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Even after all this time, Lance couldn’t quite pinpoint when things had changed. Not really. He could point to, like, moments where he could say ‘oh, that was better’, or ‘yeah, I screwed up there,’ but it always felt like there should be, like, a really clear moment where things… like transformed from what they used to be to what they were now- whatever that was.

Right from his first day of classes at the Garrison, Keith had always made him feel like… his head was full of bees, buzzing and stinging and generally making sure he was never really not thinking about him. It was irritating. Infuriating really. Then he’d been gone, and the beehive settled down until it felt like one or two lazy bees- much more manageable, much easier to ignore. Then… Voltron.

Congratulations Lance McClain, you are destined to be a hero! Woohoo! Save the universe in a flying Lion. Fight side by side with your friends and your personal hero; a bona fide Princess and… whatever the heck Coran was; and... Keith Kogane. Awesome. Peachy. Bestest thing ever.

The bees returned with a vengeance and mixed with the fear and the homesickness until he was just so annoyed all the time. Usually, he could stuff it down, squelch it out, focus on the good stuff. But then… Keith would invariably set him off. It was a problem. He knew that. But just being in the same room with him made him feel like he was going to rattle apart from the buzzing in his head that was 100% focused on his rivalry and the next thing he knew they were arguing.

Adrenaline racing through his veins. Heart pumping a mile a minute. Skin practically twitching with awareness that amped up the closer his proximity to the hot head. He hated the way Keith made him feel… but time after time he found himself trailing after him, goading him, snarking, taunting. He couldn’t seem to help it.

Shiro started making them train together, without the rest of the team, because they had to figure out how to work together. Even they knew that. That had worked for a while. That head-full-of-bees feeling didn’t go away, though.

If anything, it intensified, but somehow, he didn’t want to throttle Keith half the time anymore. That urge still showed up, but not nearly as often. So, maybe he’d gotten out of practice with dealing with it, or something… he’d never really been able to really figure out exactly what it was about that day that made it worse- maybe he’d slept badly, or he was hungry, or… oh, who the heck knew?

Whatever it was, it had been bad. Keith had said something about Shiro and the mission, and Lance had just snapped. The reminder that Keith was Shiro’s favorite just hit him wrong and something ugly surged through him. He’d screamed something awful- he couldn’t even remember what it had been, but it was obviously an attempt to pick a fight, and based on the flash of something that definitely wasn’t anger in Keith’s eyes before the Red Paladin had squared his shoulders, it was way, way, way over the line.

Hunk’s big hand had clapped on his shoulder and pulled him out of the room. Pidge had pretty much tackled Keith to keep him in the room. “Look,” Hunk had said, his voice sterner than he’d ever heard it, “I know you are going through stuff- we all are- and I know you are… like… not exactly used to going this long between… uhhh… let’s say ‘dates’ and so you don’t really have access to your favorite stress reliever, but that was harsh and not even a little bit okay.”

“I know,” he’d said, even though he really didn’t because he had zero recollection of what he’d actually said, he just wanted the weirdly awkward conversation to end.

“I’m serious, Lance,” Hunk had stressed, “you need to dial it back. You almost sounded like Griffin in there!”

“Griffin? Really?” He and Hunk had never really had any problems with James Griffin, themselves but they’d both seen a seriously nasty streak in him whenever he dealt with Keith. They’d had some theories about it- which all really boiled down to jealousy of one stripe or another. He’d sighed, “alright. Give me a bit to calm the hell down and I’ll go apologize.”

He had and it had been pretty much the same as any other time one or the other of them had apologized for lashing out or crossing a line, until Lance had mentioned the Griffin comparison. Keith had given him the strangest look, and just shrugged the whole thing off. Which was… odd, really.

After that, Lance had made an actual effort to be a better teammate to Keith. To remind himself that just because Keith got under his skin it wasn’t an excuse to be an asshole to the guy. He could be mature. He could be professional. It had worked, mostly.

Then Shiro had gone missing and it was like having the floor ripped out from under their feet. Keith pushed himself too hard, and that level of loyalty was admirable, but he was making himself sick and eventually he was going to crash and burn. Lance tried to be patient and compassionate, he really did… but it was still Keith and it was just so easy to slip into old arguments. He caught himself before he blew up in frustration a couple of times and just tried to be a good teammate, a decent person. Keith didn’t make it easy- that guy had a real talent for pushing people away!

So, the first weak knock in the middle of the night had been a shock. Keith, haggard and obviously bone tired, standing in his doorway, with a pillow. “Can I crash in here?”

“Yeah,” he’d stepped back in invitation. He had too many siblings and cousins to really even register that it was Keith asking to crash in his room in a massive Castle that currently only had a handful of occupants using a tiny number of the plentiful rooms. “Sure.”

He and Keith had gotten situated in silence. It wasn’t until he killed the lights that either of them spoke.

“Thanks. This is… weird, I know… so, yeah… thanks.”

“No sweat, just don’t kick me. Nightmare or something?”

Keith had gone quiet for so long Lance thought he might have already crashed out. “No… uh… just not used to sleeping alone anymore.”

Which was, frankly, the exact opposite of what Lance had been expecting to hear. It took a minute for that the sink in. “Oh… oh God!” His gut had churned. Of course! That explained everything. “No wonder you are such a mess about him bein- I mean… Jesus, Keith. I’m sorry! I didn’t realize you guys… were… you know… a thing...”

“What? No! Ew, God no… we’re not! It’s just… he wasn’t sleeping. Like, at all. Just spent all night working out. On guard. He couldn’t relax enough to sleep. So, I just kinda… started sitting up with him. Eventually, I was just basically his roommate.”

“And now, trying to sleep is just a big fat reminder that he’s not here,” Lance guessed. Keith didn’t speak but even in the dark, Lance could tell when he nodded. “Got it. I used to share a room with my brother. So, I kinda know- it’s not the same, but… close enough, I guess. Just get some sleep. You need it.”

After that, most nights, there’d be a knock and when he let Keith in they’d wordlessly crawl into bed and conk out. Lance had never really been into guys before- not that he’d spent all that much time delving into the issue. He’d liked girls as far back as he could remember and so he’d never felt the need to question beyond that.

Still. Maybe he should have… given the circumstances...

As often as Keith ended up crashing with him, it was probably inevitable that it would lead to getting tangled up in each other during the night- especially once they started getting along better in general. It was probably inevitable that waking up all tangled together would eventually lead to… Keith’s breath on his throat. Lance’s fingers in that damn mullet. Sleepy, not quite awake sighs and squirmy nuzzles. Tentative touches, eyes locked on each other. That weird electric feeling of need, desire, fear of rejection, nerve, and vulnerability all tangled up together. He knew that kind of tension, that urge… so, it looked like guys weren’t really off the menu for Lance, after all. That head-full-of-bees sensation was back- pushing, always pushing him to get closer, to get in his face… this time with very different results.

