“Lance, I’m begging you,” Keith groaned as he slashed through an endless stretch of security drones.
“Pow, pow, pow.” Each of Lance’s sound effects was accompanied by a drone dropping like a fly. Lance was backing him up from the balcony, but Keith heard him all too clearly through his helmet. They were cornered in some underground Galra security base, fighting for their lives, as per usual. “What? It helps me concentrate.”
“It cannot,” Keith gritted out, “possibly.”
“Yeah, you try it.” Keith shoved his bayard into a drone’s chest and Lance said, “Stab! Stabbity stab!” as Keith continued to take them down.
“I am gonna murder you.”
“You might not get the chance.”
Lance was right. Keith was surrounded.
“So quit making sound effects and help me!”
“What do you pow think pow I’m pow doing?” Each pow was punctuated by a drone collapsing, a hole burnt through their heads.
“Huh,” Keith said, still fighting. He wasn’t any less surrounded, but he was thoroughly impressed by Lance’s aim. “You’re really good at this.”
“Duh-doy! I’m the sharpshooter!”
Keith rolled his eyes. “How about you sharp-shoot those stalagmites and crush these drones, then?”
“No, they’re coming from the ceiling. They’re stalagmites.”
“Can you just shoot them!”
“K, well, move.”
Keith cut a swath through the drones, speeding through the narrow gap until he hit the wall under Lance’s balcony. “Go, go, go!”
A flurry of Lance’s pows filled his mic, accompanied by his gun going off, and then the great, thunderous shaking of the hanging stone shuddering and crashing onto the drones.
Keith didn’t remember much after that because a drone’s disembodied head flew at him at an alarming speed. It hit him in his mask, the force slammed his skull into the wall behind him, and everything went black.
“Keith. Keith! Keith!”
His helmet was off, he was lying on something padded. His world was still black, but he could definitely hear his name getting shouted in his face. With great effort, he swiped his hand at whoever was screaming at him.
‘Whoever’. He almost laughed. He knew exactly who it was.
“Oh, thank god.” Lance took the hand that was trying to swat him away and squeezed it. “Keith, can you hear me?”
“Yeah, you’re shouting in my face,” he mumbled. He blearily opened his eyes and—oh god. Lance was way too close. Like, close enough to count his eyelashes. His freckles. The drops of sweat rolling down his sharp chin.
“Because that thing came shooting at you at a million miles an hour! I thought you were dead. I thought you died. I thought we were gonna have to plan a space funeral, which freaked me out because I don’t even know how that would go.”
Belatedly, Keith realized that his head was in Lance’s lap. There was also a reassuring weight on the top of his head. Lance’s hand. Lance was stroking his hair. And with his other hand—yes, right. Lance was holding his hand.
Keith blinked, vision going fuzzy for a second. When it returned, Lance was still there, distance between them much too small. Keith couldn’t find it in himself to care.
Because they were so close, and Lance was staring right at him, a worried little crease between his brows, Keith said, “You have really pretty eyes.”
That was weird. Why had Keith said that? Not that it wasn’t true, but—that’s not the type of thing he went around saying to people. Especially Lance.
Surprise splashed across his features, before he fluttered his lashes like a southern belle. “Thanks for noticing.”
Keith tried to sit up. Pain exploded through his head. His fingers tightened on Lance’s sleeve and he hissed, “Fuck me.”
“Watch your language.” A third voice. Hunk’s. Keith forced his eyes to reopen just in time to see Pidge scowling as Hunk tried to cover her ears, still fiddling with the security pad that had locked Keith and Lance in the room.
“Can I get a hand?” Lance said, shifting Keith a little in his lap.
“Looks like you’ve got a handle on things,” Hunk said, eyeing the mountain of rock and destroyed drones pointedly.
“Yeah, what do you need help with?” Pidge strolled in and picked up a stray head—maybe the one that hit Keith—and held it like a baby. “Looks like you’re cradling Keith in your arms just fine.”
Heat creeped over Keith’s face. None of them had let that go. It was a joke now—Lance called it a meme, which Keith didn’t understand. Whenever Shiro touched Allura’s shoulder in conversation, or Pidge clutched a new piece of tech to her chest, or Lance jumped into Hunk’s arms when he was scared like Scooby Doo. It was always: “They’re having a bonding moment! They’re cradling them in their arms!” Even when the jab wasn’t at Keith, he was getting mocked indirectly.
At the moment, Keith followed the even more embarrassing impulse of burying his head in Lance’s chest. It was warm and he could hear his heart beating. He definitely liked it there, but why was he letting himself do that?
“I need to stand up,” he garbled into Lance’s spacesuit. And he was saying that instead of just doing it because his head was on fire. Maybe in a vice? Clamped in a hot iron mechanism? It hurt.
Lance kept hold of his hand as he helped Keith to his feet. Keith didn’t allow him to let go once he was standing. Lance smelled kind of good. Sweaty, sure, and chalky from the dust settling, but he’d definitely smelled worse.
Keith was as dizzy and discombobulated as when he drank too much of that disgusting space juice.
“I think I have a concussion.”
“Oh,” Pidge laughed. “That makes sense.”
“Let’s get you back to the cryopods,” Hunk said. “We should be clearing out of here anyway.”
Keith nodded, still holding onto Lance like his life depended on it.
“I can carry you out of here, man,” Hunk offered.
“No. I can walk.” He dug his fingers into the back of Lance’s suit, forcing him to move with him. Keith took a step forward. Then paused. “I’m gonna be sick.”
“Ew!” Lance released his hand, but Keith held tight to his.
“Lance,” he hissed, as if Lance was the unreasonable one right now. Sure, he should probably let Hunk carry him out of there. That would be fastest. That would be easiest. It would certainly be less embarrassing than throwing up all over Lance.
But there was an insistence thrumming through him that said Lance was the only thing keeping him grounded and if let go he’d go spiralling into space. Or face plant onto rock.
So he insisted on stumbling out of the cave, clutching Lance the entire time. He did end up puking, once, on a pile of Galra crates.
“Atta boy,” Lance said, rubbing Keith’s back. He was confused, very confused, until he hazily remembered that that’s a soothing gesture people did, wasn’t it? He couldn’t remember anybody ever doing that for him while he was sick. “Get ‘em where it hurts—in their crates.”
Keith laughed at Lance’s dumb joke, and ended up choke-laugh-vomiting and almost dying all over again. He elbowed Lance to shut up, but Lance was laughing too for whatever reason. Seeing his self-proclaimed archrival prone and puking must’ve been hysterical.
Finally Keith got a hold of himself enough to glare at Lance.
He had a shit-eating grin on his face. “Feel better?”
His face hurt worse than ever but his stomach at least had settled. “A little.”
“You suuure you don’t want me to carry you?” Keith hadn’t even noticed that Hunk and Pidge were still there, leaning against the wall looking equal amounts amused and confused.
Lance tightened his grip on Keith and assured, “I got him.”
Keith’s heart stuttered.
And that’s when he knew he was screwed.
He had an inkling, back on Earth, that he was a bit different. He never really fit in, always felt like an outsider. He usually racked it up to being an orphan, not having a family, having no ties anywhere. Other times, he was sure it was something else. Something less depressing but still something that wrung his stomach whenever he prodded too deeply. So he didn’t.
And after getting kicked out of the Garrison and living alone in the desert, it was easy to act like he’d been imagining certain feelings.
And then he was in space. And in the grand scheme of things, defeating Zarkon was more important than one boy’s journey of self-discovery. So it was with great relief that he stopped thinking about all that.
As usual, it was Lance who ruined his peace.
Keith was doing a stellar job of repressing any and all feelings until his concussion. Waking up to Lance cradling him in his arms (there was just no other way to phrase it), and subsequently clinging to Lance like a fucking baby koala had thrown some things into sharp relief.
Keith was gay. Like definitely gay.
There was with no room left to hem and haw, because he wanted to kiss Lance. Like, a lot. Like—a lot of kissing and the urge to kiss him was a lot.
And he was horrified.
He didn’t have much time to think it over, just getting out of the caverns to their lions (Lance rode with Keith in Red, just to be safe, and then went back for Blue) and returning to the castle before getting to a cryopod for a quick heal. Overnight, Allura said. That should be enough.
And when he woke up, Lance was there. Fully dressed, not even in his pajamas. “There he is!”
“How long was I out?” Keith asked.
“It’s morning,” Lance shrugged, helping him out of the pod even though Keith’s balance was fully functioning. And then Lance was hugging him, arms tight around his back. Keith froze, face burning with a blush. “Glad you’re alive, bro.”
“Uh huh,” Keith said, trying to keep his cool. “Is this why you’re up so early?”
He grinned as he pulled back. “Yeah, I wanna talk to you.”
His mind worked double-time to think of a snappy comeback to dismiss him, but between that lightning-bright smile and losing the warm proximity of him, all he could focus on was how much he wanted to be as close as they’d been in the cavern.
Keith held back a groan. Great, so that was how things were gonna be from now on.
“I think we both know we had a moment,” Lance began.
“A bonding moment.”
“Where was that truth-telling spirit after the attack on Arus?” Keith snapped. Alright, he was getting back to himself. He could do this. There was no reason to be so dramatic. He wasn’t Lance.
“You hanging onto me for all you were worth,” Lance continued as if Keith hadn’t spoken.
