It starts and ends like this--at the Garrison, in the shadows, Lance pressed flat to the wall.
Keith doesn’t know this pompous cargo pilot’s name, and he could give a shit. He’d been training at the lower ranks gym when he’d been approached, when he’d been singled out and challenged to a ‘duel’ (the dumb guy’s words, not his).
Fingers now curling around his fellow cadet’s throat, Keith thinks only of the stupidity of it all.
“Fold, idiot,” he says, almost bored, to the guy. He’s got him in a lock against the wall, hand clenching around his windpipe along with his knee shoved tight between his legs, holding him a good inch or so off the floor.
It wasn’t hard to disarm him. The guy had rushed him with little warning, but it’s after hours, and the building is dim enough that Keith felt his reflexes react in no time at all.
It’s always been easier for Keith to see in the dark, and besides, the way he comes at him is mere child’s play. This guy is a fool in more ways than one, for sure. He could use all that lankiness and lean muscle to his advantage, but Keith can tell there’s no experience there, not even raw fight-or-flight talent. There’s nothing but wasted energy and poorly-timed scrambling.
Christ, he can’t even kick him properly, even when Keith left some leeway out of pity for him to try a cheap shot or two with his legs. Honestly, the guy’s lucky he didn’t just immediately lay him flat on his ass.
Keith’s had enough bullshit for one evening -- this guy is like a pesky fly that just won’t go away. He doesn’t even know what he did to prompt such severe treatment in the first place, and all he wants to do is go back to his dorm, maybe read or eat something, talk to Shiro, and then go to bed.
This isn’t supposed to be a part of his routine.
The guy wriggles, and out of instinct, places his palms over Keith’s, attempting to pull him off. Keith digs his thumb in towards his Adam's apple, just for the hell of it. The guy snaps and jerks like a marionette doll, gasping like a fish out of water. He’s squirming as he continues cursing and protesting.
“I’ll fold when you,” he pants, fighting for air to the point his voice comes out as a raspy squeak. Keith lessens his grip, if only to see the pleasing marks of red around his throat. “I’ll fold when you stop acting like you own this place.”
“Own this place?” Keith echoes, lowering him, because obviously this guy isn’t going to give in.
It’s probably been about five minutes since he’s been holding him like this, on the cusp of barely being able to breathe, and Keith is beginning to think that this weirdo is actually enjoying it .
“What in the world are you talking about?”
The guy crumples to the floor for a few moments, breathing heavily, before he pulls himself right back up. It’s obvious he’s moved too soon, obvious he’s lightheaded as he stumbles back and takes a few disjointed, weaving steps.
Still, he puts on a cocky front, like somehow he was the one who just had Keith pinned to the wall.
“You,” he waves his hand around, right in Keith’s face, “You think you’re so amazing, huh?”
Frowning, Keith takes a few steps back. Clearly, this guy is crazy, and Keith just so happened to be the unfortunate person there at the time he decided to lose his mind.
“Your simulation scores,” he says, crossing his arms, like that explains everything. Tone accusatory, as if Keith’s committed some terrible crime. “They’re always perfect!”
“Um…” Keith really doesn’t know how to respond to that. “I’m sorry, is this like...something you want me to apologize for?”
The cargo pilot flips up two fingers from his closed fist. “Your grades, always perfect.”
“Well, I mean, I study a lot…” Keith tries to explain. The guy takes another step forward, he moves back again.
“Your body, perfect,” he flicks up another finger, and Keith’s eyebrows raise high, high up his forehead. “You get special treatment because you’re perfect , and you get to hang out with Takashi Shirogane.”
With all five of Keith’s atrocities brought to light, he slams his flat palm against his own thigh, like he’s made some great case for something.
“Shiro’s my friend,” Keith clicks his tongue, offended, “God, what the fuck is your deal? Just fuck off already, I haven’t even done anything to you. Fuck, scratch that, I don’t even know you.”
“My name’s Lance,” the guy shouts as he throws his hands in the air again, cheeks red with fury, fingers twitching in frustration, ”I’ve been sitting behind you in flight instruction for an entire semester now, oh my god!”