Never looking away from those sleepy, purple eyes, he bumped his nose against Keith’s. Keith’s chin tipped up slightly, changing the angle of his face. It was the only invitation Lance needed to kiss him… and the instant their lips touched, all those soft, drowsy touches changed.

Adrenaline racing through his veins. Heart pumping a mile a minute. Skin practically twitching with awareness that amped up with every little touch and sound from the hot head. Lance loved the way Keith made him feel. Those middle of the night knocks started coming earlier and earlier, less tentative, more bold. Time after time he found himself missing out on sleep in favor of trailing his hands over his teammate, goading him into being the one to grab Lance and kiss him, both of them taunting each other into going further. He couldn’t seem to help it. He definitely couldn’t stop it. He didn’t really want to, anyway.

They never talked about it. Never acknowledged it outside of the dark confines of Lance’s room when everyone else was already asleep. Not even after Shiro returned. Not even when Keith left for the Blades, staying away longer and longer between visits to the castle. Not even after Naxzela.

But that didn’t mean it stopped.

When Keith was in the Castle of Lions, Lance made a point of retiring early for the night. Within a varga, there’d be a knock and it was just like he’d never left.

When he was gone though… Lance felt like he was sinking and he didn’t know how to deal with it. Hunk and Pidge had gotten so close and he didn’t understand half of what they talked about. He started to feel like a third wheel. Allura was so busy, and it was harder and harder to muster the energy or the inclination to flirt with her, even though she tended to take it in stride and laugh it off now when he did, and they’d become… friends, kinda.

Shiro was… different after he’d returned to them- fluctuating between harshly focused on ‘the plan’ (rejecting most plans that weren’t his), and unusually quiet. Most of the time that Lance spent with him was focused on trying to get him to rest, or at least, unwind enough that his headaches would let him rest.

Sometimes, he’d tell stories about Keith, and Lance could feel the buzzing in his head pick up again and his heart sink even further. Slowly, it dawned on him that whatever this thing with Keith was, it was important to him. His mood and energy kept flagging and fading. It hurt to see Allura and Lotor together. It hurt to be teased about his crush on Allura. He vented to the mice, trying to make sense of what he was feeling… and he hadn’t been lying, but after he heard himself say all that stuff out loud it felt less true.

When he tossed and turned all night waiting on sleep that was becoming more and more elusive, it wasn’t Allura that filled his thoughts. It wasn’t her scent fading from the extra pillow that had somehow taken up permanent residence on his bed. It wasn’t her fingerless gloves tucked into the inner pocket of his coat. It wasn’t her touch he woke every. single. morning expecting to feel only to come crashing down again when he realized he was alone in the narrow bed that managed to feel far too big.

He missed Keith. Missed him the way he missed his siblings and his parents and the smell of the breeze coming off the water in Cuba. He missed waking up to Keith the way he missed waking up to the smell of real eggs and real bacon and real coffee, not the ‘as close as I could manage’ stuff Hunk came up with. He missed feeling Keith’s presence in his head when they formed Voltron, missed hearing his voice over comms, missed the way Keith would listen to his suggestions, the way they worked together.

It hurt to see Allura and Lotor because he wanted that- whatever it was they had, the bond he could see forming- he wanted it with Keith. He’d thought… maybe… they’d started building something like that before he had his dumbass idea to tell Keith he was going to step down from Voltron, and Keith had realized he wasn’t needed here anymore and jumped at the chance to be with the Blades and learn more about his heritage. So, clearly he’d been wrong about that.

Nothing had really changed but everything felt wrong and he didn’t know how to fix it, and it started feeling less like he was going in useless circles of fight- eat- sleep- train- fight-eat-sleep-train-fighteatsleeptrain, and more like he was circling the metaphorical drain. Keith was going longer and longer between vidcalls to check in with the team. So, obviously, this missing him thing was one-sided and that hurt, too.

Pretty much everything hurt. He felt like he didn’t fit here anymore. Like… maybe… Allura should have just left him alone after that thing with the Omega Shield. For a few seconds there… everything had been so warm and calm and safe… and then he felt her pulling and he was right back in the thick of war and fear and pain and… no one asked. No one seemed to even notice. If it wasn’t for the pain, he’d think he was turning into some kind of ghost- drifting aimlessly through the corridors at all hours because he’d given up on sleep.

Again.

Showing up for meals late and leaving early having barely said anything to anyone. He didn’t have anything to add to conversations about the Sincline project. He didn’t have anything to contribute to discussions of how to address the Galra dependence on quintessence so they could eventually, finally start actually freeing planets. He certainly wasn’t going to weigh in on strategy talks and risk setting Shiro off unless he absolutely had to. So, he showed up, he ate and he left- usually to train in the hopes of tiring himself out enough to actually sleep in his own bed at night. The irony of how he used to mock Keith for doing pretty much the exact same stuff wasn’t lost on him, but he couldn’t figure out any way to change it, either.

It’s not like it bothered anyone when he wasn’t around. They weren’t awful to him or anything. He could still joke around with Hunk and Pidge. Shiro was almost normal when Lance was helping him with his headaches. Coran was his usual chatty self when they cleaned together- full of stories about Alfor and Altea and weird advice that made no sense to Lance. Every now and then Allura would join him for a training session- sometimes she’d say the nicest things, too. But, for the most part, they just… didn’t miss him. The team was… fine. Everything was… fine...more or less. It just hurt all the time and he couldn’t put his finger on why everything was so wrong when Keith wasn’t there.

He wasn’t sure how much longer he could go on like this. That thought should probably scare him- but his mind kept flashing back to those few moments between the white hot searing pain and Allura’s insistent presence drawing him back. He started dreaming about it when his insomnia would catch up with him and he’d doze off on a couch somewhere, or in Red’s cockpit. He spent a lot of time in Red’s cockpit, in general. Just, flaked out. Not even really thinking. Sometimes, Red felt kind of like Keith- in a way he couldn’t put into words. Just… the same kind of vibe.

Why hadn’t they ever talked about it? Why hadn’t either of them ever just said ‘so, what’s the deal?’ and, like, defined it? Boyfriends didn’t seem right- there was the whole lack of dates, lack of conversation, lack of pretty much everything associated with being someone’s boyfriend to be taken into account. Good ol’friends with benefits didn’t fit, either- they weren’t exactly friends in any way that Lance was used to seeing friendship.

