Actions

Work Header

Far Away From Nothing

Work Text:

The Blue Lion may have been the first lion that the team had stumbled across when they’d all started on this crazy adventure, but it was the last lion to be recovered after they’d been scattered by the corrupted wormhole.

 

Keith remembered the mixed feelings of terror and relief churning in his gut as the Castle of Lions finally touched down on the planet where they’d detected the Blue Lion’s signal. Coran had insisted that the planet’s atmosphere was completely fine for a human, but Keith wasn’t reassured. He’d also said that the planet was uninhabited, which could be both a good and bad thing. Good because that meant that Lance couldn’t run into any issues with the locals or the Galra Empire; bad because it must have been uninhabited for a reason.

 

So it was with pounding hearts that the Paladins left the castle-ship and stepped out onto the planet’s surface. Coran and Allura stayed behind to keep an eye on the castle and to monitor the team from afar, but the rest of them insisted that they all needed to go together. They’d all been separated for too long, and refused to be parted again if they could help it.

 

Shiro lead the way, as per usual, but Keith was right behind him. The Red Paladin’s Bayard was drawn, his glove creaking around the handle from how tightly he grasped it. He was ready for anything.

 

They moved cautiously out into the clearing that the castle had landed in, looking around and across the field of long, mint green grasses swaying in the wind for both danger and any sign of Lance. The field was large enough for the Castle of Lions to have landed safely, but small and open enough that they could see clear across it to the other side. Beyond the field, a thick line of trees, vines, and broad-leaf bushes grew, stretching across the horizon as far as the eye could see.

 

“Paladins,” Allura’s voice crackled over their headsets, and they all paused mid-step to listen. “The castle’s sensors are indicating that the Blue Lion is straight ahead of you, about five hundred of your Earth motors away.”

 

“Meters,” Pidge corrected absently, their eyes already scanning the alien jungle that ahead of them.

 

Keith was also eyeing the dense foliage they would need to search through with suspicion. While to him the jungle of this planet looked very similar to what he expected of a jungle on Earth, there was something about the plants that was slightly…off. The colors were just a bit too bright, the leaves a touch too shiny. Everything looked almost fake, like it was all made of plastic. It put Keith on edge.

 

“Yes, meters,” Allura accepted gracefully. “Unfortunately we couldn’t land the castle closer due to the density of the jungle, so you’ll have to move forward on foot.”

 

“Too bad we can’t just charge through with our lions,” Hunk said wistfully, looking at the jungle with no small amount of trepidation.

 

“You know that we just finished repairing them,” Pidge pointed out with a sigh. “We can’t risk damaging them by running into a tree or something. The trees would do just as much harm to them as they would to the castle.”

 

“Yeah, I know. I still wish we could,” he whined, shoulders slumping.

 

“Guys,” Shiro cut in. “Let’s just find Lance and his lion, okay? Keith, can you take point? We may need you to cut us a path.”

 

Keith didn’t even hesitate. He immediately stepped up, taking position at the head of the group and aiming for the closest gap in the trees, his Bayard hanging ready at his side. Shiro followed immediately behind him, then Pidge, and finally Hunk brought up the rear. They moved as one towards the edge of the field.

 

The moment they stepped into the jungle, it was like stepping into another world. It became as dark as night in the shade of the trees, almost none of the sunlight making it to the ground. In the darkness they found that many of the plants glowed with an inner bioluminescence that lit their path. The vines draping from the tree branches looked like long strings of neon tubes, while strange mushrooms growing along the ground shone like lanterns. Even the trunks of the trees seemed to glow faintly with some inner light shining through the cracks in their bark.

 

“Wow…” Keith heard Hunk gasping behind him. Pidge and Shiro made similar awed noises, though they were both more subdued.

 

Keith could privately admit to himself that the jungle was beautiful in its own, alien way.

 

But he wasn’t in the mood for sight-seeing. Keith was on a mission.

 

So he didn’t pause to stare at the pretty alien scenery. He immediately started marching towards the Blue Lion’s signal with single-minded determination, shoving leaves and vines out of his way where possible and cutting them down if he couldn’t do so. Keith could hear the others scrambling to keep up, clearly not expecting the gruelling pace he had set.

 

“Whoa, Keith! Slow down!” Hunk called out. Keith ignored him.

 

“Keith? Keith!” Pidge shouted. “What are you doing?” Keith pretended not to hear.

 

“Keith!” Shiro’s voice, commanding and strong, finally caused him to stop mid-step.

 

A massive tree stood before him, bigger than any they’d seen so far, the trunk as wide around as his lion’s leg at least. He stared at the tree’s trunk, green shimmering cracks in the white bark like ivory shot through with glowing jade, and refused to look away.

 

So long as he looked straight ahead, kept his gaze on the target, he wouldn’t have time to think. To worry. To panic. Because Lance had been gone a long time, he’d been alone for a long time, a long time and it was Lance. Lance, who had a huge family and so many friends back on Earth and hated being alone and was always seeking people out and he had been all alone on this planet for too long and –

 

“Keith.” Shiro’s hand on his shoulder jolted him out of his thoughts, and Keith startled. “You’re going to have to slow down a bit. We can’t keep up.”

 

That was a lie. Shiro could easily keep up with him, could probably outpace him even. It was Pidge with their short legs and Hunk, who couldn’t easily fit through some of the openings that Keith carved for himself, who couldn’t keep up. Keith briefly considered asking Shiro to send them back to the ship; they were only going to slow them down and make it take even longer to find Lance.

 

But almost immediately the desire to find Lance as fast as possible was overcome by the desire to stick together. None of them liked to be separated for long anymore. Before the wormhole, he would have said something, would have made the comment. Now the idea of splitting up was almost unthinkable.

 

“Don’t worry,” Shiro murmured, giving Keith’s shoulder a squeeze before letting go and stepping back. “We’ll find him. He’ll be okay.”

 

Somehow Shiro seemed to know exactly what Keith was thinking.

 

At first, Keith thought it was just Shiro being Shiro, but then he realized that it was probably because they were all thinking it. They were all worried about Lance. Just because they weren’t outwardly freaking out didn’t mean they weren’t concerned. He needed to remember that. They were a team. They were all worried, and they all wanted to find Lance. He took a deep breath, trying to re-center himself.

 

Finally, he gave Shiro a shaky nod, showing he understood, just as Hunk and Pidge finally caught up. He thought for a moment they might make some sort of comment, complain or tease him, but both of them simply looked at him knowingly.

 

Lance would have said something, Keith thought absently.

 

“This way,” was all Keith said as soon as they were all together once more, and then he started leading the way around the massive tree, picking his way over the twisting roots with none of his usual grace. But he didn’t rush this time. Shiro was right, they’d find him. He’d be fine. Lance would be fine.

 

When they finally pushed the last hanging branches out of the way to reveal the Blue Lion safely contained in its force field, Keith only paused a moment to look the lion over and check it for damages. As soon as he saw it was relatively unscathed, he was already moving on, searching for signs of Lance.

 

“Allura,” Shiro called out over the comm-link, “we’ve found the Blue Lion. It seems to be in decent shape. Any sign of Lance?”

 

“Unfortunately, no,” Allura told them reluctantly. “The jungle is too thick to get a lock on his armor’s signal. We could barely detect the Blue Lion as it was. Pidge, how about you? Are you detecting anything?”

 

“Hmmm.” Pidge pulled some piece of tech that Keith had no hope of understanding out of the backpack they were wearing and started tapping at the screen. “Yes, actually. It’s faint, but I’ve got something. He’s…back the way we came?!”

 

They all looked back through the forest, as if Lance would suddenly be standing behind them, laughing like he’d just pulled off an excellent prank. But the wall of plastic-like plants was all that they saw.