“I had a concussion. You can’t make fun of me for what I did while concussed.”
He twirled, hands clasped to his chest like a five year old. “No, but it let your true emotions shine.”
Keith’s breath caught. He eyed the door, knowing he could make it out of the room before Lance could catch him. But he forced himself to calm down. Lance was smart, not psychic.
“I don’t think we need to lie to each other anymore,” Lance said. Keith’s brain blanked except for every curse word he had ever heard. “We’re friends!”
A beat passed. Two. Three, before Keith realized that Lance’s big revelation was their friendship.
“I thought that had been established,” Keith said, trying to keep the shaky relief out of his voice.
They’d come a long way from fighting and snapping at each other just for the sake of pissing the other off. He thought they had, anyway.
Lance wagged a finger in his face. “You don’t show it enough, my man. You’ve gotta learn to emote.”
Keith glared at him.
“Emote an emotion other than irritation!” Lance laughed, throwing an arm around his shoulders to lead him out of the room. “Like… admiration? I’ve been told I have very nice eyes, and wouldn’t mind hearing it again.”
Keith shoved him into the wall with a scoff, suddenly very glad he hadn’t let slip how much he liked how Lance smelled. There’s no way he would’ve lived that down. “What am I supposed to be admiring? You almost killed me.”
“You shot those stalagmites, not even thinking anything would ricochet—”
“You told me to shoot them! And they were stalactites.”
“Mites,” Keith corrected calmly.
Hunk approached them from down the hall. “Glad to see we’re all back to our normal selves.”
“Buddy, was it stalactites or stalagmites in that cave?” Lance asked.
Hunk shook his head. “No way. I’m not getting dragged into this rivalry again.”
“Oh, no.” Lance threw his arm around Keith’s shoulders again. It was somehow equal parts frustrating and pleasant. Keith kept his scowl on while Lance jerked a thumb between the two of them. “We’re friends now.”
His thick brows rose, but he nodded approvingly. “Cool. Then I’m not gonna ruin that with the truth.”
“But one of us is right?” Lance called as Hunk continued down the hall.
Keith rolled his eyes. “Obviously one of us is right.”
Since Lance still had an arm around his neck, he was quick to switch the hold into a headlock and noogie him.
“Hey!” Keith struggled in his hold, giving him one warning that Lance blithely ignored before flipping him onto the floor.
Lance landed with a thud and a gasp. “Um. Ow?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know what you expected.”
Wincing, he rubbed the back of his head. “I mean. Okay. Fair.”
Keith smirked as he helped him up. He was tougher than a stupid crush.
The next few days were filled with Lance informing everyone, multiple times, of their “new” friendship. “We’re friends now, did you hear? Keith and I are friends.” Over and over, big smile, loud voice. Looking between Keith and whoever he was telling like he expected a round of applause. Or confetti. Or a parade. What he usually got was somebody making a crack about bonding moments, which prompted a tight, put-upon sigh on Keith’s end. And Lance would look at him fondly, and Keith would have to bite his cheek to distract himself from how much he wanted Lance to lean over and kiss him.
Keith was in the zone sparring against three practice drones. His attacks were fluid, his blocks came out of him instinctively. His razor-sharp focus was on the fight, teaching himself to take on more than one opponent at a time. If Lance hadn’t been around in that cave, he would’ve been done for.
That didn’t mean he wanted him there now, ruining his concentration. “Keith, mi amigo!”
Admittedly, maybe Keith was too in the zone, because Lance’s sudden shout completely threw him off. He twisted to follow Lance’s voice, and a drone took advantage of his lapse in attention.
Keith was flat on his back in a second.
“Target neutralized,” announced the drone.
“Justice,” Lance crowed. He went about dismissing the drones and added, “I thought you were supposed to be good at this.”
Keith scowled as he got to his feet. “Better than you.”
He grinned, easy as blinking. “I was hoping you’d say that. Fancy a duel?”
“Why, is Shiro around?”
He spread his arms, like he was some great gift. “No, but I am!”
Keith checked the time. He’d been practicing most of the morning; it was about time for a cooldown. “Alright,” he agreed slowly. “Why, though?”
Except for Shiro, the other paladins didn’t focus too much on close combat. And Keith couldn’t remember ever seeing Lance in the training room when it wasn’t a group exercise.
“I bet Hunk I could kick your Quiznak.”
“You can just say ass.” Keith crossed the room to grab two sparring poles. Partially to even the playing field, partially because this way they’d have no reason to get within a foot of each other, and rolling around on the floor with Lance was a dream and a nightmare all at once.
“Shh!” Lance pressed a finger to his lips. “You never know when little Pidge is listening.”
Keith rolled his eyes and tossed him a pole. About as long as a pool stick. He didn’t know what material it was made of. Some light space wood.
Lance fumbled for it, spinning and twisting his lanky body as though the pole was a snake actively fighting against him, until he slammed it on the ground like a scepter. “There! I won.”
Keith stared at him. It was quite the job to tell the difference between Lance joking and Lance being serious sometimes. His chest wasn’t puffed out with pride like when he actually accomplished something, so Keith decided to take it as a joke.
“Yeah, nice job, buddy,” he said dryly. “Shouldn’t Hunk be here to see you losing?”
“I figure you’re a man of honour. You’ll admit when I win.” He winked.
Keith blushed, which was an upsetting new development. Like, on Earth he thought, maybe, possibly (probably) he was gay, but no one had ever made him blush. No one put his stomach in knots with just a smile.
He’d rather be concussed.
Lance aimed a swift strike at Keith’s ankles.
Keith blocked him and knocked his pole halfway across the room before bumping Lance’s chest with the end of his.
“One,” Keith said. Lance looked offended. “Wow, you can’t beat me even when you’re cheating.”
Lance jogged to retrieve the pole, body a jumbling mess of limbs. The lack of grace in the kid never failed to amaze him. Now he also found it endearing.
Awful, just awful.
“I wasn’t ready,” Lance complained.
“I wasn’t ready.” Keith spread his arms, tight black t-shirt sticking to his sweaty back. “And look how well I did.”
“Only because you waste all your time training.”
“How is it wasted time,” Keith began, knocking Lance’s pole lightly to indicate they were starting, “if I’m better than you because of it?”
Lance’s mouth twisted as he swung his pole to block Keith’s easy attacks. “You beat me once. Don’t get too—”
Keith ducked and smacked his ankles. Lance hit the floor. He leaned over him and touched his pole to Lance’s chest. “Two.”
“Cocky,” Lance grumbled. Keith smirked. “I’m just warming up,” he said as Keith helped him to his feet.
“You sure you don’t wanna spar against the drone set for an Altean child?”
It wasn’t really meant to be an insult—more a reasonable offer. Lance didn’t want his ass kicked, but that’s what was going to happen. It wasn’t that Keith was an inherently better fighter, as much as Keith claimed to be when they bickered. It was just that Lance was a gun guy, though that wasn’t how Lance ever saw it. He wanted everything to be a competition—not that Keith was any different.
So it was no surprise he and Lance had butted heads. Constantly. Lance was transparent about wanting people to like him, compliment him, be impressed by him. Everyone except Keith, it seemed. He was constantly trying to climb over Keith—usually metaphorically, sometimes literally—to prove how much better he was.
Close combat sparring wasn’t going to do that, but whatever.
“Lemme just—” Lance did some overdramatic stretching. Lunges, a few half-assed jumping jacks, cracked his neck. Then he tossed off his jacket and picked up his pole. “Alright, let’s go. Come at me.”
To Lance’s credit, he kept up pretty well the next round. Maybe because he kept his mouth shut for a few minutes to concentrate on blocking Keith. He even got a few strikes on his legs. (“Did I win?” “No, just chest hits count.”)
Keith only got him because Lance kept backing up to give himself more space and ended up stepping off the mat.
“Three,” Keith said.
“What?” Sweat darkened Lance’s hair. “You didn’t even touch me.”
“You’re out of bounds,” Keith said easily, returning to the center.
“Whose rules are these?”
“Shiro’s.” He spun the pole deftly in his hands. “You wanna fight him about it?”
“No, I’m wearing you down, I can tell. You wouldn’t keep trying to get rid of me if you weren’t afraid of defeat.”
“Yeah, I’m shaking in my boots. Let’s go.”
They resumed sparring, just the steady clack of their poles striking and a grunt or two between them. Soon enough, Lance interrupted the silence with an annoyed, “How are you so good at this?”
“Because I don’t spend all my time—what do you even do?” He ducked a swipe at his head and went for Lance’s ankles, but he managed to jump just in time. Keith rolled away before bouncing to his feet. “Laze around with Hunk?”
“Team building exercises with Hunk,” Lance corrected, panting just a little as they resumed. “Maintaining the ship with Coran—”
“Cleaning,” Keith deduced.
“Learning about ancient Altean culture from Allura,” he said, getting all worked up.
“Hitting on her,” he said flatly. He started moving faster.
“Bugging Pidge to make a phone to call Earth with.”
Okay, that sounded real. Keith deflected another hit to his face—which Lance really wasn’t supposed to be aiming for, but whatever—and said, “Why would you wanna contact Earth? Let them know about the incoming Galra threat? I don’t think they’d believe you.”
