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Lance has never been so angry or so scared in his life.

Alright. He probably has. After three years in space, fighting a war, building up alliances, this sort of mission is almost mundane.

But that's not the point right now. The point is that Keith is a selfish, reckless idiot and Lance is going to kill him. His hands are shaking so badly that Red's controls rattle, the noise soft under the hum of machinery and the deep rumble from Red himself, touching against their bond, a reassurance at the back of Lance's mind.

Lance doesn't let himself be comforted.

The fact that Keith is safe - alive, in one piece, flying right in front of him - does not alleviate the very justifiable anger that is burning through Lance's body, bone and flesh alike. He doesn't say anything over the comms. Knows now isn't the time to be letting his temper flare, or distracting everyone from the task at hand. But once this skirmish dies down and they manage to suppress the rest of the space pirates, when they're back on solid ground, Keith is in for it 

Every time Lance sees a bit of debris from the nursery hub that Beta Five was using to regrow endangered flora from other planets, he only gets angrier.

It's bad enough that the pirates bombed the place and ruined all that progress.

Keith just had to -

"Lance, on your six."

Lance yanks the left-hand control back, slams a button. Red whips around, lightening fast, and their lava beam boils between his open jaws, obliterating the unpiloted drone that's been hounding him for the last two clicks. There's another one right behind it, and Red pounces, snatching it up in his molten jaws until the metal oozes and sparks and then hurling the detritus away.

They're the last ones.

Pidge and Allura have boarded the ship and apprehended the pirates.

Hunk is already breaking away to see what he can salvage among the nursery's rubble, and Keith is calmly giving orders, like he didn't just -

"Good job, Lance."

Keith's voice over the comm startles him, the smile in his voice, the obvious pride.

Lance scowls and mutes him by slamming his fist down on the consol. Red grumbles a warning. Lance mutters an earnest apology.

Loosens his grip.

Takes a breath and lets it out.

His hands are shaking, shaking, along with his trembling nerves. And they're still shaking around the lip of his helmet half a varga later, as he stands in the hall outside the hanger on Beta Five and waits for the others - waits for Keith - to join them so they can discuss what to do about the pirates, and the destroyed nursery that so many worlds were counting on.

Hunk knows he's pissed. Him and Allura are speaking to the lead biologist, and they both keep glancing over at him while the other is talking.

Lance takes a deep breath to calm himself down.

It's fine.

It's totally fine.

Pidge is trotting down the hall toward them, looking gleeful about the pirates getting their due, and Keith is right behind them. He's alive. Perfectly healthy. Not a scratch on him. Black and white armour entirely unblemished. Keith is smiling the moment he makes eye contact with Lance, but his smile falls away as Lance storms out to meet him, when he catches the expression on Lance's face.

Pidge scampers out of Lance's way, frowning at him; looks at Hunk, who rubs his forehead and sighs, and Allura, who grasps the lead biologist by the arm as if to lead him away before the fireworks begin.

"What the hell were you thinking!?" Lance demands, voice ringing in the hall. 

Keith looks shocked by Lance's tone, by the anger that snaps at the air between them like a physical thing. His eyes widen and he slows down to a walk, then finally a stop, watching Lance approach him like he's caught in a tractor beam and can't pull himself free.

It is almost enough to quell Lance's temper, but he lets it build instead, "What part of there's a bomb under your feet did you not understand, Keith!? You were right on top of it! You could have been blown into a million little pieces and I don't know what I would have done! What the quiznak was so important that you were running back across the field when your should have been getting to safety along with the rest of us!?"

Keith has pulled some mindless stunts before, and Lance has been scared of losing him before, but not since they've been together. There is a rawness in Lance's emotions that he wouldn't allow himself to show before, that threatens to shake him apart, and now that he can he doesn't hold anything back. He wants Keith to know exactly how he feels.

How scared was when he thought Keith wasn't going to make it back to his Lion in time.

How angry he is that he feels so much.

Their relationship is still new. It is tenuous in places, awkward and uncertain - and it is so bright and strong in others, where they've had the chance to build things up, that sometimes Lance can't bear it. He can't bear how much he loves Keith. And just knowing that Keith understands and returns his feelings - it amplifies everything tenfold, good and bad alike. It makes moments like this one terrible, when something has knocked them out of rhythm and they are both struggling for footing.

He can't understand why Keith would put himself in danger like that for nothing.

Keith doesn't seem to have recovered.

He says, "Oh," in a small, stunned voice, "Uh…"

He looks down, slowly lifting his hand from his side, where it went unnoticed before. Lance's heart lurches, expecting an injury. A broken hand. A missing a finger, or worse. Worry surging up his throat.

It's all for nothing.

Gripped in Keith's fist is a clutch of battered flowers, electric blue with white leaves and stems, soil still clinging to their broken, tangled roots. They're the same flowers that were covering the field before it was blown to smithereens almost directly under Keith's feet.

He lingered to rip them out of the ground.

His face is red, his grey eyes downcast.

"I… I'm sorry, Lance. I didn't mean to scare you," Keith says.  He doesn't mirror any of Lance's anger back at him. Just reaches down to take Lance's hand and folds it carefully around the flowers. "I was going and then I saw these and thought of you and… my brain shut off. It was… it was stupid."

Lance is the one who looks like he's been gobsmacked now, silent and gawking at the sad, dirty, tiny bouquet of rumpled flowers Keith has so tenderly placed in his shaking hands.

As eloquent as ever, he goes, "Wh-what?"

This is brand new ground for both of them and Keith doesn't seem to know what Lance is asking. He fumbles to explain his train of thought in the moment, "I… you like flowers. I mean, like. Getting flowers. That's - that's a romantic thing. I've been meaning to get you some, but I kept overthinking it. And I saw them and thought you'd probably like them but then there was… the bomb was going to detonate. I wouldn't have been able to go back and ask for any later. So I just…"

He gestures helplessly.

Lance… doesn't know what to say. He feels guilty… and excited. Giddy. His heart is racing. The shaking in his hands extends to the rest of him. He wants to smile, but he also wants to still be mad. Keith…. Keith scared him. But he brought him flowers. Even in a moment of peril, he was thinking of Lance, and Lance stares down at the blue petals that are only shades brighter than his eyes, overwhelmed by the gesture.

"You… you got these for me?" Lance finally manages to ask, looking up at Keith with that same slack expression.

Keith winces, nodding.

"Sorry. I - "

"I love them."

Keith closes his mouth.

Lance goes on, "But don't - don't do something like that again. Not for this. I couldn't - I…"

"Okay," Keith says immediately, "I won't. I won't be so careless next time, Lance. I promise."

"Store-bought is fine," Lance blurts out on a laugh.

Keith breaks into a wide, relieved smile.

Lance wants to kiss him.

"Are you quite finished?" Allura calls, startling them both, making them aware of their exasperated audience as they both turn to look at the grinning faces of the rest of their team and alien allies.

"Allura," Lance says, stepping toward her. His hands are shaking so badly there are petals and dirt dusting the floor. "I need - I need a vase."

He catches sight of the biologist, and panics. Quiznak. This species of flowers is endangered. Possibly the very last of their kind. His first bouquet, a bouquet from Keith, because he thought of him - and he can't even keep it. Is he really considering fighting this nerdy, reed-thin biologist over them….? Maybe.

To his surprise and relief, the biologist beckons him forward with a smile, "Anything to accommodate you, Paladin Lance. Paladin Hunk tells me the storage bay of the nursery wasn't badly damaged during the blast. Our seeds and pods and root samples have all survived! We can rebuild the nursery and begin anew."

Lance let's the stupid smile that he's feeling overtake his face and ducks his head into the tiny bouquet. The flowers have a sweet, clean scent like lavender. He combs them gently into a more appealing arrangement, and even after he's given a vase with vitamin-rich water to extend their longevity, he still clutches at the vase, and smiles at Keith, who smiles back and looks away, his cheeks tinted pink.

Lance reaches out to hold his hand.

 

Chapter Text

Lance doesn't have nightmares about the explosion that caused him to lose his leg - doesn't even remember it, to be honest. It's an unhappy blank space in his memory that sits wrong in his chest when he thinks about it, a pang that makes him aware of the weight attached to his thigh, a story he knows because everyone else has recited it a dozen times.

He doesn't even remember a whole lot of his hospital stay. Space morphine will do that.

So no, Lance isn't the one kicking his boyfriend awake in the middle of the night, grabbing onto him tightly and crying out in his sleep.

That's Keith.

Even months, and months, and months after the accident; after they've brought all their bad feelings to light and talked things out, and set themselves on the slow road to recovery hand-in-hand. Things are getting better. Easier. Lance's leg hurts less and less, his medicine is regulated, the prosthetics movements are becoming more natural, and he's building up his strength and stamina and his confidence again, soaring through his training regimens with Keith and the others' help.

Lance is here, and he's healthy, and he's alive, and he's so extremely grateful to have such an amazing network of support. Things are so good.

And yet Keith is still waking him up out of a deep sleep some nights, curling around him and sobbing.

The way Keith clings to him does not spark any recognition in Lance, but he knows Keith is reliving that awful moment in Red when Lance was dying and he couldn't do anything to stop it. Shrapnel from the volatile engine of the passenger ship they had been evacuating had ripped through Lance's leg, suit, armor, muscle and all. It severed an artery. He was bruised and broken in several places.

His heart had stopped.

Fully stopped.

Lance can't remember it, and Keith can't forget it.

And poor Keith, months later, is gasping and mumbling into the crook of his neck, his hands so tight around Lance that they hurt. Keith's distress is more than enough to rouse Lance at once, though he's generally a heavy sleeper. Lance shifts beneath the press of Keith's body so Keith can feel him move, breathes deeply so Keith can feel his chest rise and know that he's alive. Lance hums so Keith can hear his voice, he bends his knees to curl around Keith in return and lifts his hands to soothe Keith anywhere he can reach.

Fingers carding through his dark hair, rubbing his back, patting the arm Keith has viced around him.

He turns his face into Keith's hair and murmurs a soft litany, "Hey. Keith. It's okay, cariño. I'm right here. I'm okay. We're both safe." The same string of words on repeat, for as long as Keith needs to hear them. Until his gut-wrenching sobs have subsided into stuttering breaths and his grip has loosened. He nuzzles Lance's neck, still not quite awake.

He finds Lance's steady pulse under his scent, close to his mark, and that works to calm him as much as everything else does.

Lance brushes Keith's hair back, tips his head up, and peppers his face with soft kisses until Keith's dark eyes are blinking open. There's a flicker, and then that Galra yellow illuminates them, the soft glow accenting the tear tracks wetting Keith's cheeks and Lance's palms, and the tears that continue to pool out and spill down them, unbidden. Lance rubs them away as they fall and kisses both of Keith's eyes closed again.

"Lance…" Keith mumbles.

"Mhm. I'm right here, Keith," Lance says, "I'm okay. You're okay."

"It was- my fault -" Keith's breath hitches up, more tears welling out. Lance's heart twists inside of him at how broken Keith sounds. "I - could have done something differently - I-"

His grip tightens again, his face twisting.

