Blaatova is covered in green and pink. It’s nicely warm when they step out of the castle, if a bit too humid for Keith’s taste.The noises of nature remind him of watching National Geographic documentaries back at the Garrison on his down time, the narrator’s voice a comfortable presence in his room.
The planet’s natives are humanoid in aspect. The envoys and guards that await them after landing look perhaps taller in general than most humans, with bigger eyes, a dark red. Their skin looks soft and dark, and their smiles are gentle and inviting when they reach towards them and exchange polite greetings with Allura and Coran according to complex diplomatic conventions that Keith has never tried to understand.
It all feels peaceful and easy and like it’ll be a pleasantly uneventful visit, one of the Blaatov diplomats in charge of the welcome party expressing clearly enough during their introductions that Blaatova wishes to ally itself to the Voltron Paladins in their fight against the Galra Empire and all it signifies to the freedom and wellbeing of all planets on the galaxy.
So Keith expects this stop to be a few slow days of gathering any intel they can, and replenishing their supplies and energy in a friendly climate, while trying to decide their next move.
What Keith doesn’t expect, however, is for one of the diplomats on the party to give Lance an appreciative once-over before complimenting his skin, and for Lance to stutter out his reply, cheeks blushing.
“I didn’t know Lance was...”
“Bi?” Hunk supplies.
“Ready to jump anyone sentient and willing?” Pidge offers.
“Yeah, let’s go with bi,” Hunk says.
It’s not a new concept to Keith, even though he’s always known he himself was more ‘gay’ than anything else. But it’s… Something. Something that he hadn’t thought to apply to Lance, of all people.
“Oh man, you don’t even know how it was back in the Garrison,” Hunk bemoans as he hands Pidge a charred looking bit of curled metal from the giant pile of space trash they’ve been browsing for the past ten minutes.
Pidge takes it and hums, before stacking it inside of her bag.
Blaatovs apparently believe in reusing, reducing and recycling, because the dump of technological waste Hunk and Pidge had asked their hosts to direct them to for gathering purposes and general snooping around (“it’s alien technology, Keith, okay? How can you, like, not find this insanely cool?” Hunk had whispered while the diplomats and the guards arranged to grant the paladins their request) is… small. Really small. And filled with things that, according to Pidge and Hunk both, are really mostly beyond saving.
“Yeah, it was a total nightmare,” she said after a few seconds of inspecting a colored lens that she ends up putting back where she found it. “There was this one guy in the engineering class that Lance constantly made an ass of himself in front of trying to impress. It was kind of sad.”
Lance laughs in the distance, breathy and sort of high pitched. Keith looks over at him. His helmet is off, and he’s holding it under one of his arms. His other hand keeps constantly going up to his hair, and then down, never quite doing anything to it. He looks happy and light and flushed, and whenever the Blaatov laughs at something he says he gets this gleeful look that’s brief but all kinds of brilliant.
Lance’s… friend from their welcoming committee invites them to a dinner party that night on their most prominent governmental building, where their main representatives will be gathered. Allura agrees, of course, and then ushers them to the castle and drills them for two hours on the customs and proper etiquette of semi-formal dinners on this part of south Blaatova.
Keith can’t quite focus on Allura’s lessons, gaze instead constantly drifting off to where Lance is sitting next to Hunk, a soft smile on his face. It’s a smile reminiscent of the one he’d given Keith himself after Sendak. A tender, private thing that makes Keith feel a myriad of things.
At the moment, and most prominently: confusion.
And some irritation lurking below that, too, churning low in his gut, ugly and unexplainable.
The building the dinner was to be hosted at consisted of mostly reflective surfaces from the outside. It was a tall construction, reaching towards the pink skies fearlessly, not as… ornate as the buildings they had in Earth, but definitely aesthetically pleasant, surrounded by the greenery and the pinks and orange hues. Keith tried to discern the highest point of the tower for a few seconds, but gave it up for the sake of his neck.
The dining hall they’re led to once they get in, is about as ostentatious as the building it’s in. Which is to say, not that ostentatious at all. Everything is clean lines and practicality and sparse furnishings, and very minimal decoration. It just feels endless.
They all get introduced by the diplomats on their welcome party to politicians and other important members of Blaatov society, and once the formalities are over and they’re all sitting, the conversation’s easy and fluid, with an air of celebration that Keith can understand. Finding allies has been an uphill battle, pretty much, taking into consideration the ten thousand years of colonizing under the Galra Empire's belt. Every step in the right direction is a hard earned victory.