 

“How far?” Shiro asked, leaning to look over Pidge’s shoulder at the tracking device.

 

“Not far,” they responded, playing with the screen to bring up what might have been a map. “There.” Pidge pointed to a blinking blue dot.

 

“Lead the way,” Shiro said. “Allura, we’re leaving the Blue Lion here for now. It seems to be safe enough.”

 

“Understood,” she replied. “We’ll get the repair bay ready just in case, though.”

 

They could hear Coran shouting about ‘getting right to it’ over the comms for a split second before the connection was cut.

 

As one, they all started heading back into the jungle, this time with Pidge in the lead. Pidge was focused so hard on their screen though that they were hardly looking where they were going, and more than once either Hunk or Shiro would have to reach out and grab them by the back of the collar to stop them from walking into a tree or tripping over a root.

 

Keith had to resist the urge to just charge ahead. Pidge was walking much more slowly than he would have liked, but they were also the only one who had any idea where Lance might be. He had to trust Pidge to lead them to Lance. Running ahead wouldn’t get him there any faster. If anything, he might get lost and they’d lose more time. Patience, Keith reminded himself, thinking of Shiro’s words from so long ago. Patience yields focus.

 

They had been walking about five minutes or so when Pidge suddenly pulled up short, blinking at the screen in confusion. “That doesn’t make sense,” they muttered, tapping at the machine.

 

“What’s wrong?” Hunk asked, squinting at the blinking dot on the map.

 

Meanwhile Keith was frowning at something else entirely. They were back at the massive jade and ivory tree, standing before its titanic trunk once more, but this time Keith noticed something he hadn’t before. There were horizontal grooves running through the bark at semi-regular intervals. And they didn’t look like they were natural.

 

It looked like someone had carved them into the bark.

 

“I don’t get it!” Pidge squawked. “According to this, he should be standing right here! But obviously he’s not, so where is he?!”

 

“Maybe your scale is off,” Hunk suggested, trying to poke at a few of the machine’s buttons. “Did you use Earth units or Altean units?”

 

“Are you sure it’s tracking Lance?” Shiro asked.

 

“Yes, of course I am!” Pidge grumbled, indignant. “And the scale is fine, Hunk. He’s supposed to be here! He should be right there in front of us!” They gestured to the base of the tree.

 

“Well, maybe – ”

 

“He is here,” Keith cut in, and the others immediately turned to look at him, but he was too absorbed with studying the great tree to notice.

 

He walked up to the trunk, running his hands over the grooves he’d spotted earlier. Sure enough, when he reached up to the one just above his head, he found it deep enough to hook his fingers over the edge and get a good grip. “But he’s not in front of us. He’s above us.”

 

He could see Lance carving these grooves. Maybe with a rock, maybe with some tool he’d taken from his lion. They were sloppy and ragged on the edges, but Keith could feel they’d been worn smooth in the middle from constant use. It sent an unpleasant feeling through Keith’s chest. Lance had been here long enough, had climbed this path over and over often enough, that the bark had been worn down.

 

That thought was all the encouragement he needed. Without warning he immediately started climbing, ignoring Shiro’s alarmed cries, his fingers finding the next handhold with only minor difficulty. Lance was taller than him, so the grooves were just far enough apart that Keith had to stretch to reach them, but Keith had spent half his time in the desert on Earth climbing all over cliffs and rocks and debris. This was child’s play by comparison.

 

The tree wasn’t just wide, though, it was tall. Not even halfway up to the first branches, and Keith could already feel his muscles burning. Shiro was still shouting up at him from below, but his voice had become fainter, muffled by the surrounding vegetation. Or at least that’s what Keith would say. In truth, he was ignoring Shiro. He didn’t want to wait for the others this time; he knew that they wouldn’t be able to follow him up the tree. He’d have to do this part alone.

 

By the time he pulled himself onto the first branch he was panting for breath and his arms were shaking like leaves in the wind. He crawled out onto the thick wood to rest, unafraid of falling. It was wider than a city street, and just as grooved with that glowing jade as the trunk had been. There would be little chance of slipping.

 

But then something caught his eye. Further along the branch, he spotted a crude-looking bowl made of mud and leaves. Crawling closer, he found it to be full of clear water. There were other containers made of similar materials next to it, some containing more water, some holding things like berries, fruits and leaves. It was some kind of food cache. And considering that the planet was uninhabited by any sentient species, it meant only one thing.

 

Keith’s hunch was right.

 

Lance was here. And judging by how fresh some of the food looked, Lance had been here recently. Keith looked up into the twisting maze of branches above him, but couldn’t see anything but leaves and bark. No matter, Keith could keep going.

 

He started climbing again. Thankfully, at this point the tree’s branches grew much closer together, so he didn’t have as far to go until the next one. He checked each of them as he passed, and though he found other signs of Lance’s presence, there was no sight of the other paladin yet. One branch that was exposed to sunlight was covered in drying fruit. Another had a scorch mark in the center; somehow Lance had managed to build a cooking pit on the tree without burning it down. Keith was mildly impressed and surprised at the feat.

 

There was a short moment of panic when he walked out on one branch only to find Lance’s armor draped across the bark, limp and torn. But he quickly realized that Lance must have taken it off to clean when he touched the fabric and found it still damp. Besides, he figured, the jungle probably got very hot and humid during the day, and the thick armor wouldn’t have been practical.

 

Keith still needed to wait a few minutes to get his racing heart under control before he could start climbing again. For a moment, he’d though the worst.

 

It wasn’t until he was near the very crown of the tree that he finally spotted his quarry. His first sight of Lance was a single bare foot dangling over the edge of a hammock. Keith studied the set-up with a single raised brow, impressed once again with Lance’s ingenuity.

 

It seemed Lance had taken one of the massive leaves from the bushes on the jungle floor below and strung it up in the split between two of the tree’s boughs with rope he’d woven from what looked like dried vines. Keith could also see that Lance had collected some of the strange glowing mushrooms that had grown all over the place and hung them from the branches above the hammock, likely so they could act as a night light when it was dark. But this high up in the tree and this late in the day, they were close enough to the sky that sunlight shone through the leaves, making the light of the mushrooms invisible.

 

Lance had also carved a few deeper grooves into the bark near his hammock that acted as shelves, holding onto a variety of interesting things. From his position on a lower branch, Keith could just make out Lance’s Bayard sitting next to what looked like a stone knife and a large crystal. The rest of the items he couldn’t quite see. Was that a spear hanging up there?

 

He quickly decided that was unimportant next to that stupid bare foot hanging above his head, so close Keith could almost reach up and grab it. He was tempted to, so badly that his fingers twitched, but he could already picture Lance freaking out, flipping out of his hammock, and plummeting to his death like the idiot he was. So he restrained himself. Instead, he climbed up those last few feet, until he was standing on the same branch that supported Lance’s bed.

 

For a moment all he could do was stare. Lance was right there in front of him, after months of searching. Lance was here. He was here. Alive.

 

Keith felt his throat close up as he fought back the urge to cry. They were finally all together again. It felt like it had been so long. And he’d missed everyone. It had felt so wrong to be apart. So wrong to be without the others. So wrong to be without Lance.

 

He waited until he’d gotten himself under control again, and then finally reached out. Lance was nestled in the center of his leaf hammock, covered up with another leaf so that only his one leg was hanging out. Keith carefully reached into the hammock and started peeling back the makeshift blanket.

 

“Lance?” he called out softly, trying not to scare his teammate. “Lance, wake up.”

 

Even though he tried to be as soothing as possible, he still heard Lance gasp and go stiff beneath the leaf. Keith had a moment to panic, thinking his vision of Lance tumbling to his death might come true, but Lance didn’t freak out and flail around like he’d expected. Instead, he suddenly ripped away the leaf covering him and sat up straight, staring right at Keith.