Lance hates that Keith is blaming himself for something that was beyond his ability to control. He aches deeply at the thought of losing Keith, and that sense of guilt is familiar to him. It was my fault. I could have done something differently. Their quintessence bond is flushed with these ravenous emotions, all dark, anxious, churning waters that Lance has swam himself. He doesn't have to imagine how Keith feels.

Lance hugs Keith tightly, leaning down to press his cheek against Keith's, lifting Keith's hand to his chest, between them, where he can feel his heartbeat.

"It wasn't your fault, cariño. It was just a nightmare. Okay? Everything's fine."

Keith nods, a sigh punching out of him. His palm presses, presses, presses into Lance's heartbeat, the heat of his skin, the way Lance's chest rises and falls. Lance hums to him softly, petting his hair. He rocks them both gently with his prosthetic foot, bouncing where it's crossed over Keith's calf, and eventually Keith's body relaxes, exhausted and lulled into what Lance hopes will be more peaceful dreams.

His breathing slows to match Lance's and the frantic patter of his heart does the same, a soft staccato than blends into a perfect harmony.

 

Chapter Text

The bad news is: some planets in the universe, either by choice or evolution, have developed natural repellents against the Galra. Plants attuned to some aspect of the Galra DNA (or perhaps their quintessence) will release poisonous scents or spores, grow barbed thorns, spread constricting vines, or some other monstrous floral attributes, when they sense Galra are near.

The good news is: Keith is only half Galra.

So some things that might have a more fatal effect on a full-blooded Galra only hit him half as hard.

The bad news again is that none of them consider the potential danger because it has never been an issue before, and Keith doesn't notice right away when something is wrong.

He notices a funny smell in the air as he and the other Paladins are passing through the private garden of one of the important families of some planet they're trying to bring into the Coalition of Free People. They've been received as honored guests and will be staying with the family while they work out negotiations with the planet's leaders. The garden is something the family is very proud of, and so they're showing it off.

There are flowers and trees and bushes blooming and bearing fruit of every color.

Tucked under his arm, Keith's helmet beeps.

Pidge has already done a thorough scan of the planet's atmosphere and confirmed that there's enough oxygen to breathe and nothing harmful to humans. The alarm that beeps is not a vital one. It's not a danger-is-coming, take-immediate-action alarm. It interrupts what their host is saying, though, and Keith quickly silences it, with apologies.

He means to glance at it later but forgets.

--

"Go for a walk with me?"

Lance asks with his hands extended, with a big, hopeful smile already in place.

They're sharing a room for the first time on a mission and they're both a little giddy and a little embarrassed about it - giddy because they get to spend more time with each other, embarrassed because of how eager their hosts were to accommodate them when they asked. Their room is right off the gardens and has an incredible view of some of the brightest blooming trees the grounds have to offer. There's still about a varga before dinner, and they've already finished unpacking, changed out of their armour, visited the others' rooms, and settled into their own.

Keith smiles back and takes Lance's hands, letting him work to pull him up from his seat on the bed.

"Lazy," Lance huffs at him.

Keith laughs.

Lance drags him out onto the patio through a sliding glass door and into the garden through a swinging gate. They walk the smooth dirt paths through the gardens again, this time without an escort waxing on and on about history and agricultural techniques and all sorts of other things that they have to pretend to be interested in. Lance is the one that fills the quiet with his silly jokes and comments, pointing out the flowers that he likes, and Keith is happy to let him.

That funny smell hits him again - something cloying, sickly sweet. Like curdled milk masked with an overly flowery perfume. Keith wrinkles his nose and ignores it - focuses on the warmth of Lance's hand, and the soothing lilt in his voice - and as they pass through the garden the scent fades and he can breathe a little easier. At the end of a winding path, Lance finds a cute little pond with a bench and lots of swirling golden fish and blue lily pads.

Excited to look, he lets go of Keith's hand and surges forward.

Keith feels winded, knocked off-balanced, as if Lance suddenly untethered him, and he sways forward to catch ahold on the bench to steady himself.

Lance sees the lurching movement out of the corner of his eye and shoots him a look, alarmed.

"Keith? You okay, babe?"

"Y-yeah," Keith says. But he doesn't feel right. Felt better when Lance was grounding him. 

Why is he so lightheaded?

Has his breathing always been so loud?

Has the sound of his heartbeat always been so loud?

The moment Keith becomes aware of it, his heart rate spikes. It goes from a deep, steady drum beat inside his chest to an erratic gallop beating at every inch of him, and it flushes is body with a sticky warmth that makes his legs tremor and his vision swim, his breath pulling in sharper. Keith grips the back of the bench tighter, but the wood grain splinters and digs into his palms. When he lets it go with a small cry and looks at it, it smooths out again.

His palms were bloodied and now they're fine.

Lance is stepping toward him, reaching out to touch him - only it's not Lance.

It's something that looks like Lance. Something that sounds like Lance. It's something that stole Lance's blue eyes, and his rich voice, and his warm hands, and his perfect smile and his teeth are all that Keith can focus on because they're taking up it's whole face. Those hands grip Keith's arms and pull him in, and Keith hears an echo in Lance's voice.

"Keith. Seriously, dude, you're freaking me out -"

Keith screams.

The thing that looks like Lance but isn't Lance flinches. Keith wrenches himself away from it and he takes off into the forest.

When did it get so dark?

When did the trees get so big?

Has the sky always looks like that? Black, swallowing black, swallowing black.

It hurts to be in the sun. When Keith hits a patch glaring through the canopy, he drops to his knees and crawls between the bushes until it goes away. The roots and rocks pull him hard against the ground and cut his knees. He scrambles up, and runs again. He doesn't remember why. There's something chasing him. Calling for him. The thing that sounds like Lance, and looks like Lance, but isn't Lance. It comes close enough to grab him even though he tries so hard to get away, and he begs it to let him go. It trips him up and he can't breathe and it's got him and it's all teeth and nails and Keith swings. 

It tumbles off of him, and Keith runs.

Every little thing is out to get him. The rocks, the grass, the bugs. The trees reach out to smack him, razor-sharp bark and leaves as heavy as stones. The flowers are trying to confuse him. That scent claws at his senses. They keep moving, and turning him around, and the thing that looks like Lance but isn't Lance is back and Keith's chest is heaving, his face wet, his heart pounding out an uneven rhythm.

How many times is he going to have to scream before the thing that isn't Lance leaves him alone?

How long will he have to run before it doesn't want to chase him anymore?

There are more of them now, imitating his friends, beckoning him to them.

Hunk, but it's not Hunk.

Pidge, but it's not Pidge.

Coran, but it's not Coran.

Allura, but it's not Allura, and that one scares him the most because it comes the closest. It is swifter than the others, and Keith can't outrun it. It's fingers dig into his arms and it bares him to the ground, and Keith thrashes and begs but it doesn't release him.

"Pidge! I have him!"

"Hold him still!"

There's a sharp pain in his lower back - it's the realest thing that Keith has felt so far. It makes his whole body go slack almost at once. All the shapes and sounds and colors that were blurring together start to solidify. The ground beneath him is covered in blue-green moss, the details immaculate, and it isn't trying to suffocate him or sprouting up to choke him.

It's just soft and cool against his bare skin, and Keith realizes belatedly, in a hazy, absent way, that at some point he stripped out of his clothes.

Allura's weight leaves his back, and her small, gentle, familiar hands help him to his feet.

She's not trying to hurt him.

She's not something else pretending to be Allura.

She's just Allura, looking at him with concern, trying something around his waist.

"Keith," she says firmly, "Now, I don't want you to panic, but I need you to walk with me as quickly as you can, alright? We have to get you out of the garden. Can you do that for me? Do you understand?"

"Okay," Keith mumbles, feeling woozy, missing Lance.

His breath is short and his body is hot. Details keep shifting around on him, standing out sharply and then dissolving into a haze with the slightest movement of his head. It makes walking difficult, but he manages it with Allura holding his arm and carefully guiding him. He doesn't remember the trip through the garden, or the house halls, or the murmuring throng of people all around him, anxious and outraged. He gets led into a cool, quiet room and sat on a bench, and they want to put a mask that's hissing over his face, and Keith refuses, pulse racing muddily again, until he realizes that Lance is the one holding it and talking to him softly.

Not something pretending to be Lance.

Lance.

Keith let's Lance hold the mask over his nose and mouth, and he breathes. Stops gasping. Stops shaking. Stops feeling like he's going to boil over and spill out across the floor. He brings his own hand up to curl around Lance's where it's holding the mask in place, deep breaths pulling into his lungs and clearing his head. Lance's other hand is steady, cupping the back of his neck.

A voice registers, reproachful,

"You didn't tell us your leader was of Galra blood. We would have never let him into the garden."

Lance's fingers twitch against Keith's neck. His mouth, already pulled into a worried frown, tightens dangerously, and he whips his head around to glare at the speaker, who is beyond Keith's line of vision. All he can see is Lance's chest; his red and gold shirt, the detail of the buttons leading down; that it's rumbled and muddied, when it was clean before.

Allura speaks before Lance does. Though her words are more composed, her voice is just as sharp, "Keith's lineage is something personal that he may divulge at his own discretion, and it has no bearing whatsoever on his ability to pilot the Black Lion or lead the Coalition. We had no reason to believe he would come under attack for it while under your guardianship."

"Be at peace, Princess," their host says, "We have no ill feelings toward the Black Paladin. We only meant that we would have kept him out of the garden for his own safety. The beguri petals in bloom give off a scent made to debilitate the Galra. It is one of the agricultural techniques we are most proud of - and one we hope we will not have to pass on to future generations. We are aware that many of your allies are Galra, but we did not know there was one among your party. If you will accept our sincerest apologies, we would be glad to move forward with the negotiations as planned. And we will of course move the Paladins' rooms to a more desirable location at once."

"I suppose that's up to Keith," Allura says coolly.

"Will he be alright?" Hunk asks, "What do you mean by debilitate mean, exactly? What did those plants to do him?"

"It drives the Galra mad so that they turn on each other," their host says, a bit nervously, "He wasn't exposed for very long, and he's quite calm, now -"

"We had to sedate him," Pidge snaps, "He was running from us, naked and screaming."

"Yes… Well. It - it doesn't seem to have affected him in quite the same way as it affects other Galra. That's for the best! I'm certain there should be no lasting harm. He should be recovered within a few nebules, once all the spores are out of his lungs."

"I'd like to see the relocation of our quarters straight away, Ferserian, if you would be so kind," Coran says, a steely hint in his friendly request.

"Yes. Yes, of course. If you'll please follow me."

There are footsteps retreating, and a door opening and closing, and it's only after that Lance's grip around him finally relaxes. He looks at Keith tenderly, and eases the mask away from his face. Keith can tell the difference between the pure oxygen in the mask and the more natural oxygen in the room. The sedative Pidge gave him keeps him from panicking about it.

"Keith," Lance says softly, "You feelin' alright?"