Lance dropped his defensive stance. Keith had too much force going in his next hit to stop completely so he had to whirl away to avoid hitting him with enough force to crack his ribs. “Dude, what the hell? You do that in a real fight and you’ll bite it.”
“Sorry, sorry.” He half-heartedly lifted his pole. Keith didn’t go at him again, no longer trusting him to be able to defend himself. So Lance kept talking, as was his default setting. “What do you mean, why would I wanna contact Earth? My family’s there? You know, the one who thinks I’m missing, or dead, or abducted by aliens—”
“Well, that one’s kinda true.”
“Yeah, and that’s gonna be a real funny story if I ever get in touch with them again.” He was shrugging it off, but Keith could tell that “if” really bothered him
Whenever the others talked about Earth in that wistful way, guilt gnawed at Keith. He was in space, he was a pilot, he could go anywhere he wanted. He was living the dream and he was never going back. He’d either settle down on some planet far, far away after they defeated Zarkon or he’d die trying. But everybody else had a home on Earth, had felt at home there, more often than not. And they missed it.
Lance tried to shrug it off. “What about you? Who’s waiting on your return? Friends? Girlfriends?”
Keith scoffed a laugh, the last option funnier than it should have been. “Nah. There was just Shiro.”
“Really?” he said, not quite believing him. Lance knew Keith was an orphan, knew Keith himself well enough that he could assume he hadn’t left piles of friends behind. Maybe that was just hitting Lance, or maybe he was still thinking about his own family, because his shoulders drooped. “There’s no one you miss?”
“I miss jelly donuts,” he said. Lance laughed and Keith continued, “But really. You remember I was living in a shack in the middle of the desert when we met, right?”
He put his hands on his hips, a twist to his lips. "No, actually we met at the Garrison, Mr. I’m-Too Good-For-My-Classmates."
“That doesn't count.”
“Just because you don't remember—”
“I do,” Keith cut in. “You were the annoying cargo pilot with a big mouth who hit on anything that moved.”
So he, personally, wasn’t surprised that he’d forgotten all about Lance until he showed up at the crash site, big mouth flapping about how they were rivals, which… later on, Keith almost felt bad about having no recollection of. Because they were really good at egging each other on. A rivalry at the Garrison would’ve forced him to do even better. Not that that mattered, he supposed. He’d have been kicked out anyway.
Lance’s jaw worked, like he was trying to figure out whether to be flattered that Keith remembered him or offended at the description. He narrowed his eyes. "Why didn't that count?"
Because they’d never spoken to each other. But what he said was, “Well you're not a cargo pilot anymore, are you? You’re a sharpshooting paladin of Voltron.”
And Lance fucking preened, which was exactly why Keith said it.
And then he stuck Keith in his chest with his pole. “Ha! I won!”
He bounced with excitement. “I did it!”
“You’re such a cheater!” He smacked the pole away with his own. “I thought we were bonding!”
He bit back a groan. Why did he keep saying that?
Lance grinned, an extra spark in his eye. “Sorry, there was no arm-cradling, it didn’t count!”
He flushed, stuttering until he managed, “Neither did your win!”
He was busy posturing, flexing his muscles and lifting his chin like he was top of the podium at the Olympics. “I did win, thank you.”
Deep down, under all his indignant pique, Keith was pleased that Lance so damn happy. Not that Lance was a sad dude, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to sport that blazing grin, but whenever it was just the two of them and Lance got bouncing-happy, Keith couldn’t stop this warm, fluttery feeling in his chest. Because there was no one else around making Lance that excited, no one else he was impressing. Just Keith.
“I gotta tell Hunk! And Allura.” He gasped. “And Shiro.”
He scowled, fluttery feeling squashed. He smacked Lance’s ankles and he hit the ground again. He tapped his chest. “Yeah, go tell them you won one out of four, I’m sure they’ll be real impressed.”
His grin didn’t waver. “I think so too!”
He ran off, a deluded pep in his step.
Keith tossed their poles back into storage and brought the drones back.
Fuck Lance, seriously.
Like, that was the thing. Every one of their interactions ended with Keith fed-up. So he thought, foolishly, that maybe he was over Lance. No. It only took him thinking about his smile, or his laugh, or the brush of his hand against his to get his stomach swooping.
It was infuriating.
Lance. Who was so straight. He was so straight! He hit on anyone with a vaguely female form—which could be hard to figure out, sometimes, in space, with all the different alien species, but Lance found a way. He hadn’t succeeded in anything (Keith would’ve known, because Lance would’ve bragged) but that didn’t mean he’d stop trying. It didn’t mean he was going to try guys. Try Keith, fellow paladin and former rival.
Keith sliced his bayard through a drone’s neck.
Why did he always get the most hopeless ideas in his head? Enlist in the Garrison, become a fighter pilot just to get away from a planet where nobody wanted him. Find Shiro even though he was definitely dead. Hole up in a shed for a year living on nothing but conspiracies theories and canned beans. Fight Zarkon, a fucking warlord with a millennia’s experience, with no backup except his lion. Why did Keith do this to himself? No wonder he was so miserable all the time, he always set his heart on impossible goals.
Although… he did find Shiro.
He kicked a drone in the stomach and sent it flying across the mat.
One success was an exception, not the rule. And it wasn’t like he could conspiracy-theory his way into Lance liking him back.
Lance kept coming to train with Keith. That was time usually spent completely focused on fighting, exercising, improving. All he had to think about was getting a hit in and not getting hit back. It was simple. Almost relaxing.
Nothing was simple when Lance was involved.
It was partly because Lance never shut up, so on top of physically fighting, there was a battle of wits going on too. And there was the mental battle in Keith’s mind sparked by Lance just being there sparring with him, getting in his face, taking off his shirt when he got too sweaty.
Fuck, Keith's stomach did a triple-flip thinking about reaching out and touching him. Pinning him to the mat and running his hands over his slick chest.
Technically it was probably only a double-flip, and the third lurching sensation was from Lance managing to knock him off his feet. Keith went flying through the air while Lance laughed. Then Keith was flat on his back, wind knocked out of him and dying.
Lance tapped his chest with his pole. “One, two, three, four—”
Keith grabbed the pole and shoved it back at Lance’s stomach. He doubled over with a big groan.
“That’s not how it works,” Keith grumbled as he got to his feet. “And you were cheating anyway.”
“How was I cheating?” he complained, rubbing his stomach. He was pouting, but he wasn’t hurt. Keith hadn’t hit him that hard.
“I was distracted.”
“So?” Keith thanked Quiznak he didn’t ask by what. “Aren’t I supposed to be taking advantage of my opponent’s weak spots?” Lance flexed—which was what he spent 50% of his time in the training room doing—and said, “I can’t help that my godly physique is a distraction to all who gaze upon it.”
And yeah, Lance was hot, but his dramatics were usually enough to startle Keith out of his ogling, for which he was eternally grateful. He snorted. “Yeah, which god? God of French fries?”
Lance let out an indignant squawk. “Sorry we can’t all be—” He waved a hand up and down Keith’s body.
He waited for him to finish the sentence, uncomprehending. “What?”
He shook his head, like Keith was playing some nasty trick. “You know what.”
“Okay…” Keith decided to let it go. He raised his pole. “Come on.”
Lance jutted his chin. “Only if you admit that hit totally counted.”
Keith sighed. “Fine. It’ll be the only one you get in today, anyway.”
And then they were at it again, a battle of wit, a battle of wills. His irritation never abated, but every time Lance called it quits for the day, Keith found himself missing his company.
He regretted ever thinking that, one afternoon in his bunk when Lance strolled in like he owned the place, dripping wet with a towel wrapped too loosely around his waist and a bag of brightly-coloured bottles in hand.
Keith dropped the book he was reading. “What are you doing?” His voice was embarrassingly high-pitched.
“What are you doing?” Lance asked, annoyed but not the least bit abashed. “I thought you’d be training.”
“This is my room. What are you doing?”
Bubbles clung to his hair. “I’m using your shower.”
“What’s wrong with yours?”
“It timed out.” He was always complaining about the five-minute timer to conserve water. This was his solution? Showing up in Keith’s room half-naked with water glistening on his wiry muscles? “I took longer showers at the beach! It’s a travesty. So today I’m treating myself.”
Lance was already sauntering into Keith’s bathroom as if the matter was settled.
He took way more than five minutes, hanging out in there long after the water shut off. Moisturizing, maybe. Styling his hair. Keith didn’t care. He just wanted him out of there so he could concentrate on his book instead of what a half-naked (possible fully naked) Lance was doing on the other side of his wall.
Finally, finally he came out, towel cinched a little firmer around his waist. He stalled in the doorway instead of leaving like any other normal human would.
“Keith,” he said contemplatively, “do you think I’m attractive?”
“Oh my god.” He fell back on his bed, covering his face with his pillow.
“No, seriously.” Keith peeked out and Lance was flexing in the mirror. “I know you said I was the god of French fries—”
“I was joking,” he groaned, regretting every word he’d ever spoken. What the hell was he supposed to do here? Did Lance know what he was doing to him? He couldn’t, right? He couldn’t even see the massive blush Keith was sporting behind his pillow.
He perked up. “So you do think I‘m attractive?”
Keith would’ve thrown him into the hall if he knew what, exactly, his own reaction would be to touching Lance’s warm, bare skin, soft from the shower and whatever spiced-scented lotion he’d covered himself in.