 

Oh my god, Keith thought to himself, feeling a little bit faint.

 

The first thing that caught Keith’s attention was the hair. Lance’s hair had always been cropped short, with just enough length to allow it to be styled. But now, after months without a trim, it had become long and shaggy, curling in the humidity around his ears and the nape of his neck and hanging into his eyes.

 

The second thing Keith noticed was Lance’s body. Lance had never exactly been unfit; he’d managed to keep up with Keith in the training room for a decent amount of time on more than one occasion. But the jungle had clearly been a harsher environment than the Castle of Lions, and the endless days of climbing trees and trying to survive had made some changes to Lance. He’d lost what little baby fat he’d had left, and now Keith could see defined muscles where there had not been muscles before.

 

(He could also see ribs, to his horror. And sunken eyes and bruised skin and cracked fingernails and…no, those weren’t good things. Shiro was going to freak.)

 

The last thing that Keith noticed was that Lance was naked.

 

“Oh,” he said dumbly, unable to look away. Lance seemed equally frozen with shock, staring up at Keith as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. They paused for an endless moment, both too stunned to speak or move or even look away.

 

“…Keith?” Lance whispered, his voice thin and reedy. He looked up at Keith like he was seeing a ghost. A trembling hand rose up, reaching towards Keith, fingers too bony and thin. “Keith?

 

“Uh, yeah. It’s me,” Keith stumbled to say, his eyes still locked on Lance’s body. And…lower.

 

"Yo...espera." Lance’s expression suddenly cleared, as if he was coming to his senses. "Qué carajo estás mirando....¡AY!" Lance suddenly let out a very unmanly shriek and scrambled to grab at his leaf blanket, dragging it back into his lap and setting his hammock rocking violently with the motion. "¡Cabron!"

 

“I… what did you just say? Wait, what?” Keith jerked back, finally snapping out of it, his face immediately flushing as red as his lion. “Sorry! Sorry, I don’t know why I… I mean, I just… crap.” He looked to the side, staring intently at Lance’s shelf of random items, which were suddenly very interesting. “Sorry.”

 

He heard Lance grumbling and shifting around in his hammock. A moment later he heard the soft tap of bare feet against the bark as Lance stepped out onto the branch. Keith swallowed thickly. There really wasn’t that much space this far up in the tree, and so Lance was practically pressed against him to keep from falling.

 

Naked. Right there.

 

Clearing his throat awkwardly, Keith tried to move back to give Lance some space, still pointedly looking away. But he couldn’t move far before he was pressed against the trunk of the tree. Still, it seemed to be enough for Lance, who squeezed past him.

 

The branch they were standing on shuddered a bit as Lance jumped off of it, and Keith finally looked back over just in time to see Lance scrambling along the next branch to a pile of cloth that must have been his clothes. Keith caught a long flash of bare skin and hurried to look away once more as Lance started getting dressed.

 

By the time Lance returned, Keith’s blush had started to fade, and he’d actually become distracted by the things on the shelf, trying to keep himself occupied while he waited. He looked up, though, when he heard Lance land behind him. He couldn’t resist checking the other Paladin over one more time, this time with a more clinical intent.

 

There were holes and stains all over the shirt and boxers Lance had put on, and they hung much more loosely on Lance’s frame in certain places than Keith remembered, but with clothes on Lance looked a little better. He wasn’t as obviously malnourished anymore, anyways.

 

"Keith? Eres realmente tu?" Lance suddenly spoke, looking a little shaken.

 

“What?” Keith blurted out, confused and caught off guard. He vaguely recognized that Lance was speaking Spanish, having heard him cursing or flirting in his native tongue before, but he didn’t speak a word of it himself. He recognized his name, but… “What are you saying?”

 

"¿Qué?" Lance said, looking a bit confused himself, before his expression cleared and he rolled his eyes. “Oh, right. English. Right.”

 

“Uh… yes?” Keith drawled, raising an eyebrow. “Did you forget or something?”

 

“No!” Lance snapped defensively. “Just…there’s been no one else to talk to,” he explained with a shrug. “Didn’t need to stick to English when I was alone.”

 

Keith paused and had to take a moment to think about that. Would he have done the same? Slipping back into his own first language with no one else to talk to? He wasn’t sure; he hadn’t been left alone long enough to find out. He’d been picked up within a week, thankfully one of the first to be found.

 

He could easily picture Lance, who never seemed to shut up, being uncomfortable with the silence of his solitude. Talking to himself would have made the most sense, and why bother speaking in a language you were less familiar with when there was no one around to care?

 

“That…makes sense,” Keith eventually agreed. “But we’re here now.”

 

“Really? Everyone?” Lance perked up, already looking around as if the rest of the team was somehow hiding behind the tree trunk. “Where are they? Are they here?”

 

“Shiro and the others are at the bottom of the tree,” Keith told him quickly, because Lance looked like he was seconds away from rushing off through the trees to search for them.

 

“Wait, you left them behind?” Lance stared at him incredulously. “And Shiro let you?!”

 

Keith winced. “Well, I sorta just came up here without waiting for them. And… I didn’t hear him say no.”

 

“Liar.”

 

Knowing that was true, Keith quickly moved on. “Other than the team, Allura and Coran are here too.  They’re back at the Castle of Lions, though. They couldn’t land too close because the jungle was so thick.”

 

“Tell me about it,” Lance grumbled. “The trees did a real number on Blue. I’ve been checking on her every day, and it looks like her self-repair mechanisms have done a lot of work, but I still get error messages whenever I try to get her up and running.”

 

“I’m sure between Pidge and Hunk, we can get her back to normal quickly.”

 

“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Lance asked, grinning like an eager kid. “Let’s go!”

 

He scooped his Bayard up, and started jumping down the tree branches with the air of long practice. Even though the ground stretched out such a long way below, he never hesitated, even at drops that would have made Keith’s heart stop. He was fearless as he moved through the tree. Soon Keith could see him several levels below, reaching for his paladin armor.

 

“Wait!” Keith called out, cupping his hands around his mouth so that Lance would hear him so far below. “What about the rest of this stuff?” He glanced back at Lance’s carved shelves, and the mishmash of items that lay strewn across their surfaces.

 

“Eh, leave it!” Lance responded dismissively.

 

But Keith couldn’t help but hesitate. He turned to look at the items, checking each of them over critically. Maybe Lance didn’t care about them now, too excited about finally getting off-planet, but he might want to hang on to something for the future, right? A memento of sorts. Keith’s thoughts briefly turned to the wrapped dagger that he carried with him everywhere.

 

But which of these things would Lance possibly want?

 

His first thought was the stone knife. It was rough, clearly handmade, and Keith had a feeling that this was what Lance had used to quite literally carve his life out of this jungle. Lance would have used it extensively throughout his time here, and it may have even saved his life.

 

But then Keith realized that it might have too many bad memories associated with it as well. Too many days and nights where Lance would have been struggling to survive, this knife his only tool. Lance probably wouldn’t want to keep this. It might be a reminder of bad times more than good.

 

The pile of crystals Keith quickly ruled out as well. He had no idea if they had any significance or if Lance had just picked them up because they were pretty. Either option seemed equally likely. A set of what looked like alien beetle shells were similarly discarded because they were gross. And the spear was too impractical to carry. The rest of the items all looked to be food or perishables, a few more glowing mushrooms, all things that wouldn’t last.

 

Keith was about to give up and accept that maybe Lance was right and he didn’t need to take anything when his eyes fell on something small and round sitting next to the crystals. He’d missed it the first time because it looked like it was made of the same wood as the tree, and so it blended in with the bark. Curious, Keith picked it up.

