They collide after exactly one year, five months, and eight days. Not that he’d been counting the days, but sometimes the details just feel important.
When it all started, they didn’t think of themselves as soldiers fighting a war, even if Allura had run them like a general from day one. None of them thought the life of adventure they all mutually yearned for would be tethered to duty in such a way. That was something else that came with time, when the battles began to feel routine and the colors blurred until everything looked the same. Keith thought of himself as adaptable, but some things never got easier.
They all had their things, ways to feel normal even though they all knew none of this was normal at all. Keith trained until his legs were ready to give out. Hunk set up camp and in the kitchen and prepared their meals for the following day. Pidge locked themselves in their room and listened to radio chatter until they fell asleep. Shiro made a point to check on each of them them, ask them normal questions about their day and talk about stupid things. It never did feel quite right but it got pretty close.
Lance was the only one that didn't cope with it. He didn't acknowledge anything. He bent over backwards to act normal even though it wasn't.
Because Keith knows it's a problem and those problems won't go away by ignoring them. Keith talks to Shiro about it. He talks to Hunk. No one knows what to do. Just let him be, he'll figure it out. They don't want to hurt him. Keith understands but then he doesn't understand. This needs to stop.
But Keith convinces himself he's not that invested. What Lance does or doesn't do isn't any of his business. They have each other's backs when it counts but they'll probably never be close. Keith has no right to make demands. Keith doesn't need to fix him.
But each time they return from a battle, logical thought flies out the window. Lance smiles at him, exhausted but sincere and warm. And his bangs are matted to his forehead and he's a mess with his clumsy piloting having jostled him around so much and his eyes are a little sad but he looks so honest. Keith hates it. That stupid, lopsided smile will drag on in Keith’s memory for days and burrow under his skin far deeper than the usual barbs. Keith wants to say something but the words never feel right on right his tongue, so he says nothing.
I’m glad you’re still alive.
Keith still wants to fix him. For the good of the team he tells himself. But he doesn't know how any more than he knows why Lance has always hated him. But he'd like to fix that too.
His opportunity comes at night, when the castle is quiet save the soft hum of the engines. Because Lance's worst habit, even after all the flirting and the being loud and the being stupid, is that after a mission he refuses to sleep. Once lights go out, Lance just wanders looking for any company he can find. Too bad for Keith everyone else sleeps like a baby.
Keith avoids him at first, but Lance is not easily derailed. If he finds the training deck empty, he's knocking on Keith's door. Keith? Hey Keith? Buddy? I know you're awake.
For the good of the team, Keith can't leave him out there alone.
It's weird at first, being alone with Lance without the urgency of a fight or the rest of their group to fill in all the weird gaps in their relationship that Keith can't identify. He invites Lance in, and Lance being Lance is uncomfortably familiar in any environment. He easily curls up in the corner of Keith's bed like he lives there, back against the wall and legs folded beneath him. When did he even take of his shoes?
Keith bristles at first but decides to let it go. Keith never knows what to say so Lance babbles about nonsense. The first girl he kissed (he was five so Keith tells him that doesn't count) and that time he and Hunk snuck out of the dorms and got so drunk he accidentally stole someone's cat.
Their evenings are unbearably normal until Keith looks at Lance and sees the circles under his eyes, even darker than they were the day before. And nothing is normal.
Everything snaps when Keith climbs onto his mattress and sits next to Lance. He's never done that before, choosing to sit at his desk, pretending to be only half interested in what Lance is saying despite hearing every word and every pause and every false smile. But Keith is tired of pretending this is normal. He's tired of Lance pretending everything is normal. He needs to make it stop.
And stop it does. Lance, for once in his life, is quiet. He tilts his head and gives Keith a crooked grin, a flash of teeth in the dim light and Keith knows he can't turn back.
"You did well today," Keith says because he doesn't know what else to say. He's learned to compliment Lance very now and again. It's good for morale, he thinks.
