreed to come to their family dinner. “Sorry for being a jerk. You seem excited.”

“Yeah right, like that’s ever stopped you before,” she grins, punching him lightly in the arm and getting up, tossing the apple core into the trash. “I’ll send you the details tonight. Hunk will be on duty too, so at least you’ll have a buddy during it.”

Lance nods and waves his sister off, noticing how more excited she is leaving the lounge than she was coming in.

When Lance walks into the apartment door that night, he sees it’s his turn to cook dinner. After toeing his shoes off at the door and dropping his bag in his bedroom, he changes out of his uniform to a more comfortable pair of Garrison issued sweats and shirt. He’s in the middle of defrosting the massive chicken they were having for dinner (Keith and his weird Galra protein intake) when he hears Keith’s ten thousand keys jangle as he opens the door. Lance looks up from the counter and Keith shuts the door with his foot, pulling one of his earbuds out.

“I’m facetiming with my mom,” he greets, waving the phone up. “You wanna say hi?”

“Yes!” he hurries up to jump in behind Keith with a wave. “Hi, Krolia!”

“Hello, Loudmouth,” she laughs softly in the frame, “Are you taking good care of my son?”

Keith’s eyes narrow, but Lance ignores it, “Yup. I’m making sure he’s eating protein and getting lots of sleep. Otherwise, he’s hangry and the worst person to live with.”

“I can imagine,” she says and looks off screen. “It appears that Kosmo wants to say hello as well.”

Soon Kosmo’s oversized head is in the frame and Lance feels the way Keith’s entire energy shifts when he sees the wolf. His voice rises up ten octaves, asking if he’s been a good boy and if he’s having fun as if Kosmo was going to be able to answer him. Considering Keith thought eventually the wolf was gonna tell him his name, Lance wouldn’t put it past Keith to think that after months of being on separate planets his dog would just pick up the ability to speak to him.

Lance waves goodbye and makes his way back to the kitchen while Keith takes the rest of the call in his bedroom. He’s trying not to think too much about the life Keith now has on Daibazaal. He knows Keith also has a place on Earth, but Lance can’t stop thinking the friends he must have there and his new home. People who know him, who knew that he and Xadrion were a couple. Did they go on Galra double-dates? Did they have anniversary dinners at a Galra Restaurant? It’s an entirely different life, one that Lance can’t picture because it’s the part of the venn-diagram of their relationship that doesn’t overlap.

When Keith exits his room after the call, he’s changed into a pair of jeans and a tight long-sleeved black t-shirt with a logo on it that Lance doesn’t recognize. He leans against the kitchen counter and looks over the prep area where Lance is chopping herbs to season the chicken.

“Need help?” he asks and Lance shakes his head.

“Nah, I’m good,” he goes back to prepping the pan to be put into the oven. “Everything good back home?”

“Yeah,” Keith says pulling out the tablet where he reviews his student’s flight simulator exercises for grading. “The planet itself is great, but the politics are a mess, so nothing else is really different there.”

They fall into an easy rhythm of conversation.

“Did you know Veronica and Acxa have a date tomorrow?” Lance asks wiggling his eyebrows and Keith smirks.

“I fucking knew it!” he says, leaning back with his arms crossed looking smug. “She told me she was gonna be on Earth for the night and when I asked if she wanted to catch up she said she already had plans. I know Acxa, she doesn’t just make plans. I knew your sister finally made the move.”

Lance laughs, “Wow Keith, I had no idea you were such a romantic.”

“I mean, I’m not really...maybe a little…but here’s what it was like,” he stutters a bit shaking his head as he positions the salt and pepper shakers on the table slightly closer. “Y’know when you just know two people would be great together and you just gotta give it a little push?”

“Yeah?”

“That was them,” he shrugs before looking down at his tablet and Lance feels his cheeks warm. He reaches up to his marks, unsure where the feeling was coming from and Keith looks up at him, brows knit together.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Yeah...I’m okay,” he answers, and for the first time since Lance left the farm, he feels like he means it.

***

“Please tell me you see the irony in you being the one giving me detention for sneaking out, Professor.”

Lance looks down at Caitlyn Markle, her brown eyes framed by her curly brown hair that reminds him of his sister Rachel. Her braces are multicolor and make her clip the final syllables of her words when she speaks too quickly, which is often because she’s always talking. Lance can see why some people would have a hard time keeping up with her, but his mind works the same way. It doesn’t take him long to see the patterns in her thoughts.

“The fact that Lieutenant Garrett is also a part of my kitchen duty is like, double-ironic,” she pauses, her nose wrinkling. “Is that a thing? I guess it could be a thing. Anyway, do you know why it’s ironic Professor?”

“Because us sneaking out is how we ended up being paladins of Voltron?” Lance offers and Caitlyn points at him with a grin.

“Bingo! And guess where I learned that from?”

“I did not say we snuck out in our lecture, Markle,” he explains, pulling his keycard out to open the kitchen. “Just that we were chosen.”

“Yeah, after you guys snuck out!”

“Nice to see you’re doing additional reading, though,” he motions her to enter the open door before him. “But it’s not gonna get you out of kitchen duty.”

Caitlyn groans in a way that is natural for all girls of a certain age when the world is simply too unfair for them to function in it. Her hair flops in her dramatic outburst.

“Hey there!” Hunk greets as he meets them in the entrance, apron still on. “Welcome to Kitchen Duty!”

“Hunk, this is detention,” Lance points out. “You should be more menacing about it.”

“Oh yeah, ahem,” he deepens his voice and crossing his arms, frowning. “Alrighty maggot, welcome to kitchen duty, detention edition! It’s gonna be the worst thing ever and you’ll never want to break the rules ever again, got it?!”

The scene is so ridiculous that Lance can’t even blame Caitlyn for giggling.

“Ah forget it,” Hunk says waving the air and beckoning her over to the bowl and vegetable peeler. “If you want the grumpy one, you should have scheduled detention with Keith.”

“You mean Professor Kogane?” she asks, taking the peeler in hand. “He doesn’t seem grumpy, just like...the stoic heroic type. Like Batman or something.”

“Keith? As Batman?” Lance hops on the counter trying to visualize it. The thought of Keith in a cape is too much before he snorts.

Hunk sets a big bag of space potatoes in front of Caitlyn who groans again, but like a good soldier quickly gets to work peeling. She continues chatting as she works.

“Yeah and Professor McClain, you’re totally Superman!”

Lance blinks and Hunk snorts, “Nahhh that’s definitely more Shiro. He’s our Man of Steel, no question.”

Caitlyn shakes her head, “No way, he’s more like the Nick Fury type. Man on the mic, gathering the Avengers and making sure they work together.”

“Oh, so we’re doing both universes?” Hunk says as he loads a handful of dirty trays into the dishwasher. “No sense of universe separation huh?”

“Not for this analogy,” she looks at Lance, her braces shining as she smiles. “Professor McClain is all heart and will do anything to help people. He was also Professor Kogane’s right-hand man. The two of them co-lead Voltron like how Batman and Superman co-lead the Justice League because they were best friends and opposites. Superman knew that Batman’s weakness was his family and Batman always carries kryptonite, but they never use it on the other.”

“Come to think of it, Lance, you did pilot both the Blue and Red Lions,” Hunk says and Lance raises an eyebrow. “And Superman’s colors are red and blue.”

“Really? She says all these nice things and that’s the thing that makes you consider it? Color matching?”

Hunk shrugs and Caitlyn laughs, “Professor Holt was definitely Green Lantern, being able to create whatever she needed just from her mind and Lieutenant Garrett, you were probably the Cyborg, building all the cool tech for everyone, too.”

“And what about Princess Allura?” Lance asks softly, and he feels a little silly even going there with Caitlyn, but she rolls her eyes like it's the most obvious answer.

“Wonder Woman, duh!” she shakes her head in disappointment, going back to peeling. “Man, Professor, I thought you would get that in a heartbeat.”

“Yeah Lance, seriously,” Hunk adds, passing by with another armful of dirty pots and pans. “You’re losing your street cred with the Junior Cadet here!”

“Did you know Superman and Wonder Woman even dated?” Caitlyn says, eyebrows wiggling waving the potato peeler as she speaks. “It’s a weird tension between the Trinity where some books have Wonder Woman date Batman or Superman, or even other characters...but Superman and Batman are always together, no matter what.”

“I don’t remember my comics having that much romantic tension,” Hunk says, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s all in the subtext,” she says, taking another potato from the bag. “But if you ask me, Batman and Superman are more important to each other than anyone else they’ve dated. I think they’d make much better boyfriends. Like, think about it, they both work similar hours and have the same interests like saving the universe!”

Lance feels something crawl around in his heart again, and he reaches up to rub his chest in hopes it’ll ease the anxious feeling.

“They would have very interesting pillow talk, that’s for sure,” Hunk adds and turns to Lance. “You good, buddy? Want some coffee?”

“Yeah that’d be great,” he says hopping off the counter before turning to Caitlyn. “Don’t stop peeling those potatoes, Cadet.”

Caitlyn sighs and salutes before going back to peeling. Lance follows Hunk to the other side of the kitchen where he’s set up a very elaborate looking espresso machine. He pushes some buttons and it begins to hum and steam.

“That’s gonna take a few doboshes to ramp up,” he says taking a seat next to Lance and patting him on the back. “So what’s new with you, Superman?”

Lance shrugs, “Not much, just teaching the kids and getting by one day at a time.”

“Hmm, it does makes you feel kind of old, right?” Hunk says looking back to where Caitlyn was peeling her potatoes. “It’s only been three years but so much has happened that I feel like it was three lifetimes. I’m definitely running on dog years, dude. I feel it in my bones.”

“Are we even old? I can’t tell anymore,” Lance looks down at his hands. “Between time warps and space-time, I have no idea how old I am anymore. Keith’s even worse because he was on that space whale, too. I asked him how old he was turning on his next birthday and he just shrugged and said,” he mimics Keith’s voice over frowning with a shrug, “ Old .“

Hunk lifts off his chair to set up the coffee, “Sounds like you two are back to getting along.”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“Maybe a little,” he reached for the bag of coffee beans. “It’s nice to see you guys back at it again. When we went to Daibazaal and saw Keith there, it was weird not seeing you at his side.”

“We weren’t always together when we were part of Voltron,” Lance says and Hunk makes a noise. “Keith left for the Blades and I was always with you and Pidge most of the time. Then it was me and Allura.”

“I mean, yeah on the Allura stuff,” Hunk shrugs setting up the filter. “But even then you and Keith were literally always just around each other. We used to joke about it on the Atlas that you guys shared a kidney.”

