Lance jolted upright in bed, drenched in sweat and back ramrod straight. All he recollected was the lucid image of Keith in his arms, bloodstained and deathly pale. He panted as he tried to reclaim his breath, on the edge of hyperventilating.
He vaulted out of bed. Not bothering to put on his robe and barely managing to slip on his lion slippers, he rushed next door, slamming his fist against Keith's door.
Keith was there in a flash, eyes equally wide and panicked, his luxite blade in hand. The sight instilled as much fear in Lance as it did relief. He came back to himself and cursed.
“I’m sorry,” Lance heaved a breath. “I’m sorry, Keith.”
Embarrassment flooded Lance. Now that the hyper-emotional haze of panic had faded, all that was left was his shame. He brought a hand to the back of his head, averting his gaze.
“Ack, I'm sorry… I…”
Keith gave him the same look he always gave him, and Lance buckled under its weight. He halted his lie in its tracks.
“I had a nightmare,” Lance quietly admitted.
The glitter of steel in Keith’s eyes softened, waylaid by sentiment. Lance didn’t know how to react. Keith sheathed his Marmorite knife in the interim of it all, turning away to walk over and place it on his bedside table.
“Sorry, I probably woke you up,” Lance said. “I’ll, uh…”
“You apologize too much.”
“Oh, s—” Lance cut himself off, aware of the irony in what he was about to say.
“You didn’t wake me up, either.”
Lance cringed at his less than suave word choice, but this late at night and worked up after his nightmare, he couldn’t help it.
“Would you like to stay for a bit?” asked Keith.
Keith stepped aside and let Lance in. Lance knew he looked disheveled, his clothes rumpled and his hair a mess, but he was too out of it to care. A small part of him felt ashamed for letting Keith see him like this.
“Do you want to… stay in my room for the night?”
Heat rushed to Lance’s face. “No, no. It’s okay…”
“Lance, really. You’re not keeping me up. You’re keeping me company.”
Even if Lance could respond, he didn’t want to. He hung his head, trying to suppress the urge to move, to shuffle on the balls of his feet, or to show any sign of discomfort whatsoever. When Keith broke his pause, his voice was too forgiving for his own good.
“Do you want to lie down for a little bit, instead?”
Lance nodded. It was the most minute of gestures, but Keith caught it. A hand slid into his, startling Lance, and his eyes darted upward. Keith simply smiled and gently tugged him toward the bed.
They lay down on opposite sides of the mattress. Lance planted his fists on his chest, not wanting his fingers to tap away on their own accord. They were quiet for a bit; Lance knew Keith was doing it on purpose, that Lance would end up opening up, as he always did, but he couldn’t help but be comforted by how well Keith knew him.
“Can.” Lance hesitated. “Can I hu… Not—Never mind. Sorry.”
Keith turned on his side, and his head came to rest on Lance’s shoulder. He settled his forearm on Lance’s chest, his palm over one of Lance’s fists. Lance tensed, heart burst asunder by his yearning, but he gradually relaxed into it.
Keith had initiated, and it made the moment feel even more like their nights in the observatory and game room. It felt more real, somehow, and even more intimate in Keith’s bed.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
There it was. Lance sighed, but he didn’t hesitate. Not anymore.
“I had a… It was more a memory than a dream.”
The hand on Lance's tightened. “Of me?”
Lance longed to return the pressure—to squeeze back. He knew Keith’s comment was a result of basic deduction; Lance had shown up outside of his room after his nightmare, panicked and out of breath. But another fearful part of himself worried Keith somehow figured out his feelings along the way.
“Of you,” parroted Lance.
The silence stretched out until Lance couldn’t take it anymore. Drawing this out did nothing. He gave in.
He started small, divulging the most trite of details, voice getting quieter as his recounting darkened and turned more grave. His chest rose and fell faster in time with his words, tripping over himself as he spoke; and he knew Keith noticed he was on the verge of breaking down. To make matters worse, Lance got choked up as he neared the end, his story cut short. Keith didn’t comment on it.
“You know, I…” said Keith. “I really thought you were going to rewind today.”
Lance was rooted to the spot, lying still as if any movement—however slight—would threaten to expose him. Keith’s hand on him felt too heavy and too close to his chest. The pitch of Lance’s heart beat hard enough that it filled his ears with a dull knell, one that foreshadowed what was to come.
“At the spa,” Keith said, as if Lance needed any clarification. “I… I know I shouldn’t have, but I changed the ring when we got there.”
The rough, pounding knell turned more shrill, more an emergency siren than an omen. Lance didn’t notice the ring. How did he not notice the ring?
I’m such an idiot, a fool, god fucking dammit—Wait. No.
It was all okay again. Because after the kiss, Lance had rewinded to a point where Keith had already moved the ring. The cursed thing had been switched right before they entered the pool; Lance didn’t rewind to before that. Keith didn’t know.