Keith nods, lifting Lance's hand again and covering his face with the mask. Lance holds it in place for him and soothes his hand through Keith's hair. It's comforting, and Keith is glad that Lance can touch him like this, that Lance wants to touch him like this, a balm to his over-frayed nerves. When that hand strays to his shoulder, Keith notices the slight sting Lance's palm leaves across his skin and glances down. 

He's covered in dirt and leaves, and tiny red scratches.

They stripe his arms and chest - shallow furrows that barely even bled - and what he can see of his legs around the sheet Allura was merciful enough to cover him with.

Because he was running through the public garden.

Butt naked.

"He should be fine, Lance," Pidge pipes up, "I've finished analyzing the beguri flowers. It's basically just space acid."

"Oh, word?" Hunk says, with a bewildered laugh.

"Yeah," Pidge is snickering now, "He had a bad trip, but I don't think it was enough to kill any of his brain cells."

"It would have been funny if it hadn't been so frightening," Allura admits.

Keith groans into the mask, and the others laugh.

"It's okay, babe," Lance says, kissing his forehead, "I still respect you."

 

Chapter Text

Really, what else is Lance supposed to do?

He notices the sniper too late.

That's on him. That's his mistake.

He was supposed to be watching the perimeter of the plaza and instead he kept getting snagged on Keith. The fit of his Altean-style tunic - white with gold and black highlights to symbolize his status as the Black Paladin - the way it hugs his chest and shoulders, snug at his waist. That cute half-smile that tugs up his cheek when people swoop in to speak to him, the way his brow remains furrowed no matter how he tries to smooth his face out. The repetitive motion of his thumb swiping over the length of his fingers as he folds his arms across his chest self consciously, only to drop them at his sides a moment later, aware that he's closing himself off to people.

He's giving a speech today, and he's nervous.

He's worried that he's sweating too much, keeps flapping his arms like a penguin and trying to be discreet about it, keeps ducking close to Lance to ask if his deodorant has worn off.

Lance reassures him that it hasn't. He laughs warmly, he cracks a joke. He smooths out the barely-there creases Keith has put into his clothes and does his best to ease his worries with words of encouragement.

It's no big deal. You're gonna do fine, babe.

Just like every other speech on every other planet.

The difference is, they know that there are Galra insurgents on the loose, angling to disrupt the peace assembly somehow, and they are all alert for the slightest sign of danger. Except Keith is feeling overwhelmed, doesn't like being put in the spotlight even after all these years. And Lance is tuned to him like a radio with broken knobs - he couldn't change the station even if he wanted to. 

Lance catches the movement in the corner of his eye an instant before the shot rings out.

In that instant, he sees the sniper, the rifle - commits them both to memory - and calculates the bullets trajectory. It's archaic, really. An actual rifle, and actual bullet. So low-tech, and yet it is the least alarming thing about the situation. Lance's heart seizes. He tackles Keith to the pavement. No hesitation, hands on his shoulders, weight bearing him down. There's a sharp pinch that jars the back of his shoulder and tears through his chest, that rattles his bones, pinching muscles and nerves. A blow that knocks the wind out of him as he goes down on top of Keith.

He grunts the location into his earpiece, eyes squeezed shut, teeth grit against the pain, and hears Pidge's corresponding I'm on him over the sudden storming of the crowd surging around them. Allura says she's got another one in her sights. Hunk is charging a third. Coran and the planet's leaders are trying to direct the panicking people.

There's movement underneath him, and Lance's relief explodes out of him along wit his breath. Adrenaline rushes through his bloodstream, has him moving to his knees, unsteady, has him grasping at Keith - or trying to. His right arm doesn't want to move and his shoulder burns with the effort, his fingers numb and shaking as they skim over Keith's back, his arms, his chest as Keith turns and grasps at him too.

"Are you.. okay? Are you okay? Keith -"

Lance is gasping, his vision hazing at the edges.

"I'm fine, Lance," Keith growls it like the words themselves are an agony to say. His hands around Lance's biceps are like iron. "Can you walk? Talk to me."

Lance nods, and his head swims. He can feel his pulse, sluggish and heavy.

"Yeah. I can - I can walk."

Keith nods grimly and pulls Lance with him, gets them on their feet and moving with the flow of the evacuating crowd, all the while talking into his earpiece and keeping track of the others, all the while turning his head to check their surroundings. He accommodates Lance's wobbly legs and bears his weight until they're hunkered down out of the way, behind the high rise of the platform where Keith was supposed to give his speech. There are several other civilians huddled here and delegates trying to keep everyone grouped together and calm.

Keith shoves Lance down against the wall and practically falls on top of him. Lance doesn't understand why until he glances down to where Keith's hands are pushing at his chest and back, pinning his shoulder between them, and sees the bullet's exit point high in his right shoulder, the river of blood that smothers the highlights of red in his own white tunic.

"Oh no," he slurs, swinging his head up to look at Keith, blearily searching for a wound. He was supposed to stop it and it went right through him. His whole body is so useless. "Did it get you?"

"Lance, I'm fine, stop asking," Keith snaps.

Lance's shoulder burns as Keith presses it between his hands, and the blood just keeps pulsing through between his fingers. Lance winces, biting his lip. He closes his eyes - they're heavy anyway - and drops his head back against the wall. Keith let's out a desperate breath and adjusts the pressure.

Another set of hands joins Keith's and begins pulling Lance's clothes open.

Keith practically snarls at the newcomer.

"Don't touch him."

The response he gets is unbelievably calm, a woman's voice, "I am only trying to help, Paladin Keith. Let me see the wound. This will help to seal it."

Keith's entire body is tense. Lance can feel it in the press of his hands, the way he leans into Lance's chest; can practically taste it in the air. He can't get his eyes open, but his left hand moves, falling clumsily on Keith's knee. After that, the tension floods out of him. The pressure lets off Lance's shoulder, only to be replaced immediately once his shirt is peeled away.

There's a sticky heat that brings him back around a little bit. Lance hadn't realized he was dozing off until his head lifts and his eyes blink open. His mind is still spinning, caught on the earlier restless movements of Keith's hands, the rasp of his laughter, his grey-violet eyes and how they're tinged yellow right now, staring into Lance's. It plants Lance solidly in the moment again.

There's a salve rubbed into both wounds in his shoulder. They aren't bleeding anymore, and it's left him feeling pleasantly numb. He still can't move his fingers.

Keith is kneeling beside him, one hands around his uninjured arm and one on his chest to hold him steady. He's talking to the others through his earpiece, distracted but calm - it sounds like they have the situation under control, and Lance lets his eyes drift closed again, his head nodding.

Keith bumps his forehead against Lance's, and Lance smiles without meaning to.

Keith gusts out a shaking breath against his lips.

"Don't do that," Keith murmurs, his voice wrecked, "Don't take a bullet for me, Lance."

"Don't tell me what to do," Lance murmurs back, "Hypocrite."

Keith's laugh is a hopeless one. He hugs Lance that much closer, shielding him with his body.

 

Chapter Text

This is the sort of situation that escalated quickly.

Keith and Lance have done this routine a hundred times by now - infiltrated a Galra cruiser, picked their way through the sparse drones, and stormed the bridge, taking down whoever's in charge along with the soldiers standing by them. Hubris usually does most of the work for them. These are pure-blooded defectors from the Empire, too good to take the knee for an Emperor who is a "halfbreed, at best", too consumed by their ravenous ideas of glory and self adulation to work toward a better future for everyone.

Needless to say, Keith is shocked when this almost mundane mission goes off-script.

One moment he's dispatching a Galra soldier with a blow to the head, with the flat of his sword so it stuns the man rather than kills him.

The next there is a warning shot sizzling past his cheek.

Keith whirls around - and his whole body freezes, ice slipping through his veins.

The burly Galra General has Lance pinned face-down on the console, both his arms twisted behind his back and gripped between one clawed fist. His shoulder has been yanked out of the socket and Lance has his teeth grit, his knees bent awkwardly against the front of the console, feet struggling on the floor to find purchase for any kind of leverage. Even if he could get leverage, he wouldn't use it to get away. The barrel of a laser pistol digs into the back of his skull beneath his ear.

Keith is hyper-aware of everything in that moment.

Lance's breathing, ragged from the struggle and working to even out. The way it hitches as the General mercilessly adjusts his grip and pulls Lance's straining arms higher, tighter to his shoulder blades. The give of his dark, tender skin beneath the barrel of the pistol. Keith breathes out, and swears it's full of heat, burning it's way out of him as that icy fear evaporates into rage. Lance is calm though, and that permeates their bond.

Keith drops his bayard immediately and splays his hands.

The General sneers, "Thought so."

He proceeds to monologue - derisive remarks about Keith being a half-breed just like their lowly "Emperor", letting his instinctive gut-worry for his mate override his own self-preservation. Keith only gives him half an ear in case he says anything relevant, but all his other senses are searching out something, anything, he can use as a distraction. The others soldiers on the bridge are down. This is the General's last bid to get his way, and if he doesn't - 

Lance's hand moves.

It's subtle, a barely-there flex of his fingers, but it's got Keith's eyes darting to it like a moth to a flame.

Once Lance knows he has Keith's attention he opens his hand and counts down with his fingers; puts his thumb against his palm, pinky, ring finger. Keith inhales, deep and steady, slowly lifts his empty hands higher and pulls his right arm back further as he watches the General.

Lance's hand closes into a fist.

Pidge's hacker icon blinks to life on the console screen. It creates a rapid chain reaction. In an overwhelming sweep, every screen on the bridge lights green and the room spills over with that silly chuckling icon that wiggles back and forth tauntingly. Lance must have been punching in the override code when the General got ahold of him - and it's the distraction Keith was waiting for.

He closes his right fist, his bayard manifesting, and the instant the General looks away, startled by the blinking, chuckling screens - the second that barrel lifts so much as an inch away from Lance's skin - Keith sends the weapon hurtling across the room.

The black sword thuds through the General's armour, centered in his enormous chest.

A wet noise punches out of him, his face slackening in shock.

The pistol clatters to the floor and his grip on Lance loosens enough that Lance wrenches his arms free and scrambles up, away from him as the enormous brute staggers back and then falls. The black bayard dematerializes and that speeds the process along some. It really is ugly, watching the life drain out of someone and knowing your the reason they're not going to get up again. But Lance is moving to stand beside Keith, wincing as he watches the gruesome scene in front of them unfold, holding his dislocated arm by the bicep, close against his side.

The General wouldn't have hesitated. It is still "Victory or Death" for these Galra.

And Keith does not regret his choice.

 

Chapter Text

In Lance's defense….

He doesn't touch things he isn't supposed to touch on purpose.

That is a poor side-effect of not being medicated for his ADHD and his body is just giving in to the instinctual, relentless impulse to move, touch, tap, pick up, open, close, open again, stack, scratch at, count, rub, draw on, close, open, close, open again, literally anything within his immediate reach without him realizing it. He clicks pens, drums his hands, bounces his knee, peels the enamel polish off of a table if he is left sitting at it and no one notices and stops him.

He just needs to be stimulated and sometimes he's not.

So he fidgets.

So he touches things that he probably shouldn't.