He expects Lance to come back at him, boasting about all the things he did right (and ignoring all the things he did wrong) and Keith thinks this time he's prepared to let him pat himself on the back. But he instead leans over and lays his head on Keith's shoulder. His hair is still damp from his shower as it brushes against Keith's neck. Keith remembers then how their fight that day had been violent. Lance doesn't like that. Doesn't like thinking about that.
A few ticks pass in eerie silence and Lance finally says to Keith, deadpan, “This is gay, dude.”
Keith snorts. “Don’t blame me.”
“It’s definitely you.”
It’s definitely not.
Although Keith may not consider himself a theorist, he figures the impulse that fuels his own inertia is the only force that can stop Lance’s aimless velocity. They just fit. Far be it from him to question the laws of nature.
“Do you...” he starts, focusing toward the window and into the star-filled nothingness that’s lost all it’s charm. Lance shifts, the vibrations of his shoulder thrumming through Keith’s side. His heart is beating a little too fast and his mouth feels dry. He’s circled around this a hundred times before. Five hundred and twenty-three days, he thinks.
“Can I kiss you?”
It’s a stupid thing to say and Keith has no idea why he says it. He’s supposes he’s thought about it too long and somewhere between the rush of a fight and the relief of coming home, he’s lost track of all the reasons he never voiced it before. It’s still weird having Lance here next to him.
Maybe it’s the pang in his chest, familiar by then, but annoying all the same. Maybe after two years, he’s tired of seeing Lance’s face fall every time attention shifts away from him. Maybe this circular game they play, chasing each other around and around, finally wore him too thin.
Maybe it doesn’t even matter. Sometimes things just happen.
They never know what words will be their last.
Lance doesn’t say anything but he also doesn’t move and Keith waits out the silence, staring at his bedroom wall. Still, he swears he can hear the rapid beat of Lance’s heart.
Keith waits until Lance shifts, tilting his head upward so his breath fans across Keith’s jaw. He sounds tired, lazy, like he’d only been half-awake. “I guess.”
He guesses. Keith doesn’t roll his eyes.
The kiss is an experiment of sort, maybe even a testament of wills. Keith shifts and places a hand on Lance’s shoulder to push him backward against the wall. Lance gives him a dumb looking grin before he closes the space between them.
Keith knows they’ve probably just made a mistake.
He’s not sure if he cares and that scares him even more.
He’s never kissed anyone before but despite having no measure of comparison, intuition tells him Lance hasn’t either. It’s a good enough consolation, Keith decides, and runs a palm down Lance’s waist pulling their bodies closer together.
He hooks a thumb under his belt and feels a tremor rattle Lance’s body. As a rule, Keith doesn’t like wasting time.
Lance is softer than he imagined, more patient and tentative than in any of Keith’s fantasies. He tastes of salt, like the ocean, which seems out of place. He’s freshly showered but Keith can still smell his exertion from their earlier fight, sweat, tears, and a little blood.
This won’t end well, Keith thinks again. They’re being irresponsible and stupid. Shiro will probably worry. Allura will be even more worried.
And they can’t keep it a secret. Everyone will know.
And if they don’t find out on their own Lance will bring it up whether he means to or not....
But Lance’s hands are suddenly tangled in Keith’s hair and Keith is tugging at his clothes. A year’s worth of friction has worn them down to nothing. The entire universe is nothing.
That thought worries on the edge of Keith’s consciousness.
They shouldn’t do this.
And somehow, despite the voice begging him to slow the fuck down, his hands are up Lance’s shirt, over his ribs, and across his chest.
When they finally part long enough to gather their thoughts, Keith thinks Lance must have sucked all the air from the room. It’s warm and the room is much darker than Keith remembers. He barely sees the soft smile on Lance’s face, barely sees the holes in his mask, cracked open which each brush of Keith’s fingertips.
“We can’t…” Keith starts, murmuring against Lance’s lips as though his voice will stay imprinted there come morning. “We can’t stop.”
Because they can’t go backward. Tomorrow they’ll still be at war but they’ll still be alive.
Sometimes the details just feel important.