Lance frowns, trying to think back to those days. So much of his mind was always occupied with Allura that he couldn’t really remember anything else from those times. Maybe Keith and him were around each other a lot, but it was mostly for Voltron stuff. It wasn’t like he would go and seek out Keith…

Well, okay, he did do that a few times. But that was only because he had known that Keith’s favorite spot in the ship when things were feeling super dire was the observatory deck, which was also Lance’s favorite spot. Sometimes they would hang there together and point out weird stars or nebulas to the other. And there were a few times when Keith would find Lance on the training deck when he was practicing with his sword and help him with his stance while Lance helped Keith aim his blaster. Another time when Allura was in a super long meeting with Sam Holt and Shiro, Lance tried to show Keith how to floss dance in the hallway and they ended up hip-chunking James on his way to the cafeteria.

Oh shit...

“Did you just have a mini flashback to all the time you spent with Keith?” Hunk asks and Lance looks at him pathetically and nods. “Yeah, I had a feeling we were gonna end up here eventually.”

“Hunk, how did this happen?”

“Buddy, this isn’t a new thing,” he says as the coffee starts to brew. “You two have been will they, won’t they forever. I’m not surprised it’s taken you this long to get there though,” he turns to Lance to give him a soft look of understanding, “When we lost Allura...that’s devastating.”

Lance swallows hard, gripping the front of his uniform. Hunk was the first person he’s spoken to about this that used the term we when talking about Allura’s loss, and for some reason that felt oddly soothing. For so long, Lance has heard other people talk about Allura’s death only in regards to how it affected him, like he was a siloed entity where the point of impact when she died was only his heart

“I can’t blame you for not wanting to see anything outside of that, dude,” he continues walking past to grab two mugs with the Garrison logo on them. “But eventually it’s important to also see that you sacrificing your own happiness is not going to bring her back. This isn’t an exchange. The deal is done.”

Lance looks at him, dumbstruck. Hunk smiles sadly, filling both the cups with coffee and mixing them with sugar and milk before setting a cup in front of him.

“I just don’t know if I can ever do that again…” Lance says finally, his voice quiet. “It feels so impossible...and who knows if Keith is even interested. I mean, he had that guy Xadrion, right?”

“Oh man, I forgot nobody but me met that guy!” Hunk shakes his head taking a sip of his coffee. “Lance...buddy, you would’ve freaked out.”

He raises an eyebrow, “Why?”

“I mean, it was kind of funny,” Hunk places his cup on the counter. “Okay so Shay and I are on Daibazaal, right? And Keith is giving us a tour of this restaurant and when we leave he says he’s waiting for his friend, and I've been around the space block long enough to know that when someone says friend like that, it’s usually someone more than that. Anyway, we lose track of time chatting outside and then this very attractive Galra dude comes over, like he’s tall, lean but all muscle, so we could definitely tell was a former Blade. He had these broad shoulders. His eyes were a dark reddish, purple and the whites of the eyes were yellow, so they kinda looked like the sunset. Lance, he was hot.”

“Thank you for rubbing this in, Hunk,” Lance deadpans.

“No no, but dude listen,” he continues. “So Keith introduces him as his friend Xadrion and this guy without missing a beat goes, ‘I guess that’s how we say boyfriend in Daibazaal, now?’ and Keith goes as red as a tomato. Like, I get it, Keith is a private guy and he didn’t want to make a big deal of this guy he’s dating, but then we ended up getting dinner with them and Lance,” Hunk pauses to put his hand Lance’s shoulder and squeezes. “He had the same personality as you. It was super weird.”

“What?” Lance shrieks leaning back. “Shut up! Are you telling me Keith was dating my Galra doppelganger?”

“Dude that’s literally what I’m saying. He was even a gunman on the Blades before the end of the war!” Hunk makes a cross over his chest. “If you don’t believe me ask Shay yourself, but even she was like, ‘Didn’t Xadrion remind you of the Blue Paladin?’ I was like ‘Yeah he did because Keith is literally dating Galra Lance.’ and then we got the best gelato. Oh my gosh, Lance, if you and Keith ever figure out your shit and you go to Daibazaal, you gotta go to this place it-”

“Hunk.”

“Right sorry, got distracted,” Hunk says shaking his head. “But yeah dude, that’s why Keith never told us about Xadrion cause it would have exposed himself for what we kind of already knew.”

“Which is?” Lance asks and Hunk sighs shaking his head.

“You know, man,” he says. “You’ve always known.”

***

Lance unlocks the front door that night after making sure Caitlyn makes it back to her dorm in one piece, half-listening as she complained about how that old school vegetable peeler should have constituted as cruel and unusual punishment. He’s quiet, carefully shuffling his shoes off at the door and placing his keys in the bowl next to Keith’s keychain, heavy with mismatched keys.

He quietly walks past the kitchen, noticing a plate of dinner that was gently wrapped up plastic for him to heat up. Keith’s handiwork. He keeps walking past to the sofa, where Keith is still up, twirling a tablet pen between his fingers as he makes notes on the simulator videos from the day. He has earbuds in, probably listening to one of those boring audiobooks that put Lance to sleep but Keith has always liked because it ‘keeps your mind engaged while your body is doing other things’ which is such a Keith way to say something is interesting.

Keith hasn’t heard Lance come in and he’s just enjoying this view of him, completely relaxed. His hair out of its ponytail, no longer a mullet, but just long ebony strands that flow past his neck, right above his shoulder blades. Almost cape-like.

‘Superman and Batman are always together,’   he thinks of Caitlyn’s words. ‘No matter what.’

Lance takes a step forward, the creak of the floor enough for Keith to sense his presence and he looks up from his tablet, with a soft smile, pulling his earbud out and placing his tablet on the coffee table, “Hey! I didn’t hear you come in.”

Has Keith always looked at him like that? What face has Lance been giving him to deserve such a kind look from Keith Kogane?

“I left you a plate,” he continues pointing to the kitchen with the tablet pen. “I wasn’t sure if the kitchen duty with Hunk meant dinner or not, so I figured just in case.”

Lance isn’t turning his head to look at the food, he’s so captivated by how expressive Keith’s face is and how he can tell exactly when he’s going to turn back and frown at Lance and ask him if he’s okay because Lance has definitely been starting too long without saying anything.

“Are you okay?” Keith asks, frowning and Lance can’t help but laugh at it because of course he knew.

“Yeah,” he says softly and reaches out his hand to take hold of Keith’s, around the tablet pen. He watches as the other man blinks, probably shocked by the small gesture but soon it’s dawning on him what’s happening. Keith’s face changes and twisting between concern and confusion, all just from Lance taking hold of his hand.

Lance sits forward, taking the pen from Keith’s grip with his free hand placing it down on the coffee table next to his tablet. He gently intertwines their fingers, and Keith looks up at him, cheeks pinkish.

“Oh…” he says, swallowing hard. “This...is happening.”

“Do you want it to happen?” Lance asks, and heart is beating so fast he’s scared he’s gonna pass out if he tries to say any more words so he’s really hoping that’s enough for Keith to get it.

It is.

“Yes,” he breathes and his eyes narrow again, “Are you sure?”

And Lance takes the hand that’s intertwined with his and brings it to his chest, the same way he did with Allura all those years ago, but it wasn’t last time when he was so sure that that was it.  This time it’s all butterflies, his heart was beating fast...he isn’t sure. And maybe that’s okay because he’s unsure with Keith, who feels his heart beating like a hummingbird trying to break out of his chest and gives him that face again that for so long Lance couldn’t pinpoint but finally it’s hitting him that it’s been affection this whole time.

And unlike the last time he did this, Keith reaches out for Lance first and takes his chin in his hand, with a gentle touch and whispers against his lips, “Is this okay?”

“Yes,” Lance whispers back because even if he wasn’t sure before, with Keith he feels like he can try. He can get there.

And when Keith presses his lips to his, he feels it everywhere.

Chapter Text

Six months after the lions disappeared, Lance got a text in the middle of the night.

 

Keith: Code Black.

 

And that’s all it took for Lance to sit up and dial Keith’s number. Since the war, the two of them decided that it was easier to call anything that felt too much “Code Black” as shorthand for, ‘ Shit is really bad right now and I don’t know what to do’. He pressed the phone to his ear and Keith answers it on the first ring.

“Hey,” Lance says, voice low not to wake up his family. “I’m here.”

“Me too,” Keith replied and a small pebble hits Lance’s bedroom window causing him to crane his neck and see that he wasn’t lying. Keith was standing on his front porch in the dead of night with nothing but the clothes on his back and a small backpack. Lance knew he was struggling to adjust on Daibazaal, but probably left so quickly he didn’t even bring Kosmo.

“Don’t move, I’ll be down in a tick.”

“Lance-”

“Yeah?”

“Can you...stay on the phone?” Keith’s voice was shaky.

“You got it,” he said and began narrating himself putting on his slippers and sneaking out of his bedroom. “Gotta stay quiet to keep from waking up everyone...and avoiding that squeaky bottom stair...and now I’m opening the door…”

And when he opened the saw he Keith, shoulders hunched, eyes rimmed red, phone still pressed against his ear.

“There you are,” Lance says into the phone with a smile and Keith lets out a long breath before smiling back, his long lashes gleam from tears in the moonlight.

“Here I am.”

***

Lance isn’t dating Keith Kogane.

Their schedules don’t really change much, except that their morning runs start and end with a chaste kiss that Lance swears Keith does it just to get a lead on him when they race.

And when they’re eating breakfast, Lance can’t stop himself from taking Keith’s hand and stealing a bite of whatever he’s eating until Keith laughs and pushes him into the bathroom to shower.

They still alternate who cooks, but sometimes they’ll cook together and one time Lance was so distracted by Keith in an apron that he accidentally burnt the rice they were making and set off the smoke detector.

Sometimes they’ll hold hands on their way to work, but not always. Sometimes Keith sleeps in Lance’s room, head resting on Lance’s chest, but not always.

They don’t tell Hunk, Pidge or Shiro that they’re dating because they aren’t dating. They’re just together. They don’t flaunt it or change their relationship status on social media. There’s no parade or press releases or fanfare. It’s quiet, and that works for him and it seems to work for Keith too.

It’s when he sees himself in the mirror one morning, the marks under his eyes a calm blue, that he realizes that these past few weeks, he’s thought about Keith more than he’s grieved Allura.

***

Keith and Malika knock on Lance’s office door which is already cracked open.

“Lance, Malika and I are grabbing lunch,” he says, poking his head in. “Do you want any- woah! What is going on?”