Keith wracks his memory and yeah, okay, he might be faintly aware that this Lance guy looks familiar, although it’s hard to picture this mess of a person sitting quietly behind him while taking notes in class. Still, Keith shrugs noncommittally.
“Fine, well, just so you know, I haven’t done anything to you, either,” Lance spits, looking beyond insulted that Keith can barely remember him. “But yet, here we are, with your claw marks around my throat.”
He rubs a palm over his throat as if trying to evoke pity, which is still pretty red. Keith most definitely chooses not to feel bad about it.
Keith spreads his arms in disbelief, anger surging through his veins. “You attacked me!”
“Right, and if you don’t watch yourself, I’ll do it again.”
Lance moves forward in a flash, and even though Keith’s pretty good at reacting, he can’t respond fast enough to a cheap shot he wasn’t anticipating in the first place.
The dumbass lurches to him, grabbing his wrist, and sinks his teeth hard into the flesh of his forearm, like some wild, rabid animal. Keith recoils immediately, pain prickling raised bumps on his skin. He gives an involuntary shiver.
“See?” Lance says, looking delirious, pupils still blown in his eyes from being strangled, and then apparently using his after-near-death adrenaline rush to--Jesus Christ.
“Shit, what the fuck?” Keith glares, trying to rub the sting from his arm. “Did you just fucking bite me?”
Lance is smirking, holding his head high, and that’s what makes Keith decide that enough is enough. With boredom evident on his face, Keith makes a wide sweeping motion, and promptly knocks Lance’s feet out from under him. Lance groans as he lands hard on his ass, and Keith leans over to grab a handful of his jacket. After yanking him up, he clamps his hand down on one of Lance’s wrists instead, and wrenches it to his back. He spins him around and bends his arm until Lance is forced to finally fold for him.
Moving his lips right to Lance’s ear, he conjures the most intimidating voice he can manage.
“Don’t underestimate me, cargo pilot,” Keith hisses, slowly, and Lance looks like he’s either about to lose his lunch or shit his pants, “Know your place.”
Keith swears he feels Lance shudder, and he thinks, good.
He drops him then--or more like, he throws Lance back down.
“This was fun, but I’m, uh.” Keith jabs a thumb towards the exit. “I’m gonna go now.”
“Come back here, and fight me,“ Lance demands, scrambling to get to his feet and failing horribly, “Come here and say that to my face, asshole, I dare you!”
“You’re literally on the ground, dude,” Keith sighs, reaching the door, and he pulls it open without so much as a glance back, “It’s over. Go back to your dorm.”
Keith snickers as he walks through the door, tuning out whatever Lance is currently screaming at him.
“See you in class, I guess.”
Burning off some steam, or some stupid shit like that, is what Lance starts calling it.
Keith doesn’t call it anything but annoying.
He’s finishing up a session with Shiro when, unfortunately, Lance comes back that next evening. It does catch Keith off guard; this is the first time in his entire life that someone he mercilessly beat in a fight has stupidly come back for round two. He’s already not too happy about seeing him before Lance even speaks -- the very obvious bite marks on his arm earned him a lot of strange looks from his peers during his classes, and Shiro noticing as well was it’s own special little Hell for one day.
“I’m challenging you for another round,” is the first thing Lance yells across the room, turning several heads of other people training towards him. The first thing Keith does is laugh. “You ignored me in class again!”
Keith knocks back his water bottle, taking several huge gulps before answering Lance. “Didn’t see you,” He shrugs, wiping off his mouth with the back of his hand while Shiro stares curiously between them. “Were you there today? Could have sworn you were absent.”
“I know for a fact you noticed me this time, mullet,” Lance hisses, storming over the mats, disrupting a few people in his way as they scramble to evade his stomping.