Sometimes it didn’t even seem like any of it had ever happened. It felt like a half-remembered dream- details drifting away whenever he tried to cement them. He tried to stay busy- he’d figured out that if he was occupied, he felt a little more like himself. Sometimes he could even have actual fun, and he’d think, for, like, a second, that he might be bouncing back to his old self. Within minutes though, he’d feel that weird deflating sensation and his mood would plummet. He was starting to think that, whatever it was Allura had done… maybe… it had been a mistake.

Maybe he’d come back wrong.

Maybe he shouldn’t have come back, at all.

Maybe everyone would have been better off, including him, if he just… hadn’t.

If he’d just… ignored Allura… stayed where it was warm and calm and safe.

Stayed dead.

###

When he’d seen Keith on the vid-screen, he’d been so happy for all of fifteen seconds. The bees in his head burst to roaring life- the buzzing so loud it actually made it hard to hear anything else. He’d barely held himself together. Keith looked so different!

‘Bigger, taller, more grizzled.’

Those words haunted him. For months he’d been falling apart, sinking into the weirdly exhausting numbness, fading away- because he’d missed Keith. He’d missed him so much… but while he’d only experienced months, Keith had been gone for years and when he’d gotten back he’d barely even acknowledged Lance’s presence, let alone given him the hug Lance had been angling for (in spite of every shred of pride and self-preservation he had telling him to avoid being overeager). He’d pushed past them with scarcely a glance and a brusque ‘no time’. So… like… obviously, Keith hadn’t missed Lance.

He’d initially consoled himself with how hectic and intense everything had been. It all happened so fast- Keith introducing Romelle and his Mom; finding out about Lotor’s hidden colony of Alteans; Shiro’s betrayal. If nothing else had happened, that still would have been a lot… but there was so much more.

So, Keith was distracted, focused on the mission, focused on Shiro… and it wasn’t like they were a couple or anything. It wasn’t like they ever acted like anything but friendly-rivals and teammates in front of the others. He’d told himself that it would play out like every other time Keith had returned to the Castle from the Blades. Lance would turn in early and a short while later, he’d be ushering Keith into his room, his bed.

But, that was never, ever going to happen again- there was no more Castle, no more ‘Lance’s quarters’. It had all been sacrificed to repair the damage Lotor had done. He hadn’t realized how much he’d come to think of the Castleship as ‘home’ until it was gone- compressed down into nothing more than a gemstone.

The closest thing he had to a home now was Red.

Exhausted, depleted Red.

They were all still reeling from the loss. Still trying to recover from Lotor’s… everything. Still trying to understand and wrap their heads around everything that had happened to Shiro.

God.

Shiro.

Stuck in Black’s consciousness, unable to do anything, say anything except on the astral plane… and then when he’d tried, Lance had failed him.

He’d failed Shiro… and that failure ended up almost killing all of them.

That failure led directly to the situation they were facing now.

Pidge couldn’t track down any of their allies. They couldn’t teleduv anywhere. Everything was different… but that same sinking wrongness kept creeping back, now with added guilt! He hadn’t cried since they’d left that damn rock where he’d fallen to his knees, sobbing out an apology in front of everyone.

He’d tried to cry. Crying had always been such a release for him, so cathartic. He wasn’t ashamed of tears- he tried to shed them in private, but he wasn’t one to shy away from what he felt. But… he couldn’t cry- he just… didn’t have any tears left.

Keith had barely said five words to him since they’d decided to head to Earth. He could have- the comms worked and had private channels. Heck- he could have had his wolf bring him over to Red while everyone else was asleep. But, it seemed pretty obvious now that Lance was as expendable to Keith as he was to everyone else. He hadn’t realized how much he’d been counting on Keith still wanting… whatever the heck they’d had… to make him feel like himself again until it didn’t happen.

But, Keith had his Mom now, and he had Shiro back, and a huge teleporting pet space wolf, and… Romelle. Lance had no idea what the deal was with Romelle and Keith, and putting her in Red with him had revealed exactly nothing about the nature of their relationship (and yes he was aware of how creepy that made him, but he couldn’t seem to muster up the energy to care about that). He didn’t need Lance. He didn’t need to curl up on his side, his back fitting itself to the line of Lance’s body, his pillow turned ninety degrees and wrapped up in his arms like a teddy bear because he was sharing Lance’s. He was sleeping just fine over on Black with the people that mattered most to him and it was obvious that Lance wasn’t one of them.

Lance was happy for him- he was. He was happy for Keith… as happy as he could manage to be for anyone right now. He just… missed him so much. It was so much worse than missing him while he was away with the Blades. He could barely even hear the buzzing in his head anymore- it was like the bees were dying. He couldn’t even look at Keith’s face anymore. Couldn’t stand to see the scar that reminded him of how he’d failed to hear Shiro. Failed to protect them all from the man they’d thought was their friend and leader. He couldn’t even muster the courage to look Keith in the eyes- too terrified to discover that Keith was looking right through him.

If Allura had let him go, when he’d been in that place between the pain of death and the cold numbness of… this... if she’d let him stay there… then Keith would have had to come back to Red. He’d have noticed. He’d have been able to prevent everything. Keith wouldn’t have failed like Lance. Keith didn’t fail. Keith didn’t try his best and fall short. Keith struggled, sure, but then he overcame. That was… like… his whole deal.

For, like, a minute when they’d been escaping the pirates, it had felt like old times… in the good way. The ‘I have a place here and we’re all together and working toward the same goal’ way… and then it had crumbled into the other ‘old times’ way… Keith, splitting off from them, leaving Lance to try to do half as good a job as Keith would have, while Keith… just fucked off to follow his own agenda. Saving Acxa.

Acxa! What even was the deal with that?!?

Seriously- how many times had Acxa tried to kill them?

And now… they were all sitting around in Axca’s weird little cave, trusting everything she said like it was gospel- and did Keith really need to sit so damn close to her? He could barely think over the buzzing in his head. He’d thought he was done with the freaking bees in his brain, he’d even been kind of sad about that in that muted faraway echo of emotions that he got now… and then Keith had heard the name Acxa and bailed on them and it was like a whole hive had burst into being in Lance’s brain and he remembered how awful it was… except for the times in the dark of the night and the little haven of his bed when it wasn’t- which he was also remembering. Both memories sucked- in opposite ways.

As soon as the conversation died down, Lance was pushing his way out of the crowded cave, making up some excuse about checking on Kaltenecker- he’d even thought to grab a bucket along the way for good measure. She probably needed to be milked anyway- time was so damn weird out here it was hard to tell for sure how long it had been since she’d been milked last.