 

It fit easily into the palm of his hand, and it was shaped like a rough flattened disk about a quarter inch thick. It looked as if Lance had tried to carve a piece of the tree’s bark into some sort of circular shape, based on the ragged edges, but he must have given up on it before he could fully smooth it out. It was a very nice piece of bark, though, mostly ivory but with several veins of jade running through it like stripes. When Keith brushed his thumb over its surface, it was smooth like glass, and felt nice against his fingertips. Like a worry stone made of wood.

 

This. This was what Keith would take. A piece of the tree that Lance had called home, that had sheltered him and protected him and kept him alive. Something small that Lance could hang on to.

 

“Dude! What are you doing up there? Let’s go!”

 

“Keep your armor on!” Keith snapped on autopilot, slipping the piece of wood into one of his pockets. Then, once it was secure, with one last glance around to make sure nothing else important had been missed, he began climbing down the tree after Lance.

 

“Come on man, just admit it. You’re like one of those cats that get stuck up in trees. You can climb just fine, but the second you’re up there you need someone to come after you!”

 

“I could just land on you,” Keith grumbled in annoyance.

 

+++

 

It was both wonderful and strange to have everyone together again.

 

Wonderful because they weren’t apart anymore, lost and alone. They’d all become a bit paranoid about being separated again, which led to a few new behaviours. Before, Shiro had been the only one with the habit of roaming the castle halls, checking in on everyone and making sure he knew where they were at all times. Now they’d all started doing it.

 

Even Keith and Pidge, who usually preferred their time alone, were prone to seeking out one the others whenever they’d been by themselves for too long. “Sleepovers” had become a semi-regular occurrence, where they all just crashed in a common space together and fell asleep in a pile. Even Allura and Coran were not exempt from these habits.

 

But it was also strange, because they’d all also picked up some quirks from their time alone.

 

Lance was obviously the worst, having been alone the longest. Keith sometimes caught him staring around at the others or the castle as if he didn’t quite believe he was there, that he’d left the jungle. He also kept slipping into Spanish, sometimes mid-sentence. And he refused to wear shoes unless he absolutely had to, which was almost never.

 

At the same time, he seemed to slide back into his place on the team faster and better than Keith expected. Not even a day after he’d been rescued, he was already teasing Pidge about their latest tech project and challenging Hunk to an eating competition.

 

That one had ended about as well as could be expected. Especially because Lance was still gaining his weight back, even now.

 

It was kind of incredible how quickly Lance bounced back. But then, Lance had always seemed pretty unflappable. He kind of just took everything in stride.

 

But one last thing remained from Lance’s time on the jungle planet, and it was slowly driving Keith mental.

 

His hair.

 

It just…was this what going crazy felt like? Keith assumed it must be. Because he was becoming completely preoccupied with Lance’s hair.

 

Even though they’d been back at the castle for weeks now, Lance still hadn’t cut it. It was almost as long as Keith’s now! And apparently when it wasn’t frizzy and curly with humidity, it was actually really nice and shiny and wavy and soft-looking. Was Lance using product on it, or something? There was no way his hair could look that nice naturally!

 

Keith found himself daydreaming about it. What it would be like to touch it. To run his fingers through it and mess it up so that it stuck up in all directions. Would Lance ever want to cut it off again? Maybe he’d let Keith do it. Keith had been cutting his own hair for years, and he was pretty good with his knife.

 

Then again, given how often Lance insulted his own hairstyle, he probably wouldn’t let Keith anywhere near his head with a knife.

 

But then what would Lance do? Would he keep it like that? So far that seemed to be Lance’s plan. But Keith had seen Lance impatiently pushing his hair back and trying to blow it out of his face. He probably wasn’t used to it being so long, and it was getting in his way. Should he suggest that Lance tie it back, like he himself sometimes did?

 

He became caught up in the mental image of Lance with his hair tied back from his face, loose ends hanging down his neck and brushing against his cheeks. Keith pictured Lance sweating, strands of hair glued to his skin with perspiration, perhaps from training. That was the reason Keith usually tied his own hair back.

 

But then his mind slipped into other reasons Lance might be sweaty, followed by a brief flash of what he’d seen of Lance up in the tree…

 

“I, uh. I’ll be back,” Keith suddenly blurted out, startling Pidge who had been sitting next to him on the couch.

 

They had been working on some new gadget that Keith suspected was either a GPS system or a bomb, it could go either way, but they looked up at him in surprise when he abruptly stood up and stiffly rushed out of the room. He made it to his own quarters without running into anyone else, but he still didn’t feel like he could breathe until he’d slammed the door shut behind him and locked it. Then, with a great sigh, he slid down to the floor with his back against the door.

 

“Oh my god, what the fuck?” he whispered to himself in the dark. “What the fuck?”

 

What the hell was wrong with him? Why was he getting all worked up over Lance? It was Lance! He’d never given the other Paladin a second glance before! Sure, he was gay as hell and openly liked guys, he’d never shied away from that, but Lance wasn’t even his type! Shiro was the person he was supposed to be crushing on, not Lance! Where the hell was this coming from?

 

He’d been in love with Shiro since the moment they’d met. Shiro had always been so kind to him, even when he’d screwed up or picked a fight or caused trouble. No matter what he did, Shiro always seemed ready to give him a smile and a pat on the shoulder. No one had ever believed in Keith like that, and Keith had been helpless to resist falling for Shiro.

 

But he had to admit, somewhere along the line, sometime between being whisked away to the other side of the universe in an alien robot lion and now, his long-standing infatuation with Shiro had faded. Sure, he still thought of the older man fondly, and he’d be the first to proclaim that Shiro was the hottest damn thing in space, but now all of that longing and desire seemed to have faded into admiration and a deep respect as he’d gotten to know Shiro more as a person rather than an ideal. He still loved Shiro, and probably always would, but it was a cooler love now. Something less passionate, but still true.

 

Unfortunately all of that passion had apparently decided to shift to Lance instead. Quiznak.

 

He glared down at the growing tent in his pants like he could somehow will it to disappear. No such luck. If anything, it was getting worse.

 

…Lance’s longer hair would mean it would be easier to grip, to tug and pull

 

Fuck.

 

Realizing that this wasn’t just going to go away on its own, Keith pushed himself to his feet, grumbling the whole way, and then headed towards his bathroom to…deal with his little problem.

 

+++

 

Things came to a head late one night after they’d once again tangled with the Galra and won. Keith was still riding an adrenaline high from the battle, so even though his muscles ached from being thrown around in his lion during the fight, he still trudged down to the training room with his Bayard in hand, ready to burn off some excess energy.

 

Only to stumble to a halt when he entered the room to find it already occupied. It seemed he hadn’t been the only one with that plan.

 

Lance had set up the training room in such a way that holographic targets were whizzing all over the room in dizzying spirals, darting this way and that. Lance was trying to shoot them down while also avoiding return fire from the drones hovering along the walls. His face was screwed up in concentration as he ducked and dodged through the room, his Bayard firing nearly constantly. And he was hitting a target with pretty much every shot. It was incredible to watch, and Keith found himself staring, transfixed by the show.

 

But then he saw the moment it all went wrong. Lance turned his head, searching for his next target, and his long hair slipped into his eyes, blinding him for a critical second. One of the drones fired, and Lance went down with a blow to the hip.

 

“End training sequence,” Keith ordered, striding into the room and towards Lance’s crumpled form. He wasn’t that concerned, knowing very well that the training room would never permanently harm any of them now that the Galra crystal’s influence had been properly wiped from the system, but that still didn’t stop the little skip in his heart when he saw Lance go down. Around him the holograms flickered and vanished, while the drones powered down with a low electric whine.