Lance looks up from his laptop, legs crossed at his desk while Caitlyn stands at one end of the room, a bag of popcorn in her hand, while Rizavi stands at the other end with her mouth open trying to see as many kernels she can catch.

Since her detention, Caitlyn has been a near constant presence in Lance’s office asking him questions he knew she already knew the answers to and working on homework she didn't struggle with at all. Shiro had told him it wasn’t abnormal for students to find mentors in some of the faculty and Lance figured if she was hanging around his office doing her homework, it meant she was staying out of trouble, so it was a win-win.

Plus she seemed to get along with Rizavi, who was also for some reason always around his office even though he’s pretty sure she had a pile of paperwork on her desk that she has been passing off to Kinkade that probably needed her attention.

When Keith stares at him looking for some explanation for the scene as Caitlyn sends another piece of popcorn flying, hitting Rizavi in the nose and all Lance can do is shrug, “Office hours.”

“Hi, Professor Kogane,” Caitlyn salutes with a smile that shows all her braces. “Wanna play a round?”

“Cadet, that is not the proper way to greet, Lieutenant Kogane,” Malika scolds crossing her arms. “And besides, Lieutenant Kogane has a packed scheduled and-”

“Sure,” Keith says, ignoring Malika entirely and making his way inside Lance’s office, hands in the pocket of his uniform. “How do you play?”

“Basically we’ve been trying to see how many pieces of popcorn Caitlyn can get in my mouth,” Rizavi explains. “So far our record is six in a row.”

“We would’ve gotten seven if Professor McClain didn’t burst into a spontaneous sneezing fit and ruin my concentration,” Caitlyn sighs dramatically, shaking her fist at the ceiling.

“Hey, it’s dusty in here!” Lance frowns swiveling around in his chair looking around. “You two better be cleaning up after yourselves, the last thing I need is more guests. This office is packed enough.”

Rizavi grins, “Aw, I thought you liked Space Mice.”

“Not in my quiznacking office I don’t…”

Keith grabs a piece of popcorn from the bag.

“Do I just aim for your mouth?” he asks Rizavi and instantly Caitlyn lights up.

“Oh! Why don’t we make it a competition?” she grins turning to Lance. “You and Professor McClain versus me and Second Lieutenant Rizavi!”

Keith blinks before looking at Lance skeptically, “Well? What do you say, Lance?”

“I say…” Lance’s brows furrow, face serious as he slowly picks his laptop up and places it on the desk, rising to his feet to turn to them, “I hope you two like losing.”

Caitlyn cheers and Lance walks over to high-five Keith and they get to opposite sides of the room. He tosses his ticker for class to Malika, who catches it with a slight fumble, “Second Lieutenant, you’re on time. Put 30 ticks on the clock.”

“Y-yes, sir!” she salutes, setting up the ticker and eyeing Keith and Caitlyn on one end of the room and Lance and Rizavi on the other. Caitlyn makes sure Keith gets a decent handful of popcorn. “Alright - on your marks…”

Keith has that same confident smirk he had back in their paladin days. The one he wore before doing something dumb like running headfirst into a cruiser or fighting Zarkon mano a mano their first meeting.

“Get set…”

Lance can’t help but send him a flirty wink and enjoys how the pink flushes across Keith’s face.

“GO!”

The ticker starts and Keith and Caitlyn are tossing their pieces of popcorn across the room. Instantly Keith and Lance fall into a rhythm where Keith gently tosses it and Lance maneuvers around, mouth open to catch it gracefully.

“1-0, Lieutenant Kogane,” Malika calls keeping score while looking at the ticker. “Oh! 1-2, Cadet Markle!”

“Lance, get your hand away from me!” Rizavi yells, noticing Lance’s outstretched hand making the motion to tickle her. “You can’t tickle, that’s cheating!”

“Malika didn’t say anything about tickling!”

“No, tickling, Lieutenant McClain!” Malika scolds and Rizavi sticks her tongue out.

Keith quickens his pace and Lance manages to catch three in a row, while Rizavi misses a piece that hits her glasses and Lance sticks his tongue out in mockery.

“5-3, Lieutenant Kogane!” and then Caitlyn tosses two pieces at once and somehow Rizavi manages to catch both right as Malika’s ticker buzzes. “5-5! Tied!”

“Looks like we got a shootout, Professor,” Caitlyn says looking at Keith. “Whoever gets to 6 first wins?”

Keith nods, “Sounds fair - you guys go ahead.”

Caitlyn nods and when she tosses, Lance can already tell it’s not gonna reach Rizavi. Her wrist is too limp and even though she lunges, Rizavi can’t catch it and the piece of popcorn drops between them. It’s so light when it falls, but its impact reverberates in the office. Lance swallows, staring at it.

“Lance, eyes on me!”

And Lance turns to Keith, his eyes flashing like a storm cloud hovering over a calm ocean, his hand steady as he takes a new piece of popcorn between his fingers. Lance braces himself and feels a gentle hum in the back of his mind, similar to the tingle from Blue and Red when he would pilot their lions. It’s comforting, it’s trust.

It’s all Keith.

He feels like home.

And when Keith leans back, the sound of his boot skidding against the tile, Lance knows exactly where he’s gonna toss it. His body moves on autopilot as the piece of popcorn leaves his fingers, flies through the air and lands perfectly between Lance’s lips.

He throws his arms up in a cheer and Keith actually laughs when Lance tackles him in a hug. Caitlyn and Rizavi both groan, falling to their knees as Malika raises a skeptical eyebrow.

“This was only a game, Second Lieutenant Rizavi. There is no need to be so pathetic about it.”

“I don’t like losing, and I’m not pathetic!” Rizavi pouts standing up and crossing her arms over her chest with Caitlyn. “But you guys won.”

Lance wraps his arm around Keith’s shoulder with a grin, “What can I say? Keith and I always make a good team.”

He feels Keith’s hand rest against the small of his back and Lance notices the way Rizavi’s face shifts. The bell rings and quickly he breaks from Keith, “And that’s the bell. Everyone out of here, now I can finally get some work done!”

***

It takes a week for Rizavi to finally confront him.

She does it on a Monday.

Lance is locking up his office to head home to finish his lesson planning when he sees her in the hallway, looking anxious.

“Rizavi?” he asks adjusting his bag strap on his shoulder. “What’s up? Why are you waiting in the hallway?”

“We need to talk,” she says and motions to his office. “It’s gonna be a fight, so we can do it in the hallway or your office.”

“I’m not gonna fight with you,” he raises an eyebrow. “What's going on?”

“I know about you and Keith. I saw you guys get all smoochy during your morning run,” she says simply. “Now do you wanna open your office door again and speak in there or have the entire campus know what’s going on?”

He frowns, “I don’t like being blackmailed, Second Lieutenant.”

“And I don’t like having rank pulled on me by my friends, Lieutenant.

He stares at her for a full minute before unlocking his office. The second the door is closed, the yelling begins.

“So what? You’re gonna play house together and not tell anyone?”

“It’s nobody’s business what Keith and I do in our spare time and certainly doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

“That’s because you don’t want Veronica or Pidge and the others to know what is really going on with you,” she hisses.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Lance fights and she scoffs.

“Why are you hiding him?

He gasps leaning back on his desk, “I’m not...you don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“I don’t? You haven’t been here for three years!”

“Oh screw this.” He tries to get around her, but Rizavi doesn’t move from where she’s blocking the door.

You weren’t here when he was running himself ragged to be part of the coalition to represent Voltron when he was two hands down. You weren’t here when he was traveling between Earth and Daibazaal for months to make sure you were okay, the Garrison was supported, and his mother’s planet didn’t fall back into tyranny even though he hated it there,” her eyes are steely. “And when he had to drop something he dropped the Garrison because he wasn’t gonna drop you, Lance. He would never drop you, even when you dropped him.”

“I WOULD NEVER DROP KEITH-”

“THEN WHERE WERE YOU, LANCE?”

“TRYING NOT TO LOSE MY MIND BECAUSE MY GODDAMN GIRLFRIEND DIED, RIZAVI,” he screams, feeling a vein in his neck throbbing, his face red. “SHE WAS AN ALTEAN PRINCESS OR A PALADIN TO EVERYONE ELSE, BUT SHE WAS MY WORLD, I LOVED HER! AND SHE DIED AND I COULDN’T DO SHIT ABOUT IT!”

Lance breathes heavily and scans Rizavi’s face for a reaction. He expects her to fight back, throw a punch or maybe dissolve into tears, but she does none of those things.  

“He isn’t her, Lance,” she replies, voice slightly hoarse from the yelling. “He’s not Allura. You can't use him to fix what’s broken.”

The silence hangs in the air like the suspended momentum before falling glass shatters on the ground. Poisonous in its intent, cruelly underscoring how vapid their conversation had become and how under Rizavi’s criticism, he knew sat concern because she was Allura’s friend too, as well as Keith and Lance's. But she isn’t held to the same standard that Hunk, Pidge or Shiro were. She doesn’t have to make him feel better or support him. Unlike the others, she can be blunt.

She can tell him the truth.

“Keith will do anything for you if you asked him to, Lance,” she says finally, turning to leave. “Just don’t ask him to until you’re ready to do the same for him.”

She pauses and then adds over her shoulder, “If you don't believe me, ask him why his ex dumped him.”

When she slams the door behind her, Lance feels its echo in his bones.

***

Keith makes dinner that night and Lance watches the way his hands tremble a bit when he holds the knife to the carrot. It’s a strange sense of hesitance for a guy he thought liked nothing but knives and space wolves, but he can quickly see he’ll stop when the knife gets a little too close to his thumb, even though there’s a bit of carrot still left that can be chopped. An unfinished piece.

“Wanna finish this?” he asks, holding it out to Lance who takes it and pops it into his mouth, struggling to chew it. Keith shakes his head, “It’s too big to do it all in one go! You’ll choke!”

Lance wants to tell him he can handle it, but his mouth is too full of carrot and he needs to walk around the kitchen, chewing loudly until he can finally swallow it. When he turns around, Keith is looking at him, laughter in his eyes.

When they go to bed that night, Keith follows him into his room and Lance feels like the knife with the carrot. Hesitant, doubtful. When they climb into bed together, Keith takes Lance’s hand, kisses his knuckles and holds it until he falls asleep. Lance can’t help but stare, unable to follow him. He pulls away and stares at their ceiling. His ceiling. A ceiling.

He puts his hand over his heart. An unfinished piece.

He isn’t sure how long he’s been up, but once the sun looks close to rising, he gets out of bed and rummages inside the medicine cabinet to find a thermometer he can leave by the radiator. The same ploy that got him out of school when he was a kid for 14 days.