Keith frowns at the new insult, wondering just what the hell that’s supposed to mean. Self-consciously, he pulls some of his sweaty hair between his fingers, wondering if maybe he’s overdue for a haircut. Either way, it’s a bit uncalled for--just because he made a point of actually acknowledging Lance by winking at him when he came into class that morning, doesn’t mean Lance has to get pissy about the fact he also made it a point to act just like he always has--oblivious of his existence. Ideally, he wished he could just go back in time to continue in that vein, but Lance completely killed that illusion forever.
Still, seeing Lance angry is a special kind of reward all on its own, so Keith supposes it isn’t all bad.
“But you still said nothing,” Lance almost gasps the last word in his offense, as if it’s an entirely inconceivable concept that someone wouldn’t want to talk to him. “What the hell do I have to do to get your attention, huh?!”
The second sentence Keith finds much more confusing, and he realizes he can’t decipher its intended meaning no matter how he looks at it. Meanwhile, Lance has successfully stormed his way to clearing the room of all other cadets but them now. Keith considers him with a tilt of his head, watching Lance get close enough that he can smell his fresh just-after-dinner breath, which is anything but appealing.
Shiro is laughing a little, quietly, before he claps a hand onto Keith’s shoulder, startling him both with the touch and unexpected amusement at his clear suffering. “Good hustle out there today, Keith. I’ll catch you tomorrow, okay? Seems like you’ve got another match to prepare for.”
“I wouldn’t call it a match so much as it’ll just be me, beating the shit out of him, but alright. Bye,” Keith grumbles, placing his water bottle on the ground and flexing his arms, trying to smooth the fresh workout ache from his muscles.
Lance has at least chosen something smarter to do this time around, which is to catch him after he’s already fairly tired. Keith isn’t so sure that’s intentional or not, though, and he figures he won’t need to exert much energy on his end anyway for it to really matter.
When Shiro leaves, making Keith think in the back of his mind, traitor, he finally gets enough of his wits about him to respond.
“Counterpoint: the Hell do you need my attention for?”
Lance doesn’t answer him, looking a little too red in the face for the weak nudge he gives Keith.
“God, I hate you,” Lance snarls instead. “Hate you, hate you.”
Weak push, weak push, terrible breath. Keith lets him have some fun, moving back with the laughable force, building Lance’s confidence before he smashes it into a million bite-sized, insecure cargo pilot pieces.
Snorting, Keith tells him, “Can’t say that I’m real fond of you either, cargo pilot.”
It’s definitely a weak point. Lance’s face, if possible, looks even more furious at the fact he won’t acknowledge his name again. It’s enough of a distraction for Keith to make his real move, which is side-stepping away from Lance’s next push mere seconds before it’s supposed to make contact.
Lance trips, his hands flailing wildly through the air, thrown dangerously off balance. Keith gets behind him and shoves him roughly, right into the wall. He can admit that Lance dives into the motion beautifully, flying towards the surface at a brutal, but seamless, speed.
“Are we done here yet?” Keith says flatly, driving his elbow between Lance’s shoulder blades as he bends his arms behind his back, smashes his chest flush against the concrete. “I’m sort of hungry.”
“No,” Lance shouts after gurgling some strange noises from being manhandled, “because I’m going to kick your ass!”
If Lance says anything to Keith next, he doesn’t hear it over the sound of how hard he’s laughing. One of Lance’s bony legs comes out to actually make good use of itself, flying towards Keith in a back kick that does almost make its mark--if it weren’t for Keith’s quick reflexes.
He jumps back to avoid it, keeping his hold on Lance. Without warning, Keith slams the entire side of his body like a linebacker against Lance to better keep him still.
Keith can practically hear the air rushing out of his lungs.
“I said,” Keith lowers his mouth to Lance’s ear, keeping a deep pitch in his tone, much like he did the day before, “Are we done here?”
“We’re done when I-I say we’re done,” Lance says, breathing uneven, cheek smushed to the wall. It’s hard to understand him.
“Really now?” Keith asks, annoyed, and jabs harder with his elbow. “And you’re gonna do that...how?”
This guy just won’t take a hint.
Lance cries out, his body straining against Keith’s hold. Keith translates ‘em gunnashill, em gunnashill yew shmullert ’ to the much more understandable, “I'm gonna kill, I’m gonna kill you, mullet ”.