Wait. Why did he think I would rewind just because of a spa day?
But for all the split-second thinking his mind had sifted through apace, his mouth couldn’t keep up. He drew in a breath, praying his chest didn’t shake against the reassuring weight of Keith’s palm atop his own fist.
“Uh… Why?” It was all Lance could manage.
Keith tilted his head further inward, toward the crook of Lance’s neck. If Lance didn’t know any better, it almost seemed like Keith was trying to hide.
Is Keith getting… shy?
“I thought it was too…” Keith struggled to settle on a word. “Nice?”
“Too nice?” he echoed.
“I was worried you… You don’t let yourself have nice things. You feel like you don’t deserve them, or that you have to earn them, and.”
Keith’s thumb brushed along Lance’s clenched fingers. Up and down, up and down, and back up again until Lance breathed in time with it. It was a repeated, comforting gesture that Keith seemed to do with an almost absent mind.
“I… I want…” The drag of Keith’s fingers slowed. “I think you should let yourself enjoy things that make you happy, sometimes. You deserve to be happy too.”
Lance didn’t know what to say. Any semblance of thought he had died aborning. His eyes were blown wide open, staring holes into the ceiling above, and he was glad Keith had couldn’t see his face when pressed this close to him. Then Keith dealt the finishing blow.
“I’m happy you didn’t rewind our day together.”
Guilt erupted in Lance’s stomach, a proverbial swarm of locusts that flitted about and ate him up inside. Lance tilted his head back, and Keith shifted closer to fill the new space.
“…Me too,” said Lance.
Another pause was drawn out between them, and it passed something tentative and new along from one to the other, exchanged softer than a first kiss in the dead of night. But the undercurrent of betrayal left a sour taste on Lance’s lips.
“Stay here tonight,” Keith whispered.
Lance’s breath caught. He didn’t respond, but he didn’t refuse. He didn’t rewind, either. Instead, he closed his eyes and relished the feeling of Keith pressed up against him.
When they awoke the next morning, they did what they had always done when they fell asleep together after late-night talks: Keith got up early for training, Lance woke up the moment Keith wasn’t in his arms, and Keith shot him a small, parting smile. After the door shut behind Keith, Lance turned on his stomach and screamed into the pillows—Keith’s pillows.
* * *
Lance was draped across the couch in the communal meet room. The structure was reminiscent of those couch pits from the ’70s, and Lance adored it. He came here when he couldn’t find someone—but wanted to—knowing full well someone would pass by soon. And sure enough, Pidge had come in.
“Pidgeon! Short-stack. Spawn of Satan.”
She sighed, closing her laptop and coming to sit beside him. Everyone on the ship could recognize the tone he used by now; it was the one he used when he “needed help.” See: he was in desperate need of attention.
“Lance, I’m working on a big project right now—”
“No, please!” he said. “I actually need help.”
He reached out to her as she stood up. With a pout, he drew her back in, a reluctant grimace on her face.
“Fine, make it quick.”
“How…” Lance hesitated.
His heart was in his throat. Pidge placed her laptop on the cushion and stood up, moving in front of Lance. Her solid stare both put him at ease with its familiarity and intimidated him.
“How do you deal with someone you like?” he asked.
She arched a brow. “You fell for another alien girl?”
Lance didn’t respond and lowered his eyes to the floor. His cheeks flared, and he worked up the courage to admit the truth.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you flirt with anyone,” she admitted. “Who?”
He stayed quiet, wringing his hands. Pidge was having none of it. She always needed all of the information from the outset, too curious for patience.
“Lance…? Who is it?”
It was between getting the advice he needed and maintaining his pride. Choosing the former, he resigned himself to a rewind after he got the answer he needed. So he spilled his guts in a small whisper.
Silence. He glanced up to take in Pidge’s incredulous expression, almost frozen, as if waiting for Lance to reveal this to be one big prank. But Lance didn’t. And he was shocked she’s shocked because she was always the first person to act like Lance showing affection to Keith and confessing his love was no big deal.
“I thought you knew?” he said.
“I-I mean, I may joke around because you pretend to hate him all the time, but I wasn’t really sure…” She paused. “In my defense, you don't treat him like your other crushes.”
That caught Lance’s attention. “What do you mean?”
“Nyma, Allura, basically any space babe? You immediately start flirting before you even know their name. You’ve never done that with Keith.”
Lance didn’t correct her last addition; he had more important things on his mind. He threw his hands up in the air.
“Well, yeah,” he said, “but Keith's different!”
He blushed. It was too late to walk back on his gaffe. The sharp arch of Pidge's eyebrow returned, and the corner of her mouth hooked upward into something smug.
“He’s different?” she repeated.
Lance glared at her. Hunk would never do this to him. He was too sweet to tease him; Hunk would tease him about a lot, but not this, not when Lance was so genuinely and emotionally torn. Pidge, on the other hand, had absolutely no limit—the little gremlin.