Not that he’d need the excuse, he reflected as he settled into the familiar movements of milking the cow. He’d bet cash money that it wouldn’t even occur to anyone to make sure he was okay. Because, why wouldn’t he be okay, right? No one had the faintest clue that he was falling apart. Good old goofball Lance. As long as he managed to make a joke every once in a while, or do something kinda helpful in a dorky way, everyone just left him alone.

Back on the ship, when they’d been cuffed and tossed into a cell… he’d been the only one trying to find a way out… everyone else just… milled around and did nothing… and somehow, he was the joke for looking for a secret passage out of the cells in a freaking pirate ship. Didn’t they know anything about pirates? Pirates were paranoid fuckers and they usually had some kind of escape route in place just in case of mutiny. He’d gone on school trips to the Museum of Piracy in Castillo del Morro almost every school year when he was a kid. But, no… what would the Cuban kid know about pirates?!?

He clung to the anger and frustration like a lifeline, because at least it was feeling something and it was such a change from the sucking apathy that he’d been dealing with that it almost felt good. He couldn’t keep doing this for… however long Pidge said it was going to take to get to Earth. They’d already been gone so long… three years longer than it even felt like to him. Three years… plus the months and months he remembered.

He’d gone to space. He’d fought a war. He’d died. He should feel more than this heavy weight in his chest, this constant sinking sensation, this painful, stinging buzzing in his head, and the bright, sparking, short-lived flares of anger and frustration with it all. It felt like he had all the puzzle pieces, but he couldn’t make them fit. How had he become so broken?

“There you are,” Shiro smiled at him, “I should have known you’d be checking on her…”

“It hurts cows if they aren’t milked regularly,” Lance explained. Maybe Shiro felt that same… wrongness. Maybe Allura told him what had happened to Lance. Maybe he wasn’t as alone and forgotten and screwed up as he thought….

Shiro nodded, shifting his weight awkwardly. Lance waited, barely breathing. “I just…” Shiro trailed off, “that was some really great shooting… earlier.”

“My shooting?” That… was not what he’d been expecting to hear. “Oh… thanks. I hope I don’t get too rusty without the training decks to run sims on.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Shiro smiled at him, the expression almost sad.

“Are you okay?” Lance asked, just in case Shiro needed an invitation to talk. He’d been like that sometimes, when his head was bad. “Is your head bothering you?”

“My head? No… my head’s fine. Why?”

“Headaches… they… uh… they used to be an issue…” Great, because talking to Shiro wasn’t awkward enough from Lance’s whole failure thing, he just had to mention something that would remind the guy of being replaced by an evil clone. Awesome.

“Oh… No. No sign of headaches… not yet, at least.”

“Well… that’s good,” Lance mustered up a smile, “headaches suck.”

“Yeah… they do. I should get back… Don’t take too long here. It’s been a long day. We all need our rest.”

That was it? Shiro had come over just to remind him not to stay up too late? Really?? His heart crumbled a little more. Shiro didn’t have the same weirdness. Shiro hadn’t come back wrong. He was fine- mostly. Adjusting. Not like Lance. He wasn’t slowly bleeding out all his feelings until he was just… an echo.

“You really think I’m gonna sacrifice my beauty sleep?” Lance countered, smiling a little too big, laughing a little too hard. Pantomiming happy. Playing a role called ‘Lance’. It was all… off. Jarring. Wrong.

Wrongwrongwrongwrongwrong…

###

They spent the night camping out on the surface. All of them together around a small fire. He used to love camping. Now… it was nice enough, he guessed. Getting a break from Red’s hold was pleasant, at least. It was weirdly soothing to hear the soft noises of the others in their bedrolls, shifting and murmuring as they slept.

Lance hadn’t slept.

Lance had spent the night staring up at an unfamiliar sky filled with alien stars and trying very hard not to think too much about the other people who were still awake.

Keith.

Acxa.

They’d been huddled together on the other side of the fire deep in quiet conversation that had lasted hours. Seriously, what was the deal with Keith and Acxa?? Lance couldn’t make sense of it, couldn’t stop thinking about it, couldn’t stop hating himself for being so invested.

For someone who had been struggling to feel anything he sure was feeling a whole lot of something he didn’t want to name or examine about Keith and Acxa… and before that… Keith and Romelle.

Eventually, morning came, the sky turning green as light returned, which was something he would have loved seeing at one point but now just… irritated him. Stupid green sunrise. As soon as he could plausibly claim it was morning, he was out of his bedroll, packed up, and ready to roll.

He’d had a bowl of goo, milked Kaltenecker, worked out, cleaned up, and was rearranging Red’s hold for the millionth time before Krolia, Shiro and Keith woke. He wanted out of there and away from Acxa A-S-A-quiznaking-P.

Eventually, they’d all boarded their lions and headed out, and the further they got from Acxa and her stupid rock, the more numb he felt. He wanted to cry, or rage, or something but he just… couldn’t. His eyes stung like there were tears ready to spill. His chest heaved, breathing all fucked up. His throat ached and burned… but there was no tipping point. No relief. It just hurt. It physically hurt and he couldn’t make it stop.

He closed his eyes. Hoping he might doze off for a bit, trying to remember what happy felt like, and barring that, then maybe the way being dead had felt- that calm warmth and peace. An odd tingle washed over him and his eyes flew open to discover he was on some kind of gameshow.

Okay.

He’d officially snapped.

It couldn’t be real, right?

Like, sure space had thrown them some weird curveballs but this? This!?! This couldn’t be real. This funky mix of Family Feud and the Newlywed Game had to be some kind of nightmare… the kind where you dreamed you were at school for a test you didn’t study for in a class you’ve never taken and your whole education hangs on that mark… the kind where the people you care about turn on you and laugh along with bullies… the kind with monsters trying to eat you to a laugh track.

Definitely a nightmare.

Definitely not real… and he knew it was fake… because he could feel again. Being called dumb hurt. The thought of dying scared him. When his friends did well he was genuinely excited and happy for them. Proud of them. Al his emotions were back in technicolor and it had been so damn long. He didn’t know what to do with himself.

He didn’t know how to handle feeling everything again. So, when Bob asked him why he voted for Keith, he answered… and it didn’t even occur to him to censor himself. He opened his mouth and poured his heart out. Which, honestly, was just further proof that this was a nightmare, because all that stuff? He’d never put that into words before. He’d never even put that into thoughts before… and saying it… it did something weird to the bees. They… calmed. They didn’t fade out or vanish or anything they’d done before. The buzzing was still there- but it was… softer, sweeter… soothing.

He’s the future…

He said that, and something deep inside him clicked into place. Understanding washed over him like a wave.

Oh.

Ohhhhh…

He was in love with Keith.