"The answer is yes, Lance,” Keith just about growls, tugging him back and then slamming him again, trying to knock some literal sense into this guy that there’s no point in continuing to try and take him on.
One last, strong jab between his shoulder blades, one more wrench back of his arms. A strange sensation coils in Keith’s stomach when he sees the way Lance perks up at the use of his actual name, attempting to lift his face from the wall. There’s something hopeful there, something different and unfamiliar in that brief expression towards Keith before he falls back into anger.
Keith instantly decides he doesn’t like it, or at least doesn’t want to like it.
He gives him one last good shove before he backs up off him, watching as Lance slides to a heap down the wall. “The answer is yes , we’re fucking done.”
Keith leaves, but this time, he glances back.
Lance keeps coming back for more. Keith complains about it a lot.
In all honesty, Keith’s got to hand it to him for sticking to it, even though he obliterates Lance every time. There’s never been someone like him before, someone who showed up repeatedly just to have their ass handed to them. Keith doesn’t like to think about what makes Lance an outlier, what his real endgame may be here. It’s been easier to think Lance either: A, is a glutton for punishment, or B, is deluded enough he thinks he can actually beat Keith.
Keith prefers to think the latter.
Somewhere along the line, however, ‘fighting’ starts turning into Keith criticizing Lance’s technique (or lack thereof). It turns into him making a conscious effort to avoid using offensive techniques if possible, instead of automatically harming him, as he wants to see Lance try and take the advantage while mostly in one piece.
The most shocking thing above all, isn’t really any of that. The most shocking thing is that this somehow evolves into him actually helping Lance with his technique.
It’s merely out of pity, Keith convinces himself. Pity, and the fact that ‘sparring’ with Lance is boring as hell. Keith doesn’t want to waste anymore time with someone this inexperienced. There’s no challenge there at all, besides the fact Lance’s mouth is the only real weapon that could possibly hold any negative effect on his opponent.
“Your center of gravity is always off,” Keith shakes his head, watching as Lance does the walk of shame extricating himself from the mat. He’s sporting a busted lip from a fight of theirs the other night, and he tongues the cut as he faces Keith again, looking haggard and weary. “No wonder you can’t stand your ground.”
Keith waits for Lance’s gaze to--yup, and there it is right on schedule, tipping idiotically to the floor.
Lance shifts his weight from one foot to the other, rolling up the sleeves of his gym uniform as irritably as he can manage. “I don’t see what the big deal is. My feet are already on the ground, what does it matter?”
“The big deal is, is that I can do this,” Keith says, grinning as he jumps forward and pushes Lance as hard as he can. “Whenever I want.”
It’s pretty fun, being able to toss Lance around like it’s nothing, even with their few inch height difference. There’s nothing quite like the way Lance falls, the ungraceful movement of him tripping over his feet, the strangled, indignant, squawking noises. Overall, it’s very satisfying, which is why Keith doesn’t know why he offers what he offers next.
Keith laughs, placing his hands on his hips. “Rethinking my opinion yet?”
“Rethinking you may have a point, maybe, yeah.” With a groan, Lance scoops himself up from the floor, dramatically brushing off invisible dust. “Thinking it’s a good opinion? No.”
Rolling his eyes, Keith beckons him forward with a finger. “Come here, stupid.”
Cautiously, Lance walks over to where he’s pointing in front of him. He gives him a skeptical look, one of his hands rubbing his arm, a habit Keith’s noticed him do whenever he’s nervous about something.
Keith drives that thought immediately back out. He doesn’t know why he’s bothered to remember that.
He steps close to Lance, very happy that it’s not after dinner this time around. Instinctively, Lance moves to take a step back, but Keith stops him with one hand on his arm. With his foot, he nudges one of Lance’s legs, urging him to spread them.
“Um…” Lance’s voice wavers, raising an eyebrow as he stares at Keith, their faces inches apart.
“You need to widen your stance for this exercise,” Keith explains, then backs up to show him.