“If I say you’ll look hot as hell walking out that door, will you leave?”
Lance pressed a hand to his chest. “Dude, you flatter me.”
He finally left him in peace, hips swaying as he passed through the door.
The guy was going to kill him. Flat-out give him a heart attack and kill him.
What the fuck? What the fuck was that? Who does that? The worst part was, even though the whole ordeal felt outrageously suggestive to Keith, that was par for the course with Lance. The shameless flirt.
It took him a significant amount of time to regulate his breathing, and he never got back to his book.
The planet was falling apart. This wasn’t news to its inhabitants; the shale-plated surface was had been shifting for millennia, rearranged by the bubbling lava in the planet’s center. The perpetual earthquakes weren’t a problem for the rock-lizard hybrid inhabitants. It was the invading Galra.
The paladins of Voltron were halfway through a nice plan that was quickly turning to shit, so Keith and Lance were hauling ass back to their lions to attack from above.
The Galra soldiers tailing them weren’t making that particularly easy.
Keith blinked the sweat out of his eyes as he lifted his shield to block a heavy strike from a Galra. He moved on light toes, worried that the rubber of his boots would melt him onto the rock. The only upside was that the nearest star was far away and not shining on them.
Lance’s pows in his ear had long since faded, mouth too dry and situation too precarious to waste breath on sound effects. But his gun’s lasers were a steady flashing through the air. He was running around, keeping the soldiers at bay as Keith cut through them.
Keith lifted his sword to make a killing blow when the ground shifted in the space between his feet. The rock under his left foot, braced behind him for balance, dropped like an elevator shaft.
He pushed himself forward, straight at the Galra. Not the best course of action, but the only one to keep him from descending into the planet’s molten core.
“Keith!” Lance’s panicked voice filled his helmet as the Galra ripped Keith off its chest.
It held him up by his collar like a rag doll. But Keith didn’t panic. He stabbed the Galra’s arm for all he was worth. It barely flinched.
Then he caught movement out of the corner of his eye that did panic him.
“Lance!” The other paladin had his gun pointed at the Galra who had Keith, but another one was sneaking up behind him. “On your six!”
Then Keith got slammed to the ground. An unpleasant cracking reached his ear, but he wasn’t in pain, except for the hand around his throat.
“Keith!” Lance must’ve got that other Galra, because he was yelling Keith’s name again.
Dependable as a heartbeat, their shouting for each other in battle. Sometimes those were the only details that stuck in his mind—the scratch in his throat calling for Lance, the reedy desperation in Lance’s return.
The Galra died. Keith stabbed him between the ribs and Lance shot him, so it was a toss-up as to who won that one. Keith kicked the dead weight off himself and pushed the body over the newly-created ledge while Lance picked off the last of their enemies.
“Come on.” Lance yanked Keith to his feet and they took off running.
Keith’s stomach dropped every time the ground shifted, usually only a few inches, but he’d seen how far it could fall. Their lions weren’t far, but it was a miracle the ground hadn’t swallowed them up by now.
And then, it happened. The ground beneath his feet disappeared.
Hell planet. This was a hell planet.
Keith swore. He was falling. Heat rose, eating him up. His jet pack didn’t kick in. Broken—that had been the crack.
Dependable as the heartbeat pounding in his ears.
Lance’s face appeared in a flash over the edge and then his hand—his outstretched hand gripped Keith’s so hard his bones crushed together.
“Got ya,” he panted, sweat dripping off his chin onto Keith’s face. Keith tossed his bayard onto the ground and grabbed the ledge. “Don’t worry, Mufasa.”
Lance pulled him back onto solid ground and Keith landed in his lap, straddling his hips, but he stayed there, panting, once, twice, three times as his brain caught up with reality. “Mufasa? Are you fucking serious? My life is in the balance and you’re quoting a cartoon?”
He swallowed, sweat shining on his Adam’s apple. Like an afterthought, he smirked. “You’ve got the mane for it.”
Keith opened his mouth for an as-of-yet unplanned scathing retort, but Pidge’s voice cut in through their helmets. “Hey, I’ve got a rad new idea. How about you take a break from chatting about The Lion King and gET IN YOUR REAL FUCKING LIONS.”
“Language, Pidge,” Keith said as he jumped to his feet. Lance snickered. “Seriously though, I want off this hell planet. Let’s go.”
Keith was wandering the castle that night, or what passed for night in space. What they’d all deemed was night. But general agreement or not, Keith couldn’t sleep. He’d never been good at it. (“One of his few flaws.” He could hear Lance’s sarcastic quip in his head). And now there was always something else he’d rather be doing. Training, planning, flying in his lion. Or just staring out at the stars, new in each galaxy.
That was all he wanted to do tonight, watch the stars tick past as the ship moved forward.
And then he found Lance lying in his favourite star-watching spot. He was stretched out on the floor in front of a floor-to-ceiling window, presumably designed specifically to display the grandeur of space.
He twisted around when he heard Keith’s approach and gave a little wave. “Can’t sleep?”
“Nope.” He plopped down next to him with a sigh.
Keith chanced a glance at him, but he wasn’t teasing. “No,” he said honestly. “Just too awake.”
They’d returned from the mission pretty late, and though that had been hours ago he was still amped up. Jumpy. His skin felt stretched tight over his bones. Though that might’ve had more to do with the possibly second-degree burns from that hell planet. His legs were covered in some Altean healing goo, which, while soothing, sure as hell didn’t make for a comfortable sleep, either.
“What’d you used to do?” Lance asked, tucking his arms under his head. “When you couldn’t sleep?”
“Stayed in my fucking bed so none of my foster siblings would rat me out for being up after lights out.”
“Oh.” Lance was quiet for a moment. “I’d sneak out and go to the beach.”
“Like in the middle of the night?”
He shrugged. “It was only a few blocks away. And the waves are soothing. I fell asleep there a few times. At first my ma freaked out, but after a while it was like—” He flicked his hand, taking on a nasally tone, “Alguien vay a la playa y traiga a su hermano. It wasn’t a big deal. She knew where I was.”
“I never liked the beach,” Keith said.
“Whaaat?” he said, incredulous but soft. He was definitely tired. Maybe he’d fall asleep in front of the stars tonight.
“It was always so crowded. And I’d get sunburnt and sand got everywhere.”
“Part of the fun.”
Keith shook his head.
A few minutes passed as they watched the expanse of the stars float by. It always caused a funny ache in his chest, thinking about how far the darkness extended. He could explore every day of his life and still not have seen even a tenth of what was out there.
“Well, what’d you do?” Lance asked. “You didn’t spend all your time punching shit and brooding, right?”
“I mean, I got into some fights but—wait, I don’t brood.”
“I thought we were past lying to each other, bro.”
Keith huffed. “Whatever. I dunno. I read.”
He shook his bangs in front of his eyes. “You’re gonna laugh.”
He grinned at him, lopsided. “Probably.”
“I was obsessed with aliens.”
Lance’s face lit up, like it was the best thing he’d heard all day. “This is a delight. Tell me more.”
He scratched the back of his neck. “X-Files was the one constant in my childhood. I’d rent the DVDs from the library, read the books—”
“There were X-Files books?”
He nodded. “Chapter books, even. When I read all those, watched the series more times than I could count, I got into, uh, conspiracy theories, I guess.”
“Unsurprising.” He turned on his side, propping his head on his hand. “What’s your favourite?”
And Keith talked and talked. Lance listened as he rambled about Roswell and Area 51, and Big Foot and el Chupacabra. It felt kind of—trivial, going on and on about the stuff that kept him occupied while he was growing up. He hadn’t thought about it much since he got to space. He hadn’t needed to coddle himself with the supernatural and the unexplained—telling himself that if the impossible was real, anything could be. Like a far-off future where he was happy.
But talking about it calmed him down after a stressful day, after almost dying for the umpteenth time.
Lance smiled at him sleepily and kept prodding him with questions to keep him going. “Okay, okay. But what are your thoughts on Nessie the Loch Ness Monster?”
Keith nodded seriously. “So Nessie has been dismissed in recent years, but there are some really convincing first-hand accounts. And people say a huge monster can’t hide in a lake forever but, hello?” He hid a yawn behind his hand. “They’re forgetting about the underwater caverns and tunnel systems! She could easily commute to the ocean.”
Lance let out a snore in return.
“Shit, Lance.” He nudged his shoulder. “You can go to bed.”
He jerked to an upright position, blinking blearily. “Nope, I’m listening. Nessie. Obviously you skip the formality of “the Loch Ness Monster” because you two are such good friends.”
Keith punched his arm lightly and Lance swayed forward until his forehead landed on Keith’s shoulder. “Fuck, I’m tired,” he mumbled, warm breath catching on his collarbone.
“Then go to bed,” he said, frozen in place while a blush tore through him like fire.
He made some sleepy mumble of disagreement that Keith found a bit too endearing. “Piensas que Nessie y el calamar gigante son novias?”
“Um?” It was Pidge, rounding the corner with an armful of wires, wide awake in her green sweater and shorts.
“Please tell me you just never went to bed,” Keith said.
“Nope. It's morning,” Pidge said. “That magical thing that happens after you sleep.”
Lance leaned back on his hands, giving Keith a chance to breathe. “Shit.”