“Shut up,” said Lance.
“So he’s speeeciaaaal to you.”
Lance dropped his head in his hands and groaned. “I will rewind.”
She crouched down to be on eye level with him, and he looked up, frowning. Pidge grinned. Nothing he said could stop her now.
“Go ahead. I’ll figure it out eventually,” Pidge said. “But didn’t you want that advice you asked for?”
He regretted ever asking her how to deal with this. “Have you ever even had a crush?”
Lance sighed and sunk back into the couch. She sounded too similar to Keith, and Lance hated that he found the comparison consoling.
“Lay your wisdom on me, then,” said Lance.
“I’m sorry. I’m still caught up on the fact that you’re smitten with Keith but you’ve never flirted with him.”
Lance snorted. His gaze trailed upward to the ceiling, and he breathed in slow. Safe from Pidge’s insistent gaze, he took his time as he continued.
“At first, I convinced myself I hated him because that made everything easier, but then… I got to know him and, ugh, Pidge—I.” He tapped his fingers against his thigh. “It was easy to flirt with random, pretty girls because I didn’t know them. I liked how they looked, and going into it I had nothing to lose, but with Keith… I know him.
“We’re actually friends, and I don’t want to ruin that. He means so much to me, and I want to be there to support him like he supports me. I don’t just want him romantically or sexually, I want… all of him.”
He knew he was blushing hard, but Pidge wasn’t saying anything. Lance looked down at her, and she stood perfectly still, the epitome of shellshocked. She hadn’t mocked him yet.
“Sorry, that was just really sweet.” She paused. “I think. I think you should tell him the truth. And, you know… he cares about you too.”
Lance frowned because Pidge didn’t know the extent to which Lance cared. Keith could never care that much. Not about him. But Lance couldn’t say that. Instead he worked a retort over his tongue, eyes drawn sidelong and toward the east entrance.
A figure stood in the open doorway, and Lance’s heart stopped dead in his chest. Keith’s eyes were already on him, round and blank from shock.
“Keith!” shouted Lance.
He tore his gaze away and turned to Pidge, glaring as he gestured erratically at Keith and flailed his arms. Pidge shook her head, her eyebrows making an adamant effort to reach her hairline.
“How could you have not noticed?!” said Lance.
“How could you?” she yelled back.
Lance glanced back at Keith—only to see Keith coming over. Before Lance could move, he was tackled onto the couch, a heavy weight pinning him down. A hand covered his mouth, and Lance looked up as Keith hovered inches above him.
“Don't rewind,” said Keith.
It tossed him back to the first time Keith got him to open up with a vengeance—when Keith had said and done the same thing. It had Lance’s heart racing to escape his chest, beating furiously against the cage of his ribs.
Lance did what he could to fight out of Keith's grip, from biting the leather of Keith’s glove to kicking out from under Keith. Nothing distracted Keith or slowed him down. The two continued to grapple with one another as Lance's desperation snowballed.
With a surge of adrenaline and a little luck on his side, Lance gained the upper hand, flipping them. He grabbed Keith’s wrist and ripped it away. His eyes were shut before he could register the sheer panic and distress of Keith’s countenance.
“Rewind,” he wheezed.
Darkness buried him, rendering any struggling useless—not that Lance bothered to. He didn’t fight it, not anymore. Waiting it out, he was shot back to the moment before he begged Pidge for help.
“Lance, I’m working on a big project right now—”
He opened his eyes. “Does this mean you won’t give me attention?”
“Aww, come on…”
“I’m serious. Matt needs me to tabulate this data before tomorrow—”
“Booorrinnnng,” Lance drawled.
“It’s not—!” She let out a sigh. “Ugh, whatever… I’ll—Oh!”
Lance’s blinked. “What?”
“Actually, while I’m here, do you remember that new adhesive Hunk and I have been working on? The water-resistant one we’ve been developing? I actually don’t think I’ve replaced yours yet—that old tape stuff you have in Blue—with our newer design. The older model actually doesn’t react well to brine…”
Lance threw a furtive look to the east doorway as he tuned out Pidge. He sucked in a sharp breath as he saw Keith walk in, his expression unassuming. Realization hit Lance like a punch to the throat.
Keith had been there since the beginning; he overheard him pour his heart out. By now, Keith had caught on to the wide-eyed stare Lance was sending him and shot a confused one back. Lance fell back and covered his eyes.
“You heard everything?” he said. “And you just let me keep talking and look like a dumbass?”
Neither Keith nor Pidge understood. How could they? But that didn’t matter to Lance; after the intense wave of embarrassment had passed, he pressed his palms into his eyes, blacking out his vision.
