This was easier, he told himself. Shutting them out would be easier. Pretending that he didn't care, didn't want, didn't hope was easier.
When did the team become more like a family? When had the jokes about Shiro being space dad become serious? When did he start thinking of Pidge like a little sister? Just when did Coran become more than comic relief in his eyes? When did Allura become a trusted friend? Why didn't he see the signs that Hunk was closer to him than anyone else had gotten before? And Lance...
Keith flinched. One of the training drones got a solid hit in before Keith managed to take it down. He couldn't afford distractions when he set the training sequence at this level.
His thoughts drifted to Lance anyway. The dull ache of his arms, heavy and nearly numb by now, barely registered as he mechanically cut through drone after drone.
Lance was the worst one by far. While Keith might care about the others, might even love them, he was sure that he loved Lance. It was irritating, really. They'd been living in this castle as a team for nearly a year. They'd faced armies and separation and still managed to survive and build a resistance to the Galra empire that stretched across galaxies.
Unlike the others, Keith rarely thought about his future after defeating Zarkon. What life did he have to go back to, really? An empty shack in the desert? He had no family, no friends, no chance at completing his education...
Maybe that was why it hurt so much to listen as Lance talked about everything he'd do with his family and all of the adventures he'd have. Pidge always talked about how she'd spend so much time with her father and brother. Hunk talked about reconnecting with Shay and visiting his family. Shiro didn't say much, but when he did, he talked about going home and telling his family he was alive. Even Allura and Coran had plans to form alliances and preserve whatever Altean history and culture they could.
Because over the past year, Keith had opened himself up. He was stupid and vulnerable. Once this was over, the team would go their separate ways, and he'd be alone again. So, it was better to cut himself out now. Before it was too late.
Of course, he was only kidding himself. It was already too late. He could bristle and shout as much as he wanted, but at the end of the day, he knew the team, his family, would wear him down and bring him back. If only he could convince them to stop.
Lance was the most persistent of them all. He always was. His stubborn resolve to push and protect the people he loved was just one of the things Keith loved about him. Lance would follow Keith around for hours, badgering him until he shared what was on his mind. This time, though, Keith would have to ignore him. This time, he'd just freeze everyone out until they backed off.
With one final, vicious thrust, Keith finished the training sequence, breathing hard. He ran a hand through his hair, barely registering how his fingers trembled. He could do this.
"Yo, Keith! We're about to go hunt for ghosts in the spooky corridor upstairs! You coming?"
"No, thanks." Keith didn't even slow down as Lance shot him a frown.
"Keith! I need a taste tester for these muffins!"
"Sorry, can't right now," Keith answered brusquely, walking right past Hunk.
"Keith, if you aren't busy-"
"Sorry, Coran. I'm on my way to do some training," Keith answered smoothly.
"Keith, is everything all right?"
"Fine, Shiro," Keith said as he walked into his room and locked the door.
"Keith, come on! We found a bunch of old Altean kid's shows and Hunk figured out how to pop that corn looking stuff we found on the last planet. It actually tastes like kettle corn!"
"Sorry, Pidge, I'm pretty exhausted. I need to catch up on some sleep." Keith had an endless supply of excuses to get himself out of spending time with his fellow teammates, and he ran through nearly all of them over span of the weeks he avoided them.
"Keith, I was wondering if we could talk about something."
Keith hesitated to ignore Allura. So, he turned and raised a brow, "What is it?"
"Shiro's birthday is fast approaching, and I know Earth customs dictate a party. I need your help strategizing."
Keith grimaced, "Sorry, princess. You should ask Lance about that."
"But, I was under the impression you knew Shiro well enough to know what he might like," she responded with a frown.
He looked away, a sharp edge to his answer, "After a year together, everyone here knows everyone. Excuse me." Then, he walked away.
Lance convened a meeting, "Okay, we all know something is wrong with Keith. Any leads?"
Hunk shook his head, "He hasn't spent more than a minute or two alone with me in three weeks."
"Yeah, he keeps shutting me down," Pidge said with a frown, "I really thought we were starting to get along."