“Language,” Keith chastised. “Pidge has tiny ears.”
“And a tiny amount of patience,” she muttered as she continued down the hall.
Keith rose with a heavy, tired sigh, and when Lance didn’t get up on his own, pulled him to his feet.
Lance slipped an arm around his waist and demanded to be escorted to bed. “Well isn’t this familiar?”
He was entirely too snuggly for a simple walk down the hall, but Keith couldn’t bring himself to pull away. The entire side of Lance’s body was pressed up against his, and his hand was a warm, reassuring weight on his hip and Keith himself was also very tired, so much so that he was weighing the pros and cons of falling into Lance’s bed with him.
It was a blessing, really, that Hunk came out of his room just as Keith was opening Lance’s door.
His brow furrowed. “Is he drunk?”
“Hunk, buddy,” Lance said. “Can you believe this guy kept me up all night talking about aliens?”
Keith tried to paste a scowl onto his face.
“Um. Not really,” Hunk said honestly. “But I’ll take your word for it. Don’t sleep all day, okay? It’ll ruin your inner clocks.”
As if Keith could worry about inner clocks with Lance plastered to his side like an octopus. He wondered, briefly, if Lance felt this flustered when Keith did the same thing during his concussion.
He dropped Lance in bed and went to his own room, where he belonged.
Keith didn’t want to talk to anybody about this… inconvenience. Keith wanted a second opinion to talk him out of some things, but he didn’t want anybody to know about his feelings for Lance. Still, he considered his options. Not Hunk. Any syllable Keith spoke would get funnelled directly to Lance, and that was the last thing he wanted. Not Pidge. She was a child. And would only make fun of him. Not Coran. He was a hundred.
Conceptually, Keith wanted to talk to Shiro about it because he always had the best advice. But they didn’t talk about stuff like this. They discussed fighting techniques, and how to take down the Galra Empire, and what would become of Voltron in worst case scenarios. Normal stuff. Not the stomach-wringing nerves he got every time he thought of Lance.
So that left Allura. At least he knew she’d be interested in listening; she always wanted to know their business. Who knew the princess of a thousand-year dead civilization would be such a gossip?
Which was why Keith dismissed the idea so readily. Talking to Allura was a one-way ticket to everyone on the ship knowing about his hopeless crush.
He’d firmly decided that wallowing in misery was his best option when he walked into the training room and found Allura doing some Altean “stretches”, which by Earthen standards was basically krav maga. Maybe this was a sign. He’d have to talk to Allura anyway, since they were both training at the same time. He might as well get something out of it. And if she was busy, maybe she wouldn’t pry into Keith’s questions.
“Greetings, Keith,” she said easily, showing no signs exertion despite kicking the shit out of the drone downed at her feet. “I was just doing some cooldown stretches.”
“Oh. So you wouldn’t want to spar?”
Her brows rose to her silver-tinted hair. “Of course. I would never turn down an opportunity to spar one-on-one. The drones are useful, but there’s nothing quite like a real live opponent.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
He unsheathed his bayard. Allura retrieved one of the poles Keith and Lance had been using, but a much nicer one.
She twirled it in her hands, around her back, effortlessly. Keith was suddenly glad for all the practice he’d had against the weapon.
“I’ve noticed you practicing with Lance more often,” Allura observed as she aimed a hit at his ribs. “It’s nice to see you two bonding.”
Keith wasn’t sure if she was mocking him or not. She was always talking about bonding—between paladins, with the lions—but she wasn’t beyond poking fun at his “bonding moment” comment.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said again. He hadn’t spent that much time with Allura, and he wasn’t great at making conversation to begin with.
But they quickly delved into what he was good at. Fighting. He focused on learning Allura’s moves; her strengths, her weaknesses, her tells. He got comfortable with the rhythm of parrying and blocking, ducking and slashing, before he rounded up the courage to present the question he’d spent days cultivating.
He’d strived for something innocuous, something that had nothing to do with Lance but would still give Keith what he was looking for.
“So, were uh—” He grunted as he raised his sword above his head just in time to block her. “Were any of the old paladins together?”
“Together?” She repeated as she swung at his knees. He jumped, but not high enough. He hit the ground with a grunt before rolling away and popping to his feet. “They were together all the time, much like all of you.”
“No, I mean, um, in relationships.”
“Why do you ask?”
A sigh got released as a pant. She was not near as distracted as he wanted her to be.
“I don’t know. I was just thinking,” he said, as she circled him. He wiped his sweaty bangs out of his eyes and pressed on, “It would be really distracting, right? Waste a lot of time? Be bad for the team?”
A small frown tugged at her lips as she resumed her attack. “I do believe some courted, yes. I think it’s inevitable when such strong bonds are formed. But I do not see how it would be any more distracting than relationships with their other paladins.”
Not what Keith wanted to hear. If he could convince himself that any relationship would be irresponsible, that he was putting the good of the team before his own wants by ignoring his feelings, he’d feel a lot more proud of the whole situation. Instead of just keeping quiet because he was terrified of Lance’s reaction.
“Shouldn’t the main objective be saving the universe?” Keith asked. “Fighting evil?”
“Are you suggesting the paladins ever would have chosen date night over a mission?”
He paused to reflect and immediately regretted it. She rapped his knuckles so hard his sword bounced of his hand.
“On your toes, paladin!” she sang, blocking him as he tried to retrieve his weapon. He ducked and swerved and rolled but she was coming at him like that drone under the influence of Sendak’s crystal. And she was grinning like a shark. “Why the sudden interest?”
Oh no. He had greatly underestimated her thirst for gossip.
Keith’s only option was to take an offensive position as she advanced on him mercilessly. His sword was on the opposite side of the room now. He was almost on the edge of the mat from dodging her. But Allura wouldn’t be satisfied with that win. She’d pin him against the wall until he talked.
He rolled to the side for some distance and then threw himself at her legs.
This turned out to be a mistake.
After an embarrassingly short tussle, she was sitting on his chest, pole tucked neatly under his chin.
Allura smirked down at him, a glint in her eye. “We can do this simply or difficultly.”
“Can you please get off me?” he said flatly, hoping her democratic side would win out.
“No,” she said. She leaned closer, her wicked grin inches from his face. “Now tell me what’s gotten thoughts of romance running through your head.”
He glared at her silently. She’s suffocate him before he’d talk.
Then he heard an abnormally loud, “Oh.”
Keith tilted his head back to see Lance staring at them with a weird expression on his face.
“Haha, oh. Okay. Didn’t mean to interrupt. Just wanted to let you know that Hunk made something that almost tastes like a jelly donut. So.” He pointed over his shoulder. “I’m just gonna go back to that.”
He disappeared through the door with none of the delight that should have accompanied a dessert announcement.
“I understand the concept of a donut,” Allura said musingly. “But why would you want it jellied?”
“Princess,” Keith said through gritted teeth.
She rolled her eyes with a huff. “Oh, fine.” She released him. “But this isn’t over.”
He snatched his bayard and tucked it away before following Lance down the hall. He’d gotten surprisingly far in the moments that had passed.
Keith jogged to catch up with him. “Uh, hey.”
Lance offered a smile that disappeared in a second. “Hey. Really, didn’t mean to interrupt.”
There that was again. What did he think he was interrupting?
“No, thanks for that,” Keith said. “She was kicking my Quiznak.”
He expected an overdramatic gasp that he’d admitted defeat, maybe some mocking about a princess beating him, or a brag that Lance would totally be able to take on Allura.
Instead Lance shrugged. “Looked like you two were having a good time.”
Keith stopped walking. Bit back a groan. Was Lance’s stupid crush on Allura still a thing? “It was just training, Lance.”
“No, no, it’s cool. Really. I know we’re bros now, but don’t back off on my account. If she likes you, then that—that makes sense. Go for it, definitely.”
“I’m not going for anything.”
Lance took a fortifying breath and stuck a smile on. Grabbed his shoulder. “Dude, seriously! It’s so awesome.”
“It’s not awesome, because nothing is happening. We were training,” he insisted. “Like you and I train.” Bad example. Keith liked their training too much. “Or Shiro and I train.”
He rolled his eyes, unconvinced. “Sure.”
Keith didn’t want it getting around that he liked Allura, and he sure didn’t want Lance moping around the castle thinking he’d lost his chance with her (he didn’t have a chance in the first place, but that wasn’t the point). So Keith stuttered out, “I’m not—I don’t even—” He squeezed the hilt of his bayard for strength. “I like guys.”
It was the first time he’d ever said that out loud. He suddenly couldn’t hear much over the blood rushing past his ears.
Lance mouth hung open like a barn door in a storm. Then he threw his hands in the air with a huff. “Why am I always the last to know these things? First Pidge being a girl, then you being gay. Why does nobody tell me anything?”
His heart slowly returned to its normal rhythm as it became clear that Lance wasn’t reading into it and he wasn’t getting all weird.
“What’s next? Hunk’s psychic? Shiro’s a ghost?”
Well, his normal weird.
Before he blew a gasket at being left in the dark, Keith cut him off. “It’s not something everybody knows.”
Or at least, not something he told everyone. He’s pretty sure Shiro knew. Allura might’ve figured it out too, after that horrible attempt at closure.
“Oh.” He calmed down for a moment, then narrowed his eyes, no doubt ready to complain about being second to last. “Well who does?”