The food is savory, if plain looking. The drinks are luminescent and eye catching, all color gradients from dark to light and sparkling inside their glasses. Hunk has already had three glasses of them, and Keith’s sure it’s mostly because of how they look, rather than how they taste.
“Hey,” Shiro’s eyes catch his, he’s smiling, at ease with his surroundings, dish piled high with food, glass half empty. Keith smiles back at him. There was a time when he thought he’d never see Shiro again, nevermind see him smile, so he can’t not. “You’ve been really quiet for a while, Keith. Is everything alright? Anything you wanna talk about?”
Keith punches Shiro’s shoulder in companionship, grinning.
“I’m okay,” he says, “no need to helicopter-parent me, Shiro. I’m just tired, I guess. It never downs on me just… how much happens, until we get to quiet down for a moment.”
Shiro hums and nods, his smile understanding. He claps a hand on Keith’s shoulder and gives him a gentle squeeze.
“I get that. This is… an enormous responsibility we’re all shouldering. I’m proud of all of you for stepping up the way you have. But you should also let yourself relax whenever we can Keith, okay?”
Keith rolls his eyes at Shiro, but still feels happy about the recognition, and the warmth in his voice.
“Look at Lance,” Shiro tells him then, and when Keith looks at him, his smile has gained a playful edge, “he is definitely relaxing. In his own way.”
Keith chances a glance at Lance, and immediately wishes he hadn’t.
The Blaatov diplomat has sat to his right, sparing him little to no personal space, their arms brushing with every movement any of the two makes. And Lance moves a lot. He’s talking with the man animatedly, expansive hand gestures and lots of facial expressions. He doesn’t look flustered, the way he did when they’d arrived, but settled into their conversation, all Lance brand smirks and charm and—
Keith looks down at his food, half eaten and suddenly looking all that much more unappetizing.
Keith makes it a point to avoid Lance and his Blaatov friend for the rest of their stay, and if anyone notices, nobody makes a point of bringing it up with him.
… Which doesn’t mean anyone’s avoiding the subject of Lance and his diplomat, in general.
Pidge and Hunk have made it their lives’ mission to try to embarrass Lance as much as they can. They bring up Lance’s boyfriend every time they can. The teasing doesn’t seem to bother Lance much however, and he takes it in stride, laughing along with them.
He never quite denies anything.
After a few cycles’ stay, Keith couldn’t be readier to leave.
He seems to be the only one.
Pidge and Hunk seem to have hit it off with one of the engineers for the planet’s leading STEM (or its equivalent) organization, and they have taken to spending a lot of time hanging out with her in their labs, talking about things that go so over Keith’s head, he’s stopped trying to keep up.
Shiro and Allura enjoy the warm hospitality of their hosts, and spend lengthy periods of time listening to what basically amounts to long-winded lessons on Blaatova’s history. Keith knows Shiro was always a bit of a history buff before the Garrison, so that’s probably right up that big nerd’s ally.
Lance… Lance has Axor, his big alien boyfriend, who takes him out to explore Blaatova, and sits next to him when they’re dining together, and comes to the castle on an invitation extended by Allura, and gets shown to Lance’s room.
Everyone seems to have struck up at least some sort of friendship or companionship or— or something, and Keith is just—
—Keith just wants them to move on to their next destination.
Keith should feel good about that. He felt itchy and out of place in Blaatova. He wanted to go. He was ready for it.
Lance is miserable, though. He’s not— moody, or anything. He doesn’t make it obvious for anyone to see, but he’s quiet and— and just not like him. Pidge and Hunk try to cheer him up, in their own ways, and Lance laughs along with them; he nudges Pidge when she says something cheeky and ruffles her hair softly, and he squeezes Hunk’s shoulder when he offers to go make him a good, hearty, non gooey snack, but he’s dialed down.
Keith doesn’t know what he expected, or what he wanted, but it definitely wasn’t this.
That night Keith passes by the kitchens after some unfruitful solo training.
He leaves a cup of this weird, sickly sweet smelling brew Lance seemed to have taken a liking to in Blaatova at his door, knocking quietly a few times before leaving.
The next day Lance doesn’t look quite back to himself, but he smirks at Keith during breakfast and nudges his side while they’re eating, annoying and familiar.
Keith nudges back with a smirk of his own.