Lance drafts up the sick note to Maggie from Admin while he sits on the floor, adjusting the temperature of the thermometer as he went.

Technically it’s Tuesday.

***

Lance was in the chilled, sterile loading bay in front of their lions, the blue light of the Castle of Lions humming around them. It’s been so long since he was here that it’s hard for him to believe it doesn’t exist anymore. He stands in front of Red, letting his fingers glide over the chipped paint on her paw as he walks past, missing her.

It was when he saw Keith standing, looking up at Black that he realizes this isn’t a dream, but a memory. His limbs on autopilot, like how Blue’s controls were when they first lifted off Earth and slipped through the wormhole.

Keith’s arms are crossed tightly. He has on the red motorcycle jacket that Lance hasn’t seen in deca-phoebs, his hair shorter and his face cleared of that scar from his fight with Shiro.

Lance’s feet lead him to stand next to him, his hand reaching out to Keith’s shoulder and he feels just how less broad he was. Keith turns to look at him and it strikes Lance how young he is. They were both so young.

What the fuck were they doing out here?

“You can stop beating yourself up,” Lance’s mouth says, the words being pulled from him like there’s a voice box in his chest that he doesn’t control. These are old words. From his past self. “You got him, Keith. You saved him.”

Keith stares at Lance a little longer and now Lance knows that look to be the one Keith makes when he’s contemplating what he’s going to say next because he’s either about to avoid something or make a poor attempt to lie.

The Lance from this memory doesn’t know that, though, so when Keith answers with, “Shiro being back...it feels right.”

Lance now knows he’s hiding something.

“Yeah,” his past self says, smiling and extending out his pinky out to Keith. “Can never have too many paladins, right?”

Keith glances at his hand and with a small smirk, hooks his pinky with Lance’s, “I guess not.”

“You don’t need to come here to brood alone, man,” Lance says, fingers still wrapped together. “Next time send me a text or something so I don’t need to wander all over the castle looking for you.”

Keith snorts, “You want a code word?”

“Actually yes I would,” Lance looks up at the Black Lion, standing between them and smirks. “How about...Code Black?”

Keith cocks his eyebrow, “Seems kind of obvious…”

“Well that’s good cause then we won’t forget what it means,” he lifts their joint pinkies up and brings his mouth near where his thumb rests, “Let’s pinky swear on this so it’s official.”

“What?!” Keith’s face blushes and he tries to pull his hand away, but Lance’s grip is too tight. “Are you ten-years-old?!”

“Oh my god, what? You scared you’re gonna get cooties or something?” he rolls his eyes. “Kiss your thumb and make the pinky swear official, Keith, or next time you lead all of us into an obvious trap I’m gonna leave your dumb ass behind.”

Lance wonders what it would’ve been like to kiss Keith when they were both this bold, but scared.

He frowns, “Fine.”

“1…2...3 -” and on the count of three, they both kiss their thumbs, their pinkies tight together. Behind them, Lance hears the phantom voice of his name being called from the back of the hanger, a voice that curls at the end and makes his name sound richer than it is. He turns around.

***

Lance wakes up sweaty, wrapped in a blanket burrito on the sofa, as a cool hand runs itself over his forehead as his head rests in a warm lap.

His eyes adjust to see the clock on the cable box and it was already past dinner time. The hand stops and the back of the palm rest against his cheek, and Lance can’t stop himself from leaning into it.

“You’re burning up,” he hears Keith and it hits Lance that in his attempt to fake being sick, he actually ended up getting himself sick.

What irony.

“Were you like this all day?”

Lance blinks at him, “What day is it?”

“It’s still Tuesday.”

“Ah,” Lance goes back to enjoying Keith’s gentle ministrations and his brain floating inside his head, too comfortable to think, closing his eyes, “There were too many paladins.”

“What?”

“When you left…” he halfway opens his eyes to look up at Keith. The older Keith, with the longer hair he ties back and the scar across his cheek that doesn’t stop him from looking so handsome.

“That’s why you left, right?”

A pause.

“That was part of it,” he finally says like it’s an echo from the past and Lance isn’t sure if he’s dreaming again. “I needed time to grow. I needed to find myself.”

“What was the other part?” Lance asks, voice a sigh. He needs to know and wishes his head didn’t feel so heavy when he was listening.

Keith looks at him, the same look from his memory. His face hasn’t really changed that much.

“For you.”

Keith will do anything for you if you asked him to.

Lance swallows, feeling the scratchiness in his throat as his eyelids feel heavy, “Not...because of me?”

Keith doesn’t answer, and slowly runs his hand through Lance’s hair again. He feels himself dozing off.

“I missed you.”

“We missed each other,” he hears Keith whisper, as Lance is pulled under again. “You went to somebody else.”

***

It’s Wednesday and Keith is the one who emails Maggie from Admin that he's going to need the substitute for another day. They bicker over Keith wanting to stay home and make sure that Lance’s fever breaks, but even when he's sick Lance is too stubborn to let Keith miss work just for his sake.

Keith will do anything for you if you asked him to.

Lance camps out on the sofa, eyes tired as he watches hours of awful daytime programming. He wants to forget Rizavi’s words, but they buzz around his heart and his head like gnats. He avoids his phone which he let die in his bedroom, not wanting to see the countless check-in texts from Keith.

He hates how much he cares.

What has Lance ever done to deserve such kindness?

He lands on a reality show where some alien species he doesn’t recognize marry each other after less than a month of dating.

Lance’s most serious relationship only lasted a little more than 47 days.

All it took was a little more than 47 days for Lance to lose her forever.

If they were closer to 60, would she had stayed? What about 100?

He turns off the television and takes enough cough syrup to knock himself out.

***

His dream this time isn’t a memory, but fleeting senses.

Familiar laughter, the brush of soft lips on his, the saltiness of tears.

The warmth of his marks.

Her ghost lives in his bones.

Lance wakes up in his bed, alone in his room. He can hear Keith’s footsteps padding around in the living room, the creak of their floorboards beneath his feet as he heats up the food that Hunk gave him for Lance that he won’t eat because he hasn’t eaten since Monday.

Where were you, Lance?

***

The night he sent Keith his first “Code Black” text was after their fight with Sendak when they were all scattered in Garrison hospital rooms. He had woken up in the dark room, flooded with delayed dread from their fight, almost dying, almost losing.

He doesn't remember sending the text or how late it was but when Keith came in, head still bandaged, he slowly slides the door closed behind him.

Lance is still hooked up to an IV but scoots so Keith can fit on the bed next to him. They adjust, bodies sore, drug-fueled and recovering.

Keith doesn't say anything, just laying next to Lance in the dark, but his presence is enough to make him feel better. He drifts closer to sleep.

“I can't believe they wrapped your stupid mullet,” Lance mumbles and he can't see Keith's face in the dark but he doesn't need to, he can hear the frown in his voice.

“It's my head!”

“Stupid mullet head.”

When Keith hooks his thumb to Lance's, their fingers fan out like the wings of Voltron.

***

Lance’s fever still hasn't broken.

It's past midnight so they've teetered into Thursday. Eventually, he's gonna have to go to the infirmary if it doesn't break.

He misses the castle's healing pods. At least then when you heal, you're asleep the whole time.

Keith sleeps in his own room that night, and Lance goes into the bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror. A lingering haze of sleep sits somewhere at the back of his mind but was out of reach, floating in the pool of his memories. He’s been sleeping for days, but still exhausted. His body overheating itself to fight a virus that he brought upon himself the second he let himself stop moving.

His marks are glowing.

Turning on the facet, he lets the sink fill up and slides a soapy cloth into the water, drenching his arms as he pulls it out, streams of water drizzling from the fabric like finger lakes. He wrings out the washcloth and brings it to his face, scrubbing it under his eyes in a desperate attempt to remove them. To erase them. To expulse her from him.

He rubs so hard, his skin is raw, but his marks glow brighter beneath the dampness of cloth. Lance presses it against his face, cool against his feverish skin as it collects the tears that spill from his helpless eyes as he presses against the bathroom wall and slides down to the floor. He bites down on the cloth to muffle his sobs and keep from waking Keith.

***

The next time Lance dreams, he’s staring at his phone with a bucket on his head, wrapped in makeshift Altean attire that Coran found in the Garrison supply closet. Allura is coming to his family’s dinner in a few hours and, of course, this was the time Keith doesn’t reply right away.

His mouth is on autopilot again as he passes several people asking if they’ve seen Keith (as if the guy is hard to find with his giant space wolf) and eventually someone suggests the Black Lion. When Lance climbs to the top, bucket helmet and all, he’s ready to call Keith out for ignoring his Code Black, but he’s too busy reacting to his outfit.

“Woah! What are you wearing?”

Lance blushes, he feels it in his face and sits down next to Keith and his drooly space wolf to talk about his girl problems.

And it’s at this moment in the dream that Lance sees what he didn’t all those years ago. That when Keith congratulates him on his date with Allura, his smile doesn’t reach his eyes, and how when he reminds Lance of all that he’s worth, it wasn’t a pep talk.

It was a confession.

Keith was in love with him.

And in the dream, Lance wonders what could have happened if he made a different choice. If he stayed on that lion and canceled plans with Allura and brought Keith to his family instead. Would he still be mourning Allura like he was? Would he be so devastated? Would her marks be burnt into his skin like a brand?

Rizavi’s voice follows him up the lion, wrapping around him like a vine.

“You can't use him to fix what’s broken.”

***

Lance starts awake with a jolt, snapping out of the fever dream and feeling his heart pounding in his chest. He feels arms around him and it dawns on him that Keith is in his bed and he fell asleep cradled in his arms.

“Hey, you’re okay,” Keith shushes as Lance leans his ear against his chest, counting the beats of his heart to calm his own breathing. He runs his hands through Lance’s hair, which Lance is sure it’s so dirty it’s gone past greasy and somehow back to clean again. “I’m here.”

“Me too,” Lance swallows around the hot, bright, imploding feeling in his chest. “What day is it?”

“Thursday afternoon, I called out too,” Keith replies. “If you still had the fever I was gonna haul you over my shoulder and bring you to the med bay myself.”

Lance blinks, “Is my fever gone?”

He nods, “It broke while you were asleep, but you kept tossing because you never stop moving.”

“Do I move less when you’re here?”

“You don’t move at all.”

Lance closes his eyes tight, he still doesn't get it. He doesn't know why Keith is putting up with him.

‘Don't you know I'm a broken thing? You deserve so much more than me.’

Lance's question is mumbled in the cotton of Keith's shirt, “When I went to you on the Black Lion, before my first date with Allura, did you already know?”