That’s what the bees were about! That’s why he struggled so much without him, why everything felt wrong when he was gone. That’s why Romelle and Acxa got to him so badly. He loved Keith. He had… for so long… for ages… The knowledge was still settling over him, the truth of it sinking into his bones when Keith answered… and it took a moment for the actual words to register.

He was in love with Keith- and Keith voted for him so he wouldn’t be ‘stuck’ with Lance.

It felt like a physical blow. It felt like he’d gotten kicked in the sternum so hard that he’d left his body… but this wasn’t the warm, peaceful, safety Allura had pulled him back from. This was… agony. He watched from somewhere outside himself as the team cheered and celebrated, his own hoots and hollers joining them… even as his soul felt like it was being shredded.

And then he was back in Red, hearing the others over the com lines, trying to rally, trying to come up with something, anything to say that would sound like him. He felt his lips move but he really had no idea what he’d said. It seemed to work, because he was vaguely aware of the others laughing, the conversation moving on without him.

I just don’t want to be stuck with Lance…

... stuck with Lance…

His brain just kept… stabbing his poor shattered heart with the memory of Keith’s answer. Why had he ever wished away the numbness? This was… torture. It might actually kill him. He couldn’t imagine surviving this kind of pain. It felt impossible.

Red flared to life in his awareness; a burst of indignant, protective fury that had become very familiar to him and had no viable outlet. He could feel how much the giant Lion hated being unable to help him. Blue was soothing. She had felt like floating in the ocean on a warm day when he was hurting. Red took a different tact. A ‘hurt my scrawny cub and I hurt you right back’ kind of tact, but this wasn’t an injury caused by an enemy. It wasn’t something that could be avenged. No one had done anything wrong. There was no one to target, no threat to take out- just sadness and pain and a broken heart. While Lance had only just put the pieces together, Red must have known for awhile, because there was no shock or surprise in the reaction that radiated through him.

For the first time in longer than he wanted to think about, the light for the private comms link flashed, jarring him out of his reverie. Purple. Black Lion. He drew a shaky breath, accepting the connection. No video, audio only- he couldn’t handle Keith seeing him like this. He couldn’t handle seeing Keith right now. “What’s up, oh fearless leader?”

“I… uh…” Keith huffed, and Lance could hear him shift. “About the… um… Look, I… damn it… I’m coming over.”

What!?!?! He opened his mouth to speak, but the light clicked off. Comm line disconnected.

Ohhh….no… nononononono… Frantically, he tried to pull himself together. He could do this.

He could.

He’d been doing it for months.

Flirty smile. Crack a joke. Laugh. Grin. Toss out a finger gun or an eyebrow waggle. Slip a pun into his script. Goofball Lance- he was an expert at playing that role. Oscar worthy acting. It fooled everyone else. It would fool Keith, too.

The air crackled and Keith appeared, cuddled up to Kosmo, then it crackled again and the wolf was gone. “Hey,” Keith said, looking as awkward as Lance felt.

“Your wolf have a problem with me or something?” He asked, forcing the smile to bleed into his voice.

“Uhh.. no?” Keith fidgeted, “I just… thought this would be better.”

“Alright. Your call, team leader.”

“I used to like it when you called me that,” Keith said softly, “it felt like… you had my back. Now… it doesn’t sound sarcastic… but it feels sarcastic.”

“It’s not sarcastic. You are our team leader, them’s just the facts, man.”

“Lance.”

“Mmmhmmm. That’s me.” Neither of them had moved. Red had rotated the pilot seat when Keith had appeared, but Lance was still sitting in it, hands clenching the armrests. Keith was still standing in the exact spot he’d been in when Kosmos flashed away. There was maybe three feet between them… but he felt so out of reach.

“Lance… are you okay?”

“What? You mean the goo?” He made a dismissive noise, rolling his eyes for good measure. “It was like a full body face mask. Did wonders for my skin. So… you know… I’m better than ever. Good talk.”

“Are you kicking me out?” Keith shifted his weight, arms crossing over his chest as he just… watched him. It was unnerving.

“Pffft… no… Why would I be kicking you out? You want to hang out in Red, you are more than welcome.” He should have left it there, but without his permission, his mouth opened and the next thing he knew he was talking again. “But you know… without Kosmo here, I’d think you’d be more worried about getting stuck with me.”

“That was a lie,” Keith said, blunt as ever.

“You’re calling me a liar? Really?!?!” He glared, he hadn’t lied one single time since Keith had shown up.

“No!” Brows furrowed, Keith pushed his hand through his hair. “Not you. Me. That thing I said… to Bob. It… was a lie. I… didn’t trust him. So, you know, I lied.”

“You lied. To Bob. About why you voted for me?” He shook his head, “that’s a real weird thing to lie about, Keith.”

“Is it? Remember when Zethrid and Ezor were going to hurt Pidge?”

“Of course I remember that, it pretty much just happened, Keith! God, you guys really do think I’m an absolute idiot, don’t you?”

“I don’t! None of us do! Just… listen. Please? This is… complicated.” Frustration flashed in his eyes, “and can we… move? Just… this is weird, me just standing here and you in the pilot’s seat… it’s weird.”

“Not a lot of options, but sure.” Standing, he felt warmth pass over him. Bless Red, sometimes, seriously. He led Keith down to where he’d set up his bed, then realized what he’d done and had to fight off a moment of panic. He hadn’t been kidding about the lack of options. It was this, the cockpit, or finding seats on bins of random stuff from the Castle.

Keith took a seat at the ‘foot’ of his makeshift bed, leaning back against the wall. Seeing him like this reminded Lance of how much had changed since those nights in his quarters. Keith had grown. He’d filled out. He was sporting a scar that had to haunt him. He’d found his mother. He’d aged two years. So much was different.

Lance shoved his pillow up against the wall and sat opposite Keith. “Okay. I’m listening.”

“I didn’t trust Bob… and I was thinking about Zethrid and Ezor… the way they were going to hurt Pidge to get to us. How they knew that they could hurt all of us by targeting her. That’d we’d be more likely to talk to protect one another than ourselves.” He sighed, “I’d already written my answer, I couldn’t change it. When I thought of them, your name was already there. I couldn’t take it back, I couldn’t change my mind… and I was just standing there, thinking that Bob, he could use our answers against us… and I felt like such an idiot for not thinking of that earlier… and then you guys… everyone was so… and then… you… and nobody else picked each other- did you notice that? Hunk picked Allura, and Pidge picked Hunk, and Allura picked Pidge… and then you… you picked me… and the stuff you said…” His head lifted, purple eyes locking with Lance’s, “did you mean all that stuff? What you said about me… was that the truth? It felt like the truth…”

“Yeah,” he heard himself say. Too late to take it back anyway. He might as well own it. “Yeah, I meant it. You… ugh... sometimes you make me want to tear my hair out… but yeah. It was the truth.”