* * *
Lance sat on a bucket he had borrowed from Coran, using another one of Coran’s buckets to milk Kaltenecker. He was planning on making milkshakes for him and Keith to drink during their Killbot competition later. Lance had a few hours before they met up, which was more than sufficient time to use one of Hunk’s confectionery machines.
He sat back, pulling away the bucket of milk from under Kaltenecker. Juniberry flowers surrounded the two in droves, depicting a false image of purple and emerald fields expanding onward for miles. He knew the room was only so big, but the holographic walls let him imagine he was anywhere but here. It let him pretend, even if only for a moment, that he was back home and not in space. Not fighting a galactic war. And not fighting himself and his stupid feelings at every turn.
Kaltenecker mooed, and Lance knew they had company. He figured Coran had come by for help in cleaning the pods, or Pidge had come in to ask for help in a new experiment, but when he looked up his back went stiff.
Allura had her hands clasped together. She met his gaze straight on but maintained some distance between them.
“I came to apologize,” she said.
They both knew what she was referring to. She didn't sound like she had been browbeaten by Shiro into saying it, either. Lance had known her long enough to tell apart her genuine side from her diplomatic one; she had come of her own accord.
“The way I treated you after we lost Rolo was out of line,” said Allura.
Lance wanted to accept her apology—he really did—but a trace of bitter resentment held him back. He sighed, the sound heavy, as he shifted and faced her completely.
“Why did it take you so long to apologize?” He had to know.
“…At first, I believed I was fully in the right. I thought I was looking at the bigger picture and trying to be as emotionally detached and unbiased as possible.”
She averted her gaze to the meadow around them, and her expression clouded. As if entranced, she kneeled on the grass, reaching out to the nearest juniberry flower and running her thumb over its delicate petals.
“Then I realized I was disrespecting those we had lost, letting my rage and hatred for Zarkon and the Galra get the best of me,” she said. “I’ll admit, I… didn't realize that completely on my own.”
Shiro did have a hand in this, then. Maybe Coran, too. Still, Lance knew she was speaking from the heart.
“I was rather upset when we lost Rolo, but for the wrong reasons,” admitted Allura. “I was purely focused on what my allies, my teammates, my crew… my family could provide, rather than who they are… rather than what they mean to me. ”
She stood up, finally coming over to him. Lifting a hand, Allura reached out to pet Kaltenecker. Her hesitance and almost childlike fear of the cow made a reluctant amusement bubble up inside Lance; it reminded him of his younger nieces and nephews back home.
He covered her hand with his own, pressing her hand to Kaltenecker’s hide. The gesture gave her the confidence to actually run her palm over the cow’s side, and Lance withdrew his hand.
“I… I was so desperate to end this war sooner and bring about peace,” she said, voice quiet. “I thought the end justified the means. I thought the loss of one life should mean nothing if it entailed the future of our people. I thought that’s what made a good leader.”
Kaltenecker shook her head, flicking her ears as she mooed. A small gasp left Allura, and she stepped away, her hands pressed to her chest. After a moment, she turned back to Lance, steeling herself as she went on.
“I like to come here when I feel homesick. It reminds me of Altea more than anywhere else on the ship. The flowers here… they remind me of my father. I can’t help thinking of him when I’m here.”
Lance recognized the glint of pain in her voice. He understood the bittersweet longing of nostalgia, how a lonely heart was drawn to it despite the phantom pain it wrought. He, too, indulged in visiting this room whenever he missed home. Although, it reminded him of Earth rather than Altea.
“So when I spent the night here a few quintants ago, I thought of him, of how he cared so deeply for his subjects, and how I wanted to grow to be just like him. That’s when I realized.” She smiled, her lips drawn in a thin line. “If he saw the person I am today, he would be ashamed.”
Lance startled at that, immediately going to voice his dissent. “Allura—”
“After I realized that, I, too, felt deeply ashamed.”
Her words made him pity her, but he knew that was the last thing she wanted. Out of principle alone, she would have dropkicked Lance if she detected even a modicum of pity from him. So he paused before responding, taking a rare moment of deliberation to think over his words.
“You can’t change that now. But you can choose to honor him moving forward,” he said. “In the future, don’t… don’t treat anyone the way you… talked about him. He didn’t—He didn’t deserve that. Rolo deserved better.”
“I know.” She gave a doleful smile. “I came here to apologize for how rudely I treated you, and yet you still…”
Allura shook her head. Silver locks framed her face, and she reached up to tuck a curl behind the sharp point of her ear.
“I know it took me a while to come around, but you deserved an apology regardless of my shame or embarrassment,” she said. “I know I’ve made mistakes, but I’m going to do better by you and the others. I swear by it.”
He knew she was trying her best—they all were. Lance knew better than anyone what it meant to make mistakes, and how hard it was to better himself for those he cared about. But stray thoughts told him she was only trying to get back on good terms with him, or that she was the one who pitied him. And the sentiment brought down Lance’s mood.