He feels Keith stiffen, anxiety hitting him like a wave. The silence is damning, but Keith finally exhales and comes clean.

“When I was in the Quantum Abyss, there were these fleeting visions of the past and future, time was so warped,” he removes his hand from Lance's hair. “I had no context for anything I was seeing but...I saw Allura and you standing, looking upset. You kissed, but that’s all I knew.”

Lance sits up, “If you knew what would happen to her...would you have stopped me from going on the date?”

“Allura was like a sister to me and she made you happy. You made each other happy,” he sits up to face him on the bed. “Whatever I...look, it didn’t matter.”

“Yes, it did!” Lance fights, and he feels it building up. “Back then...on the Black Lion...when you told me I knew what I had to offer. What did you mean?”

Keith’s jaw tightens and Lance presses, “Keith, please I need to know.”

“There isn’t anything else-”

“You’re lying! Stop lying!” Lance grips the sheets. “Why did Xadrion break up with you?”

“Lance-”

“Is it because you’re in love with me?”

The impact of Lance’s words knock every wisp of air from Keith’s lungs, as he sat seemingly struggling to inhale, to exhale, to do anything. To say anything.

Instead, he nods.

“He was nice,” Keith says, looking at his hands. “He was funny and kind...it made me wonder if it was possible to find a home on Daibazaal. Start over. But then he told me he loved me...and I couldn’t say it back. He was patient, but he knew eventually I was never going to say it, because I couldn’t. I was already in love with someone else.”

He looks up at Lance with those steely midnight eyes with hints of lilac, and Lance knows that’s it.

That’s how this is going to end.

He crossed a line, gone too far. He’s pushed Keith further that he was willing to go, but maybe that’s what he needs. To be pushed away, to be reminded that the person Keith loved shattered when Allura left the marks on his face and never came back. This Lance was broken. It’s been three years, but the moment hasn’t left him. He clings to it like sand through his fingers, worried that if he lets go he’ll truly lose her forever.

He touches his marks, his face still blistered from his desperate attempts to wash them away the night before.

‘You can’t love a broken thing.’

He can’t let Allura go and be with Keith.

He can’t be with Keith and not let go of Allura.

They fight the rest of the day.

“So you fuck off to Daibazaal, never say shit about this guy and just expect me to be cool with it?”

“It wasn't your business who I was dating!”

“Is it when it's so serious that he's dropping the L bomb on you!”

And the rest of the night.

“Why'd you pick me on that game show, Lance?”

“I told you, you were our leader! I admired you!”

“Allura was right there!”

“That has nothing to do with-”

“I was a lonely kid with a crush on his best friend, Lance, and you picked to save me over the girl you were in love with! What the fuck was that?”

“Saying you didn't want to spend eternity with someone is a funny way to show them you like them, Keith!”

They fight until they're just sitting on the floor, glaring through red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks.

“You wanted Allura since you first saw her,” Keith says, forehead pressed against his knees. “When you came to me about not taking her lion, I knew I had to leave. You were better for the team, better for Red. I was the expendable one.”

“That's such bullshit…” Lance laughs humorlessly, spread out on the floor. “You always had the talent and the skill, it’s why you beat me for Fighter Class even though you were a cocky little shit.”

Keith gasps, his head shooting up to look at Lance who turns to him.

“Yeah asshole, that's why I got Cargo Class when we were Junior Cadets. Too many pilots, not enough spots. And then you dropped out and I got your spot. Sound familiar?” Lance turns to look back up at the ceiling. “History fucking repeats.”

They fight until it's Friday.

“So you're just never gonna admit it?” Keith asks finally, leaning against his door frame. Years of emotional baggage unloaded everywhere in their apartment. “That you ran away after Allura died?”

Lance crosses his arms, “I didn't run, I started over. Went with my family. Did something else. It's what she would have wanted.”

“No it's not, Lance,” Keith says and takes hold of his doorknob to close it. “She wouldn't want any of this.”

Lance heads back to his room and takes another sick day while Keith heads out to teach on what can only be three hours of sleep (if he slept at all) and stays out late once his classes end.

Neither makes dinner.

Saturday and Sunday, Keith stays in his room while Lance packs up his.

On Monday, Lance meets with Shiro.

He’s leaving the Garrison.

Chapter Text

Lance swallows hard, sitting across from Shiro in his office.

The spaciousness of the room feels like it dwarfs them. Shiro has always had a commanding presence, but when talking one-on-one, Shiro has the ability to zero in and make you feel like you were the only other person in the world. That you mattered.

And in a situation like this, it’s the last thing that Lance needs. But this journey started with Shiro coming to find him, so it feels almost poetic for it to end with Lance coming to find Shiro. His resignation letter is already in the hands of the Administration, the excuse a flimsy one about health problems or family needs. It doesn’t really matter because they both know it’s bullshit.

Shiro knows why Lance is leaving.

It’s the same reason why he brought Lance back in the first place.

Shiro sighs.

“I’m just suggesting you think this through.”

“You said if I didn’t like it I could leave and you’ll find someone else,” Lance says, so exhausted that just sitting up on his chair straight is taking almost all of his emotional effort.

“I guess I thought you liked it,” Shiro leans back in his chair, fingers together like a steeple in front of him. “During our check-ins, you looked…”

He stops, pressing his lips together tight. Lance can see he’s trying not to force Lance’s decision, but also trying to reel him in. It’s a tightrope and Lance watches him walk towards him.

“Happy?” Lance offers because that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Shiro shakes his head.

“Like yourself,” he says, and his eyes are sad. Sad in a way that Shiro gets when he’s watching someone make a decision he knows he can’t stop. It’s the same look he gave Keith when he left them to work with Kolivan, it’s the same look he gave to Allura when she told him they were going through the Astral Plane. And now it’s the same look he’s giving to Lance, his resignation between them.

How many times has Shiro had to watch Keith, Allura and him stumble over each other?

“You said yourself that it’s progress, not perfection,” Lance looks down at his hands, folded together in front of him. “I made progress and now it’s time for me to go.”

“Is that what you want?”

“It’s what I need.”

“Lance,” Shiro finally breaks and leans forward over his desk. “If something happened with Keith, I’m sure you-”

“Shiro,” Lance interrupts, looking at him with fierce determination in his eyes staring him down. “You promised, no strings.”

Shiro leans back and regards Lance levelly, with that heavy gaze that has always left him feeling seen. It was the same look he would give Lance when he would complain about Keith during their early missions or when he would see Lance struggling with his confidence and rest a supportive hand on his shoulder. It was the look that was missing when he was trapped in the Astral Plane of the Black Lion and they were stuck with his clone.

Lance knows he’s too old to have Shiro have this much impact on him, but it’s hard when a man who was your hero since you were a kid, and then your commanding officer when you saved the universe, was looking at you like that. Shiro could always tell when he was lying.

“Okay then,” Shiro says softly with a nod. “No strings.”

He begins typing into the holo-screens and pulling up reports. Lance sees his profile come up. They still use the photo of him from when they left on ATLAS to find Honerva as well as the photo from his faculty badge. Seeing the two of them next to the other looks like it’s completely different people, and the marks don’t help.

Lance reaches his hand to his face, touching his cheek gently. They haven’t glowed since his fight with Keith.

***

The sun is bright and the sky is clear when Lance is loading Veronica’s truck and saying goodbye. He can’t deny that he’s more than a little let down that his goodbye isn’t on a dark, rainy day that matches his mood.

He turns around with a huff, wearing the same sunglasses he came in a few months prior. “Well, I guess this is it.”

Shiro, Curtis, Matt, N7, Shay, Hunk, Pidge, Rizavi, and Malika stand to wish him off while Veronica leans against the door of her truck.

Lance looks around and Malika clears her throat loudly. “Um...Lieutenant Kogane couldn’t make it, but sends his best regards!”

“Right…” he says, knowing bullshit when he hears it. He gives Malika a hug before he’s scooped up by Hunk and Shay.

“It has been most wonderful being able to work alongside you, Lance!” Shay says with a warm smile.

“Yeah, buddy! These past few months have felt like coming home you know?” Hunk pulls away, teary-eyed. “Like we were all where we were supposed to be? I dunno, that probably sounds really crazy, but it did. I’m not crazy right?”

“No, I felt it too,” Pidge says, looking up at Lance wistfully. “It hasn’t felt this way since…”

“Since Allura died,” Lance finishes for her and everyone gets a little tense, which makes Lance laugh softly. “It’s okay, guys. She isn’t gonna haunt us. I mean, maybe she would if she knew we were avoiding saying her name and stuff. She would definitely feel bad about being left out.”

“Yeah like when she couldn’t go to the Space Mall with you four?” Shiro offers with an easy smile. “She was so huffy when Coran made her stay behind and she wouldn’t talk to me for a week for blowing her off to bond with Black.”

“Was she huffier than when she had to play Keith in those Coalition plays?” Pidge asks and Hunk snorts.

“Oh my god, how did I forget about those!” He turns to Shay. “Allura had to play Keith because he had just left the team and basically her impression of him was just to frown and be upset all the time. It was perfect.”

They all laugh at the memory and Lance feels a smile easing onto his face. Pidge’s arms wrap around him for a hug, pulling him down to her level, which is pretty low cause she’s the size of a Pomeranian.

“She’d be really happy for you, Lance,” he hears her say in his ear. “We all are.”

“Thanks, Pidge.”

Matt and N7 hug him and then Curtis, who squeezes so tight it's like he’s getting the Heimlich maneuver. When Shiro embraces him, Lance feels like his whole soul is being embraced, and he buries his face in the older man’s shoulder.

“The door is always open for you to come back,” he says softly when he pulls away, patting Lance’s shoulder affectionately. “No strings.”

Lance nods and finally turns to Rizavi, who is standing with her arms crossed over her chest, face stern.

“Lieutenant McClain,” she nods, tone serious.

“Second Lieutenant Rizavi,” he mimics.

They stare at each other and it only takes a second for Rizavi’s resolve to crumble and Lance is relieved because he isn’t sure how much longer he could have held that serious face. When she runs and hugs him, he needs to take a few steps back from to the impact.

“I’m not apologizing,” she says tearfully into his denim jacket. “But I could’ve been kinder in my words before.”

“I accept that,” he replies, squeezing her tight. “Thanks for being a great assistant.”

“Was I great?” she asks, pulling back and looking up at him. “I never did that paperwork.”

“No, you were actually a terrible assistant for the job functions, but amazing as a person,” Lance admits and she punches him not-that-lightly in the arm before pulling out a card from her shoulder bag and handing it to him.