Keith nodded, the movement stilted and jerky, and as hard as it was to believe, he actually blushed before clearing his throat. “Oh… okay… Thanks… for, you know… saying all that stuff, I mean. Thank-you… it… means a lot to me. So, yeah… you were talking and I was standing there, staring at your name… and all I could think was… he could break us. If he was thinking like Zethrid and Ezor… if he was trying to figure out where to hit to do the most damage… this would give that away. We picked each other. That’s the target. That’s how to cause the most pain. So… when he asked me why I picked you… I lied. So he couldn’t use you to hurt me. So he couldn’t hurt you to make me betray the others. So he wouldn’t pit us against each other. Lance, I lied. I lied. That’s not why I picked you.”

He could barely breathe. He had just taken Bob at his word, even though he had no reason to trust him! Keith was right, he could easily have been trying to find their weak spots, and it hadn’t even crossed Lance’s mind that the whole thing could have been a trap! “That wouldn’t have worked though,” he breathed, “because you’re… you. Because I’m… me. It wouldn’t have worked. You’re a better leader than that. You’re stronger than that… and I’m not worth it.”

“What?” It was obvious that whatever Keith had been expected him to say, it hadn’t been what he’d actually said.

It should have been easy to shift the focus. It should have been easy to point out that no single Paladin was worth more than any other. It should have been easy to make a crack about being the ‘spare’ Paladin. But… It was like saying that had lanced (haha, pun) some deep, festering wound within him, because words just poured out of him… words that he’d kept bottled up for longer than he liked to think about, words that rattled around in his head until they barely meant anything anymore, until they were just unquestionable truths in the background of his reality. “I’m not worth it. I’m the dumb one, remember? Blue locked me out, I screw up all the time, I am a distraction, I’m not a tech genius, or an engineering prodigy, or the Champion, or a Blade, or a Princess. I’m just… a boy from Cuba. Nothing special… and I fail. I fail so much, Keith. Shiro tried to tell me… in the astral plane… he tried to tell me he was stuck… we were in danger... and I didn’t know… I didn’t understand… I failed him. I failed Shiro. I failed everyone… because I’m never quite good enough, no matter how hard I try… and I don’t think before I speak… I don’t add anything to the team that someone else couldn’t do better. I never did. Allura should have left me there… I was never good enough, but now…” His hand clutched at his chest, “I dunno… I’m broken or something… like… something got left behind… or I came back… wrong.”

“Lance! That’s not true! None of that is true! What are you talking about? Where is all this coming from?” Keith grabbed his hand and it was only then that Lance realized he’d moved, kneeling on the bed in front of him. So close. After so long, he was so close and he was touching him and something in his soul, something that had been shuttered away, cracked open- raw and vulnerable and exposed. “Lance, Allura should have left you where?”

“After the Omega Shield, she should have left me where I was. It was so warm there, Keith. Like the perfect beach day. Warm and calm and safe. It felt so safe. I’d almost forgotten what safe felt like… and then she was just… there… calling me back… and I went. But I didn’t want to… I wanted to stay… I wanted to stay, but I followed her back, and it hurt. It hurt to breathe again. It hurt to be back in my body… and then… the hurt faded out… but nothing came back to fill the hole… I was hollow before, and then all that happened… and I just… didn’t feel anything again. I was already messed up… but I came back wrong… she should have left me alone. It was a good death. I saved her. It was good. A good death… it… meant something, you know?”

“Oh my God,” Keith breathed, and then he was moving. Lance felt strong arms wrap around him, pulling him into a tight hug that felt so good it hurt and Keith was rocking with him, and pressing little kisses to his temple like Lance was a little kid who’d had a nightmare. Holding him so close Lance could hear the strong beat of his heart, the little jagged shiver in his breathing. “Lance, I had no idea… no one told me… I didn’t know… oh my God… you died… oh my God, Lance...”

“I don’t think anyone knows,” he murmured, “maybe not even Allura… sometimes I think they do… but… mostly not… because I think… if they knew… they’d care… at least a little… maybe I’m wrong, but it hurts less… if they don’t ask, don’t say anything, because they don’t know, you know? It hurts less than if they just don’t care...”

“They care, Lance,” Keith insisted, “they care so much. Everyone cares so much about you. They love you. We love you. You have to know that… right?”

“I mean… I guess… they’re good people… and I’m on the team… so… yeah, they’d have to be pretty awful to not care at all... they didn’t do anything wrong… “

“How long have you been feeling like this?” Keith asked, voice gentle.

He seemed so far away, which was weird, because Lance could hear his heart, and his arms were wrapped around him like a vice. He could feel Keith’s breath on his skin, lips moving against Lance’s temple as he spoke. So, he knew how close he was, but somehow, Lance felt like he was miles and miles away, stuck on the other side of some kind of chasm. Like he’d been split in two, somehow- half of him wrapped up in the arms of the man he’d been missing for so long, and half of him… somewhere else, watching from a distance. Vaguely, it occurred to him that it didn’t really bode well for his mental state to be so… fractured.

“Dunno… a long time… probably since…” He sighed, “Sam left, I guess? Hard to tell when it changed…”

“It changed?”

“Yeah… used to just be… like… everything feeling weird without you here. Like… there was a Keith-shaped hole… but then that… cold, empty spot- it just kept growing… numb, like… frostbite…” He laughed, the sound sudden and barking, “I’m the Red Paladin… the guardian of fire!” He dissolved into giggles that bordered on manic, burying his face into Keith’s chest as he laughed, “Red’s all about heat and fire… and I’m… I’ve been… like… iced over… I’m just… all frozen… God, that’s funny! I hate the cold!”

“A Keith-shaped hole?”

“Yeah… like… a gap… where you are s’posed to be. Empty chair at the table, training was different, Voltron feels different, stupid skinny bed was way too big… couldn’t even sleep most nights.”

“I…” Keith cleared his throat, “uh… at night… it’s always cold. With the Blade, in the Quantum Abyss, on Black… when I sleep… it’s always cold. Even with Kosmo curled up behind me. Without you there, I’m always cold.”

“Feel pretty warm to me.”

“Well, you’re here… and you feel pretty warm to me, too.” Drawing in a shaky breath, Keith brushed Lance’s hair back, his purple eyes flitting over Lance’s face like he was looking for something. Quietly, almost shy, he said, “I missed you, too.”

“You don’t need to make shit up to make me feel better,” Lance muttered, eyes stinging with unshed tears, “it doesn’t actually help if it’s not true. If you missed me, you wouldn’t have been ignoring me since you got back.”