“It's fine, I’m over it.” Lance waved her off. “You were right anyway.”
I’m useless, his mind finished the thought.
His comment shocked Allura enough to make her fumble her words. From the slight shake of her head to the parting of her lips, her alarm was palpable.
“No, I acted out of anger and insulted you. I made it your fault because it gave me somewhere tangible to direct my anger,” she said. “That wasn’t right. I know you did your best to save Rolo. You’re an incredible paladin who I’ve also grown to respect as a friend, and—”
Lance accepted her apology, but he couldn’t take where this was going. He was nauseated by her lies, her coddling, her everything, and he let his eyes slip closed.
* * *
After that interaction with Allura, he escaped before she found him again. He went to the kitchen and refrigerated the milk to deal with later, and with that out of the way, he sought out Keith. As was routine with Keith at this time of day, Lance found him on the training deck decimating a Gladiator.
Keith looked so in his element, his bayard a mere extension of his arm as he slashed out at the training bot. Lance’s chest squeezed around his heart, and a forceful wave of relief flooded over the tightness there. He cupped his hands around his mouth to amplify his voice as he shouted.
Keith staggered, a split second of hesitation that interrupted otherwise fluid movement. Even still, he managed to jink away from the Gladiator, switching to the defensive.
“End simulation,” said Keith, voice louder than usual.
The sparring bot powered down, the ground opening up underneath it and swallowing it whole. With the deck now clear and safe for bystanders, Lance strolled over to him.
Keith tilted his head back, catching his breath as he dematerialized his sword. Lance followed the line of Keith's throat, droplets of sweat curving around the bob of his Adam’s apple. He swallowed hard.
“Wow, you’re sweaty,” said Lance.
Keith shot him a crude sidelong look. He walked past Lance to the mini-fridge Hunk had installed on the training deck, taking a water pouch to drink.
“I thought we were doing Killbot later,” said Keith.
“We were—are… I… I needed to see you.”
Lance stepped in close, his demeanor giving away nothing. Keith stilled, lowering his water pouch as his eyes flickered between Lance's. His hair was tied up; some strands of his fringe fell in his face, but not enough to obscure those dark and gorgeous eyes.
“Lance?” He could sense the shift in mood.
“Keith, I… Can I…?” Blue eyes stared into Keith’s, unfocused and distracted. “Can I kiss you?”
As always, the sense of confusion hanging over Keith vanished, succeeded only by his incredulity. His eyes continued to dart between calm and resolute blue ones. So Lance waited, ramming down his anxiety in favor of savoring the moment.
“Yeah,” Keith breathed out.
Idly, Lance reached up and held Keith’s chin, his thumb teasing the defined line of Keith’s jaw. He felt Keith’s exhale and watched as Keith’s tongue darted out to wet his lips. Lance drew his gaze up from those parted lips, eyes landing on Keith’s. He stepped forward, into Keith’s space, and whispered against Keith’s lips.
“Is this really okay?” asked Lance.
Keith nodded, eyes already slipping closed. The sight calmed something deep within Lance, and Lance leaned in and captured his lips in full. He overdid it a bit, overpowering Keith’s gentle surprise and letting his desperation take over. His eyebrows drew together as he tried so adamantly to slot his mouth against Keith’s, fighting against the urge to pull Keith against him and hold him without ever letting go.
Lance pulled away. Dark eyes fluttered open, and Lance stared. Keith was breathless, looking entirely awestruck as he marveled at Lance. Unable to function at the sight, Lance smiled, tilting forward to bump their foreheads together.
“Fuck,” said Lance.
Reality settled back in, and his mood took a quick shift. His smile fell flat.
“Fuck,” he said again, but rather than overjoyed and smitten, an undercurrent of anger spiked it.
He was upset with himself. Lance wanted this—he wanted a chance to woo Keith properly. But before he could ask for that chance, he knew what he had to do. Pidge was right. He needed to tell Keith the truth.
* * *
The team was on a diplomatic mission on Bruuoo to escort a group of aliens. Said group had been kidnapped by a dissenting party of protestors from the same planet’s colony, intending to use the kidnapped group for ransom. The most grueling portion of the mission was behind them, and all that was left was to bring the rescued group through Bruuoo’s jungle and to their hidden colony.
Lance was glad they were almost finished, as dark, paranoid thoughts clogged his more rational line of thought. It hindered his ability to focus, and Keith took notice. A hand on Lance’s elbow pulled him aside, away from the herd of the aliens and the rest of the team. With a sigh, Lance faced Keith, but Keith kept his eye trained on the group, in the direction Hunk was coming.
“Hey!” shouted Keith. “Hunk, over here!”
Hunk’s gaze snapped to them. His eyes jumped to the hand Keith had on Lance before returning to Keith.
“Let’s switch places,” said Keith. “Can you watch the front with Pidge?”
“No problem! Is everything okay?” Hunk asked. He gave Lance a meaningful look.