They meet Rolo and Nyma (and Beezer) again. They find them in some lost little planet, where they’ve made a semi permanent base for their… business, having barely escaped Prorok’s men after being captured and interrogated. Hunk isn’t exactly pleased to see them again, but Allura and Shiro are huge believers in second chances, so they stay and play nice while Allura gets any and all information she can out of them.
Keith doesn’t even notice he’s gravitating closer to Lance than he regularly does, until Rolo walks up to him and apologizes for what Nyma and him did the last time they saw each other.
Keith glares at Rolo, and Hunk makes unflattering noises next to Lance, not bothering at all to cover the disgust in his face. Lance accepts the apology, but doesn’t start looking any less wary of Rolo, even when he smiles roguishly at him.
“It’s a pity we blew this one up,” Rolo says then, smile still in place, “you are Nyma’s type, y’know? Handsome and sort of naïve.”
Keith rolls his eyes.
Rolo turns his back on them all, but he leaves them a parting shot before walking away.
“Kinda my type too, y’know?”
Keith gapes at Rolo’s back.
“No, you hear me? Not even as a rebound, don’t you go there, Lance Suárez, I swear to God if they don’t get us killed, I will kill you, okay?”
Keith almost gets whiplash looking back at Lance, still gaping.
Lance is blushing furiously.
Keith, doesn’t think it, he just slaps the back of Lance’s head.
“Don’t even think about it, dumbass,” he hisses.
“See? Even Keith knows this is a terrible idea.”
“Hey!” He says, and Hunk puts his hands up in a placating gesture, but he doesn’t look contrite in the least.
Lance rubs the back of his head and glares at Keith, but he’s still blushing like a dumbass, and Keith is just this close to slapping him again—
“I didn’t even do anything this time, jeez.”
“And it better stay that way!”
Thankfully they leave Nyma and Rolo’s deserted corner of the universe before Lance can do anything he’ll regret (or be made to regret, honestly). But the short hours their stay lasts are filled with Nyma and Rolo playing this weird little game with him, throwing him smirks and giving him lingering looks and whimsical little winks, and by the time Hunk is pushing Lance through the castle’s gate, he’s a stumbling awkward mess.
“Unbelievable!” Hunk mutters, “she cuffed you to a tree thing! And he stole your lion. They both stole your lion! They sold us out to the Galra Empire! Really, Lance?”
“Are we surprised? I am not surprised,” Pidge adds, shooting a last lingering longing look at Beezer. The cyber-unit makes a tiny beeping noise that Keith could swear sounds slightly traumatized.
“I didn’t even do anything,” Lance whines again, and Keith rolls his eyes at his back.
He turns to shoot one last less than friendly look at Rolo and Nyma, and finds them leaning against each other and looking entirely too smug for a couple of bounty hunters on the run living in the middle of nowhere.
Keith frowns at them until the gates close.
It’s the third time that makes it click inside Keith’s head. Third time’s the trick; accident, coincidence, pattern. Whatever you want to call it. It happens three times —the third time in question a brief affair while releasing prisoners from a Galra ship, one of them making Lance blush with praise before turning his back on them to embrace his smaller sibling. Keith hadn’t gotten the same kind of hollowed-out, restless feeling of the first time, or the anger and defensiveness of the second time, but Lance’s blush and the lopsided smile on his face had definitely done something to him then.
And so the thing is, it happens three times, and suddenly Keith can see the whole picture.
“I think I have a crush on Lance.”
The mice look up at him from their food, suddenly interested.
Keith frowns at them.
“You’re not allowed to tell Allura.”
The little blue one makes a tiny innocent squeak that’s absolutely adorable, but Keith isn’t deceived. He knows they’re all equally gossipy.
(He still gives them seconds once they’re done and looking sadly at their food bowl, because he isn’t heartless.)
The mice, surprisingly, keep the secret.
That doesn’t stop Keith from being found out, however.
“Okay, so what’s your problem here?”
Out of all of them, it had to be Pidge.
“Nothing’s my problem,” he mumbles, and goes back to polishing his bayard, hunched over it, hoping that his clearly closed-off posture alone will be enough to tell Pidge how much he doesn’t want any kind of company right now.
Pidge snorts at him.
“Sure you don’t have any problem. At all. You’ve just been extra irritable and sulky for the last however long for absolutely no reason at all. And now you’re just… what? Sitting down here all alone moping? Have you ever even cleaned your bayard before? Because let me tell you, that beeswax... thing is totally not meant to be used for that.”