“I haven’t been ignoring you,” Keith protested.

“You haven’t been talking to me either!”

“Well, you-” He cut himself off, drawing in another breath, one eyebrow quirking up before he let his eyes close for a count of three. Lance could practically hear him thinking ‘patience yield focus’. It was just so familiar. So Keith. “Lance… we’ve never been great at talking… and you haven’t been seeking me out, either… but… I’m guessing you haven’t been seeking anyone out lately, huh?”

“They know where to find me. You know where to find me,” he half shrugged, not able to do much more, held so close the way he was, “nobody bothers, so eventually I learned not to bug them.”

“I missed you,” Keith whispered, “I did. Even after I got back to you guys. There was…” A soft smile, lopsided and tender, bloomed on his face and he rubbed his thumb along the line of Lance’s jaw, “there was a Lance-shaped hole.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Slowly, Keith dipped his head, pressed a gentle kiss to Lance’s lips and hope began to flicker in his chest. “I missed you, Lance.”

“Keith…” his chest heaved, all the pain and fear and hurt that he hadn’t been able to feel breaking free in a rush. “God, I missed you, too,” a sob tore out of his throat, “everything sucks when you are gone! I missed you so mu-much…” there was more he wanted to say, but it would have to wait, because tears streamed down his face and he was crying too hard to speak.

“Shhh,” Keith soothed, rocking with him again, one hand rubbing his arm in a comforting rhythm. “”I missed you, too… and I’m not going anywhere. I got you.”

###

His head was pounding when he woke, and his face had that weird puffy, crusty feeling that told him he’d cried himself to sleep. But he’d actually slept, and he felt genuinely rested. His pillow smelled like Keith but he was alone in the bed- still in his Paladin suit, although the armor plates had been removed and stacked neatly on the floor beside an identical stack of Keith’s.

Yawning, he dragged himself out of the blankets, bringing one with him to wrap around himself (not quite willing to give up its warmth or the lingering scent of Keith’s skin just yet) as he made his way to the cockpit. Keith was sitting pretty much sideways in the Pilot’s seat, but Red hadn’t turned it back around, and Lance felt himself smile at the little warm pulse of tolerence from Red. ‘I know, bud,’ he thought at the Lion, ‘I know you see him as a guest. I know you chose me.’ Seemingly satisfied, Red faded out again and Lance’s attention drifted back to Keith who hadn’t noticed his presence yet and who seemed unbothered by the pilot seat being reversed as he chatted on the comms. He sounded drowsy, and his hair was a mess, and it was heart-stoppingly adorable.

Their conversation earlier started to filter back into Lance’s awareness. Ohhhh no! What had he been thinking!?!? How had he let himself fall apart like that?? How was he supposed to interact with Keith after… just… all that? He froze, lips parted for a greeting that died in his throat as fear and mortification overtook the rested contentment he’d woken to and pulled him under.

“Krolia, stop it. Black is fine to handle basic flight formation without me. If there’s a crisis, or I need to be in Black for some reason, Kosmo can collect me. I’m basically next door.” He rubbed at the back of his neck, “it’s not like that… No, I don’t know how lon- look… I’m where I need to be right now, okay? That is as much detail as you are getting. I should go… I know. Talk to you soon.” He twisted and stretched to reach the toggle for the comms, letting out a little grumble of annoyance about Red being a ‘moody kitty’.

“Where you need to be?” Lance croaked out, the words hanging in the air before he realized he’d said anything.

Keith turned to face him, his smile making his eyes crinkle at the corners before concern changed the expression. “Yeah… are you okay?”

“Umm…” He didn’t know how to answer that. He had no idea how to answer that! “Umm…” Panic started to crowd the edges of his awareness. Too many questions! What had Keith meant by that? Who else had he talked to? What had he said about Lance? What had he thought about the whole… thing with the crying and blurting out all that crap? “Ummm…”

“Woah… Okay… okay…” God, Keith was fast! He was out of the Pilot’s seat and across the cockpit in a blink, scooping Lance and his blanket up into his strong arms and striding right back to the bed with him. “I got you, Lance… I got you…”

By the time Lance rediscovered his words, they were lying side by side, still in the black Paladin suits. The blanket wrapped around them was pulled up over their heads, creating a tiny little world all to themselves. “You don’t need to stay here with me,” he finally said softly, the words quiet. Keith had his eyes shut, curled in Lance’s embrace. He was taller, and Lance had been the one falling apart, but he was still the little spoon, his back tucked tight against Lance’s chest- the way they’d ended up most nights back in Lance’s quarters on the Castle when they’d eventually fall asleep.

“Yes, I do,” Keith countered, turning his head and cracking one eye to look at Lance.

“I’m capable of taking care of myself,” Lance tried again.

“I know that. That’s not why I’m here.”

“Oh.” His head dropped back onto the pillow and he went quiet for several minutes. “Then… uh… why are you here?”

“Really?” He shifted away from Lance, rolling to face him and folding the blanket down so it was tucked under his arm. Immediately, Lance missed the sense of safety it had given him, but then Keith propped himself up on his elbow and threaded his fingers through Lance’s hair and all was right with the world again. “You were right… the others didn’t know. Don’t worry. I didn’t say anything. I just asked them what it had been like to work with the Galra and Hunk started to talk about the mission where you… Allura said you got hurt… knocked out. She went quiet after that for a bit, though… so I think she might have realized. Pidge didn’t even know you’d been hurt. They didn’t know, Lance. You were right. Pidge was pissed that no one told her you’d taken a hit for Allura. They care. I promise you, they care about you.”

“Okay… that’s… good to know. It… means a lot. But… it doesn’t answer my question. Why are you here now?”

“They didn’t know… but I know, Lance. I know you… uhh...” he cleared his throat, closed his eyes and took a breath. When he opened them again, he pinned Lance with his gaze, “I know you died. I was gone and you died. Allura saved you, but… I wasn’t here and you died... so… I… uh… kinda need to see that you are okay while I wrap my head around that.”

“Oh.” He wasn’t really sure what to say to that. It was such a weird thing to have to navigate… especially with Keith because their whole thing was so… much.

“That and… I know you can get by on your own… but… maybe it’ll be a little easier with me here. Like how… you being there made it a little easier… for me… when Shiro… when Shiro died, before the clone...” He did another one of those closed-eyes-deep-breath things and continued, “you helped me… and you never made me feel weak or childish or weird for needing the help… and you haven’t been sleeping. So…”

Keith trailed off, and Lance’s heart did a weird thing… he’d always thought the people who said that their hearts skipped a beat were full of it- because, like… isn’t that what a heart attack is? But that’s what happened. His heart like, tripped, and he’d swear it missed a beat it was supposed to take when he saw the look on Keith’s face. So… raw… and… he looked scared. “Yeah… it’s easier with you here. You’re helping… and… Keith? I’m glad I made things a bit easier, back then. I’m glad you knocked on my door that first time.”