 

“Dude, why did you turn it off? I was doing so good!” Lance whined as he lifted his head. He was wincing, holding his abused side, but a quick glance showed Keith that there was no injury. At most Lance would get a bruise from it. Nothing to worry about.

 

“How long have you been at this?” Keith asked instead, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Uhhh,” Lance hesitated.

 

“Yeah. Too long.”

 

“Ha! That’s rich, coming from you. You never leave this place unless Shiro drags you out of here by your ankles!”

 

“S-shut up!” Keith snapped, immediately flustered. It wasn’t like he could deny it, after all. Although he had been trying to spend less time in here and more time with the others since they’d been reunited. Maybe Lance hadn’t noticed.

 

“Look, you’re in here all the time,” Lance huffed in annoyance, finally pushing himself back to his feet so he could meet Keith at eye level. So close now, Keith could see the way his chest heaved with every breath, still slightly winded from his training and the hit he’d taken, and the trails of sweat running down his temples and down to his neck. Keith swallowed thickly, lost for a moment following one particular trail.

 

“So why don’t you just back off and let me have a turn for a change, okay?” Lance said, staring Keith down. And then he did the thing that set Keith’s heart pounding.

 

He ran his fingers through his hair.

 

Before he could stop himself, Keith let out a low moan and sort of swayed on the spot, as if he wanted to reach out and touch. But then his mind caught up to what had just happened, and he wanted to slap his hands over his mouth. Had he really just done that?!

 

Based on the way Lance was staring at him, like he’d just been hit upside the head with a bat, yes. Yes he had.

 

“Uh, Keith?” Lance asked, looking very uncertain now. “Are you okay?”

 

“No. Yes! Yes, I’m fine. I’m just…” Rather than finish that sentence and make a bigger fool of himself, Keith just whirled on his heel and started walking away as fast as he could without actually running. Running would only make this worse. And it was already pretty damn bad. Oh god, could this get any worse?

 

Apparently it could. Because Lance had chased after him, and Lance was grabbing his wrist and forcing him to turn around and backing him into the wall of the training room and suddenly Keith was bumping up against the vertical surface with Lance right up in his face… looking concerned?

 

“Hey! Seriously! Are you okay?” Lance asked again, looking Keith over. “Are you hurt? Did you get hit when you came into the room?”

 

“No! I’m fine! Get off of me!” Keith growled, trying to push Lance away by his shoulders, but Lance merely planted himself more firmly. Keith found himself cursing the extra muscle Lance had gained in the jungle. As much as he loathed to admit it, Lance might just be stronger than him now. This was not helping him calm down certain parts of his anatomy.

 

“Keith, come on,” Lance said in a calm voice, so unlike the way he usually spoke to Keith. “You don’t sound okay. And your face is all red! Are you sick? Do you need me to take you to the infirmary?”

 

“No! I told you, I’m fine!” Keith shouted. He gave up on trying to push Lance away, and instead tried to duck under his arms instead. But Lance apparently must have thought Keith was passing out or something, because instead of just letting him go, Lance spat out a surprised Spanish curse and grabbed for Keith, catching him around the middle.

 

“Whoa! Careful!” Lance yelped, but then he suddenly went stiff. Keith similarly froze.

 

Oh god. Let me die now, Keith thought faintly.

 

They were now pressed against each other, front to front, Lance supporting Keith around his waist. Close enough that Keith was toe-to-toe with Lance, their chests brushing with every intake of air. And certain…other…parts were similarly pressed together. Keith’s in particular was showing its interest quite clearly. Based on Lance’s gobsmacked expression, that particular detail hadn’t been missed.

 

“Oh,” Lance said in the silence.

 

There was a long pause where neither of them moved. Lance’s face had gone carefully blank, and he seemed to be staring out at something in the middle distance. Meanwhile Keith was desperately wishing the training room floor would open up and swallow him like it had when they were all learning to defend each other.

 

They might have stayed frozen there forever, except Lance’s fingers abruptly tightened their grip on Keith’s hip, the lightest brush of skin on skin where his shirt had risen up over the waistband of his pants, and Keith’s dick twitched in response, his breath hitching.

 

But so did Lance’s.

 

Oh,” Lance said again, only this time he sounded less stunned. If Keith didn’t know any better, he’d say Lance sounded…interested.

 

Keith licked his lips, trying to think of what to say or what to do to get out of this situation. But before he could come up with something, he was caught off guard when Lance shifted his grip, pulling back just far enough that he could look at Keith in the eye while still holding him by the hips. He saw Lance’s eyes dart downward, and somehow the nauseous feeling in his stomach got worse.

 

“I-it doesn’t mean anything!” Keith snapped, trying to recover some control over this situation. “It’s just…just…”

 

“Just what?” Lance purred, and the look in his eyes made Keith’s throat go dry.

 

I am so screwed, Keith thought. Though he wasn’t quite sure if he meant in the bad way, or the good way.

 

“Go on,” Lance encouraged when Keith didn’t speak, smirk growing on his face. “What were you going to say?” Somehow, even though Keith hadn’t seen him move, he was closer again, close enough that it felt all too natural for Keith to just reach up and rest his hands on Lance’s shoulders. With his fingers now so close to his neck, Keith couldn’t resist reaching up and tugging at the ends of Lance’s hair. Soft strands still slightly damp with sweat tangled around his fingertips.

 

“Your hair,” Keith murmured, the space between them so small now that there was no need to raise his voice above a whisper. “It’s…nice. I kind of like it.”

 

“Yeah?” Lance said back, just as softly. “Huh. I should have guessed you would, mullet.”

 

Keith frowned, but didn’t rise to the bait like he normally would have. Something about the atmosphere between them made it difficult to get riled up like he normally would have. “I’m serious,” he insisted. “It looks good on you.”

 

“Really?” Lance asked, sounding surprised at Keith’s genuine compliment. Suddenly blushing, he ducked his head a little. Their foreheads were now pressed together. “At least one of us thinks so. I’ve been thinking of asking Pidge to help me cut it, it’s driving me insane.”

 

“It’s driving me insane,” Keith shot back, and to prove his point he buried his fingers into the hair at the back of Lance’s head and gripped, tugging on the long strands. Lance gasped, throwing his head back to follow the pressure, exposing the column of his neck. Keith had to fight down the urge to bend down and lick it. He carefully let go of Lance’s head, relishing in the feeling of silky hair passing through his fingers.

 

When Lance tipped his head back down, he stared at Keith with a slightly punch-drunk expression, his pupils blown wide and his cheeks red. Keith’s fingers through his hair had left it slightly mussed, and the final effect was that Lance looked absolutely wrecked.

 

“God,” Keith murmured. “Look at you.”

 

“I, uh,” Lance licked his lips, which only made him look hotter in Keith’s eyes. His eyes darted towards the training room door. “I was thinking of getting Pidge to cut it tomorrow, but if you want…” His fingers slid along the top of Keith’s pants, teasing at the skin just below. “If you want, you can, uh. Play with it. For a bit.”

 

“Yeah,” Keith choked out. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

 

“Okay. Okay, yeah. Let’s, uh, let’s go, then,” Lance stuttered out. Still, it took them a moment to get going, both of them moving so slowly as if they weren’t quite sure this was happening. Keith was still half-convinced that he’d gotten hit in the head by one of the drones and he’d dreamed up all of this. But then Lance’s hand slipped into his own, and squeezed lightly, and he couldn’t deny that this was real.

 

The walk back to their rooms was a blur. All Keith knew was that no one else had been around, so no one spotted them as they both slunk into Lance’s room. He hadn’t been sure exactly where they were going, but Lance led him with such confidence that he didn’t even question it when they slipped into the Blue Paladin’s quarters, the door sliding shut behind them with a hiss. Lance locked it with a quick press of his palm against the controls, and then it was just the two of them standing in the middle of the room, both half hard and both very uncertain about what to do next.