“Yes. Thanks, Hunk,” said Keith.
Vacillating for a moment longer, Hunk nodded and jogged past to join Pidge. Keith didn’t move, letting everyone pass them until the duo was left to protect the flank. The hand on Lance’s elbow pulled away, and Keith cocked out his hip, placing his now-freed hand on it.
“So. Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” said Keith. “Or do I have to start pulling teeth?”
There was no getting around it. Keith was far too adamant, and Lance was far too weak—particularly when it came to Keith. They had stopped trailing the others as well, so Lance couldn’t even use “focusing on the mission” as an excuse.
The demon knows me too well, he cursed to himself. Without much leeway available to him, Lance gave in.
“I think I’m taking advantage of you,” he admitted.
Keith didn’t blow up at him, didn’t storm off or yell—he stayed quiet. He didn’t look betrayed. His eyebrows were drawn together tightly, face mantled with confusion and a tinge of sadness. Seeing Keith still tolerate him like this broke Lance. His throat went dry, every second of emotion he had forced down returning threefold.
“I-I-I’m so fucking awful. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. The team’s right, I don’t deserve this power—”
Blue eyes defaulted to Lance’s bayard, and Lance fiddled with the sight. Keith had said his name with a sharp tone of annoyance but softened it before his next words.
“What have you been doing?”
Lance went red, confronted by his shame, but forced himself to continue. He breathed in through his nose, slow and shaky.
“I… I ask you… things.” Lance winced. “Questions or favors or… requests.”
Keith looked even more confused and even less sad, just annoyed. It irked Lance. Keith should be angry, he should be upset—Lance was a bad person! Lance had let this go on for far too long. So he kept going, desperate for Keith to understand, desperate for Keith to hate him.
“And—And you always say yes, and I don’t know why! It’s so messed up. You’re the only one who trusted me. You’re the only person on the team who trusted me, even when I first told you guys about rewinding. And I betrayed that trust.”
With little deliberation, Keith deactivated his bayard and affixed it to his hip. He grabbed onto Lance’s shoulders to steady him and to grab his attention. It worked, and Lance shut up.
“Let me get this straight,” said Keith. “You ask me to do something, and I do it, or I give you permission, and you… rewind? Why would you rewind for—”
Keith shook his head, his expression screwing up in an endearing display of confusion. Lance scolded himself for the intrusive thought.
“Okay, never mind. Just,” said Keith, “you feel guilty even though I apparently always agree? Why?”
He simply stared up at Keith through long eyelashes, expression unbearably dismal. Since they had stopped walking with the rest of the group, they had long fallen behind, now all alone in the jungle.
It was quiet. Without the footfall and alien chatter of the group ahead, the paladins’ breathing was easily overheard. The trill of otherworldly birds encompassed them, the sound duetting the wind as it rustled the surrounding leaves.
After an extended period of time had been traded between them, Keith assumed Lance wasn’t going to answer. So Keith reached up and dissipated his visor, his skin bright with sweat. He got serious.
“I trust you,” he said, and he meant it. And Lance hated that he did.
I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve you.
“I can’t say I really… get why you’re upset, but I know I wouldn’t just blindly say yes to everything you ask of me,” said Keith. “You’re not taking advantage of me. You get my permission, so I’m okay with whatever you’re asking.”
But you don’t get to remember it. I don’t let you. I’ve been too much of a coward, and that wasn’t fair to you.
But Lance didn’t know how to put that into adequate enough words. He didn’t think he would ever need to. He thought he would be dead long before he got here.
Keith paused and lowered his voice. “You’re not a bad person, Lance. We’re friends. I trust you.”
The last line was not a new string of words, but the way they’re spoken was a spike to the heart. Lance’s expression grew even more pained, and he looked away.
“Maybe that’s a bad thing,” whispered Lance. Keith made a loud, exasperated noise of protest.
“No. It isn’t.”
“It is.” Lance stepped back. “I shouldn’t have talked to you about this. I-I need to stop. I can’t keep asking to kiss you over and over again and rewinding without you knowing, it’s—it’s not fair to you.”
The daze of guilt cleared as determination settled over him, and he refocused on Keith. Keith was gaping at him, jaw slack and eyebrows disappearing up and behind his bangs. The look startled Lance.
“You’ve been… what?”
Lance grimaced, reaching out to hold Keith’s hand and comfort him, but he stopped himself. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“What? Wait, what? No—”
“It’s okay, I’m not… I promise I’m going to stop for good.”
“What’re you—Lance, listen.”
“I’m sorry about this. I’ll… I’ll tell you everything one day—soon, but.”
Keith was panicking now, seeming to catch on as he futilely grabbed at Lance’s armor. He knew Lance was going to rewind, but he couldn’t switch the ring with it underneath the gloves of his under-armor. Lance’s visor had remained up, so Keith couldn’t forcibly stop him from speaking either. Still, he tried to persuade Lance against it.