Keith shrugged, shoulders up to his ears, and pointed back at Lance.
He pressed a hand to his chest, eyes going round. “I’m honoured!”
And the annoying thing was he wasn’t joking, not even a little bit.
“Wait, am I the first person you’ve told ever?” A quick, smart deduction considering Keith had already admitted there was nobody he cared about back on Earth, certainly nobody he’d have shared this delicate piece of information with.
“Do not make a big deal about this.”
Lance hugged him anyway, tucking Keith’s head under his chin. “Besties, we’re besties!”
“Please stop,” he grumbled even as he wrapped his arms around Lance’s back.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to take the place of your former best friend, Nessie the Loch Ness Monster. I’m sure she’ll understand.”
Keith rolled his eyes.
“We should celebrate—oh, the donuts.” He grabbed his hand and tugged him down the hall. “C’mon, I made Hunk promise to save you a few, but if Pidge shows up first then all bets are off.”
The hand-holding and running thing was usually reserved for when their lives were at stake. But this was much more pleasant. He was almost disappointed when they reached the kitchen and Lance released him to present, with a flourish, the pyramid of donuts Hunk had made.
What was supposed to be powdered sugar was a mustard colour, and the shape of them was almost perfectly spherical instead of a puffed circle, but they looked good, and smelled warm and sweet.
“Just tell me the jelly isn’t green goo,” Keith said as he picked one up.
“No,” Hunk said. “Lance said that would be a disgrace to donut kind.”
For once they were on the same page. He raised the donut as if in toast and bit in. Both Lance and Hunk watched him expectantly.
The texture was a bit crunchier than usual, but a good crunch. Actually better than the stale day-olds one of his foster moms used to bring home after working nights at a bakery. He didn’t recognize the flowery taste of the iridescent jelly in the centre, but he hadn’t expected perfection. Every time Hunk tried to recreate Earth food it was just a shade off, not quite the same. Inevitable, since the specific ingredients were lightyears away. It always bummed out Hunk and Lance, that not quite like Earth, but Keith was always just happy to not be eating green goo.
And jelly donut or not, the pastry was delicious.
He nodded at Lance and Hunk, who were still staring at him. “Is it poisoned or something?”
Lance shot up out of his slouch against the counter. “Does it taste poisoned?”
“No, it’s really good.” He shifted uncomfortably. “So why are you guys just watching me eat?”
They both took that as their cue to shove the treats into their mouths. And then Pidge came in, and Coran, who was delighted to try an “Earthen delicacy”. They sat at the table to eat, but after a bit Keith drifted away from the group, where Lance was imparting what had to be an incredibly embellished story about a family reunion, back to the counter where the donuts were.
“Uh, can I…?” he said to Hunk, who was cleaning up the last of the baking mess. Keith had spent the last five minutes eyeing the dwindling pile of donuts, unsure of whether he could nab another.
Hunk nodded readily. “Yeah, dude, they’re for you.”
Keith paused with another donut halfway to his mouth. “What do you mean?”
He shrugged widely. “Lance said you liked jelly donuts. Bugged me for two weeks to get the recipe right. That’s as close as they’re gonna get, so I’m glad you like ‘em.”
“What do you mean?” he said again, not unlike a robot Lance was always accusing him of being, repeating the same sentence when something didn’t compute. “How does he know I like jelly donuts?”
“You told him during one of your training sessions?” he said as if it were obvious.
Keith thought back to that conversation. He hadn’t just said he’d liked donuts. He'd implied they were the only thing he missed about Earth. And Lance made it happen.
“He repeats everything you guys talk about to me verbatim, by the way,” Hunk continued. “So thanks for telling him he was hot. Otherwise he’d be complaining about that French fry jab for weeks.”
He opened his mouth to argue, but Hunk lifted his brows, as if to say ‘Are you really gonna bullshit me right now? I made you donuts.’
So Keith shut his mouth, lips twisted sourly. “You’re welcome.”
Lance twisted around to wave at him. “Get over here. You gotta hear about the first time Hunk met my abuela.”
Hunk groaned. “I told you surfing would give me motion sickness, dude.”
Keith returned to the table, invested despite himself, and let Lance distract him from any deeper thought into the meaning of donuts.
So, coming out wasn’t that bad. Lance had blessedly, miraculously, made one thing easy for Keith. Everything after that, not so much.
In Lance’s infinite wisdom, he took it upon himself to become Keith’s wingman. Not in the piloting sense, as in the only definition that should be applicable to their situation, but the hitting-on-people sense.
It started innocuously enough. Lance nudging his ribs when they were on new planets, raising his brows in a look at that! fashion. It took Keith a few tries to understand that the motion specifically meant Hey, look at that vaguely humanoid alien that may possibly be male! He’s cute!
Keith hated this new practice. A lot.
But he was begging for that subtlety once they ended up at a bar on some alien planet. Well, “bar” might’ve been a bit of a stretch, since it was outside the main city in a forest of towering, leafless trees, so it may have been more of a… bush party? But there was some sort of half-assed wooden bar, and there was a local behind it serving drinks, so Keith wasn’t sure exactly what to call it. He certainly wouldn’t have gone if Lance hadn’t dragged him, though.
Keith was standing at the edge of the crowd with Pidge. He did not intend to broach the crowd. He was having a nice time here under the sparkling stars dotting the indigo sky. An upbeat drumming was just audible over the chatter of the party.
Yes, a nice time until some gangly alien sauntered past, whoo-ing exuberantly, big pint of space juice clutched in their hand. Keith yanked Pidge back before she was splashed with it.
“You are definitely not old enough to be here,” he muttered.
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, I’m old enough to risk my life saving the universe but not to be in the presence of alcohol? Of course.”
Keith sighed. Then, as usual, his eyes sought out Lance in the hub of people. He was at the bar with Hunk, a few mysterious shots set up in front of them. Keith assumed they were daring each other to drink. He considered going over there, but did not want to be roped in to drink possibly poisonous liquids.
Besides, there was something he’d been meaning to ask Pidge. “I heard talk of contacting Earth? Is that anything I can help with?”
She looked up at him, wrinkling her nose. “Did Lance put you up to this?”
“Huh? No, I was just asking—”
“Well, it’s like I told him. Ten times already. It’s not gonna work. Even apart from the mind-bogglingly huge distance, Earth is basically working with a tin can and a string in comparison to Altean communication tech. There’s no way I could get a signal there, let alone get a response in return.”
She crossed her arms, equal parts annoyed and put-out at having to explain it for, apparently, the eleventh time. This defeat couldn’t have been any easier on her. She’d left her mother on Earth, her family unknowingly tossed throughout the universe like stars. “Who were you hoping to talk to?”
“Um.” His mind blanked. “The president?”
She narrowed her eyes. “So Lance did put you up to this.”
No. Keith put himself up to this, after Lance got him donuts. The only stupid thing on a whole planet that he could think to miss. And the number one thing Lance missed, of course, was his family. This gnawing urge to return the favour had been eating him up, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen.
That was Keith, always striving for the impossible.
Before he could argue with Pidge, she changed the subject. “Where’s that music coming from?” She adjusted her glasses, as if that would help her hear better.
He shrugged. “A band?”
She shook her head. “There’s no band, no drum, no speakers that I can see.” She tapped her foot, looking around, before shouting, “Hey, who else here’s a big nerd? I have some questions!” and stomped straight into the crowd.
And then it was just Keith. So he wandered over to Lance at the bar because—because. Full stop.
Lance seemed pleased at his presence. Hunk was nowhere to be seen, so maybe he was lonely with no one to listen to him talk. He threw an arm around his shoulders and said, “Keith! There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Leaning on the bar next to Lance was a vaguely humanoid alien that might possibly be male. He had deep blue skin, silvery, slitted eyes and curly… hair? It swayed softly like it was underwater.
“This is Orean!”
Keith glared at Lance, who was beaming despite the fact he had nothing to be happy about. “Orean’s interests include sparring, conspiracy theories, and brooding.”
“I—I didn’t say I brood,” the alien corrected, kind of nervous, kind of confused. Lance had that effect on people. “I said I’m raising a brood.”
“Chickens,” Lance said.
Orean shook his head. “I don’t know what that is.”
Lance waved him off and said to Keith, “He explained the animals. They’re basically chickens. Isn’t that neat?”
Keith continued to stare at Lance until Lance nudged him in Orean’s direction. “Anyway, I think you two will really hit it off. Have a drink, dance a little.” He leaned into Keith’s ear, warm breath washing over his neck. His voice dropped, “Thank me later.”
Keith elbowed him off. “I’m going back to the ship.”
“What? Hey!” Lance chased after him, but Keith was faster so Lance didn’t catch up to him until Keith let him, far enough from the party that the drumming music was only a light tinkling. “Okay, sorry if he wasn’t your type, but I’m going off wild guesses here.”
“Then stop guessing,” he said tightly. “Not everyone wants to hook up with random aliens, Lance.”
He gaped, flat-out shocked by the news. “Why not?”
Luckily there were plenty of reasons that had nothing to do with the fact that Keith wanted to be doing that with Lance.
“Why should I?” Like has he met him? “What about me, as a person, makes you think I’d enjoy sucking face with a stranger I’ve known for an hour?”