Keith looks down at the unassuming jar he’d grabbed from a nondescript shelf. He frowns at it. Then looks back at Pidge.
“Then what is it for?”
Pidge stares at him pointedly.
Keith stares back.
After a few seconds of staring at each other in silence, Pidge sighs and massages her temples.
Keith frowns down again at the jar, and finally just grabs its lid from next to his thigh and screws it back on, leaving it next to him and shooting it one last curious glance before pointedly staring at his bayard on his lap.
Pidge sits next to him.
“So. How I see it, we can do this one of two ways. The first one is kind of awkward but bearable; the second one is still awkward, but with an added element of irritation for all parties involved that I’d rather we just go without.”
“The third way is not doing this at all,” Keith tries, frowning at his bayard.
Pidge sighs. He’s jostled by her leaning back on her arms. When he glances at her sideways she’s staring ahead, glasses reflecting the bright blue from the lights overhead, mouth set in a line, not hard, just vague enough for Keith to not be able to hazard a guess as to how she’s feeling.
“Look,” Pidge starts then, “there’s only us seven up here. And the lions, I guess, since they’re kinda sentient. And then there’s only five of us from Earth, when it comes down to it. Only five of us who know what it feels like when it snows, or when frost makes everything sparkly, or when it rains; the only ones who know what greasy fast food tastes like when you’re so hungry you could eat a horse. Five people who remember how stars look from below.”
Pidge’s voice goes softer with every word until finally she stops. Keith cranes his neck towards her then, and her gaze is still fixed straight ahead, looking at something that Keith couldn’t see if he tried.
“If you have a problem that can be fixed, then we should talk it out. There’s only five of us and saving the universe is probably going to take a while.” Pidge says then —aiming for lightheartedness and falling short of the mark— as she finally looks at him. She doesn’t look sad, even though Keith notices the bruises under her eyes from not sleeping and spending as much time during the nights tinkering with her projects as she does worrying. Her lips are tilted upwards in a facsimile of one of her usual smiles.
Keith turns back, eyes dropping to his lap.
He forgets. Sometimes he forgets they’re all stuck in space, whether they want to or not. That shouldn’t be possible, when they’re surrounded by the sight of the galaxy day in and day out, stars and planets and everything else he ever learned about back at the Garrison close enough to get to in a leap of a flying robot lion, but he somehow does. And with that he— he can forget how they’re all aching deep down, even when they’ve stepped up to the task of saving the universe.
He shuts his eyes, inhaling deeply.
He knows why it happens. He knows it and he ignores it, knows it’s— it’s how he’s never felt the attachment to Earth everyone else has. Earth is home to everyone else, a place where they have family to return to and dreams to fulfill, things they want to do. All Keith ever wanted to do was be a pilot, first, and find Shiro after that. Earth holds nothing else for him. Nobody will report him as missing, nobody will be relieved when he makes it back. The rest of the paladins ache for Earth because they have it.
Keith only has them. So he forgets.
He’s a dick.
“Hey, you’re not a dick.”
“I said that aloud,” he groans.
“Just the dick part.” Pidge sounds entirely too amused, and Keith feels the petty impulse to rat her out to Shiro, not because he can do anything about Pidge’s potty mouth, but because he always looks at her in this way that’s hilarious to contemplate.
“We’re getting off-topic.”
“There wasn’t any topic to begin with,” he says, giving up and straightening up, his back already protesting against all his hunching.
“Now that’s just sad.” Pidge punches his arm softly. Then she sighs audibly and says, “is it about Lance being bisexual? Do you have a problem with that? With him liking guys too? Or liking guys in general?”
Keith blushes, but turns around to narrow his eyes at Pidge.
“You just said I wasn ’ t a dick,” he complains.
Pidge’s own eyes narrow then, speculatively.
“Yeah, I did,” she dismisses, and then adds, “it does have to do with Lance.”
Keith feels the blush intensify, skin going hot, tight and itchy on his cheeks and down his neck.
“I didn’t say that!”