 

“So – ”

 

“Um – ”

 

They started speaking at once, and stopped just as quickly. For a second they just stared at each other, and then they both started giggling.

 

“Sorry, I haven’t done this in a while. I guess I’m nervous,” Keith admitted after a moment, wrapping his arms around himself.

 

“Done what?” Lance asked, curious. “Sex?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“With a guy?”

 

Keith gave Lance a flat look. “You know I’m gay, right?”

 

Lance shrugged. “I’d heard, but I didn’t want to assume. I mean, I’d seen the way you used to look at Shiro, but everyone likes Shiro so I didn’t think that counted.”

 

“Well, I am,” Keith told him, and he tried to keep his voice steady as he said it. He didn’t have any family, so it wasn’t like he’d ever had to worry about being disowned or anything after coming out. But it wasn’t exactly something he’d advertised either. Shiro was technically the only person he’d ever officially come out to; he hadn’t felt it necessary to actually tell anyone else, even his past partners. Then again, he hadn’t really said much of anything to them, aside from maybe a few awkward suggestive lines. But now he was telling Lance too, and he couldn’t help but feel a bit on edge about it. “What about you? You’re usually so crazy about the ladies.”

 

“Yeah, girls are great,” Lance said with a dreamy smile, before shaking himself out of it. “But hey, that doesn’t mean boys aren’t great too. I’ve never really been picky,” he admitted slowly. “And my family has always been really supportive of me, so I’ve never really cared about who I fall for, I guess. It’s more about the person themselves.”

 

“So…have you?” Keith asked slowly, tentatively.

 

“Have I what?”

 

“Sex,” Keith mimicked Lance’s earlier comment. “With a guy.”

 

“Um, no, not really,” Lance shrugged. “I mean, I’ve had crushes on guys before, and I even kissed this one boy I used to be friends with in high school. But it never really went anywhere. So…” This time it was Lance’s turn to look shy and uncertain. “I don’t really know what to do.”

 

Somehow, Lance’s nervousness actually boosted Keith’s confidence a little. Someone had to be in charge here, and it looked like for once Keith would be the clear choice. Smiling, he let his arms drop to his sides and he stepped closer to Lance.

 

“Well, first, we don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” he promised Lance gently. “I swear, you tell me to stop and I will.”

 

“I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that,” Lance scoffed, but when Keith gave him a hard stare he huffed. “Fine, yeah, I get it. I’ll tell you to stop if I’m not okay.”

 

“Good. Second, we don’t have to rush into anything. We can…go slow.” To demonstrate, Keith reached out and trailed his fingers gently along Lance’s bare arm, just light enough to make goosebumps rise on the dark skin. Lance shivered under his touch. He did it again, pressing harder this time, and Lance made a low humming sound in the back of his throat and moved into the touch.

 

“Hmmm, well, that sounds okay,” Lance agreed. He looked up at Keith with hooded eyes beneath his long bangs. “Buuuuut…” And then he was stepping right into Keith’s space and grabbing his hips, pulling them flush together. “I kind of like what we were doing in the training room better.”

 

“O-oh!” Keith gasped, but quickly recovered, bringing his arms back up around Lance’s neck and grabbing onto his hair again. “Okay. Yeah, we can go with that too.”

 

He sunk his fingers into the long strands and pulled Lance’s head back, forcing him to bare his throat. Then, with a pleased hum, he licked a long stripe up Lance’s neck just like he’d wanted to earlier finishing with a nip at the edge of Lance’s jaw while running his fingernails through Lance’s scalp. Lance moaned as Keith worked his magic, holding Keith’s hips hard enough to leave bruises. A particularly sharp nip to the skin just beneath his ear had Lance hissing and bucking forward.

 

Both of them sucked in a quick breath as their groins brushed, the friction just a tantalizing hint through their clothes. Keith looked up at Lance, saw the way he was already beginning to pant for air.

 

“Forget slow?” he asked, equally breathless.

 

“Definitely,” Lance agreed. And without further prompting, he pushed Keith towards the bed. Keith fell back on the soft surface with a small ‘oof’ and then lay there as Lance crawled up over him.

 

“Shit,” Lance muttered, looking down at him. Keith could only imagine what he looked like. T-shirt hiked up so that his stomach was showing, face bright red, panting, dick straining against his zipper. Though Lance didn’t look much different. “Damn, you look good.”

 

“Mmmm, so do you,” Keith said, and then he grabbed Lance by the neck and dragged him down and finally, finally, pressed their lips together.

 

The kiss was messy and sloppy and breathless and good. Lance’s hands were everywhere, running up Keith’s sides to drag his t-shirt even further up, and then back down over his thighs and hips, driving Keith insane. Keith for his part was enjoying his hold on Lance’s hair once more. He couldn’t stop touching it, stroking it, tugging at it. Their kisses only became more disorganized as Lance continued to touch Keith lower and lower on his stomach and inner thighs, until Keith had to break away with a desperate gasp to try to get some more air. He was so dizzy the room was spinning.

 

Lance, no longer distracted with Keith’s lips, started trailing kisses down his neck, sucking at Keith’s collarbone hard enough to make Keith keen and claw at his back.

 

“Ah hah,” Lance grinned. “I think I found a sweet spot.”

 

Keith would have responded with something snarky, but Lance immediately ducked his head and started licking and biting the spot again, and all he could do was cling and pant for air. At some point, Lance started tugging at Keith’s shirt collar, trying to get access to more of Keith’s skin, and Keith simply ripped his shirt up over his head and tossed it away, leaving his chest bare for Lance to stare at.

 

“I…um,” Lance suddenly hesitated, still straddling Keith’s hips but now sitting up a bit and giving Keith some room. Keith frowned at the pause, wondering if he’d maybe spooked Lance. Even though Lance had said he didn’t care about going fast, maybe he was having second thoughts. Was he rushing them?

 

“What?” Keith asked, trying his best to keep the impatience out of his tone. This was Lance’s first time with a guy, he had to remind himself. He had to be the calm one here, he had to stay in control. For Lance. He’d promised. “What’s wrong?”

 

Lance bowed his head and started playing with the hem of his own shirt, not looking Keith in the eye. “You, um. Look really good,” Lance muttered. “Like, you know you’re really hot, right?”

 

“I – thank you?” Keith said, caught off guard. “What’s going on?”

 

“I just…ever since I was stuck on that planet…” Lance’s shirt was becoming so twisted in his hands, Keith was sure it was going to rip. Before that could happen, Keith reached up and caught each of Lance’s hands in his own. Lance went still as Keith gently pulled them away from his shirt and brought Lance’s fingers up to his mouth, placing gentle kisses on each knuckle.

 

“It’s okay,” Keith told him gently. “You can tell me. I promise, I won’t mind.”

 

Lance hesitated for a moment more, before he fell forward with a shudder, his hands planted on either side of Keith’s head. His head hung down between his shoulders, and his hair shadowed his face from Keith’s view.

 

“I just…” Lance shrugged, struggling to find the words. Keith waited him out. “I was always kind of scrawny, before. Never really bothered me, that’s just what my family is like. We’re beanpoles. But then, in the jungle…It was hard, sometimes. Finding food. I wasn’t sure at first what was safe to eat and there were some times that I really don’t want to go through again. But…” His fingers tightened, gripping the sheets. “I remember the way everyone looked at me when you first found me. No one said anything, but I remember how horrified everyone looked. And I’m still really bony even now. It’s just…look at you, and then look at me, and – ”

 

“Lance,” Keith cut him off softly. “Lance, please. Trust me. Don’t you remember what happened when I first saw you? Completely naked?”