Sometimes those things touch back. (Has he mentioned that he hates space sometimes, because plant life is a little more sentient and a little (a LOT) more voracious than it is on Earth?)

They've been in this clearing for almost a full varga, waiting on a supply drop, and Lance has already paced a path around the perimeter, exhausted his interest in I Spy and any other verbal game he can play with Hunk and Keith, and plucked a bare patch into the grass weaving bracelets for them all. Hunk is the most patient one of the bunch, which is why he came along. Keith is quickly losing any patience that he has as Lance becomes more restless and, thus, more annoying.

"Would you sit down?" he finally snaps.

Lance turns on him, clutching his hands so tightly together that they hurt. He had just been pacing and plucking at the helpless foliage again, and his patience is threadbare.

"I don't have anything to do, Keith!"

"We're doing something right now," Keith says, gesturing wide. Waiting counts as doing something in the Kogane handbook. As much as Keith doesn't like to do it either, it doesn't drive him up the wall the way it does Lance. Lance is going to scream.

"Guys," Hunk says warningly, tone more bored than anything else.

Keith sighs audibly.

Lance swats angrily at the branch of red buds hanging in front of his face. Keith knows being bored is worse than being tortured for him sometimes, and he is not being dramatic. It is That Bad. All he can focus on his how bored he is. Lance starts pacing again. He's only taken a few steps when he hears a slithering in the underbrush and glances down - 

The thorn-feathered vine slips around his ankle and tightens before Lance can so much as gasp, and then it yanks, closing like a noose, and drags Lance into the bushes with a startled yelp.

He hits the ground so hard he looses his breath. The vine pulls him so swiftly that the branches and rocks between him and the main body of the plant tear at Lance in a confusing assault of bumps and snags, wrenching his limbs painfully. It's a long, frightening moment before he has the sense to grab onto something. He snags a protruding root with both hands, and the force of the thing pulling on him is so strong that it almost yanks his arms or his leg off when he grabs ahold of his anchor.

The pain in his thigh his sharp and startling. The vine tightens its hold and tugs harder, snaking further up his leg. The pain in Lance's thigh multiplies, snatching his breath.

It has ahold of his left leg - the prosthetic one.

He can barely feel the vice-like grip around his ankle, but if it pulls any harder it's going to tear the whole prosthesis off, neves and muscle alike - if Lance's hands don't give out first. Lance watches in horror as the root his holding onto for dear life begins to peel out of the dirt inch by inch. He knows, subconsciously, that it's a carnivorous plant at the other end of this vine. The locals warned them about making too much noise while they were in the woods. Lance is an idiot. He was just drawing attention to their position. There was a reason the Paladins were the ones picking up the supplies. He gathers his breath into his lungs, but it just punches right back out of him in panic.

He was already wound so tightly before.

He can't breathe.

His arms are starting to shake, the prosthetic pulling, pulling, pulling.

"Lance!"

Keith bursts through the bushes and Lance's relief is like a flood washing away the blinding anxiety even as Keith falls on top of him, grasping his forearms. Lance still doesn't let go of the root, doesn't want to drag Keith along with him if this thing overpowers them.

"It's got - my leg!" Lance gasps stupidly.

"Which leg?" Keith pants.

"The - left - the fake one - "

"I'll have to disengage it - "

"No!"

"Lance - "

"I won't be able to walk," Lance says, his panic doubling up. That root gives a little. His prosthetic gives a little. He slides an inch further, despite Keith's heavy grip on him. "I-I can't -"

"Lance, I'll carry you. One of us will carry you."

"Just cut the vine! Keith - "

"It can't be cut! They told us that - "

"Just try! Please!!"

Keith makes a desperate, frustrated sound and looks up, peering through the dense foliage. He can see the vine curling, struggling, but not the mouth at the end of it. It's come a long way. Lance's whole body is shaking, his breath unsteady.

Hunk is a few seconds behind Keith, having had a more difficult time getting through.

"Hunk," Keith says, "Hold him."

"Yeah, I got him."

Keith lets go of him for just a second - and it's enough. The root gives out, despite it's best efforts, and Lance goes sliding again as the vine wins the game of tug-o-war. He tastes dirt, bile rising in the back of his throat, heart launching up with it. He can't even scream.

He doesn't go far.

Hunk lunges and grabs onto him before he disappears into the underbrush again, "I got you, buddy! Hang on, Lance. It's gonna be okay, man." Keith charges past them with his bayard drawn and sweeps to land what should have been a devastating blow to the length of vine trying to drag Lance away. Only the locals were right. The vine is impervious to being cut thanks to millennia of evolution, a lacquer armour encasing every thorny  inch. But it doesn't have no sense of the danger.

The moment after Keith's blade strikes it, the entire vine quivers and contracts.

It doubles its effort to drag its meal in.

Lance cries out as it yanks at his leg - can feel the base of the prosthetic tear at his muscles, all his nerves burning. Keith swears and drops to his knees beside Lance. He cuts the flight suit, unworried in his haste as the blade grazes the fiber plastic of Lance's prosthetic, and closes both hands around Lance's thigh, just above his knee. He wrenches the limb counterclockwise. Lance jerks, and the prosthesis comes away from the base attached to his thigh with a hiss of pressure and a rush as it slides away uninhibited, out of view within a moment.

The silence left behind as it recedes is deafening aside from the Paladins' heavy breathing.

Every one of Lance's exhales is a sharp whimper, his entire body shuddering as he curls inward. Hunk's hold on his arms has relaxed into something comforting rather than desperate. He rubs Lance's shoulders as he kneels in front of him. He's saying something, but Lance can't hear it over the pounding of his heart and the throbbing in his leg and the way his breath breaks halfway into his lungs. His hand skates down, across the ground - shakes against his thigh, where his suit is torn - but he can't - it's gone -

"I'm sorry," Keith whispers, hands on Lance's ribs, a steady pressure where he voice is trembling, "I'm sorry, sweet heart."

Keith so rarely calls him anything other than Lance - endearing pet names is Lance's thing - and hearing sweet heart in Keith's low, rough voice has more emotion packed into it than Lance can bear right now.

His next breath is a shaky sob, and Keith holds him even tighter.

 

Chapter Text

Being alone has never really bothered Keith.

Even when he was little, and his dad was alive, and Keith was loved and wanted every moment, he would still sneak off to be on his own. He would crawl under the bed and lay there for hours playing with whatever toy he brought. He would roam the yard - and later the surrounding fields and hills - catching bugs or collecting rocks or following any trail he found, curious about what he would find at the end. He would hide in the hall closet when there was company, not wanting to be looked at, perfectly at peace sitting among heavy coats and listening to the lull of voices and Dad's rocky laughter in the other room.

Sometimes he would fall asleep, and his dad would come looking for him. Scoop him up, plop him down on the couch, cover him up, and sit beside him while Keith napped, his big hand rubbing Keith's back, humming that song, the fragments of which get stuck in Keith's throat even now, well into adulthood.

Lance has started humming it, having subconsciously picked it up from hearing Keith do it.

Normally, it's a source of comfort.

Keith would give anything to hear it right now.

The cell he's been shut into is so small, if Keith laid flat on the floor and stretched out, his arms and legs would be crowded against the walls. He doesn't even know who put him in here - the ambush itself is fuzzy. They got him good, that's for sure. But no one has been in to gloat or mock him, or torture him, or any of the other common staples of being abducted.

So Keith sits with his back in the corner, facing the door in silence, wondering when it's going to open again. He's not wondering what's going to happen when it does - he knows that much, has it planned out in advance depending on who it is opening the door.

If it's one of the unlucky bastards who locked him in here, Keith is going to throttle them.

If it's one of the others - if it's Lance - Keith is probably going to hug and kiss them respectively.

Being alone has never really bothered Keith.

But being isolated from any sort of human contact for what he imagines is going on several quintants is really starting to get to him. He's only had one meal. After he grabbed the arm that slid the tray in through the little hatch and slammed the man attached to it hard enough against the door that he lost consciousness, his captors stopped even opening the hatch.

Maybe Keith had been too hasty.

His first few hours in here weren't...great.

He has gotten so used to the quintessence bond that he shares with his Lion, that he shares with the other Paladins, that it was more than a little disturbing to wake up to utter silence. The bond isn't gone. Keith can still feel it if he really focuses. It's just… quiet. Like hearing voices in another room, the low murmur barely audible. It's quiet, where normally it is alight with ideas, feelings, and energy - a current carried from one person to the next, bringing them all together as one.

It's the bond they use to form Voltron, engraved into them after years and years of use.

It has become background noise to their daily lives and made their relationships that much stronger because of the deep well of understanding that runs between them, seeking harmony at every moment, even when they have disagreements.

Now there's nothing.

It's just a silent connection.

Being alone has never really bothered Keith, but he can't take much more of this….

He misses Lance - misses the noisey comradery of the others - and not even being able to connect with him through the bond is heart-wrenching. He doesn't know whether it's the cell itself blocking his connection, or if his captors did something to him while he was unconscious. If it's distance. Or…. Keith doesn't dwell on the other option, though it's the main cause of his anxiety as he is forced to sit here and endure the silence he gets every time he reaches out. That maybe he isn't getting anything from the bond because the others aren't there to give him anything….

Keith thinks surely he would have felt it if that were the case. He would know.

But the uncertainty is what's eating at him.

Thinking that Lance might not be there when he gets out of here - that something happened to him, and Keith didn't even know -

Keith's chest constricts around his fast beating heart, his throat closing painfully as his eyes burn. He tries furiously to blink the tears out of his eyes, but they well up, anyway, slipping down his cheeks. Keith presses his hands to his chest, sinks his forehead against his knees, and tries to breathe. He tries to recall Lance's scent through the way it clings to his clothes.

It's not enough. It only makes the longing in him worse.

If he could just reach out to them - if he could just know - this would be easier to bear.

Keith's breath shudders against his knees, warms his face. He curls his hands into fists and hums that song softly, under his breath, but it doesn't bring him any comfort.

--

When the door does open, Keith is caught off guard.

He must have been dozing. Crying. His eyes are heavy and crusty, tear tracks drying on his face.

He hears the lock in the door beep and jumps as if he's been hit with a cattle prod, his legs shaking as he surges to his feet. Lightheadedness causes the room to spin. Keith braces his hand against the wall. He's not ready. Shit. He stumbles forward to be closer to the door the second it slides open, and his nerves are so utterly shot from the days of isolation and hunger and thinking that the others are dead and that he's alone that Keith jumps again, heart hammering.

There's no one there.

Keith holds his breath, staring into the hall - realizes he's staring into the empty cell directly across from the one he's standing in, that it's door is wide open, too. For a second, Keith thinks it's a trick of some kind. Then he hears footsteps, and voices, and Lance, distracted, out of breath, answering and inquiry that Keith missed, "I don't know, Pidge, just check them all! Keith -"

Then several voices, "Keith!"

Then several dizzying, overpowering sensations, emotions, thoughts, and ideas, as the previously-silent quintessence bond is flooded with light.

Keith is still standing there in shock when Allura cautiously peeks into the cell.

Her smile when she sees him is radiant.