Lance looks relieved by the space, face annoyingly flushed even though he’s barely been doing anything but falling for the past half hour. Facing Lance, Keith slides his own foot out until he’s standing wider, sinking into the stance with his knees slightly bent.
Lance mirrors him. Keith curls his hands into fists, and rests them on either side of his hips, nodding for Lance to do the same. For once, Lance is doing something right, just keeping his mouth shut and actually listening to him.
“Now, stomach in, back straight, and hold it, cadet,” Keith barks, much like their officers do when they have endurance training. Lance seems to be pretty responsive to his commanding tone of voice, so Keith figures it doesn’t hurt to take advantage of that.
Keith comes around behind him, pushing lightly down on the tops of his thighs. “Center yourself, stay low.” Lance sinks with his touch, and Keith removes his hands. “Be mindful of keeping your abs tight, like we do during pyramids.” For the Hell of it, Keith slaps the back of his hand against Lance’s stomach, and Lance jerks forward, looking like he’d prefer to sink his teeth into Keith again. “I’m going to push you around some.”
Keith can’t help a chuckle from escaping between his pursed lips, because things are finally starting to get interesting. “Your goal is simple. Just don’t move.”
“Not move? Like, at all?” Lance says, sounding panicked. “That’s crazy. How is this any different than what you’ve been doing, anyway? And how hard of a push are we talking here? Like hard, hard or--”
Keith claps Lance’s back, gives a tiny shove. Not fully paying attention, Lance stumbles somewhat out of the stance. He bends too far in at the hip, too, but the impact is more muted than usual.
Eyes going wide, Lance gives a small, surprised ‘oh.’
“See, you feel that? This is why you should listen to me more often.” Keith pushes him lower, at the small of his back, and Lance holds steady. “...That was pretty good, though. Much better than falling on your face.”
The praise flows naturally, much too naturally for Keith to feel good about it.
“But shut up, and focus on your center,” he adds quickly, “Your center is key, the most important part. Without a good center, you’ll never be able to fight like you want to.”
Keith returns in front of him, poking a finger into Lance’s chest as he asks, “You want to be able to actually fight me, right?”
“Quiet,” Keith says, jabbing into his left side this time, completely over hearing Lance say another word. “Focus. Imagine your feet are glued to the floor. They’re an extension of the ground right now, not your body. You’re like a tree. You fall, you uproot yourself.”
Lance teeters to the right, but works through the aftershock. Sinking back low, he tucks his fists to his sides. He’s biting his lip and glaring, looking like it’s taking everything in him to not make an outright smart remark. Keith swears he hears him mumbling something mocking about how all this tree talk is for nerds, but he chooses to ignore that for now.
“That means you die, you know,” Keith whispers into his ear, laughing as he claps a hand onto his shoulder. Lance snorts, but doesn’t complain. “So don’t kill yourself here, cargo pilot.”
As much as he’d like to destroy him with this exercise, Keith starts out slow, testing Lance’s right side and then his upper back. He moves around, pushing on his body until Lance is able to keep still, even when he switches up the order and force.
He’s not really bad at it, and actually, is taking to the concept fairly fast. Where he’s weak, Keith points it out, and Lance corrects it. When he moves his feet even an inch, Keith strictly chastises him, and Lance (although huffily) attempts to stay balanced.
Maybe all of this tomfoolery wasn’t as big of a waste of time as Keith previously thought.
“It hurts,” Lance complains, body trembling. “My everything hurts.”
Keith decides to get more creative, snapping out his foot and hitting him lightly with the side of it, right towards the back of Lance’s knees. Lance wobbles, but he tenses, catches himself at the last second. It’s the first time he’s impressed Keith at all since they’ve started--whatever the Hell this is. He’s nice like this, Keith thinks, but he can’t quite put his finger on exactly what is so nice about how Lance looks and is acting right now.
Tucking that thought away, Keith reminds him to breathe while bumping a shoulder, laughing as Lance lets out a strained, shaky breath. He’s been gritting his teeth extremely hard while he’s been focusing, to the point Keith can hear him grinding them. His cheeks are dusted a violent red. Keith would rather not have to care for an unconscious Lance, even though the silence that would come afterwards would probably be worth it.
