It takes Lance a while to even realize anything is wrong. Too long, honestly.
To be fair, it starts with small things.
Keith doesn’t come down for team dinner as often, and when he does he sits further up the table, a chair or three between him and everybody else even though there’s a lot of them and it’s a crowded table. He’s quiet too, distant and distracted.
Lance notices, of course he fucking notices, but he just thinks Keith needs some time and space to himself. If he found out that he had the blood of a genocidal alien race in his veins, he’d probably want to take timeout from the worst of the world too.
Then Keith stops training. Not official training, of course, because the universe is held in a precarious balance and that’s a responsibility all of them take very seriously. It’s the training he does in his off time he stops, which is more alarming than the dinner time distance because some days Lance thinks Keith does nothing but train.
Other people like to relax by reading a book or watching a movie. Keith relaxes by swinging a sword. Other people have a long shower or a good cry when they’re upset. Keith calms down by seeing how many pushups it takes before he collapses.
No matter how many times Lance calls by the training deck, Keith isn’t there. He checks the droid data and sees the last time Keith logged any time with it was at least a week ago.
This is when he starts growing concerned, but Lance isn’t often in the business of letting people know just how much he worries for them, so he bites his lip and puts it to the back of his mind.
Time. Keith needs time. That’s all. Surely Lance and the rest of them can give him that much.
So he tries. Doesn’t bother Keith as much, holds his tongue and tries not to pick fights. He keeps an eye on him, looking for any sign that Keith wants to talk about this, but can’t find a single damn thing in the expressionless mask Keith has taken to wearing.
One day though, Lance slips up, because it’s not Lance’s nature to play nice, and bickering with Keith is both fun and instinctual.
They’re discussing strategy, exhausted after a very thorough training exercise, and they’re just killing time while they wait to get their balance back really, and Keith says, “if we keep going through wormholes at the rate we are, we’re going to wind up stuck there one day.”
And Lance, without a second thought, says, “nobody’s getting stuck in a wormhole - unless I get tired of your bullshit and decide to toss you in one.”
It’s a good comeback, Lance is pretty proud of it, and he looks up, eyebrows already raised and prepared to give a smarmy grin as Keith stutters and fishes for a response, but when he sees Keith’s face everything inside of him goes cold.
Keith is staring at him with complete and utter panic. Lance has never seen that expression on his face before, not even on the battlefield. There’s nothing heated in his gaze, and he’s got a deer in headlights look in his eyes that terrifies him.
There’s no retort, only a frozen moment where their eyes lock; Lance is positively baffled, and Keith seems terrified.
What the fuck, Lance thinks, because he’s seen Keith mad at him, worried for him, upset with him - but never scared of him.
Keith swallows, breaks his gaze, and looks away and down to the floor. The moment is all of a second or two long, but Lance feels the weight of it suffocating him.
“Boys,” Shiro says on autopilot, not even looking up from the screen he’s considering, “no fighting on the bridge.”
“Yeah,” Keith says immediately, voice weirdly rough, “of course.” He clears his throat and gets to his feet, wobbling a little from exhaustion. “I’m just - I’m gonna rest.”
Lance stares at him blankly, expects Keith to follow that statement by rushing out of the bridge like there’s hell on his heels, but he doesn’t. He just stands there, back straight, and arms stiff by his side, and - oh, hell, he’s practically standing at attention.
Shiro says, still distracted, “sure, buddy. Get some sleep.
Keith nods stiffly, and turns and walks out of the bridge as quickly as he can without breaking into a run. Lance watches him go, and it occurs to him that Keith had been waiting for a dismissal.
Keith, who rushes into battle against both common sense and orders. Keith, who Lance knows respects Shiro, but still has trouble deferring to anybody. Keith, who is as hot headed as he is talented.
Realization is a sick and sudden feeling in his stomach. Every moment since Keith had learnt he was Galra plays out in his head, all the incidents that have been mounting until they seem towering and terrible.
Lance thought he was smarter than this. Scratch that; Lance had thought Keith was smarter than that.
“What,” he says aloud, startling everybody on the bridge, “the fuck.”
It takes time before Lance is able to corner Keith.
He doesn’t want to talk about it to the others, knows Keith would be absolutely mortified if he found out that they talked about him and his issues behind his back. Lance doesn’t really think it’d help rebuild any kind of trust.
The problem is, of course, that they’re in the middle of a war and time isn’t exactly an abundant resource. Their downtime has dwindled to pretty much nothing, and as the days mount Keith becomes more and more hesitant, talks less and less.
The others have finally started to clue in, Lance knows, but they’re just watching with concerned, thoughtful gazes. It’ll take them too long to realize what the actual problem is, and Lance doesn’t plan to let it stretch out like that.