She calls over her shoulder, "He's here! Lance!" And she darts forward to pull Keith into a rib-crunching hug that forces a laugh out of him. He hugs her back, basking in the physical contact, in the peace and relief that pours through their bond, the way it saturates every inch of him. He even goes as far as nuzzling her neck to get her scent on him, the way he usually only does to Lance, and Allura laughs softly in surprise, allowing this brazen display of Galran affection.

"They didn't take very good care of you, did they?" she asks, her hands pressing against his back, "And they had the nerve to ask for a ransom! That's filthy of them. And to keep you in a cell like this -"

"Keith!"

"Oh man!"

"Thank goodness!"

The others crash into them all at once, squeezing Keith between them, talking over one another in their excitement. Lance works his way into the middle, shoving the others only half-playfully. He closes his hands around Keith's face, brings Keith close to his so they share every breath, and there's so much love and relief in those blue eyes that Keith has to close his own.

He relaxes gratefully into the communal embrace.

Being alone has never bothered Keith - but he would much rather have this.

 

Chapter Text

They're out on a date today - an actual date, which is a rare treat! Being alone together without the others, planetside without any social or political obligations, the one and only mission objective to spend as much time basking in each others' presence as they can get away with in public. Keith hasn't let go of Lance's hand once since they entered the shopping district. Not because it's crowded and noisy and he's feeling overwhelmed, but just because he wants to.

That's fair. That's valid.

Because Lance hasn't stopped smiling once since he woke up this morning to a vase full of wildflowers in every shade of yellow, red, and blue sitting pretty on the nightstand.

The date isn't anything spectacular. It doesn't have to be. Lance is elated just getting to spend time with Keith, doing something that normal couples do. They browse through the shops at Lance's leisure, since he's the one interested in window shopping and just walking around, enjoying being out . They talk easily, and lapse into comfortable silences, and laugh themselves stupid over the silliest things that they find browsing through the stores of alien wares.

The downside is that people recognize them. Sometimes at once, sometimes gradually. Keith and Lance try to keep a low profile, not wanting to draw the attention of a huge crowd, but they inevitably sign a few autographs, and end up leaving certain shops with gifts they didn't necessarily want but were too polite to refuse.

When they sneak off to a quiet bench to rest and regroup, Keith and Lance both notice they're being followed. The kid isn't exactly being subtle about it. It's a teenager who keeps darting behind things if one of them so much as turns their head in his direction.

"Think he wants something?" Keith asks under his breath as they take a seat on a bench near one of the indoor water fountains.

Lance makes a noncommittal noise and shrugs, pretending to rummage in one of their bags. It's cooler here. Nice and quiet. Sort of separated from the hustle and bustle. That kid is lurking behind a nearby pillar, and apparently he's not alone - there are three more teens with him, and by the way they're all arguing with each other, Lance is willing to bet they don't want autographs, and they're too obvious to be a genuine threat.

"We're not about to be victims of a hate crime, are we?" Keith asks dully.

Lance laughs out loud at that. The sound of it startles their would-be stalkers into silence.

"I seriously doubt it," Lance says, "This isn't Earth."

Keith is smirking.

He sighs, though, looking at the bags. "What are we gonna do with all this stuff, Lance?"

"I don't know. Maybe those kids will try to rob us and we can just sort of -" He throws his hands up dramatically. " 'Oh, no! Come back! That's my… whatever the hell this stuff is…!' And just sort of let them take everything. It would probably up their street cred."

Keith snorts, his shoulders shaking.

"I don't know if we should be contributing to the delinquency around here," he says, as if he wasn't a delinquent himself as a preteen. Keith lifts his chin, looking over Lance's shoulder. "Here he comes."

Lance turns and, sure enough, the kid is approaching their bench with both sets of his alien arms stuffed into his multiple coat pockets and his narrow shoulders up around his ears, looking like he might balk at the slightly noise. His buddies are poking their noses around the corner and whispering.

Because Lance is the least intimidating of the two, he gets to his feet once the kid is closer and flashes a friendly smile that almost has the kid turning tail, "Hey there! Can I help you with something?"

The kid stops right in front of him.

He's breathing awfully hard.

Is he going to blurt something out -?

Oh.

The kid lunges forward, striking out. Lance's hand darts out to meet him, vicing around one of the kid's wrists - and not a moment too soon. The blade in the kid's hand is shaking furiously, and it's shaped like the cut-out silhouette of a flame - widening as it goes toward the hilt - but that does not detract from the fact that it would have slid cleanly into Lance's gut if he hadn't caught it. It's sharp, the fine edge flickers in the light as it quivers.

Lance looks at the dagger, bewildered, then looks at the kid, bewildered. His grey eyes have gone saucer-wide, threatening to pop out of the sockets, and his mouth is gaping open in surprise and fear. 

"Excuse me!?" Lance snaps. Behind him, Keith sifts on the bench. "What the quiznak -"

"It was - a dare!" the kid yells, suddenly frantic. He tries to twist away but Lance holds him firmly, not in the mood for the theatrics. "It was a dare! Just a stupid dare! It was - it was their - their idea! I didn't -"

He throws his buddies under the bus in a heartbeat, and when Lance looks up they are all scrambling away, leaving the fall guy behind. The kid is shaking even harder now. Lance half sighs, half groans.

"Don't stab people!" he says, plucking the dagger out of the kid's weak grip, "It's dangerous."

"N-n-no! I-I mean, yes sir! Sorry! I'm so sorry!"

He looks ready to tear his arm off just to get away. Lance isn't even holding him that hard, didn't think he was being that stern. The kid looks about ready to faint on the spot when Keith steps up beside Lance and lifts a second dagger, identical to the first. Keith doesn't even say anything. The kid's knees like, literally sink an inch, his legs barely supporting his weight at this point as his gaze darts to the knife and then down.

He's stammering again, "I am s-so so sorry."

Lance feels bad, and lets him go.

The kid falls back gasping apologies, trips over himself in his haste to turn around, and runs as fast as his wobbly legs can carry him. Lance turns his bewildered look on Keith, splays his hands to further illustrate how biz arre this altercation was. Keith is looking down, staring at his leg, and Lance follows his gaze.

His pant leg is soaked.

The fabric is black, so it takes Lance a moment to notice, and a moment longer to register what he's seeing. He jolts. Throws his hands.

"Keith, you're bleeding!"

"Lance -"

"He stabbed you!?"

"The second dagger flew out of his other hand when you grabbed his wrist and it just sort of…" He gestures lamely. "I wasn't expecting it."

"Ohmygod. I stabbed you!?"

"...No. Lance, it's fine -"

Lance is too agitated to listen. Keith's protestations fall on deaf ears as Lance drags his boyfriend and their annoying bags off to the nearest restroom, after tying one of the shirts they were gifted around Keith's calf to stop him from leaving a trail of blood behind. The shirt has too many arms, and neither of them would have worn it, anyway.

The restroom is mercifully empty, and Keith pulls himself up to sit on the counter by the sink furthest from the door at Lance's request. He insists that it's not bad, that he's fine. Lance fusses with his pant leg, shimmying it up toward his knee and revealing the deep cut in the meat of his calf. It's long because of the odd shape of the blade, but it's not actually deep.

Any lower and it would have struck his boot and glanced off.

Of course this is Keith's luck.

Getting stabbed on their date is mundane compared to some of the other dates they've had.

Lance glumly thinks, as he cleans Keith's wound with a fold of damp paper towels, that maybe they shouldn't bother trying anymore. Something always ruins it.

Once the bleeding stops, Lance shreds the poor shirt into makeshift bandages and wraps Keith's leg as best as he can with them. At the very least, it will be fine until they get back to the Castle. It's not really deep enough to warrant a stint in the healing pod, but there is antiseptic in the med bay, and proper bandages, and pain medicine, and Lance had a lot of plans for today and he's not upset that they're going to waste but he is upset that this always happens and -

Keith reaches down, hands carefully circling Lance's wrists and holding them still.

He was trying to scrub the blood out of Keith's pant leg, and just making a bigger mess. He realizes this with heat flooding his eyes, drawing in a steadying breath. He rests his hands on Keith's leg and the sink beside him, the towels curled into his fist. He doesn't look up, his jaw wired into a tight frown.

"Lance." There's a gentle laugh in Keith's voice, "It's fine. I don't think anyone is going to notice if my black jeans are a little more black in one place."

Lance exhales the breath he was holding.

"My leg feels better now," Keith says, "Do you want to get outta here?"

"Yeah," Lance manages around the knot in his throat. He straightens out Keith's pants, tugging the fabric down over his boot. "Yeah. We can go home -"

Keith stills his hands again, more firmly this time.

"I meant to get dinner. Or - just somewhere else. It's still early. You want to go home…?"

Lance doesn't want to go home, but he also doesn't want to make Keith walk around on a hurt leg, and he doesn't want to say that, he's just feeling selfish and annoyed right now so he just makes a noise - a huff, a frustrated, wordless exclamation - and throws his hands because he is stupidly on the verge of tears over this.

He wants one thing and it's to be with Keith but, "It would be nice to have one date where something weird or crazy doesn't happen…"

Lance mumbles this with his head down, rubbing the seam of Keith's jeans between his fingers, restless even with Keith holding his hands.

"Yeah," Keith agrees, just as quiet. There's a small smile on his face when Lance glances up; fond, despite the fact that he was just not-so-viciously stabbed. "I kind of like the crazy parts too, though. It gives us a chance to appreciate moments like this."

"Like what?" Lance asks, glancing around. Giving rough first aid in a public restroom is definitely not what he considers a moment.

Keith swings his legs out, hooks his heels behind Lance's knees, and Lance staggers forward until he is tucked between Keith's open legs, hands splayed against his thighs. Keith clasps his broad hands together at the small of Lance's back and leans down to rub his cheek against Lance's neck. Lance chuckles, tilting his head to give him better access.

"Wow," he says, "Look at you being smooth."

"It's date night," Keith answers, kissing his neck. It's not heated, just an affection press against Lance's pulse.

Lance curls his fingers into the belt loops at Keith's waist.

"Are you sure it doesn't hurt…?"

"Lance, do you seriously think it hurts enough that I don't want to finish our date?"

Lance hums rather than answering, embarrassed that he made a big deal but if something so small, and Keith's chuckle rumbles in his own chest before he pushes Lance back and slides down from the counter. He scoops up their bags with one hand and takes Lance's with the other, and leads him to the exit.

"C'mon, let's get something to eat."

"Okay," Lance says, struggling to keep his smile at bay.

 

Chapter Text

Keith comes to with his nose in the dirt, and the scent of Lance's blood heavy in the back of his throat. That brings him to his senses a lot quicker than anything else would. Keith jerks his head up, tries to move, and his limbs lock together and leave him struggling. His hands are bound behind his back, his ankles together. There is the clink and rattle of metal chains.