“But you didn’t deny it,” Pidge’s eyes are still narrowed as she says this, and Keith can practically see her gears working, “and this whole thing of yours did start around the time you found out about Lance. I know correlation doesn’t imply causation, and assuming so is falling into a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but—”
Why does he have to be stuck in space with six exceedingly smart people? And why does he get so freaking jealous and envious and so— so upset about Lance paying attention to and falling for all these guys that don’t even know Lance, all these guys that aren’t him, that he has these problems in the first place— why does he have to have a crush on Lance, of all people—
He can tell the exact moment when Pidge pieces everything together and arrives to the right conclusion by the way her eyes widen and her mouth gapes, indelicately, until she gets a hold of herself, snapping her mouth shut, her own cheeks flushed now, matching Keith’s, still burning and itchy.
“Sorry,” Pidge blurts out, apologetic and rushed. “Sometimes I just have to put facts together, have to know things, and I get carried away. Not that it’s an excuse. I know how much it can suck to have someone butt into something this private. So. Um— Really, sorry.”
Keith takes a couple of deep breaths.
“It’s okay,” he mumbles after a few seconds, once his heart has stopped trying to beat its way out of his chest, and his blush seems to be subsiding.
They both stay together in awkward silence for a few minutes.
“So— do you, uh, wanna talk about it?” Pidge offers after a while, in awkward solidarity. “I know shit about crushes and romance, though. So I can’t give you any advice. Any good, trustworthy advice, I mean.”
Pidge makes a relieved sound, letting air out noisily.
Keith smiles at that.
The silence that follows that is more comfortable, less not knowing how to talk around something, and more not needing to say anything at all, being okay sitting around in stasis just knowing the other’s there.
“I’m not telling him,” Pidge tells him when she finally grows restless, after announcing she’s going to go work on an idea for the Rover 2.0 she’s engineering out of spare parts found here and there.
Keith looks at her, a small smile on his lips, and nods.
Pidge nods back, mirroring his smile, and walks away.
Pidge knowing is, for the most part, a lot like Pidge not knowing. There are meaningful looks, sometimes, but Pidge is actually discreet and better at keeping secrets than anyone else in the castle could ever hope to be.
The one thing that does change significantly has less to do with Pidge and more to do with himself, with how he feels afterwards: less as if he’s intentionally hiding some sort of dark, dirty little secret; or as if he’s letting himself get distracted from what’s truly important. Pidge knows. Pidge knows, and she’s okay with it, and she doesn’t think he’s going to fuck everything up. And he is okay with her knowing, after the initial panic. She knows, and it’s just a part of his life; a good part of his life, even. Some mornings Lance wakes up in good spirits and stops fronting to offer Keith these smiles that make Keith’s heart beat so fast, and then he’ll lean on him and stuff his face, and Keith has someone to make covert meaningful eye contact with. It’s good.
He’s never had much time to let himself feel things like this. There’s always been some other priority, something else to take care of, something demanding all of his attention, all of his efforts, all of his energy. He hasn’t even— he hasn’t even had a proper crush before. Has only ever made out with some guy back at the last foster home he spent time at before the Garrison.
And this crush, for all the aching and the jealousy, still makes him feel alive and awake and lit up from the inside. It makes him happy, and weird, and mad, and it makes his heart pound and his palms sweat, and it’s fire. And he wants to keep it. He wants to have it. He wants to wait on it, let it go where it will. And maybe right now he shouldn’t make Lance (Lance and the way he riles him up, and the way he makes him say dumb shit; Lance and how soft and caring he is, even to him— even when he’s still claiming Keith is his rival; Lance and the way he’s so brave and daring and smart; Lance and all the little things that Keith had never even known he’d noticed until he’d found himself halfway head over heels for him) his priority, with the whole universe depending on him (on all of them). But maybe things don’t have to be like they used to, anymore.
A few days later both he and Lance get sent on a recon mission, something easy: in and out, taking advantage of Pidge’s modifications to all the lions, and their speed. Get in, gather intel as quickly as they can, get out.
Pidge shoots him one of her meaningful looks behind everyone else’s backs, the corner of her lips tilted upwards playfully. Keith rolls his eyes at her, but he still gets stupidly excited. He likes working with Lance, even if admitting to it would make Lance unbearably smug. They’re a good team, they complement each other.
“We’re gonna rock this stealth thing!” Lance says as he throws an arm over Keith’s shoulders, a cocky smile on his face.
“As long as you refrain from crashing into the ship,” Keith says, smirking.
They land perfectly without being seen. Hide the lions according to the plan. Get in easily.
Lance gets sick when the stench reaches them. The putrid stench of rot, of decay, of death.
It doesn’t take them long to find the source.