Shiro leaned forward, "I'm worried. We haven't spoken in over a month."
Lance raised a brow, "Wait, is everyone here saying he's been doing this for a month?"
Allura nodded, "The only time he communicates is during meetings or if we're under attack. Other than that, he's alone."
Coran sighed, "I don't understand why he's pulling away."
"I'll talk to him," Shiro stood.
But, Lance was already moving towards the door, "No. I'll go."
Keith rolled his eyes at the knock on his door, "I'm busy."
"Busy what? Admiring your mullet?" Lance joked, "Come on. Let me in."
"Pass," Keith answered. It hurt less now. He'd practiced rejecting everyone so often that he was skilled at ignoring the almost physical pain in his chest.
"Let's do something together. It's been forever since we hung out!"
"I was wondering why I'd been in such a good mood lately," Keith said calmly.
"Keith, come on. What are you doing?" Lance asked, genuine concern creeping into his tone.
"Reading a book on the history of the paladins. It has a lot of great information."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it."
Keith was silent, his eyes stuck on a line of text. Lance was finally calling his bluff.
Lance sighed and leaned back against the door, "Aren't you lonely?"
You have no idea, Keith wanted to answer. Instead, he cleared his throat and frowned, "I just want some peace and quiet."
"You're going to drive us away." Lance answered steadily, "I don't know what's going on, but is it really worth losing all of us over whatever grudge you're holding? Just talk to us."
"I'm not a huge talker."
Lance snorted, "Like I haven't figured that out already."
"What do you want, Lance?" Keith snapped.
Keith could feel his heart stutter, and he stared at the door, wide-eyed and blushing, "What?"
"You heard me. I miss you. Would you cut this lone wolf act?"
Keith set the book down and took two steps toward the door before he even registered what he was doing. He stopped himself, hand outstretched for the door, then he turned away, "Please leave."
Lance sighed, "I'm not going anywhere, man. Let me in."
"I just want to be alone."
"Fine. I'll be out here when you change your mind."
"I'm not going to," Keith warned.
Keith returned to his book, but the words made no sense. He reread the same line ten times and it somehow made less sense every time he tried to read it. He grimaced, "Lance, go away." Just Lance's presence was distracting.
"No. You're not the only stubborn one here, mullet brain."
"That insult doesn't even make sense."
"It makes perfect sense!" Lance shouted back, indignant.
"I want to be alone, Lance!"
"I don't believe that for a second."
"What does that mean?"
Lance turned to face the door, cupping his hands over his mouth and shouting through the door, "I think you're being an idiot. You don't want to be alone, and you're acting stupid!"
Keith stood and opened the door as Lance scrambled to his feet. "Get out of here!" Keith yelled.
Lance rolled his eyes and grabbed the collar of Keith's shirt, easily tugging him out into the hallway.
Keith realized his mistake seconds too late. Lance was already blocking the closed door to Keith's room. Keith muttered a curse as he folded his arms over his chest, glaring at Lance.
Lance finally raised a brow, "What's going on, Keith?"
"Nothing," Keith answered evasively.
"What's going on?" Lance repeated, a frustrated bite to the question.
"I just want to be alone! I'm so sick of you!" Keith finally snapped, "I'm sick of everyone!"
And then Lance punched him.
Keith was surprised by the blow, gingerly touching his cheek as he looked over at Lance. Lance was shaking his hand out and wincing. When he noticed Keith's hesitant look, Lance frowned, brows snapping together, "Stop being a jerk and just tell me what I did wrong! I'm sick of you punishing everyone over some dumb mistake!"
Keith shoved Lance out of the way and retreated to his room. Lance quickly tripped Keith just he slipped past Lance, and before Keith could close the door, Lance was in Keith's room and pinning Keith to the floor.
"You know what? I'm done. You either tell me what's going on right now or I'm dragging you to the control room and inviting everyone to join the interrogation party."
Keith hated the tears that burned in the corners of his eyes. His chest was tight, and his jaw hurt. In the back of his mind, he considered that he'd probably bruise. He looked away from Lance, jaw set in a stubborn refusal to speak.