“How have you not—I’m—Just let me speak—”
Lance stepped in and covered Keith’s mouth, grateful Keith brought his visor down prior. The move widened Keith’s eyes into something laughably large, but Lance had been made too solemn by his predicament to find humor in it.
“I will, I promise,” Lance assured him. “But not now.”
He would let Keith get pissed, tell him off, scream at him—but not yet. Lance knew it was selfish, but he didn’t have the emotional capacity to have this conversation yet; he needed time to process everything. He didn’t want to break down and cry in front of Keith.
Not only because Keith would realize how truly pathetic he was, but because he didn’t want Keith to think he was doing it for pity or forgiveness. He needed time to gather himself so he could handle the conversation maturely, seriously, and be the punching bag Keith deserved after everything Lance had done. Lance needed to plan this out and do it right.
He closed his eyes to imagine the moment before Keith approached him. There was no doubt in his mind that Keith knew what he was about to do, clawing at his wrist and shouting muffled words into his palm.
Lance ignored all distractions. By the time Keith had ripped Lance’s hand from his face, it was too late.
* * *
It was two weeks before Lance rewinded again outside of battle.
He was in Keith’s room one afternoon before dinner, with no other intention in mind than to hang out. They were just doing their own thing, peacefully existing in each other’s presence. It almost felt domestic in how casually intimate it was.
Lance had finished his skin care routine and was lazing on Keith’s bed, his hands tucked behind his head. Meanwhile, Keith was folding laundry—specifically, all of his identical, plain black t-shirts. Lance watched Keith’s hands, devoid of the gloves he always wore, as they rhythmically folded fabric. Despite how incredibly mundane an activity it was, Lance was stricken in that moment.
God, I love him.
“Can you come over here for a second?”
Keith obliged him. He finished folding the shirt in his hands before placing it aside and came to the edge of the bed. Lance sat up, shuffling back on the pillows, then pouted.
Keith sighed and rolled his eyes, but he smiled all the same. He got on the mattress, sitting on his knees and leaning over Lance. Lance was nothing but captivated, blindly reaching out to tug Keith into his lap. Keith went easily in his grasp without so much as flinching or tensing. He didn’t sit in Lance’s lap, choosing instead to hover in place, but didn’t move away; it worked perfectly for what Lance wanted to do.
Lance wrapped his arms around Keith, hands splayed across Keith’s upper back and head turned, ear pressed up against Keith’s chest, right over his heart. Lance smiled when Keith tried to adjust. He put a hand on Lance’s shoulder and placed the other awkwardly on top of Lance’s head. Lance found it unbelievably charming.
“I’m so gone for you, Keith, you have no idea. I… For years, I’ve tried to ignore it or pretend it’s something it’s not, but…”
Lance gave an exasperated sigh through his smile. Keith’s chest expanded as he inhaled, long and deep, pressing further against Lance’s ear.
“Back when we were at the Garrison, I thought I was just jealous of you because you were just so above everyone else, and you never noticed me no matter what I did, and I maybe… I admired you a little. Just a bit.”
“I barely made fighter class. I only got it because you dropped out. Iverson made sure I never forgot it too. I knew all I was good for was cargo pilot. I knew I didn’t deserve it.”
“I.” Keith went still against him. “I didn’t…”
“So when we ended up in space together, I just… I resented you for it. I just wanted to get to you, somehow. You seemed so untouchable, you acted like you didn’t care about anything.”
“That’s not tru—”
“I know. It was stupid. But… our rivalry, it made you care. You paid attention to me. I knew the rivalry thing was dumb, but it worked. And I thought it was just because a petty, bitter part of me liked getting under your skin, but…
“Then I got to know you. Like, really know you. Like how you hate hot weather, even though you lived in a desert for a year. And the way you’re surprisingly good with the kids we rescue, and yeah, you’re awkward about it, but it’s so precious seeing how protective you get of them. Or how you bite your bottom lip when you’re nervous, even though they’re still stupidly soft—”
I shouldn’t know that.
“—and… the cute way you squint when we’re gaming and you don’t recognize the map we’re playing on. Then one day I woke up, and I realized I didn’t hate you anymore. I never did. How could I, when I had already fallen so far for you?”
He listened to Keith’s heartbeat as it slowly went crazy beneath his ear the longer he spoke, and he pressed his palms against Keith’s back firmer. Lance wished Keith’s heart was beating that fast for the same reason Lance’s was.
“I didn’t know what to do. I started this stupid rivalry, and I didn’t know how to… How was I supposed to bridge the gap? I was afraid. If I… If I left that part of our relationship behind, what did that mean for us?
“It was the only thing that was familiar—that was our constant—in this stupid, confusing universe, and I didn’t… wanna give that up. I didn’t wanna lose you.”