“What is this?” Lance whispers, horrified. “What the hell is this? ”
Corpses. There are corpses everywhere onboard, on every single hall, inside the control rooms, everywhere. There are— there are dead prisoners, so many dead prisoners. But there are also dead Galran soldiers.
They are— They are torn apart. The bodies are mauled, bloody, some of them with chunks of skin and flesh missing, or entire body parts torn right off, left mangled and unidentifiable where they lay.
“What did this?” Keith asks, trying not to be sick too.
“Quiznak,” Lance gasps then, and his hand shoots towards Keith’s chest, to stop him from taking another step.
Keith looks at Lance, and his face is drained of all color. Keith follows his gaze.
There’s something coming from one of the hallways, deformed and big and terrifying. It’s dragging something that leaves a trail of red on its wake as it advances, and Keith doesn’t have to look closely to know what it is.
“Shit,” he whispers.
The thing turns towards them. Keith only barely has time to see metal and flesh and yellow eyes, barely has time to think quintessence, before the thing’s charging towards them.
The fight is a blur. Keith can only remember flashes of it; mostly, he remembers the thing finally going down and staying down, and the explosion of pain that he’d felt immediately after, doubling over and then falling to the floor and feeling pain more excruciating than he’d ever felt before; and then Lance, kneeling beside him, gathering him in his arms, covered in wounds himself, his face a mess of blood and dirt as he called for help.
“You’re not dying,” Lance tells him, panicked, one hand on top of one of Keith’s bleeding wounds, and the other cradling his head towards his stomach, wet with Keith’s blood, keeping him carefully turned away from the gore and death that surrounds them. “You can’t die. You’re you.”
“I’m sure I—” His lungs burn; talking is painful, breathing is painful. “I’m sure I’m gonna die one day, genius.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up. Why are you talking? Stop talking.” Lance’s eyes are wild and frantic, going from his face to down where he’s trying to stop Keith’s bleeding, looking at his helmet, then back to his face. “The guys are getting here, okay? Okay. We’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.”
He feels something warm and wet landing on his cheek, sliding down his skin in a trail of heat. A tear. Lance’s.
Keith’s dizzy, breathing getting harder and harder by the second, clinging to consciousness all but fighting a losing battle.
The others will get to them, and retrieve Lance and whatever survivors there are left in the cells. They will. He trusts the part inside him that’s bound to them. He trusts them.
But it’ll be too late for him by then.
He’s going to die here.
Lance’s eyes are tightly shut now, tears flowing freely as he tries to keep his breathing quiet. He’s beautiful.
“I’m in love with you,” he blurts out, the words raspy and barely above a whisper.
Lance’s eyes snap open. He doesn’t stop crying, the tears smearing paths of dirt and blood on his cheeks, but he looks Keith in the eye.
“What?” Lance croaks out. Keith feels his hands twitching where they’re touching him; the one on his head cradles him closer, almost caressing his sweaty, dirty hair.
Keith gathers his strength to touch Lance’s face with the tips of his fingers. He gasps. His ribs are broken, he’s probably got a punctured lung.
He doesn’t care.
“What are you doing, you dumbass,” Lance whispers, voice shaking, but he’s leaning towards the touch, awkwardly trapping his hand between his cheek and his shoulder.
“I’m in love with you,” he repeats, because for some reason it’s the one thing he wants to do before dying, the one thing that matters. He wants to make sure Lance knows.
“You’re crazy, Keith,” Lance replies, so low that Keith has to piece the words together, “you’re out of your mind, it’s the adrenaline talking. Just hang in there, buddy, okay? Hang in there, just a few more minutes. They’re close, I can feel them. I know you can feel them too, right?”
“Okay,” Lance interrupts him, urgent and desperate and so sad, so beautiful, “okay, yes. Yes, I get it. Stop wasting your energy. You’ll have all the time in the world to tell me anything you want once we get back to the castle, okay?”
Keith wants to nod, if only to get Lance to stop panicking, but it’s beyond his capabilities.
His eyelids feel heavy, the pain from his wounds is lessening, and all he can really focus on is on the blue of Lance’s eyes, a stark thin rim around his dilated pupils as he starts drifting off.
“Buddy? Keith? Keith! ”
The last thing he hears before getting swallowed up by nothingness are loud steps approaching, and the familiar voice of Pidge, shouting, “Shiro, they’re here!”
Keith gets out of the cryopod feeling groggy and lost. It takes him a few minutes to understand what just happened and where he is and how he got there, and by then he’s already wrapped in a pair of long, strong arms.