Keith huffs out a breath that disturbs the dirt in front of his face and tries not to panic. Breathes in. Breathes out. Patience yields focus. He takes stock. He's sore, but he's not seriously injured. He's tied up, but there's no one guarding him. They're in a cave, so the rich scent of dirt is damp and somewhat old, and he can hear, distantly, the murmur of voices and the crackle of a fire. The only other prominent scent in the cave with him is Lance's - his coconut body lotion, his sweat - his blood. His senses are at their peek right now because his cycle is at its lowest point and his body is honed to Lance exclusively.

Keith twists his body, peering through the dimness.

There's no light source, but that doesn't hinder Keith.

He spots Lance just a few feet away from him, curled on his side. His back is to Keith, and he can see that Lance is bound up the same way as he is. What he can't see is the source of the blood. Lance's paladin armour doesn't look like it's been breached from this angle.

Every one of Keith's inhales is saturated with the iron tang of Lance's blood, so he knows he's not mistaken. It makes his fangs prick his mouth, and his adrenaline rush.

"Lance," he whispers, testing the way it echoes in the cave. It's not a large space, so his voice is almost muffled in it. He raises it a bit, nervous when he doesn't get an answer, "Lance!"

Lance doesn't even stir, or murmur, or turn in his direction.

Keith struggles against his bonds again, twisting, testing them. He assumes his restrains are the same as Lance's. The chain is weakest at the point where it meets the cuffs. If he can exert enough pressure - and he can - they'll break. He strains his muscles, despite the way his shoulder throbs at the harsh angle. He relaxes, slows his breathing, tries again - pulls his wrist apart across the middle of his back, feels the metal biting into his wrists, feels it just barely give.

Across from him, Lance makes a tiny noise, a moan of pain, and rolls his head.

The slight motions stirs the air, sharpens the scent of Lance's blood.

Keith inhales, letting it settle like fury in his lungs, in his chest, and wrenches his arms.

The chain shatters apart. It makes a bright clinking noise as a few pieces go flying and strike the walls of the cave and Keith pauses, holding his breath, only long enough to confirm that their captors either didn't hear it or ignored it. He sits up, makes quicker work of the chains around his ankles despite his bleeding wrists, trailing the cuffs, and he runs to the short distance to Lance.

"Lance," he says softly, easing him over.

He finds the source of blood at once: there's a cut across Lance's forehead that's still fresh enough to be bleeding freely. Keith touches it gently and feels a lump forming beneath the bruising flesh. Lance flinches, makes another faint sound, and Keith withdraws his hand.

"Hey," he murmurs, "Lance. Are you with me?"

He brushes his knuckles across Lance's cheek, cups his throat. Feels his pulse beat beneath his palm and lets that sensation ease the weight of anxiety off his shoulders.

Lance groans and blinks his eyes open.

They're unfocused, the black swallowing the blue.

"Kei… Keith?"

"It's me. It's gonna be okay. I'm gonna get us outta here, just hang on."

Lance nods slowly, winces. He realizes he's tied up, and allows Keith to maneuver him around, stays still while Keith wrenches the chain free from his wrists without jostling his arms too badly and then swiftly moves on to his legs. Lance groans as he sits up, palm pressed to his forehead, eyes squeezed shit. Keith holds onto him. He doesn't have to. But he reaches out without thinking, wanting to be close, wanting to protect, and Lance doesn't protest the extra support.

He seems dizzy, and sways a little.

"Think I've got a concussion," he admits.

"Yeah, I think you do, too," Keith agrees under his breath, letting a smile tug up his lips. "Think you can stay behind me?"

"Pretty sure I could keep up with you in my sleep, mullet."

"Good to hear."

A genuine chuckle slips out of Keith at that - that defiant smirk on Lance's face, confident in the face of their precarious situation. Keith is so grateful. He loves Lance so much.

He helps Lance to his feet, steadies him - the way Lance is always steadying him.

 

Chapter Text

"C'mon, babe."

"It's not happening, Lance."

"Why not?"

"You know why not."

The sound Lance makes is so very close to a whine that it should be embarrassing. He is twenty-five years old. He doesn't pout and whine when he doesn't get his way… except maybe he does, sometimes, in the sheltered privacy of their bedroom, where only Keith will judge him for acting like a child but will usually indulge him anyway. This evening is an outlier.

As Keith said, It's not happening, and Lance does know why not.

That doesn't mean he has to like it.

He huffs around some more on the bed, finally settling, resting the back of his right hand on the pillow beside him and glaring at it. The stitches are ruby red against his palm, the skin around the deep cut all swollen and irritated. It itches. And it burns. And it's throbbing all the way from his wrist to the tips of his fingers in a soft and yet unbearable copy of his heartbeat.

It's all he can focus on, and Keith won't distract him from it. Lance is considering calling it meanness.

"Why do they have to recalibrate all the healing pods at once, huh?" Lance complains. He fails at resisting the urge to move his hand so much as an inch. His hand twitches and shifts and flexes, and he grits through the pain. "Surely that's like, a violation of safety protocol or something. What if there's an emergency and someone is dying!?"

"You're not dying, Lance."

Keith's voice is deep with affection when he says it. He's sitting on the edge of the bed with some ointment for the pain and a roll of bandages in his hands, waiting for Lance to get his shit together and cooperate. Lance feels even more childish in the face of Keith's patience. He still sighs heavily and doesn't budge, staring at his stupid hand and his stupid stitches that throb painfully with every tiny movement.

Pushing out a sigh of his own, Keith sets the bandages and ointment down and crawls forward on the bed. He's careful not to jostle Lance's arm; plants his elbows on either side of Lance's ribs, settles his weight. Lance curls round him instinctively, like a flower folding shut after the morning dew.

"You're a brat, you know that," Keith murmurs.

Lance bites his lip to stop himself from grinning - just because he is going to get what he wants doesn't mean he has to be smug about it. 

"So?" he asks.

The pain in his hand is easier to not think about when he's kissing Keith, when he can focus on all the sensations that accompany it as they build steadily from slow and soft to something heated. He is intimate with the shape of Keith's teeth, and yet he never gets tired of exploring them. The delicious points of his canines, the asymmetrical dip between two of his right molars, the way one of his incisors is slightly crooked in his jaw. How they feel pulling at his lip, grazing his throat, and the shock that pressure sends to the pit of his stomach.

Lance catches Keith's quiet moans in his own mouth, the thrill of his small gasps. He gets caught himself on the electric sensation that follows Keith's hands when they decide to wander, soothing down his sides.

Keith's chest against his, his heavy breath.

The heat of his tongue.

Lance folds his arms around Keith's shoulders just to have him closer. Moves his right hand and plants it at the back of Keith's neck, fingers curled into the loose braid, where the pressure throbs into his wrist, making his fingers numb, and Keith's hair rubs against the raw wound in his palm.

Lance hisses and jerks his hand away.

Keith leans back, frowning.

"That's why it's not happening, Lance," he says, starting to push himself up.

"Noooo." Lance tries to hold him in place with one uninjured hand and one demanding elbow, and makes such a valiant effort that Keith stops and sighs. "Keith, it's fine, I don't need both hands to make out! I don't even need either of my hands if you want to -"

"Lance."

Keith catches his right wrist. Lance is gesturing with it, wincing, not thinking anything about it. His stitches pulse and itch and burn, pulled taut when he flexes his fingers as if they're straining to bust open.

Lance pulls in a small, shuddering breath and quiets.

"You'll just forget and move it again," Keith says, holding his hand steady. He brings Lance's palm up, presses his lips into his too-warm skin alongside the stitches below his thumb. The stitches scratch lightly against his cheek, but he keeps it there.

"Not if you hold it," Lance pouts.

"Lance, I'm not holding your injured hand up out of the way because you have no impulse control," Keith says it fondly, as if he has any impulse control to speak of in the heat of battle, and Lance feels himself blush. Softer, Keith adds, "I don't wanna make out when you're hurting. It's supposed to feel good."

"But it does."

"It does because it's distracting you from the pain. That's not the same."

Lance groans and turns his head away, trying to avoid Keith's eyes. He kicks out his legs.

"Why are you the sweetest guy in the universe?" he asks, bringing his other hand up to squash Keith's face between them.

Keith's shoulders shrug up and he hums an I don't know as he turns to kiss Lance's other palm. He cups his hands around the back of Lance's and holds them there, closing his eyes. He breathes out, content to be close. Lance is greedy. He wants all of Keith, all the time. But he's more than happy with the soft affection, too.

And then Keith spoils it by countering Lance's question with one of his own, "Why did you put the sharp knives in the sink along with the rest of the cutlery when you were rinsing the dishes?"

Lance's indignation flares to the surface.

"I was trying to hurry because someone said he wanted to make out this evening!"

"Patience yields focus," Keith says.

"Get off me! Get off!"

Keith's laughter is sharp and bright.

 

Chapter Text

The only reason Keith's not panicking is because Lance is holding his hand.

The angle is awkward, but they're close enough to make it work. The building they were searching collapsed, trapping both of them beneath piles of rubble that, miraculously, didn't kill them. It was a trap. And a stupid one. But they're both alive and that's what matters. Their comms are working with only a prickle of interference, so the others know where they are and what their situation is - but help is not coming hastily.

The others still have their mission objective. And even if they could drop it, extraction is going to be difficult because of the precarious way the building has settled. Keith can see one sliver of light breaching the rubble and what little he is able to make out of his surroundings does not raise his spirits any.

It doesn't help that he is face-down on the ground, only able to turn his head.

His suit beeps again.

It's taken the brunt of the damage - Keith doesn't even have any broken bones, just bruises - but the pressure put on his chest plate by the solid stone pillar resting on top of him is forcing it to its breaking point. Lance's suit beeps in tandem with his. Keith's head is turned toward him (because why would he look at anything else right now), so he sees the orange symbol flash on the inside of Lance's helmet screen.

It's like a heartbeat, so Keith has been focusing on it. But the quicker it gets, the less time they have.

The anxiousness Keith feels building up in his chest again isn't for himself.

"Take a deep breath, man," Lance says, voice so soft through their private channel that it's like he's whispering it right into Keith's ear, "Squeeze my hand. It's gonna be fine."

Keith does as he says.

Breaths, slow, steady, counts it in and lets it out.

He squeezes Lance's hand.

Lance is surprisingly calm in this situation. Probably because he can sense Keith panicking, and they're good at that - deflecting the others intense emotions. When one of them is freaking out, the other steadies. That's the natural rhythm that guides their bond, seeking equilibrium, and Keith is grateful for it.

He's grateful for Lance.

He loves Lance so much.

Keith makes a small noise. Starts to finally spill the words out after keeping them bottled up for so long.

Lance's head turns toward him, just a fraction.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Keith days, his voice choked. He squeezes Lance's hand even harder. "I… I gotta get us outta here."

"The others will come get us," Lance says at once. He's still calm, but he's firm now. "Just relax, okay? I'm right here with you."

"I know…"

Lance's suit beeps. That tiny flash of orange in the corner. Keith faulters his response because he's holding his breath. His suit doesn't beep. They're out of sync. His suit hasn't magically restored itself, which means the damage to Lance's is getting worse.

Keith doesn't say anything.