“It’s from your kids,” she says with a shrug. “They made it while you were out sick and they were going to give it to you when you came back but…”

You aren’t coming back, hangs unspoken in the air.

“Yeah,” he says softly, taking the card and putting it in his breast pocket. “Thank you.”

She smiles, “Anytime, Lance.”

Veronica starts beeping and that’s his sign it’s time to leave and he forces the biggest, fakest smile he can as he waves, climbing into the passenger seat. His sister looks at him with sad eyes.

“You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“I do,” he says, buckling his belt. “Let’s go.”

Veronica sighs, starting the engine and pulling out of the Garrison grounds, turning onto the lonely desert roads.  Lance rolls down the window, feeling the roaring winds that messed up his hair and whistled in his ears. From his pocket, he pulls out the card from the students and it’s filled with scrawled handwriting and colored pencil notes of get well soons and excited messages. In the corner, he sees a familiar cursive scrawl next to a doodle of him with the Superman symbol and cape.

“Come back soon, Superman! We need a popcorn rematch and I’m gonna win! - Caitlyn Markle”

Lance coughs to hide the snivel that is pulled out of his chest, closing the card and tucking back near his heart. He adjusts his sunglasses to his face to make sure Veronica can’t see him crying, turning to face the mountains that pass. The same cliffs he rode with Keith that reminded him what it felt to have wings again.

***

Lance is on a train, a shuttle, and eventually, a plane before his brother picks him up at the airport. Luis takes Lance into a hug, his oversized arms wrapping around him in a comforting embrace before he takes Lance’s bags and tosses them unceremoniously in the back of his pickup truck.

They don’t talk much, which is the difference between Lance’s brothers and Lance’s sisters. Luis and Marco don’t pry, they ask the bare minimum and then they’ll go off about the weather or something from TV the night before. Veronica and Rachel, on the other hand, will drill Lance until he spills like an oil rig.

And to be honest? Lance feels pretty empty and just wanted to go home.

When they pull back onto the property, the familiar bloom of juniberries around them, Lance takes a deep inhale.

It isn’t until he reaches the front porch, kicking off his boots and walking through the front door that he sees his mother, warm smile and outstretched arms that he finally loses it again.

“Mamá…” he manages before he completely falls to pieces in her arms, dropping his bag sloppily in the hallway as she takes him into an embrace, sitting with him on the staircase as he ugly cries into her shoulder like he was a kid again and not a full grown adult.

“Oh my baby,” she sighs, rubbing his back in comforting circles as Luis takes his bag and brings it to his room, telling Nadia and Silvio to hold off from greeting their uncle just yet. “What did you get yourself into this time?” 

***

A few days pass, and Lance busies himself with the day-to-day activities of being back home.

Lance gets used to the smell of manure that hangs thickly over the more subtle scent of juniberry blossoms. He works with Marco and Luis to repair a large, poorly constructed gate of wooden planks and chicken wire that seems to flex and bow whenever it is opened at the bottom of the yard.

He visits Kaltenecker and her calf, takes a photo of them and sends it to the group chat. Hunk and Pidge reply right away with heart emojis and Shiro replies soon after with a short “Very cute!”.

Keith says nothing.

It’s not even a week and Lance can feel his resolve crumbling and wants so badly to call him, to try to explain his decision, but he also can’t do that to him. He can’t keep pulling him down into his mess. It’s not fair to Keith, who deserves so much better than to be in love with Lance.

After dinner, he stands in a mirror of his bedroom and touches his marks that still feel empty. Even when they weren’t glowing, Lance could feel them like a gentle pulse or hum beneath his skin. It was comforting, like they were whispering small encouragements throughout his day.

But now the marks don't say anything.

On the farm, time takes on a different form, more plentiful than it ever seemed back at the Garrison. That night, insomnia is the familiar companion for Lance that won’t quit. Before, he would take these late hours to send Keith a check-in text or ask Pidge for the most boring science article she could think of to knock him out. In all these quiet moments, it hits Lance just how much he depended on his friends to get him through his daily life and how much of himself he built up around other people.

Around who he fell in love with.

It’s these quiet moments that he struggles most to hide from the revelation that’s been bubbling under the surface of his heart, rippling out from his chest to his shoulders all the way up to his throat, silencing him. He wishes for the oblivion of sleep, knowing that it would be kinder.

Instead, his mind goes back to Allura.  

He wanted to be her safety, her harbor, a place to call home no matter where they were in the universe. Years have made his thoughts of her memories, but for so long he felt that their relationship was everything he ever wanted, until he was able to compare that to the small quiet moments with...

He closes his eyes forcefully, turning face first into his pillow. Trying desperately to stop his own thoughts from continuing, but with all the wakeful hours he comes close to a truth that solidifies, the facade fading and a sick feeling returns to his soul.

The breeze from his window smells like the changing of the seasons, and he isn’t sure what makes him do it, but Lance climbs to his feet, throws on a sweater over his pajamas and makes his way downstairs. He avoids that squeaky bottom stair, slips on his boots, and takes a walk.

Lance’s feet lead him to the juniberry fields, where he’s often had his most quiet moments since the war ended. He climbs up to the top of the hill, where the blooms were the brightest, the pink of the petals seemingly touching the dark purples of the sky. He sits between them, knees to his chest and looks up at the stars, taking a deep breath in through his nose and letting it out through his mouth.

“Hey, Allura,” he says softly, looking up. “It’s me...Lance. I’ve...never really did the whole talk to your grave thing, and since you don’t really have a grave that makes it hard. I mean, I guess there’s that big statue of you on Altea, but that’s just marble. Also, talking to a big statue of you where you’re, like, enormous, is awkward cause I’d be talking to your shin or something.” He runs his hands through his hair. “Sorry, I’m rambling but I just...have a lot in me right now and I don’t really know how to let it all out.”

He touches one of the flowers gently with a sigh.

“Everyone is doing so much and doing well. Hunk and Shay are culinary diplomats, Shiro and Pidge are running the Garrison and Keith is….” he stops closing his eyes tight, sniveling between his own words. His breath hitches and he takes another breath. “I thought what I was doing here with the farm was moving forward too. But...I don’t think I am. I didn’t know…” Lance swallows hard, realizing the tears are coming. “I thought...I thought I was happy.”

The emotion comes out like a choke and he has to cover his face with his hands, hot tears freely flowing down over his hands and dribbling down his chin.

“I thought we were happy, but then I was with-” he hiccups, grief and guilt surging with every expelled breath, catching in his throat, never sufficiently soothed by his long intake of the cool night air. Tears spill from his hands, rolling between his fingers onto to the grass, covering the pink blooms around him. “Allura...I-”

And he feels a hum under his skin, the warmth on his face. Under his swollen eyes, he can feel his marks and see them glow. But unlike last time, Lance lets out a pained whimper.

“Please, I don’t get it! I'm just -” he grits his teeth and hits his fist against the soil beneath him. “What does this mean? Allura, why did you give me these marks?”

He hits the ground again, hard enough to scrape his knuckles and tiny pebbles cut into his skin. His marks glow brighter and he hits harder.

“What is happening?!”

Another hit, soil flies around him. He still feels the hum in his cheeks.

“Why can’t I move?!”

He lets out another pained sob, gripping dirt between his fingers and under his nails, doubled over, tears streaming off the end of his nose and onto the juniberries that are nothing but her memory, her essence.

“Allura... please .”

A strong gust of wind flows around him, his marks glowing so bright they seem like dawn. He feels two steady hands on his shoulders and he looks up in a gasp, thinking his crying must have woken one of his siblings, but when he opens his eyes and really sees who’s in front of him, he can’t believe it.

Soft light wraps around her, but he would know that smile and long, white hair anywhere. Her eyes crinkle in the corner around her pink marks and her forehead dawns the tiara she sacrificed to save Shiro all those years ago. She's not in her paladin armor or flight suit, but the soft blue dress he caught her in when she first awoke from the healing pod. Her legs crossed under herself, ever the princess.

She is as beautiful as he remembers.

“Hello, Lance,” she greets, her voice reverberating through his bones. “It's been a long time.”

“A-Allura!” is all he manages, absolutely gobsmacked. “How...are you a ghost? Are you here? I don't...ALLURA!”

She laughs, and it's just like he remembers and he's crying again because even if he's finally lost his mind, at least he can hear her laughing again. He hasn't heard it in years.

“I wouldn't say I'm a ghost,” she explains, patiently. “But rather an afterglow. Like the last bit of light you see before it gets dark.”

Her hands find his and even if she is light or whatever, he can feel her. He holds onto her tightly, afraid if he loosens his grip she would disappear into the air.

“I've missed you,” he sighs.

“I've missed you too,” she replies and looks around. “But I've been watching you all and seeing your journeys. I'm impressed, but I'm not surprised.”

Lance watches her reach down and touch a juniberry, turning it a glowing light blue. It fades quickly and she turns to him again, “I love the flowers.”

“They're for you,” he breathes, holding her hand tightly as he motions around them. “All of them.”

“They're beautiful, Lance.” Allura smiles. “I am especially a fan of the flower crowns your niece makes of them. She has a bright future as an Altean floral designer if she keeps it up.”

“Well, let's not let it go to her head. You know those artists and their egos.”

His joke makes her smile and it strikes Lance that he has never seen Allura this peaceful when she was alive. From the moment he met her to the moment she died, she was in strife. Losing her family, her planet, her castle, her crown and then finally her life…

Did he ever know her when she didn't struggle?

“You seem well...for a ghost spirit, I mean,” he blurts because even after all these years he still doesn't know what to say around her or how to act.

“Do you know why I'm here, Lance?”

“Because after years of piloting sentient robot lions I'm finally going insane?”

She chuckles at his joke softly, the glow around her shifting.

“Because there were things left unsaid between us,” she says, touching his cheek tenderly with her hand, leaving a trail of blue light in his wake. “And it's holding you back.”

He swallows hard, taking another deep breath, to calm himself. When he's collected he turns his entire body towards her.

“Do you think, if you hadn't died, we would still be together right now?” he finally asks, and he feels himself begin to hit that nasty little lie that's been sitting in his heart for the past three years.

“What do you think?” she throws back at him, resting her chin in her hand. “Do you think we would be here right now enjoying the juniberries together?”

And Lance stares for what is probably longer than necessary, taking the time between them that he knows is limited. He takes in her eyes, the way she always seemed to know what to say even when he learned that much of it was improvised, and she was laced with the same threads of doubt that plagued him.

“I do,” he says with near certainty because he refuses to accept there is a reality left where the two of them aren't important to the other. “But I think it would be just as friends.”