 

“Oh yeah,” Lance said, giving him a flat look, “what the hell man?”

 

“I couldn’t look away. I liked what I was seeing,” Keith explained. “I mean, yeah, it sucked to see that you’d lost weight, and I was worried about you. But damn, your arms. Your shoulders, your thighs.” As he listed off each area, he reached out and grabbed at them, enjoying the feeling of hard muscle beneath his hands. “You put on some muscle, while you were out there.”

 

Lance paused. “I haven’t really thought about that. I didn’t even notice.”

 

“Trust me, you look damn fine to me.”

 

“…still. Can I…keep my shirt on?”

 

“Of course. Whatever you need,” Keith agreed easily. And then, once he was sure Lance was calming down, he reached up and pulled Lance into another kiss.

 

They kissed slow and gentle this time, Keith cupping Lance’s face and brushing his thumbs along his cheeks. He could feel Lance slowly relaxing with every press of his lips, sinking more and more of his weight down onto Keith, until Lance was pretty much laying on top of him. Keith took the opportunity to run a hand down Lance’s back in long, soothing strokes, while the other stayed pressed to Lance’s cheek.

 

When his hand reached the top of Lance’s ass, he couldn’t resist giving it a firm squeeze. That made Lance jolt, thrusting his hips downwards in surprise, making them rub up against each other. So, of course, Keith did it again, kneading at the curve of Lance’s ass.

 

“Oooh my god, Keith,” Lance groaned, breaking their kiss and thrusting helplessly against the paladin beneath him. Keith, for his part, did his best to meet each of Lance’s thrusts, rolling his hips upward in time. “Keith.”

 

“Yeah,” Keith agreed with a smirk.

 

Lance cursed in Spanish, and then suddenly he was leaning down and attacking Keith’s collarbone again. Keith gasped, his hips giving a particularly energetic hump against Lance’s, and then he groaned and melted against the bed as Lance started trailing kisses down his bare chest. Lance sucked and nibbled at every inch of skin he could find, only lingering long enough to drive Keith mental with his touches, and then moving on ever downward. The closer he got to the top of Keith’s pants, the louder Keith’s moans became, until he was licking at the skin right above the button.

 

When he paused, Keith couldn’t help but look down. The sight of Lance hovering over his crotch, mouth slightly parted and eyes dark, was nearly enough to make him come right then and there.

 

“Keith?” Lance called, licking his lips nervously. “Can I…can I suck you?” he asked tentatively.

 

Keith was pretty sure his brain just melted.

 

“Holy shit, yes,” he managed to gasp out, shifting so that he was resting on his elbows with his back supported by Lance’s pillow. He wanted to be able to see this.

 

“Okay. I’ve…never done this before, though. So you have to tell me if I’m doing it wrong,” Lance said, strangely serious. His hands gripped at the top of Keith’s pants, ready to pull them open.

 

“I will, I will, I promise, just, Lance, please – ” Keith cut himself off with a gasp. Lance hadn’t wasted any time, popping the button and pulling down the zipper, and the moment he got them undone he was already tugging them down, taking Keith’s boxers with them. Keith’s cock sprung free, fully hard and leaking already, and he groaned in relief.

 

For a moment, Lance just stared at Keith’s cock like it was some kind of alien device, with a bit of confusion and wonder. But then he grew determined, and with a deep breath, he grabbed Keith with one hand, and opened his mouth wide to suck him down.

 

Only to be stopped short by Keith’s palm to his forehead.

 

“Huh?” Lance looked up at Keith, baffled.

 

“Um, just. This is one area where you really do want to go slow. Especially if you haven’t done it before,” Keith explained sheepishly. “And, you know. Teeth.”

 

“I know about the teeth,” Lance grumbled, offended. “Geez, I’m not an idiot.”

 

“I’m just sayin – oh,” Keith’s eyes went wide as Lance finally took him into his mouth. The sudden wet heat made his breath catch in his throat. “Oh. God.

 

Lance had thankfully taken Keith’s advice to heart, despite his complaining, because he focused on the tip at first. Getting used to the feeling of a dick in his mouth, running his tongue around the head to get used to the taste. He tried a few small bobs of his head, only taking an inch or two at a time, just to see what it was like.

 

Keith was pretty sure he was going to die.

 

“Oh yeah, just like that,” he said breathlessly, trying to offer encouragement as Lance slowly drove him mad. “Yeah. That’s g-oh fuck yes-good.”

 

Lance was tentatively taking more and more with each pass over Keith’s cock, his tongue moving in odd swirls as he tried to find a rhythm. A particularly long wet stroke over the head made Keith’s hands come up on instinct, grabbing Lance by the hair.

 

Lance went still. Keith immediately started to let go, figuring he’d crossed a line somewhere. But before he could pull his hands away, Lance came off of his dick with a wet pop and caught both of Keith’s hands in his own.

 

“No,” he said, his lips shiny with spit. “No, wait, don’t let go. I want you to guide me.”

 

He pressed Keith’s hands back to his head. Slowly, giving Lance plenty of time to pull away, Keith worked his fingers into the long hair, gripping Lance by the back of his head.

 

“Are you sure?” Keith asked, watching Lance carefully for any sign of hesitation.

 

But there was none. “Yeah. I’m sure,” he insisted, before placing both of his hands back on Keith’s stomach and hips, ready to try again.

 

Keith gently pulled Lance’s head down, going slowly so that Lance had time to pull away if he wanted to. But then his cock slipped back between Lance’s lips in one slow, wet movement, and he groaned in absolute bliss. Carefully he tried bringing Lance’s head down even further, seeing how far he could go, and stopping the second he felt Lance go tense. Then he dragged Lance back up by the hair until his cock was almost completely out of Lance’s mouth, before pulling it back down again. Lance didn’t fight him at all, letting Keith control his movement completely, and it was enough to bring Keith already teetering on the edge.

 

He tried to keep it simple, his breath hitching as he moved Lance’s head, making him bob up and down in a jerky rhythm. Lance tried to stay perfectly relaxed, even moaning a bit when Keith’s grip on his hair tightened reflexively. He gagged once or twice, when Keith accidentally brought his head down too low, but he recovered quickly enough, slurping and sucking at the shaft in his mouth with all of the enthusiasm he could muster.

 

Then he looked up at Keith, and their eyes met. The sight of Lance staring up at him, cheeks hollow and lips bright red and shiny wrapped around his cock, made Keith give up all pretence of control. With a deep moan, he shifted his grip on Lance’s head, holding it firmly in place, and began thrusting up into the wet heat of his mouth.

 

He rocked up into Lance’s lips, his grip on Lance’s hair getting tighter and tighter as Lance tried his best to suck Keith’s cock in time with his thrusts. It was messy and rough, and Lance was definitely drooling all over him, but the slick slide of it, the feeling of Lance giving into him, the heat and pressure was just so perfect.

 

“Oh fuck, Lance. So good. It’s so good,” he groaned, bucking up into Lance’s mouth erratically now. “I’m so close. So close.”

 

He started to let go of Lance’s head, aware enough even then that Lance might want to pull off, but without missing a beat Lance’s hands came up and pressed Keith’s fingers back. It was too much, too much for Keith to handle.

 

He came with a loud gasp, his back arching off the bed and his fingers digging so hard into Lance’s scalp that it must have drawn blood, stars dancing in his eyes.

 

When he landed back against the bed, panting and feeling absolutely incredible, all he could do was lay there for a moment and try to recover his senses.

 

“That was…amazing,” he groaned.

 

“It definitely looked amazing,” Lance agreed. But his voice sounded a bit strained. Worried, Keith lifted his head so that he could look down the bed. His eyes widened as he watched Lance staring back at him, face flushed, slowly thrusting his hips down against the bed.