"Okay, fine." Lance hauled Keith to his feet, which frankly surprised Keith. When did Lance get so strong? "Let's go."
Keith snarled, struggling against Lance's firm grip on his forearm, "Why won't you just let me be alone? It's who I am!"
Lance froze, then turned on Keith with a sharp look, "No, it's not. You have a castle full of people who want to be with you. Why are you pushing us away?"
Keith scowled, angrily yanking at his trapped arm, "Let me go!"
"Keith, just talk to me!"
Instead, Keith tried to punch him. Ordinarily, he'd probably have succeeded, but Lance was ready for a fight, so he dodged it and grabbed Keith's wrist as it sailed past his head.
"You're not mad, are you?" Lance asked softly.
Keith stiffened, his breathing ragged, "Shut up."
The words felt like a physical blow. Keith couldn't look at anything but his feet as he shook in...fury? Fear? Shame? Keith couldn't even tell anymore.
"Why are you scared?" And then Lance released one of Keith's arms and raised Keith's chin to meet his eyes. And Keith finally looked at those bright, blue eyes, and he was gone.
"I'm going to be alone again eventually." He confessed, hating how weak his own voice sounded, "I'm scared, because I don't want to be."
"What?" Lance looked genuinely puzzled, as if the thought had never occurred to him. The reality of Lance's ignorance was infuriating. Keith tried once more to free his arm, but Lance held on.
"After we beat Zarkon," Keith explained, his tone deliberately condescending, "Everyone is going home."
"Yeah, so why would you be alone?"
Keith could almost punch him for that. In fact, he was tempted to try. After all, Lance knew Keith had no one. "The same reason I'm always quiet when everyone talks about going home to see their families, idiot." Keith answered through gritted teeth.
Lance, heaven help him, Lance started laughing, of all things.
Keith did try to punch him then, and Lance grabbed Keith's wrists as Lance nearly doubled over. Keith froze when Lance rested his forehead on Keith's shoulder. "Do you seriously think this is funny?" Keith asked, trying so hard not to sound as wounded as he felt.
"You don't get it, do you?" Lance asked softly, the last of his laughter fading.
"Get what?" And Keith viciously tried to wrench his arms away from Lance at the feeling of tears in his eyes.
"We talk about our families so much because we can't wait to see them, yeah, but we also can't wait to introduce them to everyone else." Lance looked up at him with a smile, "Why do you think I keep telling you about all the fun stuff I'm gonna do after we beat Zarkon?"
Keith's heart caught in his throat, "I thought you were just excited."
Lance straightened when he saw a tear race down Keith's cheek, "Wait, Keith, you didn't know? I mean, we're a family." He smiled, "You're our family, too, dummy."
Keith certainly didn't want to start crying in front of Lance. In fact, the last thing he wanted was to start blubbering in front of the guy he was in love with. But, it happened anyway. Lance had that effect on him.
Lance pulled him into a hug, and for once, Keith didn't even pretend to fight it. He just clung to Lance's warm chest, feeling every ounce of resistance melt away. Desperate, choked sobs were thankfully muffled by Lance's shoulder as Keith just released every bit of hurt and fear he'd bottled up for weeks.
When he'd cried himself out, he murmured so low he was sure Lance wouldn't hear him, "Quiznak, I love you."
But, judging by the way Lance tensed, Keith had once again underestimated him. "Keith?"
The urge to run nearly undid him, but Keith fought it down. Instead, he did the last thing he wanted to do. He stepped back, looked Lance in the eye and repeated himself, "I love you." He was prepared for a swing or a mad dash to the safety of his room, but he was not prepared for how Lance was looking at him.
Keith could swear his heart stopped beating when Lance's lips parted in surprise.
"Do you... Do you mean, like..." Lance licked his lips, suddenly nervous, "Love love?"
Keith blushed, "What else would I mean?"
"I just," Lance glanced down, "I didn't think you felt that way."
"You always did bring out the best in me," Keith answered casually, voice low. Lance hadn't said no yet, and Keith felt like he was holding his breath.