Saying it out loud for the first time hurts a lot less than he thought it would. Admitting it freely, to just her, feels like he's finally letting something go. Something he's been clenching so tightly, like trying to hold droplets of water in his hand. But it was impossible because what he was grasping was a fantasy, an expectation based on a narrative he had created in his mind.

“I think if you were still here,” he continues, eyes never leaving her. “We would have realized that we loved each other but we weren't in love with each other. Because…”

“We were in love with other people,” she finishes for him easily. “I was always curious if you were ever going to realize just how much you loved him, Lance.”

He frowns, “What's that supposed to mean?”

“Oh nothing, just you changing your bayard to match a certain sword-wielding paladin,” she says with amusement, leaning back on her hands. “Calling him the future when we were being tested by Bob.”

“Maybe...but I guess I never could measure up to a space prince.”

“That's not it,” she smiles and leans back forward, pointing to him. “It was those ears. Couldn't get past them, really.”

“Are you making fun of me?!”

“Only a little,” she winks playfully.

“You think you know a ghost…”

They look at each other softly and Lance can’t help but smile too.

“I owe you an apology,” she says, reaching out to cup his face with her hand, he feels the warmth through his marks. “Giving up my life is something I have no regrets about, but I do wish I could have done so without causing so much pain. Being able to be with you, although our time limited, was wonderful. But I agree, it most likely was unsustainable.”

“Wow, I just got It's Not You, It's Me'd by a ghost of my ex,” he laughs putting his hand over hers.

“There's a first for everything.”

“I wish you could’ve seen all this,” he tilts his head to the juniberries. “You deserve to have seen it, and to dump me properly.”

“Don’t be so quick. I have a feeling if I had lived, you would be the one who would have broken up with me.”

“You think so?”

“Oh yes, the second you realized you were in love with Keith, I was ready to step aside. Seeing you both together makes me happy,” she admits. “Were you happy with him?”

“I was,” he says and it's so easy to confess that to her because he knows it's the truth.

“Then that's all I care about. I've always wanted nothing more than for you to be happy, Lance. It's why I gave you those.”

She touches his marks on his cheek with her thumb and he gasps.

“For when I needed you?”

She shakes her head, “For when you were ready to let me go.”

Allura lowers her hands from his face and he holds them between them, surrounded by the flowers she loved so deeply, on a planet she couldn't ever call home.

Lance isn't exactly sure why, but this goodbye feels different than their first. Maybe it's because he's older or that he's lost her before. Or maybe it's because he’s made more progress than he ever allowed himself to notice.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes,” he says with full confidence, but still teary-eyed and she is too. He relaxes his hands, feeling her warmth already fleeting. “I love you, Allura.”

“I love you too, Lance,” she lifts herself to her knees and kisses him briskly on the forehead. “And thank you.”

“For what?”

She laughs, her spirit already starting to dissipate, “For being you .”

***

Lance is awoken by something wet on his face. He assumes maybe something spilled or he left his window opened. Then he hears the mumbling of children speaking.

“He’s dead.”

“No way! Tío Lance, are you dead?”

“If he’s dead he can’t say anything, dummy.”

“Then it’s a good test to see if he’s dead.”

“I don’t think he’s dead, guys.”

“I’m not dead,” Lance says, quickly noticing the ground is lumpy as if he were on a bed of rocks. Then he cracks open his eyes, trying to shield the sun from his face, realizing he was on a bed of rocks because he had fallen asleep outside. The wetness continues to fall on his cheek and he moves with a groan, as his eyes adjust to the snout of a very familiar giant space wolf.

“Kosmo?” he asks and the blue wolf barks and nuzzle his face, still drooly but full of affection. “What the heck are you doing here?”

“Tío Keith brought him,” he hears and looks up to see that it’s Nadia, sitting on the back of Kosmo with Silvio standing at her side. “We couldn’t find you in the house so we started a search party. Silvio thought you were dead.”

“He looked dead!”

“Wha...Tío Keith?” he echoes, because that’s all he’s able to do apparently and he turns his head to see Keith squatting on the ground next to him in his usual jeans, tight-black shirt and motorcycle jacket, hair tied back. He waves, casually.

“Morning,” he says as if finding Lance asleep outside was a normal thing people did. Lance sits up, somehow even more confused with this new information. “You were asleep on the grass.”

“I noticed that.”

“People usually sleep on beds,” Keith says, dropping from his squat to his rear to sit. “Inside their homes.”

“Thank you for the tip, Keith,” Lance sighs rubbing his eyes with the meat of his palms, already feeling a headache forming. “Hey, Nadia, Silvio, can you give us a minute?”

The kids look at their uncle and then at the wolf. Kosmo tilts his head and Silvo points to him, “Can we hang out with Kosmo?”

“No-”

“Yeah-”

Lance turns to Keith and glares, “Keith, they’re 10 and 8, what the quiznack are they gonna do with your giant space wolf?”

“I dunno? Play? Hang out?” he shrugs. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

That’s enough permission for them and quickly Nadia is riding Kosmo as Silvio chases them down the hill and around the farm. Lance groans falling back against the grass again, “If they get sent to another dimension, you’re explaining that to my brother.”

“Sounds fair,” Keith nods.

Lance sighs, finally turning to him, “What are you doing here?”

Keith rubs the back of his neck, “Right after you left, my mom called me and it turns out that Kosmo sensed how upset I was and basically jumped through the Daibazaal Teludav to get to me at the Garrison,” he shakes his head. “You should’ve seen Iverson and Sam Holt try to chase him around the grounds. The kids were losing their minds watching it.”

“That does sound hilarious,” Lance grins, pulling his knees to his face and resting his chin on them.

“After that, Shiro put me on mandatory sick leave and then Kosmo transported me here.”

“Wait...so you got booted from the Garrison, again?”

Keith flushes and frowns, “No, it’s mandatory sick leave!”

“But the Garrison told you to leave...and it was mandatory?” he gives Keith a look. “Sounds like you got booted, man.”

“Lance,” he warns and Lance sighs.

“Keith,” he says, looking at him fully and repeats. “What are you doing here?”

And he watches as Keith leans back and looks a little less secure, the confidence he’s built up leading Voltron and then working with Kolivan erodes away quickly. He takes a juniberry between his thumb and forefinger, plucking it from the grass and spinning it between his fingers.

“For you,” he says and turns to Lance. “A lot of things came out of our fight, most of it was things I didn’t want to revisit or I’ve been avoiding for a while. But going through it with you made me realize I wasn’t always fair to you.”

“Keith…” Lance starts and Keith shakes his head.

“No Lance, it’s true,” he interrupts. “I’m not good with the idea of people leaving and even though I’m working on it, I’m always gonna be working on it. But that didn’t mean you deserved not to know how I felt. That wasn’t fair to you because…” Keith closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Because you deserve to have someone fight for you, Lance. You deserved to know how I felt about you so you could have had a choice, but I ended up making it for you by leaving the team, by not telling you how I really felt and you never knew.”

“That’s not true,” Lance says, his voice soft. “I never doubted you cared about me, Keith. Not once.”

“But you deserve to know how loved you are,” Keith presses with the same tenacity in how he would inspire them when leading Voltron. “You deserve to wake up every morning and the first thing to be a reminder of how amazing you are, and the last thing you hear is someone telling you they love you. You deserve to have someone who likes your dumb little jokes, or how you scrunch your nose when you don’t like something, or will do face masks with you even though they're useless and smell like rotten vegetables. Someone who knows that you get sad sometimes and will just sit and hold your hand or patiently listen as you talk through your thoughts out loud.”

With a shaky hand, Keith reaches out and takes Lance’s hand in his, “And even if that isn’t me as your…boyfriend, I guess,” he swallows dryly, cheeks growing pink. “I’ll do it as your friend, or as your colleague at work, or even as your rival - whatever you want, as long as I’m a part of your life because I love you, Lance. I don’t think I can ever stop loving you.” He pauses with a smirk. “And yeah, I sure as hell fucking tried.”

The levity Lance feels is like a beam of light to the soul, unlike anything he’s ever felt before. It’s new to be confessed to like this, it’s never happened to Lance before and for so long he figured never would. That he was unlovable.

But once again, Keith Kogane proves him wrong.

“And before you say anything,” Keith says, hand up between them. “You don’t need to say it back. This isn’t a trade. I just wish you could see yourself the way I see you, Lance because I’m blinded by your light.”

And then Keith takes the hand that’s intertwined with his and brings it to his chest, the same way Lance did, and for the first time, he feels it.

It's such a warm, steady beat under his palm. Keith looks at him with so much determination that for the umpteenth time in his life Lance is in awe of him.

And of course after all that all Lance can blurt out is, “I wanna be your boyfriend, Keith!”

Keith blinks and Lance continues speaking, “I wanna come back to the Garrison and make dinner with you and go on runs and complain about work with you. I miss waking up and seeing you, and I probably have been missing that since you went to Daibazaal. I just...wanna do it all with you. I can't think of anyone else, Keith, you've been the one constant in my life for so long now, I dunno if I can move on without you.”

“Wow, that's dramatic.”

“Shut up, I'm confessing!” he wacks him lightly in the arm. “Anyway, you called me light or whatever.”

“Because you are.”

“Damn it, stop being so smooth!”

And Keith laughs, and it's kind of loud and shaky, but Lance loves it because he can't think of anyone else who can pull that kind of laughter from him. He feels Keith shuffle next to him as he stands up, wiping dirt off his pants.

“Okay, let's do this,” he smiles, and his whole face even his scar shifts. “Let's be boyfriends.”

“Cool...that's it? I don't need to do some Daibazaal challenge to woo you back?”

“Nope,” he says, hand outstretched behind him for Lance to grab. “Not unless you wanna marry me, then you need to prove your worth through a series of tests.”

Lance laughs too because hasn't that been their entire lives since they fell into that damp cave and found the Blue Lion together?

He stands on his own two feet, reaches forward and takes Keith's hand, the momentum of the hill enough to pull them together with just the small tug of Keith's arm. Lance soars to him, arms wrapped around his neck and kisses him like he's always wanted to.

When he pulls back, Keith through lidded eyes notices, “Woah...Lance, what happened to your marks?”

He pulls out his phone from his pocket, flipping on the front facing camera and sees that Keith is right. His marks are gone, replaced by a splatter of light freckles across his cheeks.

Kissed by the stars.

“I guess I didn't need them anymore,” he slowly touches his face before realizing with a jolt, turning back to Keith. “We were talking for half a varga, how did you just notice this?”

“I was a little preoccupied telling you how much I love you?”

“They were literally on my face, Keith,” Lance says, shoving his phone in his pocket and taking Keith's hand in his and dragging him down the hill. “Man, and they called me the dumb one!”