He lets go of Lance's hand and starts to move, to push himself up with his palms flat and his knees digging into the floor. He strains against the stone weighing him down and hears the building's answering groan as it shifts minutely,  and shifts everything around them. Dust and debris snow down in a hushed clatter.

Lance latches onto his hand again, tightly, and Keith loses his meager leverage.

"Keith! Don't move! What's the matter with you!?"

"Your suit is breaking down faster than mine!"

Keith almost can't believe how desperate his own voice is as the words tear from his throat.

Lance is bewildered. "What!?"

"They were beeping together," Keith says, "The alarm. The pressure alarm. And now yours is beeping more often! It's going to crack soon, if it hasn't already!"

Keith's suit beeps again, finally, and to prove his point Lance's sounds off half a moment after it.

"I…" Lance is fumbling now. He still doesn't let go of Keith's hand, and the sound of Keith's own breathing is harsh in his ears. "That doesn't mean it's going to crack immediately. Keith, it's fine. The others will get to us soon. The best thing we can do right now is not move around and stay calm for each other."

"I can lift it enough for you to squeeze you if you'll let me, Lance!"

"One!" Lance says, suddenly furious, squeezing Keith's hand so hard his knuckles pop, "I am not leaving you. Even if I could get out from under this thing, I wouldn't have anywhere else to go because I can't move any of the rubble by myself. I couldn't get you out! Not all of us have super crazy Galra strength!

"And two! We're not even under the same piece, Keith! Yours is broke off here, and the one pinning me is going this way! There an enormous chunk of ceiling crossways over both of them. It's what's exerting most of the force! So even if you can lift that one, this one will probably slip and crush me twice as fast.

"Why do you think I was telling you not to move, Keith!? It wasn't a masochistic bid to spend some quality time together!! I was scared trying to get out would just make it worse and kill one or us both!"

He doesn't even let go of Keith in order to gesture erratically - or as erratically as he can in the limited space. He just yanks Keith's hand along with his own. It's how Keith registers that Lance's whole body is shaking, and he finally gets a glimpse of it through their bond. Lance is afraid. He's just trying not to show it because Keith was losing it first.

Keith quiets, processing this. Lance is pinned on his back, so he has a wider view of their situation.

And he trusts Lance.

He should have listened.

"I'm sorry," Keith says, feeling choked again.

Lance's suit beeps in answer. Lance himself is breathing, trying to calm down.

"Lance…"

"It's okay…"

Lance sounds like he's crying.

He's broken down before his suit had the chance, and Keith's heart wrenches painfully. He almost struggles to get up again before he remembers and, with a great effort, holds himself still while he listens to Lance's sniffling and his short, huffing breaths.

"You were right and I should have listened to you," Keith says softly, "And I shouldn't have put all this on you. I'm sorry, Lance. It's gonna be fine. The others are gonna be here soon, and I'm gonna give you the biggest hug when we get outta here."

Lance lets out a wet laugh at that.

Some of his composure returns, and he's silent for a few seconds before he blurts out, "My leg hurts."

Keith tries not to let his panic overtake him again.

"Which leg?"

"The left one," Lance groans, "I think it crushed the prosthetic. All I can feel is this stinging pressure in my thigh. That's why the suit is beeping. My leg plate cracked a couple of minutes ago. I felt it pop."

"Oh," Keith says.

"Yeah," Lance says. His breathing has steadied somewhere. He turns his head, and Keith sees the flash of his slight smile through the visor. "So stop freaking out about it, okay?"

"Okay," Keith agrees to try, at least.

 

Chapter Text


Unfortunately, Lance's body occasionally interprets excitement as anxiety. That's the backlash of having chronic panic attacks - the rush of adrenaline is the same for both. The restlessness that shakes through his limbs, his heart kicking up into a faster rhythm; the way he is aware of every little thing happening around him, his senses stretched to their limits.

This usually happens before a battle or a big mission, so the mix of emotions is perfectly normal.

It's in the thick of it that he's able to calm himself. He needs and clear head and steady hands in order to shoot, and if he lets that anxiety crawling heedlessly up his spine take over, the consequences that might have for his team are unthinkable.

What adrenaline does to him is nothing compared to what it does to Keith.

Lance sees that tell-tale flash of yellow, and all of his attention is diverted at once. He hears Pidge rattle off how much time they have left before they need to be at their rendezvous point and grunts a short affirmative as he dodges a blow from the machete-like weapon the Galran soldier is brandishing inelegantly at him.

Keith doesn't respond because his helmet is on the ground several feet away from him.

The black plating is cracked and the screen is shattered.

Lance catches a glimpse of the blood matting Keith's black hair, ribboning down the side of his face, but a glimpse is all he gets before he has to turn away. The Galra he's fighting roars his irritation when Lance sidesteps another blow. His rage makes him careless, so Lance dodges again rather than engaging him directly and waits for an opening.

It comes only a moment later.

Lance swings his broadsword up and catches the underside of the machete blade as it comes down, where it meets the hilt, and he twists the weapon out of his opponent's hands. It sails across the room. The Galran's yellow eyes follow it's wide arch. And Lance brings weapon up again within the same motion, shifting the blade to a blaster.

He fires point blank into the Galran's face. 

The brute staggers back, smoking roiling from charred fur, and topples over with a thud that shudders the ground under Lance's feet. The blaster is set to stun, so it should keep him down for a while.

Lance rounds on Keith, where he's still fighting with the other soldier.

His heart drops into his stomach when he spots the black bayard on the floor in front of him. It only starts beating again when he sees the scimitar the Galran soldier was wielding has also been discarded, but it does a funny little lurch inside of him when he sees why. He doesn't know how he missed the snarling before.

Keith and the other Galran are tearing at each other with their bare hands, rolling on the ground together, each trying to get leverage. Keith is small, but that doesn't make it easy for the other Galra overpower him. He more than holds his own against his enormous opponent. Lance can see the blood smattering the ground that only doubles as they both thrash, and has no idea who it belongs to.

Pidge's voice comes through his comm, "Lance, where are you? The clock is ticking here."

"Just give us a minute!" Lance snaps, then mutes them and charges forward, "Keith!"

The sound of his voice has Keith's head spinning toward him, and Lance sees it - the Galra yellow of his eyes, the red licking at his pupils. The only reason he looked is because it was Lance. The momentary distraction allows the Galran soldier to surge upward and knock Keith to the ground, and he keeps him pinned there by the throat.

Now that he knows for certain that he won't miss and hit Keith, Lance cranks the amperage up on his blaster and fires. The blast is powerful enough to knock the Galra off of Keith - and several feet.

He doesn't get up again.

Keith does.

He's on his feet in a heartbeat, eyes still on his opponent even though he isn't moving.  He only looks away when Lance touches his elbow, and then he yanks his arm out of Lance's grip, whirling to face him.

"Why did you do that?" he snarls, fangs bared.

Lance is less alarmed by the aggression and more so that Keith's teeth are bloodied. That Keith has blood in his mouth that might not be his own (that might not be Lance's; and that's an odd bolt of jealousy that he does not have time to unpack right now).

He reaches out to take Keith's arm again, holds it even when Keith attempts to pull away.

"Keith," he says firmly, "We have to go."

"What?"

"Pidge and the others are waiting for us. We have about six dobashes to get to the rendezvous point. We have to go - now."

The wait while this sinks in is agonizing. Keith pants for breath, clenches and unclenches his fists, adrenaline still pumping. It shuts off every one of his pain receptors. It dials his fight or flight instinct over to FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT. He can't even see how mangled he is. Lance is surprised he's even standing. His black armour has been gouges and rent by enormous claws, his undersuit shredded, the white parts streaked with red. His hair is wild and his cheeks are flushed.

His eyes are still glowing yellow, but the red color is receding, giving way to calm violet.

Some of the tension goes out of him.

His expression slackens up.

"Keith?" Lance asks.

"I-I - "

This is still relatively new: Keith's Galra genes flooding his system and catching him off guard.

Lance tugs at his arm. He hopes they can get back to their Lions and finish this thing before the pain really wakes up. He's going to need a few hours in the healing pod, and he won't go quietly.

"Come on," Lance says.

"I - "

"It's okay, cariño, it's just me. Let's get out of here, alright? Will you walk with me?"

Keith nods mutely, shell-shocked as he comes down from that frightening high. His hand is shaking when Lance moves his grip down. He laces their fingers together, holds him steady for a moment. He lets Pidge and the others know that they're on their way out and he hurries Keith along as quickly as he can.

 

Chapter Text

Keith is aware that Lance is crying.

That's about all he's aware of, other than the numbing pain pulsing in little bursts throughout his body. It roots through his nerves. It borrows into his muscles. It hooks into every shallow breath he takes, until every inch of him is silently screaming. Keith doesn't make sound. He can't move. It hurts too much to move, and he feels weighed down with wet concrete - impossibly heavy, the pressure increasing moment by moment.

Lance's hands cupping his face are gentle, though.

They're soft, and warm with the cinnamon-apple scent of his hand lotion and the leather of his gloves.

Keith bought him that lotion a few weeks ago. Lance had been complaining that he wanted a sugary smell and was begrudgingly using the plethora of other lotions that were already crowding their designated cabinet. Keith has gone to the space mall on his own, found the shop where Lance usually buys his body products, and drove the shopkeeper crazy sniffing every lotion that they had until he found a sugary one that he could tolerate, that he thought Lance would like.

He's "fussy about smells".

He's really only fussy about them as they correlate to Lance, because Lance is his mate, body and soul, and Keith loves him exactly as he is.

He just wants Lance to be happy.

That's why he can't bear to see him crying now, even though there's nothing Keith can do about it. The pain is encroaching on all of his senses. It's even starting to be painful where Lance is holding him so gently, fingers caressing his cheeks, touching the flutter of his pulse in his neck, brushing his hair aside.

Lance slinks an arm around his chest and pulls Keith up against him so he's cradled in his arms. He bends to put his face against Keith's, and he cries even harder, holds Keith tighter, unaware of how badly it hurts him. Keith can feel tears that aren't his wetting his eyelashes, slipping down his cheeks, just a hint of salt against the tip of his tongue.

He can feel the convulsion of a sob, one after another, as they wrack Lance's body and then his own.

Keith wants to lift his hands, wants to reach out and hold Lance back and show him that it's going to be okay, that he doesn't need to cry like this. He wants go hold Lance's hand. Wants to kiss his face. But it's taking all of his strength just to keep his eyes open, and his breath going, and he is fighting a losing battle.

He doesn't know what kind of canon blast they hit him with, but he would take the full brunt of it again as long as Lance and the others are safe.

Black is okay.

Her interior lights are dim, the light a violet halo around Lance's head as he remains bowed over Keith, sobbing against his neck. She rumbles against the back of Keith's consciousness, sweeps too and fro, pining for him as strongly as Lance is, doing what she can to ease his pain. For once, it isn't working. Keith's whole body is burning, and he can only endure it for so long.

"Lance!"