"You total freaking jerk, I hate you!" Lance choked out, as he squeezed Keith in his arms. "Don't scare me like that again, I have fragile feelings, you huge impulsive jerk. Jerk."
Keith’s chest aches. It aches, and it burns, and it’s so exhilarating, so good. He doesn’t even care about Lance muttering jerk again and again at him, saying unflattering things about him, about his survival instincts, and his mullet, and even the way he holds his spoon when he eats, because somehow it’s weird, and distracting. It’s all transparently joyful, and Keith doesn’t have it in him to pretend otherwise, to pretend that he can’t read Lance’s relief in every word.
He buries his nose on Lance’s hair, and takes a deep breath. It smells of Altean shampoo, and faintly of sweat, and like home, like somewhere Keith wants to belong, somewhere Keith is glad to have returned to.
“Are you sniffing me?” Lance asked, a teasing note in his voice, even as he continued holding onto Keith, tight and firm and close. “You are still on the good stuff, huh? Those cryopods, man. I was so loopy when I came out.”
“I’m high on you,” mumbles Keith. And okay, yeah, he might be a little under the influence of some pretty powerful Altean pain medication, but he’s having a hard time caring about that.
“Oh, Keith, my man,” Lance says, and finally lets him go, eyes crinkled in a warm smile as he backs away from Keith and lets out a chuckle. “We should get some food in you. And then maybe have you sleep the drugs away. You were in there longer than me.”
Everything Lance says makes perfect sense, it sounds so sensible, and yet, Keith doesn’t want any of it. All Keith wants at the time is to keep having Lance’s eyes and his hands and his attention on him, he wants—
He takes a step towards Lance, hand reaching towards Lance’s face—
— and falls right on his face.
“Oh my God, Keith, are you okay ?”
“Not a word,” Keith says, voice muffled under his hands. He doesn’t want to look at her until he absolutely has to.
“About what?” Pidge tries sounding innocent and unaware, and it’s so obviously and unrepentantly fake, that Keith groans at her.
“I hate you.” He says, finally, and takes his hands away from his face to give Pidge a heartfelt glare.
“Hey, I found you, don’t be rude.” Pidge mock reprimands him.
“Yeah, whatever.” She rolls her eyes at him good-naturedly.
He sighs and leans back onto his pillow.
“Where is he?”
“Sleeping.” Pidge tells him, and suddenly her face grows a little softer. “He spent way too much time waiting for you to come out of that pod. Barely had any sleep, which is amazing considering his whole ‘beauty sleep’ shtick.” Then, because she’s Pidge, she adds: “He risked his glowing skin for you, Keith. I think it’s true love.”
Keith throws his pillow at her, and Pidge lets out an indignant squack as it smacks her right on the face.
Two days after getting out of the cryopod he’s ready to end his bedrest, and just itching to do something, anything, other than lie in bed. The only reason he even lasted that long, was because of Allura’s reproachful looks and disturbingly graphic descriptions about everything that had regenerated inside his body during his stasis, everything Keith could easily ruin if he was in any way careless so soon after getting out of the pod.
He heads down to the kitchen area, knowing it’s way too early for breakfast, but needing to be somewhere not his room.
He expects the lights to be turned off, and the place to be quiet and empty, but upon arriving he’s welcomed by the sight of Lance hungrily shoveling green goo into his mouth, the little Altean mice keeping him company, with a little bowl of green goo of their own. They squeak at him now and again, and Lance smiles at them, with goo on the corners of his mouth.
He makes some sort of choked, dying noise, and Lance notices him then, standing at the door like a creep, watching him eat.
Lance’s smile grows bigger, a hint of his cocky persona in the tilt of it, absolutely ruined by the green goo on his face.
“Hey,” Keith greets back, and walks up to Lance to take a seat next to him.
One of the mice squeaks at him, insulted. Keith blinks back at it as it glares at him.
“Uh, hi to you too?”
That seems to please the tiny mouse enough for it go back to its meal.
Lance bursts out laughing. A big, boisterous, happy laugh. Keith stares. Lance doesn’t laugh often, for all he’s all smiles and teasing, and falling all over himself to cheer the others up when they’re down. And this is the very first time he’s laughed for Keith.
Lance clutches his stomach with one hand and guffaws, a couple of tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Keith, bro — you got— you got bullied into submission by a mouse,” Lance says between gulps of air as he starts calming down. “You big nerd.”