He shrugged, scratching the back of his head. “Thought it would be nice.”
Irritation pulled at him. Nice. What was that even supposed to mean?
Maybe Lance picked up on his restless confusion, because he continued, playing with his zipper awkwardly. “I dunno, isn’t it always nice to meet someone you’ve got stuff in common with? To get close to someone like that. So you can feel a little less alone in the universe?”
And suddenly all Lance’s over the top flirting felt a whole lot less annoying.
Because Keith was well-acquainted with feeling alone. He’d grown up with a deep, aching loneliness, as ever-present as a friend. Or a boogeyman. And then, after he got kicked out of the Garrison, somehow it grew into something bigger and worse. Not because it was just him out in the desert, no one to be seen for miles—but because Shiro was gone. The first and only person he had cared about in years had been ripped away with no explanation. The loneliness became an acute, twisting thing instead of a generalized discomfort.
But then Shiro came back, they found their lions, he went to space. And he’d never felt more at home up here in the sky, with Red, with Voltron. With Lance.
He hated that Lance didn’t feel the same way.
Before Keith could respond, Lance puffed up his chest with bravado. “Plus, aliens, dude. Isn’t it every space pilot’s dream to drop a sweet Earth kiss on every alien you meet?”
Keith snorted a laugh. “I think that’s just you.”
Lance pulled a face. “Sounds fake, but okay.”
He took a deep breath, ghosting over his bayard to soothe himself. “And why would I feel alone in the universe?” he asked. “I’ve got Voltron. I’ve got…”
He was staring right at Lance as he trailed off. He looked touched for a moment before he smirked and supplied, “Coran?”
Keith rolled his eyes. “Yeah.”
He framed his chin on his hand. “And me. Your bestie.”
“Yeah,” he said, softer than he meant to. The urge to draw him into a hug was strong. Why should Lance feel alone in the universe when Keith was right there?
But the gesture felt too intimate, too much, even though Lance hugged him all the time. He knew it would be fine, but some niggling warning at the back of his mind insisted that the second Keith let himself be vulnerable it would be the end of life as he knew it. And initiating physical contact counted as vulnerability in his stupid brain, because what if Lance pulled away? What if he made a huge deal out of it, like the stupid fucking cradling in the arms thing?
Lance was smiling, big and proud, the glittering sky lighting him up like a piece of art.
And then Keith started thinking about the logistics of a hug; where to put him arms, his face, how tight to squeeze, and avoided all that uncertainty by just knocking his shoulder against Lance’s.
That was still camaraderie. That was something.
Lance kept on smiling. If Keith had to keep looking at him like that, his heart would burst, so he said, “Go back to the party. Kiss some aliens. I’m tired, I really am going back to the ship.”
Lance looked him over for a long, searching moment. “You sure?”
“Yeah. Look out for Pidge, eh? She’s the second most likely to cause a diplomatic incident.”
Lance let out an offended scoff. “If you think I’m first, you’re kidding yourself, Mr. Stab-First-Ask-Questions-Later.”
A smile pulled at his lips. “You don’t want to be first at something? This is ground-breaking.”
And even though he said he was going back to the ship, he couldn’t make his feet move. Lance quipped a mild insult back, and Keith replied, and Lance said something and—how was he supposed to leave when Lance roped him in like that?
Keith was grounded next to Lance like he had his own gravity, incapable of tearing himself away without a good reason. They ended up chatting under the stars until the party broke up and Hunk and Pidge rounded them up.
The next day Keith was on the observation deck, alone, flipping through the index on nearby planets.
“Oh, there you are.”
Keith flicked a glance over his shoulder to see Shiro coming in the room. “Hey,” he said before turning back to the screen.
Shiro leaned on the back of Keith’s chair and watched the big screen in front of them flicker through information on various planets for a minute before he said, “What’re you doing?”
“Just learning about space,” Keith replied casually. He went straight past an ice planet, a lava planet, and a Galra-invaded one.
Shiro hummed. “I’m surprised Lance hasn’t joined you.”
Keith’s shoulders tightened. “Why would you be surprised by that?”
“You’ve just been spending a lot of time together.” He finally let go of Keith’s chair and came to lean on the console in front of him, his shoulder blocking the corner of the screen.
He shrugged. “It’s a small ship.”
Shiro bit down on a smile. He had a purposely relaxed air to him; legs stretched out in front of him with his ankles crossed, half-glancing out the window at the endless emptiness of space on display through the glass. “It’s good. I’m proud of you for putting your differences aside and learning to work together.”
Keith tried to keep his face from heating, still unused to praise. Especially over something not worthy of admiration. Not on his end, anyway.
“You should be telling Lance that. He…” Keith struggled for a more flattering explanation than “he craves attention and approval”. He settled on, “He’s been doing all the heavy lifting.”
He hummed again.
Discomfort pricked at Keith's skin. “Did you want something, Shiro?”
“Well, now that you mention it,” he said in an even tone, “I did wonder why you were asking Allura about inter-paladin relationships the other day.”
Keith choked on his spit. Of course she had to go and tell Shiro, of all people. He shook his head, bangs falling in his eyes. “I think she misinterpreted the question. Different cultures, different meanings, you know.”
“Right.” Every ounce of scepticism possible was crammed into that one syllable. “So what did you mean to ask her, then?”
“Uh…” Shit. He flipped to another planet and stopped. It was perfect. “Hey, can we stop here on our next supply run?”
Shiro glanced at the screen behind him, skimmed over the details before nodding. “I guess. As long as nothing else comes up.”
He shifted back to Keith, but not before his gaze strayed to the door. Keith followed his eyeline. Allura huddled in the doorway, waving some elaborate signal at Shiro. When she caught Keith looking, she ducked behind the wall.
“Are you kidding me?” Keith demanded of a chagrined-looking Shiro. “Get out of here!”
He swiftly departed, dropping every effort to drag the truth out of Keith.
“Unbelievable,” Keith muttered as they broke into a whispered argument in the hall.
Okay, so just because every other person on the goddamn ship seemed to know that Keith liked Lance, that didn’t mean he had to do anything about it. His feelings were still private, Lance was still straight—probably—and Keith was still emotionally constipated.
Keith still took Lance to the beach.
The planet he’d spent hours searching for was Earth-like, never quite the same, but the atmosphere was similar, and it was covered in about 70% water. Which meant beaches.
They took passenger pods down to avoid unwanted attention and landed near a massive open-air market. The sound of the crowd, stuffed with dozens of different species, nearly overwhelmed the crash of the surf.
At least that’s what it seemed to Keith. As soon as Lance stepped off the pod, however, his head snapped to the right, where the water was half-hidden by a sharp drop-off and spindly, shining trees. His eyes were big as he said, “Is that the ocean?”
Keith suppressed a smug smile. It wasn’t a family reunion, but it was something.
Shiro caught his eye and he knew, he totally knew why Keith picked this planet. He released the tiniest of sighs. “Lance, why don’t you and Keith check out the water?”
Lance bounced on his toes, brows pulled up hopefully. “Aren’t we supposed to be shopping?”
“Do you want to shop, or do you want to go to the beach?” Shiro asked flatly.
“Beach!” Lance grabbed Keith’s arm and they were off like a shot.
“Oh, Lance,” Shiro called. “I’m glad you two are getting along. Nice job.”
Lance’s grin somehow got even brighter.
He and Keith cut through the silvery trees and climbed down some big ass rocks that Keith wasn’t sure they’d be able to get back up, and then his feet sunk into the sand. It was very sandy, but it was pink. The ocean was very oceany, but the sky was lavender so the water reflecting off it was a deep plum. And the breeze was brisk, but not salty.
Lance stuck his tongue out, testing the air like a lizard. “Is that… mint?”
Keith nodded. A sweet mint.
“Interesting.” And then Lance raced for the water, dropping to his knees at the edge and sticking his face in. “Tastes like peppermint tea!” he announced when he came back up, water darkening his collar.
Keith joined him with a grimace. “Why would you do that?”
“Can’t swim in it if I don’t taste it!” he said, pulling off his shoes.
“That’s not a thing,” Keith argued. “And it’s too cold for swimming.”
The beach was deserted except for the two of them. He hadn’t realized it would be autumn weather on the planet when he requested the stop. At least it wasn’t winter.
“That’s not a thing,” Lance shot back smugly. “Anything warmer than frozen, and I’m going in.”
He shed his jacket, shirt and pants, leaving him in just space underwear, shiny and thermal. Keith supposed he could have told him to bring a bathing suit, but he’d wanted it to be a surprise. In any case Lance obviously didn’t mind.
“Join me!” Lance said, ankle-deep in the purple water.
Keith shook his head. His dislike of the beach extended to the water, and being half-naked alone with Lance.
He lifted a brow. “Oh, sorry, I meant I dare you to join me. You’re not scared of some water, are you?”
He kicked a splash at Keith, and he shirked back, but the challenging glint in Lance’s eyes was impossible to ignore. Fuck it, Lance would probably be too busy swimming to pay attention to him anyway. He threw his jacket on the ground and was halfway through pulling his shirt over his head when he saw something in the water. A long, huge something not that far from shore.
“Lance, holy fuck!” He laughed, pointing at a long-necked monster rising out of the sea. “It’s Nessie!”