 

“Fuck, you looked so good,” Lance hissed, still moving. “It was the hottest damn thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

“Come here,” Keith told him, reaching out with a hand. Lance needed no further prompting, crawling up the bed so that he was hovering over Keith again. “How close are you?”

 

“Pretty damn close,” Lance admitted. He moaned as Keith reached up and started pulling his pants open. “Oh god, please, I just want to come.”

 

“I got you,” Keith told him, voice low, and then he was sliding his hand into Lance’s underwear and pulling out his cock. He took a moment to stare at it, licking his lips. It was just as nice as he remembered.

 

“Want me to give you a blow job too?” Keith asked, lightly stroking the shaft with a gentle grip. It only seemed fair to return the favour, after all.

 

“P-probably not going to last long enough,” Lance said after a moment. His arms were trembling as he held himself up over Keith. Taking pity, Keith gently eased him over onto his side and then shifted over himself so that they were lying on their sides, face-to-face.

 

“Okay, then. Don’t worry, I’ll make it good,” Keith promised him. And then he did just that, using every trick he could think of to give Lance the best hand job he could manage.

 

As it turned out, Lance was wonderfully responsive, writhing under Keith’s touch, moaning and gasping with every stroke of Keith’s hand. At one point he had to bury his face in Keith’s shoulder, and Keith just held him close as Lance shuddered against him.

 

“Mmmm, you look amazing,” Keith murmured into his ear, speeding up his hand, gripping just a little bit tighter. He could feel Lance going still, could feel the pressure building and building until it crested.

 

Lance was absolutely gorgeous when he came, Keith was pleased to find out.

 

When it was over, Lance lay panting against the bed, a grin playing around his lips. Keith leaned over, pressing a kiss to Lance’s sweaty brow, before rolling off the bed and heading towards the bathroom. He returned with a towel to wipe Lance off, cleaning up the mess they’d made.

 

When he’d finished, Keith started tugging his pants into place, picking up and putting his clothes back on piece by piece. He was reaching for his discarded shirt when he felt fingers brushing against his back. He turned to look down at Lance, who was staring back up at him.

 

“Stay?” Lance asked quietly, packing a hundred things into that single question.

 

Don’t leave me.

 

Do you still respect me?

 

Do you still want me?

 

I still want you.

 

Was this just a one-time thing?

 

Can it be more?

 

Can we be more?

 

Stay.

 

Keith smiled softly, and immediately dropped his shirt back to the ground. “Okay,” he said, his answer equally loaded.

 

I won’t.

 

Yes I still respect you.

 

Yes I still want you.

 

I know you do.

 

We can do this again.

 

It can be more.

 

We can be more.

 

Okay.

 

Lance shifted over easily as Keith crawled into bed with him, the two of them shuffling until they could get comfortable. They ended up with Keith lying with his head pillowed against Lance’s chest, with Lance’s arms wrapped around him. Keith couldn’t resist reaching up and tugging at Lance’s hair one last time before his eyes started drifting shut.

 

Just before he fell asleep, he felt Lance sigh in contentment, sounding fully at ease for the first time since they’d brought him home.

 

+++

 

“But I thought you wanted me to cut it,” Pidge blinked in confusion. They held a pair of scissors in one hand, and a towel in the other, ready to get to work.

 

“Yeah, but I changed my mind,” Lance said sheepishly, twirling one strand around his finger. “I guess it’s kind of grown on me. Heh, get it? Because it grew?”

 

Pidge just stared at him in disgust. “Just for that, you can cut your own damn hair,” they said, throwing the towel and scissors on the table and walking away, muttering about indecisive assholes who make terrible puns. Lance watched them go with a pout.

 

“Aw, come on. It wasn’t that bad, was it?” he groaned.

 

“Yes. Yes it was,” Keith answered him as he walked into the room carrying a glass of Hunk’s latest attempt at recreating grape juice. It tasted nothing like grapes; instead it was somehow a perfect replica of chocolate milk. Hunk had no idea how it had happened, but no one wanted to complain about it. Keith held the glass out to Lance.

 

Lance accepted it with a grin and then took a long chug before handing it back. “Come on, you know you loved it.”

 

“Nope. Not even a little,” Keith shot back immediately. Lance’s face drooped. “But,” he continued, reaching out and running his fingers through Lance’s hair. “I know I love this. I’m glad you decided to keep it. For a while, anyways.”

 

Lance hummed in pleasure as Keith stroked him like a pet cat, his eyes slipping closed.

 

It was the perfect opportunity. Keith had been trying to find a moment like this for days, but now that it was here, he suddenly felt nervous. What if he had been wrong? What if Lance got upset? What if Lance got really mad at him and they stopped being…whatever the hell they were now?

 

Nerves clutched at him for a moment before he firmly told himself to get a grip. No. None of that would happen. At worst, Lance would just get mad and storm off to pout for a bit. That’s what Lance did, he had little outbursts, and then he got over it. Lance wasn’t one to stay mad for long. He was overthinking this. Wasn’t he?

 

Frustrated with himself, Keith decided to just go for it. No point in agonizing, just get it done. With that in mind, he kept up the pressure on Lance’s scalp, distracting Lance for a few seconds as he slipped his free hand into his pocket.

 

“Here,” Keith suddenly announced, pulling something out of his pocket and carelessly shoving it into Lance’s hands. “I, uh. Made this for you.”

 

Lance blinked at him in surprise, before looking down at the item in his hands. At once his eyes went wide, and he gasped softly. Keith hoped that was a good sound.

 

“Wha…?” In his hands was what looked like a thick leather cord, with a circular disk of wood dangling from it like a pendant. The wood was ivory, shot through with streaks of jade, and it had been sanded it down and polished it so that it was smooth to the touch on all sides.

 

“I-it’s from your tree,” Keith explained slowly, looking away from Lance so that he couldn’t see his reaction anymore. Damn, he sucked at giving gifts. This had been a really stupid idea. Maybe Lance would hate him now. “I finished it up for you. You seemed to have put a lot of time into carving it anyways, so I thought you might want to keep it.”

 

“…you kept this?” Lance asked, his voice quiet.

 

“Yeah. I just thought you might want something to remember. After all, you did a pretty amazing thing, surviving all alone on a deserted jungle planet. So I grabbed that for you,” Keith admitted. Suddenly impatient, he turned dared to look back. “Look, if you don’t like it, you can just say so! You can throw it out an airlock or something, or – ”

 

He was cut off with a kiss.

 

Lance pulled back after only a moment, though, before they could get too carried away. He was blushing, a tiny, pleased smile on his face. Keith himself probably wasn’t much better.

 

“No, I actually really like it,” Lance quickly assured him. And to prove his point, he put it on over his head. The cord was long, and the pendant of wood hung low enough on his chest that he could tuck it away where it couldn’t be seen under his shirt, right next to his skin. But for now, Lance left it hanging over his shirt, and his hand came up to grip it tightly. “Thank you. It’s…I…”

 

“Yeah,” Keith quickly agreed, knowing exactly what Lance was trying to say but couldn’t. “No problem.”

 

Lance grinned at him, and then his smile morphed into a playful smirk. “Hey,” he murmured, glancing around quickly to see if anyone else was around before leaning in close to Keith’s personal space. “I should give you a proper thank you for this.”

 

“Oh?” Keith raised an eyebrow. He liked where this was going. Maybe he hadn’t screwed up after all.

 

And I think I’m going to need some styling tips. Considering I’m not used to having long hair. Think you could help me out? Tonight, maybe?”

 

He gave Keith a hopeful grin, wiggling his eyebrows.

 

Keith merely snorted and reached up to tug Lance’s hair one more time. “Of course,” he promised.