But I know I will. I could never have you. You deserve more than I could ever be.
Keith was so warm against him. The thought of falling asleep with Keith pressed up like this, the two of them alone in Keith’s room, had Lance’s eyes fluttering closed.
“I think you’ve ruined me for anyone else.” Lance chuckled, but the sound was faint and timorous.
Warm hands came up to hold Lance’s face, and Lance startled, opening his eyes. Keith had taken his head in his hands, directing his jaw up so their eyes met. Keith’s expression was soft, a little amused yet exasperated, and all but perfect.
It would be a perfect time for a confession by every measure. They had been in this position ad nauseam, teetering over the precipice of everything and nothing, but Lance just couldn’t trust himself to leap. Keith was right here, in his lap, but Lance didn’t want to let go.
What if he was wrong? What if he got his hopes up for no reason? What if Keith didn’t like him at all? What if it was all a joke, and he was too socially inept to see through it? What if he didn’t feel for Lance as much as Lance did for him, but he felt bad for him? What if, even if he had a chance, he ruined it? What if, what if, what if?
He doesn’t like you. He couldn’t like you. How could he love someone with as many faults and imperfections as you? How could he love you when you don’t even love yourself? He couldn’t love you. No one could.
Lance didn’t know what to do. His heart ramped up in his chest, his breathing racing to match it, and he moved on instinct. He covered a hand over Keith’s mouth and averted his eyes.
“I… I’m scared.”
He knew he was selfish for it. Time and time again, he let his feelings get in the way of what the others deserved—of what Keith deserved. His eyes squeezed shut, crinkling at the corners. His throat grew thick.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I-I need time.”
Keith didn’t fight him, making no attempt to remove Lance’s hand. It was such a stark contrast to their interaction on Bruuoo that it had Lance opening his eyes, sheepishly meeting Keith’s gaze.
He looked soft. That was the only way to describe it. He had an aura of patient calm to him that conveyed so much that Lance understood little of. Lance breathed in through his nose sharply, and he longed for something he couldn’t name.
It felt like too much—a look that was far too overwhelming—from the way Keith’s hair was adorably ruffled, to the way his eyebrows pinched upward towards the bridge of his nose with an expressive softness, to the slight tilt of his head. Lance’s heart flittered in his chest.
“I’m going to tell you everything tomorrow,” said Lance, voice deathly quiet.
They had a huge, planetary meeting then, but after that, they would be free from missions for a while. It was perfect. He stalled, indulging in the sight of Keith in his arms for a final time.
He said it between a blink: “Rewind.”
Lance was back, lying supine on Keith’s bed with his hands propped behind his head. He craned his neck to glance over at Keith, whose hands had stilled over one of his shirts. Keith was acting off.
“You okay?” asked Lance.
Keith was playing with the band on his finger—it was on his ring finger. Lance had never seen the ring there before; it defaulted to his middle finger, and then his index if he thought Lance would rewind.
It was a fact Lance had learned after an alien group had broken into the docked castleship weeks ago, the team scrambling to fight them off in their pajamas. But after the ship had been cleared of any more intruders, Lance had seen that familiar glint of silver on Keith’s index finger when he approached soon thereafter, having been able to switch the ring without the undersuit’s gloves in the way. But this?
This was terribly new.
Worry tensed in his gut as Keith came up to the side of the bed. Lance sat up, the movement jagged and fitting a descriptor on the opposite end of smooth.
“You don’t have to tell me, but.” Keith looked up from his hands, and dark eyes stared into Lance. “Did you rewind?”
Lance’s blood went cold. “What makes you say that?”
The brilliant indigo of Keith’s eyes flashed with something indecipherable but sad. He tucked his chin against his chest—nearly pouting.
“Never mind…” said Keith.
Lance wanted to ask what the band on his ring finger meant, but he knew it would expose him immediately. And he didn’t want to explain why he rewinded.
But seeing Keith’s torn expression—the distress in his brow and the confusion laced in dark eyes—it brought Lance’s mind to a standstill. His resolve shattered, a stilly conviction blossoming in its place.
It was time. It didn’t matter if he was ready because he was never going to be. He was going to tell Keith everything. Every rewind, every kiss; all of it.
At that moment, he committed to his plan to confess to Keith properly and see his actual reaction. He had to experience it, even if he knew the outcome. Even if it went badly, he wouldn’t rewind. Not this time.
He couldn’t keep doing this. Keith deserved to know, and he couldn’t keep hiding it anymore. He wouldn’t let some meddlesome, ticklish feelings get in the way of his friendship with Keith. Keith was more important. He wanted Keith to know, even though deep down he knew it wouldn’t go the way he’d like.
But Lance never got the chance to confess.
Not the way he wanted.
* * *
“I tried not to upset you.
Let you rescue me the day I met you
I just wanted to protect you
But now I’ll never get to”
* * *