“Me, too.” Slowly, so slowly, Keith leaned closer, eyes darting back and forth between Lance’s eyes and his lips. He gave Lance every opportunity to move away, or say something, or avoid the kiss in any number of ways… but Lance didn’t do anything. They’d kissed before- more times than Lance could count. They’d even kissed… earlier? The day before? Lance had no idea how long he’d been asleep. This was different though. Those other times… it had been in the deep dark of Lance’s quarters when the Castle was asleep and everything felt more than a little… not real. The last kiss? It had been in the midst of Lance’s freak-out… again… when things felt not quite real. This wasn’t like that. They were calm, awake… actually talking to one another about… personal stuff. This was a real kiss, with intent. It meant something. It meant something that Keith was choosing to lean in to kiss him. It meant something that Lance wasn’t dodging it.

Keith paused, barely an inch from Lance’s face, his eyebrow lifting in silent question. The bees were roaring back to life in Lance’s head, pushing, always pushing… this time with the weight of choice behind them, the promise of something… important in the prickling buzz. With a soft sound, Lance tipped forward, closing that last tiny distance and kissing Keith.

He’d been right about it being different. Keith was tender with him, almost to the point of reverence. The kiss was sweet. His lips were soft against Lance’s, and he made a happy little humming noise that might have been the cutest thing Lance had ever encountered. His heart did that beat-skipping thing again and he knew. He knew that he wasn’t the only one dealing with emotions that were so much bigger than he’d been prepared to feel.

Keith’s smile when he lifted his head again was shy, “so… that’s another reason… why I want to be here. Can’t… kiss you… touch you when you’re here and I’m in Black… and… I missed that, too…”

“You missed hooking up with me, or…”

“Yeah… ‘Or’… definitely ‘or’… never really cared much about the hooking up part except that it was with you...” Keith sighed, biting his lip, “it’s… okay… I was just...ummm… ages ago… you said you didn’t want to end up like James… so…”

“What does that have to do with anything? No one wants to end up like James- James is a dickhead!” Why were they talking about James Griffin so soon after that kiss??

Keith went quiet and Lance could see him thinking in the tiny expressions that made their way over his face. He looked older, he realized. Not a huge amount, but he did. There was something in the set of his brow, the line of his mouth, the shape of his chin. The planes of his face were ever so slightly different and it made a subtle but meaningful difference. He was still ridiculously attractive, but it was more ‘handsome’ and less ‘cute’... although, no, that ‘I’m thinking’ pout of his was still stupid cute… so maybe less… pretty.

“James,” he said after a moment, “he’s my ex. My first boyfriend… first… uh… lots of things. We split up… and it was… not pretty. He called me… clingy, needy… too much work. I… I just figured… he’d told everyone, you know? I figured everyone knew. So… when you said you didn’t want to end up like him… I thought…”

“Okay- first of all… anyone who would call you ‘clingy’ is like… probably a sociopath. Second of all- James Griffin is your ex?!?!?” Lance gaped at him, thudding the heel of his hand into Keith’s shoulder, “what? When? How? Why? When??”

“Uhhh… first year… like, the last couple of months before the Kerberos launch until a couple of weeks after. Um… pretty sure he was just trying to get closer to Shiro, though. It was… the whole thing was a mess… and then it crashed and burned and turned into an even bigger mess.”

“Yikes!” It sounded like a mess., for sure. Lance couldn’t believe he hadn’t known! That definitely seemed like something that the rumor mill would have been all over. “Okay… sooooo, when I said that... about Griffin… I meant I didn’t want to be cruel. I didn’t want to end up being someone who thought it was okay to say something vicious to hurt another person just to win an argument. I… uh… didn’t want to hurt you when we argued. I didn’t know about… the other stuff… but… for the record? You deserve better.”

“I guess… but… so… uh… I was trying… to not be clingy and needy.”

“Well, in that case,” he managed a soft smile, “you were very successful. Just.. wow- way to overcompensate, Mullet!”

He huffed, glaring a little, “well excuse me for trying not to fuck things up.”

“Things still got pretty fucked up,” Lance sighed, “but that’s on me, not you.”

“It’s not on you! How do you figure that? This whole thing? Space, war… all of it. None of us chose that. It’s been one stressful, traumatic thing after another… and it’s affecting everyone- not just you. This was just… your turn to freak out. It’s going to happen to all of us- probably more than once.” He tipped Lance’s face up to his, “you died. You’re allowed to be a bit fucked up about that. I’m a bit fucked up about that and it didn’t even happen to me.”

“Shit- this is probably stirring up a bunch of stuff about Shiro… I’m sorry!”

“What? No! Lance… it’s not about Shiro. It’s not. It’s about you. You. I wasn’t here and you died and if it wasn’t for Allura I would have come back to… I almost lost you and it is fucking me up. Got it?” His expression was serious, his eyes intense, almost wild, “I cannot lose you, Lance. I can’t.”

“You make it sound like…”

“Yeah. I do… because… I do, okay?” Keith pressed a kiss to Lance’s forehead, “I do. I love you. I can’t lose you… and I can’t stand the thought of you not knowing that I do. I need you to know that. I need you to know I love you.”

“I… umm… I love you, too… took me forever to realize… but I do. I’m so in love with you. I hated when you wer-” His words were cut short by Keith kissing him again. Emotions burst into bright, brilliance inside him, obliterating any lingering numbness with their radiance.

He loved Keith.

Keith loved him.

He wasn’t alone anymore. He wasn’t some kind of living ghost without a place. He had a place: at Keith’s right hand; by his side; hand in hand. No matter what the universe threw at them, Lance knew he’d never be lost and aimless again. He’d make sure he spoke up when that cold hopelessness started to seep into his heart again… because his friends hadn’t stopped caring, he’d stopped talking. They hadn’t forgotten him, he’d pulled away. They hadn’t ignored what happened to him, they just hadn’t known. He hadn’t been able to make sense of what he felt, and it led to him isolating himself… and he knew that would never happen again, because now he understood what had set him down that path in the first place. He’d missed Keith and he’d been afraid to name why, and it had made him pull back from the people he cared about until he felt like he had no one.

But he wasn’t alone- he had Keith, and the team… his friends… and they were on their way home to Earth and his family. He wasn’t even close to alone, and the buzzing in his head made sure he’d never forget that again.