“Good,” Keith flits around him, catching Lance off guard. “That means you’re actually doing something right.”
Slamming both hands onto Lance’s chest, Keith heaves with as much force as he can muster. “Trees don’t talk either, though.”
As always, Keith moves in for the kill, and Lance takes the bait.
Keith doesn’t know why Lance is here again, but he’s like some terrible, non-adorable version of a lost puppy.
He just won’t go the Hell away, is always staring up at Keith with pitiful, guilt-inducing eyes.
It’s gross, but for some reason, Keith’s accepted it.
Every training session he has with Shiro the jerk promptly interrupts, and it’s obvious he’s doing it on purpose. Keith’s randomly changed the times he and Shiro meet up to no avail -- Lance always seems to just know. It’s gotten to the point they both anticipate Lance joining them regardless. Lately, Shiro’s even been bringing an extra water bottle.
Every time, Shiro smiles and politely excuses himself. Every time, Keith feels very betrayed. Every time, Keith draws blood from Lance in some form.
Today, Keith’s decided to continue giving the fuck up, and shift their lesson to be more focused on balance and energy, having spent a good chunk of the week before enjoying pushing Lance around. Though not as fun as sweeping him to the ground, it was still a good time.
Now comes the more annoying part.
“It’s about subtle movements, Lance,” Keith shows him, using the tiniest step to the side to avoid Lance’s fist at the last minute, “If you waste all your energy right off the bat, you’ll spin out and crash. Not to mention, get the shit beaten out of you, and you’ll have no energy left to defend yourself. Basically, every stupid thing that happens every time you try to fight me.”
Lance stumbles forward with momentum, his punch cutting through air and dragging him from too much force. Half-bent, he blinks up at Keith, drawing his brows tightly together. There’s an admittedly cute expression of confusion plastered on his face.
“How the hell’d you do that?” Lance demands him to explain, “You were right there in front of me two seconds ago!”
“You can’t have fear in you,” Keith sighs, balling his fists by his face to get Lance to reflect the motion, “You stand your ground, watch their movement, and then give a gentle slide out of harm’s way when the time’s right. It’s not actually that hard.”
Keith nods to him, motioning for Lance to get into an offensive stance. “It just takes practice, and patience -- two things you seem to understand literally nothing about. Here, come at me again, and watch closely.”
Again, Lance comes at him, again Keith steps away from him seconds before his fist rears back to swing in an amateur’s attempt to backhand him.
“Fuck!” Lance splutters, shoulders slumping in defeat, “You’re so damn fast.”
Keith knows he’s fast, but it’s surprising to hear Lance admit it. Scratching his head, he turns to the clock. It’s been about an hour since they started.
“Alright, let’s take a break. Honestly, how do you even get through endurance training?”
Keith walks to the side of the room, picking up their water bottles and handing one to Lance. Lance snags it from him roughly, though he mutters a quick thanks.
Lance sits down on the mat, legs naturally splaying into a wide, full split as he stretches to the side to wind down. Keith’s eyebrows raise. He had no idea Lance was that flexible. Keith chokes on his water, coughing to the point he has to turn away. When he looks back, Lance is staring at him. His shorts have ridden up in his new position, his sleeves are annoyingly rolled again, showing off a surprising amount of lean muscle.
“You know what?” Lance looks up through the thick of his lashes, smirking wide enough that his still unhealed lip re-splits, “We can’t all be naturally born ninjas, mullet.”
Routine sets in, easy and clicking into place, like they’re old friends meeting up to get shitfaced in some seedy bar on a Saturday night.
Except that the drink Keith is serving to Lance is a broken nose and bruised ribs, and Lance is ordering his one-way trip to the hospital, not the toilet.
The sickening crack isn’t what Keith hears so much as he feels, registering it as soon as his knuckles slam not against the delicate plate of Lance’s cheek like he’d intended, but smack into the middle of his face as Lance stupidly turns his head without protection at the last second--probably to run his mouth.