Someone else has entered the cockpit, and Keith would recognize Allura's melodic voice anywhere. Part of him hopes she will pull Lance away and comfort him, and part of him wants her to leave because the moment she says his name, Lance lifts his head, and then Keith has to hear how wrecked his voice is, broken and panicked as he struggles to speak through his tears,

"Al-Allura, I - I don't know what to do, he - he won't- he won't - answer me - I can't get him to talk to me -"

He breaks off into a heavy sob, his whole body crumbling under the weight of it. More tears drops onto Keith's cheeks, and he never wants to see Lance look like this again. So broken and sad. So completely and utterly beside himself with grief.

That's Keith's fault.

He's the one that can't push past the pain and make his body move. He's the one who can't get his voice to work.

Every breath is an agony - but it does not compare to this in any way.

"He's got his eyes - open and he's l-looking at me and I kn-know he's in -in there but I can't- I don't know what's wrong, I can't get him to -"

"Lance," Allura says gently, placing a hand on his shoulder, "Let me see him."

Lance struggles to comply. Keith feels the way his arms tighten around Keith's chest, the way he shakes as he slowly loosens them and eases Keith away from the intimate press of his body. His hands don't leave Keith completely, but the loss is profound. Keith hadn't realized what a comfort it was just to have Lance close to him until it is gone, and all the tiny pain that were eating him up rush over him anew.

His breath quickens, just a fraction.

His hand twitches.

Lance latches onto it, clutching him tightly. His blue eyes are so bright and swimming with tears. His cheeks are ruddy and wet and his hair is mussed. That's the last thing Keith is going to see before he dies and he can't even be mad about it.

Then Allura is placing a hand on his chest. That heavy, concrete feeling recedes, a warmth blooming and spreading in its place. He registers the glow a moment after, pink and gold, their shared quintessence, as Allura works her magic. She purges every inch of him. She washes all that pain away and leaves onto a dull ache behind to remind him of what almost was.

It happens in one sudden rush from his chest to his head and down to his toes.

It happens so quickly that Keith's lungs lock for a moment, his body rigid.

Then he's gasping, drawing in a deep breath.

Allura removes her hand, smiling brighter than the newest star in the galaxy as she strokes his hair back from his face. And then Lance is collapsing on top of him, sobbing anew, this time babbling with relief as Keith wearily lifts his shaking arms to rest his hands on any part of Lance that he can reach.

Keith shifts under Lance's weight, and loves the way it leaves him breathless.

 

Chapter Text

Keith sort of wanted his return to be a surprise.

He's been out on a mission with the Blades for a couple of movements, and they managed to cut it short so he's home earlier than planned. He messaged the Castle to let Coran know he'd be arriving soon, but he hasn't messaged Lance. They're not due for a video chat until later in the evening and Keith is hoping his can make it back in person before Lance starts to get suspicious about Keith being late for it.

Keith doesn't even bother changing out of his senior Blade uniform. The second Kolivan dismisses him, Keith packs his bag, runs to the hanger where Black is, and makes it home in record time. He navigates the Castle's hallways and elevators on autopilot, glancing at his comm the whole time. He's late. He's missed their call time by about five dobashes.

That's not too bad.

But Lance will be getting impatient.

Keith runs the rest of the way, and then has to stand outside their bedroom and catch his breath before he can even open the door.

That's when he really becomes aware of the sharp, painful throb in his left ribs.

He took a hard fall earlier and thought nothing of it. Keith has broken ribs before, and he knew it wasn't that bad - bruised, maybe, at the worst, but definitely not broken. He still doesn't think, after gingerly feeling out the ribs in question, that anything is broken. It's just beginning to swell and hurt in earnest because of the weight of his bag on his shoulder and the careless way he's been moving around, and even his gentle probing makes him wince.

Keith stands outside the door, frowning and holding his ribs. He really doesn't want to go into a healing pod right now… It'll take too long.

He glances at his comm.

Yeah, it can wait.

Steeling himself with a deep breath, wincing when it hitches and quickly straightening out his expression, Keith swipes his hand over the access panel and steps in. Left to his own devices, Lance has let the room get away from him a little bit; the shoes in the alcove have been kicked off into a haphazard pile rather than a neat row, and there are clothes across the desk chair and things stacked on the desk itself.

Lance is sprawled out on the bed wearing red shorts and a tank top, with one foot on the floor and the tablet propped against his stomach.

He glances up when the door opens.

And then launches up, elated, tossing the tablet. His smile is the brightest thing in the universe.

"Oh, hey! You're back!"

"Yeah," Keith chuckles, sheepish in the face of Lance's excitement. He manages to drop his bag at his feet and then Lance is on him, arms around his neck, body pressed to his, pulling Keith into a kiss.

Keith murmurs, "Surprise," the moment Lance let's him have any air and Lance's eager laughter breaks across his face. His ribs twinge, protesting the way Lance leans against him, the way Lance squeezes and pulls at him, but he can blame his breathlessness on those things alone rather than the small pain. It's an annoyance that he is happy to ignore. Lance kisses his cheek. His hands fall to Keith's wrists and he pulls Keith with him as he steps back toward the bed, grinning.

"So Kolivan let you come home early?" he asks, "I thought you guys were in pretty deep over there smoothing out some property issues."

"Negotiations sort of fell through when an asteroid hit the fields in question."

"An asteroid!?" Lance sits on the bed, his brow knitting with worry, "I didn't hear anything about an asteroid."

"It wasn't a big one," Keith reassures him. Lance scoots further back onto the bed so he can lay down and Keith crawls over the top of him. "We had some debris and aftershocks in the city, and a few buildings had some damage, but it wasn't anything serious."

It's how he bruised his ribs, actually - the courtyard he was standing in buckled and slid in the quake from the impact. But if he says that then Lance will make him get up and go to the medical bay. And Keith is really enjoying the way Lance's hands smooth up his biceps and his knees come up to bracket Keith's hips, even if supporting his weight like this is causing an unpleasant burning sensation in his ribs.

Keith measures his breathing and leans down to nuzzle Lance's neck, finding his mark with ease, inhaling Lance's scent as it tugs at all of his senses. Lance's hair still has that damp curl to it and Keith can smell his body wash, his lotion, and underneath the natural salty scent of his skin. It makes it easier to block out the pain and focus on Lance's soft laughter. His hands come up to card through Keith's hair, getting caught in the loose braid.

"Oh man. Sounds exciting," Lance murmurs, "Maybe you should relax, huh?"

"That was kinda the plan," Keith admits, mouthing at his mark. He grazes it with the sharp points of his fangs and smooths over it with his tongue.

Lance's intake of breath is music to his ears, "Yeah?"

"Mhm."

"That why you ran home to me?" Lance asks, teasingly, as his hands curl into the front of Keith's uniform and tug. "And didn't even change clothes?"

"I figured you'd wanna take them off of me."

"Oh, wow, this is a treat~"

Lance's hands have already dropped lower, working open Keith's belt as Keith lifts his head to kiss him, long and slow, humming a soft affirmative.

The standard Marmoran uniform is a dark bodysuit. The officer's suits are adorned with a tunic-style wrap across both shoulders, cinched at the waist, and Lance's deft fingers make quick work of loosening the ties. He smooths his hands up Keith's chest, over his shoulder, pushing the uniform so that is slips open as he goes. He finds the zipper for the suit at the nape of Keith's neck and eases it down, between sharp shoulder blades, along the deep dip of Keith's spine as he shifts to press his body into Lance's. 

The cool air of their shared room kisses Keith's skin. He was getting too warm under the suit, and the open slit down his back brings immediate relief in more ways than one. He hadn't realized the kind of pressure the skintight suit was putting on his burning ribs until it eases.

His breath rushes out of him, puffing against Lance's neck and raising goosebumps.

Lance chuckles deep in his chest. His palms slide over Keith's newly exposed skin and the suit slips effortlessly from Keith's shoulders. 

"What do you wanna do, babe?" Lance asks. He peels the suit down over Keith's shoulders, as far down his arms as it will go with Keith laying over him. He turns his head, kissing Keith's cheek. "You wanna get frisky with me, or do you just wanna cuddle?"

"Doesn't matter," Keith gasps, shifting his weight fully onto one elbow. He keeps his face against Lance's neck, breathing in his scent.

His breath is coming quicker than he'd like. The painful throbbing in his ribs is getting difficult to ignore. His hand shakes as he moves it across the mattress, trying not to collapse and crush Lance underneath him, constrained by his loose body suit, tense as he shifts his knees, trying to settle comfortably.

"No," Lance's voice is firm, "What do you want, Keith? ...What's the matter?"

"Nothing. Uh. Can we just… cuddle?"

It's not what he wanted originally. He wanted to get frisky. He was thinking about it from the moment Kolivan said he would be coming home early, but his stupid, stubborn ribs are quickly shifting his desire around. He wants to lay down. He wants to be close to Lance and he wants to ease some of the pressure off his side because it's killing him.

Lance pushes at his shoulders, gently.

"That's fine," he says, "Sit up, okay?"

Keith gratefully complies, letting Lance pull his arms free of the suit as he sits back. He already feels better with it coming off his chest, feels like he can breath - until Lance plants his hands on Keith's shoulders and flips them suddenly, pressing Keith's back too firmly into the mattress and moving to straddle his hips.

Keith is too winded at first to notice the scowl on Lance's face. He swears he blacks out for a second, the pain in his ribs like lightening as it snags inside his lungs and pulls the breath right out of him. When he blinks open his eyes, there are spots of color dancing across his vision and his chest is rising and falling in quick little jerks that sting on the way in.

His whole body is burning.

Lance is still sitting on his hips. One hand is soothing down the center of Keith's chest, his palm cool in comparison to Keith's heated skin. His other hand is holding his comm to his ear.

Keith registers belatedly that he's talking, but he only catches the tail end of it, "Thanks, Coran, I appreciate it. Give us a few dobashes."

"Lance…" Keith breathes his name, lifts his hands to lay them on Lance's knees to ground himself.

Lance tosses his comm to the mattress and leans over Keith, careful to keep his weight on the hand he rests on the bed beside Keith's chest.

"What the quiznak is this?" he demands. Keith responds to the faint touch of his other hand with a heavy flinch. Lance's fingers ghost over his ribs, and Keith strangles the noise he makes when it hurts, his own hand jerking up to circle Lance's wrist. "Keith, you've got three cracked ribs!"

"It's fine," Keith gusts out.

"No, it's not fine, look how bruised it is! You've got an infection! You're getting a fever! And you're a damn hypocrite, you know that?"

Keith groans.

"I wanted to surprise you!"

"What would have surprised me is you seeking medical attention for a serious injury, for one!"

"I wanted to see you…" Keith mumbles it.

Lance's furious expression softens, reluctantly. His voice is gentle this time, "You can see me after. C'mon, Coran is prepping a pod for you. It's just a few hours, and we can do anything you want after."

Keith doesn't have much of a choice.

Lance gets out of bed, and Keith rolls out after him, hugging his side. Lance digs a pair of grey sweatpants out of the dresser for Keith to change into, and Keith struggles out of his remaining suit to put them on. Lance folds his hand around Keith's, leading him from the room, and Keith walks softly beside him so he doesn't jar his angry ribs.

He would follow Lance anywhere, utterly blind.