“You’re…really leaving?” Lance asks, voice barely above a whisper. He clears his throat, embarrassed by the crack of his voice. It’s not that he hadn’t expected it, Keith leaving that is; over the past few months, while Voltron’s allies have grown, the other paladin’s presence had decreased.
Lance had written it off as nothing at first. Keith’s always needed action – he’s never done very well just sitting around, waiting. The Blade had offered him missions, given him training with a meaning, and when Keith had asked Lance, haltingly, if he were okay with him going off with them sometimes, Lance had said yes without thinking. He’d assumed that Keith would come back as soon as he was needed.
But Keith hadn’t. He’d grown more and more distant, only hanging around the castle when the Blade didn’t have anything for him, which was getting rarer and rarer. He’d only pilot Black when specifically ordered to by Shiro. And the nights Lance woke up to a cold bed had well outnumbered the ones he woke up with Keith alongside him.
He loves Keith, really he does, and he wants Keith to do what makes him happy. If being part of the Blade is what does that, then Lance told himself he wasn’t going to fight it. Most of the time, Keith was there when he was needed for a battle – even if he was late – and Lance was determined to support him no matter what.
It hurt, though. The constant absences, the late arrivals, the cold bed, Keith’s distant attitude. Lance still feels the echo of him every time he pilots Red, and he knows the lion misses Keith as much as Lance himself does.
And even though Lance misses Blue, he actually really liked being Keith’s right hand man.
“You’re my impulse control,” Keith had whispered to him one night when he’d come back bruised from a mission with the Blades. He’d tried to sneak into bed without Lance noticing, but Lance had been painfully aware at the stillness of the bed for the past few months, so the sudden shift had woken him instantly. “I don’t do as well without you.”
Lance had pulled him in, careful not to rattle any of his injuries and buried his face in the stupid mullet he’s grown so attached to. Leave it to Keith to refuse to go into a med pod and instead come straight to bed. “Then come back to where I can keep an eye on you,” he’d whispered back.
“Yeah. I will.”
Now, after Lance had to all but chased him down the hallway to their room, after he’d been forced to hug him along with everyone else and spit something out of the top of his head about needing someone to make fun of, Lance feels like Keith hadn’t meant those words. He bites his lip, trying to keep it from trembling while he dies a little on the inside.
“Shiro’s the true black paladin,” Keith tells him softly as he shoves his shirt into the bag he’s holding. Already partially packed, as if he can’t wait to get away from here. “And the Blade is making some real headway on finding Lotor.”
Lance shrugs, trying to come off nonchalant. “You said that.”
He knows he failed the minute Keith stands, abandoning his half-packed bag. “Lance…”
“No,” Lance backs away. If Keith comes any closer he won’t be able to keep himself from crying, and he doesn’t want Keith’s last memory of him to be mid-breakdown.
“Lance, tell me what’s wrong,” Keith demands, bearing down on him like a predator onto prey.
“No,” Lance repeats as he hits something hard behind him. He’s literally backed himself into a wall, and there’s no way out.
Keith closes the distance between them, and Lance averts his eyes, refusing to meet Keith’s own. “I have to do this,” Keith argues.
Lance shakes his head, still looking away. His vision blurs, the tell-tale sign of tears stinging the corners, so he squeezes his eyes shut. “No. No, no, no.” Keith grabs his shoulders, but Lance still refuses to look at him. “Nononono–“
Soft lips meet his own, cutting Lance off. He’s always been weak for Keith, so he can’t help the way his hands reach up, fingers tugging on Keith’s hair, pulling him closer. He kisses Keith desperately, as if he needs it to breathe. In a way, he does.
Keith’s hands wander over him, the way they always do, before settling down. One grips the back of Lance’s neck, caressing the skin there, while the other rests on his hip. At first he lets it sit there, but when Lance deepens the kiss, pulling Keith’s tongue into his mouth, Keith’s hand grabs his waist with almost bruising force. Lance doesn’t fight it, tugging on Keith’s hair in turn. They’ve always been this way – a little fight between them to remind each other that they’re still alive.
And right now? Lance needs that reminder more than ever.
“I’m not leaving because of you,” Keith whispers when he pulls back. Lance shakes his head and chases his lips, closing the gap again. He needs Keith to change his mind, he needs him to stay, stay, stay.
The wetness soaking his cheeks isn’t perspiration, and Lance knows Keith knows it the second he breaks away. A soft thumb swipes the skin under Lance’s eye. “Please,” Lance chokes out, all dignity gone. “Please don’t go.”
“I’ll come back,” Keith promises. “I swear. I’ll come back.”
“Then don’t leave.”
“Lance,” Keith breathes, and only then can Lance hear the heartbreak in the other paladin’s voice. “I need to do this,” he repeats.
Lance wishes Keith weren’t wearing his stupid Blade suit. He can’t hold onto it – his fingers slide off every time he tries. Instead, he clenches his fist against Keith’s chest, trying to keep his own ribs from cracking open and spilling his heart out right there on the floor. “Isn’t there anything I can do to make you stay?”
“You’re the only reason I stayed this long,” Keith whispers.
“What about the team?”
Keith bites his lip, looking to the side. “I knew the black lion could still connect with Shiro. I could feel it. They both just needed me…” Gone.
“What about Red?”
“I told you,” Keith says, eyes burning into Lance’s own. “You’re the red paladin now.”
Lance shakes his head. “Red is still connected to you. You could come back and pilot her anytime. If anyone should leave, it’s me. I’m the reason we have too many paladins –“
“Stop.” Keith grabs his shoulders firmly. “Please,” he adds softer.
The tears are falling again, because he’s so fucking worthless. He’s barely good enough to be a paladin – he has no idea why Blue chose him and he definitely has no idea why Red did. He can’t even make Keith stay. “We gotta stop meeting like this,” he chokes out, hoping to lighten the mood.
Keith presses a kiss to Lance’s closed eyes. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “I hate making you cry.”
“Stay out of trouble until I come back.”
“Keith, don’t –“
But he’s already backing away, grabbing his bag. Lance stumbles forward, feeling like his heart's been ripped out of his chest. He catches sight of unshed tears in Keith’s eyes too before the other is turning away, rubbing his face with the back of his hand. “I’m sorry, Lance.”
“I love you.”
It’s too late. With that final declaration, Keith’s already turned and run out the door. Lance doesn’t chase him. He sits heavily on his floor, staring at the spot on the bed where Keith left his jacket.