The only reason Lance had figured it out as soon as he did is because nobody quite watched Keith like he did.
One day they get back from a supply run, and while everybody shuffles off to their rooms, sleepy and exhausted, Lance takes the chance to grab Keith by the arm.
“Lance,” Keith says, startled and on guard.
“Hey buddy,” Lance says with the biggest grin in his considerable arsenal, “you got a moment?”
Normally Keith would have frowned at him, pulled his arm free and brushed him off without a single reservation. This isn’t normally though; this is a Keith who has lost his ability to say no, has lost the sharp spark that keeps his temper flared.
Keith opens his mouth, looks over his shoulder only to see the others have already vanished, and slumps a bit. “Of course,” he says.
Lance’s stomach turns but he works hard to keep the anxiousness out of his eyes. “Excellent,” he says cheerfully, and turns and pulls Keith back to the bridge. Keith trails after him, even if Lance can tell he’s uncomfortable with the hand around his wrist.
Lance thinks he might have one chance at this before Keith shuts him out completely.
“Here,” he says, pushing Keith to the big, open window that shows the endless stars and skies that make up the universe. “Take a seat.”
Keith shoots him a baffled look, but obeys, cautiously sitting down cross-legged and staring out at the vast, vast emptiness. Lance takes a seat beside him and tries not to feel offended when Keith stiffens and pulls his knees in closer to his chest.
He does not, however, let go of Keith’s wrist.
“What do you see out there?”
Keith frowns, looks at him suspiciously like he thinks Lance is testing him. “Space?”
“That too,” Lance agrees. “But what else?”
“I…” Keith trails off, bites back an obvious insult, and turns quickly around to look out the glass. “Planets?” He guesses, helplessly.
Lance raises an eyebrow. “And?”
“Galaxies?” Keith says. “People? Stars?”
“Yeah,” Lance says, and he can feel Keith’s pulse at his fingertips, too fast for the quietness of this moment. “Stars and stardust. Galaxies, people, planets. Cosmic dust, Pidge might say.”
Keith goes deadly still. Lance does him the courtesy of not looking at him. “You remember how excited you were? You were like a kid, Keith. As you said, we’re all related. We’re all made up of the same thing. Everybody and everything; even you and me, though you have different blood in your veins.”
Keith swallows. “I -.”
“You’re insufferable,” Lance says, talking of him, and that terrified look is back on Keith’s face, but Lance soldiers on. “Insufferable, and annoying, and Galra.”
“I know!” Keith snaps, and he finally wrenches his hand free from Lance. It’s the most energy Lance has seen out of him in a week, and he feels more relieved than he knows what to do with. “Don’t you think I know that!”
“No, I really think you don’t,” Lance says more calmly than he feels.
Keith gets to his feet in rushed, lurchy movements, and Lance follows him up. Keith looks like he’s itching to take a swing at him. “I’m trying, okay? I can’t just - just wish it away.”
“Nobody’s asking you to,” Lance hisses, his carefully kept temper finally frying. “You said it yourself - we’re all related, made of the same cosmic dust. It was true then, and it’s true now, and God, Keith - do you think you have to play the part of the perfect soldier or we’re going to toss you out the airlock? That you’re not allowed to be insufferable and annoying or you’re off the team?”
Keith’s face is positively thunderstruck. Lance could have punched him in the stomach and gotten less of a reaction out of him. Lance had known, but the grim confirmation in the bloodless cheeks of Keith’s face is still hard to swallow.
“I wasn’t…” Keith trails off, because he was and they both know it.
Lance takes a deep breath, because shouting at Keith isn’t going to help any, even if it’d feel really good. “Keith, buddy. We’ve seen some serious shit in this team, and if you think the fact you’ve got some Galra in you is going to change a single thing, you’re dumber than I thought you were.”
Keith’s brow is narrowed, and he’s got that stubborn look on his face like he’s prepared to stand here and argue the point until they grow old and weathered. Lance despises that look, but it’s leagues better than Keith’s blank resignation.
“But Allura -.”
“Allura’s people were betrayed and obliterated by the Galra,” Lance says. “This isn’t about you, don’t think it is. She just needs some time. She’ll come around.”
Lance believes that, too. Shiro might be their fearless leader, the heart that keeps them going, but Allura is their backbone that holds them strong.
Keith doesn’t look convinced. Lance sighs and reaches out again, snags a hand in Keith’s jacket and drags him in.
“What are you doing?” Keith asks, suddenly alarmed.