Keith shakes his head, kisses Lance's knuckles and follows him home.

Chapter Text

Two years later

 

“Stop fidgeting!”

“I’m not fidgeting, I know what I’m doing.”

“I have a hard time believing that.”

“I’m just adjusting it.”

“No, you’re fidgeting because you’re nervous,” Lance sighs turning to his boyfriend as they waited to begin the ceremony. “C’mere, Mr. I-Can-Mess-A-Guy-Up-A-Thousand-Different-Ways-But-I-Can’t-Tie-A-Bow-Tie.”

“I’ll mess you up,” Keith mumbles leaning forward to allow Lance to readjust his red tie and the other man’s eyebrow arches.

“Is that a promise or a threat?”

“Both,” Keith smirks and Lance kisses it off his face once he’s done.

“C’mon, we gotta line up before Slav tells us the probability that us being a few ticks behind increases the chances that Shiro’s wedding gets invaded by space pirates,” Lance says, taking his hand and leading them to where Hunk, Pidge, and the others are gathering in their own matching suits.

“Now that would make this really interesting!”

Shiro and Curtis’ wedding is held on Altea, in the garden outside of the castle that now doubles as where the Altean parliament meets. Similar to Daibazaal, after 10,000 years of war, the Alteans were ready for a form of government other than a monarchy.

Luckily, as head of state, Coran was more than equipt to not only host their wedding, but to also perform the ceremony. It wasn’t large, just their closest friends and family. On Curtis’ side, stood James, Kinkade, Leifsdottir, Rizav, and Veronica as his Best Woman. For Shiro, stood Lance, Hunk, Pidge, and Matt with Keith as his Best Man. It was simple, beautiful and luckily wasn't during the few days a year when fiery rocks rained from the planet’s atmosphere. Although Coran had a hard time seeing the benefit.

“I don’t know, Coran,” Shiro says, raising an eyebrow. “Curtis was really not into it.”

“Well, you boys don't know what you missed,” Coran says after the ceremony when they six of them are walking over to Allura’s memorial, while Curtis greets guests back at the reception tent. “During the rainy season, the meteors leave a beautiful trail behind at night.”

“You mean when they aren’t trying to knock your head off,” Hunk says and Pidge nods in agreement.

“Yeah I’m with Shiro and Hunk, this sounds more dangerous than romantic.”

“Altea’s tourism quadruples during the rainy season!” Coran huffs. “Mark my words, the next time one of you gets married, I’ll show you how just illustrious the flaming, death showers can be!”

“No way, Shay and I are not into fiery rain,” Hunk shakes his head before looking over to Keith and Lance, who are bringing up the rear of the group. “But that sounds like more your guys’ speed.”

“Totally! Both the Red Paladins of Voltron would love a fiery inferno at their wedding,” Pidge teases and Lance frowns.

“Only if one hits that creepy robot of yours and melts it once for all.”

“Don’t talk about Chip like that!” Pidge defends, the newest member of the Holt family being the humanoid robot Matt and her had managed to somehow make sentient. When they unveiled it to Keith and Lance during the last semester they taught at the Garrison, Keith had freaked out and instantly jumped to his feet ready to attack the thing while Lance just walked out of the room with a long, “Nooope!”

Shiro hadn’t met Chip until Pidge brought it as her plus one to their wedding. Lance thinks it’s because he’s secretly scared of robots, and rightfully so.

He feels Keith’s hand tighten in his as Allura’s statue comes into view. Lance looks up with a soft smile, rubbing his thumb along his knuckles affectionately. He got the same way whenever they went to visit his father’s grave. Keith was getting better at letting go, but not always great with remembering.

“Geez, I can’t believe it’s been five years,” Hunk sighs, looking up at the statue wistfully. “It feels like yesterday, but also so long ago. Does anyone else feel that way sometimes? That it was all just a weird dream or something?”

Lance knows what he means, the passage of time that once felt so slow now flies past them.

After rejoining the Garrison as part-time faculty, Keith sold his second place on Earth and they decided to rebuild Keith’s childhood home on the outskirts of the Garrison. It was spacious and peaceful, with more than enough room for Kosmo to run around and drop weird things from different dimensions on their stoop. Pidge and Hunk had managed some sort of techo-solution for them to be able to revitalize the land and develop a small farm and garden full of several beautiful flowers, including juniberries.

It took the better part of a year to finish the work and once it was completed, in their empty living room surrounded by cartons of takeout, Keith talked about wanting to reorganize the work he was doing with Kolivan to change the Blade of Marmora from a militia group to something less violent.

“Have you ever thought of making it into a relief group?” Lance asked between chews, jabbing at each point with his fork. “You guys already have those outposts all over the star systems, and with Daibazaal being a political powerhouse with your mom and Kolivan as leaders, making it a humanitarian organization could do a lot of good for other planets.”

“That’s….actually a really great idea.”

“Duh! All of my ideas are great!" Lance had smiled, leaning forward to steal a piece of meat from Keith’s container while he tried to fight him off with his fork.

Rebuilding the Blades meant they split their time between their cozy home on Earth and the flat Keith still had back on Daibazaal. Lance complained about having so many keys, fretting that he was going to turn into a space janitor like Keith.

"Are you homesick?" Keith had asked him softly one night before bed. The purples of the planet's dark sky reflecting against his skin.

"Never when I'm with you," Lance said, arms wrapped around him tightly. "You're my home."

And Keith held him closer, "You're mine, too."

Veronica and Acxa visit them when they're at Daibazaal so often that one of those spare space keys was given to them to come over whenever they wanted. Lance was also able to try the Daibazaal gelato place Hunk recommended, dragging Keith there after a particularly rough meeting one afternoon, and it was just as amazing as he had promised.

Still working at the Garrison every other semester meant that Lance was able to adjust the courses he taught from not only history, but also lead shooting drills and would substitute for Keith for simulator exercises when he was off on short-term missions. It had only been two years since he started teaching, but he was already seeing his kids grow up. The morning Caitlyn got assigned Fighter Class, she rushed into Lance’s office so fast to tell him that she almost mowed down Rizavi in the hallway.

It was never a quiet life, but that’s how Lance likes it.

A cool breeze passes between them at the memorial, and Shiro leads them in a moment of silence and thoughtful reflection before handing them all flowers from one of the bouquets for the wedding, and they all placed theirs at the foot of her statue.

“We have a saying in Altean,” Coran says, looking up at Allura’s statue, a melancholy look in his eyes. “That those around us never really leave us, as what gives us life never truly dies. Like how quintessence runs all around us.”

“We’re all made of the same cosmic dust,” Keith says softly and Pidge nods.

“Do you think she’s watching over us?”

“Yeah,” Lance says, a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. “I know she is.”

***

After the reception, Lance and Keith returned to their room, boozy and danced senselessly. The second Lance closes the door behind him, Keith captures his lips with his and pulls him beneath the elegant Altean sheets for their private afterparty.

Lance lays on his back, the cool night air flowing through their opened window. It ruffles the tuffs of black hair that poked out from beneath the covers where Keith sleeps soundly, curled up to Lance’s bare side. He runs his hands through the soft locks, just as he did their first night living together in that tiny Garrison apartment.

In all their years together, Lance can’t remember a moment when he hasn’t fallen more and more in love with him. Because Keith Kogane wasn’t someone you just fell in love with once, he’s someone you loved for the rest of your life.

And that’s exactly what Lance is thinking when he rolls over, straddling over Keith, peppering his face with kisses in the way that he knows drives his boyfriend crazy, but always wakes him up.

“Lance...” he groans, voice cracking with sleep.

“Keith…” he smiles, pecking his lips before going up to leave another on the tip of his nose. “Keith, I wanna marry you.”

Keith groans, “Can you do this tomorrow? I’m so tired and still kind of drunk.”

“The perfect ploy to keep you from saying no to my proposal,” he grins and continues kissing him, the trail now going down the side of his face and becoming more and more obnoxious. “I don’t have a ring for you, but I can get one. I want you to be my future, and I want to be yours.”

“Hmm,” is Keith’s noncommittal repose, but in the dark Lance sees his eyes begin to open, a sign for Lance to continue. He leans back, taking both of Keith’s hands to his lips, kissing every knuckle one by one. “What kind of lunatic does this to someone who’s asleep?”

“Me, hopefully, your future husband,” he smiles, intertwining their fingers together. “I want to be that gross married couple that people roll their eyes at but are secretly envious of.”

“Aren’t we already that?”

“Yes, but I want to do that while having the same last name as you and confusing our students. I want people to yell ‘Professor McClain-Kogane!’ and we both turn around.”

“Or Kogane-McClain?” Keith offers, quirking an eyebrow playfully and Lance can’t stop smiling.

“We’ll work on it,” he says leaning over to peck another kiss on his lips, running his hands back up through his hair, tangling his fingers in its depths. “I want to be old and get wrinkly with you. We can retire on an asteroid somewhere and complain about space teens and their terrible music.”

“Like you’d get a single wrinkle with the amount of skincare you do.”

“I love you, Keith Kogane,” Lance says against his lips, their chest together and hearts beating fast. It’s how Keith knows Lance is serious, this isn’t a joke. This isn’t some fever dream, this was real. “I’ll love you forever and I want to make it up to you for the rest of our lives for making you wait.”

Keith pauses.

“Can I think about it?”

“The hell you will!” Lance grins, knowing just by the look Keith is giving him his answer. He always knows how to read his face. “Say yes, Keith! Be husbands with me, I think we’d be really good at it. We make a good team.”

And Keith sighs, faking exhaustion before grinning with his whole face, his whole soul, a face of pure euphoria that Lance would never think possible years ago, “Okay.”

“Really?” Lance gasps, as Keith kisses him on the nose.

“Really,” Keith echoes, rolling them over so Keith was on top of Lance, leaning down to sprinkle kisses across his cheeks, hitting every freckle.

"Do I not need to pass a series of tests then?"

"You already passed."

“I’m still getting you a ring tomorrow,” Lance sighs, as Keith leans back to look down at him with so much love in his eyes that the only thing that matches it is the overwhelming feeling he has in his heart. “We can get matching ones.”

“We probably shouldn’t tell Shiro and them until later,” Keith says, adjusting himself on his forearms. “Don’t want to take away the thunder from his wedding weekend.”

“Fair,” Lance nods before faking shock. “Oh, do you think we should invite Xadrion to the wedding?”

“Lance!” Keith rolls his eyes and Lance bursts into laughter.

“I love you Keith McClain-Kogane,” he says, pulling Keith down to show him just how much.

“I love you too, Lance Kogane-McClain.”