He runs his mouth instead by howling, clutching at his nose as Keith retreats, fast. Blood is immediately gushing from it, steady and dripping between Lance’s fingers.
“Shit, shit, you fucking idiot,” Keith shouts, panicked and scrambling for the first aid kit hanging on the wall, “You weren’t supposed to move, fuck.”
He gets to it in record time, but pops open the thing much too quickly, causing it to fall and burst into an irritating mess of scattered medical supplies on the floor. Shit is rolling everywhere, Keith is frantically sifting inside the disorganized box.
“God, you didn’t even block, why didn’t you block?!” Keith yells at him, thinking, gauze, gauze, where is the fucking gauze.
He’s seen plenty of people bleed like that before, and it’s not the first time it was also by his hands, but something about the whole situation being with Lance is uncomfortably turning his stomach.
“What the fuck do you mean, I wasn’t supposed to move?!” Lance barks back, hysterical, spitting out blood and falling to his knees, “We were wrestling, I had to move, and you fucked up my nose! You fucking punched me, you asshole! I shouldn’t need to block when the real problem is that you suck!”
“If you had learned anything these past few weeks, this wouldn’t have happened,” Keith tells him firmly, almost letting out a victorious whoop when he finally finds the damn gauze. He rushes back over to Lance, who’s on the mat still.
Keith would say he didn’t have an ounce of pity in him, but that would be wrong, because Lance is so pathetic it’s almost unfair to even continue indulging him in this war.
“Come here,” Keith says with a sigh, feeling pity he shouldn’t be feeling when he sees Lance, sitting with a pool of blood gathering between his legs.
“No,” Lance groans, “I don’t trust you anymore.”
“Fine,” Keith squats down on his heels in front of Lance, “Then I’ll come to you, idiot.”
Lance flinches back, making a weak attempt to kick him. “Don’t touch me! You’ll just ruin more of my features!”
It isn’t hard to get near him, to grab him and press the gauze to where Lance’s fingers have been trying to staunch the flow of blood.
“Oh god, it hurts, it hurts,” Lance moans, dropping his stained hands and letting Keith touch him anyway, without any more protest.
Keith hushes him, using one hand to stuff the gauze gently up his nostrils, his other to very carefully inspect the damage.
With Lance’s hands now out of the way, Keith can see how the ridge of his nose is skewed to the side, with a tiny bump of swelling already forming over bruise kissed skin. Lance is pale, trembling, his eyes unfocused and far away. There’s tears pricking in them from pain, and Keith can only hope the bleeding will stop soon.
Keith shakes his head. “It’s definitely broken. We’re gonna need to go to the infirmary, maybe even to the hospital.”
“I don’t like doctors.” Lance gives a small, pathetic whimper. “I don’t want to go to the doctor.”
Lightly, Keith runs the pad of his finger over the bump of swelling, then drifts it to the corner of Lance’s eye, wiping his tears away without really thinking about it. He doesn’t know why he felt compelled to do that, but realizes it was very worth it to see how shocked Lance looks -- outside of the actual shock, that is.
“Do you ever stop whining about things? Come on, look at you,” Keith flails his arms out, dramatically gesturing to Lance’s prone form, “You’re going into shock. Seeing a doctor is the least of your problems right now, you’re a mess. So, let’s go, buddy.”
Carefully, he puts an arm around Lance’s waist, hauling him up before he can open his big mouth to whine again. Lance leans into him as they slowly rise together. He totters to the side when they get to their feet, but Keith rights him, motioning for Lance to lay an arm over his shoulder, too.
“Can you walk, or do you want me to call someone?” Keith asks him, snapping his fingers a few times to get Lance’s attention. His face is entirely drained of blood now, the gauze in his nose slowing spreading from white to deep red in its place. Keith wonders if he may be about to throw up.
Lance pauses, watching him with unsteady eyes, more looking through him than anything.
“Carry me,” Lance suggests, tugging on Keith’s shirt.