Lance awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck, "I don't... I'm not sure..."
"I just needed to say it." Keith assured him, although it hurt to realize Lance's affection for him didn't run quite as deep as Keith's.
Lance's eyes met Keith's, and cliche as it felt, Keith could swear sparks flew. Lance spoke slowly, "I'm not saying no. I just..." He grimaced, "I like you. I've had a crush on you for months, but I didn't think you were interested, so I gave up."
Keith stared, "What?"
"I just need..." He blushed, "Can I just...try kissing you?"
Keith stepped closer, his pulse pounding in his ears as he cupped Lance's cheek. He watched as Lance's skin darkened in a blush, blue eyes wide as Keith drew closer. Lance's breath ghosted over Keith's lips as Keith murmured, "Not if I kiss you first."
Then, his other hand slid to the base of Lance's neck, and he carefully pressed his lips to Lance's.
If he'd seen sparks when their eyes met, it was nothing compared to the fireworks that burst in his vision as they kissed. Everything was hot and bright and too incredible for words. His entire world was Lance and Lance's lips and Lance's balmy chapstick and Lance's oddly sweet cologne and the way Lance sighed against his lips when Keith drew back.
When Keith's eyes fluttered open, Lance was grinning. The sight nearly made Keith cry again, which was almost irritating in and of itself, but it was worth it. Lance was worth it.
"You know, I'm still kind of on the fence. Maybe we could try it again just to be sure?"
Keith laughed, breathless and thrilled before he punched Lance's arm and kissed him again. This time, Lance kissed back, and it hardly resembled the gentle brush Keith had given earlier. This was raw and needy, passion nearly burning a hole in him. When they pulled apart, resting their foreheads together, Lance had one hand in Keith's hair and the other on his waist.
Keith smiled and stepped back, "Come on. I owe everyone some apologies." He had no desire to push Lance too far. Just knowing he could kiss Lance anytime he wanted now was plenty.
Lance gently laced his fingers in Keith's and nodded, leading him to the control room.
Keith shrank back at the sight of everyone's eyes on him the second he walked in. He was acutely aware that his eyes were still red-rimmed and puffy from crying. He nervously eyed the drying mixture of tears and mucus on Lance's jacket.
Lance squeezed his hand, and Keith took a deep breath, "I'm sorry for how I've been acting." He looked around the room at each person who carefully observed him, "It won't happen again."
Shiro approached him to gently place a hand on his shoulder, "Keith, I think I speak for everyone when I say we're not looking for an apology. We just want to know if you're okay."
Keith laughed, a pleasant happiness bubbling up in his chest, "Yeah. I am."
"Then, that's all we need to hear."
Hunk raised a brow, looking between the two of them, then he beamed and hugged them both, tears freely flowing, "Are you two finally together? I've been waiting for this day!"
Keith grinned, feeling a bit better now that he wasn't the only one who'd cried today.
Lance looked almost as happy as Hunk when he nodded.
Keith looked around and released Lance's hand as he stepped out of Hunk's embrace, "I want to tell you why."
"You don't need to," Allura chimed in with a smile, "Shiro's right. We just want to know that you're okay."
Keith nodded, "I want to. I thought... I thought that once Zarkon was beaten, we'd all go our separate ways, and I thought it would be easier for me to go back to being alone if I made that choice now."
Everyone was quiet, but Pidge was the only who ultimately spoke first with a scoff, "Well, that's stupid."
Lance snickered, and Keith squeezed his hand, "Yeah, I... Yeah." Keith chuckled, "I guess it was."
Coran grinned, "Besides, Voltron will still be the defender of the universe after Zarkon. We can move more freely once he's defeated, but you'll still be a paladin."
Allura nodded, "You won't be left alone, Keith. None of us will."
Hunk pulled everyone into a giant group hug in the middle of the room, going on about family and being brothers and sisters now. Keith was in the center of it all, surrounded by warmth as the last of his worries melted. He felt like he was finally home again, finally in his element, and finally, finally he wasn't alone.