Lance ignores him, pulls harder so that Keith stumbles into him. Without hesitation, he takes hold of both Keith’s arms, drags them around so that Keith’s hands are hovering an inch off his back. He rests his chin on the dip in Keith’s shoulder, and it’s awkward, possibly the most awkward thing Lance has ever done, but hey, Keith’s warm and Lance has a pretty killer view of space.
He’s had dreams like this, but that’s neither here nor there.
“Do you think,” he says, as pushes at Keith’s arms until his hands flatten on Lance’s back, “that I’d ever let you let do this if I didn’t trust you a hundred percent?”
“Let me do this?” Keith asks dubiously, stiff as a rock against Lance. “You’re the one who did this.”
“But it’s your hands against my back,” Lance says easily, and if possibly Keith stiffens even further. “It’d take very little to kill me. Your hand to hand skills are exceptional; I wouldn’t stand a chance like this.”
“Lance,” Keith says, shocked.
“So,” Lance says conversationally, “feeling particularly homicidal yet?” He digs the sharp of his chin into Keith’s shoulder and can feel him flinch. “Or is this just awkward and uncomfortable?”
Keith doesn’t say anything. Lance sort of hadn’t expected him too. If this whole clusterfuck had proven anything, it was definitely that Keith and emotions were either highly explosive or completely incompatible.
“You need to stop trying to play the part you think we want of you,” Lance says, “and keep going the way you always have been.”
“Being annoying and insufferable?” Keith asks dryly.
Lance pulls back a little, and Keith’s hands on his back give him the room but don’t fall away. He gives him a wide grin and reaches up to pinch Keith’s cheek. “Wouldn’t have you any other way, buddy.”
Keith stares at him for a moment. His face is blank again, but it’s thoughtful blankness rather than a cautiously cultivated emptiness. “You’re absolutely the last person I would have thought would approach me about this,” he says eventually.
Lance’s heart skips a beat and he’s a little worried that Keith might be able to tell this close, but he doesn’t let his grin drop. “I’m just more observant than you give me credit for.”
“I guess,” Keith says uncertainly, like he thinks there’s more but he’s really unwilling to push. Lance is selfishly glad, because he doesn’t think he’d be able to lie to Keith right now, not when he’s working so hard to show him how much he trusts him.
The absolute last thing he’d want to do right now is overwhelm him, and Lance is willing to take things one day at a time.
He takes a step back and Keith’s arms finally fall away. “As long as we’re clear here,” Lance says, prodding Keith in the chest. “If I catch you biting your tongue and trying to avoid us all over something so stupid, I’ll -.”
“Hug me harder with an even better view?” Keith says, raising his brows.
“As long as you understand,” Lance repeats. “I’d hate to have to do this again.”
“Yeah,” Keith agrees, and he’s got a tentative smile even if there’s still a tightness in his shoulders. “Because you and me hugging and looking at the stars together has been awful.”
It takes a second for Lance to realize that had been sarcasm, and he’s so exhausted that he’s not sure what to do with that. He stares at Keith blankly, mouth maybe a little open as his words finally run dry.
Keith looks at him fondly, reaches out to squeeze his shoulder. “Thanks Lance,” he says, softer than Lance is used to hearing. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Lance watches him go, still speechless, and as Keith turns the corner he can see something in him relaxing, like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders.
“What,” Lance says, to the empty bridge, “the fuck.”
The next day Lance comes into the dining hall for breakfast and finds Keith sitting on Hunk’s right, listening with genuine attention as Hunk avidly waves his fork to make a point. Shiro is sitting across from them, watching them with such affection and relief. He glances up as the door hisses open.
“Lance,” Shiro smiles, lifting his mug at him in greeting. “Looks like it’s a full table for breakfast for a change.”
“If you can call this breakfast,” Pidge huffs, poking at something oozy and gelatinous. “It looks terrible.”
“It still looks better than Lance does in the mornings,” Keith says, and holy crap - it’s untrue, it’s blatantly untrue, Lance is the most beautiful person on this ship at an hour of the day, but the feeling of contentedness that rushes through him at the jab is almost overwhelming.
Keith looks up then, raises a brow and grins challengingly at Lance. There’s still bags under his eyes from too many sleepless nights, and he’s not as relaxed as Lance would ordinarily like to see him, but it’s Keith in a way it hasn’t been for a while now.
“Watch your mouth, at least I don’t wash my hair with soap,” he huffs, and he sinks down into the chair beside Keith and everything feels right. He looks up and can’t help but to grin back, and both of them are smiling too much, and it’s weird, and the team are going to notice any second now but Lance doesn’t care.
Keith is smiling and he did that.
He did that.
“Now, shut up,” he says, even as he leans in so his elbow knocks with Keith’s, “and give me whatever passes for sugar around here.”