There’s the faintest lazy grin upon his lips when he says it, absent of anything shit-eating for once. He lays his head on Keith’s shoulder, moaning softly in pain, and Keith resists the urge to stroke a soothing hand through his hair.
Disgusting. He doesn’t even want to think about what’s coming over him to have a thought like that.
“Don’t push your luck.”
Keith clicks his tongue, but after an incredibly awkward few steps in which Lance trips over his feet more than he seems able to lift them, Keith prepares himself for doing the most ridiculous thing he’s ever done since starting to hang out with Lance in the first place.
Steadying Lance at the small of his back, he hooks an arm under his knees and gingerly picks him up, bridal style. Lance makes a noise of surprise, but otherwise, doesn’t say anything. His uneven breathing is loud near Keith’s ear, and Keith knows he’s probably going to annoyingly get blood all over his shirt now.
It doesn’t bother him as much as it should though--being this close to Lance nor having his favorite shirt ruined -- and that’s honestly a way bigger problem than navigating their way to the infirmary. Keith prepares himself to be humiliated, in more ways than one.
“Will you come with me at least? I don’t wanna go alone…” Lance is speaking barely above a whisper now. Any ounce of cockiness or pride seems to be completely drained from him, and it’s a little startling how normal, how pitiful and small he appears to be without it. Honestly, Keith could get used to this.
“What does it look like I’m doing here? I’m literally holding you.” Keith licks his lips, trying to keep the gruffness in his voice to mask his concern. Lance looks at him like that doesn’t make much sense. “Just...don’t go to sleep.”
Lance doesn’t, but about halfway to the trek through crowded Garrison halls with hushed whispers around them, Keith wishes he had.
“You smell really nice,” Lance murmurs, nuzzling into his neck as he wraps his arms around it. His eyelashes are fluttering, in tempo with the quiet lull of his words. “You’re really soft, too. It’s nice. You’re kinda nice sometimes, I think.” They’re surprising compliments, Keith thinks, up until Lance feels it necessary to open his mouth again. “...When you’re not being, like, a total dick I guess.”
“I could drop you, you know,” Keith says, definitely thinking about it, definitely wondering what he ever did to deserve ending up in this situation.
Keith doesn’t say another word after Lance tells him, with the utmost confidence and a wry smile, “Yeah, but you won’t.”
“You made me ugly,” Lance whines immediately to Keith when he sees him a few days later, patched up with a splint and sporting two deeply black eyes. “I hate you. My beauty has been forever tarnished.”
“I didn’t make you ugly, Lance,” When Lance opens his mouth to continue whining, Keith beats him to it, “You’ve always been that way.”
Lance looks over at him, pitiful, with large, sad eyes. They’re sitting on the mat together, Lance dramatically flat on his back, Keith leaning against the wall, flipping through a judo instruction book. Watching Lance from the corner of his eye, Keith isn’t sure they’ve actually sat next to each other this long before without fighting.
Keith heaves a sigh. “God, don’t look at me like that. It’s gross.”
“That was really mean, though,” Lance pouts, propping himself up on his elbows, looking much like a depressed raccoon.
“I was joking, dude,” Keith looks away, glancing at the clock to see if he can find an excuse to escape to class. Tapping his fingers along the mat, he considers Lance over the edge of his book. “You’re not ugly now. You never were. Cheer up, pretty boy.”
“Whoa, hold up,” Lance springs to a sitting position, wincing in pain from jerking his head much too fast. His eyes are hopeful within the swelling on his face, hands clasping happily together. “Do you really think I’m pretty?"
“Yeah,” Keith snorts, “Pretty annoying. Now be quiet, I’m trying to read.”
Lance’s face creases into an even bigger pout. “Whatever. You’re just jealous, because I can rock it, even with this ugly splint on.”
Keith doesn’t have the energy in him to continue watching Lance, so he just flips to the next page in his book.
“Too bad they didn’t put it over your mouth,” he mutters, trying to push down these strange new feelings, “That’s the real problem area.”
Ironically, Lance doesn’t say another word.