Lance squealed and ran from the surf, directly at Keith. He took them both out. Keith landed on his back in the sand, a wriggling, barely-clothed Lance on top of him.
“What! I never told you this because she’s your friend, but I’m terrified of the Loch Ness Monster! She could’ve eaten me!”
First of all, that was his own fault for stripping and jumping into the water of a foreign planet with zero research done on the local ecosystem. Second of all, “Do not disparage Nessie’s good name,” Keith scolded, only half-joking. “She is a gentle giant—”
A croaking cry echoed across the beach.
Keith shrugged Lance off and hopped to his feet, bayard ready to go.
Lance put a hand on his calf. “Wait, look.”
Though it wasn’t as if Keith was going to swim out there to face the threat. He was just—preparing.
Keith followed Lance’s pointing and saw, far in the distance, three similar-necked figures rise from the water. They called back to Nessie, who blinked doe-eyed at Keith and Lance before following the other three deep into the sea.
Lance’s fingers twisted in Keith’s pant leg. “She has a family.”
The longing in his voice was poorly hidden.
Keith retrieved Lance’s clothes and tossed them to him before sitting beside him. Lance’s gaze was still on the horizon, arms wrapped loosely around his knees. Goosebumps popped over his tanned skin.
“Put your clothes on, man,” Keith said gently.
He snapped his pants a few times, complaining about the sand.
Keith shook his hair out, stray grains trailing down the back of his shirt. “Thought that was part of the fun?”
“I used to get it in my bed,” he said as he wiggled into his pants like a toddler, flat on his back. “Well, I mean, I’d get it everywhere, but Ma got the most pissed when it was in my bed. She still took me to the beach all the time though, when I was little. Then my older siblings took me. And when I was old enough to go by myself, I’d drag along my little cousins and nieces and nephews. Taught them how to swim. How to surf.”
He leaned back on his elbows, apparently finished dressing even though he hadn’t bothered with his shirt or jacket. Lance just stared out at the water rolling gently toward the shore, brows drawn together in thought.
Keith almost apologized. This was a mistake—a donut two shades different from what you remember was a hell of a lot different than a pink, family-less beach.
Lance turned back to Keith, squinting at him past the sun. “You gotta meet them.”
“I think you’d like my brother.” He winked. “He’s no fun, just like you.”
For once it was Keith gaping, unreasonably offended. “I’m fun. I got us to this beach, didn’t I?”
Lance paused. Cocked his head. “Did you?”
Keith averted his gaze, kicking himself. He hadn’t meant to give that away. “You got me donuts,” he muttered.
“Hunk got you donuts.”
It was suspicious that he was denying it. Suspicious he hadn’t bragged about it in the first place, really. Lance lived for recognition.
“Because you told him to make them,” Keith said. “Apparently you were pretty insistent about it.”
He shrugged languidly, so casual it was almost a challenge. “You said you missed them.”
Keith shrugged back, just as casual. “You said you missed the beach.”
Lance’s eyes met his, smile crossing his lips as slow as honey. He flipped onto his side and perched his head on his hand, like Keith was all he wanted to look at, even with the violet sea spread out before him. “Wow, Keith. It’s almost like you like me or something.”
He let out an awkward puff of laughter, turning his head away to hide the blush already colouring his cheeks from the look Lance was giving him. He said the first thing that came to mind. “As if.”
Because this was the 1980’s, right? And he was a teenage girl? He bit back a groan. Could he have a normal reaction for once in his life?
“Shame,” Lance said lightly. “This would’ve been a kickass date.”
Of course, Lance made it very hard to have normal reactions, seeing as he was constantly spouting nonsense. “Almost dying seems like a kickass date to you?”
He rolled his eyes. “Okay, it’s obvious now that we were nowhere close to dying. Nessie is a gentle and understanding creature.”
He sat up then, not content to sit still for any length of time. Pink sand clung to his ribs. Keith buried his fingers in the sand to keep from brushing it off.
“And what’s more romantic than the beach?” Lance continued. “Good pick, babe.”
Keith was zooming right past irritation to mortification. Luckily, he was pretty sure his, “This is not a date!” came out more incredulous than frantic.
What kind of game was Lance playing?
“You’re blushing,” he announced gleefully.
“And you’re an idiot.” There. That felt better.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of pet names soon enough.”
Fine. He’d bite, if only to shut him up.
“You like girls,” he said flatly.
He inclined his head conspiratorially. “You can like both.”
Keith blinked. Once. Twice. Ran a hand through his hair, which sent even more sand crawling down his back. “You tried to set me up with that alien a week ago.”
“I was trying to help you out. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re kinda hard to read.” He spread his arms. “How was I supposed to know you liked me?”
“I haven’t admitted to that,” he snapped, as if he were on trial for a crime he didn’t commit. Worse, a crime he was trying very hard to cover up.
Lance’s face fell and Keith’s stomach went with it. But this seemed like another weird competition and revealing his true feelings felt like losing, even after Lance expressed his so easily. How was that fair? Keith had been freaking out for months—wait. The implication of Lance’s words hit him after a lengthy lag. Was Lance not kidding? Did he keep talking about a date because he wanted to be on a date with Keith?
Lance’s dismay was swept away by determination, a dangerous new light in his eye. He straightened, getting way too close to Keith’s face.
“You don’t like me, huh?”
Okay, this was definitely a competition. “Um, no—”
Lance planted a warm, broad hand on each of his shoulders and pushed him into the sand. He hung over him, bare torso a steady heat through Keith's T-shirt. A nightmare and a dream, all at once.
A hint of a smirk played at the edges of his mouth. “Sorry I, uh, didn’t hear you.”
His breath smelled like mint from drinking the ocean.
His fingers kneaded his shoulders almost imperceptibly, almost touching the skin of Keith’s neck.
His gaze held a challenge, and Keith didn’t know if he was winning or losing when he grabbed Lance by the neck and dragged him to his mouth.
Lance let out a boof of surprise, and Keith let him go, though he could not have possibly misread that situation. His irritation was assuaged in a moment; Lance curled his fingers in Keith’s shirt and he kissed him back, tenderer than Keith expected, all things considered. His lips were soft, and warm, and a few grains of sand were mixed in, but he could ignore that in favour of Lance.
He cradled Keith’s jaw so gently, thumb brushing his cheekbone. Keith returned his hand to the back of Lance’s head, running his fingers through his hair before scraping his nails down his skull. I’m winning, Keith thought, dazed, as a guttural noise escaped Lance’s throat in response.
“It was when we started training together, right?” Lance pulled back just the slightest bit. He was panting, bottom lip glistening with saliva.
“When you fell for me? You couldn’t resist my top-notch fighting skills and rock-hard abs—”
“It was my concussion.”
His frowned, jerking back too far. “Are you implying you had to have a brain injury to like—?”
Keith grabbed his arm before he could finish. His voice was hoarse when he said, “I’m saying I was hurt and vulnerable and I didn’t want anyone but you—”
Lance kissed him like he was doing it to survive, like there was nothing else he’d rather be doing. Languid and kind of sloppy, as eager as Keith to explore. He ran his palms along the planes of Lance’s back, and he shivered and pressed in even closer. Like he couldn’t get enough of Keith.
He was sure his breathing had never been so loud, heavy exhales through his nose because his mouth was so much better occupied. When it got to be too much, when he had to pull back for a deeper breath, Lance dragged his lips to his neck. Keith maybe sorta sighed with pleasure.
“What about you?” he asked raggedly. “When did you…”
Lance smirked against his skin. “Well, I thought you were hot back at the Garrison. Hot but, you know, an asshole.” He dropped hot kisses across his throat. “A talented asshole, but still.”
Keith swallowed down another sigh and managed, “Uh huh?”
Lance brushed his cheek against Keith’s before nipping his earlobe. He murmured, “And then you cradled me in your arms.”
Keith’s eyes snapped open. “Shut up,” he groaned, pinning Lance to the ground in a second, knees pressed against his hips.
Lance’s chuckle faded as he looked up at Keith, a heavy flush to his cheeks. Pupils blown, an open mouth. He squeezed Keith’s biceps, taut while he braced himself on his forearms. He grinned in delight. “Make me.”
Which Keith could’ve seen coming.
He dropped his mouth to Lance’s, that inescapable pull drawing him impossibly close. Lance wrapped his arms around him, one hand weaving into his hair and another firmly on his back. He hoped Lance felt at least a little bit at home, because Keith sure did.
Too soon, they were interrupted by, “Ha! Hunk, you owe me twenty bucks.”
Keith reeled, sitting back on Lance’s thighs.
Pidge was up on the rocks, glasses shining in the sunlight. She was pointing right at Keith and Lance.
Hunk jogged up behind her, arms full of bulging bags. “Aw, man—I mean, nice job, buddy!”
Lance shot him a thumbs up.
Keith scoffed and stood. Lance scrambled to follow, sand cascading off him.
Without missing a beat, he hooked an arm around Keith’s neck and called to their friends, “We’re boyfriends now, did you hear? He likes my face and kissing me on it, so Keith and I are boyfriends now.”
Keith could’ve argued and said they hadn’t discussed it yet, and that didn’t “boyfriend” sound a little juvenile when they were in the process saving the universe?
But he didn’t.
He leaned into him with a sigh, and Lance looked at him fondly, and planted a kiss on his blushing cheek.