Keith flushes, and attempts to frown at Lance.
“Don’t act like they don’t have you wrapped around their little tails.”
“Hey, no shame here, man. Have you seen them sleeping all curled up together? They’re so cute I want to knit things for them.” He points at his face, then. “But I ’m not Mr. Brooding And Serious.”
He wants to defend himself, but Lance’s expressiveness draws his eyes to the goo on Lance’s face.
He doesn’t really notice his own hand moving until his thumb is at the corner of Lance’s mouth, rubbing at the spot to get it all off.
Once he’s done cleaning the patch of skin (and it registers on his mind just how soft that skin is, smooth and warm to the touch), his thumb starts dripping with the goo, and he licks it up so it won’t get on his gloves.
Keith hears a choked whimper. Lance ’s choked whimper. He locks eyes with him, startled by the noise, and notices the way Lance has gone flushed and still, eyes on his hand.
“What?” He asks, defensive.
“What ?” Lance squeaks back at him. “What? Really?”
Keith just stares.
Lance covers his face with his hands and whines.
Keith wipes his wet thumb on his pants, self-consciously.
“Were you... ” Lance begins in a soft voice, after a few seconds of tense silence, peeking at him between two fingers. “Were you being serious about that? Back in that ship?”
“Yes,” Keith whispers, the sudden vulnerability in Lance doing things to his gut.
Lance takes an audible breath, and lowers his hands from his face. He looks open and honest, and a little scared, and Keith wants to reach out to him so badly. Has always wanted to reach out towards Lance whenever he looks like this.
“But we’re rivals?”
Keith shrugs a little, looking down at his lap.
“I never felt like you were my competition.”
“I want you to acknowledge me,” Lance says then, hurt, his words tight. “You didn’t even remember me back when we found Shiro. And you apparently don’t think I’m good enough to be your rival yet you what? Feel something for me?”
“What? No. That’s not what I— that’s not what I meant,” Keith looks back up at Lance, and the expression on his face is one that Keith feels awful at knowing he put there. “I meant that I— I never really wanted to compete with you, okay? I never wanted you to think of me as your competition. I know you’re a great pilot, and your fast thinking has saved us all more than once. We are a good team. You said so.”
Lance’s face softens, his lips tilting up faintly.
“And I’m sorry I didn’t remember you, okay? I didn’t know it would matter so much to you.”
“I always admired you,” Lance says then, unexpectedly. He’s avoiding Keith’s gaze, his cheeks burning. “Back at the Garrison. You were so good. But it was like… it was like you were always a step in front of me, and you never turned around to look at me behind you. I wasn’t in your radar, and that sucked.”
Keith doesn’t know how to respond to that. He just reaches a hand slowly towards Lance’s lap, lets it rest on his knee. Lance’s gaze locks onto the point of contact.
“I think I had a crush on you, back then,” he says in a hushed tone.
Keith’s breath stutters.
“What… what about now?” He asks, breathless.
One of Lance’s hands lowers on top of his, at first the ghost of a touch, giving him goosebumps, and then a blanketing warmth.
“I don’t think it’s a crush anymore,” Lance laughs, self-deprecating. “You’re so cool when you’re not being a brooding stick in the mud. I’m apparently very into reckless jerks, too.”
“I’m gonna kiss you,” he declares.
“Well, if you ask so kindly—”
Keith shuts him up with a kiss. Their noses bump a little, but he cradles Lance’s face with his free hand, and angles them just right. Lance gasps onto Keith’s lips when Keith’s tongue touches his own, and Keith takes advantage of it. He’s hungry for this, so hungry. He wants to make Lance’s soft lips bruise up, get all dark and chapped from it, as a sign that Keith kissed him. That Keith kissed him, and he will keep kissing him, because having this feels like nothing else, like the biggest adrenaline rush, like piloting Red.
They only part when they hear a chorus of squeaking.
“They will totally rat us out to Allura,” Lance exhales the words out, not even turning to look at the mice, gaze locked onto Keith’s.
“Let them,” Keith replies in a hoarse voice, leaning into a second kiss.
(The next time someone flirts with Lance, Lance smiles politely at them and puts his arms around Keith’s shoulders.
“Have you met my boyfriend Keith? He’s a paladin of Voltron. Pretty cool, huh?”
Keith doesn’t even try to hide his smug smirk as he leans into the embrace.)